An Ashram in The Middle of The City
In the modern society we are confronted with a lot of challenges raised by the civilization process itself. The old way of living was swept away by the industrial revolution and the secular traditions were lost. But in most of the cases we didn’t put anything in exchange. What the ancestors were doing in the daily duties out of a natural wisdom so they could stay in harmony and sanctity in the middle of their life, later become a set of traditions that were still keeping people in the spiritual integration yet in a more rigid way, and is now covered insufficiently by the slow progress of science. The cathedrals that were replacing the places of natural energetic power marked in the old times by sanctuaries are now replaced in their turn by shopping malls. What was a place for recovering our forces and giving us a reorientation toward what’s essential in life become nowadays places designed to confuse and make us loosing the track of time and our common sense in order to spend more of anything (money, energy, time). The individual is therefore struggling to find a solution to the problematic of the daily life that is too complex to be comprehended by our weak senses and agitated mind.
One of the increasingly big problems is the life stile especially in the civilized society. The welfare system proved already, for those that are ready to see, its problematic angles. Weaken by the lack of direct daily challenge and training, people’s life-force is drying out quickly and this process is more spread than ever in the civilized world. The human qualities, especially those regarding the human soul that we are now knowing mostly from books and movie characters, are decreasing under the pressure of the stressful life in the cities. Our life is flattening and looses its deepness, becoming more and more a “bidimensional life” from a “three-dimensional” life that was once, analogically loosing one of its dimensions under the pressure of the life consuming civilization.
Once I was together with a tantric master, eager to learn more about life and spirituality. We were in the nature and a little bug landed on his right hand. Instead of chasing the bug away, the master started to observe the bug and while doing this the bug begin to run on his flattened right palm. When the bug reached the end of he palm, the master placed the left palm in continuation and the bug continue the race on the left palm. In the end of the left palm it was already waiting the right palm again. And the “game” continued for a while, caching the attention of all the people around, curious to understand the meaning of this game of the master. After a while the master raises his eyes and looked directly into my eyes saying: “can you imagine what a revelation this bug will have if it will stop now?”. In that very instant I realized that in fact we are like the little bug in the palms of Life, being supported but in the same time running toward the end of it and every time going through the same places and same situations again and again, being too busy running to observe the game itself. For that we need to stop! But the problem that appears is how and where to stop without being taken by the flow or without being “crushed” by the immense flow of people that are still rushing toward the “horizons”.
The attempt to stay sharp and keep the aspiration toward perfection intense and vertical is many times challenged by the life stile that is almost not at all including any spiritual issue. We do not have “space” in the daily agenda for spiritual evolution and therefore the one that want to go for transformation must practically run “against the current”. In this respect, like in any process of healing (because in fact the first attempt on the spiritual transformation path is to cure ourselves from the weaknesses, from the bad habits, from compromises, from ignorance) a stage of protective environment is needed; in this stage we get the strength and knowledge that are needed for successfully realize this spiritual step under the protective help of the spiritual environment.
The Ashram – the “fortress” of spirit
Traditionally the idea of an ashram or a monastery was to provide a safe place, away from the “world”, to those that were aiming to seek perfection and to dedicate all their life for that. It is a place meant to be the “fortress” of spirit where the eternal Light of Divine Wisdom was preserved unspoiled by the world changes. It is a place where one can “stop” from the race toward the end of life and have the necessary time to observe the Divine Game. By giving up the world with all its temptations, the aspirant is able to gradually embrace more and more the Kingdom of GOD. Silencing the outside noises the aspirant is aiming to listen the “voice” of the Heart where GOD is talking always to us.Therefore an ashram is a place where the hearts meet and not a place between some walls. The ashram is also that privileged place where people “take refugee” in order to gain the battle with their own inferior tendencies. The ashram is not only a house but mainly it is an attitude toward evolution. It is that special place where people are taking the chance to challenge their destiny for better and have the proper conditions to succeed in this difficult task.
The fortress turns into an “eagle nest”
These days the options are not anymore so clear and therefore the meaning of an ashram or a monastery and under the pressure of necessity the meaning enriched with some new issues. In the modern time a rather “living life” option is embraced by most of the people that are approaching a spiritual life instead of “getting away” from life to reach spiritual heights. Many realize nowadays that every experience in the world is a very good training and it’s very hard to seek perfection out of the world. For this we have to live our life and not refuse life in an endless chain of mortification. But in order to live our life first we have to wake up from the “trance” of our own habits. As we have shown in the above story with the bug, we have to stop “racing” and for this we need first the protection of a nest that let us training apart from the world dangers that will stop us before we have the chance to start. People knows that by instinct and when they have some new ideas that need to get crystallized before facing the big test of the others skepticism they are seeking for the company of other people that share the same vision or have the same system of values.
For those that aim the spiritual awakening and need a “nest” to fetch their progress, the solution is the ashram or the monastery. In this situation the meaning of this settlement must be enriched with a new significance that adapts very well to the modern spirituality and fulfills the goal to live life and evolve spiritually in the same time. From the “fortress” where spirituality is guarded, the modern ashram turns into a “nest” where spirituality and life are fetched together and spread into the world. The ashram is not anymore placed in a remote location, far from the world temptations, it is placed in the cities, and there where people are living. People are not anymore hiding into the ashrams from the world; they are living in the ashram while learning and getting the strength to live into the world a spiritual life, being able to stand by their own strength and learn from the lessons of life instead of learning from escaping life in different ways.
The time spend into the modern ashrams is for many people a temporary but necessary “reduction” of their social existence and not a life time option. Enriched with this meaning the ashram is amazingly up to date and ready to provide the solutions for the very complicate problems of the coming spiritual revolution.We can say from this perspective that an ashram is a “spiritually controlled environment” in which al the transformations are taking place under the protective setup. The agitation of the modern society is proportionally kept away so that the spiritual seekers can constantly come back to the silence of meditation without necessary living completely isolated from society. The ashram is the “silent island” in the middle of the stormy ocean.The ashram is a sacred place but not because it is built with sacred stones but because is inhabited by future saints. For this reason all the activities in the ashram have the goal to serve the best the inner transformation of inhabitants and not to serve their ego. But since the people are integrated into life, the ashram life will reflect the inner life of the inhabitants.
The problems that are encountered in the life of such spiritual community are in fact the exteriorization of the problems existent in every inhabitant of the ashram.The ashram is the place where the limits are all the time pull down and the physical appearance of the ashram is important only in the extent is reflecting the inner reality. In the ashram, for each individual the “outside” and the “inside” meet under the sharp light of the constant attention. For example if one have a messy room, that reflect the inner mess and by cleaning the room he/she aim to clean the inside that was the cause for the outside mess. If one is always postponing to do certain tasks for the common living in the ashram, that person show a mental pattern that is in fact affecting all his/her life, not only those particular situations where it become visible for the others. And knowing this, that person has the chance to transform efficiently for better using the spiritual techniques that are provided to get out from the “tyranny” of that mental pattern.
Every attempt to organize the life in the ashram have to take into consideration the spiritual goal and also the fundamental law of correspondence that make possible to influence and even to modify what is “up” (in the higher aspects of our being) by modifying what is “down” (in the physical level). For this reason the life in the ashram will sometimes have situations that are not usually found in the normal life but this is due to the fact that the life in the ashram itself have a purpose: to create the best conditions for its inhabitants to transform. In a situation that a person brake a glass and doesn’t announce this but is just hiding the pieces, the main focus when this is discovered is not to replace the glass as soon as possible so that the life take its normal course but to find the person that did that and with specific methods to help the person to understand the deep mechanism that make him/her to do that (hiding from responsibility). In a normal situation we don’t care much who did it but to restore the order as soon as possible. In an ashram the first concern is to help the person to understand the mistake and of course after that to restore the order.
When the light is bright the dark looks darker
In the ashram are the most demons. The more you stay in the light the more the darkness looks darker. If a person is stilling from his neighbors, that is seen as a regrettable act but if this is happening in a spiritual community than it looks worst. For this reason some have the tendency to see in the ashram a place with a lot of problems but in reality in the ashram the problems are highlighted by the general level of awareness that is higher than normal and also by the raised standard of expectations from a spiritual community. But being a spiritual school, an ashram is a place where mistakes are even more visible because the mistakes here are the way of learning and nobody is avoiding them (at least not consciously).
Another important aspect that is deeply specific to the life in the ashram is the “spiritual integration”. This means a special field of interconnections between the inhabitants so they are always confronted with the situations of life serving the best their spiritual goal. This “spiritual integration” is given by two aspects that are common to all the persons that are living in the ashram:
1.The individual dedication for a certain and clear spiritual goal followed with intense aspiration. One of the fundamental conditions to live in an ashram is to place the transformation on a higher priority than the individual comfort. Usually we are seeking consciously or not for comfort and easy life and when confronted with the transformation (especially the spiritual transformation that is affecting very deep all the levels of our being) we realize that we are not ready to “pay the price” that is requested or it. It becomes obvious in those moments that we are pricing higher the comfort and easiness of our life than transformation and evolution. Living in an ashram makes sense only for those that already have a priority from their spiritual evolution or al least want to do that when they are confronted with the choice. For the ones that place GOD on the first place in their life, the ashram is a “launching site”. And in the ashram the evolution can be much faster. For those that are not ready, the ashram is a kind of “prison” from which sooner or later they will “escape”. The fact that most of the ashram inhabitants are linked by a common aspiration makes the events in the ashram to become “synchronistic” and highly significant for each of the members of the community (to understand better this notion please read the article “….” from the second issue of Logos magazine). Only a group of people that are studying by out of curiosity and in a flabby manner the spiritual texts, in the rest of time being focused on all kind of other goals, are not part of an ashram, even if it might be called like that.
2.The connection to a spiritual school or system. In this way the inspiration and the feed back are assured for the process of transformation to be safe and to go always in the right direction. A spiritual school or system, represented here by teachers that in themselves are realizing the goals that the aspirants are aiming for, is providing with the assistance, with the “expertise” to pass the difficult moments, and – most important – with the proper techniques for operating this transformation. Therefore a group of people that are living together and that are individually interested into the spiritual evolution are not necessary forming an ashram.
Empowered by these aspects mentioned above, the “spiritual integration” is manifesting as a protective field of “significant coincidences” and “lucky” events that are always having a spiritual meaning and tend to teach exactly that lesson that the aspirant needs for the moment, the evolution becoming thus an accelerated process of inner transformation. It is possible to appear such phenomena because of the above mentioned conditions that in an invisible way connect throughall the members of a spiritual community.Both these things are essential to create an ashram. Any attempt to break these aspects lead sooner or later to evanesce of the ashram (even thou the building and even the inhabitants are still there!)We say that the transformation is possible instead of being certain because here lays another very important characteristic of the ashram that make the ashram different than a blind oppressive system. In an ashram a person comes by free will and goes by free will. And most important, is assuming the ashram discipline and practice by free will as a part of the assumed “price” of the spiritual transformation.
Because of this situation, the ashram is a spiritual transformation friendly environment, giving the necessary discipline, silence, community with persons having the same preoccupations and the same spiritual goal, but in the same time it is not guarantying the results. It is exactly like going to the gym. There we have all the conditions to train our body, we even have competent assistance but nobody can tell for sure that we will do it because it’s all based on our own effort.Even if it is a system that helps the transformation, the ashram is not canceling the individual responsibility for evolution. And this is another characteristic of the life in the ashram.The individual spiritual goal that is aimed intensely is important so that the permanent orientation of all the attitudes and actions of the inhabitants are integrated into the spiritual field that is generated by the goal itself. This is giving to the spiritual community a great stability and reliability in front of the very many problems that appears in the life of such community. This common orientation toward a spiritual goal is what makes the people in the ashram to live together in harmony even in the most difficult situations that appear.
The spiritual transformation through action
An important tool of transformation that was always at a very high price in ashrams and spiritual communities in order to maintain the spiritual level of the life there was the form of yoga called: KARMA YOGA. By definition the KARMA YOGA system is “the yoga of communion with GOD through all the actions that we are doing in a perfectly detached way”. Basically no one can stay without doing something, without acting in a way or another. On the other hand anything we are doing involve a “reaction” (we are thus programming a reaction from the universe that is coming sooner or later in our life). The solution to this apparently paradoxical situation is to realize the fact that we are just channels through which the Divine Consciousness manifests and we are not the authors of the action itself. In this way the reaction that the action was creating is not addressing us anymore and is returning to the real Author of the action. This process itself is creating the most fascinating game of forces in our being and we gradually transform from the one carrying the burden of all the reactions from the actions (the so called KARMA) into the detached witness that is participating into the whole show without being burden by the reactions that are anyway not meant for him.From the other perspective the life of the ashram always tend to become intensive and to “force” the participants to overpass their egoistic limits.
It is therefore the life there is not always easy and it is not meant to be like that. Between easiness and intensity is the big abyss of death – the “death” of the ego that is followed by the birth of the spiritual awareness. The special condition that the aspirants to enlightenment have to fulfill is to relax and abandon into the flow of transformations without giving up the awareness. Trying to always be in control in a forceful and egoistic way will bring back the limits that were removed in the first place. Trying to relax in an unconscious way, loosing the awareness is also leading to unconsciousness and to mistakes. The only wise solution here is to learn to relax and abandon while in the middle of the action itself. And here is the Karma Yoga system proving its spiritual value by teaching the practitioner to participate to the universal game as a witness without ceasing the activity that is done through him.But the ashram is not at all like a “pensioner’s house”, but more like a training place for high performance sportsman. Or like the eagle nest. People don’t grow older in the ashram, they grow wiser. And after the solid base of deep inner transformation was built, its time for the “young” aspirants to face the real life and to make room to others that needs the protection in order to begin their spiritual life. The ones that evolve become the living models for the new aspirants and in this way the whole environment is permanently providing the aspiration for going further.
Within the ashram is created a genuine spiritual lineage, beginners and advanced, students and teachers being in a very close connection and walking the path together.
Many times the spiritual path was seen by the people that were not yet spiritually awakened as entering in a “collision course” with the society, the collision being most of the times devastating for the aspirants that are not wise enough to understand this fundamental antagonism. For this reason it was considered that these two have to stay separated at least until the aspirant grow wiser. In this way the so called “conflict” between the spirituality and society reach to a wise and peaceful solution, spirituality being harmoniously integrated into the society, both fulfilling their role in the formation of us as perfect universal beings. That is the final meaning of the modern ashram or spiritual community into the modern world.
Read more on Advaita Mihai Stoian’s website