Learning Austerity in an Ashram

As I bade good-bye to Father Korko and the other guests, one of them told me that he had gone to
many ashrams set up by Hindus, Jains, and Christians. But he was eager to know if Muslims had
set up any ashram which was open to seekers of spirituality. Are there any Muslim ashrams?

I spent a few days at an ashram recently. An overnight journey by bus from Bangalore will bring you to Father Korko ‘s ashram in Dindigul, an agro-based town in Tamil Nadu. About 13 kms from the Dindigul bus stand, an auto or local bus rolls past lush green fields, hills and pretty meadows. A brown gate greets you with its cheerful squeak as you open it. This is Father’s Korko’s Ashram.

Father Korko Moses, a Jesuit, has spent years, first in Kolkata and then travelled to different parts of India, to learn from gurus and sages, the essence of spirituality and meditation. Sitting at the feet of great masters, Father Korko today has settled down in this  shram
which keeps its doors open for all people, irrespective of religion, caste, race or sect, to  come and spend few days to reflect and meditate on oneself and life. The Ashram has been built  completely in an eco-friendly way with dried palm-leaves roofs. There are three separate huts, apart from eight rooms and bathrooms. The three huts have no electricity and Father Korko lives in one of them. The other rooms have lights and little windows that open out to lovely landscape of the hills. There is a meditation hall with palm leaf
roof. A little away is the kitchen and a dining hall. What is most  graceful about the whole ashram is the austere ambience. The day in the ashram begins at 4.30 am with all the guests gathering at the meditation hall till 5.30 am. Before the meditation, there are some warm-up exercises. Father Korko leaves each person to choose his or her own meditation  style, there is no imposition of any specific technique. You can chant your own half words or focus on your breathing, what keeps you comfortable is what you do, but with positivity and concentration. Breakfast at the ashram is at 8 am sharp comprising sprouted moong, cucumber, sometimes fruits, followed by cooling coconut milk mixed with a herb and jaggery, supposed to be very good for immunity of the body. Then one gets busy for the “seva”, service in the form of cutting vegetables, or cleaning the rice, or cutting the weeds in the garden or sorting the herbs for oil. All this is supervised by the ever-smiling sister Annie. After this, one can watch the greenery around, read or stay in the rooms. Father Korko takes one hour classes on different aspects of life linking it to spirituality. Stress is on silence and being with oneself, rather than getting engaged in useless gossip, chatter, talk within oneself or with others.

At 11 am is lunch comprising  rice, curry with vegetables. Each meal begins with a prayer where everybody sits down together, eats in complete silence, and then after the meal, wash our own plates. At 4 pm, ginger tea mixed with jaggery and another herb, is tea time treat with puffed rice or sometimes jackfruit. Dinner  is at 6 pm and this is followed by meditation from 7 pm to 8pm. All inmates gather for the satsang where each one shares what happened to them during the day. It’s early to bed at 9 pm to begin the day early again at 4.30 am!

Father Korko’s concept revolves around the aspect of “just being aware” of everything you do… from the time one wakes up to the time one sleeps, he says, one should be aware of every second. “Do everything in mindful awareness-eating,  talking, cutting vegetables
and anything else. Just be in the present, focus on each movement, then there is no  chance of going back to the past or the future. One can get this focus through meditation. The purpose of our life is to realize  the divine, God in any form that we look is everywhere, we only have to look within and see the light,” says Father Korko who has deeply studied Hinduism, Islam, Jainism and other religions, apart from Christianity. But rising above all religions, he has imbibed the essence  of spirituality of striving to be in union with the Supreme Creator. “ Not many people come to this ashram, only those  who really seek will come,” he says. Father Korko is very happy living without the media glare on him and his ashram, he does not  want even a website on the ashram. In fact he has deliberately chosen not to have electricity in his cute little hut as he likes the  austere way of life.

My days in the ashram had a sobering effect on me, and would have humbled  anyone coming from a city living in the comfort zone of waking up to filter coffee   and cornflakes. I realized how peaceful and beautifully uncomplicated was the ashram  life. We clutter our lives with so much food, wastage of water, electricity. We want to have varieties of things and people around us to keep us happy. We are afraid of being alone, in our own company, we are afraid of being detached from people and things. Spending  a few days in the ashram also awakens you to the reality of the life led by the Prophets who meditated and lived an austere life, without frills and fancy food.

As I bade good-bye to Father Korko and the other guests, one of them told me that he had gone to many ashrams set up by Hindus, Jains and  Christians. But he was eager to know if Muslims had set up any ashram which was open to seekers of spirituality. Are there any Muslim ashrams? I don’t know, do you?

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