“I do not want to pry into your spiritual life, but you are here to study yoga. What sort of spiritual development are you all doing?” asked Dr. Karan Singh. He suggested, with a grin, that this might be an interesting topic for Auroville Today.
It certainly is.
Responses to Dr. Karan Singh's observation have been pronounced. Some people challenge his right to ask the question, particularly in view of the hidden sting in his conclusion that ‘if the Aurovilians are not doing yoga, then they are not following the Charter of Auroville.' “Is he implying that those people shouldn't be in Auroville?” asked one person indignantly. Other Aurovilians consider that the Chairman has a perfect right to ask this question. They point to the first line of Auroville's Charter which asks those living in Auroville ‘To be willing servitors of the Divine Consciousness' and to The Mother's numerous writings on what it means to be an Aurovilian.
Reactions apart, answers to the question have been hardly forthcoming. Only Alain Grandcolas spoke up during the interaction. He replied that he believed that more than 50% of the Aurovilians are giving priority to inner life. Asked by Auroville Today to corroborate this statement, Alain admits that his is an educated guess – and most probably on the low side. He has been doing some research on yoga in Auroville, and is conducting interviews with selected Aurovilians. “I discovered that most of the people who apparently are leading a normal life are in fact giving priority to their inner life,” he says. He explains, “Giving priority to inner life means that there is a connection to one's inner being, that to some extent one's life is guided by the psychic. Whenever they take a decision, they listen to how they inwardly feel about that decision, and they act according to the indication they receive.”
Alain's figure of 50% (at least!) is backed up by a survey on spirituality in Auroville conducted by two Dutch students. In 2005, Sandra ter Huurne and Erik Jan Tillema, students of Religious Studies and Philosophy at the Free University of Amsterdam, asked 101 Aurovilians and Newcomers how the philosophical ideas of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are realized in Auroville. To the question if they practice Integral Yoga, 77% of the respondents answered they (tried to) practise it; 11% replied that they practice another yoga; and 7% said that they do not practise any yoga whatsoever. Asked whether they read any literature about or by Sri Aurobindo or The Mother, 93% replied ‘yes' and only 6% said ‘no.
Is this conclusive evidence of a spiritualising society? “I wish it was,” sighed Shraddhavan, “but I can't believe it. I would assume that if 70% of the Aurovilians were really practicing Integral Yoga, we should be witnessing a completely different society than the one we've got.” Shraddhavan believes that, even if the aspiration to live a spiritual life is there, most of us still live like ordinary human beings most of the time, while some of us seem to be doing nothing else. “Our own ‘Aurobindonian' brand of spirituality is not strongly enough expressed here. It is still not a sufficiently dominant strand in our collective life,” she says.
“One reason is historical,” says Shraddhavan. “Some people miss having a living guru who gives daily guidance. And we had a difficult past when Auroville broke away from the Ashram.” She refers to the early days of Auroville when there was a strong feeling in some that all that was available from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was just mumbo-jumbo; that all that was needed was The Adventure of Consciousness or Mother's Agenda. At the same time, there was a tendency to a zealous and excessive use of quotations, which resulted in a kind of ‘Mother-said' syndrome. Moreover, quotations were often used by people who themselves were not living up to what they quoted. Says Shraddhavan, “As a kind of inheritance from those years, some Aurovilians, and Auroville's youth in particular, developed a disgust and do not want to hear any more speeches about The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Many Aurovilians also have developed a healthy reluctance to speak about something they feel they cannot live up to. We do not want to be marked as a sect, we do not want to preach, and in consequence, we leave people free to their own inner development – but perhaps fail to pass on information about our own inspiring experiences that would be helpful to others.”
Another reason is that Auroville's path of Karma Yoga is probably not sufficiently understood. The Mother, in Her last message to Auroville, stressed that the particular yoga Aurovilians are supposed to be doing is Karma Yoga, which has as focal point the surrender of all one's activities to the Divine. But many people need help to understand and practice this path, and there is no one in Auroville who offers it. Individuals are left to themselves. Perhaps for this reason quite a few Aurovilians and Newcomers feel the need to visit other gurus or attend other disciplines. In recent years, Savitri Bhavan has been inviting lecturers from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and elsewhere, and their courses are increasingly well attended. “Those who have grown up in the Ashram carry something special,” says Shraddhavan, which is perhaps one of the reasons for the growing attendance. Another one may be an increasing inner need.
Finally there is the aspect of collective yoga. Says Shraddhavan: “I believe that The Mother has created a special concentration of energy in Auroville to accelerate the yoga of evolution. When she talked about collective yoga, she conveyed not only that everybody who connects gets affected, but also that the force field acts like a churn, making all that needs to change rise up. This may be one of the reasons why Auroville seems such an impossible society at times, with so many problems surfacing.”
Yet, Shraddhavan is convinced that the path almost all Aurovilians – “surely 70% or even more,” she says – are following is the path of dedicated work. “This is the hallmark of Auroville. For most of us this is not yet real Karma Yoga, which for me implies a conscious constant consecration of all activities to the Lord of the Yoga. But it is an offering of lives and capacities, energies and resources to the ideal of a better world and a higher consciousness and as much perfection as possible. In addition, many people are trying to gain more knowledge, both by studying and concentration, and there is a strong though fairly silent current of devotion too. The fact that all this offering to a higher ideal is made within the force-field of the Mother's formation means that it should have much more effect than mere idealism ever normally does.”
So is Auroville a spiritualising society? The problems and historic setbacks notwithstanding, both Shraddhavan and Alain reply with a forceful ‘yes' but add that Auroville's spiritual society is still in its infancy. “But,” says Shraddhavan, “while I'm not at all satisfied with the state of Auroville as it is today, I'm also not ready to accept any criticism of Auroville from anyone who is not participating in the effort – for only those people who participate are in a position to understand the difficulties Aurovilians face.”
The Mother about ‘doing yoga'
There's nothing to say – if you sincerely want to get out of it, it's really not so difficult: there's nothing to do but leave everything to the Lord. And He does it all. He does it all, He is ... it's so wonderful! So wonderful!
He takes anything, even what we call a quite ordinary intelligence, and then He simply shows you how to put that intelligence aside, lay it to rest: “There now, keep still, don't stir, don't bother me; I don't need you.” And then a door opens – you don't even feel you have to open it; it's wide open, and you're led through to the other side. It's Someone else who does all this, not you. And then ... the other way becomes impossible.
Oh, all this frightful toil, this effort of the mind to understand!
Struggling, giving itself headaches – phew! ... Absolutely useless, absolutely useless. It leads nowhere, except to more confusion.
You find yourself facing a so-called problem: “What am I to say? What am I to do? How should I act?...” There is nothing to do! Nothing but to say to the Lord, “You see, here's the situation.” That's all. And then keep very still. And spontaneously, without thinking about it, without reflecting, without calculating, without doing anything, anything whatsoever, without the slightest effort ... you do what must be done. But it's the Lord who does it, it's no longer you. He does it, He arranges the circumstances, He arranges the people, He puts the words in your mouth or under your pen – He does it all, all, all, all, and you have nothing more to do, nothing but let yourself live in bliss.”
Mother's Agenda 3, p. 376-7
What is the fundamental difference between the ideal of the Ashram and the ideal of Auroville?
There is no fundamental difference in the attitude towards the future and the service of the Divine. But the people in the Ashram are considered to have consecrated their lives to Yoga (except, of course, the students who are here only for their studies and who are not expected to have made their choice in life).
Whereas in Auroville simply the good will to make a collective experiment for the progress of humanity is sufficient to gain admittance.
10 November 1969
The last message given by the Mother for Auroville:
Auroville is created to realise the ideal of Sri Aurobindo who taught us the Karma Yoga. Auroville is for those who want to do the Yoga of work.
To live in Auroville means to do the Yoga of work. So all Aurovilians must take up a work and do it as Yoga.
27 March 1973
Read the full transcript of the speech by Dr. Karan Singh