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Q & A: How does an ashram support Sadhana and Enlightenment?

A place just for Ashraya?

Now what is meant by an ashra­ma? Ashra­ma is a place that pro­vides ashraya and is also the place where intense sra­ma takes place. Ashraya means that which sup­ports us in so many deep ways for our true growth. If an ashram is an envi­ron­ment that pro­vides ashraya, that sup­ports in our true growth, what would be the prac­ti­cal basis for it? Now how can some envi­ron­ment sup­port our growth? If we look at it, for us to become aware of our­selves, we need to work with our lim­i­ta­tions, with our con­di­tion­ings and then grow beyond those lim­i­ta­tions and con­di­tion­ings step by step, so that we come to a posi­tion­al advan­tage of a direct vision of the Truth. So what lim­its us is our own con­di­tion­ings? Dif­fer­ent kinds of con­di­tion­ings, pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. So these have been looked at in the yog­ic tra­di­tion as raa­ga dwe­sha. Raa­ga is con­di­tion­ing which is in terms of attrac­tion or likes, and dwe­sha is con­di­tion­ing in terms of repul­sion or dis­like. It can be sub­tle or it can be gross, it can be sim­ple or it can be com­plex.

Raaga is conditioning which is in terms of attraction or likes, and dwesha is conditioning in terms of repulsion or dislike. It can be subtle or it can be gross, it can be simple or it can be complex.

Does not reinforce our conditioning

Now with­out con­di­tion­ing there can be no cre­ation. For exam­ple, the eyes are con­di­tioned to view wave­lengths of 400–700 nm. So that is a con­di­tion­ing. But that is a func­tion­al con­di­tion­ing. So func­tion­al con­di­tion­ing is always use­ful for effec­tive action. But when you assume you are that con­di­tion­ing, then, that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion itself caus­es suf­fer­ing, or caus­es prob­lems. Prob­lems in your per­cep­tion of your­self. You are That. Tat­vam asi. You are that eter­nal being. Eter­nal Brah­man. But for you to get a posi­tion­al advan­tage of that direct vision of the fun­da­men­tal Truth, you need to go beyond those con­di­tion­ings. Now var­i­ous envi­ron­ments rein­force these con­di­tion­ings. Because they are designed for var­i­ous pur­pos­es. For exam­ple, busi­ness hous­es, you work in some orga­ni­za­tion or com­pa­ny, they will rein­force cer­tain con­di­tion­ings because that is how it empow­ers action. A home will rein­force cer­tain kinds of con­di­tion­ings because that is what empow­ers fam­i­ly life. Soci­ety will rein­force cer­tain kinds of con­di­tion­ings because that is how soci­ety can func­tion. Now the more com­plex the con­di­tion­ings and com­plex the envi­ron­ments, you would see, that your con­di­tion­ings will not become vis­i­ble to you. You will be lost in the out­er envi­ron­ment. For exam­ple, we see, with gad­gets, we are con­di­tioned to use gad­gets. Let’s take this mobile phone. Many of us, feel this gad­get itself is a cause of stress. But even though we under­stand this con­di­tion­ing and that it is lead­ing to a prob­lem, we are not able to keep it down.

In many cas­es we are not even able to iden­ti­fy that this con­di­tion­ing is what is caus­ing the whole prob­lem in the first place. We attribute our prob­lems to the out­er envi­ron­ment or to this gad­get or to tech­nol­o­gy, many of us blame tech­nol­o­gy for our suf­fer­ing. That means we are out­sourc­ing the prob­lems that hap­pen due to our own con­di­tion­ing. So with that sort of an approach, one can nev­er reach a solu­tion. So that is where ashra­ma is an envi­ron­ment, that pro­vides a sim­pli­fied back­ground, so that your con­di­tion­ings become vis­i­ble to you.

So that is where ashrama is an environment, that provides a simplified background, so that your conditionings become visible to you.

Now that is a very very impor­tant first step. Because if you are not aware.…it just leads to a blind blame game, with no end in sight, with no res­o­lu­tion, because you suf­fer and you blame the envi­ron­ment or oth­ers for your suf­fer­ing and there can be no res­o­lu­tion to that. Only if you iden­ti­fy that,”Hey this is why I am suf­fer­ing” And that is with­in your con­trol, then you can mod­i­fy it so that that suf­fer­ing van­ish­es. So that is what an ashra­ma does.

Simplified Environment

Ashra­ma pro­vides ashraya through sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the envi­ron­ment to such an extent that your con­di­tion­ings become vis­i­ble to you. For exam­ple a sim­ple thing like food con­di­tion­ing, your food pref­er­ences, in out­side envi­ron­ment, in reg­u­lar soci­ety, you would see, your food pref­er­ences get rein­forced, you go out, you eat out, you like this, and that is avail­able. There are enough and more oppor­tu­ni­ties to keep your food pref­er­ences intact and infact enhance them. But if you go to an ashra­ma, it will be sim­ple, healthy, nutri­tious food as per let’s say Ayurve­da. So sim­ple bal­anced diet will be avail­able but not ori­ent­ed towards your spe­cif­ic tastes, your spe­cif­ic pref­er­ences. And hence when you have that kind of food, sud­den­ly you will start feeling,”What is this? I don’t like it. I want this kind of food. I don’t want this kind of food.” And so on. Then, if you still stick on in the ashra­ma envi­ron­ment, if you don’t run away because of your con­di­tion­al lim­i­ta­tions, if you just stick on to the ashra­ma envi­ron­ment you will clear­ly see that, oh it is your con­di­tion­ings that are caus­ing the issue in the first place. And hence, you need to decon­di­tion. You will need to sim­pli­fy you con­di­tion­ing pat­terns so that you see this food is meant for this pur­pose. It is healthy, bal­anced, nutri­tious, more than that, the food has no rel­e­vance in your life. It declut­ters your thought process­es, your con­di­tioned thought process­es, so that the con­di­tion­ing becomes vis­i­ble and then you work on it and resolve it. You can go any­where, you can have sim­ple sattvic diet and not get stuck with food. Not become a food fanat­ic. That does not mean you eat unhealthy food. It does not mean that. It means that you would sim­ply avoid com­plex envi­ron­ments or that which is not direct­ly ben­e­fi­cial to your health, and liv­ing. Like­wise in so many oth­er aspects, an ashra­ma pro­vides a sim­pli­fied envi­ron­ment so that your raa­ga dwe­sha, your psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion­ings become vis­i­ble to you, so that you can work on it. You are basi­cal­ly lib­er­at­ed from the illu­sion of choic­es and pref­er­ences.

Guru: A Darpan

The guid­ance of a guru, expe­ri­enced med­i­ta­tors and spir­i­tu­al prac­ti­tion­ers that are avail­able in the ashra­ma, won­ders can be achieved. For exam­ple, we adjust our looks in a mir­ror and adjust our appear­ance. But how do we work with our atti­tudes? Many of us car­ry atti­tudes which are not ben­e­fi­cial to our life. So atti­tudes are also con­di­tion­ings. So these psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion­ings called atti­tudes, if they do not work, we need to dis­card them. What works for us we should adopt. What is not ben­e­fi­cial to us, and oth­ers, we should dis­card. But many of us don’t under­stand this. Because we don’t for prac­ti­cal­ly work­ing with this, we need a mir­ror, in which we can look at and see, “Oh, this atti­tude is not right. This atti­tude does not pay, is not ben­e­fi­cial.” That sort of a mir­ror is pro­vid­ed in an ashra­ma. Because of the sim­pli­fied con­text. You will see the guru is called a mir­ror, a darpan. A mir­ror that does not dis­tort, or con­tort. You would have seen mir­rors that dis­tort and con­tort. But we always want a mir­ror that is straight. The way we are it should reflect. So rela­tion­ships pro­vide this basis. But in com­plex rela­tion­ships, in com­plex envi­ron­ments, it is not very clear and there is a lot of dis­tor­tion and con­tor­tion.

You will see the guru is called a mirror, a darpan. A mirror that does not distort, or contort. You would have seen mirrors that distort and contort. But we always want a mirror that is straight. The way we are it should reflect. So relationships provide this basis. But in complex relationships, in complex environments, it is not very clear and there is a lot of distortion and contortion. But in a sim­pli­fied envi­ron­ment, in a spir­i­tu­al envi­ron­ment, you will see rela­tion­ships become very sim­ple and straight­for­ward. And there, you will have as clear a view of your own atti­tudes as pos­si­ble in oth­ers’ under­stand­ing of you, in oth­ers’ image of you. We have a self-image and oth­ers have an image of us. Each per­son car­ries an image of us. The image that oth­ers car­ry of us acts like a mir­ror. For us to under­stand, and see which is valid, if some­thing is valid, do some cor­rec­tion to that image. So that we have bet­ter atti­tudes. So this is how in so many diverse ways, an ashra­ma pro­vides an envi­ron­ment, a sim­pli­fied frame­work for us to go deep­er and deep­er with­in our­selves and cor­rect our­selves so that we come to a direct vision of the absolute Truth. Because all said and done, this is bahyakarana, antahkarana, the instru­ments. Body is the out­er instru­ment and antahkarana is the inner instru­ments — of man­as, chit­ta, bud­dhi, ahamkara. They need to be as pure as pos­si­ble for the inner Divin­i­ty to shine forth. Because the Indic tra­di­tion is very clear that “Sar­vam Brah­ma Mayam. Aham Brah­mas­mi. Sar­vam Kalvi­dam Brah­ma. Pra­j­nanam Brah­ma” It is very clear, but one needs to expe­ri­en­tial­ly realise this. For that what­ev­er instru­men­ta­tion we have, that needs to be cleared up, cleaned up to such an extent that the Divin­i­ty we have a direct vision of the Truth that is already there. It is not some­thing that comes out of nowhere. What is already there, we clear our vision so that it become vis­i­ble to us. That is the key thing. That is where an ashra­ma helps.

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