Book 5. Who are we? (2001)
Dreams of Auroville
During the first months after returning from my visit with Anastasia I set about making an intensive search and study of any information about eco-communities I could lay my hands on. Most of my sources told about experiments abroad. Altogether I collected information on 86 communities in 19 countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India and others). But I wasn’t particularly struck by any of the reports I had collected. No country could boast any kind of large-scale eco-movement, nor did I come across any communities capable of exercising a significant influence on the social situation in their respective countries.
One of the largest and best-known communities that came to my notice is located in India. It goes by the name of Auroville. I’d like to elaborate a little on this one.
Auroville was initiated in 1968 by the wife of the founder of the Integral Yoga movement Sri Aurobindo, Mirra Richard. It was thought that the community, once begun, would eventually grow into a thriving city of 50,000 on lands allocated
by the Indian government near Pondicherry, where Sri Au- robindo’s Ashram — a centre for Integral Yoga adherents — had been operating since the 1940s. Auroville, or the ‘City of Dawn’, was supposed to embody the idea of unity of people — people united by a common goal of building a harmonious material world which in no way would find itself at odds with the world of the spirit.
The community’s charter, written by Mirra Richard, states:
“Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.”
The idea of building a city wherein people will live in harmony with the world of Nature, in the harmony of the spirit and love, was approved by the Indian government (and personally by Indira Gandhi) as well as by UNESCO. It received financial support from the Indian government along with a large number of sponsors. Representatives of 121 nations and 23 Indian states attended the opening ceremonies, after which this splendid city — no doubt the dream of a lot of people the world over who call themselves ‘spiritual’ — began to take shape.
However, following the death of Mirra Richard in 1973, one of Aurobindo’s disciples by the name of Satprem spoke out strongly against the Auroville community, calling it nothing but a ‘commercial enterprise’. Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram, which controlled most of the ‘enterprise’s’ finances, claimed
authority over everything going on in the city, but the resi-dents considered that their community belonged to the whole world and was not under the Ashram’s jurisdiction. A serious confrontation ensued between the spiritual leaders on both sides — a confrontation which was not confined to the ideological level but became more and more physical. In 1980 the Indian government was obliged to pass a decree removing Auroville from the control of Sri Aurobindo’s society and a permanent police detachment was assigned to the community The Auroville situation led to a general crisis in Sri Aurobindo’s movement and teachings.
Today Auroville has about 1,200 residents, instead of the
50.0 or more envisaged by its initiators. The whole region, including the local population, comprises 13 villages and
Quite possibly the downfall of the Auroville dream was precipitated by the following situation: while any resident may obtain permission to buy land and build himself a house (at his own expense), legal title to the land on which the house stands belongs to the city. Thus it turns out that full confidence is placed in Auroville as a city but is not accorded any of its individual residents. Every resident lives in a state of dependency on the community as a whole. And yet the whole project was worked out by people who considered themselves highly spiritual. It seems that in the case of spirituality there is another side of the coin to be considered.
I am extremely disturbed and upset by the situation of Auroville today While it has not provoked any doubts about Anastasia’s project, I cannot say my mind is entirely free from negative thoughts. If things did not work out with a model community in India — a country considered practically the leader in the spiritual understanding of human existence, especially with the financial backing of the Indian government, UNESCO and sponsors from a variety of countries, then how
can Anastasia possibly foresee on her own all the pitfalls that lie ahead? Even if it isn’t all on her own, and the masses of readers sharing her views try to make calculations, think everything through and foresee the future — even then there is no guarantee such concerted efforts will succeed, as nobody has any experience along this line.
If anyone knew where to find the foundation on which to build a happy life for both the individual and society as a whole, a happy society would have probably been built somewhere. But it doesn’t exist — anywhere in the world! The only experience we have is negative. Where can one find anything positive?
“In Russia!” replied Anastasia.