I was a little surprised to see only saw a handful of Indians. The ashram guests were predominantly Westerners and Asians. And a social bunch they were. Strumming guitars, yacking, laughing, calling out. It started to slowly dawn on me why the minimum three-day stay was called "vacation" rather than retreat. I also realized it was a cheap vacation. At six hundred rupees a day included accommodations, four hours of yoga, meditation, chanting, lectures, and yoga instruction, it was a bargain. I suspect some people didn't even give a hoot about the yoga.
A bell rang indicating dinner was served. I went to the dining hall. Inside, there were long mats with pre-filled stainless steel trays of food. In all fairness, the food at an ashram is meant to be simple, vegetarian, and proportionate to keep the mind from getting dull. But each dish was watered down so much that only a few vegetables floated around in watery broth. You could eat as much as you wanted and servers walked by dishing out salad, ladling dhal, and handing out chapatis or other types of Indian bread. To get more food, your requested was predicated by Om. One woman seated on my right cried Om, Om, Om holding out her tray as if her life depended on it. A tall thin man on my left, tray to mouth, scooped up five platefuls of food.
Last August, I spent 10 days at a Vipassana meditation in total silence. It was peaceful and thoughtful. I expected a little of the same here. However the only time one had to observe silence was during meals. Damned if no one there could keep their pie-hole shut here. There wasn't even a trace of effort. "Om, please observe silence," came the word over the loudspeaker again and again. Not a second passed before the conversation started up again.
I silently stuffed another chapati in my pie-hole.