We have now been at Parmarth Ashram for 10 days.... but we are starting to question the true spirituality of this place. The more we stay here, the more it seems to be more of a hotel for foreigners and Indian tourists. I can't complain since their "donation" for staying is 300 rupees (about $6) per day per person in a shared room. That includes your room, three meals a day, a yoga class in the morning, meditation class in the evening and the public Aarti which takes place every evening along the Ganges river. Not too shabby, eh???
BUT...... I was hoping for something more. You always hear how spiritual India is, and how many people come here to take a few steps on their spiritual path... so I was hoping to do the same.
We went to a few of the garden talks given by Swami-ji and the Western woman who also wears an orange robe. She spoke of how Parmarth is not dedicated to one path... Instead, it is for people on a spiritual path. The only requirement of staying here at Parmarth is that you leave one step further on your path than when you arrived. She spoke of spirituality: "We are all one. At your core you are divine, so you and I are part of each other, and every creature is part of God."
(the couple next to Swami-ji are Japanese and came to Rishikesh to have an Indian traditional wedding. For three days at the ashram, we felt like we were back in Japan!)
But for a place that speaks so highly of "oneness," I find it contradictory how the guru here is put up on such a high pedastool. His picture is in gold frames everywhere you go. When he enters the garden, or room, everyone is silent, stands, and bows down to him. His face is plastered on all these signs and billboards around town.... now wait.... is that advertising "oneness?" Hrmmm...
Also, I have been extremely disappointed with some of the staff here. At one of the fire ceremonies, one of the bearded men in orange robes (of striking resemblence to Swami-ji) was leading some Indian tourists in the ceremony. However, as he was passing around the flowers, and placing the red dots on the people, he was looking away as if he had never been so bored in his life!!!! Makes me think if they are doing the ceremony from their heart, or to put on a show for the tourists to get donations. Hrmmmm....
Another thing... We had originally booked two weeks at Parmarth, but we wanted to stay another week. We asked the middle aged vested man at the desk if it was possible to extend our stay and he replied with a sharp, "NO!!! NO WAY! WE ARE FULLY BOOKED! MANY GROUPS COME. NO!" Not the kind of response you expect to get from a a worker at an ashram.
If you find yourself at Parmarth, just make sure to direct ALL your questions to the younger guy at the front desk, or with the white robed woman (we asked her the next day about staying longer, and without hesitation she told us to stay as long as we'd like!)
So, as for now, we will stay here for the gorgeous grounds, the delicious food, filtered water, and we are able to meet heaps of interesting people from around the world. But as for spirituality... we will start looking elsewhere.
Meals at the ashram.... YUM!!!!
Parmarth's website: http://www.parmarth.com/home.html