Looking back

In 1969, Auro Arindam set out on a cross-country tour across the United States to introduce Americans to Auroville and its aspiration for the future. This account is excerpted with permission from the May 1996 issue of the electronic newsletter Attempt; to subscribe, send e-mail to avliaison@auroville.org.


looking back

by Auro Arindam

There were so few devotees in North America in those days that each one stood out like a beacon of light in a world resistant to change -- each standing firm in a community that considered them alien as they attempted to live with an honesty society was not yet prepared to deal with. These warriors for the Divine have come and gone and been ignored, but without their presence, the yoga of Mother and Sri Aurobindo would never have gained a foothold in North America. And they did it before it was popular to do so.

This was a time before there were Sri Aurobindo centers. The "centers" were the central part of each house I was visiting -- the kitchen. The devotees were possibly two or three other people in the town or city. They had become an underground of individuals dissatisfied with the world as it existed, feeling the impetus of evolution in a time suspicious of anything different; uniformity had become a form of security.

As I sat on a bus crossing Montana, I mused to myself that I was on my way to meet a man that I had never seen before, in a town that I had never visited, because Ida Patterson [a devotee in Minneapolis] had said a man had somehow heard of Auroville and had been calling her for more information. He had promised to meet me at the Billings bus station.

This was to become one more event in my grass roots reintroduction to America of the late 1960s.

* * *
My trip across the U.S. meant visiting middle-aged people bewildered with the social change that was happening at the time, upset by the revolt of the youth against the establishment, of which these people considered themselves a part by default rather than by choice: hardworking individuals, simple and honest, many aware of the need for change but wanting to know what would replace the change.

They were asking what the youth were offering as a replacement for the present, which had required so much hard work to achieve. They didn't know that the youth themselves couldn't explain it, knowing only that they were pushed by the power of evolution, to which they were particularly sensitive because of their youth.

It was the first time I faced looking at a social condition that I and a handful of others had instigated.


In 1946 as a returning serviceman in New York's Greenwich Village, I spent nearly a year -- every night from midnight to 4 a.m. (closing time at Herbert's Cafeteria) -- talking to a small group of other returning servicemen, telling them that we should not be intimidated by family or friends and forced to return to the past: the war had freed us to make change, we did not need to return to traditional family interests and parental dreams; we had earned our own dreams by defending our country and must exercise this right.

For myself, I decided that instead of becoming a banker, I would become an artist. I would go to the Art Students League in New York City instead of Yale University, as my family had planned.

Gradually, what had started as a small intimate group became larger and larger. Sometimes we would have 50 to 100 people a night, the owner tolerating us because his business increased tenfold.

This ferment in the youth in the aftermath of the Second World War created another Paris of the 1920s. This was the time of Jack Kerouac hanging out in the Kettle Bar . . . the time of the beatniks and the San Remo Bar, which became the first meeting place for Greenwich Village. Then, as the San Remo became too crowded, part of the crowd moved on to Louis Tavern in Sheridan Square and later split into groups of writers, artists, and actors. One only had to spend an evening in the Louis Tavern to meet everyone doing anything creative in New York at the time.

I had one of the first two lofts in New York; Bob Rauschenberg had the other. They were in the Wall Street District. My second loft at 31st Street and Fifth Avenue was the first loft in New York to be issued an "artist in residence" permit. This meant that finally an artist could live legally in a loft, and it started a whole loft trend in New York.

* * *
Twice a year I gave a party for the initiated artists, writers, actors, and musicians, attended by about 400 people. It was a party that precipitated marriages, divorces, annulments, and elopements. At the last party I gave, there were three bands: Stan Kenton's band and two other bands I can't even remember now. Also present were the West Side Story dancers and every major show business personality in New York.

I kept the loft for many years, no matter where I happened to be in the world. So many keys were made for it that I had no idea who was living there at any given moment. (The last person besides myself was Gene Maslow.) When I left for India in 1965, I remember having a last look and seeing Charlie Parker's desk and personal tapes (which I had inherited) and many other souvenirs, and wondered if I would ever return. The loft was demolished to become a parking lot while I was in India.

Eventually, what had started as a small independence movement of the youth in New York spread to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. It was initiated by a few people moving from Greenwich Village to San Francisco, and for a short time, I was one of them.

* * *
And as I sat in the bus on my coast-to-coast trip in 1969, watching the landscape whip by, carrying Mother's force, it felt like karma was burning at an accelerated pace, moving the world into the future. The trip became a voyage of discovery for myself.

I began to understand for the first time the continuity of my life: Leaving home at 16, driving to California . . . joining the U.S. Navy at 17 for four years. . . . being sent overseas for three-and-a-half years during the Second World War . . . being helmsman on U.S. destroyers and light cruisers and participating in five major sea battles . . . growing up, becoming a disciplined adult long before my civilian teenage peers . . . emigrating to Australia in 1959; returning to America in 1963 to start one of the first communes in Southern California.

By the time Auroville started, I knew my whole life had been directed toward this end -- a life that had been a great adventure, my having been moved like a chess piece in a divine plan not quite understood by myself.

I finally threw up my hands and said, "Mother I am yours, I could not have dreamed the life you have given me. Your consciousness creates dreams that I cannot attempt to understand, but can only follow with delight."

Knowledge of the way is not enough -- one must tread it, or if one cannot do that, allow oneself to be carried along it. The human vital and physical external nature resist to the very end, but if the soul has once heard the call, it arrives, sooner or later.

For those who have within them a sincere call for the Divine, however the mind or vital may present difficulties or attacks come or the progress be slow and painful, -- even if they fall back or fall away from the path for a time, the psychic always prevails in the end and the Divine Help proves effective. Trust in that and persevere -- then the goal is sure. -- Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga

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