Ashram, sect, school, cult…?

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What does living in an ashram look like?

After spending a month in an ashram in Thaïland, I can say that this is a place where you learn a lot. I’ve acquired some very technical knowledge but also some very personnal knowledge more social/human.

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I expected to learn a lot about permaculture and meditation as I thought an ashram was a school with buddhist rituals but I ended up learning much more about myself, living in a group, having a better understanding of my limits regarding esoteric and irrationnal knowledge and opening myself to new interesting topics like:

  • Natural building and how easy it is to build your own house in no time and without a personnal debt.
  • Yoga and how good it is for the body.
  • Meditation (but not too much) and how good it is for the soul and the balance of emotions.
  • Chinese medicine and its well eating side absolutely fascinating and linked to my new quest.
  • Drawing as a therapy.
  • Dancing as a safety valve for the body.
  • And certainly a lot more that I didn’t even realized yet.

But what is an ashram exactly?

Wikipedia says : An ashram would traditionally, but not necessarily in contemporary times, be located far from human habitation, in forests or mountainous regions, amidst refreshing natural surroundings conductive to spiritual instruction and meditation. The residents of an ashram regularly performed spiritual and physical exercises, such as the various forms of yoga. Other sacrifices and penances, such as yajnas were also performed.[4] Many ashrams also served as gurukulas, residential schools for children under the guru-shishya tradition.

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So yes, an ashram is a school and it has a “religious” part but it’s not a sect. The knowledge shared, how it is shared and the associated religion or cult depends on the place and the owners.

The topics at Gaia, where I spent my month of january 2016, were mainly environmental : natural building, permaculture and inner discovery. The knowledge was transmitted through a community system with a very strict routine (more relax for the owners and facilitators but quite intense for the community members) and the religious part was a mix of buddhism and a way of seeing nature which was very esoteric.

this is what a day at Gaia looks like :

  • 5h45 : wake-up
  • 6h00 : Meditation
  • 6h30 : Yoga
  • 7h30 : Breakfast
  • 8h45 : Theoretical lesson
  • 12h30 : Lunch
  • 13h30 : Break
  • 15h00 : Practical lesson
  • 17h30 : Meditation
  • 18h30 : Dinner
  • 20h00 : Activity or lesson
  • 22h00 : Sleeping

And on top of that we had to find time for the community duties that we were doing in groups of 3 or 4 :

  • Breakfast preparation
  • Dishes
  • Compost of the dry toilets and of the kitchen scraps
  • Tidying of the common room
  • Tidying of the job site (practical work)

Or these activities :

  • Rules definition
  • Big cleaning morning
  • Sharing with the group
  • Conflict management
  • ….

Needless to say that there were these days where we were more passive than active in the process.

This said, now you know that living in an ashram for one month is very tiring physicaly but also mentaly and emotionnaly. You have to be opened to the unknown to get as much knowledge as you can and be very mindful of your own limits to be able to take some time off when the group or the rules start to be a bit heavy on your shoulders/soul.

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