The history of spiritual and religious communities has witnessed numerous approaches to interpersonal relationships. For the most part, monasteries, cloisters or ashrams have tried to focus the attention of their members by maintaining strict rules, in many cases including vows of silence, celibacy and prayers. Individuals who were tasked with being ‘in charge’ would frequently enforce these rules through harsh discipline, and the atmosphere would be one of austerity and somewhat frosty (or in some cases even hostile) interpersonal relationships as a result. The goal was generally set as individual salvation or the dissolution of the bondage to earthly life, and thus, no great importance was placed on the idea of creating a truly harmonious relationship among the members.
Other experiments have occurred where individuals were encouraged to create an atmosphere of open freedom in interpersonal relationships including ‘free love’. In some cases, those in authority would try to ‘manage’ the relationships between the members in order to maintain control and manipulate their feelings and actions, going so far as to direct the relations of men and women to bind, and bond, them and offer these vital relations as ‘rewards’ for obedience to the authority structure’s wishes.. This approach accepted the vital desires and urges, but often led to disruptions, jealousy, and outbursts that tend to accompany the indulgence in vital relationships.
In the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the focus has been centred on achievement of the divine realisation without the abandonment of life and the world. A balance between this focus on realisation in the yogic pursuit, and creating a transformative approach to living in the world is the approach that has developed. This approach has to examine the way the individual members act in relation to one another to ensure a harmonious atmosphere for the collective endeavour as well as a suitable concentration that supports the individual progress. Neither a too strict and narrow interpretation, nor a too relaxed relationship can accomplish these mutual objectives.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The idea that all sadhaks must be aloof from each other and at daggers drawn is itself a preconceived idea that must be abandoned. Harmony and not strife is the law of yogic living. This preconceived idea arises perhaps from the old notion of Nirvana as the aim; but Nirvana is not the aim here. The aim here is fulfilment of the Divine in life and for that, union and solidarity are indispensable.”
“The ideal of the yoga is that all should be centred in and around the Divine and the life of the sadhaks must be founded on that firm foundation, their personal relations also should have the Divine for their centre. Moreover, all relations should pass from the vital to the spiritual basis with the vital only as a form and instrument of the spiritual — this means that, from whatever relations they have with each other, all jealousy, strife, hatred, aversion, rancour and other evil vital feelings should be abandoned, for they can be no part of the spiritual life. So, also, all egoistic love and attachment will have to disappear — the love that loves only for the ego’s sake and, as soon as the ego is hurt and dissatisfied, ceases to love or even cherishes rancour and hate. There must be a real living and lasting unity behind the love. It is understood of course that such things as sexual impurity must disappear also.”
“That is the ideal, but as for the way of attainment, it may differ for different people. One way is that in which one leaves everything else to follow the Divine alone. This does not mean an aversion for anybody any more than it means aversion for the world and life. It only means an absorption in one’s central aim, with the idea that once that is attained it will be easy to found all relations on the true basis, to become truly united with others in the heart and the spirit and the life, united in the spiritual truth and in the Divine. The other way is to go forward from where one is, seeking the Divine centrally and subordinating all else to that, but not putting everything else aside, rather seeking to transform gradually and progressively whatever is capable of such transformation. All the things that are not wanted in the relation — sex impurity, jealousy, anger, egoistic demand — drop away as the inner being grows purer and is replaced by the unity of soul with soul and the binding together of the social life in the hoop of the Divine.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Friendship, Affection and Love, pp 323-328