America and the yoga
summer we, Alan and Annemarie of Auroville Today, paid our first
visit to the U.S. While there we were hosted by many friends of
Auroville and sadhaks who inspired us with the intensity, devotion
and openness to the future with which they practice the yoga.
On the individual level, the yoga seems to
have a very strong foundation. But how do those who practice the yoga in
the U.S. relate to each other?
Do they form a strong community?
Are they attracting new adherents?
And does Auroville have any role to play in this?
In the U.S. there are a
number of different organisations which are associated with the Integral
Yoga, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. These include
organizations which give information about the yoga, and channel or
raise funds for Auroville or the Ashram - like Auroville International
USA (AVI USA), the Sri Aurobindo Association (SAA) and the Foundation
for World Education (FWE); centres which host conferences and retreats -
like Matagiri and Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetam (Lodi Ashram); and
educational centres like the East-West Cultural Centre and the
California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS). There are also a host
of smaller study groups, both regionally-based and 'virtual'.
"The various centres in
the U.S. have tended to act pretty much independently, at least until
recently," explains David Hutchinson, President of the Sri
Aurobindo Association. "In the U.S. the yoga tends to be practised
in a very individualistic manner - perhaps this has to do with the
national character and the geography of the country - and this makes
people eschew large organization and distrust formal hierarchy. For
example, a plan for a confederation of the U.S. centres which was
floated a few years ago met with more resistance than enthusiasm."
Many of the centres were set
up by influential, charismatic figures and even today many of them have
individuals who are in strong leadership roles. Dakshina who manages the
Lodi Ashram in California along with fellow Ashramite Vishnubhai, sees
this as another possible deterrent to closer collaboration between the
centres. "A group with a strong leader may not feel the need to
reach out to other centres. And many of those other centres will not
accept these leaders in that kind of role."
But there may also be other
factors which make for less overall cohesion. Those Americans who lived
for some time in Auroville have tended to constitute an informal but
close group of their own. At the same time, among those groups in the
U.S. which tend to be Ashram-oriented, there is still quite a widespread
sense of confusion concerning the relationship between the Ashram and
Auroville, and some seem to feel that Auroville is, in some way,
alienated from or even hostile to the Ashram - a legacy, no doubt, of
the earlier conflict between Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Society.
While this doesn't at all reflect the present relationship between
Auroville and the Ashram, Gordon Korstange - who has been active in
various Auroville and yoga-related groups in the U.S. - believes that if
inhibitions exist between certain groups in America, it is partly
because there has never been a true and formal reconciliation between
Auroville and the Ashram.
But the times, it seems, are
changing. Both the boards of the Foundation for World Education and Sri
Aurobindo Association have taken it as one of their key tasks to
encourage greater collaboration between the centres. In this respect,
the 1998 AUM (All-USA Meeting) was something of a watershed, for the
organizers deliberately sought, in Vishnubhai's words, "to mingle
the waters" by bringing together different groups. This has
continued in subsequent AUMs, in the trend towards common membership of
the boards of different organizations, and in the efforts of the Sri
Aurobindo Association to bring over Aurovilians on a regular basis to
meet with various groups in the U.S. "What I see over the past two
years," says David, "is that a very strong force towards
harmony and co-operation is driving us together."
Why are there not more?
Paradoxically, while there
are many centres in the U.S., few Americans have even heard about the
Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo or Mother. Is this a matter for concern?
"No", says Julian Lines, who runs the East Coast office of
AVI-USA, and he remembers the force with which Mother quoted Sri
Aurobindo's words: "Nothing depends upon the numbers".
"It's in the Divine's hands," Julian continues.
"Obviously the right people will come at the right time." Rudy
Phillips, who is a powerful influence in shaping the policies and
workings of the Foundation for World Education, takes another view. He
believes that many outsiders cannot grasp what the Integral Yoga is
about because it lacks an obvious unifying factor. "When people get
interested in the yoga, they call one of us up and ask `Who can I meet
with? What can I do?' But we don't know what to tell them because we
don't agree among ourselves what the yoga is and how it should be
practised. So, of course, such seekers often go elsewhere."
Tom O'Brien, Rudy's close
associate in the yoga, explains further. "It's very difficult to
explain to others what the Integral Yoga is because, ultimately, it is
all of life. The advantage of this freedom for us, as sadhaks, is that
we can invent for ourselves whatever we feel is a true expression of the
spirit. The disadvantage is that it's difficult to find anything which
Rudy believes that many
American sadhaks are looking for community. "One way to achieve
this would be to have shared spiritual practices. Unfortunately, in this
yoga we have this deep-seated - and, I think, wrong-headed - bias
against religiosity which makes some of us go overboard against any kind
of shared spiritual practice, thus denying ourselves an essential aspect
of the spiritual pathwork."
David Hutchinson notes
another danger. "In a country where there is such a plethora of New
Age movements, the seeker can unknowingly be led into various by-paths
unless he or she has a very clear idea of the essential lines of the
Integral Yoga. And these are not easy to discover." In this context
Gordon notes that while spiritual masters from other cultures and
traditions have flocked to the U.S., no senior sadhak of the Integral
Yoga has as yet taken up residence to provide such guidance.
Americans and Auroville
Today relatively few
Americans are joining Auroville. Why? Rudy is in no doubt: "In
terms of the yoga, Auroville and America are mirror images of each
other. In both places the core of the community remains hidden because
of the lack of agreed spiritual practices, and that's why more people
are not drawn to participate."
Tom O'Brien lived for two
years in Auroville during the mid-70s. During that period
proportionately there were far more Americans in Auroville than there
are today. Many left in the late 1970s and early 1980s, never to return.
Why? The reasons may be individual, but Tom's experience may also
furnish some clues to some common factors. He mentions, for example,
that his relationship to the yoga is essentially one of bhakti,
devotion, and that the Auroville of that period did not encourage such
expression. "It's as if Auroville had to develop the material
foundation that correlates with the three chakras of survival, desire
and will to help with the individuation process. But now perhaps what is
needed is to open the heart centre more deeply." "I'd say this
is Auroville's mission for the next fifty years," adds Rudy.
"Find your heart and that will transform the numbers who are drawn
to the community."
Many Americans left
Auroville during the conflict with the Sri Aurobindo Society. "When
Mother's chief disciples went at each other tooth and nail," says
Gordon, who lived in Auroville during the 1970s, "the effect was a
certain loss of faith in those who were not passionately partisan".
It was a struggle which also generated conflicts among the Aurovilians
themselves, a time when people were put into boxes and labelled 'good'
or 'bad'. "Americans don't like boxes," Tom explains,
"because they are by nature synthetic, not exclusive, and always
willing to try new things." In other words, Americans are
ground-breakers, initiators, which is perhaps why they were drawn to the
wide open spaces, the tabula rasa, of Auroville in the early years. But
Rudy also notes that Americans are "horribly impatient. Everything
has to be accomplished in a micro-second. It's difficult for them to
comprehend the larger sweep of Divine time and to take small,
intermediate steps towards a goal." This means they are easily
discouraged if things don't go swiftly their way.
Julian points out that many
of the Americans who left during this period were "wounded".
"Wounded from the battles with the Sri Aurobindo Society, from the
intolerance of some of the French, from the closing down of the schools,
from attempts to impose the Galaxy. Many of them wanted an
eco-Auroville: they'd already experienced and rejected the
American/Western model of materialism. But when they saw these same
values beginning to infect not only the local population but also
Aurovilians themselves, they felt the battle had been lost. So they
Gordon doesn't fully agree
with this analysis. "We were not all radical environmentalists, and
wounded though we certainly were, our big wide-open country, with all
its possibilities, was still waiting for us. We Americans went to
Auroville with a very American sense that everything was possible - the
American Dream we were taught about at school - and we returned to the
USA with that same sense." In other words, America itself still
offers so much for pioneer spirits - both materially and spiritually -
that many Americans don't feel they have to live in Auroville to satisfy
that longing for adventure.
Julian notes, however, that
a new season of American involvement with Auroville may be heralded by
present discussions concerning the concept of the American Pavilion.
"There's a new energy in these discussions which may be a catalyst
for bringing Americans - and American dynamism - to Auroville once
again." He warns, however, that if such an inflow is to take place
Auroville must do much more to actively support its centres abroad,
through a better and more regular flow of information, through sending
volunteers to help with the work, and through helping make the centres
financially viable. "For, ultimately, the long-term health of
Auroville depends on the long-term health of its `embassies' around the