Christine and I arrived at the Kriya Yoga ashram early Friday morning last week around 5:30 after another long train ride down from Agra. It's really a very impressive campus with a mix of old and new buildings with some still under construction, covering many acres on the banks of the Ganges River. The ashram welcomes visitors from all over the world and a fairly large group of Canadians just left a few days before our arrival so we were among just a handful of 'guests' remaining.
One of the first things you notice here is the food. It’s strictly vegan; only whole grains and fresh vegetables with some fruits, like papaya and bananas, almost all of which is grown on site.
It's truly impressive to see large plots of rice, wheat, potatoes, cauliflower, and root vegetables, many of which I've never even heard of, all prepared in the most healthy and delicious way. You're talking about a guy who loves a good grilled steak but I've got to tell you, this food is unbelievably delicious (though I have to admit the second night here I dreamt about lamb chops). The emphasis on nutrition and the digestive process; eating the right combination of protein, carbohydrate and fat, no salt, no sugar, no liquids taken during the meal and for at least an hour or two afterward, eating only twice per day so excess energy isn‘t expended digesting food all day long from multiple meals, and how certain foods interact with each other, for example acidic versus alkaline, is incredible and makes perfect sense.
The entire belief system is one of total and absolute nonviolence, to, arguably, in some instances, an extreme degree. Only foods that are past their reproductive stages and no longer have the ability to replace themselves are used. For example, broccoli is not eaten because it’s only edible, or at least appetizing, prior to its flowering. Another example would be bean sprouts.
courtyard outside our guest house
The fatal flaw with all this though, at least for me, is variety. There is no breakfast or dinner, per se; there’s the morning meal and the evening meal, with each being virtually identical, save for the fact that one is slightly more protein-based and the other more carb-based. What is initially new and delicious can quickly become boring and bland, particularly with such a heavy emphasis on brown rice.
Trust me, Denny’s won’t be using this menu anytime soon. By the same token, you won’t see many really thin people eating Grand Slam breakfasts. All that being said, while I won’t adopt 100% of this lifestyle when I leave here, there's no doubt I'll try to integrate as much as possible into my daily life. You simply can’t argue with the benefits. I eat mountains of food and have steadily lost weight since I got here (but I’m only human; I'll need the shakti of Shiva not to get myself the biggest, coldest glass of beer you’ve ever seen as soon as I get to the Delhi Airport)
path toward the main grounds from the guest house
The twice a day meditations, at 6:30AM and 6:00PM, include a half hour of quasi hatha yoga asanas, or positions/moves/exercises, called recharging steps, and an hour of more traditional guided meditation focusing inwardly on one’s body as a manifestation of God.
In between there is one meal at 10:00AM and one after the evening meditation at 8:00. In between you can do whatever you want. I usually read some of the books I’ve brought, take a nap, or keep up on the events of the world on the internet.
path toward the guest house
As with every other place I’ve stayed in India, insects are a constant annoyance (not to mention the heat. It‘s getting into the summer months here and has been in the mid 90‘s every day. Soon the monsoons come!). Each morning I wake up to a new set of mosquito bites despite keeping the windows of my room closed and using a plug-in mosquito repellent. The other night I was convinced my room was mosquito free and went to bed confident that I’d wake up not having to scratch new bites. But when I got up I saw 6 mosquitoes drunkenly flying around my room, their bloated bellies filled with my blood and barely able to fly because of their heavy payloads.
Gandhi’s principles of non violence were immediately replaced with the Biblical eye for an eye. The mosquitoes paid the ultimate price for their nighttime feast. Six red blotches covered the bed sheet, floor and walls. Retribution was swift, just, and very satisfying. I guess my path to enlightenment is going to be a little longer than I thought.
despite my karma chameleon friend here, and two of his buddies in my room, I still get bit by mosquitoes
Overall, ashram life is very different, to say the least. People come here for many reasons. Some stay for years, some leave after a day or two. I’ve heard the stories of the Ashram’s Guru, Swami, and Matas, or monks, who reside here, as well as those of devotees who have been here for 6 to 12 months. I understand everyone’s path in life is different. But for me staying at an ashram has been a struggle, though an interesting one in every respect and certainly one that I don‘t regret.
Many days I wake up wondering if I should book the next train up to Delhi. People have talked to me about my concerns, and while all were helpful, none really helped assuage my doubts nor told me anything I didn‘t already know. Stick with it. It doesn’t happen in a week. Spirituality can take a lifetime. Don’t have expectations or set goals, you’ll only get frustrated and it’ll work against you. I get it. Really. But ultimately, Kriya Yoga has to fit me, not the other way around. I’ve no interest in being a renunciante or changing every aspect of my life in order to maximize my chances of becoming self realized. For me balance is everything. Still, I’ve heard some profoundly amazing stories here of remarkable healings from people with no reason to lie.
The most special banyon tree. Birthplace and spiritual center of modern Kriya Yoga
I’ve been told of meditations that were pure bliss. I’ve heard people tell me they’ve never been happier than since they decided to practice this. It's hard not to be inspired.
other guest quarters
Maybe part of the problem is the nature of Eastern spirituality versus Western attitudes, particularly American’s; Occidental immediacy meets Oriental tranquility and patience. I’ve heard many times, oh, that’s the Western way of thinking, this is a very slow process. Me? Dammit, I want results. Now, if not sooner. And if I don’t get them I want to know why so I can fix it. You can just imagine how effective that attitude is here at the ashram.
Surely all paths in life are different, and none are easy. Everyone questions God, the meaning of life and their respective roles in the cosmos. Kriya Yoga promises to be the answer. I hope so. We’ll see.