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Auroville Adventure

May 01

Supporting spiritual search

- by Alan

How much support does the community provide to those who want to understand the spiritual foundations of Auroville and the nature of the integral yoga?

Aurovilians and members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram came together in "Remembering the Mother" at Savitri Bhavan on January 28th 2001.

Mother stressed that it was important that the Aurovilians have a good knowledge of the writings of Sri Aurobindo. Consequently, in the early years certain Ashramites - including M.P.Pandit, Amal Kiran, Nirodbaran, Aravinda Basu and Udar Pinto - came regularly to Auroville to speak about Sri Aurobindo and Mother. The talks, which were held in venues like Last School amphitheatre and the Matrimandir Camp, were well-attended and lively. However, in 1979 they stopped. Why?

Most obviously it was because of increasing difficulties with the Sri Aurobindo Society (S.A.S.) and the Ashram. Some of the Aurovilians wanted to break links with the Ashram because they felt it had 'betrayed' Auroville by not supporting it in its struggles against the S.A.S., and because it was believed to be victimising Satprem for his efforts to publish The Agenda. As more and more of The Agenda was published, some of Mother's comments also appeared to support Satprem's assertion that the Ashram was "finished", and that Aurovilians had henceforth to walk their own spiritual path. Underlying this was the sense that the age of gurus and religions was over, that Mother had announced the birth of a new world which superceded all that went before, and that now one only needed to open oneself to and work with the force in order to progress.

This fitted well with the spirit of that time, for in Auroville it was a time of spontaneous action and of the rejection of established modes of thinking and authority ("too mental" was one of the devastating put-downs of that period). The Auroville schools remained shut (although a few small-scale educational experiments continued) and some of the books in the Auroville library were burned.

By the early 1980s, however, it was clear that there was a cost to this radical clearing of the decks. Many children were receiving no education and, as the political situation stabilized and energy turned again towards building the township, it became evident that very few Aurovilians really understood what Mother had intended for the detailed organization of the community. There was also growing concern that not only Newcomers but also many Aurovilians lacked a basic understanding of the Integral Yoga and of the significance of Mother's intentions for Auroville.

Consequently, along with the re-establishment of formal education in 1984, there was a new movement of research and documentation. For example, one of the first tasks of the newly-established Laboratory of Evolution (LoE) was to make compilations of the texts of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on topics like Integral Yoga, the psychic being and the 'Avatar's Model Town'. It also built up a library which includes not only works of Sri Aurobindo, Mother and their followers, but also texts on related fields like the new physics and alternative approaches in health and healing. "In this way," explains Bhaga who coordinates activities at the Laboratory of Evolution, "the LoE has become a bridge between the yoga as practised in Auroville and what is happening regarding evolution in the larger world, about which we still know far too little." It's an approach which has had its critics, notably those who believe that the yoga of Sri Aurobindo and Mother is unique and cannot be explained by or compared to any other path. There also remains a deep suspicion among some Aurovilians of what is perceived to be 'New Age' homogenization and superficiality. However Bhaga has seen a definite change in the past two years, with far more people coming to borrow books not only on the yoga but also on allied movements.

A turning point

By the early 1990s the somewhat strained relationship between Auroville and the Ashram was beginning to ease. Crucially, the completion of the inner chamber of Matrimandir drew Ashramites to the structure which many had worked on in the early years. At the same time, the reintegration of the so-called 'neutrals' (Aurovilians who had favoured dialogue with the SAS without being of that party) back into the community also facilitated a greater interaction with Ashramites, for many of these Aurovilians had retained strong links with individual Ashramites.

The interactions, however, remained informal, and while senior Ashramites like Champaklal and Nirodbaran visited Matrimandir and Aurovilian friends, they did not give talks. The turning-point came in 1994 when Nirodbaran was invited to Pitanga Hall to speak about his recollections of Sri Aurobindo. The deeply-felt and enthusiastic response of the Aurovilians to his talk made it obvious that there was a tremendous thirst not only for more knowledge, but also for increased contact with those who, like Nirodbaran, had had direct experience of Sri Aurobindo and Mother. 1994 was also the year the Savitri Study group began meeting regularly, and this was to become the seed of the Savitri Bhavan project.

Today there are regular well-attended classes and talks at Savitri Bhavan on 'Savitri', 'The Life Divine' and other works by Sri Aurobindo and Mother, given by both Aurovilians and Ashramites like Dr. Ananda Reddy, Dr. Nadkarni and Sraddhalu. The Welcoming Group, which organizes introduction weeks for Newcomers, always includes a session on the spiritual foundations of Auroville, while the Auroville Library, the Laboratory of Evolution and the House of Mother's Agenda continue to loan out books and tapes and mount mini-exhibitions on topics related to the yoga. There is even a new service which offers to make compilations on demand of any aspect of Auroville and the yoga.

In this sense one can say that the community is, once again, taking up the responsibility of disseminating knowledge about the yoga to all who are interested. However, important lacunae remain. Many of the local villagers who join Auroville are illiterate or semi-literate and have little or no knowledge of the yoga or the purpose of Auroville. This is not easily remedied as there are very few easy-to-read books in Tamil on the yoga (and the ones that do exist are not widely distributed) and there are no regular presentations on the yoga in the Tamil language.

Then, again, the larger question of how far one needs to study the yoga in order to become an effective instrument remains unresolved. One reason why there is not more widespread study in the community of Sri Aurobindo and Mother is that some Aurovilians seem to assume that merely to live in Auroville is to be on the royal road to transformation. Bhaga, who makes presentations to newcomers on the spiritual foundations of Auroville, sounds an additional note of caution. "We must beware of turning Sri Aurobindo and Mother into a religion. The world is not interested in us adoring something, but in our demonstrating that we are evolving. We need knowledge but, above all, we need to make it living."

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