Ashram or Dharma Initiative?

This was written on April 3, 2011-

When the rickshaw driver dropped me off in front of the Aurovalley ashram I wasn’t sure exactly what I should do.  I didn’t see anyone in and around the ashram, and the front gate had a large padlock on it.  There was no doubt it was securely shut and locked.  I stood there in front of the iron gates wondering what I should do.  The rickshaw driver had turned his vehicle around and was about to leave, and there wasn’t a soul to be found anywhere.  So I just started shouting, as quietly as I could shout, “Hello?  Hello?  Anyone there?”  My rickshaw driver joined me, which I thought was very nice of him, and he also shouted, “Hallo?  Hallo?”  How could the doors of this ashram be closed and locked at 12:45 in the afternoon?  Maybe it was the universe telling me that I shouldn’t have come?  After what seemed like half an hour (I’m sure it wasn’t more than a few minutes), a tall beautiful woman with impossibly high cheekbones appeared with a key in her hand and a smile on her face.  I bade my rickshaw driver goodbye and walked into the ashram.

Reception at Aurovalley

She led me into a small reception area and asked me to wait until someone came to help me.  It was in fact a small building with just one room, narrow but airy and cool.  There was a bulletin board on the wall with some pamphlets, photos and articles of the swamiji who founded the ashram, as well as a schedule of the daily activities of the place.  I put my things down and started to peruse some of the information when I felt a presence behind me.  I turned around to find a man with a snow-white beards and silvery shoulder length hair, wearing a long white robe (imagine a long off white hospital gown with short sleeves).  He wasn’t heavy but he was substantial in the way an oak tree is.  I took me a second but I realized that the image before me matched the photos I had just seen on the bulletin board of the swamiji.

I think he asked me my name; I was a bit surprised to see him there standing in front of me that I’m not sure exactly what I said or what he said.  He asked me if I practiced yoga; that I do remember.  When Andrea, the woman who was to help me came in, the swamiji walked out of the room.  Andrea followed him and I could hear them speaking to each other but couldn’t make out what they were saying.  She popped her head in to ask me how long I planned to stay.  I told her that I didn’t know.  Maybe two weeks?  Then they seemed to look over to their left and continued their discussion.

A few minutes later Andrea came back to me and said, “Well, we know where you will be staying.  Swamiji said he was expecting you.”  OK, fine.  He was expecting me.  Could he not have let Andrea know before so to leave the front door open?  Ha!

Andrea walked me to my room, which is on the second floor of one of the guesthouses they run on site.  The Aurobindo/ Auroville logos were everywhere.  For some reason they reminded me of the Dharma Initiative logo from the TV show “Lost” and I was a bit unsure about whether I should have come here.  As for my room, to be perfectly honest, I think it feels like an upgraded prison cell.  By upgrade I mean the powder blue paint they used for the walls of the room.  Otherwise it’s a cement block of a room in a cement block of a building.  The doors (both the door to my room and the bathroom door) are made of steel, as are the four windows in my room.  There are mosquito nets over everything, which I fully appreciate but the steel doors and windows shut out almost all natural light and when closed, I feel a bit claustrophobic.  I opened the windows to find the mosquito netting and several steel bars running vertically, and in the middle each and every window I saw that there is an Aurobindo/Auroville logo.  In the room, there are two twin sized beds, a desk and a plastic chair, plus a wicker lounge chair.  I have a built in wall unit for storage and some hooks on the walls, in addition to the obligatory photo of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.  Concrete walls separate my room with the others next to me, concrete floors beneath my feet, and a concrete half wall that divides my living space with my bathroom.  For a cellmate I have a green gecko circling me overhead- wait, make that two geckos.  What have I done?  I’ve voluntarily checked into a prison!  Come to think of it, there was an American on the guest registry that I noticed when I was writing down my information earlier.  It looked as if this person arrived the day before only to leave after just one night…

My room is named "patience"

But food always makes me feel better so naturally I had to check out what they were going to feed me.  I wanted some peace and quiet, but I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be miserable here.  Luckily for me, the food was fine.  I also got to see that there aren’t a lot of people here; the dining hall was practically empty.  Unlike the ashram where I stayed in December, you had a choice in how and where you ate; you could sit on the floor (you can put your tray on a low table) or use a regular chair/table set up, or even sit outside.  But just like at Sivananda, the meals are eaten in complete silence.  Talking is generally discouraged here and that went on the “pro” side of my list of reasons for staying.

I felt so utterly exhausted from my busy morning in Rishikesh and the bumpy drive to the ashram, I crashed and slept for a few hours.  The remainder of my first day was spent familiarizing myself around the ashram and happily keeping silent.  I have to admit that so far it doesn’t feel like the most spiritual place I’ve ever been but I’m going to give this place a chance.

Aurobindo/ Aurovalley logo

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