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October 2003

Beware of religion

- by Carel

A photo of a stone-slab painting of Sri Aurobindo published on the front page of our August issue brought a number of objections from foreign subscribers, varying from publishing religious kitsch to harming the work of the AVI Centres.1


It was a surprise. None of the Auroville Today editors had raised any objections to the proposed publication of the photo of Emanuele's rock-slab painting, which was judged as 'beautiful, a bit like an early Renaissance miniature.' The notion that it might be considered a religious picture didn't occur. Have we, the editors, become Indianised? For none of our Indian readers raised a concern and perhaps not even an eyebrow as living with images of gods and goddesses or of swamis and yogis is such a daily occurrence. In the West, however, it is different. It is a common experience for all those who endeavour to raise funds for Auroville's projects that one has to be careful in describing the city's spiritual aims. Funding agencies, particularly Western funding agencies, take a somewhat jaundiced view of anything that might appear a cult. So do income tax authorities in some countries. A few years ago, Auroville International Germany successfully defended in court that Auroville is not a sect, in order not to lose the income tax exemption German donors enjoy for donations to Auroville projects.
The times are changing. A number of large foreign institutions such as the Indo-Canadian Environment Facility and the European Community are now funding Auroville projects. And during the recent presentation of Auroville at UNESCO no issues were raised when Dr. Kireet Joshi and Dr. L.M. Singvhi talked about the spiritual aims of Auroville and the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. For Auroville's unusual aims and ideals do not make it a religion, even though there is a tendency amongst Aurovilians to frequently quote what Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have said and to widely display their photos.

The Inner Divine
It all starts, of course, with The Mother's statements. Her first public message on Auroville, on September 8, 1965, seems innocuous enough for all those who are averse of any form of religiosity:
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. 2
Striving for human unity, after all, is now a universally accepted creed so this message doesn't meet with objections. It might if it was known how exactly The Mother envisaged that human unity should manifest. As early as 1912, Mother wrote in the essay An Ideal Society that human unity is to be realised "through the awakening in all and the manifestation by all of the inner Divinity which is One. In other words - to create unity by founding the Kingdom of God which is within us." Among the most useful works to be done She listed 1) For each individually, to be conscious in himself of the Divine Presence and to identify with it; and 4) Collectively, to establish an ideal society in a propitious spot for the flowering of the new race, the race of the Sons of God. 3
So when Mother laid down, in 1967, the 'conditions to live in Auroville': 1. To be convinced of the essential unity of mankind and to have the will to collaborate for the material realization of that unity; and 2. To have the will to collaborate in all that furthers future realizations,4 She essentially gave as condition the need to become conscious of the Inner Divine - the psychic being. This was made more explicit in the first line of Auroville's Charter: Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.5 And she added to Satprem, when writing down this first line "They are all going to wince at "Divine", but I don't care! You know, it's the explanation of the Matrimandir at the centre. The Matrimandir represents the Divine Consciousness. All that is not said, but that is the way it is." 6
In numerous other statements She told Aurovilians to find their psychic being, be guided by it so that the ego's authority and influence can disappear.7

The Ideal Society
The need to create an ideal society is also amongst Auroville's ideals. In a message for a UNESCO committee Mother wrote:
"The task of giving a concrete form to Sri Aurobindo's vision was entrusted to the Mother. The creation of a new world, a new society expressing and embodying the new consciousness is the work she has undertaken. By the very nature of things, it is a collective ideal that calls for a collective effort so that it may be realized in the terms of an integral human perfection.
The Ashram founded and built by the Mother was the first step in the accomplishment of this goal. The project of Auroville is the next step, more exterior, which seeks to widen the base of this attempt to establish harmony between soul and body, spirit and nature, heaven and earth, in the collective life of mankind." 8
Earlier She had said that Auroville was meant to be "the cradle of the superman"9, the transitional being between mankind and the supramental being. And in December 1972 She wrote: "Auroville has been created for a super-humanity, for those who want to surmount their ego and renounce all desire, to prepare themselves for receiving the supermind. They alone are true Aurovilians." "(Auroville) is a centre for transformation, a small nucleus of men who are transforming themselves and setting an example to the world. That is what Auroville hopes to be."10 In numerous writings and discussions She explained how such an Ideal society could take form at the level of education, economics and organisation.

Quoting and photos
The profound ideals expressed by The Mother are often quoted by those who endeavour to manifest them wholly or partly, or just to corroborate their own ideas. This is not to the liking of all Aurovilians. One reason is probably the large gap that exists between where we are and what She envisaged and our inability to find ways to bridge that gap - or even to foresee a step-by-step approach. Another reason might be that excessive quoting serves as a constant reminder what we are here for and prevents us to accept approaches that might be satisfactory in others, less idealistic societies.
For some people another sensitive issue is that of seeing Sri Aurobindo's and The Mother's photographs all over the place. This issue became a topic of a wider debate when someone raised the question if in the Town Hall Their photographs should be displayed in the lobby or be restricted to the workplace of the individuals. Given the fact that there is hardly any place in the Town Hall which does not offer a prime view on the Matrimandir - literally meaning The Mother's Shrine - the question is perhaps a bit overdone. The responses varied from "These photos carry the Force in them …. All those horrible meetings, I had to submit to in the past four years have often been softened by Their presence on a nice large picture in this or that office, which would come as a refreshing reminder that something else than our petty quarrels exist on earth." "Each picture carries a distinct vibration and creates a very harmonious atmosphere, which helps a lot in the place where you work." "What do outsiders know or care about Mother and our relation to Her and why should we care about what they think of us?" to "There should be no big pictures of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in public places. We don't want to encourage or give the impression of religion." The issue has not yet been resolved.
This question is not a new one. In May 1970 Mother spoke to Satprem about what happened in Auroville.
"They have gatherings in Auroville, at 'Aspiration'; I think it's meditations, or something of the sort, I don't know. One of them came and put my photo; so another rushed to his room and came back with a cross!... And he said, 'Well, if you put a photo of Mother, I'll put my cross.' They told me that story… Afterwards there came a whole series of things." She proceeded to write a note on Auroville and the Religions11 and define the word 'religion' a few days later.12 And when, a few months later, a French disciple intended to distribute a reproduction of the portrait he did of The Mother, She cautioned: It would be better not to introduce in this gathering anything personal that might suggest the atmosphere of a nascent religion."13
Let's finally have a look at what Mother replied to a question regarding religion.
Question: Many people say that Sri Aurobindo's teachings are a new religion. Would you call it a religion?..
Mother to Satprem: "You understand, I began to fume! I wrote: 'Those who say that are simpletons and don't even know what they're talking about! It is enough to read everything Sri Aurobindo has written to know that it is IMPOSSIBLE to found a religion upon his writings, since for each problem, for each question, he presents all aspects and, while demonstrating the truth contained in each approach, he explains that to attain the Truth a synthesis must be effected, overpassing all mental notions and emerging in a transcendence beyond thought…Let me repeat that when we speak of Sri Aurobindo, it is not a question of teaching nor even of revelation, but of an Action from the Supreme; upon this, no religion whatsoever can be founded.'
This is the first blast.
The second is: 'Men are such fools' (laughing: it doesn't get any better!) 'that they can change anything at all into a religion, so great is their need for a fixed framework for their narrow thought and limited action. They don't feel secure unless they can affirm: "This is true and that is not" - but such an affirmation becomes impossible for anyone who has read and understood what Sri Aurobindo has written. Religion and yoga are not situated on the same plane of the being, and the spiritual life can exist in its purity only if it is free from all mental dogma.'
People must really be made to understand this.
They are all always ready - even in the Ashram - ready to create a religion." 14

If any legal proof would be required that Auroville and the teaching of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother represent no religion, there is the verdict of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India on 8 November 1982 in the Auroville case "…there is no room for doubt that neither the Sri Aurobindo Society nor Auroville constitute a religious denomination and that the teachings of Sri Aurobindo only represent his philosophy, not a religion…"

Auroville and the Religions

We want the Truth.
For most men, it is what they want that they label truth.
The Aurovilians must want the Truth whatever it may be.
Auroville is for those who want to live a life essentially divine but who renounce all religions whether they be ancient, modern, new or future.
It is only in experience that there can be knowledge of the Truth.
No one ought to speak of the Divine unless he has had experience of the Divine.
Get experience of the Divine, then alone will you have the right to speak of it.
The objective study of religions will be a part of the historical study of the development of human consciousness.
Religions make up part of the history of mankind and it is in this guise that they will be studied at Auroville - not as beliefs to which one ought or ought not to adhere, but as part of a process in the development of human consciousness which should lead man towards his superior realization.

PROGRAMME
Research through experience of the
Supreme Truth
A life divine
but
NO RELIGIONS

Our research will not be a search effected by mystic means. It is in life itself that we wish to find the Divine. And it is through this discovery that life can really be transformed. 11

We call religion any concept of the world or the universe which is presented as the exclusive Truth in which one must have an absolute faith, generally because this Truth is declared to be the result of a revelation. Most of the religions affirm the existence of a God and the rules to follow to obey Him, but there are also Godless religions, such as socio-political organisations which, in the name of an Ideal or the State, claim the same right to be obeyed.
Man's right is a free pursuit of the Truth with the liberty to approach it in his own way. But each one must know that his discovery is good for him alone and it is not to be enforced upon others.12


Footnotes:
1 See Avtoday September 2003 p. 7; 2 8 September 1965, Collected Works Mother (CWM) XIII, p. 193; 3 7 May 1912, CWM, II, 47 - 48. The other two works are: 2) To individualise the states of being that were never tilv l now conscious in man and, by that, to put the earth in connection with one or more of the fountains of universal force that are still sealed to it; and 3) To speak again to the world the eternal word under a new form adapted to its present mentality. It will be a synthesis of all human knowledge.;4 CWM XIII p . 198; 5 CWM XIII p. 199 - 201;6 Mother's Agenda (MA) Vol. 9 p. 52; 7 see for example To Be a True Aurovilian, CWM Vol XIII p 213.;8 CWM XIII p. 210, written in 1969; 9 CWM XIII p. 197; 10 CWM XIII p. 223; 11 MA Vol 11, May 2, 1970 p. 170 - 181 and CWM XIII p. 212.;12 MA Vol 11 May 13, 1970 p. 1188, CWM XIII p 213.;13 MA Vol 11 May 2, 1970 p. 170 footnote; 14 MA April 29, 1961, Vol II p. 190 - 191.

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