There are several kinds of services: administrative, municipal, the services provided by SAIIER and those services whose aim is to provide for the material needs of all individuals. I am concerned with the latter.
The Aurovilians are expected to offer their work and/or money to the community. If work should not indeed be `a way to earn one's living', working hours can't be traded against some material advantage; they can only be offered. Similarly, if there is `no circulation of money within Auroville', money won't be able buy anything here, neither a house, nor a meal, nor anything. The only thing an Aurovilian should be able to do with `his' or ‘her' money is to offer it. In return for this offering, Auroville has to provide for his or her basic needs. This is one of Auroville's most fundamental principles.
This fundamental principle has been lost. The `maintenance' we receive is in fact a salary as it is provided in money without any attempt to take into account our respective needs. For most people it amounts to three to four thousand rupees a month, but some people get much more. Why? It's not because their needs are greater and not even because their work is more valuable to our community; it is simply because the unit where they work can pay more money than others. That's the only reason. It is not only very unfair; it is in contradiction to our ideals. In `A Dream', Mother says that it is not because you are talented and capable of running a large business, for example, that you should enjoy more pleasures in life. On the contrary, those who have such capacities should take on more responsibilities. This is totally forgotten. She also says that the `bodily needs would be equally provided for' and we don't do it either. There isn't enough brotherhood, there isn't enough sharing, there isn't enough trust, and not enough basic knowledge of what Mother has said, which is too often interpreted to our convenience. So it's the whole system which has to change.
Auroville Today: Was it like that in the early days?
No. At least people didn't dare to disregard so blatantly Mother's rules. People gave to the common pot, `Pour Tous', and whatever was there was shared equitably. It worked well for several years but then the system fell apart – in my view for three reasons. Firstly, too many people were too lazy to contribute their thirty five hours of work per week for the collective. Secondly, desires and egoism got hold of many of those who had access to (personal or business) money; so they shared it more and more reluctantly, arguing that they did not want to sponsor laziness. The final blow came from side effects of the battle with the Sri Aurobindo Society: serious shortage of money and rejection of all forms of authority. So `Pour Tous' received less and less money and food items to distribute and many individuals felt they were left to fend for themselves. Then, in the mid eighties, the management of one our most profitable units decided to give a salary to the Aurovilians working with them saying that it was for them, and not for this unit, to decide whether to share, or not, their salary with the community. Soon all other units followed suit and gave a `maintenance' to those working with them. Being deprived of resources to share, `Pour Tous' was thus forced to become a shop where Aurovilians spend `their' money. Gone was the distribution centre of collective resources and the ideal behind it.
This is how our community switched from a sharing system aiming at the satisfaction of each one's basic needs to an ordinary salary system.
But how would a group decide what different people's basic needs are?
This is indeed where the main difficulty lies!
Mother acknowledged it by saying that the difficulty of Her system was in the `appraisal of the value of things'. The question is not whether one can allocate already Auroville's resources in a truly ideal way, but whether one can allocate them better than what is done now. In my view, the present system is so unfair that it should be easy to do much better.
If one looks at the way Mother was taking care of the Ashramites, one gets an idea of what She meant by basic needs. Let's note that, unlike in the Ashram where `Dining Room' food is the only option, She said that the Aurovilians would be given the choice between a variety of tastes and diets. This diversity of choice was probably not limited to food alone.
But she gave guidelines for how we should live here.
Yes, but some Aurovilians refuse to abide by these rules arguing that Mother had said that `as long as there are no rules there is hope' or that these are passé. It is indeed true that initially She did not want to impose on Auroville any of the `Rules of Life' She had made for the Ashram (no smoking, no drugs, no alcohol, no sex and no politics), but the economic rules are exactly the same in both organisations: No private property, working thirty-five hours a week for the collective, no salary, no funding of desires, no circulation of money.
One thing I want to highlight: Sri Aurobindo and Mother did not believe that a system could by itself bring the change humanity so desperately needs. Hence these rules do not form the basis of some new `ism'; in my view, they are mainly meant to prevent those who won't abide by such rules joining or remaining in Auroville. The application of these rules would create an automatic selection of those who have reached the required level of consciousness to live here. For example, those who are too attached to personal property won't want to live here. Unfortunately, by not putting into practice some of these rules, and by applying some others partly only, many persons who would not have joined otherwise are now `Aurovilians' and they are likely to resist any change…
You believe that Auroville has become more individualistic?
That's the cancer of Auroville. There is too much individualism and materialism – although we claim we want to leave them behind us. Some say the only way to limit the cost of services is to put them in competition; whereas Mother insisted that collaboration is the `true spirit of Auroville'. Some want more democracy as it allows their ego to express itself, whereas Mother insisted on the government by the highest consciousness available. In effect, we tend to reproduce the `old world' here, and some of us don't even seem to realize it.
But do not misunderstand me; it is not because we have failed till now that all hope is lost. On the contrary, my experience is that our ideals are very deeply rooted in most of us and I am absolutely convinced that Mother will put such a pressure on us that we will be forced to realise our ideals. We came here for that and we will remember in due time that our choice is limited to `Truth or the abyss'.
What would the next step be?
A collective will, embodied in a growing group of dedicated Aurovilians, is a must. We also need to learn from our past mistakes in order not to repeat them. Though in my view Mother's economic principles were meant to be put into practice from the beginning, it isn't possible now to implement all of these overnight. In fact, for me, their degree of implementation gives the measure of our collective state of consciousness. Therefore I believe that our only option is to put them into practice progressively, but steadily, as our collective consciousness rises, as our collective organisation improves and as individual contributions improve.
Steps need to be taken to enable the collective to perform its task properly. In this respect, two things which were not there in the past are now in our favour: better organisational skills and tools, and a far greater collective wealth to share. We need to create an organisation, `For All – Pour Tous', whose aim would be to provide for the material needs of all – without money circulation. Some of its components exist already and others need to be created. This should allow all these services to coordinate better their actions and improve their efficiency. It should also trigger a new dynamism towards `collective living' where `life would be simplified and higher qualities would have more time to develop'. We need to organise ourselves to provide equally for the `bodily needs' of all and, much more difficult, invent some way to provide for special needs which are essential to only a few of us.
Then, we have to ensure that the individuals play their part. All contributors need to feel that everyone does contribute adequately to the collective. Such is definitely not the feeling at present. As any coercive action would be a non-starter, we need to create a service that would help each one to find a work in which he can `express himself and develop his capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole'. This may suffice to change the atmosphere and put pressure on those who need to mend their ways.
Mother also insisted on the need for the Aurovilians to master their ego and desires. Can we do something about this? One should probably implement the rule that Auroville should not fund obvious desires. One could follow Mother's example and refuse to give any kind of maintenance to those self-maintained Aurovilians who enjoy living standards that are well above the average.
Very practically, we will very soon open a new “Pour Tous Distribution Centre” which will provide us only with the food and sundry items which Auroville gives us. One won't be able to buy anything there. It will be a little inconvenient because many of us have some extra money, so if one wants anything more than what is provided, we'll have to go to a store also. But I think it's worth the inconvenience. I believe that most people won't mind if it does help us move towards a more ideal system.
Is this what keeps you going?
The first thing that the Mother did after she joined Sri Aurobindo, in 1920, was to look after His household as it was not at all organized. So She, like a good mother, took over and organized everything to provide every disciple with a bed, a room, food to eat, everything. In this respect, our community has totally failed its members. It is because I found this fact totally unacceptable that I took up the Solar Kitchen project and later the `Pour Tous Distribution Centre' project and that I am committed to carry on developing the organisation that will provide for the material needs of all. I consider this objective as important as completing Matrimandir (my other commitment). As you can see, my task is far from being over. With Her help we will succeed!