From the Jacket
The integral approach characterizes Narayan Prasad’s presentation of the Ashram story. As one who has been asked all manner of questions about life in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. I welcome this treasure-house of information and inspiration.
Narayan Prasad had done a thorough job, as befits a disciple of the Master and the Mother. No mere chronicler, he does an “inside job”, in the better sense of the term. This authentic and fascinating account of a divine experiment, a most timely adventure in integration, will inspire a host of readers.
The Ashram is the Mother’s creation and would not have existed but for her, the work she does is her creation and has not been given to her and cannot be taken from her. Try to understand this elementary truth, if you want to have any right relation or attitude towards the Mother.
There is in the Ashram no exterior discipline and no visible test. But the inner test is severe and constant, one must be very sincere in the aspiration to surmount all egoism and to conquer all vanity in order to be able to stay here.
It is a matter of great pleasure that Sri Aurobindo Karmi Sangha Trust, Matrimandir, Habra, Prafullanagar (North 24 PGS.) has now brought out the revised and enlarged edition of Narayan Prasad's "Life in Sri Aurobindo Ashram" whose second edition was published in 1968. To the readers and devotees of the present generation, the name of Narayan Prasad is not known. He was born on 02.02.1902 in Nathnagar, Bhagalpur in Behar. He was attracted to the Ashram in the early thirties and came and stayed in the Ashram several times. (16.02.32 - 01.3.32, 10.8.32 - 20.8.32,23.11.32 - 20.03.33, 09.11.33 - 04.01.39). On 10.8.39 he joined the Ashram permanently and took part in various activities of the Ashram for a long time and thus gathered a first-hand experience of various facts of the Ashram-lire-till his death on l7.5.1980. Narayan Prasad was no litterateur; in fact, he was for long in charge of the Ashram Granary. This was, in a way, an advantage. For he could communicate in a very easy style an intimate inside-view of the life and sadhana in Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The basic outline of the Mother's and the Master's vision, the most fundamental elements of the practical aspects of Integral Yoga, the activities of the Ashram in its wonderful range, the link of the Ashram to the wider world, the impressions of dignitories on their visits to the Ashram, observations of writers, artists and thinkers from all parts of the world, interviews with the Mother on vital questions of existence - everything is captured in a most lucid and engaging style from the beginning to the end. From this book readers of the present generation will not only draw inspiration and light from the little nuggets of gold gathered from the experiences of the old sadhaks, but also will get an idea of the world-wide action of Sri Aurobindo' s Yoga as revealed in several startling incidents across remotest comers of the world. That Sri Aurobindo' s Yoga is not merely a deep, inward living, that it is also a call for transformation and hence a force in action upon the outer life, is amply brought out in the luminous pages of this book.
This is a book for the beginner as well as for the advanced sadhak, if there is any. By writing it Narayan Prasad did a great service to readers of all ages. Now, Sri Aurobindo Karmi Sangha Trust too rendered a great service by bringing out from oblivion this treasure-house of information and inspiration. Living in Sri Aurobindo Ashram ~as a sadhana for Narayan Prasad; writing of it was no less of that. The sweetness and light born out of that continues to radiate in these pages. We are now grateful for this opportunity to partake of this sweetness and bask in this light.
What is so attractive as the Life Divine actually lived- or even steadfastly aspired for? Narayan Prasad's picture of Life in Sri Aurobindo Ashram presents to the reader a cameo of the Kingdom of God in the making, a divine community, aware of its shortcomings, growing in the light of its Ideal. The Table of Contents reveals the scope and the richness of this work.
The author is in love with his theme, alive to the privilege of living in this community. That he is not at all a litterateur (he has long been in charge of the Ashram granary) is characteristic of this Ashram. He has the facility of communicating to the reader something of his own experience, his thirty years of adventuring in the Life Divine in this sacred milieu. Only one who has himself trodden the Path can disclose to us in such clear fashion the subtle features of Ashram life.
The integral approach characterises Narayan Prasad's presentation of the Ashram story. As one who has been asked all manner of questions about life in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, I welcome this treasure-house of information and inspiration.
In this day of universal stress on Integration, to the point where it may be said to be the keynote of the age, it is worth calling attention to the evidence in this book that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a force for unity on every level of life. There is here a constant and insistent emphasis on the utmost integration of the individual through the Integral Yoga as the only dependable foundation for the collective integration.
Visits which some of us have made in scores of Sri Aurobindo Centres and hundreds of homes of disciples have convinced us that the average product of the Ashram and its Centre of Education is giving a good account of himself as an integrating influence in the local community.
This is true also of the Sri Aurobindo schools and other institutions in various states of the Indian Union, which radiate the spirit of unity and harmony, and of the journals in several languages published in the Ashram, which spread culture in its deepest sense, without provincialism.
The author effectively refutes the widespread assumption that the inmates of the Ashram live a cloistered existence. He reveals the currents of the world's life that sweep through this spiritual community; the constant stream of visitors from many lands and all parts of India, with whom the disciples and students mingle freely; the Sri Aurobindo Library with its wide array of books and magazines from various countries and cultures; the weekly cinema shows with documentaries from Embassies and selected feature films-all of this free from the cultural chaos that one so commonly finds "outside".
While inmates are expected to refrain from any political activity, the Ashram, with the Mother as its dynamic Centre, has always been strongly related to current historical developments. To illustrate this point, very little is known, even fifteen years after Sri Aurobirido's passing, of what he did to save humanity from Nazi domination and keep open the path of human evolution. This yogic action the author reveals in the context of the historical facts. Sri Aurobindo's whole energy was centred not only in bringing down the Supermind but in seeing it in operation in the world.
It is good to note that, as an antidote to any temptation on the reader's part to form a too idyllic impression of the Ashram, Our Way of Sadhana indicates some of the rigours of the "sunlit path", the inner self-discipline necessary for transformation. The author has done well to make clear also that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a laboratory, not a yogic showcase.
Narayan Prasad has done a thorough job, as befits a disciple of the Master and the Mother. No mere chronicler, he does an "inside job", in the better sense of the term. This authentic and fascinating account of a divine experiment, a most timely adventure in integration, will inspire a host of readers.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a living symbol of the Master's immortality and a sign of his work. In this world so full of darkness and disappointment, his Ashram is a beacon light and is dynamic in the hearts of its members. It is here in the Ashram that he laid the foundation of the lofty ideals of his life and initiated a new era by giving a large practical form to his vision.
India is called the land of gods. She has never been devoid of spiritual heroes who have sacrificed their all for the sake of Truth. There has indeed been an unbroken chain of saints and sages; yet that luminous development of Indian spirituality which showed itself in the Vedic era and that flowering of power, knowledge and vitality which was then in evidence was never again seen.
To-day the world's basic need is the emancipation of Man. But how can this be achieved without setting the consciousness free? In his enthusiasm for becoming civilized, Man has imprisoned the consciousness of his Self; and so long as the soul is imprisoned, what freedom can there be? Who can impart freedom to one whose consciousness remains in chains? But awakened India is being more and more attracted to the sadhana of Knowledge and Shakti, which is practised here in Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
It was in compliance with a Di vine Adesh (command) that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in 1910, and he never went out of the town even for a day during 40 years, despite all attempts to entice him to British India or to extradite him. The Ashram, although then no visible body, can be taken to have been set up, in its essence, with his arrival.
After some sixteen years of rigorous tapasya on the part of Sri Aurobindo, the Ashram was organised on a practical basis and since then for 40 years it has been steadily developing under the Mother's guidance towards the fulfilment of Sri Aurobindo's long-cherished dream.
The Arya was first published in 1914 and the elaborate description of the Integral Yoga which we find therein indicates the extent to which he was envisaging his world-wide work even at that time. The Life Divine, hailed by Sir Francis Young husband as "the greatest book of our time", was written in its first form before 1920.
The Mother's final coming to Pondicherry in 1920, as a collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, was like a meeting of two vast oceans. If there was only one book of the Mother, her Prayers and Meditations, it would be enough to win for her a golden place in the ranks of world-teachers.
But even with their extraordinary treasures of knowledge they showed no signs of founding an Ashram. In fact the growth in numbers of those who came to Sri Aurobindo for a higher life led to the foundation of " ... Sri Aurobindo Ashram which has less been created than grown around him and the Mother as its centre." 1 It was then that the work for which he had come to the earth took on a broad visible shape.
Reaching the highest height Sri Aurobindo never discarded the sorrow-racked earth. One of his memorable statements is: "I am concerned with the earth, not with worlds beyond for their own sake; it is a terrestrial realisation that I seek and not a flight to distant summits."? This we find further elaborated by the Mother:
"An inner illumination that does not take any note of the body and the outer life is of no great use; for it leaves the world as it is. This is what has continually happened till now. Even those who had a very great and powerful realisation with-drew from the world to live undisturbed in inner quiet and peace; the world was left to its ways, and misery and stupidity, Death and Ignorance continued, unaffected, their reign on this material plane of existence. An ideal of this kind may be good for those who want it, but it is not our Yoga. For we want the divine conquest of this world, the conquest of all its movements and the realisation of the Divine here.
The unique contribution of Sri Aurobindo's yogic life is that he has given a philosophic form to the idea of Heaven on earth and by his own spiritual attainment made its realisation a certitude. The very message of The Life Divine is that human life can be turned into divine life.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is based on the Truth that the earth is a field of evolution on which, stage by stage, man has evolved -Now a higher principle is bound to evolve, giving birth to a higher order of beings. "Then will the involved Divinity in this release itself entirely and it will become possible for life to manifest perfection." We have not only to transcend the three gunas but to transform them. Man must learn to submit to the rule of para prakrti instead of apara. No trace of the caterpillar should be discerned in the beauty of the butterfly. Turned into a butterfly, it must not fly to heaven for self-delight but remain in the world and add to its beauty. This is the work that has been going on in the Ashram since its birth.
Naturally, "this is not an Ashram like others—the members are not Sannyasis; it is not moksha that is the sole aim of the Yoga here. What is being done here is a preparation for a work-a work which will be founded on Yogic consciousness and Yoga-Shakti, and can have no other foundation.
Dr. C.R. Reddy, while Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, after seeing Sri Aurobindo and the Ashram, differentiates between Sannyasi and Rishi and gives a vivid account of the way of life followed here:
"There is a confusion between Sannyasi and Rishi Sri Aurobindo is a Rishi.
"Renunciation, final, absolute is not possible for the compassionate ... they cannot give up the struggling, sorrow- ridden world without stretching a helping, healing hand. The tender-hearted with pity in their souls and power in their hands cannot be indifferent to the fate of the human beings. The Sannyasi may feel that, to be care-free, one has to give up all care for others. That is not the way of the Rishi; nor of the Bodhisatwa, nor of the Master and the Mother at the Pondicherry Ashram.
"The Sannyasi that discards clothes and the world is foreign to the Vedic spirit. The Rishis were not Sannyasis. Anything but that. They were seers who saw, felt and transmitted the truths they came into contact with, truths eternal, ever- existent, neither made or unmade by gods. By their spiritual dicipline, a natural process and no magic, they sought for and acquired illumination and with it power; Knowledge is power; spiritual Knowledge no less than scientific. They lived in the world and for the world.
"Though they retired to forests, they had colonies there, peopled not only with men but with women. They grew the most beautiful flowers and the most charming Shakuntalas. They took part in the politics of the day and not infrequently played leading roles. Vashista guided the solar dynasties. The ancient Ashrams of the Vashistas and Viswamitras, of the Bhrigus and Angirasas were brimful of a life of the world which, however, was not worldly; a life on earth that was not earthly, but directed to the good of humanity and its uplift to the stature and status of the bright gods.
It (Sri Aurobindo Ashram) is a world apart from the world but existing in it and for it like the Ashrams of our Vedic Rishis.
A Glimpse of the Ashram
When a noted industrialist of Africa heard the name of Sri Aurobindo he thought that the Master must be living in a cave or in his Ashram in a jungle, but a surprise awaited him when he came here and found it situated in the best part of the town. This surprise must have been accentuated by the sight of life pulsating vigorously in every limb of the Ashram requiring even knowledge of modem science and technology in sharp contrast with the traditional ideas and forms of Ashram life.
The flower-like faces of the little children, the profundity of silence in the library, the cleanliness and orderliness in the dining room, the ineffable atmosphere of the main Ashram block, the smiles of greetings from flowering plants that meet a visitor to the residential quarters, keep a newcomer spellbound and pondering over what it is that lends such charm and beauty to the place.
No child is made to practise yoga here, he imbibes it from the atmosphere. Children breathe the air in which they are nourished and that forms their nature. Even the uncultured soon acquire a sense of beauty by the touch of the Ashram atmosphere.
How from a tiny home of sadhana for a few the Ashram has blossomed into a large and evergrowing centre of spiritual culture, a beehive of hundreds of disciples from various parts of India and abroad is a subject for later treatment.
Now a peep into the history of Pondicherry and the spot on which the Ashram stands.
As the Ashram has grown by itself, so was its location too a predestined one?
Who knew that one day, from this very spot, would shine forth the light of a new system of Yoga which would add a new chapter to the findings of our great ancients? According to the archaeologist, Prof. Dubreuil of Pondicherry, on this very site there stood thousands of years ago, a Vedic College, a centre of culture. The legendary Patron of the city was the great sage Agastya.
Dubreuil further says that the town's real name was, Puducheri, which meant a new town. But it was quite ancient. It is not known exactly how old it is. From what is engraved on the stone wall of the temple of Vedapurishwara, we know Pondicherry was once called Vedapuri, that is a city of Vedic culture.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is situated at the eastern end of Pondicherry, a furlong from the sea. Around it are grouped most of the Ashram buildings, the others are scattered about in the town and beyond. They can be readily recognised by their sky-blue colour and tidiness which serve to enhance the beauty of the town.
The house facing the main gate and extending up to the garage in the north was called the Library House, because the beginning of our library was made here. The north-east section was known as the Secretariat-House. It is to the upper story of this house that the Master finally shifted shortly after November 1926. A new addition is the Mother's room on the top' floor.
The building on which anew room was recently built for a sadhak is known as the Rosary House. For this portion a high price had to be paid. With the purchase of this house the whole block came into the Ashram's possession. All these sections comprise the main Ashram building. To the south the whole block which houses Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education belongs to the Ashram. So is the case with the block to the north of the Ashram, which is largely occupied by the Harpagon workshop.
The gate of the Ashram is covered with creepers and flanked by rockeries and flowers, the beauty of which is enchanting. However hot the sun may be in the street outside, the entrance to the Ashram is always cool and refreshing. To meet new-comers, one or two sadhaks are present at the gate from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. On the footpath outside the Ashram there are a few Ashoka (Polyalthia ) trees standing like sentinels.
As soon as one enters the gate and crosses the verandah, one finds himself in front of the Reception Room where the Secretary and others meet visitors, when necessary. At the eastern end of this room there are three photographs of Sri Aurobindo where people go every morning to offer their homage. The walls of the room are lined with bookcases and paintings. In the west and the north are two rooms where the Ashram books are sold. Adjoining the Reception Room there is a smaller room which was formerly used as a library, but which is now utilised as a Reading Room.
Next to this there is a small room where the post used to be distributed and a box was kept for outgoing letters. Since February 27, 1961 we have had Sri Aurobindo Ashram Post Office 5 forming part of an Ashram building. The seals beaing this name have been in use since July 10, 1962. On August 15, 1964 the Government of India issued the Sri Aurobindo Commemoration Stamp in his honour.
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