By Swami SatyaDaya
In 2002 I had the great fortune to meet Swami Nishchalananda on my first visit to Mandala Yoga Ashram. From this moment on, his teachings and what he embodies began to have a profound impact on me. By 20051 I was living in the Ashram. This was the beginning of an extraordinary period in my life, a time of profound insight and transformation2 – nearly all of which was entirely unexpected. Even though this was far from easy at times I look back on these times with great reverence and gratitude – it was everything that I could have ever asked for and more. Swamiji has now invited me to become Ashram Director, a role which I have taken on. This is not a decision I took lightly yet I’m inspired and excited to play my part in keeping Mandala Yoga Ashram as a place where the process of Awakening is both supported and nurtured. A place where that which can barely be imagined can be realised in our own being as the ground of our very existence.
As it has for so many, the last year and a half has forced the Ashram to look at what it does and how we do it. This has been an invaluable process since it has encouraged us to reassess what is important and what is not.
As part of this process, we have been looking at our mission statement. This may sound rather corporate, but it defines our ‘why’ – why we are here and why we do what we do.
Since I have been back at the Ashram one thing has felt crucial. And that is that we remain true to the quality and authenticity of what we teach. There are many places that people can go for a spa/yoga holiday experience. That is not Mandala Yoga Ashram. First and foremost, we will remain a place for those that are truly seeking deeper understanding about themselves and about the world in which they live. This has led to the formulation of the first line of our ‘mission’ statement:
“Mandala Yoga Ashram exists to inspire and nourish those on the journey to
remembering their own sacredness and the sacredness of all that exists.”
There is always the risk of words such as ‘sacredness’ being construed as ‘woolly’ or fanciful. Far from it. An integral part of Swamiji Nishchalananda’s vision in establishing the Ashram is that the place would serve as a place where those who seek may have insight or realisation of the hidden depths of their Being – and in turn, the Being of all. We will continue to be a place where the aspiration for such insight is considered normal, part of our birth right.
The path, however, to deeper understanding is not always easy.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
Jung is referring to an aspect of the spiritual path that, whilst not always easy, is essential. The facing and releasing of blockages and unmet emotions within the subconscious is indispensable if we are to go deeper in our understanding. The Ashram will remain a place of compassion and understanding where people can explore this aspect of their lives and their spiritual path. This means that time spent here is not always easy in fact, it can be downright challenging. However, it has extraordinary value.
So much spiritual practice is offered these days as a chill out and way to feel good. As such, there is nothing wrong with this and there is no doubt that this is a by-product of our practice. However, the essence of Yoga is to bring the realisation of that which brings a lasting joy during the ups and downs of daily life, not a quick fix.
There’s a fabulous book by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse called ‘Not for Happiness’ where the foreword states “Do you practice meditation because you want to feel good? Or to help you relax and be “happy”? Then frankly, according to Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, you are far better off having a full-body massage than trying to practice the Dharma.”
In the Ashram, we will also remain wary of dogma and any sense of spiritual superiority. If we’re truly honest, we will admit that we may have been caught up in polarised viewpoints and positions over the last few years where those who have a different opinion or viewpoint are somehow consider less than us because of that difference.
As the old Chinese proverb states “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.” Contained within these words is a profound truth that opens the door to compassion for all, not just those that we agree with.
Yet the Ashram, and what it offers, can be an invaluable respite for all of us living in this fraught and troubled world. This is an integral part of the Ashram’s role – relaxation and letting go are such important aspects of the spiritual path. However, letting go often involves being confronted with that which needs to be released. From this can come true change and healing – we realise what we are fundamentally and that our current sense of identity is limited at best if not downright illusory.
The times we live in also call for tried and tested tools and techniques which can keep us centred, resilient and vital. Yoga gives us these tools, and this is another facet of ‘why’ the Ashram exists – which is to be able to share these simple yet profound techniques that equip us all to be able to meet the challenges of life head on and with an open heart.
This our ‘why’. Now we explore the ‘how’. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns forced the Ashram to begin offering online courses. This possibility had been something we’d been discussing for years. In 2020, we were forced to make it happen.
Offering the teachings online is going to become an integral part of how Mandala Yoga Ashram reaches seekers and students around the world. We aim to have regular live teachings offered throughout the year and a library of pre-recorded online content that you can practise at home wherever you are. Like us, many of you who have practised or taught online will have been surprised at the power of connection possible through the practices even at a distance.
Residential courses will remain a mainstay of what the Ashram offers – ranging from our 2-night Ashram Life Taster to 10-day immersions into subjects such as Facing Death and PranaVidya. As always, we will also offer even longer programs that allow the exploration of subjects such as Kriya Yoga, the Chakras, and other profound subjects.
Another form of support that we will begin to offer will be the opportunity for already qualified yoga teachers to further their understanding and experience of the science of Yoga. In this way they will not only come to greater understanding of their own Being, but will also be able to offer a greater depth in their teaching.
Through these different avenues we aim to continue to support seekers, teachers and those looking for meaning in their lives and a deepening of their understanding. The Ashram will continue to make the timeless essence of the teachings of yoga, meditation, Advaita and tantra accessible to the modern world by fostering an environment, both physically and online, that truly encourages genuine spiritual growth.
1 I lived here until 2010 and then returned in 2015
2 Of course, the process of change and transformation continues to unfold throughout our lifetime
3 Carl Jung, The Philosophical Tree (1945)
4 I know I’ve quoted this before in an article however I need to be reminded of this from time to time so I thought I’d share it with you.