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
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
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
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
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
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
What do you do in the
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
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
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
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
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
a symbol of the unity of creation, is also, I feel, doomed to the same bitter
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.