Ashram (Skt. a moving to + shrama spiritual discipline)
Traditionally, an ashram is a retreat center where spiritual seekers, usually under the direct or indirect guidance of a master (guru), seek spiritual wisdom and development, ultimately leading to enlightenment.
Like a Christian monastery, ashram life may involve not just prayer and contemplation but also scholarly study and mundane chores.
Many ashrams require or advocate the sublimation of passion and sexual desire. Critics of this stipulation, of course, would probably use the word “repression” instead of “sublimation” to describe monastic celibacy.
In days gone by spiritual ashrams were removed from the world, something like a hermitage. But today, this isn’t necessarily so. A more contemporary usage of the word ashram simply means a place or cultural center where people get together to pursue some specialized discipline, such as music or education. But still, a spiritual overlap can be present. It really depends on the situation and the individuals involved.¹
¹Visva-Bharati university, for instance, where this author did his M.A., was a registered university and also described by locals as an “ashram.” There actually existed a curious tension between those who were primarily interested in spiritual development vs. those leaning more toward the Western pedagogical model.