“Auroville’s identity is changing – it is no longer limits and plans, us and them. The relevance of Auroville is in connecting on many levels to many people – it is becoming a charging station for the world.”
We are often both pushed and pulled.
The pushing for me was running away from Germany, which had a very troubled past. I was born in 1939 and have a very vague memory of the war time, but a strong memory of life after the war. And even though I tried to understand what that whole Nazi regime in Germany meant, I frankly never fully understood. How could a civilised culture fall into such barbarism?
I wanted to go to America after my matriculation, but they banned me from going because it was the McCarthy period, and I had visited East Berlin. So I said, okay, I go the other way. It was 1959, and I took a cargo boat from Genoa (in Italy) to Bombay – a few weeks on the open sea. That was the pushing part.
On the pulling part, we young people were looking for role models; For something that would spell out a different vision – and a different action – for the world. There were two blocs [in the Cold War]: the socialist/communist bloc, and the American/imperialist bloc. And there was a political movement called the Non-Aligned movement founded by Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Tito (Yugoslavia), Nasser (Egypt), Sukarno (Indonesia) and Nkrumah (Ghana). I was attracted to Nehru and to India. Nehru, Tagore, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Gandhi all played a big role for us young people seeking alternatives.
I first went to Rabindranath Tagore’s university near Calcutta, visited various ashrams and gurus, and then, like a young tourist, drifted down the hippie trail which went all the way to Australia. One of the stopovers was Pondicherry. I knew about Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and went there as one of the sightseeing points.
At that time, Mother gave daily darshan at 06:15 on the balcony. It was a good morning, a beautiful old lady standing up there on the balcony looking at you. But before I left I wanted to have a personal interview with her, and she gave it to me. It was a Saul-to-Paul experience, where your whole life is turned upside-down; It was something which made me realise that my life had a purpose, a direction; that it was at the service of the Divine.
But I was a young man. I had money, I come from a well-to-family. I wanted to see the world, and she sent me off. I felt that I was an ambassador for her. She told me to go to Japan to meet her friend, Mrs. Kobayashi.
Often the feeling has been described, of carrying an external being while the centre has been removed. You’re drifting, you have no anchor point. It’s not a directed living, you do everything which comes your way, you float like a cork in a whirlpool.
I felt that my soul had been left in the Ashram, and my external being was on a trip, going through all sorts of horrible scenes in Saigon, Jakarta, Hong Kong… Finally I reached Japan, and got into a Zen monastery, which made me one-pointed again. It was a purification, a cleansing through rigorous discipline.
In 1961, I returned to the Ashram full of Zen Buddhism, and told The Mother: The way you are running the Ashram is all wrong; you have to have more discipline, more structure, to tell people what to do. She did not reject it, did not object: “Yes, yes, I understand…”
But she also knew that her and Sri Aurobindo’s warm inclusiveness – and a certain action of India, too – broadened you. It didn’t take very long for me to melt again.
I went back to Germany to study Indology, Germanic and English Studies. When I came back to the Ashram in 1966, there was talk about a new project that The Mother had outside of Pondicherry, called Auroville. I was interested, and started in ’67 to work to prepare the ground for Auroville. It was a real pioneering adventure: no water, no electricity, no food, no roads. It was really a jungle.
The inauguration in 1968 was a very special moment. We could see a cloud of dust moving over the road which we had built to the centre: the buses, the lorries, the cycles and motorbikes, the cars, the pedestrians, and the bullock carts were all moving towards the amphitheatre. It was like something out of a strange Star Wars movie.
Suddenly we were all there, five thousand people from different countries, and the locals. Then silence fell, and suddenly Mother’s voice was transmitted from the Ashram by All India Radio, pronouncing the invitation to Auroville:
Greetings from Auroville to all men of goodwill. Are invited to Auroville all those who thirst for progress and aspire to a higher and truer life.The Mother, 28.2.1968
The development of Auroville follows a little bit the Indian vision of the Trimurti, the three gods: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
Pioneering was Brahma, where the individual went out into places where there was nothing, and started planting trees and bringing water by koojas to nourish them. Very, very rough. There are many pictures from that time. The Auroville Foundation Act was passed in 1988, and gave a sort of solid base.
Consolidating Auroville was the second phase, Vishnu the sustainer. Auroville became organised, started having schools, farms and infrastructure. We began communicating with the outside, and inviting more people to participate.
But every system has the tendency to become stagnant and resist change. When you go to a service, sometimes they don’t have that adventurous “How are you?” They look at their computers and say: “Can you send us an email?” They throw rules and regulations at you.
Or often a dogmatic attitude comes in, and says: No, this has been set by the founder, and no iota of it can be changed. There is a clinging to external symbols, because the inner content has become weak.
In your own life, if you are in a love situation, you can see that after a year, certain routines have set in. You love that person, but in the end the routine becomes a problem. There is a need for renewal and fresh air.
I feel that we are in the third part now. Shiva is the destroyer, Nataraja, but he also clears the ground for the new creation – he is the creator at the same time. It is like a snail which has grown a shell around it, and can’t move anymore. It has to break the shell in order to go on. Sometimes the outer walls have grown too hard, and they can not be gently modified, they have to be broken – and that’s painful, especially for those who got attached to the system.
The three are not chronologically one after the other – it’s a simultaneity – but one becomes dominant. I was involved with people like J.R.D. Tata and Kireet Joshi, who came here and helped Auroville because they liked the freshness, the vitality to try new forms and ways of doing.
I think what we are observing now is, we’re coming full circle again to the Brahma – the creator who is emerging in new forms. The very spirit of Auroville, as Mother says, is a laboratory, an experiment. The law of evolution is to keep on changing and renewing. In a microcosm you manifest something, which then has its effect on the larger scale.
Auroville’s identity is changing – it is no longer limits and plans, us and them. The relevance of Auroville is in connecting on many levels to many people – it is becoming a charging station for the world.
One of the pillars of Auroville is governance by the psychic being, the Soul, represented by the Matrimandir and inspiring the growth of the body, the City the Earth Needs. And this force, which is descending, needs a wider body to receive it. A synergy and collective consciousness are the next phase in evolution – the sense of being part of a larger team. And all over the world people are looking for that.