July 20, 2007

So, in 1995 I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo

The Evolution of the Interior Horizon of the Cosmos
One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin Thursday, July 19, 2007
So, in 1995, knowing that I had to choose one path and stick to it, I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. At the time, the choice was rather easy, based on the options available (or which I thought were available). Aurobindo (1872-1950) is widely considered to be the greatest Hindu sage of the 20th century, perhaps ever, alongside Shankara.
At the time, for reasons I have explained, I couldn't have chosen Christianity, because I just didn't know of any kind of Christianity that appealed to me, and many of the most visible forms -- or at least their practitioners -- frankly repelled me. I was a typical case of someone who turns to the east because we are exposed to so many religious yahoos from our own tradition. If I had been born in India, I'd probably have become Catholic, seeing what a wreck certain Hindu doctrines had made of the place. It was a classic case of comparing their best with our worst.
But Aurobindo also appealed to me because of his thoroughly modern intellect. Although born in India, he was educated at some of the finest schools in England, where he mastered Greek, Latin, and English -- not to mention learning French, Italian, German, and Spanish -- received various prizes for literature and history, and was eventually awarded a scholarship to Cambridge. By the time he returned to India in 1893, he had been thoroughy anglicized and actually had no knowledge of Indian culture or religion. He took a position at a university and then became one of the early leaders in the movement for independence. He was arrested on charges of sedition in 1908 and spent a year in jail, where he had some powerful spiritual experiences. He was acquitted a year later.
To make an endless story short, the spiritual experiences kept coming, and eventually a small group of followers formed around him. He began publishing a spiritual journal in 1914, and his output was somewhat staggering. For the next ten years or so, he engaged in what he called "overmental writing," in that the material would seemingly just come down through him as opposed to from him. Simultaneously he composed several major works, any one of which would be considered a signal achievement for a normal person, including The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle, and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Vedas, not to mention reams of poetry, including the cosmic-spiritual epic Savitri, at some 24,000 lines the longest poem in the English language.
Much of his prose probably sounds a bit turgid to modern ears, since he was educated at the peak of that overly formal and florid Victorian or Edwardian or whatever you call it style. However, after the mid-1920s or so, he wrote almost nothing but letters to disciples -- thousands and thousands of them -- and in these he is much more informal, sometimes humorous and playful (he still wrote some poems as well). The letters are collected into three volumes, and are much more accessible than his formal writings. If you add the three volumes of letters together, they come to some 3400 pages, and cover most every conceivable spiritual topic.
I don't know that I want to get into a complete review of his philosophy, because it's just too complex and multifaceted. (The best introduction is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem). But perhaps his central theme was the reconciliation of the perennial insights of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads (which form the esoteric essence of Hindu metaphysics) with the evolutionary cosmos revealed by science. In this regard, he was way ahead of his time, because he recognized that there can be no conflict between religion and science -- or that if there appears to be conflict, it must be concealing a deeper unity that eludes us. He has certain rough parallels with Hegel, in that he sees the cosmos as a platform of spiritual evolution toward higher and higher syntheses of unity.
But he has even more in common with the Catholic thinker Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man was the first systematic attempt to do with Christianity what Aurobindo was doing with Vedanta, which is to say, reconcile it with the new scientific views that emerged in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In turn, Aurobindo and Teilhard have some loose affinities with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, if you want a purely secular point of entry into a cosmic view of evolution.
Another thing about Sri Aurobindo that appealed to me was that his approach worked largely through grace as opposed to self-effort. As I have mentioned, I really hadn't gotten too far based upon my own efforts, so I submitted myself to the grace of Sri Aurobindo and his collaborator, known as The Mother (long strange story there). I didn't really expect anything to happen, but something did, and rather immediately. I began meditating on a darshan photo of them, and felt "zapped" by their force. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but I was soon able to understand spiritual matters in a way I never could before.
It was as if a veil had been lifted, or a new kind of transpersonal light shone on whatever it was I was looking into. It was during this period of time that the idea for my book came to me. I was just meditating and I had this four-part, circular vision of the whole. I must emphasize that I saw the whole first, and that I had no idea how or even whether I would be able to sketch it out in linear form, as a sort of story, or four part "cosmic suite." In fact, there is no doubt that I wouldn't do it the same way today, but I did the best I could with the materials available to me -- or which fell into my hands -- at the time.
The book was actually written in the order it appears, as I first attempted to tackle cosmology and physics, then theoretical biology, then human evolution, and then the algorithms of spiritual transformation. As the book unfolds, you could say that I am grappling with both the subject matter and myself in real time -- except for the prologue and epilogue, which more or less represent the distilled essence of what I came up -- or down -- with.
Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a book that was very helpful to me at the time, The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. In it, von Bruck writes that "yoga is nothing else than a preparation of the body and mind for non-dual, intuitive knowledge." Elsewhere he writes that "Western culture is determined more by reflection, Asiatic cultures by meditation. The meeting of the two is the important historical event of the present century."
That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects. This post was interrupted by child care responsibilities, and I lost the thread. I'll have to try to pick it up again tomorrow. Assuming anyone's interested, since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day.
I have broken the limits of the embodied mind
And am no more the figure of a soul.
The burning galaxies are in me outlined;
The universe is my stupendous whole. --Sri Aurobindo, The Cosmic Spirit
Till all is done for which the stars were made,
Till the heart discovers God
And the soul knows itself.
And even thenThere is no end. --Sri Aurobindo, Is This the End
posted by Gagdad Bob at 7/19/2007 08:51:00 AM

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