The Ashram

An Introduction to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

"The Ashram has been created with another object than that ordinarily common to such institutions", Sri Aurobindo wrote, "not for the renunciation of the world but as a centre and a field of practice for the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the final end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit."

When Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in 1910, he lived at first with a few associates from the political field. Afterwards a few more joined him and there slowly developed spiritual relations between these young men and Sri Aurobindo. When the Mother returned to Pondicherry on 24 April 1920, the number of disciples began to increase rapidly, and as the Ashram thus began to take shape, it fell to the Mother to organize it. When in 1926, Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion to pursue his yogic sadhana, the whole material and spiritual charge of the Ashram was assumed by the Mother. Under her guidance, the Ashram grew into a large diversified community with almost 1200 members. Including the 400 students of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who live nearby, the community as a whole consists of more than 2000 people.

Situated in a bustling city of a quarter-million people, the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat secluded from the world but a vibrant centre of life in a modern urban setting. The dynamic character of the community reflects the life-affirming aim of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. Work as an offering to the Divine is an essential aspect of the Yoga, and Ashramites do some useful work every day in the various departments.

In the sadhana or spiritual discipline at the Ashram, there are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions in Yoga. Each sadhak is left free to determine the course and pace of his sadhana in accordance with his nature. But the general principle of the sadhana is the same for all: there must be a surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force so that it may work to transform one's being.

The Ashram is located in the eastern part of Pondicherry. Ashramites live and work in a large number of buildings spread throughout the area. The focus of community life is the Ashram main building, usually called simply "the Ashram", which consists of an interconnected block of houses, including those in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother dwelt for most of their lives. At its centre under a tree-shaded courtyard lies the Samadhi, a white-marble shrine where their bodies are laid to rest.

The Ashram provides its members with all they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, as well as medical care. The Ashram has farms and gardens, a printing press and a number of small-scale industries. There are also libraries for study and facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits. The Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.

An Essay on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

By Agniprem

What is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram? It is a human laboratory. It is a place where the seemingly "impossible" is worked out. The work being done there is a concentrated willed evolution beyond mind and beyond man. Just as man and mentality was the evolutionary step beyond the animal; just as man was the evolutionary step, aspired for by the consciousness within the animal; just as in some unknown and still to really be understood way the sleeping consciousness of the plant and vegetable kingdom become the moving unrooted simple animal; and just as single celled life was the step that was liberated out of matter by an evolutionary pressure from the life plane upon the long, long, long churning of matter and physical energy receptive, after billions of years of unfolding of possibility to allow and become the expression and vehicle of life which was always there from the involutionary descent of spirit into matter.

This work of willed evolution is of course being done all over the earth and not only at the Ashram. The difference is that in the Ashram the individual representatives form a collective concentration of terrestrial and human nature, of the consciousness of man. Thus the problems too are concentrated there but then so is the inner help from the Divine. The primary focus is for the individual to become what they truly are: a soul with a mind, life and body. Each soul is a unique expression of the Divine and a special relationship with the Divine in all its aspects: transcendent, universal and individual. The first step to be achieved is then the psychic transformation where one has, a gift of grace, the reversal of consciousness where one lives within in this central and eternal core of the individual, no longer limited by ego and a finite span of space and time. No one said it would be easy, and surely it is not.

No longer limited by the surface person this step is an emerging into and becoming a universal-individual. That is, the individual realizes their essential unity with all that is. In order to do this the inner life becomes the expanded, because now unveiled, greater reality of the individual. One lives consciously and continually in the inner or subtle mind and vital being, in the subtle physical, with the barrier between the surface mind, life and body only a formal demarcation. All is now organized around the soul, the psychic being which is no longer covered within but is on the surface leading the life and is in deep and continual communion with God within, beyond and everywhere around it.

Has this been achieved on a large scale? Frankly no, and that is not surprising, but achieved it has been in various degrees. There are a handful, mostly not known even to their fellow laboratory members who have, for reasons known only to the Divine, received this gift of grace. If you go there you will probably not meet them, or if you did you would not know it. These individuals continue and have much to do because this is only the first step or plateau on a still much longer journey - which now in a conscious way includes all in the laboratory and all on the earth. This is not a resting place, although in traditional yogas it has been, after the surrender to the Divine was sufficiently complete so that one would leave the earth to live in worlds beyond.

Leaving the earth and the evolution is not the goal of the Integral Yoga. The goal is the evolution beyond mind, here in the living, thinking body and to change all that into the higher nature and consciousness. First within, and then gradually bringing that down all the way into the body, the very cells, into the seemingly subconscient and ultimately the inconscient core of matter.

This next step is an ascent and bringing down into the body itself the universal consciousness of life and mind, and the body, into the terrestrial and universal body, life and mind of the Divine. This cannot be done with the power of mind, and certainly not that of unaided life even with the help of the soul. One must rise above the thinker into the seer and sage, into the intuitive and spiritual mind levels. In actual fact it is always the Divine that does the yoga within us - we cannot do it. We can and must aspire, reject or will to change our nature, and to surrender to the Divine which is our higher self, the same self of all.

This is the spiritual transformation which is a widening into universality a still greater deepening into what we are, but specially a rising into the planes of consciousness above the human mind. While not yet beyond mind, it individualizes and makes active these "above head" planes of conscious being, not yet expressed in an established way in man and on earth although there have been a few forerunners in our history to show the way. Just as the psychic transformation (the turning over and becoming our soul) with all the many, many parts of our being connected and organized around the soul: the surface being and mental, vital and physical nature opening to and connecting with the deeper inner and more universal mind, life and bodily consciousness. At each stage of ascent, the movement is more a spiral in which what has been attained within and above is brought down into the now connected inner and surface mind, life and body and lived and expressed there. This is done through work, for the Ashram is visibly and primarily a place of karma yoga, a self perfection through action of devotion and service to the Divine and the Divine in the greater community through bhakti yoga, based on the growing knowledge of what we are, which is the essence of jnana yoga.

Will one find scientists with test tubes and scientific instruments in this laboratory called the Sri Aurobindo Ashram? The ashram school is one place test tubes and scientific instruments can be found, but that is more for the education of the young in the school. This laboratory is more a laboratory of concentrated life. In it are found a school researching how to educate and "bring forth" or educe the soul. This "educing" (the true meaning of education) is found in all of life. Hence the ashram contains also a bakery and dining room capable of feeding thousands of people, construction departments, plumbing and electrical department, a soap factory and hand made paper factory, artists of all kinds working individually and collectively in various departments from poetry to embroidery, silk painting and bhatik. There are furniture and wood working units, guest houses, a large laundry, a modern printing press and publishing house, and much, much more.

In this laboratory are collected about 2000 people, each representing a type, a nature, of humanity which can be found all over the earth. Each person comes with their personal evolutionary background, their talents and problems, and their connection to their terrestrial type with its talents and problems. All work together as best they can to contribute to the whole in a growing perfection of human nature. It bears repeating that this work of transformation is not easy, it is a facing and solving of day to day problems which is the field of change.

Meditation is an important part of this inner and outer change, but for some work itself is a meditation and is their primary way. There are weekly and special collective meditations but there is no formal instruction in how to proceed. Each must find their own way and receive the guidance directly from Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, taking the help of every moment whether from another person or the circumstances of life.

Before one can go much beyond man and mentality, one must be sufficiently perfectly human. This is not achieved in a few short months or even a few short years. It takes the day by day and moment to moment choices of how we will express ourselves, how we chose to react and why. To know that all human nature is ultimately subject to the deeper soul and the Divine (the source and essence of that soul) and to the power of the Divine (the transcendent, universal, terrestrial and individual Mother, the Mother of our souls) -- this is true knowledge. It is ultimately She, and only She, who does this yoga. Our job is to aspire and accept in a surrendered gratitude the great change that is upon us.

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Last modified on Aug 13, 1997