Ashrams are a very important part of the Indian psyche. No matter which religion has been prominent, whether Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism or Shaivism, the ashram tradition has continued uninterruptedly for thousands of years. Today millions of young men and women are attached to one ashram or another. For those suffering from hopelessness and despondency, both young and old, the ashrams are like hospices, and people stay until they find their path. Only a very small percentage stay on and live as sannyasins for life.
The millions of ashrams in India survive because it is natural for people to help them. Every businessman, corporate house and individual with a little money will donate to ashrams if they see it is doing good work for society. An ashram runs on people’s acceptance, not on a few dollars or rupees. If an institution is not serving society or is not run on ashram principles, let it die. Those who run ashrams should remember that a sannyasin has no private life, no private bank account or land. If I have to leave the ashram, I will leave with what’s on me. That is how a sannyasin has to live. For such people, Indians will do anything.
One who runs an ashram should live like a snataka, a celibate, free from worldly instincts. You have to create an atmosphere of peace and energy. The ashram has to be like a temple. This has been the tradition from the vedic period, and it should be maintained. You come to the ashram to experience the spiritual atmosphere.
In an ashram, there should be an atmosphere of sattwic enjoyment, not dullness. When your enjoyment depends on external objects, it is rajasic. When it depends on your own self, atmananda, it is sattwic. When you are singing kirtan or bhajan, or chanting mantra, the joy that you experience comes from within, not from an external source. It is sattwic ananda, pure bliss. So the ashram is a place for atmananda.
Certain rules must be observed in an ashram. The chief element is shram, to live like a labourer. I lived in my guru’s ashram sixty years ago, Sri Rama lived in an ashram in Treta Yuga and Sri Krishna lived in an ashram in Dwapara Yuga. In all these places, one had to labour.
Formal study is essential to life, but every child should be given knowledge that relates to his life. It is important to make a living, but you must know more about life, about your body and mind. To learn anything, an aspirant must be receptive like a sponge. To become receptive you need to do physical labour in an ashram. Every part of the body, nadis, granthis and muscles, is cleansed through shram.
However long you stay in an ashram, get up early, 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: to observe decorum, to stay within boundaries, not only in the ashram but also at home. Decorum is doing what is appropriate. Discipline determines decorum. Anushasana means to rule over oneself, not self-control. It is the foundation of life, otherwise society would collapse.
The time is coming when the ashrams in India will be filled to capacity. India will become a place of shelter and security for people from the West. A global market is being opened in India. When it is completely open, large numbers of brilliant young people will come. Their culture and mentality is changing. The ashram is the best place for foreigners to live; they find a detached community, an opportunity to do kirtan, bhajan and sadhana, work to do and food to eat. In the past, ashram rules were framed for Indian society, but now they need to be reframed for a global society. The rules in Paramahamsa Alakh Bara are for a global society.
India is a country of gurus and preceptors, pilgrim places and ashrams. There are twelve jyotirlingas, fifty-two shaktipeethas and sixty-four yoginipeethas too. This land of great seers is a spiritual land. All those who aspired for knowledge and realization came here. One day there will be prosperity in India again, and then knowledge of the Vedas will return. During Buddha’s time thousands of boys and girls took sannyasa. That was the peak of prosperity, when knowledge of the Upanishads and Vedanta came, when people did yajnas in the villages. It will happen again in India and there will be no need for us to propagate yoga. We will not go to your door, but you will come to ours and ask where the guru lives. The growth of society should now centre around the ashrams. The twenty-first century will be the century of sannyasins and ashrams. We can foresee this and you should all be ready for it.