The spiritual gift of India to the world has already begun. India's spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever increasing measure. That movement will grow; amid the disasters of the time more and more eyes are turning towards her with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings, but to her psychic and spiritual practice. -- Sri Aurobindo (from the message broadcast on the eve of August 15, 1947)

Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo had a love-hate relation with the Buddha

551, Books •  Friday, 22 July 2005 HINDUTVA: Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism by Jyotirmaya Sharma. Viking, New Delhi, 2003.
Jyotirmaya Sharma’s book, perhaps for the first time, presents a detailed descriptive and historical account of both the idea of Hindutva and its historical developments. It fills an enormous gap thus facilitating a better understanding of the term Hindutva. In his introduction, Sharma provides a detailed but crisp background of the trajectory of Hindutva. Some of the important stations in this journey are Dayananda Saraswati followed by Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and finally V.D. Savarkar. […]
Like Dayananda, points out Sharma in his next chapter, for Aurobindo too ‘genuine patriotism and an authentic national destiny was possible… only through the revival of the Vedic institution of the fourfold order, catruvarna, a symbolic and typical institution often misrepresented as the four castes’ (p. 49). Even while conceding some ‘disclaimers’ in Aurobindo, Sharma however, elicits a consistent argument in him which is:
Indians were weak and unmanly and therefore required the kshatriya impulse; they had grown feeble and had to appropriate the Shakti of Science; to wield the Shakti of Science they had to re-Aryanize themselves; re-Aryanizing, among other things, meant the rediscovery of Occidental impulses already present in the Indian blood (p. 59).
This coupled with his characterization of superiority and tolerance of Hinduism, concludes Sharma, made Aurobindo’s utterances on Hinduism and Hindu by 1939, ‘echo the notions of Hindutva that Savarkar was advocating’ (p. 69). […]
The narrative is so absorbing that one does not until the end realize that the lineage it traces – of the idea of Hindu nationalism from Dayananda Saraswati to V.D. Savarkar via Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda – leaves one almost claustrophobic. This is something like the feeling of suffocation when one come out of a cinema hall after watching a good film. Put in academic terminology, like the knowledge/power nexus in Foucauldian sense, the books leaves us with no alternatives available within these thinkers. Notwithstanding the contextualisation of Vivekananda by Tapan Raychaudhuri in order to bail him out of ‘Hindu chauvinism’, Sharma’s book knocks down any such defence. Of course, there is a passing reference to another trajectory, which does not partake in the six characteristics of Hindutva that he has discussed. This is referred to in the last two pages of the introduction where he indicates an alternative line available in Tagore, Gandhi and Lohia. A. Raghuramaraju
http://www.india-seminar.com/2005/551/551 books.htm  

538 Books •  Wednesday, 16 June 2004 HINDUISM IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE edited by Antony Copley. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2003.
THIS book attempts to explore the complex linkages between religious reform and the emergent dynamics of Hindutva. The volume is divided into two related parts under the headings – ‘Varieties of Nationalism’, and ‘Public Awareness and Private Spheres’. While the first part is chiefly concerned with the ideological appropriation of cultural icons like Swami Vivekananada and Aurobindo by Hindutva, the second takes a close peek at sampradayas, including contemporary groupings such as Mata Amritanandmayi Mission. […]
Ideologies on the move are good at appropriating, as the two articles on Vivekananda and Aurobindo in the present volume indicate. If secularists are easily willing to brand these figures as non-liberal deviants, how can we stop the Hindutva advocates from using them as decorative symbols or even brands? Our problem seems to be that when we look at ideas we tend to chloroform them before dissecting them instead of looking at the lively tensions and ambivalences of figures like Vivekananda. The advocates of Hindutva do the same and reduce Vivekananda to a small list of held beliefs. In brief, how does one stop the appropriators from appropriating? This is the one anxiety that I am unwilling to share, since it all begins to sound like an intellectual free for all rather than a debate. It is much more interesting for example to note that even as the Arya Samaj has lost a great deal of its vitality, it has also provided sufficient moral space for a Swami Agnivesh, probably the most unusual and intellectually exciting swami of our times. Ratnakar Tripathy
http://www.india-seminar.com/2004/538/538 books.htm  

As the Gita says, those of inferior intelligence (alpamedhasan) who worship inferior gods receive inferior spiritual rewards.8And although there are different ways to attain moksha, some such as jnanayoga are generally considered the highest and most reliable. It is striking that Raman Maharshi, Aurobindo and many other traditionalists took a low and patronising view of Mahatma Gandhi for taking the messy path of karmayoga to achieve his self-proclaimed goal of moksha, and were convinced that he was heading for failure. […]
Although Vivekananda was free to reject Muhammad’s account of his revelations, it is striking that he simply could not appreciate that Islam took a very different view of divine self-revelation. Aurobindo took a broadly similar view of Islam, and displayed what a critic rightly calls the ‘condescending tolerance of an adult for the juvenile follies of a teenager.’ Although Gandhi took a reverential view of Jesus, he too thought of him as a yogi who had arrived at his spiritual insights by intense spiritual training, and could not make sense of the Christian idea of the Son of God. In all these and other cases the assimilationist tendency severely restricts the Hindu religious imagination, and leads both to distortions of other religions and a hurtful attitude of misguided superiority.
http://www.india-seminar.com/2003/521/521 bhikhu parekh.htm

545 Meera Nanda, Making science sacred •  Tuesday, 1 February 2005
As originally formulated by Swami Vivekananda, followed up by Sri Aurobindo and repeated endlessly in the far-right tracts of Guru Golwalkar and Savitri Devi, the urge to claim the support of modern science for the Vedas is motivated by the nationalist urge to declare Hinduism’s superiority as the religion of reason and natural law over Christianity and Islam which are declared to be irrational and faith-based creeds. Contemporary Hindu nationalists are carrying on with the neo-Hindu tradition of proclaiming Hinduism as the universal religion of the future because of its superior ‘holistic science’ (as compared to the ‘reductionist science’ of the West.) Besides, it is easier to sell traditions and rituals, especially to urban, upwardly mobile men, if they have the blessings of English-speaking ‘scientific’ gurus.
Granted, that this business of Vedic science has been going on before anyone had ever heard the word ‘postmodern’. But, and this is central to my thesis, this Hindu nationalist appropriation of science has found new sources of intellectual respectability from the postmodernist, anti-Enlightenment turn taken by intellectuals, most radically in American universities, but also in India. (Indeed, intellectuals of Indian origin made original contributions to postcolonial theory). Many of the arguments for ‘decolonizing knowledge’ and constructing ‘holistic sciences’ in tune with the Indic civilizational values converge with the arguments used by the Hindu nationalists. […]
Take the example of the emerging theory of ‘Vedic creationism’ (which updates the spiritual evolutionary theories of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda). Its chief architects, Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, actually cite social constructivist theories to claim that Darwinian evolutionary biologists and mainstream biologists, being products of the western ontological assumptions, have been systematically ignoring and hiding evidence that supports the theory of ‘devolution of species’ from the Brahman through the mechanism of karma and rebirth. All knowledge, they claim, parroting social constructivism, is a product of interests and biases. On this account, Vedic creationism, explicitly grounded in Vedic cosmology is as plausible and defensible as Darwinism is on the naturalistic and capitalist assumptions of the western scientists.

Gandhiji believed that such an education would stop the exodus from the village to the city and help people adapt to their real social environment. Interesting experiments were carried out at the Sevagram schools under the direction of some devoted educationists.
Kala Bhavan, the art school at Sevagram was supervised by Devi Prasad, who had studied art in Shanti niketan under Nandalal Bose, Binode Bihari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij. India also had visionaries like Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo and Krishnamurti, who understood the importance of creativity in education. […]
The truth is few teachers realize that one cannot teach. In none of the Indian languages is there a root word corresponding to the English word ‘teach’. One can only help learn. Tagore, Aurobindo and Krishnamurti said that long ago. According to the American expert, Howard Gardner, all of us have several forms of intelligence. Our ‘teaching’ mainly deals with the intelligence required for learning languages, maths and science (left brain). It undervalues the importance of the intelligence related to learning music, arts and crafts, sports etc (right brain). Characteristics of the right hemisphere of the brain are creative thinking, intuition. The right brain does not exclude the left brain. It helps in seeing the whole picture. Gardner has also identified many other types of intelligence – interpersonal, intrapersonal, moral and spiritual. Inputs for these are difficult to incorporate, when the atmosphere in the school and home environment is vitiated by growing decline in basic human values.
http://www.india-seminar.com/2007/570/570_ranmal_singh_jhala.htm  

522 Communication •  Tuesday, 4 March 2003
Parekh is again wrong in his finding that as per Hinduism jnanamarga is the most superior (as yet another instance of the Hindu tendency to order everything into hierarchy?). Philosophers have accorded different preferences to the different paths to God. While jnanamarga is the most superior according to Sankaracharya, it was bhaktimarga according to Ramanjua and Madhva, karmamarga according to B.G. Tilak, and an integrated yoga combining all the three according to Aurobindo. It is interesting that just as there was no unique hierarchy among paths to God realization there was no unique or universally agreed hierarchy among jaatis too. M.V. Nadkarni, Professor,
Institute of Social and Economic Change, Nagarabhavi, Bangalore
http://www.india-seminar.com/2003/522/522 communication.htm  

534 Mahesh Daga, Is the party over? •  Friday, 27 February 2004
The Hindutva script – combining narratives of (past and present) Hindu victimhood with exhortations of (imminent or future) glory, think of ‘
India shining’ – is an extended answer to that haunting question. You can hear its distant echoes in figures as diverse as Bankim and Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Tilak (quite apart from the Hindutva pantheon, Savarkar onwards). Hindutva may not have a pedigree, it has a long past. The reason it never got top billing earlier was because it had to contend with alternative and competing storylines – the one authored by Nehru being the principal one. But with the latter losing viewership, its TRP ratings have soared.
The strength of Hindutva lies in that it, superficially, masquerades as a rational argument, seemingly open to debate and denial. But, in actual fact, it is what Freud might have called dream work or discursive displacement. And as dreams go, it is far removed from reality. This is not surprising. Because anxieties, as any shrink will tell you, have no rational resolutions, whether they afflict the individual or a whole collectivity. That is why Hindutva is ultimately not about self-assurance but self-importance, not about acceptance of self but rejection of the other, not about quiet pride but exaggerated conceit.

493 The problem •  Monday, 25 June 2001
Philosophy of education is one subject that the NCERT has consistently neglected in the nearly four decades of its existence. Indeed, the Council has actively discouraged philosophical reflection on education by institutional mechanisms such as the wholesale adoption of behaviourist psychology as its primary orbit of research and publication. In the early years, sociology had some place in the Council’s sphere of activities; later on, that too disappeared. Intellectual or reflective activity that might put a break on the obsessive urge to dip every aspect of education in behaviourist solutions was shunned. The MLL (Minimum Levels of Learning) approach, fashioned out in the early nineties, was the ultimate achievement of this urge. It set to rest any desire or inspiration there might be among curriculum designers to refer to the ideas and legacy of teacher-philosophers like Tagore, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo and Krishnamurti. [The Hindu Personality in Education: Tagore, Gandhi, Aurobindo William Cenkner]
With unbounded enthusiasm, policy documents in education usually invoke the spirits of ancestors only for building the foundation for authorization. The Education Commission Report (1964-66) looks for parallels to the experience-based education from the Soviet Union but forgets that an experiment in Basic Education in pre-independence India; the Nai Taleem was an innovation of epic proportions in recasting Indian society in the medium of education. The fact that the great experiment produced no ripple effect even in the 1960s speaks sufficiently about the dominant mindset of official theorists and visionaries in education.
The elan vital of most of the succeeding documents in educational policy has usually been a withholding of all references to antecedents (except for purposes of self-occultation) with a sleight of hand. What is really invoked and dispelled at the same time is the imperfect past, to pave the way for a new enchantment kit. The prophetic Aurobindo of 1910 is drawn upon by the document to extol the first principle in teaching that nothing can be taught; the teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster but a helper and a guide (p. 2). 
Another ancestral spirit is Gandhi’s Buniyadi Taleem as a variant of indigenous response to the colonial system of education. But the document laments that the project failed (the elaborate explanation of failure is quietly presupposed) to emerge as a national alternative to the alien curriculum.
http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/493/493 mohammad talib.htm  

508 Books •  Tuesday, 27 November 2001 BRAHMABANDHAB UPADHYAY – The Life and Thought of a Revolutionary by Julius J. Lipner. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999. Brahmabandhab gradually moved away from moulding the Hindu for the Gospel towards ‘reconstructing his Catholic commitments on a Hindu basis.’ He repudiated the Advaitic concept of maya and karma, dismissed polytheism and the Puranic texts as libidinous and sexual, exchanged ‘powder and shot’ with Annie Besant on theosophy and rendered inadequate Brahmoism, Vivekananda’s neo-Vedantism and Dayanand’s Arya Samajic world view. Instead, Vedic philosophy began to appear to him as the acme of Hindu religious thought. […]
Brahmabandhab’s peers, notable luminaries of
India, had to reckon with his enigmatic presence. Among them were Kalicaran Banerji, Keshabcandra Sen, Pratapcandra Majumdar, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Debendranath and Rabindranath Tagore, Annie Besant, Aurobindo Ghose and Bipincandra Pal. Ashis Nandy in his Illegitimacy of Nationalism has shown that Tagore was so troubled by Brahmabandhab that, he modelled his heroes on his character in at least three of his political novels, Ghare BaireCar Adhyay and Gora. Tagore’s differences with and ambivalence towards Brahmabandhab were the externalization of a conflict within the poet’s mind, of attempting to resolve East and West, Hindu and non-Hindu, in so far it is a conflict, which besieged his western educated fellow Indians, victims of colonization, of civilizational interfaces, from wherein emerges a new nation. Sarbani Sarkar
http://www.india-seminar.com/2001/508/508 books.htm  
526, Jyotirmaya Sharma, Challenging Hindutva •  Thursday, 5 June 2003
One historical figure that troubles the votaries of jihadi Hindutva more than anyone else is Lord Buddha. Savarkar attributed
India’s decline and degeneration to Buddhism. Vivekananda and Aurobindo had a love-hate relation with the Enlightened One. The centre of this discomfort is the Buddha’s denial of the existence of God and of the soul, his ethics of non-violence and universal brotherhood, his rejection of caste and privilege, his indictment of brahminical Hinduism, his distaste for rituals and, most importantly, his all-embracing love for all beings.
http://www.india-seminar.com/2003/526/526 jyotirmaya sharma.htm  
509 Baljit Malik, Process, content and smokescreens •  Thursday, 10 January 2002
In the present political climate, after Nehru, we do need another discovery of
India. Maybe Nehru’s discoveries of the Indian ethos were incomplete. But the India of Golwalkar, S.P. Mukherji and Deendayal Upadhyaya was even more convoluted. It’s a pity that in all the hot air that is being blown over the content of education, there is hardly any mention of Tagore, Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo and J. Krishnamurti. Their contributions to the process and content of education would certainly help to put Macaulay, Marx and the mandarins and mahants of the Sangh Parivar in their place. And, show us the way forward as we search how to engage with life even as we spend more time becoming couch potatoes and mousing around with computers and similar gadgets
http://www.india-seminar.com/2002/509/509 baljit malik.htm  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Modernity & middle-class

Liechty offers an inspiring cultural analysis of modern life in Nepal that is deeply rooted in history. -- Laura Kunreuther, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

Liechty offers an inspiring cultural analysis of modern life in
Nepal that is deeply rooted in history. He thereby connects this seemingly out-of-the-way place to the rest of the world. More generally, Suitably Modern provides a theoretically subtle depiction of middle-class cultural practice that promises to be read by a wide range of scholars interested in class and global capitalism for some time in the future. (Laura Kunreuther Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences )

This important and clearly written book should be read by anyone interested in understanding how people in the periphery of the capitalist world economy are experiencing the processes of globalization. (Susan Hangen Journal of Asian Business ) [Indias Middle Class: New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Prosperity (Cities and the Urban Imperative)Ritual Matters: Dynamic Dimensions in PracticeEmpowering Visions: The Politics of Representation in Hindu Nationalism (Anthem South Asian Studies)Image Journeys]


A 30-year survey of the urban Indian charts our ‘progress’ from the days of Chitrahaar to the present

It all began in the era of the scooter—before the Maruti came and created a real middle class. Families shared clothes, letting out trouser hems and letting them in again for their children. The great buy was stainless steel, looking out of the window was television, and entire families went to the hills for the summer, to send a telegram home to say ‘reached safely’. No one looked at nature but went to eat channa bhaturas, get photographed wearing silly hats and to reduce the hill station to everyday Indian chaos.
A little prosperity came slowly. Families moved into quarters designated Type 2 A, 14B/43 of Phase 1. All appliances—a radio, B&W TV, a stereo, refrigerator and mixie—were displayed in the drawing room and the whole neighbourhood dropped in to watch Chitrahaar. Then of course came the Maruti, but first, Hindi movies and serials came into the house through the television and changed everybody—except of course Ma, the ageless Indian mother.
Desai studied matrimonial advertisements over 30 years and notes the shift from boasting about the family to a search for handsome mates, preferably fair. The older ads conveyed mysterious advantages like ‘mother pious lady’ or ‘brother settled in USA’, the alliance being one of families than of a couple. That has changed. The wedding now emphasises sex, sanctioned and fully prepared for, followed by the honeymoon, as decreed, when wooing commences, and husband and wife enact their real roles in private, getting away from ‘the exaggerated respect we accord to a new car, careful not to scratch....’ […]
Desai is the nearest thing to a R.K. Laxman in prose—a chronicler of middle-class India. He answers no social science imponderables, but hundreds of little questions. This chronicle is a diary—of a people—and like a diary written over thirty years, grows into something it never started out to be. As the Economist once noted, ‘Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished’? Desai puts it differently. Why have we ceased to despise vulgarity? At Rs 399, worth buying and laughing over. Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense Of Everyday India By Santosh Desai, HarperCollins [City Stories : Tales from Here and There]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Participate in a market economy governed by profit and loss

Free market economists are not necessarily defenders of business.  Crony capitalism has a long history.  Mercantilism was a form of crony capitalism, and was the main target of Adam Smith's critical abilities.  And while modern Smithians understand how important a vibrant financial market is to the advancement of generalized prosperity, the crony capitalism of Wall Street is not given a pass from the critical analysis of economics and political economy.  Rent-seking run amock is one way to describe the revolving door between iconic finanical giants such as Goldman-Sachs and postions of power in both Republican and Democratic administrations.  But new regulations on the financial industry is not the answer.  Instead, constraints on the ability of government to concentrate benefits on favored groups is the way to go.  New regulations will only be subjected to the same political football game that all regulations are, which means in the end they will be captured by the group supposedly being regulated and governed in a way which benefits that group at the expense of the consumer.
Moreover, in all this talk of the excess of Wall Street and the fats cats taking excessive risk a few points are overlooked by the Obama administration.  First and foremost, look to the Federal Reserve System that provided the easy credit upon which the investment structure in the economy was built.  Yes people got crazy in terms of their financial decisions, but somebody gave them the crazy juice.  That somebody was the Fed.  John Taylor's work on the deviations from the "Taylor Rule" deserves more recognition from policy makers.  Second, there was a host of public policies which steered the craziness in a certain direction, and Fannie and Freddie certainly played a role, but there is more to the story than that.
Yes in an era of excess the fat cats will rule, but the biggest fat cats of all are those who sit in power.  It is the 'aristrocracy of pull' that must be eliminated if we hope to fix our problems and move toward a freer society with rules of governance that are more responsive to the needs of the people and enable us to live better together.  It ain't about a populace rhetoric and enlightened government intervention, but effectively tying the hands of those who govern so they can not exercise discriminatory politics and subjecting those in the marketplace to the discipline of profit and loss.  We want to live in a society of free and responsible individuals, and participate in a market economy governed by profit and loss.  When you give individuals freedom without any corresponding responsibility, and you allow individuals to privatize profits but socialize losses, then don't be surprised when irresponsibility and excessive risk characterize the world.  An era of excess does not arise due to a shift in psychology, it arises because the rules of the game shifted to make such behavior rewarding to engage in.  The problems rests not with the fat cats of Wall Street, they need to be skinned, but by the penality of the marketplace when they don't satisfy consumers.  It is the fat cats in Washington that led to the fat cats on Wall Street.  Skin those cats in Washington, and the fat cats on Wall Street will be forced to behave diferently.  Unfortunately, Obama's rhetoric scolds those on Wall Street without addressing the underlying cause of their excessive behavior.

On April 6, well known New York Times columnist and celebrated authour Thomas Friedman penned a missive asking, "who's up for building bridges?" Friedman suggests, as have others, that with the passage of health care reform, both major American political parties have, essentially, achieved their major policy goals of the twentieth century. What remains now, Friedman says, is for those parties to, "build America's bridge to the 21st century."

As always, Friedman's writing is inspirational. It is vaulted and forward thinking and, in many regards, trail blazing. But I worry.
I worry into whose 21st century it is Mr. Friedman's goal to build bridges. I worry that, as much as I admire Mr. Friedman's challenge, the picture he paints about the future of the country and the future of the world is drastically partial. I worry that by articulating the same vision of a globalized world that he has for more than a decade, Friedman commits Santayana's age old sin of failing to remember history -- and thereby dooms himself to repeat it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Restore truth-telling on markets

When government and business collude, it's called crony capitalism. Expect more of this from the financial reforms contemplated in Washington.

Free markets depend on truth telling. Prices must reflect the valuations of consumers; interest rates must be reliable guides to entrepreneurs allocating capital across time; and a firm's accounts must reflect the true value of the business. Rather than truth telling, we are becoming an economy of liars. The cause is straightforward: crony capitalism. […]
Distorted prices and interest rates no longer serve as accurate indicators of the relative importance of goods. Crony capitalism ensures the special access of protected firms and industries to capital. Businesses that stumble in the process of doing what is politically favored are bailed out. That leads to moral hazard and more bailouts in the future. And those losing money may be enabled to hide it by accounting chicanery.
If we want to restore our economic freedom and recover the wonderfully productive free market, we must restore truth-telling on markets. That means the end to price-distorting subsidies, which include artificially low interest rates. No one admits to preferring crony capitalism, but an expansive regulatory state undergirds it in practice.
Piling on more rules and statutes will not produce something different than it has in the past. Reliance on affirmative principles of truth-telling in accounting statements and a duty of care would be preferable. Deregulation is not some kind of libertarian mantra but an absolute necessity if we are to exit crony capitalism. Mr. O'Driscoll is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He has been a vice president at Citigroup and a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Flowering of Civilization from Cafe Hayek by Don Boudreaux
The improvement in the quality of life of ordinary Kenyans made possible today by globalization is noticeable. Ten or eleven years ago my friend Bob Higgs visited Kenya.  He returned with pictures, of course.  Some of these showed small mud huts that were the homes of some of the Kenyans he met. I don’t know how many Kenyans today live in such conditions, but I do know that, as long as globalization continues to spread and as long as Kenya is part of it, the day is not far off when mud huts in Kenya – like mud huts in Europe – will no longer exist.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Vidyasagar, Phule, Hume, and Bankimchandra

The work of Rajmohan Gandhi, one of India’s premier historians, offers one of the most comprehensive and variegated views generated by any writer of the political landscape and major thought currents of nineteenth- and twentieth-century India. Gandhi is the author of biographies of Mahatma GandhiVallabhbhai PatelGhaffar Khan, and C. Rajagopalachari, of a study of the ideas of revenge and forgiveness in South Asian history, and a book on the intellectual world and existential dilemmas of Indian Muslims.
Gandhi’s new book, 
A Tale of Two Revolts, is set both home and away. It is a comparative study of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (sometimes termed
India’s first independence movement) and the American Civil War of the 1960s, in which the southern states attempted to secede from the north over the question of slavery. One of its attractions is that, because of this double perspective, it teems with personalities as widely disparate as Abraham Lincoln and Mangal PandeyFrederick Douglass and Sayyid Ahmed KhanTolstoy and Karl Marx. Gandhi agreed to explore a number of questions over email about the book, about Indian history, and about the art and craft of the historian.

Please tell us a little more about the structure of the book and about the relative weight given to its many protagonists like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Allan Octavian Hume, and Mahatma Phule, some of whom are quite distant from the main action. 

These three, and two others I followed, Sayyid Ahmed Khan and Bankimchandra Chatterjee, were contemporaries of the Revolt’s leaders. Two of them, Khan and Hume, dealt directly with the Revolt. All five were gifted intellectuals from very different backgrounds. I wanted to discover their reaction to the Revolt. Also, by following their lives, which extended to the end of the 19th century, I wanted to see how the
India of 1857 evolved into an India closer to our times. So my retelling of the Revolt and the American Civil War is accompanied by a look at the lives of these five, plus some others.

In their different ways, these five activated
India’s social or national or intellectual conscience in the 19th century. Vidyasagar and Phule brought to daylight the harshness with which widows of all castes and all persons belonging to “low” castes and “untouchables” were being treated. Hume, whose fame as a scholar of India’s birds is little known to those aware of him as a founder of the Indian National Congress, toiled successfully to bring an all-India outlook at least to elite groups across the land.

I found that the decades-long battles for equality, compassion, knowledge and an all-India feeling in which some of these individuals (and others of their ilk) were engaged were not less stirring than the Revolt’s struggle against alien rule.

Then I felt I could not ignore Tolstoy or Karl Marx, each of whom followed from distant perches the 1857 Revolt and the American Civil War as well. Writing from London for the New York Tribune, Marx provided almost the only counter to the American media’s uniform depiction of the Indian Revolt as an eruption of oriental barbarism [See here his articles "The British Rule In India" and "The Future Results of British Rule in India"]. As for Tolstoy, despite his aristocratic birth he stood for equality; despite his love of guns and hunting he hated war; despite the imperial thrust of the
Russia of his time he honoured Asia and its truths. What a story it would have been had the India of 1857 possessed, either on the British or the Indian side, a person like Tolstoy.

Or one like Abraham Lincoln, who knew to struggle but also to reconcile, whose political compass was always joined by a moral compass, and whose soul (like that of the much younger Tolstoy) wanted to wring meanings deeper than “victory” or “defeat” from great bloodshed.

Finally, there is William Howard Russell, the Irishman who as the correspondent of the Times of
London covered both Revolts and provided word portraits of individuals, scenes and battles that are as rich, revealing and riveting as what a movie camera, had one existed at the time, might have captured.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat but a vibrant centre of life

Founded in 1926, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram has grown, under the Mother's guidance, from a small group of two dozen disciples into a large diversified community with almost 1200 members. Counting the 400 students of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who live nearby, the larger ashram community consists of more than 2000 people.
Situated in a busy city of over 700,000 people, the Ashram is not a quiet place of retreat but a vibrant centre of life in a modern urban setting. The dynamic character of the community reflects the life-affirming aim of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga. Work as an offering to the Divine is an essential aspect of the Yoga, and all Ashramites do a certain amount of productive work each day in one or another of the Ashram's departments.
In the sadhana or spiritual discipline at the Ashram, there are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions in Yoga. Sadhaks are left free to determine the course and pace of their sadhana in accordance with their own natures. But the general principle of the sadhana is the same for all: there must be a surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force so that it may work to transform one's being.
The Ashram is located in the eastern part of Pondicherry. Ashramites live and work in a large number of buildings spread throughout the area. The focus of community life is the Ashram main building, usually called simply "the Ashram", which consists of an interconnected block of houses, including those in which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother lived for most of their lives. At its centre, in a tree-shaded courtyard, lies the Samadhi, a white-marble shrine where their bodies are laid to rest.
The Ashram provides its members with all they need for a decent and healthy life. Various departments have been organised to look after the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, as well as medical care. There are also libraries for study and facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits. The Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. 

Unlike other institutions of its kind, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram does not follow the tradition of a Guru succeeding as the spiritual head of the ashram. Even after their lifetime, the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are still the Ashram's only gurus and its raison-d'être. In fact, as the Mother herself once stated, Sri Aurobindo is still amongst us. Their works, which comprise several printed volumes, act as guide and inspiration to the sadhaks.
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is administered by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, a public charitable trust formed by the Mother in 1955. This trust is managed by a board of five trustees. Inmates of the Ashram, known as "ashramites", work in any of several Ashram departments as a voluntary service to the community. The Ashram looks after their well-being by providing food, clothing and shelter as well as health-care. They receive "Prosperity" every month, which includes clothes, toiletries and other necessary commodities.

The Ashram consists of over 80 departments which include farms, gardens, healthcare, guesthouses and engineering units among many others. Most of these departments have emerged spontaneously, sometimes because of a need for a product or service that wasn't available, often because the Mother encouraged a sadhak to pursue his art. Under Her personal guidance and care, these small units soon grew up into well-established departments.
While externally they help sustain the Ashram, the real purpose of these units is to serve as a field for sadhana, the spiritual discipline. Work in the Ashram is to be done unselfishly, in the spirit of service and as a means of offering oneself to the Divine.