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Parnika Featured: Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo



Novem­ber 24th is the Sid­dhi Day of Sri Aurobindo. He expe­ri­enced the descent of Krish­na into his body. He explains, “The descent of Krish­na would mean the descent of the Over­mind God­head prepar­ing, though not itself actu­al­ly bring­ing, the descent of Super­mind and Anan­da.”

Sri Aurobindo was born as Aurobindo Ghose in Cal­cut­ta on August 15, 1872 to Krish­na Dhun Ghose, as a Sur­geon and Swar­nalot­ta Devi. He was one of six sib­lings, with three broth­ers and a sis­ter. His father, a strong per­son­al­i­ty, went for med­ical stud­ies in Eng­land and returned as a com­plete­ly Angli­cised man and a “tremen­dous athe­ist”. As a result, Aurobindo grew up speak­ing entire­ly in Eng­lish, with enough Hin­di to speak to the ser­vants. He learnt his moth­er tongue only after he returned to India.

The England Years

Dr.Ghose strong­ly felt that his chil­dren should receive a Euro­pean upbring­ing. So Sri Aurobindo and his broth­ers were sent to Eng­land receive “an entire­ly Euro­pean Upbring­ing”. They lived with Mr Drewett, a cler­gy­man and his wife with instruc­tions that they should not have any Indi­an Influ­ence. Aurobindo grew up learn­ing Greek, Latin, French, Ger­man, Ital­ian and Span­ish along with the Clas­sics, Lit­er­a­ture, Euro­pean His­to­ry and Geog­ra­phy. His head­mas­ter remem­bered him as “by far the most rich­ly endowed with intel­lec­tu­al capac­i­ty”. After his school­ing, he received a Senior Clas­si­cal Fel­low­ship to study at Kings Col­lege, Cam­bridge where he dis­tin­guished him­self by win­ning every prize in Greek and Latin poet­ry com­pe­ti­tions and pass­ing First Class in his Tri­pos exam­i­na­tion. The years in Eng­land were an impor­tant phase in his for­ma­tive life. It was a time of great hard­ship, as there was bare­ly enough mon­ey to eat two meals a day. Aurobindo became a schol­ar of west­ern lit­er­a­ture, west­ern his­to­ry and sev­en Euro­pean lan­guages absorb­ing the best of what the west had to offer. This was also the time when he first came to under­stand the suf­fer­ings of Indi­ans under the British Rule. He had a strong sense that there were rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes hap­pen­ing in the world and that he had a part to play in the lib­er­a­tion of India. To com­ply with his father’s wish­es, he took up the Indi­an Civ­il Ser­vices Exam­i­na­tion, which he cleared with record scores, but was deter­mined not to be a part of the colo­nial admin­is­tra­tion. There­fore he found a con­ve­nient way to dis­qual­i­fy him­self by not appear­ing for the horse-rid­ing test.

Return to India

For­tu­nate­ly, he had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet the Mahara­ja of Bar­o­da who was delight­ed to take him in his admin­is­tra­tion. He spent 13 years here in Bar­o­da in var­i­ous capac­i­ties, ini­tial­ly in the Rev­enue depart­ment, lat­er as a Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and final­ly, Vice-Prin­ci­pal of Bar­o­da Col­lege. These were years of great study and learn­ing where he made up for the lack of Indi­an upbring­ing by study­ing San­skrit, Hin­di, Marathi, Gujarati and Ben­gali and read­ing Indi­an works includ­ing the Mahab­hara­ta, the Upan­ishads and Kali­dasa. He mar­ried Mri­nali­ni Devi in 1901.It was dur­ing this time that Sri Aurobindo became involved in the Indi­an Inde­pen­dence move­ment. He wrote fiery arti­cles which were pub­lished anony­mous­ly. He made con­tact with var­i­ous free­dom fight­ers includ­ing Loka­manya Tilak and Sis­ter Nivedi­ta and tried to cre­ate a mass awak­en­ing for the Swadeshi Move­ment. This was the time when the Divine began reveal­ing itself to him and he got intro­duced to the pur­suit of yoga. He speaks of it thus: “When I approached God at that time, I hard­ly had a liv­ing faith in Him… I did it in this spir­it and with this prayer to Him, “If Thou art, then Thou know­est my heart. Thou know­est that I do not ask for Muk­ti, I do not ask for any­thing which oth­ers ask for. I ask only for strength to uplift this nation, I ask only to be allowed to live and work for this peo­ple whom I love and to whom I pray that I may devote my life.” This did not go unno­ticed. B. A Clark, the prin­ci­pal of Bar­o­da Col­lege said of him:” Did you notice his eyes? There is a mys­tic fire and light in them. They pen­e­trate into the beyond. If Joan of Arc heard heav­en­ly voic­es, Aurobindo prob­a­bly sees heav­en­ly visions.”

Bengal Days

The Par­ti­tion of Ben­gal out­raged the free­dom fight­ers and it led to a mass awak­en­ing in Ben­gal. Sri Aurobindo left to Ben­gal in 1906 to par­tic­i­pate in the move­ment. He lat­er joined the Ben­gal Nation­al Col­lege as its prin­ci­pal at one-fifth of his orig­i­nal salary. This was when he began writ­ing his fiery arti­cles in his jour­nals Yugan­tar and Bande Mataram which became the voice of the free­dom strug­gle. As Bipin Chan­dra pal described, Bande Mataram “was a force in the coun­try which none dared to ignore, how­ev­er much they might fear or hate it, and Aravin­da was the lead­ing spir­it, the cen­tral fig­ure, in the new jour­nal!” There were sedi­tion cas­es filed on him but they failed. Aurobindo became a major leader of the Nation­al­ist fac­tion of the Indi­an Nation­al Con­gress, bold­ly declar­ing a pro­gram of Pur­na Swaraj (Com­plete Inde­pen­dence). Sub­has Chan­dra Bose remem­bered him as a per­son­al inspi­ra­tion and the tallest leader of the free­dom strug­gle dur­ing that time.

The Three Madnesses in His Life

In par­al­lel, his pur­suit of yoga con­tin­ued and deep­ened. In a let­ter to his wife, he writes of Three Mad­ness­es in His Life. “First­ly, it is my firm faith that all the virtue, tal­ent, the high­er edu­ca­tion and knowl­edge and the wealth God has giv­en me, belong to Him. I have the right to spend only so much as is nec­es­sary for the main­te­nance of the fam­i­ly and on what is absolute­ly need­ed. The sec­ond mad­ness has recent­ly tak­en hold of me; it is this: by any means, I must have the direct expe­ri­ence of God… If the Divine is there, then there must be a way of expe­ri­enc­ing His exis­tence, of meet­ing Him; how­ev­er hard be the path, I have tak­en a firm res­o­lu­tion to tread it. Hin­du Dhar­ma asserts that the path is there with­in one’s own body, in one’s mind. It has also giv­en the meth­ods to be fol­lowed to tread that path. I have begun to observe them… The third mad­ness is this: where­as oth­ers regard the coun­try as an inert piece of mat­ter and know it as the plains, the fields, the forests, the moun­tains and the rivers, I know my coun­try as the Moth­er, I wor­ship her and adore her accord­ing­ly. What would a son do when a demon, sit­ting on his moth­er’s breast, pre­pares to drink her blood? Would he sit down con­tent to take his meals or go on enjoy­ing him­self in the com­pa­ny of his wife and chil­dren, or would he rather run to the res­cue of his moth­er? I know I have the strength to uplift this fall­en race; not a phys­i­cal strength, I am not going to fight with a sword or a gun, but with the pow­er of knowl­edge. ..This is not a new feel­ing in me, not of recent ori­gin, I was born with it, it is in my very mar­row. God sent me to the earth to accom­plish this great mis­sion.” Dur­ing this time Aurobindo met the great yogi Vish­nu Bhaskar Lele, who instruct­ed him on silenc­ing his mind. With­in three days, he achieved a com­plete­ly still mind which deep­ened into an expe­ri­ence of the Silent Brah­man Con­scious­ness. After this hap­pened, Aurobindo had to address a pub­lic gath­er­ing. Lele told him to bow down to the audi­ence as Narayana and things would hap­pen of their own accord. Aurobindo did as he was told and found that a Divine force spoke through him. From that moment on, every­thing that he spoke or wrote came from the Silent Brah­man Con­scious­ness. Lele told Aurobindo to lis­ten to his inner voice to guide him in his sad­hana say­ing that no fur­ther instruc­tions were need­ed from any­one. Sri Aurobindo said that this “became the whole foun­da­tion and prin­ci­ple of Sri Aurobindo’s Sad­hana”. Impris­on­ment and Find­ing Sri Krish­na In 1908, he was arrest­ed as a sus­pect in the Ali­pore Bomb Case. He was impris­oned for a year and released due to lack of evi­dence. This was a peri­od of intense tapasya, sad­hana and inner trans­for­ma­tion. He spoke of his impris­on­ment in his famous Uttarpara Speech. “He(Sri Krish­na) spoke to me again and said, ‘The bonds you had not the strength to break, I have bro­ken for you, because it is not my will nor was it ever my inten­tion that that should con­tin­ue ( the free­dom strug­gle). I have had anoth­er thing for you to do and it is for that I have brought you here, to teach you what you could not learn for your­self and to train you for my work.’” “His strength entered into me and I was able to do the sad­hana of the Gita. I was not only to under­stand intel­lec­tu­al­ly but to realise what Sri Krish­na demand­ed of Arju­na and what He demands of those who aspire to do His work” This was also the time where he expe­ri­enced the pres­ence of Sri Krish­na: “I looked 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, I knew it was Vasude­va, it was Sri Krish­na whom I saw stand­ing there and hold­ing over me his shade…. I looked at the pris­on­ers in the jail, the thieves, the mur­der­ers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasude­va, it was Narayana whom I found in these dark­ened souls and mis­used bod­ies” Dur­ing this time has giv­en a new vision of this nation, which he describes thus: “She does not rise as oth­er coun­tries do, for self or when she is strong, to tram­ple on the weak. She is ris­ing to shed the eter­nal light entrust­ed to her over the world. India has always exist­ed for human­i­ty and not for her­self and it is for human­i­ty and not for her­self that she must be great.” He also realised that India’s rise is the will of the Divine: “The voice with­in (said) ‘Remem­ber that it is I who am doing this, not you nor any oth­er. There­fore what­ev­er clouds may come, what­ev­er dan­gers and suf­fer­ings, what­ev­er dif­fi­cul­ties, what­ev­er impos­si­bil­i­ties, there is noth­ing impos­si­ble, noth­ing dif­fi­cult. I am in the nation and its upris­ing and I am Vasude­va, I am Narayana, and what I will, shall be, not what oth­ers will. What I choose to bring about, no human pow­er can stay.”

Passage to Pondicherry

Sri Aurobindo came out of prison to find the free­dom moment bro­ken and its lead­ers impris­oned or scat­tered. For a year, he tried vig­or­ous­ly to reju­ve­nate the entire move­ment, but soon realised the time was not yet ripe for Inde­pen­dence. Dur­ing this time, he realised the mag­ni­tude of the spir­i­tu­al work entrust­ed to him would take up the con­cen­tra­tion of all his ener­gies. He received the com­mand of Lord Krish­na to move to Chan­der­anagore and then on to Pondicher­ry. When he reached Pondicher­ry, sev­er­al rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies were wait­ing to receive him eager­ly. One of them was Sub­ra­manya Bharathi, the famous Tamil poet and free­dom fight­er. There was a prophe­cy that an Uttara Yogi from the north would come there to prac­tice the Poor­na Yoga( Inte­gral Yoga). What fol­lowed was four years of silent, intense yoga. These were tough times where Sri Aurobindo and his few fol­low­ers dur­ing this time depend­ed entire­ly on dona­tions to sus­tain them. As he put it “Pondicher­ry is my place of retreat, my cave of tapasya, not of the ascetic kind, but of a brand of my own inven­tion”

Meeting the Mother

In 1914, a young French cou­ple, Mir­ra Richard and Paul Richard met Sri Aurobindo. Mir­ra, was a per­son who has high­ly advanced spir­i­tu­al­ly and an expert in the occult sci­ences. She had ear­li­er had been guid­ed in her sad­hana by visions of a being she called “Krish­na”. When she met Sri Aurobindo she instant­ly recog­nised him. She wrote, “It mat­ters not if there are hun­dreds of beings plunged in the dens­est igno­rance. He …is on earth: His pres­ence is enough to prove that a day will come when dark­ness shall be trans­formed into light, when Thy reign shall be indeed estab­lished upon earth.” Lat­er named by Sri Aurobindo as The Moth­er, she became his spir­i­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tor in devel­op­ing the Inte­gral Yoga.

On Intellectual Freedom

“How shall we recov­er our lost intel­lec­tu­al free­dom and elas­tic­i­ty? By revers­ing, for a time at least, the process by which we lost it, by lib­er­at­ing our minds in all sub­jects from the thral­dom to author­i­ty. That is not what reform­ers and the angli­cised require of us. They ask us, indeed, to aban­don author­i­ty, to revolt against cus­tom and super­sti­tion, to have free and enlight­ened minds. But they mean by these sound­ing rec­om­men­da­tions that we should renounce the author­i­ty of Sayana for the author­i­ty of Max Muller, the Monism of Shankara for the Monism of Haeck­el, the writ­ten Shas­tra for the unwrit­ten law of Euro­pean social opin­ion, the dog­ma­tism of Brah­min Pan­dits for the dog­ma­tism of Euro­pean sci­en­tists, thinkers and schol­ars. Such a fool­ish exchange of servi­tude can receive the assent of no self-respect­ing mind. Let us break our chains, ven­er­a­ble as they are, but let it be in order to be free — in the name of truth, not in the name of Europe. It would be a poor bar­gain to exchange our old Indi­an illu­mi­na­tions, how­ev­er dark they may have grown to us, for a deriv­a­tive Euro­pean enlight­en­ment or replace the super­sti­tions of pop­u­lar Hin­duism by the super­sti­tions of mate­ri­al­is­tic Sci­ence.”

On the Intellect

“But it is not only through the intel­lect that man ris­es. If the clar­i­fied intel­lect is not sup­port­ed by puri­fied emo­tions, the intel­lect tends to be dom­i­nat­ed once more by the body and to put itself at its ser­vice and the lord­ship of the body over the whole man becomes more dan­ger­ous than in the nat­ur­al state because the inno­cence of the nat­ur­al state is lost. The pow­er of knowl­edge is placed at the dis­pos­al of the sens­es, satt­va serves tamas, the god in us becomes the slave of the brute. The dis­ser­vice which sci­en­tif­ic Mate­ri­al­ism is unin­ten­tion­al­ly doing the world is to encour­age a return to this con­di­tion; the sud­den­ly awak­ened mass­es of men, unac­cus­tomed to deal intel­lec­tu­al­ly with ideas, able to grasp the broad attrac­tive inno­va­tions of free thought but unable to appre­ci­ate its del­i­cate reser­va­tions, verge towards that reel­ing back into the beast, that relapse into bar­barism which was the con­di­tion of the Roman Empire at a high stage of mate­r­i­al civil­i­sa­tion and intel­lec­tu­al cul­ture… The devel­op­ment of the emo­tions is there­fore the first con­di­tion of a sound human evo­lu­tion. Unless the feel­ings tend away from the body and the love of oth­ers takes increas­ing­ly the place of the brute love of self, there can be no progress upward.”

His Approach to the Veda

One of the sem­i­nal works of Sri Aurobindo was the deep and intense study of Rig Veda from his state of Rishi­hood reveal the true import of the Veda. He writes of his approach thus. “The ortho­dox are indig­nant that a mere mod­ern should pre­sume to dif­fer from Shankara in inter­pret­ing the Vedan­ta or from Sayana in inter­pret­ing the Veda. They for­get that Shankara and Sayana are them­selves mod­erns, sep­a­rat­ed from our­selves by some hun­dreds of years only, but the Vedas are many thou­sands of years old. The com­men­ta­tor ought to be stud­ied, but instead we put him in place of the text. Good com­men­taries are always help­ful even when they are wrong, but the best can­not be allowed to fet­ter inquiry. Sayana’s com­men­tary on the Veda helps me by show­ing what a man of great eru­di­tion some hun­dreds of years ago thought to be the sense of the Scrip­ture. .Shankara’s com­men­tary on the Upan­ishads helps me by show­ing what a man of immense meta­phys­i­cal genius and rare log­i­cal force after arriv­ing at some fun­da­men­tal real­i­sa­tions thought to be the sense of the Vedanta..I am bound to admit what he realised; I am not bound to exclude what he failed to realise. Aptavakyam, author­i­ty, is one kind of proof; it is not the only kind: pratyak­sha is more impor­tant.” The het­ero­dox on the oth­er hand swear by Max Muller and the Euro­peans. It is enough for them that Max Muller should have found henothe­ism in the Vedas for the Vedas to be henothe­is­tic. The Euro­peans have seen in our Veda only the rude chants of an antique and prim­i­tive pas­toral race sung in hon­our of the forces of Nature, and for many their opin­ion is con­clu­sive of the sig­nif­i­cance of the mantras. All oth­er inter­pre­ta­tion is to them super­sti­tious. But to me the inge­nious guess­es of for­eign gram­mar­i­ans are of no more author­i­ty than the inge­nious guess­es of Sayana. It is irrel­e­vant to me what Max Muller thinks of the Veda or what Sayana thinks of the Veda. I should pre­fer to know what the Veda has to say for itself and, if there is any light there on the unknown or on the infi­nite, to fol­low the ray till I come face to face with that which it illu­mines.”

Renaissance in India

In his writ­ings, a pow­er­ful theme is India, her great­ness, her des­tiny and role in the world. He says the mis­sion of reju­ve­nat­ing this ancient nation has three stages: “The recov­ery of the old spir­i­tu­al knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence in all its splen­dour, depth, full­ness is its first, most essen­tial work; the flow­ing of this spir­i­tu­al­i­ty into new forms of phi­los­o­phy, lit­er­a­ture, art, sci­ence and crit­i­cal knowl­edge is the sec­ond; an orig­i­nal deal­ing with mod­ern prob­lems in the light of Indi­an spir­it and the endeav­our to for­mu­late a greater syn­the­sis of a spir­i­tu­alised soci­ety is the third and most dif­fi­cult. Its suc­cess on these three lines will be the mea­sure of its helps to the future of human­i­ty”.

The Savitri : Supreme Revelation of His Vision

The Sav­it­ri was Sri Aurobindo’s Mag­num Opus, the Mantra Kavya (Mantric Epic) of this great Rishi. This work of twelve books and 28,000 lines was done over four decades and writ­ten straight from the high­est states of con­scious­ness. The moth­er speaks of Sav­it­ri thus: “It may then be said that Sav­it­ri a rev­e­la­tion, it is a med­i­ta­tion, it is a quest of the Infi­nite, the Eter­nal. If it is read with this aspi­ra­tion for Immor­tal­i­ty, the read­ing itself will serve as a guide to Immor­tal­i­ty. To read Sav­it­ri is indeed to realise the Divine. Each step of Yoga is not­ed here, includ­ing the secret of all oth­er Yogas. Sure­ly, if one sin­cere­ly fol­lows what is always what is revealed here in each verse one will reach final­ly the trans­for­ma­tion of supra­men­tal Yoga. It is tru­ly the infal­li­ble guide who nev­er aban­dons you; his sup­port is always there for him who wants to fol­low the path. Each verse of Sav­it­ri is like a Mantra which sur­pass­es all that man pos­sessed by way of knowl­edge, and I repeat this, the words are expressed and arranged in such a way that the sonor­i­ty of the rhythm leads you to the ori­gin of sound, which is OM. My child, yes, every­thing is there: mys­ti­cism, occultism, phi­los­o­phy, the his­to­ry of evo­lu­tion, the his­to­ry of man, of the Gods, of cre­ation, of Nature. How the uni­verse was cre­at­ed, why, for what pur­pose, what des­tiny – all is there. You can find all the answers to all your ques­tions there­in. Every­thing is explained, even the future of man and of evo­lu­tion, all that nobody yet knows. He has described it all in beau­ti­ful and clear words so that spir­i­tu­al “adven­tures” who wish to solve the mys­ter­ies of the world may under­stand it more eas­i­ly. It is the spir­i­tu­al path, it is Yoga, tapasya, sad­hana, every­thing, in its sin­gle body. Sav­it­ri has an extra­or­di­nary pow­er, it gives out vibra­tions for him who can receive them, the true vibra­tions of each stage of con­scious­ness. It is incom­pa­ra­ble, it is truth in its plen­i­tude, the truth Sri Aurobindo brought down on the earth”

Siddhi Day

Sri Aurobindo and the Moth­er strived to make high­er lev­els of con­scious­ness descend on the earth. This would in turn be a step for­ward in rais­ing human con­scious­ness. On Novem­ber 24, 1926, the Over­mind, the sec­ond-high­est plane of con­scious­ness descend­ed to the earth. As Sri Aurobindo described it as the descent of Sri Krish­na into the phys­i­cal. After this momen­tous event, Sri Aurobindo retired into soli­tude to work on the next stage of yoga. He left the dis­ci­ples under the guid­ance of the Moth­er. Sri Aurobindo Ashram was found­ed on the same day. He would reg­u­lar­ly cor­re­spond with dis­ci­ples through let­ters and gave dar­shan thrice a year. On his birth­day 15th August, 1947, when India gained inde­pen­dence Sri Aurobindo spoke of his five dreams for the nation. Sri Aurobindo left his body on 5th Decem­ber, 1950. For many days his body remained intact and thou­sands came to pay their respects.Later, it was placed in a Samad­hi in the ashram. His work was car­ried on by The Moth­er. In con­clu­sion it’s impor­tant to look at what He said about him­self and his work: “I had no urge toward spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in me, I devel­oped spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. I was inca­pable of under­stand­ing meta­physics, I devel­oped into a philoso­pher. I had no eye for paint­ing — I devel­oped it by Yoga. I trans­formed my nature from what it was to what it was not. I did it by a spe­cial man­ner, not by a mir­a­cle and I did it to show what could be done and how it could be done. I did not do it out of any per­son­al neces­si­ty of my own or by a mir­a­cle with­out any process. I say that if it is not so, then my Yoga is use­less and my life was a mis­take — a mere absurd freak of Nature with­out mean­ing or con­se­quence. You all seem to think it a great com­pli­ment to me to say that what I have done has no mean­ing for any­body except myself — it is the most dam­ag­ing crit­i­cism on my work that could be made. I also did not do it by myself, if you mean by myself the Aurobindo that was. He did it by the help of Krish­na and the Divine Shak­ti. I had help from human sources also.” As Swa­mi Sivanan­da said, “Sri Aurobindo ful­filled the glo­ri­ous pur­pose of demon­strat­ing to the world that real India, the India of the Vedic seers, could sur­vive and absorb into her­self all alien cul­tures, and that at the hands of one who knew the prop­er syn­the­sis, East­ern and West­ern cul­tures could find their hap­py blend, with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly hav­ing to antag­o­nize one anoth­er. Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine—the divine life that he lived and preached—will live for ever, inspir­ing mankind. Pos­ter­i­ty will hail him as a mem­ber of the galaxy of Vedic seers. May his Light ever shine.” Sri Aurobindo reminds us that a life of liv­ing and aspir­ing for the high­est, a life of seek­ing, a life of serv­ing and offer­ing, a life of tyaa­ga, a life guid­ed by the divine light , a ver­i­ta­ble Light Divine is pos­si­ble even today for us. Let us remem­ber this great Rishi by keep­ing his life as a bea­con of inspi­ra­tion, guid­ing us toward the Divine Light.

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