January 17, 2006

Question the 'commonsense' view of the world

Life Divine by Aurobindo Home Look at yourself and the world from a different angle, October 10, 2005 Reviewer: Yajnavalkya "Tim" (Hetfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This is a difficult book to read. Let us be under no illusions about that. It is verbose, repetitive and massive in its scope: tackling virtually the entire gamut of issues that philosophy traditionally deals with. But by the time you have finished reading the book (it took me three months to finish) it would have transformed the way you live your life.
You may not agree with Aurobindo, and in fact, he probably does not want you to blindly agree with him, he would much rather that you think things out for yourself; but one thing that he certainly does is to question the 'commonsense' view of the world: the view of the world that we build up using bits of unexamined,untested, received, 'truths'. Take just one such 'truth': We believe--or at least we have done so ever since Descartes--that Matter and Consciousness are two separate things.
Aurobindo puts forward the suggestion that the two are actually one and the same entity, only they are in different states being: somewhat like Ice and Steam being different states of water. If we concede that matter may be a form of consciousness, only in an inert state, all sorts of consequences would follow: especially with regard to our attitudes towards the environment.
As I had said earlier, the scope of the book is massive. Its three parts can be roughly divided into Ontology (where he discusses the Nature of the Cosmos), Epistemology (where he discusses the nature of Knowledge (&Ignorance), and the problem of Evil--which he attributes to Ignorance: a consequence of Ahamkara or ego-centricism) and finally, in the last part, he provides a broad, general direction for living our lives in accordance with our revised view of the world (Ethics). However, the book is not tightly structured (If you are looking for a book like Wittgenstein's Tractatus you will find yourself truly frustrated) it is loose, repetitive, and disjointed. Possibly because it was originally written as a series of essays and published monthly in a magazine called the Arya (between 1914 to 1919). He must have had to repeat himself because his original audience would have forgotten a point that he would have made five years ago.
But the cumulative effect of the repetitions is that his ideas have a tendency to gradually seep in and sink into your mind, rather than strike you as a sort of brilliant epiphany. Aurobindo's philosphy is ultimately rooted in ancient Hindu Vedic thought. In the course of the book, Aurobindo tackles Marx, Darwin, Nietzche, Freud, Hegel, Feurbach, (plus a whole range of European philosophers) and his idea is to adapt their philosophy to the 'Truth' as expressed by the Seers of the ancient Vedas. Does he succeed in doing so? I don't know. That is for professional philosophers to decide.
For me, the book has been a revelation, the scales have dropped from my eyes: I see things differently now. Hopefully, I will continue to do so for a while before the snares of living in a modern city finally engulf me once again. Haven't they said that we can't stand to face the truth for too long?

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