Seeking life wherever it is expressed.

THE ESSENCE OF ASHRAM LIFE


THE ESSENCE OF ASHRAM LIFE

by Swami Sahajananda  (Br. John Martin)


Father Bede rarely talked about his inner experience

during his long life, except in the last four years after his

stroke in 1990 and in a few other instances such as the

recollection of his awakening to the divine Presence in the

natural world. Anyone familiar with the major events and

turning-points of his life, however, cannot but discern the

workings of grace in those extraordinary moments of his

earthly existence. It was grace that led him to take that

eventful walk on the last day of school before he went up to

Oxford, and revealed to him the Divine in and surrounding

nature; it was grace that inspired him to realize that God

worked in and through history as well as the cosmos. Grace

compelled him to return to Christianity, to become a

Catholic and to enter a monastery after his conversion. It

was grace also that guided his studies of oriental mysticism

and planted in his heart the desire to go to India in 1955. It

was grace that gave him the capacity to persevere there

through many trials even to the hour of his death.

Bede’s mysticism is accessible, however – particularly

in his later correspondence – in hundreds of letters to close

friends and disciples. Sifting through the vast details of his

experience, from his school days to his final illness, three

distinct but interrelated types of mystical awareness are

evident. They constitute the golden string of his inner being,

the rich unfolding of grace in his unique history.

The first type, natural contemplation, has already

been alluded to above. This kind of contemplation – that is,

the ability to perceive the divine Presence in nature –

One day as I was teaching Indian Philosophy to the

students at the Rosarian Philosophate in Trichy, one of the

students asked me, “Brother, what is the literal meaning of

ashram life?”. “I don’t want to tell you the literal meaning of

ashram life,” I replied. “Why?” the brother asked curiously.

“If I tell you the literal meaning of ashram life then you will

all come and join ashrams.” I said. There was a burst of

laughter.

The essence of ashram life consists in the word

“Ashram” itself. The word ashram can be divided into A –

Shram. Shram means hard work, struggle and conflict. A

Shram means no hard work, no struggle, no conflict, no

burden and no labouring. This is the literal meaning of

ashram life.

Ashram life is a life where there is no effort to

achieve something. It is a life of inner freedom, spontaneity

and effortless life. It is a life of freedom in the sense that

there is no desire to get anything more nor fear of losing

something.

THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND ASHRAM LIFE

Humanity is created for ashram life. The garden of

Eden is the first ashram that God created for humanity. To

live an ashram life is the natural state (sahaja) of human

beings. The ashram life of the first human beings is very

beautifully described in the book of Genesis. God created

humanity in his/her own image and likeness. God is Holy

and Whole so also he created human beings as holy and

whole. God is beyond time and space so also he created

human beings in his/her own image, in the sense that there

is something in the human beings which transcends time and

space. In God there is no conflict, there is no effort to

achieve anything. There is no struggle (shram). There is no

fear of losing something and there is no greediness to get

something more. By creating God does not get anything

more, by not creating God does not lose anything. The true

self of human beings is like that: a state of freedom and

creativity.

In the garden of Eden human beings were naked and

not ashamed. Physically it means they had no clothes on

their body. Spiritually it means they were empty, in an egoless

state. They were empty in each moment of their life.

They lived their life without creating an ego in themselves.

They lived the life of eternity, which is wholeness of life

where horizontal and vertical are united. They had no sense

of psychological time (it is because they were unfolding and

not becoming) but had only biological and chronological

time. They walked with God in the cool of the evening,

which means they had very intimate relationship with

God, God living in them and they living in God. God was

their subject, God was their Ego, they saw everything in and

through God, they did everything in and through God. They

had no ego, no centre in them. They were naked and not

ashamed. They had no guilt feelings. They had chaste

relationship with God. They were innocent in the sense that

they did not know good and evil.

In the garden of Eden they did not make any effort to

achieve something. They lived according to their created

nature or given nature. They had nothing to achieve – only to

live. They had no conflict and psychological suffering

because they had no psychological time. Psychological time

belongs to the fallen state and is the source of psychological

misery and suffering. They lived their life naturally,

spontaneously and freely. They were following the natural

path (Sahaja Marga). Their journey can be described as:

from eternity to eternity;

from wholeness to wholeness;

from holiness to holiness;

from one unfolding to another unfolding.

We can say that they were living an ashram life which was

intended by God when God created them.

FALL AND SHRAM LIFE

But sin makes humanity to fall from ashram life into

shram life.The serpent which was on the tree was cursed by

God to crawl on its belly and dust shall be its food. A snake

raising its head (hood) represents wholistic consciousness

where vertical and horizontal dimensions are united. A

snake crawling on the ground represents horizontal

consciousness separated from the wholeness, which is the

consciousness of time: past, present and future. Eternity falls

into time. Through human beings the

creation participated in wholistic

relationship with God. When

humanity fell, creation also fell from

wholistic relationship into horizontal

consciousness of time.

Humanity has been cursed to

live the life of shrama, suffering,

hard work. Woman has to suffer

pains and the equality of the sexes

has been lost and the woman

becomes dependent on man. Man

has to toil and eat in the sweat of his

brow all the days of his life. The land will bring forth thorns

and thistles. Man has to live by the sweat of his brow. And

cursed is the ground because of the human beings’ fall.

The life of wholeness falls into a life of fragmentation;

The life of holiness falls into a life of unholiness;

The life of being falls into a life of becoming;

The effortless life (ashram) falls into a life of effort

(shram).

By the sweat of his face man has to live. Our spiritual

journey has become the life of becoming, life of conflict,

life of struggle, life of good and evil. The more we try to

become good, the more thorns and thistles are found in us.

Our spiritual life is the life of shram, struggle and conflict.

And this life of shrama has been passed on from generation

to generation. This is the burden which humanity is carrying

from generation to generation.

THE CALL OF JESUS

Jesus is calling humanity to free itself from this

spiritual life of burden or shram, and enter into the life of

lightness or ashram. “Come to me, all you who labour and

are burdened (shram) of heart. I will give you rest (ashram).

Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart…for my

yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Mt 11:28-30

Jesus himself might have gone through this life of shramlabour

and discovered the life of ashram or rest, which is the

real nature of all human beings. He might have seen how

humanity has been carrying this burden. Religion, which is

supposed to relieve people from this burden, has itself

become the agent of burdening people. He had compassion

on the people, so he is asking people to come to him

because he is living the life of rest, ashram. He is the living

ashram, so that he can free them from this burden and give

them rest and peace. “I am meek and humble of heart”, he

says. He is meek and humble because he has no ego, his Ego

is God. He is empty and naked. For his yoke is easy and his

burden is light.

It does not mean that Jesus takes away one type of

yoke and places another, lighter yoke. What he means is that

in the garden of Eden humanity was

meek and humble without ego. The

desire to become like God started an

ego in them which culminated in

their fall. The ego is like a bull on

whose neck a yoke has to be placed.

And this yoke becomes a burden.

But Jesus says, “I am meek and

humble,” I have no ego, I have no

yoke on me. I want to purify your

ego, make you meek and humble so

that there is no need of placing a

yoke and there is no possibility of

placing a yoke, either light or burdensome. Where there is

no ego there is no need of a yoke. So Jesus came to free

humanity from the ego; then he liberates humanity from all

the yokes and burdens. He makes it possible for humanity to

live the natural life of the garden of Eden, which is the life

of egolessness and thus ashram life.

God created humanity for ashram life. But sin

brought down humanity from ashram life to shram life.

Jesus is calling humanity to come back to this ashram life

which is the garden of Eden, the first ashram created by

God.

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