I first read about Auroville in 1968 in a Dutch magazine called ‘Hitweek', that maybe some Dutch readers will remember. It was a magazine for ‘langharig werkschuw tuig' (work-shy longhaired hippies). I recognized myself eagerly in this description. About the article I thought: ‘Is this serious, a French name for a place in India ?' I didn't know Sri Aurobindo and the Mother yet. Could I know that one day…? I had just started University and I had written down and pinned on the wall a list of things that I did not want to do in life, though. It was the time of Yoga, Zen, macrobiotics, Aldous Huxley and Jack Kerouac. But soon I came across the first book of Sri Aurobindo and I knew instantly: this is the real knowledge and yoga I am looking for. ‘The adventure of consciousness' followed and many other books. Because of the turn my life took, still trying not to do my wall-pinned list and living in an isolated spot in France in harmony with nature, I came to Auroville only in 1988; I had been exploring poetry and translating Satprem into Dutch, which was of course never published –too small a country-.
Once in Auroville, it all really began: if there was a place on earth where I could not step back saying: ‘this too is something spoiled by mankind', it was here, as this has been created and guided by the Mother.
Now, Being engaged in business as co-manager of La Ferme Cheese, I want to clarify what business in Auroville means for me.
Basically, business is an exchange of needs for the benefit of all involved. But there is a fundamental question: 'What are people's needs?' There are ways to pervert business by creating dependencies, attachments and desires out of needs of customers. By doing so one gains a power position and it may then be easy to abuse of this power by enriching oneself at the cost of others. Obviously, business in Auroville should be free of this degradation.
Sri Aurobindo has said that he would have gone into business if God had asked him to and that there is nothing wrong with business in itself. Still, in Auroville many of us have difficulties to find the right attitude towards business.
Many Auroville companies have employees and with them there is a first level of exchange. The company gives a livelihood to the employee in exchange for the employee's contribution to the company. Ideally there is a real involvement from both sides, which leads to unity.
The company has to be involved in the well-being of its employees in domains such as health care, education, justice, financial or other problem situations and in a global sustainable development. We touch upon the very core of life in society.
The employees from their side should be involved in the well being of the company, not to enrich executives and managers, but to serve a common goal: a fruitful and just exchange between the company and its providers of the necessary infrastructure and raw materials on one side and its customers on the other.
This is the second level of exchange. And again, if done in the ideal way, it leads to human unity.
Here the company and its employees stand side by side; in fact, all involved ARE the company and with a just exchange everyone cares for everyone.
In Auroville there is a third level of exchange: the contribution of the unit to Auroville on one side and all that Auroville stands for on the other.
On this level there is a possible danger of a missing link: the involvement of the employees with Auroville: ‘Why do we contribute a part of the fruit of our work to Auroville?'
I think the answer is: 'Because by giving to Auroville we don't loose anything, on the contrary, Auroville cares for us. The work of Auroville in the villages, its ecological projects in the bio region and beyond, the coastal development programs, the Tsunamika project, just to name a few, are very important in this context.
Next to the contribution to Auroville, the unit should also put a just bonus system for the employees in place.
I think that business done in this way contributes to one of Auroville's ideals: human unity.
In my experience selling a product manufactured by myself, involves much more than the exchange of money and the product. Care, creativity, search for perfection and innovation need to be part of the exchange. In return, a customer may be satisfied or have useful suggestions or even be grateful or supportive.
In Auroville, business is also a way to serve its ideals by contributing to its development.
And in the end working for this and for the just exchange of needs can be done as an offering in the spirit of Karma Yoga, the most useful yoga for Auroville, according to the Mother.