Posted on September 14, 1978 by dialogueireland
By M.G.van Dijk
1. This study began with methodological comments and considerations. The comments were concerned with the lack of material, the far-reaching uselesness of most of the studies written by disciples and sympathisers of Aurobindo (I.A), and the verbosity of his style of writing. This last question showed itself in relation to ‘automatical writing’ (I.B). It caused sometimes a lack of exactness that was bound to have consequences for the practicability or impracticability of the integral Yoga as a ‘path’ for followers. Integral Yoga is not (yet) a fully developed system. Also, a somewhat confusing intercultural choice of words was found without any further explanation of these words being given. Aurobindo has by that overlooked the philosophical problems inherent in those words. He has not seen himself as a philosopher in the usual meaning of that word. He has considered his ‘science’ to be of a higher order and has criticized ‘Western’ philosophy and science as one-sided and too rational (I.C).
Some remarks concerned the cultural background of Aurobindo. He is an unusual phenomenon, being a college-professor, politician, political journalist, social thinker, poet and yogi, and having his roots both in Indian and European culture. This study can hardly cover this whole spectrum (I.D).
This study takes the view that the poetry of Aurobindo and his philosophical/political work represent equal parts, both integrated in the one person who expresses one vision in different ways (I.E.1). The relation between the period before 1910 andafter is seen as a continuing one, the so-called caesura of 1908-1910 cannot be proved to be a deep one (I.E.2).
Aurobindo shows an ambivalent attitude to the ‘West’, which manifests itself in several places in his work. Together with his rather ‘journalistic’ attitude of dealing with ‘Western’ items does this cause that scientifical and philosophical standards cannot be adapted to his work.
Aurobindo had an idealistic conception of philosophy (I.E.6), We shall trace this in his interest in Plato’s theory of ideas and Plotin’s emanation, in his vision on development, aesthetics and poetical inspiration of the romanticists, in the probable influences from Hegelianism and idealistic personalism, and in some striking resemblances with the intuitionalism of Bergson. Aurobindo has clearly known himself encouraged by ‘signs’ in recent history: the symbolism as found in the history of literature, the revival of the ancient Celtic mysticism in the Irish literary movement, the increasing criticism on “barbarism” and “philistinism” in Great Britain and on the self-sufficient ethics (e.g. Arnold, Nietzsche), and the rise of subjective sensitivity (e.g. Lamprecht’s period of “Reizsamkeit”). Continue reading →
We shall now sum up shortly all grades of influence according to the table of content, as far as not mentioned before in detail.
In Aurobindo’s youth we can suppose a small influence from Stephen Phillips, a minor poet of his time, known to him personally, but this influence cannot be fixed easily. Shelley’s influence on Aurobindo has to be called very significant, both on the poet and the young patriot in him. Shakespeare and Milton have interested him mostly as important examples in the history of English literature.
Keats has had influence on Aurobindo by his identification of beauty and truth, and Wordsworth has surely drawn his attention to the revealing voice of nature, Matthew Arnold has had a considerable influence on Aurobindo, mainly as a prose-writer, Tennyson does not seem to be important for this study. In the case of Meredith we can only suppose an influence, that of Swinburne however is sure. It has provided young Aurobindo with a poetical vision on natural evolution, on nature as the mother of all beings.
Max Miler’s booklet India, What, Can It Teach? must have been the first or at least a very important information to young Aurobindo on the high cultural standard of classical India, as seen by a sympathizing European. An influence of J.S. Mill is not sure. However supposedly known to Aurobindo, his ideas may only influenced the latter indirectly, modified and deepened by B. C. Chatterji.
Aurobindo has clearly been influenced by Plato’s Republic and Symposium. A more or less vague – that means poetical and romantic – Platonism is characteristic for his work. Platino’s influence seems to be there, but in a very general way; it cannot be proved exactly. Aurobindo, has liked Heraclitus very much, but he may have come to know him too late to speak in terms of influence. This relation is a case of feeling supported by a rather congenial thinker.
We face nearly the same question with Mallarmé, the French symbolistic poet, strongly admired by Aurobindo. The influence of Bergson must be seen as probable. There is a striking analogy between his estimation of intuition arc, Aurobindo’s.
Aurobindo has seen Goethe as an all-round person, the usual vision of him in contemporary England. But lacking sufficient knowledge of German Aurobindo cannot have very well known Goethe’s poetry. Although not really a Hegelian, Aurobindo’s thought cannot be imagined without a diffuse influence of Hegelianism. The relation Aurobindo-Nietzsche has been ambivalent. The German thinker must have inspired the Indian so much that we dare to speak of influence, being in this remarkable case a mixture of strong interest and strong criticism. Lamprecht is the only one, except some English poets, to whom Aurobindo has ascribed openly some influence on him. Surveying all German influences we can say that German idealism has exercised a much greater influence on Aurobindo than he has conceded himself.
The Irish liberation movement has been very important to Aurobindo, especially on the existential level. It was not a history to be studied but an actual and inspiring news from a country supposed to have a mystical nature, just like India. Aurobindo has seen the lesson to be learnt from the Italian liberation movement mainly incorporated in the person and ideals of Mazzini, who has had a strong influence on him. The use of the important idea of evolution by Aurobindo does not mean a strict influence from Darwinism; there may be only a rather vague influence of evolutionary thought in general. The traces are not clear enough for concluding more.
Peter Heehs - 2013 - No preview
This volume provides a comprehensive analysis of the various aspects of Sri Aurobindo's work as a poet, literary critic, political leader, social reformer, philosopher, and spiritual thinker... Situating Sri Aurobindo (A Reader) - Exotic India Art Poetic Influences on the Development of Aurobindos Spiritual and Nationalistic Convictions - Edward T. Ulrich
Situating Aurobindo Culturally and Politically
Aurobindo achieved distinction as a writer and thinker using European literary and intellectual tools, but he did so in a distinctively Indian way.
As a poet, he wrote in English, drew on his knowledge of European literature, and used European literary forms; but he based many of his poems on themes from Indian mythology and often gave expression to mystical experiences that were steeped in the Indian spiritual tradition. In their essays, Verma, Hartz, and Raine examine the multicultural context of Aurobindo's writing, while Ulrich explains how Aurobindo applied the lessons of literature to his political and spiritual thinking.
As a political thinker, Aurobindo drew on modern European liberalism, but he decisively rejected the colonialist assumptions that few Europeans bothered to question. He based his opposition to European imperialism on the claim that the universal rights and privileges articulated by European theorists applied to the peoples of Asia as well, but at the same time he affirmed that India's spiritual culture was essentially superior to European materialism. This has led some historians of post- independence India to speak of a conflict between the political and religious elements of his thought. The apparent dichotomy, as Sartori, Bose, and Chimni show, was not as clear-cut as it is sometimes made out to be.
In his mature political and social thought, Aurobindo drew heavily on his knowledge of ancient and modern European and Indian history, and sparingly on European social theory. The influence of modern thinkers is evident mainly in his terminology, as in his borrowings from Karl Lamprecht and Auguste Comte; but he did engage to a limited extent with the social and political concerns of nineteenth-century social critics, such as Thomas Carlyle and Matthew Arnold. Looking beyond both liberalism and socialism, he sought forms of political and social organizations in which ethical and spiritual values were given at least as much importance as economic development, a point stressed by Bose and Chimni, who find much of contemporary interest in books such as A Defence of Indian Culture and The Ideal of Human Unity.
Like Herbert Spencer (whose works he may never have read), Aurobindo applied the idea of evolution to the history of social groups and institutions, but he looked beyond positivism on the one hand and religion on the other to the advent of an age in which 'the present type of humanity' would be transformed 'into a spiritualised humanity' In so doing, he was applying ideas developed in his metaphysical and spiritual works to the field of political and social theory.
Aurobindo affirmed that his philosophy was the intellectual expression of his spiritual experiences, a point I will return to later. But as Bhushan and Garfield, and Chaudhuri explain, the form and substance of his philosophy was determined to some extent by the intellectual climate of early-twentieth-century India. Obliged by the colonial situation to come to terms with European modernity, philosophers in India had adopted Advaita Vedanta as an authentically Indian alternative to European metaphysics. But Advaita Vedanta, whatever its merits as a philosophy, was open to attack by political and social critics who felt that India needed to assert itself in the practical spheres of life. The doc- trine of maya or world-illusion, they said, was a poor intellectual basis for a country contending with colonialism and confronted with serious social and economic problems. Aurobindos response, say Bhushan and Garfield, was to supplant Shankaracharya's doctrine of maya with a doctrine of lila: the play of the Divine in a real and valuable universe. This meant rejecting Advaita Vedanta's dismissive attitude towards the active life and the body. In Aurobindo's philosophy, Chaudhuri writes, there is 'no ultimate dichotomy or discontinuity between the Self and the body-mind structure' of the human being.
The substance of Aurobindo's philosophy is primarily Indian, its form primarily Western. He avoided the traditional textual commentary, preferring the essay and treatise, and the character of his discourse was very much in the European mould. While his main textual sources were the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, he also drew on Western philosophy-for example, the Platonism and Stoicism of ancient Greece and Rome, and the evolutionism of modern Europe. It has often been noted that there are a number of similarities between his philosophy and the Idealism of G.WF. Hegel. This has led many writers, among them Odin, Bhushan and Garfield, and Sartori, to assume that he read Hegel and other German Idealists and was directly influenced by them. He denied any such influence, writing in an autobiographical note that he read just two pages of Kant and 'a small book on Hegel' that 'left no impression' on him. But he did concede that he picked up 'some general ideas' from his reading of European thinkers, and it would be possible to argue that he incorporated such ideas into his philosophical and spiritual synthesis.
In an interview given to Henry W. Nevinson in December 1907, Aurobindo Ghosh had spoken about his purpose regarding the Swadeshi Movement which, he explained, was the Irish policy of Sinn Fein—a universal swadeshi not limited to goods but including every phase of life. Many of his articles written between 1894 and 1910 and comments after 1910 also contain allusions to Ireland and its freedom struggle in different contexts. However several years later, sometime between 1943 and 1946, by which time Aurobindo had become a mystic, at his ashram in Pondicherry Aurobindo took recourse to an entirely different position. This article is an attempt to find out answers to the contradictory stand taken by Aurobindo in regard to Ireland and its freedom struggle by analysing his political writings, interviews and comments which contained references to Ireland and its freedom struggle. In the larger context, this article attempts to analyse the conflict inherent in the personality of a Western-educated Bengali. This article argues that Aurobindo had knowledge of the developments in Ireland and was influenced by them to a certain extent, which in turn shaped his representations of Ireland that shifted over time. Aurobindo's representations of Ireland were determined by his changing experience of the two worlds, Occidental and Oriental, and suggest that liminality and hybridity are necessary attributes of the colonial man and as such colonial identities are always a matter of flux and agony.
Blindness, Insight, Outlook and a Persprctive
S´raddha - Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Aug 15, 2013
For the ardent devotee who casually or intentionally visits the Sri Aurobindo Ashram the works of Sri Aurobindo appear as manna from heaven to be lapped up unhesitatingly and perhaps later conveniently forgotten during the demands and involvements of other things. He or she may pick up these works ranging from political treatises through philosophical speculations, to poetry and interpretative spiritual ideologies, and often browse through them as desired or directed by another friend or devotee and pass on. And but for the increasing number of interested tourists and inquiring novices the serious preoccupations of the Ashram and the larger discourses that have evolved round the significant works of Sri Aurobindo would have remained largely unnoticed. That there is an increasing traffic drawn toward his notion of man-making and his own version of evolving spirituality certainly speaks volumes for the significance of Sri Aurobindo in the present.
- Nevertheless the question remains: how is he to be read, and what are the larger issues which still cling on to his discourses which might go to hamper the quality of understanding or even further the process of spiritual enlightenment and reasoning?
- How is he to be read in the light of new emergent philosophies and theoretical engagements in an ever-changing and complex intellectual present?
- Of course another significant question also surfaces side by side: why go to all these needless mind games, why not simply read him as many have always conveniently read him and allow the inner amplification of his own vision to do the other tasks?
For the simple-minded this last option should certainly be enough but for the ardent seeker there is indeed a whole array of interrogations ensuing from an intense reading of Sri Aurobindo’s version of spirituality.