Sri Aurobindo was an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yoga guru, and poet. His greatest literary achievement was his poetry “Savitri”, an epic spiritual poem. Sri Aurobindo completely dedicated himself to practicing spirituality and for philosophical pursuits in Pondicherry. According to Sri Aurobindo there was a hidden spiritual meaning in the Vedas. He viewed the “Rig Veda” as a spiritual text.
Life of Sri Aurobindo
Aurobindo Ghosh was born on August 15, 1872 in Calcutta to Krishna Dhan Ghose and Swarnalata Devi. He studied at Loreto Convent School in Darjeeling. At the age of 7 he was taken with his brothers to England for education and lived there for 14 years. Brought up at first in an English family in 1884 he joined ST Paul’s School in London. He passed the scholarship examinations of King’s College, Cambridge University where he studied for two years. At this time the Gaekwar of Baroda was in London. Aurobindo saw him and obtained an appointment in the Baroda Service and left for India. He passed 13 years in the Baroda service. At Baroda he engaged in deep study of Indian culture, Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali. He was later transferred to Baroda College as a French teacher. He was later promoted to the post of vice principal. The time spent in Baroda was years of self culture, of literary activity. Much of the poetry afterwards published from Pondicherry was written at this time. Sri Aurobindo was married to Mrinalini. He died on December 5, 1950 following a short illness.
Sri Aurobindo as Freedom fighter
A great part of the years in Baroda was spent on leave in silent political activity. The outbreak of agitation against the partition of Bengal in 1905 gave him the opportunity to give up the Baroda service and join in the political movement. In 1906 he left Baroda and went to Calcutta as principal of the newly formed Bengal National College. He worked behind the scene, preparing with co workers the beginnings of the Swadeshi movement. In 1906 he came to Bengal and joined the New Party. The party put forward Swaraj as its goal. He persuaded the party to take up and finance its recognized organ the newly founded daily paper “Vande Mataram” of which he was the acting editor. During its brief but momentous existence it changed the political thought of India. He was prosecuted for sedition in 1907 and was acquitted. He took part in India’s freedom struggle. He established contact with Lokmanya Tilak and sister Nibeta. He also arranged for military training of Jatindra Nath Banerjee in the Baroda army. In Bengal he established contacts with many revolutionaries. In 1905 he attended the Benaras Session of Congress. His call for complete political independence was considered extremely radical and it caused fiction with the Congress. He toured to Pune, Bombay and Baroda to gather support for nationalist cause. In Baroda he and his companion made a plan for a national uprising of nationalist sanyasis against the empire. Later he got involved with the Congress and “Vande mataram”
Sri Aurobindo into Spirituality
Aurobindo converted to spirituality gradually. He was influenced by Bankim’s “Anandamath ”. Aurobindo met Lele in Baroda. Following Lele’s instruction he had his first major experience called “Nirvana”, a state of complete mental silence free of thought or mental activity. While a prisoner in Alipore Central jail in Calcutta he had a number of mystical experiences. He completely dedicated himself to practicing spirituality and for philosophical pursuits in Pondicherry. In 1914 after fours years of yoga he was proposed to express his experience. This resulted in the launch of “Arya” a 64 page monthly review. This became the vehicle for most of his writings which appeared in serialized forms namely “The Life divine”, “The Synthesis of Yoga”, “Essays on Gita”, “The Secret of the Veda”, “The Renaissance in India”, “War and Self Determination”, “The Human Cycle ”, “The Future Poetry”. His close spiritual collaborator was Mirra Richard. She later came to be known as “The Mother” the name by which Aurobindo used to call her. He wrote an essay called “the Mother” in order to shed light on the person of Mirra. He considered “The Mother” his spiritual equal and collaborator. After November 24, 1926 he retired to seclusion.
Sri Aurobindo's Philosophy
One of his main philosophical achievements was to introduce concept of evolution into Vedantic thoughts. He rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya. He proposed an “Evolution of spirit” along with that of matter. He rejected a major conception of Indian philosophy that says that the world is a “Maya”. He said that humankind is not the last rung in the evolutionary scale, but can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations to a state of spiritual and super mental existence called “Divine life on earth”. A central tenet of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is that the truth of existence is an omnipotent reality that both transcends the manifested universe and is inherent in it. This reality referred to as “Brahman” is an Absolute.
According to Sri Aurobindo man is born an ignorant, as a result he does not know the nature of reality. To overcome this man must embark on a process of self discovery in which he uncovers his divine nature.
Yoga practised by Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo began his practice of yoga in 1904. At first gathering into it the essential elements of spiritual elements of spiritual experience that are gained by the paths of divine communion and spiritual realization followed till now in India, he passed on in search of a more complete experience uniting and harmonizing the two ends of existence, spirit and matter. Most ways of yoga are paths to the beyond leading to the Spirit and, in the end, away from life; Sri Aurobindo’s rises to the spirit to redescend with its gains bringing the light and power and bliss of the Spirit into life to transform it. To him men’s present existence in the material world is a life in the ignorance with the inconscient at its base, but even in its darkness and nescience there are involved the presence and possibilities of the divine. The created word is not a mistake or a vanity and illusion to be cast aside by the soul returning to heaven or nirvana, but the scene of a spiritual evolution by which out of the is material in conscience is to be manifested progressively the divine consciousness in things.
To him mind is the highest term yet reached in the evolution, but it is not the highest of which it is capable. There is above it a supermind or eternal truth-consciousness which is in its nature the self-aware and self determining light and power of a divine knowledge. Mind is an ignorance seeking after truth, but this is a self-existent knowledge harmoniously manifesting the play of its forms and forces. It is only by the descent of this supermind that perfection dreamed of by all that is highest in humanity can come. It is possible by opening to a greater divine consciousness to rise to this power of light and bliss, discover one’s true self, remain in constant union with the divine and bring down the supramental force for the transformation of mind and life and body. To realize this possibility has been the dynamic aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. In “The synthesis of Yoga” and the “Letters on yoga” he laid out the psychological principles and practices of the internal yoga. The aim of the internal yoga is to enable the individual to identify with the divine, the true self and to transform the mind, life and body so they would become fit instruments for a divine life on earth.
Sri Aurobindo as a Poet
Sri Aurobindo expressed his spiritual
thought and vision in poetry as well. As a child he used to write
poetry. He wrote in the classical style. In his theory of poetry,
written under the title “The Future poetry” he wrote about the
significance of art and culture for the spiritual evolution of mankind.
The first collection of his poetry was the “The Rishi”. His greatest
literary achievement was his poetry “Savitri”, an epic spiritual poem in
blank verse of approximately 24,000 lines. It is about an individual
who overcomes the ignorance, suffering and death in the world through
spiritual quest, setting the stage for emergence of a new, divine life
on earth. It is loosely based on the ancient Indian tale of “Savitri
and Satyavan” from the epic Mahabharata. In “Savitri” one finds the
fullest and most powerful statement of hi spiritual thought and vision.
Books of Sri Aurobindo
In the book “Renaissance of India” he examines the nature of Indian culture and civilization. The book highlights the nature of both the eastern and western civilization. According to Sri Aurobindo there was a hidden spiritual meaning in the Vedas. He viewed the “Rig Veda” as a spiritual text. His theory of the inner spiritual significance of the Vedas originally appeared in the journal “Arya” and was later published in the book form “The secret of the Veda”. The book “Hymns to the Mystic Fire” is translation of the spiritual sense of many of the verses of the Rig Veda.
Sri Aurobindo started two weekly papers- the “Karmayogin” in English and the “Dharma” in Bengali.
Organizations and Institutes
“The Mother” established and supervised the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education with its experiments in the filed of education. In the mid 1960s “the Mother” personally guided the founding of the Auroville, an international township endorsed by the UNESCO to further human unity near the town of Pondicherry. It was inaugurated in 1968. Auroville now has several thousand members majority of the members comprising of India, French and Germany. “The Mother” also played a crucial role in the merger of the French pockets in India and helped to make Pondicherry a seat of cultural exchange between India and France. Other organizations are Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, World Union, a non profit, and non political organization.