Long-time Aurovilians Claude and Abha share some of their perspectives on the Auroville of Today.
Auroville Today: You have both lived here for a long time. How do you perceive the Auroville of today?
Abha: I am most concerned about the discontent and disillusionment which is prevalent in Auroville, notwithstanding the very many positive things that are going on. At the level of our organization in particular we don't do well. A big problem is that decision-making is still too much in the hands of a select few. There are people who could contribute substantially, but for all kinds of reasons they no longer express their views. Because of that, Auroville is walking lame. More people should be involved in the making of policies, in all fields of Auroville.
Claude: There is an old pattern persisting: that things can be arranged in back-room discussions and then pushed through meetings for approval. It's happening all over the world like that. But Auroville should be different. If proposals were first made public, and the general public's considerations taken into account before anything is finalized, agreement would be much easier.
Does it mean you are in favour of a more democratic process?
Abha: The issue is rather one of transparency and brotherhood. Since I have recently become a member of the Funds and Assets Management Committee, I am confronted with the lacunae in our system of decision-making. Many people ask where Auroville is going, more in particular if it is going off-course. They wonder why well-qualified people are not part of a decision-making process, why people are by-passing community processes. The answer is always a lack of trust. That's perhaps where we need to focus: on building trust among us Aurovilians. If you cut out the politics, it is there. But as soon as politics or ideologies come in, everything gets spoiled. People should realize that the fraternity of Auroville is far more important than plans or ideologies.
Claude: We are also getting much too bureaucratic. Formerly, Aurovilians used to freely take the initiative to meet with important people or to start projects and raise money. Now this is causing problems. For example, that I had invited the Lieutenant-Governor of Pondicherry to the Jean Monnet exhibition. It was felt that it was the Foundation's prerogative. I do not agree. Auroville is not a corporation with a Chief Executive Officer! Another example is the recent decision of the FAMC that people who want to start a project, now need prior permission from various groups before they are allowed to start fund-raising. I understand the logic. But the Tibetan Pavilion would never have existed if I had had to follow this procedure.
Auroville has grown because of the initiative of the Aurovilians: their interests, their energy, their creativity to start projects have made Auroville what it is today. That spontaneous initiative should not be killed by imposing a plethora of rules or by an official hierarchy.
You have often said that the Matrimandir imbroglio of a few years ago has put Auroville off-track. Could you explain this?
Abha: The main issue, for me, was the way in which people were removed from the management of the Matrimandir. It was believed that by removing some people the problems would be solved. To achieve that, every method in the book was used, including involving the Governing Board. That was a huge mistake. Forget the personalities – those who were removed might have needed a breather from the Matrimandir. But the way it was done created a tremendous disunity right at the heart of Auroville, at the very place which is supposed to symbolize our aspiration and unity. By asking the Governing Board to directly intervene in the removal of individuals, a terrible precedent was set. I thinkOffice Order 105 regarding the Unity Fund and increasing intervention by the Foundation in many areas are a direct consequence of that action.
Claude: It is, in fact, an authority problem. Who in Auroville has the authority to ask difficult questions of anybody or of any group? Where can you go if you feel an injustice has been done to you? Auroville has no court of law; it is not possible to start public interest litigations, so people are dissatisfied. At the same time, many people are not ready to accept that any group in Auroville assert authority. In other words, we need to build a ground-level consensus. That means that decisions are not taken by seven people in the Working Committee or eight people in the FAMC or in L'Avenir d'Auroville, but by at least 60 to 70 people actively participate in decision-making.
Having lived here all these years, do you feel that Aurovilians' dedication to the deeper purpose of Auroville is increasing?
Abha: I can't answer the question. Sometimes I am shocked to hear that people have joined who are clueless about the deeper reasons of Auroville. Auroville is about self-discovery, about an inner search in whatever way, and all the clues have in fact been given by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. So to be clueless about that dimension is really unfortunate.
On the other hand, many people pursue that inner quest privately or go to the Matrimandir or Savitri Bhavan. This dimension needs to grow more and more.
Claude: Sometimes I think that our aspiration in the early days of Auroville, when we had nothing, was more intense. Now we have become more bourgeois, so it's perhaps more difficult to keep that same intensity of aspiration.
But you can't judge spirituality by looking at the outside. One can do a lot of tapasya and still be full of human defects. (laughing) One lama once told me that some Tibetan lamas only reincarnate because of their attachment to their possessions! Outwardly they show a dedication to spirituality, but inwardly…
You are the moving force behind the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture. Do you think that Buddhism should be taught there?
Claude: It is a tricky question. As Tibetan culture is 99% Buddhist, teaching it would be logical. But Mother has said ‘no' to religions in Auroville. We can of course teach Buddhism as part of a course on the history of religions.
On the other hand, Buddhism has a lot to offer. A hundred years ago, it was a secret teaching. Today the initiates could share many things and techniques which can be very beneficial to people all over the world, but which are still considered as secret. I believe it should be demystified and made it accessible, just as has been done for Vipassana. The Tibetans should do the same, and it would be good if that knowledge would be available from the Tibetan Pavilion.
Can you share your vision of education in Auroville?
Abha: Our daughter Smiti chose to go to Last School , where education is not aimed at passing exams and getting a certificate. Her going there was also a logical extension of our own beliefs in Auroville including an integral education. When one reads all that Mother said about education, it is so marvellous! Why on earth would one want to limit his child to a syllabus system which is necessarily constricting in time and scope, and which is only logical when the child has a specific goal and wants to pass an exam in order to achieve it! Now she is 17 and has chosen to continue studying at Last School .
Claude: We told her that she could go to Future school or the Lycée Français if she wanted, but she chose not to. This means that she won't have the required certification if she wants to pursue higher education in France or India . So she may have to go through a crash course of one or two years to obtain the necessary grade if she decides to go to a university. In this way, she would lose a few years – but she has gained a lot of other things instead.
Abha: I feel that the Auroville education should create true individuals, people who are self-aware, who will not follow others just because everybody else is following them. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when he came in 1993, was intrigued by Mother's concept of integral education. He felt Auroville should study the Auroville children 10 years, 20 years after they have left school to see what their education has produced. Personally, he felt that there are useful aspects in the examination system, for example, it gives a target to the student.
You are both long-term executives of a commercial unit, Shradhanjali. What is your relationship with your employees?
Abha: In a small unit like Shradhanjali, there is a personal contact with each employee. We know something about their lives and their problems and about the situation in the villages they come from. We do try to increasingly interweave their life with Auroville. We show them socially relevant films or street theatres – the Auroville Health Centre has produced a number of excellent efforts – on issues such as garbage, AIDS, nutrition, family planning/pregnancy, alcoholism, pesticides etc. Lucas recently spoke to them about solid waste management and EM.
Claude: Our employees, like most employees in this community, hardly know anything about Auroville. In August, we did an Auroville tour. We visited various Auroville units; our employees got the grand tour of the Matrimandir. They sat in the petals, in the Chamber; they ate lunch at the Visitors Centre – many of them couldn't stomach the ‘healthy plate'! – and visited Pitchandikulam. During the tour they asked hundreds of questions. They were thirsty for knowledge and so happy! They all asked afterwards if they could go again and meditate at the Matrimandir.
Abha: We Aurovilians make a division between ‘Aurovilians' and ‘villagers.' That's harming us. For example, when Sydo was murdered, there was a meditation at the Banyan tree which was announced as ‘open only to Aurovilians'. The workers were very upset. They asked why they couldn't express their solidarity. They wanted to sit with the Aurovilians as one, not separated.
Claude: But they are, as Mother said, the first Aurovilians and should be part of our projected population of 50,000. Our land and town planning is distorted because we do not consider the villages. This leads to a hundred other problems. The sooner we include them, the better for us.
Abha: I feel that's the key. They may not have an intellectual comprehension of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, but in their hearts they can understand very well and that is much more important. If we could share with them, there would be a 100-fold return in terms of a harmonious development of Auroville.
In conversation with Carel.