Interrogating the ashram Indian Express
Friday , Mar 19, 2010 at 0216 hrs
Swami Nityananda’s “experiments” with sexuality, god-men as flesh trade entrepreneurs, the unnatural and suspicious death of four children in the ashrams of Asaram Bapu have all cast a shadow over the very framework of institutions described as ashrams. And it is the implications on ashrams, as a principle around which religious and spiritual life is organised, that we need to examine.
An ashram or a community of co-religionists as Gandhi described it, is both an ancient and a modern institution. Gandhi’s ashrams were one of
’s greatest experiments with truth. It had all ‘that the great ashrams of the antiquity lacked,’ as Ramachandra Gandhi reminded us. It was also a quintessentially modern space. Its aim was Swaraj, self-rule. Gandhi’s ashram was not alone in this regard. Remember the mystic yogi Sri Aurobindo. His yogic sadhana was both a political and a spiritual act. And there was the presence of Sri Ramana and his hermitage at Arunachala; where Sri Ramana made the most complex of advaita experience available to the seekers who came to him. His quest was the highest form of freedom, which is mukti. There was Tagore and his Shantiniketan, which strove for aesthetic freedom. India
The salience of this category called the ashram in Indian’s struggle for freedom needs to be recognised. The philosophical and spiritual polyphony and inventiveness that Indian national movement was is to a large extent the contribution of these ashram-like institutions. They shared two common features. One, they were all steadfastly committed to truth: spiritual, political and theological. Two, as communities these were essentially dialogic spaces. They nourished and nurtured religious dialogues across religions, spiritual practices, not losing sight of the political. They were transparent institutions. They recognised that as public institutions, they were beyond the realm of private property and personal inheritance.
Because of their immense spiritual richness, these ashrams were ascetic communities, verging on poverty. They fashioned a modern style of asceticism and saintliness. Sri Ramana stands out in this respect. He embodied the archetypical image of the saint, a category different from that of a sadhu and a priest. The priest as an institution is bound to religious dogma. He represents the narrowness of religious systems and its need for ritual observances. The sadhu, moved by a personal quest represents the incessant movement of the restlessness of such a quest. But a saint is a point of repose, of the possibility of stillness. The saint symbolises the extent of spiritual freedom that we as human beings are capable of. Therefore, most religions, though reverential towards its saints are always and perpetually ill at ease with their effervescent openness.
The person who changed these ascetic spaces forever in modern
was that mystifying guru, Rajneesh. He was, along with Mahesh Yogi, the pioneer in the marketplace for a new, transnational spirituality. Both drew upon the deep spiritual void that the West of the 1960s and its readiness to experiment with alternatives. There was the new Indian middle class too, disenchanted with the sociability of the temple and uneasy with the sparseness of older ashrams. Rajneesh with his ninety two Rolls Royces, jewel-encrusted robes and the sanitised environment of his ashram that kept both allergies and the masses out, filled a need. His ashrams in India and Poona were impregnable. He created a cult and the first global market for spirituality before the advent of televised sermons. Unlike his contemporaries like Shri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi, there was no attempt to create a welfare organisation. Oregon
Asaram Bapu and Swami Nityanada represent a post-Rajneesh period and at the same time, draw upon the model of the close ashram space. The figure of the guru is all-powerful. His authority and primacy are unchallenged. But there is a marked difference in the sociology of the following. The sect draws its strength from one dominant community. It is not global but has a following in the diasporas, which give it a transnational character. The organisation is suspicious of all public scrutiny, including that by police. They are dismissive of all pleas for openness and their conduct was unbecoming of spiritual seekers.
One suspects that one possible reason for the closed nature of these institutions arises out of its relation with land and property. Here spiritual powers and wealth are both seen as a matter of private ownership, which can be passed on and inherited by a member of the family. Trust in this sense is only a convenient legal fiction.
The idea of the saint is too beautiful and evocative to be eroded by the transgressions of a few figures bearing that name. But these movements collectively have eroded the idea of the ashram as an open, dialogic, experimental space devoted to the pursuit of truth. The writer is an academic based in Ahmedabad. [Law of karma: As perceived by Mahatma Gandhi, Aurobindo, Swami Vivekanand, Radha Krishnan
Sri Aurobindo's Five Dreams: Nation-Souls and the Triple ...
By debbanerji - City States of the Future
By debbanerji - City States of the Future
Sri Aurobindo’s fifth dream, the transition of humanity (or at least a portion of it) to a new species, is still distant from us. But here, as in the case of his other dreams, it is Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who have left us their own examples towards this eventuality so that we may tune our aspirations towards it. Further, they have given us the beginnings of social formulations for preparing this transition, what Sri Aurobindo has termed “laboratories of the life divine.” These include the communities founded by them, such as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. To prepare ourselves for a change in consciousness leading to a new form of being and becoming, are we being told to gravitate to these places and swell their populations? There is much that we can learn from these places, but if we do not understand the forces with which they were constructed and the world forces they were put in dynamic relationship with, all we will see there are forms of shelter, locations of escape from the modern world. Or if we turn to the practices of the inner life that form the habitus of these places, we may easily lose our connection with the demands of modernity. But it is not for this that these locations were established by their founders. These environments were established to be sites of selective assimilation and engagement with all the forces of the world, so as to have a world transforming potential. In some way, this kind of response to modernity has also been approximated by a number of other social experiments that arose during the period of
’s national struggle for independence. India
We may think of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan – Visvabharati, the educational center for the making of the Universal Man, Visva Manav, or even Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati. These are all attempts at consolidating the inner life against the fragmenting sway of the global techno-commercial forces of modernity, the overwhelming flood which is occupying the world and fashioning human subjectivity today. If humanity is to have a chance at opening up the possibility for Sri Aurobindo’s fifth dream, it can only be through the creation of social conditions where the expressions of a collective spiritual life can take precedence over the ever-accelerating determinisms of production and consumption of a global world market. These are the sites of soul building, not ashrams in the sense of shelters but the autonomous intentional communities and city states of the future that we need to conceptualize and build collectively. So long as the privileging of our national target remains economic success in the world market, this dream of the future will elude us. We have to think and act differently, as individuals and as collectives.
Thus, to contemplate
’s future, as extended in the vision of Sri Aurobindo, it is of paramount importance that we cease from a passive acquiescence to the forces of the world or treat Sr Aurobindo’s dreams as inevitable prophecies. We must hold these dreams near to our hearts and make them our own. To sustain a dream in one’s attention is the very essence of meditation. The Mother makes this need of the hour very clear to us. She asks us never to forget that we are participating in the birth of a new world – to keep this idea in the forefront of our consciousness, to wake with it and go to sleep with it. The Mother says about the supramental manifestation that it may be achieved in a thousand years or it may be achieved in a few hundred years. It depends on human aspiration and practice. The same can be said about Sri Aurobindo’s dreams for the destiny of India . India
We are not called upon by Sri Aurobindo to be astrologers; we are called upon to be people of aspiration and will. Of course, it is not all in our hands, there are cosmic powers much greater than us as we are presently constituted that have a stake in the future. But unless we become active participants in the process, be able to interpret our times and intensify the movement towards the fulfillment of these dreams, they will remain deferred or even defeated. BY DEBASHISH BANERJI - Based on a talk given at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi on August 15, 2008, reproduced with kind permission from February 2010 issue of Srinvantu, Kolkata, India.
Mirror of Tomorrow Re: Jyotirmoyee—by Anurag Banerjee (B)
Despite being an Ashramite where all love is expected to be channelled to the Divine, she (probably unconsciously) nurtured a longing for human love which is evident in some of her poems. She did get it eventually but had to pay a severe price for it. We shall come to it soon.