12 Apr 2015

Comment on Jayantilal Parekh's article on Ashram – by Shiva

On 14th March the League of Lost Logicians a.k.a. Well Wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram reproduced “The Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its Administration”, an article published in Mother India in June 2001, which was “explicitly written in the backdrop of adversely critical articles that were being planted by anti-Ashram elements in the various newspapers and journals in order to malign the Ashram”, by which it means the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT) of the day. The article, more rightly a brochure, was undoubtedly compiled-written by the self-appointed ‘archivist-scholars’ of the Archives & Research Department set up by Jayantilal Parekh and since it was based on his viewpoint, it was hung round his neck. Aware that today’s SAAT faces a worse situation, this reproduction is prefaced by the League’s stale invective: “Given that history tends to repeat itself, and that anti-Ashram elements like Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade, R.Y. Deshpande and their ilk have been resorting to similar anti-Ashram smear campaigns in the media, we have found it beneficial to also reproduce this clear, logical and most honest piece about the Ashram and its functioning.”

On 22nd March, this site reacted with “Response to Jayantilal Parekh’s Article” – clear, concise, sufficient. Still, I will try to add or elucidate some of its points.

*

To begin with, adverse criticism and hostile attacks on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in newspapers and journals, booklets and books, began appearing right from the 1920s. But they didn’t bother, affront, or provoke Sri Aurobindo to the extent of reacting in the same way. As he explained to his disciples:

1) The prestige of an institution claiming to be a centre of spirituality lies in its spirituality, not in newspaper columns or famous people.[1]

2) What X or others think or say does not matter very much, after all as we do not depend upon them for our work but on the Divine Will only. So many have said and thought all sorts of things (people outside) about and against us, that has never affected either us [him or Mother] or our work in the least; it is of a very minor importance.[2]

3) If the praise and blame of ignorant people is to be our standard, then we may say good-bye to the spiritual consciousness. If the Mother and I had cared for praise or blame, we would have been crushed long ago. It is only recently that the Ashram has got ‘prestige’ – before it was the target for an almost universal criticism, not to speak of filthiest attacks.[3]

The brochure the Ashram published in 1934 was meant only for those outsiders who criticised out of ill-will or ignorance, as its preface proves it: “In order to remove many misunderstandings which seem to have grown up about his Ashram in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo considers it necessary to issue the following explicit statement.”

I quote two of its statements that are most relevant in our context:

1) The one aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is an inner self-development by which each one who follows it can in time discover the one Self in all and evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinise human nature.

2) An Ashram means the house or houses of a Teacher or Master of spiritual philosophy in which he receives and lodges those who come to him for the teaching and practice…. All depends on the Teacher and ends with his life-time, unless there is another Teacher who can take his place.

Perhaps the main reason why sadhaks of the Integral Yoga must “evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinise human nature” occurs in the first chapter of The Mother distributed to Ashramites on 21 February 1928:

These are the conditions of the Light and Truth, the sole conditions under which the highest Force will descend; and it is only the very highest supramental Force descending from above and opening from below that can victoriously handle the physical Nature and annihilate its difficulties.... There must be a total and sincere surrender; there must be an exclusive self-opening to the divine Power; there must be a constant and integral choice of the Truth that is descending, a constant and integral rejection of the falsehood of the mental, vital and physical Powers and Appearances that still rule the earth-Nature.

Inevitably therefore the falsehoods of these mental, vital and physical Powers and Appearances, the myriad forms of Desire and self-regarding Ego, and (to paraphrase the brochure) the age-old prejudices and imperfections of humanity, have never stopped attacking this Ashram which is  made up of diverse human types from many cultures and backgrounds, having different degrees of growth, under­standing and aspiration, thus leading to increasingly complex problems of disharmony. But as long as the disciples within and outside the Ashram were directly administered by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, their lives flourished and found their fulfilment to whatever degree they could because there was no limit or discrimination in Their understanding, benevolence, sympathy and effective consideration of the inner and outer growth and the material needs of each one of them.

It was only after the Mother began to withdraw from direct external control of the sadhaks and the administrators that disciples began to forget or overlook the conquests of “the falsehoods of the Powers and Appearances that still rule the earth-Nature”. And, with “the whispers of worldly prudence” snaking into their minds and lives, the holes and hurdles in their paths multiplied until the hours of the Unexpected began to crash upon them, individually and collectively. “Clearly, logically and honestly”, therefore, the reason for the unprecedented adversity that gripped the SAAT of the 1990s, was its failure to take into account the two fundamentals: a) this Ashram (quoting the brochure) being “a society made up of diverse human types from many cultures and backgrounds, having different degrees of growth, under­standing and aspiration, is bound at times to exhibit prejudices and imperfections; but it is in such a mixed milieu that life has to exist, flourish and find its fulfilment to whatever degree it can”; and b) the principles and practice of administration under Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were most evident in Their limitless, unbiased understanding, benevolence, sympathy and effective consideration of the inner and outer growth and the material needs of each one depending on their help and guidance.

This is why, now that that history of the 1990s has repeated itself in a far more magnified form, the following claims of the brochure are painfully hollow:

The primary aim… is to seek the Divine and come constantly nearer to Him. In this seeking, no social or political objectives come into play…. All enjoy equally the facilities provided by the Ashram. There is no deliberate inequality of treatment of members, no intentional social inequality; a privileged class has not grown up here…. The Ashram provides an atmosphere with ample comfort, security and freedom of life. . . .

Even a casual visitor who spends a few days here sees the deliberate inequality of treatment of members, the intentional social inequality, and the unconcealed conceit of the privileged classes. He learns that this is so because the Trustees  have not yet acquired the higher consciousness even halfway up to the level of the first Trustees appointed by the Mother; for the latter did to a large extent use (to quote the brochure) “spiritual means to effect dynamic solutions to the increasingly complex problems of life”.

The next relevant portion of the 2001 brochure:

If there are problems in the administration of the Ashram as an institution, solutions to them can only be found by people who have travelled the spiritual path shown by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother; and these people must have understanding and benevolence and sympathy for evolving humanity. There are no short-cuts on the path of transformation, but a combined effort does help. Problems of disharmony must find harmonious solutions by the parties concerned, if possible free from unnecessary controversies and their distorted display in the news media… exaggerated and misleading reports… will not provide enlightened solutions to them.

From the history that I have tried to put in a nutshell so far, it seems justified to presume that what had started out under Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as an Ashram of sadhaks wholly dedicated to Sadhana, is now effectively an Institution or a sort of Corporation run by the efficient lieutenants and hangers-on of the chief Trustees.

One may say that one of the basic reasons our problems of harmony seem impossible to solve in-house is that these chief Trustees have somehow missed or forgotten the central purpose of the Ashram that Nolini’s talk on 9 September 1976 puts across “clearly, logically and honestly”, enough for every Ashramite from the Managing Trustee to the over-managed sadhak:

“Mother told us long ago that our Ashram is an epitome of India. It represents all that is good in India and also all that is bad – all the bad qualities, all the weaknesses all that is crooked and false, dark and obscure. And the Ashram, being a concentrated centre of all that, represents it in an especially intense form.

Now the pressure from above has come to change things and for that purpose all the dark points, all that has to be changed and rejected, have been exposed. They have been exposed everywhere – in the Ashram and also outside the Ashram… the same defects and weaknesses, the same wrong movements... The Ashram was made to be a conscious collective centre where these things must change from within, not under external compulsion, and that is why the Ashram was not given an authority strong enough to dominate or control its members. Here, the change should be conscious and, as I said, from within.

And each one of us who is here in the Ashram is an epitome of the Ashram and all the good and bad elements and movements are in one way or another represented in us – even in the best ones the wrong movements can cast a shadow. So it is a task for each one, especially the so-called “best” ones, that is, those who are more conscious, to detect and reject and change all that is wrong and false in them and develop all that is true and good, and thereby help to change those very elements in the Ashram atmosphere as well as outside it. That is the only solution and the only remedy – to cure the ills individually, personally in one’s own consciousness. Then only a conscious collective consciousness can grow and develop in the Ashram with all these living and conscious units or cell and thereby change its own condition as well as the condition of India and also the condition of the world.

I say all this in view of the hard core, the strong seed that has to be formed, and out of which will sprout the future new creation…. Can the Ashram rise up to play its role? At least that was the Mother’s intention. It all depends upon its individual members.”

Surely our “so-called ‘best’ ones” today are the so-called ‘psychic beings’ and ‘advanced sadhaks’ who steer, to whatever degree they can, the decisions of the main Trustees. One would think a ‘psychic’ neither sighs nor kicks but these sigh at and kick those who don’t bow to their wishes, esp. Odiyas! Evidently, they have yet “to detect and reject and change all that is wrong and false in them and develop all that is true and good”, which is evident from the known and unknown failures that have resulted from their method of administration. Surely it was them Nolini warned, for he knew them all too well, that “the Ashram was made to be a conscious collective centre where these things (i.e. all human defects and weaknesses, and all wrong movements) must change from within, not under external compulsion, and that is why the Ashram was not given an authority strong enough to dominate or control its members.” But, at the first opportunity they promulgated the Rule Book of 2003 and arrogated the authority to admit or expel any Ashramite and dominate and control all Ashramites, that Sri Aurobindo gave solely and wholly to the Mother.

Finally, the 2001 brochure says:

Having admitted children into the Ashram and taken charge of them, the problems arising from their attaining puberty cannot be ignored…. Spiritual life is not imposed on the children growing up here. It is for them to decide the course of their life when they are ready to take a decision on their own. Spiritual life… is a call of the soul in its endeavour to conquer the lower nature.

Most if not all of our ruling ‘psychic beings’ and ‘advanced sadhaks’ were said to have grown, five or six decades ago, into the crème de crème of SAICE, hence well equipped to conquer their lower nature on taking up the Yoga. But it seems they still have yet to conquer the six Adversaries: Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, and Matsarya, only after which conquest alone can the real Yoga begin. And yet, they don’t stop claiming to have personally known the Mother – the Supreme, the Sole Reality – which would mean (going by Her last New Year Message) they are “conscious of the whole world at the same time” and “in all things see the Divine”. If this be true, how did all these petty social or political objectives come into play, and this complete siding with falsehood for the sake of preserving their own authority, at the cost of not only flouting the laws of the land but ignoring the very fundamentals of Ashram life?

*

Postscript: Shri Jayantilal Parekh (1913-99) was, by the sanskaras he inherited and his nurture at Santiniketan, a do-and-die soldier of peace, harmony and non-violence. His paintings, writings and speeches on any subject, even his dealings with others, always focussed on and highlighted the beauty and harmony of the deeper unmanifest Life of the Forest, and glossed over, dodged, or fudged the palpably discordant and unpleasant facts of its manifest Life. It was inevitable that SAAT commissioned him to pull it out of its self-created adversity.

But the fact that can never be overstressed is that though Jayantilal had the artist’s eye that sees and knows external and inner Nature and its creations thoroughly, he invariably chose to suffer than broadcast his opinions and grievances on the goings on involving him or others. This is why perhaps, of all the honest Ashramites used, chewed out and ejected (and they are a legion) by the past and present administrative heads of the Ashram, Shri Jayantilal’s was the poignant-most case. For instance, being a Gujarati mentored by Nandalal Bose, he associated with both the Gujarati and the Bengali groups he came in contact with here; but to his dismay both groups teased him for belonging to the other. The Ashram Press for which his vision and work earned national awards stabbed him in the back; the next two patrons used him and his contacts for their own aggrandisement, not hesitating to berate him when he refused to put their interests above the Ashram’s. But the deadliest stab came from the self-styled scholars he unwittingly pampered way beyond commonsense. Inexplicably however, those who most openly censured him for that now most openly pamper these same ‘scholars’ a thousand-fold!



[1] CWSA, Vol. 35: 693
[2] Ibid : 692-93
[3] Ibid :  694-95

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