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"This ashram has been created with another object
than that ordinarily common to such institutions,
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."

Sri Aurobindo


For years after his arrival in Pondicherry in 1910, Sri Aurobindo was unwilling to speak of his household as an Ashram. Not that the term would have been inappropriate, for an Ashram is simply "the house or houses of a Teacher or Master of spiritual philosophy in which he receives and lodges those who come to him for the teaching and practice." It is true that in the early days Sri Aurobindo took no disciples as such. He once wrote, "With the three or four young men who accompanied me or joined me in Pondicherry, I had at first the relation of friends and companions rather than of a Guru and disciples; it was on the ground of politics I had come to know them and not on the spiritual ground. Afterwards only there was a gradual development of spiritual relations." But even as more and more aspirants gathered around Sri Aurobindo specifically to practise yoga under his direction, the grouping remained informal, and was not referred to as an "ashram".
It was only after the Mother finally settled in Pondicherry in 1920 that an attempt was made at collective organisation. "The number of disciples then showed a tendency to increase rather rapidly." And as thus "the Ashram began to develop, it fell to the Mother to organise it." She had to see to the outward lives of the disciples, whose "numbers began so much to increase that it was thought necessary to make an arrangement for lodging those who came, and houses were bought and rented according to need for the purpose. Arrangements [also] had to be made for the maintenance, repair, rebuilding of houses, for the service of food and for decent living and hygiene" and so forth. At the same time the guidance of the disciples' inner lives began progressively to pass into the Mother's hands, so that, when Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion on 24 November 1926, "the whole material and spiritual charge" of what had now come to be called Sri Aurobindo's Ashram "devolved on her". It was in this way that "the Ashram was founded or rather founded itself in 1926", the informal grouping of seekers taking "the form of an ashram more from the wish of the sadhaks who desired to entrust their whole inner and outer life to the Mother than from any intention or plan of hers or of Sri Aurobindo's".
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is thus more a spontaneous growth than a deliberate creation. But it is also the realisation of an intention that had long been cherished by the Mother. She once remarked:
"At the beginning of my present earthly existence I was put into touch with many people who said they had a great inner aspiration, an urge towards something deeper and truer, but were tied down, subjected, slaves of that brutal necessity of earning their living, and that this weighed down upon them so much, took away so much of their time and energy that they could not engage in any other activity, inner or outer. I heard that very often.
"I was very young at that time, and always I used to tell myself that if ever I could do it, I would try to create a little world - Oh! quite a small one, but still - a small world where people would be able to live without having to be preoccupied by problems of food and lodging and clothing and the imperious necessities of life, to see if all the energies freed by this certainty of an assured material living would spontaneously be turned to the divine life and inner realisation.
The conditions of basic material security that the Ashram, as it took shape, provided to an ever increasing number of disciples, permitted their spiritual lives to unfold in the light of Sri Aurobindo and under the Mother's constant daily care.

In the half-century since its founding the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has grown from an informal grouping of two dozen sadhaks into a diversified spiritual community with 1200 members. There is, besides, a significant number of non-members living in Pondicherry who take part in the Ashram's life. All regions of India, and many countries of Asia, Europe and America are represented. Members are of both sexes and of all ages. No distinction of creeds, caste or national origin are observed.
Once confined to a few buildings in one corner of Pondicherry, the Ashram's growth has caused it to expand physically in all directions. Today Ashramites live and work in more than 400 buildings spread throughout the town. The central focus of the community is one group of houses including those in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother dwelt for most of their lives in Pondicherry. This interconnected block of houses - called "the Ashram main-building", or more usually just "the Ashram" - surrounds a tree-shaded courtyard, at the centre of which lies the flower-covered "Samadhi". This white marble shrine holds, in two separate chambers, the mortal remains of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.


In the popular imagination ashrams are connected with hermitages or religious orders, but in fact " an ashram is not an association or a religious body or a monastery". The Sri Aurobindo Ashram in particular has nothing to do with asceticism or retreat from the world. The character of this unique institution stems from the special nature of Sri Aurobindo's teaching. This may be summed up in these words from one of his letters:
"The way of Yoga followed here has a purpose different from others - for its aim is not only to rise out of the ordinary ignorant world-consciousness into the divine consciousness, but to bring the supramental power of that divine consciousness down into the ignorance of mind, life and body, to transform them, to manifest the Divine here and create a divine life in Matter."
As this aim of Sri Aurobindo's yoga differs from that of traditional yogic systems, so the ashram that grew up around him "is not an ashram like others". As in all spiritual communities, life in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is centred around the practice of a discipline for the attainment of the goal common to all yogas and religions - Spirit, Self, God, divinity, perfection. But in the Ashram the discipline does not follow any fixed method, but is "an inner practice conducted under the spiritual guidance and influence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother". The guidance, given by them in innumerable talks and letters, is now available in numerous books. The influence is something that can be felt inwardly by all who have an opening. This self-opening is one of the three main leverages of the yoga, the others being a progressive surrender to the spiritual force within and a rejection of all that opposes its workings. Itself chiefly an inward movement, the rejection assumes outward formulation in three rules - no smoking, drinking or drug-taking, no sex, and no politics. These prohibitions, the only regulations the Ashram imposes on its members, are meant to exclude activities contrary to the right practice of yoga by persons who have consecrated their lives to it.
The way of yoga practised at the Ashram is "a living thing, not a mental principle or a set of method to be stuck to against all necessary variations". Sri Aurobindo has amplified on this in his letters: "The general principle of self-consecration and self-giving is the same for all in this yoga, but each has his own way of consecration and self-giving". For "the technique of a world-changing yoga has to be multiform, sinuous, patient, all including as the world itself." It is because of this that "the sadhana of this yoga does not proceed through any set mental teaching or prescribed forms of meditation, mantras or others."
Meditation is of course a powerful tool: through it one learns to quieten the mind and open to the higher influence, and also to contact the divine presence in the heart. Some form of meditation or concentration is used by most Ashrams members in their individual practice. Collective meditations also are held regularly; these are open to all - visitors as well as Ashramites - who wish to attend. But "meditation can deal only with the inner being"; and since Sri Aurobindo's Yoga includes as part of its aim the transformation of the outer consciousness, "meditation alone is not enough". Devotion to a form or embodiment of the Divine is another important aid, but this too is not in itself sufficient. For Sri Aurobindo's is an "integral yoga, that is, a turning of all the being in all its parts to the Divine... It is not only the heart that has to turn to the Divine and change, but the mind also, so knowledge is necessary, and the will and power of action and creation also, so works too are necessary". Likewise essential for the complete change of the instrumental nature - mind, life and body - is "a seeking for perfection, so that the nature too may become one with the nature of the divine". The integral yoga practised in the Ashram includes all these approaches. It is thus a synthesis of the methods of the four principal paths of traditional yoga - the path of knowledge, the path of devotion, the path of works, and the path of perfection.
In ashrams where liberation from worldly existence (moksha) is the sole object, there is a tendency for members to withdraw from outward life - to become sannyasis or ascetics. But in accordance with the comprehensive goal of Sri Aurobindo's teaching, members of his Ashram "are not sannyasis; [for] it is not moksha that is the sole aim of the yoga here". Liberation is of course necessary; but it is an inner freedom and equanimity and not an outward renunciation that is required. From the inner poise, outward activities can and indeed must be carried out; for, as Sri Aurobindo once explained, "What is being done here is a work - a work which will be founded on yogic consciousness and Yoga-Shakti [the divine power], and can have no other foundation. Meanwhile every member here is expected to do some work in the Ashram as a part of this spiritual preparation."


A community the size of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram naturally requires a considerable amount of work to keep it going. Most of this is done by members. The primary purpose of the work, however, is not to satisfy any practical or economic need, or to be a means for the self-expression of the members, but to provide a field for their spiritual growth. As Sri Aurobindo once wrote, "work done in the Ashram" is done not "as a service to humanity" or even as a service to the sadhaks of the Ashram, but "as a service to the Divine and as a field for the inner opening to the Divine, surrender to the Divine alone, rejection of ego and all the ordinary vital movements and the training in a psychic elevation, selflessness, obedience, renunciation of all mental, vital or other self-assertion of the limited personality". The Mother expressed the same idea more succinctly: "To work for the Divine is to pray with the body".
Work is done by all, and it is done without remuneration. Workers strive for perfection not in hopes of advancement, but in order to make their labour a more fitting offering to the Divine. What is important is not the nature of the work or the amount accomplished, but the attitude in which it is done. In the Ashram work is not graded according to common notions of "high" and "low". In the Mother's words: "It is not what you do that matters, but the way you do it and the consciousness you put into it. Remember the Divine unceasingly, and all that you do will express the Divine Presence. When you consecrate all your actions to the Divine, there will no longer be any higher or lower activities, all will have an equal importance: that conferred on them by the consecration."
During the Mother's lifetime all work was done under her supervision, either directly or through the intermediary of departmental heads. Today the departmental heads remains, but their work is coordinated by a central administration. This arrangement necessarily involves an organisational hierarchy, but this does not imply that sadhaks are considered as superior or inferior according to the type of work that they do. Everyone is seen as a part of a diverse but interrelated whole. None is independent, neither the heads of departments nor the workers. The need for cooperation is recognised by all.
Each of the Ashram's departments grew up in answer to a particular need of the community. Essential services, those connected with boarding, lodging, clothing, and health were the first to be organised. Later departments expressive of the Ashram's diverse artistic and cultural life took shape. "We do not want to exclude any of the world's activities", Sri Aurobindo once wrote, and he listed, along with "poetry, art and literature", such fields as trade and industry as forming necessary parts of a total spiritual community. As the Ashram began to expand into these and other areas, some disciples were entrusted with responsibility over administration and accounts. Information about the workings of the departments in each of these categories is given below.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram provides its members with everything they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after house maintenance, furniture, electricity, plumbing, sanitation etc. Clothing is made by two tailoring departments and regular laundry service is provided by the "Blanchisserie". A shoemaking department and a weaving department supply other necessities. The department called "Prosperity" looks after the storage and distribution of these goods. Inmates indicate their monthly requirements on special forms and receive them from Prosperity on the first of the month.
At the common kitchen, food for 2000 persons is prepared three times a day. Rice, vegetables and fruits are grown in various farms, fields and gardens belonging to the Ashram. A separate kitchen called "Corner House" is run for the students and teachers of the Centre of Education.
Medical care is available at various clinics staffed by physicians of the allopathic, homeopathic, ayurvedic and naturopathic systems. There is also a dental section, an eye clinic, and a department specialising in physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture.
The Reception Service looks after the needs of visitors and arranges accommodation for them in the Ashram's guest houses.
The Ashram fosters a variety of artistic and cultural activities. There is a theatre for dramatic and other performances, an art gallery, a studio for painting and sculpture, a dance hall and a music room where both Indian and Western music is played. The Ashram's large library is utilised both by students of the Centre of Education and by Ashram members, a number of whom are involved in literary activities and research. A separate Archives and Research Library has been established to preserve the manuscripts of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to prepare material for publication.
Numerous books and journals have been printed at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press since 1945. Recently other printing units have been added to meet an increased production demand. The Press is only one of a number of small-scale industries that have grown up around the Ashram. These units are governed by a separate trust, the benefits of which are donated to the Ashram Trust. Some of the industries represented are woodworking, stainless steel fabrication, handmade paper manufacture, and such cottage industries as the making of handicrafts and incense, and the hand-marbling of silk fabrics. Smaller sections produce embroidered goods, perfume, pottery, batik work, etc.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, a public charitable trust managed by a board of five trustees, most of whom were appointed by the Mother. The Centre of Education is an intrinsic part of the Trust.
The Ashram is supported by the devotees and admirers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Recently it "has been approved by Indian Council of Medical Research, the prescribed authority, for the purpose of clause (ii) of sub-section (i) of Section 35 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, for Research purposes only". Therefore any sum paid to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram by assessees assessable under the head "business of profession" is entirely deductible from the total income, provided the payment is for the scientific research purposes of the Ashram. The mention that the payment is for scientific research purposes is essential.
The Ashram is also exempted under Section 88 (at present Section 80-G) of the Income Tax Act, 1961. Consequently donors of all other categories will benefit of "deduction" in accordance with the provisions of this Section.


Before the 1940s children were, as a rule, not permitted to live in the Ashram. But when, during the war, a number of families were admitted, it was found necessary to initiate a course of instruction for the children. Accordingly, on 2 December 1943 the Mother opened a school for about twenty pupils. She herself was one of the teachers. The number of children increased gradually over the next seven years.
On 24 April 1951 the Mother presided over a convention where it was resolved to establish an "international university centre", and on 6 January 1952 she inaugurated the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre. The name of this institution was changed in 1959 to the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
At present, the Centre of Education has about 150 full or part time teachers and 450 students, ranging from nursery to advanced levels. The curriculum includes the humanities, languages, fine arts, sciences, engineering, technology and vocational training. Facilities include libraries, laboratories, workshops, a theatre and studios for dance, music, painting, etc.
The Centre of Education seeks to develop every aspect of the child, rather than to concentrate exclusively on mental training. A special emphasis is put on physical education. All students (as well as many Ashram members) take part in daily physical activities, including athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, games, combative sports and asanas. The department of physical education maintains a fully equipped sportsground, a swimming spool, a recently built gymnasium, tennis courts, a judo hall, a playground and other modern facilities.
Instruction at the Centre of Education is given according to the "free progress system", which is, in the words of the Mother, "a progress guided by the soul and not subject to habits, conventions or preconceived ideas". The student is encouraged to learn by himself, choose his own subjects of study, progress at a pace suited to his own needs and ultimately to take charge over his development. The teacher is more an adviser and source of information than an instructor. In practice, this system is adapted to the temperament of teacher and student, and some still prefer traditional methods utilising prescribed courses of study with direct instruction by the teacher.
Sciences and mathematics are studied in French, other subjects in English. Each student is encouraged to learn his mother-tongue and Sanskrit, and some study additional languages, both Indian and European.
The Centre of Education does not award degrees or diplomas, since it seeks to awaken in its students the joy of learning and an aspiration for progress independent of outer motives.

That text has been written by the editors in the booklet : "Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram" (first edition 1948, sixth edition 1983, reprinted 1990) by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust ISBN 81-7058-221-O at Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Pondicherry - India

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