Sri Aurobindo was and even now is the most misunderstood spiritual person in India. And for that matter people outside Sri Aurobindo ashram do not have the right idea about the Ashram and the devotees of the Ashram. Sri Aurobindo was not a traditional spiritualist in the sense as conceived in the psyche of Indian people. India, from time immemorial, is the only land which regards the spiritual seekers in the highest esteem amongst the people of other pursuits. According to some spiritual persons India is God’s own home. In all ages and times thousands of people have abandoned the ordinary life and embraced the difficult path of spiritual disciplines. There were innumerable sages, yogis, fakirs and sadhus in the recorded history of India. But there were hundred times more of them who remain unknown for obvious reasons. Perhaps in every Hindu family in India has a sanyasin in its past.
So we are aware of the common characteristics of the God-seekers of whom we know by the words of mouth or by reading history. They all were visibly passionate in their seeking and were almost mad after God. We know this from the lives of Sri Chaitanya , Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Trailanga and many others. Sri Aurobindo showed no such passion –never in his life. He was an accomplished westerner, and so, many people are inclined to consider it an attribute of western character. Yes –Sri Aurobindo was an accomplished westerner but the life of his mission had no relation of his being grown up or being educated in western atmosphere.
Sri Aurobindo was never interested in spiritual matters exclusively for his self development. He never had any ambition of being a yogi. In his early period when he felt interested in spirituality –it was only because he wanted to acquire spiritual power that might help him to his fight for independence of his motherland. But this did not hold to his mind for long. He was soon involved in his sadhana for the whole of humanity. As per him this was also not from his own choice. He was chosen by his God for a difficult mission hitherto un-attempted –to change the fulcrum of creating consciousness in the world. Man has to move to exceed him. But this appeared queer to most people in India (I do not like to drag the whole world here). He was alone in his work. Nobody before him uttered such a possibility and treaded a path that could lead him to his destination before him. From his formidable loneliness –he wrote:
…We may find when all the rest has failed
He accepted this world as real as Brahma. But easier said in philosophy than done in life and guiding people to that end. So Sri Aurobindo took upon himself first the heat of that transforming consciousness so that it might act through the conscious sadhana of his disciples. The Mother appeared on the stage to help transmuting the new consciousness in the Ashram devotees. The Mother was the personified consciousness-shakti Sri Aurobindo sought to bring down. So the Mother established a group of people in a community for her work. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother never had any intention of establishing an ashram in the traditional necessity of the term. They did not try to make the ashram people as good, religious human beings. Even they did not need God-loving persons as their devotees. They needed people who had inner call to do his yoga. That was the only criterion. They want to transform the evil and the ignorant base into the Divine Consciousness-the Supramental Consciousness as per Sri Aurobindo’s terminology. He knew the root of this unhappy and ignorant world and said time and again that and if we do not change from within we can not change the outside. Death is according to him a required necessity of ignorant and imperfect life.
Once the Mother, in response to a question, told, that her work would not be done with enlightened and elite persons like Vivekananda. They required the representative human moulds containing the inner aspiration to exceed humanity. Sri Aurobindo told that one must go through the hell in order to reach heaven. We must discover the evils within us so that we could transform it. To Sri Aurobindo-‘goodness’ was not the required element in a devotee.
An individual is not complete in itself. The collective is contained in the individual. So the ashram people are variously representative of the collectivity. And the Ashram is nothing but a kind of laboratory. The Mother said “You no longer do yoga for yourself alone; you do it for everybody, unintentionally, automatically.” Sri Aurobindo reminded us “Accepting life, he (the seeker of the integral Yoga) has to bear not only his own burden, but a great part of the world’s burden too along with it, as a continuation of his own sufficiently heavy load. Therefore his Yoga has much more of the nature of a battle than others’; but this is not only an individual battle, it is a collective war waged over a considerable country. He has not only to conquer in himself the forces of egoistic falsehood and disorder, but to conquer them as representatives of the same adverse and inexhaustible forces in the world…” It’s a tremendous work and a devotee in the ashram feels constantly a tremendous pressure that is constantly at work from within and above even when the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are not physically present in their Ashram. Sometimes one could not bear the pressure and left the ashram. Sometime a few persons have become deranged or gone low.
One should, before criticizing the ashram people as not ideal from their customary impression, properly know for what the people are there. There are many good people in this world and many of them are even extraordinary in spiritual matters than we find in the Ashram. The distinctiveness of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is perceptible from its externality. There is no temple and none, as some inside such buildings, to worship. There is no such activity like bhajan or kirtan (devotional songs sung inside a temple). There is no guru or master for physical guidance in sadhana. There is a general discipline as is required if one lives a community life. One has to work in any of the various departments of the Ashram. For spiritual sadhana –there are guidelines as stated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in various places. Nobody is asked to follow the spiritual discipline in all sincerity as there is no such outside authority. It’s one’s own inner guidance that matters. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not believe in external imposition. One must grow from within. One may have all the facilities to pursue his or her creative activities. So far as sports and swimming are concerned –a devotee is afforded with the most modern facilities. The Mother insisted on sports and physical exercises as in integral Yoga the fitness of the physical body is essential. So except the samadhi-area one does not find any evidence from which it can be immediately perceived that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a place for spiritual activity.
One must know what for Sri Aurobindo came to this world and should try to understand the tremendous suffering he had to undergo before trying to get any impression of the devotees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. If we have any expectation from others (as per our ideal), we should realize that one should not fire keeping his gun on other’s shoulder. If I can make a progress it may definitely help others even the ashramites to progress and vice versa.
It is not easy to simply live in the Ashram in its apparent easy life. There is the tremendous pressure of the Mother’s consciousness here.