Growing up in india and given the name Chetana(pron. chay-thna, a hindi word meaning consciousness), which was blessed by The Mother, little did I realize the immense potential and calling for inner and outer growth I would be drawn toward! I grew up in an eclectic mix of environments, experiences and influences from urban city life in Mumbai to most summers and the end of the year in Pondicherry and Auroville.
I have been driven by a passion for design, yogasana, education and a relentless sense of curiosity. My personal and professional work is greatly inspired by the teachings of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo and this is manifest in most of my creative endeavors. Currently I live in the San Francisco Bay area and work as a Graphic Design and User-Interface designer for Web and Mobile. In my pursuit to learn(and unlearn) I have spent time at the 200 hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Training ( Yoga Tree ), 50 hours Tantra Yoga immersion (with Pedro Franco) and the Inner Engineering program (with Sadhguru) in San Francisco.
I have had the privilege of growing-up in and embracing the worlds around the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Sri Aurobindo Society and Auroville and this is my way of integrating Yoga! I volunteer for various projects from helping at Udhavi School and Maitreye community in Auroville, to working as an AVI USA Board member and on various Sri Aurobindo Society design and education projects. I am also a member of the Education Committee with the Inneract Project in san Francisco, sharing design as a potential career via design classes for middle school inner-city kids.
Bill Leon is a former President of AVI USA. He has been a member of AVI USA since 1992. He is a professional geographer, educator, community developer and evaluator.
Bill was introduced to Auroville and to the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and Mother in the early 1980s by Ron Jorgensen, while a graduate student in Seattle. His interest in developing community led him to investigate the Auroville experiment in intentional community through writings and visitors and finally his own first exploration in 1991. At the time, he was teaching and managing student/faculty outreach programs at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.
While in Auroville, Bill saw that it would be a great place to bring students to study and help in a process that has since become known as service- learning. It took ten years to develop, but after moving to work at the University of Washington in Seattle, Bill collaborated with Professor Karen Litfin to develop and manage programs to bring university students to Auroville. These programs have now allowed over 100 students to live in Auroville for 2-3 months, learn from faculty and from Auroville presenters and mentors, and gain experience in a variety of areas of personal interest with hands-on experience that also benefits Auroville. Students have engaged in education, building techniques, solar energy design, Tamil musical instrument and cultural development, organic farming, forestry, environmental restoration and many other activities with Auroville units.
Bill brought his son Evan to Auroville in 2001, a trip that kindled both their interests in supporting village development work and educational opportunities for village children. Evan raised funds for and brought school supplies to Isai Ambalam School. Bill returned the next year with UW architecture and landscape architecture students and faculty who designed and built an environmentally sustainable dormitory that is now the International House. many other students and faculty from UW have since come to engage in service-learning activities in Auroville.
Bill manages his own consulting firm Geo Education and Research, which is engaged in evaluation work for large and small NGOs, government agencies and foundations(including the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, National Safe Place and other programs working to eliminate homelessness). He evaluates health, education, environmental and other types of programs and trains and coaches staff in nonprofits, government agencies, and foundations in evaluation techniques. He has also been a professor/instructor at the University of Washington and the University of Colarado.
Bill volunteers in local environmental activities, mostly in his village of Lake Forest Park, Washington. he donates his professional services to organizations like Yoga Behind Bars and Bike Works. he also facilitates the meetings of the Seattle Sri Aurobindo Circle, a study group that has been meeting regularly in the Seattle area for over 30 years. Bill is working with Ron Jorgensen and others in the Yoga to develop a collection of quotations on oneness from a wide variety of cultures, settings, time periods and situations. They have over a thousand but other suggested quotes are always welcome. In his professional work, Bill integrates the ideas and tools he has gathered from his study of Yoga with his knowledge and practice of geography, community development and evaluation into practical applications for his clients. All of these perspectives/fields emphasize the integration of multiple parts into a vision of the whole- understanding how different parts of a program community, or process work together and influence each other. When we understand the complex relationships(which Bill often models) we can better guide efforts to improve them. In some work(e.g., Bill’s work for Native American NGOs and educational ventures) this entails understanding the spiritual as well as the physical, practical, educational, social and psychological dimensions of the program. In others, it requires the development of intricate, online databases and reporting structures to provide constant feedback for program improvement. The work continuously requires the integration of left brain, right brain and non-brain functions. Making the supramental influence more visible and tangible iin the physical world is an intriguing challenge- and the most important work Mother laid out for Auroville. We can all find ways to do that in our lives anywhere. That is why, as Sri Aurobindo said, “All life is Yoga”.
After meeting The Mother in 1971 for a birthday darshan I joined Auroville. I moved into an Aspiration hut where my husband, Gordon wa s living with two local boys from Kuyilapalayam and one boy from the lake Estate whose Bengali parents had enrolled him in the Aspiration school.
I took up work as a teacher in the kindergarten, which was located right next to our hut in Aspiration, while Gordon and the three boys walked down to Last School for his work as a teacher and their work as students. In 1980 I left Auroville and returned to the USA where I worked as an educational counsellor for women and then for elementary school students. I served as an elementary school principal in the US and abroad. While working in the US I was able to organize short-term informal educational programs for Tamil Aurovilians through The Merriam Hill Foundation and The Foundation for World Education. Through the on-going support of The Foundation for World Education my husband and I were able to start up a teacher exchange program between Antioch New England Graduate School and the Auroville Schools.
Now that both of us are retired we have the luxury of spending the winter in Auroville where we continue to be involved in education, visiting our friends and finding new projects to support in Auroville.
I heard about Auroville in 1972 from Robert Lawlor, founder of Forecomers, and spent that summer at Omega Station a community of students and teachers on the farm of Andre and goldian Vanden Broeck in South Otselic, NY. Majorie Spalding, Robert McDermott, Jehangir Chubb, Zena Daysh and Udar Pinto, who toured the US for Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Centenary were early influences.
I first visited Auroville in 1974, staying for four months and studied with Arabinda Basu at the Ashram. Back in New York, I volunteered at the Sri Aurobindo Center and later became a member of the Lindisfarne Association where William Irwin Thompson invited speakers from the Ashram and Auroville to give talks. I cofounded the ALL USA Meetings, an annual gathering for those interested in the vision of Sri Aurobindo and Mother. I serve on the Boards of AVI USA, AVI and in 2009 was appointed to Auroville’s International Advisory Council. I also serve as President of Matagiri Sri Aurobindo Center and on the board of Nakashima Foundation for Peace. I sing in a choir called Prana and together with my wife, Wendy, own a boutique called Pondicherry in Woodstock, NY.
Traveling on my own in North India at age 22, I found myself greatly attracted to the culture and spirituality. Influenced by Ravi Shankar and Krishnamurti, Hinduism and Buddhism, and by personally meeting the Dalai Lama, I determined to return someday to live and discover more, and to visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram that I learned about then.
I met the Mother several times in 1971-72 as a visitor to the Ashram(most powerful experiences), and soon was accepted by her to live and work in Auroville. Her vision of an ideal town-ship based on human unity was tremendously attractive to me. I established and organized Fraternity in early 1972, at her request, as the first handicraft training and village employment center, to address the concern about the poverty, health and talents of the local villagers. With some other Aurovilians, we developed handloom weaving, along with its associated crafts of tailoring, embroidery, crochet and handloom lampshades. then came the production of woodcraft items, hammocks, hammock chairs, and candle-making. And we planted trees and trees.
New workshops were built, with a kindergarten and fresh water supply for the nearby village. Rapid expansion followed and with quality craft production achieved, we opened export markets in Europe and the US. My wife Fanou joined the venture, heading up the crochet unit. Our first two children, Auromarichi and Aurelia, were born in Auroville.
We moved in 1980 to Wisconsin, USA, where for many years we imported and sold arts and crafts from Auroville and elsewhere, via a store called Global View. Retired now, I have placed many photos of my nine years in Auroville in Facebook’s group called “Olden Days: The Old Timers of Auroville”.
Some years ago, I was asked to join the board of Auroville International USA. Originally begun as the Auroville Association in 1973 in Aptos, California by June Maher with a handful of local board members, the name was changed in 1986, and now our 10 board members are scattered from coast to coast. We meet by phone once a month and face to face every year. Besides channelling funds to Auroville projects, we email Auroville project and donation information periodically as eVolve and publish a printed newsletter, Connect, twice a year to thousands of Auroville supporters in the US. I am the administrator of AuroHost, and currently serve as President of AVI USA.
Since twelve years, Fanou and I return to Auroville for at least a month every two years, and we support it as much as possible. From over 200 people then, to well over 2000 people today, Auroville seems to bloom more and more; its forests now thrive on the once desolate sand and desert, and culture abounds in so many ways. It is always a joy to return, to be with many dear old friends and to make new ones, and to meet there as a member of Auroville International.
In conversation with Satprem, Mother mentions about the ‘Persian’ “Have you met the Persian? He wants to “help” in the creation of Auroville. He already has a society, “Auroville International,” and he is going to start his action – he’s travelling here and there. He’s a man who knows four or five languages, and he has the mind of an inventor.. He likes to organise, but he is as I said, he loves adventure, it’s in his temperament(after all, invenions are adventures and that’s how he is). So he’s already founded a society called ” Auroville International” with members in Europe and its head office in the United States… the whole outfit. As for me, I watch and have great fun! In appearance he’s very surrendered and devoted, but.. or the moment, I don’t have proof it’s anything other than a “necessary appearance”. But he’s nice and a man of real goodwill…”
The Persian Mother was talking about was Jean M. Ahy. His idea to start an international organization called Auroville International with its head office in new York had been well received by Mother. She had approved of Auroville International’s status, objectives and working methods “for a realisation of unity and harmony”, and had also blessed Ahy’s intricate organisational chart of Auroville International consisting of 15 departments and an even larger number of sub-departments.
About Honouring Participation:
This site is being developed for honouring the participation of those involved in the creation of the reality of Auroville. If you have any information on the people who have contributed in the Auroville process and whose information has or hasn’t yet been displayed here, kindly share them with us with the relevant information, stories, pictures and videos of memorable instances involving them.