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October 2003

Pelagius speaks!

- by DavidC

For the last two years, the white cat at New Creation Corner has been listening to our conversations over lunch, tea and dinner. This has given it a unique perspective on Auroville. What does the cat make of us all?

Firstly, what is your name?
The Cat: I come from a long and noble lineage, and I am proud to bear a most distinguished name. Unfortunately, it cannot be pronounced by the human tongue.
AVToday: Perhaps "Your Highness" would be suitable?
The Cat: (loftily) Sarcasm is not helpful. If you like, you can call me Pelagius.
AVToday: Why?
Pelagius: It is the name of a famous fifth-century Christian ascetic. He preached the doctrine of free-will and the possibility of attaining salvation through doing "good works" . I have often thought that he should be the patron saint of Auroville.
AVToday: Why?
Pelagius: Because you're all so earnest about enlightenment and the Supramental. And you're all quite convinced that you can be saved by "working on" yourselves. You don't put it quite like that, of course, but there is a good deal more primitive Salvationism here than anyone acknowledges.
AVToday: Come off it!
Pelagius: No, I'm quite serious. What do all Aurovilians have in common? Aspiration, obviously. You all worship the goddess Aspiration quite openly. And there's nothing wrong with that. But you can't have Aspiration without her dark sister, Dissatisfaction. It is very difficult to wish sincerely and passionately for a better world without succumbing to intense dissatisfaction with the present one.
AVToday: I guess there's no secret about that in Auroville.
Pelagius: Exactly. However, you must have observed that dissatisfaction is a powerful habit in its own right. Being chronically dissatisfied is a state of mind that cannot be turned off very easily. Hence the cries of "This isn't good enough!" during every debate about any thing in Auroville. If you mix intense aspiration and intense dis satisfaction with a belief that a "better" world is just around the corner if we only work hard enough, you get something very like Salvationism. Excuse me a moment… (springs nimbly off the balustrade to retrieve a piece of fish on the floor)
AVToday: You don't seem to think very much of what we're doing here. Surely the attempt to create something better has value?
Pelagius: (neatly chewing the fish) Oh, of course! Don't misunderstand me. You are all representatives of the long and honourable tradition of Utopianism. And one feature of all such people is that you take yourselves and your mission extremely seriously! This is inevitable. There's no such thing as a part-time Utopian. You have to believe in the attempt, even when the reality is so far from the ideal. In fact, sustaining that belief is Utopianism

AVToday: You make it sound as though there have been any number of Aurovilles in the past.
Pelagius: In a sense, of course, there have. In any educated society, there is always a minority of people who are too good for the present system. And, we should also note, a minority who are not good enough for it. The thought of starting again, of escaping to a new place where the injustices and stupidities of existing society do not apply, is enormously appealing to both groups of people. When circumstances permit, they set sail for Utopia. It so happens that, in southern India in 1968, an ideal set of circumstances came into being. So here you all are. Just like the Quakers escaping to the New World in the eighteenth century, or the Mormons trekking across the wilderness to Salt Lake a hundred and fifty years later.
AVToday: Surely you aren't comparing Auroville to the Mormons!
Pelagius: (crossly) They are only an example - and a very successful one, at that. You should do half as well! Don't sneer at what you don't understand.
AVToday: Sorry.
Pelagius: Remember where the derivation of the word "Utopia" - the classical Greek word for Nowhere (or No Place, strictly speaking). The present-day usage of it to denote an ideal society derives from Thomas More's book "Utopia", written in 1516. Being a scholar, he naturally wrote in Latin. It is about a man who travels to an unknown country - called No Place - where society is better organised, fairer, and so on. It was a means of criticising the condition of England during the pre-Reformation era.
AVToday: Are you suggesting that we are simply going through the motions, like all Utopians before us? And that it is actually hopeless?
Pelagius: Good heavens, what an extremist you are! I am suggesting nothing of the kind. I am simply putting your current project in its true, historical context. Two years of listening to your conversations over lunch have convinced me that most Aurovilians consider Auroville to be unique. You believe that Auroville is the first thing ever of its kind ever attempted. This is nonsense. And it doesn't help you to do the work that actually needs to be done. To see yourselves in context, as the latest representatives of a truly noble historical movement that has achieved a great deal over the centuries, would assist you greatly. For one thing, you would feel less isolated. But that's a much bigger subject that we don't have time to explore now.
AVToday: One last question. How could we do better?
Pelagius: My dear fellow, it's no use asking me! I'm a cat. We're long past worrying about that kind of thing. One day, if you like, I'll tell you about our history. It's an interesting story. But I see that luncheon is about to be served, so if you'll excuse me…

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