Can an academic institution be run in an ashram environment? The answer to this question depends on your point of view. From time immemorial the ashram has been a place of learning, providing an opportunity to live in an environment which is conducive to the development of the faculties inherent in our personality. In this process of development, we have to learn how to face our nature, our personality, our mentality, so that we can transform them and experience a better quality of life.
The interaction between people in an ashram can sometimes become very intense. Yet at the same time there is an aim, a goal, which is spiritual in nature. One cannot ignore the spiritual aspect in life. Those people who feel that spirituality has no place in their life, in the modern context, are missing an important point. True spirituality is considered to be balanced and harmonious interaction between the faculties of head, heart and hands, head representing the intellect, heart representing the emotions and feelings, and hands representing the ability to perform, to interact.
The process of learning, of educating ourselves to experience this harmony of the three faculties, can be learned and experienced in an ashram environment. The system of modern, academic education, school, college, university education, is job-oriented. From early childhood one is trained to excel in a field, a system, a way of thinking, which becomes the guideline for further social interactions in life. From the beginning we decide what we wish to become in life — a doctor, a scientist, a historian, a social worker — and keeping that aim in mind we go through a process of learning which is job-oriented.
Spiritual education or yogic education is not job-oriented, it is self-oriented, discipline-oriented. The most famous statement on this subject is the first sutra of Patanjali — Athah yoga anushasanam, 'shasan' meaning 'to govern, to rule, to control, to guide', 'anu' meaning the subtle nature. This sentence means that yoga is a process of guiding, directing, ruling, governing and controlling the subtle nature. This process can only happen if one is aware of what is happening to oneself, and when one is able to wilfully direct the mental energies to manifest in a creative way. This wilful direction comes through discipline. Discipline is not something that is imposed. It is awareness of and living according to the underlying principle of harmony. That is true discipline.
When an ashram becomes an academic institute of learning, this is what we try to give. Everyone comes to an ashram with their beliefs, idiosyncrasies and preconceived ideas. My rule is, before you enter the ashram, leave behind your preconceived ideas. If you can come with an open mind, without expectations, with an attitude to learn and not to criticize, with a desire to be positive and not to indulge in negativity, then the ashram can become an important centre for the growth of human personality. It is our duty to present this concept of ashram academics to society.
When you come with preconceived notions about how things have to be, you are blocking out your own learning experience, and such people have no place in an ashram environment. The ashram has to be viewed from a perspective, from an angle, in which you try to imbibe the different aspects and manifestations of your own nature, and with awareness, determination, regularity and continuity, experience the growth of your own life.
I do not see why an academic institution cannot be run in an ashram environment. If you want my personal view, I would say that an academic institution should only run in an ashram environment, and that all the schools, colleges and universities must become ashrams, so the social, moral, spiritual and practical values of life can be imbibed in one go!
—February 1996, Ganga Darshan, Munger, printed in YOGA Vol. 7, Issue 3 (May 1996)