54 Interviews with Westerners
on their search for spiritual fulfilment in India

Compiled, Edited and Mainly Photographed by
Malcolm Tillis

  1. Vijayananda
  2. Melita Maschman
  3. Brahmachari Gadadhar
  4. Bill Eilers
  5. Simonetta
  6. Swami Jnanananda
  7. Bill Aitken
  8. Bramacharini Atmananda
  9. Jamie Smith
  10. Martha Smith
  11. Radheshwari
  12. Omkara Das Adhikary
  13. Gopi Jai Krishna
  14. Ellen Schector
  15. Paul Ivan Hogguer
  16. Giorgio Bonazzoli
  17. Anil Bhai
  18. Russell Balfour-Clarke
  19. Norma Sastri
  20. John Clarke
  21. Peter Hoffman
  22. Dhruva
  23. Maggi Lidchi
  24. Sz. Regeni
  25. Baruni
  26. Michael Zelnick
  27. David and Sally
  28. Wilhelmina van Vliet
  29. Norman C. Dowsett
  30. Father Bede Griffiths
  31. Matthew and
    Joan Greenblatt
  32. Lucy Cornelssen
  33. Doris Williamson
  34. Lucia Osborne
  35. David Godman
  36. Hamsa Johannus de Reade
  37. Sir
  38. Joachim Peters and
    Uli Steckenreuter
  39. Richard Willis
  40. Chitrakara das Adhikary
  41. Aviva Keller
  42. Ma Prem Leela
  43. Swami Prem Pramod
  44. Ma Amanda Vandana
  45. Swami Anand Bodhisattva
  46. Swami Nadama
  47. Sister Arati
  48. Francis Reck
  49. H.H. Giriraja Swami
  50. Jean Dunn
  51. Raymond and
    Maree Steiner
  52. Bhikshu Ngawang Samten
  53. Ani Tenzin Palmo
  54. Kate Christie



David and Sally

Another super house

25th January 1981

Click for a printable view


New Lives - Malcolm Tillis

We are now traversing yet another lovely field on our way to see David and Sally who are also living in an extravagantly simple house with thatched roof and elegant lines and who are very jolly until I ask about their second name. Well, I wasn’t really prying, and Sally was already giving me a strange look when I mentioned the word Devotion. Maybe such words have different meanings these days.

I keep thinking about that question whether the book will ever get finished and about the great variety of people I am meeting: certainly work on the book is exposing me to experiences I would have been denied tucked away up in the hills. This book is MY growth centre.

David and Sally are becoming less unjolly as I admire their things: the books and space, the pottery and lace. They really are well-suited here…their quiet happiness makes me feel they have found THEIR dream. They have left the American one for the Aurovillian dream. Long, long may it last.




Interview 27

Sally: I would like to start by telling you why we in Auroville don’t usually give our second name: it’s because we don’t talk about each others’ background — who we were and what we did in the world. We take people as they are. If there are several people with the same name they usually get a second name associated with their work here, as surnames originated.

Now that you have explained all that, I’m even more intrigued to know something about your background.
Sally: I have been in Auroville nine and a half years — the background before that was a long time ago…

You don’t remember it?
I actually worked in dance and theatre and mixed media in America. So although I have done many other things here, I continue the dance work also.
David: I was studying before I came here — university — taking a course on Indian religion and philosophy. When I came across Sri Aurobindo it made a strong impact on me. After school I wanted to come to Auroville so I worked for some time to get the money so that I could support myself. That was about six years ago.

You didn’t know each other in America?
David: No. Auroville was different from what I expected from the literature I had read…it gave the impression of being more developed. Anyway, I was open to whatever work was going; at first I was with the children — not teaching, being with them. After a couple of years, I worked at the Matrimandir — construction: that’s what was needed, and it’s central to Auroville. Out of that I gradually moved into the work of communication and information, because this aspect of Auroville has always been neglected.
And now since one year, Sally and I are co-editing the Auroville Review, which goes outside. It is sold in the boutiques here and the centres all over the world.

And Sally continues with her dance instruction?
Sally: In the first years I worked developing the land — digging holes for new trees, chasing goats, making fences, compost heaps, vegetable gardens. Then I helped start the handicraft center at Fraternity. That is quite a lush area now — originally it was desert… there wasn’t even scrub grass. In 1977 I worked at Matrimandir, and then my story parallels David’s as we started working together. In between all that I gave dance classes, mostly to adults. We do one performance a year…that’s all we have time for.

Can you tell me more about the different settlements and the activities associated with each one?
David: Auroville has about forty settlements ranging in size from one hundred in Aspiration to one or two people out in the green belt planting trees. Among the settlements there are different activities; many are involved in land work — regeneration work, erosion control, basic afforestation. The crafts are diverse. Fraternity employs about ninety people…Sally will know more about that.
Sally: It started with the weaving and crochet section; now they are into tailoring, lampshades, woodcrafts, stone-carving. They also make chairs, candles…what else? Well, that’s just Fraternity. Other handicraft units in Auroville make incense, leatherwork, pottery — country pottery — clothing.

Can you describe your daily activities — your life here?
David: There’s little outer structuring; we have our meal hours, and that forms the basis of the day’s organization. There’s no set daily programme. I can tell you what a basic day of mine is like, but each day is different. Things are constantly happening so you have to move with them. You may have to go out to the green belt, or people may come to see you — it’s very fluid. Right now we’re putting together the next issue of the Auroville Review.
Sally: There are about 460 Aurovillian residents — this includes the children. They all have different programmes. Those in the green belt start the day milking their cows, then seeing to the tree planting or the watering of the crops. The people working with the children will go to the school; those in handicrafts will go to their units. The day depends on the work. We don’t have a meditation together at fixed times…nothing like that here. Life is focused on the work.

What do you do in the evenings?
Sally: Go to bed… (much laughter).
David: We have none of the diversions you have in New York or Paris; there’s no cultural life per se. But generally the people who come here, that’s not their focus… maybe it was in the past. It’s true after a certain time here one gets starved of cultural life, cultural expression.
Sally: In the early days we had to do basic survival work; now we have houses, water, food, so people are expanding more into dance and theatre, and this is becoming what you can call a cultural life.

Am I right in thinking that what unites you all is your devotion to Sri Aurobindo and Mother?
David: No, I would say the unifying factor is Auroville.

What does Auroville stand for?
David: I couldn’t possibly explain that…it represents such a vast ideal — a latitude for many different approaches. Certain guidelines have been given by Mother, but right from the beginning she was clear not to establish rules so that the experiment could develop organically, to let it grow from within without the restrictions of saying: this is Auroville, this isn’t Auroville. So there are many approaches and many understandings of what it is.

But what brings people here — there must be a unifying factor?
David: I shy away from saying it’s devotion to Mother; that brings in a certain connotation which doesn’t apply here — it brings in a religious connotation, a thing it is not. I can’t put my finger on it…perhaps it’s an aspiration. All the people here share an aspiration for another way of living that’s truer than what exists elsewhere. So Auroville simply represents a spot on earth where there’s an international collectivity that is working together to find together a new way to be together.

Are there not problems in such a closed society?
Sally: One of the biggest challenges is that we come from different countries and backgrounds, so in the matter of — say — what kind of food we eat, or how we solve problems, because we are so heterogeneous makes us try various ways to resolve differences. That diversity is a challenge but also the richness of Auroville. The challenge is one of the appealing things about staying here.

Do you ever get feuds and people not co-operating?
David: We haven’t been able to avoid this entirely…we are all human beings. We may have an aspiration for something higher, but we are still, in a way, caught in the mud. Sure, there have been difficulties on the human level. Especially when it touches what has been a great problem for us over the past five years — the struggle with the outside body in Pondicherry which is trying to control Auroville. But I don’t want to talk about that.

Can you talk about your form of sadhana?
Sally: But why?…that’s rather a private thing…
David: Well — yes, but we should be able to say what it is. The individual inner work, as with other things connected with Auroville, has a diversity of approach — there’s no set system to follow. It’s left to the individual to contact that which is inside, which is truer, finer.

Do you not feel at times the need to turn to someone for spiritual advice or guidance?
Sally: We do that all the time. But people think that has to be a particular physical body sitting in a chair or cushion, whereas in fact there’s a strong living presence. That’s one of the things we are learning — how actively present that guidance is. It’s more an attunement to that which would be. It’s not that we have turned away from the West or life: this is part of a wave, a push to the future. Our work is to bring together spirit and matter, spirit working through matter, or matter expressing spirit. You were asking about sadhana — that’s the crucial point — the emphasis is not on any outward devotion or meditation or spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is not separate from daily work; it’s how to bring awareness into whatever we do. That’s why there’s stress on karma yoga: it includes all aspects of life. The work isn’t the concept of service: it’s the concept of transforming oneself. And that’s what’s so profound. One thing is to be understood: Auroville is not an Ashram, and the daily life is not that of an Ashram.

David: Mother described Auroville as the good-will to make a collective experiment for the purpose of humanity, and that’s sufficient to gain admittance. She also said: Auroville wants to be a universal township where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above creeds, politics and nationalities: it’s to realize human unity. Another thing Mother said is — and this relates to what Sally was telling you: The division between spiritual and material life has no meaning for me, for in truth life and spirit are one, and it is in and by physical work that the highest spirit must manifest.

Thank you. That gives me a greater understanding and it makes a perfect ending.
David: I could give you the full Auroville Charter if you like — it’s quite short.

Why not!
1. 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.
2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages.
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantages of all discoveries from without and within, Auroville will boldy spring towards future realizations.
4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.


We can’t leave Auroville without seeing its heart, the Matrimandir. So much work has been put into its fantastic construction — there was, is, nothing like this in Ibiza. All work seems to have stopped. Instead of looking like a meditation hall within a suspended bubble, it could be an abandoned rocket projectile site. Is this the dream already gone sour, perhaps a symbol of all things material?

As I gaze at this stupendously ambitious project — it has already cost millions of rupees — the inevitable, inescapable, haunting sadness clinging to all man-made buildings fills the air. The seven wonders of the ancient world fell into ruin; they were condemned from inception for they were made of perishable materials. No temple or place of worship can escape that fate either. So this great symbol — should it ever be completed (1)— a symbol of the unity of creation, is also, I feel, doomed to the same bitter fate.

Yet we must go on with the dream…and that’s all right so long as we know we are putting our efforts, our ambitions into a dream. The saints tell us an indestructible temple lies within each one of us and into which we can consciously enter. There Realization waits for us, and there we come to know that all outer temples are symbols of the inner temple, the one not subject to change. That Realization is the dream come true.



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© Malcolm Tillis 2006