When I first arrived at Aurovalley ashram, it was late in the evening after a blurry-eyed train ride and a cab through crowded towns of rioting men. I arrived at the ashram gate and was greeted by silence. A bearded Indian man came carrying a torch. Long white locks crowned his head and he was dressed in a white cotton gown. He didn’t say much, no talk of registering for my stay, who he was or who I was for that matter, he simply motioned me to sit down where we quizzically sat in silence. I eventually guessed correctly that he was Swami Brahmdev, master of the ashram. He gave me a nod and brought me a plate of chapatti with lentils and tea. The swami is a man of few words when it comes to pleasantries, but as I learned, a man with passionate insights on life and living conscientiously.
The next day I wandered about the ashram, discovering the marble meditation hall, pathways, nooks and crannies. I meandered into a large circular shaped building that looked brand new. It was known as the world temple, two floors of guest rooms meant to receive families, travelers, pilgrims, lost souls, and vagabonds from around the world. Here, all wayward walks of life would meet at a crossroads, in the middle of the Indian jungle.
From a doorway, Swami Brahmdev appeared, stepping lightly toward the world temple’s courtyard. He gave me a quick glance and motioned me to follow him.
The courtyard was a large circular lawn of grass with a singular tree planted in the center, reaching for the sky. The swami stopped at the foot of the tree and asked, “What do you see here?”
I paused for a moment. Was this a trick question?
“A tree,” I said.
“It is nothing.”
I sized the tree up and down. “I’m pretty sure it’s a tree. I can see it, feel it. It’s there.”
“Ah, but what was it a hundred years ago? What were you 50 years ago?”
Umm. A seedling? A cell in the abyss?
“Nothing,” I offered.
“Exactly. When you come to understand that, this place will become yours.” Swami Brahmdev motioned all around him. “You will be at home.”
He left and I stood there blankly staring at the tree, entertaining his words.
What if I was nothing? All my worries, ego… meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps I could abandon a life of frivolity, accept peace and find solace here. Nah, that’s not going to happen. Though what if I did, what would I do then?
According to Bramdev, the soul has one purpose, to manifest the light, to heed the divine within us. Conscientiousness leads to light, ignorance leads to darkness. There are 360 degrees of paths around us leading in different directions, by being mindful of our soul, the divine within us will light the path we are meant to take. Many people are taught how to survive life, but many lose sight on how to live. From mindfulness, you acknowledge the divine within you, your soul, and develop clarity to grow and live. Love and hate are manifestations of you, Bramdev would say, so choose your path and relationships wisely.
Being conscientious is practiced through meditation, yoga, prasad, satsang, and other activities: a daily exercise of the mind, body and soul. I certainly became more aware of myself, who I am and what makes me happy throughout my stay at the ashram.
It’s calming to know that somewhere in the mind or physical world, a tree stands tall that beckons us to follow the light.