Outer Space or Inner? - De Ville with an Aura

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By Praghosa Dasa

Having spent 32 days in Mayapur from the 1st of February and the last 4 days in Pondicherry (Puducherry) and Auroville. I am now returning to Mayapur for approximately a month, leaving in the second week of April.

There was little to deny the ecstasy that most (all?) devotees felt when they arrived at Mayapur this year for the Gaura Purnima festival and saw that construction on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium had actually begun. It has been over 40 years in the making, so to see the large fenced off area (yes a building site - but who cares), which I have to say is one of the neatest construction sites I have ever seen was a joy to behold. As I mentioned to some devotees, being resident in the Chakra building only metres from the building site, meant that I felt every pound (thud, thud, thud), of every pile that was being driven deep into the soil. Indeed one evening I swear I took rest in room 225 and woke up in room 335! Still it was simply ecstatic.

Among ISKCON achievements over the last 40 years or so this new temple must be right up there with the millions of books distributed, the hundreds of thousands of hearts transformed and the austerities performed by devotees in the former USSR and Kazakhstan etc.

During those decades there have been attempts in Mayapur and elsewhere at developing viable and dynamic communities both in terms of infrastructure (master plan, that dreaded word), as well social and economic structures. In Mayapur at least, aside from the services industry, guesthouses and restaurants and the somewhat below par gift shops, that development has been less than complete.

As the new temple becomes a reality the pressure increasingly rises for improving both the infrastructure and the social and economic base at Mayapur.

Given that previous attempts have been less than perfect, it was felt that we should seek inspiration and examples from other sources. To some degree historically this has been a little frowned upon but using the principles of yukta vairagya and taking jewels from a dirty place etc., half of the newly constituted Mayapur Master Plan team set off on a four day visit to Auroville, just outside the town of Pondicherry.

I personally knew very little about Auroville so I tried to go there with an open mind, accepting things on face value and trying to leave my naturally cynical nature to one side - I think I was reasonably successful in that effort. Firstly I would like to outline where I think we can significantly learn from the Auroville experiment. Actually that phrase experiment is one that is often used by ‘Aurovillians’ and for those readers who have no knowledge of this experiment, it began to physically manifest in 1968. The original inspiration for this experiment came from the politician/poet and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo was a Bengali who at least initially was influenced by vaisnavism. Things seemed to change when he became closely acquainted with a French lady who became known as mother. The physical manifestation of the Auroville project began after the physical departure of Sri Aurobindo so the main energy for this project came from ‘mother’. Interestingly mother began the project in 1968 and passed away in 1973. So her physical influence on the project was quite limited. Even her ideological writings are relatively small in volume when you compare them to the vast writings of Srila Prabhupada and of course the philosophical and ideological depth of her writings, even from an independently objective viewpoint, really don’t bear comparison to Srila Prabhupada’s profound message that descends through the gaudiya vaisnava parampara.

However that is not the complete story and my next observation left for me at least some further questions.

Here are some of the key sutras given by mother (and as previously mentioned there is not too much more than these sutras):

“All assets, all properties belong to Auroville and Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole”

“Auroville is the ideal place for those who want to know the joy and liberation of losing the sense of personal possession”

“There should be somewhere on earth, a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of good will who have a sincere aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony” “An Aurovilian should lose the sense of personal possession. For our passage in the material world, what is indispensable to our life and to our action is put at our disposal according to the place we must occupy. The more we are consciously in contact with our inner being, the more are the exact means given to us”

The above sutras are attributed solely to the mother and she neither directly nor indirectly indicates any connection or reference to sastra, hence we are led to conclude they are wholly and solely her own creations. That said you could be forgiven for thinking she might have had a glimpse at the isavasyam idam sarvam verse from Sri Isopanisad or maybe the mayi sarvani karmani verse from Bhagavad gita [3.30]

As we know the subject matter of detachment and freedom from possessiveness is one of the key themes of the Bhagavad gita with many verses dealing with that issue. Of course the principle of yukta vairagya encourages devotees to use everything in Krishna’s service so detachment and freedom from possessions is not a poverty culture and as long as the internal realisation and siddhanta is correct then any externals are of course subservient to them. Still adhering to both of those principles does not require personal ownership and in most cases personal ownership is likely to inhibit the development of pure bhakti.

Taking all that into account, what is interesting to observe at Auroville, notwithstanding their relative paucity of rich and authentic philosophical grounding, is their absolute commitment and conviction for all members to be free of significant personal ownership. In the case of Auroville this particularly relates to land and property. Given that their founder acarya passed away in 1973 they have admirably held firm to this principle. However when you speak to members of the Auroville community you do not get a sense that they are needing to hold firm, rather you get the sense that this is a principle that they dearly cherish and in essence is one of the main reasons they became Aurovillians in the first place. In all honesty it was a little embarrassing when I asked different members what would the community do if some one either bought or tried to buy land or property in their personal name. The response was almost identical every time and it began with “we don’t have a policy in place to deal with that because it has never happened and we are absolutely confident it never will” There was really no ambiguity from any of the members that we asked this question of, it was clear that it was a fundamental principle that has never been in danger and from their perspective is never likely to be. They are really living and enjoying living up to;

“Auroville is the ideal place for those who want to know the joy and liberation of losing the sense of personal possession”

Now while journeying back to Mayapur and reflecting on what we can learn and then hopefully apply from our Auroville experience, for me the key one is for us as a collective group (at least in a place like Mayapur where we are trying to establish what Prabhupada often referred to as the example of an ideal community), to rediscover our sense of adventure and plunge fearlessly forward, without keeping one foot in the camp of; ‘let me keep some private ownership of land or property just in case’

Sastra continually reminds us that this Krsna conscious experiment will provide us with the highest and inexplicable rewards - Krishna prema - reaching such lofty realms though does require a lifting of that foot.

Yes so that was undoubtedly the most significant lesson learned but I shouldn’t finish without mentioning things like their quite advanced waste management system (no mixing of organic and non organic waste and no hoards of roaming dogs in Auroville), as well as their impressive use of alternative energy both wind, biogas and solar. Everyday they cook in their ’solar kitchen’ a meal for over a 1000 people that is exclusively the result of solar power. Then they have their extensive production of bricks and ferro cement that are used for the vast majority of their construction projects. Little or no use of re-enforced concrete that is both more expensive, less environmentally friendly and has a significantly shorter life span. Other admirable efforts in place are such things as food production, subsidised schooling, external health cover as well as internal health facilities, 1,250 acres dedicated to afforestation with over 1.5 million trees planted and adequate monthly stipends for all those who choose to give 36 hours a week to the Auroville experiment. An interesting point about the stipend arrangement was that you got a sense that no matter how many were availing of it, that they wanted more to do so. Not that they had a limited budget whereby they were discouraging people from coming forward. They also have elaborate arrangements for shopping and eating in cafes where no cash is exchanged rather there is an Auroville bank where your individual account is debited accordingly. And best of all is that if you go overdrawn - no worries, you will only be informed about that if it is a chronic and persistent pattern. What often happens is that for all those who are overdrawn there are usually just as many, if not more members, who are in credit, therefore as long as the overall balance of the community is in the black no one gets too stressed about it.

Actually it is this sense of security that the members feel, with regards to so many of their personal needs, that seems to allow them to have no trepidation as far as not personally owning their own property.

You might be thinking as a result of all this positive comment on the Auroville project our delegation might have been thinking of jumping the good ship ISKCON and becoming Aurovillians? Well the answer is no : We might have been tempted but only up to the point of our visit to the centre of the project - the ‘MatriMandir’. In essence this would be the equivalent of their temple but that is where any comparisons ended. Unlike the liberal, tolerant and consensus-based mood of everything else at Auroville, the visit to the MatriMandir was very different. It began with quite a long wait with a group of 50 or so all being informed of the rules - rules that are no negotiable. Rules such as complete silence, the wearing of Auroville issued socks, 12 minutes of silent mediation, if any more than a brief clearing of the throat is required you would be immediately escorted from the mandir and unless a chair was previously requested you must sit cross legged on a cushion for the duration of your stay. During the induction and as I gazed across at the Mandir some 300 metres away, which looked more like a giant golden golf ball than a mandir (more like a shrine to a once deified Tiger - not of the Bengal variety - than anything to do with the Divine), I couldn’t help myself from asking a few pointed questions.

Those questions focused on the inspiration for the mandir - was there any basis in sastra for it (although I didn’t use that word), or was it exclusively based on the ‘dream’ of the mother? In a nutshell the answer was it was all the result of the ‘divine dream’ of the mother and while I could have probed more I sensed our guide was already feeling some pressure from my line of questioning so I desisted. Then the turn of our group came and we all filed in single line the 300 metres to the entrance of the mandir. It was a long 300 metres as our guide was walking at a ridiculously slow pace, at least for me, and the intensity of the late morning sun was oppressive. As we got closer to the mandir it increasingly became more surreal. The golf ball design grew ever more imposing and somehow I was feeling like an extra in some extravagant sci-fi movie. That feeling only hardened as we entered the mandir from one of the four open tunnel-like entrances at the base of the sphere. One thing that was very striking on entry was the finishing material used inside the mandir. Materials such as marble, gold, glass, PVC and high quality deep pile white pure wool carpet. The overall effect and impression was one of quality and style. Still, if anything, that only added to the eerie weirdness of it all. After we had all put on our white cotton socks we proceeded to walk anti-clockwise upwards on a step less walkway to the top of the mandir. As we walked there was little to observe aside from space, the uniformed and somewhat moronic movement of our group as well as right at the bottom there was a gap to the outside where beneath was what looked like a lotus shaped pond. As we reached the top of the mandir we entered the closed meditation room, which again was impressive from a design and creative point of view but just added to the overall cultish nature of the experience. For those of my generation from the UK please consider the cult TV series ‘the Prisoner’ and the star of the show ‘number 6′. For others perhaps you can consider the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd and songs such as ’set the controls for the heart of the sun’. It really was that kind of experience. After twelve minutes lights from above flashed twice to indicate that we were either taking off or that or meditation session was over, fortunately it was the latter and we again were silently led away.

The really paradoxical aspect to the whole thing was that notwithstanding the mandir experience and how it contrasted to the rest of the community dynamics, we later asked some Aurovillians how often they visited the mandir and some told us they haven’t been there in years, one mentioned eight years but that had no bearing on their standing or influence in the community.

Still whatever the requirements or social pressures to visit the mandir, the fact remains that as a spiritual experience it simply didn’t register and from a vaisnava siddhanta perspective the whole operation was little other than inflicting violence on all those who are unfortunate enough to be taken in by it.

So in closing, our glorious ISKCON society continues to excel and in many cases leads the world in such endeavours as opening temples, Deity worship, distribution of literature and prasadam etc. Yet there is little doubt that we have a long way to go in developing stable, sustainable and workable communities but we can learn much from the likes of the Auroville experiment that is now well into its 4th decade and seemingly going from strength to strength with its core principles and values as strong as ever. No doubt there are other examples we can learn from to.

Many years ago in an attempt to address the decline of our rural communities in ISKCON the GBC allowed grhasta’s to purchase freehold ISKCON land. This was responding to the appeal that such freehold ownership would give the security grhastas required to settle and commit long term to those rural communities. However nearly two decades later this policy has had little or no positive effect and most of our rural communities continue to decline. It would seem clear that the success of our rural communities depend on a collective agreement with the core values given to us by Srila Prabhupada and underpinned by varnasrama dharma, freehold ownership not being one of them. Additionally we need to provide leadership that applies the principle of descending authority lovingly and flexibly so that such leadership will evoke and maintain the trust of its members. Other helpful measures in place at Auroville to assist with that effort is their weekly thirty page newsletter which includes all discussions, progress, issues and proposals that are happening in the community. If that doesn’t satisfy the appetite of all members then they can either tune into the internet or the local radio station to follow all meetings and discussions live.

As we entered once again through the gates of Sri Dham Mayapur I reflected on some of the immediate issues facing this community such as; spiralling electricity bills, poor waste management, lack of organic food production, delicate community cohesion etc., but perhaps the most notable issue facing us is not just the increasing number of devotees who are desiring to privately own their own land and property but also the rising tide of devotees who see little complication with undertaking commercial property developments in the holy dhama, thus making considerable profit as a result.

Without apportioning blame perhaps we can collectively take responsibility for somehow allowing ourselves to take our collective eye off the bigger picture and greater goal and now as a result of that, other needs have taken prominence.

When you consider how the Auroville experiment has been able to ever secure their principle of a ‘freehold less’ society with moderate inspiration and direction, what to speak of tradition, other than that coming from the French born Mirra Alfassa (mother), we can surely be confident in achieving a far more cohesive and united community under the banner of Gaudiya vaisnava vision. Specifically as far as a freehold less society is concerned and particularly one in the hold dhama we have to look no further than the following to ensure that we stop talking and start walking:

A new devotee who had just taken up the dress of babaji would often come and talk with Srila Gaurakisora. Finally he decided to live in the holy dhama, and so he approached a landowner queen to purchase three-quarters of an acre of land. After hearing this, Srila Gaurakisora said,”The supreme abode of the Lord is transcendental. How is it possible that this queen has become the owner of the holy dhama? How is it that she is entitled to sell that new babaji a portion of land in the holy dhama? All the jewels within the universe are not valuable enough to purchase even one speck of dust from the holy dhama”

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1 Akruranatha

“Additionally we need to provide leadership that applies the principle of descending authority lovingly and flexibly so that such leadership will evoke and maintain the trust of its members.”

“Amen” to that…er, “Jaya!,” or whatever.

I do remember fondly the days when joining ISKCON meant handing over all our possessions to the temple and taking our clothes in the morning from a common pile.

I got some small inheritance when I turned 18, in the form of some stocks and bonds, and the temple vice-president Prana Prabhu (or maybe he was some other officer, because Makhanlal was TP and maybe Jagaddhatta was VP) took me down to a stock-broker’s office and said, “sell everything.” The stock-broker said, “It is crazy to sell some of these shares now”, but Prana said, in effect, “It is against our religion to own stocks. Just sell them.” We got about $10,000 and the money was used to make some payments on the ISKCON farm in Dixon, Missouri (which I never even visited), but within a very short time the farm failed and the money was never retrieved.

I have no regrets. At least I did not waste the money on movies and restaurants and other activities that would just contaminate my consciousness (as I sometimes do with my money these days). I suppose if I had it to do over again I would buy books for the temple devotees to distribute. But I was young, we all were, and not very intelligent.

I do not know, though, whether it is important or even practical for ISKCON to insist on being a communal, cashless society with property held in common. It is nice that we can provide such ashram environments for devotees who want to live that way, but it is more important that we can get everyone to chant Hare Krishna and follow the four regs and read and appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s books, even if they are not willing to make such a commitment or risk so much by taking the plunge into an “isavasyam”-style commune.

It seems that many householders with children feel they cannot provide the necessary security and nurturing environment for their kids if they become that “radical.” I have heard 2nd generation devotees complain that they felt their parents were irresponsible by raising them that way. Is it necessary, or even desirable?

The Auroville people may be successful because they are a self-selected group whose main interest is communalism. Our main interest is Krishna consciousness, so maybe it is paradoxically more difficult for us.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 13th, 2010
2 Akruranatha

“Steadiness in one’s own position is declared to be actual piety, whereas deviation from one’s position is considered impiety. In this way, the two are definitely ascertained.” [Uddhava Gita, S.B. 11.21.2]

From the purport:

“…Innocent persons should not be misled by the mixed devotional service of those not engaged exclusively in the bhakti-yoga system, but those unable to fully engage in Krishna consciousness should nevertheless not give up their regular prescribed duties, declaring them to be illusion.

“For example, one unable to fully engage in pure Krishna consciousness should not give up his family, considering it an illusion, for by doing so he will fall into illicit sex life. Material piety and analytic knowledge of the material world must therefore be cultivated until one comes to the stage of directly practicing Krishna consciousness.”

Or, B.G. 3.35: “It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.”

Excerpt from Srila Prabhupada’s Purport: “…Materially, prescribed duties are duties enjoined according to one’s psychophysical condition, under the spell of the modes of material nature. Spiritual duties are ordered by the spiritual master for the transcendental service of Krishna. But whether material or spiritual, one should stick to his prescribed duties even up to death, rather than imitate another’s prescribed duties. Duties on the spiritual platform and duties on the material platform may be different, but the principle of following the authorized direction is always good for the performer. When one is under the spell of the modes of material nature, one should follow the prescribed rules for his particular situation and should not imitate others… Everyone has to cleanse his heart by a gradual process, not abruptly.

“However, when one transcends the modes of material nature and is fully situated in Krishna consciousness, he can perform anything and everything under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master… Being transcendentally situated.. [Visvamitra could act as a brahmana and Parasurama could act as a Ksatriya]; but as long as one is on the material platform, he must perform his duties according to the modes of material nature. At the same time, he must have a full sense of Krishna consciousness.”

Hmmm.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 13th, 2010
3 Akruranatha

I am not saying we cannot create a freehold-less society in ISKCON Mayapur, but I question whether it is necessary.

If we take the Gaurakisora Das Babaji story too literally or apply it too rigidly, then we could also question why ISKCON bought any land in Mayapur. I mean, how is it possible that whoever sold ISKCON the land had become the owner of the holy dhama?

What I get really nervous about is an ISKCON that preaches that to be a surrendered devotee, one has to put one’s material well-being (and that of one’s dependents) in the hands of community leaders who are charged with a great trust. Then, if something happens and the community leaders prove untrustworthy (or incapable), the whole ISKCON philosophy comes under question in the eyes of the public:

“You say, ‘join the Hare Krishna movement and be happy’, but you joined and became unhappy. You lost all your money and all your prospects and then found yourself in an untenable situation with no means of escape.” I do not want people to think or say that about ISKCON.

That is my doubt, or I should say my fear for the welfare of ISKCON. We used to be a kind of spiritual communist cult, separated from society will full membership only open to very dedicated people, usually quite young people with little prestige or influence in the outside world. We seem to be gaining in breadth, attracting many more followers from all different walks of life who nevertheless are convinced by the message of Srila Prabhupada’s books. I find it positive and healthy.

Do we really want to go back to preaching that everyone should quit their school, quit their job, leave their parents, sell their car, close their bank account, and just “join the temple”? Is it sustainable? Will it become a failure, an embarrassment, a laughing stock?

One thing about living in the temple: We had little privacy, few boundaries. We encouraged new people to move in, and some of those new people were hard to live with. Those occupying the positions of leadership had an enormous amount of power over our lives. Maybe in retrospect it was unnatural for us to have given up so much responsibility.

For me, it was fun. I was young. I had no dependents. It was great not to have to think about insurance, mortgage, property and the rest.

It drives my wife crazy when she sees my nostalgia for it, though. She thinks I am being irresponsible, like a child. She has a good point, and she makes a good case.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 13th, 2010
4 Praghosa

Atmavan manyate jagat… We will all tend to see and express things from our own angel of vision. That said I am pretty amazed that my report on the Auroville experiment is interpreted as a reversal back to the days described by Akruranatha as ‘nostalgic’ but understood by most as mistaken and a cause of suffering. ISKCON is a multifaceted society and one that will hopefully not just remain so, but also expand in that regard. Part of that multifaceted complexity should, in my humble opinion, include an experiment like Auroville.

By the way I should clarify that bank balances and other possessions are not prohibited in Auroville and of course if someone wants to own property outside of the Auroville project that is fine too. The idea is that they want to create ‘one place on earth’ where such freehold ownership is not the norm. Such an aspiration seems, at least to me, to be fully in line with our Krsna conscious experiment.

Akruranatha wrote:

“If we take the Gaurakisora story too literally or apply it too rigidly, then we could also question why ISKCON bought any land in Mayapur. I mean, how is it possible that whoever sold ISKCON the land had become the owner of the holy dhama?”

Anybody can legally own land in the holy dhama. Gaura Kisora is simply pointing out that it should be avoided. As for whoever ISKCON bought the land from and them being in breach of this instruction, that is their business but on balance better I think that we follow Gaura Kisora’s instruction as opposed to the example of local farm owners etc.

You further wrote:

“Do we really want to go back to preaching that everyone should quit their school, quit their job, leave their parents, sell their car, close their bank account, and just “join the temple”? Is it sustainable? Will it become a failure, an embarrassment, a laughing stock?”

Everybody has free will and I would certainly not encourage ANYONE (particularly someone with the doubts you are expressing) to do something they are not 100% comfortable with. I am not sure why you use the term ‘join the temple’ as that is not what is being talked about here. The whole essence is the creation of a community that is way beyond the narrow confines of temple life. As far as embarrassment is concerned we can hopefully learn from our mistakes and Auroville is a fantastic opportunity to do so. They are a world leader and rather than being a ’self-selected’ group they have attracted extremely qualified people from all over the world.

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 13th, 2010
5 Akruranatha

Okay Praghosa Prabhuji,

I am sorry I did not understand you at first go.

I still think I need further explanation. At least I hope I have succeeded in getting some comments rolling.

I do agree with you that there seems to be something wrong with the idea of having a big project in Mayapur where devotees are doing a lot of business and trying to become wealthy by trading with other devotees. Mayapur should remain the land of “Haribol!”

I do think Srila Prabhupada envisioned a sustainable varnasram city in Mayapur with a sufficient agricultural sector, manufacturing sector, service sector and cultural (educational) sector, as well as being a giant, world spiritual tourism beacon.

I remember the old plans for Mayapur discussed how the whole urban plan would be laid out on Varnasrama principles, with a brahmana neighborhood, a sudra neighborhood, etc.

Of course, I am way out of the loop on what the planners have been doing more recently, and I know you are well in the loop.

I did think you were describing a Mayapur in which all the residents had no money and no land, no privately-owned business, and were all dependent on the “dole” from the Mayapur government.

I have never been to Auroville. It sounds interesting, but a little strange. Thanks for the article. I will read more about Auroville in the future.

I have to admit I *am* nostalgic for “old ISKCON.” I was reading Krishna-krpa’s account of some stories Rtadvaja Maharaja told about how he joined in Canada in the early ’70s and what it was like. Very funny and sweet to hear.

But I agree with you, we cannot go back to those days.

Yet, we can have ashrams where sannyasis and brahmacaris do live like that, with no hot water and no property to speak of. And those of us who have jobs and income can support such ashrams with our donations as well as our proper respects and attentiveness to the enlightening words of the renunciates.

I always daydream about renting a little flat in Mayapur, trying to study Prabhupada’s books there and get really fixed up and well educated there. I am getting older and I fear my time is running out.

Whether it is a commune with no private land ownership or a community with a variety of available simple and pious living arrangements, it is still the best place in the universe to chant Hare Krishna.

I do fear that if the politics becomes weird it would be a disaster. My wife prefers to keep a little aloof from ISKCON “communes” these days.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 14th, 2010
6 Praghosa

Akruranatha prabhu, I appreciate you getting the comments rolling - you are very expert at that!

You wrote previously (quoting from my article)

“Additionally we need to provide leadership that applies the principle of descending authority lovingly and flexibly so that such leadership will evoke and maintain the trust of its members.”
“Amen” to that…er, “Jaya!,” or whatever.

You then wrote:

“I do fear that if the politics becomes weird it would be a disaster. My wife prefers to keep a little aloof from ISKCON “communes” these days”

Who could blame her? Politics in general and ISKCON politics in particular can be an unpleasant business. I guess as long as we are dealing with conditional souls like myself we are always going to have politics of some variety, hence it is important that we have structures in place that give some protection to those who might fall victim of such politics. That was the essence of my comment about authority being loving and flexible, while retaining the descending principle. Something else I think we can learn from Auroville is how broad and consensus based their decision making is. Over 35% of the members are directly engaged and fully participate in the decision making process. Generally in ISKCON I would suggest it is substantially lower than that. Also for those not involved in the decision making there are live broadcasts of meetings as well as substantial weekly newsletters keeping the whole community informed of developments on all fronts.

Such open, free and regular participation and communication will not defeat the onslaught of kali, but if adopted within ISKCON will go a long way to reduce any negative effects of ‘power politics’. When children are young the natural reaction of parents is to protect them at all costs. As the children get older that same mood of protection can inhibit their development, so the loving parents gradually learn to let go and give more and more independence and trust to their children. Historically in ISKCON the more rigid approach may have been beneficial but the case for its retention is no longer a convincing one. I look forward to the day when your wife’s fear of ISKCON communes is a dim and distant memory.

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 14th, 2010
7 nrsimhananda

Dear Praghosa pr.

I think that is called “transparency.” Combined with “accountability” there is a good chance of successful participation.

What checks and balances exist in the Auroville model? What are the mechanisms for change of leadership? Perhaps we can learn from their organizational structure and dynamics.

On a personal note…

I visited Oroville about ten years ago. I was also amazed that the model promoted by the “mother” was still an intact community not fractionalized by fracidal wars. What’s the secret of their capacity to work in such apparent unity? On the other hand, I was completely uninspired by their hippie commune. There was a distinct aura of ignorance of the spiritual reality.

On the fringes of Auroville, a large community of expats dwell amongst the indigenous village people. Those on the “outside” like the low cost of living, camaraderie, and illusory freedom that accompanies their “independence.” The same demographics is already manifesting in Gaudadesha. Goes with the territory, I guess.

Most people do not find communal living a very attractive lifestyle. Srila Prabhupada certainly never lived like that even when in Vrndaban. He had his own rooms at Radha Damodhar; did his own cooking, etc. The model of varnashram does not promote any ideals of communal living. I lost many pairs of foot apparel in the Brooklyn temple and in New Vrndaban in the earlier days. Forget cow protection; I needed shoe protection.

A family is sort of a commune - for a while - until you come back home after college with your girlfriend, claim back your old bedroom, and raid the refrigerator nightly. Parents know when to end the communal dream and boot their kids into the “real” world. Don’t be surprised if Auroville gets privitized someday into a senior citizens retirement community and that giant golf ball temple gets an 18 hole park built adjacent to it.

Comment posted by nrsimhananda on March 14th, 2010
8 Kulapavana

Very interesting subject matter. Indeed, what can we learn from other projects, such as Auroville? IMO it can all be boiled down to one word: management.

The success or failure of any organization is primarily dependent on it’s management. There are many types of management systems, but the ones that produce best results are grounded in responsibility, accountability, and transparency. Good management has nothing to do with luck, tricks, and wishful thinking. It is done by qualified, responsible people which are held accountable to the rank and file members via a clearly defined and transparent system.

It is good to see that devotees are willing to renounce dogmatic thinking of “we know best” and embrace pragmatism.

Comment posted by Kulapavana on March 18th, 2010
9 pustakrishna

Some of the bhaktas are idealists. In reality, their ideals may differ, one from another…so it is difficult to say what is the standard “idealism”. We can certainly be eclectic, and take the good from many places in order to arrive at a set of ideals that makes sense to one. And, our ideals sometimes will cause us much pain, when we see practices that vary from our ideals. For example, in Krishna conscious interactions, we may have difficulty accepting harsh dealings in performing service, or in relating to one another. I know that I have indeed felt such apparent hurt in the past. So what to do?

In analyzing some of these concepts, we are drawn to our beloved Srila Rupa Goswami who recommends the principle of utility (usefulness) in determining options for action and choices. The ideal, “if it is favorable for the service of Lord Krishna” then it is accepted. That is the ideal. Practical, common spiritual sense. I will give you one extreme example. One of important godbrothers was serving in Germany. He had run into trouble with the authorities. No doubt, from a common sense position, he was condemable. Our GBC, of which I was a member then, approached Srila Prabhupad, complaining about the activities of this particular godbrother (who had been compared by Srila Prabhupad to an elephant…”he can do great service, but he also passes alot of stool”. But Srila Prabhupad loved this individual, it was clear. Srila Prabhupad, hearing the complaints of his all senior servants said: “Why are you complaining to me, why don’t you go there and help him?” Thus, our ideals may sometimes appear sentimental to the heavy Guru, who sees all in relation to Krishna’s service.

I love to hear these wonderful discussions on Dandavats.com. It inspires me every day.

Sincerely, Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on March 19th, 2010
10 Praghosa

Dear Nrsimhananda prabhu,

They don’t have a central leadership as far as I could gather. Rather they have a series of committees each committee representing a key aspect of the project and any member or any committee can put forward a proposal. Then it is discussed - ad infinitum if needed - until they reach more or less a consensus to adopt or shelve any given proposal.

As for what goes on on the extremities of the project I am not so sure but what goes on in the community itself is a long way from what you might consider a hippy commune. On the contrary, drugs are banned and they take community development very seriously. As mentioned in the article they have health care facilities, health cover insurance, discounted prices for all residents in shops and cafes etc., and many more favourable facilities for Aurovillians.

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 21st, 2010
11 Unregistered

Don’t be too ‘starry eyed’ over Auroville as from its inception the community has gone though tremendous turmoil. Ultimately it was stabilized when the Government of India took it over in 1988. The Auroville Foundation, an autonomous body created by an Act of Parliament, now administers it. Here is what a follower of Aurobindo and supporter of Auroville had to say.

The wonderful ideal of Auroville filled everyone with inspiration, and they built schools, dispensaries, industries, and began work on Matrimandir, the nucleus of Auroville, the consciousness and soul of Auroville’s body. 
But as soon as the ‘courtship’ period was over, the true colours of the people were beginning to show. Differences of opinion led to the acute awareness of differences of races and cultures and nationalities; conspiracies lay concealed undercover of plea for change; ambition masqueraded as responsibility. Somewhere a breach began and the great virtues of confidence, trust and faith came crumbling down. People tried desperately to stick together, in small groups, to hold on somehow until the crisis was over. But the distant thunder of disunity, disharmony, corruption and violence came nearer and shattered every heart and home.

None could find any solution to the venomous problems at Auroville. But how can one do it in the constant din of violence, threats, intimidation, victimization, expulsions, abuses, and animosity? The harrowing, nightmarish experiences of all these years have made some people wiser, some quieter and others frustrated and disillusioned. The children of Auroville have had to face the brunt of the whole onslaught.

The inner progress and success of Auroville will be symbolized in the progress and completion of Matrimandir. It is “the symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection. Union with the Divine manifesting in a progressive human unity.” — declared the Mother. So, the Aurovilians bear a great responsibility: if they want to participate in the creation of this world that is to be born, they can do successfully only when they learn to surrender themselves completely and consciously to the Divine Mother. Only then can Auroville march forward and solve its own problems and help humanity to solve its problems.

For discussion sake. Does anyone notice any parallel here with the Iskcon experience.

Brahma

Comment posted by brahma dasa on March 21st, 2010
12 pustakrishna

I wanted to comment on one point that Praghosa das makes…the issue of “ownership”. For the bhakta, ownership is a state or mind modified by philosophical understanding that the supreme proprietor is God. We have sometimes used the concept of the bankteller in understanding the handling of material. While the bankteller handles so much money, he/she knows that the money always belongs to the bank. Similarly, there is not much of a problem for a bhakta ir family of bhaktas to be owners of a property when their lives are dedicated to Krishna. We can sometimes see the opposite situation, when one in the renounced order of life might express proprietorship for themselves, instead of for the sake of Krishna’s service.

Hence, the consciousness is critical. We exist in a world of “designations”. When all of these designations are negated with service consciousness (sarvopadhi vinirmuktam tat paratvena nirmalam) for the pleasure of Krishna, that is perfect. As Srila Prabhupad remarked in walking along the beach in LA, seeing the homes above the cliffs overlooking the ocean, that there is nothing wrong with these houses, but rather there must be a temple in each and every one of them. It is Krishna consciousness that is needed. And, if a large group of mayavadis has a so-called peaceful, happy community without Krishna at the center, then it is “zero”, useless and binding from the spiritual viewpoint. In this context, the example I gave in comment #9 above gives us the example that efforts in Krishna consciousness even when imperfectly performed, are better than externally perfect activities disconnected from Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupad’s leadership, and his absence of condemnation, confirmed this again and again. These are lessons that are sometimes learned after many, many years, and sometimes never learned at all. Thus, while one may externally consider the example of mayavadi communities’ successes with an eye toward being eclectic about what may work, it is vitally important that the primacy of Krishna consciousness be understood as an internal process first and foremost…then extension perhaps into a varnashram dharma exemplary model, if possible.

Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on March 21st, 2010
13 Praghosa

Dear Pusta Krishna prabhu,

I couldn’t agree more with your comment. While observing and being impressed with the intelligent, robust and developed structures that they have put in place vis a vis community organization, that was mirrored by the extremely unimpressive and uninspirational experience our visit to the matrimandir was. The reason for it being so dull and dry is because it is rooted in impersonalism.

As devotees there is little doubt that we have been blessed with so many glorious and unsurpassable assets but if there is one asset that we have been surpassed on it is likely to be community development. As mentioned in the article - using the principles of yukta vairagya and taking gold from a dirty place - we can surely learn from those who have made more progress in this area, no matter how shaky their spiritual foundations are…….

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 22nd, 2010
14 nrsimhananda

Dear Praghosa prabhu,
PAMHO AGTSP
A visitor coming to Mayapur taking an introductory, cursory view may be as impressed as you were by the Aurovillians (that looks like Auro villians!!!) in regards to the community organization. After all, like them, we have a community temple, kitchen, service, etc. Though we have a grhasta area which has privately owned residences, it is still under the authority of the Mayapur management and subject to regulation. So a person could walk away after a day’s visit and be quite convinced that we were a working example of a healthy community spirit and practice. Is there a chance that the rosy picture presented to you and your colleagues might have a darker side that wasn’t shown? That what they told you is not exactly what is practiced? Though I didn’t have an official reception when I visited, I got an eerie feeling as I walked around the place. I felt like I had stumbled into a cult operating on certain unstated agreements based not so much on generosity of spirit and freedom from ego, but more on the power of personalities and fear of being too different. Anyway, what’s the possibility that you didn’t get the whole picture?
YS, Nrsimhananda das

Comment posted by nrsimhananda on March 22nd, 2010
15 Praghosa

Dear Nrsimhananda prabhu,

Pamho. AgtSP.

Absolutely - atmavan manyate jagat - so for sure I wouldn’t claim that I got the whole picture. That said I thought I did describe a really cultish experience when visiting their ‘matrimandir’!

Still what cannot be denied are their robust and person centred welfare facilities that are available to all members, as well as their impressive initiatives in relation to alternative energy, homegrown construction materials, eco-friendly sewage systems and general waste management etc. As far as those things go I could be searching for them in Mayapur for the rest of my life without finding them :-) Still with a little bit of luck I might get a smidgen of Mahaprabhu’s mercy which of course is priceless.

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 22nd, 2010
16 pustakrishna

Seeing Nrsimhananda’s photo in this discussion has made me very, very happy, and made me think of Krishna. How do you know a vaishnava…when you see them, you think of Krishna. So, the question arises…when you visit such utopian humanists, do you think of Krishna? If not, then realize that the west has done a much better job of creating the means to provide the material necessities of life. Srila Prabhupad encouraged simple living…because then you would have time for high thinking. If too much time is spent on complex arrangements for material life, then much valuable time is lost from Krishna consciousness.

For example, to wash clothes by hand, perhaps at the bank of a pond or river, takes more time than simply placing one’s dirty clothes in a washing machine. But (and herein lies the problem), in order to acquire a washing machine, pay for electricity, etc. etc., one has to work like a mudha. Please understand that I also have a washing machine in my home, and that I also work like a mudha! Dilemma….

There are many different types of personalities in Krishna consciousness. Some will gravitate toward rural living in Krishna conscious communities, others need the challenge of preaching and serving in cities. Whatever the case, no one formula will be best for all…except that one must try “never to forget Krishna.” When some spark of love will come to the heart, then that task will become much more easy….we hope and pray.

Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on March 23rd, 2010
17 Unregistered

I find this an interesting article to read, as I have been watching the auroville project for the past 13 years (I even read the “news & notes” each week). I find it a very interesting concept, albeit with many flaws.

In regards to the subject of sole ownership, I think it is noteworthy to point out that while Aurovillians do not own property themselves - it is currently a requirement for all who wish to enter there that they either build or buy. BUY? yes buy.

“… as of January 2001, Newcomers will be admitted on the condition that they provide for their own housing. While this usually means coming with the money to build or buy a place….”

I wanted to make this point, because to many it may initially appear, that Auroville is a open and free commune style city - which IS how they like to portray themselves, however it is not the case as many hundreds of Russians found out in the early 2000’s after a TV station made a report on Auroville which resulted in entire families selling up, packing their cases and heading to Auroville - only to be turned back, returning to Russia with nothing.

This concept of having to BUY a house when you don’t actually OWN the house is something which I imagine would be very hard for many to accept. Putting all your savings into something which you ultimately have no say over is a gamble most would not want to take. How would this work in a society like ISKCON?After the recent lawsuits and threats of selling temples - how many ISKCON members are willing to hand over their life savings to the society now? (I’m not trying to be critical, just raising a valid point - please forgive any offense if I sound critical)

I also wanted to point out that while Auroville also likes to portray itself as a Cashless society, if you do your homework you will see that this is in relation ONLY to jobs undertaken INSIDE Auroville. What is not made initially clear is that ALL Aurovillians are required to give money each month to the “central fund” of Rs 2,000 per person per month.” (This Fee is IN ADDITION to any personal living expenses.)Whilst the equivelant of less than US$50 a month is still a very low cost, it’s still important to note that Aurovillians DO need some kind of “outside” income - it is certainly no hippie drop out utopia.

I think ISKCON can take a lot from Auroville- learning where they have succeeded AND failed.

Hare Krishna

Comment posted by Radhesyam.bap on March 26th, 2010
18 Akruranatha

Regarding Pusta Krishna Prabhu’s comment # 16, it raises an interesting point.

Srila Prabhupada’s teaching of “Plain living and high thinking” also has to be taken in conjunction with his approval of the “lame man and the blind man” idea, even though there is possibly some tension between the two concepts.

In “the lame man and the blind man”, there is some recognition that western science and technology and economic development (perhaps even social development?) have something valuable to contribute, if they can be properly dedicated to Krishna’s service under guidance of those with better spiritual vision.

But “plain living and high thinking” warns us not to misuse science and technology and economic development for “indriya-pritir” and waste the human life which is meant for “tattva-jijnasa”, “brahma-jijnasa”.

As set forth in Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.9-10:

“All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.”

“Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.”

Western science, technology, economic development, and perhaps even some aspects of social relations may be useful for promoting a healthy life, or self-preservation, so long as they are not misused to obscure the goal of life, which is Krishna consciousness.

Naturally such modern amenities may also be used for broadcasting Krishna’s message through all media and will all effective techniques. Utility is the principle.

ISKCON Mayapur should be a place where devotees may come and be inspired in their spiritual life, a center of learning for Gaudiya Vaisnava culture, where millions of spiritual tourists may come and gain appreciation for the glories of Lord Caitanya and of Srila Prabhupada’s books and teachings, and where an international community of devotees can live simply, in peace and harmony, without losing the focus of their goal of life, namely to make further advancement in Krishna consciousness.

Kulapavana is right (comment #8) that it will take superior skills of practical management (not wishful or magical thinking), but it will happen.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on March 26th, 2010
19 Praghosa

We all are aware of Srila Prabhupada’s famous comments about 50% of his work being completed when referring to the other 50% being the establishment of varnasrama dharma. Just as no one would have argued with Srila Prabhupada that he was some how or another side lining or minimizing the process of bhakti by highlighting the need for varnasrama taking root, logically we would not, in the pursuit of pure bhakti, somehow consider working towards the establishment of an ideal community some kind of karma kandiya activity. Our guideline is to accept whatever is favourable for Krsna consciousness and reject whatever is unfavourable. Rejecting the system of varnasrama or anything else that can be used in the service of Krsna is really a form of impersonalism, while on the other hand overly indulging on that external, without the proper focus and connection to Krsna, is really a form of maya.

Srila Prabhupada often said that whatever we do for Krsna should be ‘first class’. This of course makes perfect sense as we are representatives of first classness personified – Krsna. Therefore we should strive to have the best waste management system, the best sewage system, the best alternative energy system, the best devotee care system, the best community support system, the most clean environment and the most secure, peaceful and inspiring community on the planet, all in the service of Sri Krishna Caitanya.

Comment posted by Praghosa on March 27th, 2010
20 pustakrishna

In regard to comments by Praghosa Prabhu #19, please keep in mind that there are two aspects to it. First, the varnas (chatur varnyam maya srstham) are created by Krishna and is very natural. It is very good to educate the public that divisions of labor are natural, should not be based on birth but rather quality and work, and ideally should be directed at all levels toward pleasing God. Second, the ashramas are designed to help civilized people progress in their spiritual life by progressive dedication to the service of God. It begins with controlling and regulating the senses so that we are not victimized and enslaved by the senses, and rather direct the senses (the body) and mind towards the service of God, the ultimate Proprietor (hrishikesha hrishikena sevanam bhaktir ucyate).

While the role of teaching this is very important, ISKCON has tried to demonstrate this practically in rural communities with varying success. Mostly, we want to see simple living and high-thinking expressed in daily life and livelihood. While we may try to fit everything into neat folders to rationalize the process, things are never so. Krishna says that every endeavour in the material world is covered with some flaw like fire is covered with smoke. So, while we may be teaching the ideals of varnashrama dharma, we therefore have to be understanding that this ideal is not so perfectly expressed externally. In practice, we do not always see the principles of Krishna consciousness expressed of paramount importance, as pratishta raises its ugly head. We must always try to do everything as an offering to and under the direction of sri guru-vaishnava. When that is forgotten, then it is “srama eva hi kevalam”, useless work and exploitation.

After all, we fallen souls have come to Krishna consciousness for a variety of reasons initially, but we stay because we have come to appreciate that awakening our love for Krishna is the most important goal of life. Yoginam api sarvesam mad gatenantaratmana…keeping Krishna within our hearts and minds translates into ultimate development of love for Sri Krishna. If offenses can be avoided, this will awaken without any doubt.

Pusta Krishna das

Comment posted by pustakrishna on March 28th, 2010
21 Unregistered

Radhesyama wrote in comment 17 :
“I wanted to make this point, because to many it may initially appear, that Auroville is a open and free commune style city - which IS how they like to portray themselves, however it is not the case as many hundreds of Russians found out in the early 2000’s after a TV station made a report on Auroville which resulted in entire families selling up, packing their cases and heading to Auroville - only to be turned back, returning to Russia with nothing.
I would have to disagree with this. It may be that some people living in Auroville like to portray such an image but it’s over simplistic. The fact of the matter is that Auroville is one of the most innovative communities existing in the world today.
They certainly have had a housing shortage, just as we have one right now in Mayapur, but as of the March 2010 newsletter that has changed. They did a lot of work and as a result they now have more than 120 apartments coming up in nine or ten housing projects, of which about 50 apartments and rooms will be offered to deserving Aurovillians for free.
Back in the mid 90’s I visited Auroville many times, and stayed for some weeks at a time. I met many Aurovillians. What they have that I think we need is a sense of ownership of the project. Not in the sense of commercial ownership, but in the sense of active participation as stakeholders. They all have a stake in communal decision making.
This is something that used to be found in traditional communities around the world. In the Vedic paradigm, no one ‘owns’ anything except Krishna Balarama. As Their representatives, the brahmanas inherit that ownership, but they hand over responsibility to the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas overwhelming nature is to protect the citizens. In order to do that they are ready even to lay down their lives. Protection is the order of the day. That is where we have failed IMHO.

Comment posted by Samba das on March 29th, 2010
22 Unregistered

In a class on Sunday last, BVP Swami made the point that you can’t expect surrender unless you are prepared to give shelter. Krishna demands surrender, but He also gives all protection. If authorities expect surrender, people will be prepared to offer it if they feel protected. This is the work we have to do if we are to develop varnasrama. People need a stake in the project (they feel that their participation is valuable and that they can make a difference), and they need protection. We have to start thinking, not like a temple management, but as a civic body with varnasrama ideals.

Some insist that we need a Ksatriya before we can go anywhere. But the fact is that any qualified Brahmana can adopt that role in an emergency, till such a time as some qualified kshatriyas can be trained up by brahmanas. That’s why Prabhupada wanted varnasrama colleges. ISKCON has liberated land from the materialists; this land should be a place where brahmanas train up the four varnas so we can have some qualified people for the future.
Your servant
Samba Das
Co-Chairman Mayapur Masterplan Committee.

Comment posted by Samba das on March 29th, 2010
23 Unregistered

Thank you to Praghosa prabhu and the other ISKCON members who visited the other ashrams. There needs to be some serious thinking about how ISKCON will go about developing their communities. Mayapur will rapidly become a vast commercial enterprise with the smart capitalists making a lot of money. There are hundreds of thousands of local Bengalis and thousands of ISKCON devotees visiting who want land and amenities. Local rents and land prices have increased a lot.

Will we start seeing Mayapur slums soon? On the order of Mumbai & Delhi?

ISKCON will have to think about how it goes about the development. If the goal is to be ideal, what compromises will ISKCON accept?

I think the ISKCON GBC members should visit the Ruzizzi project in the Congo where Hare Krishna Dasi’s son has built a non religious community to solve these problems. http://www.workingvillages.org/main.html

They are still in the beginning stages, but he has garnered academic attention.

Comment posted by amalagaura on April 1st, 2010

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