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  Ashrams are quite different from Buddhist or western-Christian monasteries. Essentially they are communities which grow up around a religious figure. The Upanisad tradition of sages going to the forest to meditate resulted in communities of disciples and devotees settling around their hut, following their teacher\'s guidance. Probably the most famous in modern times are Rabindranath Tagore\'s community at Shantinikitan, West Bengal, where he conducted his educational and cultural experiments (and which is now recognized as a university, although originally it was closer to deschooling, non-formal education and arts workshops), and Gandhi\'s ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati near Ahmedabad, which was a springboard for his independence campaign.

In a true ashram, there is no hierarchy. All depends on the guru\'s word. People come and go, according to their spiritual needs, and the only vows they take are of obedience to the guru (or swami) and that they will respect the community\'s conventions. These usually involve participating in a pattern of daily worship and meditation, sharing common tasks such as cooking and cleaning, living a life of great simplicity, wearing handloom cotton robes (sometimes of a distinctive hue), and abstaining from alcohol, meat and smoking. EMJ



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