All of the documents, correspondence, transcripts of meetings and conversations that appear either verbatim, in excerpts or paraphrased through the text that follows are drawn from authentic material and records. None of these original references have in any way been revised to alter their explicit meaning and intent.
The quotations and photographs of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram are protected fu the Ashram Trust. Auroville has received acknowledgement to use those quotations and photographs which appear in the text.
Though the experience of this writing represented a very personal and intense labour, it could not have materialized without the support and participation of others – others not really other to whom I am very grateful...
Rakhal, who provided me the place where I could write the first manuscript; Patricia, who deciphered my hand-written script, typed the first draft and underlined the YES in this venture; Barbara, who bore with the revisions and typed the second manuscript, despite herself, my family in America, who through all the distances, stood behind, always there when needed to help sustain the Quest; Francoise, who helped me find the beginning of this story through the mask of resistance; and the Aurovilians, who in nameless and numberless ways offered themselves and their trust.
Hills and Valleys and the Roses of a Little Prince
The Worm and the Fire
Through the Be-Wilderness
The Lost Bouquet
Long Night’s Journey into Day
PART THREE: SUN-WORD RISING
Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The City Through the Trees
The Paradox of Power and the Politics of Oneness
The Lotus and the Mud
The Interregnum of Consciousness and the Economics of Oneness
By the Law of a New World
A Self-Defining Laugh
The Transformation of the Cells
Light and Shadow
A Story for the Future
A SIMPLE PROPOSAL...
A Trust for the Earth
a passage between two stories
This is not an easy story. Love stones never are. They are a birth in themselves.
This is the story about the intersection of a personal life with a collective experience, a Community called Auroville. But at a certain point in this story these words ‘personal’ and ‘collective’ – myself and others – which we think we know so well begin to blur, begin to become something else, begin to merge and re-emerge as something completely other. That is why I call it a love story. An evolutionary love story which lies at the heart of each relationship, which repeats its pattern in all of the languages of this universe: molecular, cellular, ecological and psychological, in the stars and in the eyes of another. And all of the characters in this story begin to become interchangeably you and I, to act out in their lives, their gestures, their habits and their fears, their hopes, their dreams and their struggles the process of this love story imprinted in the heart of the earth, this most fundamental of genetic codes.
It is the simple story of self-giving, of the incomplete forever giving itself up to become the whole that it is. But the simplest of stories, the most simple of stories, are never easy. For all the scenarios of this story till now have worn the mask of the ego, the Great Complicator. The spoiler, the one who resists a larger and greater becoming for fear of losing himself, the one who clings to the small and petty frame he calls his own whether singular or plural, refusing to let go like the vulture glued to his carcass. An ultimately simple story, confounded, lost, hidden, but always there. Always there like a sudden twinkling of sunlight on an endless sea even amidst the long, laborious prologue of struggle which till now has been the dominant theme of our earthly journey.
A story of the earth. A long-forgotten, ever-present love story concealed, deformed, obscured, censored by the ego, edited into his melodrama of resistance and conflict, division and death in chapters that only repeat the same futile episodes, the same futile fears. The autobiography of a consciousness which seeks in every scene to possess, to control, to own, to have – and if it cannot have, to destroy – as if thereby to give a semblance that it exists, as if vicariously to enjoy that which it is afraid to be. The microbe and the man, the group, the state, the globe, all he seeks to annex, to rule and to defend even to the death. And none, not even the saint, perhaps least of all the saint, is immune.
Two stories. One, Real, which we have known forever, the other, its mask, a story of Love and a story of Resistance – a Resistance as old as time – of all in us that refuses to change, to expand, to acknowledge our inseparable oneness which is our sole and true identity – a oneness so painful to that petty sack of habits we have grown accustomed to call ourselves, so painful that we have preferred to die in our shells in our self-imposed exile rather than to change, to carve out our little kingdoms and erect our tombs to protect ourselves from one another and from ourselves rather than to change. So hypnotic the trance of the ego.
This small story is a passage between the two, a passage and a quest through which the earth itself is passing, a difficult and agonizing transition from the grip of the ego and the fear of becoming to a Community of the Earth which has recovered the simple story, the Real Story, the only story. A quest which has carried me across the hemispheres to a place somewhere on the southern coast of India called Auroville, a Community whose roots go deeper than a simple common sharing, deeper than a mutual sense of ideals and goals to heal a strife-tom world, deeper than a resonance of sympathy, down down deeply to that deepest resonance of unity which alone beneath this global hallucination of men and countries obsessed with their own destruction remains the single and true Fact. This is a story of a meeting with Auroville, a personal love affair with a Community of men and women whose lives have intersected exposing all of humanity’s contradictions, a Community of men and women who have chosen, despite the resistances they harbour and the larger resistances around them of a world addicted to doubt and denial, to leave their shells, their masks to find that sole Fact of their lives, to live that Story which alone is Real, to catch that sudden twinkling of sunlight and call it through the breach of their lives and of the world's, through the heavy and painful lines of a story that never was or could be, burning the pages that never were, the forgeries and the Imposter, until a new man emerges and this earth becomes the sun that it is.
This is the story of an encounter with Auroville, a Community whose simple Charter begins: “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular, Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole …” the first lines of a Trust for the Earth.
9 September, 1979
A solitary flame illumines the darkness:
I place myself before it
as kindling wood.
1. the traveller in the mists
This story of mine, of ours, began long before I knew, long before beginnings. But the stories of men demand beginnings so we shall satisfy them and make one. But between ourselves we know it is only a myth. That is why all true stories begin simply once upon a time, once upon eternity…
… Somewhere in the early middle 1960’s, there was a man not quite a man who lived in a place called Florida at the very south-eastern shore of the United States. He was not a happy man, though he did not know why, not quite a man at all. He was who I thought I was.
He was a student in a university, lost like the rest of us, trying to make the best of finding himself in a world that made no sense. He had long ago forgotten the Real Story, long ago forgotten that secret sun for ever there vibrating in the atom and the star and the heart of man, that single power whose glance can utterly change this world and ourselves. It was so long ago, this self buried so deeply, that he no longer even remembered the ache, so numbed had he become. Like the rest of us spun in our deep spell, lost in our primordial amnesia, he had grown accustomed to the habit of his impotence. Only a tiny grain of something else struggled still, insensibly, far far within him, a muffled cry of something or someone suffocating, a last trace of some slumbering discontent, of a remembrance not fully effaced. The vestige of who he was.
We are chased by a self we cannot now recall And moved by a Spirit we must still become.1
But one day, god knows why, something stirred his somnambulism, pierced his crust. Even amidst our stumblings, some infallible design.
It began with poetry, gently at first with Blake and Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley; like the fragrance of a memory moving through a mist, the first dim rememberings rolled in from another shore, swept through him, invaded him, calling to someone asleep, arousing a first feeling poignant but unseeing, a touch at once of delight and despair, ravishing and anguishing, a first sense of something deeply missing. And the long-forgotten ache slowly began to unveil.
And the waves gathered force, passing through that first sweet taste of innocence into the growing swells of Eliot and Cummings, the implosions of Dylan Thomas, the fervour and clash of waves beating against an insensate world. Wake up, wake up. And the sea grew darker, pounding, pounding itself furiously, raging against the rocks on the shore like someone madly trying to awaken before he drowns. Wake up, wake up. And the seething sea writhed like a serpent within that one who I thought I was, sang in the exquisite violence, the impassioned midnight choruses of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, of Genet and Miller, surged in the raw, rebellious cries of the outlaw who spits in the face of his own death, L’Homme Revolté of Camus, of Ginsburg and Ferlinghetti and Lenny Bruce. Wake up, wake up.
And so the ache was bared, the ache so painful, so nude, the Great Need of his life hidden even from himself for how long, how many ages? How many lives had he walked alone in the earth, in the sea, in the body of a man lost in his oblivion, anaesthetized, unable to even feel that something was missing, that he was missing?
And so by the nakedness of his own need he was condemned to search for that which was missing, to burn in his urge called forth by an unfillable ache whose void no other could fill.
And so the quest, the journey began for the traveller in the mists, the return, the recovery which lies-not behind but before us, not in retreat but in becoming. For him it had begun with poetry, for another it could have been a strain of Bach or a stroke of Van Gogh, a spark of Einstein or a scent of jasmine; the door one enters doesn’t matter, it is the act of entering alone which matters, of piercing the crust and touching that need which is the same Need in all, which is where all the journey begin, which is where you and I begin.
Outside him, the earth too seemed suddenly ajar, adrift in its orbit, suddenly not quite so sure of who or what she was as she bore the first convulsions of a long-forgotten labour. The first ripples rising from a fire-seed planted long ago in the heart of the earth in another story, the first ripples troubling the world's blank visage. A black man one day suddenly seized by his own life refuses to be set apart at a lunch counter in Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi. A man oppressed suddenly refuses his oppression. Why had he chosen that moment to explode, what unforeseen urgency overtook him that day, pressed him past the compelling gravity of his own fears? What sudden chemistry broke the bond, ignited the spark that sent a hundred thousand men and women to Washington that spring in the name of freedom?
A man oppressed suddenly refuses his oppression, revolts from the paralysis of his own fear. And in his eyes one sees the cry of all men in all time, of One Man, that same Man caught by that uncalculating instant which remembers that he must be, that instant flashing like a sword in the sun which liberates him from the fear of his own freedom, the sole Oppressor behind all oppressions.
Something or someone suspended within the deep womb of earth stirred, quickened by a single golden ray which threaded layer by layer the growing density of night, self drawn irresistibly to self awakening that which it is, calling to it through the ever-descending spiral into Matter where it lies asleep, a consciousness locked in itself, lost to itself, dreaming that it is poor and powerless and dispossessed. An Eternal Story buried in Time. A Princess white with snow cast under a deep spell until He comes from the Country of the Sun and kisses her on the brow, a touch warm and golden that unlocks the same warm gold hidden in her heart whispering wake up, wake up.
A man oppressed suddenly refuses his oppression. The first vague rumblings of a Great Evolutionary Discontent dislodged from its torpor began to filter through the body of the earth sending forth a thousand hairline cracks in the mask. An Urge which cannot rest until it has carried humanity beyond itself to its fullness cleaves the crust, an Urge which can only deliver itself in the discovery of its true being, its missing whole, heaves in her heavy heart. And the once-complacent campuses suddenly begin to erupt under the banners of civil rights and freedom of speech.
The first assault of waves sweep ashore, timidly at first, tempered by innocence. Throughout the South men and women take to the streets, leave the refuge of their well-reasoned fears. A conflagration of sit-ins and marches, boycotts and protests plague the placid, moss-covered towns, sweep defiantly across the drawling country-sides under the measured and restrained cadence of Non-Violence. The choruses of “We Shall Overcome” reverberate and swell and merge into one mighty voice as men and women, black and white, faces grim and determined, link arms, weave together beyond the borders of their little lives. It is the early sixties and a sophomore at the University of Florida, a traveller in the mists unaware that he has embarked on his journey, is drawn into the vortex. He does not know why, what attracts him despite the raised eyebrows of prudence – the counsels that tell him he has nothing to gain and everything to lose – only that something inside him corresponds, feels alive, senses a value in the act itself, the act itself which refuses to calculate consequences, to bargain with gain and loss. A sophomore begins to shed his skins, begins to risk his life to live.
And so it was that he moved into his first experience, waded through his first march down the sultry streets of Gainesville, Florida in the small procession armed only with a handful of homemade placards and signs; that small procession which turned the corner onto Main Street exposing him suddenly to those first indelible looks where he saw in the eyes of strangers, men whom he had never met, the red coals of the beast, heard the snarl of wolves teethbared in the sidewalk chants of ‘nigger lover’. And those looks, those words struck deeply, shattering something in him, pressing him further upon a course from which he could not turn back, quickening in him the rhythm of the rebel, carrying him farther out to sea in the dark and pounding surf.
And from the Sleepy South the reaction stiffened, slammed back swift and shocking. The arrests and the beatings, the fire hoses turned against the men and women in the streets, the glares of hatred and the beer-bellied laughter of contempt; and in the dark alleys and moonless woods, the burnings and the lynchings. “Oxford Town, Oxford Town, everybody there has their head hung down,” whined the thick-twanged elegy of Bob Dylan.
And the innocence was torn and shredded like the clothes ripped off the backs of black men by police dogs. And with it the muzzles of Non-Violence began to give way, the polite and well-behaved protestors who somehow still knew their place began to burst through their facades as the raw volcano of outrage and indignation that lay suppressed for more than a century erupted.
But behind, always behind, the returning refrains of “We Shall Overcome”.
Two stories intertwined: A movement widening, embracing, uniting, becoming, tearing aside the mask; and its recoil, contracting, shrinking, denying, calcifying the mask to conceal the cowardice of men afraid to be. A story of Love and a story of Resistance.
2. the fundamental revolution
That fall of ‘63, Kennedy is killed in Dallas. We watch again and again the grainy eighty millimetre replay as his head shatters like a Chinese vase in the open limousine. The nation is traumatized, the wedge of events cutting deeper into the crust, cracking the brittle mirage of our civilized immunity. We watch the spectacle live in disbelief as the black horse-drawn caisson carries his body through the grey November streets of Washington; we watch the spectacle live in the days to come as Jack Ruby casually steps into the screen through the cordon of police and fires a revolver point-blank into the stomach of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin who is being transferred from his jail cell.
Seemingly irrational circumstances conspire toward some inscrutable end, beating upon the thick hide of the earth as if to rouse someone locked within her; powerfully charged circumstances unleash themselves in currents like some terrestrial shocks treatment jolting a comatose world, breaking it down, wearing away at its defences, unravelling the smug illusion that assumes this well-worn and reasonably-reliable pattern of existence to be the only one, the smug illusion that keeps us glued to our comfortable carcasses finding change inconvenient and troublesome, preferring the security of our dead and uninspired ideologies to the radical and unprecedented emergence of a New Man with a New Consciousness in a New World.
A snow-balling collage of events thunders through the tableau of the sixties. From that first black man exploding unpredictably one day at a lunch counter – a mutant gene triggering off some unforeseen and irreversible metamorphosis – the sea rushed in pulsing through the campuses, flooding through the dry and dusty corridors and out into the streets and neighbourhoods, flooding through the doors marked “private” and “prohibited” and “whites only”, and eventually through the doors marked “men only” and all the doors marked “only”. And the first errant streams of the Movement began to blend, the Civil Rights and Black Liberation struggles merging into the later anti-war protests and the plethora of self-determined expressions and experiences that poured out from a generation of youth broken open, who needed to feel, who needed to know and were prepared to try anything to find their way to that which was missing, to look in all the rooms, even the ones where you risk losing yourself to find that missing something which you so desperately need. Wake up, wake up:
Drugs suddenly appear – the luminous and the deadly – pouring into the converging streams, bringing another dimension to the process, pushing the revolution off the streets and into the chemistry of human consciousness. The kaleidoscope jars and the khaki-clad image of Che Guevara transposes into the figures of Leary and Huxley and Alan Watts, the credo turns from Marxist dialectics to the wanderings of Castaneda. A decade looking everywhere, opening all the doors, trying everything, all the keys, the shiny ones and the rusty, all the experiments and all the exaggerations of the experiment in that first, initial surge, swinging madly to the extremes in order to resist the formidable undertow – the counterpull of the past that would level everything, drag everything under – the gravity of the Trance. Hair lengthens, overflows or goes ascetic and bare; clothing eccentricfies, cross-breeds or dissolves; and mass music becomes an instrument of change, a ballad of the birth and struggle, a mantra of the moment, provocative and energizing, vital and violent, breaking the old records of His Master’s Voice, the same monotonous melody dipped in syrup or mud, sticky and stuck.
And slipping in somehow amidst the turbulence of the inrushing Western tide, a faint essence of the East. The infiltration of incense, perhaps at first not so much for atmosphere as to cover the smell of grass; the sounds of the sitar though the hybrid compositions of Bud Shank and Paul Horn, the Beatles and Yehudi Menuhin; and the gradual influx of a new jargon trickling into our linear language, a terse vocabulary snatched from the Sanskrit and Tibetan and Japanese that seemed more at home, more fluent, more familiar with the states and transitions through which we were passing; experiences for which our cultural dialect, derived from a unilateral rationalism, had no equivalent terms, no corresponding nomenclature.
Incense, ragas and a handful of migrant, mystic syllable. The innocuous symbols of a Revolution far more radical and dangerous, far more potent than all its surface renderings, than all the revolving of the earth and the stars and the flickering insurrections of men. A Revolution fundamentally subversive which finally none can resist: A takeover from Within. A Revolution of Consciousness.
But who among us then submerged in that era of ferment, over our heads in that swift infusion of feeling and experience and spontaneity which our civilization, so absorbed in its grey and grave matters, had withheld from itself, – who among us then could decipher the signs, crack the code? We were too close to see and our idioms could only describe, repeat what they already knew. Something was happening but our eyes had not yet adjusted to the sunlight, the pattern was still too dazzling or too premature for our sluggish deductive processes which need to digest and digest before a morsel can enter.
With the past as our only vantage point, our analyses and commentaries could only cast the events into a political perspective, interpret the apparent aberration as a social and political or, at most, psychological phenomenon, of historical but certainly not evolutionary significance; as if to reassure ourselves, that it would pass and all would be somehow as it was before, thank god.
But in an obscure journal called the Arya published in Calcutta before the twenties, long before the first hippie was conceived, someone sees through to the Other Story.
“The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral, physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual revolution waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and there. Until it comes the sense of the other cannot be understood and till than all interpretations of present happenings and forecast of man’s failure are vain things. For its nature, power, event are that which will determine the next cycle of our humanity.”2