As a child, my parents took me to many ashrams. I have fond memories of watching The Mother playing tennis at Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, of the smell of freshly baked brown bread and of witnessing the table football game there. I remember the serenity of the Shahenshahi Ashram in Rajpur, the beautiful bhajans of the Swamiji and the gushing waterfall not very far away. The Shivananda Ashram in Rishikeskh was very special. Swami Chidananda had an all pervading glow in his eyes. He would attract people without speaking a word.
As I grew up, I visited ashrams in different parts of the world all by myself. I went to the retreat of Swami Muktananda in the Catskill mountains in New York, stayed at a monastery in France where the monks meditated with Gregorian chants, practised dhrupad at the ashram of Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Dagar in Kolkata and Ustad Fariduddin Dagar at Panvel, visited the gurukuls of Guru Ammanur Madhava Chakyar in Irinjalakkuda and Pandit Kishan Maharaj in Varanasi, attended a two –week camp at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger and visited many other ashrams. The atmosphere of total giving at the Shivananda Ashram, the humility of the Abbot at the monastery in France, the intensity in Ustad Aminuddin Dagar’s ashram and the rigorous riyaz at Ustad Fariduddin Dagar’s ashram have left indelible marks on my being.
These experiences helped me realize that our ashrams are scientific laboratories whose inmates experiment with their lives, following the results of research carried out by our ancestors and directed step by step by the gurus. All of us do not have to live in an ashram but as Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Munger ashram says, we should visit a true ashram at least once a year.
What we call spirituality is at one level a scientific method of applying distilled wisdom and information on a large scale. Perceptive people at various places at different points of time have verified this truth. We know that Einstein was a great scientist and Otto Hahn a great technologist, who converted his theories into an actual fission reaction the atomic bomb that later engineers replicated for more useful purposes, namely atomic energy. Similarly, Jesus Christ was the originator of a number of great concepts that his apostles propagated as methods of good living; the church copied this prototype and spread it in an organized manner.
We could be the engineers who could use the ideas developed in different ashrams to enhance our own lives. Different methods have been developed to connect with our inner selves and each human being would have a natural preference for one particular method. The more the number of routes, the greater the number of people likely to reach the goal. Each true ashram provides us with a route traversed initially by the original master. Taking ideas from the various ashrams, we can come up with a route that is most
suited for each one of us.
Today, young people visit different cities in the world during their vacations, take up fancy jobs or simply spend their leisure time. Very few visit ashrams. The SPIC MACAY National School Intensives are attempts to bring the ashram to the student. As the saying goes, if the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. The School Intensives are designed to give the students an experience of staying in the proximity of great masters in various areas of human endeavour, learning from them and watching them perform. May this experience enrich the lives of many of my young friends.
–Dr. Kiran Seth
* This article also appeared in The Times of India on Dec.26, 2006