1 Mar 2013

The Cords that Bind the Ashramites ― Baikunth

The present administration of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is not only a misfit in the current situation but a total anachronism. Everyone in the Ashram, including the Trustees themselves, agree that the vacuum left by the withdrawal of the Mother’s physical presence in November 1973 can never be filled up. Yet the administration acts as if it has legitimately replaced the Mother. The excuse that is given is that there is no other alternative to the existing system of one-man rule, which, when the Mother was physically present, was a divine dictatorship, and was gladly accepted by all her disciples and devotees. The demand for democracy was never voiced during the golden days of the Ashram, for all those who came to Her had the unflinching faith that whatever decisions She took were for their ultimate good under the existing circumstances. Nobody questioned Her wisdom, nobody said that She could be wrong in her decisions with regard to collective or personal matters. The underlying assumption was that She knew them better than they knew themselves. 

Obviously you cannot expect such allegiance to the present Trustees from the inmates of the Ashram! Then why don’t they rise up and assert themselves at this critical juncture when the fate of the Ashram is hanging in the balance between Truth and falsehood? Several reasons can be attributed for this acute psychological paralysis that has overcome the disciples of Ashram, especially its elders. Probably the foremost reason is that they have been habituated to the highly centralised authority of the Mother, the absence of which was first replaced by a group of spiritually mature Trustees, so that the need for a new system of governance was not immediately felt. This mature administration gradually waned away with the passing away of the Trustees chosen by the Mother Herself until Manoj Das Gupta occupied centre stage with his unmanageable ego. But the long standing habit of accepting a single authority for the sake of collective good has remained deep-rooted in the Ashram psyche. First it was obedience to the Divine, then it was obedience for the sake of continuing the Divine’s work, finally it is obedience for the sake of the preservation of the institution despite a substantial loss of the spirit that built the institution. This is the primary reason of the tacit or vocal support of the Trustees by the old guard of the Ashram, which had the good fortune of seeing the Mother and interacting with Her. These people have lingered in the past dreaming of those golden years, not realising that the clear stream of spirituality that had flowed during the time of the Mother is now polluted and needs urgent remedial action.

There is another reason for the present helplessness of the old guard. When a community spends a few decades together, human relationships naturally form between the members of the community, and these ties and attachments prevent disciplinary or corrective action. The tendency of those who are at the helm of affairs is therefore mostly to protect and condone, because how can you take action on your immediate circle of relatives, colleagues and friends, or the wider circle of their colleagues, friends and relatives? These constricting ropes criss-cross the community rendering the administration ineffective or practically impossible.  In the ordinary life outside the Ashram, the joint family has been broken due to the assertion of individual interests. Sons and daughters separate from their parents, build new houses, establish new businesses and migrate to foreign countries in search of better prospects. In the relatively small world of the Ashram, lasting relationships are informally formed, friends’ circles remain active, colleagues meet up daily and there is a steady increase of acquaintances with an ever increasing inflow of people who simply want to take economic advantage of the Ashram. Thus the once spiritual family, consisting of devotees who came from all parts of India and the world to unite under the Mother’s banner, has now become a big clanking joint family, which obstinately stands in the way of progress and indirectly causes the downfall of the institution. Teachers never get replaced, curriculums are never updated, renovations never take place, projects take decades to complete, departments sink into inefficiency and corruption is never stemmed. Why? Because if you do anything for the overall good of the community, it will hurt the individual interests of your relatives, close friends or long time colleagues. And if you disregard such considerations, you would turn life-long friends into bitter enemies, and the ripple effect of that hostility would reach you through those who are close to you.

There is also no retirement age in the Ashram which adds tenfold to its existing problems. Irresponsible bosses continue till the end in the name of the Mother’s work! (Did the Mother tell them not to give up their work even when they can hardly walk? Or are they merely using the Mother’s name to hold on to their little seats of power?) Stubborn inefficient heads of departments continue till they are admitted to nursing homes and corrupt in-charges jealously defend their territory till they collapse on their chairs. 

But the most important factor that has contributed to the presently abject state of affairs of the Ashram is the free fall of the consciousness of the inmates. In cricket terminology, spirituality has gone for a six, and the Yogic aim is publicly discouraged, laughed at, and even heckled. The famous secretary of the DisGrace Office has advised several new entrants not to try to do the sadhana because there is the likelihood of losing one’s head; he advised them instead to enjoy life at the Ashram. If the office of the Trustees sends such signals to newcomers, then what can you expect of them after a few years? As it is Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is difficult, but when you are officially encouraged not to take it seriously as long as you do some good technical or teaching work and obediently follow the instructions of the Trustees, then the downward slide is bound to happen. Even this happy go lucky attitude would have been alright had not crime entered through the backdoor, because this is the ideal opportunity for criminals – pretend to do Yoga and steal in the name of the Mother, balance your life between God and Mammon, make money while you pray and pray in order to make more money, drink and swear allegiance to the Mother and fulfil your lower desires while you publicly show your burning aspiration for the Divine. 

Intricately connected with this fall in the general level of consciousness, is a whole set of equations that work in the human mechanics of the Ashram. Verily, Sri Aurobindo said that the Ashram was a laboratory and if, on the one hand, we should be happy to note how thousands of people have turned towards the Integral Yoga, we have also reasons to be profoundly worried and reflect at how most have cheated themselves, how much in them has yet to be transformed and how many cords of attachment bind them to their egos despite their yogic pretentions. The so-called respectable old guard of the Ashram can hardly claim to be free of these weaknesses, and, as for the young, they don’t even pretend to be free because they justify everything in the name of freedom. In the present crisis, the real issues are not intellectual, moral or spiritual, on which we can legitimately differ with dignity. The real issues that affect the inmates of the Ashram are surprisingly mundane vital and physical considerations such as the following:

(1) fear of losing one’s present position of power (applies to departmental heads); 

(2) fear of losing one’s good impression in the eyes of the Trustees, which is so necessary for future political or material gains (specially applies to those fawning blokes who are waiting on the sidelines to be called by the Trustees and, when called, will come bounding like an Alsatian to its master and make a big public show of it); 

(3) preserving one’s independence and averting enquiry, objections and interference from the Trustees in one’s affairs (applies to corrupt departmental heads and people who have their own business concerns or independent Trusts); 

(4) special medical attention (costly knee operations, for example, have been remarkably effective in making senior inmates docile and obedient to the Trustees); 

(5) accommodation of their choice (impleaders who are proxies of the Trust in the ongoing court cases have been rewarded with premium accomodation); 

(6) vehicles (motorcycles for the upcoming chamchas and four-wheelers for the elite of the Ashram);

(7) sanction of extra allowances, fruits and vegetables, groceries, etc. and a number of small  favours.

These are the cords that bind the inmates of the Ashram, which either constrain them to be active supporters of the Ashram Trust or turn them into mute and helpless spectators in the present crisis.

1 comment:

  1. A very thorough and systematic analysis. Hidden in this crisis is a choice between truth and semblance, between reality and appearance. In institutions of this kind where the goal is so high and the demands are so great it might be unrealistic to expect a majority or even a significant minority to uphold the great and austere (at least relative to ordinary human weaknesses) principles of sadhana and tapasya that the Founders have demonstrated and enjoined upon others. What is important however is that those occupying positions of power and authority be individuals of great sincerity and dedication. Democracy which, at best, only represents the commonality or appeals to the interests of the average, will not be very effective. The leadership therefore must devolve upon an elite that stands for the Truth and not merely for the average human nature with its virtues and vices. Such a leadership does exist in the Ashram today and will always continue to do so since there are bound to be individuals who have already put their whole lives on the line for the sake of the Truth. The problem is that they do not possess the levers of INSTITUTIONAL power. The only way to ensure that OFFICIAL power does not fall into the wrong hands is to put in place a system of absolute and complete transparency. Leave falsehood, deception and duplicity no place to hide and it will not be able to find refuge again in the Ashram, let alone dominate it in any way. Mother Sri Aurobindo have themselves given us this guidance, that the one indispensable condition for yoga is sincerity and sincerity is nothing but transparency. It is towards the evolution and the implementation of such a system that the efforts of the "true" Ashram leadership must be directed. I am very happy to see that under the Mother's protective and nurturing Grace this effort already seems to be underway, and also to discern the shoots and saplings of the future that are already germinating in the fecund soil of this controversy. My faith is that this crisis will reveal itself to be not a destructive armageddon but a revelatory and transforming apocalypse for the Ashram.