February 01, 2006

Sri Aurobindo and Pitirim A Sorokin

by Meenakshi Bauri Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September, 18, 2002
Related to science and spirituality is the following passage from the writings of Sri Aurobindo: In the words of Sri Aurobindo, "Man has first to affirm himself, but also to evolve and finally to exceed himself; he has to enlarge his partial being into a complete being, his partial consciousness into an integral consciousness; he has to achieve mastery of his environment but also world union and world harmony; he has to realize his individuality but also to enlarge it into a cosmic self and a universal and spiritual delight of existence. (Raman, 2000)
To me, this philosophic reflection by Sri Aurobindo, connects to scientific as well as historic issues. The scientific aspect concerns questions like – what is the nature of consciousness. How does one define levels of consciousness, and how does one evolve and go about integrating these levels of consciousness? There is reference to the relationship of the individual to the social in the passage above; how is this achieved? How does Indian thought explain the above – spiritually, philosophically, scientifically and logically? Finally, in terms of the historical aspect, the message of mastery over the environment, of working for world union and world harmony must have sounded very inspiring to those involved in social reform in India as well as in Russia.
I am reflecting on this short passage by Sri Aurobindo not only because it is so representative of Indian thought, but also because of the associations with Sri Aurobindo's name, – the name of Pitirim A Sorokin (1889-1968), for example. Sorokin taught at the Psycho-Neurological Institute while at St. Petersburg. He stated that the root of his philosophy (pantheism), was "integralism". While at Harvard he conducted an analysis of the ancient techniques of Yogas, among other things (Myers, n.d.). Pitirim A Sorokin was well acquainted with Sri Aurobindo's works because he is quoted as saying, " Aurobindo's treatises are among the most important works of our time in philosophy, ethics and humanities. Sri Aurobindo himself is one of the greatest living sages of our time" (Myers,n.d.).
Ellen Myers, in her article, Pantheist states: Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968), chairman of the department of sociology at Harvard University from 1930-1959. He stated that the roots of his religious philosophy, "Integralism," were in the ancient, powerful, and perennial stream of philosophical thought represented by Taoism, the Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita shared by all branches of Buddhism, including the Zen Buddhist thinkers (Ibid.).
As usual I was engaged in questions again –
  • Was Sorokin involved in research on Yoga techniques at St. Petersburg as well?
  • Why did Sorokin leave Russia?
  • Were Vygotsky and other Russian intellectuals acquainted with Sri Aurobindo's works too?
  • Were Vygotsky and Luria aware of Sorokin's work?
  • Most important of all, under what constraints, individual, social, political, were the Russian intellectuals working in those days?

Sorokin's remarks about Aurobindo reveal that there was cultural contact between India and Russia through the writings of prominent Indian intellectuals of those times. I was curious to know more about St. Petersburg and its involvement in India.

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