Sri Aurobindo/Sandbox

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Nevertheless, it is in each case the same Aurobindo who left these legacies, and in each contribution it can be shown that he was motivated by a constant philosophy. Though he often departed from contemporary trends in Indian thought, he clearly followed one tradition of Hindu mysticism (and indeed Asian mysticism in general): that of introspection, where claims to the truth are based primarily on prolonged and intense meditation. This inner vision both revealed itself throughout Aurobindo's life - when he was a young, gentlemanly scholar, a prisoner charged with treason, or an unwilling guru - and provided him with a means of discovering the higher unity underlying this world. Whether he was a political extremist contemplating India's spiritual role in the world, a philosopher striving to interpret human history, a yogin describing the mystical path, or a visionary establishing the beginning of a new era for humanity, Aurobindo never failed to consistently and confidently follow the guidance of his inner soul.

Aurobindo and politics, nationalism and sociology

Early years

Even in Aurobindo's early years he showed a devotion to his native country. Born in Calcutta on August 15, 1872, Aurobindo spent the first few years of his life in Rangpur in north-eastern Bengal. In 1879, his father sent him and two of his brothers to an acquaintance in Manchester, England in 1879, to receive an English education and upbringing. His father's wish was that at least one of the three would join the prestigious Indian Civil Service, which usually selected its employees from among British settlers[1]. The family ran into some financial difficulties at home, however, and without regular allowances Aurobindo and his brothers found themselves "living on the verge of poverty"[1] after 1887. Aurobindo nevertheless did well at school, concentrating his reading on "revolutions and rebellions which led to national liberation"[1]. Exposed to writings on the French Revolution and other radical trends in Europe, Aurobindo "received strongly the impression that a period of general upheaval and great revolutionary changes was coming in the world" - and made a decision to participate in these changes[1]. Although he came across the Vedanta[1] , he experienced little else of Hinduism at this time. In 1890 he was accepted at Cambridge University as a classical scholar, and joined the program for admission to the Indian Civil Service. Aurobindo was the only one of the brothers to rise this far, but by this time he had come to consciously oppose British imperialism. Though he successfully passed all requirements for the Indian Civil Service, he refused to appear for the final examination in 1892, in horseback riding[1]. He was instead picked up by the Maharaja of Baroda, who was passing through England at the time[1]. Beginning as a revenue-department trainee, Aurobindo worked in Baroda for thirteen years. He eventually rose to the post of Vice-Principal of Baroda College[1], but left in 1906 to participate directly in India's growing political crisis.

Early writings

Throughout his life, Aurobindo was a prodigious writer; he "made substantial contributions to social science, literary criticism, and Indian cultural history, and touched suggestively on such topics as linguistics and anthropology"[1]. After his first mystical experience of the Brahman in 1908, he described how "the mental being in me became a free Intelligence, a universal Mind, not limited to the narrow circle of personal thought as a laborer in a thought factory, but a receiver of knowledge from all the hundred realms of being and free to choose what it willed in this vast sight-empire and thought-empire"[1]. His first published writings were of a very political nature; it was only later that he concentrated his literary creations on philosophy and yoga. While in Baroda, he used his pen to criticize the Indian National Congress (created in 1885), whose delegates mostly believed, with some justification, "that British rule was necessary for the country's stability and advancement". He demanded that the Congress "recognise the hard truth that every nation must beat out its own path to salvation with pain and difficulty, and not rely on the tutelage of another"[1]. Aurobindo's enemy was not the British Empire, but rather subservience: as he wrote, "our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism". To become a proud nation once more, Aurobindo wrote that Congress would have to be made a popular body, involving the lower classes, "for it was only a broad-based movement, not the palaver of a smug minority, that could bring about the country's liberation"[1]. By 1906, Congress had at least partially responded to such pressure, and proclaimed a limited form of swaraj, or self-rule, as its goal.

In 1906, Aurobindo also began an English journal to disseminate revolutionary ideas[1]. Called Bande Mataram ("Hail Mother"), the paper took up the slogan, forbidden by the British, of the growing popular unrest[1]. This publication was later suppressed, and Aurobindo subsequently began a weekly review paper, Karmayogin, which had the declared purpose of assisting religion and politics, "the two main streams of India's national life", to "unite again into one mighty invincible and grandiose flood"[1]. After Aurobindo left the political scene, he spent six and a half years, starting in 1914, writing and publishing a monthly sixty-page journal called Arya. It was this paper that contained "all of the works upon which his reputation as a philosopher, Sanskrit scholar, political scientist and literary critic is based"[1]. All of his later writings, including works of poetry, scientific record-keeping of his sadhana (the practice of a mystical discipline such as yoga), expositions on psychology, sociology, and philosophy, "embodied a consistent outlook, expressing in intellectual language the vision of yoga"[1]. Aurobindo's literary creations did not merely focus on India's shortcomings; political regeneration, though essential, was still only the first piece of groundwork that had to be laid down for the coming spiritual age.

Involvement with Indian Nationalism

Besides his rhetorical articles, Aurobindo was heavily involved in the Nationalist movement as an important leader. He left for Calcutta in 1906[1], following the unpopular partition of Bengal by Viceroy Lord Curzon, a measure ultimately intended to weaken the power of politically conscious Hindus in the province[1]. Aurobindo soon became identified as a member of the "Extremists", a division of Congress opposed to the "Moderates" with wide popular support. He rose to become a leader of the party, stating that its goal was "the perfect self-fulfillment of India and the independence which is the condition of self-fulfillment"[1]. He lent uncompromising support to the Swadeshi ("indigenous") Movement, which boycotted British-manufactured goods[1]. Aurobindo wanted this movement to be universal, "not limited to goods but including every phase of life"[1], and at sessions of Congress, Aurobindo refused to allow the Moderates to avoid the issues of the agitation movement[1]. When the government-supported Moderates in 1907 proposed a new "Convention" with one of their own as a leader, and having a programme intended to cool the agitation movement, Aurobindo's group halted the proceedings, and the two groups were irrevocably split[1].

This division led to isolation of the Extremists, and a harsh repression by the British government followed. Every important Extremist leader, Aurobindo included, was removed from power. Aurobindo, who was largely responsible for the 1907 schism, predicted that the inevitable repression "would create a deep change in the hearts and minds of the people and the whole nation would swing over to Nationalism and the ideal of independence". Nevertheless, it was not until 1917 that Congress "came out in favour of complete independence", and only in 1920 were actual steps taken in that direction with Mahatma Gandhi's non-co-operation movement[1], whose watchword was ahimsa paramo dharmah - non-violence is the highest law. (Even this movement, however, was never completely free of violent acts by its more ardent followers.) By contrast, Aurobindo (as he wrote of himself) was "neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist"[1]. He "believed that a subject nation had the right to win freedom by violent means and he thought that a general insurrection, aided by a military revolt, had a good chance of success in India"[1]. Henry Nevinson, a British journalist who interviewed Aurobindo during 1907, described him as having "the stuff that dreamers are made of, but dreamers who will act their dream, indifferent to the means"[1]. While this may not be entirely true - Aurobindo did say, "our means must be as great as our ends" - his political morality is, in R. Sharma's words, more in line with "psychological principles" and thus "more realistic and practical than that of Gandhi"[2].

Revolutionary activities and imprisonment

Aurobindo did acknowledge "that legal forms of resistance such as boycott and non-cooperation could do much to prepare the ground for more active forms of revolt"[1]. But the "direct road to freedom" - armed revolution - demanded more, and Aurobindo therefore involved himself in secret revolutionary activity in addition to the open political agitation. Even before going to Calcutta, he had joined several underground revolutionary groups, had helped to recruit Indian workers, and had even secured the Maharaja of Baroda's unspoken consent to allow a fellow revolutionary to infiltrate the military[1]. He also "gave at least tacit approval" to the revolutionary plots of another group led by his younger brother Barindrakumar, which included arsenal building and political assassinations, none of which were successfully carried out. One attempt in April 1908, however, did manage to terribly injure and kill two Englishwomen and their servants who were traveling in a carriage misidentified by the revolutionaries. One assassin was executed, while the other took his own life before being captured[1]. A police raid the next morning arrested over twenty-five men associated with the group, including Aurobindo. These men were soon charged with "waging war against the king", the equivalent of high treason, and the "Alipore Bomb Trial", as it became known, was widely followed throughout India for over a year[1]. In May 1909, Barindrakumar and another member were given the death penalty (later commuted to a life sentence), sixteen others received various other terms, and the rest, including Aurobindo, were acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence[1]. But early the next year, Aurobindo was implicated (this time without justification) in another, more "successful" assassination attempt. Before an arrest warrant was even issued, however, Aurobindo had followed an adesh, a command from above, which instructed him to go to Pondicherry, in French India[1]. He was to remain here (though the arrest warrant was eventually lifted) until his death in 1950.

It was in the tumultuous years of his political involvement that Aurobindo also first began having profoundly affecting mystical experiences. Earlier he had had mystical "glimpses", including "a vast calm which descended upon him at the moment when he stepped first on Indian soil after his long absence" in 1893 and "the realization of the vacant Infinite" in Kashmir in 1903[1]. But several experiences in particular he identifies as vital to his later realizations, which concerned evolution. The first occurred while meditating with the yogin Vishnu Bhaskar Lele at the beginning of 1908 - he describes it as "the realization of the silent, spaceless and timeless Brahman gained after a complete and abiding stillness of the whole consciousness and attended at first by the overwhelming feeling and perception of the total unreality of the world"[3]. At this time he also discovered an inner guide, or antaryamin, which had given him a mantra. At Lele's advice, Aurobindo gave up his search for a human guru and surrendered himself to the Divine voice within[1]. This advice was particularly crucial in the following year, when Aurobindo was forced to serve time in the Alipore Central Jail. Here he actually came to look forward to solitary confinement, where he and the other group members were kept for months at a time[1]. By taking refuge in the "cosmic consciousness" of the Divine, Aurobindo could look around the cell and see that "it was no longer by its high wall that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me"[1]. Aurobindo spent time reading the Bhagavadgita, and not only understood its call "to renounce self-will and become a passive and faithful instrument" in the hands of Sri Krishna[1], but also "envisioned the Supreme Lord (Vasudeva) transforming the entire human and cosmic process"[3]. This "fundamental realization"[1] helped lead Aurobindo in his years at Pondicherry to articulate his conception of human evolution, as described below.

Later political involvement

While in later years, writes R. A. McDermott, Aurobindo became far less active politically and "addressed himself to the practical, urgent crises of modern civilization", he continued to view "India's political struggle as part of the spiritual transformation of man"[3]. Aurobindo actively participated in world affairs twice more, publicly supporting the Allied Forces against Nazi Germany, and encouraging Nationalist leaders in India to accept the British Cripps Offer[3] of 1942, which proposed "independence after the war in exchange for co-operation with the Allied effort"[1]. Although this offer was rejected, and the independence India achieved five years later came at the cost of "political division of the subcontinent"[1], Aurobindo looked hopefully to the future. On the celebration of Indian Independence, August 15, 1947 (also his seventy-fifth birthday), Aurobindo listed what he felt to be India's aims and ideals for the future. These include:

a revolution that would achieve India's freedom and her unity; the resurgence and liberation of Asia and her return to the great role which she had played in the progress of human civilization; the rise of a new, a greater, brighter, and noble life for mankind which for its entire realization would rest outwardly on an international unification of the separate existence of the peoples, preserving and securing their national life but drawing them together into an overriding and consummating oneness; the gift by India of her spiritual knowledge and her means for the spiritualization of life to the whole race; finally, a new step in the evolution which, by uplifting the consciousness to a higher level, would begin the solution of the many problems of existence that have perplexed and vexed humanity, since men began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society.[3]

Aurobindo's praise of India's role in humanity's future did not arise from simple patriotism, however; as he writes, "India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great"[1]. It was only the religious aspects of India's Hinduism that Aurobindo was concerned with - as R. C. Zaehner writes, for "Hinduism as a social structure he had no use at all"[4]. What was important was the all-embracing religion Aurobindo felt Hinduism to embody - or rather "the dharma, the national religion which we also believe to be universal"[1]. He had little respect for the other starved faiths of the world, seeing them as schools or sects or religions in which "hundreds or thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence"[1]. As the biographer Peter Heehs writes, a major step in the direction of Aurobindo's proposed goal of "uplifting the consciousness" would be the "integration of the two principal ways of regarding existence - the spirituality preserved in the religious traditions of the East, and the practicality represented by the political and economic systems of the West"[1].

Aurobindo and sociology

Among Aurobindo Ghose's many endeavors, his contribution to sociology is typical in its value both in itself and in its practical application by the author. In a work entitled The Human Cycle, he demonstrated that "human societies, like human individuals, pass through certain 'psychological' stages on their way to a pre-ordained evolutionary fulfilment". Among these, Aurobindo identified the symbolic, typal, conventional, individual, and subjective stages. Ultimately this cycle of social development would culminate in a "spiritual age" of human society[1]. Then humanity, in an evolving form, will "live like its spiritual individuals, not in the ego, but in the spirit, not as the collective ego, but as the collective soul"[1]. He observed that in the twentieth century the age of individuality was beginning to pass, since "the effort of the individual soon shows him that he cannot securely discover the truth and law of his own being without discovering some universal law and truth to which he can relate it"[5] The next stage on the social cycle, the "subjective age of humanity", would also have to be a "suprarational" age, "for reason has shown itself incapable of resolving the conflicting demands of opposed individuals, groups, and nations"[1]. Aurobindo believed that the nascent subjectivism was already beginning to show itself "in the new collective self-consciousness of man in that organic mass of his life which he has most firmly developed in the past, the nation"[5]. His sociological work was not merely scholarly, however: Aurobindo also participated heavily in regenerating the "collective self-consciousness" of his own nation, India, with the essential preliminary of political liberation.

Aurobindo's portrayal of India's struggle for independence at times seems to describe a spiritual liberation. Political freedom, he believed, "is the life-breath of a nation; to attempt social reform, educational reform, industrial expansion, the moral improvement of the race without aiming first and foremost at political freedom, is the very height of ignorance and futility"[1]. He wrote that the Nationalist cause "is God-created, entrusted with a mission, sure of victory;" it "can stand by itself in a solitude, absolute and supreme, without visible shield or sword, exposed to all that the powers of the world can do to slay it, and yet survive"[1]. In fact, Aurobindo did not consider the political process of liberation as at all separate from the spiritual aspect: as he declared, "There is to me nothing secular, all human activity is for me a thing to be included in a complete spiritual life, and the importance of politics at the present time is very great"[1]. The spiritual goal of the Nationalists could make great, even "unethical", demands on its followers, as described earlier. Aurobindo went so far as to say that

The attempt of human thought to force an ethical meaning into the whole of Nature is one of those acts of willful and obstinate self-confusion, one of those pathetic attempts of the human being to read himself, his limited habitual human self into all things and judge them from the standpoint he has personally evolved, which most effectively prevent him from arriving at real knowledge and complete sight.[6]

According to Heehs, Aurobindo disagreed with the common scholarly interpretation of the Bhagavadgita which had "not echoed Sri Krishna's emphasis on the necessity of action as the one sure road to the goal"[1], and instead had only emphasized the importance of the caste system. The "necessity of action" Krishna spoke of, Aurobindo believed, can even involve deeds that transgress the everyday rules of conduct, though these standards of behavior are after all only "necessary at a given epoch" and "are not eternally fixed"[7]Akram, Tanweer. "The Philosophy of Aurobindo Ghose". The New Nation. 25 November 1988.</ref>. He felt that "the code of justice to be applied by a nation struggling for freedom was not that of the law-abiding sattwic man, but that of the fighter"[1].

Aurobindo and evolution

Before describing Aurobindo's conception of human evolution, it is necessary to know how Aurobindo saw the organization of the universe and its inhabitants. Most of this scheme, as well as the rest of the details of Aurobindo's evolution, are presented in his work The Life Divine, which was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, the year of his death[1]. This massive thesis "is regarded by some as one of the most important metaphysical treatises of the present century"[1] - though Aurobindo "not only denied being a philosopher but even asserted that his works were produced without the aid of thought"[1], instead being inspired. The Self, he describes, consists of caitya purusha, the psychic being or soul, which is "immutable and imperishable"[8], constant for each individual and immune to evolutionary change. In addition, Aurobindo distinguished "seven principal planes", or worlds of relations in the universe, each occupying a "different level in the scale of being". Three belong to a lower hemisphere, aparardha, which includes the familiar "physical" plane of the body, corresponding to the material aspects of our selves; the "vital" plane of the life nature, consisting of sensations, feelings, and will; and the "mental" plane of the mind, concerned with cognition and intelligence. The higher hemisphere, parardha, includes the three planes of "pure existence, pure consciousness, and pure bliss (sat-chit-ananda), which together comprise the nature of absolute reality". Between the two hemispheres is a link-plane, which Aurobindo called the "supermind", or gnosis. Between this supermind and the lower hemisphere, Aurobindo furthermore said there existed an intermediate plane of "supraconscient cosmic Mind" called the "overmind"[1]. It was along this bridge "between mind-life-body and the Truth-consciousness of Supermind"[1] that Aurobindo claimed ideas "came down in a mighty flood which swelled into a sea of direct Knowledge always translating itself into experience"[1].

The process of evolution

Evolution, according to Aurobindo, is the process of moving up these planes of existence. But just as important as this ascent is its complement process, descent or "involution" of the higher planes into lower beings. The evolution of Matter, in fact, is only possible because there has been involution "of the Spirit into the minutest particle of Matter"[8]. As S. K. Maitra, an Indian scholar whose study of his philosophy still remains definitive[1], writes, the creation "of the world in which we live, is the result of the plunge of the Spirit into Ignorance"[8]. Life first transforms the substance of matter, though it cannot "make it completely alive", for "it is bound to death"[8]. Mind becomes housed "in forms of Matter which appear to be altogether unconscious, then struggles toward mentality in the guise of living Matter and attains to it imperfectly in the conscious animal"[6]. Consciousness thus "exists prior to its cerebral instrument", the brain; it is not merely "an epiphenomenon of the nervous system" as some scientists were already claiming[1].

The process of evolution is a triple one, involving first an expansion of the material available to evolution, "providing greater room for the operation of each principle as it emerges;" secondly a heightening, "an ascent from grade to grade, from the lower to the higher;" and thirdly an integration, a "taking up within itself, as soon as it reaches a higher grade, all the previous lower grades and transforming them, so that at each step of the ascent, there is not merely an ascent to a higher principle but a lifting up and transformation of all the lower grades"[8]. In the words of N. K. Gupta, "at each crossover, there is not only a rise in consciousness but also a reversal of consciousness, that is to say, the level attained turns back upon the preceding levels, influencing and moulding them as far as possible in its own mode and law of existence"[9]. This explains why life and matter have "become different after the emergence of mind from what they were before its emergence"[8] - though they continue to place limitations on the mind.

Relation to Western science

It may be of interest to compare this version of evolution with the scientific account developed in the West (where, after all, Aurobindo was first exposed to the theory of evolution). Aurobindo would likely agree with Darwin that for most of nature, evolution by natural selection involves a "struggle for existence". But human life, Aurobindo claims, "is moved by two equally powerful impulses, one of individualistic self-assertion, the other of collective self-assertion; it works by strife, but also by mutual assistance and united effort"[5]. This latter impulse, as described later in this article, was cultivated at the "laboratory" of Aurobindo's ashram, where it was hoped "the relations among human beings, usually based almost exclusively upon competition and strife, would be replaced by relations of emulation for doing better, for collaboration, relations of real brotherhood"[3]. Aurobindo's philosophy is no closer to the contributions of genetics than it is to Darwinian evolution: he "saw the physical basis of inheritance as the mechanism of something irreducible to a form or activity of matter"[1]. But the sharpest difference of all concerns Aurobindo's clearly teleological conception of evolution - "purpose" had been factored out of evolution (which occasionally even leads to the evolution of simpler, less "conscious" organisms). "A spiritual evolution, an evolution of consciousness in Matter in a constant developing self-formation till the form can reveal the indwelling spirit", Aurobindo wrote, is "the keynote, the central significant motive of the terrestrial existence"[6]. But he sympathized with people's inability to grasp this full purpose of evolution. Aurobindo understood that the "meaning of the terrestrial creation is at every point exposed to challenge in the mind of man himself", because evolution "is still half-way on its journey, is still in the Ignorance, is still seeking in the mind of half-evolved humanity for its own purpose and significance"[6].

Relation to Eastern mysticism

If Aurobindo's unique philosophy is sometimes at odds with Western science, it represents an equally clear break from much of traditional Eastern thought. While his "own spiritual experience and vision confidently proclaim the inevitability of man's spiritual evolution"[3], evolution was a peculiar concept in the East. Although Aurobindo wrote of the "human cycle" of social stages, he does not accept that the Eastern conception of time as cyclical is inevitable[7]. Most specifically, it seems he hoped humanity would use the approaching "subjective age" as a base from which to turn its cyclic revolutions into an upward spiritual spiral. As Aurobindo writes, a "subjective age may stop very far short of spirituality; for the subjective turn is only a first condition, not the thing itself, not the end of the matter"[5]. The process of creation outlined in Aurobindo's account of evolution is another way in which his "philosophy modifies the mold of sub-continental thought"[7]. He rejects the teaching of classical non-dualist Sankara that the "One" is totally static and unfractionable. If this were so, "then there could be no room for evolution, creativity, or development of any kind"[4], and "salvation, if it came, would come only to the individual man; there would be no transformation of the nature of man"[8]. Instead, Aurobindo believed that the One, though self-sufficient, is also "the source of multiplicity and not only of change but of progressive, evolutionary change, an ascent the culmination of which was to be re-united with the One in a new richness and a new glory"[4].

In describing evolution Aurobindo also presented an interpretation of important Hindu scripture that at the time was considered unorthodox. While he pointed out how the Vedanta clearly said that life and "individual and racial evolution" had a "supreme utility"[1], Aurobindo looked to the story of the Bhagavadgita for a powerful account of this message. He believed that involution can sometimes proceed without descent through "Ignorance"; this process of Avatara - the "descent in human form of the whole of the Divine Personality"[8] - is that of Krishna in the Gita (and perhaps of other divine incarnations). Aurobindo claims that "the upholding of Dharma", or Duty, "is not the only object of the descent of the Avatara", since "mere justice or standards of virtue can always be upheld by the divine omnipotence through its ordinary means, by great men or great movements, by the life and work of sages and kings and religious teachers, without any actual incarnation". As he comments in an essay on the Gita, "there are two aspects of the divine birth; one is a descent, the birth of God in humanity, the Godhead manifesting itself in the human form and nature, the eternal Avatar; the other is an ascent, the birth of man into the Godhead, man rising into the divine nature and consciousness". The Avatara is thus born "in order to show man what he is capable of becoming"[8]. Aurobindo's philosophical thought, Maitra writes, is in fact "in complete accord with the spirit of our ancient Scriptures, the Vedas and the Upanishads", which "had great faith in the destiny of man and his terrestrial existence"[8] - a faith which many later thinkers unfortunately lost.

Future evolution

But most original of all is Aurobindo's plan of future evolution - for after all, "mind is not its last summit"[8]. Just as "Nature has evolved beyond Matter and manifested Life, beyond Life and manifested Mind", Aurobindo writes, "she must evolve beyond Mind and manifest a consciousness and power of our existence free from the imperfection and limitation of our mental existence, a supramental or truth-consciousness"[1]. This will have to happen sooner or later - "sooner", Aurobindo believes, "rather than later"[8], since humanity is at present

undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny; for a stage has been reached in which the human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way. A structure of the external life has been raised up by man's ever-active mind and life-will, a structure of an unmanageable hugeness and complexity, for the service of his mental, vital, physical claims and urges, a complex political, social, administrative, economic, cultural machinery, an organised collective means for his intellectual, sensational, aesthetic and material satisfaction. Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites. For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it.[6]

Fortunately, the very "plunge of the Spirit into Ignorance" that has created us promises "that out of its present hopelessly weak and miserable state", the created world "will emerge into one of perfect strength and bliss"[8]. This will happen if, "into the present world of Ignorance", the supermind descends, to "create a new Truth-Consciousness and divinise Life"[1]. In the same way, writes Heehs, that "life emerged in the proto-bacterium, and conscious mentality in the proto-anthropoid, so supermind will emerge in the human prototype of a yet-to-be-evolved superior being", which he calls the "superman"[1]. And as Maitra points out, "when the Supermind emerges, there is a radical change in the character of evolution, for henceforth it will be through knowledge and not through ignorance"[8]. While the "evolution of Matter takes several aeons, that of life progresses much more quickly, that of mind much more quickly still, while when spiritual evolution begins, a vast increase in the rapidity of the pace becomes possible"[8] - for the evolutionary leap to supermind will be "a conscious process", in which the human "can participate in his own self-exceeding"[1]. Ultimately, of course, the ascending process "does not stop with the Supermind but continues till the Absolute Spirit or Sachchidananda is reached"[8].

For the evolution to supermind, however, humans must first learn how to establish a passage, for both ascent and descent, through the intermediate overmind plane. While the overmind is "the ultimate source of man's higher intuitions"[1], from below it appears as a "brilliant golden Lid" that "veils the face of the greater Truth from our sight"[6]. It is therefore the overmind that is the obstacle to future human evolution. As Aurobindo writes, the "rending of the veil is the condition of the divine life in humanity; for by that rending, by the illumining descent of the higher into the nature of the lower being and the forceful ascent of the lower being into the nature of the higher, mind can recover its divine light in the all-comprehending Supermind"[6]. This "illumination and change must take up and re-create the whole being, mind, life and body: it must be not only an inner experience of the Divinity, but a remoulding of both the inner and outer existence by its power"[8]. As in the previous evolutions, the ascent to the supermind "does not mean any severance from our body, life, soul or mind", but rather a complete change of these, even in our terrestrial existence, "into a fit vehicle of the transformed consciousness"[8]. As a result "of this radical change human beings will be transformed into gnostic beings or beings who have shed all ignorance and are illumined by the light of knowledge"[8].

Aurobindo and yoga

In explaining precisely how this transformation of self would occur, Aurobindo turned again to yoga, which thus becomes both "a vision of personal and cosmic evolution as well as a method for its realization"[3]. But Aurobindo's yoga was not that of tradition; it "is not a retreading of old walks, but a spiritual adventure"[1]. Most importantly, he treated yoga "not as an escape from life but as a means of transforming it"[1]. Although he concurred that "the mental silence, the release from ego, the perception of an ineffable reality behind the vacant phenomena of the world" which resulted from yoga did in fact occur (as in his experience with the yogin Lele), this "sense of unreality" would disappear after several months, to be replaced by "participation in the world-consciousness"[1]. Aurobindo's message is that humans "can achieve a higher level of life by increased nonattachment, concentration, and liberation"[3]. In this way yoga is "essentially an aspiration to the creative power behind evolution and a surrender to its workings"[1].

Yoga and evolution

As mentioned previously, Aurobindo's conception of evolution involves the three processes: expansion, integration, and heightening. In the next evolutionary step, this triple transformation is described as first, a "the conversion of our whole present nature into a soul-instrumentation". Secondly, it involves "the descent of a higher Light, Knowledge, Power, Force, Bliss, Purity into the whole being, even into the lowest recesses of the life and body". Only then will there occur "as the crowning movement the ascent into the Supermind and the transforming descent of the supramental Consciousness into our entire being and nature"[6]. As it is normally practiced, yoga concerns only the first of these, for the actual "rending of the veil separates us from the Divine Light", that is, the overmind, "can only be done by the Supreme Being; no human effort has the power to do this". But before the supermind can illumine our consciousness, there must be "an intense aspiration on our part for it and an opening out of the whole of our body, life, soul and mind for the purpose of receiving the light"[8]. Through this "self-surrender"[1] of yoga we will become "fit to receive the light from the Supermind when it knocks at our door". The agent of this surrender is the soul: "we must be educated to feel the need of the growth of our psychic being and the sovereignty of the soul over the rest of our being"[8]. For Aurobindo, therefore, finding one's "real soul is the first step towards the attainment of our true spiritual life"[8].

After one has learned to obey the soul - the "one necessary condition of the total transformation of our existence" - there are still two other stages "needed for the largest spiritual change"[6]. In addition to the opening of the psyche, the "transformation by the spiritual consciousness" needs an "opening out outwards of mind, life and matter to the higher light of the spirit"[8]. This is the descent aspect of evolution, which affects each level of our being. A change of our lives and material substance, says Maitra, would "mean a conversion of the inconscient in us into the conscient, spiritualizing our material substance, planting the law of the gnostic consciousness in the whole of our being"[8]. In a fundamental difference between Aurobindo's yoga and that of others, this "change of life and existence" becomes a "distinct and central object". Though much of his "later practice of yoga was directed towards the effectuation of the physical transformation", Aurobindo felt this to be "the most difficult and doubtful" part of the endeavor[1], unlikely to be accomplished in his lifetime.

Even with descent, the spiritual change "will not lead to man's attaining the highest spiritual level of which he is capable, unless there supervenes the third and final transformation", the ascent to the supermind[8]. In regular yoga "ascent to the higher reaches of consciousness" produces only an ephemeral vision "of an infinity above us, of an infinity of consciousness, force and bliss, of a boundless light, a boundless power and a boundless ecstasy". At most there can be "a partial retention in consciousness of the impressions of a temporary sojourn in the higher spiritual planes"[8]. Aurobindo claims that it is only "for pragmatic reasons, for purposes of the superficial movements of his life", that a person "lives absorbed in the present moment, that there is erected a wall which shuts him out completely from all knowledge of the future and also from all knowledge of the past, except for that small part of it which memory makes accessible"[8]. To truly remember "that all minds are one Mind taking many standpoints, all lives one Life developing many currents of activity, all body and form one substance of Force and Consciousness concentrating into many apparent stabilities of force and consciousness"[8] requires summoning in a new power of consciousness, the supramental. Aurobindo outlines several steps in this journey, including Mind, Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuition, Overmind, and Supermind[8]. But in the end, whatever the result of this third and final transformation, it will be "something so radically different from what we can conceive with our mental consciousness that a description of it is impossible with the help of our language, which can only express what is accessible to our mind"[8].

Aurobindo's sadhana

Aurobindo kept detailed notes documenting each stage of his own sadhana, particularly during his years at Pondicherry; these form the most practical guide a spiritual aspirant could refer to. In about 1904 Aurobindo "realized that he might be able to use the spiritual power that was said to be one of the results of yoga to help carry out his political programme"[1]. Indeed, after beginning daily practicing of breathing exercises known as pranayama, he found himself more energetic, in better health, and more fluent in his writing activities. When Nevinson met him in 1907, he described Aurobindo as a man not only of "uncompromising convictions" but of "spiritual elevation"[1]. As Heehs comments, "the activities of ordinary life, politics included, became most effective when infused with energy from a spiritual source". Aurobindo had also realized that the converse is true: spiritual "life finds its most potent expression in the man who lives the ordinary life of men in the strength of the Yoga and under the law of the Vedanta"[1].

In Pondicherry, Aurobindo began to view the power and guidance he received as only "a part and result" of his sadhana, rather than the goal[1]. Here he gained a community of spiritual seekers, many of whom took up yoga, and in 1926 Aurobindo informed them that he had finally achieved siddhi, perfection of yoga[1]. Aurobindo's record documents "new powers of consciousness" that arose from his yoga, but because these were "a natural, normal and spontaneous product of the new higher consciousness into which the being enters in the course of his self-evolution", they did not "create in their possessor an ego-consciousness"[8]. He had also found that divine realizations could become "very positive or frequent or continuous or normal" rather than "flashes, snatches or rare visitations;" the thing realized could become "more real, dynamic, intimately present to the consciousness than any physical thing can be"[1]. Many people were struck by Aurobindo's extraordinary appearance, even at the end of his life. In 1950 one politician remarked after a visit: "I saw before me a being completely transformed, radiant, blissful, enveloped in an atmosphere of godlike calm. He spoke in a low clear voice, which stirred the depths of my being"[1].

Integral yoga

In all of his presentation of yoga, Aurobindo took "an integral approach that derived from his own experience" to avoid the error of presenting a philosophical system that could only represent "a section of the Truth"[1]. Among the "fundamental limitations which render it unfit to serve as a link between God and the world"[8], Aurobindo saw the mind as characterized by the operation of "analysis: division and arrangement"[1]. But when the mind allows its process to be directed by the supermind, it feels the "urge to come to higher and higher unities. . . . to synthesize the divided units with a view to arriving at the unity of the whole which it broke asunder when it analyzed it into atomic units"[8]. Only the supermind, Aurobindo believed, can discover Truth, "a unity that can only be grasped by a synthetic vision"[1].

Aurobindo's "integral yoga", as it is known, is described fully in The Synthesis of Yoga, a work in which he "presents the same philosophy" worked out in The Life Divine, "from the point of view of yogic practice"[1]. Integral yoga attempts to combine the three main paths which are traditionally thought to divide yoga. These are: 1) jnanayoga (the yoga of knowledge), which "aims at the realisation of the unique and supreme Self . . . by the method of intellectual reflection, vicara, to right discrimination, viveka"[10]; 2) karmayoga (the yoga of work or selfless action), which "aims at the dedication of every human activity to the supreme Will;" and 3) bhaktiyoga (the yoga of devotion), which "aims at the enjoyment of the supreme Lord and Bliss and utilises normally the conception of the supreme Lord in His personality as the divine Lover and enjoyer of the universe"[10]. Normally, the aspirant chooses one of these paths and concentrates "exclusively on the workings of that instrument in order to awaken its latent powers, and through them rise to union with the Absolute"[1] - but this comes at the cost of becoming "incompetent in other parts of his nature"[1]. To avoid this, Aurobindo would have his integral yoga draw "on the essence of all paths" but be "bound down by none of their forms". To accomplish this combination and transformation, he brings in a fourth yoga, that of self-perfection. "The object of our synthetic Yoga", writes Aurobindo, must "be more integral and comprehensive", embracing "all these elements or these tendencies of a larger impulse of self-perfection and harmonize them"[10].

Relation to other schools of Yoga

Integral yoga can also be seen to combine the different schools that have been built around the philosophy of yoga. In particular, Aurobindo borrows from Hatha Yoga, a primarily physical form of yoga, and Raja Yoga, characterized by both the discipline of practice, abhyasa, and the discrimination of non-attachment, vairagya[3]. As he writes, "for an integral Yoga the special methods of Rajayoga and Hathayoga may be useful at times in certain stages of the progress, but are not indispensable"[10]. Even the ideas of tantric yoga, which give importance to "shakti or creative energy of the Supreme"[1] find a place. To Aurobindo, the world and all its forms are derived from shakti, and thus have value in themselves. His sadhana ultimately concentrated on establishing shakti "in the same physical self and directed to my work in life"[1]. Tantric yoga also has the object both of attaining mukti, or "union with the One Reality by means of liberation" from the world of phenomena and bhukti, or "enjoyment of the phenomenal creation"[1]. In Pondicherry, Aurobindo doubled the above the goals to formulate a "tetrad of complete perfection", the sansiddhi chatushtaya. Shuddhi, or purification, would lead to a "loosening of the bondage of nature, in particular the bond of ahankara or ego"[1] and thus mukti; this would result in siddhi, or perfection of individual nature[1], which in turn would permit bhukti. (Altogether, Aurobindo conceived of seven tetrads, the sapta chatushtaya, which provide a fairly comprehensive map of his sadhana.)

Like his conception of evolution, Aurobindo's yoga departs from traditional Hindu approaches as much as he borrows from them. The dominant Sankhya Yoga philosophy considered the beings and objects of this world to be nama-rupa, "empty names and forms;" Aurobindo, by contrast, came to see them as "real images or manifestations of the one Reality"[1]. While this tradition "had made the sharpest distinction between Spirit and matter, the Imperishable and the perishable, Eternity and time"[4], Aurobindo speaks of the unity of these, which are simply felt to be different facets of Parabrahman, the Absolute. Only if there is union can the yogin experience the descent of the supermind and be immersed in Spirit, the Imperishable, and Eternity.

Transcendence of time

Concerning the transcendence of time, Aurobindo believed that "the significance of spiritual transformation of the human being consists not only in his release from ignorance and bondage but also in the recreation of temporal reality"[7]. Instead of our habitual "fixity and restriction of outlook - resulting as it does from a narrow and rigid aperture of consciousness" the human could come to possess the "capacity of detaching an essential part of himself from the cosmic flow". The human being, as described by N. Pearson, "would then be in a position to experience more freely all the infinitely varied expressions of Cosmos . . . to know directly, by standing above or entering into the heart of things, their true nature-in-themselves", and "would be more cognizant of the goal and direction of the whole infinite cosmic movement"[11]. The feeling of perishable flesh would also disappear in the yogic union, for "death is not an inherent characteristic of life, but is only a feature of it so far as it is subservient to the operation of Mind" [8]. As Aurobindo writes concerning mortality:

A deathbound littleness is not all we are:
Immortal our forgotten vastnesses
Await discovery in our summit selves;
Unmeasured breadths and depths of being are ours.[12]

Aurobindo found that such ineffable "intimations of immortality" are best expressed in the language of poetry, rather than "the more precise, less suggestive idiom of prose"[1]. But the nearly 24,000-line Savitri, "a poetic chronicle of his yoga", was also a part of Aurobindo's sadhana, since the creative process served as "a means of ascension" - both for himself and for those in whom it "could awaken sympathetic vibrations"[1].

Transcendence of matter

In addition to living "not only in infinity but also in eternity", with the divine consciousness, the gnostic being "has the consciousness of the One in all", of everything as "the manifestation of the Brahman", as Aurobindo told one follower[1]. Yoga seeks to discover the unity of spirit and matter at the level of supermind. As Aurobindo writes,

The affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence can have no base unless we recognise not only eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves constantly His garb, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.[6]

Purusha and Prakriti, "Conscious Soul and executive Force of Nature, are in the supramental harmony a two-aspected single truth, being and dynamis of the Reality;" it is only below the overmind that "they appear as two independent entities"[6].

While traditional yoga rejects the body, with its "gross physical instincts, impulses, desires"[13] that are associated with animal appetites for food and sex, Aurobindo believed the revulsion felt about the body is only "due to our failure to control it"[8]. At present, the body, "even in obeying, limits the soul's action; it has, moreover, a law of its own action which the soul cannot fully control"[8]. But in the gnostic being, the "relation between spirit and matter will be reversed, allowing a new interaction in which the spirit will attain the absolute control of the total being"[7]. The "individual Purusha would become the master of his own executive energy and at the same time a conscious partner, agent, instrument of the cosmic Spirit in the working of the universal Energy"[6]; existence would become "a life in the Divine, a life of the beginnings of a spiritual divine light and power and joy manifested in material Nature"[1].

Although ways might possibly be found "to draw upon the universal energy that . . . would sustain not only the vital parts of our physicality but its constituent matter with no need of aid for sustenance from any outside substance of Matter", or to replace physical procreation with "a supraphysical kind"[13], Aurobindo's yoga does not seek to supplant nature with spirit. Integral yoga seeks perfection of the whole Self, and "a perfection of the joy of life is part and an essential part of it, the body's delight in things and the body's joy of life are not excluded from it; they too have to be made perfect"[13]. Indeed, among the yogis practicing at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, "spiritual aspiration rather than asceticism" is the goal[3]. Aurobindo describes asceticism, the "spiritualistic negation of the physical world", as even "more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the wilderness"[8] than the denial of the spiritual world by materialists.

Aurobindo and cosmic consciousness

Like the temporal filter and physical limitations created by our mind, our ego "acts as a barrier between ourselves and our fellows; it is this which erects barriers of self-interest, completely shutting us off from others"[8]. This takes us to the most vital of the transformations envisioned by Aurobindo: the move from an individual consciousness to that of the many. The aim of his yoga was not "an individual achievement of divine realisation for the sake of the individual, but something to be gained for the earth-consciousness"[1]. With this cosmic consciousness there will arise a new "sense, feeling, by which all objective life will become part of his subjective existence and by which he will realize, perceive, feel, see, hear the Divine in all forms; all forms and movements will be realized, sense, seen, heard, felt, as if taking place within his own vast self of being"[6]. This Divine totality necessarily includes all other Selves: all beings would be to the gnostic being "his own selves, all ways and powers of consciousness would be felt as the ways and powers of his own universality"[8]. The divine life, "first and foremost an inner life"[8], reveals "the truth of ourselves as well as the truth of other selves, for this inner living can penetrate the life of all much more thoroughly than any surface consciousness can do". Because of this, the gnostic being has "a complete and intimate knowledge of the self of others, a complete and intimate knowledge of their mind, life, physical being"[8]. There will "emerge in human life a freer play of intuition and greater sympathy and understanding", but as a result of "full and intimate knowledge of other selves" rather than "mere surface sentiment of love and sympathy"[8]. As P. B. Saint-Hilaire notes, Aurobindo lays stress on the awareness, not the feelings, of the gnostic being: the fundamental character of the supermind "is knowledge by identity, in which the knower is one with that which is known"[14].

Relationship to the Individual

But if Aurobindo asserts that normal "waking consciousness is steeped in individualism, while the higher states reveal an ultimate unity"[15], he still places great importance on the individual. Evolution "is as much individual as it is cosmic"[8], as the "discovery of this Purusha dwelling within us is an essential condition of the discovery of the Cosmic Self and the Supreme Reality". The "immense importance of the individual being, which increases as he rises in the scale, is the most remarkable and significant fact of a universe which started without consciousness and without individuality", Aurobindo writes. "This importance can only be justified if the Self as individual is no less real than the Self as cosmic Being or Spirit and both are powers of the Eternal"[6]. The conscious individual is also "the medium through which the Spirit discloses its being"[8], and thus it is precisely because Nature intends in humans "a more and more conscious evolution, that individuality is so much developed in him and so absolutely important and indispensable"[5].

While the individual is "the key of the evolutionary movement", the transformation envisioned by Aurobindo is "something more than individual fulfilment"[1]. As Maitra writes, "what is wanted it the emergence of a divine life on earth, not the isolated realization by a few individuals of their true inner life"[8]. Recall that evolution involves not only ascent, but also descent and integration. As Maitra explains, "although many sages, both in our country and in other lands, have obtained individual salvation by detaching themselves from the rest of the world, there has been no general uplift of the whole world, no transformation of it into a higher status of being"[8]. A real revolution "would occur collectively through a critical mass of enlightened individuals"[15]. To lead the way to the supermind requires "a superior race of mental beings who think and act not by reasoning but by an intuitive understanding"[8]. These individuals would be "able to see, to develop, to re-create themselves in the image of the Spirit and to communicate both their idea and its power to the mass", the mass being "a society, a communal mind or at the least the constituents of a group-body, the possibility of a group-soul which is capable of receiving and effectively assimilating"[5]. This combined common and individual effort,

being no other than the kingdom of heaven within reproduced in the kingdom of heaven without, would be also the true fulfilment of the great dream cherished in different terms by the world's religions.
The widest synthesis of perfection possible to thought is the sole effort entirely worthy of those whose dedicated vision perceives that God dwells concealed in humanity.[10]

Aurobindo does not claim to know whether the supramental transformation "would eventually embrace the whole of humanity or only an advanced portion of it" - this "would depend upon the intention in the evolution itself, on the intention in whatever cosmic or transcendent Will is guiding the movements of the universe"[16]. Certainly, it "must be conceded at once that there is not the least probability or possibility of the whole human race rising in a block to the supramental level; what is suggested is nothing so revolutionary and astonishing, but only the capacity in the human mentality, when it has reached a certain level or a certain point of stress of the evolutionary impetus, to press towards a higher plane of consciousness and its embodiment in the being"[6].

Relationship to society

We can now see why Aurobindo did not consider social reform to be an end worthy in itself. Much as he justified his participation in politics as an attempt not to improve the living conditions of citizens but to create fertile ground for spiritual developments, Aurobindo "asserts that the task of spirituality is not to resolve the present problems but to lay the foundation for higher spiritual being that will overcome the problems of life once the spiritual nature of human being sufficiently develops"[7]. If the limited mind of the unenlightened individual cannot improve the world, the imperfect consciousness of the community, by itself, comes no closer. For the communal mind "holds things subconsciently at first or, if consciously, then in a confused chaotic manner: it is only through the individual mind that the mass can arrive at a clear knowledge and creation of the thing it held in its subconscient self"[5]. Aurobindo's "evolutionary crisis" is the result of a clash between "the ideas of individual perfectibility and the full development of the collective beings in society"[8]. Science has put at our disposal

many potencies of the universal Force and has made the life of humanity materially one; but what uses this universal Force is a little human individual or communal ego with nothing universal in its light of knowledge or its movements, no inner sense or power which would create in this physical drawing together of the human world a true life-unity, a mental unity or a spiritual oneness.[6]

Political, social or other non-spiritual remedies conceived of by the mind "have always failed and will continue to fail to solve anything. The most drastic changes made by these means change nothing; for the old ills exist in a new form: the aspect of the outward environment is altered, but man remains what he was". Only "a spiritual change, an evolution of his being from the superficial mental towards the deeper spiritual consciousness, can make a real and effective difference". This "radical change in the earth-consciousness" could not be carried out by altering "social matters within the frame of the present humanity"[1].

Even the "attempt to arrive at a voluntary world-union in which 'the religion of humanity' would replace the various creeds and ideologies that had hitherto divided mankind" in the early twentieth century is inadequate. Aurobindo foresaw "the growth of a totalitarian world-state" as an obstacle to this world-union, and the "rise of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia justified his apprehensions". While a "true world union could never be achieved by forcing a uniform outlook on the constituent units"[1], contemporary humanity must also not vacillate between individualism and socialism. The world needs "not the final victory of one ideology over all the others, but a united human endeavour based on a harmony of different world-views"[1]. The necessary balance between the one and the many comes with "unity in diversity", where each group expresses "its own character while participating in the common life of the whole"[1]. Writes Aurobindo: "A supramental or gnostic race of beings would not be a race made according to a single type, moulded in a single fixed pattern; for the law of the Supermind is unity fulfilled in diversity, and therefore there would be an infinite diversity in the manifestation of the gnostic consciousness"[6].

Aurobindo believed that harmony "is a spontaneous consequence of unity in diversity", of "mutuality of consciousness". Free diversity in self-expression "can never create any chaos or discord, because a single consciousness-force, of which we all are aware, and of which all feel themselves to be instruments, will harmonize all their actions". In contemporary society, harmony is only "achieved through sense-knowledge and mental perception and communication of ideas by language, but these means are imperfect, and consequently, the harmony achieved is also incomplete"[8]. In bringing about "a new common life superior to the present individual and common existence", the agent "of the supramental stages of evolution would be an individual not separate from and competing with other individuals", but rather one who would act "for the Divine in others and the Divine in all"[1]. In the final gnostic community itself, Aurobindo believed that there would be no competition, no attempts "made to secure artificial uniformity"[8]. Rather than be compelled by the sheer will of all other gnostic beings, in the divine life one "would act in a universal awareness and a harmony of his individual self with the total self, of his individual will with the total will, of his individual action with the total action"[6]. Each Self "would be universal but free in the universe, individual but not limited by a separate individuality"[6].

The Mother

Aurobindo's poem Savitri expresses this harmony as the story of a girl, given to a childless yogin who aspires "for a universal realisation and a new creation"[1]. Savitri is "the Divine's response to the human aspiration", the need to understand the universe and the object of human existence[9], and as such she guides the yogin, Aswapathy, through various realms through which he must pass in his ascent. As "the incarnate Supreme Consciousness", it is the mission of Savitri "to free the human consciousness in its earthly life from the obscurity of the material unconsciousness, re-install it in its original radiant status of the Divine Consciousness"[9]. In a description of the "quest" in these uncharted territories, Savitri depicts this "deeper consciousness:"

The world-ways opened before Savitri.
At first a strangeness of new brilliant scenes
Peopled her mind and kept her body's gaze.
But as she moved across the changing earth
A deeper consciousness welled up in her:
A citizen of many scenes and climes,
Each soil and country it has made its home;
It took all clans and peoples for her own,
Till the whole destiny of mankind was hers.[12]

Aurobindo perhaps most closely experienced this feeling of identity and harmony in his relationship with "the Mother". This name, traditionally used for the creative force of shakti, was eventually given by Aurobindo to Mirra Richard, a Frenchwoman who "had inwardly accepted" Aurobindo "as her spiritual master" from 1920 on. Identifying her "with the Divine Mother, the superconscient or supramental divine Conscious Force"[3], Aurobindo would later say that without her "his conception of a divine life on earth could never have been embodied"[1]. This was only possible because, in his words, "The Mother's consciousness and mine are the same, the one Divine Consciousness in two"[3].

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Aurobindo wished for the cosmic consciousness to be available to all, and to this end he spent the later years of his life involved in attempting to establish communities of spiritual aspirants who could directly experience the divine. As early as 1910 he encouraged a friend to start a sangha or commune, and he himself helped to guide it for eleven years until he and his friend split ways. But Aurobindo "did not abandon his plan of setting up 'centres' that would serve as training-grounds" for his associates in "the large external work proceeding from the spiritual basis" of their yoga. After establishing two doomed centres in Calcutta and Gujarat, Aurobindo "concluded that a community of the kind he wanted only could prosper under his direct supervision"[1]. Aurobindo's own ashram in Pondicherry seemed a prime choice for this direction. By 1942, it had grown to 350 disciples, or sadhaks, spread over numerous houses in the neighborhood[1]. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram, as it became known, had evolved from "a practical arrangement necessitated by his life in exile"[1] into more "a sort of seed plot, a laboratory" for "experiments in yogic living"[1]. Specifically, Aurobindo and the Mother needed to know how the "bringing down" of "a change in the physical mind, the nervous being, and the vital mind" would act "on ordinary men and women"[1].

To promote experimentation, Aurobindo dispensed with the traditional formality of the gurushishya relationship, for he felt it "had lost much of its potency by becoming conventionalized"[1]. Aurobindo refused to judge the sadhanas of his followers, or even ask them to practice yoga, although he advised any who asked for guidance[1]. Integral yoga, after all, acts not "according to a fixed system and succession as in the specialised methods of Yoga, but with a sort of free, scattered and yet gradually intensive and purposeful working determined by the temperament of the individual in whom it operates". It accepts the nature of each "such as it stands organised by our past evolution and without rejecting anything essential compels all to undergo a divine change"[1]. Aurobindo only laid stress on obeying the promptings of genuine intuition, which "brings to man those brilliant messages from the Unknown which are the beginning of his higher knowledge"[6], and on awakening the psychic being[1] in each disciple.

For many years, furthermore, Aurobindo followed collective meditations with discussions in which he engaged his disciples on topics including "Indian politics, world affairs, local events, books, medicine, education, literature, art", as well as sadhana[1]. This was also consistent with Aurobindo's desire that his ashram not become a traditional deva-sangha, or "divine community", concerned only "with the formless Spirit". The Ashram's focus is global, encompassing "trade, social organization, poetry, art, literature", and politics[1]. Besides yoga and physical education, activities at the Ashram currently include "housing and food services, workshops, scientific farming, and agriculture, a publication department and printing press, and many other creative endeavors connected with life in this spiritual-industrial, East-West community"[3].

After 1926, when he attained his "overmental descent", Aurobindo retired from actively directing the inner and outer life of the ashram, and devoted himself to correspondence and recording the daily experiences of the community's sadhana[1]. This role of director was assumed by the Mother, and under her "the ashram's activities expanded in every direction"[1]. Her responsibilities grew after November 1938, when Aurobindo was seriously injured from stumbling in his room and then spent the years following his recovery in greater application to his literary efforts[1]. After Aurobindo's death on December 5, 1950, from complications resulting from hyperplasia of the prostrate[1], the Mother continued to guide the expansion of the community. Until her own death in 1973, she remained confident that "little by little we advance toward our goal, which, we hope, one day we shall be able to hold before the world as a practical and effective means of coming out of the present chaos in order to be born into a more true, more harmonious new life"[3]. As one of the sayings of Aurobindo and the Mother posted throughout the Ashram advertises, "The world is preparing for a big change. Will you help?"[3].


To accommodate the growing number and diversity of followers, an "international township" called Auroville was also developed by the Mother. The new community was inaugurated in 1968, a few kilometers away from the Ashram in Pondicherry[1]. This "city of human unity and universal culture" is sponsored by UNESCO, and is legally recognized and protected by India's Auroville Foundation Act of 1988. There are currently over 1500 inhabitants, though not all live within the 10-km sq. territory owned by Auroville. There are various other Auroville-inspired communities in the world. Auroville's Charter, set forth by the Mother, states:

Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages.
Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.
Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

"Auroville" refers not only to Aurobindo's legacy; its name also implies a "city of dawn, of eternal beginning"[3].


  1. 1.000 1.001 1.002 1.003 1.004 1.005 1.006 1.007 1.008 1.009 1.010 1.011 1.012 1.013 1.014 1.015 1.016 1.017 1.018 1.019 1.020 1.021 1.022 1.023 1.024 1.025 1.026 1.027 1.028 1.029 1.030 1.031 1.032 1.033 1.034 1.035 1.036 1.037 1.038 1.039 1.040 1.041 1.042 1.043 1.044 1.045 1.046 1.047 1.048 1.049 1.050 1.051 1.052 1.053 1.054 1.055 1.056 1.057 1.058 1.059 1.060 1.061 1.062 1.063 1.064 1.065 1.066 1.067 1.068 1.069 1.070 1.071 1.072 1.073 1.074 1.075 1.076 1.077 1.078 1.079 1.080 1.081 1.082 1.083 1.084 1.085 1.086 1.087 1.088 1.089 1.090 1.091 1.092 1.093 1.094 1.095 1.096 1.097 1.098 1.099 1.100 1.101 1.102 1.103 1.104 1.105 1.106 1.107 1.108 1.109 1.110 1.111 1.112 1.113 1.114 1.115 1.116 1.117 1.118 1.119 1.120 1.121 1.122 Heehs, Peter. Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  2. Sharma, Ramnath. The Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Vineet Publications, 1980.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 McDermott, Robert A. "Introduction". The Mind of Light. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Zaehner, R. C. Evolution in Religion: A Study in Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Human Cycle. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1978.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine. Books One and Two. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970.
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Akram1988
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 8.16 8.17 8.18 8.19 8.20 8.21 8.22 8.23 8.24 8.25 8.26 8.27 8.28 8.29 8.30 8.31 8.32 8.33 8.34 8.35 8.36 8.37 8.38 8.39 8.40 8.41 8.42 8.43 8.44 8.45 8.46 8.47 8.48 8.49 Maitra, Susil Kumar. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1965.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Gupta, Nolini Kanta. Evolution and the Earthly Destiny. Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1976.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Publication Department, 1972.
  11. Pearson, Nathaniel. Sri Aurobindo and the Soul Quest of Man. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1952.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. Savitri. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1973.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Destiny of Man. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Society, 1969.
  14. Saint-Hilaire, P. B. "Notes". The Future Evolution of Man: The Divine Life upon Earth. Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Judith, Anodea. "Sri Aurobindo: 1872 - 1950". December 1996. website
  16. Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Mind of Light. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971.

Additional bibliography

  • Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Essential Aurobindo. Robert A. McDermott, ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

External links