Sri Aurobindo : The Vision Sublime
SRI AUROBINDO: THE VISION SUBLIME
A Golden Paradox
Calcutta a hundred years ago was a far cry from the Kolkata today. A public speaker had no opportunity to ring out a resounding voice courtesy the microphone. The public transport system was in its infancy and the greater part of the would-be audience had to trek miles to hear its leaders and often pass the night on pavements after the event, under blinking kerosene lamps. Population of the city was less than that of an average town of today. Keeping this perspective in mind, let us appreciate the report that follows, reproduced from The Times, London, from an issue of August 1909:
“As things were, the audience of August 7 consisted of about 5,000 persons, of whom about half was youthful…The sole orator of the Calcutta boycott meeting, Babu Bhupendranath Bose, excited no enthusiasm whatever, partly because his speech was too moderate and partly because it was audible to a small number. The Bengalis have primitive ideas as to the organisation of a meeting and Babu Bhupendranath was expected to harangue an open-air audience, numbering some thousands, from the top of a small dining table. Mr. Bradlaugh or Dr. Clifford would have failed under such conditions. The remarkable fact was, however, that damped as the crowd was by a lone essay, it burst into loud cheering when Mr. Aurobindo Ghose was seen standing near the dining table aforesaid. He was unquestioningly the hero of the meeting.”
What the report does not or would not say is, how the “hero of the meeting” who was never given to histrionics, who spoke in a soft voice and, last but not the least, in English with chaste British accent, could be the object of such adoration. With the historic Surat Congress and the famous Alipore Conspiracy Case behind him, he was a legend non-pareil. Even years after he had disappeared from the British India, this was what Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had to say: “When I came to Calcutta in 1913, Aurobindo was already a legendary figure. Rarely have I seen people speak of a leader with such rapturous enthusiasm and many were the anecdotes of this great man, some of them probably true, which travelled from mouth to mouth.” (An Indian Pilgrim)
Leaders of those days, in the popular perception, were made of special stuff but even among them Sri Aurobindo was outstanding. Let us see the impression of the renowned statesman, M.R. Jayakar, then a young delegate to the Calcutta Congress of 1906: “I then had my first opportunity of observing from close quarters the Congress leaders of those times with some of whom my contact increased later. I then saw Aurobindo Ghose and his associates. What struck me were his great earnestness and dignified appearance. He had not then developed, so far as outside appearance could show, into a complete Yogi, but I got from a distance, an indication that his political philosophy was different from that of those who surrounded him.” (The Story of My Life)
One’s life story or biography is constructed with events in which one was involved, and events galore mark the life of Sri Aurobindo. No wonder that by now volumes were written on his life. But he had discouraged the very first writer proposing to write his life story, saying that no one could write about his life, for it had not been on the surface for men to see. In other words he considered the external aspect of his life of no much consequence when compared to his inner life devoted to the pursuit of a hitherto unexplored truth, the destiny of man in terms of spiritual evolution – a vision to which the world is lately waking up slowly but steadily. The struggles and experiences he went through in the realms of consciousness were far more formidable than the storms and tumults marking his life on the surface.
Nevertheless, following the tradition of biographical accounts, we can have a bird’s eye-view of the external phases of his life.
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on the 15th of August 1872, in the very house that is well-known today as Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, on the south side of Shakespeare Sarani. He was the third child of his parents, Dr. K.D. Ghose and Swarnalata Devi. Dr. Ghose, a highly qualified physician trained in the West, served as the chief of the district medical services of those days and was famous for his kind and charitable dispensations on one hand and for his thoroughly anglicised life style on the other hand. Even though Sri Aurobindo’s maternal grandfather Rajnarayan Bose, was revered as a Rishi as well as “the Grandfather of Indian nationalism”, the veteran had no chance to exercise his influence on Sri Aurobindo who at the age of five, was admitted to the Loreto Convent at Darjeeling, run by an Irish Christian mission and meant for European children. Then, at the age of seven, the boy, along with his two elder brothers, was led by his parents to Manchester, and left under the care of a Latin scholar, Mr. Drewett. In 1884 the boys were shifted to London and Sri Aurobindo entered the St. Paul’s School. In 1890 he was admitted as a probationer for the Indian Civil Service. Also a scholarship offered by St. Paul’s helped him to enter the King’s College, Cambridge. In 1892 he passed the first part of the classical Tripos in the first class, bagging all the prizes for Latin and Greek, as well as the I.C.S. examinations, achieving excellence in all the papers.
But by then he had decided not to join the bureaucracy set up by the colonial masters to rule India. His father, no longer enamoured of the British masters or their conduct, used to mail to him clippings of newspapers carrying stories of the colonial misgovernment. Sri Aurobindo got himself disqualified for the I.C.S.by not appearing for the riding test, even after he was given fresh chances for it.
His well-wishers having no idea that Sri Aurobindo had manoeuvred his own disqualification were upset. G.W. Pothero, a senior Fellow of King’s College, wrote to James Cotton, the brother of Sir Henry Cotton (belonging to the I.C.S. but a great friend of India who in 1904 presided over the 20th session of the Indian National Congress at Mumbai): “He performed the part of the bargain as regards the college most honourably and took a high place in the first class of the classical Tripos, Part 1, at the end of the second year of his residence. He also obtained certain college prizes showing command of English and literary ability. That one should have been able to do this (which alone is quite enough for most under-graduates) and at the same time to keep up the I.C.S. work, proves very unusual industry and capacity. Besides his classical scholarship he possessed knowledge of English literature far beyond the average of under-graduates, and wrote much better English than most young Englishmen.”
Such efforts could have probably succeeded but for this young scholar’s role in the formation of a secret association of Indian students, named “Lotus and Dagger”, its members taking a solemn vow to dedicate their future to the cause of their motherland’s liberation. (Incidentally, barring Sri Aurobindo, the vow did not seem to have meant much for its members in the later phase of their life.) Sri Aurobindo had also spoken at the Indian Majlis at Cambridge, of which he was the Secretary, criticising the British rule in India.
It so happened that the Maharaja of Baroda, Sir Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, was on a visit to London and James Cotton introduced Sri Aurobindo to him. The Maharaja lost no time in offering to the young man a position in his government.
On the eve of his return to India, Sri Aurobindo wrote:
Me from her lotus heaven Saraswati
Has called to regions of eternal snow
And Ganges pacing to the southern Sea,
Ganges upon whose shores the flowers of Eden blow.
Such was the paradox; Expected by the father and led by circumstances to grow and live as a model of Westernised life, the young Sri Aurobindo was back is his motherland, already filled with a profound love for her. Probably such a beginning had its purpose, for as savants like Roman Rolland saw, he was the greatest synthesis hitherto achieved of the wisdom of the East and the West.
A Multi-dimensional Life
Sri Aurobindo was back in India after fourteen years, in February 1893. A great peace embraced him the moment he set his foot on the Indian soil – a peace that never left him. But the quiet home-coming had been preceded by a tragedy. The ship he was scheduled to sail by sank off the coast of Lisbon. Dr. K.D. Ghose, who had no knowledge of his son having changed his plan at the last moment and chosen another ship, was shocked at the news. He died of heart-attack muttering his son’s name. Sri Aurobindo’s mother had been mentally ill and was residing at her parents’ house at Deoghar.
Hereafter began a new phase of Sri Aurobindo’s life. He wrote, in a letter to a seeker much later: “Since I set foot on the Indian soil on the Apollo Bunder in Bombay, I began to have spiritual experiences, but these were not divorced from this world but had an inner and infinite bearing on it, such as a feeling of the Infinite pervading material Space and the Immanent inhabiting material objects and bodies.”
This recollection is of great significance. Spirituality is always supposed to be an otherworldly call, but Sri Aurobindo, obviously, was destined to put it on a new pedestal. For him the world it self was charged with spiritual truths that must be discovered and lived.
From Bombay Sri Aurobindo proceeded to Baroda and was assigned different portfolios in the princely government before his appointment as the Professor of English and later also of French, in the Maharaja’s college. His students found in him a most inspiring guide, as some of them recollected. During this period, extending from 1893 to 1905, his interest and activities outside his official functions, as we can perceive, flowed along four different streams simultaneously. He delved deep into the heritage of Indian literature, the spiritual lore in particular, mastering Sanskrit, Bengali and developing knowledge of several other Indian languages. Secondly he continued with his creative writing that he had begun while in England. But very few knew about the third stream of his activities carried on in secrecy. He keenly observed the political situation in the country and decided to give it a radical new turn. With the help of his younger brother Barindra and some other trusted lieutenants he organised and inspired numerous secret revolutionary societies in Bengal and several other provinces of the country. Fourth, he began practising Yoga.
He used to visit Bengal from time to time and in 1901 married Mrinalini Devi, the daughter of Bhupal Chandra Bose. Although she lived for a while in Baroda and accompanied Sri Aurobindo to Nainital and a few other places, hers was mostly a quiet life, devoted to reverentially watching her husband’s travails and praying for him. She died in Calcutta in 1918.
The Indian National Congress launched in 1885 more or less under the British patronage, had begun to arouse greater expectations among the intelligentsia, but its moderate leadership never dared to take steps beyond submitting petitions to the authorities that mostly went in vain. For the first ever time a powerful call was given to the organisation by Sri Aurobindo, through a series of articles in the journal Indu Prakash of Mumbai, for shedding its lacklustre stand and boldly voice the aspirations of the people. He wrote, using a pseudonym, “I say of the Congress, then, this – that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts not the right sort of men to be leaders – in brief we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.”
A noted Bengali litterateur, Dinendra Kumar Roy, lived with Sri Aurobindo for some time to help him learn Bengali. Sri Aurobindo of course rarely needed any guidance, but the memoir of those days left by Roy is a valuable document. Callous towards food and sleep, Sri Aurobindo, Roy writes, sat absorbed in his studies for three quarters of the night, oblivious of swarms of mosquitoes around him. The Gaekwad depended on him for writing for him important documents and speeches and once in a while required his company probably for the sake of it. Roy was shocked that Sri Aurobindo would casually say that he had no time and the vehicle would go back, at a time when so many Indian as well as European dignitaries waited for days to have a brief interview with the Maharaja. “He was alone and he did not know what it was to run after pleasures. He did not spend even a pie in the wrong way, yet nothing was left with him at the end of the month.”
Roy concludes his impression thus: “He was not a man of this earth; he was a god come down from heavens…”
Storm Without: Tranquility Within
The Baroda phase of Sri Aurobindo’s life came to an end in the wake of the mighty popular upsurge against the infamous move by Lord Curzon, the Governor-General of India, to partition Bengal, when before a huge gathering the affluent patriot Subodh Mullik announced a donation of a lakh of rupees for founding a national college, free from any control by the foreign government – and Sri Aurobindo was requested to come down to Calcutta to head it. (The people hailed Mullik as Raja, an appellation that became permanently affixed to his name – a solitary event of its nature.)
Sri Aurobindo readily responded to the call and resigned his well-paid Baroda job for a symbolic allowance that before long dwindled to nothing. He became the centre of the college, the unfailing source of inspiration for the students and the staff; a new orientation to the philosophy of education that would strengthen the student’s faith in himself and his motherland, prepare him to derive joy from sacrifice for a noble cause, teach him to view things globally with due attention to progress in any field anywhere in the world and absorb the lessons into the national genius, was in the making when exigency obliged him to stand aside from the project.
It happened like this. In March 1906 a weekly newspaper was launched by Barindra Kumar and his team, with Sri Aurobindo’s blessings. Entitled Yugantar, it became a phenomenal success in terms of both circulation and influence. It presented the ideals of freedom in no uncertain terms and several of its lead articles were written by Sri Aurobindo. The renowned nationalist Bipin Chandra Pal now decided to bring out an English newspaper with the same ideal and his scheme materialised in August 1906. He sought Sri Aurobindo’s help. In the backdrop of an atmosphere charged with anti-British sentiments because of the move for the partition of Bengal, such a journal was the need of the hour and Sri Aurobindo joined hands with Pal right from the start, but without allowing any publicity to his association with the publication. Whose masterly hand wrote those surprisingly powerful articles? No other person than Bipin Chandra Pal himself paid this tribute to Sri Aurobindo later, in Swaraj: “The hand of the master was in it from the very beginning. Its bold attitude, its vigorous thoughts, its clear ideas, its chaste and powerful diction, its scorching sarcasm and refined witticism, were unsurpassed by any journal in the country, either Indian or Anglo-Indian…Morning after morning, not only Calcutta but the educated community almost in every part of the country eagerly awaited its vigorous pronouncements on the stirring questions of the day…Long extracts from it began to be reproduced in the exclusive columns of The Times of London.”
Even the then Editor of The Statesman, S.K. Ratcliffe, recollected later how the paper was “full of leading and special articles written in English with brilliance and pungency not hitherto attained in the Indian Press…the most effective voice of what we then called nationalist extremism.”
While the readers were mystified about the author of the main articles in the Bande Mataram, the British intelligence found it out. Sri Aurobindo also knew that it will not be possible for him to steer clear of the hostility of the authorities if he had to play his role in the political upheaval of the time, however sincerely he may try to keep himself in the background, and that the inevitable should not happen while he headed an educational institution, the first of its kind. Thus he resigned his position as the Principal of the National College.
The inevitable of course happened sooner than expected. In 1907 the government prosecuted the Bande Mataram and, as its editor, Sri Aurobindo. Despite his total reluctance to come to limelight, this case made him a legend overnight. It was at this time that Rabindranath wrote his celebrated poem, “Rabindra, O Aurobindo, salutes thee, O friend, O country’s friend, the voice-incarnate of India’s soul….”
The Prosecution failed to prove that Sri Aurobindo was the editor. His acquittal was almost a national jubilation, making the government even more anxious to remove him from the public scene. The anxiety turned into determination before long, because of his role in the historic 23rd session of the Congress at Surat at the end of 1907, where the Moderate leadership received a death blow from the Nationalists led by Sri Aurobindo and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
In the previous year, at the Calcutta session of the Congress under the Presidentship of Dadabhoy Naoroji resolutions quite radical in nature, demanding Swaraj and upholding Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education had been passed for the first time and they were to be endorsed and some more resolutions along that line were expected to be passed in the next session of the Congress scheduled to take place at Nagpur. But the Moderates, who were in no mood to antagonise the rulers, managed to change the venue to their stronghold, Surat. As if that was not enough, they chose Rash Behari Ghose to preside over it whereas Lajpat Rai, just released from jail, had been the choice of not only the Nationalists but also the greater body of the Congress.
A showdown at Surat was inevitable. The session began before an audience over ten thousand strong. The President-elect, Dr. Rash Behari Ghose, followed by other leaders, ascended the decorated dais amidst cheers from the moderates. Dewan Bahadur Ambalal Desai proposed his name for the pivotal position. But as soon as Sir Surendranath Bannerji stood up to second the proposal, his words were drowned in an ear-splitting roar of protest. The greatest orator of Bengal had the jolt of his life. Let us have a look at the first hand record left by the veteran British journalist and author, Henry Nevinson:
“Waving their arms, their scarves, their sticks and umbrellas, a solid mass of delegates and spectators on the right of the Chair sprang to their feet and shouted without a moment’s pause…the whole ten thousand were on their feet, shouting for order, shouting for tumult. Mr. Malvi (Chairman of the Reception Committee) half in the chair, rang his brass Benares bell and rang in vain. Even a voice like his was not a whisper in the din. Again and again he shouted, unheard as silence. He sat down and for a moment the storm was lulled. The voices of the leaders were audible, consulting in agitated tones…Again Surendranath sprang on the table and again the assembly roared with clamour. Again the Chairman rang his Benares bell and rang in vain. In an inaudible voice, like a sob, he declared the sitting suspended.”
The next day was no different. Once again the session ended in turmoil. Two different conferences were held the day after. The Nationalists held theirs in a large courtyard – and they came in a most orderly and quiet manner. Observes Nevinson, “Grave and silent, I think without saying a single word, Mr. Aurobindo Ghose took the Chair and sat unmoved, with far-off eyes, as one who gazes at futurity. In clear, short sentences, without eloquence or passion, Mr. Tilak spoke till the stars shone out and someone kindled a lantern by his side.” (The New Spirit in India)
Nevinson travelled with the delegates by train. At every halt he heard thunderous shouts hailing the Nationalists, Sri Aurobindo and Tilak in particular. The young Sri Aurobindo became the object of adoration of the masses. A year later, during the Alipore trial, the prosecution witnesses narrated how Sri Aurobindo’s carriages used to be drawn by his youthful admirers who gave the horses a holiday. The redoubtable Counsel for Prosecution, Barrister Norton complained, “Aurobindo was treated with the reverence of a king wherever he had gone. As a matter of fact, he was regarded as the leader not merely of Bengal but of the whole country.”
Though the Moderates, by the virtue of their wealth, personal influence and blessings of the powers that be continued to be active for some more years, they were a waning force. The Surat Congress marked the No Return point in the nation’s march towards its goal and Sri Aurobindo was the first leader to declare openly “complete and absolute independence” as that goal.
Prelude to the Struggle for a Different Liberation
In a pre-dawn swoop on the 2nd of May 1908 a group of young men, “all educated and belonging to respectable families” according to the investigating report, residing in a garden at Murari Pukur in Calcutta, the property of Sri Aurobindo and his brothers, were rounded up, accused of secret revolutionary activities. Simultaneously another police party surrounded Sri Aurobindo’s residence at Grey Street and arrested him. The ‘dangerous materials’ discovered in the house were some letters Sri Aurobindo had written to his wife from Baroda and a lump of earth collected from Sri Ramakrishna’s place at Dakshineswar that someone had given to Mrinalini Devi, considering it sacred.
Famous as the Alipore Conspiracy Case, the trial in the court of the Sessions Judge, Mr. Beachcroft, Sri Aurobindo’s Cambridge classmate and a brilliant scholar second only to Sri Aurobindo in several subjects, continued more or less for a year, 1908 – 1909. An eminent lawyer of the time, Mr. Norton, was specially brought from London to serve as the Counsel for the Crown. The young Calcutta lawyer who came forward to defend Sri Aurobindo was the future celebrity, Deshbandhu Chitta Ranjan Das. His inspired and prophetic words at the conclusion of his argument have become immortal:
“My appeal to you is that a man like this who is charged with the offences imputed to him stands not only before the bar in this Court but stands before the bar of the High Court of History and my appeal to you is this: That long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India, but across distant seas and lands…”
While the newspapers of the day did their job very well in carrying the reports of the trial to the people agog with excitement, while political leaders and intellectuals waited with bated breath for its outcome, Sri Aurobindo took no interest in the sensational proceedings. He was in a different world: As he spoke later,
“I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva, who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade…I looked and it was not the Magistrate whom I saw, it was Vasudeva, it was Narayana who was sitting there on the bench. I looked at the Prosecuting Counsel and it was not the Counsel for the Prosecution that I saw; it was Sri Krishna who sat there and smiled.” (Uttarpara Speech)
Sri Aurobindo was acquitted once again. The Bande Mataram had ceased publication. He launched the Karmayogin, a weekly in English, followed by a Bengali weekly, the Dharma. The rulers, however, could not be in peace with Sri Aurobindo at large. The one most eager to deport him was Lord Minto, the Governor-General of British India. Unfortunately for him, Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India, vetoed the gentleman’s fond resolution again and again, stating categorically, “As for deportation I will not listen to it.”
While they were debating on the issue in great earnestness and confidentiality, a fresh warrant was issued against Sri Aurobindo, charging him with committing sedition in an article in the Karmayogin. But before the police could k nock on his door, Sri Aurobindo, in obedience to an Adesh, a direction from above, suddenly left Calcutta for the French pocket of Chandernagore. A second Adesh led him to Pondicherry, then under French rule, where he arrived on the 4th of April 1910. Even then in his last but one letter to Morley, Minto wrote on 26 May 1910, “As to the celebrated Aurobindo…I can only repeat what I said to you in my letter of April 14th that he is the most dangerous man we have to now reckon with … and has an unfortunate influence on the student class and Indians who know him quite well have told me he is quite beyond redemption.”
Sri Aurobindo of course had figured several times in the House of Commons, but on the 28th of April 1910, that exalted forum witnessed a stormy debate on him – the first ever of that length and lively exchange on any Indian leader. Earlier Sir Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party and the future Prime Minister, had demanded to know, on the basis of some news in the Times, why a warrant had been issued against Sri Aurobindo, and he had been told that it was for a seditious article in the Karmayogin. Twice thereafter Sir Ramsay wished to see that article, but when the Treasury Bench failed to produce it, he flashed a copy of the magazine himself and read out the article concerned passage by passage and challenged anybody to point out where lay any element of sedition in it. The Members heard with amazement, only once Mr. J. King interrupting the speaker asking him if the original article was not in Bengali and if the author was not a Bengali, to which Sir Ramsay replied, “The article is in the most excellent English. Mr. Aurobindo Ghose could no more write an article in Bengali than I could.”
This series of debate ended on the 21st of February 1911, nearly a year after Sri Aurobindo had settled down in Pondicherry, when Mr. O’Grady asked “whether the publisher of the Karmayogin was prosecuted for issuing the article by Mr. Aurobindo Ghose, for writing which a warrant was issued against Mr. Ghose; whether that trial resulted in the acquittal of the publisher on the ground that the article was not seditious; and whether the Government has now withdrawn the warrants issued in connection with the article?” and to which Mr. Montagu, the Under Secretary of State, replied: “The answer to the first part of my Hon. Friend’s question is Yes, to the second, Yes; and to the third, Yes.”
Time had thus arrived for Sri Aurobindo to begin his great adventure in quest of a different liberation – for mankind as a whole. India, for Sri Aurobindo, was not just a piece of earth, but a godhead, a consciousness that had a unique role to play in the destiny of mankind and for that Her freedom from bondage to an imperial power was indispensable and in his seer-vision Sri Aurobindo had seen it as a fait accompli. It was another freedom he must struggle for thenceforth – humanity’s freedom from its bondage to a colossal Ignorance, the cause of its manifold suffering. At Pondicherry he plunged into an exploration of the many planes and spheres of Consciousness embracing everything as well as at the root of everything. He was determined to unravel the future that awaited man. In this adventure into uncharted horizons of consciousness, he had his great collaborator in the Mother.
French by birth but Middle-Eastern in her ancestry, the Mother met Sri Aurobindo in 1914 on her first visit to Pondicherry. At once she knew that she was destined to work with him. The Arya, a monthly, was launched under her initiative. Several of Sri Aurobindo’s major works were serialised in this publication. The Mother had to leave for France a year later, but the magazine continued to be published, serialising most of the major works of Sri Aurobindo.
The Mother returned to Pondicherry in 1920, finally, and the Ashram took shape under her loving direction. From 1926 Sri Aurobindo remained totally engrossed in his Yoga, leaving the Ashram and the ever-increasing demand for help and guidance from innumerable seekers, in the Mother’s care.
While analysing the history of human aspiration, the great endeavours towards perfection man had made through the ages in different areas of his activity, social, cultural, scientific and political and presenting a picture of the destiny of man through his integral vision in his immortal works, Sri Aurobindo never cut himself off the current national or world events. During the World War II he announced his support for the Allies as he could foresee the devastation the civilisation would have suffered had the victory gone to the Nazi camp. On the eve of India winning Independence he sent an emissary to the leadership of the day suggesting that the Cripps proposal be accepted. His counsel went in vain; but looking back several of the leading figures of the day, K.M. Munshi for example, agree that the division of the nation could have been avoided had the leadership heeded the advice. Instances are so many; but one thing is certain, Sri Aurobindo did not expect much from the present humanity in terms of harmony and light of wisdom, though he was the greatest optimist known to us because of his faith in mankind’s inner capacity to transcend his present limitations.
Sri Aurobindo’s realisations and his vision, as put forth in his works like The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity and the epic Savitri, invite us to a voyage into the vast domains of little-known or unknown realities and truths and help us transcend several narrow concepts that prevail widely about Yoga, Spirituality and, last but not the least, the significance of Evolution.
Sri Aurobindo passed away on the 5th of December, 1950. The Mother carried on his Yoga of transformation till her passing away on the 17th of November 1973. But the end they pursued had been achieved; the power they wished to bring down and establish in the earth consciousness is at work. It is a matter of time for its effect to become evident. For our understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s vision and to create an atmosphere of ideal receptivity of the new evolutionary force that is trying to manifest, the Mother founded institutions like the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education and launched the unique experiment that is the City of Dawn, Auroville. The world is surely, though slowly waking up to the words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their vision does not suggest any alternative to ideology or philosophy, but promises a touch of fulfilment to all the genuine aspirations of mankind. The Mother assures us that what Sri Aurobindo represents in the world’s history is not a teaching, not even a revelation, but a decisive action direct from the Supreme.
What is the nature of the present Crisis? What is the role of Yoga in it?
We could very well be in the threshold of the dynamism in evolution taking a stride beyond Mind. In fact, “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny; for a stage has been reached in which the human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way,” according to Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo visualised the next stage of human evolution possible with the descent of a hitherto untraced gnostic power, the Supramental, capable of transforming the life of man as it is today into a life Divine. And here comes the relevance of Yoga. It is not a business of dabbling in bizarre feats of achieving some supernatural powers. “In the right view both of life and Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being and a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearance, is a vast Yoga of Nature attempting to realise her perfection in an ever increasing expression of her potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality.”(The Synthesis of Yoga)
Over the ages Yoga had taken diverse courses, one major line giving great emphasis on Jnana or Knowledge, another on Bhakti and Prema (Devotion and Love) and yet another on Karma or Action. But since all the disciplines had a common goal, Sri Aurobindo culls out their salient features and makes a synthesis of them. His Yoga is known as Integral Yoga.
What is Integral Yoga?
As we all know, Yoga literally means union – Union with the Divine or the source from which we have all come. Unfortunately, over the centuries it has come to mean an ascetic abandonment of the world with all its problems and problems of life unresolved.
There is no dichotomy or opposition between Spirit and Matter, between a life spiritual and the material world. “World is a becoming which seeks always to express in motion of Time and Space , by progression in Mind, Life and Body what is beyond all becoming, beyond Time and Space, beyond mind, life and body.” (The Upanishads)
Great Yogis and spiritual seekers have realised their souls and have achieved liberation from their bondage to physical and sense-dominated life and the dictates of the capricious mind. Their souls have reached the transcendent Spirit beyond all that is manifested. But the human body, the sense-life as well as the mind had been left to their raw fate, as if they were undivine and were doomed to remain so ever. But the Integral Yoga asserts that nothing is undivine and the promise of transformation remains inherent in all the aspects of our being. “The integral Yoga is that which, having found the Transcendent, can return upon the universe and possess it, retaining the power freely to descend as well as ascend the great stair of existence.” (The Synthesis of Yoga)
What is Integral Education?
It follows, in the light of the evolutionary vision of Sri Aurobindo that the true process of education should help the child to bring out the best inherent in his being. But that must be accomplished not through any imposed curriculum, but through an environment and system that can spontaneously bring out the hidden splendour in every child’s consciousness. We conclude this section with a few passages from Sri Aurobindo:
“The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or task-master, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind, he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him, he shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. The distinction that reserves this principle for the teaching of adolescent and adult minds and denies its application to the child, is a conservative and unintelligent doctrine. Child or man, boy or girl, there is only one sound principle of good teaching. Difference of age only serves to diminish or increase the amount of help and guidance necessary; it does not change its nature.
“The second principle is that the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is he himself who must be induced to expand in accordance with his own nature. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues, or be prepared for a prearranged career. To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a wound to the nation, which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it and is forced to accept instead something imperfect and artificial, second-rate, perfunctory and common. Everyone has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop it and use it. The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.
“The third principle of education is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. The basis of a man’s nature is almost always, in addition to his soul’s past, his heredity, his surroundings, his nationality, his country, the soil from which he draws sustenance, the air which he breathes, the sights, sounds, habits to which he is accustomed. They mould him not the less powerfully because insensibly, and from that then we must begin. We must not take up the nature by the roots from the earth in which it must grow or surround the mind with images and ideas of a life which is alien to that in which it must physically move. If anything has to be brought in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind. A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development. There are souls which naturally revolt from their surroundings and seem to belong to another age and clime. Let them be free to follow their bent; but the majority languish, become empty, become artificial, if artificially moulded into an alien form. It is God’s arrangement that they should belong to a particular nation, age, society, that they should be children of the past, possessors of the present, creators of the future. The past is our foundation, the present our material, the future our aim and summit. Each must have its due and natural place in a national system of education.” (“A System of National Education”: The Hour of God and other Writings)
What is the Essence of Indian Outlook and Culture?
“India’s central conception is that of the Eternal, the Spirit here in cased in matter, involved and immanent in it and evolving on the material plane by rebirth of the individual up the scale of being till in mental man it enters the world of ideas and realm of conscious morality, dharma. This achievement, this victory over unconscious matter develops its lines, enlarges its scope, elevates its levels until the increasing manifestation of the sattwic or spiritual portion of the vehicle of mind enables the individual mental being in man to identify himself with the pure spiritual consciousness beyond Mind. India’s social system is built upon this conception; her philosophy formulates it; her religion is an aspiration to the spiritual consciousness and its fruits; her art and literature have the same the same upward look; her whole Dharma or law of being is founded upon it. Progress she admits, but this spiritual progress, not the externally self-unfolding process of an always more and more prosperous and efficient material civilisation. It is her founding of life upon this exalted conception and her urge towards the spiritual and the eternal that constitute the distinct value of her civilisation. And it is her fidelity, with whatever human shortcomings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world.” (The Foundation of Indian Culture)
This exclusive goal of life that the Indian culture holds before us is a faith in the future of life in this world. Sri Aurobindo says elsewhere in the same work, “The early Vedic religion did not deny, but laid a full emphasis on life. The Upanishads did not deny life, but held that the world is a manifestation of the Eternal, of Brahman, all here is Brahman, all is in the Spirit and the Spirit is in all, the self-existent Spirit has become all these things and creatures; life too is Brahman, the life-force is the very basis of our existence… But it affirmed that the present way of existence of man is not the highest or the whole; his outward mind and life are not all his being; to be fulfilled and perfect he has to grow out of his physical and mental ignorance into spiritual self-knowledge.