Sri Aurobindo

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By U. Mohrhoff, in the context of the work on human intelligence:

"We owe to Sri Aurobindo what is arguably the most comprehensive and meticulous cartography of the subliminal realms. Sri Aurobindo is a rare example of an accomplished yogi who received his education in the West, where he imbibed the essence of the modern scientific attitude. Through an original synthesis of yogic methods, he developed psychic, intuitive and spiritual faculties and realizations of the highest order without any loss of intellectual clarity and capacity for systematic observation.

Whereas Sri Aurobindo has been described as a great thinker and compared to some of the greatest philosophers, he himself asserted that his works were produced without the aid of thought, and he emphatically denied being a philosopher. “Let me tell you in confidence that I never, never, never was a philosopher,” he wrote in a letter to a disciple, although I have written philosophy which is another story altogether. . . How I managed to do it and why? First, because Paul Richard proposed to me to co-operate in a philosophical review — and as my theory was that a Yogi ought to be able to turn his hand to anything, I could not very well refuse; and then he had to go to the war and left me in the lurch with sixty-four pages a month of philosophy all to write by my lonely self. Secondly, because I had only to write down in the terms of the intellect all that I had observed and come to know in practising Yoga daily and the philosophy was there automatically. But that is not being a philosopher! (Sri Aurobindo, 1972a, p. 374)

What Sri Aurobindo meant by yoga may be gleaned from the following passage:

- In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and — highest condition of victory in that effort — a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. (Sri Aurobindo, 1999, p. 6)

After his return to India in 1893, Sri Aurobindo spent thirteen years in the service of the Maharaja of Baroda, where he acted mostly as Vice-Principal of Baroda College.

During this period Sri Aurobindo worked behind the scenes to establish a revolutionary movement. In 1905 the announcement by the British Government that Bengal would be partitioned provoked unprecedented agitation. Seeing improved prospects for open political action, Sri Aurobindo accepted an offer to become the first principal of the newly founded Bengal National College, went to Calcutta, and plunged into the fray. Between 1905 and 1910 he acted primarily as a political journalist and as one of the leaders of the radical wing of the Indian National Congress. In 1907 a warrant for sedition was served against him as editor of the journal Bande Mataram. He was acquitted, but the trial made headlines around the country and brought him to national attention.

While his fame as a nationalist leader was at its height, Sri Aurobindo met a yogin named Vishnu Bhaskar Lele. He explained to him that he wanted to practice yoga in order to obtain spiritual strength for his political work. They retired to a secluded place, and within three days Sri Aurobindo realized the state of consciousness which in India had come to be looked upon as the consummation of all spiritual seeking. In the absolute stillness of his mind there arose “the awareness of some sole and supreme Reality” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972a, p. 87) which was “attended at first by an overwhelming feeling and perception of the total unreality of the world” (ibid., p. 64).

There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer, indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real. This was. . . the only positive reality. . . pervading, occupying or rather flooding and drowning this semblance of a physical world, leaving no room or space for any reality but itself, allowing nothing else to seem at all actual, positive or substantial. . . what it brought was an inexpressible Peace, a stupendous silence, an infinity of release and freedom. I lived in that Nirvana day and night before it began to admit other things into itself or modify itself at all, and the inner heart of experience, a constant memory of it and its power to return remained until in the end it began to disappear into a greater Superconsciousness from above. But meanwhile realisation added itself to realisation and fused itself with this original experience. At an early stage the aspect of an illusionary world gave place to one in which illusion is only a small surface phenomenon with an immense Divine Reality behind it and a supreme Divine Reality above it and an intense Divine Reality in the heart of everything that had seemed at first only a cinematic shape or shadow. And this was no reimprisonment in the senses, no diminution or fall from supreme experience, it came rather as a constant heightening and widening of the Truth; it was the spirit that saw objects, not the senses, and the Peace, the Silence, the freedom in Infinity remained always, with the world or all worlds only as a continuous incident in the timeless eternity of the Divine. (Sri Aurobindo, 1970a, p. 49 — 50.)

While his body at first continued to act as “an empty automatic machine” (Nirodbaran, 1985, p. 187), a new mode of action soon became evident: something else than himself took up his dynamic activity and spoke and acted through him but without any personal thought or initiative. What this was remained unknown until Sri Aurobindo came to realise the dynamic side of the Brahman, the Ishwara and felt himself moved by that in all his Sadhana and action. (Sri Aurobindo, 1972a, p. 86) Before the two parted company, Lele told Sri Aurobindo to surrender to the guide within him. If he could do this completely, he would have no further need of a human guru. Sri Aurobindo accepted the advice. At least once, however, he took no heed of the inner guide. When a call came to him to put aside his political activity and go into seclusion, he was unable to accept it. About a month later he found himself in solitary confinement as a prisoner under trial. During his imprisonment, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual realization enlarged itself into an all-encompassing awareness of the Divine. The bars of the cell, the high prison walls, the thieves and the murderers, the magistrate and the prosecution counsel — all became forms of the omnipresent Godhead.

After his acquittal, Sri Aurobindo carried on his political and journalistic activities for another nine months, but with a shift of emphasis. He no longer regarded the liberation of India as a goal in itself. If India must become a great and independent nation, it was to give to humanity the spiritual knowledge that a long line of Rishis, saints and Avatars had developed and perfected in the seclusion of the Indian peninsula. One evening in 1910 Sri Aurobindo received an inner command to go to the French settlement of Chandernagore. This time he obeyed at once. About a month later he moved on to Pondicherry where he remained until his passing in 1950. He originally thought to return to politics after completing his yoga in a year or two at most. But before long “the magnitude of the spiritual work set before him became more and more clear to him” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972a, p. 37). It was no longer a question of revolt against the British government; he was now waging “a revolt against the whole universal Nature” (Purani, 1982, p. 37)."


More information

  • Biography: Peter Heehs. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Columbia University Press, May, 2008 review