Ashram culture is an ancient culture. The problems which face society today were already experienced by our ancestors many thousands of years ago. Of course people say that today the world has gone bad – people are thieves, corrupt, dishonest, but this has always been so, right from the dawn of creation. The administrators of society always found it difficult to manage the problems of human society and they developed various schemes in order to contain the rajasic and tamasic nature of man.
It is in this scheme that the ashram culture was evolved in India. These ashrams were managed by rishis and munis who were the people of perception and vision. They were more concerned with humanity than with particular political, social or economic systems and realized that unless the tamasic nature of the individual was contained it would not be possible to evolve an ideal society, which mankind has been dreaming of all along the passage of history.
As long as these ashrams were intact and their administrators were unselfish and magnanimous, everything went well, and India produced intellectual, spiritual, political, military and philosophical stalwarts. Its literature bears evidence to that event, where even the medical books on ayurveda by Shushra, Dhanwantari, Charaka and Madhava were written in excellent poems, not just in prose.
The ashram culture, therefore, is not a monastic culture, and sannyasins are not monks. The word ‘monk' comes from the word mono, alone, single. Sannyasins are those people who dedicate themselves to a particular cause and who do not exist for their own family and children, wives or property. These people have to look after the ashrams! In Sanskrit shram means labour, to work hard. From this word ashram has been developed – a place where one has to work hard. One has to work hard on both fronts – on the external front one has to work hard, in the kitchen, garden, the goshala or cowshed, or in a factory.
Whatever work it is, one has to work hard. At the same time, one has to work on the spiritual front as well. The problems which face a human being on both fronts should be understood – the problems of money, business, marriage, death and the management of one's family create anxiety, anguish, depression and worries. Everybody is trying to solve them in their own way.
These are not, however, the only difficulties that our ancestors became aware of. What about the mind, the emotions and passions? We have the mental problems which come by birth and inheritance, from society and through a process of development in the scheme of life. If these mental problems are not being solved, we will face disasters or not make any progress in life.
A person who has no control over the mind cannot control circumstances, his family, or the events that come to his life every day. Mental control is not a type of suppression or injustice done to the mind. The mind has to be educated and properly enlightened. That is the role of ashram life.
One cannot grasp the concept of akarta, non-doership, just by a process of thinking; one can only grasp it by a process of living. In the ashram, most of the swamis are totally involved in a particular activity. Swami Niranjan carries the load of the ashram, but if he has to go to Calcutta, Bombay, or America for ten days or fifteen days, he just goes with a free mind. He doesn't carry the ashram with him, as there is no question of expectation from him.
Guests and visitors should try to become a part of the ashram life and get into the swing of it. They should work hard physically with dedicated responsibility, creative intelligence, with the knacks, techniques and knowledge which they have at hand as businessmen, teachers, carpenters, agriculturists or unskilled labourers. They should work for the institution in the same spirit as if it was for their family and home. The people living in the ashram are their kith and kin. At the end of their visit, they just close the file and leave.
At home they adopt the same attitude in the family, with husband, wife and children, at work, in regard to money and profession. That is the message of the ashram.
—10 October 1985, Ganga Darshan, Munger