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Saturday, April 3, 2010

About Ashrams

We may not know every yogi and ashram in the world especially those who are not exposed to the media. There are many famous yoga teachers and Ashrams in the world but there are also many other saints and sages that are behind the commercial world of name and fame, doing lots of selfless work to propagate humanity, compassion and wisdom. Not knowing these selfless people doesn’t mean that we deny their existence. We know that there are many of these selfless yogis out there renouncing the worldly name and fame but continue to contribute to the world in different ways. We respect all who are directly or indirectly involve in the propagation of humanity, compassion and wisdom. Even though we don’t know everybody in the world, we will always know that there are many other people who are practicing yoga and sharing yoga and wisdom with many others. My respect to them.

For many of us who are looking for a yoga place or a yoga school (Ashrams) to learn and practice yoga, we will have questions about which school or Ashram should we go to, which teacher or guru should we learn from, and should we stick to one guru and one ashram or should we learn from many teachers and experience many different Ashrams or yoga schools.

Many people will first look at those famous Ashrams, affiliate yoga schools and famous yoga teachers because the habitual worldly conditioned mind is always looking at the “beautiful” appearances of things where the mind determines the quality of things from the appearance, such like the quality of the teaching curriculum and the recognition of qualification from the world of “affiliation”.

Nowadays it is not surprising that people go to a yoga school or an Ashram mainly to obtain a recognized certificate for them to find a job called “yoga teacher” in the world of competitive “qualification”. No doubt that most of them also are sincere in sharing yoga with all, not because they just want to earn money from teaching yoga class.

It’s just that the people in the world is heading towards the “importance” of a piece of paper recognition more than the real practice and spiritual enlightenment of the person. And what is stranger is that just one piece of paper certificate is never enough because the teachers think that they need to acquire and possess as many certificates as possible. The students also think that their teachers should possess or acquire many recognized certificates from attending many workshops and courses or else they are not a good teacher because they are not up to date with the “latest” trends in the yoga industry or not learning the latest “technique”, and that they are not improving themselves in the competitive world of “elite”.

Technically there is nothing wrong about wanting to learn more, to improve and to obtain certificates and recognition, and most important is to teach better quality classes. It is very good indeed. But obtaining many certificates and qualifications by going through many courses, studying and remembering a lot of names and terms, passing many examinations, learning and performing many complicated asana poses in a competitive manner (competing with others and with our own self, challenging ourselves to go beyond the limitation of the physical body), is nothing to do with the internal self-realization that derives from self-control, purification, dispassion, discrimination, compassion, wisdom, selflessness, ego-lessness, non-attachment, non-duality of namelessness and formlessness, non-identification with the body and the mind, beyond good and evil, and transcending positive and negative, success and failure, happiness and unhappiness.

A person who doesn’t know how to read and write or not knowing the Sanskrit or not knowing any asanas, it still doesn’t stop him or her from attaining self-realization without going to a formal yoga school or Ashram or having any teachers at all.

If a person is really self-realized, this person will be transcending all these names and forms, and not needing any recognition at all. There might be superficial or technical value in these paper certificates but there is no spiritual meaning in these paper certificates because they cannot determine or represent the state of mind of a person, nor can it determines the depth of insight development in a person and the continuing development unceasingly until complete self-realization takes place. And since everything is impermanent including the practice and clarity of the mind are not permanent either, that’s why no one can be judged on a piece of certificate about his or her state of wisdom and enlightenment. We all are still under purification process to eliminate the ego and all the impurities.

In real, there is no such thing as beginner practitioner and advanced practitioner spiritual wise. Ignorance and wisdom is the same in everyone. When there is ignorance, there is no wisdom. When there is wisdom, there is no ignorance. Physically, people are having different level of strength and flexibility and this generates the different levels in the asana practice, but that cannot determine the spiritual state of someone. A person who is very stiff and weak, and couldn’t perform any asanas, but still can attain spiritual enlightenment.

A piece of paper means nothing to a person who has attained spiritual enlightenment and is one with the whole universe. Everything is he. He is everything. Nothing is separated from him. He doesn’t need a certificate to feel good and confident about himself and his achievement in spiritual understanding. Nor does he need to prove to the students that he is qualified and is good enough to make the student have confidence in him.

If a person in search of a guru and want to look at the guru’s qualifications and certificates and looking at what type of certificates can the guru issues to him when he finished a course with the guru, then this is not about yoga anymore.

Yoga “studies” or spiritual ashrama sadhana is not about one month or one year course and after that we are graduated and will have a certificate qualifying us as a successful yogi or a qualified yoga teacher. It is a whole life learning and practice, unceasingly purifying the mind, until the mind is free from all impurities. In the path of yoga sadhana, certification is just a game for the worldly minds. There is nothing wrong but it cannot represent yoga.

Take Buddha as an example, did he attain an enlightenment certificate from a school or from a teacher certified him as an enlightened being and he was qualified to teach and help other beings to be free from suffering?

A yoga school or an Ashram is a very good place for us to learn what is yoga and yoga sadhana, the discipline, the philosophy, the scriptures, the Sutras, the Sanskrit, the spiritual development, the yogic lifestyle, the ancient wisdom, the traditional practice, the mantras, the mudras, the kriyas, the many paths of yoga, and other forms of different practices, and of course the technical side of the asana and pranayama practice and meditation. It is a good place for Satsanga – wise company and sattvic environment that is very important and condusive for our spiritual growth. But it is not a guarantee for spiritual enlightenment or guarantee as a compassionate and wise being. Enlighten or not, compassionate and wise or not, are all up to our own self, our own mind. It is not the Ashrams or the teachers can give us that.

It also depends on what type of “yoga” we are looking for. If we just want to learn fitness yoga or asana exercises only, then there are many yoga teachers and yoga centers in the world that can teach us yoga exercises. But if we are sincerely looking for yoga teachers or yoga schools that can teach us the ancient yoga, then with pure intention and great humility, a guru or a few gurus will come to us naturally when we are ready, or we will be going to the guru when the time is right. The mind is everything. Everything comes from the mind. It’s our thoughts attract what is coming to us.

Without humility, there is no use to go to any gurus or Ashrams or yoga schools. It will only bring more troubles for ourselves and to the Ashram and guru.

The real guru is with us all the time. All the other teachers are there to help us to see or to realize this guru in ourselves. Once we find this guru in us, everything is our guru. God manifests in everything to guide us and teach us to become selfless. When we are selfless, we are free.

Teachers are not necessary to be human beings, they can be anything. A dog, a car, a house, a young child, an ant, a tree, our own mind, the senses, the ego, the likes and dislikes, our own feelings and emotions are all our teachers. And so, it doesn’t matter if we are learning from many teachers or only from one teacher, at the end it’s all about our own Self.

Yoga is here in our heart. Not just to be found in India. It is not with a yoga teacher or a guru or in an Ashram. The real Ashram is in our hearts, in our lives. It is the entire universe. The yoga schools or Ashrams are there to help us to find the real Ashram in us. The guru is there to guide us to find the real teacher in us. This Ashram and this guru is not necessary a famous public figure nor they will issue us with a piece of paper that is being recognized by such and such affiliation or organization.

Once we find a yoga school or find our guru (our instinct will tell us that that’s the one and it is not necessary that there has to be a yoga school, because the whole universe is an Ashram indeed. A real guru is teaching yoga everywhere and at anytime, unlimited, unconditioned), then stick to that one teacher even though the teacher might not be perfect from our point of view. Don’t look at the teacher. See beyond the teacher and learn the essence of the teachings. If we keep picking out the defects of the Ashram and the teacher, our mind will be too busy with negativity and not be free for self-contemplation. If we keep changing schools and teachers, we will be learning too many different styles and different ways of practice, we will be confused and not going anywhere.

If we are devotional and artistic people, then Bhakti yoga is suitable for us.

If we are sociable, active and helpful people, then Karma yoga is suitable for us.

If we are quiet people (not sociable) and intellectually smart, then Jnana yoga is suitable for us.

If we are combination of all the above or none of the above, then Raja yoga is suitable for us.

Every path will bring us to purification, concentration and ultimately, wisdom.

It is us that walk the path and make the effort to attain the wisdom within us. Not our guru, whether the guru is perfect or imperfect.

Going to an enlightened guru, may not make us enlighten but will guide us in our practice. At the end we have to be independent. If we need to have a guru there to tell us this and that, then forever we may not reach the goal of yoga, liberation.

If we are already asking these questions and are looking for “our” guru, we just need to be patient, the guru will appear in our life very soon. When we found him or her, respect him or her and be very humble. Many people need to serve the guru for many years before the guru teach them anything technically.

This is to purify the mind and to eliminate the ego.

Once the mind is purified and the ego is eliminated, everything will come to the student naturally to open up his or her wisdom. With this wisdom, we are our own guru, the whole universe is our Ashram.

Many people went to the same yoga school or Ashram, some people will be benefited very much but some of them will complain a lots and some people even walk out from the course. Not everyone will have the same effect or experience. The problem is not with the school or the Ashram. It is our own mind rejecting and resisting. It is all up to our own self whether we will learn something or not from the Ashram and the teachers.

My teacher is not in India or in the Ashram. God is everywhere in everything. But the Ashram and India was the place where it allowed me to find my Self. Even though I never met Buddha and Swami Sivananda personally in this life but they are always my guru in a spiritual form. I would recommend anyone to go to an Ashram or yoga school to learn yoga but not for its certification.

If I am happy and compassionate, does God give me a certificate of “good being”? If I am not happy and not compassionate, does God give me a certificate stating me as “bad being”?

If we have a pure mind, everything is a teacher and is okay. There is no problems.

If we have an impure mind, everything is annoying us and we will have lots of problems everywhere.

That’s all.

In an Ashram there are many people, teachers and volunteer helpers. They all are still human beings. If we are wise and compassionate, we won’t see the defects in other people and won’t complain about anything. Just mind our own practice, don’t mind about other’s good and not good.

It is only when we don’t have wisdom and are not compassionate, we will see bad things and wrong things at everywhere and in everyone. But then we forget about our own self is not perfect too. Always keep looking at other people, judging people, comparing people and in competition with people, and have lots of expectation towards the results, the teachers, the ashram, the people, the volunteer workers and our own self is the biggest obstacle in the path of self-realization.

Ashram and guru (internally or externally, with or without name and form) are important instruments for us to cross the ocean of suffering to reach eternal peace. We should be grateful that there are many yoga schools and Ashrams everywhere and we should help to support them to continue to serve all, and bring love and peace to all.

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About Yoga

Know thyself. Everything is impermanent and selfless. There is no 'I'. There is no 'I am selfless'/'I am not selfless'. There is no 'I am hurt'/'I need to be healed from hurt'. Be free, be peaceful, be happy.

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