24 Jun 2012

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its Internal Management ─ by Ranganath Raghavan

Our world is the sphere of imperfection and limitation, but it is moving towards perfection, though through a long, laborious aeonic process of evolution. But the affairs of men cannot wait for that far-off ideal to be materialised. Therefore the search for improvement in every field is constantly present and operative—again through stumblings, errors and blunders.

There is absolutely no doubt that, after the Mother  left her body, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has been beset with problems — externally, due to the pressure, impact and invasion of world forces and negative influences; internally, due to our own errors (inevitable, be it noted) of judgment, mismanagement and partisan attitude.  How then do we solve this fundamental problem not peculiar to our own institution?

When a spiritual institution is led by spiritual, highly enlightened beings, capable of right action and control of the forces referred to above, they have access to superior powers beyond the mental plane from where solutions are initiated and worked out. The higher the consciousness of the leader, the more the control and better the management of day to day events.

Let us note clearly that the problems spoken of earlier were not absent in the early stages of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. But Mother and Sri Aurobindo had recourse to a higher vision and a higher corrective action. They had the keys to the Master Control Room as it were, where the switches that determine and govern the lower levels are located.

But when ordinary human beings, with all their limitations, misjudgments, misunderstandings and incapacities come into the arena, problems are inevitable. This is what we are witnessing today.

All men of goodwill must think out ways and means to attenuate these problems, if not solve them. It is not enough to think or say that “the Mother will take care of everything” and remain indolently inactive. This is a tamasic attitude that is ignorant and useless. The reliance on the Mother is always valid, nay indispensable, but our responsibilities cannot be shrugged off by that easy, shallow excuse. Heaven helps only those who help themselves—even when the action is ignorant, limited, but done with goodwill and sincerity. What then is to be done?

We must focus on the core problems of the institution itself and not on individual problems, which can multiply themselves without end. Are there any glaring defects in our organisation which we can try to solve?  

It is a well recognized truth that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And this need not be grossly apparent but can happen in a very subtle manner. That is why everywhere in the world, dictatorships are frowned upon and in democracies no one is allowed to be in power for more than five years, with a possible extension only in the case of a really good performance. And we know that, in the spiritual field, this is even more true—that the ego and the vital are full of impurities, pretence, posturing and self-deceit (remember Vivekananda’s simile of the dog’s tail which reverts to its natural crookedness, however much you try to straighten it). And this truth is very conspicuous when the leaders feel secure in a situation where their position is unassailable, permanent, unquestionable and cannot be dislodged from their seats. This is a dangerous arrangement that cannot be allowed to continue. 

Therefore the present arrangement by which trustees are appointed for life and their successors are chosen by themselves must be put an end to.

But this involves a legal arrangement and the best brains in the country must be tapped for this most important work. The exact details can be worked out in many combinations, depending on the advice given by the legal luminaries and their advice should be taken in our best interests.

Basically, every five years, change must be made and the choice of the trustees must be left to the beneficiaries of the Trust. It is important to remember that the Trustees are servants and not masters. At present the practical arrangement is almost the opposite. It is possible that a large, representative body is empowered to make the appointments. This body may consist of  senior sadhaks above 70 years of age or of sadhaks having a residential record of more than 50 years in the Ashram.

But these are ideas thrown off the cuff for general consideration by all well wishers: the final arrangement must be made after legal consultations.

It must be recognised and realised that these suggestions are being made in the best interests of our institution and are absolutely bonafide. They are impersonal suggestions not aimed at any particular individual and are free of any malicious content.  Of course, the sitting trustees will not accept the arrangement easily and will put up a stiff resistance. It is to be hoped that a smooth change-over can be executed with harmony and restricted to a completely internal process. But if external pressure becomes inevitable and necessary, we must not shirk from that possibility either.

All suggestions are most welcome. The necessity of these changes must be realized by the beneficiaries of the trust and must be made known to all.

It is a truism to say that problems are best known to those who face them and not someone sitting far away and uninvolved in the day to day action. This is the reasoning behind the Panchayati Raj in the Villages. So, in the Sri Aurobindo Udyog Trust, who could be the best trustees except the departmental heads? There could be a system of rotation every two or three years and a new set of  departmental heads taking over in regular intervals. Of course, they will be assisted by legal and financial experts. 

Further thoughts on the question of the SAAT:

In the new arrangement, it may be asked how the future problems will be more easy to solve, given the fact that all human beings are plunged in ignorance.

The first point is that the institution has a greater chance for improvement, because fresh ideas, newer methods can be tried out, whereas the old group will not be easily willing to change their fixed habits. The second point is that if bad management continues, the responsibility is now not laid at the feet of the same old setup. The blame, as well as the credit is now shared by a greater representative group. The third point is that, in any case, the possibility of a change is always available to the community. The fourth point is even if the administration is no better than the previous one, we have lost nothing and the possibility of a change for the better is always open.

The main point is that the existing trust deed was drawn up in a hurry when conditions were completely different. The Mother was present then and no one visualised the problems that would arise half a century  later.

Besides, one knows that there is always a deep rooted resistance to change in human nature.  One may indeed ask on the contrary as to what are the valid objections to a new arrangement. Even if there are any, other suggestions are always welcome.

The most important thing, however, is whether the community is convinced of the necessity of a change in the administrative set-up.

Points to be kept in Mind:

These suggestions are being made in the best interests of the Institution, although they will be opposed by some who stand to lose their positions in the organisation. Their acceptance or rejection will be decided by the whole community, who are likely to be affected the most.

The proof of what has been said above is there for all to see in the recent events concerning Peter Heehs, who sitting in the centre of the department that possesses all of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s manuscripts, apart from so many other private documents, cold-bloodedly denounces, drags down the Gurus to the level of  ordinary mortals and our Trustees, far from taking punitive action, actually are trying their best to defend  this perfidious character, in spite of the mounting anger and just resentment of the entire Ashram community.

The changes suggested are only a rough framework. Many details have to be worked out and certainly lawyers and experienced administrators should be consulted, apart from the elders of the Ashram itself.

In fact all suggestions are welcome as they aid the finalisation of the proposed changes.  

September 14, 2008                     

Additional points written in June  2012

Points that we are quite certain about: 

1. The present system of life-long appointment of trustees is NOT satisfactory. This must change.

2.  An improvement of administrative procedures must necessarily include:

a)  Openness, transparency, willingness to answer all legitimate enquiries, written      documents for all  appointments, change of work, dismissals (if any, with written reasons after due legal enquiries conducted transparently).

b)   No ad hoc decisions should be made based on personal preferences, likes and dislikes.

3.  All outside interference, whether governmental or semi-official is to be avoided. But if there is stiff resistance from the powers that be, then outside help to initiate the internal modifications has necessarily to be considered.

4.  Some suggested changes to the Institution are:

a)  No trustee to be appointed for a life term, but only for a fixed period of time.

b)  Selection of trustees must be a prerogative of the beneficiaries

c) A larger body of elders, consisting perhaps of departmental heads and elders of the Ashram, perhaps with a minimum of 40 years of service should decide the appointment of the next set of trustees.

d) A system of checks and balances is essential and need of the hour.

e) All major decisions must be endorsed by a majority of the trustees and never by a single person forcibly thrusting his opinion on the others.

Let us not be afraid of change. Nothing is permanent in this world, and change for the better has always to be considered sympathetically and positively. If outside interference becomes inevitable because of resistance from the present management, which is afraid of losing power or is loathe to give up their well-entrenched  positions,  then efforts must be made to get governmental or judicial help to kick-start the internal changes with a temporary administrator until the new system is in place.   

Let us hope that the cooperation of all will be forthcoming willingly.


  1. Good the process has been initiated. It is necessary that a careful thought be given to several details.

    Man can accept his fate, he can refuse. ...
    O man, the events that meet thee on thy road,
    Though they smite thy body and soul with joy and grief,
    Are not thy fate; they touch thee awhile and pass;
    Even death can cut not short thy spirit’s walk:
    Thy goal, the road thou choosest are thy fate.

  2. As this is a spiritual organisation, the priority for anybody given the power must be determined by his spiritual capacity. His relation with the Divine his or her commitment to fulfill the Divine's work. The number of years one has been there is important but more important is the sincerity, the straight forwardness, the simplicity and the intensity to make the Ashram work. The individual's capacity to represent the Divine's work. All those who have the living link should be given the represntative positions. That will bring in the safety for the Ashram and avoid the misuse of their position for personal importance and rule. At present the Departmental Heads may be in power because of their relation with Manoj and not with the Divine. Here the work behind the appearance is that of the supramental descent, so the selection for the people representing such a management should be determined on those lines.
    A question does arise as how to measure the spiritual level of the candidate, as we have sadhaks who are genuinely doing sadhana and there are those who are genuinely showing others that they are doing the sadhana. As the consciousness of the individual does not lie, the truth can be easily detected and the fake eliminated. And the ones who are not spiritually active do not qualify for Ashram management.
    These can be some ground rules, and age too can be given priority for the right functioning of the job at hand. We are here to be ever young but that does not mean that what we cannot do ourselves anymore, we will continue working in the same job even when we have become unfit presently. All fitness coaches who are in the grounds must be fit and pass a basic fitness level themselves, all teachers must have their standards of qualifications. Every position in work and management must have a right training attached to it to ensure the right workings and functionality worth of the Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's name. A quality working control group can be formed to ensure the high standards are maintained and improved.... All are disciples and seekers for the Truth, and should be treated with respect, kindness and love.
    The young and sincere should be given the opportunities to do the Divine's work. Let Radhikaranjan be nominated for the Trusteeship.

  3. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - The present trustees at the Ashram appear to be vivid examples of this theory.
    Symptoms, and at least a semblance, of this form of behaviour is seen, not only at the Ashram but also at few other centres outside, where the incumbent who is thus inclined, having become a ‘trustee for life’, feels comfortable enough to play dirty politics and spoils the harmony in the organisation and all the good work done by the sincere others. Thus, this non-functional model of ‘trusteeship for life’ must go, and sooner the better. A really good and competent person, who has provided trusted and dedicated service, should have no problem of getting re-elected to a fresh term on his own merit. A suitable and appropriate electoral body (or empowered body) has to be specified (to suit the organisation) who will play the significant role with the election/selection process, and to monitor (or at least having an eye on) the performance of the incumbents. Such an open and transparent trust body has to be the aim for all organisation. We pray for the Mother’s Force to act, and to let this happen in Her institutions during this year 2012 itself. We look forward to the development of such a new model at the Ashram, so that others can follow.

  4. Why so rigidity? Mother has tressed upon great flexibility.In Her word: " one must know how to avoid becoming a slave to one's habits however good they may be; the greatest flexibility must be maintained so that one may change them each time it becomes necessary to do so." The Mother established Sri Aurobindo Ashram with m dream to show a completely new light to humanity.In Her dream published in Bulletin, August 1954,She had hoped this place to be "a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to surmount his weakness and ignorance, to triumph over his incapacities and limitations, a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions,the search for pleasure and material enjoyment, a place where titles and positions would be replaced by oppertunities to serve and organise, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely obeying a single authority, that of the supreme truth." In the end She has said " that is what we are sriving for in Sri Aurobindo's Ashram and we hope we may one day be able to present to the worled as a practical and effective way to emrge from the present chaos, to be born into a new life that is more luminous and true." As it is seen The Mother's dream is far away to be materialised and the situation is going from bad to worse day by day under the present management.Hence necessity arises to reform the present management. The Trust will remain irrevocable but the portfolio- holders should be changed after a fixed tenure of work say after 5 years for the greater interest of the institution.It will be wise if the present Trustees will wish to quit voluntarily to pave the path for the new body of management.
    J N Samal

  5. (1) Bearing on the current post here is a set of e-mail exchanges between three friends.

    Another aspect that may need to be spelt out, though it is difficult to get right, is the goal of the SAAT. For example, is it the preservation of the legacy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the propagation of their ideals, forward progress along the lines laid down by them, etc. If not done, essentially the outlined procedure boils down to what the beneficiaries want, shifting it from what the trustees want—both being rather short of ideal.

    It is a very difficult question.

    Theoretically, the aim is very clear: The practice of the Integral Yoga. But practically, we have travelled a long way from that ideal. Note two important points.

    1. If the aim was only reaching the Divine Consciousness, without the transformation of the body-life-mind, then the aim would have been narrower and probably more focussed. But when the Integral Yoga accepts all life activities, then only the really serious sadhaks remain focussed, the rest falling into the groove of the activities themselves, without the inner attitude which alone would give meaning to the acceptance of normal activities of life.

    2. Secondly, even when the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were present, they themselves have acknowledged the fact that the Ashram was a representative figure of the whole world. In other words, there were many sadhaks representing the world outside. So?

    It is also to be noted that the majority of the persons coming nowadays, are coming, only to have a job and a comfortable living. No intention of sadhana, let alone the Integral Yoga.

    We have observed the gradual deterioration in the atmosphere after the passing of the Mother. Even Mother has made damaging remarks about the Ashram, in the Agenda.

    So where does that leave us? Of course, we can shout from the roof tops that the aim of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the Integral Yoga. But what is the ground reality?

    Complex situation, to say the least.

    BUT, LET ME STRESS IN THE END, that whoever sincerely wants to do yoga in the Ashram, can certainly do so and will be given all the help needed. The plugs points of spiritual help are of course there in the subtle planes. But the sadhaks must find them and make the connections. That is still very much possible.

    Thanks for the interest and the comments.

  6. (2) Bearing on the current post here is a set of e-mail exchanges between three friends.

    We are essentially talking of a dichotomous situation which is not uncommon in any institution when its powerful founder or head or president is no more there. Under these circumstances one need not pitch the want of one against the want of another, the wants of the beneficiaries and the wants of the trustees in our specific case. None of these wants is holier or uglier than the other. In fact that is not an issue; it is a recognition of the kind of stuff we are made of. Therefore what we have to look for is the possibility of having an enlightened operating system. In this regard the world experience and the experience of some of the established institutions such as Ramakrishna Mission might provide some guidelines. None has studied these, also realising that human nature is human nature everywhere.

    The question is, rather one of the questions is, what should be the objective of the management? Is it to maintain the status quo, carry on the show? Is it to bring the creative elements of affirmative spirituality as a part of life-dynamism if the collective has to prepare itself for higher and nobler ideals of spirituality in the worldly play? After all, the Mother established a School and it has a purpose to provide opportunities to be better human beings ready for stepping into the race of Tomorrow. She has established a system of physical culture that the body-consciousness awakes to be a better instrument for the work of the Divine. And so on and so forth.

    It is in that direction that the management should organise the institution, and leave the rest to the initiative and nobility of the aspiring individual. ...

    Well, this needs considerable elaboration. But I’ll stop here at present. You may like to add your reflections which, after due cogitation, can be made available to others also.

    The creative possibilities and progress will come from the initiative of the individuals and the community. The SAAT as a body formally need not lead their development, bit should not dampen
    Hence I'd make a distinction between the goal of the Ashram and the goal of the SAAT. There is no need to define the former, the Ashram being the house of the guru. Perhaps, for the latter, it could be to preserve the legacy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and to maintain an environment conducive to the practice of their yoga by the members and beneficiaries.

    “...to preserve the legacy...”—that is one aspect of it, the static requirement is to be taken care of. But though necessary it is not sufficient. There has to be also the dynamic fulfilment. It is that which will make the Institution great and living, and worthwhile, a throbbing-striving centre playing its role in the context of a larger collective.

  7. one can not measure other's scale of spirituality.it is purely a personal matter.but one can measure the other's capability and can some how judge one which is needed for a succesful management.sri aurobindo ashram is basically concerned with spirituality,but not with the traditional religiosity only.therefore it is very difficult to catagorise or to separate the real devotees and the fraudulants.
    so,SAAT the management committee of sri aurobindo ashram should be somehow different than the management group of the NGOs and the traditional religious management groups.it can perform well if its member's perfermance,dedication ,number of years spent as an ashramite,the age factor must be taken to consideration. if the committee will be a short term committee,if it does not become a prey of regional feeligs and coterie mindset,if it does not go through hidden agenda,if it does not hamper the asramite's due respect cum personality cum actual dignity, does not disturb their scope for sadhana and research,then SAAT will not become an ordinary one or a bad NGO.the spiritual movement of the Mother and SriAurobindo should not go with the APASHAKTIES to help them.
    it is to be remembered that the committee should must strictly follow the orientalist view of the Mother and Sri Aurovindo.otherwise it would set another trend in future in the name of SriAurobindo Ashram-Pondicherry,but the present generation may not be alive to rectify this.

    1. When we are not spiritually active then such questions do arise and spirituality is seen as something incompetent for management. Here spirituality does not mean the renunciation of the world, or the color of the clothes, but a living relationship with the Divine, your contact with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. And if you don’t have such contact then you should not be in any management of the Ashram.
      The degree your ego is abolished and replaced by the influence from above you are a worthy candidate. Not my will, but Thy will be done. That is our spirituality. And it is a superior state of consciousness, not in any way inferior. Our whole aim, basis and the work of the future is dependent on this consciousness, to live not by one's personal limitation, ego, preferences, etc., but by union with the Divine, the aspiration from above, the guidance from within. The degree one follows this Divine Will, the degree one's ego is abolished, the degree one is active spiritually, one is fit for the Ashram management.
      In this one does not need to figure out mentally everything, but takes the guidance from above, from Them whose Ashram it is. One uses Their guidance for what is needed and wanted, for the right choices, for the right functioning. Not groping in the dark but an ever luminous, natural, healthy working which works for all. In such hands the management will be proper and safe that is the point.