The Joy of Watching an Ashram Grow

By Swami Bhagavatananda

Anyone who ever had the blessing of taking care of a child knows the pure joy and soul-deep satisfaction felt when the beautiful but helpless little baby grows gradually into a strong, healthy and happy being through the love and care poured into it.

As it turns out, it is similarly rewarding watching an Ashram – one of Swami Vishnudevananda’s beloved ‘mind babies’– being born and grow from baby steps into a solid shelter and support for many spiritual seekers through the love and blessings of Swamiji, supported by the inspired service of many helpers who serve as instruments to make it happen.

We have the blessing to see it unfolding in the Ashram de Yoga Sivananda in Orleans, France. Inaugurated in 2003, the Ashram started as a charming park with lovely old trees and some, well, not so lovely old buildings. Mind you, we insist on calling it a quaint château and resent any statement referring to its early days as a “heap of crumbling walls”!

Since then, under the able guidance of Swami Durgananda and Swami Kailasananda, so many things have improved. Buildings have been renovated and enlarged, new additions and facilities have been added. The grounds have been cleared and part of it transformed into a colourful flower and vegetable garden, enthusiastically guarded (with doubtful success) against the multitudes of rabbits who vastly outnumber the human Ashram inmates.

Through the Masters’ blessings, more and more souls get inspired each year to spend time at the Ashram, with a peak last summer that stretched the Ashram beyond its capacity for three whole months. Because, even if the Ashram has left its baby steps behind, it is still far from being fully fledged, and neither accommodation nor indoor teaching spaces are sufficient.

Now, what do you do when there are more people wanting to live the yogic life than can be accommodated? Following good old yogic tradition we coped as best as we could, according to Swami Sivananda’s teaching to adapt, adjust and accommodate. In the rooms, beds were added wherever beds could be squeezed in; in the campsite, tents were added wherever tents could be squeezed in; and beds were added to tents wherever they could be squeezed in!

Chief strategy of our logistics during the main season is praying for decent weather to use outdoor teaching spaces. Whenever the universe fails to cooperate, Asana classes follow Swamiji’s principle of “bumper to bumper”. Since the kitchen was feeding a number of people double the amount of its originally planned capacity, we upgraded our appliances, growing them both in size and technology, and transformed the kitchen storage into an improvised cold room with the help of a portable Aircon.

How can we improve for the future?

Our plan is to focus on three main projects:
1. The construction of a new building which will include two large teaching rooms, eleven en suite single rooms, and dormitory spaces.
2. Building a real home for the Ashram temple. Although the temple is strong with beautiful Murtis and well taken care of year-round by south Indian priests, it is housed in a tent structure and gets very cold and drafty during the winter months. In addition to giving it sound walls we also want to enlarge the temple, adding a temple kitchen, a flower room and bathroom facilities for priests and visitors
3. Building an all-year-round dining hall. Like the temple it is currently a tent structure and therefore not very comfortable on rainy or cool days even in the summer season; and in winter the food has to be carried across the Ashram to an Asana hall.

An Ashram belongs to the seekers who come to it to experience the yogic life-style and take refuge from the harshness of the world. Our vision is to turn the Ashram into a haven of beauty and peace (which it is in many ways already) to inspire all who come to return home with fresh energy and determination to live a yogic, peaceful and contented life.

We invite you to join us in the effort to turn these projects into reality. If you would like to contribute in any way, by giving your time or by sending a financial contribution, this would be greatly appreciated. We thank you very much for your generosity and for taking part in the peace mission of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda.

Swami Bhagavatananda is the co-director of the Ashram de Yoga Sivananda in France. email: [email protected]