The following sentence from the last chapter of Sri Aurobindo’s Human Cycle reflects the psychological state of most of the present inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram:
The holding of an ideal becomes almost an excuse for not living according to the ideal; the existence of its institutions is sufficient to abrogate the need of insisting on the spirit that made the institutions.
(The Human Cycle, CWSA, Vol. 25, pp 262)
I translate it into more real terms. Pay lip service to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, bow down to their Samadhi and recite your favourite lines from their works on special occasions. (For it is only the special occasions that matter!) Go about leisurely within the security net provided by the Ashram, because that is not only practical but prudent. Get your daily food in time, get your laundry in time, do your daily physical exercises and avail of free medical care. And finally do a little bit of sadhana as and when you feel the rare inner pull!
But never upset the apple cart, don’t do anything that disturbs this safe routine; above all, don’t oppose the Trustees! Because these beneficent administrators want the institution to run, and therefore they are forced to make a hundred compromises with the ideal that the Ashramites cannot fulfil. So, yes, do sadhana only to the extent it does not have a negative effect on the existing framework, obey the Divine within insofar as it does not oppose the Trustees, who, in the absence of other claimants, can certainly be deemed to be representatives of the Divine without. In any case, be sensible enough to realise that the Integral Yoga is too difficult to practise. Know also that it is so multi-faceted and so multi-levelled that you can practically justify anything on the face of this earth and still claim to be a practitioner of the Integral Yoga. (Remember the famous quotation from Sri Aurobindo, “All life is Yoga”: what do you think it means according to Peter Heehs? It does not mean that all life can be a means of Yoga but that all life – ordinary life – is Yoga!) So indulge, loot and deceive as long as you keep up a sober face. Keep up the form, the nice exterior, the dignified silence and don’t be fussy about the true spirit. Otherwise the institution will not survive! And if the institution will not survive, where will you do your sadhana? (So you need the institution as and when the need for sadhana arises! But as of now, relax and take it easy because you are not ready for sadhana!)
I consider the issue of Peter Heehs as the ultimate manifestation of this attitude or state of things in the Ashram. It is the outcome of a long-standing policy of expediency of the present authorities of the Ashram, who always think in short-term and refuse to address the problems of Ashram life on a long term basis. Condone and push things under the carpet and suppress even violently whoever opposes them, has been the policy of the present Trustees, the foul dividends of which are now maturing much to their embarrassment. First, condone sexual looseness with the excuse of “Who is above it?” Next, condone molestation of ladies with the excuse of “Such things occasionally happen in a free society as ours!” Then condone sexual harassment leading to suicide with “How can we disclose such things to people outside? What will they think of us?” So it goes on to murkier areas, which for the moment I won’t mention.
Regarding money, it is the same story. First, pardon a little financial looseness because that is part of the running of an Ashram department, be it domestic or business: “Who is perfect here? Better to turn a blind eye on these petty things.” Next, condone financial misappropriation because it is inevitable: “What can you do but ignore the dishonesty of those who are capable of running the department? It is very difficult to get honest and efficient people. Most honest people are useless and incapable.” Finally, as it has happened in the present situation, when the Trustees have suddenly realised that they need the support of the inmates to save themselves, there is secret collusion between them and corrupt heads of departments, “You support us and we will ignore your misdeeds, or you pay us so much and we will protect you. You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” These three stages leading to a steep decline in ordinary moral values (forget about spiritual values), have led to the present downfall of the Ashram organisation. And before you know, the wrong people have hijacked the institution and spoilt the best minds or softened them into being helpless and meek bystanders.
In the realm of publication, it is the same. First, condone the foibles of an American brat who dares to say that Sri Aurobindo did not know good English. Why? “Because he works hard and is indispensable for the Archives Dept. After all, Indians cannot work so hard!” Then when he questions and devalues the Adesh that Sri Aurobindo received and unquestioningly followed and says that any man would have done the same whether inspired by Adesh or common sense, the then Archives manager has to defend Peter Heehs by saying: “Let us not make a big fuss about it. After all, it is the business of a historian to discuss the event in an intellectual way! He has the freedom to express his own opinion about it.” A few years pass by and the same undisciplined American shows his true colours in the public domain. He criticises practically all of Sri Aurobindo’s works, explores the "romantic" relationship between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the basis of documented gossip, and passes judgment on the success of their Yoga as if he knew more about their spiritual life than they themselves knew. This time Manoj Das Gupta, the Managing Trustee, comes to his rescue and condones him magnanimously because of his ingrained habit of condoning such wayward actions in the Ashram. And, in order to defend his inaction, he comes up with totally decontextualised statements such as:
1. “Sri Aurobindo can defend himself!” (Has he to defend himself in his own Ashram?)
2. “Nobody can insult Sri Aurobindo!” (So let us insult him to our hearts’ content!)
3. “We do not prescribe nor proscribe in the Ashram!” (Are not Sri Aurobindo’s books prescribed in his Ashram?)
4. “We do not want to make a religion of Sri Aurobindo!” (So in order to avoid making a religion out of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings, the first thing you do is to throw him out of his own Ashram!)
But in the case of those who protest against Peter Heehs or the Trustees, he takes severe action, issues show cause notices, throws out teachers from the Ashram school and threatens to stop medical treatment to them!
This is the hypocrisy of the present Managing Trustee. Many people, flabbergasted at his stand in the Peter Heehs issue, have often wondered: “How could such a talented, well-educated man, who has grown up under the Mother’s personal care, act in such an irresponsible manner?” Well, apparently this is not surprising at all to those who have known him from the last twenty years, especially those who have stood up boldly against him. In the past, he has always, always, condoned the guilty and mercilessly punished the victims whenever they did not keep silent. The present inaction in the Peter Heehs issue is thus a mere reflection of his old habit of condoning the guilty, this time at the risk of a possible downfall of the Ashram Trust. Unfortunately for him, the present victim is the entire community of disciples and followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who rose as one body in the beginning of this controversy and expressed their outrage through a signature campaign in September 2008. The fact that most of the signatories have been threatened into submission or silence means nothing. It only means that the feeling of outrage has gone underground and the day is not far when it will resurface again with renewed vigour and courage. After all, who will buy the argument of denigrating Sri Aurobindo in his own Ashram for the sake of free speech to one American?
Coming back to Ashram life, this slow process of deterioration over the last three decades is essentially due to the physical withdrawal of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother along with the gradual disappearance of the first generation of disciples that came to the Ashram leaving everything behind – family, friends, property. The present inmates (especially the ex-students of the Ashram School) do the reverse – they gather family, friends and fortune, and establish themselves firmly as well-settled citizens of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, with no intention whatsoever to consecrate themselves to Yoga. What can you expect therefore from the collective life of the Ashram? Only a good life of leisure, sports, art, drama, talks and other programmes reminding us of the great teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother without being able to do any justice to them.
It is therefore time to ask the all-important question, “Are the Ashramites condemned to die a slow spiritual death? Is there no other alternative but to honestly state that they are not ready for the Integral Yoga for which the Ashram was created?” Perhaps that is the unavoidable and shameful truth of Ashram life! If so, tomorrow they should be ready to go to the Court and say, “My Lord, the spiritual rules of Ashram are too difficult to follow for the present generation, therefore we request the intervention of the Honourable Court to change the rules of Ashram life in order to facilitate life in the Ashram. Until now we have been getting away by unofficially breaking the rules framed by the Mother, but now change the rules according to what is practically feasible for the present generation. If needs be, turn the Ashram into a secular institution with a little fanfare of “new world” and “new life” as its objectives to impress the public and get donations. Allow family life as in Auroville, the last institution that the Mother has created. Have a section for the householders, take care of their children and even arrange marriages for the inmates.” This is the writing on the wall which most Ashramites will tacitly accept but never openly acknowledge! Accept this proposition and the flood gates will open. People from all over India will flock the gates of the Ashram and a thousand applications will have to be processed in a month. For in this age of scarcity, who will miss this wonderful opportunity to have free food and free shelter with a cosy atmosphere!
This is the primary question that the inmates of the Ashram have to now face. This is the question that the authorities of the Ashram have long since avoided, knowing well that there are no easy answers to it. In the meanwhile, their long-standing policy of deliberate neglect of the problems of Ashram life has brought the community to the brink. The policy of not sowing the proper seeds in time cannot be indefinitely followed without a cumulative negative effect, for moral laxity inevitably leads to financial turpitude (sex and money go hand in hand), and criminality follows both from close behind. Is it not therefore time to declare to the world that the inmates of the Ashram are all normal people and not only cannot do, but refuse to do the integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for which this Ashram was originally created? I do hope that there is an alternative to this disastrous proposition!