By Gurudevi Nirmalananda
An Ashram is a spiritual center where people dedicated to spiritual development live and practice under the direction of an Enlightened Being. The key is the Guru’s generosity, who is willing to share their life with others. This sweet and intimate gift makes the students’ spiritual process move more deeply and quickly.
I first benefitted from Ashram living in the 1970s. I already had figured out that I didn’t get much out of television and other media. I preferred yoga and meditative practices over the social scenes I had tried. It was a big relief to me that there was live music in the evening’s chant and meditation. Better yet, the teacher gave discourses several times weekly. I still love this lifestyle!
There are variations on the main theme. An Ashram might be headed up by an accomplished yogi who is not yet Self-Realized but is working on it. Most often, they have been authorized by their own Guru and are directed and supported in the process. Other Ashrams were founded by a great Master, even decades or hundreds of years ago, with yogis continuing to live the lifestyle as well as to offer the teachings they have learned.
Svaroopa® Vidya Ashram is my home, which I share with other dedicated seekers. We offer several retreats and trainings each year, with participants staying in our retreat center. Our yoga classes are offered online as well as locally in Downingtown PA. I set up our online Freebies almost ten years ago, then the pandemic opened up new possibilities. Thus you will find many online offerings on our program calendar, including twice-weekly meditation satsangs.
Like ours, the Ashrams you hear about and find in online searches generally offer retreats and trainings. Other Ashrams are closed to the public, allowing few visitors or none.
I have visited and lived in many Ashrams in North America, Europe and India, both Yoga Ashrams and Buddhist ashrams. In spite of the different practices, different dress codes, and different meals, they share many commonalities. They usually follow a set schedule, with group meditations and other practices as well as group meals. The household tasks are shared by residents, who do the cooking, cleaning, gardening and errand running, just like you do for your own home.
In my years of residency with my Guru, we began the day at 3:30 with a morning chant followed by meditation. At 5:15 am, we got chai, a sweet-spicy milk tea. Then we chanted until 7 am. Breakfast was optional. Our day alternated between work periods, more chanting and meals, ending with a long chant at night and bedtime by 9 pm. I felt that I was living in heaven on earth!
Some Ashram residents are swamis, yoga monks, while others are in various stages of learning and commitment. Ashrams offering public retreats and trainings welcome guests during those programs but, like us, are closed at other times. Or you may have to meet prerequisites in order to visit. In other words, there’s lots of variations on the theme. There is no central governing body like the Vatican. Each Ashram can set up its own rules and systems, based on the lineage they embody as well as the practicalities for their locale.
One thing is consistent. Wherever a person or group of people do dedicated spiritual practices, that place becomes special. Thus most Ashrams are pilgrimage centers, with people coming to soak up the spiritual vibe that emanates out. That vibe is called Grace. My life is filled with Grace!