The Chariot of Jagannatha by rjon on Sun 15 Jan 2006 08:56 PM PST Permanent Link Kim Anastasia here posting under Ron’s admin account:
I have just returned from a trip to Auroville and Pondy where Ron and I found in the Ashram bookstore a small pamphlet with writings by Sri Aurobindo called “The Chariot of Jagannatha”. I read it on the plane back to the U.S. and was so inspired by what Sri Aurobindo wrote in those early years about community - particularly as it presages the Mother’s Auroville Charter and the establishment of Auroville as the “city the earth needs” by exactly 50 years - that I offer it over here for others to enjoy and perhaps discuss.
This was first published by Sri Aurobindo under the title Samaj-Katha (on Society) in Prabartak in 1918, and later by the Ashram in 1972, with subsequent reprintings. It has been translated from the Bengali by Arabinda Basu. English spellings for some words are from the original text.
THE CHARIOT OF JAGANNATHA
An ideal Society is a vehicle of the Divine, the Divine as the inner Soul of collective humanity. It is the Chariot of Jagannatha, the Lord of the World, and its four wheels are unity, freedom, knowledge and power.
A society constructed by the mind or created by the impure vital agitations of Prakriti belongs to another order. It is not the chariot of God, the leader of the community by the vehicle of that other many-faced god, the collective ego, which by concealing the free inner Guide distorts the divine inspiration. Pulled by the imperfect and immature intelligence and the old or new uncontrolled impulses of the lower Prakriti, it moves along the path of varied small satisfactions and activities devoid of any aim. As long as the ego is the agent it is not possible to know the true goal, - even when it is known, it is beyond one’s capacity to drive the chariot straight towards it. It is this ego which is the main barrier against divine perfection; this is as true of the collectivity as of the individual.
We may observe three principal kinds of human society. The first is the creation of expert craftsmen, beautiful, bright, clean and comfortable. Strong and well-trained horses pull it carefully, not too slowly but without any haste on a well-laid track. The owner and passenger is the sattwic ego. The chariot goes round and round the elevated plateau on which God’s temple stands but it keeps itself at a distance and cannot reach that high ground. To ascend there one has to get off the chariot and go up alone and on foot. The society of the ancient Aryans after the Vedic age may be described as such a chariot.
The second type of society is an automobile of the indulgent and efficient individual. It tears along at great speed in a cloud of dust, damaging the royal road, making a great noise and in uncontrolled haste. The sound of its horn is deafening and it runs over anyone who happens to be in its way. The passenger’s life is in danger, accidents are not rare, the car breaks down and after painful tinkerings, it resumes the same arrogant journey. There is no fixed goal. Its owner, the rajasic ego, drives in the direction of whatever new scene comes within slight, shouting “This is the goal, that is the destination”. To ride in this vehicle brings its own pleasure and also inevitable danger. But to reach by this means even anywhere near God is impossible. Modern Western society is such an automobile.
The third kind of society is a dirty, old half-broken cart, its speed that of a tortoise. Drawn by skinny bulls starved and half-dead, it drags along on the narrow village path. Seated inside is a dirtily dressed, inert, blind old man with a big paunch as his only asset. Listening to the harsh, monotonous screeching of the cart, he puffs happily at his mud-stained hubble-bubble, lost in broken and distorted memories of the past. The name of this owner is the tamasic ego. The driver is Book-learning who consults the almanac to decide upon the time and direction of the journey and keeps on saying, “What is or was is good, whatever tries to be is bad”. Travelling by this cart one may well reach the void Brahman without delay but not the Divine.
The bullock-cart of the tamasic ego is safe so long as it is on the muddy village-road. But the heart trembles to think of its fate when it comes out on the main thoroughfares of the world where hundreds of speed-mad motor cars are rushing along. The difficulty is that it is not within the knowledge and power of the tamasic ego to acknowledge or recognise the time when it should change its vehicle. Nor has it any inclination to do so, for if it does that, its business ownership would come to an end. When the problem does arise, some among the passengers say, “No, let it be, this is indeed good, for it is our own”. These are the conservative and sentimentalist patriots. Others say, “just make a few repairs here and there” as if by this simple device the bullock-cart could be easily transformed into a perfect and priceless motor car. These go by the name of reformers. Still others pine and say, “Let the beautiful ancient chariot come back”. They even try from time to time ways of achieving this impossible feat. There is however no sign anywhere of these hopes being fulfilled.
Foregoing all other endeavors, if a choice must be made only among these three, the reasonable course would be to make a chariot like that of the sattwic ego. But until Jagannatha’s Chariot is built, the ideal community will not be created. That is the ideal, the best manifestation and image of the deepest and highest truth. Mankind tried to build it under the inspiration of the secret cosmic Person. But due to ignorance in its nature, it only succeeds in creating a different likeness - either malformed, unfinished and ugly or passably half-beautiful or incomplete despite its beauty: a dwarf instead of Shiva, or a Rakshasa, else a half-deity of the intermediate regions.
No one knows the true form or model of the Chariot of Jagannatha, no artist of life, jivan-silpi is able to paint it. That archetypal image resides in the heart of the cosmic Person but is concealed by many veils. To manifest it gradually through the efforts of many Vibhutis of God, seers and heroes of action, and to embody it in the physical world is the purpose of the indwelling Deity.
The true name of this Chariot of Jagannatha is not society but commune. It is not a many-faced loose-knit human collectivity or crowd but a free indestructible union, a divine commune evolved in joy by the power of the harmonising knowledge of self and God.
That association which is the means of many people working together is known as society, samaja. This meaning is clear from the derivation of the word. The prefix sam denotes ‘together’, the root aj signifies going, moving, war. Thousands of people band together for the sake of work and fulfilment of desire, - they work in the same field but reach out for different goals, there is struggle and competition among themselves as well as with other societies as to who should go first and achieve eminence; within this turmoil they establish various relationships, formulate many ideas for the sake of some discipline, mutual help and the satisfaction of varied ambitions. The result is something incomplete, impermanent and accomplished with great difficulty - this is the picture of a society of the ordinary world, based upon the lower Nature.
This natural society is based upon division. On that separative basis, a fragmented, temporary and incomplete unity is constructed. The form of the ideal society is exactly the opposite. Unity is its foundation; there is a play of diversity, not of separativeness, for the sake of the variety of Ananda. In society there is only a semblance of unity which is physical, mind-constructed and based on work; the unity inherent in the Soul is the very life of the commune.
There have been many partial and unsuccessful attempts to found communes on narrow foundations, either under the inspiration of rational thought as in the West, or for the unhindered and free practising of cessation of work for the sake of Nirvana - as that of the Buddhist, or under the impact of Godward emotion - like the first Christian communes. But within a short time all the defects and deficiencies and impulses of a natural society enter the commune and reduce it to its own level. The ideas of restless reason do not endure but are carried off in the flood of new or old vital impulses. Success in such an endeavour under the stress of emotion is impossible; emotion exhausts itself by its own momentum. It is better to seek Nirvana, alone, for to create a commune out of love for Nirvana is a contradiction. A commune is in its very nature a field for the play of action, of relationships.
A day will come, when inspired by the Will of the World-Spirit, soul-unity will be manifest as a result of the synthesis and unification of knowledge, emotion and work; then will the Chariot of Jagannatha come out on the thoroughfares of the world. Then shall its light spread in all directions. The Age of Truth will descend on the earth, the world of mortal man become the playground of the Deity, the temple--city of God, the abode of spiritual delight. Keywords: Prabartak, SriAurobindo, Communities, Auroville Main Page
Comments Re: The Chariot of Jagannatha
by rjon on Mon 16 Jan 2006 04:43 AM PST Profile Permanent Link Thanks for this inspiring post Kim! And your AV comment too. I'd like to show it to some AV friends, if that's ok with you. Love, ~ ron
by Rich on Tue 17 Jan 2006 08:51 PM PST Profile Permanent Link yes, a very apt post. Sri Aurobindo writes:
“The second type of society is an automobile of the indulgent and efficient individual. It tears along at great speed in a cloud of dust, damaging the royal road, making a great noise and in uncontrolled haste. The sound of its horn is deafening and it runs over anyone who happens to be in its way. The passenger’s life is in danger, accidents are not rare, the car breaks down and after painful tinkerings, it resumes the same arrogant journey. There is no fixed goal. Its owner, the rajasic ego, drives in the direction of whatever new scene comes within slight, shouting “This is the goal, that is the destination”. To ride in this vehicle brings its own pleasure and also inevitable danger. But to reach by this means even anywhere near God is impossible. Modern Western society is such an automobile.”
It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo uses a trope from modern technological in his analogy of society powered by the rajastic vital whose motivation is always driven a will to power and a will to technology. (and of course this is what caught my eye :)
To me the passage was another reminder that Sri Aurobindo always thinks technology critically through (even when he uses it as a trope) with a penetrating vision that sees through its social consequences and exchanges. In this passage his technological trope is extended to Western Modernist Society which at the time was immersed in a dream of unending progress (both cultural and scientific) yet ironically moving headlong toward the self-annihilation of World War.
We should all go to the actual Chariot of Jagannatha (Rath Jatra) festival in Puri, when literally hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in the ecstatic parade of chariots. There is no telling how many people who get trampled each year in the crush of the crowd. So the actual affair today appears to be driven by the gods of the vital plan. Here is a great description: http://rathjatra.nic.in/about.html rich