February 18, 2006

Bergson, Teilhard and Sri Aurobindo

MT: In The Theatre of the Mind, you wrote something that I had experienced in my own life, and that is the incredible similarity in the philosophies espoused by de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo. Though they were in some sense contemporary, they didn't know one another, and you make the connection between them. De Chardin was a Catholic, Sri Aurobindo was an Indian, came out of the Hindu system. How about that connection? What does it mean?
Henryk Skolimowski: Teilhard de Chardin was one of the great influences on me in recent times. I have been fascinated by his story of evolution as one of the most thrilling adventures of the human mind.To try to reconstruct and shed light on such a phenomenon as total evolution is like holding the whole universe, from its inception, in one's palm. I've tried to puzzle out how Teilhard arrived at his system. When I discovered Sri Aurobindo, who arrived at a very similar system, I couldn't believe it. There is, of course, the theory that the Zeitgeist has worked through both of them. Zeitgeist or not, I thought there must have been some influences. So when I was at Pondicherry in southern India, where Sri Aurobindo Ashram is located, I finally got to some people who knew the entire opus of Aurobindo and also were aware of Bergson. One lady had done a doctorate dissertation at the Sorbonne on Bergson and Aurobindo. I said to myself, "Right, this must be the connection." I asked her point blank, "How much did Aurobindo learn from Bergson?" She said, 'The influence is so great that I would not be able to distinguish one from the other."
We know, of course, that Teilhard was very greatly influenced by Bergson as well. So this is the connection. Bergson's influence is really tremendous, though not obvious.You see, evolution goes on. And so does our evolution about the meaning and the significance of evolution. Darwin published his Origin of the Species in 1859. It was exactly the year in which Henri Bergson was born-1859. When Bergson was a mature man, about forty or forty-five, the whole impact of Darwin was already absorbed. So Bergson could really accept the idea but also look at it in a different way. This is what he did. He came up with the idea of creative evolution. He conceived of evolution not merely as a process of chance and necessity - as Monod and other Darwinists and neo-Darwinists tried to make us believe - but as something much more subtle, much more miraculous. In his work Creative Evolution, he put this point across, and it is from those views that both Aurobindo and Teilhard learned. Now, when we move into the second part of the twentieth century, the impact of Bergson is already more accepted.
One of the evolutionary biologists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, said: As it was important in the nineteenth century to see the connection between the human species and other species-that we are brothers of chimpanzee and other apes and other animals-w it is equally important In the twentieth century to see what distinguishes us from lower forms of life. What I see as happening is that we are articulating the idea of evolution. And it is such an awesome, complex, and beautiful idea that we are far from fully understanding it. My whole book, The Theatre of the Mind, is a series of articulations of the idea of evolution. In a sense, it is a celebration of evolution through the dancing mind, through the theatre of the mind.
Aster Patel was brought up at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. She studied in the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education there until Higher Courses in Philosophy and Integral Psychology. She's been teaching there since decades. Aster also studied at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and presented a doctoral thesis in Comparative Philosophy - on a study of the work of Sri Aurobindo and Henri Bergson. Since the early 1970s, she's been living the Auroville experience!

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