This is the 60th anniversary of independent India! A nation, after centuries of serfdom, had become free from the yoke of foreign rulers. It had all the dreams of a golden era that would dawn after August 15, 1947.
Many young and old had become martyrs in the struggle for independence for they had hoped that their sacrifice would give birth to a glorious India!
Alas! Their hopes seem to have been dashed to ground. Absolute power has corrupted absolutely the ruling class — be it in politics, business, education. Disappointment looms large on the foreheads of the rich and the poor. Quo vadis Bharat?
But, behind this demoniac veil, there is a more beautiful and lustrous face of Bharat Mata. She is emerging out of the dark veil that is being thrust upon her by the children of darkness. It is said that darkness is darkest before dawn — it is true in India’s case too. The New Dawn is already on the horizon: Usha, the goddess of Dawn, rises harmonising “the dawns that shone out before and those that now must shine.” (Kutsa Angirasa — Rig Veda)
Fortunate are those who can glimpse the brilliant face of New India, through the massive and dense clouds of terror, violence, corruption, hypocrisy, gloom and despair.
In this issue we get from some young minds across the continents their understanding of India — Past, Present and Future. This is how we wish to celebrate the ‘shasthi purthi’ of India — invoking her nation-soul to manifest in its fullness, bringing together her universal family consisting of people from all religions, nationalities and races.
O Mother India! Show us Thy resplendent Form endowed with the wisdom of Maheshwari, the power of Mahakali, beauty and harmony of Mahalakshmi and the perfection of Mahasaraswati! The faster you manifest in Thy fullness, the greater would be human felicity and unity. Thou art Spirit sempiternal! Come, O Mother, manifest Thyself in our hearts and minds and unite all of us in Thy resplendent beatitude. May you bless all Thy children with Prosperity, Peace and Harmony!
“India is the place where the fate of the earth will be decided. The world conflict, the ISSUE will be played out over India.... The whirl of forces is here, over India.... It’s becoming urgent. And falsehood, duplicity... oh, everything seems to be rising to the surface — it’s hideous.... It’s like a conflict between the forces that want to destroy the earth and the terrestrial transformation.” (1969)
“It is only the Truth that can save us: truth in words, truth in action, truth in will, truth in feelings. It is a choice between serving the Truth or being destroyed.” (1972) The Mother
Indian Tradition: An International Online Dialogue
The participants of the dialogue:
BM, who lead the dialogue (from Miamisburg, OH, USA); PG (from Arras, France); KS (from Santa Clara, CA, USA); GR (from Baroda, Gujarat); KP (from Gauteng, South Africa); MD (from Mumbai, Maharashtra)
BM to all (14 March 2007):
I would like to initiate a dialogue on the following three themes.
How do we speak of Indian Tradition?
How do we understand Indian Tradition?
How do we live by Indian Tradition?
What is the place India holds in the world-consciousness, the special role India has to play in the future evolution of our individual and collective consciousness, in making this human life into a divine life? As The Mother once said, “India ought to be the spiritual leader of the world. Inside she has the capacity, but outside… for the moment there is still much to do for her to become actually the spiritual leader of the world. There is such a wonderful opportunity just now!” (CWM 13: 375)
Sri Aurobindo writes in The Foundations of Indian Culture:
The whole root of difference between Indian and European culture springs from the spiritual aim of Indian civilisation. It is the turn which this aim imposes on the all the rich and luxuriant variety of its forms and rhythms that gives to it its unique character. For even what it has in common with other cultures gets from that turn a stamp of striking originality and solitary greatness. A spiritual aspiration was the governing force of this culture, its core of thought, its ruling passion. Not only did it make spirituality the highest aim of life, but it even tried, as far as that could be done in the past conditions of the human race, to turn the whole of life towards spirituality. (SABCL 14: 121)
A few years ago I bought a beautiful picture book called Living Faith: Windows into the Sacred Life of India. It is a collection of photographs taken by the Indian photographer, Dinesh Khanna. The flap of the book has this to say — “Living Faith is an intimate, revealing record of a deeply spiritual way of life. It acknowledges the strength of private worship and shared faith, which ultimately transcends the more visible but short-lived realities of discord.” One has to see the pictures in this remarkable collection to get a sense of what Pico Iyer (who has written an introductory essay to this book) refers to as “something of what India does, at its best: namely, to take individual moments of worship, private acts of devotion – the soul in solitary colloquy with its God – and somehow bind them into the larger fabric of society and life.” (p. 21)
What I enjoyed most in this collection of photographs is how they capture the idea of visual, lived expression of Divine (and love for Divine) that is present everywhere in almost every street corner in India. The sheer profusion of “sacred” can be both mind-boggling but also quite healing in its own way, and certainly representing in visual terms the ideal of spiritual aim of life. The separation between human and Divine, between secular and sacred is not as sharp and divisive as we see in the western societies. At least that is how I have come to know and experience India. Of course, in some elite metro areas one will now find some artificially created, sanitized, western style urban-ness, but that is still quite unreal, and the moment one steps out of it, one is in the middle of pulsating, throbbing human expression of Divine or an attempt at bringing Divine closer to human — in a make-shift temple created by simply placing an old, half-broken statue of a deity or simply a stone marked with holy red powder, or a picture of one’s favorite deity glued awkwardly on the dashboard of a car or taxi — almost everywhere. Certainly, the most common form of spiritual practice (sadhana or yoga) for majority of people in India is the yoga of love and devotion (Bhaktiyoga). It is everywhere, in all religious traditions. The book, Living Faith: Windows into the Sacred Life of India, is an excellent visual representation of this.
It seems in Indian context there still abounds a plethora of external influences which may or perhaps do play an important role in imprinting on the hearts and minds of people of all ages and backgrounds that there is more to the visible world of Matter, that there is Divine Presence in all of the world and life that we see, and that spiritual aim of life can co-exist with other aims of life. Science, Rationality and Reason have generally found a peaceful co-existence with Spirituality there than is generally seen in the West. For example, in schools also, including the public schools (run by government) children are not exposed to a sense of a complete separation of sacred and secular. No school function starts without an invocation to whatever is accepted as Supreme, Higher Power. Even in public schools the day starts with some form of prayer to the Higher Invisible Source (or God in ordinary terms) asking for wisdom, grace and strength, but the conception of God in these prayers is of the one that transcends all religions or is outside of all religious conceptions. I can think of several such school prayer songs that have been sung by generations of school children in India. (This is in contrast to the long-standing debate on prayer in public schools in the US, for example.) All of this makes the idea of spirituality lot more “living” and “real” (at least, in the externally visible sense) than may be possible where spirituality is primarily understood through an intellectual-philosophic standpoint, or where the division between sacred and secular spheres of life is much rigid. These differences do make a difference.
I wish to strongly emphasize, however, that none of the above description of a visibly vibrant religio-spiritual culture in India stands in any opposition to the truth that we all are spiritual beings, regardless of where we are born, where we live and the cultural heritage we inherit from our background. We all have the spark of Divine within us, which is trying to reveal itself in and through all our life experiences. Spiritual practice or sadhana facilitates this bringing forth of the psychic being, to help us recognize and grow within us an inner central aspiration toward Divine. Because we all are multiple selves within us, all our physical, vital and mental preparation and cultivation also help us grow into our knowledge of the Self and is a preparation toward the cultivation and flowering of the psychic and of the spirit. Even if most of our formal educational experiences have been focused around mind, because of our innate psychic and spiritual aspiration we are not content, we aspire for something beyond our minds, for something beyond the visible. And that aspiration is behind why we are here working together on this course! Why are we not satisfied with the status quo, why are we progressively reaching out and digging within to the wider, deeper and higher dimensions and domains of the individual, the social, the universal and the eternal? It is simply because that to aspire toward the Divine is the one aim of human life that distinguishes us from all other life in the world. And in that sense, spirituality lives in all of us, and around all of us, regardless of the outer physical context. Divine is beyond all the man-made fabrications of “East” and “West”, it can’t be known by an intellectual synthesis or reconciliation of all that humans have philosophized. It can only be lived and experienced, and it requires persistent will and constant aspiration — individual and collective.
Generally, spiritual seeking is understood as seeking for God, or seeking for God-realization, union with the Divine. That is the goal of most spiritual/yogic traditions of the past. Sri Aurobindo explains that Integral Yoga is called ‘Integral’ because it takes up the essence and many processes of the old yogas, and then goes beyond in its newness which is in its aim, standpoint and the totality of its method (Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching & Method of Practice, pp. 37–38). Integral Yoga aims to bring the Superconscient into the waking consciousness and let the union with Divine or Superconscient guide the process of transformation of the nature (Ibid., pp. 35–37). In other words, Integral Yoga can be said to begin where old yogas end.
Spirituality outside of any and all man-made religions, outside of the many man-made conceptions and images of God, spirituality that is all-pervading in all life, all matter — that is what is to be sought, that is what needs to be lived and experienced. Spiritual consciousness that is higher, wider and deeper than the ordinary human consciousness but includes and transcends it all, spirituality that seeks to integrate the inner and outer existence, spirituality that aims to transform the human life into divine life — that is what is to be sought.
In this context, let me provide a glimpse of what Sri Aurobindo writes about the inner vision of the India:
India saw from the beginning,—and, even in her ages of reason and her age of increasing ignorance, she never lost hold of the insight,—that life cannot be rightly seen in the sole light, cannot be perfectly lived in the sole power of its externalities. She was alive to the greatness of material laws and forces … Hence from long ages of this insight and practice there was ingrained in her her spirituality, her powerful psychic tendency, her great yearning to grapple with the infinite and possess it, her ineradicable religious sense, her idealism, her Yoga, the constant turn of her art and her philosophy.
It is this integral nature of spirituality that Sri Aurobindo teaches us; that, he reminds us, has been and will continue to be the gift of India to the world. The truth of “All Life is Yoga” (SABCL 20, p. 4, last line) finds its roots in this eternal Indian Tradition.
KS to BM (18 March 2007):
A visible Indian Tradition in my opinion is where families live in unity with the thread of Love and God connecting them. Sacrifice of individual interest over collective interest is very common in Indian Traditions. A child grows in the midst of parents, grand parents, cousins, nephews, brothers, inherit the qualities and learns its way through like a born fish that immediately starts swimming with its cluster. This very description of Indian Tradition is now shaky with the economization that sweeping India. But this economization, gives the flexibility for the individual to contemplate at some point in time. In the article “India’s Spirit and Form”, provided in the forum of the Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow (http://www.theuniversityoftomorrow.org/programmes/online_programmes/overview_of_subjects.html), the first paragraph on Indian Culture highlights the spirituality as the foundation. The article focuses on culture, Indian religion and spirituality, Indian art, Indian literature, and Indian polity. I learn from this article Indian art as expression of the Divine and the inner worlds and the soul of mankind. I learn how the Vedic secrets are manifested as Upanishads, epic stories, Bhagavad-Gita.
PG to BM (18 March 2007):
I have been in touch with the Indian Tradition first by the classical spirituality and Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music, it has been much later that I got interested in the more secular aspects of India. What is astounding for a lot of westerners is how spirituality and religion are omnipresent in India as mentioned by you: a pooja altar at the corner of a street, all these religious symbols on cars ... Itihasas such as Ramayana and Mahabharata are very strong in the collective unconscious. Rabindranath Tagore is said to have written the Indian national anthem in honour of God. Even in the popular Bollywood movies, it is omnipresent, and here is a ‘Om Jay Jagadish hare’ between two romantic scenes, I think of older movies too such as ‘Guide’ about how a common man becomes a swami and a mahatma or ‘Mother India’, which shows how the mother is idealized and considered. I think also about more realistic films from the Bengali director Satyajit Ray ‘Trilogy of Apu’. I have been to a few holy places among the thousand ones in India, I have assisted to ceremonies such as Ganga Pooja, Havan. Being engaged with a wonderful affectionate Indian female (with agreement of the both families), I can see of course how family is important and valued, I will live soon the Indian Tradition with marriage.
BM to KS (19 March 2007):
You bring up something very interesting and significant here. One way I could read the meaning of your comment is that Indians get exposed to many of their traditions in a very organic way through their family environments where the traditions are very much alive and part of their daily experience. This means that the essence of the traditions gets internalized by the children as they are growing up in extended family networks....and perhaps the extended family network doesn’t have to include only the relations but even neighbors, other members of the community, etc. This may point to the specific nature of the child-adult socialization patterns in the Indian context.
But if this nature of socialization pattern is seeming shaky because of social-economic changes that are part and parcel of the development process these days, what do you think will be needed as time goes by? Should other institutions pick up some of the acculturation work that families used to provide? Is there a need to rethink the role and character of other organizations that are part of children’s social-cultural experience? What alternative “developmental” models or definitions of progress might emerge from within the Indian Traditions or cultural ways of being that could offset the negative impact of this economization as you point out? Some things to reflect upon …
BM to PG (19 March 2007):
Your point about the omnipresence of the religio-spiritual aspect of life in the popular Indian culture is well made by the examples you provide. I remember well the movie ‘Guide’. By the way, did you ever catch the relatively commercially unsuccessful movie from a few years ago ‘Om Jai Jagdish’ in which the three brothers are named Om, Jai and Jagdish? And then there was the very popular film ‘Iqbal’ in which the aspect about family bond is made very nicely in how one member’s dream becomes the family’s dream and the troubles and sacrifices they go through to help this one family member pursue his dream.
I wish to add a couple more examples to further strengthen this line of argument. I am not sure if you ever saw or heard about the TV adaptations of two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which were first serialized by the Indian state-run channel Doordarshan between 1987 and 1990. These programmes soon became the most popular serials ever shown on Indian television. Several media reports in India talked about the ritual viewing of these shows all over, particularly North India, streets being deserted while the shows were on, viewers performing purification rituals, garlanding their TV sets, and participating in what became a national devotional activity. One survey claimed that the Mahabharata was seen by 92 per cent of all people with access to television.
The popular response to these serials, particularly the Ramayana serial because it was the first, was of such a huge magnitude that it inspired several ‘academic’ sociological studies — in India and elsewhere. Many such studies were in criticism of the show’s impact, and pointed to the spreading wave of a certain ‘religio-nationalistic’ consciousness that could prove to be a threat to the ‘secular’ character of Indian pluralistic society. Very few of these studies actually tried to make sense of the Indian public response from within the Indian cultural traditions, and challenged these more ‘modernist, sociological analyses’ which don’t generally recognize or appreciate the traditional Indian socio-cultural mindset. One such example was from a wonderful essay, All in the (Raghu) family: A Video Epic in Cultural Context by Philip Lutgendorf (1995) who remarked —
Such critics are often out of touch with the religious customs of their own urban neighbors, and choose to overlook, for example, the purificatory puja of motor vehicles, printing presses, and other mechanical devices, which is common throughout the country [p. 241] … Ramayan [became] the most popular program ever shown on Indian television, and something more: a phenomenon of such proportions that intellectual and policymakers struggled to come to terms with its significance [p. 217] … for majority of Indian viewers, the Ramayana serial was not simply a program to “see”, it was something to do – an event to participate in – and this participation was nearly always a group (extended family, neighborhood, village) activity [p. 243].
PG to BM (19 March 2007):
No, I don’t know this movie but I know the Mahabharata TV series, I have a set of DVDs with a short version. I haven’t watched wholly yet. I don’t watch often movies, I have never been very passionate but I admit that since I have watched a few Hindi movies out of curiosity a few months before coming to India, I tend to watch rather Indian movies now. Though I am culturally a Westerner, I am often surprisingly receptive at a greater level.
I have read short versions of Mahabharata and Ramayana. My first contact with Indian spirituality was at the age of 14 through the Gita that I had picked it up in my parents’ books. It can be added that I have been to Badrinath, just nearby there are two little temples in caves, one dedicated to Ganesha and the other to Vyasa, there was a man telling the beginning of the story.
KS to BM (20 March 2007):
(Regarding BM’s reply) Here is a bold and positive point to ponder over in your reply. Yes. definitely, other institutions should fill that gap. And I believe many institutions are already doing that. (E.g.) Once a Month retreat as organized by Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham Lodi, CA, and many more organizations. What alternative ‘developmental’ models is a bigger question that requires some courage to think about. I would say in India, as it prevailed in the past thirty years, it is based on communities, and communities live in as cohesive unit with respect for other community. Yet, in the past crossing communities (for example, inter-caste marriage) was considered to be a grave mistake and disobedience. With economization, this has been challenged by many sincere souls, and people from different communities are coming together. This phenomenon is happening in India where cast and religion is giving way to more pervasive love, and brotherhood.
BM to KS and PG (20 March 2007):
Thanks for your responses. PG, you must be already in Germany by now, and I hope you are enjoying reading The Foundations of Indian Culture. I am happy to hear about your visit to Badrinath. I smiled at reading your comment about receptivity to Indian cultural ideas, stories and themes, and I was reminded once again that in its truest sense Indian-ness may have more to do with a certain way of being and navigating through life, and not necessarily a specific regional, cultural or ethnic identity. In this regard I wish to share something that The Mother said in 1954 —
From the first time I came to India—in 1914—I felt that India is my true country, the country of my soul and spirit … my purpose is to show that truth lies in union rather than in division ... I am French by birth and early education, I am Indian by choice and predilection. In my consciousness there is no antagonism between the two, on the contrary, they combine very well and complete one another. (CWM 13, p. 43)
KS, I agree that the question about finding alternative developmental models or definitions of progress is a very broad one. I am thinking that perhaps as we all deepen our understandings of Indian Traditions and Indian cultural frameworks — both in an intellectual way and in a real, lived sort of way — we will be able to initiate this inquiry with the necessary courage that you speak of. It also occurs to me that so far the developmental models that India and many other non-western civilizations/nations have had to work with were those that grew out of very different cultural traditions and trajectory of intellectual thought. And in the absence of any indigenous or home-grown alternatives, and as a result of several reasons nations and societies like India have evolved their understandings and processes of development and progress with some form of borrowed or artificially-imposed structures of ‘modernity’. Result is more confusion, more problem, more disharmony between tradition and modernity, between Indian State and various sections of society, between different religious/ethnic communities, etc. Sri Aurobindo, in his Social and Political Thought, gives us glimpses of an alternative trajectory of human and societal progress that make us examine these issues in much detail and with a wider lens.
I find your response about inter-community relationships an interesting one. Besides the points you mention I also think that this type of border-crossing resulting from various socio-economic-cultural changes also makes an impact in how the Indian Traditions continue to renew themselves in a grounds-up sort of way and how the cross-fertilization of traditions, customs and practices make for an overall richer cultural tapestry.
You give the example of spiritual institutions that may fill some of the gaps in terms of socialization of people into Indian Traditions, what do you think of the role of educational institutions? I realize this in itself may be a very, very huge topic to take up...but I just mention it here for any future reflection and contemplation.
GR to BM (21 March 2007):
The very foundation of Indian Civilization is spirituality though we Indians follow so many religions but the real essence of all the religions is ONE that is to Be in Divine and to Become Divine. I think first step to spirituality is through becoming religious but we should not cling onto religiousness we should always keep in mind that oneness with Divine is the aim of life. Indian Traditions are rich and they have a very occult meaning in them. The combined family system, the marriage system are some of the essence of Indian Traditions. And we are really proud of continuing them for years and years and I hope we still continue them. The essay ‘India’s Spirit and Form’ talks about the same. We have spirituality in everything — in architecture, sculptor, painting, music, dance, in all the arts. The very richness of Indian Tradition is its vastness; it shows us varieties of paths towards the ultimate realisation. Our literature is so rich that if we understand even one book it would be enough because the essence of all of them is one and that is to make the earthly life as life divine. Sri Aurobindo through his literature has brought this fact into light. Two epics that have emphasised the true Indian-ness, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, stand out as the true representatives. The Bhagavad-Gita is said to be the ‘Mother’ of all ‘spiritual literature’ where Vasudeva himself explains Arjuna the secrets of life and yoga and how they are connected with spirituality. Our Vedas, the first spiritual teachings, I think are difficult to understand but Sri Aurobindo has made them understandable. I would conclude on this note that the true Indian spirit is to bring about the balance in the external and the internal life and in a way to progress towards the Divine to become Divine.
BM to GR (21 March 2007):
You have touched upon something very important here. A masterful and effortless integration of external and internal life built upon the foundation-stone of spirituality is the true message of Indian civilization. It is important, however, I feel, to reflect upon the tendency of many people in India and elsewhere to think of spirituality as something removed from external aspects of life, to understand spiritual seeking as world-negating or life-negating. What causes such thinking? What is needed in present times to spread the message of a true life-affirming spirituality, especially in the Indian context?
Some questions for all of us to ponder upon.
KP to BM (21 March 2007):
About India in general, it is quite surprising how quickly she grows on one, become part of the blood so to speak. Because my first visit to India (2002) was quite a culture shock at first, for the first week or so (it took me about a week to travel from Mumbai to Auroville/Pondicherry) — very overwhelming. But on my way to Auroville from Bangalore it started to feel very familiar, more like home than my own country. Before my second visit, or rather stay of 6 months in Auroville, I was still rather scared of India, but now it really is my spiritual home and I literally count the days after each visit before I can again be in India.
That said, culturally modern India has me a bit worried: the growing commercialization (everyone must own a TV/motorbike/cell phone, etc. etc.); the corruption; alcohol abuse (in the villages around Auroville for example that seems to tear into the very fabric of family/community life, with the violence and abuse that goes with that. (I don’t know if that is also a result of westernization).
I can just hope that India will move more in the direction that Sri Aurobindo wanted (becoming the spiritual leader of the world?) than trying the western model, of money and materialism. And yes, I agree, it is truly amazing and wonderful how India integrate spirituality into the everyday life.
BM to KP (21 March 2007):
You bring up another important point, K. Having recently completed 14 years of my vanavasa (residence in a jungle) in the US, I can say that I use the term vanavasa not without reason because the idea of jungle is very much a part of the American experience. The so-called ‘American Dream’ is a dream of middle-class comfort provided by a 2000 square-feet house in the suburbia, two cars (if one of them is a gas-guzzling SUV, that is even better), new living room furniture every few years, premium membership at some 24/7 wholesale shopping club where one can buy designer jeans and branded ‘organic’ food at knockoff prices, packaged vacation every year and an every-night-entertainment-loaded luxury cruise every few years, and several other ‘items’ like these ready for purchase. When every American runs and runs around chasing this American Dream, the view is not much different from animals running in a jungle in search of food. The really sad part however is that efforts are in full swing to sell this Dream to all of non-America as the Dream to dream. So The Modern Indian Dream may be just a tad different from The American Dream, as suggested by relatively smaller sizes of the shopping malls that are frequently cropping up all over the urban landscape in India, but the essential stuff of which these dream sold in these malls are made of is not much different.
So you are very right — when we look around in the modern-day India, we don’t see the India that The Mother and Sri Aurobindo speak of, the India that many other spiritual masters in different times have spoken of. We see people chasing after newer models of cell phones, branded jeans, designer sarees and all the luxuries of material life. We see people glued to TV advertisements to stay up to date with new marketing gimmicks and sales. These middle-class and upper-class lifestyle aspirations create another whole set of problems for very large sections of Indian society which are unable to afford these comforts. Crime and all other social problems increase manifold. Commercialization is running rampant. Capitalism and all its attendants — social, cultural, political — are coming in from every open door and window they can find in the modern-day, liberal, open-economy India.
I am reminded of something V.P. Varma wrote in his book — Political philosophy of Sri Aurobindo — “Capitalism can only utilize certain feelings for its own purposes; it cannot create them.” (1960, p. 192) When I first read it, I said to myself — how simply he presents a really deep and complex idea! We generally like to blame American or western style capitalism — I have done it so many times myself — for many of the problems of present world and present-day India. But then the very human feelings (frailties, perhaps?) of possession, acquisition, greed for wealth, power to exploit and extract from those that are weaker than us, etc., are so easily ignored in our incomplete analysis of how to make the world better. We don’t want to objectively examine and accept these frailties and work towards a deeper transformation of our individual nature. Why? Because that is such a hard work, it almost seems impossible. But then a part of us always knows that nothing else would ever work, it hasn’t. And this is true for everyone, everywhere. And it is also true that this transformation — in individual and society — doesn’t come without many initial hardships, even failures, without taking many wrong steps. The path is not linear and straight, the curves, detours, spirals, layovers, even fallbacks are pretty much on every turn.
What may also be needed is to look beyond these surface moves and turns. I recall Sri Aurobindo’s words from The Synthesis of Yoga — “But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality.” (SABCL 20, p. 6) So it is highly likely, perhaps even more than likely that underneath all the craze for camera cell phones, fancy outfits, expensive cars, film stars’ endorsements, slogans of ‘India Shining’ etc. — all of which is visibly popular in the modern urban India — if there is an underlying, mostly hidden and sometimes revealing itself, spirit of an evolution of consciousness, individual and collective, all the rest is an outer appearance — not to be dismissed, but to be seen in its right spirit as a temporary necessity, and gradually and consciously perfected as the individuals and society ascend on the path of transformation. Nature uses all possible means to accomplish its task. Perhaps it may be argued that even the unbridled commercialization of individual and collective mindset may serve its own special purpose in the individual’s and society’s ascend to a transformed outer and inner life. To quote Sri Aurobindo once again, this time from one of his speeches in 1908 — “A nation is a living entity, full of consciousness; it is not something made up or fabricated. A living nation is always growing; it must grow, it must attain ever loftier heights. This may happen after a thousand years or in the next twenty years, but happen it must” (Speech delivered on 15th January 1908) (CWSA 7, p. 812).
I find comfort every time I recall these words of The Mother — “Our hopes are never too great for manifestation. We cannot conceive of any thing that cannot be.” (CWM 14, p. 186) If India as the spiritual leader of the world is an idea that cannot be, it would never have been conceived.
GR to BM (22 March 2007):
You have said very correctly that nature uses all her available resources for the advancement of consciousness. The point you said about the westernization of India I interpret it this way that for the overall and integral development we need all the faculties, viz., physical, vital, mental in its pure form. Western countries they have strong hold of vitality which can be seen in the sports they play also in their overall outlook and I think we Indians had always like neglected the true vitality. We always concentrated more on mental faculty which I do not say it is wrong but neglecting vitality is wrong. That was the very reason why India was ruled for more than 350 years by European countries. Pure vital with pure mental will accelerate the whole phenomenon, this is my view. The perfect blend of physical, vital and mental is required. Mother Nature has no hurry at all, she wants the evolution in its entirety. For her time is not at all bounding; if Mother wants she can turn the things around in a blink of an eye but then she wants us to take the opportunity, and with her grace the process will reach towards it ultimate.
KP to BM (22 March 2007):
Thanks BM, for pointing out that one can only change the world by changing oneself, as the Mother repeatedly said. And especially your last two paragraphs, in which you say that underneath all the craze there is a spirit of evolution of consciousness — that puts things in a whole new perspective for me, and is a very comforting thought.
MD to BM (22 March 2007):
The Indian-ness of India lies undoubtedly in her emphasis on spirituality and making life itself an attempt to express and fulfil this spirituality. I would like to share the conviction and the pride I feel in being born on the Indian soil after going through these readings. Sri Aurobindo indicated that India used her “logical practicality and sense of science and organised method” to find the way to live this spirituality. This central motivating force was vibrant and strong enough to have given birth to the ‘yogasutras’ of Patanjali which attempted at harmonising mind, life and body, the well-formulated ‘nitishastra’ of Kautilya or the Science of Right Governance, the well-defined individual and collective code of conduct in the ‘Manu dharmashastra’, the advanced medical science of ‘Shushruta’, the impeccable grammar of Panini, the elaborate and spectacular ‘natyashastra’ of Bharat Muni, Mathematics, Astrology, Education and so many other arts, sciences and scriptures all taken to their summits of perfection. What else is this if not a living proof of India’s commitment to spirituality, her constant effort at divinising, perfecting life.
And if such was the force of her spiritual drive, it shakes me awake to the realisation that I don’t want to call myself an Indian if I cant be an Indian. ‘Indian’ is not just a geographical implication, its a responsibility, one that makes you seek the divine in every movement and every moment. It makes me see the divine, even if it is only for a short while, all around me, and makes me come alive to the fact that “All life is yoga”.
The task before us, if India must be the spiritual leader of the world, is to revive this aim and make it a living reality in our hearts. Anyone who lives this aim is an Indian; and for that matter an American or a German can be more ‘Indian’ than an Indian. This section of the dialogue has made me see, once again, the true significance of the word ‘Indian’ and has made me want to live up to the privilege that it presents. I truly hope that somehow this spark of Indian-ness be lit in every child and every adult through discussions like this one conducted by the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research.
BM to all (22 March 2007):
In his five essays titled Indian Spirituality and Life, published in The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo tells us clearly of a few distinct aspects of Indian Tradition. A review of these will provide helpful hints for our undertaking of Indian culture and tradition.
1. “Differences of credal belief are to the Indian mind nothing more than various ways of seeing the one Self and Godhead in all. Self-realisation is the one thing needful; to open to the inner Spirit, to live in the Infinite, to seek after and discover the Eternal, to be in union with God, that is the common idea and aim of religion, that is the sense of spiritual salvation, that is the living Truth that fulfils and releases. This dynamic following after the highest spiritual truth and the highest spiritual aim are the uniting bond of Indian religion and, behind all its thousand forms, its one common essence.” (SABCL 14, p. 127)
2. “… not only was this greatest and widest spiritual truth seen in India with the boldest largeness, felt and expressed with a unique intensity, and approached from all possible sides, but it was made consciously the grand uplifting idea of life, the core of all thinking, the foundation of all religion, the secret sense and declared ultimate aim of human existence. The truth announced is not peculiar to Indian thinking; it has been seen and followed by the highest minds and souls everywhere. But elsewhere it has been the living guide only of a few thinkers, or of some rare mystics or exceptionally gifted spiritual natures. The mass of men have had no understanding, no distant perception, not even a reflected glimpse of this something Beyond; they have lived only in the lower sectarian side of religion, in inferior ideas of the Deity or in the outward mundane aspects of life. But Indian culture did succeed by the strenuousness of its vision, the universality of its approach, the intensity of its seeking in doing what has been done by no other culture. It succeeded in stamping religion with the essential ideal of a real spirituality; it brought some living reflection of the very highest spiritual truth and some breath of its influence into every part of the religious field. Nothing can be more untrue than to pretend that the general religious mind of India has not at all grasped the higher spiritual or metaphysical truths of Indian religion. It is a sheer falsehood or a wilful misunderstanding to say that it has lived always in the externals only of rite and creed and shibboleth. On the contrary, the main metaphysical truths of Indian religious philosophy in their broad idea-aspects or in an intensely poetic and dynamic representation have been stamped on the general mind of the people. The ideas of Maya, Lila, divine Immanence are as familiar to the man in the street and the worshipper in the temple as to the philosopher in his seclusion, the monk in his monastery and the saint in his hermitage. The spiritual reality which they reflect, the profound experience to which they point, has permeated the religion, the literature, the art, even the popular religious songs of a whole people.” (SABCL 14, pp. 127–128)
3. “India recognised authority of spiritual experience and knowledge, but she recognised still more the need of variety of spiritual experience and knowledge. Even in the days of decline when the claim of authority became in too many directions rigorous and excessive, she still kept the saving perception that there could not be one but must be many authorities. An alert readiness to acknowledge new light capable of enlarging the old tradition has always been characteristic of the religious mind in India. Indian civilisation did not develop to a last logical conclusion its earlier political and social liberties, - that greatness of freedom or boldness of experiment belongs to the West; but liberty of religious practice and a complete freedom of thought in religion as in every other matter have always counted among its constant traditions.” (SABCL 14, p. 130)
4. “… spiritual knowledge perceives that there is a greater thing in us; our inmost self, our real being is not the intellect, not the aesthetic, ethical or thinking mind, but the divinity within, the Spirit, and these other things are only the instruments of the Spirit. A mere intellectual, ethical and aesthetic culture does not go back to the inmost truth of the spirit; it is still an Ignorance, an incomplete, outward and superficial knowledge. To have made the discovery of our deepest being and hidden spiritual nature is the first necessity and to have erected the living of an inmost spiritual life into the aim of existence is the characteristic sign of a spiritual culture.” (SABCL 14, pp. 139–140)
5. “… the spirit of Indian religion and spiritual culture has been persistently and immovably the same throughout the long time of its vigour, but its form has undergone remarkable changes. Yet if we look into them from the right centre it will be apparent that these changes are the results of a logical and inevitable evolution inherent in the very process of man’s growth towards the heights.” (SABCL 14, p. 141)
6. “Indian culture recognises the spirit as the truth of our being and our life as a growth and evolution of the spirit. It sees the Eternal, the Infinite, the Supreme, the All; it sees this as the secret highest Self of all, this is what it calls God, the Permanent, the Real, and it sees man as a soul and power of this being of God in Nature. The progressive growth of the finite consciousness of man towards this Self, towards God, towards the universal, the eternal, the infinite, in a word his growth into spiritual consciousness, by the development of his ordinary ignorant natural being into an illumined divine nature, this is for Indian thinking the significance of life and the aim of human existence.” (SABCL 14, p. 156)
7. “It has been said with some truth that for the Indian the whole of life is a religion. True of the ideal of Indian life, it is true to a certain degree and in a certain sense in its fact and practice. No step could be taken in the Indian’s inner or outer life without his being reminded of a spiritual existence. Everywhere he felt the closeness or at least saw the sign of something beyond his natural life, beyond the moment in time, beyond his individual ego, something other than the needs and interests of his vital and physical nature. That insistence gave its tone and turn to his thought and action and feeling; it produced that subtler sensitiveness to the spiritual appeal, that greater readiness to turn to the spiritual effort which are even now distinguishing marks of the Indian temperament. It is that readiness, that sensitiveness which justifies us when we speak of the characteristic spirituality of the Indian people.” (SABCL 14, p. 161)
8. “All beings are to the Indian mind portions of the Divine, evolving souls, and sure of an eventual salvation and release into the spirit. All must feel, as the good in them grows or, more truly, the godhead in them finds itself and becomes conscious, the ultimate touch and call of their highest self and through that call the attraction to the Eternal and Divine. But actually in life there are infinite differences between man and man; some are more inwardly evolved, others are less mature, many if not most are infant souls incapable of great steps and difficult efforts. Each needs to be dealt with according to his nature and his soul stature.” (SABCL 14, p. 162)
9. “… while Indian culture made a distinction between the lower and the higher learning, the knowledge of things and the knowledge of self, it did not put a gulf between them like some religions, but considered the knowledge of the world and things as a preparatory and a leading up to the knowledge of Self and God … All knowledge was woven into one and led up by degrees to the one highest knowledge … The whole right practice of life founded on this knowledge was in the view of Indian culture a Dharma, a living according to a just understanding and right view of self-culture, of the knowledge of things and life and of action in that knowledge. Thus each man and class and kind and species and each activity of soul, mind, life, body has its dharma. But the largest or at least most vitally important part of the Dharma was held to be the culture and ordering of the ethical nature of man.” (SABCL 14, p. 167)
10. “Indian thought took for granted … the ethical nature of man and the ethical law of the world. It considered that man was justified in satisfying his desires, since that is necessary for the satisfaction and expansion of life, but not in obeying the dictates of desire as the law of his being; for in all things there is a greater law, each has not only its side of interest and desire, but its dharma or rule of right practice, satisfaction, expansion, regulation. The Dharma, then, fixed by the wise in the Shastra is the right thing to observe, the true rule of action. First in the web of Dharma comes the social law; for man’s life is only initially for his vital, personal, individual self, but much more imperatively for the community, though most imperatively of all for the greatest Self one in himself and in all beings, for God, for the Spirit. Therefore first the individual must subordinate himself to the communal self, though by no means bound altogether to efface himself in it as the extremists of the communal idea imagine. He must live according to the law of his nature harmonised with the law of his social type and class, for the nation and in a higher reach of his being — this was greatly stressed by the Buddhists — for humanity. Thus living and acting he could learn to transcend the social scale of the Dharma, practise without injuring the basis of life the ideal scale and finally grow into the liberty of the spirit, when rule and duty were not binding because he would then move and act in a highest free and immortal dharma of the divine nature. All these aspects of the Dharma were closely linked up together in a progressive unity.... But behind all dharma and ethics was put, not only as a safeguard but as a light, a religious sanction, a reminder of the continuity of life and of man’s long pilgrimage through many births, a reminder of the Gods and planes beyond and of the Divine, and above it all the vision of a last stage of perfect comprehension and unity and of divine transcendence.” (SABCL 14, pp. 167–168)
BM to all (21 March 2007):
1. Sri Aurobindo writes: “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind; the sense of the infinite is native to it.” (SABCL 14, p. 400)
Can you provide some example(s) to illustrate your subjective understanding of this statement? For instance, is there any specific work of Indian art, sculpture, architecture, poetry, literature that comes to your mind which may help you see the truth of the above statement?
2. What, in your view, is the contemporary relevance and significance of the life-affirming spirituality of Indian tradition as described by Sri Aurobindo?
3. Any other thoughts/comments you may like to share in response to this week’s readings?
BM to all (26 March 2007):
With regard to spirituality being the master-key of Indian mind, I thought I’ll begin the co-reflection process by sharing a general example from some of the work by the famous Indian artist S.H. Raza. Though I don’t find all of his works personally appealing, one of the things in particular that I find very interesting in his style is the use of the concept of “bindu” (point, dot).
Regarding the special place of “Bindu” in his art, Raza tells us (http://www.shraza.net/vision.html):
“Even in the work of these saints, the bindu occupies pride of place. The bindu is the symbol not only of Hindu spirituality, but also of Indian art, aesthetics and awareness of life ... It is absolutely primordial in its nature. When I paint the bindu, I am aware that I am literally in the womb of time, with no disturbance of sound or sight and that I am creating a spark of divinity. I am not painting for the buyer or the lover of my art. I paint to go on a journey within myself. I am excited that when I paint the bindu on my space – which is the canvas – in the solitude of my studio, it is an act of supreme consecration. Wherever my painting hangs, I create a temple.”
PG to BM (28 March 2007):
Sri Aurobindo describes it in The Foundations of Indian Culture, the human being is seen as more than a physical, vital, and mental being or even a soul separated from God, the King of the kings, the Almighty Father and placed in a cosmic drama with terrific conditions to avoid the damnation in one life. There is a bond with the Divine as everything is pervaded by the Divine, hence the plethora of symbols, systems and gods. God can be seen as a child, mother, father, friend or even lover, personal or impersonal. The Indian spirituality is a vast jungle. The ineffable is the very essence of the human being, its centre then ‘around’ can be found the physical, the vital, and the mental. There is something ‘beyond’ the mere appearances and beyond the words.
To add other examples to those already mentioned in some previous posts, the conception of Time in India seen as a series of very long kalpas of creation, upholding and destruction is breathtaking with a scale of billions of years.
Personally, I have been overwhelmed when I saw for the first time some Jain temples on Internet. Especially the Palitana sanctuary in Gujarat, I felt a deep ineffable impression of infinity. It can be noted that I had also some overwhelming experiences with the western classical art too in the museum of Louvres in Paris for instance that I consider as a temple of Art.
The statues of Buddha in the Greco-Indian style are also very inspiring, a grasp of peaceful and limitless Nirvana is manifested in human forms.
There are the yantras and mantras too, they are symbols of the Divine in design and sound. The symbols of Sri Aurobindo and Mother can be considered as yantras.
Secondly, regarding your question of the life-affirming spirituality of India, I would say that Sri Aurobindo recognizes that India could be a spiritual leader for a worldwide change of consciousness towards a spiritual age. India has exported us culture not by arms but through the spread of its ideas and has a slow but vast ability to assimilate. Westerners have been touched by the eastern spirituality on the whole for the last decades, especially Buddhism considered for its wisdom and its appealing agnostic and pragmatical approach. The spiritualities requiring more shradda/faith are less influential. The western contempt coming from the time of colonialism is less stronger than in the past.
Thirdly, while reading The Foundations of Indian Culture, I have been struck by the analysis of the western mind and the comparison with the Indian one. This is truly a pearl. At the beginning, I was mainly interested with the strict yogic aspect, now that I study more his cultural and social works, I appreciate all the more his genius and vision for the humankind. I feel a deep gratitude towards the Divine, Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and all the spiritual giants more or less famous.
MD to BM (29 March 2007):
When I think of this sense of the Infinite native to the Indian mind, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘mantra’. I have had several occasions to experience the power of mantras and every time it has carried me to the Infinite, put me in touch with something way beyond the senses, something mighty within me. I would like to share my experience with two Vedic mantras. The first one is referred to as the ‘Shanti path’ or the chant of peace. The words are as follows:
Om Purnamadah: Purnamidam
OM shanti: shanti: shanti: !!
The meaning is:
Purnamadah — ‘That’ (the transcendent creator who is beyond time and space) is whole/Eternal/Infinite.
Purnamidam — This (all creation in time and space) is also whole/Eternal/Infinite.
Purnaat Purnam Udachyate — From the infinite the infinite emerges. I.e., all of us who are created have the quality of wholeness and infinity just as the source from which we emerge.
Purnasya Purnamaadaaya — From the Infinite if we take out an infinite portion,
Purnam eva avashishyate — what remains is still the same Infinite.
OM shanti: shanti: shanti: — OM. Let there be peace, peace, peace.
The Vedic way of chanting mantras is by using only three notes : sa, komal re and komal ni. These three notes are in very close succession in the Indian musical octave and together create a mystical and very powerful effect. The combination of these three notes also helps in bringing about focus, concentration and intensity. The sound of such a chanting helps the brain to slide into slower and slower brain wave patterns (from beta to theta). Many scientific studies have shown the healing and uplifting power of mantras. Mantras can bring about different qualities, virtues, modify body temperature, help digestion, invoke various forces of Nature and even soothe and dissipate negative emotions. The ‘maha mrtyunjay’ mantra has been for centuries the last recourse of healing and has breathed life into many a dying creatures. I am sure many of us have experienced what happens when one chants or listens to the continuous chanting of a mantra. It may have been at a wedding ceremony or a Diwali pooja or even a house warming or a simple purifying ‘havan’. The whole being slips naturally into inactivity and experiences enormous levels of stillness, power, and quiet joy.
Today after reading the Shanti path I understand more deeply what the mantra does and how. And today I salute to the genius of the Vedic Rishis who created these mantras. Is this not a towering example of the real Indian Tradition where spirit, intellect and creativity combine supremely to give life its highest splendour and richness?
It is so often that we think of India’s greatness as solely spiritual and overlook her abundant joie de vivre and her enormous intellect. But after reading Sri Aurobindo’s points about India, I don’t think I will ever commit this error again. At least this is how strongly I feel today.
The second mantra that I would like to talk about is the OM itself also known as the ‘Pranav’ mantra. My experience with OM is very beautiful and one that has stood the test of time. I have used it in all possible circumstances and it has always invariably helped. I have used it to fall asleep, to cure a headache, to get rid of itching, to feel courage, to tackle nervousness and to simply feel happy. More than chanting it is the repetitive listening of OM that I have found very effective.
Here are some wonderful descriptions of OM:
If anything goes wrong, repeat OM, all will go well. — The Mother (Mona Sarkar, Sweet Mother: Harmonies of Light, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 2000, p. 3 (ISBN 81-7058-159-1))
OM Namah Paramaatme — OM! Salutation to the Supreme Spirit.
OM is the imperishable word, OM is the Universe, and this is the exposition of OM. The past, the present and the future, all that was, all that is, is OM. Like-wise all else that exist beyond the bounds of time, that too is OM. — Mandukya Upanishad
It amazes me so much to think that someone could have discovered a thing as stupendous as OM. Nowhere in the world have we heard of such a mighty discovery! A word that has the power to set things right, to purify, heal, create and connect with the divinity within must be regarded as one of the greatest boons bestowed upon human life. It cannot be the work of intellect alone for it is a Supreme Truth that can be seen only by the Supreme Truth within.
I would like to take this opportunity to share two passages from Sri Aurobindo where he talks about the mantra. The first is from The Upanishads and the second from Savitri.
… speech is creative: it creates forms of emotion, mental images and impulses of action. The ancient Vedic theory and practice extended this creative action of speech by the use of the mantra. The theory of the Mantra is that it is a word of power born out of the secret depths of our being where it has been brooded upon by a deeper consciousness than the mental, framed by the heart and not constructed by the intellect, held in the mind, again concentrated by the waking mental consciousness and then thrown out silently or vocally — the silent word is perhaps held to be more potent than the spoken — precisely for the work of creation. The Mantra can not only create new subjective states in our selves, alter our psychical being, reveal knowledge and faculties we did not before possess, can not only produce similar results in other minds than that of the user, but can produce vibrations in the mental and vital atmosphere which result in effects, in actions and even in the production of material forms on the physical plane … The Vedic use of the Mantra is only a conscious utilisation of this secret power of the word. (SABCL 12, pp. 169–170)
The following passage from Savitri is nothing short of meditation itself and as it describes the power of the Mantra, is in itself a supreme Mantric power:
As when the Mantra sinks in yoga’s ear
Its message enters stirring the blind brain
And keeps in the dim ignorant cell its sound;
The bearer understands a form of words
And, musing on the index thought it holds,
He strives to read it with the labouring mind,
But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:
Then falling silent in himself to know
He meets the deeper listening of his soul:
The word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:
Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body’s self
Are seized unalterably and he endures
An ecstacy and an immortal change;
He feels a wideness and becomes a Power.
All knowledge rushes on him like a sea;
Transmuted by the white spiritual ray
He walks in naked heaven of joy and calm,
Sees the God-face and hears transcendent speech.
(SABCL 29, p. 375 (Book Four, Canto Three))
I chose to elaborate on this one example of the Mantra because it represents to me the whole of the Indian Tradition with its spirituality, creative life force and structuring intellect, all woven into one mighty process. The other examples that strike me as fascinating are the Gita and the Nataraja. The Gita with its abundance of spiritual knowledge applied to life and mind and action as no other scripture does. The statue of Nataraja that symbolizes perfect human form celebrating the Spirit’s Infinite Ananda in a surge of ecstatic dance with its symbolic “mudras” and its life-affirming “tandav” posture.
In all humility I bow to the sense of Infinite native to the Indian mind.
BM to PG (29 March 2007):
I am happy to read your thoughtful responses and reflections. The examples you give about the feeling one gets at experiencing art — Indian or western — that conveys this sense of Infinite and limitlessness are very appropriate and meaningful. I also like your reference to a sense of being overwhelmed with the all perversity of the Divine. It made me feel that perhaps this sense is also a reflection or manifestation of the conscious or semi-conscious awareness that we carry deep within us of the aim of life, of the destiny of human — to be all-filled in every cell of our being with the Divine, to become one with the Infinite and rise up to our Infinite Divine-hood.
I appreciate your sharing with the group some insights from your experience of discovering these marvelous germ is Sri Aurobindo’s social and cultural thought.
KP to BM (29 March 2007):
An example for me to illustrate this statement by Sri Aurobindo: “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind; the sense of the infinite is native to it.” (SABCL 14, p. 400) would be the Indian classical music. Not that I know a lot about it, but a few years ago I bought a collection of CDs from the Ashram in Pondicherry, actually a course — ‘Alaap: A Discovery of Indian Classical Music’ — published in collaboration with Times Music, Mumbai.
From the introduction, the 4th paragraph of the Introduction says that if one wants to enter into the heart of a people or a culture, one should listen to their music. And Indian music, no doubt, reflects the heart of India.
The Indian classical music derives its special nature and character, not so much from its structure and rules, as from its quest and goal. Music, in India, has played many roles and served many purposes. It has been part of the folk tradition, it has enriched the lives of all sections of the society, it has adorned the courts of kings. But it has never entirely forgotten its spiritual origin and nature.
There have always been musicians for whom music has not been merely entertainment or a profession. For them it was not even a question of art for art’s sake or music for music’s sake. It was rather a whole view of life expressed as harmony and beauty of sound. It was believed that ‘music is a door, beautiful to look at no doubt, but its real value lies in its opening and leading us into a new and wondrous realm.’
The Visnu Purana declares, “All sounds are part of Him who wears a form of sound.” In the poetic words of Sri Aurobindo:
All music is only the sound of His laughter,
All beauty the smile of His passionate Bliss;
(SABCL 5, p. 40)
The true musician seeks to find this Being in himself and to express this Truth which underlies all creation.
And later on one learns how there is a whole system, also for music, of guru and teacher, a discipline or Sadhana, the Guru Shishya Parampara.
Regarding the second question (What, in your view, is the contemporary relevance and significance of the life-affirming spirituality of Indian tradition as described by Sri Aurobindo?), I have to agree with PG that ‘‘Westerners have been touched by the eastern spirituality on the whole for the last decades’’. A less ‘spiritual’ example may be the increasing popularity — here in South Africa at least — of Bollywood films.
Also, Indian fashion is very ‘ in’ at the moment here (style of clothes — not saris really, its more of an Indian influence).
And all these are for me signs of the coming influence of India worldwide, in all areas of life.
A few questions for you BM:
What are the 64 accomplishments? “… it embraced all life, politics and society, all the arts from painting to dancing, all the sixty-four accomplishments.” (Peter Heehs, Editor, The Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, p. 120)
On the next page (Ibid., p. 121), 5th sentence of the new paragraph: “In modern Europe it is after a long explosion of vital force and a stupendous activity of the intellect that spirituality has begun really to emerge and with some promise of being not, as it once was, the sorrowful physician of the malady of life, but the beginning of a large and profound clarity.” Given that this was published in 1918, what is the European spirituality that Sri Aurobindo is referring to here?
At the bottom of (Ibid.) p. 121, the spiritual atheism referred to here, is it about Buddhism? And the materialistic atheism in the next sentence, to what is the reference there?
And, does anyone know of a good History of India or some books to learn more about the history of India?
BM to MD (29 March 2007):
I am very happy to read your responses. You have given us some very inspiring, uplifting and thought-provoking examples. The collection of divine Mantras and words from Sri Aurobindo’s The Upanishads and Savitri make your response a delight to read, and by reading about the effects you have personally experienced by chanting or listening to these mantras one can almost sense the deep inner journey you have been on. I agree with you, MD that listening to some rendition of OM does wonders! In fact as I am writing this, a beautiful chanting of OM by Pt. Rajan & Sajan Misra is playing in the background. It transports me to another world, and even while being engaged in another task the sound of the OM chanting in the background brings such deep calmness and peace in the environment that I find myself in a state of natural and most comfortable flow with the work and environment. All of outside and inside noise and chatter just disappear and all that remains is a feeling that the Mother speaks of, the feeling that “all will go well.”
I highly value this statement of yours — “the real Indian Tradition where spirit, intellect and creativity combine supremely to give life its highest splendour and richness.” Very well said!
BM to KP (29 March 2007):
I am very happy to read your responses, the example you give about Indian music is very appropriate and helps us clearly see that a life-affirming spirituality, in its true spirit and role, will not only influence but in fact transform and uplift the meaning of every aspect of life and every field of human activity. I am particularly delighted to see you invoke a powerful quote of Sri Aurobindo — “All music is only the sound of His laughter” How beautiful, how profound. No matter how many times one has read this line, its Beauty and Force still carry one into a state of deep gratitude and reverence for the mighty genius that Sri Aurobindo was. This line perfectly reflects what MD refers to in her recent post about the way “spirit, intellect and creativity combine supremely to give life its highest splendour and richness.”
Your other examples about the recent influences of Indian Traditions and culture are also very appropriate. I am happy to know that if I ever visit South Africa, I will be able to enjoy Hindi movies on TV!
You ask some important questions, I will try to address them briefly here.
(a) The sixty-four accomplishments (or 64 kala as commonly referred — ‘kala’ meaning art form) represent a set of sciences or art forms covering all possible fields of human activity that one could think of. The idea being that each individual, according to his or her aptitude, ability, disposition, talent, etc., would learn some or as many of these art forms and be accomplished in those fields of work. One interpretation of these 64 kala(s) is listed on this website — http//www.en.wikipedia.org/kala.
(b) I am not so sure I can address this question very well at this point as I am not familiar with the European history, especially in the realm of religion and spirituality. But I do remember reading a rather interesting article about a year and half ago, which briefly described the history of mystical traditions in the West. I am pasting the link for that article below — perhaps you may find that of some relevance: http://www.noetic.org/publications/review/issue27/r27_Taylor.html
Even though the focus of this article is mostly on the history of American visionary tradition, its European connections can’t be missed.
(c) Yes, the reference to spiritual atheism is about Buddhism and Jainism, and the reference to materialistic atheism will be about Charvaka (Carvaka) school of philosophy. For a brief review, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charvaka
It is important to note however that the two English words commonly used to refer to Buddhist and Jain systems as ‘atheist’ or ‘heterodox’ don’t necessarily convey the same meaning as Nastik which would be a more appropriate term to refer to these schools of thought. The word Nastik referred to those schools of thought that didn’t accept the authority of Vedas as Supreme Knowledge. Carvaka school of thought emphasized that all knowledge is possible only through sensory input, and thereby denied the existence of any ‘spiritual’ realm.
(d) Oh, history of India, just as historiography of India is quite a contested and politically charged field, if you go by the debates going on in the world of educational and curriculum policy making in India! But if you are interested in a more ‘inner’ history of India (and ‘inner’ is almost always shaped by the ‘outer’ and vice versa), I will recommend the one by Prof. Kittu Reddy, History of India: A New Approach (New Delhi: Standard Pub., 2004, 503 pp., ISBN-81-87471-14-X).
MD to BM (30 March 2007):
The “life-affirming spirituality” of India has to make a comeback. It was the dwindling of this life-affirming energy that made India week and unable to handle the various foreign invasions. And after so many centuries of foreign rule what we see today is an overturn, a chaotic abundance of life energy but without the guidance of spiritual knowledge. Therefore the contemporary relevance of the phrase lies in a revival and re-application of the forgotten spiritual knowledge to life and all its limbs. In Sri Aurobindo’s words, “an original dealing with modern problems in the light of the Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society” (SABCL 14, p. 409) is the challenge we face and the task at hand.
All aspects of the Indian life are undergoing trial and turbulence. Individual, family, politics, constitution, education, commerce and everything else seems to be falling apart with a startling urgency. The youth of India is moving unstoppably towards a fantastic bubble of westernized living with a belief that this is the way to be. And this trend in turn has become such a pressing problem in Indian families: the whole Indian family structure is falling apart. In the big metros the use of psychiatric counseling and treatment is so common now. Discord, disharmony and dissatisfaction are brimming from all over.
It is not in my capacity to say how such a state of affairs is ever going to turn into a “spiritualised society” but when I look into my heart, I see hope, I hear promise. There is a feeling inside that a beautiful change is round the corner, that an eager divine force is behind this confusion pushing it violently to crack open to a new order. Even the youth in its blind race towards the West is actually hankering, searching for another Truth than the existing one, waiting for something nobler to be given to them, something that satisfies their need to celebrate life and their questioning intellect. In my personal experience with my young cousins and nieces I see a tremendous understanding and ease with spiritual ideas. They are not shy and hesitant in the face of spirituality, all they want is for someone to put in a way that makes sense to their minds and hearts, which is what Sri Aurobindo refers to as “an original dealing of modern problems ...”
Indian art has recently acquired a very high ranking in the world art scenario. There is a whole bunch of new artists and painters, just as BM pointed out, who have been saying that they paint for themselves, for a deeper need within that does not care if the painting is bought or not. And strangely it turns out these are the ones that sell and make it big. Truth in the artist’s heart meets the same Truth in the buyer’s. Many of the founders of the biggest software companies in India are in the South where it was easier for the deeper values to combine with the purity of the intellect to produce ‘super-successful’ world giants in the field. There is a sudden mushrooming of schools all over that promise superior education in terms of higher values, a freer approach, beautiful premises, modern technical support and a better curriculum than the one our government has been dishing out in the name of education. Indian dance has of late assumed such richness of diversity and synthesis with new ideas from other cultures and from its own that the result is a beautiful fusion that springs straight from the richness of the soul. New forms of Kathak, new renderings of Oddissi have won the hearts of audience, both Indian and European, and brought tears to their eyes for speaking the language of the soul.
“The shaping for itself of a new body, of new philosophical, artistic, literary, cultural, political, social forms by the same rejuvenescent will, I should think, be the type of the Indian renaissance — forms not contradictory of the truths of life which the old expressed, but rather expressive of those truths restated, cured of defect, completed.” (SABCL 14, p. 399) — points out Sri Aurobindo. Shouldn’t this be our new national anthem reminding and insisting constantly to express the Truth of life?
In moments when I am selfless and connected I can see the working of that force in my own life, arranging things in a silent but sure manner, working out things for a spiritual order. And by spiritual I actually mean more joy, more harmony, more synthesis. It’s not so hard to see the action of the Spirit because its all over, on every side, nudging relentlessly from every nook and corner, from every highway and bi-lane, not so discreet anymore. The coincidences and miracles are too many to be ignored if only we were interested. It’s as if it wants to be uncovered and be seen and act freely in all its power. It all boils down to one single point: the ability and need to look at the Spirit behind everything, just as the ancient Indian Tradition did.
If somehow, through education or counseling or whatever, the thrill of discovering that which is behind the apparent, the inner Guide, the mechanics of the Spirit could be experienced once I think the trick is done. It will find its way into the new found life energy and intellect and make of the modern Indian in western clothes more of an Indian than the one who spent half his life singing in temples. My heart says this can be done and is worth everything but how is the subject of a thesis for mightier men to figure out.
Let us take a moment off to toast to the victory of the ‘Soul Factor’!
KS to MD and everyone (1 April 2007):
Thinking of the quote from Sri Aurobindo — “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind; the sense of the infinite is native to it” — I can only write that as we get raised through from childhood, with a set of educational system, set of societal imposed rules and expectations, the ‘I’-ness stands tall in today’s world. This ‘I’ has already created many divisions than what religion or cast or creed might have created so far. Even the spiritual aspirant forget that Guiding Hand and attribute the results to ‘I’-ness. At this juncture this reminder from Master tells me not to get hung upon the success of personal effort, it is indeed there. This wave of spirituality does wonders at certain localized points in different fields (a Tendulkar in Cricket, a Dr. APJ Kalam in Science & Technology, a Vinodh Koshla in Innovation).
A sense of infinite is native to it. Yes, I have seen it functioning. The Indian ‘Kolam’ that decorates the entrance of every house, early morning, hundreds of dots turning into a beautiful art with loops and turns with absolute symmetry. Each day it gets rewritten and each day it is unique. Yes, I have seen it functioning. In the lullaby of mother to make the child sleep, the child sleeps in Divine atmosphere. All these outward activities do go through change, and new changes may baffle the seeker temporarily. At those times if we remember what Sri Aurobindo says, I am sure those outward activities can be done with the touch of Divine.
BM to MD (2 April 2007):
That was a very well-composed response about the contemporary relevance of life-affirming spirituality in modern Indian context! You have given us a lot to savour and ponder upon in that one post. Thank you for highlighting the true significance and the real place of the ‘Soul Factor’ in our modern times with such clarity.
BM to GR (22 March 2007):
GR you wrote: “… for the overall and integral development we need all the faculties, viz., physical, vital, mental in its pure form ... The perfect blend of physical, vital and mental is required. Mother Nature has no hurry at all, she wants the evolution in its entirety. For her time is not at all bounding; if Mother wants she can turn the things around in a blink of an eye but then she wants us to take the opportunity, and with her grace the process will reach towards it ultimate.”
This is very well said! Your point about integral development is made very clearly. I am happy to read your response and appreciate your thoughts and perspective on this topic.
I am happy to see open interactions and exchange of ideas in this dialogue, and I hope this is helping all of us as we deepen our understanding of the topics we are exploring in this section. I hope we can continue this trend in the following weeks also.
BM to MD (22 March 2007):
You wrote: “And if such was the force of her spiritual drive, it shakes me awake to the realisation that I don’t want to call myself an Indian if I cant be an Indian. ‘Indian’ is not just a geographical implication, its a responsibility, one that makes you seek the divine in every movement and every moment. It makes me see the divine, even if it is only for a short while, all around me, and makes me come alive to the fact that “All life is yoga”.
“The task before us, if India must be the spiritual leader of the world, is to revive this aim and make it a living reality in our hearts. Anyone who lives this aim is an Indian; and for that matter an American or a German can be more ‘Indian’ than an Indian.”
You have shared a very thoughtful and deep understanding of what it means to be an ‘Indian’. This makes us see that Indian-ness doesn’t come with where one is born or is living, but with how one is ‘living’. I am happy to read your well-composed comment on this week’s readings and reflections. The various examples you have given also help in making the point that the Indian way of seeing and seeking “Divine in every movement and every moment” manifests itself when we are able to make spirituality as the basis of all life and all actions.
BM to MD (25 March 2007):
Your question: “I could not understand very well what this means:”… her [India’s] great yearning to grapple with the infinite and possess it …” In what sense can the infinite be possessed?”
It is a very interesting question — ‘what does it mean to possess the infinite?’ I am tempted to say that perhaps one way to address it may be that perhaps the answer to the question partly lies in the first part of the quote you cite here — “yearning to grapple with the infinite …” This yearning has no limit, this aspiration is not for a certain limited truth, but for the Truth that is Infinite, just like the Infinite is ... well, Infinite. So the yearning to possess the Infinite may be more about a conscious attempt at manifesting the Infinite in a finite form so the intellect can grasp it, but with a deep awareness that no form can ever truly capture the Formless Infinite. The Divine is Infinite, Limitless, and hence the aspiration to identify or unite with the Divine is infinite too. Yet the aspirant continuously seeks to see or feel this Transcendent Infinite manifested in all finite forms and names. The artist-aspirant captures the Infinite in the art she creates, the sculptor-aspirant possesses It in the Durga statute he makes. And with each realization the aspirant moves from one partial truth to a higher, deeper, completer truth ... that too is perhaps meant by possessing the Infinite, yet always yearning to grapple with it more.
I am reminded of the famous lines by T.S. Eliot — “We must not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” So even at the end of exploration, it is as if the journey hasn’t begun yet. But still, the journey did begin, the yearning has begun, the grappling is continuous, and even after possessing the Infinite, the Infinite still remains Infinite ... beyond possession.
As I thought more about your question, several examples quickly came to mind — the intricate symbolism behind the forms of Nataraja, Ganesha, the splendour and magnificence of Indian temple architecture, the true meaning behind elaborate puja rituals, etc. But I felt all these would have been a bit, well, bookish. So I am tempted to share a very simple example. Something that happened recently, — and perhaps more from a secular realm. (But then, what is really ‘secular’ if “all is brahman” [SABCL 18, p. 465] ?) Just this past week, my husband and I went to a concert of ghazals (Urdu poetry set to music) and Punjabi folk music. The singer was a woman of Indian origin and settled in Canada, who was visiting different US cities for performances, etc. The write-up about the singer was impressive, so even though we hadn’t heard any music of hers we went to the concert hoping that it might be reasonably good. Sadly, we both were quite disappointed — not just with her singing, but I specifically felt that the selection of ghazals (poetry) she used for her compositions lacked something very important. She made a point in her performance to highlight the fact that she prefers more ‘contemporary’ poetry which captures the sensibility of our times and reflects our modern experiences, etc. Except for one selection that she sang — a nazm penned by Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal emperor of India) which he wrote in the prison after being captured by British, all the other poems she sang were quite disappointing. At least to me, they were! On our way back as we were debriefing about the concert, I remember saying things like — her music wasn’t doing anything for me, it is as if the singer was not ‘all there’, or as if the ‘soul’ was missing. I will perhaps never be fully able to express what it was that I found missing in those poems or her singing, but I know that I wasn’t experiencing what I have experienced while listening to many other ghazals sung by other singers, even when the poetry has been very contemporary and very ‘secular’.
The story however doesn’t end here.
A couple of days later, on an evening at home I was listening to a new CD of ghazals sung by Jaggit Singh, Kush Baat chale is the title of the CD, and all the ghazals (poetry) is by a contemporary Hindi/Urdu poet and film maker, Gulzar. The second track opens with a very contemporary couplet recited by Gulzar himself. It goes like this — (I will first write the Hindi words of the verse — though he uses a couple of English words too in some of his contemporary writing — and then translate the verse in English):
Yaad hi ek din mere mez pe baitha — baitha sigarette ki dibia par thum ne
chote se ek poudhi ka ek sketch banayatha?
Aa kar dekho, us poudhe par ek phool aaya hai
(Remember one day while just sitting at my table
You had made a little sketch of a little plant on a box of cigarettes?
Come and see, a flower has bloomed on that plant.)
And the moment I heard this verse, I knew what it was that was missing in the poetry being sung by the Indo-Canadian singer at the concert a couple of days ago. It was as if there was no attempt by the writers of those poems to take the listeners beyond their limited experience of the world. It was as if the poetry and the singer were both themselves not ready to go beyond a finite world of experience and sensory — rational input, nor were they interested or able to move their listeners to that world of imagination and mystery. It was as if they were not interested in grappling with the infinite world of imagination where even the most contemporary and secular thought can become an instrument for showing us a little glimpse of the Infinite Mystery that surrounds all the finite, limited world of forms and names we see and experience around us. May I be bold enough to say that this line of Gulzar about the flower that is blooming on an old sketch of a plant is an attempt of grappling with the Infinite?
The story still doesn’t end here.
I was so touched by this verse about the flower, I went online to read up a little about this album and some new poetry that Gulzar has been writing. And on one website I learned that Gulzar has invented a style of writing three-line verses which he calls ‘triveni’ (some of these triveni verses are in this album also). And Gulzar explains why he calls poetry style triveni —
“The third line changes the meaning of the first two lines which seemed complete by themselves. I named it triveni. Like at the sangam in Allahabad, Ganga and Jamuna are the two apparent colours of the water, the gupt (hidden) one is Saraswati; after the first two lines if you can show a Saraswati, it becomes a triveni.”
What Gulzar may be referring to as the “gupt” (the hidden) third line which when revealed changes the meaning and essence of the first two lines, is perhaps the X factor, the yearning and grappling with the Infinite to possess it, yet being aware that it is always beyond possession. If we can experience the essence of the third line, we grasp the meaning of the first two lines also but in a new way. And this essence can only be grasped by entering into a relationship of identification, a perfect union. If we can experience that hidden Saraswati, it is a Sangam, it is a possession.
So sorry, this response has become very long … but I really liked the question! I hope others will also add their thoughts on this question. And to close it now, here is one triveni verse by Gulzar from this album …
Zindagi kya hai, jaan-ne ke liye
Zinda rahna bahut zaroori hai
Aaj tak koi bhi raha to nahin
(What is life, to know this
It is very essential to be alive
Till today however no one has remained so)
MD to BM (25 March 2007):
That was very pertinent indeed and very sensitive and true! Very easy to relate to! Thank you for that beautiful insight. I truly enjoyed reading it. It makes me feel like meeting you in person.
KS to BM (26 March 2007):
I would rather tell what my experience is, when I read the last five posts. When I read, I felt some expansion in my brain, my shoulders relaxed very much, I felt very light and It lifted me. I got what I struggle to get in my attempt to do forced meditation.
MD to KS (27 March 2007):
Yes, KS, I can very well relate to your last response. There are many instances in life when a mere conversation, a phrase in a book, the glimpse of a flower, a face or a smile or even a fleeting whiff of wind connects you to something deeper, a state of union and comfort and peace that you crave for during meditation and other similar practices. It is strange but true. I have experienced it often too. It happens to me very often in a movie. This connection to the infinite within or without relaxes and rejuvenates every part of oneself.
BM to all (30 March 2007):
Spiritual quest is a dynamic, progressive, endless, multifaceted, multi-dimensional, integral seeking and doesn’t exclude life and living in all their dimensions. The Mother in her writing on The Four Austerities and the Four Liberations (The Mother on Education, Part One) reminds us of this in her beautiful words — “Life on earth is not a passage or a means; by transformation it must become a goal and a realisation” (p. 39) (CWM 12, 48). She also reminds us that anything and everything can become a means or medium for continuous inner progress and self-mastery. I remember once how I felt that a deeper truth was revealing itself through an interesting song and dance sequence I was watching on my TV. These were just some music videos from Hindi films, and I was struck by the use of the word ‘love’ in many of those songs and suddenly a strange sense of joy and healing took over me (I was suffering from a bad headache at the time, and something in me said that I should put on that DVD and make myself a large cup of tea and just let myself go with the flow of the music …). All life is indeed sacred … we, in our ordinary consciousness, don’t always see that sacredness (and sometimes we don’t see it to this extent that we actually end up destroying the beautiful life that surrounds us).
The very sense of liberation one feels and experiences when reading or contemplating on Sri Aurobindo’s or the Mother’s words is because the meaning of ‘spirituality’ that comes through is beyond any mentally constructed, ideological boundaries. Spiritual in this sense is not separated from non-spiritual because there is no non-spiritual. Because Matter is also Spirit concealed in another form, and the Spirit trying to reveal itself from within Matter, Life, and Mind is what we may understand as spiritual seeking. All is Divine, is created by the Divine and moves in Divine; and the individual, universal and eternal aspects of Existence represent the tri-fold manifestation of the all-pervading Consciousness that IS. In such a vision there is nothing that is not spiritual.
In more approachable terms, spiritual seeking begins with a journey of in-search for one’s psychic being or soul, the inner teacher that guides all other parts of the being in the light of what is Divine, what is highest within and without. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo tells us what is not spirituality, before telling us what it is. This distinction is important because it also helps us understand the context in which Sri Aurobindo presents for us his widest and deepest view and understanding of Indian Spiritual Traditions and how these traditions have shaped and shaded the fundamental nature of Indian culture including art, architecture, sculpture, and socio-political system.
… spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience. These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution, — the beginning of a spiritual realisation, experience, change is not yet there. Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature. (SABCL 19, 857)
BM to all (30 March 2007):
Discussion of Indian Spirituality based on the Bhagavad-Gita
1. What is the nature of the “gradual advance” that Gita teaches us with regard to the right way to live? Reflect on the following passage:
[Gita’s] call is to the individual who has become capable of a complete spiritual existence; but for the rest of the race it prescribes only a gradual advance, to be wisely effected by following out faithfully with more and more of intelligence and moral purpose and with a final turn to spirituality the law of their nature. (SABCL 13, p. 549)
BM to KS (2 April 2007):
I am happy to read your responses. The examples about Kolam and a mother’s lullaby having the touch of Divine are very beautiful indeed. Being from the North India (Delhi) where the Kolam/Rangoli tradition is not generally practiced on a daily basis — at least not among North Indians, every time I am in Pondicherry I feel such a sense of joy and wonder watching women draw intricate patterns with such grace and flow.
Now, reading this following statement of yours, a question comes up for me. You write —
“This wave of spirituality does wonders at certain localized points in different fields (a Tendulkar in Cricket, a Dr. APJ Kalam in Science & Technology, a Vinodh Koshla in Innovation).”
Sri Aurobindo speaks about spirituality being the master-key of Indian mind, and sense of infinite being native to it. With the examples that you list above are you suggesting that the heights of excellence and accomplishment achieved by these individuals is a manifestation of their being able to rely upon this master-key of spirituality? I am not sure if I am framing the question very appropriately, but my point is that we examine a little more deeply whether the “wonder” that is possible when one is able to access this inherent master-key of spirituality happens only in these extra-ordinary achievements or accomplishments, or whether it is also manifested in our day-to-day ordinary acts of living and working in different fields of human activity ... as in the other examples of Kolam and lullaby that you list. Perhaps it is a matter of inner attitude regardless of what activity one is engaged in. Any thoughts on this?
MD to BM (3 April 2007):
I am grateful to you for leading us so beautifully to the real Indian Tradition. It has been so stimulating and encouraging, a much needed reawakening to communicate with you through this dialogue
BM to MD (3 April 2007):
Thank you for your very kind words. It has indeed been a great joy and a very special privilege and opportunity for me to facilitate this dialogue, and to be on this journey together with all of you.
MD to BM (4 April 2007):
“The rest of the race”, in the quote from the Gita, is most of us, who are predominantly material and vital creatures with a mind that sometimes serves as guide. But at the same time we are “eternal seekers and discoverers”. And this transition from a material preoccupation to the discovery of the Spirit is what the “gradual advance” is all about. What courage, hope and insight the Gita must have to prescribe with conviction and in all its detail of function such a Herculean task as this!
This process of the “gradual advance” deals with the whole ladder of evolution in the individual from Matter, Life and Mind because that is where man presently is all the way up to the secret Spirit. And in doing so, assigns a huge role to the mind of man with all its distinctive tendencies: this “gradual advance” is
… to be wisely effected by following out faithfully with more and more of intelligence and moral purpose and with a final turn to spirituality the law of their nature. SABCL 13, p. 549)
The mind’s role in the “gradual advance” would be to check the ‘asuric’ tendencies of life: the vehement and unreasonable pursuit and fulfillment of power, ego and desire.
The vital and material man must accept for his government a religious and social and ideal dharma by which, while satisfying desire and interest under right restrictions, he can train and subdue his lower personality and scrupulously attune it to a higher law both of the personal and the communal life. (SABCL 13, p. 550)
The Gita’s message to the mind is that although its intellectual, ethical and social standards are much needed and help in preparing the individual for a spiritual life, they are not the ultimate truth. The mind works under the limitations of the triple lower nature, tamas, rajas, and sattwa:
… and that can only be based in the freedom of our highest self, can only be found by passing through its vast impersonality and universality beyond mind into the integral light of the immeasurable Godhead and supreme Infinite who is beyond all dharmas. (SABCL 13, p. 550)
In this way the mind can guide our life and action to move from the present confusion, error and chaos to higher levels of harmony till our nature be ready to meet the Spirit. At the same time Sri Aurobindo points out quite simply that life will not allow itself to be regulated by the ideals of the mind and how often in the history of the world has such an attempt ended in a compromise or complete failure. But because the mind somewhere recognizes the presence of a Reality beyond it and has a sense of its existence, it is more capable of carrying out its role as guide and with the help of its deeper emotional and psychic nature it can successfully lead to the Spirit. Thus mind becomes the framework in which life makes the “gradual advance” until the Self finds a refined enough nature to emerge and take over from the mind.
KP to BM (4 April 2007):
The way I understand Sri Aurobindo here is that he divides “the rest of the race” into three broad categories:
Firstly, those who live the vital and material life. They can satisfy their desires “under right restrictions”, and must accept “a religious and social and ideal dharma” by which they can train and subdue their lower personality.
Secondly, those “occupied with the pursuit of intellectual, ethical and social standards” etc. They must “repress and get rid of the ignorant formulations of the lower mental elements and the falsehood of egoistic personality” amongst other things.
The third category is the “absolutist seekers of the Infinite.” (SABCL 13, p. 551) They must not find the Supreme only in silence and inaction but in the world and in work, etc.
And then Sri Aurobindo speaks about a larger promise: the Gita declares that all can if they will, even to the lowest and the most sinful of men, enter into the path of this Yoga. “And if there is a true self-surrender and an absolute unegoistic faith in the indwelling Divinity, success is certain in this path.” (SABCL 13, p. 552)
A question here: Given that the Integral Yoga goes further than the yoga given in the Gita (in my understanding they are not exactly the same), can the sentence above — that success is certain if there is a true self-surrender — be applied to Integral Yoga as well? Keeping in mind that Sri Aurobindo himself cautioned that one should make sure about the call before attempting the Yoga?
An instance in my own life..Here I may mention my first visit to India; I was completely overwhelmed, I landed in Mumbai and had planned to travel by train to Pondicherry but found myself on an overnight very fully packed bus to Goa instead, the whole trip was threatening to become one big nightmare; it was July and very hot and monsoon time on the west coast of India, etc., and everyone was cheating this stupid westerner and asking exorbitant prices, etc., I was seriously considering going straight back to South Africa on the next plane. So I took an aero plane to Bangalore instead, after phoning the Ashram in Pondicherry and asking them to send a taxi. All the way, to the airport, sitting for hours waiting for the flight, on the flight, I just kept repeating the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s names, in a mantra. By this time I was not only psychologically very fragile, but also very weak, I could feel a full-blown flu coming on and my stomach was not well. Landing in Bangalore, I could almost kiss the taxi-man from the Ashram, all dressed in white. But then another nightmare began: India’s roads. My nerves were so shattered after a few hundred kilometers that I could do nothing else than sit back and throw my hands up in a gesture of surrender and say to the Mother, ‘Thy will be done’. And peace descended. We reached Auroville at about 3:00 a.m. that morning; and the next day at 6:00 a.m. I was up, completely refreshed, all signs of any illness had disappeared, and I had the happiest 3 weeks of my life.
However hard I tried, I could not achieve the same state of self-surrender ever since. It seems that an especially difficult situation is needed for that, at least in my case.
BM to MD and KP (4 April 2007):
I am very happy to read such deeply reflective responses. You both seem to have captured very well in your responses the meaning of “gradual advance” that Sri Aurobindo speaks of in his explication of ‘The Core of the Gita’s Meaning’ (Essays on the Gita, SABCL 13).
MD, your point about our being “eternal seekers and discoverers” is an important one, and it opens up the path for grasping the eternal significance and meaning of Gita’s message for all of us — at different stages in our seeking and discovery through various lifetimes and evolutionary processes.
KP, your point about the “absolutist seekers of the Infinite” begins to complete the full picture. And which gets further complete by the larger promise of the Gita that all can enter the path of yoga with true self-surrender and absolute unegoistic faith. Your experience about your travel to Pondicherry is deeply touching. Reminds me of the Mother’s words — “Surrender is the decision taken to hand over the responsibility of your life to the Divine.” (CWM 3, p. 126)
It occurs to me that perhaps the beginnings of the answer to the question you pose here may exist in the layers of this experience itself that you share with us. I will address the question further in a separate post.
BM to KP (4 April 2007):
You write: “Given that the Integral Yoga goes further than the yoga given in the Gita (in my understanding they are not exactly the same).” Can the sentence above — that success is certain if there is a true self-surrender — be applied to Integral Yoga as well? Keeping in mind that Sri Aurobindo himself cautioned that one should make sure about the call before attempting the Yoga?”
This seems to me a very important question. I am inclined to address it at this point without going into the differences between Integral Yoga and yoga of the Gita. I hope that is okay with you. I think if we mentally or intellectually try to reconcile this truth of being really, really sure about the call to enter the Integral Yoga, and the other truth of approaching our innate seeking for the Divine through the path of a true, really true and complete, pure self-surrender and an absolute faith and confidence in the Divine, we may be able to do so. The Mother has said in one of her talks that if one were to truly read and grasp completely and thoroughly the true meaning of everything Sri Aurobindo has written, one would find that there is not a single fixity or rigidity of thought anywhere because for everything that he has written he has also given us another and many possible sides of these truths, in a way sort of demonstrating that nothing must be accepted as the only truth in isolation from the other truths that are just as true. He has shown us ways to transcend the contradictions and limitations of our endless intellectual thinking through about these seemingly contradictory truths by aspiring towards a Higher and yet Higher Truth.
So in his essay, “The Hour of God” he writes about the moments when the “Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad upon the waters of our being” (CWSA 12, p. 146) — indicating the moment of “Call”. He continues — “Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call.” (CWSA 12, p. 146) And then he goes on to say that the only way to answer to such a call in these moments is if we have prepared ourselves by cleansing our “soul of all self-deceit and hypocrisy and vain self-flattering that thou mayst look straight into thy spirit and hear that which summons it … .keep thy soul clear, even if for a while, of the clamour of the ego. Then shall a fire march before thee in the night and the storm be thy helper and thy flag shall wave on the highest height of the greatness that was to be conquered.” CWSA 12, pp. 146–147) So in his beautiful poetic way he tells us that both are equally essential — the surety of the call and the true self-surrender.
But then how do we, with the noises and chatter that go on within various parts of us, know for sure about the “call”? The Mother tells us —
Only those who have come after having had some experience of life and came because they wanted to come, and had a conscious reason for coming, they can of course tell me, “I came because of that”, and that would be at least a partial explanation. The truest, deepest reason may still elude them, that is, what they specially have to realise in the Work. That already requires having passed through many stages on the path.
Essentially, it is only when one has become aware of one’s soul, has been identified with one’s psychic being that one can see in a single flash the picture of one’s individual development through the ages. Then indeed one begins to know… but not before. Then, indeed, I assure you it becomes very interesting. It changes one’s position in life.
There is such a great difference between feeling vaguely, having a hesitant impression of something, of a force, a movement, an impulse, an attraction, of something which drives you in life — but it is still so vague, so uncertain, it is hazy — there is such a difference between this and having a clear vision, an exact perception, a total understanding of the meaning of one’s life. And only then does one begin to see things as they are, not before. Only then can one follow the thread of one’s destiny and clearly see the goal and the way to reach it. But that happens only through successive inner awakenings, like doors opening suddenly on new horizons — truly, a new birth into a truer, deeper, more lasting consciousness. (CWM 9, pp. 18–19)
(Search for the Soul in everyday living.)
So, does this mean that as imperfect human beings we have no way of knowing of the certainty or surety of the “call”? Perhaps intellectually we may not know it, but there is another way of knowing from within which grasps at the hidden and disguised truths — even if only in fragments at the beginning — that the minds fail to ‘understand’. It is this inner knower that finds peace and surety in opening to the force of the Mother and surrendering to her even when the mind keeps running around seeking its own satisfaction and explanation. And through this progressive opening and surrendering, the mind is gradually quieted too, and one begins to slowly realize the wisdom of words such as these —
A conscious power has drawn the plan of life,
There is a meaning in each curve and line.
(SABCL 29, p. 460 (Savitri, Book VI, Canto II))
And, “It is a great mistake to suppose that one can “do” the Purna Yoga — i.e. carry out and fulfil all sides of the Yoga by one’s own effort. No human being can do that. What one has to do is to put oneself in the Mother’s hands and open oneself to her by service, by Bhakti, by aspiration; then the Mother by her light and force works in him so that the Sadhana is done.” (SABCL 25, p. 130)
MD to BM (5 April 2007):
“All life and thought are in the end a means of progress towards self-realisation and God-realisation.” (SABCL 14, p. 126)
Part of the Gita’s message to the individual is to discover his inner law and intelligently live in accordance with it. One instance in my own life that led me to self-realisation in the light of this message is what I decided to do after graduating from SAICE. I decided to do an MBA in a reputed Institute, as was the current trend with all the ‘bright’; students. I prepared for all the required examinations and did fairly well too. I was selected immediately and began the course. The experience was very different from what I had been through in Pondicherry, but enriching in certain respects at the same time. Three months down the line I fell very sick and had to come home. Circumstances created themselves in such a way that I went back only to wind up and extricate from the not so-cooperative authorities the money I had paid in advance for the whole year. I was back for good. What I did after coming back was actually the best way to kick start my life in the ‘real world’ after the protective and nurturing environment of SAICE because I had moved in some way to a deeper self-realisation.
I rushed into the MBA not because it was the best thing for me but because it was what was expected from me. I allowed myself to succumb to the pressure of superficial and external forces around me instead of resisting them with the strength of my inner law. I did not even consider the promptings of my mind that was clearly trying to dissuade me from doing the MBA on the grounds of the exorbitant fees of the course and its futility for someone with my temperament. The ‘life’ or vital part of my being had made this choice and presented every possible explanation to the mind for doing what it had decided to. There was no way it was going to give up! I could feel the strength of its obstinacy. So the higher force intervened and built exactly the circumstances needed for me to quit the MBA as soon as possible. Without much damage I was decisively made to come right out of there. Luckily I could see the play of forces and awoke for the first, to the existence, meaning and significance of my own deeper law.
The calls of the life force are indeed hard to resist but with the aid of the enlightened mind and even a small inner awakening it is possible to do the right action. Although I regret all the time, energy and money spent, I am grateful to this one experience that led me to my first self-realisation.
BM to MD (6 April 2007):
Thank you for sharing this significant experience from your life. I think most of us can easily relate to the part about rushing into doing something that we feel is expected of us. But as your experience also highlights, there is always a higher force that is guiding us to the path that is right for us — one way or the other, either through a little inner voice, a sign here or there, or an intervention in one form or another. And sometimes years can pass before we are able to realize what was going on all this time, through all those detours on the road — all of it ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak!
As Sri Aurobindo writes so beautifully in Savitri —
Nothing we think or do is void or vain;
Each is an energy loosed and holds its course.
(SABCL 29, p. 378 (Savitri, Book IV, Canto IV))
MD to BM
That passage from Savitri is so heartening, so full of light that it makes you want to go on and on... at the same time makes you feel the immense responsibility of honoring the Grace at all times... thank you for pointing out this passage... it is so revealing.
KS to BM (6 April 2007):
I agree with what you say. I brought this up, because during school days, oftentimes famous people become role model and until certain understanding of all the workings of life come to oneself, glorification of personality and enthusiasm to become one of such a personality dominates. It is the Divine Will, without preference, manifest in such personalities and as you have highlighted manifest in ordinary acts of living.
I am also becoming slow in reading, but I hope to devote time at a pre-fixed time (as Mother says) everyday and benefit form this program. I am fortunate to join this course. Thank you …
PG to BM (7 April 2007):
As Sri Aurobindo reminds in The Foundations of Indian Culture, there are four types of devotees in the Gita: the ârta asking the Divine for help once in deep pain and sorrow; the arthârti seeking to satisfy the worldly desires and turning towards God for material prosperity; the jignâsou, the inspired seeker of knowledge and the jnânî, living in direct contact with Truth and asking for nothing. It also reminds me of the Purusharthas: Artha, Kama, Dharma, Moksha. Some people remain just with the first couple, others live also by Dharma to some extent, and the more advanced ones strive for Moksha too. Krishna teaches Arjuna, he isn’t a common man but an archetype of the man of action, of high Aryan ideals and spirituality.
The teaching encompasses the actions in life, as nothing can stand without any action in the universe. For instance the outer aspects of religion can help people in organizing their own life, the more we progress the more we go to the essence of the spirituality, and the less the ritual side is relevant, even the sattvic aspect of religion has to be transcended.
Regarding your second question: “All life and thought are in the end a means of progress towards self-realisation and God-realisation.” (SABCL 14, p. 126) In the light of this reading on Gita’s core meaning can you identify one particular instance from your life which you may now understand as a means of progress toward self-realisation?”
Here is my answer: In my adolescence, I had a very romantic view of the spirituality. But I have understood that in the daily life that, also unpleasant and difficult situations are opportunities and matter to work in an attempt to change and evolve. So I can say that everything is Yoga, a field of experiences, all life is Yoga: the relationships, the trials of life, the house chores, the job, meditation, asanas, sleep also... I could pick up an example, the relationship with my fiancée. We work always towards more unity between our beings walking hand in hand on the path to God. It highlights sometimes deep knots in the consciousness which need to be solved and integrated to enlarge and lighten the consciousness. We take that really as a sadhana for both of us with consecration and surrender to the Divine. We work towards more harmony with confidence. Ideally a deeper unity should be realized with everything and every being in the cosmos though at a certain level in essence all is already One.
I can also speak of dreams. I remember last year I read the Uddhava Gita and got a spiritual experience for a few days, though mentally I didn’t agree with a few points in the book I found quite austere and exclusive, I guess that I have been touched by something. I was overwhelmed. In my sleep I heard the name Nârâyana a few times, and since then when I repeat this word, I feel a power in action in my psychic being, something which is pure and full of love. It was like if I have received a mantra though not by some common means.
BM to PG (9 April 2007):
I am happy to read your responses to both the questions. With regard to the “gradual advance” you have added something important to the discussion so far, in terms of the different aspirations of the devotees.
You are very correct that all experiences, even unpleasant and difficult ones (especially those) are opportunities to work and evolve in our inner seeking. I am also very happy to read about the example you share regarding your relationship with your fiancée. What a great blessing this is, indeed. Our best wishes to both of you in your journeys together.
KS to BM (10 April 2007):
I read KP’s, MD’s and BM’s notes on the topic of the Gita. MD, I had similar experiences like what you have written. I always wanted to become an IAS officer from school days and devoted fair time, but situations are so well arranged that I did not become one. I always wanted to become a social worker from my school days to serve the poor, but situations are so well arranged that I did not become one. Here I am not saying, becoming an IAS or a social worker is a bad thing to do. Now I also realize its always in the context of individual soul and the spirit of the individual in action. I realized that I am not meant to do social work or administrative service. I am writing this not because I am well settled in software line, not because I am earning good dollars but because I have realized what I have in me. The interesting part is I never liked to become a Software guy, which I avoided until last minute and situation was like that I became a Software engineer. I neglected that field for two years but in the last two years there is strong yearning in me to sincerely understand the field chosen, learn it, master it as the Mother say’s rather than just sit on it (which I did with distinction from ’98 to ’04). Now I am resolved to do my duty in the field chosen and that for me is a gradual progress.
BM to KS (10 April 2007):
I am happy to read your sincere and reflective responses. I find it interesting that what you describe here about your attitude toward your present line of work seems to be quite nicely connected with the idea of “gradual advance” as well. Who knows, perhaps through this present and future work that you do in Software field you may end up doing both or either of the administrative and social work? Each experience is linked to the next and the next. And perhaps you may be more fulfilled and integrally developed in your being through this route of experience instead of going directly in administration or social work.
It is also interesting how we may have come full circle here… Reading your responses I am also reminded of the example of the Hindi film ‘Guide’ (based on R.K. Narayan’s novel) that PG brought up at the beginning of our class. I think PG was pointing to the idea of a common man becoming a swami through faith. I remember the scene in the movie when Dev Anand (Raju, the Guide) tells the village headman that he is actually not the swami that the whole village thinks he is, but instead a simple travel guide with all imperfections of an ordinary human being, and that he had also been to jail on account of a girl. He is explaining to the headman that because he is not this great swami, there is no way that his fasting for 12 days could help bring the rain. And upon hearing all this, the headman bends down to touch the feet of Raju, Guide, and tells him that after knowing all of this his faith in the swami has become even stronger, and then he tells Raju — Swami, gyaan ke raaste bahut tede hote hain (the road to knowledge is often quite zigzag).
I bring it up here to highlight this zigzag road to knowledge, this gradual advance that we all are making toward the true and real self-knowledge. Your road to social work may very well pass through the cubicles and conference rooms of the Software engineering world. Or a new road to a newer, higher and even more meaningful experience may be in the process of being paved as you go through these present experiences of “strong yearning in me to sincerely understand the field chosen, learn it, master” in your current line of work. I wish you the very best.
BM to all (11 April 2007):
As we come closer to the end of this discussion and dialogue, I thank everyone for their participation in this discussion. It has been a delightful experience interacting with each one of you during these past four weeks, and collaborating on deepening our understanding of the true Indian Tradition.
And at this point in our discussion, in keeping with the spirit of the topics we have been discussing here, I would like to highlight the last two passages from the fourth part of Sri Aurobindo’s essays on Renaissance in India. He writes:
“India can best develop herself and serve humanity by being herself and following the law of her own nature. This does not mean, as some narrowly and blindly suppose, the rejection of everything new that comes to us in the stream of Time or happens to have been first developed or powerfully expressed by the West. Such an attitude would be intellectually absurd, physically impossible and, above all, unspiritual; true spirituality rejects no new light, no added means or materials of our human self-development. It means simply to keep our centre, our essential way of being, our inborn nature and assimilate to it all we receive, and evolve out of it all we do and create. Religion has been a central preoccupation of the Indian mind; some have told us that too much religion ruined India, precisely because we made the whole of life religion or religion the whole of life, we have failed in life and gone under. I will not answer, adopting the language used by the poet in a slightly different connection, that our fall does not matter and that the dust in which India lies is sacred. The fall, the failure does matter, and to lie in the dust is no sound position for man or nation. But the reason assigned is not the true one. If the majority of Indians had indeed made the whole of their lives religion in the true sense of the word, we should not be where we are now; it was because their public life became most irreligious, egoistic, self-seeking, materialistic that they fell. It is possible, that on one side we deviated too much into an excessive religiosity, that is to say, an excessive externalism of ceremony, rule, routine, mechanical worship, on the other into a too world-shunning asceticism which drew away the best minds who were thus lost to society instead of standing like the ancient Rishis as its spiritual support and its illuminating life-givers. But the root of the matter was the dwindling of the spiritual impulse in its generality and broadness, the decline of intellectual activity and freedom, the waning of great ideals, the loss of the gust of life.
Perhaps there was too much of religion in one sense; the word is English, smacks too much of things external such as creeds, rites, an external piety; there is no one Indian equivalent. But if we give rather to religion the sense of the following of the spiritual impulse in its fullness and define spirituality as the attempt to know and live in the highest self, the divine, the all-embracing unity and to raise life in all its parts to the divinest possible values, then it is evident that there was not too much of religion, but rather too little of it — and in what there was, a too one-sided and therefore insufficiently ample tendency. The right remedy is not to belittle still farther the age-long ideal of India, but to return to its old amplitude and give it a still wider scope, to make in very truth all the life of the nation a religion in this high spiritual sense. This is the direction in which the philosophy, poetry, art of the West is, still more or less obscurely, but with an increasing light, beginning to turn, and even some faint glints of the truth are beginning now to fall across political and sociological ideals. India has the key to the knowledge and conscious application of the ideal; what was dark to her before in its application, she can now, with a new light, illumine; what was wrong and wry in her old methods she can now rectify; the fences which she created to protect the outer growth of the spiritual ideal and which afterwards became barriers to its expansion and farther application, she can now break down and give her spirit a freer field and an ampler flight: she can, if she will, give a new and decisive turn to the problems over which all mankind is labouring and stumbling, for the clue to their solutions is there in her ancient knowledge. Whether she will rise or not to the height of her opportunity in the renaissance which is coming upon her, is the question of her destiny.” (SABCL 14, pp. 432–433)
KP to BM (12 April 2007):
Thanks to you! For me also it has been a delightful experience interacting with you in this part of the program, and I especially appreciated the loving, caring and deeply understanding way you interacted with each of us.
PG to BM (12 April 2007):
Thank you BM. It has been a rich experience. It has been the opportunity for me to deepen the subject as I was more familiar with other aspects of the Sri Aurobindo’s work. Thank you for your understanding and the psychic touch.
MD to BM (13 April 2007):
I want to thank you deeply for making us experience so beautifully and efficiently the Indian-ness of our India. Your understanding of our replies was very encouraging and inspiring. You actually brought out the best from us. It was wonderful! Thank you BM. I look forward to meeting you sometime and continuing our learning together.
KS to BM (15 April 2007):
I must say, it was a unique experience. It is a direct blessing from the Mother to go through these discussions on the online. The Golden Chain in our heart that has gotten built. Thank you very much BM for enriching my experience.
THE INDIA WITHIN ONESELF
India’s Story — As Rediscovered by a Young Indian
India’s story stirs up the soul as much as it touches the heart and impresses the mind. India’s story spans over millennia of human love, seeking and achievement. India’s story is the story of the soul’s march in evolution. India is more than her historical events and present happenings — her bustling streets, crowded markets, her westernized cities, industrial rampage, communal riots, chaotic government, the corruption and the killings, the Tsunamis and the quakes, on one hand her surging millionaires and on the other her sprawling poverty, the fastest growing economy and the largest armed forces, the happy co-existence of temples, churches and mosques, the art of living a million Durgas, the sound of the conch shell and the rumblings of distant chants, her majestic forts and opulent palaces, miles of saffron fields and acres of lush paddy, the mysterious Himalayas and the sacred Ganga, are but images of her real self. They are herself but she is greater than them, they are herself but not entirely her… They are but incidents, not the whole story. Judging her on the face value of these disparate facets would be a grave injustice to India and her people. India is a soul and a force with a universal purpose to fulfill.
These Indian images have been churned out of a huge glorious past which was followed by a massive disintegration, but they hold within them an unseen mighty future. The sheer extent of her physical and cultural diversity is staggering enough; then to think that it all co-existed happily for centuries is mind boggling. Any other country would have perished in bloodshed. The one thing that kept her going through it all is her spiritual nature and raison d’être; a spirituality that sought the oneness of the divine in all life and made life an occasion to discover the splendours of the one divine; a spirituality that celebrated and perfected life to its fullest in order to meet the godhead here.
The Vedic era went deep into the Self to discover the mechanics of the Spirit; the Upanishadic era translated enthusiastically that spiritual knowledge for the common man and the epoch of the Shastras and Puranas aided by a profound intellect organized this ‘life-affirming’ spirituality into detailed systems of right living. Material prosperity, trade and riches flourished; art, sculpture, dance and music found myriad ways to express divine Ananda. Codes of individual and social conduct, systems of governance, methods of healing, sciences and policies sought to bring out the truth of the Spirit in every little detail of life. There was devotion, fervour and zest in every attempt at uniting with the Divine. The one focus was always the One. And all life became a means to find and express the Infinite.
Then came the decline as happens in every cyclic movement; the tragic catharsis that follows every great act. It was a time when the search for the Spirit took an extreme turn that denied life and declared it as illusion. A mislead search of the seeker who lost the love for life and retired into the secrecies of the Self. To escape from this life of Maya as early as possible into the pure undisturbed joyful states of the Spirit somewhere beyond this world became the aim of the Nirvanists. And it took its toll. The characteristic vitality and richness of the Indian spirit dwindled and in their place came a complacent indifference and even rejection of life. With the energy went the thought. This was the time when foreign invaders found in India an ideal setting for plunder. They colonized and converted her people, divided and ruled and tortured them, exhausted her resources, exploited greedily her enormous treasuries of wealth, misinterpreted her spiritual culture and made of her a sorry piece of land… And we, India’s children, oblivious of our true warrior nature, gave in, succumbed, submitted, bore the atrocities, became like them, thought like them, lost our souls… until it was enough.
Something resisted. The march of the soul had to continue. There were uproar and strife. There were revolt and battle. Once again there was fire in the heart and conviction in the mind. Once again the message of the Gita rang true. A few blessed Indians heard the cry and the call. They spoke fiercely and wrote fearlessly. Nothing could stop the dormant Indian-ness to take on its spiritual destiny and ‘fight’ if that be the need of the hour. The time had come to awaken to our own inner law and overthrow the inferior external one.
After much labour and groping in the dark there was an awakening but only semi-awake as yet. There was light but only half-lit as yet. The beginnings of a renaissance were here. To take it ahead to its destined fulfilment is the work in our hands. To make India mighty again, revive her spirit and reapply its knowledge to our newfound modernity is the next mantra. To be true to our innermost Guide and with the mind’s sensibilities live out its dreams is what she expects from us. Let her down again, we cannot. We shall not! For it is our responsibility and dharma to be Indian. To feel for her and live for her once more is our unpaid debt to her. No force within us, or from outside, shall come in the way this time. This we pledge with pride and passion.
The story of India is our story. We make India and we make the story. It cannot be recounted as other stories. It can only be felt like the touch of a mother, heard like the voice of a mother. The seers have said that India’s story will transcend the barriers of man to reach the glories of mankind.
The Impact of India’s Spiritual Heritage in my Life
In my childhood, I discovered the eastern culture on the whole, thanks to some Japanese mangas. It was among my first contacts with the East. I was attracted by the Buddhist aspects I could feel in some of them, the Dhyana asana for instance was a like a magical and inspiring posture for me. I remember a book with pictures to stick, there were some pictures of Hatha Yogis that impressed me. So I had noted this physical gracious approach of spirituality, this holistic approach of spirituality stroke me despite my young age, something quite strange to my strict and traditional catholic background.
Then some years later, at 13 years, I saw the Dalai Lama on TV after a programme on a young monk, there was so much wisdom and open-mindedness. I decided to read his autobiography and even wrote an essay about it at school. I discovered about the exile of the Tibetan people in India. Then I read a lot about spirituality mainly about Buddhism. I lost, bit by bit, faith in my quite exclusive religion, then in God. It has been a very difficult period for me as I lost my moorings without having the sufficient maturity to deal with that alone, I was in need of guidance. I read the Gita from the Hare Krishna devotees, and books about Yoga, philosophy and even psychoanalysis, I listened to some Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music. Around 15 years old, I have been sent to a boarding school, we weren’t allowed to go out often, but I used some of this time to meditate with some Sri Chinmoy devotees for a few weeks. I remember that I had a good relationship with my philosophy teacher in high school and I was allowed to explain the class the eastern metaphysical viewpoints. After that, I have been more distant with spirituality, I even lived periods of nihilism, I lived my adolescence in contrast, but I had been touched by the Spirit and it never left me.
Some years later, at the age of 22, after some inner experiences which I interpreted on the moment as spiritual signs, I decided to come back more seriously to spirituality and got contact with Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. At this time, I discovered Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, thanks to internet!, I already had got the intuition that life wasn’t just dukkha and that there was something to realize in this world; as a student of biology I was interested in evolution, Sri Aurobindo’s message has been a revelation for me. From this time I lived a period of purification and felt as born again, the flame of inner Bhakti was reactivated. It wasn’t about escaping from the world of phenomena but about manifesting the Divine even in the lower parts, even in the physical. I practised Yoga and also met a French yogi who is still a kind of spiritual guide for me though he doesn’t consider himself as a guru. I read dozens of books about spirituality, religion, mythology, philosophy, and a lot of them were in relation with the Indian spiritual heritage.
Then when I started to earn a living, I decided to travel to India for a few weeks. A few months before coming to India, I read about the history, politics, the society of India, I took more interest in the secular aspect of India. I discovered Bollywood movies and Hindi music and was struck by some spiritual aspects in some movies, I wasn’t used to it with the Western movies. I didn’t expect a lot from this trip but I wanted to do it. So I travelled alone, I went to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in New Delhi, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Hemkund, Agra, Mathura, Pondicherry, Auroville, Tiruvannamalai. Though I travelled alone, I met a lot of people on my way, and I am still in touch with a lot of them. I have been able to catch a glimpse of a part of the magic of India, the touch of Spirit there. I also met Mansee an Indian young woman, we are presently engaged and we marry this summer. What a surprise, I hadn’t imagined a single moment to find such wonderful love there, more than that, I hadn’t imagined to live such a wonderful experience in my life.
Since then, I learn slowly some Hindi and feel bound to India at another level. I am about to undergo a formation in classical Patanjali Yoga in the Krishnamacharya tradition. Since few months, I read again Sri Aurobindo and am deeply plunged into his works. I can say that the Indian spirituality impregnated me since a long time. I am a westerner, but I feel spiritually connected to India since years.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother considered that India had the potential to become a spiritual leader in the world. Indian culture has mainly its foundations in the aspiration of the Spirit, a psychic aspiration towards the Infinite, “Spirituality is indeed the master-key of the Indian mind; the sense of the infinite is native to it” — Sri Aurobindo. I can say that I have been receptive to some aspects of what India can offer to the world to some extent.
Co-existence of Spirituality and Modernity
Can spirituality and modernity co-exist: The answer is affirmative yes and even more than that. For a beautiful dance drama to be held, a stage is very essential. For modernity to have arrived, spirituality is the base. Let’s step back a while. What is modernity? It is very common to feel time goes very, very fast. Last 100 years of technological advancements produced tremendous impact on human life. Internet revolution, space travel, transplant surgeries, nano-technology, etc., are helping humans to surpass physical limitations like national boundaries, one’s time and space. Particularly since 1950, advancement in all the fields is amazing. I remember one of the Darshan messages on the “Golden Jubilee of The Supramental Manifestation Upon Earth”. Are these early results of the appearance of Supermind in Earth’s atmosphere?
The Mother wrote:
“As I looked at the door, I knew and willed, in a single movement of consciousness, that “the time has come”, and lifting with both hands a mighty golden hammer I struck one blow, one single blow on the door and the door was shattered to pieces.
Then the supramental Light and Force and Consciousness rushed down upon earth in an uninterrupted flow.”
29th February 1956 The Mother (CWM 13, p. 52)
Yes I believe so and I strongly believe that the Supramental Force and Light has worked through the scientists, technologists, business and commerce to evolve much faster in these 50 years. Is this all modernity? Yes. These are all modernity and spirituality is the base for it.
What about these events happening on earth? Sky-rise buildings, commercialization of cities and erosion of human values, darker sides of technological advancements (nuclear deterrent, ominous warheads, piled up and sleeping at some different corners of earth), fundamentalism and terrorism, natural calamities like quakes, Tsunamis... are these modernity? Then, humans exploiting all available tools to their favour to chase money,…. essentially looking like an advanced animal… yes these are modernity too...
On the one side the Supramental Light and Force is working out in its unique way to advance, yet the old habits and nature is coming to the fore to resist as much as possible. This I understand and consciously feel, as I learn more and more about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In this context, I strongly believe that the spirituality is the basis of this modernity and all the darker sides of modernity is going to be slowly removed by spirituality.
Man in the Indian idea is a spirit veiled in the works of energy, moving to self-discovery, capable of Godhead. He is a soul that is growing through Nature to conscious self-hood; he is a divinity and an eternal existence; he is an ever-flowing wave of the God-ocean, an inextinguishable spark of the supreme Fire. Even, he is in his uttermost reality identical with the ineffable Transcendence from which he came and greater than the godheads whom he worships. The natural half-animal creature that for a while he seems to be is not at all his whole being and is not in any way his real being. His inmost reality is the divine Self or at least one dynamic eternal portion of it, and to find that and exceed his outward, apparent, natural self is the greatness of which he alone of terrestrial beings is capable. He has the spiritual capacity to pass to a supreme and extraordinay pitch of manhood and that is the first aim which is proposed to him by Indian culture
— Sri Aurobindo