Parnika Featured: Sri Aurobindo
A VEDIC RISHI AND SATYADRASHTA
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.”
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”
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.