Ajatananda Ashram

What Does an Ashram Stand for?
A Monastic Ashram (matha)
An Interreligious Ashram
At the Banks of Holy Ganges
Ajatananda Ashram was started in December 2003 in Tapovan (Rishikesh) in the Indian Himalayas to fulfil the dream and vision of Swami Abhishiktananda (1910-1973) as an interreligious monastic community on the banks of holy Ganges .

It is a place which values silence, solitude and simplicity, and which practices a universal form of prayer and meditation in community. Due to its universal nature, the Ashram is not formally affiliated to any religious organization/institution. Since 2004, its management has been carried out by an independent non-profit organisation, the Ajatananda Interreligious Trust (Regd).

The Ashram is named after Swami Ajatananda Saraswati (Marc Chaduc), a realized sage and the principal disciple of Swami Abhishiktananda. On 30 June 1973, Swami Ajatananda took sannyasa diksha from H.H. Sri Swami Chidananda Saraswati — who considered him as an enlightened soul. He disappeared mysteriously from his kutiya (hermitage) by the Ganges at Kaudiyala in 1977 and has not been seen since.

What Does an Ashram Stand for?

The word ‘ashram’ is derived from a Sanskrit root which means ‘full effort or dedication’. It is a place where spiritual seekers do collective intense sadhana to realize the Supreme Reality. Hence, meditation, one-pointedness of mind, self-inquiry, and inner stillness are the essence of ashram dharma.

An ashram is distinct from a guesthouse, a holiday resort, or a family residence. The purpose of an ashram is neither commercial activity, nor leisure nor domesticity. Indeed, the fundamental objective of ashramites is to be committed to spiritual practice, and naturally so in a sannyasa ashram.

An ashram is also a community and thus a place where every effort needs to be made to cultivate the spirit of mutual love, respect and service. The behaviour of the ashramites should always be an example for the right conduct of human life in the world.

Ashramites (ashramvasis) lead a disciplined life of selfless service, and devote their maximum time in sadhana and svadhyaya (spiritual study).

The activities and atmosphere of the ashram need to be such that they are always conducive to meditation and spiritual upliftment.

A Monastic Ashram (matha)

“The monk is a man who lives in the solitude of God, alone in the very aloneness of the Alone. He does not become a monk in order to do social work or intellectual work or missionary work or to save the world. The monk simply consecrates himself to God.”
Swami Abhishiktananda, 1958

Ajatananda Ashram has been created in the style of a matha, in the Indian tradition. ‘Matha’ is the equivalent of ‘monastery’, not necessarily a place where disciples gather round a guru, but a place which has been founded so that monks can devote themselves there in peace and meditation.

The members of Ajatananda Ashram are monastics and monastic-like spiritual seekers who pursue a life of complete worldly renunciation for the sole purpose of realizing God/Truth or the Absolute. Therefore, they follow the traditional monastic rules and engage in meditative practice, spiritual study and dedication to selfless service in the name of God. Their way is primarily to seek and realize God/Truth or the Absolute through the path of jnana [knowledge] and silent contemplation. The focus of the monastic path is on the inner, contemplative life of ‘being’, rather than ‘doing’ or engaging in activities. It is the true path of non-doing (nivritti-marga).

An Interreligious Ashram

“The call to complete renunciation cuts across all dharmas and disregards all frontiers (…). It is anterior to every religious formulation. In the end, it is in that call arising from the depths of the human heart that all the great dharmas really meet each other and discover their innermost truth in that attraction beyond themselves which they all share...”
Swami Abhishiktananda, 1975 [1]

“The different religions are like different paths leading to the Divine. Spirituality is common in all of them… All the religions, if followed with sincerity and purity of intention and deep aspiration, discover the Truth, lead to the Divine, the timeless infinite Consciousness unbound by time and space and the Law of Causation.”
Chandra Swami Udasin [2]

“It is befitting that this ashram is on the banks of the holy River Ganga and in the foothills of the Himalayas, for it is here that the seers envisioned the universal nature of Spirituality… The Truth that is sought after is known by the enlightened as non-dual Consciousness. It is variously named Brahman, Supreme Spirit, Lord, etc. The Truth is expressed by different people according to tastes. Though the expressions differ, the Truth remains one and changeless…”Swami Padmanabhananda Saraswati [3]

The members of this monastic community are inspired by a common search for Truth / Oneness at the heart of all the world’s great spiritual traditions, and themselves remain respectful of their own spiritual heritage. The Ashram does not endorse religious syncretism nor does it advocate a universal religion. The vision emphasizes Spirituality, rather than religion, as is reflected in the motto: “Truth is One, Paths are many…” In fact, Spirituality is one and transcends the paths and the framework of any particular tradition, whilst also fully respectful of those traditions. For monastics who all have the same aspiration to realize the Divine/Truth and who live the same life of renunciation, living together is primarily an experience of mutual recognition and love, and a source of immense joy. Ajatananda Ashram operates as a monastic (sannyasa) ashram. Sannyasa is definitely the deepest spiritual meeting point of the religions in India which have developed a monastic tradition with deep historic roots, viz. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity. Whilst not all members of the Ashram will necessarily have taken sannyasa, all members will be united in their endeavour to live the spirit of sannyasa – a life of renunciation and contemplation.

The dialogue that arises from such a monastic and non-sectarian community is a dialogue at the level of experience and loving relationships, and not just of the intellect alone. Ajatananda Ashram is an experiment and an attempt to live one’s interiority with one another as a form of dialogue. Moreover, an authentic dialogue, based on this existential encounter, consists in diving from the philosophical understanding into the intuitive and mystical awareness in the innermost depths of the heart.

The community life does not involve rituals of any kind, except for short prayers and some chanting in the evening, and some short spiritual readings in the morning. No common worship is held in the Ashram but everyone is free to perform rituals privately in one’s own personal living quarters (as authorized by one’s lineage) and remains faithful to one’s own particular faith, status and religious practice, and maintains links of true communion with one's own tradition. Despite the fact that there isn’t any common participation in worship, the spiritual commitment is intense and enhanced by a sense of profound communion in silence, beyond barriers.

On the Banks of Holy Ganges, at the Himalayan Foothills

“…The roaring of the Ganga reflects the unfathomable depths of silence... Nothing more to see, comprehend, or reflect upon. That is Fullness, the Bhuman [infinitude], the true Joy.”

Swami Ajatananda, Spiritual Diary, 1975

Ajatananda Ashram is located on a hill overlooking the holy Ganges near the sacred pilgrimage place of Laxman Jhula, a few kilometres upstream from the town of Rishikesh. The spiritual nurturance and vibration of the sacred Mother Ganga can be clearly sensed nearby. The beauty of the surrounding scenery, along with the vibrations of the holy River, makes this a truly unique place and most inspiring for spiritual sadhana.

The location of the Ashram is in keeping with Swami Abhishiktananda’s vision that an ashram of this type be located by the Ganga in the region of the foothills of the Himalayas. It is also in this area that Swami Abhishiktananda and Swami Ajatananda spent much of their time in deep spiritual study and sadhana. Swami Ajatananda’s kutiya still exists in Kaudiyala, just 35 kilometers upstream.

The Laxman Jhula / Tapovan area, where the Ashram is located, has been a sacred place of sadhana for hermits and a holy place of pilgrimage for seekers for thousands of years. ‘Tapovan’ means ‘forest of tapas’ or ascetism.

“The great poet Kalidas said that Indian culture has three major pillars: detachment, austerity and tapas. This Ashram is situated in Tapovan. It is a place of detachment and austerity not only for Indians, but also for practitioners from all over the world.”
Swami Padmanabhananda, id.
Only a few kilometres away from Ajatananda Ashram are the tapasya kutir and the ashram founded by Swami Shivananda, a great sage of the twentieth century who similarly expressed the need to focus on the universal Truth common to all religions.

Rishikesh and the nearby areas have drawn many great sages and over the last half-century has seen the establishment of many ashrams. Pilgrims can also visit some holy caves located nearby like Mast Ram Baba Gupha, Vashishta Gupha and Rama Tirtha Gupha, just to name a few.

[1] Swami Abhishiktananda, The Further Shore, Delhi, 1975, p.28.
[2] Chandra Swami Udasin, satsang, 5.06.1999.
[3] Swami Padmanabhananda Saraswati (Shivananda Ashram), on the occasion of the inauguration of Ajatananda Ashram, 5 November 2006.