India’s freedom, Sri Aurobindo and the divinisation of matter

Every year, as India celebrates Independence Day, there is one hero who escapes our attention. Today, on India’s 65 I-Day celebrations, a minute of deep silence — Silence — on the 140th birth anniversary of freedom fighter and spiritual guru Sri Aurobindo, whose words, ideas and actions will outlive history. A poet-seer of the future, his seminal work, Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, is without doubt our vehicle to reach, conquer and bring the higher levels of consciousness down to earth, divinise it.

This divinisation of matter is not merely an intellectual differentiation of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. It is the only logical progression in the evolutionary process of nature. Else, why all this maya, this illusion, this pain of birth and rebirth, if not to finally bring the Gods down to us? Into nothingness came matter, into matter came life, into life came mind. As man stands over earth and watches the planet from his mental tower, surely he realises that mind is not the grand conclusion of nature’s expression — deeper depths and higher summits await us.

But neither blind faith nor equally blind logic can carry us there. At some point, science will have to seek refuge in spirituality and in this age of reason, the spiritualists will have to lean on science for a merger that will bind both and carry humanity forward. Today, the arrogance of science and logic is overbearing on the intuitive knowledge, inner knowing. That’s because the ideas of Sri Aurobindo have remained dormant — no thinker, writer, poet, scientist, spiritualist has been able to bridge this divide like him.

In the 37-and-counting volumes of his books — some of which, like Volume 25, carry more than one book — Sri Aurobindo has studied and experimented upon himself the principles of spirituality. Apart from Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, three works — The Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga, and The Life Divine — underline his basic idea: All life is yoga. Personally, I found The Future Poetry with On Quantitative Metre and Letters on Poetry and Art very illuminating.

But on August 15, the significance and context of Sri Aurobindo is in his revolutionary writings. Here, the most inspiring works are Bande Mataram and Karmayogin — both are collections of his political speeches and writings between 1890 and 1908, and 1909 and 1910, respectively. It is here that we find the force of his writings and the magnificent elegance with which he easily moves between freedom and soul, matter and spirit.

“No national awakening is really vital and enduring which confines itself to a single field,” he wrote in a June 1909 essay, The Awakening Soul of India. “It is when the soul awakens that a nation is really alive, and the life will then manifest itself in all the manifold forms of activity in which man seeks to express the strength and the delight of the expansive spirit within.”

The politics of Sri Aurobindo wasn’t that of making the best out of the crumbs the British offered. His vision was clear — complete independence. As a result, his relationship with the Congress wasn’t always harmonious. Part of the ‘extremist’ group, the ‘moderates’ shunned his ideas. Not surprising: the Congress was gradualist in its approach, Sri Aurobindo wanted nothing short of absolute freedom.

An unsigned pamphlet, Bhawani Mandir, that goaded India to embrace Shakti and free itself from slavery is one of the most stirring speeches I’ve read. “Come then, hearken to the call of the Mother,” he wrote in 1895. “She is already in our hearts waiting to manifest Herself, waiting to be worshipped, — inactive because the God in us is concealed by tamas, troubled by Her inactivity, sorrowful because Her children will not call on Her to help them. You who feel Her stirring within you, fling off the black veil of self, break down the imprisoning walls of indolence, help Her each as you feel impelled, with your bodies or with your intellect or with your speech or with your wealth or with your prayers and worship, each man according to his capacity.”

He took this activist approach and raised it to a philosophical idea in three books that, in my opinion, should become essential readings for students of politics the world over — The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and War and Self-Determination (click here to download them). Here you see the evolution of society, not merely in terms of the physical or social institutions, but psychological and spiritual.

“If a subjective age, the last sector of a social cycle, is to find its outlet and fruition in a spiritualised society and the emergence of mankind on a higher evolutionary level, it is not enough that certain ideas favourable to that turn of human life should take hold of the general mind of the race, permeate the ordinary motives of its thought, art, ethics, political ideals, social effort, or even get well into its inner way of thinking and feeling,” he writes in the concluding chapter of The Human Cycle. “More is needed; a general spiritual awakening and aspiration in mankind is indeed the large necessary motive-power, but the effective power must be something greater. There must be a dynamic re-creating of individual manhood in the spiritual type.”

All these years, the work of Sri Aurobindo has remained hidden from mainstream thought and ideas. Intellectuals and thinkers engaged in the debates between socialism and capitalism, democracy and communism, liberalism and conservatism, find little space to engage with spiritualism, Indianism — these fuzzy notions of spirituality or the political quagmire of religion are not the tools of those who rely on reason. But with all the political and the economic systems under severe stress today, perhaps that’s the future of thought itself. And it is the shoulders of Sri Aurobindo and the fundamental principles that he has offered us that we will have to stand on to take the next evolutionary step towards divinisation of matter.

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