For me it all started when I was four or five. At that time I had an experience which later I called my “Sri Aurobindo chair experience”. It is hard to describe, but after that I started speaking a language that only my cousin, Justine understood. She was a year younger than me and I bossed her around in that language. Later my sister asked me, “Do you remember that language you spoke?”, which I didn’t, as I didn’t know I wasn’t speaking in English, but the only word of that language that I remembered was what I used to call my cousin: “Didi”, and afterwards I learned that this is Bengali for sister.
I often asked my mother, “Why did you call me Roy?” and she replied ,”Because it is a short name”. Much later, when I met Nolini Kanta Gupta he told me, “My name used to be Roy”.
I thought this was very special until I discovered later that everybody in Bengal is called Roy. So I felt for a very long time that I had a connection to Sri Aurobindo and very much to the Mother from some earlier times. As a child I was very secretive because my family was hostile to anything having to do with spirituality. There was just so far I could go with them in discussions because they were very sarcastic. They have a New York sense of humor which is sarcasm, which I did not share.
So I was waiting to grow and leave, living in my own private world, and finally at 18 I left home. I was really happy when the sixties happened; it was such a great thing having a community of people that I could identify with. I hated the fifties. The beginning of the hippie thing was great: communities, no money, everything was free; you would just go from place to place. I assumed this was the beginning of the new age. And it was not only the beginning but it was going to expand. It was so obvious, you could see it everywhere. So when I came to Auroville it was like an extension of that existence I already was living.
During the sixties, I was looking for a spiritual commune to live in, and people of my own kind. I went to Harvard square, where there was a bookstore where I picked up the latest copy of a magazine called Modern Utopia. On the cover, there was the Lama Foundation which was started by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert). I thought, “Ah, great! A spiritual community, in New Mexico. Perfect!” On the back cover, there was a picture of the galaxy of Auroville, but it didn’t really register. So I took off for New Mexico, which was a big adventure and quite interesting, and there I met somebody who had actuallybeen to Pondy, and as he was describing Pondicherry, I visualized something, a weird building with green shutters.
My first discovery of Sri Aurobindo was in 1968, and I got seriously into yoga. I had a kind of opening into the vital world which was really unpleasant. I had these occult experiences many of which were quite frightening: being pulled out of my body, things like this. So I came specifically to see the Mother to get patched up again. I had studied Tibetan Buddhism, and all those deities they talk about in their texts, I met them, but when you meet them outside your body, it is much scarier than the way they look in tankhas.
So I came here to see her. I was reading Sri Aurobindo. I read in Letters on Yoga that if you want the transformation, you have to see the Mother. Of course he wrote this in 1936, so that wasn’t exactly relevant, but I took it as an indication that I had to come and see her. Before I left for India, I was living at Tail of the Tiger at this Tibetan Buddhism place. I don’t know if you have ever been to a meditation center, but after a couple of months, you become very addicted to meditation. I got really into it. You keep on increasing your hours until eventually you are living in a kind of monastic life in which all you do is meditate. When you turn the brain off, it is really nice. I was quite happy there, but I had no money as usual. Meanwhile I went down to Boston visit my yoga teacher, who instructed me on Sri Aurobindo. He opened the door and he said, “If you have been thinking of going to India, go!” And he closed the door in my face. So I said okay.
I went into New York. There was a bookstore which sold Sri Aurobindo’s books. I used to go there and read. On the wall, there was an announcement: India, $350, one-way ticket. I said, “Oh! I can afford that”. So the next day, Thursday, I go to this airplane place.
“I am interested in the ticket for India”.
“How do you pay?”
“Here is your ticket for Sunday.”
“But I can’t leave on Sunday, I don’t have a visa!”
On Friday I go to the Indian Consulate. The Indians there hate India, they really try to discourage you.
“Why are you going to India? We spent so many years trying to get out of India. You don’t want to go to India!”
“Yes I want to go to India. What kind of visa application?”
They told me to go into another room to find the Visa Applications which were on the floor in a pile.
“Here it is”.
“Come back tomorrow,” the guy said.
So I came back on Saturday. The plane left on Sunday February 28th, 1971.
I left a chit to my parents: “I am going to India”.
I arrived in the Ashram. I just came from that Tibetan Buddhism center in Vermont which was very cold, so I arrived at the Ashram with an Icelandic wool hat on, a woollen lumber jacket, back pack and a guitar, dressed for winter. At the Ashram gate they saw me and they freaked out.
“Go away, go away!”
“Where should I go?”
“Take him some place,” they told the rickshaw.
The rickshaw took me to some lodge, Anavasyam Lodge, which turned out to be this ugly building with green shutters which I had visualized earlier at Lama Foundation. So my trip coming here in hindsight was guided forcefully because I am still pretty stupid but I was really stupid then, really an unconscious person, and to get here took something else. I would never have made it.
I went to see her. Before we were allowed up there, her secretaries came down the stairs, like Counouma who came literally creeping down the staircase, and looked really scary. There seemed to be a very strange kind of cult thing surrounding her. It was hard to have access. But when she touched me, she changed my whole personality, from this uptight New-York Jewish guy into something else.
And lots of people who meet me say, “Roy has such a good energy”.
It is not my energy they feel, it’s hers. It has always been like that. If anything, because I am a simple person, she put something in me physically that people feel – those who are open to me, they feel this.
The thing I am sure everyone who came early will tell you, is that the vibration of the Mother here was so strong and physical that you could not think of leaving. Now everyone goes out for the summer because it is hot. In those days we would not leave for a second because it was totally happening and you would not like to miss one moment.
You had these experiences, and after a few days Mother would say, “Oh, yes, something came down and did this…” You felt it. Her Being was so big and powerful and present that you would not even dream of… .
Why leave? So it is a lot different now than it was.
I stayed in Pondy for a couple of months, then I got directed to Auroville. I lived in Silence, where Bharat Nivas is now. There was Larry, who came the same day I did, and Jaap and Lisbeth who also came the same day I did. Black Krishna was there, big Jocelyn and Constance and Daniel. Minu had a hut that was only big enough for a bed. She had a big framed sign that said “Sincerity”, that the Mother wrote to her. When she left Silence, she moved over to Gene Maslow’s place (which is where Sincerity is now), and she brought the sign Sincerity over to there. So they called the place Sincerity.
It was an interesting time.
I was very young when I came. In fact, the oldest persons in Auroville were Frederick and Shyama and Francis. They were the adults. The rest of the people were my age, like twenty. The whole place was run by kids basically. Besides the other aspects, it was really fun. It was an amazing place where you would feel totally comfortable as a young person. There was no one to tell you what to do. So we did every stupid thing you can imagine. It did not matter. It felt very experimental: we try this, it does not work, so what?
We were living in the middle of the fields, sleeping in the fields, there were no trees. The water used to come by kattavandi. We would wait and see in the distance the kattavandi coming with the water. It was timeless. There was no electricity, no village music. It was still the ragi culture here; there was this amazing cycle of timelessness. I don’t know if you have ever ploughed a field with bullocks, it is an amazing feeling. Watching them is different, but if you do it yourself, you feel an amazing security. This is a wonderful thing, ploughing the field. It is so ancient. India was really incredible. Now with TV and everything it is totally ruined. It is not the same thing.
A year before Mother died, I was living in the Matrimandir workers camp. I had this very vivid dream where I went to the Samadhi and there was a long line of people. I waited in line, and I went in and there was the Mother lying dead. So I go up to her, I kiss her feet and all this energy comes out. I thought: She is not dead
Then I woke up. Larry who was living next door came in, looking the way Larry looks when he is in a state of shock. He said: “I just dreamt that the Mother died!” I went to see Pandit and I said, “I just dreamed that the Mother died.”
“Ah! this is in the atmosphere, you know!” like: forget about it.
One year later I was in Pondy. I used to play Go with this Chinese man, Fan Chan Hsu, who lived in the Ashram and was translating Sri Aurobindo into Chinese. He was a very special kind of person. He once told me he could look at somebody and tell if he was going to die or not. I said, “Oh it’s interesting!” He said that well, it wasn’t interesting, because when the Japanese had invaded China, everywhere he looked he saw people about to die.
He came to Pondy in 1949 to study Sanskrit. The Red Chinese took over and he could not go back to China because he came from an aristocratic background. He would have been executed or sent to a camp. I used to play Go, which is a Chinese game, with him.
On November 17th, in the middle of the game, he stands up and says, “Let’s stop playing”. I looked at the clock: it was 7.25. He says, “It would be good if she could live up to a hundred.” Then I went to a place called Auroville where little Jocelyn had a kind of guest-house. I was sleeping on the roof, billions of mosquitoes, it was impossible to sleep. When the sun rose I was so happy to get up and go to the Ashram.
There was a long line of people, it was like in my dream, she was lying in state… When I saw her, she looked totally different than the picture they show you now: she was quite erect and her head was up, and she was still in her trance. There was a picture [like this] that they posted in the Ashram briefly, but then it disappeared and they put the other one, where her head is down, on her chest. I’ve always been trying to get that picture but no one knows where it is. In this picture, she looks incredible, in a different state – not dead, in a complete trance state. Satprem wrote about all that. It was my experience also, that she wasn’t dead, she was in a trance. She shouldn’t have been touched or moved for a while at least but then they brought her downstairs and disturbed everything.
After that happened, I was in a total state of shock, because that was not supposed to happen. We had a belief system that was total commitment at that time, so it was impossible. Then Nolini came out with his statement saying the transformation has been postponed! I freaked out a little more: like the whole thing is over, that’s it.
Still we had this faith that it was not finished.
Then these incredible years began. The war with the Sri Aurobindo Society started in 1975. From that point on, another thing kept us here, which was this fight for freedom.
It was such a together thing. A lot of people got messed up, but at the time it was like no question, we felt so strong. When it started, it was a shock not only because of their hostility, but that it could even happen in Auroville.
Now I feel more compassion for Nava and everybody. Everyone is an instrument for the Divine, which uses whatever it can, so there is no blame. People did what they did. I guess everybody was sincere.
But the attacks on Auroville – I felt they have been happening since the very early days. We used to have occult attacks that every night people experienced in their body. These were intense experiences. We had to stay really focused on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, whoever one felt closest to, and shield ourselves, because the hostility was incredible, totally penetrating. Auroville has been under that kind of hostility since the time I came
In Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo says “You should not criticize the Ashram, because it is a creation of the Mother.” And it is the same thing for Auroville: It is Her creation and it is difficult to justify criticizing things because we are not really conscious of how She is developing Auroville.
When Krishna calls you to wish you a happy birthday, it is such a nice thing. Last time he called me, I told him, “As long as I can hear your voice say Happy Birthday, I know everything is good.” I feel like that, because a little bit of personality makes such a huge difference. When Kireet first came, he said that when one wrote to Sri Aurobindo, they used to bring his reply by hand to the person, so the people in the Ashram felt some contact with him, physically.
Kireet had the idea of a Unity Council: a group of people that would make everyone feel known. They would know your birthday; they would come and see you, like the Ganges flowing with goodwill into the community, all the time, all the time, all the time. Later it switched to something else, but it was a great idea, a simple idea…
From a conversation with Roy
TURNING POINTS published by Auroville Press Publishers
- Mahabiplabi Arabindo: Bengali movie on Sri Aurobindo’s early life
- Reminiscences of the Mother’s physician, Dr. Bisht
- On Atheism and Agnosticism
- How does the Self-realized person speak? (Gita 2:54)
- Conversations with Sri Aurobindo recorded by Anilbaran Roy
- Sri Aurobindo’s interaction with an American soldier during World War II
- The laissez-faire approach of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
- Can I have more than one Guru?
- Emma Calvé’s interaction with Swami Vivekananda
- How does the brain absorb new ideas?
- Mahatma Gandhi’s aborted 1934 attempt to meet Sri Aurobindo
- Are Indians more spiritual?
- Dharana Shakti : the capacity to sustain spiritual experiences
- An autobiographical short story by the Mother Mirra Alfassa
- The elusive touch of the psychic being
- Xu Fancheng (徐梵澄) : a Chinese disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
- How do movies affect yoga practice?
- The Mother Mirra Alfassa as a Guru
- The first meeting of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa
- Silviu Craciunas has a dream of Sri Aurobindo