On the day after their final meeting, three members of this International Advisory Council (IAC) – Sir Mark Tully, Doudou Diène and Mark Luyckx Ghisi – who have served the full four years met Auroville Today. They looked back on their experience and identified some of the challenges and satisfactions of having been so deeply involved with Auroville's process.
The breakfast interview. From left to right Gillian Wright (partner of Sir Mark Tully) Alan, Sir Mark Tully, Hemant, Carel, Marc Luyckx Ghisi, Doudou Diène.
Auroville Today: According to the wording of the Foundation Act, your mandate does not seem to be particularly strong. Yet many people feel that this has been the most committed and influential International Advisory Council Auroville has ever had. How have you carved out such a role?
Mark Tully: We have been influential because we have been privileged to have a Governing Board that listened to us and a community that asked for our advice and saw us as having value. We couldn't have done anything without such support.
Doudou Diène: Actually our mandate is very broad – to advise the community and the Governing Board and to defend the autonomy and independence of Auroville. This puts us at the heart of the functioning of Auroville.
I think we earned our credibility, firstly, by showing how determined we were to understand Auroville by listening to people. Beyond our formal meetings, we made a big effort to visit as many people and places as possible. Secondly, our recommendations have been substantive, balanced. We have been willing at times to take bold positions which may not have fully pleased either the Governing Board or the Aurovilians.
Mark Luyckx Ghisi: Every administration in the world has a tendency to want to ‘digest', to control. The framers of the Foundation Act knew this, so they put in a group to protect the experiment from being ‘gobbled up'. That's our role. That's why we kept stressing the need for devolution of power because this Act can be interpreted in a very administrative, top-down way. Without devolution, this experiment is finished.
Have you felt pulled between the different demands and expectations of the Governing Board and the Residents Assembly?
Mark T: Yes. It was difficult at times because some residents felt we were their representatives, they wanted us to wholly support their position when I felt we couldn't do this.
Doudou: We knew we would be under pressure but this was a very interesting stimulus for us. Our challenge was not to say ‘no' to anybody who wanted to meet us – from either the side of the Governing Board or the residents – and yet, at the same time, to keep a critical distance.
What do you see as your main achievements over the last four years?
Mark L: I do not have impression that we have ‘done' anything. We were more like a catalyst for a process which is continuing.
Doudou: I think in some areas we made a major contribution. Whenever there was a problem between the residents and the Foundation authorities, we called upon everybody concerned to keep in mind two essential realities. Firstly, the support of the government which makes Auroville possible and, secondly, the deep desire of Aurovilians to be independent, autonomous. In this way we've tried to consolidate the balance between the two bodies. But we've also gone further and proposed concrete solutions to everything which was brought to us.
We also kept reminding people about two major challenges Auroville is facing. One is the risk of a class divide that may destroy the values which are the basis of this experiment. We went so far as to elaborate criteria for housing, for example, to minimise this risk. Secondly, on the very sensitive issue of relations between locals and non-locals we stressed that a condition for the success of Auroville is that it must be both diverse and universal.
Mark T: To me a real achievement is that after four years we have apparently retained the trust and affection of both the Governing Board and the Aurovilians.
Doudou: Many Aurovilians attended the open meetings with us. While sitting there I felt it physically, this special kind of energy, because the Aurovilians were watching us, concentrating upon us, and in this concentration you felt some very profound hope that we could help them. It was very moving.
Have you any regrets, any important areas you didn't touch upon or issues you couldn't resolve?
Mark L: Yes. Auroville is a very difficult place to know. We've never had a door closed in our faces, we've been welcomed by everyone, on every visit we discovered new things, but there's still so much I don't know. We just didn't have enough time.
Should IAC members be invited to spend longer in Auroville? For example, each visit could be for 4-7 days.
Doudou: Yes, IAC members should be invited to stay longer.
Mark T: One of my regrets is that we got immersed in pressing issues, yet how many times have we been exposed to the thinking of Sri Aurobindo? I would like to have had many more conversations about what Sri Aurobindo means to Aurovilians, and what kind of spiritual development is taking place here.
Doudou: I regret that the young generation did not come and present their views. I also regret that nothing was organized so that the local villagers could come and talk to us about anything they felt important.
Do you feel that Auroville has ‘blind spots', areas it has to work on more?
Mark L.: Yes. Doudou mentioned some of them. Another blind spot involves the management of Auroville. Your managers are people of my age, people with grey hair. And most of them are men, in spite of the fact that one woman told me it would be easier to find a group of six wise women in Auroville than finding a group of six wise men. The world is entering a post-patriarchal era so many more women in Auroville should be taking up responsible positions.
Do you have a deeper sense now of what is really going on in Auroville?
Mark T: I would say more than when I first came, but still inadequate.
Doudou: It's easy to assess the material construction of the city: it's much harder to assess the spiritual transformation which is a huge part of what is going on here. At this deeper level, I strongly feel that something is happening. I think the reason why the Aurovilians have stayed here for many years in a place which, after all, is not a paradise, and why after every huge crisis they manage to move ahead, is that inside, in their inner beings, something has been developing; a kind of spiritual energy. It's like when you throw a stone into water. At first there are big ripples, but deep down it gets worked out and soon the water becomes calm again. The process of transformation is going on very profoundly here and spiritual energy is being accumulated day after day.
Mark L: As a group we have been confronted with the most difficult part, which is the political and economic transformation of Auroville. Here we were lost. Yet, the more I reflect upon it, the more I am sure the supramental is coming. In the coming years I see a huge transformation worldwide, and those structures that are not transforming themselves will disappear.
At a deeper level, Dr. Karan Singh touched upon the most difficult question facing Auroville. Mentioning that the brightest light casts the darkest shadow, he said the most difficult thing in life is to confront your shadow. Auroville, both individually and collectively, has to confront its shadow. There's no easy way to do that, but this confrontation of the shadow is exactly the transformation the world is needing. And here you can do it because the level of energy is very high. It's Chartres plus seven!
Doudou: I feel what makes Auroville so different from other religious and spiritual places I've visited is that not only are you involved in a very new experience which has no precedent, but you are also engaged in a yoga of action. You are trying to build a city and you are not doing it theoretically by sitting down and meditating or watching clouds. You are acting daily, and I think that concentrated action based upon certain values is the strongest spiritual force you have. Every step you take, each new realization, makes that action more spiritually meaningful.
I have no doubt that the completion of the Matrimandir is an indication of something that, as a community, you have achieved, integrated, within yourselves: it shows you are moving ahead. But the danger is to view it in isolation, to elevate it above the rest. For, at an intangible level, the latest experiment in the kindergarten is as important as this huge monument.
Many Aurovilians would like all of you to stay on as members of the next IAC if the Government offers this as an option. What are your plans?
Mark L: If I receive a letter from the Government and if the group they propose seems acceptable, I'm ready to serve another term.
Mark T: Before I came this time I decided I would not stand again. I have committed myself to writing another book and I find that having too many fixed points in my diary when I need to be flexible is problematic. But I do feel sad at the end of it all, so now I am a little less certain.
Doudou: I have not taken a decision yet. I will take things as they come and take my decision at that moment based upon different factors, but always trying to know if I can be of service. That, above all, will determine my decision.
But I will return, in whatever capacity, because I love this place.
Mark T: Take us as friends, as Aurovilians in heart. Whatever happens, we will never forget you.
Interview by Alan and Carel
Photo credit: photo Giorgio