A bridge between yesterday and tomorrow
Sri Aurobindo was unique among spiritual masters in being a perfect synthesis of the East and the West. That gave his teachings a refreshing and contemporary touch, free from any dogma and prejudice. While he was rooted in ancient Indian wisdom, his teachings have a global scope in today’s world. This article by Dr Ramesh Bijlani is part of a series that celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, which falls in 2022.
Sri Aurobindo was a spiritual master and also a lot more that does not fit into the typical image of a spiritual master. He was rooted in tradition but not restricted by it. He taught a lot but was not interested in building a cult. He wrote a lot but left it to others to call it the last word. More than guidelines to follow, he gave his followers the freedom to carve out their own paths.
Sri Aurobindo lived in times that were challenging in ways more than one. On the one hand, India had lost the vigour that had once made her the leader in matters material and scientific, as well as sacred and spiritual. On the other hand, the hypnotising spell Western civilisation had cast over India had successfully convinced Indians that their salvation lay in abandoning their past in favour of the Western ways. It needed the genius of Sri Aurobindo to see through the glamour of Western civilisation, and the potentiality and inevitability of India once again leading the world in its search for solutions to the problems of human existence. Sri Aurobindo was neither a blind worshipper of everything Indian nor a hostile critic of everything Western but a seer with a global vision that went beyond the East and the West.
What India demonstrated to the world in roughly the four thousand years from 3000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. was that when spirituality permeates every aspect of worldly life, it strengthens, enhances, ennobles, and sweetens worldly life; no dichotomy between worldly life and spiritual life. Whereas, the West revealed that worldly life founded on denial of spirituality in favour of rationality can give us spectacular advances in science and technology but cannot eliminate misery and suffering from the world, even when rationality is pressed into service for devising an ethical code like humanism. Sri Aurobindo had seen this failure a hundred years ago and knew that the failure would compel the world to once again look at the life-affirming spirituality that had made India what it was till a thousand years ago.
Life-affirming spirituality goes beyond being a good person. The difference lies in the motive behind actions rather than the actions themselves. A person living a spiritual life without renouncing the world is a good person because he follows the innate guide that resides in his own divine essence, the soul. He works because he considers it to be a privilege to be an instrument of the Divine. He feels one with others because he can see the Divine in all of them. He loves all because he cannot do otherwise. He lives with a mission that goes beyond his little self and finds in living so a sense of fulfilment that no self-centred pursuit can ever bring. The spiritual philosophy that guides such a life full of love, peace, and fulfilment is rooted in a view of life which was expounded and put into practice in India better than anywhere else in the world. That is what is making the world, finally disappointed with material progress, look up to India once again.
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