Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Is an Ashram for Me?

by Swami Ritavan Bharati

Part 3.

(Parts 1 & 2 linked at end of article)

Relationships and Communication: Are You Ready?

The flower-children of the USA in the 60's were all about relationships and communication. Freedom of speech and equal rights were all the rage; and at times, became “out-rage”. Were such overt actions justified communication? Let us examine our ashram training for an answer.

In this third of a series of articles, we look at the ashram as a laboratory for life; applying the teachings of yoga to train the mind to be the instrument for the soul-atman.

Our theme is relationships and communication: What are the relationships in an ashram? And how will ashram training and spiritual practices help one understand their relationships and to communicate more effectively?

When Gurudev came to the West and set up an ashram for his mission, he first taught yoga as the science of regulating, "yogah chitta vritti nirodhah," YS I:3, emphasizing yoga is the control of the mind’s thoughts - vrttis.

He taught, "To regulate means ‘to find your own capacity.’ It is better to regulate instead of going to the extremes of suppressing or overdoing. When you regulate all your appetites, and you are no longer a slave to your appetites, that is control.”  You become the master of that thing which controls your life - your buddhi, the faculty of discrimination and intention.  Gurudev would humorously say to the ashramites that all of you are bhogis and not yogis. Then he would explain, seeking temporary pleasures (preyas) makes you a bhogi. This is the difference between a yogi and a bhogi.  Seeking temporary pleasures becomes a habit, and when you are a bhogi, soon you will becomes rogi. Rogi means "diseased," you become a "sick" person.

When Swami Veda gathered his first groups of ashramites, these hippies of the 60's wanted to "turn-on" with yoga. Swamiji’s teaching gently guided the ashramites to train their inclinations through the ashram rules and disciplines. This subtle challenge became a very different and difficult "test" for these "free-thinking" ashram residents. He began to explain an underlying spiritual principle: “discipline makes disciples” - students worthy to study yoga and who can change their mind’s habits.

Swami Veda would joke, you all belong to the 4-H Club: “head, hands, heart, and hormones”. This "jumble" of energy has no direction because you do not know the source.  He emphasized that yoga was a method of becoming “antara-mukha” – inward looking, becoming mindful and self-observant. The teaching of the yoga sutras they were taught to apply these principles to training their mind’s thinking and emotional habits.

Swami Veda introduced the meaning of indriya-gupti, training of the senses - active and cognitive senses, the importers and exporters of perceptions for the mind. These guidelines helped the ashramites to develop a process of introspection, to understand the difference between preyas and shreyas, sense gratification and fulfilling desires from an interior source of fullness.

He would say: "Frittering with the hands, fiddling with the toes is a waste of energy. Use these conscious relaxation exercises to conserve your energy, then you will be able to center and guide your energy in the right direction.”  He taught a series of systematic and progressive subtle-body practices known as pratyahara, the beginning steps of meditation.

The same with "speech", for a word spoken is power lost until it is properly controlled, and "ripe" with pleasant and truthful sentiments.  Swamiji would say, "Gather your power, strengthen it slowly, practice it silently, not becoming proud or advertising your newly found powers of stillness, silence, compassion and understanding. Enjoy what you have received instead of living with regrets, disappointments, fears and blaming others for your mistakes and ignorance."

Along with meditation as a method, the ashramites learned meditation in action. You learn to gather yourself to your self, your senses, your thinking, and look at the source of your thoughts. Do not convert that thought to the kinetic energy of words and sounds, rather you return that thought to its source, its origin that generates the mind-energy.  Learn to hold it, assimilate it, and watch how your capacity increases. He taught the ashramites to apply this newly found energy to their seva. In this way, they would work all day and most of the night. They began to understand the art skill in action, and the practice of yoga as gathering and directing one’s energy arising from a pure source within.

This energy, supported through the yoga practices, showed its fruits among the ashramites through cooperation and communication. The ashramites were told to measure their spiritual progress in their speech, and in their patience and resilience while they worked. Swamiji taught the ashramites, “Unless a sadhaka tests his patience, tolerance, and compassion in the negative stream of anger, hate, jealousy and ego, s/he cannot really evolve.”

Through silence and constant japa of their mantra, along with practicing indriya-gupti, these early ashramites slowly transformed their personalities, and upon leaving the ashram continued their lives in successful professions, and life-long relationships.

In our next article, we will explore the way ashramites were taught to honor all females as “Mother”, and to see relationships in the roles of "brother and sister, thereby, honoring the natural strengths of the female shakti.

Editor's Notes:

Parts 1 and 2 of “Is an Ashram for Me?” by Swami Ritavan Bharati can be read at this link: http://ahymsin.org/main/ritavan-articles/is-an-ashram-for-me.html


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