It is therefore high time that some proper procedures are introduced in the current administrative setup of the Ashram without, at the same time, paralysing it with procedures as we see in various Government institutions. It is true we have made a parody of democracy in our country, but that cannot be a justification for not introducing basic democratic structures in the Ashram. It is also true that spirituality and democracy may be incompatible, but in the present predicament of the Ashram when the Integral Yoga has become an excuse to enjoy the ordinary life at other people’s expense, it is time to put in place a few checks and balances on the unlimited powers of the Trustees to prevent the most arrogant human errors in the name of divine justice. [read full article below]
The Necessity of Proper Procedures in Sri Aurobindo Ashram - by Baikunth
If there is one thing that the present administration of Sri Aurobindo Ashram lacks, it is proper decision-making procedures. For it is only the powerful group of three, Manoj Das Gupta, Dilip Datta and Secretary Matriprasad Satyamurthy who now decide what to decide, which side to take or whom to support. Once this all-important decision is taken, there is a formal exercise or a sham procedure of calling a meeting of the concerned parties, a vigorous nodding of the heads, a silent but firm admonition of dissenting voices, and a wrapping up of the minutes of the meeting with the solid satisfaction of having conducted one, because the Trust rules demand such a procedure. Resolution passed, the concerned parties go home with the pride of having at least participated in the top decision making body of the Ashram, regardless of whether they have actually contributed or not, regardless of whether the decision was a good or a bad one. But, one would say, this is how most of the Trusts or Societies, or rather most administrative bodies function, including perhaps national governments. It has always been a few or even a single person who determines the fate of an institution. But the difference between the Ashram and other administrative bodies is that in the latter case there is generally scope for a change of guard, and the procedures have enough teeth to make this happen when things go wrong beyond the point of mere censure and condemnation. In such historic moments, the balance of public opinion suddenly shifts and tilts in favour of the administrative change, and the new forces of progress overcome the now isolated old guard through the very procedures that had kept them at bay all these years.
The Ashram ended up having practically no procedures by the simple fact of having only a divine procedure when Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were physically present. Needless to clarify, our Gurus took their administrative decisions on the basis of spiritual knowledge, which did not necessarily follow the ordinary norms of social justice and morality. They looked into the soul of the person and not at the appearance, listened to his heart and not merely the words he spoke, looked into the past and future and related it to the present prospects of his inner life – which often ended in dealing harshly with sincere disciples (because they could bear with their decisions for their own good), and pampering insincere ones (because they would have run away had they told him to face the truth). In other words, spiritual considerations overruled all other factors, though practical problems were taken into account and rational explanations were always provided, as we see in their enormous correspondence with their disciples. Needless to say again, this could only be done by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and not even the best of their disciples.
But the lack of proper procedures began to be felt not immediately after the passing away of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but after a couple of decades when even the few procedures that were put in operation due to the formation of the Ashram Trust began to be misused and politicised. Ironically, at first the Trustees found it hard to function because of the tradition of spontaneity and informality started by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and because many of the departmental heads (such as Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya & Abhay Singh) acted independently and often without the consent of the central administration. (These departmental heads, who had worked under the Mother’s direct instructions, naturally would not bend their heads to lesser mortals who had replaced her in the administration of the Ashram.) Ironically again, this decentralised administration actually served to maintain a healthy balance of power between the Trustees and the departmental heads, though it broke the Ashram into numerous power centres often pitted against one another, and thereby making it vulnerable to outside manipulation. However, over the next two decades, with the demise of these stalwarts, the Ashram Trust gradually tightened its grip over the administration by exerting its legal and monetary muscles. In the present situation the Trust exercises full control over the Ashram without any serious challenge to its authority. The Trust Deed, as interpreted by the Trustees and not for what it actually is, vests them full authority without a single procedure to remove them, if they do not voluntarily step down. Whether they are crippled with age and disease (as happened with Ved Prakash & Albert Patel), or whether they are accused of multiple administrative lapses (as in the complaints lodged with the Enquiry Officer appointed by the Madras High Court), or whether they go against the very spiritual foundations of the Ashram (as in their unqualified support to Peter Heehs), none can seriously question them or take them to task because there is no in-built procedure in the Trust Deed enabling them to do so. The result of this absolute control has naturally led to absolute arrogance in the Trustees, despite the coat of humility they put on in order to make themselves more acceptable to their subjects. Rightly, a few people have gone to the Court to remind them that they are only Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and not its owners!
It is therefore high time that some proper procedures are introduced in the current administrative setup of the Ashram without, at the same time, paralysing it with procedures as we see in various Government institutions. It is true we have made a parody of democracy in our country, but that cannot be a justification for not introducing basic democratic structures in the Ashram. It is also true that spirituality and democracy may be incompatible, but in the present predicament of the Ashram when the Integral Yoga has become an excuse to enjoy the ordinary life at other people’s expense, it is time to put in place a few checks and balances on the unlimited powers of the Trustees to prevent the most arrogant human errors in the name of divine justice. After all, everybody agrees, including the Trustees themselves, that there is no one fit to replace Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the material and spiritual administration of the Ashram. The Trustees at the most are custodians of the properties of the Ashram, and nothing makes them specially privileged to take major decisions with regard to the future of the Ashram community without consulting it.
The Trustees also have an obligation to the world-wide following of admirers, devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. One has only to read the objectives of the Trust Deed to come to this conclusion, and it is sheer self-deceit on their part to say they are only concerned with the inmates of the Ashram. They have also been playing a double game in the public domain with regard to religion. On the one hand, they have openly stood against “religion” with false bravado in order to justify the vilification of Sri Aurobindo on the basis of free speech; on the other hand, they have resisted even the slightest change to what they call “the sacred Will of the Mother” by appealing to the religious sentiments of the followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. As mentioned earlier on this site by another writer, opportunism and not idealism dictates the policies of the current Trustees, the chief consideration being the continuation of their absolute authority over the beneficiaries of the Ashram.
Finally, all procedures and systems are man-made, and there is no foolproof method by which to prevent their misuse. The most cumbersome procedures can be easily overcome for selfish benefit, whereas the simplest of procedure can prove to be a tough hurdle for the corrupt, when it is in the hands of an honest officer. Thus procedures depend upon their efficient implementation and on the honesty of those who are in charge of carrying them out. Written procedures actually imply an environment of dishonesty or disorganisation, for it is perfectly possible to operate without them in an atmosphere of friendly negotiation. Procedures after all spontaneously arise from the need of rationality and mutual consultation when dealing with problems involving a large number of persons. But we can do without them only when there is sufficient moral integrity in those who have been entrusted with authority or have somehow taken it upon themselves. Their moral authority has to be then accepted by those who have agreed to have their problems resolved in this manner. Otherwise, there is constant friction and no resolution of conflicts, which is what unfortunately and generally happens, the erroneous cantankerous human beings that we are in our relations with each other, especially in matters concerning money and power. That is why written procedures have to come into force, anticipating an environment of distrust and conflict, setting aside the possibility of friendly settlement of disputes, pitting one party against the other, and endlessly prolonging the maze of sub-procedures needed to examine evidence and arrive at a decision. This is what generally happens in a situation of conflict and confrontation. Nevertheless, having no other option left, people still prefer the lengthy process and the delayed justice it provides to the brazen injustice and unwritten code of the habitual criminal or the arrogant bureaucrat.
The fact that the Ashram Trust has been busy fighting cases in the Court for the last fifteen years with its own inmates and disciples is certainly not a cause to celebrate its legal acumen and financial strength. Nor is it the unfortunate victim of legal harassment as it is made out to be. It actually means that these inmates and disciples have been forced to move the Court against it out of sheer desperation, and have no other recourse left. It also means that the Trust has completely lost its moral authority, which in the past acted as an invisible deterrent against potential litigants; that the Trust is totally unwilling to settle internal matters of the Ashram in a harmonious way, and the only way it wants to deal with severe differences with the beneficiaries is by exercising its legal authority through the Court of Law. When such an impossible situation has arisen, be sure it is the beginning of the end, for no spiritual institution can survive for long by mere legal authority and by unnecessary prolongation of court battles. That will only keep unresolved disputes in temporary abeyance, and one day or the other, with no moral authority to buttress it, the legal authority of the Trust is bound to collapse like a house of cards or get washed away like a flimsy sand castle on the seashore.
Instead of waiting for that fateful day, I would earnestly appeal to the Trustees to forget for a moment the embarrassing present situation, think of the future of the Ashram (when they will not be there!), and introduce amicably (before being pushed to the brink) the minimum of democratic procedures to enable a wider consultation of the concerned beneficiaries, so that the administration rests on a safe and broad foundation. This does not necessarily mean the recommendation of full scale democracy and electoral politics, but that a via media can always be found between the rule of the enlightened few and the voice of the majority. In any case, enough measures should be introduced and properly implemented to convince the inmates and other beneficiaries that their voices are not only heard but also count in determining the spiritual and material destiny of the Ashram.