Thoughts on the collective



By Vishnubhai Eschner

The theme for this year's AUM conference, "Becoming Collective," brings to mind the axiom that Sri Aurobindo's yoga is a collective yoga, one in which the individual transformation occurs within the context of a community. So the lack of a cohesive community structure among devotees of the collective yoga is surprising.

Over the years, the well-known resistance to dogma engendered in those who read Sri Aurobindo has seemingly been an obstacle to the growth of a vigorous community outside Pondicherry. While all around us numerous spiritual movements have grown fat with members, founded churches, built temples, and formed multinational nonprofit corporations offering everything from stock tips to enlightenment, the international Sri Aurobindo movement has remained a bit fragmented, apparently too paralyzed by philosophical debate to organize into a large-scale movement.

Now, however, through the self-reflective medium of e-mail we are beginning to recognize that, spontaneously and naturally, this international maze of centers, study groups, and isolated individuals has become a single community, connected through the heart-nexus of Pondicherry. What is also becoming clear is that we are a diverse, vibrant, opinionated, sincere, and dedicated community of die-hard individualists.

There have been many communities down through history, and it could fairly be asked why the supramental transformation would occur here when it has not occurred in any of the myriad communities of the past.

There is, without question, the direct action of Their Force. And on the side of human effort, it is hoped that we are making the best use of the tools promoting collective transformation that are inherent within the teachings.

In one place Sri Aurobindo says that "there can be no firm foundation in sadhana without equality" and that "it is this [equality] from which a Sadhaka deviates when he allows a vital movement to carry him away in feeling or speech or action." Though it has obvious advantages in a collective setting, equality seems to have little to do with the fiery controversies that rage on some of the online forums, and that flare up from time to time in affairs between devotees.

There are disagreements about Mother's intentions, about what Sri Aurobindo meant, about Auroville, about Web pages, about the design of Matrimandir, about quoting or not quoting Sri Aurobindo, about cellular transformation and the Agenda, about property matters, and a hundred other "issues" that can easily shatter a community into fragments of opposition.

This could be the sign of a healthy, vibrant community, except that the controversies still get resolved in the age-old ordinary way: by the complete acquiescence of one of the parties, following the wearily familiar call to bring a lawsuit or some other forceful action from firebrand extremists (to cite the recent example of what happened in the "official" vs. the "unofficial" Auroville Web page matter).

Dave Hutchinson, president of the Sri Aurobindo Association, mused recently, "Sri Aurobindo and the Mother worked through, and in, a tremendous number of situations in their time. Thousands of disciples and devotees asking this and that, money, an ashram to run, inner work to coordinate, etc. They were two different people, different physical bodies, different minds; they must have had differing thoughts on some matters. Yet as far as I know, they didn't come to the kind of blows we see between disciples or groups. I think we should rise to their level of harmony, intuition, compassion, direct action. Is that too much to ask?"

When Sri Aurobindo was in the ashram, he dictated very few broad injunctions against behaviors. I know of only four, vis: 1) No alcohol and by extension, no intoxicants; 2) no smoking; 3) no sex; 4) no politics.

The first two are relatively unambiguous. The third one has acquired a number of interpretations. The fourth rule is simple on the face of it. Most obviously, it means no discussion of politics, and perhaps, no joining political parties.

But a twist on the definition of politics unexpectedly furnishes a helpful precept for collective yoga. As a verb, politics can mean a kind of factionalistic scheming to gain power or advantage. Applying this definition to our community, we get:

Factionalistic scheming for power or advantage is not allowed in our community.

Factionalistic scheming occurs when someone, through vital charisma, bribery, or threat of force, gets 50 people who agree with him to shout down anyone he disagrees with. In the extreme it could mean going out and beating up people who interfere with an agenda.

Historically, Stalin, Hitler, and subtle behind-the-scenes schemers like Tallyrand and Rasputin have manipulated the collective for the sakes of their own flawed agendas.

That's history, the past. But, we"re about the future and about attempting a new way to harmonize within a group.

In one place, Sri Aurobindo suggests we "avoid all debates, dispute or too animated discussion and simply say what has to be said and leave it there. There should also be no insistence that you are right and the others wrong, but what is said should only be thrown in as a contribution to the consideration of the truth of the matter."

To those who say, "Nice ideas in theory, but get practical," I respond, "I am getting practical. I"d like to try it."

I don't think that this method of resolving collective conflict has been tried very often, yet it may just be that the grace will only manifest in collective activities when there is enough individual faith in the shakti-power, and enough individual surrender within each person to enable them to propose an idea and then step back; to recognize and release their mental conceptions completely, and let the real truth manifest.

A small but radical first step on the road to collective yoga could be the ability to completely suspend judgment in the face of disagreement.

Are we ready for the second step?

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Vishnu Eschner is secretary/treasurer of the Sri Aurobindo Association and a resident of the Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham in Lodi, California.

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