When All India Radio had asked Sri Aurobindo on August 15, to deliver a message for the newborn nation, he had outlined roles for India, Asia and the world in a text called the Five Dreams, where he spoke of a next step in evolution that would raise man to a higher consciousness. Mirra Alfassa born Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa , known to her followers as The Mother, was the spiritual partner of Aurobindo, philosopher, yogi, guru and a leader of the independence movement. Throughout, their work together had been to uplift humanity to a further level of consciousness.
For this, they envisaged the setting up of an ideal town. The Mother was 90 when she started work with architect Roger Anger to chalk out a city plan for 50, people.
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It came to be called the Galaxy Plan and looked quite unlike most modern cities and had very different priorities. The idea began to inspire people worldwide. But above all, I insisted that it would be better to build the city first! And that we would see afterwards. Finally, on February 28, , over 5, people from across the world clambered up the dusty plateau and gathered in an open amphitheatre next to the banyan tree.
The Mother read from The Auroville Charter and the city of the future was born. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, a youth that never ages. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. Earth from countries was poured into an urn in the amphitheatre and the charter was read in several languages of the world. The banyan was no longer alone. Thousands of people passed under the blue canopy floating between its branches where an exhibition on Auroville and its city plan was displayed. An adventure began — one that would be both spiritual and material.
Auroville, the city beneath a banyan tree
Tapas Bhatt, who now works as a coordinator at Pavilion of India, recalls how as a year-old student at the Ashram school, she was struck by an incredible feeling of togetherness as thousands of people were united in their common aspiration for the world. People came from everywhere. There were engineers, architects, technicians, doctors, dancers, artists, writers, corporate types, plumbers, horticulturists, researchers, hippies, students and teachers. Some came by chance, some were eager to get started, some were still searching, and for some who met the Mother, their destiny had changed.
It was a young, vibrant place. New ideas were in the air. Huts were coming up, wells being dug, trees planted, bread baked, electricity organised, schools set up. There were basketball courts, music and theatre. Soon, the construction of the Matrimandir would begin at the heart of Auroville.
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About 20 people with crowbars started digging at the site but the scale was huge and they were joined by a local workforce from the village. The Matrimandir would become the soul of Auroville, a building for the invisible. In those early pioneering years, there were only about people. But the Mother was already initiating large projects.
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And what did the earth need? Auroville wants to be this place. It was heady stuff. Meanwhile, work at the Matrimandir began, the foundation was laid and the four base support pillars built. On November 17, , just as the construction of the fourth pillar was completed, news arrived that the Mother had passed away. It was the beginning of several challenging years, with uncertainties, court cases, visas refused, funds cut and sometimes no food. The ground realities were grim.
With architect Roger Anger leaving Auroville for a few years, doubts crept in: was the city plan too ambitious?
Was it a big mistake? Inside the cage was a bird, but he took no notice of that, not even bothering to feed it. When he proudly displayed his birdcage to his friends, they were shocked to see that despite the beauty of the cage the poor bird inside was dying of hunger. Western culture has effectively built a very elaborate cage in which the human spirit is now languishing, imprisoned by its own material excesses.
Despite its sophistication, this civilization has failed to see the inner meaning of life, and the bird in the cage is dying. In the great cycle of the Mahabharata , the epic history of old India, spiritual teachings are set in the classic tradition of the teacher showing wisdom to the disciple. Please advise me. Like Arjuna, we find ourselves in a position of danger where confusion obscures our path and our duty is not clear. We have created a civilization of great complexity in which our economic and social needs are intricately woven into a global web of cause and effect over which we have less and less control.
The whole edifice, being based upon the principle of trying to replace the natural order with an artificial one aimed at satisfying material desires, is highly insecure.
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We are trying to solve our problems by making constant adjustments to the balance of life, without any clear knowledge of what the consequences may be. We stumble on without knowing where we are going. The further we progress along this path, the deeper our disillusion becomes. We think that we are making progress, but our progress is like that of the deer in the desert, who chases after a mirage. The poor animal runs deeper and deeper into the desert until it can go no further. Led on by its burning thirst, trapped by its blindness and misjudgement, it eventually lies down to die in the wilderness.
Western civilization needs to rediscover the balance and harmony which it has lost. We must take advantage of the fact that we are now a global community and are no longer limited to learning from only one tradition. There are many sources of wisdom left to us all over the world.
The West has much to learn from the wisdom traditions of India. Having exposed most of the rest of the world to our own traditions, and having largely abandoned them ourselves, we now need to learn from others; to put aside our swords and guns, our computers and microscopes, our cars and televisions, and have the courage and the vision to journey in new territory where these seemingly indispensable aids may be of little value.
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Reincarnation is a good example of a teaching which has been largely ignored by Western civilization, despite the fact that it has always existed in one form or another in the unofficial religions of our countries. It is important because it stresses the equality of all life forms and their transience too.
It does not support the human-centred culture of the West which permits human society to terrorise the animal kingdom and dominate the cycles of nature for its own convenience. Nor does it support the empire-building mania of the European societies, who wanted to possess as much of the world as they could, believing that they only had one life in which to do it all. It is these attitudes that have encouraged us in our present path of industrial and technological war upon nature and the world.
Re-incarnation and other knowledge of the spirit is taught by the Vedas , the sacred books of the Hindus. They teach about the meaning and purpose of the world through philosophy and stories from Vedic history. The Vedas tell the story of a five year-old child named Dhruva, who went to the forest to seek Vishnu. He was advised to practice penances and meditation. So, standing on one leg he slowed his breathing down to the point where he was barely inhaling or exhaling.
After four months he managed to stop breathing completely and remained with his mind fixed on the form of Vishnu, suspended between the inward and outward breath. At this point he became at one with the universe and his foot seemed to press down on the earth with unbearable weight. The devas of the heavens — the sun, the moon and all the elements — began to feel as if they too could not breathe. They were suffocating because of the intense self-control of Dhruva who had somehow syncronised his own breathing with that of the total universe.
To save the devas , Vishnu appeared before Dhruva and blessed him. Then Dhruva relaxed his meditation and the universe was released from his grip. In recognition of his strength and determination, Vishnu gave Dhruva the pole star as his kingdom. Ever since then, in memory of the time when Dhruva brought the whole universe under his influence, the heavens have revolved around his star.
This story demonstrates the profound relationship between every living being and the universe itself — all beings, even devas , are linked in a complete whole of interdependence where each of their actions effects everyone else. Only Vishnu, the supreme, lies apart. Although all existence ultimately depends upon Vishnu, and although Vishnu is present even within the atom, Vishnu is simultaneously far, far beyond the limits of physical existence. Modern society, having left the forest far behind, needs to see the divine purpose of Vishnu that pervades all life.
In its search for technological advancement it is sowing seeds of destruction, seeds which can destroy the beauty and harmony of this world for a long time to come. At this crucial time the stories and teachings in this book are offered from the Vedas and their followers.