Ashrams are a very important part of the Indian psyche. The institution of ashram has existed here for thousands of years. No matter which religion came to India, the ashram tradition was kept alive. Whether it was Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism or Shaivism that became prominent, ashram life continued to be a very important aspect of society. The ashram tradition of sannyasins has continued uninterruptedly.
Even right now, millions of young men and women are attached to one ashram or the other, the Brahma Kumaris, Ramakrishna Mission, Rajneesh, and so on. Adolescents, adults and old people all go to these ashrams and stay there until they find their path. For millions suffering from hopelessness and despondency, the ashrams are like hospices. Many people leave their businesses, homes and parents and go to ashrams. But of these millions, sooner or later, most leave. They go away because they find their path. The percentage of those who stay on, shave their heads and live as sannyasins for life is very small. Nevertheless, it is good to stay at an ashram for any period of time and at any age, as it helps overcome ones negative propensities. The ashrams are a very strong limb of Indian society. If all ashrams were closed down by law today, the number of criminals would go up.
There are millions of ashrams in India, big and small. They are able to survive because the Indian mind by its very nature helps ashrams. Every businessman, corporate house and individual who has a little money will donate to ashrams. It is natural for them, it is ingrained in them. If you were to ask them for donations, they would not be inclined to give, but when they are impressed with your work, you do not have to ask. This has been my experience. People only see whether Swami Satyananda is doing work which is good for society or not. Whether in Rishikesh, Munger, Rikhia or other places, I never asked.
An ashram is not run on a few dollars or rupees; it runs on peoples acceptance. If an institution is not accepted, let it die. An institution which is not useful for or is not serving society, which does not run on the principles of an ashram, should die. Those who run ashrams should remember that a sannyasin has no private life. He has no private account or land. I have never opened a bank account. I have never signed a cheque. I dont own property. If I have to leave this ashram today, I will leave barely with whats on me. I dont even have the money to purchase a train ticket. That is how a sannyasin has to live. And for such people, Indians will do anything.
One who runs an ashram should live like a snataka, like a celibate free of worldly instincts. An ashram has to have an atmosphere. You have to create such an atmosphere that when people come there, they inhale peace and energy. The ashram may be made of bricks and mortar, but there has to be an energy cycle in it. That is what we have been doing in the ashrams of India for thousands of years.
There is an episode in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yajnavalkya, the great muni and guru of King Janaka, wanted to renounce, go to the forest and take sannyasa. He called his two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani. He said to them, I want to divide my property between the two of you. Katyayani quietly took her share of the property, but Maitreyi said, What will I do with property? Give me something which is spiritual. Such has to be the attitude of a person who runs and lives within the precincts of an ashram. The ashram has to be like a temple, even if it consists of just one room. This tradition has been in India from the vedic period, and it should be maintained.
You have all come here to breathe in the spiritual atmosphere. You experience a spiritual atmosphere here because the people around are poor, the swamis here are very good, and I am here. The first, the second and the last purpose of my life has been to live a spiritual life. When I was eighteen or nineteen, I woke up and decided to live a spiritual life. Ultimately, I realized that spiritual life lies within you. Wherever you are, you can lead a spiritual life.
In an ashram, there should be sattwic enjoyment. Every ashram, whether big or small, should celebrate important events from time to time. The ashram must have an atmosphere of sattwic mirth and joy. Not dullness, not a Sunday face. When you are living a spiritual life, you can dance, sing and enjoy, but it has to be sattwic enjoyment.
What is sattwic enjoyment, rajasic enjoyment and tamasic enjoyment? When your enjoyment depends on external objects, it is rajasic enjoyment. When your enjoyment depends on your own self, atmananda, it is called sattwic enjoyment. When you are singing kirtan or bhajan, chanting the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, the joy that you experience does not come from an external source. It comes from within, it is independent, it is sattwic ananda. So, create an ashram as a place for atmananda.
There are certain rules that must be observed within an ashram. Just as the chief attribute of salt is saltiness, of honey sweetness and of chilli sharpness, the chief element of an ashram is shram. Shram means to live like a labourer. Labour as a word is often used in the context of socialism. The tradition of the ashram, too, is socialist; an ashram is not a capitalist entity.
I lived in the ashram of my guru sixty years ago, Sri Rama lived in an ashram in Treta yuga, Sri Krishna lived in an ashram in Dwapara yuga. At all these places, one had to labour. The story goes that Krishna once went to the forest with Sudama to chop wood. They got caught in a storm and had to spend the night there. Sudamas bundle of puffed rice was all they had for food. At Rishi Vashishthas ashram, Sri Rama would feed the cows and tend the plants. However, along with all this work, the ashramites also receive knowledge of the scriptural sciences.
Formal study is essential to live, but every child should be given knowledge that relates to his life. You study physics and chemistry, but you do not know how to keep your mind under control. You may score ninety-five percent in physics, but if you remain a loser in life, what is the use of such study? I am not saying that studying is not important. It is important to make a living, but you must know more about life. When I say life, I mean ones body and mind. People dont know who they are; they while away their time in gossip. You should stay away from such useless things.
A disciple, an aspirant must be receptive. Plastic wont absorb water, but if you pour water into a sponge, it will soak it up. To learn anything, the aspirant should also be receptive like a sponge. And to become receptive, you need to do physical labour in an ashram. When you perform shram, every part of the body from the head to the toes is managed, the way a machine is completely repaired. Every part is cleaned; all the nadis, granthis and muscles of the body are cleansed through shram.
The food that you eat is believed to contain all the necessary nutrients, yet you fall sick. So it is not necessary that strength-producing food is health-producing too. More than the kind of food, it is the assimilation of food in the body that is important. This means that every part, every nutrient of the food must reach the right place. This is the merit of labour. In the villages, people rise at four am and walk to faraway fields to evacuate their bowels; they bathe in the pond and sweep their homes. What do they eat? Salt and rice. But they have the strength to carry bricks, plough fields and carry loads the whole day through. I am a witness to their state of health.
We have a very good dispensary here, for which medicines come from Australia, New Zealand, Mumbai, Delhi and other places, but we have to give away many of these medicines in Deoghar, because they dont get used. The people here just dont fall sick. We give away all the medicines for diabetes. Diabetes does not exist here. They get tuberculosis, coughs, colds, fever or skin disease. They dont get the big diseases. A few medicines, quinine and injections are good enough to cure them. And they dont consume Vitamin A, B, C and D. They eat whatever they get.
For howsoever long you stay in an ashram, get up early, try to help as much as you can, and learn kirtan. Whenever you get the time, come again. The ashram does not belong to anyone. The ashram teaches just one thing: observe decorum. You need to observe decorum not only in the ashram, but also at home. Decorum means to stay within boundaries. Nobody eats food in the toilet, and nobody uses the bedroom as a toilet. This is called decorum, to do that which is appropriate to a given place. To smoke within the ashram, for example, is not decorous. No one stops you from smoking outside, but dont do it within the ashram.
You should know what is appropriate and inappropriate in an ashram. Decorum is the basis of discipline. The day such discipline breaks down, society will collapse. Discipline is the foundation of life. Discipline in Sanskrit is called anushasana, to rule over oneself. It is not self-control, it is to rule over oneself. Without discipline, you cannot run people, the family or the country. Discipline determines decorum.
There are four ashramas of life brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa. This is sannyasa ashrama. It is not necessary that only sannyasins should live here, yet it is sannyasa ashrama. In grihastha or householder ashrama, everyone lives according to their social background, but the grihastha ashrama instincts should not enter the ashram premises. I dont mean that grihastha ashrama is bad; it simply should not be mixed up with sannyasa ashrama.
If you come to sannyasa ashram, live by its rules or go away. If you dont know how to swim, dont step into deep waters. Whether you come to sannyasa ashram for a health management course, sannyasa course, as a guest, detective or thief, you will have to observe the decorum of the ashram. If you dont, you will be thrown out.