September 10, 2006

Dharmakirti, Leibniz, Hegel, Sri Aurobindo

Sri Aurobindo (Ghose) is the foremost spiritual thinker of modern India, a mystic and yoga advocate who tries to integrate traditional Indian spirituality into a modern world-affirmative philosophy attuned to science, a marriage of ‘‘spirit and matter.’’ Aurobindo crafts amystic philosophy of Brahman (the Absolute or God) and an entire world view in the style of nineteenth-century Hegelian metaphysics or the classical philosophies (darsana ) of India. His world view informs his prolific poetry, political commentary, cultural essays, and yogic teaching. This book examines its most central concepts and theses, especially its ties to mysticism...
In 1914 Aurobindo began to express, in English, his philosophical views. During the next six years, he produced a major work of metaphysics, The Life Divine, which was published serially in some fifty odd installments. Twenty years later in 1939 and 1940, Aurobindo published a thoroughly revised and enlarged edition ofThe Life Divine, now over nine hundred pages, and in 1943 and 1944 came out with an edition in two parts that included some further though minor revisions. Although The Life Divine is Aurobindo’s principal philosophical work, he wrote a number of other books—along with essays and hundreds of letters—on topics related to yoga, Indian culture, and his own spiritual philosophy during the period from 1914 until his death in 1950.
Aurobindo fashions his world view drawing upon ancient Indian ideas about Brahman, the ‘‘Absolute’’ or ‘‘Supreme Being.’’ He urges that his philosophy of Brahman, while intended to interpret all experience, is motivated in particular by the nature of certain mystic experiences. Acknowledging the early Upanishads as the intellectual source of many of his ideas about Brahman, he interprets these works as expressing mystic experiences similar to his own. Aurobindo would have us believe that he is a ‘‘mystic empiricist,’’ relying on these Upanishads only insofar as he feels is empirically justified. His reading of them, as of some other ‘‘religious’’ texts, in this way differs markedly from the readings of Hindus who regard the Upanishads et al. as sacred and revealed. But although Aurobindo by his profession of empiricism tries to dissociate himself from Hindu and all religious apologists, his upholding of Indian mystic traditions makes him appear to be a modern spokesman for a Hindu (or Veda-ntic) perspective, in the line of Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) and Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). This association, I shall argue, is unfair to Aurobindo, although it is important to see his precise relation to Indian traditions and to examine whether in spite of himself he might be propagating traditional Hindu doctrine.
This book is principally an examination of Aurobindo’s metaphysical concepts and claims. It regards him as much less a spokesman for areligious or even a mystic tradition than as, as indicated, a formulatorof an entire weltanschauung of the order of the great world views ofthe East and the West—Dharmaki-rti’s, Leibniz’s, or Hegel’s, forinstance. Aurobindo’s philosophy is an original contribution, combiningin a singular manner various Indian mystical beliefs with a realismand world-affirmativism that are unknown in previous Indian thought. But as he himself insists, his central concern is not simply to articulate a world view but to urge that the value of particular mystic experiencesis so great that their pursuit is the most reasonable life-plan, and we shall not ignore this valuation. Aurobindo says that his concept of Brahman is an ‘‘experienceconcept,’’ implying that mystic experiences provide close experientia lgrounding for central claims of his view. From INTRODUCTION, AUROBINDO'S PHILOSOPHY OF BRAHMAN by Stephen H. Phillips

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