By TA Balasubramaniam
Sri Aurobindo, His Life and Yoga, Promode Kumar Sen (translated from Bengali by Prasenjit Sen), Indus Source Books, Paperback, INR 299; 244 pages
Aurobindo was a revolutionary thinker, a poet, a scholar, and a yogi. His life story is well known, particularly his political involvement in the Indian nationalist movement for independence from British rule, and his subsequent transformation into a spiritual teacher and reformer when he moved to Pondicherry, which was then a French colony.
Promode Kumar Sen wrote the original Bengali version of this book, Sri Aurobindo: Jeebon O Jog. This is a translated version in English, written by his son, Prasenjit Sen.
The book, divided into 22 chapters, is a part biography and part chronicle of the historic events and influences that shaped the political and spiritual life of Aurobindo. We are initially taken through Aurobindo’s early childhood and his education in England, his return to India and engagement with the nationalist movement.
The turning point came when Aurobindo was imprisoned in Alipore jail by the British in 1908 for alleged involvement in a bombing incident. During this period Aurobindo underwent a spiritual transformation. In Aurobindo’s own words: “In the trees, the houses, the walls, in men, animals, birds, metals, the earth, with the help of the mantra – all indeed is Brahman – I would try to fix or impose that realization in all of these. As I continued doing this, the prison sometimes ceased to appear as a prison at all. The high wall, those iron bars, the white wall, the green-leaved tree shining in the sunlight, it seemed as if these commonplace objects were not unconscious at all. They were vibrating with a universal consciousness.”
Following the year in jail, Aurobindo traveled to Pondicherry and began an austere life, and a life-long association with a spiritual collaborator, Mirra Richard, who came to be known as The Mother. Aurobindo evolved a spiritual practice that he called Integral Yoga. The basic premise of his vision was that all human life is in a process of evolution into a state of divinity and grace. He envisioned a form of spiritual realization that every human being could experience on earth even in the physical form.
For anyone who is interested in the life and transformation of Aurobindo, this is a fascinating book that adds many intimate details about his insights and experiences. It also provides a trove of information about the roots of Integral Yoga and how it is expected to transform human evolution.
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