by Laura Collier
Sustainability is not communism. It does not mean that everyone should have the same things, nor does it mean renouncing all of your worldly possessions and living in a hut. I have found myself struggling with this a bit during my time in Auroville. The surrounding villages and many parts of Pondicherry, especially after the recent cyclone, are impoverished, and life there can be very difficult. My experience in Auroville has been extremely pleasant, despite setbacks with power and water shortages as well as damage to trees and structures because of the storm. I’ve been well-fed, housed and taken care of. Is it inconsistent with the notion of sustainability if I eat an ice cream at the Visitor’s Center while I am working on a project to help a local NGO, which hopefully will have a positive effect on Auroville and the surrounding communities? Perhaps. But it is not inconsistent because I am eating ice cream and there are some people in the world, or even in Auroville, who cannot afford ice cream. It may be inconsistent with sustainability because I am eating too much ice cream or because of the costs, be they economic or environmental, to supply the cafe. But it is not a problem to have ice cream simply because there are people in the world who cannot have it.
The idea of living sustainably is partly to serve as a model for how others can or should live. Though I was assured by Sacha, one of our program coordinators, that “you don’t have to be Buddha,” or give up your entire life to serve others, living sustainably calls you to lead a life that can be a model for others in the world. The lifestyle should be one that generally, if adopted by others, would have a positive effect. It calls for sharing and conserving resources, being mindful of how you interact with the environment and consciously trying to give back to the world, your family, friends, neighbors and community on a local, national and/or international scale.
There must, however, be a question of how much inequality is acceptable in the concept sustainable living. Having a fortune that would be difficult to spend even in two lifetimes while people are dying from hunger in the streets, doesn’t fit into a sustainable living model. I would assert that everyone has the responsibility to give of their extra resources to ensure that the basic needs of others are met. The controversial part of this assertion comes in defining basic needs. Are they just clean water, food, and a place to live? How much water, food, living space? What type? Do we just cover the basics of human rights? There is a lot to interpret.
It is in search of this balance that Auroville’s experiment is interesting and important. One can dive into contemplating these issues and then go beyond and try to live them, not just on a personal scale, but in a community. I can say personally that I don’t think I’ve found my balance, but my eyes are opening to new ways to try. I may need to start by having less ice cream…or at least sharing more of it.