Sunday, July 8, 2007

An Ashram as a place for the Imagination


I have been wondering whether an Ashram is located in a particular place, or whether it belongs to a particular time in the life cycle of an individual. According to the ancient concept of the “Ashramas”, every person passes through four ashramas in their life. The first is the Ashram of the student, or Brahmacharya. Then comes the householder Ashram, called Grihastha. Then a person finds that they do not have a fixed abode, and the Ashram of the pilgrim of Vanaprastha begins. Finally everyone reaches the Ashram of the monk, or Sanyasa.
The psychologist Sudhir Kakar has suggested that these Ashramas remain in the subconscious of many Indians, as not necessarily situated in any particular place or time, but as imaginative concepts or ways of understanding a life as a whole. They are like the four quarters of a circle, and one ashrama does not necessarily follow on another, in some kind of sequential order. Rather, they are like the four directions of space, and can be understood as orientations that we take in life’s journey.
An ashram is perhaps a space, but an imaginal space (rather than an imaginary space), in the sense that it is a kind of construct of the imagination, a way of looking at oneself, and the path one is following.
Sri Aurobindo defined an Ashram as a community of people who are following a particular Sadhana, or spiritual path. “Sadhya” is a goal in life, and one who tries to make this goal the basis for action, follows a Sadhana. A friend of mine once suggested that an Indian way of understanding what in South America has been termed a “basic community” might be to think in terms of a community that chooses to follow a Sadhana, and becomes in that way an Ashram.

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