AN INTERFAITH ASHRAM (published in in Dilatato Corde Vol.1, no.1, 2011)
This proposal is not written from the viewpoint of any one tradition. Rather, it seeks to provide a common basis for all. The appendices give the characteristic orientations.
We come together so as to enter more fully into our truth and become a blessing for all.
We withdraw from a frantic pace of life and focus more freely on the grace that has been received. We forget all that once enticed us but is now seen to be irrelevant. We enter into solitude so as to reach the fullness of contemplation. The ashram is a place of mindfulness and awareness, seeking to discover the truth that lies within and let it manifest itself fully. In this way, we embody the goal we seek.
This style of life involves a careful fidelity to one’s tradition and an exact adherence to its doctrines. It involves a commitment to practice. It makes every effort to achieve the aim of one’s tradition and eschews every form of indolence or complacency.
There is a focus on the goal, an eager striving, even though we know that there are many hindrances both outer and inner, many distractions and obstacles. It is assisted by a salutary fear of succumbing to weaknesses of character and any difficulties of the situation.
The constant memory of the grace that is at work in us leads to the discovery of the heart of one’s heart, to one’s truest nature where at last we come to peace and the fullness of joy. It leads to the discovery of the fountain of living water, the expansiveness which comes from total openness, the enlightenment which comes from the ultimate light, the fullness of consciousness. In this way the ashram becomes a place of wonder and expectancy, a paradise.
This ashram leads to freedom from illusion but not escape from hardship, for it is also a place of dryness and even of a sense of uselessness. It is a place where we come more closely in contact with the unresolved issues that hamper our progress. It is a place of conversion and purification.
Although it is a withdrawal from the world, it leads to a fullness of presence both to oneself and to others, to the world and every living creature, a presence that involves every aspect of one’s being, body, mind and spirit. It is a sanctification, perceiving this material order as the divine sanctuary.
It is a place of silence and seclusion, not in the desert or the forest, but in complete detachment from all that can disturb or prevent the fullness of presence that occupies the heart. It is a place of equanimity, openness to all, an absence of conflicting emotions.
It is a presence of one to the other, without self-preoccupation. In this stillness of mind and body and heart we recover the divine image which is present in each one of us but has been obscured for a while.
We care for each other, not only for the physical and emotional needs, the social and intellectual needs, but we also take care that all should have the freedom and energy and encouragement to pursue what is best in them, whatever their path. It involves humility and generosity, perception and confidence, open hearts and open minds.
Ashram life is not a masquerade for selfishness, but a service done for each other and for the benefit of all creation. Thus, members do not impose themselves but rather give way to each other in humility. Each takes into account the disposition, and measure of grace of the others, with great patience and forgiveness and a sense of harmony.
It is an opportunity also to become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, the pitfalls and the advantages that are special to each person, seeking wholeheartedness and balance at every moment, fully aware.
Obedience to the structures and purpose of the ashram is a sign of wisdom and true self-worth. Obedience to those who have authority in the community is a sign of enlightenment.
We come in order to be affirmed and enlightened, challenged and inspired, in all humility and respect. We have come to share our gifts, not to impose them.
We wish to learn from each other, but not to mix traditions uncritically, to enhance our own practice in the light of the practice of others, but not to create a mish-mash. We have come together to hear from each other but not necessarily to agree.
We become disciples of each other and at the same time appreciate all the more fully the specific character of our own tradition.
Faced with the intellectually incompatible variety of traditions, we are purified from illusion and fear and come to equanimity. This is possible only if we are at peace with ourselves and with all.
Our very diversity allows us to see beyond the superficial aspects of things into the depths, going beyond all mental constructs and customs, penetrating to the heart.
We become the aware of the paradox of diversity and the community itself becomes a paradox. And so we enter into the fullness of knowledge and light.
It involves an emptying of the self and a turning to each other and in this way to penetrate beyond thoughts and words, beyond desires and ambitions, to their source. By becoming more fully present to each other, we enter into the Heart, the Void, the Silence, however we may express it.
This form of life is both a withdrawal and an expansion. The ashram is like a flame, still and calm, from which an unfailing stream of light flows for the benefit of all. The ashram is a source of light and nourishment, a witness to truth and bliss, an unfailing presence. From our life together blessings will flow to others in peace and healing, as fire spreads from fire. We shall constitute a stabilising force in an uncertain world, a rock of faith, authentic and real.
This form of life does not signify a sadness or denial of human pleasures. It goes hand in hand with a sense of enjoyment, indeed delight, in all that is good. It involves the joy and humour which come from the experience of freedom.
We wish to live obscurely and without drawing attention to ourselves. At the same time, we will provide teaching within the context of the ashram, each singly, as desired, and all together in our witness of unity. We may also, depending on circumstances, travel elsewhere to give teachings.
In this way, as well as giving witness to the value of our individual traditions we will show the value of the interfaith spirituality, in all its wisdom and balance.
We will welcome people to come and stay with us for longer or shorter periods of time. They may wish simply to join us in the pattern of our life for a while before returning to their homes, or may even wish to set up other places that further something of what we are trying to live.
We will welcome others, also, who may wish to join us on a permanent basis. This will involves a period of discernment and evaluation on both sides.
In these various ways, we will journey together on the path to ultimate Truth.