Experiencing Ashram -Hari Om
Bihar School of Yoga….in Munger… is it going to be much different from 136.1… that was my first thought… but as the days to the travel to Munger got closer, it hit me hard that it was not going to be the comfort and ambience of 136.1. This trip was going to be rustic – as the instructions about having to wash our own clothes, getting used to cold water baths, getting our own hot water kettles, flask, torch, extra pair of footwear, warning that there would be no provision for charging our mobiles or electronic devices, etc., etc. I seriously started wondering how this was going to help me. And the last straw came when the promoter of Yash (promoter of 136.1) told us with a big smile to come with an open mind… How open should my mind be, I wondered.
The first experience w as the train journey from Howrah to Jamalpur. We had traveled comfortably by air to Kolkata, and then took the train to Bihar. We had to take a rickshaw to the Ashram Gate, and thought that we would be royally escorted within. There stood a man holding a walkie talkie, and asked us what we want… we said that we had come to stay at the Ashram. He asked us for the permission letter, and then we realized that Shantanu, our yoga teacher from Chennai had the letter, and he was busy buying hot jelabis!!! The road was a typical Indian road, and it was a typical Bihar Town – unorganized traffic, constant honking and miracle of so many vehicles still moving amidst that hustle and bustle.
The view changed very soon when Shantanu arrived and took us inside the Ashram…. I wondered if we were suddenly transported to a resort in Europe. There were international faces everywhere.. people from all ethnics from all parts of the world were walking and talking – they all appeared busy and knew where they were going. We went to the GDO (Ganga Darshan Office) and waited for something to happen to us. We watched the way inmates and practitioners of Sanyasan life were very busy – carrying stuff like chairs, hand mikes and pedestal mikes, speakers, mats, and flowers to a lawn (more of an open space). Again, each one knew what they were doing, and were going about their tasks systematically. There was no curiosity to know who we were or where we were from.
I could feel the peace and serenity of the atmosphere – cool breeze blowing, beautiful landscape, seven story building, huge lawns and saffron robed inmates… there were young students who were practicing and seniors who had already attained the sanyasan mode. I wanted to capture the beauty and serenity of those moments, but was politely asked not to do so.
We were all given hand written yellow tags which had the building name, room numbers and other relevant details. We were escorted to the building and the in charge person knew only Greek!!! Or was it Greek? I don’t know. But he gestured – and I understood that I had to sign a paper to get the room keys. As I was waiting for the ambience of at least a two-star hotel room, reality clicked. I was transported back to my college days… two single beds and one cupboard to keep our things… And REALLY NO PLUG POINTS!!! That was not all… I realized that the only rest room available was a common public convenience (for our bath and to answer nature calls) – we were a group of 15 of us, four male, nine female and two children. I understood that the buildings for male and female are separate, except for VVIPs… J I realized I was not one of them.
As I was trying to settle down in this rustic room, the instruction came that we should hurry for lunch before they closed the dining room. Since it was Basant Panchami Satsang Bal Yoga Diwas on Feb 14 and Basant Panchami celebrations on Feb 15, the Ashram was open to common people and everyone could come, participate and have their three full meals in the Ashram. There was a huge kitchen and three temperory dining rooms to accommodate the crowd – more than 1000 people were fed during each meal. The first jolt came and I knew what the OPEN MIND meant, when I had to eat fluid kichidi for lunch and my dinner consisted of only Pav Bhaji – and dinner closed by 5 pm!!! The mind really OPENED when I realized that the timing of breakfast at 6 am, lunch at 11 am and dinner by 5 pm will be strictly followed. It opened further when I knew that there would be no south Indian thalis or snacks waiting for me.
The first three days were full of action – continuous sevas, participating in bhajans, poojas an satsang. I understood the reason of all that action I saw on my first day of admission… the mikes, speakers, flowers, etc. Swami Niranjan’s mother had attained Samadhi the previous night and preparations were happening for the performance of her last rites. What struck me was the fact that there was no change in expression in any of the faces… no emotions. Swami Niranjan also went about his tasks as usual… he said that life has to go on, the drums have to roll… and the festivities have to just keep going on… for Life Goes On. He was present in public and completely engaged in all the functions of the Basant Festival. I realized who a Karma Yogi was – a person who shares universal love and affection, and does not keep it specifically for his own near and dear.
There is a counter called Karma Yoga counter, where everyone who is present in the ashram is allocated work – and that includes guests like us!!! I realized that every Sanyasi I met for the next couple of days was responsible of one of the chores – be it the kitchen, dining or anything – the minute they see you, you are allocated some tasks. The Chief of the Karma Yoga counter called me and I followed her meekly hoping to escape from work allocation for the next day. I realized that all the names are documented and all the work done by people are documented, and there was no escape!!! The sanyasis are kind and they very kindly but sternly allocate work to you – with love and affection!!
The evenings on the Basant Panchami days were special, with dance and drama depicting the life of Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjan – the Chennai team did well during these sessions. The programs were compiled in an unique manner and different formats, and many of the songs were in English chorus. The highlight of the evening was an innovative group Katha group, which adopted the Kung Fu style steps for Mahamruthunjaya Mandiram J And one thing was common… less chairs and more people, so sitting on the floor became a way of life.
The last three days were totally different. We had one session of Asanas by Swami Sachidananda (names are given to Swami during Dikshas) – these people have other names outside. In our group, we had names like Dashrath, Sivalingam and Saligram. The teachers came with rich experience, and and one special teacher who took the Asanas was a kung fu practitioner!!! He brought in his experience of the Kung Fu art in simple asanas and created consciousness. It was absolutely different from the Studio practice, and I was totally induced to complete a course with these amazing teachers. Their anecdotes, their dedication, their consciousness and the awareness they bring in to the training in not simply describable. Yoga Nidra was the ultimate highlight, sleeping in the cool breeze… forgetting who you are and all your worries… J
I understood that Yoga Nidra is a signature of Satyananda Yoga, and this knowledge has been transferred from Swami Satyananda to Swami Niranjan – I am hooked and would like to know more about it.
On the lighter side, the seva continued, cleaning rooms, toilets, buckets, preparing the rooms, etc. If you want to escape and come out the building, there is always cleaning of the dining rooms, vessels, kitchens, etc. I realized that the entire landscape of beautiful gardens, and the ashram was completely done by the inmates. We were given choice to choose our chores sometimes, but there were times that it was thrust on us too.
Just before the date of departure, Swami Shiv Prakash requested the Chennai team to take care of the kitchen – and that meant deciding and preparing the entire menu. We bombarded the inmates with south Indian meals that full day, and were completely satisfied to see the smiles of appreciation in each one of the inmates. We politely declined, but told them that we would definitely do it during our next visit.
We were ready to leave… to leave the peace and serenity and simplicity of beautiful living, into the concrete jungle and the demanding world. We got an opportunity to speak to Swami Niranjan, and each one of us had several questions to ask. He answered each one of them with a smile.
As I sat down and thought about that week, I introspected and found that I was really happy, healthy, my mind was totally engaged and I experienced the real joy of giving when my seva helped others. I met with people with higher levels of consciousness – people who were intent on their tasks and in the task of serving others. There was no gossip, no discussion about politics, terrorism, rape, or the release of Viswaroopam! I realized even my thoughts were on my physical self, and I had concentrated on getting my mind and body ready to serve myself and the people around me.
Everything around the Ashram operated on specific guidelines, and that included cleaning of the buckets, serving specific measurements of food, and all this was clocked and recorded. It was sheer practice towards perfection without any emotional bonding whatsoever.
As we made our return travel plans, I heard about the National Bandh that would affect Kolkata. My one week at the Ashram gave me the emotional balance to stay composed, and sure enough, things went on well and I landed in Chennai with my group safe and sound.
This emotional strength that I gained was my finest learning at the Bihar School of Yoga. Do your duty without expecting any return, and do it sincerely – the destined will definitely happen.
Photos are hosted in 136.1 Page.
Hari Om Tath Sat