November 26, 2005

Sri Aurobindo and world reconstruction

Winston, Michael R.
Aurobindo Ghose and world reconstruction
// Journal of Religious Thought. v51 n1, Summer 1994. Page: 7. Length: 17 page(s). Publisher: Journal of Religious Thought. ISSN: 0022-4235
In Aurobindo we find, in the first place, is not a fusion of philosophical-religious types, certainly the appearance of a new kind of thinker whose methods of spiritual inquiry derived from the Indian tradition, but with a completely new frame of intellectual reference, embracing modern science and the challenge of transcending the late nineteenth century conflict between religion and materialism, tradition and modernization.
I should begin by saying that I certainly do not think that my Baptist, A.M. E., Jewish, and Muslim friends should begin at once to study integral yoga. When Martin Luther King, Jr., began to preach and write of his application of the principles of Gandhian nonviolence to the brutal racial oppression of the American South, I was among the young skeptics who thought his importation of these ideas not only far-fetched but a needless confusion of the real issues which for me at the time were defined in terms of white political power and economic domination on the one hand, and the political powerlessness and poverty of the majority of Negroes on the other. We now know that I was wrong, though all the so-called realistic and hard-headed perspectives derivable from American history appeared to support my position.
With that example in mind, I would like to speculat about the possible application of some of Aurobindo's ideas to the contemporary world. At the close of World War II, there was much discussion of the "reconstruction" of Europe and other war-devastated areas of the world. In the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, there was the hope that a new era in human history was opening, since there was virtual consensus on the waste and futility of war. Instead of rebuilding the world for the liberation of humanity from poverty, disease and war, a substantial part of the productive resources of the globe went into the contest between the Soviet Union and its allies on one side, and the United States and its allies on the other.
It is fair to ask now: what is the connection between the social crisis in the United States, the threat of global impoverishment and instability, and generally obscure Indian thinker named Sri Aurobindo? What possibly places these enormous problems in the same context as the ideas of a solitary thinker who spent most of his life in an ashram in Pondicherry? The connection, as I see it, is our need to break radically with the assumptions which govern our thinking about the nature of human society and the possibilities of human life.
We are trapped, not only in categories of analysis developed at a time of the European domination of the world but by conviction that, in meeting the challenges of the material world, only material means, only force and power will be decisive. This is the so-called realist view. It is a view based on the faulty and superficial postulates of positivism and materialism. In our thinking about society, we have been unable to stretch our thinking to imagine a future that includes a spiritual breakthrough by human beings.
What I propose is that, in this period of exponentially expanding problems and severely strained resources, we need to rethink our ideas about the fundamental purposes of human life, of the place of the spiritual quest in the future of global society. Such thinking goes beyond our conventional religious categories. Even in those faiths that are universalistic in their claims, many find it difficult to embrace the full complexity of humanity. I such an endeavor, the thinking of a man like Aurobindo can bring us to the realization that the basic unity of mankind is not an abstraction devoid of reality, but a fundamental postulate for discovering our genuine possibilities as individuals and as communities.

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