Ashram Life Vs. Psychedelic Life
File under: Commentary
We came upon the Sivananda Math's Yoga Magazine website after reading about its leader, Swami Niranjananand Saraswati, the heir to the throne of the Sivananda yoga empire:
In 1994, on the occasion of Shatchandi Maha Yagna to revive the Rishi parampara, his Guru finally passed on all his spiritual powers to him and declared him a Vishwa Guru.Other than the fact that these "spiritual powers" were actually just the economic and political control of the ashram, we couldn't find much to gripe about in particular on this site. That is until we saw the whole thing as an advertisement for the ashram life. They even have college level courses to teach it to you.
Having lived at an ashram once ourselves, we've had our own taste of this life. It's mostly the attempt to stuff individuals into the guru's or leadership's interpretation of Patanjali's Yamas and Niyamas, a kind of moral code for the beginning yogi. A few people seem to be able fit into these ideals, but most fall well short... and out of the ashram life very quickly.
The main problem with ashram life is the occlusion that arises around these moral ideas and what they have to do with self-realization, which is absolutely nothing. Those who cannot conform to ashram life are seen as having little or no possible chance at self-realization, mostly because self-realization is seen as the result of a life lived within the strictures of whatever yoga is being taught at the ashram.
Commonly, those who leave may be told they can't have realization because they fucked up by leaving. Yet those who stay will likely learn to believe that they can't be realized because they haven't yet measured up to whichever idea of perfection they are worshipping at their ashram. This perfection is most often a well-defined set of very prudish ideals based on the hagiographic details of the life of the founding guru. This almost always means no sex and no partying. In other words, not much fun.
The fun is supposed to be had in the joy of maintaining your ideals, ideals which usually don't bring much more than a sense of pride and accomplishment. They sure as hell don't have anything to do with self-realization. It's like going for a gold star everyday because you've been told that getting a gold star a day will make God like you more, and if God likes you more, He may make you realized.
Take a close look around and see how many people are truly self-realized at an ashram.
We're not saying that it's not good to be good. We're saying it's bad to think that being good is going to get you realized. That you being good is the whole problem. It's gotta go, at least in its hegemonic domination of your identity. But how's it gonna go when it's so busy enjoying being good?
This brings us to the prospect of the psychedelic life. By psychedelic we mean primarily transgressive as far as yogic practices are traditionally proscribed. You can use sex, drugs, rock and roll or whatever other practices you can come up with, as long as nobody is getting hurt. We'd venture to call it tantric, but that term has been completely trashed as a label for anything other than someone's last ditch effort at a marriage rescue.
You can still be good while living the psychedelic life, you just may not be good in the terms as described by ashram life. Rather than cultivating a particular, usually rigid form of approach to one's existence, one that is often unyielding to personal idiosyncrasy, you'd be deconstructing and disintegrating any form already there and making new ones up on the fly. It's about finding out as much as you can about your self, what makes you tick, and then discarding that as soon as you've figured it out and quickly moving on.
People can find out about themselves in ashram life, too. But instead of just being allowed to be as they find themselves, they are usually jammed up into the appropriate posture as recommended by the guru or tradition. Instead of it being a natural evolution of the psyche, it's just another trip through the cookie press.
What exactly is psychedelic life? It's whatever you make it to be. It's whatever guru or teaching you happen to be interested in at the time. It's whatever experience you believe is going to bring more insight. Insight is the activated buddhi. That is where discrimination begins, not in the blind adherence to some ancient moral code. It's by learning direct and firsthand, and sustaining the cuts and scrapes that may result. This is what brings true discrimination to a life.
You are still responsible for your bills and for the lives of those around you, but you are also free to take up whichever exploratory direction feels fit, not to be decided by anyone other than yourself. It's basically about being your own guru and seeing the opportunities for growth that exist in every facet of life, not just those few at the stick-up-the-butt conventions known as ashrams.
We're sure Swami Niranjananand Saraswati knows a lot about Yoga as the tradition in India. We'd like to think his yoga university is a good place to learn about that tradition as it's been handed down for way too long now. But what the Swami seems to be failing to see is that Yoga is now conforming to life far outside the walls of any ashram. As it leaves the ashram, it leaves ashram life, and this is the best thing that could ever happen to Yoga.
Ashram life is for the very few, most of whom are too distracted by it to see the truth of their own self-realization anyway. It's time for self-realization to become established as a natural occurrence–happening within almost every facet of culture and life–not just the oppressively "spiritual." The psychedelic life can help bring this about. When people realize they can make up their own yoga, provided that sincerity is at the root of their motivation, they won't need to try to live up to the anachronistic and unrealistic ideals of ashram life in order to come to see something that is always with them, as much out of the ashram as when in it.
Speaking of ashram life, there's a few blokes in London putting together a documentary about this very thing. Film researcher Sean Kenny of the UK-based Documentary Filmmakers Group explains:
The film is at an early stage so we still have a lot of flexibility on what stories we will include. Basically, we're looking for people who have been to an Indian ashram or guru who can tell us about their experience there, good or bad. One idea we have is to film a travelogue going from ashram to ashram to see what different ones have to offer, and the sort of people they attract. So any ideas of off-beat or unusual holy men and places would be good for that. We're also looking at concentrating on a couple of people and their experiences, eg is there anyone who went to an ashram with their friend and the friend got sucked right in, destroying the friendship?So pro or con, drop Sean a line and tell him your story. You just may save a poor soul in the process of preventing their self-realization by jacking themselves up with a bunch of superstitious Hindu nonsense... or maybe help keep them out of the reach of any hookers with cocaine to blow off their asses.