The Brahmachari Ashrama
The brahmacari quarters may be dormitory type or divided into smaller rooms. In either case, it’s better if the brahmacaris all stay together in one area. Staying alone or having too much privacy is never recommended for devotees. The tendency is to oversleep or otherwise fall into maya.
Shrila Prabhupada once walked into the brahmacari room (10.8 x 3.5 meters) in Hyderabad and said, “Forty brahmacaris can stay in here.” The devotees were stunned and thought Shrila Prabhupada was joking, but he wasn’t. (Told by Anandamaya dasa)
The brahmacari-ashrama should, obviously, be far away from the brahmacarini and householder areas, and, preferably, close to the temple. There should be adequate toilet and bathing facilities so that everyone can conveniently get to mangala-arati on time.
A full set of Shrila Prabhupada’s books should be available, or better still, there should be a separate library-cum-study. (Too many of our temples still don’t provide this important facility. Devotees, especially brahmacaris, give up everything to serve Krishna. If at all possible they should have a place where they can go to peacefully absorb themselves in Shrila Prabhupada’s books.)
In the early days of ISKCON, devotees didn’t used to sleep on beds, but they are standard fittings in many of our ashramas nowadays. Beds aren’t necessarily a bad thing (although brahmacaris traditionally aren’t supposed to use them), but personally I don’t see the advantage to having them. Apart from costing money, they take up valuable space and provide a constant temptation to be used. Besides, soft mattresses are bad for health. Sleeping on the floor is conducive to the brahmacari ideals of simplicity and austerity. A brahmacari doesn’t need any special arrangement—he can take rest anywhere. A bed is just something else to get attached to. On rising, a brahmacari rolls up his bedding neatly, puts it away (out of sight, out of mind) and sponges the floor where he slept. Shrila Prabhupada: “A brahmacari lies down on the floor.” (Lecture, 01/11/72)
Pictures on the brahmacari room walls (or anywhere else, for that matter) should be properly framed, not just ripped out of a magazine and stuck up haphazardly with sticky tape. Don’t sleep with your feet toward them! Mirrors are anathema for brahmacaris, so just keep a small one on the wall so the boys can put their tilaka on nicely.
The brahmacari-ashrama must be kept neat and clean. That means sweeping out and washing with water every day. Shrila Prabhupada: “If devotees don’t clean their rooms every day with water, then they are living like hogs.” Don’t just leave things lying around; have lockers and use them. If we make a mess, we should clean it up on the spot, not leave it for someone else to tidy up. Keep a waste bin, use it, and empty it out daily. Keep a laundry basket, too, and place dirty cloth in it, not on top of it, near it, around it or half-in and half-out. Hang washed cloth to dry outside or in a separate room. Towels and kaupinas especially should be out of sight. Keep walls, ceilings, fans, windows, and pictures clean too. Don’t make a mess with the tilaka. Watch out for cobwebs and accumulated dust in corners and behind cupboards.
Basic rules of communal living should be observed. Items used communally (such as books) should not be taken away. After using, return them to the place where they are kept. And take permission before using anyone’s personal possessions.
Bringing prasada into the brahmacari-ashrama invites ants, cockroaches, and mice; and stashing prasada is against the pure devotional principles. The Bhagavatam states, “A saintly mendicant should not even collect foodstuffs to eat later in the same day or the next day. If he disregards this injunction and like the honeybee collects more and more delicious foodstuffs, that which he has collected will indeed ruin him.” (SB 11.8.12)
Keep the air fresh by burning incense and letting fresh air in as much as possible. Bad smells are horrible, and stale air is unhealthy. Be sure to keep the toilets and bathroom area always clean and disinfected. Unless peak cleanliness is maintained, disease can spread rapidly in communal situations.
There’s no real place in the brahmacari-ashrama for karmi books, magazines, or newspapers. Those devotees who really have to read such things in relation to their service can do so privately.
In a strict ashrama, lights go on and off at fixed times (e.g. 3:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.). Best is to awake to a Prabhupada bhajana cassette. Late resters and early risers should go quietly, avoiding turning the lights on and only using a flashlight if necessary, and even then being careful not to shine it in others’ faces. So-called brahmacaris who unnecessarily stay up late at night making so much noise that others cannot rest properly, and who then sleep in the morning program, are not proper brahmacaris and are not fit to live in an ashrama.
On waking, don’t lie in your bedding trying to enjoy the stupor of semi-consciousness. Rise immediately and chant Hare Krishna. Reluctant risers should be firmly coaxed into action—don’t let them rot in their misery. Shrila Prabhupada: “One who cannot rise early is not very serious about spiritual life.” (SPL Ch. 33)
Most important of all to make the brahmacari residence actually an ashrama is to keep the Krishna conscious mood strong. That depends on the devotees themselves. Talk philosophy, chant the holy names, read Prabhupada’s books, recite shlokas. Don’t waste time, and don’t talk prajalpa. Otherwise the atmosphere will be intolerable.