LILA: The first 5000 people that came together at the inception of Auroville were invited to a barren piece of land with the promise of an adventure – a simple yet ambitious belief in Human Unity. Could you elaborate on this idea of Human Unity? What do you think attracted so many people from around the world to believe and participate in this experiment?
Auroville: In an article “The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo”, which he wrote in the third person, Sri Aurobindo wrote: “The teaching of Sri Aurobindo starts from that of the ancient sages of India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us and all.”
Human Unity in the context of Auroville means that each individual in the human family has a unique path that must be respected by the Collective while the individual has the responsibility for the common good. Uniformity is not a value. Many people understand the liberation of this understanding and are attracted to it.
LILA: To achieve Human Unity, we need to attain a higher level of consciousness, which is said to exist within the matter around us. This is evident in the construction of Auroville’s centre and soul – Matrimandir – as well as the three-layered transformation process followed in the township – individual, social and physical. What role does physicality play in the attainment of a higher consciousness and how?
Auroville: Auroville’s aim is a collective ideal: “an effective human unity”. It requires identifying with the Divine within oneself. Those who will achieve this will be “ONE in the Divine”. To this end, 3 SIMULTANEOUS transformations are required:
- Individual transformation of the Aurovilians: their progressive identification with the Divine within oneself.
- Social transformation of our community so that this social environment becomes increasingly favourable to the individual and physical transformations.
- Physical transformation of this once almost barren plateau into a town so that it becomes a physical environment which becomes increasingly favourable to the individual and social transformations.
Physicality and spirituality are not separate. Matter, body, the physical are energy fields manifested through the higher vibrations of the spiritual. However, the real is a continuum of energy verified by “science”. The role of physicality is in manifesting the spirit. As outer progress can only come from an inner progress, the quality of Auroville’s social and physical environments will always depend on how much we have progressed individually.
LILA: Auroville is a community in itself – a well planned and disciplined one, and also part of a much larger society, which is volatile and unstable in multiple ways. How do you maintain the balance between the two systems?
Auroville: The balance between Auroville and the world outside is not clearly defined. Intention, purpose, and meaning are more clearly established in Auroville according to the collective will of the residents but it is diluted by conventional behaviours and the persistence of the standards of the ordinary. The maintenance of the appropriate balance falls on the individuals because institutional safeguards are not really effective and defeat the purpose of responsible evolution.
LILA: The Founder of Auroville, the Mother, Mirra Alfassa, has said, “The truth is neither in separation nor in uniformity – The truth is in unity manifesting through diversity.” This is significant as Auroville is one of the most diverse places in India, with people from a number of different countries living together. What has your experience of co-habitation been so far? Could you illustrate with some examples of non-hierarchical co-existence amongst such diversity?
Auroville: “Absolute uniformity would mean the cessation of life, while on the other hand the vigour of the pulse of life may be measured by the richness of the diversities which it creates. At the same time, while diversity is essential for power and fruitfulness of life, unity is necessary for its order, arrangement and stability. Unity we must create, but not necessarily uniformity… While the life-power in man demands diversity, his reason favours uniformity….”
(Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity)
The experience of co-habitation among diverse people is that “people are people.” This is the lesson of human unity. People associate together more through affinities and interests than through ethnicity or gender. Co-habitation happens spontaneously and by circumstances, and working groups base their organisation on consensual agreements. Such examples are everywhere in the schools and workplaces.
LILA: Auroville started as a self-governing township that did not have written laws or a hierarchical body governing it. However, now there seems to be a proper legal structure in place. How did this come about?
Auroville: Auroville is still a self-governing township. Auroville required a proper legal structure after the Mother passed away in 1973 because the organisation that provided that legal structure became corrupt. The Government had to step in with the Auroville Emergency Provisions Act of 1980 to create a public foundation governed by the Residents with guidance from an International Advisory Council and a National Governing Board to ensure the ideals of Auroville are observed. This has worked out successfully in practice.
LILA: On the administrative front, the understanding that the best decisions will be taken by different people in different contexts because of a diversity of experience and expertise is encouraged. What is the administrative governance model that is currently followed at Auroville? Has it changed over time, and if yes, how?
Auroville: The main programs of social transformation are: 1) a more ideal kind of education (integral and unending); 2) a more ideal kind of economy (based on the communist system BUT taking people’s INNER reality into account.); and 3) a more ideal kind of organisation/governance. These three programs are naturally closely interlinked.
This more ideal kind of organisation/governance is based on a simple organisational structure within which each one will find his/her true place naturally and the understanding by everyone that decisions are best taken by the highest consciousness available. Obviously the more it will become obvious that, in some fields, decisions are best taken by some people, the easier it will become to accept their decision.
The governance model in Auroville is based on peer review where each management group aims for gender, age, and experience balance. Over the years, more facilitation and humanistic models have been tried. There is a continual attempt to experiment in order to improve and progress. Varieties of arbitration, mediation, and restorative circles have become more common to resolve conflicts. As world-class consultants in decision-making, planning and group dynamics regularly come to Auroville, this is an ever evolving field.
LILA: Could you elaborate on the economic model of Auroville – that bases itself on the communist system but takes people’s ‘inner reality’ into account? How do the individuals and the community understand their inner reality, and how does it fit into the economy?
Auroville: The economic model in practice is that of debit capitalism. The intention is to arrive at a cashless society where everyone’s basic needs are taken care of. Countless experiments and endless discussions have not yet proved fruitful. The Community does not split the inner reality from the economy. The inner reality demands a shared and equitable economy that benefits all.
LILA: Auroville has presented some very interesting and important ideas about education – to never stop learning, and to learn for curiosity and growth, not as a means to an end. Could you elaborate on the practical education model implemented at Auroville? What can you tell us about this model from your experience of two generations of residents?
Auroville: There is not one educational model implemented in Auroville but several depending on the need of the student. There is a “free progress” system at the high school level as well as more structured curricula leading to further academic studies or vocational trainings. Students growing up in Auroville have taken very diverse paths from home-schooling and non-structured approaches to intensive conventional courses.
Education is generally based on an integral approach that takes into account not only the mental but both the physical and emotional as well. The models and methods are interactive and based on the highest levels of consciousness that individual teachers and school administrations can incorporate into the process taking advantage of various systems including free progress and experimental approaches.
LILA: A very important lesson that we can draw from Auroville is the drive to be lifelong learners, and to constantly strive to improve and grow. This process involves a certain level and quality of self-critique, as we have seen in many residents. Do you think a strong sense of belief and core values help develop this quality? How is this sense instilled or discovered by the residents?
Auroville: Unending education exists as a core belief and value so it manifests in the life and culture of the Community. It does not need to be instilled or discovered by the residents.
LILA: Are there any challenges in implementing the core beliefs of Auroville as it scales up? How are the founding ideas and beliefs of Auroville passed on from one generation to the next?
Auroville: The challenges do not scale up with changing demographics because the age-old need for transformation of the consciousness remains regardless. New generations in Auroville must individually make a conscious choice to stay or leave. Passing down beliefs is not attempted. The founding ideas have not changed and children when reaching maturity normally are capable of determining what they need.
Note that the Mother’s first condition for living in Auroville, dated 19.6.1967 is: “To be convinced of the essential unity of mankind and [having] the will to collaborate for the material realisation of this unity.” No other belief is asked from the Aurovilians. Auroville being an intentional community, they need to be willing to take part in the three transformations.
LILA: Do you have any plan to organise workshops or any other kind of programs in Auroville or anywhere else to further expand a community that is united by its own inner power? For the uninitiated, what will be your brief and direct message?
Auroville: Auroville as such has no plans to organise outside programs to expand the community other than the general directives laid down at the beginning for a sustainable township of 50,000 people. Individuals and groups within Auroville continuously organise a remarkable variety of community building workshops and programs. The brief for the newcomer is to explore and experience according to their needs and become a responsible participant, a self-realising proponent of the ideals.
LILA: What lesson can Auroville provide to the ‘outside’ world? Can it show us a way to reclaim happiness and peaceful co-existence back into the governance structures and methodologies practices across the world?
Auroville: Though Auroville’s Inauguration Ceremony took place 51 years ago, the task before us is so enormous that we are still extremely far from having realised the first serious steps of our transformation programs but we are progressing steadily.
The same people who used to say that
Auroville’s aims cannot be realised and that one shouldn’t even try to realise
them, now wonder why we are still so far away from achieving them. We are here
to stay and to keep trying to progress on all levels. As we are acutely aware
of the distance between today’s reality and our ideals, it is not for us to say
what in our experience can be of help to others. It is for others to feel
inspired by our spirit.
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