Whenever my wife and I have the urge to move away from the busy life of the city, whenever we want to spend a couple of days in the lap of Nature, whenever we feel like benefiting our time in japa, meditation or in reading some spiritual books, we simply pack our luggage and retreat to any of the spiritual centers to spend a couple days to re-charge our body, mind and soul.
In Bharath, thanks to our unique culture that had evolved down the ages through the rishi parampara (lineage of gurus) we are lucky to have innumerable Ashrams spread over the length and breadth of this unique spiritual land. Recently, when the impulse to be in the company of Nature started disturbing both of us, we at once decided to travel to Swami Chidbhavananda Ashram, Theni, Tamil Nadu.
After the overnight train journey from Trivandrum to Madurai, the two hour travel to Theni by bus was an exhilarating experience. In the bus, we had the good company of simple Tamilian villagers, most of them farmers, whom, I feel, by and large, are ruled by the heart than by the head. By providing a seat to my wife in the crowded bus, helping us to put the luggage in place and in offering us breakfast, Tamilians in an instant won our heart and soul by their affectionate and loving gestures and simple manners, which we seldom find among the so-called educated class. They considered us their own guests and were seen vying with one another to make us happy and comfortable, as if they knew us for years.
As soon as the bus reached the vicinity of Theni, the town positioned at the foot hills of the Western Ghats, surrounded on all sides by ever green mountains, everywhere one could see the faces of happy, contended and simple living Tamilian villagers. Being an agricultural area, the place is filled with paddy, sugarcane, cabbage, beetroot fields, ponds filled with full bloomed lotuses, small and medium streams here and there; Theni is a common destination for movie makers.
At the Ashram, situated at Vedapuri, about 2 kms from the Theni town, the inmates greeted us with smiling faces with affectionate gesture of ‘vanakkam’ and led us inside. The guest house for visitors, named after Sri Bharatitirtha Swami, the head of the Sringeri mutt, a building in rectangle shape, with a huge banyan tree in the courtyard that had spread its branches far and wide, prompts the visitors the need to expand ones vision of life. In the centre, one can engage in sadhana of his choice; yoga, japa, meditation or read some spiritual literature.
Interestingly, the four entrances to the cottages are named as; Ayam Atma Brahma, Prajanam Brahma, Tatvamasi, Sarvam khalidam brahma, the four mahavakyas of Vedanta, reminding the visitor the true nature of his own existence. Sitting in the well maintained rooms, experiencing the pat of the cool breeze, the majestic sight of the banyan tree spreading its arms to the sky and the faraway Green mountains instantly thrills one’s mind to delight.
The ashram, founded by Swami Omkarananda (see box) was inaugurated on 9th June 1995 by the eminent saint late Swami Dayananda Saraswathi. Located amidst 6.7 acres of coconut plantation by the side of the ever flowing Mullaiyaru (river Mullai), it offers a multitude of activities for spiritual aspirants. The well laid garden with lovely roses, majestic jamanthis and vibrant mullas amidst small trees adds charm to the location. On both sides of the path ways leading to the different buildings, neem trees in rows pat the guests and a number of banyan trees spread across the campus add splendor to the whole spot.
A day in the Ashram begins with the early morning chanting of Vedic hymns in the magnificent temple dedicated to lord dakshinamoorthy, consecrated in 2004, followed by homas and abhisekham to the deity. Whenever Swamy Omkarananda is in station, regular classes on the scriptures, such as Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and other Tamil scriptures are held in the artistically designed Brahmavidya kuteeram, the lecture hall with thatched roof. Swamiji also conducts regular Jnana yagnas in other locations in India and abroad. These sessions are very popular among the devotees as Swamiji has the knack of driving home the points with day to day life examples, anecdotes, wit and wisdom.
During our visit, Swamiji’s sermons on ‘Katopanishad’ were going on. To the 50 odd seekers who had assembled from different parts of the country, explaining the story of Nachiketa, Swamiji elucidated in chaste Tamil the ways to get rid of one’s thoughts that leads to worry and restlessness. “Whenever bad thoughts rush in one must not get upset or get worried, instead it must be accepted as it is and then consciously tried to change its course.” Swamiji said that in order to equip oneself to change the pattern of one’s thoughts, Sadhana, Satsang and Scriptures would be helpful. To reduce the inrush of thoughts, he gave a tip to the audience to read aloud the scriptures so that the mind would remain focused.
About swamiji’s classes Sri Ganesh moorthy, a retired civil servant of Tamil Nadu and a resident of Coimbatore, who has been visting the ashram for the past two decades said, “The simple way in which swamiji explains the scriptures, with everyday life examples is amazing. I am indeed thankful to him for making my life peaceful, contended and happy.” Smt. Radha, a house wife from Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu who had come alone said that attending swamiji’s sessions for a few days in a year gives her the necessary impetus to carry on with all her household activities for the rest of year with courage and confidence. A Bangalore based software engineer also shared similar views, “I am amazed by the simplicity of his teachings. Swamiji simply changes our course of thinking and thereby our lives.”
Sitting in the courtyard of Acharya Nivas, the residence of Swamiji, to my question on the importance of rituals in spiritual life, he said that “Anushtanas, help one to move from prakriti to samskriti as it gives strength to face life by purifying the chitta. Without chittasuddhi, Vedanta becomes dry and useless. When one does anusthanas with trust, faith and hope it gives the desired results. Along with that, Satsang and study of scriptures will also help.”
Swamiji is of the view that the aim of life is to live properly and happily. In sanathanadharma, for an individual, right from infancy several rites and rituals are prescribed to drive home the point that one is not the body; rather one is ‘atma’ or consciousness having a body. In the Indian system of education, from a very young age, the concept that I have a body like I have money, spectacles, car, watch, etc, is imbibed to make one understand one’s true nature of existence and to equip one to lead a happy and harmonious life.
When I asked Swamiji whether he had ever felt that managing the Ashram affairs a burden, he replied, “Total involvement in anything mundane is not good. My daily sadhana helps me to remain unperturbed and calm in any circumstances. I won’t skip it even a single day, even if the mood is negative, I will follow the daily sadhana to make me cool and composed.”
Swamiji advocates the ‘FIR test’ to find out one’s own progress in spiritual life. With the passage of time, if the Frequency, Intensity and Recurring time from a disturbance or annoyance is becoming less and less, one can surely assume that one is treading the right path.
About God, he said, “God is myself. If you have faith, trust and hope you can also find out the God in you.” When requested for a message, Swamiji quipped, “Have proper knowledge, live the life with full of love and follow the scriptures. They will never fail you. For leading such a life definitely Gurukripa is required.”
The well kept library presents a host of spiritual literature to make oneself plunge in jnana marga. Listening to the rhythmic and melodious chanting of Vedic hymns from the Antevasi Nivas, where brahmacharis studying Vedas live that reverberate the air makes one’s mind at once cool and composed.
Swami Omkarananda’s ever smiling face, calm and composed nature and the authenticity of his teachings attracts people with an inner quest from far and wide to this unique hermitage at Theni.
After the three day sojourn in the Ashram, while bidding good bye to the inmates, we thanked the almighty for giving us an opportunity to be in the midst of such an enthralling scenic beauty that had given us experiences for a long time to cherish. While the bus was taking a curve by the side of the green paddy fields, leaving behind the beautiful town of Theni, a cool breeze patted me prompting me to take a silent pledge to spend some time in Chidbhavanada Ashram, every year.
Sri Swami Chidbhavananda Ashramam, Vedapuri, Theni, Tamil Nadu-625 531. Website: www.vedaneri.org
Author: Pradeep Krishnan, a seeker based in Trivandrum, Kerala is attracted to the teachings of Bhagwan Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. His interests are reading spiritual literature, pilgrimages to spiritual centers and meeting masters, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org