Exploring Sri Aurobindo’s life

Exploring Sri Aurobindo’s life

Matriprasad completed his studies at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1975, and thereafter joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Currently, he assists the trustees of the Ashram in their administrative responsibilities. He also teaches the social and political philosophy of Sri Aurobindo at the undergraduate level. He has a keen interest in English, French, Sanskrit and Urdu poetry, the classical arts, and Hindustani classical music.

There comes a time when a person reaches a fork on the path of life; from that point onwards, their life moves on an identifiably divergent arc. Usually, the milestone indicating such a junction is important at a very personal level—an event that could be either deeply inspiring or disturbingly shattering. For SriAurobindo, one such determining occurrence was the period from May 1908 to May 1909.

By 1906–07, SriAurobindo was acknowledged as one of the most influential and outstanding leaders of the radical faction of the political movements of the time. He spoke, wrote and inspired large masses of people by expounding compellingly the creed of complete independence for India. Many of the ideas that are accepted as self-evident today were considered somewhat impractical in the early twentieth century. Colonialism was an established fact, and the contemplated emancipation of subject nations was considered to be the pipe dream of a few demented people. It was at this juncture that Sri Aurobindo advocated forcefully that for India, swaraj (complete freedom) was the only ideal worth pursuing and, further, that each nation had an inherent right to self-determination and to fashion its own destiny.

The prison doors that fenced him off from the world, mysteriously or, rather, miraculously, opened his eyes to a higher level of freedom. While the world outside was full of anxiety and sensation with regards to the outcome of his trial, he himself was totally unconcerned about the flow of events in the courtroom, since he was having, by his own account, splendid spiritual experiences during those prison days. From then onwards, the idea of attaining political freedom for India, although always implicit in his vision, was supplemented by a broader outlook. Henceforth, he advocated that India’s philosopher’s stone would be the emergence of a spiritual consciousness in his countrymen, and that its touch would not only bring about the political freedom of the country but also elevate national life to a new level of self-fulfilment. Consequently, after Sri Aurobindo was acquitted, he started two journals: Karmayogin(June 1909-February 1910) in English and Dharma (1909–1910) in Bengali (See Chapter 7). What did Sri Aurobindo seek to achieve by launching Karmayogin? He wanted to awaken his countrymen to the need for a greater ideal than mere political freedom: The task we set before ourselves is not mechanical but moral and spiritual. We aim not at the alteration of a form of government but at the building of a nation. Of that task politics is a part, but only a part. This volume takes up the articles published in Karmayogin. The choice of the title (meaning, divine worker) indicates the shift in emphasis, to the pursuit of a more conscious and explicit practice of attaining a greater spiritual ideal at a national level. The cover page of every issue of Karmayogin carried a picture of Shri Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna, when the hero rode into battle. Below the picture would be a shloka from the Bhagavad Gita—Shri Krishna exhorting Arjuna to remain rooted in a spiritual state, calm and free from desires, and yet, while remaining thus, to plunge himself into the valiant and relentless action of the battle, offering everything, including his actions and the result of his actions, to the Divinity within himself. It is also worth noting that at the bottom of the cover page, the journal proclaimed the contributors as ‘Aurobindo Ghosh and others’. Although the journal did carry articles from others, a good portion of the material published therein was by Sri Aurobindo. To emphasize the power and the necessity of the emergence of this greater idea, Sri Aurobindo turned to his own epiphany. The very first article in this volume is the text of a speech he gave at Uttarpara, a suburb of Calcutta (now Kolkata). The event took place just after his release, consequent to his acquittal, and it was, in fact, his first public appearance after his release from prison. It was also the first and the last event where Sri Aurobindo spoke in public about his own personal spiritual experiences. He recalled the circumstances of his arrest and the ‘realization in jail, of God within us all, of the Lord within the n a t i o n ‘. He recollected how the secret Divinity that inhabits the hearts of men had revealed itself to him and had assured him of the protection extended to him. He said, ‘I knew I would come out. The year of detention was meant only for a year of seclusion and training.’ He was invited to speak at Uttarpara by the Society for the Protection of Religion. Indeed, he declared the pursuit of such an aim to be the work ahead. But what was this religion to which Indians must dedicate themselves? He said, ‘That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal.’ He did speak about nationalism, but there was a clear shift in emphasis henceforth: previously, he might have said that nationalism had to be pursued like a religion; now, it was the dedication of oneself to Sanatana Dharma(the universal religion) that itself constituted the only true nationalism, its very heart. I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatana Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatana Dharma, with it moves and with it grows. When the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism. Later, he urged Indians not to abandon old programmes like Swadeshi and boycott: The one message we can give to you, under such circumstances, is the message to hold firm. If you cannot progress see that you have not receded. Hold firm to the Swadeshi, hold firm to your refusal to the recognition of the Partition, hold firm to the national movement which is uplifting India. (Excerpted with permission from ‘Reading Sri Aurobindo ‘ Edited by Gautam Chikarmane and Devdip Ganguli, Rs 599, published by Penguin)

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