Wed, October 6, 2010: First write up summarizing my experience in Auroville (2010)
I visited Auroville from August to October 2010, situated at the east coast of South India, about 150km south of Chennai (formerly known as Madras), and I like to share some of my experiences and perspectives on this project.
Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India
First of all, I didn't visited Auroville with a particular personal expectation, I just remember many of my friends praised it and in the eco/spiritual scene Auroville is considered a success-story so to speak.
I haven't visited India before - so it was first time India, first time Auroville - and Auroville isn't really India, it's an island within India, in more than one sense.
The first day was already odd, we arrived and checked into one of the guest houses, "College Guest House" which looked okay, but I was a bit surprised they asked for a week down-payment in advance. We tried to check "Centre Guest House" about the availability and pricing, yet the responsible western eldery woman at the desk was plain rude and obviously unhappy with her job . . . wow, first eye opener: suspicion and rudeness toward guests.
Also, within a short time you realize you have a hard time to meet Aurovillians. Why? Well, the reason is rather simple, they are tired to be looked at like animals in a zoo - some guests enter their private space and intrude without proper introduction and humbleness. On the other hand Auroville lives from the thousands of tourists or guests visiting them, especially at high season. This contradiction is not resolved, and is carried on within Auroville.
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantages of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
includes the detachment of ownership, yet, seeing guest house facilities there is ownership of the houses, commerce and exploitation. Allow only servitors of the Divine Consciousness to join Auroville is a nice trick of sorting out the (spiritual) conscious beings, as in my understanding everybody
is a servant or servitor of the Divine Consciousness - as everybody
is an expression of the Divine Consciousness.
Point 2 is very powerful, as it includes the endlessness, it affirms the place to last long, endless - but for most spiritual seekers it's clear planets, solar systems and entire galaxies have been born, and so are determined to die again, as every individual. The statement of "constant progress" is tricky, it defines the progress to be constant, not slow and not fast, not exponentially - I personally would not qualify the progress in such a way in a charter. "Youth that never ages" is a foolish statement, there is only youth when there is birth and growing, also to grow old and hopefully also wise. ".. never ages", aging is a quality of the physical, it's the illusion of a beginning and the end. To transform to something endless, means to bring the reality of eternity and the bornless existance of spirit and soul into physical, this is indeed a beautiful affirmation, but I'm not sure if it's really meant this way.
Point 3, the "bridge between the past and the future" is the now - to be in the moment - good point. The word-play of "without" and "within" does not work, "outside and inside oneself" might be a better way to put it. The original french wording is "profitant de toutes les découvertes extérieures et intérieures" which puts it nicely.
Point 4, this point I truly love, as it affirms the collective intelligence of the Human Unity, humankind as an individual intelligence manifested into a collective of individualised spirits and souls and their respective bodies. This is one of the most important steps of the evolution of humankind - it is already a collective, but unaware of itself as such.
Auroville is not a (single) community, it is a cluster of communities
making up a village. Each community has its own theme, from art, healing, guest house facility, natural farming / permaculture, internet cafe, to specific themes like bamboo research.
After a week or so, I realized that Auroville was lacking almost in every sense to qualify as a spiritual community:
- no central place of gathering, therefore also
- no common activities as community
- no present (literally and metaphorically) spiritual leadership
- no actualization of the spiritual teachings the project once was founded on
One could argue that Auroville is a collective experience, where hierachical teacher/disciple teaching or succession is deliberately abandoned - as partially adapted from the founding spiritual teachers' written works.
It struck me immediately when I realized Auroville has no central gathering place, where meditations or gathering or discussions are held - the most important aspect of a community is missing.
The Matrimandir (the golden globe) is a meditation or concentration place, it is not open to public, only on an advance request you can visit it. So is the garden of the Matrimandir, closed to the public, a place of "silence" - too much silence. The other spaces around are only open for a few occassions, not sufficient to provide a place to truly gather.
The "Solar Kitchen" and the cafetaria on the roof sort of qualify as gathering places, but people just consume there and may gather, but it won't hold than more than 100 people so my guess. You cannot discuss or meditate or pray together at a cafeteria or a restaurant with chairs and tables.
Anyway, it is rather odd that such an exact planned place like Auroville lacks the most immanent infrastructure which actually would support a lively community.
Solution: create a meeting and open meeting place at the Solar Kitchen garden; open Matrimandir garden all week long, set weekday and time for "Auroville Prayer" - chant the most powerful prayers (e.g. from Sri Aurobindo's and Mira Alfassa works).
Mirra Alfassa, called "The Mother", has passed away in 1973; Sri Aurobindo even passed away in 1950 - both wrote books loaded with spiritual and philosophical concepts. But, as I have seen in Auroville, the impact of these works has faded dramatically (and I was told it was there earlier), and people in Auroville seem not able to apply, realize and live those values as shared by both spiritual icons and teachers.
On the other hand Sri Aurobindo as well "The Mother" did not prepare a proper spiritual succession as I see it, intentionally or unintentionally - the formed groups overseeing physical aspects of the development of Auroville, as started in 1968, seem operating either under dogmatic interpretation of the more than 50 year old scriptures and/or at loss of a lively spiritual foundation.
Yes, my view of this aspect is not very positive, as I observed almost a complete absence of spiritual awareness - it is one thing to quote the two gurus' scriptures (which happened during my stay quite frequently), and then actually live the given insights. This problem isn't new, established religions suffer from this to an immense degree. Ironically Sri Aurobindo as well as Mirra Alfassa wrote in their works not to start another religion or religious framework, but indeed stay in the spiritual awareness completely every moment. I guess the moment one writes something down, and doesn't pass it on in person, the readership follows the writings . . . in a strict and later also dogmatic way (e.g. competing to be a better follower), without realizing it at all.
There is nobody to blame, but all are responsible (for their own actions)
Solution: create a 9-12 member group (elected by Aurovillians every year), its purpose and work is to organize spiritual activities such as
- formulate prayers for the gathering (e.g. out of existing Aurobindo/Alfassa material)
- organize group meditations (silent and guided ones) at suitable places,
- inviting spiritual leaders of other pathways and seek open exchange,
in order to make Auroville an energized spiritual place.
The underlying idea of Auroville is beautiful, the charter likes to point towards it: the spiritual foundation of bringing the awareness of the Divine into the physical, into the matter in a conscious way - this is profound, as most other spiritual paths and religions condemn the physical reality as "lower" and a place to escape or ascend from, one way or another; so, it's truly an integral approach. Attaining truly Human Unity, as expressed in the charter, is indeed an evolutionary step of humankind - to grow up from infancy and move into adolecence, to become aware of its own identity, skills, character and form a conscious determination of its existance.
Ecological speaking there is quite some activities in Auroville, most prominant "Sadhana Forest ", where the youth is enganged on a community started in 2003, a bit away from main land of Auroville, and in a way it shows in a positive way.
As described under the "The Good", the underlying idea is profound, yet, it seems that, with the lack of a present spiritual leadership as described already, lack of courses or teachings, lack of common place for meditation and prayers; the ideas and concepts are not actualized neither realized within. As such, the profound idea falls short within the community - it is just like any other eco village project, just Auroville is bigger physically; the spiritual dimension of the ideas remain unmanifested.
There are several issues, one of them is the economic and social exploitation of the local tamilian workers at Auroville, and some Aurovillians are even aware of it, but obviously are too comfortable with the setup to want to change it.
On a group level small-minded conflicts such as:
- the long lasting conflict between the "city builders" (who want to implement the original plan of the city) and the "forest group" (who want to plant as many trees as possible)
- a concrete bench in front of the Banyan tree seems to be "let's fight about something, because otherwise we agree with everything" kind of bickering - for me as a guest, this is ridiculous to observe
- occassional broad daylight harrassment toward western women on the road; but then this is a problem not just in Auroville, rather all over India, and towards women in general*
* India's, hindu as well as muslim, population still operates within a denial and repression of sexuality, e.g. nudity or the partial exposure of female skin is considered shameless - in ancient India before british and muslim invasions the relation to sexuality was supposed to be far more liberal and natural, as one of the famous temples in Khajuraho indicated, many of alike temples have been destroyed during invasions. So, the women are generally repressed by society, and subjected to various degrees of harassment; which ironically, is seen as being the women's fault and shame, and therefore the harrasement not followed-up actively, neither by the families of the women, nor by the responsible authorities.
It is as if the world is reflected within Auroville, the same dramas play out. When I was talking to some more "spiritual" Aurovillians they said: "Yes, we know, of course we know it's like kindergarden - but that's what life is: here we also learn to deal with conflicts since we want to resolve the issues, the problems of the world to resolve are here as well".
The weekly publication "News & Notes" is highly recommended to read if you go to Auroville. I personally enjoyed it immensely, especially when you can read between the lines then the organic fabric of Auroville can be recognized, which otherwise may take months to see.
On the other hand you need to be aware, some of the most prominent events, e.g. Johnny's theater evening, is not announced in "News & Notes", but with about 200 people watching it, almost 10% of entire Auroville is there.
- have no expectation of Auroville: it's not heaven (and it's not hell), it's not the future of humankind, it's a place of people with more or less ecological and spiritual background trying to live goodness, trying to implement a plan of a village, of a city and . . . trying their best to do so
- call up the guest houses, ask for price, comfort, and minimum stay (don't send emails, they hardly are answered)
- talk with the other guests, you might experience them more open than Aurovillians, also I personally had more interesting conversations with guests in general
- read the weekly "News & Notes" and see what appeals to you
- visit some of the communities by your own, especially when they have no guided (e.g. weekly) open day as announced in "News & Notes" - respect and approach them humbly, remember you visit their "home" (e.g. ask for permission to take pictures etc)
- visit the neighbouring villages, see how real India looks like
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