Living in the past?



The following letters were posted to Auroconf, an e-mail discussion group that examines issues related to Integral Yoga. To subscribe, send e-mail to Leave the subject line blank. In the body of your message, type subscribe auroconf.

M y feeling is that there is a tendency among people with an interest in Sri Aurobindo to live in the past. It seems as if some think we are still in the years from 1924 to 1950, when Sri Aurobindo and Mother were physically accessible and the ashram was a small community of strictly selected people living an almost secluded life.

It seems like nothing has changed since Mother's death (which, for reasons I have never really grasped, we keep calling "passing" or "leaving the body," as if having lost the possibility of a physical contact meant nothing).

Some also seem to take everything Sri Aurobindo and Mother wrote in the literal sense, as if it was the absolute truth, as if there were no context and no background at all: no specific moment in history, no specific person to whom the message or the action was addressed. We run the risk of becoming dogmatic.

The net result of all this seems to be that those years become more and more a mythical age devoid of contact with reality. Sri Aurobindo and Mother are more and more deified, less and less real persons. We trade their humanity and moral greatness, the amazing complexity of their personalities and lives, all that they fought and suffered, for icons of an unlikely omnipotence.

If this is true, I think it is a lost chance and the wrong way of showing our devotion and our day-to-day commitment to their work.

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P ersonally, I strongly feel this lack of common sense among us, especially in my generation -- a generation who never met Sri Aurobindo and Mother, who may have insights and visions but never had the possibility of a reality check with them . . . a generation who grew up on books written by devotees and listened to numberless narrations by older sadhaks, who perhaps have read more books by sadhaks than by Sri Aurobindo and Mother themselves -- in some sense, a generation of orphans.

I think this is a perfect condition to lose sight of reality, build up a myth, and live in the past. Call it living in the past or living in the future -- it is never here, it is never where we really are, what we really are. It is being trapped in a dream, though a pious one.

What I observe again and again in this community, and in myself, is a set of behaviors and ways of thinking that take the place of real insights and are a caricature of what (I think) Sri Aurobindo and Mother meant.

In my opinion, the best devotion one can have is trying to understand deeply what one has been taught and the person who taught it, and then try to put it into practice. I have no illusion of ever understanding completely Sri Aurobindo and Mother, as I have no illusion either of understanding any human being. But this effort of understanding is, I think, a sign of love.

In the case of Sri Aurobindo and Mother, I feel further and further from the deified image that I think is common among us. I try to see their humanity and their context, that particular moment in history, the dominant world-vision of the time, the ashram conditions, the fact that the ashram was in India and most of the disciples were Indian so that they had to adapt. I even think of Sri Aurobindo's western education and Mire's Jewish origins to explain what is typical of their vision (redeeming the world, a new society). That makes me appreciate them better.

By this exercise, I come to the conclusion that we are often repeating literally what they wrote without realizing that in the meantime, the world has changed -- often in the direction they wanted -- and we run the risk of being the avant-garde of long ago.

Let me give some few examples. The science Sri Aurobindo writes about is the science of the end of last century, of determinism and positivism. Science is today quite different, and Sri Aurobindo's remarks could look quite out of place.

That is also true about religion. I think Sri Aurobindo's "polemic" against the refusal of life was appropriate to many Indian schools of thought. But read some recent developments in Christianity and Buddhism, and you'll see that times have changed.

-- Carlo Chiopris,

W hat I infer from [another e-mail posting] is that at times we speak of Sri Aurobindo or the Mother in wistful, pious tones; we worship every little thing about their humanity (the food they ate, the way they dressed, the way they scribbled notes on paper).

I'm not exalting or condemning such a pious, literal devotion -- just noting that it happens. If we think that as a community we are "above" the common run of religious feeling and action and idolatry, that we are all following some kind of advanced spirituality which has far outstripped ritual and religion -- we're fooling ourselves. As individuals and as a group, we pass through the same stages as other religions or spiritual movements.

-- Dave Hutchinson,

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