October 17, 2006

Sri Aurobindo has a lurking mistrust for pure knowledge

THE BHAGAVAD GITA COMMENTARY BY NATARAJA GURU Friday, 19 August 2005
B. G. Tilak has devoted two laborious volumes to what he calls Gita Rahasya (The Secret of the Gita) in which he has much useful information to give. Translated from the Marathi original, the two volumes represent a monumental attempt wherein the author's earnestness and energy are evident on every page, not unmixed with much erudition. His attitude of a religious Hindu of an active temperament is unmistakable from what he has to say. From the vast body of his writing we extract the following for illustration: " In short it is perfectly clear that the proper preaching [of the Gita in this place would be “energism” (pravritti) and that, as all others are only supporting Energism, that is as they are all auxiliary, the purport of the Gita religion must also be to support Energism; that is to support Action." ...
Sri Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita, I and II series (Calcutta 1928) represent the point of view of a Hindu of modern times who has had the full benefit of an intellectual formation of the West as also a religious background which is deeply emotional and intuitive. Temperamentally uncompromising and absolutist in his ways, it is no wonder that he thought in very realistic and living terms regarding the Absolute, and there is no mistaking that Sri Aurobindo took the teaching of the Gita to heart with the utmost earnestness. Its sentiments and attitude found echo in his own heart and he was able therefore to penetrate more deeply into the spirit of the teaching of the Gita than most other critics, especially in those living or active aspects of the Absolute which agree with his own deeply mystical and actively patriotic temperament. Although Sri Aurobindo is as capable of appraising its teachings as any scholar or academic professor, he does not desire to do so, but prefers to take the attitude of a person who merely seeks, as he says, “Help and light” from it!
He is interested in what he calls its “essential and living message” which has to be “spiritual”. We know from the other writings of Sri Aurobindo what pattern of spiritual life or teaching is his. His profuse writings leave us in no doubt in regard to this. He often speaks of the supra-mental power which can descend to manifest itself in actual terms, and there is also the ascent of human beings to the divine status which is also possible and can transform men into superior or divine personalities. From our own remarks in this introduction and in the text of the commentary it is easy to see that we too take a similar position without however resorting to theological or dogmatic expressions like God or divinity. We have taken special pains to show that the Gita teaching is not theistic or deistic. Divested of this quasi-theological or mythological vesture the truths underlying the writings of Sri Aurobindo could support our own position to a large extent. Let us quote extracts from Sri Aurobindo to bring out both the agreement and the difference that we refer to...
The two quotations that we have selected to begin with are enough to convince anyone that, regardless of this modest statement; he does have very profound and subtle doctrines of a metaphysical order to derive from the teachings of the Gita. It is true he avoids giving his doctrines a dialectical, academic or scholarly form. This however is willfully and consciously done by him as we have stated. A close scrutiny of the implications of the two quotations we have selected will, however, convince the careful reader that they bear resemblance, though not directly, to dialectical modes of theorization at least to esoteric schools such as the Hermetics. While the kinship of his doctrines to the Tantra school of Bengal is not undiscernible, the roots of such theorization in the Indian soil are not readily traceable, especially because, as hinted at in the second quotation above, Sri Aurobindo has a lurking mistrust for anything that is of the nature of pure knowledge, which he refers to as the "narrower doctrine". These "narrower" doctrines however, we note on the other hand, tally with the standpoint of Sankara, the most respectable of Gita commentators.
However, we can discern implicit in Sri Aurobindo's standpoint, in spite of its tantric and esoteric form, the same dialectics that we are to explain in some of the sections of this Introduction, as forming the key to the enigmas and problems of the Gita.Sri Aurobindo’s own philosophy according to us has kinship with the realism of the Sanjaya section of the eleventh chapter of the Gita, and more pointedly to the last line of Chapter XVIII, 75, where Krishna's divine presence is referred to as nothing more or less than actual. An Avatar who helps the establishment of Dharma and Arjuna fulfilling his own Dharma refer, according to Sri Aurobindo, to the core of the subject- matter of the Gita, for he writes: " Dharma in the language of the Gita means the innate law of the being and its works and an action proceeding from and determined by the inner nature, svabhavaniyatam- karma . . the rest of the Gita is written to throw a fuller light on this immortal Dharma."
Having been an active politician, interested in the liberation of India from foreign rule, Sri Aurobindo retained, even after he became a Yogi of Pondicherry (as made very evident in his message of Independence Day in India, on August 15, 1947) those aspects of spiritual or contemplative life which refer to active realities. The Gita, at least in its peripherally placed teachings, does lend support to such an attitude. We have however, preferred to treat the Gita as a purer form of contemplative text based on dialectics.

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