"I had a lot of sex in the ashram" a Spanish friend told me today. A mischievous smile covered his face. "When the day’s yoga training finished, you had a choice. You could meditate or you could find someone to have sex with. There was an Israeli woman who twice asked me to sleep with her. She didn’t realize I am gay. I refused her, telling her I had come to India to find my spiritual path." He laughed contentedly as he said that.
What he didn’t tell her is that he was having sex with his guru, the yoga teacher. He described the ashram in Rishikesh he spent a week at learning yoga as a hothouse of sex between people who may have met only when they arrived there. "They had a lot of energy to release," he said.
Earlier this year I spent a couple of weeks at three ashrams in northern India associated with Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. Two of these were high in the mountains, well away from main population centers. The monks living there are able to pursue meditation and other spiritual disciplines in relative solitude. Nevertheless, they are not totally isolated. Both ashrams have small communities in the vicinity. Their populations are directly served by the ashrams in some useful manner, such as through the provision of medical treatment and agricultural support. The third ashram was located in Haridwar, a thriving city nearby Rishikesh. The ashram has a major hospital attached to it, which serves the poor.
The three ashrams accept a limited number of visitors who hope to deepen their spiritual practice in the company of monks who have dedicated their lives to it. All visitors are required to seek permission before they can stay. During my visit, at least, the great majority of visitors were in their 50s or later. While each ashram had their own feel, what they all had in common was the absolute seriousness of their mission. The monks have undertaken vows of celibacy. In an age of profound cynicism toward religious men who make such vows, it’s easy to dismiss such undertakings. But when you’re in the ashram, the atmosphere is such that it would be incredible to conceive of any of them having sex with anyone. Likewise, it is unthinkable to imagine visitors having sex with other visitors they’ve just met.
I didn’t ask my Spanish friend the name of the ashram he attended. I didn’t feel the need.