A talk with Shraddhavan (Radio program)

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AurovilleRadio-logo-pop.png A talk with Shraddhavan
by Romel, 2017 (30:29)

Shraddhavan icon.png

Romel: I'm at Savitri Bhavan today, interviewing Shraddhavan from Auroville.

Shraddhavan: Hello!

How did you come to Auroville?

Hello! How did you come to Auroville?

I was very lucky. At a crucial point in my life, when I was 26 years old – one day with my partner, we went to visit a friend. (This is happening in London.) And we were surprised when we arrived at his home, that a talk was going on. There were many people there, and a talk was going on. And because we had missed the beginning, we did not know what was the topic of the talk. But over the next half-an-hour or forty-five minutes, it made a remarkable experience – on many topics which I had been interested in. Education, psychology, social justice, progress... a better society. Many interests which I had.

I had the experience as if they were different rooms inside of my head. And as the talk was going on, the doors to the rooms opened; and everything fitted together. And I knew what I could do for the rest of my life. And that was not connected with Auroville – that was connected with the teachings of Sri Aurobindo.

Had you read the teachings of Sri Aurobindo?

No, that was the first time I had heard the name of Sri Aurobindo. And when I heard his name, then I asked the person who was giving the talk – and I asked myself – how come there has been such a person on the earth, and I've been searching for the last 8-9 years, and I never heard his name? How could it happen?

But anyway, now I've heard his name. And now I've made a contact with him. And now I want to know more, and more, and more, and more, and more.

And I would like to say that the central point, which tied all these things together, is that evolution is not finished. I don't know why we should think that evolution is finished. Before that, the idea that there might be further evolutionary steps, for humanity, had not occurred to me. And the other point that the speaker made was that all the problems that humanity is facing at the moment – it is caused by our mental consciousness. That we create problems, and we find solutions – and the solutions create more problems. Nowadays we hear that Einstein said that you can't solve a problem on the same level that it has arisen; you have to go to another level. And then I understood that Sri Aurobindo is offering us the possibility – that he says that there is a possibility – not only for humanity to evolve, but each human being can work on their own evolution. And that will contribute to the evolution of the whole. And we can reach to a higher level; and then we will be able to solve our problems.

So that was so marvelous, to hear this.

Did that speaker at that time, when he was talking about this in England, know about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?

Yes, he had been to the Ashram, and lived in the Ashram for I think two or three years, in the 1950s. And I don't know the reason why he had left the Ashram; but the reason he was in London was that he had compiled, from all the published sources available at that time, the published works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He had compiled a book on the psychology of the Integral Yoga. All about the planes and parts of the being, the different parts of the personality. And it was a compilation from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

So I was not the only one who was interested; after that, he started to come to that place – to that flat – two or three times a week, and he would read from his book. And that was a wonderful education which we passed through over a period of several months.

And you have been so lucky, that when you came to Auroville, you had this chance of meeting the Mother. We all have never had the chance. And your experience on the first visit with the Mother, when you first looked at her – what was that feeling which was going inside you?

I should tell you first that even before I came to Auroville, while we were still in London, one night I had a dream or a vision of her. And I was asking, “Mother, can I come to the Ashram?” And she said “No, not the Ashram. There's another place.” And she showed me another place. In my dream I thought it was in Italy, for some reason. And after I came to Auroville, and saw some of those people she had shown to me.

But at that time, when I had that dream, we didn't know anything about Auroville. I'm talking about 1969, now. Nobody knew anything about Auroville – it had only just been founded. I was interested in the teaching of Sri Aurobindo, and had done quite a lot of traveling – but I had come to the conclusion that I didn't want to do physical travel anymore. And I wanted to work on inner discovery. And now I had a guide, Sri Aurobindo, and I thought, “I don't need to go anywhere”.

But, we couldn't buy Sri Aurobindo's books in London at that time. We had to order them from somebody in Switzerland who was connected with the Ashram. So I ordered the book, The Synthesis of Yoga. And when the book came, from Zurich, included in it were some photographs of the Mother, and the very first publicity about Auroville.

I didn't feel that I needed to go anywhere – I thought! Now Sri Aurobindo has shown the way that I can try to live my life in the best way. I didn't need to go anywhere! But among a group of young people there were some very interested to come. And they started making arrangements. We wrote to the Mother, and she said, “Yes. Come. But don't come yet!” Actually she didn't write personally – it came through the Sri Aurobindo Society. Auroville was a project of the Sri Aurobindo Society, in Pondicherry. So they were managing all the Auroville matters. And the reply came: “Mother has accepted you; but don't come yet – nothing is ready. We will let you know”. And then we wrote back and said, “Are you going to tell us, or can we write again?” And they said, “Well, we are going to tell you – but you can write again if you want”.

Sanskrit names given by the Mother

Did you ever ask Mother why she gave you the name ‘Shraddhavan’?

I didn't ask her, but I think I know.

What was it?

When she gave names to people, she didn't see the surface person. She looked at the whole history of the soul. And that was the basis on which she would give the name. (Maybe even a future destiny – who knows?) And people were puzzled; they said, “Mother's made a mistake, she's given you a man's name. She's given you a man's name”. And I said, “No, Mother doesn't make mistakes!”

Later, a real Sanskrit scholar told me that the name is mutable – like ‘man’, we say ‘man’ for human beings. In the same way, this can be for male or female.

The English of Savitri

When did you start writing on The English of Savitri?

Oh, quite recently. I started taking the classes, originally, way back in the 1980s. But then after Savitri Bhavan began to develop, I think the first classes came here (we had no building at that time, just a keet hut). We'd meet in that keet hut in the early morning sometimes. And then when we had the building – that is to say after the 8th of August, 1998 – then we started doing them here. And the groups have changed; the sessions have changed. We started doing the Sunday morning Savitri study circle – I think that started in 1994.

But the books, that was another idea altogether. We publish a magazine, Invocation, which is study notes on Savitri. And after many, many issues – I think it was issue 36, or 42, or something like that – I included a transcript of one of the Savitri talks. And then people appreciated them so much, we went on doing it.

And some of our friends in other parts of India – friends in Baroda, a place connected with Sri Aurobindo (where he lived) – there's a very good translator there. And he asked permission if he could translate into Gujarati. He started translating the Invocation articles into Gujarati, and publishing in book form. And so then we thought, “Oh, well if he can do that in Gujarati, we can do it in English”. So the first book was published I think in 2013.

Sri Aurobindo's teaching on evolution and the soul

Mother says, for the opening of the psychic, for the improvement of the English, and for the silence, it's good to read Savitri. At least a few lines a day. So, what is ‘psychic’, so far as you have understood? It's a very vague concept. Could you elaborate a little on the psychic?

I think all spiritual paths tell us that nothing could exist at all – nothing could exist – if it didn't have a spark of the Divine within it. There's the Brahman, and every, every... form in the material universe is sustained by a spark of the divine Presence. And Sri Aurobindo in his evolutionary view says that spark is there even in plants and animals – but there's an evolutionary process. That spark has descended into the material universe (this material universe) with the purpose of participating in this evolutionary purpose. So around itself, in each of its manifestations, it is building up a personality, naturally. And the outer evolution of forms in nature gives new possibilities – more complex possibilities for that soul-personality to develop.

And it's very important – it's marvelous, it so wonderful – that we have reached at this human stage where the mental personality developed. That gives us a certain degree of possibility and understanding, and of choice. We can't rely on our minds entirely, because they're still so imperfect, and living in the ignorance. But still to a certain extent, we have some possibility of choice about ourselves. That means that human beings have the possibility to consciously participate in their own individual evolution. And to contribute to the forward movement of everything else.

So in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's teaching, his focus on the psychic being is very, very important. If we can not only believe that we have a soul, but really feel the presence of the soul, follow its guidance – begin to learn when it tells us “better avoid this”, or “this will do you good, this is something” – making choices like that. And as the being gradually develops, it may take a long time! You may not reach the fulfillment in this life. But we have more possibilities; whatever progress we make in this life, it will help for the next, somehow.

There are instances in the poem where King Aswapati goes up to the higher planes, comes down.


And it's...

It's like this for a time; and it has to be like this for a time. Because the whole nature has to develop. It's not only the soul. So the soul can easily reach those heights; but it can't just stay up there, because then the lower nature would remain just as it is – it couldn't progress at all. So there have to be these descents: the higher consciousness comes down; we don't notice its working behind the veil. So we have been given this wonderful opportunity in Matrimandir, this place where we can go where energy has been concentrated, especially to help us find our inner being. But we can't stay there forever! The other side of our life in Auroville is the outer work. And these two are complementary. Whatever we realize within, we have to be able to express in our daily work. That's why Mother has given us this city to build.


And in this poem, Savitri, one goes through different stages of his life, her life – and we can relate to it to a certain extent. While writing this book [The English of Savitri], did you relate to certain characters, like Savitri, or King Aswapati...

No, it's not quite like that. In this book, Sri Aurobindo is sharing with us – through this amazing poetic rhythm and images, evocative language – the ocean of his knowledge and spiritual experience. So whatever the inner being is ready to receive at a particular moment, it will receive it. And then maybe things aren't ready – so then that passage won't mean so much. But at another time... (laughter, interruption)

When is the next book coming up?

My book?

Your book.

The first copies should be available on the 10th of August.

10th of August, this month.

It's about The Book of Yoga. Following Book Three.

Book Seven.

Book Seven.

How is Auroville different from the 1970s?

So it has been a number of years you have been in Auroville now. A number of years –

I think 46.


Almost 47; I came in 1970. November 1970.

You have seen a lot in Auroville – the growing of Auroville. So how do you feel it is different from 1970s?

There's been an unbelievable physical progress. It's really remarkable considering the small number of people. But of course we still have to – we're still not even three thousand registered members of Auroville (!).

Why does it keep on reducing?

That's a practical question.

People should stay here. It's a good place!

Many, many people would love to stay here but they don't find housing. And now again it was for a time opened up, and the Entry Service has said “you have to have a housing solution before we will write your name”. So I don't want to go into that; I think it's a very sad thing.

When Mother accepted me for Auroville, I had to go downstairs to the office of her son, Monsieur André, who was handling admissions to Auroville. And he said, “Oh, Mother's accepted you. Where would you go?” And I said, “I will go to Aspiration”. And he said, “They are living three people to a room there!” And I said, “I know! Somebody's offered to share a room there”. So, like that. It was a keet hut, and later on that keet hut where the two of us were living became part of the school buildings, and it was divided up into three. And then I had just a third of a circular hut to live in! And then for a long time I didn't really have a place of my own; I looked after the Tibetan children who had been sent by the Dalai Lama. So I lived with them – I didn't have to worry about a home. So I came in 1970, and I didn't have (you could say) a real ‘place’ that I could say was ‘my place’ I think until 1981. I was moving around.

Then at a certain point they banned the building of keet huts – this was for security reasons, because so many of them burned down (for one reason or another).

But you were asking how it was different. So now, we could say – because we were all very young. Most of the people were under 30. I was one of the old ones: I was 28. The very first permanent houses were being built. The house in Certitude which is known as Auroson's Home was under construction; and some more came. But people were living in – sometimes just under a tree (!) – you know, here or there. And beginning to develop the city.

They are still living, under a tree.

Some people may still be living under trees – there's a whole family in Discipline (and now there are numerous generations of that family), and they've all grown up under the trees. But I'm sure they have houses now. And now we have electricity...

The Banyan Tree

There's a thing which comes into my mind: what is the significance of this tree in Matrimandir? That huge tree?

That huge tree. Well, when we came – you might have seen the photographs – there wasn't anything: there were no trees for miles around. But there was this one banyan tree. And Mother designated that as the geographical center of the city. And then when Matrimandir was to be built, it was built just next to the Banyan Tree.

So that banyan tree has very special significance: it is unity. Oneness. That's what it represents. It's the unity tree.

And before the amphitheatre was fully developed (they prepared it for the foundation ceremony, but now it's been made much more usable), we always used to meet under the Banyan Tree. For community meetings.

What is the one thing you would like Auroville to have for the 50th Anniversary?

For the 50th Anniversary of Auroville, what is that one thing which you would like Auroville to have? In your expectations from Auroville? (Even if it'll be a slight...)

Somebody has suggested – and she's connected with Bali, Indonesia – and there, on their national day, it is a day of silence, for everybody. No vehicles on the road, no dialing mobiles, nothing. Everybody stays quietly at home. And she suggested we should do that on the 50th Anniversary day. Probably it won't happen.

But what should – I feel, and I hope – it is gratitude. If we would all feel what an immense privilege it is that we are allowed to be here, in this special place that Mother has chosen. And then if we could feel gratitude for all the other souls who are coming to be here, we could really feel – not our outer relationships, but inner relationships. All the soul-children of the Mother. And that our task is to fulfill her dream. If that could really happen, then perhaps things could move more quickly and more harmoniously than the moment.

I feel it's going on harmoniously.

In some aspects it's going on just wonderfully. But there's a level – precisely that level where we've come together in a communal organization, where many things are not working. Where the development of Auroville is blocked. As I said – because why should housing be an issue? Why don't we just welcome the souls who come? And somehow their housing problems will get solved? They say, “No, no, no – we can't! No housing solution”. That's an organizational problem. It's not the only one.

So that is, I see that these things are blocking. And this is because we're not far enough evolved beyond our mental state. We are still – as individually, it happens that people go to Matrimandir or sit quietly at home when they have an issue. And they get a feeling or an inspiration and they can follow that, individually. But it's much more difficult in a group, even to listen to each other. Everybody's hearing their own inner voice (!). How to be... there are attempts being made – I don't want to say it's not so – many attempts being made. But I think that's an area where we need to progress much more.

We have here souls of so many different countries.

Yeah, isn't that wonderful!

Yeah, that's marvelous. And we have so many people here who speak different languages; but here in Auroville, when we combine all of them together – bring a beautiful soul, which is in Matrimandir.

Yes. And it will begin to have more influence; it's meant to be a pilot project, that has influence in India and in the world. And it is having an amazing amount of influence, considering the small scale. But it potentially can have much more influence. Mother has even spoken in one place that it's the only hope for avoiding a third world war. (At one point in the sixties, she said something.)

And we have a responsibility, no? We have a mission, a responsibility. We shouldn't be careless about it.

Mother also said – I'm reminded by this – that it would snow sometime in Pondicherry. Was she joking, or was she seriously...

I think that she said that she had a vision of the snow. So all these visions – these things that are potentialities in the subtle world – they don't necessarily manifest. But perhaps it can. Climate change is going on – it might happen!

It would be amazing if we could ski here.

Well! Whether it would be that much snow or not, I don't know.

Ok, thank you!

Thank you.