Auroville governance, democracy and dictatorship

Mar 4, 2023 | Organisation & governance

Auroville Governance: Democracy and Dictatorship

Running parallel to the consolidation of power within Auroville is the media drive to suggest that this is what Sri Aurobindo and Mother wanted. We have seen people boasting that they, or people they champion, are acting as agents of Mother’s force and that Mother would approve such a hierarchy (“of the enlightened” we may suppose they would say). We have seen the sharing of partisan quotations from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo with the ostensible aim of deepening communal knowledge of the teachings. And, of course, we have seen the ability of sensors to stifle dissent with the fostering of a culture of fear. Events of recent days with the issuance of a Leave India Notice to an Aurovilian have resolved any doubts regarding the necessity to be afraid. Here, I venture to share a few thoughts on what the Gurus had to say on governance for Auroville and for wider society more generally.

Democracy’s flaws
Democracy’s flaws were clear to Mother and Sri Aurobindo. As a method of governance, it was, they thought, always open to the weaknesses and egos of those who were elected, they being men and women largely bereft of spiritual or rather universal wisdom. An enlightened centre for governance has never been provided by democracy. Of the many quotations that could be given from Sri Aurobindo here is one:

“Democracy in Europe is the rule of the Cabinet minister, the corrupt deputy or the self-seeking capitalist masqued by the occasional sovereignty of a wavering populace; Socialism in Europe is likely to be the rule of the official and policeman masqued by the theoretic sovereignty of an abstract State. It is chimerical to enquire which is the better system; it would be difficult to decide which is the worse.”1

Mother would say “democracy always implies the idea of educated, rich people.”2

What form of governance did the Gurus want if not democracy? The need for “divine anarchy.”

Mother sought a method for Auroville’s governance that was based on wisdom greater than democracy could provide. The ultimate goal was nothing less than the Supermind choosing the instruments for governance directly. She said “The only thing that could be competent is the Truth-Consciousness choosing instruments and expressing itself through a certain number of instruments…”3 It would take a much longer piece than this to fully articulate the immensity of such goal and the spiritual calibre of an individual who could bear the hallmarks of being such an instrument . That said, at the least, we can draw attention to Mother’s assertion that “those given the responsibility should be people with a … universal consciousness, of course, otherwise … Wherever there is a personal consciousness, it means someone incapable of governing – we can see how governments are, it’s frightful.”4

What does it mean to say that those with responsibility for governance should be of a universal consciousness? It is a point of staggering brilliance in one’s sadhana to have reached such a point of universal consciousness. 5 We are entitled to be sceptical (if not scornful) of any individual who believes he is in such a rarefied category.

Mother was once explicitly asked what type of political organisation she wanted for Auroville. She said:
“An amusing definition occurs to me: a divine anarchy. But the world will not understand. Men must become conscious of their psychic being and organise themselves spontaneously, without fixed rules and laws – that is the ideal. For this, one must be in contact with one’s psychic being, one must be guided by it and the ego’s authority and influence must disappear. “6

The quotation is of seminal importance: It sets the benchmark for what Auroville governance should be striving for if it truly seeks to honour Mother’s vision for it. We are entitled to ask how far the authoritarian AVFO approach to governance strives towards it.

If Mother spoke amusedly of divine anarchy, there was, as always, wisdom in the humour. Her phrase closely mirrors what Sri Aurobindo said in The Human cycle. There, he said,

“For the perfectly spiritualised society will be one in which, as is dreamed by the spiritual anarchist, all men will be deeply free, and it will be so because the preliminary condition will have been satisfied. In that state each man will be not a law to himself, but the law, the divine Law, because he will be a soul living in the Divine Reality and not an ego living mainly if not entirely for its own interest and purpose. His life will be led by the law of his own divine nature liberated from the ego.”7

The central point is that in order to be free of all external restraints each member of society (Auroville society for our purposes) must become a “soul living in the Divine Reality and not an ego living mainly if not entirely for its own interest and purpose.” In saner times, it would not be contentious to say that none of us have reached this point. If we can accept this basic idea, then it is clear that an intermediate form of governance for Auroville needs to be found because, firstly, no one with clear conscience can say that they are supramentalised or are confident that they are chosen instruments of a supramentalised truth consciousness, and secondly, no one can honestly be said to be acting as a living soul rather than an ego.

What middle ground for governance is there if divine anarchy is a distant dream?

What Mother’s comments highlight is the need for a middle ground, a working method of governance for Auroville before the true state of divine anarchy is reached (which in itself is a point requiring elaboration beyond the simple words of this essay).

What would that middle ground look like? As with everything in Auroville, the answer was a lot more straight forward when Mother was physically here. Recognising the need for a stopgap until we collectively succeed in truly living from our souls and in living in a universal consciousness, She discussed the flaws in democracy. She said this:

“If there is no representative of the supreme Consciousness (which can happen, of course), if there isn’t any, we could perhaps (this would be worth trying) replace him with the government by a small number – we would have to choose between four and eight, something like that..” 8

Play close attention to who She said would do the choosing ie Her! It is deeply troubling that some AVFO supporters seem willing to attempt to sidestep this fundamental problem with arguments that they have by divine inspiration deciphered Mother’s will and can therefore still claim to be acting with her explicit benediction. How else can one explain the hubristic self confidence of those sagely declaring that the Secretary of the AVFO (or anyone else for that matter) is an agent of the Mother or acting with her force? To talk euphemistically of hierarchy rather than governance does not obviate the problem of how to reconcile an authoritarian instinct with the Gurus’ words because there, again, Mother was one step ahead in highlighting what is required to be entrusted with organisation within a hierarchy. She said:

“The conditions to organise – to be an organiser (it’s not “to govern,” it’s to organise) – the conditions to be an organiser should be these: no more desires, no more preferences, no more attractions, no more repulsions – a perfect equality for all things. Sincerity, of course, but that goes without saying: wherever insincerity enters, poison enters at the same time.”9

We can all reach our own views on the extent to which those who “organise” Auroville at the current time are manifesting an egoless sincerity. We can also all see that Mother’s warning has never been more prescient: “wherever insincerity enters, poison enters at the same time.” At the moment, it seems as if we are all, regardless of what we believe, drinking deep of a poisoned chalice. We merely bicker of who presses it against our lips.

What role, if any should democracy play in the future – in Auroville’s future?

For most Aurovilians, those who accept it is an arrogant fallacy to declare oneself capable of deciphering, like the Oracle at Delphi, God’s will, another middle ground must be found, a method of governance that attempts better to honour the Gurus’ intentions. Until July 2021, the obvious middle ground was, for all its faults, to allow those who live in Auroville the right to choose those whom they trust to govern and guide from amongst themselves with the oversight of sympathetic Governing Boards appointed by the Government of India. The system was not ideal. But it was closer to the spirit of what the Gurus intended. This, of course, is my opinion. I would not be so crass as to think I can access the Mother’s or Sri Aurobindo’s direct guidance with infallible sureness. The process of reaching a considered view is a nuanced exercise. It requires something more than the propagandist method of word searching for vindication and immediate publication on Auronet, a forum now notorious for filtering out views the unidentified moderators deem challenging to the new orthodoxy. At the least, it requires some reflection on the Master’s writings in The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, some of his early political writings, The Renaissance of India, and some of the later chapters of The Life Divine. Those engaging in such an exercise will discover a sophisticated consideration of societal development that disdains simple assertions regarding democracy’s value (or lack thereof). Here are four key points to consider from Sri Aurobindo’s writings:

  1. Democracy helped secure the boon of freedom of speech and thought: “…one gain of modern democracy which ancient liberty did not realise to the same extent and which has not yet been renounced, a full freedom of speech and thought.” 10 To be clear, Sri Aurobindo valued freedom of speech and thought and regarded this gain of modern democracy as a one worth keeping.
  2. Democracy is not antithetical to Indian governance: “…yet it [the ideals of the Indian Mind] had the democratic idea, applied it in the village, in council and municipality, within the caste, was the first to assert a divinity in the people and could cry to the monarch at the height of his power, “O king, what art thou but the head servant of the demos?” Its idea of the golden age was a free spiritual anarchism.”11
  3. Sri Aurobindo sought a harmonisation of the democratic method with the gifts of the Vedanta: “We had to come to close quarters with that democratic organisation, draw it into ourselves and absorb the democratic spirit and methods so that we might rise beyond them. Our half-aristocratic half-theocratic feudalism had to be broken, in order that the democratic spirit of the Vedanta might be released and, by absorbing all that is needed of the aristocratic and theocratic culture, create for the Indian race a new and powerful political and social organisation. We have to learn and use the democratic principle and methods of Europe, in order that hereafter we may build up something more suited to our past and to the future of humanity. We have to throw away the individualism and materialism and keep the democracy. We have to solve for the human race the problem of harmonising and spiritualising its impulses towards liberty, equality and fraternity. In order that we may fulfil our mission we must be masters in our own home.”12 He would also say, approvingly, “In India the notion of an Asiatic, a spiritualised democracy has begun to be voiced, though it is as yet vague and formless.”13
  4. Until a society has achieved full spiritual maturity, democracy is a signpost that it is, indeed on the right track: “Even a perfect democracy is not likely to be the last stage of social evolution, but it is still the necessary broad standing-ground upon which the self-consciousness of the social being can come to its own. Democracy and Socialism are, as we have already said, the sign that that self-consciousness is beginning to ripen into fullness.” 14

There is much more that could be said regarding Sri Aurobindo’s views on democracy’s contribution, for the past and present and future, to society but already one can see two things: Firstly, simple sound bites and quotations taken out of context do gross injustice to the subtlety of the Master’s views. Secondly, democracy must play a role in Auroville’s future, in allowing Aurovilians a meaningful say in their lives. Look again at point two (above). Sri Aurobindo envisaged a past time, a golden time, where the humble peasant on Indian soil could say, “O king, what art thou but the head servant of the demos?” How far have we strayed from Sri Aurobindo’s ideas on governance? We should all contemplate the traumatising events of recent days, at suffering the loss of an Aurovilian brother who dared, in effect, to say “O King.” The resounding silence of AVFO Aurovilian Working Group members to speak up for one of their own speaks volumes for the flaws of the current governance set up. The kindest thing that could be said is that perhaps some of them also now fear the consequences of speaking up for a fellow Aurovilian in distress.

We can but pray for the Mother’s force to help us all.


1 Aphorism 341.
2 10 April 1968.
3 10 April 1967.
4 Mother, 25 March 1970
5 Sri Aurobindo said this: “The supermind sees everything in the self and its observation must therefore be subjectively objective and much nearer to, though not the same as the observation of our own internal movements regarded as an object of knowledge. It is not in the separatively personal self or by its power that it sees and therefore it has not to be on guard against the element of personal error…: The consciousness of supermind is a cosmic consciousness and it is in this self of universal consciousness, in which the individual knower lives and with which he is more or less closely united, that it holds before him the object of knowledge” Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA Vols 23-24, pp 856-857
6 Mother, 28 December 1972
7 The Human Cycle, CWSA Vol 25, p259
8 Mother, 10 April 1968.
9 Mother,25 March 1970
10 The Ideal of Human Unity, Vol 25 of CWSA, p510
11 The Renaissance in India, Vol 20 of CWSA, P 11
12 Karmayogin, 25 September 1909, p248
13 War and Self Determination, Vol 25 of CWSA, p676
14 The Ideal of Human Unity, Vol 25 of CWSA, p 456-457