I’ve spent six weeks in Auroville, India, an honest to goodness attempt at a utopian community, a “town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”
Auroville’s ideals are based on the consciousness evolution ideas of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950). Aurobindo’s life work is a compelling synthesis of the modern ideas of evolution with Vedantic models of spirituality and existence. He lays the philosophical, spiritual and practical groundwork for an evolution of humanity.
When Aurobindo faces the question “Why life on this earth?” his answer is “To embody the divine consciousness.” His most usual name for that ultimate state of being is the Supramental, and he outlines the striving for that state in a practice he calls integral yoga. The goal is to enable each individual to be a conduit for the supramental in this earthly life.
Aurobindo was not interested in the practice of ascetics who seclude themselves from the world on mountains or in monasteries in order to concentrate on attaining higher levels of awareness in a kind of essentially life renouncing way. (He drank and smoked cigars and ate meat all his life, although in his later years he was somewhat less vehemently against vegetarianism!) He felt strongly that humans should aspire to allow the divine to enter them by descending into their physical being, rather than chase nirvana into the higher realms, disconnected from the physical being and attaining a selfishly individual form of selflessness.
Integral yoga involves quieting the mind with concentration, allowing greater and broader levels of consciousness to enter one’s being and increasing guide more and more of one’s activities and living contributions. This would result in –
“… the birth of a new individual fully formed by the supramental power. Such individuals would be the forerunners of a new truth-consciousness based supra-humanity. All aspects of division and ignorance of consciousness at the vital and mental levels would be overcome, replaced with a unity of consciousness at every plane, and even the physical body transformed and divinised. A new supramental species would then emerge, living a supramental, gnostic, divine life on earth. (The Life Divine book II ch.27-28)
The natural aspiration of mankind, says Aurobindo, is towards an ideal perfection, a longing for freedom and mastery, a search for “pure truth and unmixed delight” that is obviously the yearning of every earthly culture. Already at the turn of the last century he described the current evolutionary crisis as hingeing on the disparity between the interior limitations of individuals – intellectual, ethical and spiritual – and the external explosion of technical and economic means at their disposal. Humanity will survive when we grow an internal and intimate abilility to cope with the gigantic development in the outer life. Towards that goal, intellectual, rational knowledge is limited by its linear and fractious nature. What is needed is a kind of quantal way of feeling rather than thinking through experience. Individual effort is simply not enough, and a true merging with our higher consciousness is necessary. And the precursor to that is basic human unity on the external earthly plane – and so the experiment of Auroville was born, 30 years after Aurobindo’s death.
Aurobindo spent the last 24 years of his life in an ashram of students and devotees attempting to channel the Supramental into earthly existence. He died having reached, by his own estimation, the level of overmind that he described as being one step before the Supramental.