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Auroville Today

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Auroville Experience

February 2009


A conversation with Julian Lines

- In conversation with Carel



Julian Lines, the newest member of the International Advisory Council (IAC) of the Auroville Foundation and currently the chairman of Auroville International, speaks about his involvement with Auroville and his views on the work of the Council.




The Who's Who of Aurobindonian Americans doesn't exist. But if somebody is qualified to write it, it is Julian Lines. In an interview of less than one hour he casually drops the names of scores of Americans plus a handful of others from outside the States. He has met them all, learned from them, worked with them, or made close affiliations to help the work of The Mother. Who is Julian Lines? And how did he get involved with Auroville?

“It started at college,” he says. “I studied at Colgate, a liberal arts college in central New York . It had a sociology professor, Warren Ramshaw, who had come on a Fulbright scholarship to Pondicherry with Robert McDermott [the author of The Essential Aurobindo]. McDermott collaborated with Marjorie Spalding (whom Mother named Sacheta) and early Aurovilians Bob and Deborah Lawlor to organise a summer immersion in Sri Aurobindo's philosophy and in the concept of Auroville. The year was 1972.

“I read that there would be a slide-show on the Indian city of Auroville , and decided to attend. I thought it was something on American-Indians! Then they showed Dominique Darr's photograph of that little granite block with AV written on it, with the red eroded earth, a few Palmyra trees and a stark blue sky behind. Something clicked. I knew this was the place I wanted to be involved with. I was 21.

“The group that came together was extraordinary and included Eugene ‘Mickey' Finn from Boston , Prof. Jehangir Chubb, Adm. Rutledge Tompkins and Zena Daysch (the CHEC founder who had just returned from the Stockholm Conference on the Environment) and many others.


Turning points

“The wonderful thing that summer was to work together and learn from all these people: about Sri Aurobindo's philosophy, about karma and rebirth, organic gardening, about sacred geometry and a host of other topics. Bob also taught hatha yoga. He expected his students to hold an asana for a long time. In one such position I was looking at a photograph of The Mother, the one on the old balcony where She wears a dark dress. Something in me asked Her ‘who are you'? And somehow, that was another turning point.” It was soon followed by a third. “On August 15, there was a reading from Savitri. Deborah asked me to read the section where Aswapathi saw the Omnipotent's flaming pioneers … come crowding down the amber stairs of birth. It was incredibly powerful. At the end of the summer we sold the buckwheat we had planted and sent the cheque to Rijuta, one of The Mother's secretaries, as our offering.” The link had been made.

Julian had another year at college, but was now sure which way he wanted to go. When word came from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram that Udar Pinto would visit America in the autumn on the occasion of Sri Aurobindo's birth centenary year, Julian organised Udar's lectures at Syracuse University and at Colgate. “Udar came with Aurovilian Johnny Walker. He returned again in spring and summer 1973, for Mother had indicated to Roger Anger that Udar would collect the money to build Auroville. It was during that time that we created a Sri Aurobindo Centre in New York at West 58th Street . Muriel Spanier ran the office, I joined as a volunteer after finishing college in spring 1973.”

Together with Udar, Julian met all kinds of people. One of them was Eleanor Montgomery, who in the past had created a foundation to channel funds to the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Udar persuaded Mrs. Montgomery to reactivate the foundation in order to help the newly founded Sri Aurobindo Center . Later the name of the foundation was changed to The Foundation for World Education (FWE).


Coming to Auroville

When The Mother passed away in November 1973, Julian had an inner experience. “It showed me beyond doubt that I was connected to Her and Her work. And exactly a year after Her passing I came to Her room.” It was his first visit to India . He landed in Hyderabad to meet Prof. Madhusudhan Reddy, who he had helped tour the USA, then he came to the Ashram, and then to Auroville. “I stayed in a little capsule in Forecomers with Bob and Deborah. I stayed for 4 months. I helped them with the translation of the book of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz on sacred geometry. I studied The Life Divine with Arabinda Basu in the Ashram library; I briefly met Nolini Kanta Gupta; and went out to Gloria Farm with Dhyumanbhai where I met Suzie Odell. All kinds of ‘family' connections were developing. It was a magical time – but already I witnessed one of the early Auroville feuds, something about the use of water between those who were building the Matrimandir and the greenbelters.”



Back in America Julian participated for a few years in the Lindisfarne Association in New York . “ Lindisfarne was the place on the East Coast where many intellectuals met. The West Coast had Esalen with Michael Murphy; at Lindisfarne we had William Irwin Thompson, who also had had The Mother's darshan.

“Thompson's idea was to bring people together from all walks of life such as author E. F. Schumacher, the poets Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, the astronaut Rusty Schweickart and the biologist Lewis Thomas. He invited theologians from various religious backgrounds for dialogues and managed to attract Baker Roshi from the Zen tradition, the Dominican monk David Brother David Steindl-Rast, and the Sufi Pir Vilayat Khan. You could meet Peter and Eileen Caddy from Findhorn and Paolo Soleri from Arcosanti. He also invited people connected to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram like M.P. Pandit and Madhusudan Reddy. Lindisfarne was instrumental in making people aware of Sri Aurobindo's vision. For Thompson, Auroville, Findhorn, Arcosanti and the Zen Center in San Francisco represented the new spiritual communities of an evolving planetary culture.”

Next, Julian got involved in teaching at a ‘child-centered school' in Connecticut (later discovering that Heidi Watts had been a big influence on the founder). But he was still looking towards Auroville. “I was trying to find a way to get to India and thought I needed training in appropriate technology. I decided to attend courses at the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod , Massachusetts , to learn about the latest in fish farming so that I could bring that to Auroville.



“One weekend I found myself on the street with no place to stay. It was too expensive to find a place on the Cape, so I decided to stay with friends in Woodstock N.Y. That weekend everything came together. Old friends wanted me to take over their house in Woodstock ; Eric and Sam who had started Matagiri community were delighted that there would be someone nearby to help, and soon I was living in Woodstock . A year later I had a son and a few years after that I had taken over the distribution of the books of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and the printing and mailing of the magazine Collaboration, which was edited by Gordon and Jean Korstange. Afterwards I started the shop ‘ Pondicherry ' that also sells products from the Ashram and Auroville.”

Joining Auroville: a clear indication

And what about joining Auroville? “I got a direct “No!” says Julian, and explains, “Once Champaklal came to America . I had the most remarkable time with him. He no longer spoke. If you asked a question, he would point to a picture of Sri Aurobindo or The Mother or write one line and tear it up afterwards. But he never played the guru or gave advice. One day I was talking with Claude Brun about building a house in Auroville. Champaklal overheard our talk and shook his finger, ‘no'. I was shocked. Here was a man who was not giving advice to anybody and now he was telling me that I couldn't build a house in Auroville? I asked, ‘Can I visit'? He gestured with his finger back and forth. The indication was clear. I was supposed to do networking, but not to move to Auroville.”

This decision was somehow made easier by of what Julian calls ‘the civil war' that had started between the Sri Aurobindo Society and Auroville. “I had friends in the Ashram as well as in Auroville so I suffered through those years. Many Americans left Auroville. Many unfortunate things happened in the USA connected to this fight as well. I didn't return to Auroville until 1988.”

Throughout that time, his involvement with Auroville increased. “In 1983 Eleanor Montgomery passed away and left her entire estate to the FWE. I became a member of the Board and we started to channel money to many projects in Auroville. One of the nicest jobs was to help in the purchase of the crystal for the Matrimandir. In 1985 Piero, Ruud, Yoka, Carel and I met at the Auroville International meeting at Bologna , Italy , and afterwards drove up to Oberkochen in Southern Germany to meet with people from Zeiss who manufactured the crystal. The FWE had agreed to guarantee the payment of the second instalment. It was a great privilege to participate in this.”

Julian took also part in organising the AUM (All USA Meetings), and became involved with Auroville International and its branch organisation Auroville International USA, which June Maher had started in 1973 as The Auroville Association. “Many Aurovilians perhaps do not realize there are many people ‘out there' who are as concerned for Auroville's welfare and success as the Aurovilians,” says Julian. “People like June, Savitra, Constance and many others read the News & Notes and the Intranet and regularly ‘take the pulse of Auroville'. Auroville is also our life, even though we live thousands of miles away.”

One of the people Julian met and befriended was Dr. Karan Singh, the Chairman of the Auroville Foundation. “Through Lindisfarne there was a contact with Rev. James Parks Morton, the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral St. John the Divine in New York City . Dean Morton was a member of the Temple of Understanding . Karan Singh too was involved with the Temple . Dean Morton invited Karan Singh to speak at the Cathedral and I attended that lecture. We later met again at Cornell University . When we talked, there was some music in the background. Karen said, ‘Oh, that's Madonna, I really like that!' I was dumbstruck. Here was a sophisticated man, clearly not fitting in the mould of the stodgy Indian intellectual I had expected him to be, and hip in a charming way! Afterwards he became Indian Ambassador to the USA and we met again. Since then, whenever he comes to the USA I try to arrange for him to give some talks because he is an eloquent speaker.”


The need for compassion

Working with people wasn't always easy. “I slowly came to understand that even people you have the least affinity with and don't get along with are somehow called to the work and have a critical role to play. I learned that you cannot fulfil your mission unless you have the compassion to deal with what upsets you the most in the other person. I once asked Champaklal about how the parties in that ‘civil war' between the SAS and Auroville could be reconciled. He made me understand that the only way is through love. I learned that I have to keep my mind and heart open to everyone and try to see and understand all the different perspectives. That has become my stance, which seems to become more widespread nowadays. The recognition is growing that a dialogue between polarities is essential. The Dalai Lama, for example, keeps talking about his love for the Chinese people. Obama has incorporated in his cabinet people with diverse viewpoints.”


The role of the IAC

Asked about how he sees his role as an IAC member, he replies that it should preferably be that of a cheerleader and therapist. “Ideally Auroville should solve its problems internally, without reference to the IAC or even the Governing Board. For even though the IAC members are often well informed as they take the trouble to visit Auroville for longer periods and interact with many more people and groups, they still cannot keep up with the many developments. Auroville has become too complicated and too vast to understand it by looking in on the weekends or twice a year or even once a month. I see the IAC's function as holding up a mirror. As we have our psychic being which leads us to individual self-knowledge, there needs to be the collective psychic being that leads Auroville in its collective yoga and self-knowledge. The IAC can hold up a mirror to facilitate that process. We can also reflect and inform on what is going on in the outside world.”


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