BY ERIK WENNERMARK (JJK GURUKUL)
I have been on spiritual and yoga retreats all over the world. From the snow-covered Rocky Mountains of the United States to the rice paddies of Vietnam to the fecund jungles and sunbaked beaches of Kerala; none of these places compares to the breathtaking beauty of watching the early morning pink sun rise over the mist-filled valley of Aurobindo Madhuban Ashram.
We came from everywhere: Germany, Brazil, France, Sweden, Lithuania, India. We live in capitals of finance and commerce: Dubai, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo. We wanted a respite from our frantic, rajasic lives, to experience the beauty of the Himalayas and the wisdom of Vedanta with our teacher Swami Tattvarupananda. Many of us had known him for years, for others this was their first experience of the “Laughing Swami.” He had chosen Madhuban for our sadhana, and none were disappointed with the selection or our decision to attend as his characteristic wit, approachable charm, and Madhuban’s tremendous beauty carried us through the teachings of gurus past.
We spent our days practicing asana, discussing Vedanta, singing bhajan, and even playing spirited games of Charades or Swami (Simon) Says. We passed hours in silent contemplation with only birdsong and the fragrant flowers of Madhuban’s many beautiful gardens as distraction; the incessant bleating horns of Delhi were a long distant memory. We hiked in nearby forests and swam in frigid (and exhilarating!) mountain streams. We saw an eagle floating in lazy circles on a current of air, monkeys in distant trees pouted when we stole their bathing spot, fat-bellied frogs croaked in the weeds and grass.
The Madhuban facilities and staff made our two weeks effortless and allowed us to devote all of our time to study, practice, and reflection. Their community works and engagement with local schools and farms inspired us to likewise make a positive contribution to our world. The food was abundant and delicious; the accommodations easily surpassed our expectations. For my part, I was pleased to be introduced to the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and look forward to studying them further, perhaps on my inevitable next trip to Madhuban. I think it will be impossible to stay away!
The Mother had once called the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry a veritable laboratory to work out the future society. Its counterpart in the capital of India, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Delhi Branch, can best be understood as an extension of the centre of sadhana at Pondicherry. What is being done in this spiritual endeavour is the overcoming of the ascetic phase of the Indian tradition, which in a lopsided way equated spirituality with outer renunciation. In the Vedic times, integral life, prosperity, equality of sexes and a life-affirming attitude were cultivated by spiritual seekers. This integral approach was lost in later epochs when Mayavada (Illusionism) prevailed.
According to Sri Aurobindo “all life is Yoga.” In the Integral Yoga, the integral life down to the smallest detail has to be divinised : an inner illumination that does not change the outer life leaves the world as it is. The object of our Yoga is self-perfection and world-perfection.
From an early age The Mother had dreamed of a place where seekers of the Divine could completely dedicate themselves to spiritual life. “Earth needs a place where men can live away from…social conventions, self-contradictory moralities and contending religions, a place where human beings, freed from all slavery to the past, can devote themselves wholly to the discovery and practice of the divine consciousness that is seeking to manifest itself.” By providing a congenial environment and field of activities the Ashram seeks to be such a place. With the needs of the body provided, each one takes his work in the spirit of service and unselfishness, in the spirit of Karma Yoga — as an offering to the Divine.
The Delhi Branch was officially inaugurated on 12 February, 1956, with the Blessings of the Mother. To the great joy and gratitude of spiritual seekers in Northern India, the Mother graciously granted the very first Sacred Relics of Sri Aurobindo to be enshrined here on 5 December, 1957. Since then the Ashram has been growing at a steady pace. The shrine and the Meditation Hall continue to be the centre of life and the teaching of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother the guiding light. The Love and Blessings of the Master and the Mother and their Grace are always available to their disciples living here.
All live and work here as equals. No distinctions of sex, creed, religion, race, caste or national origin are observed: all are looked upon as souls and children of the Mother. There is no hierarchy of officials and subordinates. All work in association and as a unit under the general supervision of one or more sadhaks.
The doors of the Ashram are open for those who aspire for a higher life, with the trust that their aspiration will not stop merely at having a pious wish for a higher and nobler aim, but will manifest increasingly in the thoughts, the life movements and the physical expressions—which will all be progressively and integrally consecrated to the Divine.