A place just for Ashraya?
Now what is meant by an ashrama? Ashrama is a place that provides ashraya and is also the place where intense srama takes place. Ashraya means that which supports us in so many deep ways for our true growth. If an ashram is an environment that provides ashraya, that supports in our true growth, what would be the practical basis for it? Now how can some environment support our growth? If we look at it, for us to become aware of ourselves, we need to work with our limitations, with our conditionings and then grow beyond those limitations and conditionings step by step, so that we come to a positional advantage of a direct vision of the Truth. So what limits us is our own conditionings? Different kinds of conditionings, positive and negative. So these have been looked at in the yogic tradition as raaga dwesha. Raaga is conditioning which is in terms of attraction or likes, and dwesha is conditioning in terms of repulsion or dislike. It can be subtle or it can be gross, it can be simple or it can be complex.
Does not reinforce our conditioning
Now without conditioning there can be no creation. For example, the eyes are conditioned to view wavelengths of 400-700 nm. So that is a conditioning. But that is a functional conditioning. So functional conditioning is always useful for effective action. But when you assume you are that conditioning, then, that identification or misidentification itself causes suffering, or causes problems. Problems in your perception of yourself. You are That. Tatvam asi. You are that eternal being. Eternal Brahman. But for you to get a positional advantage of that direct vision of the fundamental Truth, you need to go beyond those conditionings. Now various environments reinforce these conditionings. Because they are designed for various purposes. For example, business houses, you work in some organization or company, they will reinforce certain conditionings because that is how it empowers action. A home will reinforce certain kinds of conditionings because that is what empowers family life. Society will reinforce certain kinds of conditionings because that is how society can function. Now the more complex the conditionings and complex the environments, you would see, that your conditionings will not become visible to you. You will be lost in the outer environment. For example, we see, with gadgets, we are conditioned to use gadgets. Let’s take this mobile phone. Many of us, feel this gadget itself is a cause of stress. But even though we understand this conditioning and that it is leading to a problem, we are not able to keep it down.
In many cases we are not even able to identify that this conditioning is what is causing the whole problem in the first place. We attribute our problems to the outer environment or to this gadget or to technology, many of us blame technology for our suffering. That means we are outsourcing the problems that happen due to our own conditioning. So with that sort of an approach, one can never reach a solution. So that is where ashrama is an environment, that provides a simplified background, so that your conditionings become visible to you.
Now that is a very very important first step. Because if you are not aware….it just leads to a blind blame game, with no end in sight, with no resolution, because you suffer and you blame the environment or others for your suffering and there can be no resolution to that. Only if you identify that,”Hey this is why I am suffering” And that is within your control, then you can modify it so that that suffering vanishes. So that is what an ashrama does.
Ashrama provides ashraya through simplification of the environment to such an extent that your conditionings become visible to you. For example a simple thing like food conditioning, your food preferences, in outside environment, in regular society, you would see, your food preferences get reinforced, you go out, you eat out, you like this, and that is available. There are enough and more opportunities to keep your food preferences intact and infact enhance them. But if you go to an ashrama, it will be simple, healthy, nutritious food as per let’s say Ayurveda. So simple balanced diet will be available but not oriented towards your specific tastes, your specific preferences. And hence when you have that kind of food, suddenly you will start feeling,”What is this? I don’t like it. I want this kind of food. I don’t want this kind of food.” And so on. Then, if you still stick on in the ashrama environment, if you don’t run away because of your conditional limitations, if you just stick on to the ashrama environment you will clearly see that, oh it is your conditionings that are causing the issue in the first place. And hence, you need to decondition. You will need to simplify you conditioning patterns so that you see this food is meant for this purpose. It is healthy, balanced, nutritious, more than that, the food has no relevance in your life. It declutters your thought processes, your conditioned thought processes, so that the conditioning becomes visible and then you work on it and resolve it. You can go anywhere, you can have simple sattvic diet and not get stuck with food. Not become a food fanatic. That does not mean you eat unhealthy food. It does not mean that. It means that you would simply avoid complex environments or that which is not directly beneficial to your health, and living. Likewise in so many other aspects, an ashrama provides a simplified environment so that your raaga dwesha, your psychological conditionings become visible to you, so that you can work on it. You are basically liberated from the illusion of choices and preferences.
Guru: A Darpan
The guidance of a guru, experienced meditators and spiritual practitioners that are available in the ashrama, wonders can be achieved. For example, we adjust our looks in a mirror and adjust our appearance. But how do we work with our attitudes? Many of us carry attitudes which are not beneficial to our life. So attitudes are also conditionings. So these psychological conditionings called attitudes, if they do not work, we need to discard them. What works for us we should adopt. What is not beneficial to us, and others, we should discard. But many of us don’t understand this. Because we don’t for practically working with this, we need a mirror, in which we can look at and see, “Oh, this attitude is not right. This attitude does not pay, is not beneficial.” That sort of a mirror is provided in an ashrama. Because of the simplified context. You will see the guru is called a mirror, a darpan. A mirror that does not distort, or contort. You would have seen mirrors that distort and contort. But we always want a mirror that is straight. The way we are it should reflect. So relationships provide this basis. But in complex relationships, in complex environments, it is not very clear and there is a lot of distortion and contortion.
But in a simplified environment, in a spiritual environment, you will see relationships become very simple and straightforward. And there, you will have as clear a view of your own attitudes as possible in others’ understanding of you, in others’ image of you. We have a self-image and others have an image of us. Each person carries an image of us. The image that others carry of us acts like a mirror. For us to understand, and see which is valid, if something is valid, do some correction to that image. So that we have better attitudes. So this is how in so many diverse ways, an ashrama provides an environment, a simplified framework for us to go deeper and deeper within ourselves and correct ourselves so that we come to a direct vision of the absolute Truth. Because all said and done, this is bahyakarana, antahkarana, the instruments. Body is the outer instrument and antahkarana is the inner instruments – of manas, chitta, buddhi, ahamkara. They need to be as pure as possible for the inner Divinity to shine forth. Because the Indic tradition is very clear that “Sarvam Brahma Mayam. Aham Brahmasmi. Sarvam Kalvidam Brahma. Prajnanam Brahma” It is very clear, but one needs to experientially realise this. For that whatever instrumentation we have, that needs to be cleared up, cleaned up to such an extent that the Divinity we have a direct vision of the Truth that is already there. It is not something that comes out of nowhere. What is already there, we clear our vision so that it become visible to us. That is the key thing. That is where an ashrama helps.