Natural Law and Auroville as a City at the Service of Truth
In my blog, Festering Lillies and the View Over Lush Lakes, I described some key principles of Natural Law, such as ethics, objective morality, and freedom.
Speaking of Natural Law I mean a principle of cause and effect in human social behavior. That principle is intrinsic to the human condition, proceeding from the freely born individual endowed with reason and conscience. Based on correct observation of that-which-is (Truth), when the individual undertakes an ethically stringent inquiry it results in a morally correct evaluation of what he or she ought to do; given that the process has not been spoiled by egoic motions or external influences the outcome of Morality is Right Action. Abidance by or ignorance of Natural Law determines the success or failure of human communities. Societies which value truthfulness tend to increase justice, freedom, peace, and happiness; societies driven by the selfishness of rulers and/or the general population tend towards misery. The Law is valid, unchangeably, everywhere and at all times and its outcomes are inevitable.
The beauty of Natural Law is that its functioning can be explained and understood in wholly mechanistic terms even though much of that functioning happens within the intangible ethical deliberations of the human mind. Yet mechanistic materialism cannot explain the origin of Natural Law, just as it cannot explain life or consciousness. The idea that the world – nature – merely consists of matter and forces, born from randomness, indifferent or even hostile to life makes no sense at all. On closer inspection there seems to exist an ordering principle at the beginning of the Universe, a principle that is life-fostering, and people have called that principle, among other things, “Spirit”, “Universal Consciousness”, “the One Radical Cause”, “Creator”, or “God”.
So Natural Law, along with the laws of physical nature, can be understood as a God-given set of rules the observance of which does a great deal to anchor one’s life in beneficial conditions.
In the above-mentioned article I gave the international township of Auroville as a point-in-case for how collective suffering and disorder result from ignoring that Law, as the original ideas of Mirra Alfassa, its founding mother, have been turned upside down by a large number of the residents themselves. Among those count not only hardcore-materialists, but those who interpret her teachings literally, rigidly, or even religiously.
To introduce Auroville’s principles to readers who have heard none or little about this settlement so far, and to help shining a light on its philosophy (for lack of a better word) from the perspective of Natural Law I decided to write a brief summary. This will also serve to better understand the events unfolding since December 2021 around the hostile takeover of Auroville by external forces. I will describe them in the third article. When regarded in their global context their significance to the future of humanity as a whole ought to become visible, as to be described in a fourth article.
Before we start examining Auroville’s founding history and its philosophical framework, the reader should note that the author was interested in questions like, freedom of the individual, just societies, consciousness, relation of person to collective, human dignity, the unity of thoughts, words and actions, the nature of truth and reality, or the future of mankind for decades before joining that township. An understanding of and agreement with its fundamental principles can be taken as given. As a long-term resident my writings about Auroville are based on personal observation and living experience. I have access to eyewitness reports, internal communications, and all of the relevant spiritual writings. Nevertheless, although it should be self-evident that each writer or speaker can only talk from their own perspective and understanding, I am giving the explicit caveat that I am not representing the “official” Auroville, neither the overreaching powers-that-should-not-be nor, to my great pity, am I representative of a major portion of its residents. That said, it needs to be noted that a tangible minority is doing their level best to live from a deep understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s teachings. It will be upon these good people to stem the rising tide of Asuric (i.e. Satanic) forces.
[All following quotes by Mirra Alfassa, unless labeled otherwise.]
“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment. In this place, children would be able to grow and develop integrally without losing contact with their souls; education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones. In this place, titles and positions would be replaced by opportunities to serve and organise; the bodily needs of each one would be equally provided for, and intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority would be expressed in the general organisation not by an increase in the pleasures and powers of life but by increased duties and responsibilities. Beauty in all its artistic forms, painting, sculpture, music, literature, would be equally accessible to all; the ability to share in the joy it brings would be limited only by the capacities of each one and not by social or financial position. For in this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action. In short, it would be a place where human relationships, which are normally based almost exclusively on competition and strife, would be replaced by relationships of emulation in doing well, of collaboration and real brotherhood …” (1954)
The idea of Auroville has a history reaching back into the 1920s. In no text has that idea been expressed more to the point or more emphatically than 1954 in “A Dream”. We will have to inspect its central tenets later because it has become one of the core documents of the actual international township of Auroville which has been founded only on February 28th of 1968 on a barren plateau in the middle of South-Indian nowhere. Dust storms and a mercilessly burning Sun characterized the place during the dry season, torrential downpours which quickly eroded the little soil left after colonial forest exploitation shaped the picture during the Monsoon rains. The first settlers quickly understood that if they wanted to be able to stay on the land they had to make the water stay as well. For without the water there would be no way to provide food for everyone, and it would also be much too hot for human tastes. So they built check dams in the erosion canyons, dug water catchment ponds, and contoured the land in such a way as to enable rainwater to percolate into the aquifers. They also had to fence the properties that city founder Mirra Alfassa, whom they called and still call The Mother, bought from Ashram resources; else roaming cattle from the surrounding Tamil villages would have eaten into extinction every one of the millions of saplings which grew into today’s lush forests. There hasn’t been much of solid architecture around for a long, long time, and, God knows, any plastered roads whatsoever. In their dreams, though, the first settlers imagined the future city of 50,000 as designed by Mother’s architect, Roger Anger: a circular town in the shape of a galaxy, with huge kilometers-long structures, up to sixty meters high, spiraling out from the Matrimandir, the spiritual center, to the periphery, where a greenbelt consisting of forests, parks and farms would surround the actual settlement. Roger Anger who wanted to become a better LeCorbusier designed his Auroville draft with no respect to the actual ground realities such as pre-existing settlements, topography or local culture. In Mother’s mind the plan had to reflect an ideal shape that, as with all her teachings, would have to be adapted to new realizations, as those unfolded over time. And so the constitutional four-point Charter which she gave the town on its inception does not mention the physical features of the place at all.
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
While “A Dream”, appealing to the hopes and aspirations of the world’s discontent, works as a powerful invitation to “all those who thirst for progress and aspire to a higher and truer life” the Auroville Charter serves as an outline of what its residents are out to accomplish. From the standpoint of a materialistic worldview the ordinary person may feel that the goals presented here sound quite lofty and, altogether, seem rather elusive. Those people usually overlook the precision with which the Mother chose her words; most of the times they are also unconscious either to the existence of a higher Truth or to the ways the invisible, immaterial, unmeasurable aspects of the Universe work. Despite superficial similarites to hippiesque folklore we are definitely not discussing untenable fluffy New-Age assertions here, nor are we talking religion. Integral Yoga, as the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo called his philosophy, is a science in that it can be verified through immersing oneself in the experiment he describes.
Let’s pick the Charter’s four points apart, so you can get a better impression of Auroville’s goals. The legal reality of the world since more than one hundred years looks something like the political maps they show you on the TV news: nowhere to run. Earth’s surface has been cut up into separate plots surrounded by fences and guarded by armies. All places are taken, some are even claimed by more than one nation, and all the people therein – every single one of them – is ruled over by a government of some kind. But when your free ethical thinking is impaired by external rules it has moral implications, as discussed above. Life ‘governed’ by Natural Law thrives best in – and would tend towards – anarchic conditions. This is why the “Dream” begins with the words “There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.” Auroville itself does not claim nationhood either. It would just become the place where the “supreme Truth” – Universal / Ultimate / Perfect / Divine Consciousness, or God, for short – manifests. And so the first point of the Charter says that it belongs to nobody you could point at; which doesn’t mean you give free pass to anyone who would misuse the unregulated setting for their selfish pursuits. In Auroville,
The external freedom from man-made restrictions, such as money, property, laws, regulations, tradition, ideologies, religion, or moral codes supports the strive for internal freedom, to listen to intuition, conscience, and to the ‘supreme Truth’. External liberty also provides the space for manifesting – translating knowledge into lived practice – what these inner voices can teach you in an “unending education” from birth to death. Far from submitting yourself into bondage by your willingness to be a “servitor of the divine consciousness” the beneficial effects of your commitment free you up ever further. Our collective willingness provides the drive by which Natural Law improves the external living conditions towards freedom, justice, peace, and prosperity.
If you ever looked into the Buddha’s teachings and got the gist of it you’ll already know that our desires as well as our aversions are the breeding-ground of human suffering; our ignorance of that fact perpetuates suffering for ever and ever. This is why Auroville would be the place “where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires”, in order “to conquer the causes of [man’s] sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities”.
Aurovilians ought not reject the past in totality; to be an Aurovilian does not mean you have become a featureless human cleared of all tradition, religion, moral codes etc., but that you are choosing consciously, ethically from their teachings, to make use of all which resonates with Truth.
Given you are going through a proper process of observation (listening, acquiring knowledge “from without and from within”) and evaluation (ethical thinking, understanding & moral conclusion) your resulting actions are bound to serve “a higher and truer life.”
Unrestrained by any arbitrary limitations your life resembles no longer the machine-like existence of the ordinary world, which is running on programmes and rules, but a living ever-changing organic realization of the Ultimate Truth (actual reality, if you think in scientific terms, only that it’s bigger than the textbooks have it), or God’s will (if you prefer spiritual terms). Both perspectives are necessary for a full understanding of what we undertake here. That’s why the underlying philosophy is called “Integral Yoga”. The Charter, between the lines, points out that Auroville is not an architectural site in the first place, but a congregation for the integration of spirit, mind, and matter. That integration takes place in people and through people, in all their diversity.
Though people of goodwill from all walks of life and from all over the world are invited to join, Auroville is not intended to represent an absurd United-Nations-like compilation of streamlined yet competing individuals but to grow a “unity in diversity” which embraces and takes advantage of the infinite forms of human expressions and where “each one is indispensable to the whole.”
Infinitely more could be said about the meaning of the Charter; different aspects could be highlighted, deeper implications could be pointed out. For the purpose of a quick introduction in the light of Natural Law it should suffice, though. Let’s move on to a bunch of other cornerstones of living in Auroville.
Preconditions for living in Auroville
The fundamental preconditions for living in Auroville have been named already. In various phrasings the Mother repeated them over and over again: To “be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness,” says the Charter. “To be of goodwill,” says another quote, and “to collaborate for the material realisation of that [human] unity,” proclaims yet another. Some of that stuff you read so far sounds pretty SciFi, doesn’t it? Unaccomplishably Utopian, hopelessly woo-woo, if you had asked me in my teens. Back then I believed that human nature was selfish, violent and shortsighted. I have learned since that I could not have been more mistaken. It is culture rather than nature that makes us selfish, violent and shortsighted. But as I was utterly fed up with the conditions I was living under (and within) I was looking for ways forward, out of the all-encompassing swamp of misery. That search set me on a meandering path eventually leading to Auroville.
A great deal of people I have talked to about this special town immediately responded that they found my leaving-behind of Western culture, my abandonment of social insurance memberships, permanently-surveilled orderliness and the overall predictability of everyday life “very courageous” when it was anything but courageous. I was totally fed up with it; I found them increasingly inacceptable and couldn’t possibly go on. The above-mentioned people also said they couldn’t take such a step. Their fascinated enchantment all too clearly showed, though, that something in them understood and would because it yearned for liberation. It was not me but them who needed courage, for courage is the will to act despite the fear of loss that tries to hold you back. A refreshingly resolute quote from the New Testament sums up the sentiment that someone with a sincere thirst for another way of being might share:
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, KJB)
It reverberates in the Mother’s word, “For those who are satisfied with the world as it is, Auroville obviously has no reason to exist.”The opposite applies as well, she said: “Those who are dissatisfied [with Auroville] ought to return to the world where they can do what they want,” becaue “it is not for comfort and satisfaction of desires that one comes to Auroville; it is for the growth of consciousness and consecration to the Truth that has to be realised.” And so the question of joining, or not, boils down to,
When – but ONLY when – you are willing to lose your guarded existence of individualist consumer choices which you pay for by selling out your conscience and your lifetime you may win something immeasurably more fulfillling. That something could await you in Auroville, or among any other group of people living by Natural Law, in one colourig or another.
“Is Auroville the only solution to the misery of mankind and the disorders of society?”, someone asked the Mother. She replied,
“Not the only solution. It is a centre of transformation, a small nucleus of men who are transforming themselves and setting an example to the world. This is what Auroville hopes to be. As long as egoism and bad will exist in the world, a general transformation is impossible.”
With all that talk about Yoga and Spirit and the Divine, “You must be meditating a lot. What’s your practice?”, I get asked sometimes. Makes me chuckle, inwardly. I’m not exactly the meditation kind, you know; none of the diverse rituals called meditation really work so well on me. Perhaps there’s an attitude issue. I contemplate or inquire quite frequently though. Adyashanti, one of my spiritual teachers, In his booklet “The Way of Liberation”, names these three methods as “Core Practices” for “bringing forth and realizing timeless Truth.” “Truth is quite literally the only thing that does exist,” he says, and calls spiritual practice “applied folly” the sincere persistent exercise of which, almost despite our efforts, guides us towards the realization of Truth. Depending on the spiritual tradition you regard – Indic religions or a-religious Spirituality – meditation is a form of Yoga, or Yoga is a form of meditation.
On being confused, resort to Sri Aurobindo who cut the Gordian knot as follows:
whereas Yoga is the search for Union with God, or Supreme Truth, or Universal Consciousness, or the Divine, or any of the other terms which have been used for the Ultimate. The word ‘life’ can be interpreted in two ways, both of them correctly so: Everything we do in the process of living is a search for Union with God, and all living beings are an expression of the aspiration for Union with God. Life is Yoga, Yoga is life.
“Our research will not be a search effected by mystic means. It is in life itself that we wish to find the Divine. And it is through this discovery that life can really be transformed,” proclaimed the Mother. Auroville has been founded for living the Yoga in the Aurobindian sense. And that means you better invest some Proper Thought, True Care, and Right Action, like you’re serious about it, that Union thing. Because it is not about you or me or them, separately; it’s about all of Auroville, and, beyond that, about all of humanity. One’s work is worth zilch if it is not dedicated to something beyond oneself, and one’s freedom is slavery to the petty ego so long as it is not concerned with the freedom of everyone. If we are good at it we can make dramatic progress early on; if not, the Universe will find other species to help achieve what it wants.
For “Humanity is not the last rung of the terrestrial creation. Evolution continues and man will be surpassed. It is for each individual to know whether he wants to participate in the advent of this new species.”
Eugenics? Transhumanism? I admit the thought is suggestive. It is one of the examples to illustrate the presence of the dark twin that every spiritual realization possesses. The satanic brother pretends to be the true good, but he twists truth into a lie, good into evil and diversity into arbitrariness. Man, by virtue of the evolution of his consciousness, can voluntarily transform himself into a physically changed being more amenable to the highest truth, and this evolution can be accelerated by spiritual practices, says Aurobindo. We are equally free to let it be. The technocratic sorcerer’s apprentices of our time, on the other hand, by means of pharmaceuticals, genetic manipulation or by merging with machines, try to impose on humanity a Babylonian megalomania that has no place in Aurobindo’s teaching.
The “superman” is a historically loaded topic, a difficult territory, especially in our time, in which humans, who have been stripped of all meaning and transcendence, try to become an omnipotent immortal homo deus. One should certainly take a very close look at who is talking about it, in what way and with what aim, and also consider Karl Kraus’ remark that the Übermensch is a premature ideal that presupposes the human being. For a huge number of our brothers and sisters are stuck in survival mode, which leaves hardly any space for expressing the faculties of our species.
To distinguish the light from the dark twin requires a sharpened eye, but one can easily acquire it with a little practice. Many of the concepts of the Auroville utopia, which at first seem confusing or impossible to achieve, only make sense once you have it. I know it doesn’t help much to say that all that seems impossible becomes self-evident after one begins to trust Aurobindo’s teachings enough to let oneself fall into his experiment. And yet, it is like that sign pointing the way to the restaurant: The hunger for truth is not satisfied by Aurobindo’s books, but in the place to which those books point the way. We will come to this in the next article.
Skeptical stares, yes, I understand. We have seen too many pied pipers to believe in anything good anymore. The cynicism and nihilism of some and the defeatism and depression of others can be understood all too well. And yet we should not be discouraged, but draw the right conclusions from the failures of our search. The good still exists. Thanks to the research of numerous men and women of all times and cultures, we know:
Ken Wilber challenges the doubters:
“if you want to know what these men and women are actually talking about, then you must take up the contemplative practice or injunction or paradigm, and perform the experiment yourself.”
And as in Auroville “each person is allowed full freedom,” to perform the experiment literally anything could happen. It therefore doesn’t make sense to spend much breath on foretelling in detail what it would be like to live in such a place.
“To seek Truth freely and to approach it freely along his own lines is a man’s right. But each one should know that his discovery is good for him alone and it is not to be imposed on others.”
Ideally, the township would have no government. As indicated in “A Dream”, “titles and positions would be replaced by opportunities to serve and organise;” nothing and no one has the right to impose themselves arbitrarily. Leadership would be understood as some sort of guidance, not as so-called authorities endowed with the right to rule.
“No rules or laws are being framed. Things will get formulated as the underlying Truth of the township emerges and takes shape progressively. We do not anticipate.”
Problems would be solved by consensus arrived-at rather than majority vote or even decree. Again, this requires deep listening to the Truth and the goodwill to reach beyond one’s own preferences. Provided there is goodwill, pathways that serve all members of the polity open up. Organization could happen spontaneously, even, as fluidly emerging – imagine that scene – like people going about their business in a densely populated place, collisionlessly passing each other on the way to their next stop without the need to follow rules or orders. When living by the guidance of higher levels of consciousness, starting with the basics of human interaction as described by the “Golden Rule”, a society organizing in the “Divine Anarchy” the Mother imagined becomes possible.
You guessed it: A society without government and laws has also no place for police and courts, for all of these are forms of imposition, of violence, of restrictions to freedom. You cannot possibly have them AND progress to a free, just, prosperous and peaceful society. People are not out to zap each other, as reports from any disaster area can tell you. Left on their own devices they spontaneously organize for mutual help. Even the actual Auroville of today, as impaired with fear, ignorance and greed as many of its residents are, may serve as an example for the tremendous improvement that comes with greater self-determination.
Work, money, property
They watch TV every night til they fall asleep on the sofa, play video games til they break the world high scores, or camp on the beach for months on end. They got the squarest eyes and the fattest asses you’ve ever seen, yes? – No.
Just like the maroding man-eating mobs from the movies are a myth, so is the ever-lazy bum. Where they exist they are a rebellous reaction to being hopelessly enmeshed in rigid social structures. Where there is no government, like in tribal groups, things essential both to survival and happiness are getting done – and have been since the emergence of our species. Today’s usage of the word ‘tribal’ gives a completely wrong impression of what natives’ life was and still is about. Despite derogatory stories told by conquistadores and missionaries peace, justice, freedom and wellbeing have been maintained to an immensely greater and more persistent degree among so-called “savages” than among the civilized. Neither driven by leaders nor incentivized by currency first nations are able to live in abundance – even today under the severe conditions they have been driven into – while enjoying all the leisure they like.
Now imagine a modern town where “work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole.” If you can’t, pay us a visit. I once read in a feature-length article in a major German newspaper that the reporter was impressed with the fact that Auroville’s residents, while generally quite relaxed, are constantly busy with their multiple projects, activities, or involvements: arts, community discussions, sports, healing, meditation, workshops, “day jobs”, gardening, voluntary service and whatnot, none of which they receive as labour in the sweat-of-your-brow sense of having to earn a living. All of them? Well, a number significant enough for this reporter’s impression to arise; those who understood that “the opposition between spirituality and material life … has no sense … as, in truth, life and the spirit are one and it is in and by the physical work that the highest Spirit must be manifested. It is not what you do but the spirit in which you do it that makes Karma Yoga [ie. the yoga of work].”
With that idea disappears another huge factor which holds societies back from developing towards real truth, justice, peace, freedom and wellbeing. “Money would no longer be the sovereign lord,” the ‘Dream’ proclaims, as we don’t need it to get our activities going among ourselves. One also quickly loses the sense of personal possessions; not only does the commune, by the power of everyone’s work contribution, provide for everyone’s basic needs; “The more we are consciously in contact with our inner being, the more are the exact means given to us.” Because it’s a real effect it has become absolutely commonplace knowledge among all spiritual seekers. Mechanistic materialists call it ‘synchronicity’; disenchanting, but fair enough.
So much for the dream of Auroville. To know Truth from illusion one must always consciously discern lived reality from the ideal, and one must distinguish between first-hand experience and mediated information. Too many visitors and, unfortunately, even some Aurovilians fail to do that. Keep that in mind while reading through this four-part series on Auroville & Natural Law.
The Auroville & Natural Law series
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