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May 01


A caring society?

- by Alan

Some visitors don't find much evidence of community in Auroville. They are referring to an almost total absence of community-wide celebrations, the fact that we don't have shared spiritual practices, that there is a certain brusqueness in many of our interactions, that there are major inequalities .

All this is true. But Aurovilians will also tell you that it's by no means the whole story. For there is another level at which there is a strong sense of belonging, of family, but that this is often not expressed in an obvious way - pioneer minimalism and a pervasive distrust of openly-expressed emotion still exert their influence. In fact, it is often only in extreme situations that caring manifests overtly.

This is the personal level. But even at an institutional level, there are more community support systems in place today than there were ten years ago. Aurovilians can avail themselves of a wide range of health and healing therapies, the schools - though hampered by a lack of resources - provide genuine alternatives in educational approaches to all Auroville children, the new economy is already providing more support to Aurovilians with limited financial means, there is a job service, a counselling service, free workshops and cultural programmes. And, of course, we now have social gathering points like the Solar Kitchen and the Coffee Shop which may be vastly influential in their subtle influences upon the web of our relationships (it's difficult to remain angry with someone who buys you a cappuccino ice-cream).

The failings

But the question remains: to what extent do we as a community address the needs of all our members? Perhaps not so well as we would like to think. How otherwise can we account for the fact that, after 33 years, large sectors of our society, such as the youth, many Tamil Aurovilians and young mothers, feel that their voices are not heard and their needs neglected? That a society made up of thirty-three different nationalities still doesn't have a decent language laboratory, or even a translation service for its many non-English speaking residents? That we have yet to evolve appeal procedures for Aurovilians who feel they have been wronged, either in a personal altercation or in a dispute with the larger community? That the community provides no health insurance to all its members? That only recently we have begun providing a minimum of support to newcomers to facilitate their entry into the community? And what makes us neglectful of the needs of the aged and handicapped, fails to ensure that there is regular gynaecological assistance at the Health Centre and, at the most prosaic level, keep our roads un-signposted?

Neo-Darwinian attitudes

It is easy to put all this down to a lack of resources. While there is a truth in this, there are also certain attitudes in the community which condition how we care, or do not care, for one another at the collective level. One such assumption is that we are not here primarily to look after each other, but to realize a new consciousness. That everything else, however praiseworthy in terms of conventional wisdom, morality or philanthropy, is a distraction from this aim. A concomitant is that Auroville itself is a test, a training-ground for the warriors of the new consciousness, and that nothing should be allowed to interfere with the process of the weeding-out of the unready and the tempering and shaping of the chosen.

The path itself

This belief - the belief in the survival of the spiritually fittest - could be described as a kind of neo-Darwinian spirituality. Not that its proponents don't have a point. For Auroville is, above all, about contacting and embodying a new consciousness. Moreover, it is generally acknowledged that a genuine human unity is only possible when that consciousness is embodied in what Sri Aurobindo termed the 'gnostic collectivity'.

What may be challenged, however, is the unspoken assumption that all intermediate forms of community and sharing are deviations from this path, mere by-ways for sentimentalists. For the development of a caring society can become the path itself as long as we understand that caring, as we usually understand it, is not enough; that many other reaches of the spirit have to be discovered on the way to progressively deepening and enriching our relations with others.

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