August 21, 2006

Integral non-dualism

The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo (By Ram Shankar Misra; Published by Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt.Ltd., Delhi;Price: Rs 495/-, pp.437)
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of integral non-dualism as pro-pounded in his magnum opus TheLife Divine is a landmark event inour view of Reality. There havebeen many general and professional discussions about it andmany will follow in the course of time. Though the dimensionsof this opus seem to escape all our rational as well as intuitiveunderstanding of things, yet even an intellectual occupationwith it is greatly rewarding.Prof.Ram Shankar Misra’s effort in this direction is onesuch noteworthy attempt. The blurb of the work says: “SriAurobindo has developed an original system of the Vedantacalled Integral Advaitism. This book gives a systematic, thor-ough and authentic exposition of his thought.” We generallyagree to this claim.In fact we have here a fairly comprehensive and well-un-derstood exposition of the Yogi as a Philosopher.
While pre-senting the metaphysics, Prof.Misra has quite pertinentlycompared this Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo with some Indianand Western systems of philosophy. In it the theory of spiritualevolution finally turns out to be not just ratiocination of thedeeper mystery of Nature and God.We have here an experien-tial foundation which also makes impeccable the Logic of theInfinite. Revelation presented to the ready intuitive mind hasthe advantage of leading it to higher grades of knowledge.When that is caught in an exposition it also becomes imme-diately valuable. “The abstract or formal reason,” says the au-thor, “has to deny the reality of one or the other aspect of theAbsolute in order to make it consistent with the laws of formallogic, which are empty of content and do not present a pictureof reality.
SriAurobindo has brought this truth into clear focusthat the a priori and unconditional application of the laws offormal logic, namely, Identity, Contradiction and ExcludedMiddle to propositions which express the nature of Reality islogically unwarranted and unjustified.” (Page vii)But this Logic of the Infinite is founded on Integral Knowl-edge. Indeed that Knowledge alone can be the true ground forthe activity of dynamic consciousness itself. The system thusoffered carries on it the stamp of the knowledge of a spiritualseer, it becomes a drishtanta with the infallibility of somehigher truth of the Self. We have therefore, metaphysically,three elements of Sri Aurobindo’s Non-dualism: OmnipresentReality as the creator of all that is and that could be more, theLogic of the Infinite governing the process, Integral Knowl-edge as the basis of its action.
The author further points out, and rightly so, that “SriAurobindo’s theory of individual and cosmic evolution andhis conception of the destiny of man do constitute novel andnotable features of his philosophy.”(x) This is a multi-strandedtheory with the urge to grow from below and with the constantpressure of higher levels bringing their powers and felicitiesinto the lower manifestation. Avatarhood is one significantaspect of the latter. This evolution is finally to effect the estab-lishment of a race whose governing consciousness shall be thecreative Truth operating in the freedom of progressive delight.There will be the race of gnostic beings.A pertinent question that arises here is: will the gnosticbeing be any different than the Avatar? The function of theAvatar is to establish a new principle of consciousness andenable evolution to grow more and more into the secret divinitythat is pressing to manifest itself with an increasing play of itshigher possibilities.
Establishment of Dharma,dharmasansthapanam, has been proclaimed to be the functionof Avatarhood. In the case of the supramental Avatar it will bethe supramental Dharma that will be founded. If so, we do notunderstand the following statement of Prof.Misra:“… the Avatarenables humanity to get the light of the divine, to raise itself tohigher status, yet he does not effect any radical change in thenature and working of the universe… he does not give anyhigher and permanent principle to the universe.” (p.382) Incase we are to accept this statement then it will make the workof the supramental Avatar, for instance, meaningless. Of coursein contrast to the push given by the Avatar, the nature of thegnostic being will be always to grow here in the divine dimen-sions. The Avatar accepts the conditions of the world-igno-rance, which cannot be the case of the new race that lives everin the widening Truth-Consciousness.Is Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine a book of philosophy?
In the strictest sense it is not, though it may have plenty ofphilosophy in it. It certainly cannot be put in the class of theusual Western philosophies with their heavy bias on academicrationalism. Will then Prof.Misra’s presentation possess anyprofessional validity to take the work for a serious scholasticstudy or as an exegesis of great concern? In this context wemay pertinently look into the question that has been raised byhim: “supposing that the supramental evolution does not takeplace, will it not affect the integral Advaitism of SriAurobindo?”(Page 423) In his opinion whether this evolution takes place ornot SriAurobindo’s thought-structure will still uphold the ten-ets of integral Advaitism. In other words, evolution or no evo-lution the metaphysical aspects of The Life Divine standundisputed.We are not very sure about it. In his enthusiasm to endorse and vindicate integral Advaitism the author seems tohave gone a bit too far by cutting himself off from the will thatis there behind evolutionary reality.
If the Logic of the Infiniteis the foundation and if it is the natural outcome of IntegralKnowledge, then some such similar ever-growing evolution-ary manifestation is already implied in it. Otherwise the veryraison d’ĂȘtre of existence would get knocked off or else makethe world again meaningless and illusory.Notwithstanding these comments, we must say that Prof.Misra has done a commendable job. He is a well-known inter-preter of Indian religious and philosophical thought and hispresent work adds substantially to the understanding of deepspiritual propositions. It is also a significant contribution to thephilosophical expositions of SriAurobindo. Comparative phi-losophy as presented here can be an alert guide to approachThe Life Divine with yet another standpoint.— R.Y. Deshpande
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