Recently I visited Auroville, a town dedicated to explore a more integral human development, a town that honors arts, generosity, inner progress, sustainability, intercultural respect, technological progress, beauty, altruistic relationships, philosophical knowledge, alternative education, social innovation and so on … In my experience, Auroville already manifests an entirely different Development model, oriented towards inner transformation and altruism as the base for human relationships.
What started like an improbable dream is now a tangible reality, with many facts that we can already celebrate: Auroville hosts more than 2.500 people, on its path to the planned 50.000. In Auroville, more than 2 million trees have been planted, which turned a barren land into a forest-town. Such reforestation brought another major ecological consequence: the water table has increased (average) more than 4 meters in this last 50 years! This means water for people and for the land, and this is a big issue in India, where millions of people are leaving their villages to live in macrocities because their soils are eroded and their water tables depleted. The ecological restoration seems a great ground for all that is emerging: Hundreds of projects are blooming in town, thousands of people from all over the world are flooding in to learn from the example of this township, kids are learning in non competitive, non examining spaces where their integral development as human beings is at the center of their learning process, experiments with gift economy and other kinds of alternative economy are being held etc.
For some controversial, for others unreal, for some utopian, Auroville holds the undeniable merit of opening deep questions and offering a whole new range of possibilities on how we think human development is possible. I am yet to be in another space which integrates more aspects of the human experience. I have been in circles, retreats, retreat centers, ashrams, ecovillages… but this is definitely another level of complexity and experimentation on the universal values of peace and ecology.
For some context, Auroville started 50 years ago as an experiment to manifest A Dream on earth. Inspired by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa, Auroville is dedicated to Unity in Diversity, to the upliftment of humanity through a experiment of experiments that aims to bring about more harmony and integral progress to the human experience on this planet. There is lot’s to explore and analyze and it’s not possible to make such deep analysis in an article like this, but I just felt like sharing some thoughts with you as an open reflection in the hope that this will ignite some further thoughts and experiments :).
I will reflect on some points which really challenged my thinking and I offer them more as questions, never fixed answers.
Inner & Outer Evolution as the fundamental of Human settlement.
For hundreds (maybe thousands) of years, we have lived a practical separation between those who live for spirituality and those who live for material livelihood (sorry for the gross distinction here). But it is true that Monks and Nuns, across cultures and religions have been having their own spaces to cultivate and find the truth, which were sometimes withdrawn from society general functioning. In many cultures, the monk/nun is a beggar, someone who begs for food because he/she is fully dedicated to self-fulfillment and self-discovery. And on the other hand, lay people have been keeping the engines of material goods and services working, by many times, compromising the search for greater truths and understanding. This separation has created a gap between contemplation and action, between matter and spirit, between spirituality and business. This gap is defined by Sri Aurobindo as follows: “In India, the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit, (or of some of them), it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and triumphant mastery of the world’s powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit”.
One of the main questions Auroville is possing humanity is: Is there something in between? Can these two apparent opposites reconcile? Can the material needs and spirituality be worked out from similar spheres of understanding and motivation? Can inner & outer evolution progress together in harmony for realizations of higher collective state of things?
The geographical center of Auroville, a fabulous Banyan Tree.
What are the external architectures for happiness?
Nowadays, more and more people are moving towards huge metropolis, many times forced by climatic issues, other times nudged by the economical functioning which accumulate opportunities in those big cities. Living in these big cities usually means long commutes, pollution, architecture which is designed to be able to host many people in reduced areas (not for human thriving and community), disconnection from Nature (many times you need a really long drive to reach Nature), disconnection from community, city designs which focus on vehicle mobility, local resource depletion, and so on.
One of the realizations of Auroville, is that City Architecture is essential for happiness. I could feel it in myself. I could go everywhere by bicycle or walking. While ‘commuting’ all I saw was vegetation and beauty, a great forest which has a story of its own, or beautifully made buildings designed to uplift human spirit. The planned size for Auroville is less than 10 kms of diameter, which allows an ecological and human-logical development, aimed to foster sustainability, inner transformation, relationships and outer beauty.
It’s interesting to see how most of our settlements have grown out of different set of priorities. We don’t design cities for happiness, for the common good, for community, for generosity to flourish. Most of the time we have designed our cities based on financial efficiency, scarcity and hoarding. And this is totally understandable. For thousands of years we have been walking this earth on “Survival Mode”. But, is this all we can do? Is this the best we can aspire to? Auroville experiment says no, and my heart also says no, and the hearts of more and more people as well. Many of the buildings of Auroville, and of other places in the world like ESI-Sughad for example, are made out of a heart of service, a field of love, these places feel like poems, like pieces of art. And that has a very different effect on your mind. We know we miss the greenery in our cities, but we also miss the beauty we know is possible. (…)
We all know external beauty and designing for such values could bring so much goodness to our cities, but how many are willing to jump into such bold experiments? And what does it take to facilitate such emergences? What are the conditions for such altruistic intentions to emerge?
MatriMandir and the forest-town
What emerges when we design from & for generosity?
We believe society is given by Nature, or God, and many times we forget that consciously or unconsciously, it has been designed by humans. All the systems we are part of (Water, Food, Transportation, Internet…) have been designed. We live in systems which have been designed for profit, because our later economical paradigm tells us that when you think of your own profit and others think in their own profit then society will find Greater Good; since everyone is taking care of themselves, then society is taking care of itself. But this appears more and more as an untruth. We have been experimenting with this paradigm for many centuries in different cultures, but more prominently last decades in our global westernized culture. And what we see falls far away from the promised land of a society designed from the lenses of self profit.
I am slowly discovering that the emergence of our desired Greater Good, is very connected to the intention of our actions. It looks like we designed a society where the intention of our actions is nudged to come from greed, individual interest and profit. And some of the clear consequences are disconnection from self, others, and Nature, and many others which are widely known, but also a deep economical inefficiency. In Spain, for example, we now have almost 4 million flats empty or we waste 7.7 million tons of food every year… What are the reasons for such inefficiency? Well, we have lost connection to the other, from the architecture of cities, to the systems we are part of, to the intention of our actions, all nudges us to neglect our collective spheres of care.
But I do feel we can design other-wise :). And Auroville is an experiment in that direction. As Aurovilians say, long way to go and explore, but the seed intention is there to manifest systems which are rooted in the intention of service. They run some bold experiments like free stores and gift economy hostels, and the intention to move forward in the direction of more generous systems is really alive. The feeling of the town is that these intentions will manifest more and more experiments in the direction of gifting and trusting, not out of dogma, but out of experimentation and the benefits that people might find in those processes.
It is this unconditional giving one of the most touching and surprising experiences we had in Auroville. I organized a journey to India for 7 people and Auroville was on the plans. For some years now I have been experimenting with gift-economy and trusting more and more than when you follow your heart then life takes care of the rest. We had spent one week in Ahmedabad and our next step was Auroville. 3 days before arriving I could have rented a place to stay, but something told me to just trust and go there without having arranged accommodation previously. This was a huge jump of faith since I was not traveling alone and the rest of the group depended on me for that decision. 2 days before I contacted a friend of mine living in the area, and he agreed to give us a talk on Auroville and some initial information for our journey. Some more people were present in that inspiring conversation, and moved by it (and probably more) one of them told us: ‘Where are you staying? Would you like to stay in Auroville? I am managing one hostel there’. I could feel the offering was coming from a very pure and unconditional space so we ended up saying yes and moving to Auroville in couple of days. We were offered a lot of love and friendship and also a place to stay at the expectation of nothing. Not the whole of the town works like that, especially for tourists, but we had a glimpse of the intended generosity and cashless society which is there at the roots of the experiment. We ended up having a very deep experience of the town, being in touch with many locals, and getting a great exposure for the short time we had.
Overall, Auroville gave me a new perspective that integrates many things I feel called to explore with like inner transformation and social change, ecology & social harmony, governance, participation and group facilitation, localized gift ecology, generating new collective stories…For me, Auroville has been the most integral example I met till now, a field that includes all of the human experience in itself. It’s a very bold one and I am glad there are such bold people in the world :). I hope I can keep learning from such experience and I will definitely love to explore more about it and analyze and experiment in deeper ways. Definitely, this is not an article of conclusions or statements, but an initial seed that I hope I can keep watering and nurturing, in the path to deeper understanding of Auroville’s realities which I feel hold great value for humanity as a whole.