25 Apr 2015

Sampdas on Jayantilal Parekh’s Article on Sri Aurobindo Ashram

It is no surprise then that the  Wellwishers of the Ashram Trust, knowing too well which side of the bread is buttered, have no qualms about keeping quiet when Sri Aurobindo himself is derated, but take up cudgels and loudspeakers on behalf of the Trustees. The guidepost for them is that those who question the wrong actions of the Trust are necessarily heretics and their actions are blasphemous. However, on their part, they are prone to take the easy path of “we see no wrong, we hear no wrong, we speak no wrong” on the actions of the Trust. They expect that wrongs against the Divine and sadhaks be not addressed at all by chanting the rhetoric, “the Trustees can do nothing wrong and people should accept everything that they do with the non-questioning maxim of conduct that “thou shalt not think or reason or question the Trustees even if they are wrong.” Their fundamental fallacy owes to the misplaced identification of the administrative outfit of the Ashram Trust with the Ashram itself. [extract – read full article below]
                       
Sampdas on Jayantilal Parekh’s Article 
on Sri Aurobindo Ashram

This site has carried the views of one  “Irrational Ashramite“ (on March 22, 2015) and of one  “Shiva”  (on April 12, 2015)  on the article of late Shri Jayantilal Parekh,  which was earlier released on the portal of the Wellwishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. At the outset, I have my doubts as to whether the piece supposedly written by Shri Jayantilal conforms to his original article, since any write-up from older times can be twisted in the name of editing, as has been the case of the Archives editors correcting and altering the writings of even Sri Aurobindo, despite the express orders of The Mother that the writings of Sri Aurobindo should not be altered or edited. But even if it is a faithful reproduction of  Shri Jayantilal’s original article, for the most part it is out of date; and its present resusciation looks as if the wellwishersofsaa  are trying to clutch at anything, even if it has the strength of straw, in trying to present a rosy picture of the  present state of affairs in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, or put up the holy attitude of an acolyte to the high priests of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in the personages of the current crop of Trustees. The wellwishersofsaa perhaps have noted that  the Ashram Trust, which is a closed club, has been wielding autocratic  powers in denying food, shelter or medical facilities even  to the regular  inmates (who had  been admitted to the Ashram by the Mother herself), if  they  dared to raise questions of probity,  ethics  and malfeasance against the Trust.  

It is no surprise then that the  Wellwishers of the Ashram Trust, knowing too well which side of the bread is buttered, have no qualms about keeping quiet when Sri Aurobindo himself is derated, but take up cudgels and loudspeakers on behalf of the Trustees. The guidepost for them is that those who question the wrong actions of the Trust are necessarily heretics and their actions are blasphemous. However, on their part, they are prone to take the easy path of “we see no wrong, we hear no wrong, we speak no wrong” on the actions of the Trust. They expect that wrongs against the Divine and sadhaks be not addressed at all by chanting the rhetoric, “the Trustees can do nothing wrong and people should accept everything that they do with the non-questioning maxim of conduct that “thou shalt not think or reason or question the Trustees even if they are wrong.” Their fundamental fallacy owes to the misplaced identification of the administrative outfit of the Ashram Trust with the Ashram itself. It bears repetition that the Ashram comprises of The Mother, Sri Aurobindo and their disciples and devotees, and not wayfarers, birds of passage, charlatans, tourists, and those who want to utilise its facilities for a smug life without any spiritual interest.

I have therefore tried to run through the essay purportedly authored by Shri Jayantilal Parekh and added my comments/ views on the issues raised, more so in today’s context. The essay in the name of Shri Jayantilal is given in italics and is followed by comments considered appropriate so as to present an objective and integral view. What I write may be hurting to some, but truth is truth. Let us face the reality, realise the fallacy and falsehood eating into the vitals of the Ashram, make amends by a course correction in our thoughts, words and deeds – in short, renew our commitment to utilise our lives in the Light of the teachings of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The article is offered by this devotee at the Feet of The Divine Mother.

 
[Preface by The Wellwishers of SAA Site]
We have recently come across an article that was written by the late Jayantilal Parekh, a senior and greatly respected member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, that was published in the June 2001 issue of the Mother India magazine. This article describes the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its administration and was explicitly written by him 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.

So adverse criticism was there even then! Were the underlying mistakes ever addressed? If so, things would not have come to such a pass as of now with bigger dimension. And why at all is “criticism” labelled as planted?

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,

I never thought that Raman Reddy, Sraddhalu Ranade and R.Y. Deshpande have the sole preoccupation of a smear campaign against the Ashram Trust. But judging by the write-ups in the Wellwishers’ site in recent years, the trio (along with Alok Pandey off and on), are attributed as those behind every disturbance in Pondicherry! It is extremely generous of the wellwishers site to pay credit where it is not due and bury their heads in the sand when confronted with the real mischief mongers of the Ashram, viz, those who undermine the very spiritual teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

we have found it beneficial to also reproduce this clear, logical and most honest piece about the Ashram and its functioning. As the article is comprehensive and detailed, it runs for a considerable length.

I object not for the sake of only semantics; but one fails to understand what is meant by “most honest piece”? The level is superlative – are there badges like “more honest” and “most honest”? Honesty is indivisible and it does not need qualifying prefixes.

Moreover, Shri Jayantilal’s article was meant for those who did not know then much about the Ashram. The discerning devotees of The Mother in present times as well as the hapless inmates of the Ashram know fully well the present environment of negatives and misdeeds; hence the article in the name of Jayantilal is in some parts factual, and for the rest academically and rhetorically theoretical.

The article however is divided in several distinct parts that cover the following topics which can also be read individually, depending on one’s interest or preference:

1) Aim of the Ashram
2) Growth of the Ashram
3) Membership of the Ashram
4) The Ashram Trustees
5) Functioning of the Ashram
6) Ashram Finances
7) Ashram Property
8) Educational  and Cultural Life
9) Sex and Spiritual Life
10) Conclusion

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram 
And Its Administration
By Jayantilal Parekh

[During the past few years, several articles critical of the Ashram have appeared in newspapers and journals. These reports contain much incorrect, distorted and exaggerated  information, conveying a wrong impression of the Ashram.

The ideal answer to such critics would have been to come out with the correct, undistorted, unexaggerated facts, and not hide behind walls of secrecy invoking the names of the Masters. While in the past these reports may not have been entirely correct, the present issues are neither incorrect or distorted or exaggerated. The kind attention of the readers is invited to the CNN-IBN video titled “Divine Trap” given on this site on March 16, 2015 and the English transcript of the Raj TV video posted on November 20, 2013. The maladies  afflicting the Ashram commune such as nepotism, misuse of authority, embezzlement, property alienation, working for personal profit,  sexual harassment et all mentioned in the videos have painfully become all too apparent to the public at large.

The following statement is an attempt to answer some of the points raised in the articles and, more generally, to explain the aim, character and functioning of the Ashram as it has evolved since its founding in 1926.]

It is a good idea to recount the aim, character and functioning of the Ashram as originally conceived, as it would bring out in stark contrast the present situation of its downslide.  How many miles we have moved away from the purity of those days within a short span of four decades after the Mother left her physical frame!

Aim of the Ashram
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram was not conceived as a cloister for the recluse. It was not meant to be a place for the exclusive pursuit of the Absolute, divorced from the activities of life.

To many it would appear that the Ashram commune has presently become a “recluse” far removed from the teachings of the Masters. It has become more a place for the exclusive pursuit of a comfortable worldly life and less for the pursuit of a life divine.

It was, on the contrary, intended to be a centre of life with the Divine as its base and growth in the divine consciousness as its aim. It has a creative purpose, many-sided and complex, which is part of the evolutionary unfolding of the higher possibilities in man and Nature.

Sri Aurobindo has traced the course of the “involutionary” descent to the Inconscient followed by the “evolutionary” ascent from Matter to Life to Mind and Supermind. While he prepared the earth consciousness for the descent of the Supermind down to the physical, our collectivity is rapidly regressing into nescience and inconscience. It is time we make the course correction to take up the evolutionary challenge. That alone is the need of the hour.

This conception is born of Sri Aurobindo’s view of human existence and its destiny. According to him, man is a transitional being caught in the knot of body, life and mind, yet he has the possibility of coming out of his limitations because there is a spirit within him which has the power to change life into its own image.

But how to do it? It is not so simple. The sadhak has to do the sadhana for the transformation of human life into the life divine. Aspiration, rejection and surrender are the watchwords. Are we adhering sincerely to these fundamentals? Then we have to call for the Grace of The Mother, which is essential for the psychic to emerge and take charge of the transformation.

In the past, individuals have often tried to achieve self-realisation by withdrawing from worldly activities, but now the time is ripe to make this endeavour without withdrawing from the world, using spiritual means to effect a dynamic solution of the increasingly complex problems of life.

Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is clear that individual salvation is not the goal, but it is an Integral Yoga with the aim of realising and manifesting the Divine in earthly life. Of late, the distortion that has set in is that because we do not seek for individual salvation, we need not do any Yoga at all and hope for The Mother to do everything for us without our participation. Integrality has thus been taken as an excuse for living an ordinary normal life.

The Ashram is not a planned project, but an adventure of consciousness with innumerable possibilities and dimensions. Such an intricate and difficult path, with its goal of transformation, creates its own difficulties for the common man’s under­standing.

This has been the main reason why some’ people have not appreciated the life in the Ashram with its seemingly laissez-faire attitude in certain respects. But according to Sri Aurobindo, any worthwhile unfolding ‘of the inner life must have as its base a large freedom.

Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is not to be understood by the mind, but has to be lived. It is not a life of laissez-faire bordering on doing whatever one fancies or being licentious as is prevalent now. Presently the outer life in the Ashram grants a large freedom to the Yes men of the Trustees so that they can to do anything they like!

Growth of the Ashram
The Ashram came into existence at the end of 1926. At the beginning it consisted of hardly two dozen members, some of whom had been associated with Sri Aurobindo earlier in Calcutta and joined him after he came to Pondicherry in 1910. The whole emphasis initially was on spiritual progress, the opening of the inner being and purification of the nature to receive the creative Shakti that was being invoked and coming down in response.

To the sincere aspirants, the core principle continues to be spiritual progress and opening of the inner being to the Mother. Whether it is true of every Ashramite is best left to each of us to introspect.

Later, in the 1940s, when children were admitted to the Ashram and a school was started, the Ashram became more broad based and was organised into a well-knit institution with different departments and services. There was greater freedom of movement and seemingly less pressure of the spiritual Force. Over the years, this system of organisation has grown larger and become more complex. A full-fledged International Centre of Education, which is part of the Ashram, has also come into being with various activities and experiments. It is not unnatural that a community of over two thousand should have to face from time to time its own share of problems, considering all the resistances and impurities of people coming from many different backgrounds and levels of inner development.

Wellwishers of SAAT, please note the open admission by Shri Jayantilal with regard to the problems of Ashram life, which have surely multiplied over the years. Did Shri Jayantilal in foresight take the line of Raman Reddy, etc and “their ilk” when he wrote his article fifteen years back?

Membership of the Ashram
In the early period, up to the 1950s, someone who wished to join the Ashram had only to approach the Mother, and if she permitted it the person became a member of the  Ashram.  There were no formalities, no initiation to be gone through by the newcomer. The Mother’s approval was the essential thing, both for one’s living conditions and spiritual guidance. However, the person was clearly informed about a written set of rules laying down a few basic conditions to be observed; the  most important were no intoxicating drinks, no drugs, no sex-life and no politics. These restrictions on one’s outer life had to be observed.

Are these restrictions on intoxicating drinks, drugs, sex and politics still in vogue in the Ashram today?

Regarding admission into the Ashram, as far as I understand, it has presently different methods. The admission is decided by the Trustees and one is not sure whether spiritual aspiration is essential and a sine-qua-non. If the Trustees themselves have different levels of spiritual standing, it is a moot point as to whether earning their goodwill will not mainly have weight.  (As an aside, I recall last year it was common talk in hushed voices that an aspirant for a position of power mentioned that Ashramites were like Radha and the Gopis and the Managing Trustee was their Krishna! If this is true, it was a shocker for people like me. I never expected in my wildest dreams that in an Ashram named after the Master, things could come to such a pass.)

I had also heard from some poor volunteers doing free service at the Ashram that they had come for admission because it would solve their basic issues of sustenance. They had been assigned menial duties for a few years to judge their utility for doing errand jobs after which they would be considered for admission into the Ashram. While this is one stream, there is also another route, viz: students of the International Centre of Education after completion of studies are given the option of becoming an Ashramite or go for a vocation elsewhere. Once the ex-student opts in, all his creature comforts are met by the Ashram. Such admissions should point to the increase in the number of Ashramites as distinct from genuine aspirants/sadhaks. Therefore one is left with the poser: what draws people presently to become Ashramites – comfortable living conditions or spiritual aspiration?

It was also understood and expected that if the Ashram provided the newcomer with all the necessities and conveniences of  life, he should in turn give his all, including wealth and property, to the Ashram. Although this was not made a condi­tion, it was considered a kind of spiritual obligation.

Since those who joined earlier as inmates surrendered everything to the Mother, they have no other means of sustenance now except the food, shelter and medicines provided by the Ashram. Unfortunately, this material dependence on the Ashram has been used in recent times by the powers-that-be to harass those who question their wrongdoings. 

Side by side, are we not witness to senior Ashramites who take everything from the Ashram and not give up their wealth or love for lucre?  It was reported that a famous litérateur in the Ashram (whose introduction on every forum was that he was from Sri Aurobindo Ashram) got huge money from a dubious chit fund and, in the heat of an impending criminal enquiry, donated it for flood relief in Orissa and not to the Ashram. While the donation to flood relief was laudable, was the money accepted initially (and later given) with the approval of the Trustees or was it stashed away earlier in a private account without even bringing it up to the knowledge of the Ashram administration?

If such senior residents of the Ashram do not honour this spiritual obligation, it is a sad commentary on today’s rules of the road.

While many people came almost empty-handed, there were others who were well off and yet they gave everything. But in no case was a member made to feel that his material contribution determined the treatment and benefits he received.

It was also an aspect of the spiritual process that all had to do some physical work as their contribution to the common organised life of the community.

Shri Jayantilal’s writing describes what was happening in the past. In present times, it is no work and all play for the Trustees’ favoured ones and all work and sweat for the silent majority.

It is an observed fact nowadays that those who have everything give nothing to the Ashram. Some others who had precious nothing when they joined the Ashram, have worked their way up the power ladder and have now taken everything from the Ashram in the form of monetary allowances, vehicles, costly medical treatment and exclusive accommodation. Not for a moment they think of what is expected of them by The Mother. It is time that we as a collectivity recall what The Mother says in the Introduction of her Prayers and Meditations, viz., ”Some give their soul to the Divine, some their life, some offer their work, some their money. A few consecrate all they have – soul, life, work, wealth; these are the true children of God. Others give nothing. These whatever their position, power and riches are for the Divine purpose valueless cyphers.“ Whether we are true children of The Mother or valueless cyphers will be clear to each one of us in the core of our hearts.

The work assigned to each member was determined by the Mother in the beginning; later it was decided by those she had trained, on the basis of the perceived needs of the situation. The work assigned had to be taken as a part of one’s sadhana or spiritual effort.

The work assigned to each member is required to be based on the perceived needs of the Ashram. But we witness today arbitrary decisions of withdrawal of assigned work on the whims of the Trustees and their followers. This is particularly so in respect of those whose teaching assignments at the Centre of Education were withdrawn due to their refusal to toe the line of the Trustees favouring the ilk of Peter Heehs. So is the case of Shri Deshpande – a scholar and authority on Savitri being denied access to the Archives lest he unearth the unethical editorial practices of those who tamper with the writings of Sri Aurobindo.

As an Indian familiar with mythology, I am only reminded of the story of Hiranyakashyapu, who wanted his son Prahlada to sing paeans in praise of him and not take the name of the Divine on threat of punishment. Similarly in our Ashram, the faithful Prahladas of today are dissuaded from taking the side of Mother and Sri Aurobindo and persuaded instead to be faithful to the Trustees and their mentors like Peter Heehs!  Similar to the mythological story, one is sure that an earthshaking Narasimha Swami would come one day to set things right. We await this Hour of God.

The Ashram Trustees
Till 1950, the Ashram was Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s estate by virtue of their being its joint spiritual heads. The Ashram was their property in the traditional sense of the word “Ashram”:  the Master’s house and establishment. The seekers who came to the Master (the Guru) had no claims and they lived in the Ashram by the consent and grace of the Master. It was not an association, trust or legally constituted body.

Why only till 1950? Till the 1980s when senior disciples like Nolini-da and Champaklal were still around, things continued to be as the Mother‘s Ashram.

A few years after Sri Aurobindo left his body in December 1950, the Mother decided to constitute the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to administer and manage the affairs of the Ashram. She got it registered as a Public Charitable Trust in October 1955 in order to conform to the law of the land, and she formally set forth its central work and goal and objectives in a seminal way, without elaborating them, in the Sri Aurobindo  Ashram Trust Deed.  Under the Trust Deed, a five-member Board of Trustees was responsible for the administration of the Ashram; the Mother remained its President and final authority.

After the Mother left her body in November  1973, the administration of the Ashram by the Board of Trustees has continued, with one of the Trustees  being designated the Managing Trustee by a resolution of the Trust Board. Trusteeship is a responsibility and the work assigned has to be executed with the collaboration of all; it is not a position conferred on anybody as an honour.

Possibly the Mother in her divine wisdom wanted to test how her children could carry on her work – whether in the ways of light or in the corridors of darkness.

None of the Trustees has any declared spiritual status or claim.

Another open admission – “that none of the Trustees has any declared spiritual status or claim”. This is all the more valid today. But do they at least owe allegiance to the Masters? It is difficult to say since the Trustees seem to be the defenders of the “faith” of Peter Heehs and his ilk who derate Sri Aurobindo.

The spiritual authority of the Ashram rests entirely with Sri Aurobindo and the  Mother. We firmly believe that their guidance and spiritual presence are ever here for all who need it and look for it. This has been the basis of work and organisation in the Ashram since the Mother withdrew from her body in 1973.

Shri Jayantilal’s prognosis is true that the guidance and spiritual presence of the Masters are ever there for all who need it and look for it. This alone explains the increasing number of devotees who throng to the Ashram. But the moot question is whether those in charge of administering the Ashram are equally sincere in their aspiration, faithful to the Masters and look for their guidance.

When a Trustee passes away or resigns, another is appointed in due course. It has been the practice from the beginning that responsible persons associated with the Ashram’s working are chosen as Trustees. As and when a vacancy arises, the choice of the person to fill the vacancy is a joint decision of the remaining Trustees, taken with the consent of the person so chosen.

Sure recipe for the perpetuation of a closed, non-transparent, opaque, autocratic club working for their own priorities and not for The Mother and Sri Aurobindo!

Functioning  of the Ashram
Work – physical work as well as intellectual, artistic and other kinds of work – has an important place in the life of the Ashram. All members take up some work as a useful contribution to the community and as part of their spiritual life. Beyond this, the practice of spiritual discipline is left to the choice and inclination of the individual and there is no imposition of any kind, direct or indirect. There is perfect freedom for one to meditate, pray, study or work, ....

Probably criticising the Master is also considered as part of Ashram work! Should this be ranked as Ninda Stuti?

For some, works now include the unwritten privilege of misusing one’s position, including publishing Ashram material as their own work and in individual names for profit as well as mutilating/ tampering with the writings of Sri Aurobindo. Interestingly, there is freedom to derate Sri Aurobindo (à la Peter Heehs) in the vein of Ninda Stuti.  But only Stuti and no questions permitted regarding the misdeeds of the Trustees!

... depending on one’s  inclination, aspiration and understanding of the aims of the Integral Yoga as explained by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in their writings. Each one has to find his or her own mode of approach to the Divine. But the one all-important factor is the palpable presence of the guiding light and power of protection that pervade the very atmosphere of the Ashram; this light and power are due to the subtle presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Sri Aurobindo has clearly elucidated the aim of his Yoga and the path for us to follow. In his “Hour of God” he says that we need to cleanse ourselves of all self-deceit, hypocrisy and vain self-flattery and that we should not be found sleeping or unprepared to receive and inhere when the divine moment arrives.  Do we as sincere seekers and “Wellwishers” of the Ashram measure up to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the love and light of the Mother in the course of our work for the Ashram?

Although there is great freedom in the Ashram, it should be obvious that there can be no stable and healthy organisation unless the Trustees, who are the managers of the organisation, have the right to take corrective action when there is some errant behaviour on the part of a sadhak.

This is true for the smooth functioning of any collective organisation, particularly in the area of work.

Such corrective action from the Trustees was precisely what was expected regarding Peter Heehs and his ilk.  But the Trustees siding with the culprits is a sure means of wrecking the Ashram edifice from within.

In the Madras High Court proceedings of 21 December 2009, when the counsel for Peter Heehs pointed out that the Managing Trustee of the Ashram had praised the invaluable contribution (Lives of Sri Aurobindo) of Mr. Peter Heehs and that he enjoys his total support, the legal counsel representing Manoj Das Gupta and the Ashram Trust said he was in full agreement with what had been said by the counsel of Mr. Peter Heehs! If this is the position taken by the Ashram Trust in the Courts, how can one repose any confidence in it?

Ashram Finances
The Ashram is run largely on the donations and offerings of disciples, devotees and admirers.

Precisely because the Ashram finances owe largely to such offerings, there is need for probity and accountability in their utilisation. The funds should not be squandered on innumerable court cases to defend the wrongs perpetrated by the Trustees on Ashramites. Nor should they be wasted on travel jaunts or the private purposes of those close to the Trustees or to extend hospitality to Press personnel in order to publicly position the Ashram administration as an ideal setup and a paragon of virtue.

 An attempt to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency was made at the beginning with the starting of a couple of agricultural farms and industries. More recently some small enterprises managed by disciples and members of the Ashram have also come up. These enterprises provide financial support to the Ashram and its activities by donating their profits to the Ashram under Section 35(1)(ii)  of the Income Tax Act.

These seem to be offices of profit for favoured individuals. What to say of donations and offerings of devotees from the world over!

Due to the rising costs of housing, commodities and services in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living, the Ashram’s expenditure has been rising constantly. In earlier years the  inmates lived in rented houses, which usually  accommodated six or eight persons in a house. Gradually these rented houses had to be given up because the rents increased sharply. As a result, the Ashram was obliged to build large residential complexes in the space available on the lands in its possession. The costs of construction have run into many lakhs of rupees, but the work had to be done  as  there was no alternative available to the Ashram for accommodating its members.

While Shri Jayantilal’s defence is about the need to construct houses on Ashram properties in order to accommodate inmates, one of the present issues agitating the Ashramites is with regard to the dubious land deals of the Ashram Trust, such as the much talked about  purchase of a house by Dr. Dilip Datta’s son from a French inmate of the Ashram (where there is a clear conflict of interest), and a case regarding  forged signatures in the purchase of Raghavan House, which led to Manoj Das Gupta, the present Managing Trustee, seeking bail from the Court.

The financing of the Ashram is not on budgetary lines; apart from recurring expenses, it is essentially need-based, depending upon the necessity and importance of the work and the availability of funds. Any surplus is invested in approved banks and financial  institutions. Annual audited accounts are filed with the  Government authorities and the Income Tax Department in strict accordance with the law. Tax exemptions to donors are available under Sections 80G and 35(1)(ii).

Every organisation needs to function within the four corners of the law. Questions are not therefore regarding 80g or 35(1)(ii) of the Income Tax Act. What is relevant is whether in the name of research, for which the concession is secured, the Ashram Trust has funded the likes of Peter Heehs to write irrelevant and irreverent essays distorting the very fundamentals of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching? If so, what is the answer of the Trustees and their Wellwishers?  Such distortions are again used as inputs by those pseudo-secular scholars who are eager to deride everything Indian, especially its great spiritual masters.

Sri Aurobindo describes the condition of Savitri in the Book of Beginnings: “She was harbouring a foe whom with her heart she must feed.” However the radiant Princess overcame the ordeal all by herself. Since we are not of the spiritual stature of Savitri, is it at all proper that the Ashram Trust must feed those who undermine the stature of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother? Is it proper that those who stand by Sri Aurobindo are persecuted?  It is high time that the bluff of nomadic travellers / tourists / time-servers is called off, and the Ashram Trustees live up to the expectations of the public at large. Otherwise, it would only confirm the deep mistrust with which it perceives them now. If the Trustees refuse to mend their ways, it is better that they quit their positions so that the Ashram does not fall into further disrepute.

Ashram Property
It has been reported that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has property worth 500 or 600 crores of rupees. We have no idea who has estimated this improbable figure or what their method of reckoning was. But whatever be the figure, it does not mean anything to the life of the Ashram. The value of real estate has certainly escalated over the years and the process still continues. For example, a house purchased in Pondicherry for Rs. 25,000 some forty or fifty years back may now be worth Rs. 25 lakhs in market value, a rise of 100 times. But so long as the owner of the property does not indulge in speculative trading, this appreciation in value is only nominal and does not add in any way to its utility value to the owner; The houses belonging to the Ashram do not accommodate more members simply because the price of the properties has risen nor do its agricultural lands produce several times more crops than they used to do years back just because their monetary value has appreciated many times over. This fact is generally lost sight of by people who advance arguments against the Ashram.    

It is well known that real estate values go up over a period of time. The issue however is whether those who are guardians of Ashram properties should indulge in unethical means in such matters. Should there be any colourable transactions, questions are bound to crop up. Hence there is need for the Trust not only to be above board but also appear to be so. The local people of Pondicherry including the political class and rationalists, and many of the Ashram inmates have details of the property alienation and misuse of Ashram funds by the Trust. With this, it is not possible to maintain that everything about the Ashram administration reads like a fairy tale! Nelsonian blindness does not hold here.

Educational  and Cultural  Life
It was Sri Aurobindo’s wish to see the Ashram grow as a spiritual centre in its fullest sense, embracing every aspect of life. Encouraged and supported by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, a distinct aesthetic and cultural ambience has grown in the Ashram. Writers, poets, painters, dramatists, musicians, dancers and others proficient in arts, crafts and skills of various kinds have blossomed and continue to do so. This cultural aspect of the Ashram has a special purpose and intention in the overall view of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Self-expression in various artistic forms is a training of the mind and the creative faculties of the being. To achieve power and beauty of expression is one of the great objects of education and culture. This aspect of life acquires a deeper meaning in a spiritual context, where the aim is communion with a higher Reality and an expression of its content.

One wishes that it is so. Achieving power and beauty of expression and even wealth has to be for the service of the Divine. Each of us can look into ourselves and the answer would be clear as to where we stand.

Sex and Spiritual  Life
The  problem  of  sex  and  spirituality  has  been  discussed  through  the  ages.  It is necessary to be clear-headed about it. Sex is neither a sin nor a perversion; it is a process of Nature, a biological necessity in animals and animal-man. However, it is inconsistent with true spiritual life because the sexual desire and act bring down the consciousness, whereas spirituality is an attempt to raise the consciousness and keep it stationed above the promptings of the lower nature. For the generality of men, this process  of raising the consciousness is not simple or easy or even understandable. Even for the most ardent aspirants to the spiritual life, there are innumerable diffi­culties. During the process of the seeker’s sadhana, it is not unusual for him to have upsurges of sexual desire, which have to be progressively controlled, sublimated and transcended.  This  is the  way  in which a seeker of spiritual  light and  knowledge progresses; the ordinary man, on the other hand, lives within the ambit of his animal consciousness, tempered by social, moral and cultural constraints.

A seeker should not be shocked when this sexual urge surfaces and invades his consciousness. There is hardly any saint or sage who has not suffered from it at some time or other in his life before he attained spiritual enlightenment.

Seems an essay in apologia for sex! It might have been more appropriate to have referred to what the Masters have said rather than penning an essay on rationalising sex in the Ashram.

We are here for Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga and not for a survey to justify or expatiate on sex. The Mother clearly says that sex is a vestige of the animal part/past of man, and man has to overcome this propensity and rise above it to become superman.

Sri Ramakrishna, when he first  became aware of it, wanted to kill himself if Mother Kali did not remove it from his nature.

Sri Aurobindo has dealt with the subject of sexual desire in many of his letters to disciples when they complained of its disturbance. He always said that this force of Nature, so deeply rooted  in man, should first be seen as coming from outside, then controlled and ultimately transcended and transformed. Sex-energy becomes a creative power when it is purified and transformed. This creative energy has to be made a part of our life and not suppressed out of fear.

Sex need not be made a bugbear of spiritual life. It is only one part of the obstinate resistance of the lower nature. If there are falls in the course of one’s spiritual effort, if there are lapses in the process of self-purification, they have to be viewed with understanding and sympathy so long as the seeker realises his failings and does not try to justify them. Often for a long time, spiritual aspiration and the pull of the lower nature go side by side.

I may be wrong, but it appears that the likes of Shri Jayantilal in their discourses have impressed on Peter Heehs that Ashramites are obsessed with sex for a major part of their lives, perhaps leading to the unpleasant comment in his book, “At home they [the sadhaks] read Sri Aurobindo's works, or indulged in sexual daydreams.” (Lives, p 373)

In the Ashram there is no attempt to hide instances of sexual lapses by indivi­duals or to cover them up.

Insiders know that such instances are put under the lid and delinquents are not hauled up if backed by Trustees or their henchmen, while some of the poor victims are endlessly harassed. Moreover, this may serve as a tacit encouragement for sexcapades!

At the same time, it is not necessary to publicise them or make a public confession of them for the gratification of the curious and the lovers of scandal, much less to fabricate stories which have no basis.

If the spiritual aspirant does not have self-control, and if such things are hushed up with the pretext of avoiding bad publicity, how can the problem of sex in the Ashram be at all addressed?

Having admitted children into the Ashram and taken charge of them, the problems arising from their attaining puberty cannot be ignored. Every boy and girl, the moment he or she reaches the age of puberty, becomes aware of the insistence of this force of Nature. It is a part of the problem that life has set before us to solve with love and patience towards the young. 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 can never be imposed on anyone. It is a call of the soul in its endeavour to conquer the lower nature.

While spiritual life cannot be imposed on children, it is a fact that children have their role models in the elders. Do the elders of the Ashram, especially those who are in power, measure up to the spiritual standards expected of them?

In our Centre of Education, boys and girls study together, play games together and develop their physical and intellectual capacities in full freedom. Romantic ideas are not encouraged, but there is no segregation of men and women in cloisters; rather, a sense of responsibility for their behaviour is allowed to grow in them. If there is risk in this arrangement, the risk is taken with the full awareness and knowledge that men and  women have to live together in life as well as in spiritual endeavour. This equality of men and women is being admitted in most countries and accepted even in spiritual  pursuits.

We are not here to follow what other countries do or not do. For The Mother, it was not a matter of male or female but the real person – the psychic – that was important. I wish Shri Jayantilal had expatiated on this as a senior of the Ashram when he wrote all this.

 In our school, as in our Ashram, men and women are treated equally in all respects – in education, in work, in opportunities to progress.

The CNN-IBN sting operation and the RAJ TV exposé clearly show that women are at the receiving end. Alleged cases of intimidation and harassment by the administration even while lady Ashramites are taking food are a matter of serious concern.

Conclusion
The Ashram is an organisation which provides the needed atmosphere and facilities for those who seek to pursue the goal of our human existence as envisaged by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The primary aim, as stated innumerable times by them, is for the individual to seek the Divine and come constantly nearer to Him. In  this seeking, no social or political objectives come into play. The realisation of the Divine is the one ultimate objective and if this is not achieved, nothing is gained by the individual or the community.

This is a line for introspection for all of us. It bears repetition that all inmates and sadhaks – senior or junior – should keep to this guidepost.

The facilities created in the Ashram are for this purpose only. If any individual finds that the facilities created by the Mother help him, he avails himself of them and follows the goal he has set for himself. If he does not find them agreeable, he has to find conditions suitable to him elsewhere.

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.

Today in the Ashram there are privileged classes and even privileged pets of the favoured ones. If Shri Jayantilal were alive in the present time, he would have taken back his views.

It can be said without exaggeration that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is one of the best-organised communities in the country in terms of living conditions: housing, nourishment, education, health-care, care of the old and infirm, and cultural avenues for growth and recreation. The Ashram provides an atmosphere with ample comfort, security and freedom of life. This is not to claim that the community and its working are perfect. 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 fulfillment to whatever degree it can.
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.

In an earlier paragraph, Shri Jayantilal says that the Trustees do not have spiritual status or claim. But even so, as administrative overseers, are they prepared to listen to people with problems? It should not become an autocracy of ego fed, opinionated rulers with no sympathy for those seeking redressal of issues concerning them as well as the Ashram in general.

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. The press is not the best place to discuss the trials and tribulations of spiritual life;

Are there necessary controversies as well? I suppose so, particularly if the names and the teachings of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are undermined, coupled with indifference and nonchalance from the Trustees. The Trustees have to be answerable if they want to enjoy the trust of the inmates and devotees, many of whom are silent due to the fear of being victimised. The trials and tribulations of those who have stood up against the Trustees are due to the difficulties of leading a spiritual life in a hostile environment and the constant harassment from the Trustees, who do not want to be exposed in public!

.... exaggerated and misleading reports about our difficulties will not provide enlightened solutions to them. It should be recognised that no democratic assembly, no commission of inquiry, not even a competent judiciary can fairly sit in judgment  on matters spiritual.

It is ironical that Shri Jayantilal thought that spiritual issues are before the Courts. Definitely not! Mundane organisational issues such as denial of food, medical facilities, sexual harassment and alienation of Ashram funds and properties are before the Courts, owing directly or indirectly to the whimsical and unaccountable actions of the Ashram Trust. Though the Ashram Trust would like to downplay the number of court cases, it is a fact that these are one too many. More than 160 cases were listed as of June 2008 by a social activist; the number by now would have easily exceeded 200. We need to thus ponder as to why so many voices are raised against the Trust. The answer is all too clear – it is the malfunctioning of the Ashram Trust and the arrogance of the Trustees who are at the helm of affairs. If the situation is not rectified, there is every danger that we as a collective would be consigned to the dustbins of history.

Incidentally there is another mix-up: the Wellwishers site construes  criticism of the misdeeds of the Trustees as criticism of the Ashram. Let us be wellwishers of the Ashram – comprising of the extended family of devotees and disciples of The Mother. We should however not be devotees of the Trustees if they do not serve the cause of The Mother. 

The truth of spiritual reality has first to be perceived and then realised by the individual in life. No outside agency can help the individual other than his spiritual master and guide. In our case, we tum to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for help in solving our problems. We believe that their guidance, support and protection will always be with us  if we  sincerely try to follow the ideal they have set before us. What  is most important is that we always remember the spiritual objective that is the aim of our life in the Ashram.

This is precisely relevant in today’s context – to be totally, completely and integrally faithful to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and follow the ideal they have set before us. It is equally important not to side with those showing least respect to the Masters, be they the Ashram Trustees or social thinkers or international nomads.

JAYANTILAL PAREKH
(N.B. The  article  was  found  among  the  papers  of  the  late  author  and  has  been touched up here and there for publication.)
Source: Mother India (magazine), June 2001

Let us be worthy children of the Mother and live to realise the aim the Masters have envisaged for us.

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