Sri Aurobindo – 1 (Post No.8199)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8199

Date uploaded in London – – – 18 June 2020   

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By R. Nanjappa

15 August is Indian Independence Day!

But the day had become sacred to us even before Independence. It was in the late night of 15 August 1886 that Sri Ramakrishna shed his mortal frame. And it was on 15 August 1872 that Sri Aurobindo was born.

Sri Aurobindo in England

Most Indians  today do not have any idea of Sri Aurobindo. His father, a government doctor, was an Anglophile. Not outwardly religious, but full of the milk of human kindness for fellow beings. He did not want his children to be subject to any Indian influence, its language, literature, culture or religion. He sent his three sons to England for education, when Sri Aurobindo was 7. Sri Aurobindo remained there for the next 14 years, suffering in poverty, as his father could not send regular remittance for maintenance. He had thorough Classical education through English medium, emerging as  a highly regarded scholar from King’s College, Cambridge. He had mastered Greek and Latin,besides English; he was proficient in French , knew German and Italian. He distinguished himself as a thorough scholar. He did not know Bengali, his mother tongue, or Sanskrit, or any Indian language. He cleared ICS too, but deliberately bunked the riding test. He returned to India in 1893 – the year in which Gandhiji went to South Africa, and Vivekananda went to America!

Sri Aurobindo in Politics: Prophet of Nationalism

He entered service in the princely Baroda state, finally settling as professor and vice principal in the college. While he was abroad, he had felt a sense of being enveloped in darkness. This feeling  left him when he stepped on Indian soil on his return! Gradually, he studied Sanskrit, practiced Yoga. The national situation attracted his attention, and he started contributing to a periodical but his writing was considered too revolutionary for the times. Politics drew his attention but being in state service, he did not want to come out in the open just then. He supported an active kind of politics, not just pacifist petitioning which the Indian National Congress was then following. But the Bengal Partition of 1905 and the spineless approach of the then Congress leaders brought him into the open. He resigned his position and jumped into public life. He spearheaded the opposition in Bengal, joined Tilak in splitting the Congress at Surat in 1907, and emerged as the national leader, giving a strong thrust and voice and face to the Nationalists. His writings brimmed with fire, but not venom. He became the most feared voice in British India- such was the force of his writing and his power to inspire youth.

Sri Aurobindo presiding over a meeting after the split in Surat Congress, 1907. Tilak is speaking.


He declared Mother  India  a Shakti, a Divine power, not just geography. Bande Mataram became the national mantra! The British were bent on silencing him somehow and thrice foisted sedition charges on him, but he was not found guilty by the courts! Such was the power of his writing- plainly seditious, but the law could not frame him, neither the courts could fix him! The second of these was the famous Alipore Bomb case, in which he was arrested in May 1908 and put behind bars. The trial went on for a year but the judge acquitted him in May 1909, though Sri Aurobindo was “the accused whom more than any other the prosecution are anxious to have convicted”.

The solitary confinement  enabled him to practice ‘the sadhana of the Gita’ intensely. He realised the truth of the Sanatana Dharma, he realised the all pervading Vasudeva, and dedicated himself to Yoga. He heard the voice of discarnate  Vivekananda on a point of Yoga for fifteen days. His experiences are broadly indicated in his Uttarpara speech. (May, 1909), where he declared :Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism for us.” He brought a Vedantic perspective to politics, a fact  which was noted by the judge. This is clearly reflected in his political writings, collected under the heads “Bande Mararam” and “Karmayogin”.

Immediately out of jail, he carried on with his political writings and speeches, though he was gravitating towards a full-fledged spiritual life. But the British had no mind to spare him. ” He is the most dangerous man we have to deal with at present and he has great influence with the student class”, wrote Lord Minto, Viceroy in April,1910! “he is the most dangerous man we now have to reckon with”, he wrote again in May 1910! 

Out of Active Politics

 One day in February, 1910, Sri Aurobindo heard an inner command to leave Calcutta and within minutes he was on his way to Chandernagore, French enclave. Sister Nivedita had a role in alerting him to the evil designs of the colonial power. He got a further inner prompting and left for Pondicherry arriving there on 10, April 1910. He did not leave the place till his Mahasamadhi on 5 December,1950.

Sri Aurobindo was not an orator in the conventional sense, but his words were powerful and moved the audience.

Sri Aurobindo left active politics in 1910. But he had laid the lines on which the struggle for freedom was to continue: (These were followed  by Sri Aurobindo during the agitation against the Partition of Bengal in 1905.)

  • Swaraj . Sri Aurobindo was the first public leader to declare ‘complete independence’ as the goal. The Congress under Gandhi adopt this as the goal only  two decades later- in 1929!
  • Swadeshi  Boycott of British goods, and encouragement of national enterprise
  • Boycott of govt education ( adoption of national  education)
  • Boycott of British courts  (settlement of disputes outside colonial courts)
  • Passive Resistance (later called Civil Disobedience and Non-cooperation)
  • Consideration for the downtrodden
  • It can be seen that these were the very programs adopted by Gandhi later, but without formal acknowledgement to Sri Aurobindo!

[ It may be noted here that the Bengal Nationalists were successful in their agitation  against the colonial government and got the Bengal Partition of 1905 annulled, but Gandhiji’s movement could not avoid the Partition of the whole country!]

In the 20s it was felt that Gandhi’s programs were not leading us anywhere; Congress leaders invited Sri Aurobindo to come back to active politics, once even inviting him to preside over the Nagpur congress. In the 20s, Gandhi had  himself felt dejected as he felt his programs were failing, he sent his son Devdas to Sri Aurobindo, asking him to return to politics.  Sri Aurobindo said that India’s freedom was ordained, and his own work was different. But he had completely transformed Indian politics during the brief period he was engaged in active politics..


Sri Aurobindo’s life was entirely dedicated to Yoga from 1910.

Here too he was a revolutionary. His teaching was founded on his own vision, experience, not past theories or masters. There is a strong common base in Vedanta, but his approach is based on the original insights themselves, not on later commentaries or commentators. He started publishing Arya a monthly philosophical review, from 15 August 1914, his 42nd birthday. For the next 6 1/2 years, he made this the vehicle of his thoughts. All his major works were first published here  (except Savitri). The most important are:


This is Sri Aurobindo’s  magnum opus, the exposition of a complete synthesis of integral philosophy. It begins:

“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts, and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation,- for it survives the longest period of scepticism and returns after every banishment,-is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divinisation of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed bliss, the sense of a secret immortality.. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last,- God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”

Explaining the significance of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo  said:

“The philosophy of The Life Divine is such realistic Adwaita. The world is a manifestation of the Real and therefore is itself real. The reality is the infinite and eternal Divine, infinite and eternal Being, Consciousness-Force and Bliss. This Divine by his power has created the world or rather manifested it in his own infinite Being. But here in the material world or at its basis he has hidden himself in what seem to be his opposites, Non-being, Inconscience and Insentience. …The Being which is hidden..emerges in the world first in Matter, then in Life, then in Mind and finally as the Spirit…This is what we call evolution which is an evolution of consciousness and an evolution of the Spirit in things and only outwardly an evolution of species. Thus also the delight of existence emerges from the original insentience… has to find itself in the bliss of the Spirit or as it is called in the Upanishads, the bliss of the Brahman. That is the central idea in the explanation of the universe put forward in The Life Divine.”
It is necessary to bear this in mind as this is the very foundation of all of Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts.    


This is the second most important original contribution of Sri Aurobindo. Though Indians venerated the Veda, few knew its meaning. Even the orthodox, who preserved the original intact, had lost the key to its meaning and considered it as predominantly ritualistic. The colonial powers and missionaries foisted their own theories and explanations. Someone like Max Muller, who could not understand spoken Sanskrit, and had no direct exposure to the living Sruti tradition, interpreted it according to his limited and imperfect knowledge of classical Sanskrit. The Veda was considered sacrificial compositions of  primitive and barbarous race,around sacrifices meant to propitiate the forces of nature, conceived as gods by a priestly class. This view was propagated as  scientific,adopting  such new conjectural methods like philology,comparative mythology and comparative religion. They also invented the Aryan-Dravidian cleavage on racial lines.

As usual, Sri Aurobindo boldly declared:

“A new view of the Rig Veda is being published in the ‘Arya’ under the caption of ‘The Secret of the Veda’….which maintains that the real meaning of the Veda is spiritual, and being extremely profound and secret,is wrapped in symbolic words,various images, and expressions used in the performance of  sacrifice. Though impenetrable to the ordinary person, this covering was, to the  initiate in the Veda, only a transparent object which revealed all the limbs of the Truth. We have to look for the spiritual significance behind the images. If we can discover the ‘secret name’ of the gods and their respective functions, the sense of the code words, go, asva,somarasa,etc, the work of the daityas and the demons, and their inner meaning, the import of the Vedic metaphors and legends,then the significance of the Veda will become more or less clear. Of course, the true and subtle comprehension of its meaning comes only by a special knowledge and as the result of sadhana, and not by mere study of the Veda without any sadhana.”

 From: Bengali Writings

On this basis Sri Aurobindo also translated some select hymns from the Veda, to show how their intent was spiritual, and not external ritual. 

Alas! A hundred years later, more or less the same old view persists, taught through an Anglicised education system in the mainstream,  patronized by the Brown sahibs and the political class. The orthodox elements too cling to their ritualistic interpretation of Sayana.


This again is a basic, original contribution. In the very first issue of Arya, Sri Aurobindo wrote about the needed synthesis of “man himself”…”the harmony of his faculties.”, the “synthesis of religious aspiration and scientific faculty”, resulting in “integrality of inner experience”. The three main modes of Yoga- Karma, Bhakti and Jnana were well known, but were considered sharply divided, as in the works of Sankaracharya. Sri Aurobindo showed how they were integral. Later, he explained:


“The Synthesis of Yoga was not meant to give a method for all to follow. Each side of the Yoga was dealt with separately with all its possibilities, and an indication as to how they meet so that one starting from knowledge could realise karma and bhakti also and so with each part.”Sri Aurobindo had intended to revise it but could not do so. However, in the very first issue, he gave us a totally new understanding of Yoga:

“In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For, we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection  by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being and in a union of the human individual  with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature attempting to realise her perfection in an ever increasing expression of her potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. In man…she…devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity  by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained.”

Meaning of Arya

Explaining the very significance of the word Arya, which the journal carried in Devanagari script, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

“Indians know the word, but it has lost for them the significance which it bore to their forefathers. Western Philology has converted it into a racial term, an unknown ethnological quantity on which different speculations fix different values….the word in its original use expressed not a difference of  race but a difference of culture. For in the Veda the Aryan peoples are those who had accepted a particular type of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of aspiration…..All the highest aspiration of the early human race, its noblest religious temper,its most idealistic velleities of thought are summed up in this single vocable.”

“In later times the word Arya  expressed a particular ethical and social ideal, an ideal of well-governed life, candour, courtesy,nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness,purity, humanity compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of social duty, eagerness for knowledge, respect for the wise and learned, the social accomplishments. .. Everything that departed from this ideal, evrything that tended toward the ignoble, mean, obscene,rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan. There is no word in human speech that has a nobler history. 

“Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who strives and overcomes  all outside him and within him that stands opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law of his nature….Self-perfection is the aim of his self conquest. Therefore, what he conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils.”

This was written in the second issue of Arya, in September,1914. Let us ask ourselves, English educated Indians, whether, today, 100 years later, we have any clear idea of what Arya means?

Life of Light

Sri Aurobindo was a life of light, who hailed from the very Source. Of him, we may clearly say, quoting his own poem, like waving camphor before the sun!:

“Seer deep-hearted, divine king of the secrecies,

Occult fountain of love sprung from the heart of God,

Ways thou knewest  no feet ever in Time had trod.
Words leaped flashing, the flame-billows of wisdom’s seas.
Vast thy soul was a tide washing the coasts of heaven.
Thoughts broke burning and bare crossing the human night,
White star-scripts of the gods born from the presses of Light

Page by page to the dim children of earth were given.”

During the freedom movement, our later leaders including Gandhi  obscured Sri Aurobindo. India as a Shakti was forgotten. Bande Mataram was forgotten. The government of free India too failed to recognise or honour him.  But Mother India would not forget this her mighty son. Providence so arranged that Independence came to us on 15 August 1947, the 75th birthday of Sri Aurobindo! (even though he had left active politics in 1910). 

This is, in Sri Aurobindo’s own words, “THE SANCTION AND SEAL OF THE DIVINE FORCE”  on his life and work.

[ Congressmen coming to know that Independence was to come on 15 August, attacked Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry, damaging the property , and a person was killed.]

The memory of Sri Aurobindo will be with us as long as we are Independent!

Note:1. This draws heavily on the original writings of Sri Aurobindo; often his own words are used as no one could express better what he had himself written. I openly acknowledge, and deeply bow.
2. The best way to understand Sri Aurobindo is to read him-not about him. His writings are immense and intense, but clear and direct, though one has to get used to his language. No other Indian, and even few Englishmen, have written like him. Writing was his chief mode of communication even with disciples. It requires a special approach- it cannot be done at a stretch, or in a hurry, as if ‘finishing one more book’. It is the experience of serious readers that it is a powerful way to engage with a pristine source of pure wisdom. In most cases, it will be a life-changing experience.

3.Sri Aurobindo’s literary output, even apart from Savitri, is considerable.. He has not left any aspect of life untouched, as his Yoga was not of the world-shunning type.

4. Sri Aurobindo’s original insights on the Veda were taken up by T.V.Kapali Sastry who did further work of translation on the same lines, and provided illuminating commentary on some mantras. Dr.R.L.Kashyap, Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, [SAKSHI] Bangalore has translated all the Vedas in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s insights. This clearly establishes that Veda is not a manual of mere rituals.

To be continued…………………………….

tags- Sri Aurobindo


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