Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Daily Ashram life by Swami Nishchalananda plus Book review...

The Ashram should be constructed along simple lines by the labour of members and devotees. It should be situated in an out-of-the-way-place, where there are many difficulties. At times, there should be a cyclone, typhoon, floods, extreme heat or cold. Sometimes it should be pleasant and at other times very suffocating. This is my concept of an ashram. (Swami Satyananda Saraswati; 1923-2009).

In India, ashrams have existed for thousands of years. They are widely mentioned with veneration in the ancient texts such as the Bhagavat Purana, Ramayana, Mahabharata as well as many of the Upanishads. They have always been the guardians of mystical teachings such as Yoga, Tantra and Advaita. Though there are very few ashrams in the western world, my feeling is that in the future ashrams will become an integral part of western culture, just as they have been in India, and still are. The reason is simple: Yoga has become popular throughout the world over the last forty years; a natural bye-product of this movement will be the establishment of ashrams to support serious Yoga practitioners.

A Typical Day at Mandala Yoga Ashram

Every day in an ashram has unexpected surprises and sometimes even disappointments for us to cope with. In this way we start to see clearly the quirks of the ego and our conditioned reflexes to daily situations. While there is a daily timetable, it can change from day to day. Each day however usually starts between five-thirty and six o’clock. Early morning is spent doing Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga (chanting mantras) and Meditation until breakfast at eight-thirty. Karma Yoga is an important part of ashram life with a great variety of things to be done: gardening, cooking, housework, office work, maintenance jobs and working in the library. Often in the early morning there are periods of cleaning in silence, which encourages us to become more aware, both internally and externally.

Lunch is at one o’clock and typically consists of rice, lentils and vegetables, many of which are grown in the ashram gardens. Despite, expectations, most people find the ashram food not only nourishing, but also very tasty. In the afternoon there is more Karma Yoga which may be followed by the practice of Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation). Evening meal is at six-thirty, after which, at eight o’clock, there may be some chanting, satsang (discourse or questions and answers), or discussion and reflection on one of the yogic texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, culminating in a short meditation. 

After this, there is time to do whatever we want before going to bed, which is usually before ten o’clock. Without distractions such as television and newspapers to obstruct reality, this is the ideal time for reflection. Some people read or write; others prefer to do some more sadhana (yogic practice), finish off some Karma Yoga task, or go for a walk. People who come to an ashram bring with them a variety of creative talents. If they don’t bring them, there is a good chance that their dormant creativity will surface while they are here, and they will discover talents and skills that they did not know they had.

Each day in the ashram is different. We learn to cope with change and the unexpected. Ashram life brings out the worst in us (recognition of our negative mental traits and emotional blockages) and the best – deep joy and a glimmer, or even a realisation of what we are beyond the body and mind.
If you want to find out more, come and join us!

These words are extracted from an article which i have written and which will appear in the ashram newsletter 2013.
OM, Prem and Best wishes,
Swami Nishchal

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In case you missed this through our Ashram Newsletter. If your email address is missing from our list & you wish to receive the approximately quarterly newsletter please enter your email address HERE

 'Insight Into Reality - The Tantric teachings of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra' book review
Audio introduction by Swamij

The following is an excellent review by Yagnamurti:
''A decade or so ago I came across a slim book called Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by the American author Paul Reps. The book contained a collection of zen and pre-zen stories and a chapter entitled Centering, which is a translation of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra. Written in about 800 AD, this Tantric text from the Kashmir Shaivism has 112 dharanas, or practices, designed to transform our awareness and bring us to the present moment. However, that concise chapter, beautiful as it is, did not provide me with enough clues as how to use the ancient Tantric teachings effectively. Fortunately, for us, in the 21st century, Swami Nishchalananda has produced an outstanding book which will inspire seasoned practitioners of yoga and meditation to explore these teachings further. It presents a new, clear translation from the Sanskrit – the translator both has a deep understanding of the original language and has worked with these practices for many years.

Swami Nishchalananda is the founder and director of the Mandala Yoga Ashram in Wales. He has edited many of the well-known books of the Bihar School of Yoga, including Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Meditations from the Tantras and A systematic course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Kriya Yoga. Also, he has written many books published by the Mandala Yoga Ashram. In 2004, during Swami Niranjan’s programme in Majorca, Swami Nishchalananda introduced some of the practices of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra. He explained the main principles of this valuable text, and throughout the programme taught a few of the dharanas. As I was staying in the same hotel as Swami Nishchalananda, I had the opportunity to talk with him about these teachings and particularly about the lack of a practical book on the subject. He told me he was going to write such a book and Insight into Reality is the result. Central to the teachings of the Vigyana Bhairava is the fact that every situation in life can be used for find our centre, by watching any emotion we may be experiencing, and to remain centred.

Don’t live your life buffeted by likes and dislikes. Instead, blossom by remaining centred in Awareness.        (Dharana 101)

A key concept in the Vigyana Bhairava is ‘spaciousness’, understood as the sense or feeling of space, which we tend to neglect when we are so involved in daily life that we forget ourselves or become too self-centred. As Swami Nishchalananda points out, ‘spaciousness implies that we are receptive to the transformative potential and experience of the present moment’. Another central concept, also related to spaciousness, is the dwadashanta (the energy body surrounding our physical body at a distance of 12 finger widths from its surface). Being aware of this ‘energy body’ calms the mind and opens up our awareness to a deeper reality, to a sense of space and a more profound understanding and insight.

Insight into Reality is an eminently practical book which goes beyond the practice, as there is great depth and breadth to the wisdom contained in its pages. Apart from the actual text of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, there is a very informative introduction and background to the practices, which is essential to our comprehension of the dharanas. It explains in detail the philosophy underlying the tantric system of Kashmir Shaivism, including its ‘principles of creation’ (tattwas). Further chapters provide us with other fundamental concepts that form the rich and intricate fabric of Tantra and Yoga, i.e., koshas, chakras, Kundalini and Nada (primal cosmic vibration). There is also a fine chapter devoted to yogic practices –including asanas, mudras and bandhas– which can be used to enhance some of the dharanas described. The final chapter provides us 58 additional practices to live in the present moment, and gain insight and understanding of reality even through mundane and day-to-day activities. Insight into Reality is a manual for living consciously, moment to moment, a highly recommended book for the serious seeker.''

Insight Into Reality by Swami Nishchalananda Saraswati ISBN 0-9544662-2-5 (626pp, Mandala Yoga Ashram)
The double CD which accompanies this book is also available through the ashram

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