Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the purpose of our yoga

(As you’ll read below I was indisposed for about a week and couldn’t get my writings from my computer to the internet so am putting a two-week backlog of blogs on 14 march.)

The first process of the yoga is to put yourself
with all your heart and all your strength into Gods hands.
The next process is to stand aside
and watch the working of the divine power in yourself.
(Sri Aurobindo)

9 march, 2012

Monday I headed out with JP to Pondicherry. He was to attend a Lutheran Pastors’ Conference there until Tuesday and had booked me to offer a musical presentation to the gathering as well. I’d met several of these guys before, both at Quo Vadis as well as at Gurukul Theological in Chennai and the seminary in Madurai where I have done other things for JP. They so reminded me of a gathering of priests, mostly guys (only a handful of women Lutheran pastors here in India), lots of boisterous joking and backslapping. After lunch with the group that first day, I was free. They offered me an AC room in a nearby hotel, quite near where we stayed at one of the Auroville guesthouses in 2007, and I accepted that offer, and I got to spend the day on my own here in the hometown of Sri Aurobindo once again.

JP’s noble driver Sam drove me out to Auroville itself in the afternoon. It was farther outside of town than I thought it would be. Actually we had caught a glimpse of it as we were driving in that morning; the recent cyclone through those parts had wiped out all the trees and so from a good distance we could see the golden discs attached to the dome of the Matri Mandir. (More about that later.) Auroville was a creation of the Mother, Mirra Alfissa, the French woman who moved to Pondicherry and dedicated her life to Aurobindo and carrying out his work for twenty some years after his death. He regarded her as the incarnation of the Divine feminine herself and trusted her completely with this after he withdrew into the retirement of the ashram the last thirty years of his life. Auroville was not begun until long after his death, started in the late ‘60s and opened in 1972. It is meant to be an international––or better yet, a non-national––community, a true village of the future, beyond nationality, beyond creed, (“Imagine…”), built around incarnating Aurobindo’s vision of what Yoga it would take to bring down the Supermental in to earthly life, and programs and principles based as if that were already to have happened. A utopian project–– thinking of it in the line of Buckminster Fuller’s thought from a few weeks back––the only requirement for belonging is that one would be committed to making the Divine manifest on earth in humanity. “The present community consists of more than 100 settlements spread over 20 square kilometers, and of around 1900 residents drawn from some 40 nations.” And its purpose: to realize human unity.

There is a quite a little ecosystem that has grown up around Auroville itself. We started passing by countless little shops, bakeries, health food stores, then more and more Westerners wearing their Asian pilgrim clothes, either on foot or, mostly, on scooters, tea shops and Internet spots. The “suburbs” seemed to go on for miles ‘til we finally got to the main visitors’ entrance. Sam led me in but let me go on by myself. At the visitors’ entrance there is a greeting hall with a display about the history of the place and its charter, lots of literature available and a video presentation.

Sam got me a ticket to go to the Matri Mandir viewing spot, and I headed out. It was a good kilometer or two walk to get there, built on a spot that the Mother had chosen either at random or by some kind of supernatural premonition. I don’t have the literature with me so I am trying to piece together all that I saw. The centerpiece is the dome of the Matri Mandir itself, (that literally translates as “Mother Temple”) as I mentioned earlier, all gold and covered with dozens of gold plated discs. (I believe I read that there are 42 of them.) Inside is a great meditation hall. Next to it, sort of semi-encircling, it is an outdoor amphitheatre, with terraced seating, where the community gathers a few times a year to celebrate. Around are also a series of twelve gardens, each set up around a certain flower that the Mother chose, named for the attribute that the flower represents.

I headed back and lounged a bit in the various shops that were set up. Auroville, like no other place I’ve seen in India has set up quite a boutique industry, aimed very much at Western tastes: lots of handmade paper, various flavors of incense and candles with flowers in the wax. There were also a few clothing stores with what looked like pretty high end merchandise, and of course the book store, where I spend a few rupees on things I might not be able to find at home. I was kind of underwhelmed by the whole place––of course I never did get any taste at all of what community life is actually like there––because, as much as I am fascinated with Aurobindo’s writings, I find the whole ambiance that it has spawned kind of sterile, almost cold––the architecture, the symbols (or lack of which), the calculated formulae that the Mother lays out as a plan for incarnating her Lord’s vision. As much I loved staying at the Aurbindo ashram in Delhi, I had the same impression there. Aurobindo himself has little time for image worship, and he and the Mother both wanted to surpass religion, though both were ardent believers in God. But they either set themselves up or allowed themselves to be set up, or set each other up as the Lord and the Divine Mother. I feel in my guts that they went too far with the whole thing and hubris ruins it.

Still it’s hard for me to fault this vision. In some way it’s what all of our lives are about: Sri Aurobindo points out that “the only way we can move toward unity is to realize that ‘there is a secret Spirit, a divine reality in which we are all one.’” This is the vision of the perennial philosophy and certainly the hope of Fr Bede. “Only when we live from our essential being, which is identical with this Reality [we could trip over that vocabulary a little, but let’s go on…] and not from our ego, will a real unity become possible.” This is what Sri Arubindo thought was the radical shift that had to take place, the next step in the evolution of humanity, the emergence of a new consciousness higher than that of our present consciousness. And it is only this that will ultimately result in the “integral transformation of humanity.”

Later that night, back in town, I treated myself to a nice meal at a French-Italian restaurant just down the street from my hotel––a real Greek salad and a pretty good facsimile of penne with a pesto sauce, just the kind of thing I crave after I’ve had stomach troubles––and a great night’s sleep in my hotel room.

The next morning I was on to sing for the pastors. I was feeling pretty confident about it––JP had asked me to do for them the Lenten program that I had prepared for Malaysia, all Christian stuff, with a lot of Lenten homiletic exhortations mixed in––but everything was just off. Before I went up there was first an elderly retired venerated Lutheran pastor who led the group in a couple of bhajans in a pleasant but shaky voice. And then a Catholic priest led the “morning devotion” by playing various very loud pre-recorded tracks for them over which he sometimes sang and during which he also preached and prayed. It was all in Tamil, so my best guess was that this was something he does for parish missions and retreats, etc. It went on a long time, maybe 45 minutes or so. Then, without a break from all that, JP introduced me to do pretty much the same thing for an hour, though a lot quieter. I wanted to blame it on the sound system––though JP said it was good––and the sound of traffic whirling all around us in the open air pavilion, the fact that probably for no one there was English their first, nor for many primary, language (and a few didn’t speak much at all), and (so I was told) the difficulty of the melodies that I was asking them to sing along with me (“They’re too classical,” one man yelled to me), in addition to having been a captive audience for more than an hour before I began… Within a half an hour, some were sleeping, some were talking a cell phones, the bishop was having a conversation with two guys in the back row, some left. I tried to stay focused on the two or three guys who were paying attention, but I was so relieved to be done, and I said to JP afterward, “I’m sorry, that was a disaster.” He said not a disaster, but it was a bad setting and said that he had wanted to tell me to throw in a few bhajans to get their attention. Anyway, they can’t all go well. But I did note the difference between Malaysia and Tamil Nadu. The same program went over very well indeed with lay people in Malaysia, but hardly worked at all with clergy in South India. There was also certainly a difference from a mixed crowd such as at Quo Vadis (or Auroville) and a purely Indian, even if all India Christian, one. I do chalk it up to the greater familiarity in the former with both English and Western music. South India is still much more enclosed. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but a good shot across the bow of any would-be missionary.

Aurobindo stresses over and over again, per the Gita, the importance of being released from the fruit of your work and then being released from the work itself. “The first process of the yoga is to put yourself with all our heart and all our strength into God’s hands. The next process is to stand aside and watch the working of the divine power in yourself.” I was really trying to keep that in mind, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. Who knows? Maybe the divine power did something in spite of me!

Then we piled into the car for a long afternoon’s journey to Shantivanam. I was so relieved to finally see the place. We arrived just as the evening samdhya was starting. JP and I sat under the thatched roof of the tea circle and talked until we heard the happy sound of George and young George and Raniero come walking up for dinner.