SRI AUROBINDO-2 (Post No.8205)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8205

Date uploaded in London – – – 19 June 2020   

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                                                     R. Nanjappa

Sri Aurobindo provides a total contrast to both Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi.

Sri Ramakrishna had no formal schooling. Sri Ramana attended high school, though he did not complete it. Sri Ramakrishna did not know any language other than his mother tongue. Sri Ramana was proficient in his mother tongue Tamil, and his poetry and prose had great literary charm. He knew Telugu and Malayalam to the extent he could compose poems in  them. Neither had formally learnt  Sanskrit, but Ramana had enough mastery to  understand the scriptures and translate them. But neither of them was a “scholar” in the usual sense.

 Sri Aurobindo had emerged from King’s college, Cambridge as a formidable scholar with mastery in Greek, Latin and English, proficiency in French and working knowledge in German and Italian. When he returned to India, he did not know his mother tongue or Sanskrit. Gradually he learnt Bengali too and he mastered Sanskrit , to be able to study and understand the Veda and Upanishads and other scriptures and offer comments and interpretations. 

Sri Ramakrishna  explained religion in the simplest possible terms, basing himself on the main Hindu puranas and Itihas urging people to do some sadhana and realise God, extolling Bhakti as the proper way for our age.  He spoke in the same fashion to even college educated youths. Sri Ramana steered clear of all old scriptures,  taught the direct way of self -enquiry or surrender and did not base himself on any school of philosophy, or any old scripture. He only replied to questions by sincere seekers who referred to the old scriptures.

 Sri Ramakrishna’s practical teaching was mainly based on Bhagavata, though he talked of Vedanta too. Neither of them based his teaching directly on the Veda or Upanishad!

Sri Ramana’s teaching did not depend on or draw support from any old source, though people found  connections and common bases. Sri Ramakrishna did not write anything, Sri Ramana wrote some amount of prose and verse, both original and translations. His conversations have been compiled into some books, but considering that he was an active spiritual guide and force, freely interacting with seekers who came to him,  for over 50 years, these do not amount to much. All that he wrote is contained within a book of less than 300 pages of crown octavo size.(1949 edition).

 Neither SriRamakrishna nor Ramana was interested in any issue other than spiritual realisation. Nor were they interested in offering commentaries on old canons like Prastanatraya. It was the job of others to translate their words into English or even other Indian languages.

Sri Aurobindo provides total contrast. Sri Aurobindo was very active in politics, providing a new turn to the national movement.  He completely changed people’s consciousness, especially of the youth. When he left active politics to take up Yoga in 1910, Bengal was so pervaded by the revolutionary spirit that the colonial power decided to shift the Capital to Delhi!

He  took up Yoga, experienced the personal and universal aspects of  the Divine ( Vasudeva), suddenly left active politics, and dedicated himself to Yoga for the rest of his life.. But he continued to keep interest in national and international socio-political issues and wrote actively.

When Indian civilization was criticised by malicious and ill-informed Western writers, and he was not satisfied with the defence of others, Sri Aurobindo himself wrote a scintillating defence of Indian culture, now published under the title ,’The Renaissance in India”. And he had life-long interest in language and literature, especially poetry; being a poet himself, he wrote Savitri, the longest epic poem in the English language, till the last days. He translated parts of Veda and Upanishads, providing commentary and new interpretation. He wrote essays on the Gita, giving his own interpretation.  Once he took up Yoga, he gave it his own orientation. He wrote all this in English of such standard  that no other Indian or even few Englishmen are capable of. His writings are collected in 35 huge volumes, running into about 17,ooo pages. With this, the whole world became his stage.

Important Differences 

But the most important way he differed from the others is in his interpretation of  Vedanta. Traditionally, Vedanta has been interpreted largely on the basis of the commentary of the Acharyas. Not many thinkers have gone to the original sources themselves. The mainstream is dominated by Sankara’s interpretation of Vedanta.

Was Shankara Brahmavadin or Mayavadin?

Here the position is somewhat bewildering. Sankara considered that only Brahman is real, and the world is  a mere reflection of that Reality. His usage of the word Maya has been subject to totally unwarranted explanations, making the world appear “unreal”. What Sankara said was that the world was not ‘True” since it was not permanent.( Sankara’s definition of Truth is Permanence.) 

Sankara should actually be considered Brahmavadin, since he believed that Brahman is the ultimate Reality.  In fact, it was Budddha was was the Mayavadin, not Sankara, since for the Buddha the ultimate reality was Nirvana. This point has been well brought out by Swami Chidbhavananda,  Somehow, the so called followers  of Sankara have accepted mayavada, and interpreted  Advaita  on that basis. This makes the world a dark place, a place of suffering and Liberation is taken to mean freedom from this world-samsara.  Accordingly,  to renounce the world as maya-unreal – is the real goal of life! Even the Gita seems to advocate this view at some point, as in the following pronouncements:

  • anityam asukham loke
  • dukkhalayam ashasvatam
  • mrutyu samsara sagarat
  • mrutyu samsara vartmani, etc

But Gita’s overall message is one of Hope.

Both Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana uphold the traditional view of the commentator-Acharyas, in a broad sense. Sri Ramakrishna   used three key words in describing the world: nitya, maya , lila.. He extolled sanyasa, but asked householders to consider the world as God’s Lila.  Thus Sri Ramakrishna accepted both the Jnani’s view of the world as maya, and the Bhagavata view of the world as ‘lila’. He felt happy when he found a youngster fit for renunciation.

Ramakrishna’s Guru on Vedanta was the Advaitin Tota Puri- a sanyasi belonging to one of the ten orders initiated by Sankara. But he said it was not proper for people to talk of Advaita, when they could not forget the body or ignore hunger and pain!

 Sri Ramana never allowed any one to renounce the world. He avoided theoretical discussion about the reality of the  world, but had to answer questions on the point raised by visitors. He responded according to the ripeness of the questioner.  We have it on Muruganar’s authority that Ramana’s real position about the world was “Ajatavada”. [See verse 100, Guru Vachaka Kovai.] But he usually asked the questioner to enquire about his own reality. He clearly said  that so long as one regarded the body as real, the world should also be considered real.  

The Way of the Veda

 If we go to the original source viz Veda and Upanishad, this is not the view advocated! There you are enjoined to live a full life of productivity, engaged in work! May we live for a hundred years, says the Veda! Jeevema Saradas shatam! Not just living anyhow, but enjoying- nandama saradas shatam, modama sarada shatam! The Isha Upanishad says you have to live only by doing Karma : kurvannaiveha karmani! Tena tyaktena bhunjitha does not mean to run away from life!

In more than a thousand years, it is Sri Aurobindo who went beyond the  acharyas and commentators,  to the original fountain of Indian inspiration- viz the Veda itself and  recovered its Truth and founded a philosophy based on that. Veda says Bliss is the basis of creation, and that Bliss must be exhibited here in life! This is one of the  basic departures of Sri Aurobindo from Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana , and also the tradition of our earlier Acharyas.. There are others. 

Sri Aurobindo accepts the truth of Advaita as  final , but does not agree with its interpretation based on mayavada, denying the reality of the world. The world has come from Brahman,and is therefore real! Purnamatha: Purnamidam! Truth of Advaita can be established without reliance on or recourse to mayavada. This is an important point in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.

Where does Sri Aurobindo Stand?

Sri Aurobindo himself made a statement of his position in 1934 as under ( referring to himself in the third person):

1. The teaching of Sri Aurobindo starts from that of the ancient sages of India (note: not medieval commentators) that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal.

2. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit, but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body.

 3.It is possible by a certain psychologial discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness, and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us and all.

4. Sri Aurobindo’s teaching states that this One Being and Consciousness is involved here in Matter.Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself.

5. Life is the first step of this relief of consciousness ; mind is the second, but the evolution does not finish with  mind.

6. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being.

7. While the former steps in evolution were taken by nature without a conscious will in the plant and  animal life, in man nature becomes able to evolve by a conscious will in the instrument.

8. A conversion has to be made, a turning of the  consciousness by which mind has to change into the higher principle. This method is to be found through the ancient psychological discipline and practice of Yoga.

9. In the past it has been attempted by a drawing away from the world and a disappearance into the height of the Self or the Spirit. Sri Aurobindo teaches that a descent of the higher principle is possible which will not merely release the spiritual Self out of the world, but release it in the world, replace the mind’s ignorance or its very limited knowledge by a supramental Truth-Consciousness.

10. The process of this self-discipline or Sadhana is long and difficult.

11.  An outward asceticism is not essential, but the conquest of desire and attachment, and a control over the body and its needs, greeds and instincts are indispensable.

12. There is a combination of the principles of the old systems:

  • the way of knowledge through the mind’s discernment between the Reality and the appearance,

             -the heart’s way of devotion, love and surrender

              and the way of works turning the will away  from the             

               motives of self-interest to the Truth and service of  a                

               greater Reality than the ego.

13. In this discipline, the inspiration of the Master, and in the difficult stages his control and his presence are indispensable.

  Note: This is almost entirely in the words of Sri Aurobindo.  Numbering is mine.

It will be clear from the above what are the common elements among the three Masters and what is unique in Sri Aurobindo. The general position  may be stated as under:

Sri Ramakrishna:  Insistence on Bhakti as shown by Narada ie  Bhagavata dharma, combined with viveka, and vairagya, and detachment. Other questions are not really relevant for practical religious life.

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Insistence on direct self-enquiry. This is Jnana marga, but totally different from the old way. It employs the budddhi  to focus on the source of Being- buddhi idayatte porundi- as Bhagavan says in the Deepa Darsana Tatva. It does not involve enquiring about the truth of the world, but truth of the Self! The world appears to you, but who are you, Ramana would ask! If one is unable to take up enquiry, one should Surrender. Enquire or Surrender!

Sri Aurobindo: Insistence on the psychological method of Yoga, engaging  all the faculties- emotion, will, and intelligence, so that it is integral. His insistence that the world is real, that the world is governed by the force of evolution, which is evolution of consciousness, and that in the next stage, there would be a Supramental Manifestation, replacing the limited mind.  This again is an important difference between Sri Aurobindo and others. Sri Aurobindo says that his Yoga begins where the traditional Yogas end! [ The practical implication of this is that one has to master the conventional Yoga, culminating in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, ( but not stay there)  before one can take up Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga!]

All methods are not same!

It will now be clear that all methods are based on a broad understanding of Vedanta, but they differ in essential ways . In  converting theory into practice ie  taking up Sadhana , some one discipline has to be followed.. No method is easy, or  necessarily superior to another! That it may appear so is due to our temperament or suitability! 

There are many practical differences between the methods which cannot be glossed over. There is no problem so long an aspirant follows one method , without trying to make a hotch potch., or unfair comparisons, not warranted in sadhana. Let us leave arguments to arm-chair academics, who have all the time!

In reality, all paths are difficult, like the sharp edge of the razor, as the Upanishad says. But the psychological method of  Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is intrinsically tougher than the others, and riskier without a proper guide or Guru. Sri Aurobindo  himself said that his Yoga was not for all but only  for those who had the call! So in his lifetime, he would not allow his Yoga to be “popularised.”  Those who felt the call would come! It is one thing to read his writings, but quite another to follow his Yoga!

Fully realised souls are not common  in any path. True Masters are rare. 

Seclusion and After

Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion in November 1926 to devote his full time and attention to the realisation of Supramental Manifestation upon earth, one aspect of which was physical supramentalisation and divinisation of the body.. 

All earlier Indian philosophy- ie ‘darshana’ is based on the actual realisation of Rishis. There is no speculative element there. ( Leave the commentators aside!) But  Sri Aurobindo’s advocacy of Supramental manifestation is based on his idea  and interpretation of evolution , not actual realisation. 

 Did he succeed in his efforts in the last 24 years of his life? 

His deep,  lifelong  devotees and scholars Nolini Kanta Gupta(1889-1983; revolutionary and prison mate of Sri Aurobindo, and most senior disciple)

Nolinida with Sri Aurobindo c.1915

and Amal Kiran [ K.D.Sethna- 1904-2011] have said that this realisation has been postponed to a future date.[ie it is not realised as yet.] Says Amal Kiran:

Only photo of Amal Kiran I could get

 ” ….he (Sri Aurobindo) for his own purpose gave up his body’s fulfilment and left it to the Mother to fulfil the ultimate aim. Now that she too had abandoned it for her own reasons,the whole problem… has arisen:”Will it be realised by any of her children in the near future?”

“As regards physical transformation, it is not only Amal who has written that it is postponed: Nolini also said the same thing.”

“Neither Sri Aurobindo nor the Mother achieved physical supramentalisation” 

                                                                                       8.12.1991 p.266-67

“… supramentalisation and divinisation of the body…..this goal has been put by them in a far away future and that the central object has always been the realisation of the Divine- and now that our Gurus have left their bodies it is idle to think that any of us is going to do in a life time what they themselves didn’t.” 8.4.92 p.318

 From: Life-Poetry-Yoga, Letters of Amal Kiran, Volume 2; The Integral Life Foundation, Waterford, USA, 1995.

This is a candid statement. The final position, as it appears from the above, is that “Supramental Manifestaion” -the most distinctive aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga has been consigned to a distant future. The immediate goal is shown as ‘Realisation of the Divine’ viz God Realisation. This is the goal of all the conventional Yogic disciplines or spiritual effort of India!

To the extent Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy banks on ‘the one Self and Spirit’ behind the universe, it is Advaitic. But to the extent it speaks of the world as being real, it shares the views of Dwaita and Vishishtadvaita. To some extent, it reflects the position of Sri Ramakrishna who regarded the world both as ‘nitya’ and ‘lila’.

    These are theoretical considerations. Sri Aurobindo’s writings shed new light even on conventional wisdom. His writings on nationalism, Veda and Upanishads, on Yoga,  and his defence of Indian culture are important sources for understanding the true heart and mind of India, that is a Shakti!

[Nolini Kanta Gupta and Amal Kiran are authentic exponents of Sri Aurobindo lore. They have written extensively on him, and also on other things in the light of Sri Aurobindo.]


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