Monday, November 30, 2009

Honestly, it’s almost a cult. Scratch that, it’s totally a cult

இந்தியா India is my chosen battleground, but the longer I’m here the more I wonder if perhaps, despite my plotting to avoid fate, India has chosen me. November 29, 2009
ஆரோவிள்ளே [auroville]

Apparently, perfect places do exist. Apparently, I’ve been to one. The thing is, Auroville struck me as the single strangest place in the world. I’m not really sure where to start with it, so I’ll turn it over the city’s mission statement:
"Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity."
The city was founded by a figure known as “The Mother,” a central spiritual figure in Pondicherry whose ashrams and ideas have spread throughout the world. It’s over 4,000 acres of hugely undeveloped wilderness on the outskirts of Pondicherry, with a population capacity of 50,000 people, though the populace currently numbers only 2,007.

Its residents renounce all politics, nationality, and religion, choosing instead a peaceful, hardworking (?) lifestyle. Many volunteer at schools or conduct research, and all garden. Daily all inhabitants gather to meditate around a huge gold-plated sphere (see picture) that contains a 70 cm crystal sphere through which sunlight falls, representing “future realizations”. The Mother meditated that the center of the city as where a huge Banyan tree lies.
Usually visitors are allowed to approach the huge dome, but as we visited on a Sunday, we had no such luck. My host mom does know an Indian woman living in a cottage in Auroville with her Danish companion though, so we snuck in a back gate and went to her house, where she treated us to homegrown tea, biscuits, and gave my host sister and me each a new selvar to be stitched.

She showed us some things unique to Auroville such as playing The Mother’s mantras for water to purify it before drinking and denouncing marriage (though not partnerships). Her house had a country cabin feel, almost like a cabin you might rent for the summer on Cape Cod, but was equipped with broadband, satellite tv, and a microwave. Strangely, the idea of “equality for all” that Auroville preaches doesn’t seem to prevent its residents from keeping servants.

Honestly, it’s almost a cult. Scratch that, it’s totally a cult. Forgive me (I just saw 2012), but you can’t help but wonder about this place. Everyone you meet has watery eyes and a huge smile on their face and greets you in whatever language seems to strike their fancy. From what I saw of it, it’s almost like a huge, permanent, UNESCO-endorsed Woodstock.
Anyway, I was given the offer from the Coimbatorian we visited to come back and stay for a week anytime, and I’m considering taking her up on it. Might make for an interesting visit, no?

I’m not sure exactly how to define a “perfect city,” but I guess that Auroville in theory, does a decent, if communist, job of it. You hand over your assets to the city upon joining, help your neighbors, are friendly to all, and live off the earth. Still though, the end of the walking tour of Auroville dumped us right into a gift shop with prices on homemade paper, organic tea, and pottery that would raise eyebrows anywhere.
Ah, how capital prevails. Posted by Rianna ♥ at 3:55 PM Please send all fan mail to: Rianna Starheim108 Appusamy Layout Red Fields Coimbatore, INDIA 641045

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sujata tells a story

A Vision of Sujata Nahar

Translated by

Anurag Banerjee

[Translator's note: In 1995, Sujata Nahar's younger sisters Sumitra and Suprabha had gone to visit her at her residence in Kotagiri. One day, they requested Sujata to tell them a story. What follows is the translated version of the transcript of the recording of the story she had narrated in Bengali. The italicized words are those which she had spoken originally in English. The vision was of an ancient legend of the Vedic era which she had witnessed. It is rather noteworthy because it provides us with the assurance that if we plunge deep into matter, the 'riddle of death' can be solved and the 'secret of immortality' can be found. The vision echoes Sujata's revealing words: 'The hymns of the Veda are the triumph songs of the soul's battle in Matter, and its victory.']

—Tell us another story.

Sujata Nahar: So you want to listen to another story? Well, I don't know whether what I'm going to narrate was a story or a real-life incident. As you know, I wake up quite early when the night is still dark. In the clear sky I see many stars, constellations and planets; then I move here and there for my work and I witness how the sky gradually gets illuminated with the sun-rays. It reminds me of a line from Rabindranath Tagore's poetry—Dawn came and opened the gates of the East—do you remember it? When the cowshed is opened, I see how the glimmer of the light descends, the Sun-God himself comes to cleanse the path of darkness with the poetry of light. Then the cows go out to graze, the birds sing and after awakening from their slumber they talk for a while amongst themselves and then leave in quest for food. At least this is what I behold here. Then comes the Sun-God in his chariot—he changes his outfits daily just like us—sometimes he wears red and sometimes pink. So I witness his change of attire and colours every day.
One day what happened was: I observed that the darkness was not dispelling at all. Sometimes when the sky is cloudy darkness does exist in the region but this time it appeared to be rather dense, it looked precisely like night. One or two birds called out when they thought that dawn had arrived but they too ceased after a while. “What happened?” I wondered. The clock indicated that it was pretty late. Then what did go wrong? The entire day was spent like that and I must say that I have never seen such a deep night-like darkness because even when the sky is cloudy...

—There remains a little light.

Sujata Nahar: Yes, the difference between day and night can be understood. I was unable to comprehend what could have happened. And I was feeling a bit uneasy as well. It is difficult to grasp that particular feeling. That night also I was quite restless. Then probably I had gone to sleep; the body was on the bed while I had gone somewhere else. This happens quite often, I leave the body for some different adventures.
I saw a young paragon of beauty sobbing inconsolably. What happened to her? Then I saw people rushing towards her from the four corners. By the time I had gone there many incidents had occurred and those were revealed to me like the flashback of a movie.
Usha, the Dawn, had gone as usual to open her cowshed when she noticed that the door was already open. She was taken aback a bit. When she went forward and opened the doors wide she saw that the cowshed was empty, not a single cow was there. “Where did my cattle go?” she wondered. Then she thought of calling the Sun, her elder brother, and ask him about the whereabouts of the cattle but when she called him, there was no response. Someone had abducted the Sun as well. Usha's wail made the other gods and goddesses come rushing to her; they wondered what could have happened to Usha whose face was ever-smiling and heart always full of joy! Saraswati came, Sarama came, Lila came and so did all the goddesses. And from the other side came rushing to her, her brothers Indra, the Aswins, Agni, the Moon and all the other gods who rallied around Usha and understood what exactly had occurred. They realized that the cattle-stealers were none other than the Dasyus [robbers]—I'm unable to recall their names—so now they would have to go to the land of the robbers. “But how to go there?” they wondered because the path to their land was unimaginably perilous. They thought of approaching the Night and to please her. The Night happens to be Usha's elder sister (I think I have heard that there is a sutra in the Vedas known as the Ratri-sutra). But who would lead the way because the path is unknown to all? Then arrived Sarama—whom we address as Helen in English mythology—(it's from Sarama that the word sarameya [meaning dog] has come). So she led the way and was followed by Indra, the King of gods.

—The Chief of Gods.

Sujata Nahar: Yes, the chief. First went Indra, the Chieftain of the gods, followed by Agni who was like a priest—like what we call Purodha. But despite this arrangement, they felt that the presence of humans was required. The chiefs of the humans were the Angirasa Rishis; some say there are nine of them some say seven; they are called Angirasa because they took birth from fire just like us. The Nahars were born from the Fire. So they moved through that path of darkness. Sometimes they had to travel through several kingdoms from where at times someone came to offer some help and appeared as foes. By crossing several hurdles they continued to advance slowly. Then the Night too left the gods in the middle of the way for she was apprehensive that Sarama would supersede her. Hence she moved away and Sarama led the gods. At times the road was so narrow and steep that if one missed a step he would be gone for ever. But the Moon was with them, he made the gods drink soma-rasa because no food was available in those places and despite the fact that the gods were gods, they too felt tired like us. Therefore something was required to boost them up—it's symbolic. They moved on and on when suddenly Sarama heard the lowing of the cattle. From a valley amid steep mountains came that sound. But who would descend in it? However Sarama guided the gods to that place; then she searched the region and informed the gods that the cattle were there. Thus ended her work which was to show the way. The task of rescuing the cattle belonged to others. She, in Sri Aurobindo's terminology, is the Intuition.
The robbers were hiding in what we call an impregnable fortress, there was no gap or hole in it so how would the gods enter? The robbers—the Panis—had Vallar as their chief. He sent his men when he heard the commotion to inquire what the matter was. The Panis spied from a distance and reported to their chief accordingly. He instructed his men to shut all the gates so that no gods could enter. But the gods had Vrihaspati—the chief of the Angirasas on their sides—the power of his chanting of the hymns threw open the gates. Then all the creatures of darkness came out in groups and what to say about the fierce battle that ensued! It was a terrible war! Innumerable Panis were killed. The gods fought quite brilliantly. Indra was...

—Equal to a hundred.

Sujata Nahar: He was equal to a thousand. With his thousand eyes and vajra [his weapon] he fought fiercely and the Aswins too were present to help him. Those who got wounded were healed by the Aswins. And then there were Indra's forty-nine brothers who also helped. All came to help and each killed as many as possible. At last the Panis were defeated, Vallar too was vanquished. After defeating the Panis, the gods entered the cave and found that the cattle were indeed there. Then Usha, with the help of the Aswins, brought her cattle out and took them to her own kingdom—to the land where the cows of the Sun graze. That is the field of Truth. And what sort of Truth? You must have noticed that when you dip a stick in water, it appears as if the stick is bent but in that land it does not happen thus. Straight stick remains straight. That's why it is called ritam. Anyway, the gods went back but the sages went further inside the cave. Then they arrived at a pit which we call as gumpha.


Sujata Nahar: I think the monasteries of the Buddhists are called gumphas. And this was a cave. The sages entered more and more in it and they saw someone sitting in heart of the cave: someone immense and alone to quote Sri Aurobindo. And who was he? He was the eighth son of Aditi whom she had left behind. He was lost in darkness. He was Martanda, he is the eighth Sun. And he was hidden in the darkness of the cave by the robbers. But with his own luminous light he had illuminated everything in that dark cave. Then Martanda came out to the world.
Our Fathers the Angirasa Rishis pursued further to the end. They came to the darkest cave yet—I'm speaking in my own words. The darkness repelled—this is from Sri Aurobindo's poetry. They entered the caves on their hands and knees...they crawled on their hands and knees—because they were unable to enter on their feet as the cave had a very small opening. And in the heart of darkness they discovered Martanda who had been concealed there by the Titans. Martanda, the eighth son of Aditi. Who is Aditi? The All-creating Infinite Mother. Then the eighth son of Aditi was seated there, immense and alone. He is the black or dark, the lost, the hidden sun, the son whom he met.
I don't recall the reason. I remember the story Mother had recounted. She had seen that in the matter, in the deep matter, there is the Divine. Mother had seen it when she had gone to the Subconscient and she saw that the Being opened his eyes—the Divine in Matter in the Subconscient. If you follow Mother's visions, you will find a lot of things...She had seen it in 1907-1908 or may be even before that period. She didn't have the experiences of Savitri then. Mother's experiences were noted down by Sri Aurobindo much later. I don't recall well but Mother read Savitri much later.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why should we take this inevitability as a harmful stigma?

Re: Reflections on THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY By Debashish Banerji Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
by Rod on Fri 27 Oct 2006 05:56 AM PDT Permanent Link In Sri Aurobindo’s view, the evolution of consciousness is towards larger and more inclusive unities, and a sense of self that is universal. In his view evolution in its large aims works through groups rather than individuals to achieve large ideal potentials, like justice, knowledge, harmony, power.

Fukuyama also argues, as does Habermas, that such values as human dignity and freedom are rooted in a natural condition of equality before the genetic dice throw. (A new slant on “thrownness.”) If we choose to predetermine improvements of intelligence, health, strength, competitiveness, etc., in our species through genetic engineering, then we violate the principle of the luck of the draw and the randomness of opportunity which ground our choices and our sense of identity and dignity. We are who we are by virtue of random selection mitigated by parental breeding preferences and social conditioning. We should be free to change the latter but not the former, or else the balance of natural ethics and human rights will be altered forever.

This point of view is very close to the Judeo-Christian idea of the natural state of fall in which good and evil become known so that we may strive for the good, reject the evil, and be saved; also closely related to the Platonic/Aristotelian idea of the final cause being the good form of each thing, toward which it moves in its development from a state of ignorance, imperfection, smallness, matter toward the fulfillment of its purpose, by becoming capable of rational choice. According to these basics of “natural philosophy” what drives the human being toward its potential is the soul, what Fukuyama calls Factor X, the essence of the human when all the conditioning is stripped away, the principle of “nous” or reason. Faced with the choice to genetically alter and so improve some members of the species, to remain in a natural state of imperfection on a flat playing field and strive for an ethically progressive world order, or to renounce mentality, reason, preferential judgment altogether and allow a new principle of truth consciousness and force to manifest, why would one choose one or the other, on what grounds?

Sri Aurobindo’s leap forward consists in the recognition that the natural and ideal drives toward harmony, truth, justice are the embryonic movements of a Will in life-mind-matter to realize a higher form of existence, consciousness, bliss. But he also brings down the force that makes his solution a tangible, perceptible possibility, for those who make the choice to open to it. And so we may be back to the Augustinian/Pelagian paradox, with a slight twist. Both individual choice and divine grace are necessary if this evolutionary change is to happen. And it must be for the good of everyone – not just the elect. It’s a species, and not a communal or national or individual level process. But because of the dual necessity: choice and grace, it will have to be done first by individuals. Collective change will presumably follow (linearly and chaotically).

At this point in Auroville there is almost no sign of anything happening on the collective level that indicates a change of consciousness, but the supramental force can be accessed by the individual and at times it seems to encompass a group awareness, but still carries little impact in the arrangement of social structure. At the Ashram level, little effort is apparently even made on the outer collective structure. It’s all arranged for maintaining an inner openness, for worship and meditation. If this evolution (of supramental consciousness) depends in any way on social structure, on ethical choice, on economics, technology, or biogenetic engineering, then from what I can tell it’s doomed from the start. It’s strictly a matter of inner choice and grace, which presumes the presence of a soul, divine will, or psychic being in things. RH

by Rod on Sun 29 Oct 2006 01:54 AM PST Profile Permanent Link
This is a kind of reasoning, supported by revelation and text, ie. spiritual authority. As such it requires faith and practice on the part of those who choose to be heroic. Whether such a teaching was meant to become the basis of a new religion, or not, or whether such religion is desirable or not, does not disqualify it as a religious teaching. Sri Aurobindo said his purpose in writing the Arya was to lay down the metaphysical and religious basis for a new movement in humanity to exceed itself. That basis (foundation) is a categorical belief in the immanence of the supermind in evolution and the innate ability of humans to know it because of the presence in them of the soul. The philosophical pertinence of this idea today when everyone is questioning the origin of consciousness happens to make this teaching current and relevant. But, What's wrong with admitting both that this teaching requires existential experience to be meaningful and also that it is very natural, even inevitable, for it to take on all the characteristics of a religion, which in fact it has already done? Why should we take this inevitability as a harmful stigma? Do we think postmodernism should have the last word? Reply

by Rod on Sun 29 Oct 2006 02:36 AM PST Profile Permanent Link
I would like to make an important concession to the techniques of postmodernist criticism and to the importance of an understanding of being-toward-the-future in the context of Sri Aurobindo’s work, as mentioned above.

A meaningful intermediate step might be allotted to phenomenology and deconstruction as a preparation for an actual step of being-toward-the-future as well as a true grasp of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, similar to Derrida’s treatment of Heidegger. That would be to accord Sri Aurobindo’s philosophemes their due position within the history of metaphysics and religion, both Eastern and Western, and then to transcend our own embeddedness in that doxological framework by considering that position under erasure. Because the position of Sri Aurobindo is only really meaningful in relation to an ever-present future of consciousness to be realized through transformation and the transcendence of intellectual concepts, his metaphysical and religious structures must be erased in order for that transformation to be present and in order for the future represented by his writings to be understood.

Supramental truth-force is a direct seeing, through a transformed consciousness, that may or may not be mediated by an inspired text or a direct spiritual influence, such as those which Sri Aurobindo, the writer-yogi created. It is known and valid only through an opening to a unifying consciousness of the oneness and difference of all perceptions that yields a strong sense of their unity, a sense of a divine wholeness and rightness (ritam), “a smooth and even infinity everywhere.” In this experience, the Mother’s insistence that even a superhuman effort to attain a true knowledge and to uplift humanity pales and disappears before the realization of what in fact already is the truth of everything. Reply

by Debashish on Sun 29 Oct 2006 08:39 PM PST Profile Permanent Link
Very well put and true. In fact, to this I would stick my neck out and agree that this is exactly the necessary method (call it postmodern or not) that Sri Aurobindo demands for a legitimate understanding and practice of his teaching. DB Reply [ 3:15 PM 4:23 PM]

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