Ashram Main Entrance
Ashram Main Entrance
FORMATION OF THE ASHRAM
are some utterances of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother which indicate
that they were not really eager to become gurus. And yet they adopted
this role when it fell on them in the natural course of events.
Something similar was the case with the Ashram which was not consciously
planned or necessarily intended from the beginning.
can be seen from Sri Aurobindo's statement:
"There was no Ashram at first, only a few
people came to live near Sri Aurobindo and practise Yoga. It was
only some time after the Mother came from Japan that it took the
form of the Ashram, more from the wish of the Sadhaks who desired
to entrust their whole inner and outer life to the Mother than from
any intention or plan of hers or of Sri Aurobindo."
What the Mother and Sri Aurobindo had in mind
was not an Ashram in the traditional Indian meaning, but a kind
of spiritual laboratory in which a new integral, Divine Life was
to be tried on a much larger scale than had ever been attempted
before. Even though Guru and disciples were gathered here for God-Realization,
which justifies the name 'Ashram' (Sri Aurobindo accepted the term
after some hesitation), the model was basically different. When
Surendranat.h Jauhar, an Indian businessman, came to South India
on a tour and visited the Ashram, he at once noted this difference.
There were no monks and ascetics here, no idols, recitations, devotional
chanting and other forms of traditional Indian Ashram life: "When
we got into the building, we saw a number of people, all in simple
and neat dresses, and some even in pants and coats, but no sants
or sannyasis, no monks or mahants, no shaven heads. .., no preaching
or prayers, no siksha or ser- mons. .."
Then he saw the Mother: "In her gait there was majesty, in
her face a glowing grace and her eyes flashed gleams that pierced
the darkness below and around. My gaze was fixed at the fairy-like
figure whos.alm and beautiful face was radiating light and making
the' whole atmosphere so supernatural that she looked every inch
an angel descending from Heaven. .."
Surendranath Jauhar joined the Ashram with his whole family and
later founded, on the Mother's suggestion, the Delhi Branch of the
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, with 'The Mother's International School' attached
It would be wrong to assume that the new life
style in the Ashram and the turning away from Indian tradition implied
the complete rejection of the latter. In fact, what was being done
here was the overcoming of the ascetic phase of Indian tradition,
which in a one-sided way equated spirituality with renunciation.
Through this approach, values such as pros- perity, health and work
had often not only been neglected, but despised outright.Sri Aurobindo
and the Mother were con- sciously working against this trend, even
though they were proceeding slowly, since they had at first to create
anew basis for the larger life which was not to be merely an improved
imitation of ordinary life. We have also to note that some elements
of Indian spirituality did find their place in the Ashram life,
e.g. Pranam, or prostration before the Guru; Darshan, the
seeing of the Guru and receiving his blessings; the distribution
of food as Prasad, offered to the Divine; meditations; use of:ncense
sticks, etc. If we wanted to find a link with Indian tradition,
we would have to go back to Vedic times, when integral life, fullness
and prosperity, equality of the sexes and a life-affirming attitude
were similarly cultivated by spiritual seekers. This integral approach
was lost in later epochs when Mayavada (Illusionism) and one-sided
asceti- cism prevailed.
In a letter of 10 February 1933 the Mother explained
the life style in the Ashram to her son Andre: "The life we
lead here is as far from ascetic abstinence as from an enervating
comfort; simplicity is the rule here, but a simplicity full of variety,
a variety of occupations, of activities, taskes, tendencies, natures;
each one is free to organise his life as he pleases, the discipline
is reduced to a minimum that is indispensable to organize the existence
of 110 to120 people and to avoid the movements which would be detrimental
to the achievement of our yogic aim. "
What was tried here was a spiritual life with variety
and relative fullness, which should yet not deviate into the enjoy-
ment of luxury and comfort. The sadhaks were required to learn to
use all things with aright attitude and not to misinterpret the
fullness as a fulfillment of the ego. Sri Aurobindo clarified this
point in a letter: "The Mother does not provide the Sadhaks
with comforts because she thinks that the desires, fancies, likings,
preferences should be satisfied - in Yoga people have to overcome
these things. In any other Ashram they would not get one-tenth of
what they get here. .. The first rule of Yoga is that the Sadhak
must be content with what comes to him, much or little; if things
are there, he must be able to use them without attachment or desire;
if they are not he must be indifferent to their absence. "
The number of sadhaks was rapidly growing now. 24 disciples
had been present during the descent of overmind on 24 November .1926.
By the middle of .1927 there were about 30 disciples staying in
five houses. In August .1929 more than 88 stayed in .17 houses,
a year later their number was almost one hundred in 21 houses. In
a letter to Andre, dated 23 August .1930, the Mother takes stock:
The Ashram has now, among other things, Scars, 12 bicycles, garages,
workshops, a library and a reading room, general stores, a dairy
and a bakery. "You can see," she writes, "that it
is no small affair. And as I am taking care of all this, I can truly
say that I am busy. "
The Mother started her day early in the morning at about 4
o'clock and at about 6 o'clock she came to the terrace of her house
with some members of the Ashram. Then a sadhak blew a conch to announce
her arrival in the Meditation Room. The pranam took one or two hours.
Thereafter there were inter- views with her which lasted until noon.
After this the Mother personally distributed the dishes to the sadhaks
in the Dining Hall. Then she went to Sri Aurobindo's room and finally
sat in the Prosperity Hall with some sadhaks. At times she held
a meditation. Otherwise there was general conversation and she gave
some special talks. There were also 'flower games': the Mother had
given spiritual meanings to numberless flowers, such as 'Realization',
'Purity', 'Faith', 'Surrender', 'Perfection' etc. and at these sessions
she arranged some flowers in a particular way. The sadhaks were
then asked to put together the meanings in such a way that they
formed a significant sentence. In the following we give two examples:
Only to those who have a true humility will
power be given.
Approach the Divine with loving gratitude and
you will meet the Divine's Love . (14.10.1929)
sadhak who found the sentence intended by the Mother or who came
closest to it got some prize like sweets. The Mother also arranged
for other games like balancing a big lemon on the head and other
skill games. There was no fixed programme, thtt group followed the
inspiration of the mo- ment. The sadhaks experienced the Mother
here as a Mother among her children, giving them relief from the
strict concen- tration of Yoga, which is not to say that Yoga was
not being continued here. But it happened more invisibly, just 'like
A regular item after 1927 was the 'soup
distribution', which however was less a ceremony than a deep spiritual
exchange between the Mother and the sadhaks. It took place in the
late evening, at 7 or 8 o ' clock. The Mother sat in an armchair,
with her feet resting on a small stool. She meditated for awhile,
holding her hands over the container of the soup with the palms
pointing downwards, as if she was pouring her force into the liquid.
Then the container was moved to her right and she distributed the
food with a big spoon to the sadhaks who kneeled down before her
one after another and offered her their cup. Sometimes she fell
into a trance during the distri- bution and the respective sadhak
waited for a while, until his cup was filled by her. As Sri Aurobindo
explained, the soup was "a means by which the sadhak might
receive something from the Mother by an interchange in the material
his report about it, K. D. Sethna has captured something of the
mystical atmosphere which prevailed during the soup distribution:
"It was a very important function every evening. It impressed
me like a snatch of the Ancient Myste- Ties. The atmosphere was
as in some secret temple of Egyptian or Greek times. .."
Since 1927 the first day of the month had been the 'Prospetity-Day'.
On this day the Mother gave to the sadhaks their monthly needs and
requirements, such as clothes, stationery and other things. The
disciples could make their requests in
advance on a chit. Some of them often asked only for the Mother's
blessings, whilst others made a long list of their I requirements.
In both cases the requests were fulfilled.
In 1930 there was pranam on five days in the week and
on I the other two days flowers were distributed at soup time.
Many sadhaks gathered now in the morning on the pavement facing
the Mother's balcony in order to catch a glimpse of her. ! As a
rule, she was expected at 6.15a.m. , but often her coming was delayed.
Even then a few sadhaks kept waiting until she appeared. This developed
into a regular balcony darshan which was continued for 30 years
to come. In the following quotation the Mother explains what she
was doing for the disciples during darshan: "Every morning,
at the balcony, after establishing a conscious contact with each
of those who are present, I identify myself with the Supreme Lord
and merge myself completely in Him. Then my body, completely passive,
is nothing but a channel through which the Lord passes freely His
forces and pours on all His Light, His Consciousness and His Joy,
accorqing to each one's receptivity."
Moreover, there were three special darshan days: the
birthdays of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo (21 February, 15 August),
and 24 November, the day of the descent of over- mind. 24 April
( day of the final arrival of the Mother in Pondicherry) was added
in 1939. The darshan began at 6.30 a.m. and lasted until about 2
p.m. It took place in a small.room to the south east of Sri Aurobindo's
room and every sadhak or visitor was given about 1 1/2 minutes to
spend in the presence of the two avatars. This arrangement remained
unchanged until 1938 when Sri Aurobindo suffered a fracture of the
right thigh-bone and could not come for the November darshan. Afterwards
the number of sadhaks and visitors increased so much that this kind
of individual darshan was not possible any more and so they passed
before Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in a long line to shorten the
Darshan should not be considered as a mere ceremony
of reverence towards the guru. The proper purpose was to enable
the disciples to share the respective inner advance and achievement
of the master and to transfer something of it on them. The Mother
stated in this context: "In the days when Sri Aurobindo used
to give Darshan, before he gave it there was always a concentration
of certain forces or of a certain realisation which he wanted to
give people. And so each Darshan marked a stage forward; each time
something was added. But that was at a time when the number of visitors
was very limited. "
We may assume that this purpose of a transfer of spiritual force
remained the same even in later times, but it did not take place
any more in the same intensive and concrete form.