An ashram is a spiritual sanctuary. The word ashram is of sanskrit origin, modified to modern Hindi. An ashram was originally a place where a holy man, teacher or guru lived, and students or followers who came from afar to study with them, would eventually end up needing a place to crash. A community would spring up around each ashram, with its inhabitants associated with the spiritual teacher in some way. Cleanliness, even a starkness or decor, is principle, as those who came were not interested in worldly things.
As religion and spirituality shift, change and spread around the world, the ashram is changing as well. Many masters passed, leaving no one to take their place as the head of the ashram. Scandal may have left communities lost for guidance. Eastern philosophies headed west, and western seekers were more easily able to head east. The ashram had to change as well, and now they are kept open by the remaining followers by offering cheap accommodation, yoga or meditation classes, and meals.
It’s a tough situation – those left to manage the ashrams, had never wanted to become proprietors of a business. They would often rather be studying or practicing. I have visited many different ashrams in the east and west, and I want to share some tips with budget travelers, who may find their way to an ashram for one reason or another. It’s important to know that it’s not just a cheap place to stay. Many arrive or live in an ashram because they are seeking a haven, a place to study, to practice, to contemplate life. Here are a few tips to help you understand how you can be respectful, and get the most from your visit. An ashram is NOT a youth hostel, so if you’re looking for a party, stay elsewhere.