"We are birthed into sangha, into spiritual community. It is called the world."
I ventured to Satchidananda Ashram in search of an intentional community. I saw one and experienced one, but heard no one speaking of it. I barely even heard the word “community” uttered by anyone present there even though it exhibited all the traits of an intentional community: Support, Accountability, Shared Resources, Shared Intention, Self-Sufficiency, Food-Growing, Group Values, and Volunteering. That was because my ears were tuned to the wrong language: English. As a community whose teachings and values are sourced from India, the Ashram often uses the vibrational language of Sanskrit. The word for community in Sanskrit is “Sangha”. Once I learned this, I began to realize what I had been missing.
The goals and end results of all intentional communities, whether secular or spiritual, are similar if not the same. They both wish for a better future through co-existence and harmony with each other and the planet. Although many secular intentional communities stray away from spirituality as a dimension to cohere their members, they still recognize at a basic level the sacredness of the planet and of each other based upon their efforts and lifestyle modifications toward sustainable existence. Even if they leave out spiritual aspects from their visions and goals, they are still honoring the holiness of life enough to leave behind mainstream society and come closer to the Earth and one another. On the other hand, spiritual intentional communities admit the sacredness of everything, which provides a different kind of fuel for harmonious co-existence. There can be problems in both situations. If an intentional community is too secular, there may end up being too much diversity and not enough similarity to bring everyone together in a way that even constitutes a community. This lack of focus may prevent progress on a group level. On the other end of the spectrum, if an intentional community is too spiritual, the issue of dogmatism arises, which also prevents progress on a group level. If one single spiritual teaching is forced while others are excluded, this results in the narrowing of the mind, the stagnation of growth, and the constriction of experience.
Satchidananda Ashram has shown me a balance between the two sides of the spectrum. In Yogaville, there is no single spiritual path embraced or forced upon anyone. The cohesion of this Sangha is simply yoga… Integral Yoga, the foundation of all religion. Integral Yoga integrates the six branches of yoga (Hatha, Bhakti, Japa, Jnana, Raja, and Karma) to create a healthy whole of a person. Hatha Yoga is the physical path of asana postures and breathwork, Bhakti Yoga is the path of the heart and devotion, Japa Yoga is the path of chanting and mantra repitition, Jnana Yoga is the path of self-inquiry, Raja Yoga is the path of meditation and study of scriptural texts, and Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service without attachment to the fruits of ones labor. Every single religion in the world exhibits yogic practices, whether it is praying, chanting, prostrations, self-reflection, or helping others. All religions spread the message of love. Everyone is free to believe whatever they wish. It’s all good. Truth is One, Paths are Many. Unity between all people and all beings.
The symbol, or Yantra in Sanskrit, of the Ashram is a twelve-petal lotus with a central point in the middle. Each petal represents a different faith of the world: Native American faiths, African faiths, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shinto, Taoism, All other known faiths, and unknown and yet to be determined faiths. They all bloom out from the central design, which represents peace, love, light and truth, which represents the true nature of the inner Self. This Yantra is a visual representation of the Ashram’s Mantra, “Truth is One, Paths are Many”. All of the world’s faiths are rooted in truth. No single one is better than the other; they are all accepted. Once we realize the connection that ties us all together, fighting with ourselves will cease, and community will thrive. The further you go from the center of the lotus flower (your true Self) in the direction of any one religion, the further you go from not only your true Self, but also from all the other people on different petals. We can all come together in the center to celebrate the unity and underlying sameness in all beings.