In the morning, Maggi finishes her Interview: she then
takes me to Gorkond, another splendid Ashram guest house. This one is austere,
built in the Japanese style. It has a superb manicured garden area of polished
stones. Here there is breathtaking stillness. It has been arranged that I should
come back, but not until the afternoon, to Interview a Dutch woman.
That gives me time to have a quick lunch with Lynn,
an Australian interior designer I met a few days ago at the Theosophical Society. She explains she
is taking the long route to see her guru, Sai
Baba. The long route includes stops at several other Ashrams on the way.
Well, goodbye, Lynn, we are surely going to meet again!
My Dutch lady has decided not to give her story in her
room — visitors are allowed at restricted times -- one hour only in the
afternoon. We are to go to a friend’s apartment where we won’t have
to watch the clock.
This is my last day in Pondicherry and I still have
to take another Interview as well as having supper with Dhruva and his wife.
Watching the clock sometimes helps. And I can’t help thinking about the
early bus I hope to catch tomorrow morning for the Ashram of Father Bede Griffiths.
It’s the only one I can take.
But for now here we are in a light, modern apartment,
the friend away, the place all our own, and we will not have to think about
time. My Dutch lady is a smiley person with a deep expressive voice, and after
every few sentences she says: Yaa? Very musical. And she’s smiling and
I’m smiling and all sense of time has already been lost.
Spiritual aspirations were there since I was young. As a child I had flashes,
being conscious of something greater than me, which were translated in terms
of God. I was born into a Dutch Protestant family. We went through the German
occupation and I was old enough to understand what was happening. It was during
that time that I came into contact with Eastern thought through the Sufi movement.
I got some books by Inayat Khan which opened for me a new world. I had the clear
idea that there was somebody in India whom I didn’t know but who was guiding
me somehow or the other. I was then 16 or 17.
I wrote poetry round this idea, this living presence.
Then many things happened to cover all this up, although a sort of red thread
went through my life and I never lost it. I worked, mostly social work, and
being confronted with the problems of others, the quest started again. Through
a member of my own family who had been to this Ashram, I was given a book by
Otto Wolf; it was a comparative study on Sri
Aurobindo, Ramakrishna and Gandhi. I hadn’t finished the first page on
Aurobindo, and like lightning — Yaa? — I knew this is what I had
been looking for. In those years Mother was already very old, so I knew I had
to go immediately. I started writing to Mother.
What year was that?
That was — let me think: I’m now here thirteen years…it must
have been eighteen years ago. Then after a while I came. As I entered the main
Ashram I knew I had come where I had to be — there was no doubt. It was
straight, direct, open, immediate.
What had Mother written
She never wrote long letters — she didn’t even give answers in words
but would send us a blessing packet. She simply did. You felt something in your
inner being had changed. You were given a force to overcome all difficulties.
The experience, the relationship with Mother was fulfillment in itself. Especially
when I went back to Holland. The certitude of having met somebody who is absolutely
true, who really knows, who is absolute purity, absolute power, yet with a love
and tenderness you cannot describe.
Why did you return to
Oh, just to wind up my affairs — I had already made the decision to stay
if Mother agreed. She always gave us a trial year, and after that made the decision
whether we could stay permanently. I came back in January 1968 in time for the
inauguration ceremony of Auroville, which was one of the most impressive experiences
I had. Then after the year passed, Mother allowed me to stay.
Was Mother present at
No, there was a direct radio contact with her room and the site. Mother read
out the Auroville Charter (see previous chapter) in French which was relayed.
Her presence was fantastic! I was the one who had to read the Charter in Dutch
— it was read in every language — and as I went to the microphone,
I got such a tremendous wave of this presence that it nearly knocked me over.
I had trouble keeping myself upright.
Can you describe the
work you were given?
At first I worked in the Ashram department called Fleurs en Flacon. The literal
translation is Flowers in a Bottle — perfume. Simple work filling bottles,
labeling them, selling them. But it was with great joy I did it. Everything
you do here is part of your yoga. That’s why every aspect of
life is represented. The Ashram is not an out-of-the-world place where we try
to escape into a transcendental level of consciousness. Of course, that’s
one of the parts belonging to this yoga.
Are you still involved
I only did that for two or three years. At the same time I had already started
work for Auroville — administrative work. Then I got permission from Mother
to concentrate on the correspondence and translating for Auroville. That is
my main work with a little simple work I do in the dining room — I like
working with the mind and also the hands.
Do you spend any time
in formal meditation?
For that I go to the Ashram at night. In the morning one starts with a kind
of dedication, and for the rest of the day one tries to keep this at the back
of everything one does.
You are obviously happy
with your spiritual progress.
Definitely! Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
What is the aim of integral yoga?
Essentially the transformation of man. That means the transformation of the
world… the supramentalization of the world. We try by the way Sri
Aurobindo laid out for us to come as near to that as possible. And this means
we have to undo many things; it means you have to come to know yourself, to
discover the inner being.
Do you keep in contact
with the outside world?
Do you have a set daily
Yes. I start by going to the Ashram — to be quiet — at 6.30. I take
food at the dining room, go to the flower room — the Ashram has a special
place in which flowers are gathered from all the Ashram gardens, and every Ashramite
can take some for his room… which are meant to be placed in front of the
pictures of Sri
Aurobindo and Mother. Flowers have a special meaning here. Then I start work
in my room: translations, correspondence, typing. Or I may have to take people
to Auroville or guide them through the Ashram. Before lunch I spend half an
hour working in the dining room. We have a siesta after lunch, then I work till
about 6. At night after food I spend an hour in the Ashram before going to bed.
What are the blessing
They are small envelopes with dried rose petals, mostly with a picture of Sri
Aurobindo or Mother. People made them for her. Roses stand for surrender. She
would concentrate on each packet — she gave it a sort of charging: and
in that way she shared something with us. It was one of her many ways of helping
us. It’s as if an unseen hand takes troubles away from you.
But do you never experience
Yes — definitely. But that’s mostly one’s own fault. We are
all open to waves of depression or anger — yaa? These are the main difficulties.
When you are in transition, when things have to be changed in you, those very
things come to the forefront. All the nonsense in you becomes clear. Mother
cleans us through relationships. In this way we come to know our weaknesses
better. That is why work is important — working with others. That’s
a real test — you see where you stand.
Did Mother give guidelines
on how to get on with others?
The thing she stressed was harmony: not to expect from others what you don’t
do yourself, understanding, humility, the ability to obey orders.
You have worked so long
for Auroville. What do you think it will eventually come to represent?
In the beginning we were all enthusiastic about the idea of unity and harmony
— creating something new for the world. But we were unaware of what it
really means…it’s not just constructing a city. It means the constructing
of another consciousness, and that takes more time, much more than we thought.
It involves many more difficulties than we could imagine. But I see in the people
living there an openness towards the future, a freshness and intuition towards
the way they have to go. The struggle is to get out of the old world and find
an equality based on an inner truth, an inner equality. What was your own feeling
when you were there?
There was hardly time
to see much — I was there for a day only. Anyway, would you like to tell
me something about the benefits of this new life you found here?
A tremendous personal growth, a tremendous freedom, an environment in which
you move as a fish in water, the best side of the Indian culture which has a
wideness of approach and devotion. But the main thing is that I know I’m
in the place in which I belong, and that everything has a purpose, a meaning.
That can happen in the outside — Yaa? — but evidently it is the
fulfillment of my being, to be here.