|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 533 ]
Most of you have probably heard the term ashram before. Some people think of an ashram as a Hindu monastery. Others conjure up ideas of a dismal setting where inmates practice extreme asceticism far removed from the daily life of society.
Those who have visited India may have witness the ashram as an institution with decaying facilities and poor hygiene -- a flophouse with strict rules of conduct for its overcrowding, poverty-stricken Indian occupants.
Well, the later may in fact be the unfortunate condition of some of the so-called ashrams in India today, but by and large such is not the case. In fact, none of the above assessments properly illustrate the essence of the Indian ashram.
In ancient times, the teachings of yoga were never found as a commodity in the streets of everyday life. Masters, the great sages and gurus of historical times, lived austere yet humble lives, far removed from the hustle and bustle of society.
They were often married men with children as well, and their homes were in remote areas such as out of the way forests or remote mountain regions. This home was the guru-kula, which literally means "the womb of the guru."
It is here that the serious aspirant, the one who has proven themselves sincere and ready for the teaching of the highest order (this one is referred to as an adhikarin), would come to stay.
The guru-kula was the ashrama -- a place where the spiritually eager would live and serve his/her revered teacher day after day, month after month, year after year, all the while being gently but firmly guided into the higher life. It was here, in the presence of the guru, that the spiritual side of the sadhaka was nurtured and made ready for life in the outer material world. Some students never left, but remained to serve their guru throughout their entire life. Others went out into the world to spread the message of their wise teacher.
The ashram was a sacred and safe place, where the guru taught within the three basic principles of dharma, karma and moksha; dharma as doing one's duty and fulfilling one's obligations on every level of existence; karma as working out one's merits and demerits actively in the world; and moksha as the spiritual liberation which comes from unifying one’s dharma and karma in yoga.
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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