November 7, 2019

Over the summer, several CIIS students traveled to the city of Auroville in India for the monthlong study abroad course “The ‘City of Dawn’: An Immersive Research Experience.” The course was an immersion in the alternative society of Auroville, a growing international town in southern India, built with the intention of maintaining the spiritual vision of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The students learned about the Aurovillian approach to urban practice through a variety of speaker panels and excursions. We spoke with Katherine Hrudka, a second year East-West Psychology student, about her experience.

A group of students gather near the solar kitchen in Auroville. Solar Kitchen of Auroville; learning about how they cook strictly vegetarian food from local organic gardens using steam powered by solar.

Auroville is a unique, almost utopian place, ruled by the Higher Truth and built to unify humanity, without traditional political or societal barriers and without material possessions. What was it like to immerse yourself in this kind of environment?

The experience of Auroville was amazing. What they have done since the ’60s is just mind-blowing. The Mother and her followers/disciples/friends created a lush forest out of a desert. They planted over two million trees, they reinvigorated the underground aquifer, they planted gardens, put up solar panels, and built amazing structures.

From what you could see, who are the people who live in Auroville? How did you find yourself interacting with them?

The people that live in Auroville are not any different from you or I. They are just people that wanted a different way of living. To be away from the everyday conditioning, cubicle life. They wanted freedom. They wanted to start their own city and to be a part of something different, a new form of consciousness.

A woman in a green sari walks in front of the Chola Temple. Visiting the temple Chola Temple in Tamil Nadu, Southern India.

How do you think the city of Auroville is embodying the teachings of Aurobindo and the Mother?

In a diary note from March 8, 1914, the Mother describes an inner experience, which is characteristic of her being, and points toward her future role; she takes all fellow travelers on the boat (traveling from Paris to Pondicherry) into her consciousness and envelops them in love and tries to awaken them to the Divine. In her inner experience the boat is a “marvelous abode of peace, a temple sailing in Thy honour over the waves of the subconscient passivity which we have to conquer and awaken to the consciousness of the divine Presence.”

This is both what Auroville and the Matrimandir stand for and why the Mother built them — for not only unity, togetherness, and brotherly love, but for the constant awakening and progression toward consciousness and Divinity.

How did you see the CIIS values embodied in Auroville and vice versa?

Auroville is about a new way of living, a new way of seeing. It’s about bringing forth that which is within you versus being programmed into something society needs.

For example, the Bay Area is always in need of engineers, programmers, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc., and a lot of people just choose one of those fields because it makes good money instead of taking the time to truly figure out the kind of person they are and where they would use their talents to the fullest.

This is what I love about CIIS. I believe CIIS is about discovering who you truly are, how you can best benefit the world and yourself, how you can give to the world and your community in a way that makes both you and your surrounding community happy. This is what they have been doing in Auroville.

What did you learn from your study abroad time that you will apply to your daily life?

I went to the Matrimandir to meditate three times a week. This was a completely new experience. I usually chant, go to kiirtan, do bikram yoga, and go into nature, but to be able to just sit next to a tree or by a waterfall with eyes closed and arms open was a whole new experience for me. I continued to do this in nature and in some of the temples we went to after the program. I am happy that both the Mother and the Matrimandir taught me this valuable lesson of sitting and receiving.

Also, because our guest house was surrounded by a tropical forest and we had birds singing daily in the morning, I found myself waking up earlier than here in the Bay Area, ready to start the day because their singing was so cheerful! I hope that I continue to hear birds wherever I am because they are the best alarm clock anyone can have! It is exhilarating to be able to wake up and be excited about your day ahead.

What was the absolute best moment in Auroville?

My favorite moment on this trip was when a new friend, Raven, whom I met at the Matrimandir, took me to check out Sadhana Forest — a community just outside Auroville but still part of the city. The people who live there are open to anyone who wants to be a part of it and help out, without asking for money. They cook together, have their own garden and solar panel farm, tree huts, and A-frames. Raven had asked me to come to the chai hut where he was working around 5 p.m. for free chai and ladu. The hut was in the middle of nowhere, and I thought no one would come, but all of a sudden a bunch of people were there. The next thing I knew, the sun was setting and I was doing yoga with a wonderful Indian healer. A couple of minutes later, an expat showed up with his large speakers and asked everyone to join him for qigong. To be able to drink chai and do yoga and qigong without any money exchanged was absolutely beautiful!

Katherine smiles at the camera peeking her head out of a doorway in a temple Katherine Hrudka, second year East-West Psychology student.

East West Psychology, School of Consciousness and Transformation, School of Consciousness and Transformation, East-West Psychology, East-West Psychology

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