January 25, 2008

Guiding humankind into a new, more peaceful and productive age

Sri Aurobindo 1872-1950
(Full name Sri Aurobindo Ghose; also transliterated as Arabinda; also Ghosh) Indian philosopher, poet, essayist, critic, historian, translator, journalist, playwright, short story writer, and autobiographer.
One of India's great modern philosophers, Aurobindo was a prolific author who expressed his views on humankind, nature, God, and the cosmos in numerous works of poetry and prose. He believed in the unity of all things material, intellectual, and spiritual, and a central theme that runs throughout all his writings is the divinization of life on earth. As he says in his poetic masterpiece, Savitri: "Nature shall live to manifest secret God, / The Spirit shall take up the human play, / The earthly life become the life divine."
Major Works
Aurobindo's philosophical beliefs derived from and promoted spiritual experience. The central theme of all his writings-the spiritualization of earthly life-rests on his belief that God exists in all of Nature and that spiritual intuition makes it possible for every individual to become conscious of his own divinity. Because of his emphasis on the unity of existence, Aurobindo's philosophy has been labeled "integralism." Aurobindo's most systematic account of humankind's eventual ascent to a higher level of consciousness is contained in The Life Divine, a one-thousand-page treatise in which he develops an evolutionary continuum to explain human and cosmic progress. Aurobindo proposes that the Brahman, the eternal spiritual Being, exists in nature in a seven-phase hierarchical structure that consists of three higher orders of being-Infinite Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss-and three lower orders of being-Matter, Life, and Mind. Mediating between the higher and lower orders of existence is the fourth level of being, Supermind, which is humankind's evolutionary goal. According to Aurobindo, humankind currently languishes at the third level of existence, Mind. Worldwide attainment of the level of the Supermind, Aurobindo believed, will usher in a new world order of peace and harmony.
The metaphysical ideas expressed in The Life Divine take practical shape in Essays on the Gita and On Yoga I, in which Aurobindo explains his system of yoga and its role in preparing the soul to accept the Spirit. Savitri is Aurobindo's poetic expression of this process of transformation. In this epic poem, which is roughly twenty-four-thousand lines in length, two characters, one human and one divine, dramatize the ascent to divine perfection on earth as it corresponds to Aurobindo's own spiritual progress. The Human Cycle explains Aurobindo's philosophy from yet another perspective. In this work he develops his evolutionary theory in historical and psychological terms and states the necessary conditions for the arrival of the next evolutionary stage, the "Age of Spirit": first, there must exist certain individuals capable of absorbing the message of the Spirit and communicating it to the masses (Aurobindo cites Mohandas Gandhi as an example), and second, the masses must be prepared to implement the message of these mystics.
Critical Reception
A turning point in the critical history of Aurobindo's writings occurred with the 1970-72 publication of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. Brought out by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, this thirty-volume collected edition of Aurobindo's works made his writings much more accessible to readers, particularly Westerners, which served to intensify the critical attention prompted by the centenary of Aurobindo's birth in 1972. Prior to this, most of the literature on Aurobindo had been written by his disciples, and while many of these books and articles provided useful summaries of Aurobindo's life and teachings, they were invariably laudatory in tone and rarely approached their subject from a critical perspective. Although Aurobindo studies continue to be dominated by the appreciative commentary of his followers, since the 1970s he has received increasing attention from scholars in the field of Indian and comparative religious thought. Some of Aurobindo's disciples have argued that analyses of Aurobindo's works emerging from the academic community lack the spiritual insight necessary for a sound interpretation of Aurobindo's philosophy.
On the other hand, academic critics have charged that Aurobindo's devotees are too personally involved with their subject and his teachings to be objective; for example, they refuse to accept spiritual intuition of the divine as decisive evidence that a new spiritual age is approaching, seeking instead to investigate whether Aurobindo's evolutionary theory can be verified by experience. Similarly, estimations of Aurobindo's status as a literary artist vary. While some critics liken him to John Milton and Dante on the basis of Savitri, others contend that such comparisons are evidence of the indiscriminate praise lavished upon Aurobindo by his devotees. Such controversy notwithstanding, critics agree that Aurobindo has had a significant influence on modern Indian history and religious thought in his roles as political revolutionary and philosopher-yogi. He is universally admired for the comprehensiveness of his vision of life and the cosmos and for his devotion to the cause of guiding humankind into a new, more peaceful and productive age.

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