Monday, February 14, 2022

Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary: The sage who foresaw India’s spirituality, eternal vitality and creativity

My article Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary: The sage who foresaw India’s spirituality, eternal vitality and creativity appeared in Firstpost

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Sri Aurobindo was never interested in huge statues, grandiose projects or big institutions in his name; he just wanted a new better world to emerge from the present chaos

As we are celebrating the 150th Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo this year, a High Level Committee was constituted by the government to commemorate the event.
Speaking during the inaugural meeting, the Prime Minister spoke of the two aspects of Sri Aurobindo: ‘Revolution’ and ‘Evolution’.
While the first is relatively well known, the second is practically unknown, even in India.
During the course of his speech, the Prime Minister fondly recalled his discussions as Gujarat Chief Minister with Dr Kireet Joshi, an eminent disciple of Sri Aurobindo, who served as Chairman of Auroville Foundation, who point out to him that it was India’s responsibility to offer spirituality to nations across the globe.
But who really was Sri Aurobindo?
He has been described as a rishi, a poet, a scholar, a literary critic, a philosopher, a yogi and much more.
As mentioned by the Prime Minister, historically, he was first a revolutionary leader, ‘The Prophet of Indian Nationalism’ in Dr Karan Singh’s words.
Born Aurobindo Ghose in Kolkatta on August 15, 1872, he left in his childhood to study in England; eventually he prepared for the Indian Civil Service examinations at King's College in Cambridge, but unconvinced that it was his future, he refused to attempt the last horse-riding examination, renouncing a brilliant carrier as a civil servant.
After returning to India; Sri Aurobindo started working for the Maharaja of Baroda; but soon jumped into nationalist politics. During these years, his articles in Bande Mataram, Karmayogin and other revolutionary papers fired up the youth of India.
In May 1908, he was arrested on a suspicion of preparing bombs and he faced charges of treason in the Alipore Conspiracy Case.
He was acquitted on May 6, 1909 after a brilliant defence by his counsel Deshbandu Chittaranjan Das who prophetically said: “That long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India, but across distant seas and lands.”
The one year solitary confinement in Alipore Jail radically changed Sri Aurobindo’s views; he saw his task going far beyond the service and liberation of his country. He foresaw that India’s independence was decreed.
One of his spiritual experiences was the ‘visit’ of Swami Vivekananda: "It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence," he later wrote.
Let us not forget that at that time, Viceroy Lord Minto said about Sri Aurobindo, the first proponent of Purna Swaraj: “I can only repeat that he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with.”

Spiritual Revolution

The second phase of the Rishi’s spiritual journey is hardly known.
To understand, we have to turn to the Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator, who joined him 1920 and later founded the Ashram in Pondicherry: “What Sri Aurobindo represents in the world's history is not a teaching, not even a revelation; it is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.”
On April 4, 1910 Sri Aurobindo arrived in the former French Establishment; that day, the Pondicherry pier witnessed a scene which will remain etched in history: a strict orthodox Tamil Brahmin, Srinivasachari and Suresh Chakravarti, a 18-year old Bengali revolutionary shared a small boat to reach Le Dupleix, a steamer which had just arrived from Calcutta carrying the ‘most dangerous man’ on board.
Sri Aurobindo had come to Pondicherry to change human nature.
During the four following decades, his mantra would be “All life is Yoga”; everything, including matter, must be transformed and made divine.
Around 1914, he foresaw: “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny.... Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites.”
He believed that “the burden which is being laid on mankind is too great for the present littleness of the human personality and its petty mind and small life-instincts” and therefore “it cannot operate the needed change” without a change in consciousness.
August 15, 1947, the day India obtained her independence, coincided with Sri Aurobindo’s 75th birthday. It was a ‘justice of history’ for someone who had tirelessly worked for this momentous event.
The previous day, Sri Aurobindo had been requested by All India Radio to give a message to the nation. He spoke about his Five Dreams.
The first was that “India be united again”. Will the present division disappear one day? Nobody can answer this question.
The second dream was to see the “resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia”; it has already happened.
Sri Aurobindo’s third dream was of a “world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind.” Many groupings such the European Union, the ASEAN, the BRIC etc, are slowly taking shape, though divisions remain.
The fourth dream was a ‘spiritual gift of India to the world’. One only has to go to a bookshop in the West or look at the number of works on yoga, dharma, etc. to see that something of this has already been achieved.
The final dream, perhaps the most important, was a new “step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society”.
But Sri Aurobindo knew that the journey would not be easy, ‘dark forces’ would again and again try to derail the progress of humanity towards her destiny. The Nazi regime in Germany was one of these obstacles; in 1940, he had observed: “If Britain were defeated, that result would be made permanent and in Asia also all the recent development such as the rise of new or renovated Asiatic peoples would be miserably undone, and India’s hope of liberty would become a dead dream of the past or a struggling dream of a far-off future… Mankind itself as a whole would be flung back into a relapse towards barbarism, a social condition and an ethics which would admit only the brute force of the master and the docile submission of the slave.”
Very few, even in his Ashram, understood his words that the victory of the British Empire during WWII was necessary for the world to evolve towards a more human, if not enlightened condition; the freedom of India would emerge from the Allies’ victory, he foresaw (it did, two years after the end of the War). At that time (1940), Sri Aurobindo saw “a clash between two world-forces which are contending for the control of the whole future of humanity.”
Is the situation different today? The present confrontation, particularly with China, is between two opposite worlds. India, despite having an incredible number of weaknesses and deficiencies and the apparent chaos everywhere, represents an aspiration for freedom, peace and diversity on the planet. China is the opposite.
Sri Aurobindo has shown the path: “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind.” One hundred years ago, he wrote: “When we look at the past of India, what strikes us next is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least, – it is indeed much longer, – she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity.”
Today, more and more the Government would like to replace this creativity, by ‘development’; it will hopefully be only a passing phase because “She [India] creates and creates and is not satisfied and is not tired,” noted the sage.
Being devoted to this eternal vitality and creativity would be the best homage to Sri Aurobindo for his 150th Birth Anniversary; he was never interested in huge statues, grandiose projects or big institutions in his name; he just wanted a new better world to emerge from the present chaos.
But it depends on each of us.