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Disparity of wealth in Auroville

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In recent years there has been criticism of Auroville, to the effect that there is an obvious, and in some cases fairly major, disparity in wealth between its inhabitants. Also that the township is increasingly consumerist in lifestyle, with residents intent on acquiring capital goods, wealth and all the comforts that accrue from such a way of life. Mostly with regard to the former criticism, we present here some important points for consideration.

Disparity in wealth: points for consideration

  • Wherever one goes in the world one finds rich and poor, in a relative sense. To a rickshaw wallah living on the street a villager with a house and some land seems relatively rich. To the latter villager a Western Aurovilian living in a pucca house and riding a motorcycle seems relatively rich. To the Aurovilian a Government Minister may seem relatively rich. And to the Minister an oil Sheikh from the Gulf may seem relatively rich. Vice versa, one can go back down a scale of relative poverty.

  • Sri Aurobindo and The Mother never said that there was anything wrong in being rich or poor. If they did refer to differences in wealth, it was more in terms of lessons to be learned in life from the experience of having - or not having - wealth, and the opportunities for spiritual growth that such situations bring to the individual concerned.

  • Of course, there is nothing wrong in wealth per se, assuming it has not been wrongly acquired. The only thing that may be considered relevant or important in the context of Auroville is how it is used. In Auroville there are definitely a number of well-off Aurovilians, and some of them live in larger-than-average size houses, but that doesn't make them or their lifestyle a valid target for criticism. The key question is how they are using their wealth. In the vast majority of cases they are using it with exceptional generosity - to support Auroville projects in an ongoing way, to help pay for specific things needed by the community, to provide financial help for needy fellow Aurovilians in times of crisis etc. Much of what these people do in Auroville, or for village people who work for them or whose needs come to their attention, is done quietly, often anonymously, without fuss or desire for praise or recognition: they just give whatever is needed, seeing it as an offering to The Work. People outside Auroville, even the majority of Aurovilians, never get to hear about such constant generosity, and thus may be vulnerable to stories about "rich" Aurovilians living selfish lives. The fact is, without these relatively well off people, and the surplus funds they have available beyond their own immediate survival needs, Auroville would not have been able to progress to where it is today. They are an essential element in the Auroville mix, and very much appreciated by the community.

  • Auroville has not been established to create another communistic style society, with everyone at the same level. Mother never wanted Auroville to be like that; though she did want everyone to have the same freedom and opportunities for personal growth.

  • Some people choose to live low-profile simple lives in simple houses. Others feel the need for more space and perhaps a few luxuries to enjoy alongside their day-to-day work for Auroville. Neither is 'right' or 'wrong', 'better' or 'worse' than the other. These are personal choices each Aurovilian must be free to make if the opportunity arises.

  • We are each born into and experience circumstances in life which are most conducive to our spiritual growth, and no doubt connected with our past karma. The significance of our individual birth is only known to our innermost being, and has nothing to do with anyone else. Some people have to learn how to use wealth in a wise, generous and appropriate way. Others have to learn how to accept wealth in those around them without envy or resentment. We simply have to use each birth to grow in spirit, whether it be as a relatively wealthy individual or as a poor one.

  • Aurovilians are not using their personal wealth for selfish ends or as a means to acquire yet greater wealth, as typically happens in the outside world. No-one is in Auroville to make money for themselves alone.

  • Look at Aurovilian 'maintenance' figures: they are more or less the same throughout the community. That doesn't suggest any major disparity in day-to-day wealth terms. Meanwhile it can also be pointed out that most people who have joined Auroville from the local villages now have a bigger income and better lifestyle than they had before; whereas most Westerners are living a simpler life and receiving a maintenance well below what they could earn in the West. The former have gained in immediate wealth terms, the latter have 'lost', in the sense that since joining Auroville they have fallen behind contemporaries in their country of origin.

  • There are people in Auroville who no longer have any money of their own: all their personal resources have been exhausted and they now depend totally on the community for everything. The beautiful thing about Auroville is its complete acceptance of responsibility for such people, and its financial support for them. All their cash and basic material needs are met from within the community.

  • Take two individuals, one from a Western village background and the other from an Indian village background. Let's say they both own a bicycle - the former costing the equivalent of Rs.7,000 in Europe, and the latter Rs.1,500 here - and that the amount they paid represents an identical outlay in terms of the percentage of their earnings or total wealth. Let's then assume that they sell their cycles, the former for Rs.5,000 equivalent and the latter for Rs.1,000. When the Westerner comes to Auroville with his Rs.5,000 he immediately seems 5 times wealthier than his Indian counterpart! Can he be criticised for this? Is there something wrong in the fact that his cycle cost more and sold for more in Europe than would have been the case here?

  • Some Aurovilians are using their personal financial resources to meet ALL their own costs, thereby saving Auroville from paying them a maintenance. This is a major contribution to Auroville.

  • The Mother has set before us the ideal of no monetary transactions within Auroville. It's an ideal we have yet to achieve, but it isn't something which can happen overnight. It's highly complex, because we live connected to the outside world, and that requires money.

  • Monetary inequality is unimportant: of much more importance is behavioural inequality and inequality in levels of consciousness. If Auroville can make progress on the latter we can be sure of more rapid progress towards all our ideals.

To its critics, Auroville asks only that they accept that the township is quietly moving towards its ideals, well aware of what has yet to be done and confident that the project will succeed.



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