It is a symbolic act of fate that India, the land known through the ages for her spirituality, is celebrating her Independence on the very date on which falls the birthday of her greatest living Master of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo will be 78 on August 15 . He stands for that deepest and highest Independence, the freedom of the soul from the shackles of mortal ignorance, the liberation of the human into the Divine Consciousness. But it is worth remembering that he was once in the van of political life – the universally acknowledged leader of Bengal in revolt against Lord Curzon’s scheme to partition that province. A close friend of Tilak’s, a friend whom Tilak was always eager to consult, he shaped the nationalist mind of India at a critical period and the stamp he put upon it is still visible in spite of various changes that have taken place. Not once only, but three times during his political career he was charged with sedition by the British Government. Undaunted by the repressive governmental machinery, he stood in the forefront of the nationalist fight, until the call came to him for a greater and more revolutionary service.
Side by side with his political activity he had been practising Yoga for several years. A stage of development was reached when he felt that his mission was to strike out a new path of spiritual growth that would not only lead the mortal’s consciousness to the Infinite and the Eternal but also bring a dynamic divinity to the world for completely transforming the world’s life. He is no ascetic of the lonely Beyond: his aim is to effect a top-to-toe change in human nature, so that man the mental being may be henceforth a supramental one. The Ashram in Pondicherry that has sprung up around him is a scene of multifarious activity, a field for a hundred talents and aptitudes – people of diverse types developing by a series of inner Yogic experiences and by the expression of those experiences in outer life. The Ashram is a glowing focus of India’s innate spirituality, fraught with immense possibilities of irradiating the entire life of the nation.
Eyes all over the world are awakening to this centre of light. The Indian Government’s Ministry of External Affairs has been receiving enquiries from individuals and institutions abroad, especially from America, about the aims and activities of the Ashram in Pondicherry. Even arrangements are being discussed now for taking documentary films of the Ashram. And recently the Government ordered, for use in Indian Embassies in foreign countries, forty sets of Sri Aurobindo’s Collected Poems and Plays as well as his philosophical exposition of his yogic vision of the world, The Life Divine, about which Aldous Huxley has remarked in a letter to Dilip Kumar Roy:
“I consider it a book not merely of the highest importance as regards its content, but remarkably fine as a piece of philosophic and religious literature.”
Eager minds in both England and the U.S.A. are turning to the Aurobindonian thought: two universities in the latter – Stanford and Cornell – have prescribed Essays on the Gita and The Life Divine respectively as part of post-graduate study. In India, too, Benares University has put Sri Aurobindo on its syllabus. The move, in the West no less than the East, to suggest his name for the Nobel Prize is perhaps the intensest testimony to the growing recognition of him as a world-figure of far-reaching significance.
But there was, almost up to now, a tendency amongst us to confine the significance of Sri Aurobindo to the realm of Yoga and philosophy and literature. It was not sufficiently realised that his so-called retirement from public life or even his comparative aloofness at present in the midst of his own Ashram implies no renunciation of the world’s labour. Of course, visitors to the Ashram could never harbour the delusion that Sri Aurobindo had cut himself off from all earthly occupations. But the country at large was too much engrossed in leaders who seemed in more apparent ways to concern themselves with secular affairs. Two whole years of Independence had to elapse before the sense kindled up that in the strange fact of the birthday of Sri Aurobindo coinciding with the day of India’s liberation there lay the clear pointer to Sri Aurobindo’s being by his spiritual tapasya not only the secret force behind our freedom but also the one personality with whom our free future is bound up and who alone can be the architect of our true greatness.
It was indeed a sign of the times that when Pandit Nehru was recently in Calcutta a bundle of leaflets was thrown into his car, demanding of him to bring Sri Aurobindo back to Bengal. A still more lively portent is the decision taken in Bengal to celebrate on an all-India basis the birthday of Sri Aurobindo. A strong reception committee has been formed with eminent men as members. The committee has appealed to all people as also to public institutions, clubs or associations to come forward and co-operate and make the celebration a success worthy of Bengal. Here is the first distinct articulation of a new tendency in the country, trying to bring about a break-away from old moorings. Here is the dawn promising a wonderful day if only we could bestir ourselves – the dawn of an authentic vision of Sri Aurobindo’s position in India – the position of a Rishi, a seer of spiritual truth who brings to mankind the creative word that becomes flesh, a bearer of the mantra whose luminous power gives life the rhythm of a divine rapture.
The genuine Rishi is no mere poet of supernal mysteries: he lets loose upon the world through both his poetic utterance and his life-movement a spiritual force remoulding the world around him in the image of the Divine and reordering it into a harmony beyond the human. The Rishi is not the guru of just an enlightened coterie: he is the source of a whole people’ s culture and civilisation. Of course, he has always an intense nucleus of select disciples following the path of his Yoga and without such a nucleus his work would never establish itself on earth; but his Yoga is meant to take up all the departments of earth’s life into its fiery heart and, goldening their motives and motions, make them serve in various manners the Light that is for ever. He extends his influence everywhere, disdains no function of the national being, shirks no responsibility of world-existence. He can be the leader in all the fields, give to each thing the right touch, set going each activity along the true line, lay the profound base and direct the lofty construction of every important scheme of secular growth. Yes, Sri Aurobindo can be the nation’ s leader. But let us not commit the mistake of thinking that he must act like ordinary leaders, deliver an abundance of speeches, hurry from conference to conference. No doubt, a certain amount of ordinary leadership has to be accepted but we must leave a Rishi to act as he best knows how. Jayaprakash Narain once asked Sri Aurobindo to take Gandhiji’s place. The request was reverent; yet when we ponder the magnitude of the Aurobindonian mission we see the incongruity of asking him to fill the gap left by anyone, no matter what the seriousness of the gap. This mission is unique and cannot be equated with any other: it is far deeper and higher and ampler, far more radically creative. It can do all that any other can, but with an entirely different orientation, and it does not stop short with the ideals set up by morality and religion. Sri Aurobindo does not wish to preach mere brotherhood and service and honest social behaviour. All these things are compassed by his work, but the power for them he transmits from a consciousness different from the one in which even the most moral and religious man lives. Nor is a finely cultured mind – the artistic and the contemplative intellect, the consciousness of the poet-philosopher – the ultimate fountainhead of the Aurobindonian influence. Sri Aurobindo is indeed a poet-philosopher of a rare order, bringing a balanced beauty, a vivid wisdom; and the effort of the moralist and the religious man at detachment from gross animal desires and egoistic motives finds fulfillment in him; yet are they not his all-sufficient ends – they are only the means of his master-passion. His master-passion is not mental brilliance or the triumph of a human virtue. It is the sheer surpassing of the human level, the continual union with the Supreme Being and the direct expression of that Being in all the ways of our nature.
To get an inkling of the authentic fountainhead of influence we must try to grasp what India’s scriptures have meant by the Supreme Being. First and foremost the Supreme Being is a mighty transcendence of time and life, an infinite Consciousness and Bliss immutably seated above the waxing and waning of the world’s years. A rapturous stanza of the ancient Upanishads translated with revelatory force by Sri Aurobindo catches in words that sovereign status:
“There the sun shines not and the moon has no splendour and the stars are blind; there these lightnings flash not nor any earthly fire. For all that is bright is but the shadow of His brightness and by His shining all this shineth.”Kathopanishad; source
The Rishi who has attained union with the Transcendence carries, among things that fade, a smiling Eternity unbarred by appearances, unmarred by phenomena. To his realisation we cannot apply our measure of moments and confine it within an age of seventy-eight or any other. The Spirit’s timeless plenitude that is his fundamental self grows not old as men grow old who live in the clutch of the passing and the mortal. But the Eternity that is above time and life is not utterly the opposite of the changing and the phenomenal. When the Upanishads chant, “By His shining all this shineth,” they do more than trace the source of our cosmos in the Beyond. While opening our world-beglamoured eyes to the Truth whose infinity no light on earth equals, they do not cut off earth’s light from that Truth. It is God who has emanated the world, the world is at bottom His own stuff of divinity: omnipresent, He pervades occultly all phenomena. The many-sided vision of the Upanishads no sooner found tongue in the rapturous stanza about the supra-cosmic “There” than it followed up with another as rapturous about the cosmic “Here” of the Divine. In Sri Aurobindo’s vibrant and wide-sweeping English, this Sanskrit mantra runs:
”The Eternal is before us and the Eternal is behind us and to the south and to the north of us and above and below and extended everywhere. All this magnificent universe is nothing but the Eternal.”Mundaka : source
The Rishi is inwardly one with a Cosmic Consciousness supporting with a limitless peace a limitless activity, a myriad variety of forms. Not the one body alone which we know as his makes the reality of him. It cannot circumscribe the far-stretching continuity of his being and his becoming. In all quarters he feels his own self at work. He overflows the span of an individual life. The march of the centuries is not alien to him, the rising and falling and rising again of the endless energy around us is part of him in the union he has achieved with the Beauty of ancient days that is ever new.
Nor, when we have seen Rishihood in its cosmic aspect as well as in its transcendence, have we said the last word about it. There is still another aspect – the individual. Our universe is not merely the occult omnipresence of the Divine: it is also intended to be His manifestation. The immense unity and the immense multiplicity are pressing forward to express in the cosmic formula a divine life developing from the individual soul-spark, the flame of the personal Godhead, which is enshrined in creatures and which one of the Upanishads rendered by Sri Aurobindo sums up with intuitive intensity:
“The Purusha that is within is no larger than the finger of a man; he is like a blazing fire that is without smoke; he is lord of his past and his future; he alone is today and he alone shall be tomorrow.”Kathopanishad : source
An intricate evolution focussing itself in individuals and proceeding through rebirths of the individual soul is worked out from a beginning and a base that appear to be the opposite of everything divine. The Rishi is he who under the figure of his personality develops to the utmost the secret psyche around which mind and life-force and body are organised: he brings it to the fore, envelops all his movements with its sublimities and its sweetnesses, enters with its pure radiance into intimate ennobling relation with fellow-creatures. Moreover, he aspires to make the psyche a repository of the Transcendent Truth from which it has come and which is ultimately meant to be manifested by it. For in that Truth is the archetype, the pre-existent perfection of all that is here evolving; and the descent of this archetype into the psyche so that the mind and life-force and body organised around the soul may themselves become not only instinct with the soul’s purity but also charged with the plenary knowledge and power and bliss whose delegate is the soul. The individual aspect of Rishihood is perhaps the most important of all, since in it the Divine’s creativity is at its most potent for world-values. More than by any mystic in the past a stress is put upon it by Sri Aurobindo.
He declares that Rishihood in former ages did not sufficiently realise the meaning of evolutionary spirituality. To throw an aureole about life’s hours and suggest the personal Godhead through the human figure is not enough. A bound has been felt by all mystics, an irreducible imperfection in our members that compels us finally to drop them and look for the end of our soul’s journey in a plane that is supra-terrestrial – a Vedantic Brahmaloka, a Buddhist Nirvana, a Vaishnavite Gokul or Heaven. But how then shall we satisfy the hunger that every part of us has for its own perfection? A divine mind, a divine life-force, a divine body – these are what our nature cries for: unless they are achieved, the evolutionary travail of the soul has no complete justification. Sri Aurobindo affirms that in the Transcendence there is a dynamic Consciousness waiting to incarnate on earth the ideality, the perfection, of all the parts of our complex being. Ever since man awoke to his own incompleteness and to a superhuman Presence behind or within phenomena the dream of a divine earth has haunted him. He has sought the elixir vitae along a multitude of paths. Disappointment has met him wherever he has searched; for, the right mode of searching has never been found by him. Even his spiritual masters have told him that though the terrestrial plane can admit the paradisal lustre he cannot hope for an integral manifestation of it. But now comes Sri Aurobindo and proclaims to us after nearly forty years of indomitable, increasing experiment in mysticism that the earth-scene would never have been set by the Divine except for an integral display and manifestation of Himself and that, however strange it may seem to us, a divine mind and life-force and body are a miracle inevitable in the Yoga he is practising today and imparting to those who dwell in his Ashram.
It may not be possible for all of us to be Aurobindonian Yogis and share with him to whatever degree his integral Rishihood. But we can surely keep in contact with his harmonious being, draw to us the revealing vision that he commands, feel the direction of his fatherly hand in our day-to-day gropings, whether in private or national existence, for the right gesture, the right deed. Even without this Integral Yoga he would stand forth amongst men, a versatile genius with a mighty record as poet and thinker, politician and nation-builder, a living synthesis of the cultures of the East and West. With this unique Yoga he raises to the nth degree of inspiration all his creative powers and if men could consciously establish rapport with him they would lift themselves and their country to sterling greatness. Broad and bright as the sun the message for India is written in the twofold momentousness that marks August 15.