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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sri Aurobindo shone brighter than most thinkers of his age

A fresh look 5 April 2010
A recent conference on Sri Aurobindo emphasised reading and re-reading the seer in a contemporary perspective. Argha Banerjee reports

AUROBINDO Ghose reached Pondicherry on 4 April 1910 and till his last breath was hooked to the place. After his retirement from active politics he made Pondicherry his home and pursued yoga and the realisation of the “Supermind”. His biographer Srinivasa Iyengar writes, “Sri Aurobindo chose Pondicherry as his ‘cave of Tapasya’, an impeccable choice in the given circumstances.” In 1910, Pondicherry, as Iyengar observes, “was not quiet, it was actually dead”. People thought Aurobindo had fixed upon a cemetery for his sadhana.
   His glorious spiritual legacy was an outcome of the rather reclusive life he chose after discarding the turbulent world of nationalist politics. He outgrew the hustle and bustle of politics and chose the meditative calmness and peace of ashram life. However, he soon immersed himself in aesthetic and spiritual pursuits. The wide gamut of his creative endeavours — poetry; literary theories through discourses on political, social and historical issues; commentaries on the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita; and methodical studies of yoga and metaphysics were all conceived and created in
Pondicherry. From 1926 onwards, Aurobindo gradually withdrew from public life and started practicing “Integral Yoga”. The intensity of his thoughts and intellectual pursuits has inspired inquisitive minds.
   As a tribute to his spiritual heritage and with a view to exploring his literary, philosophical and political thoughts in a contemporary perspective, the Department of English,
Pondicherry University, recently offered a forum to scholars to participate in discussions and academic colloquies in a national conference titled “Re-reading Aurobindo”. Writer Manoj Das, in the presence of Professor JAK Tareen, vice-chancellor of Pondicherry University, inaugurated the two-day event which witnessed discussions on varied topics — culture, civilisation, religion, yoga, psychology, mysticism and philosophy.
   Vijendra Singh, a research scholar at
Jawaharlal Nehru University, presented a paper titled “Culture and Cosmopolitanism”. He emphasised on Aurobindo’s writing on human unity in the backdrop of the Great War and explored his views on international relations vis-à-vis Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore and Hindutva ideologues. He argued that  Aurobindo’s vision of the limited role of the national state in world politics and of the necessity of human unity beyond frontiers has affinity with Gandhi’s and Tagore’s views on the subject.
S Ganesan in “Re-visioning India: A Study of Sri Aurobindo’s The Renaissance in India” pointed out Aurobindo’s vision of India. Aurobindo, he said, “pointed out the limitations of India’s past and present and the futility of imitating the West.”
   Of all the papers that incisively analysed Sri Aurobindo’s role in the current context, Ananda Reddy’s “Levels of Mystic Poetry” deserves special mention. Director of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research, Reddy classified his mystic poetry into three levels — occult, psychical and spiritual. He said, “True occultism means research into supra-physical realities, unveiling the hidden laws of nature and all that lies beneath the surface of things. The influence and correlation between the works of Sri Aurobindo and Coleridge, Blake and Yeats is great.” He observed that in psychic poetry there is an intense beauty of emotion, a fine subtlety of true perception and an intimate language.
   Professor Rod Hemsell of the
University of Human Unity, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, presented Aurobindo’s poetry in the context of two treatises. His remarkable presentation depended more on the verbal context and auditory association in the readings from Savitri than on academic rigour or literary analysis. The reading imparted a unique dimension to the proceedings.
   Professor Makarand Paranjape, head of the department of English,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, explored the problems and possibilities of “Re-reading Sri Aurobindo”. His paper offered various strategies of study to make research on Aurobindo’s contemporary relevance revealing. Raju Praghi, a research scholar at Pondicherry University, presented his views on “Women, Ambition and Jealousy in Aurobindo’s Plays”. The analysis aimed to study the role and importance of women in the plays and to explore their contemporary relevance.
   Aurobindo’s epic Savitri was the centre of recurrent focus. The portrayal of Savitri and Satyavan is magical. According to T Ramakrishna of the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Education in Human Values,
Bangalore, the epic discusses questions regarding the origin and destiny of man — a recurrent theme in the works of such great minds as Immanuel Kant, Blaise Pascal, John Eccles, Karl Popper and Sperry Roger.
   The papers pointed out new areas of introspection and research. They underlined the importance of not only reading the texts but re-reading them in the present context. They also advocated the need to evolve a specific poetic theory dissociated from the dominant Western discourse to evaluate and promote a better understanding of Aurobindo’s creativity.
The writer is a faculty member of the Department of English, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata 

Thanks to his copious humanism, Aurobindo shone brighter than most thinkers of his age, says Romit Bagchi

THE world as viewed from the spiritual standpoint has been interpreted in different ways. According to the Buddhist and Shankarite schools, the world is, in essence, an illusion, full of ignorance and suffering. Man’s salvation lies in getting out of it as soon as possible and disappearing into the original non-existence or non-manifestation. The Vedantic view differs a little in the sense that the world, though essentially divine, is, however, an expression of a distorted and perverted will divorced from the divine origin; and the only thing man can do is to become conscious of inner divinity and remain fixed in that consciousness without troubling about the world, for this external world cannot change and would always be in its natural state of imperfection.
   Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand, views life as divine manifestation, yet far from complete. “Here, in life, on earth, in the body we have to unveil the God-head,” he said. According to him, consciousness, evolving from stage to stage through matter, life and mind cannot stop at the limited consciousness humanity as a whole has reached so far. The drift of the evolution of consciousness must transcend mind to make space for the descent of a much higher consciousness. A section, tired with the changeless littleness or the vain repetition of the mechanical life, would at a certain point separate itself from common humanity and with collective aspiration for a higher existence become sufficiently intense. Nature would affect the advent of a superhuman species whose consciousness would be much different from human consciousness. According to Aurobindo, this is the secret intention in nature in her infinite unfolding of consciousness. Man is an intermediate stage, which nature must cross over to churn out a new race. Aurobindo says the emergence of a new race is a certainty if the evolutionary intent inherent in evolving nature is to be accepted. Moreover, he realised and embodied this higher consciousness in himself and affirmed it on the basis of the yogic realisation that, embodying the higher consciousness, was not just possible but in tune with the secret evolutionary drive of nature.
   Now, as
India and the world are observing the centenary of Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry it is important to note that he is not only a prophet of humanism but a mystic who has foreseen the advent of a superhuman race. The crisis humanity has been passing through is an evolutionary crisis and it could be resolved only through a revolutionary adventure of consciousness, though humanity as a whole cannot be expected to meet the demands of evolving nature. Only a few whose consciousness is sufficiently evolved can be instrumental in nature’s design to bring out a superhuman race.
   Aurobindo’s originality of vision lies in his visualisation of the descent of the supermind by way of spiritual ripening of the mind in a few selected individuals. The human aspiration for a higher existence augmented by nature’s upward evolutionary momentum would make the descent of the supramental consciousness possible, he believed.
   Can Aurobindo be called a philosopher in the strict sense of the term? Who is a philosopher, after all? Ambrose Bierce says, “All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion can be called a philosopher.” Viewed against this definition, Aurobindo is not a philosopher. For analysing the delusion the life is a mere part of the Aurobindonian vision. Rather he is nearer to the view of philosophy as propounded by ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Plato says in The Republic, “The philosopher is one who loves not a part of knowledge, but the whole. His passion is for Truth of existence”.  
   Aurobindo had scant regard for philosophy, as it is commonly understood. “Much of present day philosophy is only a play of words and ideas. It is mental gymnastics without any experience behind it. In
India there was always a connection between philosophy and knowledge. True knowledge cannot do without experience, as true science cannot do without experiment. Indian philosophy is mental and intellectual, but generally it takes its stand on some experience, for instance, the Upanishads. Experience and formulation of experience I consider as the true aim of philosophy. The rest is merely intellectual work and may be interesting but nothing more… the real value of philosophy for man (lies in) giving him light on the nature of his being, the principles of his psychology, his relations with the world and with God, the fixed lines or the great possibilities of his destiny.
   “There is very little argument in my philosophy — the elaborate metaphysical reasoning full of abstract words with which the metaphysician tries to establish his conclusions is not there. What is there is a harmonizing of the different parts of a many-sided knowledge so that all unites collate logically. But it is not by force of logical argument that it is done, but by a clear vision of the relations and sequences of the knowledge.” 
His vision as enshrined principally in The Life Divine and Savitri seems to be one of wholeness where all the jarring parts our life is suffused. For according to him, all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. Matter, life, mind, spirit — all these just form an ascending series in the process of evolution of consciousness. Life emerges in matter because life is involved in matter. Mind evolves in life, for mind is involved in matter and life. And similarly, spirit evolves in mind in the course of the enlightenment of the mind through myriad births in the earth-existence, for spirit is immanent in mind, life and matter. The ultimate is spirit, an indivisible entity called “Brahma” in the Upanishads.  “The manifestation of the Being in our universe takes the shape of an involution which is the starting-point of an evolution — matter being the nether-most stage, spirit the summit.” 

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