Swami Ritavan Bharati is Ashram Pramukh and successor of Swami Veda Bharati. Formerly known as Pandi Ananta, he took his vow to Swamihood in February 2007. Swami Ritavan is a highly trained and experienced yoga and meditation teacher. He holds master’s degrees in management, in education and in holistic philosophy. Swami Ritavan leads silence retreats throughout the world on behalf of the world-wide organization, Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International (AHYMSIN), and lives at the ashram.
In the training of yoga, an emotionally balanced personality is developed through the application of a number of disciplines and meditative practices. An ashram or gurukulam is a place where disciples live under guidance, with a number of methods employed by the Spiritual Guide for self-transformation of the disciple. With the choice and commitment made to live an ashram lifestyle as a disciple, one accepts the three pillars of spirituality that is nurtured in the ashram. These three pillars are: discipline, service, practice, which can be described as follows.
Discipline, or training one's inclination, tendencies, and habits, may include a number of ashram guidelines as well as personal practices. Examples of these are: strict daily schedule, prayaschitta or self-observation and self-examination, emotional purification and pacification, respect and obedience in accepting the spiritual guide's teachings and criticisms. The ashram lifestyle is also meant to reduce involvement in experiences and relationships that are not conducive to spiritual progress. Through constant self-observation one is reminded that equanimity in all situations is the primary prerequisite for ashram living.
The second pillar is service, ashram-seva, and known as karma yoga. This means that all one's actions and energies are given altruistically for whatever is to be done. Here one learns to use time, remain attentive, and maintains skillfulness in what one is doing. It also means to carry an attitude of "not-mine", for the fruits of the actions are offered for the benefit of the ashram, teacher, and teachings. One maintains a mindfulness of one's goal and channels all one’s emotions, energies and behavior into fulfilling one's task and surrendering the fruits.
The third pillar is the spiritual practice that supports self-purification, and self-liberation. The purification of personality is to free oneself from the habit patterns or samskaras as the latent tendencies that are mainly unconscious and are tendencies to which one is attached and with which one identifies thus remaining confused and ignorant. These come in the three categories of purifications of mind, communication, and behavior. Spiritual training involves all three levels of personality: physiological, psychological, and philosophical. The training in an ashram prepares one for going forth into the relationships, involvements, and to assume the responsibilities one has with a sense of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Through the inner strength of sankalpa or self-determination, a contentment (santosha) marks a spiritual maturity from which one is not distracted, and no longer influenced by confusing reactions or conflicts.
Thus, the ashram life, as chosen by a few rare persons, is a means of nurturing attitudes and behaviors to awaken the realization of purposeful living, and thereby effortlessly transforming oneself as a moral beacon of light for others through the essence of grace that is love.
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One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
"From childhood onwards, we are taught to concentrate on given tasks, but the other aspect of concentration-the withdrawal of the senses and remaining in a thought-free state is not taught. It is as though we know how to make a motor vehicle go forward but not how to pause or stop.
Many explicit and implicit qualities, characteristics, acquired tendencies and appetites inhabit our mind. The mind is a storehouse of all these attributes. If only we could empty the mind of these, we would enjoy great peace. When the mind is completely free of thoughts and appetites, the mind dissolves itself in bliss. And then no sadhaka can keep himself away from sadhana. The mind draws a thousand times greater joy from a brief concentration than it could ever derive from the pleasures of the senses. The task of the sadhaka is to empty the mind of all thoughts. The mind free of thoughts becomes a mirror which reflects the blissful inner Self of man. A free mind is the seat of power and a channel of intuitive knowledge.
How is it that the flute sends forth such sweet melody? It is because the flute is all vacant inside. Why should we not make our mind ready to receive the songs of Lord Krishna?"
- Swami Rama in Book of Wisdom: Ishopanishad pages 30-31