Eat, Pray, Love: The Ashram Vacation

by Liz on July 29, 2010

in Travel

Julia Roberts, with Swami Dharmdev at Hari Mandir Ashram outside New Delhi, India

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of buzz generated around the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” A divorced woman in her thirties, in search for answers, embarks on a trip around the world to find herself, and then…can you tell I haven’t read the book? It sounds a bit too cliché, really. I mean, since the days of Allen Ginsburg and the Beatles, when did we not go East to find some meaning to our burning existential questions?

Amidst all this media build-up around a movie that’s going to prove to be part chick-flick, part spiritual quest, and all Julia Roberts, all the time, I stumbled on a fascinating article about another India sojourn, undertaken by the writer Somerset Maugham in the 1930s.

To critics, “Eat, Pray, Love,” which has sold more than six million copies in the United States, is a symbol of the commodification of Eastern spirituality, offering a breezy primer on the kind of self-examination that is said to take a lifetime, sandwiched between narratives of more earthly ­pleasures. But Gilbert is hardly the first writer to mass-market the ashram experience.

Feel free to read the rest of the article here. Maugham, it turns out, ignited a craving for Eastern spirituality in his native England, after recounting his time with the swami Sri Ramana in a fictional novel, “The Razor’s Edge.” That book, we’re told, sold 3 million copies upon release. Gilbert’s success, it seems, is nothing new.

Still, I can’t but help wonder about life in an ashram. Early morning prayer. Simple living. Meditation session with fellow seekers of Enlightenment. And tranquilizing yoga! The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, unlike some resorts merely posing as Ashrams seem to offer the real deal too: according to this article by John Falk in National Geographic Adventure it’s all about “no tight-fitting garments or public displays of affection; bathing was cold water only.” And something about the use of toilet paper, which I won’t venture to print here.

A true ashram doesn’t sound exactly the lap of luxury, but I feel it’s somewhere a traveler can learn, in the words of Sri Ramana, why “silence is also conversation.”


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