When we hear the word ashram, we think of a strict and rigorous routine that will limit us in our “freedom”. Once I also thought this way. We have to follow a fixed schedule. We have a limitation to exit the ashram premises. Some strangers in orange dress tell us what to do… Have you asked yourself why it is so? Is it because they want to torture us? Yes, when looking for an answer to our questions, we should always ask why it is so and maybe there is a reason for that, which we cannot see at the moment.
As me and Harilalji are the organisers of the Bhagavad Gita retreat in Swami Bhoomananda’s ashram in Kerala, south India, a few days ago we asked for an appointment with Swamiji to talk about the details of the upcoming course starting on November 21st. It was 4 of us visiting, moreover 3 and a half – Meera, Harilalji, our daughter Gayatri and our karma yogi Mahavira. I have visited the Narayanashrama Tapovanam (www.narayanashramatapovanam.org) many times as Swamiji is my husband’s teacher. Gayatri was a small baby at that time, crawling around the ashram and I was changing diapers in the office room 🙂 Some people describe the ashram as “the clean one”. Clean it is alright, but more than just clean, everything has a purpose.
Even the plant pot is standing right in the middle of the window – not a few millimetres to the right and not to the left. This is the power of Vedanta or jnana yoga – yoga of knowledge and intellect. As a woman and a mother, I personally practice some jnana yoga but moreover karma and bhakti yoga, so that I never felt particularly attracted to the ashram and its teachings.
My view changed when Swamiji called us up to his office in the 2nd floor. He did this purposefully as he wanted to make the meeting informal and welcome us as friends. I bowed to his feet as one is supposed to do when meeting a respected person in India and wanted to get up quickly. But Swamiji insisted on me staying at his feet and went on stroking my hair. I felt like an innocent child in the safe arms of a mother. And I realised that even though Swamiji is highly intellectual and gives discourses all over the world, he embodies so much love also. Furthermore, he spoke to each and everyone of us and asked personal questions and expressed concern about my post-surgery convalescence. Gayatri, who normally doesn’t pay any respects to anyone, only if she herself wants, showed a great amount of freedom with Swamiji and even played a song (or rather made some noise) on her harmonica. This also Swmiji appreciated. Our visit was concluded with a delicious vegetarian lunched served in the ashram and blessed by Swamiji prior to serving to make sure all impurities had been removed.
Yes, there are rules, there is hierarchy, yet there is also infinite love – all for the selfless benefit of the student. Jaya Guru!