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Dec 01

 

A grassroots spirituality

Interview by Carel and Bindu

 

Dr. Ananda Reddy is well-known in Auroville because of his weekly classes in Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine at the Savitri Bhavan. He grew up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram "at the feet of The Mother", then went on, with her permission, to become a liaison between the Ashram and Auroville. Soon afterwards, in 1970, he joined Auroville to teach at the Aspiration school. He left Auroville in 1976, obtained a Ph.D. in Sri Aurobindo's philosophy at Osmania University in Hyderabad, and is today one of the few scholars worldwide who present Sri Aurobindo's thought within India and abroad. Recently he founded the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR) in Pondicherry. Auroville Today interviewed him on his work.

 

AVToday: How do you generally present Sri Aurobindo's thought?

 

Ananda: It depends on where I am in the world, and whether I am addressing an audience that already knows about Sri Aurobindo, or one that is hearing his name for the first time. With Aurobindonians, I can go more into depth and speak from the heart. If there is a general audience, I speak from the mind and give basically Sri Aurobindo's philosophy of life, and in a later phase his metaphysics. I do not talk about Sri Aurobindo the person, because I am aware that there are many cults in the world, and people are bound to label us as one more cult.

If there is a series of lectures, I talk about Sri Aurobindo as a person in a second and third lecture. I present him as a person whose life has been integral, as one who has developed this thought on the basis of his own realizations. I explain how he has embraced the philosophical thoughts of India and the West, and how he has gone beyond religions towards a universal spirituality. Then I explain how his spirituality differs from the normal idea of spirituality, that there is no withdrawing from life but rather of divinising life and, ultimately, Matter. In this way there is a balanced presentation of the thought and the man behind it. If I would reverse the order, it would most probably be taken as a cult.

 

The tendency to turn Sri Aurobindo's teaching into a cult seems to be prevalent everywhere. Many quote the words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, often out of context and to suit their own purposes. Is there a danger that by doing this we will turn the Integral Yoga into yet another a religion?

 

I once asked Champaklal why Sri Aurobindo's philosophy was being subjected to this sort of religiosity, and he answered that it was a passing phase and that Sri Aurobindo's thought and consciousness are too universal to be turned into a religion.

It is true that many people are getting into the trap of "Mother said". In fact this is a passive complacency, it is not the right attitude. It is a metaphysical truth that what we call "the Mother's Force" is at work in this world. But if there is sunlight outside, I still must open my window to let it in. Quoting Mother and Sri Aurobindo does not imply that you let that force into your life - and perhaps, many who quote do not.

Quoting is often a sign of a beginners' aspiration. When one is a newcomer to this yoga, one needs external symbols to hold onto one's faith.

It is like putting a fence around a young plant to protect it. Quoting Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, offering incense or flowers at their Samadhi, paying homage to their pictures are necessary external aids to help one's aspiration. They are like ladders that help us to climb up.

To embark on a spiritual life requires a great amount of courage. The human mind is often not ready to give up its religious attitude - and that is the reason why many who have accepted Sri Aurobindo and The Mother continue to worship different godheads and gurus.

There is a certain amount of human inertia that prevents people from exploring the spiritual life on the basis of their inner faith alone. But if one learns to consciously use the external forms, even the adoration of the gods, as a "ladder," then one comes to a stage where one feel the Presence within and the outside help is no longer needed. When one is up, one no longer needs the ladder.

 

Some Aurovilians feel the need to use other methods and techniques to realize a spiritual consciousness - perhaps as another 'ladder.' What are your views on this?

 

It all depends on the individual. Normally I would say that if one feels the need to relate to other approaches for one's spiritual growth, that's fine. I do not believe that any barriers should be imposed in Auroville, that one must do only this and nothing else. Let individuals choose any technique that they want, let the experience be rich, and let's not narrow spiritual life into one strict path. The only conditions needed are sincerity and the aspiration for a higher life, what I would call faithfulness, the faith the Bhagavad Gita speaks of, the shraddha, the inner dedication, the inner wanting to be that ideal. Let's guard against becoming another 'ism'.

One should not perhaps even insist that a person follow Sri Aurobindo or the Mother, but as the Mother herself emphasized, one should be a sincere seeker of the Divine Truth and Perfection. At one point something within the person may drive him or her to that discovery which is the Mother's Presence or Force. For those who have chosen to live in Auroville, I would say that, sooner or later, something will lead them to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother because of the special atmosphere that They have established in Auroville. It is not a question of developing mental knowledge and reading The Life Divine or The Synthesis of Yoga, but of developing an inner need where it becomes essential to find Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in one's life. It is the need for the inner discovery.

When I wanted to leave the Ashram to continue my studies in America in 1970, I asked The Mother's permission. Her answer was remarkable: "If.you aspire to get ready for the future and the new creation it prepares, remain here and prepare yourself for what is to come." On another occasion when asked about the Divine help being available everywhere, She said something to the effect, "The Divine help is available everywhere, but we have prepared here a special atmosphere because of which it becomes easier in this place for one to realize one's soul."

The presence of such an atmosphere, which is so needed for the psychic realization is, I believe, the reason why so many people visit the Ashram in Pondicherry. Somehow, in some way their psychic being has reached a point where it is coming forward and they need to breathe this atmosphere. This perhaps explains also the pressure of people wanting to come to Auroville.

For those who already have the inner connection, I do not believe that experimenting with different paths is of any help, it is only a waste of time. For instance, I have noticed that the so-called gains of meditation retreats are only temporary. For a week or so, the ego feels satisfied, for one achieves a certain mental silence or clarity, but then one falls back into the usual chaos of one's life and no change is effected in the outer workings of life. If one's goal is Integral Yoga or the transformation of oneself, then as Sri Aurobindo says, it is the Mother's Shakti alone that can help us in reaching the goal.

So for those who do not have an inner contact, these practices are good approach points, but those who do should not go back to them. They are windows to enter the house, but not doors to go out.

It is often argued that, even after one has established an inner connection with the Mother, there are times when one feels disconnected, and that one is not progressing in one's spiritual life. Then there is sometimes a desire to follow other paths.

But I do not believe that in these instances experimenting with different paths will help. It is much better, as Sri Aurobindo has explained in many letters to his disciples, not to be perturbed, not to ask yourself too many questions about whether you are progressing or not. For how do you know that you are not progressing? It is only your mind that might think otherwise, for often something is being worked out in us behind the surface being. If one remains quiet, with a quiet trust in The Mother, then suddenly something new comes and we have the certainty that we are on the way once again! For those who have that inner connection, a silent aspiration, a deep trust and reliance on Mother's force are of great importance.

There is a danger in Auroville of a constant dilution of the spiritual atmosphere, as there is a continuous inflow of new people who have not had any exposure to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. For that there must be a core group of conscious sadhaks there to withstand this kind of inflow, and to serve as living examples. For instance, in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, after the Mother's passing, we looked to Nolini and Champaklal and a few others for help. So, if there is a concrete vibration from an inside group of sadhaks who are open exclusively to the Mother's Force, then the newcomers will feel the difference in that vibration and seek it out for guidance. But it is important that the newcomers are aware of the reason why they want to join Auroville. If one comes to Auroville drawn by any of its outer aspects, then things do not work out. If one comes to serve the Divine Consciousness - call it Mother, Sri Aurobindo or whatever - as stated in the Auroville Charter, then spiritual progress is bound to happen.

 

You speak about 'opening to The Mother's Force' and 'finding Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in one's life'. Could you explain in a few words what exactly is meant by this?

 

What we mean by the Mother's Force is the Divine Force that descends from above to transform our nature into the divine nature. It is specifically the transformative force of the Divine that we call the Mother's Force.

One can open to it by opening the heart centre and the mind centres to all that is above and behind them. This can be done principally by aspiration, prayer, bhakti, surrender to the divine Force and rejection of all that stands in the way of what we aspire for.

As regards finding them in our life what I mean is that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother represent a certain Consciousness which stands for a transformation of one's nature and not for an individualistic inner realization alone. Most may not be ready for such a change of consciousness or transformation of one's nature. They may not even feel the need for such a thing. And as long as they do not feel such a need they are not inwardly ready for the discovery of Sri Aurobindo in their life. But, it is alright. Not all are meant to be disciples of Sri Aurobindo. There are myriad ways of evolution and each soul chooses its own destined path!

Earlier you had mentioned that Sri Aurobindo's concept of spirituality is different from others. In what way is it so?

Sri Aurobindo's concept of spirituality differs from other concepts because of his insistence on surrender to and reliance on the Universal Shakti, what we call the Mother's Force. This crucial concept in the Integral Yoga represents the working of a Force from above that can help us in our sadhana, and carry us to our goal. It is often not realised that this reliance on the Mother's Force is the greatest possible shortcut for man's spiritual growth. In fact, it is an invaluable spiritual boon given to mankind by Sri Aurobindo.

To develop this relationship between oneself and the Universal Shakti, reading the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother - even if one is experimenting with other spiritual paths - is very necessary, because the consciousness and force of their words sink into your subconscious and hasten the discovery of your inner being.

But there are, of course, also other ways to connect with this force and with the presence of the Mother within - to the awareness of your own psychic being. The Mother stressed the importance of work for all sadhaks of this yoga. Once She wrote to me: "It is in the work that we must progress and purify ourselves". It is my own experience that the most intense contact with the Mother is through work. Meditation is still born of the mind and has a tendency towards withdrawal from life. But work is of extreme importance in Integral Yoga, work that is inwardly dedicated to the Divine in the spirit of karma yoga. Work per se, of course, has no value.

 

The Mother said that after fifty years, Sri Aurobindo's thought will have been accepted in the world. How far has that been realised?

 

I think fully. Sri Aurobindo's consciousness has established itself in the world in different ways. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have sown seed-thoughts all over the world-and Auroville is one such seed-thought blossoming out into reality. Today, I find all open-minded thinkers in the world expounding ideas that have been outlined by Sri Aurobindo. The terms that they use differ according to their cultural and social background, but the general line of their thinking is in keeping with Sri Aurobindo's vision and understanding. The concepts of evolution of consciousness, transformation, the validity of a spiritual life as the only way out for our present problems are spreading throughout the world.

It may well be that in the future Sri Aurobindo's name will not be known, but all will be united by his consciousness - the Supramental. Sri Aurobindo may not be accepted necessarily as a spiritual leader - in fact he need not be for then his philosophy would become another narrow 'ism' - but as the herald of a new consciousness, the Supramental Con-sciousness, and as the harbinger of the New Race beyond the human species.

 

What effects of the working of the Supramental Consciousness do you see in the world?

 

One of the workings of the Supramental Consciousness is in the cleansing of all falsehoods. All these millenia falsehood was lying low and disrupting spiritual progress from behind. Now, due to the working of the Supramental Consciousness, everywhere, wherever there is a falsehood - in the individual, family, caste, group or nation - it is being exposed. Religion has allowed falsehoods to hide, but now, it is an open battle. That's how I view the struggles in the world today, and I am not disturbed by all the violence and the wars that are going on in different forms.

Another working of the Supramental Consciousness is the inexplicable universalization of spiritual thought. Everywhere one finds a growing number of individuals who are embarking on a spiritual quest. Tomorrow's world may not need avatars or vibhutis anymore. The time of the great spiritual leaders and intellects and visionaries will slowly recede. In the same way that grass springs up after the first rainfall, a new spiritual consciousness is emerging everywhere due to the downpour of the Supramental Force and Consciousness on the world. That new Consciousness will approach each open and aspiring individual at the grassroots level in the manner needed by him or her. It is the time of the spirituality of the common man. The spirituality of tomorrow will belong to mankind as a whole, not to the religious and moralist elite. That is why I emphasize that it does not matter if Sri Aurobindo is known or is not recognised much tomorrow, for the Supramental Consciousness will awaken mankind in general to spirituality and thus fulfil the work for which both The Mother and Sri Aurobindo have taken birth this time.

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