Building Auroville: A personal perspective

Oct 7, 2022 | Aims & ideals, Organisation & governance, Planning & development

Informing the volatile events in our Community is a belief in some quarters that the dream of Auroville is not being fulfilled with sufficient urgency. Fixing on milestones, such as the 50,000 population target and the implementation of Roger’s “Galaxy” model, it is easy to be downcast if one sees the absence of their manifestation as barometers of Auroville’s success. There is, however, something amiss about focusing on external markers to judge the health of a Community seeking the inward flowering of something too subtle for the eye to see, for the mind to judge.

The first necessity is always the inner discovery that we are obliged to make. That is what the Mother asks of us to be true Aurovilians. The success of that search evades simple flow charts that tell us how close we are to the magic 50,000 population. The first mention of this figure appears to have been in 1965. In December of that year a typed set of questions and suggested answers was handed to Mother. She reviewed the answers, adding manuscript comments next to some of them. One of the typed answers (that she left untouched) was, “the town [Auroville] is planned to reach gradually a maximum population of 50,000 inhabitants.” What did this “gradually” mean for Mother? Timelines were fluid or perhaps of limited significance for the one whose consciousness spanned infinity. In September 1967, she told one person (Huta) that Auroville will be built within ten years. Less than two weeks later, on 21 September, another person recorded her as saying the building of Auroville “may take 100 years, but the city will be built.” A year later, on 31 October 1968, she said, “It will take a long time. Sri Aurobindo says 300 years. I am learning that impatience is no way. In 300 years Auroville will be a very nice place.” Possibly the longest timescale given by her was on 21 September 1961. Then, she assured us: “…I KNOW THAT AUROVILLE WILL BE. It may be in a hundred years, it may be in a thousand years, I don’t know…”

Given the vast time spans cited, we are obliged to reflect on when she envisaged her City reaching the optimal 50,000 population; half way through the construction; at the end? What comprised gradual progress for her? What was success? None can say. If Mother could contemplate the cradle of the Superman taking a thousand years to build, why the cause for concern when in a blink in infinity, in just 54 years, we have brothers and sisters from 60 nations in our midst, all of whom are able to reflect on the fact that the Prime Minister of the largest democracy on earth visited this hallowed land as a mark of solidarity with it and its vision for its 50th birthday. When I read of the traumatising events of the 1970s and 80s, this seems miraculous, a confirmation that Auroville’s flourishing is ordained by a higher power. To quote the Mother, “…Auroville will be.”

It was heartening that the Governing Board (in the minutes of its 57th Board meeting) affirmed the importance of newcomers to Auroville subscribing to the ideals of Auroville. Why, however I respectfully ask, must this have been accompanied by the need to set targets for its growth, whether that be 15,000 inhabitants by 2025 or any other target. In seeking for Auroville to strive for “active engagement with Auroville International Centres and Sri Aurobindo Centres to facilitate the joining of volunteers and interns…” one wonders at the form and impact of such canvassing, of such an “active engagement.” While noting the de facto need for manpower to assist our economy, I pray that the winds of pragmatism do not overwhelm the subtle flame that burns in
our midst. It is for That that we all came.

Perhaps, the way to look at matters is to recognise Mother’s wisdom in seeking to ensure that Auroville’s ideals were not diluted by opening the floodgates as it were. See what the Gurus said about publicity. They were nothing if not consistent. Speaking of the Ashram, on 11 May 1968, Mother would say:

“I am not at all anxious for advertisement or publicity for the Ashram. It’s not necessary at all.”

Her views perfectly echoed those of Sri Aurobindo. This is what he said on 2 October 1934:

“I don’t believe in advertisement except for books etc., and in propaganda except for politics an patent medicines. But for serious work it is a poison. It means either a stunt or a boom – and stunts and booms exhaust the thing they carry on their chest and leave it lifeless and broken high and dry on the shores of nowhere – or it means a movement. A movement in the case of a work like mine means the founding of a school or a sect or some other damned nonsense. It means that hundreds or thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy or silence. It is what has happened to the ‘religions’ and is the reason of their failure.”

Mother was so convinced of the truth of Sri Aurobindo’s statement, of the danger of a surfeit of people corrupting the work, that on 30 January 1971 she said this:

“That passage should be typed and put up in Auroville. It is INDISPENSABLE. They all have a false idea about propaganda and publicity. It should be typed in big letters; at the top, “Sri Aurobindo said,” then put the quotation, and send it to Auroville. Say I am the one who’s sending it.”

Sri Aurobindo’s passage has never been more indispensible. A statement of his, from 11 May 1938, cautions us that “this is a difficult yoga and very few are fit…” for it. In February 1971, in echoing Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts, Mother explained the importance of informing people about the yoga without diminishing the difficulty Sri Aurobindo spoke of:

“In publicity, to make the ideas comprehensible, one lowers them while we keep our teachings at the height where they are to be understood. We do not diminish the value of the thing so that it may be understood by all. We keep it at its height so that those who can understand may do so. The teaching should be kept at its maximum height. The selection then takes place of itself. It is the comprehension which makes the selection.”

In Auroville, we strive to make things comprehensible: It is a foreboding task to keep the teaching at a “maximum height.” In striving to be understood by all, what with our pamphlets and videos for tourists before they promenade to the Matrimandir viewing point, do we heed the danger of the work of the Gurus, which we all hope is being done in Auroville, becoming reduced to what Sri Aurobindo termed “a pompous farce” ? Please discuss.
I look at the myriad of statements Mother gave setting out of her lofty ambitions for Auroville:

“Hastening the advent of the supramental reality upon earth;” “A centre of accelerated evolution;” “A bridge between the past and the future;” “Peace upon earth;” “An effective human unity.”

Are any of us truly equal to such a task as keeping the teachings that underlie her hopes for Auroville at their maximum height? Gone are the days when a Nolini Kanta Gupta, an Amal Kiran, a Satprem was at hand to allay our concerns, to clarify our thoughts. Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s sentinels have left the stage. The quest to understand what the maximum height of the teachings are, rather than to impart them to others with a view to soliciting their arrival in Auroville, seems, I respectfully say, the logical order of the day.

When embarking on The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo said his aim for the book was to lead the “intelligence of the reader gradually towards the deeper meaning of unity.” Regardless of our position on the trauma of recent events, we must surely all agree there has been a collective failure in deciphering the deeper meaning that, after all, we are here to nurture in our hearts and minds. In reflecting on the inner work we all must do, individually and as a Community, to discover that deeper meaning of Unity, we could do a lot worse than keeping at the centre of our minds Sri Aurobindo’s advice: “A perfected human world cannot be created by men or composed of men who are themselves imperfect.” Striving to fill Auroville rapidly, whether by 15,000 by 2025, or by 50,000 with people who do not have the true inner call of Auroville will not help the manifestation of human unity. It will simply amplify the imperfections and divisions we have seen so sadly shaking us to our core.

Mother told us that “the true spirit of Auroville is collaboration and must be more and more so.” If there is a failure that has led to the current crisis it is that we have not, as whole, nurtured that spirit. We must all invoke that spirit, and step forward together, when we are ready to do so, in the true spirit of Auroville. Until then, perhaps we should simply work on the cultivation of inner
stillness and silence. They too have a power we dearly need in these troubled times.

Written by an Aurovilian.