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Aus dem Archiv der Gitananda Yoga Gesellschaft Deutschland e. V.

9. Juli 2017

WHAT IS AN ASHRAM?
by Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri



Not since ancient times has India experienced an explosion of spiritual centers as at present times. Yoga Kendras, Yoga Alayams, Nilayams, Yoga Salaisand ashrams are springing up on all sides. Not only in India, but in many outside countries as well, Ashrams are being opened along with spiritual and non spiritual communes, all supposedly dedicated to the "New Age" conciseness developing everywhere. Many of the centers do not actually qualify as an Ashram in the strictest sense, and are only buildings housing groups of people loosely drawn together, and supported by some personal or group drive.



In ancient India an Ashram was a hermitage, the home or abode of a Muni, a Sage, a Yogi, or an eminent Rishi, and always the abode of a spiritual or religious Guru who had drawn around him students to be trained in spiritual disciplines of Yoga, Vedanta or the ancient holy sciences of Vedas. Loosely, the term "Ashram" means the dwelling place of ascetics, a place where practice of Tapas, austerity and penance, is observed. Yogis, Samkhyists, Vedantists and Tantrics who notably established spiritual Ashrams were referred to as the "Ashramaguru" or " Ashramacharya."



The Ashram was usually in a remote area set in sylvan surroundings, usually near water. A pond, a lake, a stream, a river, or a site near ocean side was usually selected. Mountain retreats were established near acknowledged holy places. Some Ashrams were on the plains while others were on the sea side. These spiritual retreats were always the centers of spirited discussions on religious, philosophical, metaphysical and para-physical matters. There was always a time set aside for meeting with the Guru, the Guru Darshana, while Satsangha was the public group meeting where students and visitors could enjoy the wisdom of the sage in residence! A Yoga Ashram could also be known as a Rishi Gurukula, a Munivasa, Dharmmashaala. Punyaaalayan, or a math. A Math or Monastery (Mutt) is also called a Madam or Madalayam in South India. Some sort of Sadhana or "Truth Seeking" was to be done Yogaabhyasa, Yoga discipline and practice was the usual prerequisite for those who entered an Ashram. Some Ashrams were study centers, others, contemplative and meditative retreats. Even in India today there are some outstanding Yoga and Vedanta Ashrams. Many groups have taken to calling their centre of activity an Ashram, but do not deserve that right to use such a title.



An Ashram should never be deeply immersed in worldly commerce or preoccupied with business interests alone. Because of the degeneration of Ashrams, real spiritual teachings have failed in what should be centers of spirituality. There is little left in the teaching but those things which lead to Swapna Kriya and Bhojana Kriya, sleeping and eating. An Ashram should never be a place where people indulge in worldly habits. Some modern Ashram institutions proudly allow any sort of diet, cigarette smoking, alcohol and the use of drugs. In many centers Yoga is little more than worshipping at an empty tomb or reading the musty books of some long dead Yogi. Such a place is better known by the name "Ashraya" meaning refuge, a shelter, and an asylum, a resort or a place for common association .The Sanskrit word offers us a play on the word "Ashraya", which also means a "fallacy". Such places corrupt everything with which they come into contact, leading to degeneration of religious and spiritual life and production of Ashrambhrashtha, or spiritual apostates. The sincere member of spiritual community is called an Ashramika, or Ashramin, and sees to it that the Ashram is a place where "a state of consciousness prevails exuding evolution" as well as a place where the highest spiritual teachings are made available for sincere seekers. In this sense the word "Ashram" has its truest meaning as a spiritual state of mind".



There is another meaning given to the word "Ashram", where it suggests- the four stages of phases of life. The first stage, Brahmacharaya, is the time when learning and cultivative of skills predominate and one prepares for responsibilities of an adult, mature life, literally student hood. The Grihasthya Ashram is the second stage of life, that of householder and the family man. Responsibility to ones mate and the children raised predominates, and one tries to be a responsible and good citizen. The third stage Vaana prastha is retirement from the family business and worldly activity.



More attention given to Inner Life development and ones intrinsic nature. Sanyaasa is the renunciation of ego desires the worldly ambitions, this comes usually through the development of Higher Knowledge or wisdom which has grown out of direct experience of life in the previous three states of Ashrams. In ancient times in India, each of the first three periods was to last approximately twenty-one years, although Sannnyasa could be taken at any time without entering into the Grihasthya or Gharhasthya state. In modern Yantra, the period of time for each of the four Ashrams has been extended to some twenty seven years of life in each phase. Each one is literally, then, living in their own "Ashram". The body is described as the "temple of living spirit" or an "Ashram in which Yoga Sadhana or Yoga Abhyasa can be done". This is the best meaning of Ashram".
In ancient India a spiritual aspirant sought out either a religious teacher or a Swamiji. The teacher was often a highly qualified Pandit one who was versed in the ancient " Wisdom Lore'' of Vedas. Sometimes a spiritual aspirant would seek out a yogi or one qualified by direct experience in the inner Aspects of "Spiritual Evolution". He may meet a wandering mendicant or find a teacher in temporary residence at a famous shrine, temple, or other holy place, but more often, the seeker would go to home of Rishi, to the place where the teacher imparted instruction. This was called a "Gurukula" which literally means the "Womb of the Guru".



As a child is matured in its mother's womb and made ready for the world, so also the spiritual "babe" is nurtured in the "Womb of the Guru " and made ready for life in world. It is often quoted that the Guru is " Mother, Father, God". Students who seeks life long relationship with a realized teacher must begin as "spiritual babes" for many life times until they evolve through the teachings, the love and grace of Guru. In the beginning, we are only Shishyas, or students and the teacher, the Shishyaka. With sincere development, the teacher may accept as a Chela, a bonafide disciple. On realization, the student is one with his Guru. He himself becomes a Guru! Gurus all! While I was planning the establishment of Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry, I was cautioned by the editor of a well known English newspaper about the problems I would place. He asked, "why are you building another Ashram in Pondicherry ? " Without waiting for an answer, he told me: "We've already been "taken in" by so many spiritual institutions, including the big Ashram. We have been smothered for years and many have actually suffered because of the presence of an Ashram in this territory. Even Hindu culture has suffered." I assured him that I no aims to build a commercial centre and was not interested in promoting division and separation from the community by passing oneself as an "elite, chosen group of people".



Rather, I wanted to establish a model of the ancient Yogarishi Gurukula, where India's greatest heritage would be taught. Yoga is a simple philosophy of Oneness. Division and separation cannot exist in oneness. Harmful habits of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and animal diet must be eradicated for a healthy community and higher moral and ethical standards of conduct inculcated. Many will want their habits and their lower state of life, but they should stay in the world and work out their Karmic lessons. Otherwise, the Ashram "psyche" is lowered. When they are ready for that Higher Life instructions, an Ashram like Ananda Ashram should be there to impart it. ..
I sincerely feel that we have filled that vacuum in our local area, in Yoga, Vedanta and Saiva Siddhanta.

Ammaji comments: "At least that is our goal and we strive to attain it we reach for the stars, ever though perhaps we reach only the tree tops. We are still human with all the frailties and flaws honest in that level of evolution ! But ! We try to live the Yoga Life and perhaps it is that "striving spirit" which sets us apart from the sea, the masses of humanity who are still locked in their sub-conscious, unconscious Samskaric stimulus response Life Style!"


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