February 11, 2011

Sri Aurobindo’s ideal is vivid and daring, clear and far-reaching

A Rishi’s Integral Vision of Society
by RY Deshpande on Mon 10 Sep 2007 06:30 AM PDT  |  Permanent Link

The tradition of dialogue to discuss and elucidate important issues dates as far back as ancient civilisations. The Greek philosophers would walk with their students in the academy and, through questions and answers, formulate their ideas on philosophical, social, political, ethical, literary and scientific matters. These peripatetic teachers have left behind them perennial systems of thought and wisdom that are as fresh, as living as they were in their own great times. Symposia belong to the same classical spirit of active interaction between several propounders and thinkers. The Greek drama itself is an excellent example of multi-ranging and wide simultaneous thinking, at once taking care of many conflicting viewpoints in the statement and resolution of secular issues, issues of concern to men and society and the state.
In India, of yore, there was the teacher-disciple or Guru-Shishya relationship for imparting esoteric knowledge to the chosen and the fit, the initiate. In the Upanishads we have any number of such instances. Thus was the young Bhrigu taught about the fivefold Brahman by his father Varuna; the boy Nachiketas learnt about death from Yama himself; Rishi Pippalada gave the Knowledge of the supreme Spirit to the seekers who had approached him with due reverence and preparation. Similarly, the whole of Bhagavad Gita with all its luminous spirituo-metaphysical contents is in the nature of a dialogue between the divine Teacher and the human disciple standing on the battlefield of life, kŗşņārjuna samvāda. In fact, Vyasa adopted the technique of such discussions to narrate the entire Mahabharata. The merit of the technique is always to bring into focus the fundamental issues of concern and give to them straight and immediate answers, leaving no ambiguity of any sort, nor any scope for parenthetical statements that otherwise tend to distract the attention, statements that can be long-winding.
In our own times we have professional seminars, workshops, colloquia, panel discussions, rendezvous, conferences, Internet video-sessions, even blogs or web discussions within or among groups, and similar such modes of meeting and exchange of ideas. We are reminded here of a well-documented interview between the famous historian Arnold Toynbee and his son Philip Toynbee, himself a literary and creative writer, they spanning not too long ago two generations of upbringing and thinking, they coming together and talking about the present-day civilisation, about earlier cultures, religion, the arts, and the newer sciences. The technique of introducing a great contemporary or presenting his works through a dialogue is a modern innovation and has the advantage of putting forward a brief and pointed argument rather than labouring through full-length biographies or treatises on difficult and abstruse topics…

The informality of a discussion of this kind avoids all ponderous considerations of scholarship and forthwith puts us in touch with the truth perceived and realised by the speaker, with his life-matured convictions standing behind it. The mode makes the idea immediately graspable.

Daniel Albuquerque’s Freedom and Future is a tête-à-tête between the one who is standing in our time and the timeless other who unfailingly is ever there in our midst, between the author and Sri Aurobindo through his works. The author regrets that he has come to this world rather late and that he did not have direct contact with Sri Aurobindo; he would have liked to have corresponded with him in person and posed to him questions, questions about the true nature of freedom and about the prospects the future holds for the world. But he has already realised the great truth that Sri Aurobindo is indeed very much here and that “his words are alive in his works and one can read and listen to his voice, if one cares to do so. One cannot avoid his presence while reading his writings.” It is this strong feeling of his presence that inspired him to write this dialogue and he is justifiably happy to have succeeded in it.

How does the author engage himself in the endeavour? Not that he would read selected passages from Sri Aurobindo’s works and model, apropos of these, suitable questions. That would be quite an easy manufacture, but then it would have the inevitable danger of making the whole exercise dull and jerkily deliberate, and hence also perhaps irrelevant. Nor is it a compilation of another kind, a long session of quotations. Instead, what we have here is the ever-living voice of the eternal Yogi and Rishi whose concern has always been to lead humanity in the ways of the spirit, as much as to infuse it with its dynamism.
No wonder therefore that, what Sri Aurobindo wrote some eighty-five years ago has the excellence of remaining pertinent even today. That makes the dialogue quite meaningful to the present context as well. His answers are valid now also and are quite applicable to our sociological, economic and cultural problems,—if only we know how to read them and profit from them, get light from them. Of course, the author is fully aware of the fact that no cut-and-paste method can be employed in the case of Sri Aurobindo; he appreciates that his writings invariably have several shades and nuances of meaning, always to be perceived and gathered in the overall textual development. It may also appear at times that this particular dialogue-mode has the defect of tending to become somewhat stiff and unyielding, but there is inspiration behind it and the breath of the living spirit vigorously blows over it, making it profitable as well as enjoyable.

In this imaginary dialogue, in six sessions with Sri Aurobindo, Albuquerque has restricted himself essentially to socio-political rather than literary, philosophical, poetic, scriptural, occult, yogic or spiritual aspects. The thematic contents of these discussions are generally in the context of India’s problems, though at times they also touch upon much wider issues. While the first session gives an overview of Sri Aurobindo’s life before his coming to Pondicherry, the other five deal with political freedom, economic liberation, prospects of science, the foundations of a new society to build the future order of the world, and religion and spiritual democracy.
To just illustrate the method adopted by Albuquerque in conducting his dialogue with Sri Aurobindo, we may pick up an example: the question of the Individual versus the State. It is an age-old problem, the Sophoclean problem of Antigone, the fundamental conflict of freedom vis-à-vis the functioning of a powerful democratic government. While theoretically it is easy to postulate the complementary and harmonious working of the two, in practice there is the discordance and antagonism of an unreconciliatory character. Liberty in a country is possible only when also go hand in hand with it rights and duties, that in order to be free one must obey law. The Individual has certain duties towards the State. The State is there to take care of him by assuring him welfare and protection. But then it becomes a contentious issue also.

Contrast this statement of Sri Aurobindo with, for instance, what Daniel Webster wrote a little more than 150 years ago: “Nothing will ruin the country if the people themselves undertake its safety; and nothing can save it if they leave that safety in any hands but their own.”

The statement is quite pithy and epigrammatic, with the sure mark of a politically mature and well-accomplished mind behind it. We may easily read in it the formation of a communal soul and the enlightened promotion of communal life and its activities but, then, nowhere do we get the confidence of a free and revelatory psychology with the luminous modus operandi to achieve it.

In a similar manner he [Sri Aurobindo] recommends the swift and assertive resplendent dynamism of life itself, it fulfilling itself in the richness and plenty of the world…

The truth of capital importance is that, the dismissal of the spirit from the world is as lopsided as of the world from the spirit, a fact that was never recognised by mediaeval thought and religion. In a certain sense we may therefore say that Sri Aurobindo is actually re-infusing the resplendent and robust life-dynamism of the ancient Aryan and Greek founders and builders of society; he wants us to receive the gifts of the spirit in the wholesomeness of the individual and of the organised collectivity. That indeed is the entire thrust in the thesis of freedom and future.

When Sri Aurobindo speaks of sanātana dharma as a nationalist’s creed, he does not speak about it in a sectarian sense. Nor is the definition of nationalism restrictive in any constricted fashion; in fact, people often find patriotism and nationalism difficult to define. Even Tagore thought that the concept of a nation is not an Indian concept but of an alien origin, the one which we have borrowed from the Western thinking. But it must be well recognised that nationalism is not a mere political programme based on occidental ideologies. “Nationalism is a religion that has come from God. Foundation of nationalism is the country and not race.” It is that which indeed sees “the Motherhood of God in the Country”. At the same time, we have to properly understand that Sri Aurobindo is not recommending a theocratic society or a theocratic form of governance of some particular brand. In fact such a system can never work in the freedom of the spirit and the soul. During the Second World War he saw the grave danger in our not comprehending and following the spirit of true nationalism. One example of it is the non-acceptance of Sir Stafford Cripps’s Proposals containing the Dominion Status for India. Sri Aurobindo not only found the offer deserving our positive consideration; he actually went out of his way and made a special appeal to the worthy and esteemed leaders of the time to unreservedly go for it. Unfortunately, however, the advice was rejected and the partition of the country became inevitable. We are too well aware of the horrendous consequences of that deplorable rejection which has easily set back, by several decades, the clock of real progress, of destiny itself.

People oftentimes confuse swadéśi with patriotism. So too they generally mix up sanātana dharma with religion. But all that is patently wrong and mistaken, even ill-conceived, is retrograde. Religion, a living religion and not a creedal religion, promotes the aspirations of human soul in a great way; but very rarely does it understand that spiritual life cannot be based on dogma or any kind of fetish, not on any diehard worldly conviction. On the contrary, it tends to become an instrument of traditionalist conformist development in the hands of violent and reactionary individuals or groups. It is a fact of history that there were far too many religious wars in the past, far too many. In practice and strangely so religion always posed more serious problems of societal management than did it help man in the growth of a more harmonious collective life. State versus Religion, Reason in conflict with Religion, the Secular in opposition to the Esoteric, Science dismissing Faith,—these are well known issues. To these and to several other issues of a deeper import, Albuquerque finds answers in Sri Aurobindo.

He quite emphatically drives home the point that, in a wider context, in the context of the greater destiny awaiting humanity, what Sri Aurobindo is recommending is the vision of a forward-looking and progressive spiritual society in all its gleaming dimensions…

The mountain-streams of true religion had their beginnings in spirituality; but soon in these worldly lands they got dried up, if not cut off from the ever-so-desirable and crystalline purity of the source. Now what remains behind are wildernesses of the suffocating spirit. Thus neither religion nor any abstruse metaphysical theorisation can satisfactorily explain, for instance, the appearance of evil and suffering in the beneficent and beautiful God’s original creation. Ethico-religious mind shudders to think of a frightening Godhead poised for universal destruction. But the Indian concept and intuition, the ancient Indian experience has the boldness to accept even such an aspect of God the Terrible,—as Arnold Toynbee very perceptively recognises, a fact he arrives at by studying his own discipline. Not only that; we should also remember that the office of the Spirit is a very complex and strange office and that it does allow terrible agencies to reign. Such are the possibilities and these have to be taken care of.

It is to these terrible agencies of the Spirit can readily fall prey the gullible and superficial approach of the ethico-religious mind. In it is the danger of Hitlerism, or in the modern parlance of Neo-Nazism, prospering to destroy the entire civilisation, of promoting the establishment of the anarchical Rule of the Asura himself. There is in the working of the universal process always such a mischief-laden possibility. Can we then say that Mahatma Gandhi’s “spiritual democracy” involving compassion, sacrifice and identification with the lowly and the lost would really save the world? His was a lofty ideal no doubt but it was of a Western variety, based on Tolstoyan-Christian ethics. And the difficult thing which he was trying to do was to bring such pious and holy ennobling doctrines, full of mass-appeal, to the world of abominable politics where prevail unbridled ambitions of the worst kind. We may even go farther and admire the ingenuous Mahatma, that he was not particularly interested in any conventional form of government, that he was right in saying that “that Government is the best which governs the least.” This is a great statement indeed and it does make a vast improvement over the Western concept itself, the traditional idealistic theory of a decent and élitist political democracy which more often than not functionally tends to become exclusive with the concentration of power in fewer hands. But, then, to tell a ravaged war-torn nation to stand up ethically above the ghastliest form of crime and horror, above fascism, advise it to fight against the advancing menace of the maniacal Führer with the weapon of non-violence, is to take a very simplistic view of life and of life’s million forces working in different occult ways. It is also not to recognise that our active co-operation with Good and Right does not become complete without the active and forceful opposition and rejection of Evil and Wrong. It looks as though God is too good to be a gentleman,—because freedom is his mantra. With it we have to discover the true governing law of life, the deep harmonising law:

In spirituality... we must seek for the directing light and the harmonising law, and in religion only in proportion as it identifies itself with this spirituality... It will give... freedom to philosophy and science... freedom even to deny the spirit... It will give the same freedom to man’s seeking for political and social perfection and to all his other powers and aspirations.

Sri Aurobindo’s ideal is vivid and daring, clear and far-reaching in seeing, that the possibilities of the mental being are not limited and that the truncated and analytical Cartesian I think, therefore I am is not applicable in the domain of the spirit when the spiritual experience tells us that thoughts themselves come from outside. Even in his early writings Sri Aurobindo held for us the emerging spiritualised society as an unenviable goal. In the very second volume of his philosophical monthly Arya, dated 15 August 1915, he wrote the following:

Unity for the human race by an inner oneness and not only by an external association of interests; the resurgence of man out of the merely animal and economic life or the merely intellectual and aesthetic into the glories of the spiritual existence; the pouring of the power of the spirit into the physical mould and mental instrument so that man may develop his manhood into that true super-manhood which shall exceed our present state as much as this exceeds the animal state from which science tells us that we have issued. These three are one; for man’s unity and man’s self-transcendence can come only by living in the Spirit.

What he had put forward as an ideal at that early date, it is that which he set for himself to accomplish in his thirty-five years of long and untiring spiritual sadhana, his yogic labour, a God’s labour indeed, a labour undertaken for the sake of the Divine in Man.

N.B.: Author's (RYD"s) Foreword to Freedom and Future—an Imaginary Dialogue with Sri Aurobindo by Daniel Albuquerque, published in 1998 by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Keywords:  IntegralYoga, India, History, Culture

February 09, 2011

Alternate ideology that combines both religion and secular modernity

I consider Sri Aurobindo's response to be of crucial importance. For, a failure to create an alternate ideology that combines the achievements of both religion and secular modernity, while avoiding the inherent limitations of both, ...
Selected essays and talks of NirodbaranNirodbaran, Supriyo Bhattacharya - 2001 - 271 pages 
Sri Aurobindo's response was immediate and he said "UMM" with prolonged emphasis. (Then Champaklal gives here a long account of how he managed to take Sri Aurobindo's footprint without inconveniencing him in any ...
 Sri Aurobindo's response to this question reflected a universal tenet of faith among educated lndians : '...that is not quite how we can see it who are her [lndia's] children and are still suffering from the bitter effects of the great ...
Sri Aurobindo's response was immediate and he said "UMM" with prolonged emphasis. (Then Champaklal gives here a long account of how he managed to take Sri Aurobindo's footprint without inconveniencing him in any way. ...
was Sri Aurobindo's response. All of them sat down to talk. For some time Sri Aurobindo had been receiving reports from Tanjore, Tiruchirapalli and other places that some Panjabi sadhus had been preaching his ideas and philosophy. ...
Champaklal speaks - Champaklal - 1975 - 274 pages 
Sri Aurobindo's response was immediate and equally intimate. "UMM!", he said with prolonged emphasis, and gave me a smile that moved me much. Now for a long time I had wanted to get the impression of Sri Aurobindo's feet. ...
He asked Sri Aurobindo to draw up the scheme setting forth the Ideal and the lines on which the organisation should take shape. Bhawani Mandir is Sri Aurobindo's response to this. We quote from it: BHAWANI MANDIR OM Nainas Chandikayai A...
(1932) To a disciple's ardent prayer to him to bring India's freedom by his spiritual power, Sri Aurobindo's response: 'Have I not told you that the independence is all arranged for and will evolve itself all right ? ...
famous address on 'Science and Culture' warned that "an exclusive scientific training will bring about a mental twist, one cannot help recollecting the surrealistic dream perceived by Sri Aurobindo's response to this state of mind.... [Science, Materialism, Mysticism Amal Kiran/K.D.Sethna (Paperback - Apr 1, 2006)]

February 08, 2011

The very first line of Savitri is a very rich line, it is also a very baffling line