Ashram West Guidelines for Spiritual Living

First and foremost a resident of Ashram West is a Sadhu, a good man, a holy man, a man dedicated to God, the innermost Self, evident in all beings as consciousness. His goal is to manifest that Pure Being, Pure Knowing, Pure Joy at all times and in all ways.

 To accomplish this goal he employs effective means, spiritual technologies, based on the fundamental disciplines of Yoga.

He always strives to practice the following ten observances in thought, word, and deed:

1. Non-injury (ahimsa);

2. Truthfulness (satya);

3. Non-stealing (asteya);

4. Chastity (brahmacharya);

5. Poverty (aparigraha);

6. Purity (saucha);

7. Contentment (santosha);

8. Austerity (tapas);

9. Study (svadhyaya);

10. Dedication to God (Ishvara-pranidhana).


Strengthened and supported by observance, he employs the following ten practices:


1. Prayer;

2. Japa;

3. Mindfulness;

4. Celebration;

5. Ritual;

6. Reasoning;

7. Affirmation;

8. Love of God;

9. Meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana);

10. Union (samadhi).



Commentary on the Ten Disciplines


1. Non-injury (ahimsa):


The Tantras say that non-injury is the highest virtue, but these same scriptures also prescribe animal sacrifice in some instances as a desireable form of devotion. How to resolve this apparent contradiciton? The fact is that living inevitably involves harming others; to eat is to kill, to breathe is to kill. And yet we are exhorted to practice non-injury.

The Tankric practitioner views all beings and all things as manifestations of Divine Consciousness. It is God alone who has become the world in all its variety. Seeing the Divine Beloved everywhere, the Tantrica naturally reveres all life. He avoids gratuitous, intentional harm to all creatures. He may swat the flies that persistently land on his food, but he would not then proceed to douse his whole yard or neighborhood with insecticide to kill all flies (and incidentally other insects beneficial or otherwise plus birds, bats, and other animals that feed on them) that might enter his dwelling. In taking the lives of the flies he thinks of the oneness of the flies with the Divine and propels the flies to a higher birth with the exhortation, “Go to Shiva.” Thus, also, in taking food, whether of animal or of vegetable origin, he affirms the presence of the Divine in the food, in the act of eating, and in himself. He expresses gratitude to the animals and plants that forfeit their bodies to sustain his, and he acknowledges that one day his body, too, will reenter the great energy cycle of the world, being dissolved back into its contituent elements to become food for others.

He avoids intentionally injuring other people physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or unintentionally through carelessness, insensitivity, and unconsciousness. He recognizes with humility that he is not perfect in this practice, and he makes amends when possible and appropriate for any harm he has caused.

The perfection of non-injury is full knowledge of the Divine. When he truly sees at all times that God alone is the Doer and Experiencer of all actions, he is established in perfect non-injury, he delights in the welfare of all beings, and his living is an unalloyed blessing to all.


2. Truthfulness (satya):


A gay Tantric resident is to tell the truth always, except where to do so would result in a violation of the principle of non-injury. Silence is preferable to lying in these cases, but he may lie to protect human life. Truthfulness also means making one’s behavior conform with one’s speech and ideals.

Anything short of the ultimate Truth, that God alone is real, is in part untrue, and perfection of the practice of truthfulness is only possible for the one established in the permanent vision of the one Awareness shining in all things.


3. Non-stealing (asteya):


Abstention from theft of others’ property is certainly required, but this applies to ideas as well as to physical possessions. Taking another person’s ideas without giving credit as appropriate is also stealing. As long as the thought of stealing arises in the mind, one has not reached perfection in the practice of non-stealing.

Perfection in this practice occurs when the practioner experiences himself everywhere in all things; then there is no one and nothing apart from oneself to steal.


4. Chastity (brahmacharya):


A brahmachari is literally one who “walks in Brahman.” Chastity means unwavering devotion to God as the real and ultimate Lover, seeing and loving the Divine in all beings.

Brahmahcharya can also mean celibacy, a powerful yogic technique, which when properly understood and practiced, can be of immense benefit. It is not a goal in itself, however, but a means to a goal, and it is not for everybody all the time.

The gay Tantrica cultivates awareness of the Divine Energy within the erotic impulse, striving to turn this impulse toward God by affirming that it is God alone who attracts us within others, it is God alone who is the ultimate source of all bliss. Another way to conceptualize this is to think that the erotic, like every other mental modification, reminds us of Awareness that is our innermost Being and abiding nature. True chastity is achieved when the totality of one’s being, including the sexual, turns toward and becomes merged in the great shining ocean of consciousness. As one’s identity expands beyond the physical, the sexual impulse gets transformed into a generalized love for all beings; the whole world becomes erotic, as it were, and the Tantrica enjoys the bliss of union with all beings simultaneously. Limited, constricted, individual expressions of sexuality become unappealing as they require the practitioner to contract his identity to a painful degree in order to function at that level. Bodies deteriorate and die, relationships fail, but the Joy and Love that is our very Being persists through all changes.


5. Poverty (aparigraha):


The resident avoids acquiring and hoarding wealth. The spiritual meaning of poverty is realizing that nothing in this world really belongs to anyone; we are just using for a time the things we call our own, including even our own bodies. The resident cultivates awareness of the transience of all phenomena, making his heart a cremation ground for all things that decay, and inviting the Goddess and Shiva to take up residence there.


6. Purity (saucha):


Personal hygiene and the mainenance of a clean, pleasant, beautiful environment conduce to spiritual growth. Ritual purity may be attained by keeping the mind fixed on the Source of all Purity. Ultimately only the Self is pure, so experiencing the Self everywhere is the ultimate aim and practice of purity.

Purity also refers to maintenance of physical health, because the physical body is the foundation on which we must build our spiritual lives. A pure nutritious diet, regular exercise as suits the individual’s temperament and needs, relaxation and recreation that help relieve stress, and adequate rest are the essential components of maintaing a body fit for God-realization. Safer sex is a must for those who are sexually active.


7. Contentment (santosha):


True contentment comes when one realizes the Self. Short of that a resident practices contentment as an aid to mental calmness. He reasons that sense experiences of heat, cold, pleasure, and pain, etc. are inevitable to embodied existence; they come and go, but they do not affect the real Self. The skillful Tantric uses all sense experiences, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, to remind him of the Self, the awareness that permeates everything. He affirms that the same Reality that pulses in the most intense pleasure, is the very same Reality that burns in excruciating pain. Both pleasure and pain point beyond themselves to the Awarness that illumines them and gives them their reality. He neither seeks nor avoids, but takes what comes without any particular effort, surrendering to the flow of life and trusting in Dharma, the inner drive to Enlightenment.


8. Austerity (tapas):


Traditional austerities include fasting, enduring physical discomfort, and observing silence, which can be as useful in moderation as they can be harmful in excess. The Mahanirvana Tantra says that in the kaliyuga fasting should be replaced by giving alms. The resident may feed beggars, give to the poor, feed animals, and assist those in need of help as opportunities present themselves to his awareness. He is devoted to the welfare of all beings, but he recognizes that all beings have within them everything they need to progress toward the Ultimate Good without his intervention. Therefore, he incurs no sin in refraining from these activities if he chooses to remain uninvolved, if he feels that intervening might produce more harm than good, or if he fears for his safety. Detachment from others’ pain while complaining about one’s own, however, is incompatible with the monastic ideal. The most difficult austerity is remaining sensitive to the suffering of others with the full realization that one is ultimately powerless to end all suffering. When he knows the joys and sorrows of all beings as his own, as expressions of the one, universal Awareness, then only does true sympathy awaken in his heart. Prayer for the welfare of all beings is the daily duty of every resident.

Apart from physical or special situational austerities, the primary austerity for residents is the consistent cultivation of the following virtues in daily interpersonal interactions: common courtesy, friendliness, helpfulness, cheerfulness, kindness, compassion, reliability, understanding, forgiveness, patience, humility, assertiveness, optimism, non-judgement, and impartiality. It is not enough merely to control one’s behavior, although that is a start. To make these virtues a part of one’s character, one must engage in rigorous, daily self-examination of personal motive, fully explore and integrate the unconscious, negative aspects of one’s personality (shadow), and ceaselessly strive to improve oneself in one’s own heart and in one’s outward behavior by learning from one’s own and others’ mistakes without indulging in excessive remorse or condemnation. For this psychotherapy is essential.


9. Study (svadhyaya):


All residents are expected to read the basic cannon of Ramakrishna-Vedanta literature within the first five years of their monastic careers. Residents of Ashram West are also expected to learn Sanskrit to to able to read the Bhagavad-Gita and other religious texts with the aid of a dictionary and reference grammar. Learning Bengali is recommended for reading source materials related to Sri Ramakrishna. Daily personal study of scriptures, reading the lives and teachings of saints, comparative religion, mysticism, and psychology-related writings is essential to the training of every resident. Reading science-related writings, literature, and news is also encouraged but not at the expense of required reading. Pleasure reading is permitted, but a resident is expected to exercise good judgement in choosing selections that will enhance his spiritual practice rather than create obstacles or distractions.

Viewing of films and videos may supplement reading as appropriate.

Residents will share what they learn with one another in debates and discussion, and with sincere seekers in public and private talks, classes, lectures, or in other teaching situations and through various teaching modalities. We recognize that often the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.


10. Dedication to God (Ishvara-pranidhana).


In whatever he does and wherever he goes the resident always thinks, “I am His. He is my Beloved, my Daddy, my Friend, my Son, my Master, and my all.” Others live for their partners, spouses, jobs, careers, children, or even for great social and political causes. But the resident lives for God and God alone. If called by God to spread the Good Word, he will enter the fire, if necessary. But if called by God to pass his days in humble obscurity, then he finds his joy in the cave of his heart in the presence of Joy Itself.


Commentary on theTen Practices

1. Prayer:


Key word: Communication


Communication happens two ways. In prayer we pour out our hearts to God, affirming our relationship with him, and he hears our prayers affirming his relationship with us. We pray for spiritual awakening, for devotion, and for true faith for ourselves, for our brothers, and for all beings. We strive to pray without ceasing, such that every breath becomes a prayer, every heart beat. Every sensation of eye, ear, nose, tongue, or skin verifies our contact with the Divine Reality. God is our very own, and though we strive to love him without motive, we do not shrink from asking for what we want, trusting and accepting that he always gives what we need. Prayer is the proof of faith, and faith is the gift of prayer.


2. Japa:


Key word: Connection


Japa means repetition of a mantra, usually a name of God. Repeating the name of God out loud, silently with lips moving, or silently with no movement of the lips or tongue brings the divine awareness closer until we feel it within the very core of our being. When the heart sings God’s name without ceasing, the goal of japa has been reached.



3. Mindfulness:


Key word: Attention


Mindfulness is meditation in action. It is maintaining contact with the spiritual dimension of life while performing one’s daily activities. From the moment of rising from bed, through personal ablutions, prayers, eating, work and other activities, the resident strives to keep awareness of the Divine foundation of all life. He practices mindfulness in selected daily activities to train his mind through diligent practice to maintain mindfulness always.


4. Celebration:


Key word: Expression


Every resident is encouraged to create and enjoy music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, decorative arts, crafts, creative writing, and all other art forms that express the Divine in its myriad manifestations. The goals in art should be to reveal and serve the Divine, inspire, uplift, beautify, illuminate, please and gratify the heart and soul, and express one’s inner visions and moods, both light and dark. At the very least learning devotional songs, listening to music, and composing or performing music should be a regular part of every resident’s life, for music is a very special manifestation of the Divine in the form of Sound.

Dance is a natural extension of music into movement, a form of moving prayer, and the joy and release of devotional dance can infuse the devotee with the Divine Presence. Regular dancing is highly recommended for all. Any form of dance anywhere can be an aid to devotion when done with awareness, but dance to devotional music in the company of devotees in a sacred context is the most likely to yield spiritual benefit.

In addition, the cultivation of laughter through humor that does not violate the principle of non-injury is encouraged, recognizing that pure laughter relaxes the body and mind and lifts the spirit.


5. Ritual:

Key word: Transformation


Communal life in its totality should become sacred ritual, a means to build a bridge between matter and spirit, between action and meditation, between human and divine. Rituals may be individual or communal, traditional or experimental, carefully-planned or impromptu. Ritual is the core of a Tantric resident’s spiritual practice. The residents of Ashram West will explore ritual in all of its forms and uses, maintaining relevant ancient traditions, imbibing the essence of traditional practices, and developing new rituals as useful.


6. Reasoning:


Key word: Understanding


Intellectual understanding of the Goal to be attained, the nature of Reality, and the relationship between the individual and the Reality is extremely useful. Although understanding is no substitute for experience, understanding can align the individual with the Reality in such a way that experience can take place. Reasoning can remove obstacles to understanding by sorting out the true from the less true, the likely from the unlikely, the clear from the vague, the actual from the fantasy.

Also, the intellect must be reasonably satisfied that one’s striving is meaningful and likely to be productive. Truth transcends reason, but it never contradicts reason.


7. Affirmation:


Key word: Will


Through affirmation one may align one’s thoughts, words, and deeds with truth. It means striving to make one’s desires consistent with Truth, then actively willing, speaking, and living that Truth, recognizing that thoughts, words, and deeds verify and support one another. Understanding and experience are the underground wells that feed the fountain of affirmation.

A resident of Ashram West uses affirmations to strengthen, encourage, and inspire himself and others, and to correct destructive or limiting tendencies of thought, speech, or behavior.

The ultimate affirmation is the affirmation of Oneness.



8. Love of God:


Key word: Relationship


Love of God is the simplist spiritual practice and also ultimate goal of all spiritual practices. Love is an innate capacity of every soul, and awakening love should be every resident’s goal. All love is divine, righty understood, but residents should strive as much as possible to direct all their love to God, the Essence of all.

But any strong feeling, when related to God, aids the aspirant in keeping the mind centered in God. Therefore, even fear and hatred of God can be productive spiritually .


9. Meditation (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana):


Key word: Focus


Daily meditation practice is the foundation of all other spiritual practices. Without sufficient mental calmness and clarity, spiritual insight is impossible. All forms of meditation may be practiced according to one's interest, capacity, and mood.


10. Union (samadhi):


Key word: Fulfillment


God takes over, all doubts cease, and all rules become unnecessary except as a guide to others.

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