The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) was founded by the Indian philosopher and educator Haridas Chaudhuri in the same year as Auroville.
Chaudhuri was chosen by Sri Aurobindo, at a request from Dr. Spiegelberg at Stanford University , to go to the USA to bridge the gap between the East and the West. Haridas came to the States in 1951, and in 1968 the California Institute of Asian Studies (later to become CIIS) was inaugurated.
CIIS today offers graduate education in a wide range of subjects, not all directly connected with the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. Yet some of them, like ‘integral psychology', are talked about in this way on the CIIS web pages: “Integral psychology is an emerging field which seeks to integrate western psychology with the Integral Yoga and philosophy of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. … The term ‘integral' is in vogue these days, and many different thinkers are applying the term in their own ways. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, however, were the first to apply this term to evolve a new system of yoga which they called Integral Yoga.”
Jorge Ferrer, a core faculty member at CIIS, recently visited Auroville. We took the chance to have a conversation about CIIS, Auroville, an experiential, exercise-based approach to Integral Yoga, and the possibility of future collaboration.
Auroville Today: How do you see the relation between Auroville and CIIS?
Jorge: Well, there is this curious fact that CIIS and Auroville were born in the same year, like twins. They have historical and spiritual connections through Sri Aurobindo, but they haven't kept much in touch. There have been other occasional visitors from CIIS in Auroville, for example three years ago in connection with the Integral Psychology Conference in Pondy [and a group of students in 1996], but in general there hasn't been much exchange. Nine years ago someone from Auroville gave a talk at CIIS. Recently, however, I have noticed a growing interest in Auroville at CIIS, mainly inspired by students. I have three students in my program, ‘East-West Psychology', doing dissertations on Sri Aurobindo's work.
So you do see some common aspects, even though CIIS is an academic institution and Auroville is a city?
Yes. At both places there is an attempt to find and manifest unity-in-diversity, as well as to bridge this spiritual intent to a transformation of society and the larger world. There are other institutions in the world, like the Buddhist oriented Naropa Institute, with similar goals, but I think both Auroville and CIIS stand out from the rest just by their size and scope. The number of people they attract is quite unique. The difference between CIIS as an academic institution and Auroville as a city, I think may be less evident in coming years. I see that Auroville is starting to reclaim its original aim of offering high level education, looking at CIRHU, for example.
When it comes to educational projects, we shouldn't forget the connection with the Ashram. It is a tremendously rich resource. I had very inspiring conversations with Dalal and other Ashramites, and I am currently reading an exceptional book on the practice of Integral Yoga by Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, a sadakh who has spent 53 years at the Ashram.
You held a weekend workshop in Auroville during your visit…
Yes, it was based on an approach to integral growth developed by my colleagues Marina Romero and Ramon Albareda. I called it ‘Holistic Meditation and Embodied Inquiry into Integral Spirituality'. It seeks to provide a context in which every individual can get an experiential sense of how much his or her different worlds – body, vital, heart, mind, etc. – are porous to the energy of consciousness and the force of immanent spirit. Many of the exercises are based on respectful physical touch, simply because the body is the natural doorway to the deepest levels of those worlds. Everything is carried out at a calm pace, so that the participants can take their own responsibility for all they do and experience. This is the kind of experiential approach to integral growth – or Integral Yoga – which I feel is so essential, but yet so often neglected, even at an institute like CIIS where everything tends to be filtered through the mind.
What kind of response did you get from the Aurovilians who participated?
A very positive response from most of the 18 Aurovilian participants. I have been talking to some of them about the possibility of my coming back to offer them the opportunity to go deeper into this work. I hope that I can do that, and then bring Marina and Ramon with me. I feel touched by the very special human quality of Aurovilians, and I think they are especially well prepared for this kind of work. Here, there are so many people who have worked for a long time with the clear orientation towards a fully embodied integral spirituality. The experiential work I facilitate may offer some potent and concrete tools to foster a fuller actualization of that potential. It is very different at CIIS, where people just pass through for a few years. Auroville is a very unique collective in this respect.
Do you also see openings for collaboration between CIIS and Auroville at an institutional level?
Yes, I see CIRHU as the project which could give a context to future cooperation. It wouldn't be impossible to create a joint curriculum on integral spirituality; classes from CIIS could come here to be exposed to Integral Yoga in practice, there could be a scholar exchange program, and so on. Joe Subbiondo, the president of CIIS, is actually coming to Auroville in December, and he is very excited about exploring the possibilities of collaboration.
Any particular experiences in Auroville that you will take back to California …?
There are many. The quality of embodied presence and energy in Matrimandir; it felt as if someone was doing the meditation for me! The sense of community I experienced in Adventure where I have been staying; very wholesome and nourishing. And the new Creativity project, seeing how the flow of connectedness is already facilitated by the physical structures of the building. And then, Aloka's and Joan's work on body awareness. Really original and exceptional. There must be many equally original projects in Auroville I haven't yet got in touch with. It's a remarkable place!