Can you briefly describe the Seva Sadhana program for those who haven’t heard of it before?
Seva Sadhana is a yogic lifestyle immersion program that allows a person to live in community and practice a healthy, happy and holy lifestyle. Program participants do seva for four hours each day, five days a week. This can include doing work in the Seva Sadhana garden and kitchen and serving langar at Seva Sadhana, as well as doing improvement projects at Yogi Bhajan’s ranch property. We also partner with community organizations in Espanola that do work in various areas, including addiction recovery. We help Habitat for Humanity, and also volunteer to prepare and serve food at community events.
Do you have any inspiration or advice for those who might like to start a similar project in their community but feel overwhelmed?
I would suggest that whoever is going to be undertaking a project like this start with a strong spiritual practice, because it takes a lot of steadiness, consistency, patience and tolerance to be able to just keep up with this type of a project. From there create some sort of a structure, like a daily timetable, that can guide the experience of participants. What we’ve seen works is to have a nice balance of seva on the ashram grounds as well as seva in the greater community. Partnering and connecting with local organizations who are doing good work for those in need has been very successful. Frame it as an opportunity to go deeper into the teachings, alongside like-minded individuals. And lastly, know that it’s not going to be perfect!
Do you encounter any challenges when running the program? How do you overcome them?
Challenges are a normal part of running this type of program. So having a good network of mentors and elders, those who have lived in ashrams before, those who we respect, is huge. To be able to reach out to them when a challenge comes up we can’t see the way through – that has been enormously valuable.
One challenge we have experienced is having people come to the program who don’t want to participate in program activities and are just looking for a place to stay. We had to define very clearly on the website what this program is, and what is expected of participants. Defining it clearly for ourselves was the first step, then we were able to start projecting it clearly – on the website and again on intake forms people fill out when they arrive, where they agree to follow the program structure.
We also found that having a fee for the program was important – we decided to institute a fee of $20 a day for 40 days. This made it so that the people who really want to be here come, and those who don’t, don’t stay. It is about putting a value on it that’s not too low and thus ensuring people value the experience and are committed.
Another challenge we needed to really recognize was that in the culture we live in right now in the West in today’s age, many people have not been in community living situations, and so do not have the skills one gains in a community living dynamic. So we had to create a curriculum to help frame this experience for people as an opportunity for growth. We provide tools in authentic relationships, authentic communication, vitality and stress, and humanology (based on KRI Level 2 Teacher Training) – core concepts to frame the experience for participants.
Do you draw inspiration from Sikh Dharma when doing this type of work?
Most people who come to our program are Kundalini Yoga students. They don’t usually have very much exposure to Sikh Dharma, outside of the solstice experience. They come for more experience with Kundalini Yoga, but often haven’t had the experience of surrender. This is a potent concept for people who have never bowed their head. I aim to bring in the technology of the shabad guru, and this is integrated into our group meditations done each morning. Chanting together fosters a unified collective consciousness.
We integrate stories about the Gurus into the program. There is the mural with the Virgin of Guadalupe and all of the Gurus around. We have a class where a presenter talks about the Gurus and tells stories about them. It gives participants real life examples of virtues that they can relate to, and helps them begin to develop a relationship with Sikh Dharma. It’s very inspiring.
We often ask program participants to read in the Akhand Paths held at the gurdwara – they are always in need of readers. It gives them exposure to the vibration of the naad. Participants also attend morning gurdwara.
The practices of shakti (yoga) and Bhakti (Sikh Dharma) combined allow us to stand in our strength and be humble servants. In our lives it can feel like we are going and going and going with no end in sight, but when we bow we find everything we’re looking for. It is a technology that fosters a certain consciousness. People are often hitting their head against a wall in life, but when they surrender they find their way through these big challenges and experience transformation. When someone has a completely new experience, they are often in a receptive state that allows them to feel the experience more deeply.
Can you share a high moment or inspiring story from the Seva Sadhana program?
People often come into this program with no exposure at all to Sikh Dharma, and leave saying it was the reason they came without knowing it was why they came when they arrived. The devotion and purity of the Dharma has helped them develop a connection to the sacred and divine in their lives. One program participant from Colombia started crying the first time she attended gurdwara – she had such a connection to the experience and such reverence for the devotional atmosphere of the gurdwara. Before coming she thought she’d want nothing to do with that side of things. It is often the most potent aspect of the experience for people who come.
What do you want to tell the world about the Seva Sadhana program?
I just see it as an opportunity. The generation that came before us (who studied with the Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan) all lived in ashrams and experienced the immersive lifestyle. Their whole experience was completely surrendered, they were in it completely. Many of them stuck around and are now leaders in Kundalini Yoga and in the Sikh Dharma community.
Back in the day, “teacher training” was working in the Golden Temple restaurant in Washington D.C., cooking food, doing dishes, scrubbing floors, from sunup to sundown. They worked together all day, and lived together in a big house on Q Street. I see this as a type of “Aquarian consciousness” training – it shows us how to be a human being in the Aquarian Age and how to live with one another.
Ashram living gives us an opportunity to work through deep patterns in ourselves and develop qualities of leadership. These types of programs are needed around the world, to help people to grow with the times. We need to grow with the planetary consciousness. Immersive lifestyle experiences allow you to go deep, and really immerse yourself in spirituality and service to others, and this is really important for the future. It gives a unique experience that you can’t get elsewhere.
Ram Krishan Singh
Program Director, Seva Sadhana Program
Phone: (505) 423-7700
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