15 Jun 2012

Democracy Sans Politics - by Aspirant

Most of us Ashramites are averse to politics and rightly so, considering the way it has been and is expected to be till there is a quantum leap in the social consciousness of man.

Whenever there is any talk of dissatisfaction with the way things are organized now, or of any aspiration for a better organizational structure, the typical Ashramite shrinks from it, considering it as politics.

There may be a justification for suggesting a better organization of the Ashram. The justification may arise from the following factors:

a) The current system encourages the misconception that the more powerful a position one occupies the higher or better his service to the Ashram is. This has led to a lot of busy-bodies trying to widen their sphere of influence as much as possible. (In the past it did work, as in the case of the physician who felt definitely justified in providing much better care to those who are considered powerful, thereby eventually becoming a Trustee, so that he can provide the “highest level” of service. But now that all the power has come to be concentrated in one multi-headed one, the last few Trustees were carefully chosen to guarantee that there are no dissenting voices.) Some of the current aspiring busy­-bodies are given more and more power in spite of their unscrupulous activities because they are the utility men for the authorities. Their enthusiasm towards work obviously lies in their seeking to enlarge their power base.

b) The total lack of transparency: Even in mundane organizations, the administrators have realized that transparency earns the trust and better co-operation from the group. But here transparency is present only in the exceptional case where the authorities feel clean and confident.

c) Blatant partiality of all kinds: It may take the form of a bias in favour of those who are in one’s own power-circle, those who are financially well-off, those who have been in some high position outside and come here for their retired life, those of the same language, and those who are aggressive and liable to be a nuisance. Surprising, but true, just being able to speak good English sometimes helps. People in the powerful ones' own circle always find it easier to get what they want even if it is a luxury, while those outside it may not get even their justified needs fulfilled. If an individual needs expensive medical treatment outside, it does not depend on the medical merit of the case, but on these other factors. Even long-term admissions in our own Nursing Home are not usually decided on medical merits. High level corruptions are overlooked while action is taken against some petty misdeeds. The same goes in case of allotment of better accommodations and change of departments, in insistence on or overlooking of the ‘8 hours-work-rule’, in taking 'disciplinary actions' against  Ashramites, in providing minor sops like the use of Ashram vehicles and in almost everything that needs the discretion of the authorities.

d) The tendency towards too much centralization in most matters: This was exactly what we all wanted when the Mother was the centre. But now when normal, ego-bound individuals are the authorities, the policy of centralization should be minimal, but in fact it is getting more rigorous than in the past.

Perhaps the whole issue of Peter's book has come about to highlight the declining values here which many of us have been gradually getting accustomed to and even beginning to accept slothfully, avoiding the inconvenience and work that it would take to at least express to the Trustees our aspirations for better administrative policies from them.

While no one can judge how sincere or advanced one is in his Sadhana or how open one is to the Mother, one can see when there is a great deterioration in values.

There should be a possibility that if most Ashramites feel that a person is unsuitable to be a Trustee, he can be removed.

The Trustees need not be brilliant, smart, intellectual, dynamic persons. They need not even be good administrators. They just need to be sincere to the values shown to us by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The brains and ability for administration are far less important and can be provided by people who are employed or chosen to assist them.

Politics is undesirable, true. But among human beings not yet ‘supramentalised’ and not even ego-free yet, democracy is desirable. There is a progress towards democracy all over the world. We definitely did not want democracy when the Mother was directly running the Ashram and She had the total, egoless, Divine power. But that does not mean that the same should be the case now. Circumstances are very different and the organization needs to be different too. We need not be afraid of change. It is possible to have democracy without politics. It is easily possible if the current authorities decide in its favour, and it is possible with some difficulty if they don't co-operate.

In a spiritual organization, the ideal is that the top organizers are people who did not try to or care about being the leaders but happen to do it because the karma has come to them. True, some of the current Trustees did get the post handed to them without trying, but as pointed out, they were chosen for their special quality of being a 'yes-man' to the top one.

So how can one find such individuals who may be better instruments in providing the right values? We believe that, whatever may be the defects of the Ashramites, even though most of them are not sadhaks, most of them are devotees of the Mother and open to the Mother at least to some extent. If this assumption were not true, there is no raison d'etre for this Ashram. If the assumption is true, then a collective will of the Ashram, exercised in a serious matter, cannot go totally astray. In fact, as a collective will they are less likely to commit blunders than as individuals. If democracy can be suitable anywhere, the Ashram surely deserves to benefit from it. Most of the Ashramites are at least a little conscious and know at least to some extent their fellow-Ashramites.

There can be democracy without politics. Politics arises when there is a person or a group that strives to get a position, even with the avowed intention of serving the community. There are monasteries, where the inmates select the administrators from among themselves by a secret ballot, but where there are no candidates. Each individual may indicate a few names – in order of preference. No candidates, no canvassing, no politics. Canvassing with candidates is likely to lead to unnecessary divisions and animosities. And in any case we want individuals who did not scheme for or desire or care about the position, but it was just given to them as a part of their service.

It may happen that the top ones who are selected cannot be persuaded to take up the responsibility, but those among the top who are willing, can do so. We know how the Master and the Mother put persons into work that was new to them or even apparently totally unsuitable for them, but how the individuals did justice to their given work with the Divine guidance.

Other modalities such as how the ballot will be done, how many will be selected, how long the tenure will be, how the replacement or rotation will take place, etc. can be worked out. In this period of change, the front-liners must ensure that the movement is not sullied by those with a private agenda, personal grudges, those with on-going disputes with the authorities arising out of personal reasons, etc. Let the movement be kept pure, at least in its active front, even if that would mean a diminished number.

The typical Ashramite needs to be reassured that there is no personal agenda, that there can be democracy without politics, that one need not be afraid of change, and that the elected ones need not be dynamic busy-bodies or intellectuals or good administrators. It would take a while to convince the typical Ashramite in these matters, but it must be done before his choices are asked for. Only after such a preparation, an initial ballot may be taken to find out if the majority of Ashramites want a change. Later the specific modalities may be worked out.

One glaring problem in such a situation would be, especially in the beginning of the change, that a group, perhaps the one already entrenched, may gang up (as if they have unofficially put up a candidate), in which case they are sure to be elected. Some means must be found, at least as a temporary measure, whereby this can be prevented. (As a temporary necessity, candidates may be necessary in the initial stages. After informing the Ashramites that this would be an initial necessity on the way towards a ballot without candidates and canvassing, the exercise may be undertaken.) Or one may be able to arrive at some method by which candidacy can be avoided even from the beginning. There need be no fear. If there is a sincere aspiration in most of us, the Mother will guide us. And even if there is faltering in the initial steps, there will be a guidance towards the right organization through the faltering steps.

Let us pray to the Mother for guidance.

By Aspirant S.


  1. The present situation demands the organization to be reformed. As such the benifishiaries ( particularly the Ashramites) should courageously deal with the matter without fear. The change is indispensable and it should be based on democracy with good willfor the spiritual growth of the Ashram. The present authorieties are expected to decide in its favour.
    J N Samal.

  2. Comment by Jadunandan Samal:

    The present situation demands the organisation to be reformed. As such the benificiaries (particularly the Ashramites) should courageously deal with the matter without fear. The change is indispensable and it should be based on democracy with good will for the spiritual growth of the Ashram. The present authorieties are expected to decide in its favour.

    J N Samal.

  3. Comment by Ritwik Banerjee:


    Though Mother didn’t give value to administered justice, we may think over it in a different perspective for society. What does society expect from the Ashram and especially its managers and trustees if not to be living examples and beacon lights for its educators, law-makers, leaders, business entrepreneurs and new generation members for an evolution towards a collective perfection? Spirituality will ensue inevitably as a flowering naturally thereafter. In the present context, this Ashram has both blind and seeing devotees in its ambit spread all over the world. There may be fake types also who do not bother about the Ideal. When Mother and Sri Aurobindo were in their physical bodies and guiding disciples, there was no problem. They decided in their light in each case. Now it is all a complex business. We have read in books that when Vatel, a domestic help in the early years in the Ashram, was in danger and in a dire situation, his wife wept for his life and Sri Aurobindo’s compassion saved his life from the dire consequences of his “small” mistake with which he had threatened life in the Ashram! But here, Peter Heehs and his wife, if he has one, are not praying or weeping before the Master and the Mother for a reprieve but claiming it from us as a right to his freedom. That he can have always, by all means. But how should he have it in the name of “Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga”? This is the point.

    (R. Banerjee)

  4. A change is inevitable:
    The despotism of the present group of trustees is not healthy for Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Current events around the world show the fall and replacement of despots by a movement towards democracy. By their mis-management during the recent years, the trustees have amply proved themselves incompetent for the trust and love of devotees and Ashramites. Hence, they should willingly step down in a peaceful process, and extend their helping hands to reconstitute the board with new faces who are trustworthy and caring. The Mother will bless them for doing so. Otherwise, the writings are on the wall for all to see. They may be replaced with more unpleasant and violent means, as is the trend worldwide.
    This is not the time for the Ashramites to give room to fear. With faith in the Mother’s name, may they proceed ahead on the path for reformation and a new order. As we understand, some courts have suggested that the members of charitable trusts should change every 5/7 years. Long-entrenched trustees are not healthy for the Ashram, unless they have the personality and heart to stay clear of petty ego.

  5. The Mother had a dream for Her Ashram in the name of Sri Aurobindo at Puducherry where all human beings of goodwill who have asincere aspirationcould live freely and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth, a place of peace, concord and harmony where the needs of the spiritand the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyments.In this place titles and positions would be replaced by oppertunities to serve and organise.....And yet this dream is in the course of reality; that is what we are striving for in Sri Aurobindo Ashram..
    Are suitable endeavours are being taken up in the Ashram to materialise The Mother's dram? The recent evil actions of Peter Hees against the Master and The Mother and full support given by the present authority to his action ignoring valued opinions of the Ashramites, devotees and notable public servants have stood obstacles on the way which should be removed for the fulfilment of the Mother's dream.All should ,therefore, work actively with prayer to Her.
    J N Samal.