Sri Aurobindo Ghosh
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Apr 25 2015
Bengal minister's Aurobindo play sitting on a time bomb
Did Rishi Aurobindo `run away' from the freedom movement? Or was he disillusioned by the ways of freedom fighters? This is one controversial question a Bengali play written and directed by state tourism minister and playwright Bratya Basu raises. The play, Boma -supposedly a work of fiction -is based on the Alipore bomb case and the year-long trial that followed. It takes off from April 30, 1908, when Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki tried to kill magistrate Kingsford. The bomb missed the target and killed the wife and daughter of barrister Pringle Kennedy .
`Boma' -to be staged next Monday -heightens the visual experience using a simulated drizzle on stage. It also uses animation on a backdrop as lawyer Chittaranjan Das argues Aurobindo's defence saying: “I say that the man in his position isn't only standing before the bar of this court, but before the bar of the high court of history .“ Basu says he'd like to play Das's role in some shows.
Controversy begins after Judge Beachcroft announces the verdict.Aurobindo is among the 17 acquitted.Subtle hints are dropped at how the judge had a soft corner for Aurobindo since they were batchmates during civil services training. Bratya, who anchored path-breaking Bengali plays like `Ruddhasangeet' and `Winkle Twinkle', isn't scared of controversy .
He writes highly-loaded fictional dialogues for revolutionary Hemchandra Kanungo's character. Standing behind prison bars, Hemchandra bursts out in anger: “You (Aurobindo) have saved yourself but history won't forgive you.“ In another scene, Aurobindo's brother Barin says: “Why did I tell my brother survival lies only in mixing religion with politics? Little did I know he'd give up politics and take refuge in religion.“
Wasn't Basu scared to write such provocative lines? “These issues are frequently brought up in Aurobindo's context. In his lifetime Aurobindo never answered critics. I've tried to answer them and written dialogues for Aurobindo. I don't believe Aurobindo was an escapist. The play deals with the relationship between religion and politics -something haunting us today as well,“ he says.
Historian Rajat Kanta Ray says he has discussed Aurobindo's departure to Puducherry in his thesis. Asked if Aurobindo's `running away' from the freedom movement remains a topic of debate, Ray says: “I'd written that Aurobindo had taken off for Pondicherry to contemplate for the rest of his days `The Life Divine'. This was youthful writing and I've since rethought the matter. It's a fact that Aurobindo didn't engage in politics after his departure to Pondicherry .“
Ray says he's moved on and this subject doesn't interest him much.
Basu's fictional character, Kalpana, adds a twist to the narrative. In a fiery speech, she tears apart the image of holier-than-thou revolutionaries and talks about how infighting over trivial issues derailed the freedom struggle. In one scene, Basu refers to Barin alleging a relationship with a lady becoming an issue between revolutionaries Satyen Bose and Jatindranath Bandopadhyay . Ray says: “I came across files in the IB archives and the home political series where secret police alleged sexual intrigues.This is a matter for serious thinking.“ Peter Heehs, author of `The Bomb in Bengal' and `The Lives of Sri Aurobindo', says, “Even if I disagreed with him (Basu), I'd welcome an intelligent debate. As a historian who's researched Aurobindo's participation in the freedom movement, I'd be in a position to offer fact-based criticisms of the writer's interpretation.“ Having had his share of experiences in India for his books, does Heehs think Indian playwrights should focus on such sensitive issues? “If the issues are sensitive they should be examined with diligence and respect for the person under study,“ he says.
Debshankar Halder, who plays Aurobindo, says he consented to the role because it's important to have such dialogues. “People are free to reject them. But since the play resonates with emotional truth, Kolkata's audience will watch it.“
Matri Prasad, a Sri Aurobindo Ashram inmate in Puducherry , isn't closed to the idea of the play. “Everyone should be free to approach the truth in his own way . Why doubt the efforts of a playwright? I understand Bengali, but won't go the extra mile to watch it.“
The principle of triple transformation lies at the core of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of Integral Yoga. As he maps out the psychic, spiritual and supramental dimensions of Consciousness to be awakened in his The Life Divine, Aurobindo integrates many strands of ancient Indic traditions into a unique life-affirming philosophy for the times.
For Aurobindo, life itself was unique, for it gave all the opportunity to understand, open up and realign with Divine consciousness. The seeker has to work on his own nature to become a fit instrument and channel for descent of this Consciousness.
Consciousness was not just a way of knowing reality, but could be looked upon as something which takes the seeker beyond the human mind itself, into a divine, cosmic dimension of reality. Echoing Hegel in his mapping out of the evolution of human consciousness, Aurobindo sees this phenomenal reality as expressing but one dimension of that universal consciousness, and all layers of this consciousness synthesise in the Supermind, the Absolute. Aurobindo then takes it a step further, and visualises the descent of the universal consciousness into the physical body as the next step in evolution.
Consciousness is the Force of Being, as Aurobindo says, and not merely awareness, by which it is possible to “seek the union of our soul of mind with Universal Mind, our soul of life with Universal Life, our soul of body with Universal physical existence, consciously.” Chit-Shakti presents itself to itself through forms and procedures of Nature. And it is this spirit pervading through matter, which Aurobindo urges us to strive to know through experience. To call upon that cosmic consciousness is the true calling of every seeker, Aurobindo wrote, which will in turn give impetus to the evolutionary impulse.
The unique experience of Consciousness which Aurobindo elucidates, is perhaps rooted and mirrored in his own unique life journey as he evolved from a Western paradigm of classical literature, philosophy and consciousness to a Vedantic one; from a passionate political consciousness as he jumped into the national movement centre stage, to finally anchoring himself in the spiritual mission which he saw ordained for himself. All these roles were seen by Aurobindo as part of a larger purpose, which he later was to put together in his exploration of Consciousness. His diverse range of writings, from the poetry of Savitri and the political Bande Matram to the philosophical The Life Divine, mirrored this concept of Consciousness as the Force of Being which pervades each role man plays.
In mapping out the methodology of this new Consciousness, Aurobindo emphasised that the world was a real materialisation of the Absolute Consciousness. Accordingly, this physical world was capable of perfectly expressing absolute knowledge. Aurobindo believed that this would happen one day in the future, as the Divine consciousness descends into the mind-consciousness and into every form of existence, as the next step in the evolutionary blueprint of mankind.
Distortion of Vedanta
[ From the archives of the Times of India]
Sri Aurobindo makes a powerful case for restoring the life-affirming and lifeenriching element of spirituality that had receded over the past 1,000 years. His Savitri and The Life Divine may be considered 20th century Upanishads written in English.
Vedanta postulates that the Creator did not create the material universe; it became the universe. The invisible aspect is referred to as the universal spirit. Reality, as constructed by the senses, is deceptive and hence an illusion because it excludes the invisible Absolute Reality. Illusory reality is just a phenomenon; it has a beginning and an end; and in between there is constant change. However,behind and beyond this illusion is the imperishable and constant Absolute Reality, the Brahmn. The one thing that matters is Brahmn, and to pursue that is the purpose of human life.
The other interpretation of Vedanta emphasises that matter is another form of the Absolute Reality. Sensual reality is only one part of the whole. Hence, the world is not an illusion but a manifestation of the Divine. If the Divine is Real, its manifestation cannot be unreal. The world may be a temporary reality, but while it lasts it is not unreal. Matter and spirit are two layers of the same Reality, matter being the superficial reality, and the spirit its deeper Reality. Because of the inherently divine nature of matter, even matter should be respected rather than rejected. Similarly, the world, and worldly life, also should not be rejected. Sri Aurobindo says it all in three lines in Savitri: “I looked upon the world and missed the Self,/ And when I found the Self, I lost the world,/ My other selves I lost and the body of God…”
Of these three lines, the first is the ‘denial of the materialist’; the second is the ‘refusal of the ascetic’; and the third is the flaw in the ‘refusal of the ascetic’ who, therefore, loses sight of the identity he has with the rest of the creation and also misses the joy of seeing “the body of God”. How we interpret Vedanta has important practical implications. Dismissing the visible universe as an illusion and considering the invisible Absolute Reality to be the sole reality has at least three corollaries. First, it makes spirituality the preserve of only a select few. Secondly, it makes worldly activity look like an exercise in futility. Hence, even those engaged in worldly activity do not put their heart and soul into it. Finally, it assigns a separate compartment to worldly life and spiritual life. My independent existence with my individual desires and ambitions is the sole reality of worldly life. On the other hand, seeing the Divine in all creation implies respect for all creation, including a material object. It also implies that at the deepest level we are all interrelated and interdependent. This vision translates into love and compassion for my fellow beings. Sri Aurobindo made a powerful and rational case for the life-affirming view of spirituality. There is reason to believe that in the next step in evolution, mind will give way to supermind. While the evolution of the supermind is certain, human beings are in the unique position of collaborating with nature, and thereby accelerating the process of evolution.
If the number of individuals consciously living a life conducive to growth of consciousness reaches a critical mass, it will lead to a rise in the level of earth consciousness.
The Times of India, Aug 14 2015
M N Kundu
All life is yoga“, said Sri Aurobindo, “ as life is the process of grand unification of the fragmented self with the comprehensive divine Self.As per the Holy Bible, in the beginning, the omnipotent Consciousness willed, “Let there be light, and there was light“.The said light is Agni of the Rig Veda and solar fire of modern science. Thus we find divine will in the form of life force and energy vibrations manifested in the form of light inherent at the root of the universe wherefrom sprang the trinity of the mind-mass-energy pluralism, all arising out of a singular Consciousness.Energy principle In the evolutionary process, energy or élan vital developed mind-principle, which is latent in matter, evident in plantlife, prominent in animals and better manifested in man. Mind, having some limited properties of consciousness, is the missing link between matter and consciousness. Evolutionary process is nothing but step-by-step realisation through progressive remembrance of consciousness, and now we have come to the level of homo sapiens in the process, which is also not the final outcome of evolution being enveloped in darkness of ignorance and disharmony. At this stage the highest outcome of creation is homo sapiens. Although far advanced in mental faculties it is subjected to severe limitations of human bondage in the bodymind complex. However, man is capable of having highest harmony, peace and potentiality by elevating his present mental state to a higher level which Sri Aurobindo called supramental or overmind. If the mind is perpetually tuned to the supramental state it can effect comprehensive transformation of our existence on earth.Scientific method To bring about the same Sri Aurobindo has worked out a systematic scientific method of spirituality which he called integral yoga. It calls for divinisation of inward and outward existence by simultaneous identification with our divine and universal self and acting accordingly as per dictates of that higher consciousness.
Any egoistic consideration or selfish desire obstructs identification with the Divine and hence is not compatible with Divine attunement. Surrendering to the will of the Almighty like a child in the hands of the Divine Mother facilitates showering of Divine grace.Thus purification of the lower nature and absolute surrender is the basis of progress while aspiration and wholehearted acceptance are the guiding forces.Collective transformation While traditional yoga aims at transformation of the ego into Divine Self, integral yoga aims further at bringing down that divine consciousness in external reality as well and thereby a total transformation. Tradi tional yoga is intended for ascent to Selfrealisation, or transformation of ego into divine self, a purely individual awakening while the integral yoga involves subsequent task of descent of that consciousness for collective transformation.It is not based on any external rituals but intense aspiration and sublimation of self. It is a collective task for the humanity at large but pioneered by Sri Aurobindo and Mother, his divine associate.
Sri Aurobindo turned to yoga for explorations into consciousness and discovered that man is a transitional being and elevation of consciousness will have the power to transform us from man human to man divine. He also delved the great passage to evolve as the new species beyond man with divine life through Integral Yoga. (August 15 is Sri Aurobindo's birth anniversary.)
Renaissance man of India
Every nation has its own special attributes: Germany has its organizational abilities, the United States, has enterprise, Japan has adaptability and the United Kingdom has balance. The hallmark of India, in its hey-days , was the power and profundity of her mind and the purity and punctiliousness of her soul. It was this power and purity which made Indian civilization one of the most creative and constructive civilizations in the world.
In his own inimitable style, Sri Aurobindo had noted: “For 3,000 years she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly….. republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kind of monuments and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of yoga, politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trade, industries, fine crafts – the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity.”
The saints and sages of ancient India injected power and potency in the Indian mind. In turn, this power and potency added to the capacity of the sages and saints to think deeply on the phenomena around. One of the fundamental truths discovered by them was that the universe is an organic web in which every life is inextricably enmeshed with the other and that this web is permeated with cosmic force of which man and nature were constituents as well as contributors.
A philosophic structure, in the form of Vedanta, was raised and a way of attaining elevation of mind and moving towards truth, while carrying on with day to day work, was indicated through a comprehensive system of yoga.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the power of the Indian mind, which had produced profound systems and structures, began to wane after the 7th Century. Soon there was a near total desertification of the Indian mind, with small meadows of green appearing here and there occasionally. The “mighty evil” that had invaded the Indian mind and soul was, to a large extent, beaten back by a galaxy of profound thinkers and reforms who brought about a new awakening that led to the great renaissance of the later 19th century and early 20th century.
Out of the stalwarts of renaissance, Sri Aurobindo emerged as the strongest champion of the Indian spirit and expressed the highest confidence in its underlying strength. In no uncertain terms, he declared: “India cannot perish, our race cannot become extinct, because among all the divisions of mankind it is to India that is reserved the highest and most splendid destiny, the most essential to the future of the human race. It is she who must send forth from herself the future religion of the entire world, the eternal religion which is to harmonize all religion, science and philosophies and make mankind one soul”. In Sri Aurobindo’s thought, the Sanatan Dharm and India always appear as two sides of the same coin. But in his famous Uttarapara speech, delivered on May 30, 1909, he placed the former at a higher pedestal: “When, therefore, it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatan Dharm that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatan Dharm that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharm that shall expand and extend itself over the world.”
Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that Sanatan Dharm is designed to uplift the entire human race and not merely the Hindus: “What is this religion which we call Sanatan, eternal. It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it… But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. “
It needs to be underlined that in the post-Uttarpara-speech period, Sri Aurobindo committed himself mainly to the liberation of human consciousness. He made it clear “Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfillment of Sanatan Dharm its only swaraj”. A regenerated India alone, he said, could free the world from its “enslavement to materialism” and for pointing it to the “way towards a dynamic integration of spirit and matter and to make life perfect with divine perfection”. He believed that a greater evolution was the real goal of humanity.
After Sri Aurobindo’s thought had undergone a subtle shift at Uttarpara on May 30, 1909, his vision was to liberate India’s consciousness and bring back Sanatan Dharm as India’s “national religion” – a religion which is all embracing, non-sectarian and eternal. His vision was to build a nation of karmayogis who would have a higher consciousness, be rid of egos, desires and attachments, have no joy over their successes and no grief over their failures, achieve inner rather than outer renunciation, perform passionless and impersonal actions and take themselves to such a height where no distinction is kept between their will and the will of the divine.
But what is position today? Has not a deep and dark shadow fallen between Sri Aurobindo’s vision and the reality in India today? Do we find karmayogis around or see signs of liberation of India’s spirit? Has there been any advance towards spirituality or higher level of human consciousness? Clearly, the answer to all such questions is in the negative. Let all students and teachers of Sri Aurobindo’s school of thought resolve that they would not lose heart on account of current dismal scenario and would work with a renewed sense of mission to ensure that the vision of the great prophet of the 20th century is fulfilled. Undoubtedly, the task is Herculean, the goal is distant and would take a long time to traverse. But let us not forget that even the longest journey begins with the first step.
(The author is former Lt Governor of Delhi)
In Alipore jail, on the banks of the Narmada, and more
The writer is director, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research, Puducherry. Today is Aurobindo’s birth anniversary
Aurobindo had chosen to sacrifice spiritual retreats in higher realms to be able to live for and concentrate on the earth’s evolution to a higher level of consciousness. The Divine had tempted him to withdraw into Anandaloka by bestowing on him, almost unasked for, realisations of the silent mind, nirguna Brahmn, saguna Brahmn in the form of Vasudeva’s darshan in Alipore jail, by the vision of the living Kali on the banks of the Narmada and by the surprise-gift of the contact with his own Atman.
Realisations ranging from the transcendental to the individual were bestowed on him to wean him away from earth but he stuck to the earth, to humanity, wanting to bring to it peace, oneness, harmony and love. He did not want to leave the earth half-baked by religious dogmas and creeds and attractions of other worldly self-losing experiences. He wanted the earth and humanity to be fully manifesting Divinity so that human life is transfor med into divine life: “Suffice it to say that I want to invoke on earth the light of a higher world, to manifest a new power which will continue to exist as a new influence in the physical world and will be a direct manifestation of the Divine in our entire being and daily life.”
It may seem utopian to think or dream of a divine life in the midst of the pandemic and other troubles we have at present. But, Aurobindo had foreseen this trend of human consciousness way back in 1917. In his book The Human Cycle he wrote that human society would pass through five stages: symbolic, typal, conventional, individual and subjective. We at present seem to be in the phase of subject age, though at the acme of false subjectivity which is dominated by falsehood and egocentricism. Because of some awakened individuals across the globe who are pioneering search for the inner subject, the real spiritual person, the spiritual age is not an impossibility, however long it may take to realise itself.
Spirituality “will aim at establishing in society the true inner theocracy, not the false theocracy of a dominant Church or priesthood, but that of the inner Priest, Prophet and King. It will reveal to man the divinity in himself as the light, strength, beauty, good, delight and immortality that dwells within and builds up in his outer life also the kingdom of God which is first discovered within us.”
“Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of Sanatan Dharma its only swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national yoga.
“Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development,” wrote Aurobindo.