By Bindu Mohanty January 2004 Sri Aurobindo could be called the most radical spiritual master ever, who challenged not only perceptions and theories but also our very idea of reality. His integral vision of life and spirituality, his theory of evolution of not only consciousness but matter as well, place him at the head of cutting edge thinkers of all time. Here, we present an overview of his work and philosophy, and just why it’s so important to study him The Mother was Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator. The task of giving a concrete form to Sri Aurobindo’s vision of a new humanity was entrusted to herWhile the evolution from mind to supermind is inevitable, human beings can participate in the process consciously and hasten the birth of a new raceSri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga aims at a harmonised totality of spiritual realisation and experience Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), regarded as one of India’s greatest philosopher-sages, formulated a scientific and spiritual vision of evolution that envisages a complete transformation of the world and the birth of a new spiritualised race. The scope and uniqueness of Sri Aurobindo’s work is mirrored in his unusual life experience. Genesis of geniusBorn Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose in Kolkata, he was sent to England to study at age seven. According to his father’s wishes, he received an entirely Occidental education without any contact with Indian languages or culture. A brilliant scholar of Greek and Latin, Sri Aurobindo was also well-versed in French, German and Italian. By the time he graduated from Cambridge, he was steeped in European culture. Returning to India at 21, he learnt Sanskrit and modern Indian languages, thereby assimilating the spirit of Indian culture and civilisation. Sri Aurobindo thus represents a remarkable synthesis of Indian and Western traditions. His return to India also marked a phase of intense involvement with the nationalist movement. What began with writing articles about issues of national concern led to Sri Aurobindo’s assuming, along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and others, leadership of the ‘extremist’ faction of the Congress that wanted radical action for the country’s freedom. In 1906, the daily Bande Mataram was started and Sri Aurobindo became its chief editor. Overnight, the paper became a mighty force in Indian politics. Sri Aurobindo was prosecuted for sedition in July 1907, but the charges could not be proved. Meanwhile, differences of policy were building up between the moderates and the nationalists. At a historic session of the Indian National Congress in Surat, the party split and the nationalists led by Sri Aurobindo and Tilak held a separate meeting. The atmosphere in Bengal had tensed. The British Government let loose repressive measures to crush resistance. In this charged atmosphere, two youths threw a bomb at a magistrate’s horse carriage. Immediately the police raided Manicktolla Gardens, a family property of Sri Aurobindo, where revolutionaries were undergoing training. Sri Aurobindo was arrested and kept in solitary confinement. The year he spent in prison marked an important turning point. It was a period of intense sadhana, when he had the experience of Krishna as the Immanent Divine. Thereafter Aurobindo Ghose, the fiery revolutionary, became Sri Aurobindo, the yogi, philosopher and master. Modern-day yogiSri Aurobindo’s vision, detailed in over 30 volumes, traces the human race’s evolution through anthropology, sociology, politics, psychology, culture, and religion. Most of his major works, namely The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, The Secret of the Veda, The Ideal of Human Unity, and The Human Cycle, were written simultaneously in the period 1914-1920 and serialised in a monthly philosophical review, The Arya. The genius of Sri Aurobindo lies in the fact that he successfully reworks esoteric Indian spiritual thought in terms accessible to the modern thinker. In the foreword to Greater Psychology, noted transpersonal thinker Ken Wilber writes: “(Sri) Aurobindo’s genius was not merely that he captured the profundity of India’s extraordinary spiritual heritage. He was the first great philosopher-sage to deeply grasp the nature and meaning of the modern idea of evolution. And thus, in (Sri) Aurobindo, we have the first grand statement of an evolutionary spirituality that is an integration of the best of ancient wisdom and the brightest of modern knowledge…. His enlightenment informed his philosophy; his philosophy gave substance to his enlightenment; and that combination has been rarely equalled, in this or any time.” One can draw parallels between Sri Aurobindo and other modern philosophers who believed in evolution, such as Hegel, Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin and Jean Gebser. Sri Aurobindo has also influenced the growing disciplines of developmental and transpersonal psychology. What differentiates Sri Aurobindo from these thinkers, however, is that he did not see himself as a philosopher but maintained that his writing had a direct correlation to his spiritual experience, and he always sought a practical application of his knowledge. As Satprem, a disciple, writes: “Sri Aurobindo said that the only utility of books and philosophies was not truly to enlighten the mind but to bring it to silence so that, calmed, it could pass to the experience and receive the direct inspiration.” After 1920, and apart from his magnum opus Savitri, Sri Aurobindo’s writing mainly finds expression in thousands of letters to disciples, guiding them in their practice of Integral Yoga, the new spiritual discipline advocated by him and the Mother. The MotherWhile many contemporary scholars overlook the contribution of the Mother in the development of Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo himself acknowledged her as his spiritual equal and collaborator. She was the moving force behind the Sri Aurobindo Ashram founded in Pondicherry in 1926. In 1969, she described her role thus: “The task of giving a concrete form to Sri Aurobindo’s vision was entrusted to the Mother. The creation of a new world, a new humanity, a new society expressing and embodying the new consciousness is the work she has undertaken…. The Ashram founded and built by the Mother was the first step towards the accomplishment of this goal. The project of Auroville is the next step, more exterior, which seeks to widen the base of this attempt to establish harmony between soul and body, spirit and nature, heaven and earth, in the collective life of mankind.” It needs to be emphasised here that the ‘new world’ Sri Aurobindo and the Mother envisioned is not based on the creation of a new religion or sect. They worked to transform the world and effect the next stage in human evolution by bringing down to earth the power of a higher consciousness that they termed the ‘supermind’. Their spiritual vision thus encompasses all of humanity, and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville are regarded merely as experiments in collective living that can perhaps help humankind in its evolutionary march. Metaphysical vision Sri Aurobindo’s teaching starts with the ancient Vedantic premise of Brahman or the One Self as the ultimate creator—omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—who is all that is created and is yet beyond creation. This One Self expresses itself through myriad forms, and through evolution these forms seek to recover their unity in the One Self. As Sri Aurobindo says: “All evolution is the progressive self-revelation of the One to himself.” The Brahman is described in Vedanta as Sachchidananda, having the triune attributes of sat (absolute existence), chit-tapas (absolute consciousness and force), and ananda (absolute bliss). Both eastern and western philosophers recognise that creation essentially consists of an exterior form animated by an inner consciousness. Indian philosophy holds that it is sat which determines the exterior form, while chit-tapas determines the consciousness within the form. Everything exhibits sat and chit-tapas as form and consciousness-force. According to ancient Indian scriptures and reaffirmed by Sri Aurobindo, creation is seen as divine lila or play, the raison d’etre of which is ananda: “From ananda,” quotes Sri Aurobindo from the Upanishads in The Life Divine, “all existences are born, by ananda they remain in being and increase, to ananda they depart.” Sri Aurobindo posits that for evolution, there must have been an involution of the Self in matter: “Evolution of Life in matter supposes a previous involution of it there, unless we suppose it to be a new creation magically and unaccountably introduced into Nature.” In Sri Aurobindo on Himself, he describes this process: “This One Being and Consciousness (Sachchidananda) is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be inconscient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards a greater and greater perfection. “Life is the first step of this release of consciousness; mind is the second; but the evolution does not finish with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to manifest perfection.” In short, Matter, Life (also called the ‘Vital’ by Sri Aurobindo), and Mind form the basis of earthly existence. This is verified by science and accepted
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