Sri Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture. (SAIIC) Shillong workshop, 26,Oct -7 Nov, 2006 - 5. Life of Sri Aurobindo—Summary of the History of Evolution

The Godhead

I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
    In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim,
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
    In me, enveloping me the body of Him.

Above my head a mighty head was seen,
    A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
    In the vast circle of its sovereignty.

His hair was mingled with the sun and breeze;
    The world was in His heart and He was I:
I housed in me the Everlasting’s peace,
    The strength of One whose substance cannot die.

The moment passed and all was as before;
Only that deathless memory I bore.

Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems: The Godhead

The Gita speaks of vishwaroopa darshan that Arjuna had on the battlefield. The description of that experience is available to all of us in the bhagavad-gita in the eleventh chapter. But here you can see a similar experience describing in important lines the Godhead and some of the words are extremely important. The gaze was omnipotent. And the omnipotent sentence you find in the Isha Upanishad, I don’t know if at that time Sri Aurobindo had read the Isha Upanishad because it was written in 1893. As far as “He was I”, it was regarded as one of the topmost experiences of Isha Upanishad at that time and yet he has said that till 1900 he had no turn for yoga, but this was one of the topmost experiences of yoga. And then every word is so important, “everlasting's peace”. The experience of peace is supposed to be the climax.

    The strength of One whose substance cannot die.

The sense of immortality. There was another experience that he had described in one of his poems, and that is when he had gone to Chandod, a place near Baroch where Narmada flows into the ocean. It was a very sacred place in India, Chandod, and there was always somebody doing yoga in that place and Sri Aurobindo had visited there and went to see a temple. He was quite averse to idol worship and all that sort of thing, but he went into the temple and now he has given the experience. He says:

In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
    From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me,—
A living Presence deathless and divine,
    A Form that harboured all infinity.

The great World-Mother and her mighty will
    Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,
Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,
    Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.

Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,
    Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,
Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard
    The secret of her strange embodiment,

One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,
A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.

Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems: The Stone Goddess

This was an experience he had written under the title The Stone Goddess.

A third experience he had was in 1903. This was the experience which he has himself entitled Adwaita. An advaitic experience is supposed to be Indian tradition the supreme experience and it was that experience he had in 1903 soon after he started practising yoga and he says that he had no spiritual results, only poetic flow and good health and yet this is the experience that he has described which is remarkable. He had gone to Kashmir and there is a hill of Shankaracharya in Kashmir, Takht-i-Sulaiman as it is now called, seat of Sulaiman. This is how he describes his experience:

I walked on the high-wayed Seat of Solomon
    Where Shankaracharya’s tiny temple stands
Facing Infinity from Time’s edge, alone
    On the bare ridge ending earth’s vain romance.

Around me was a formless solitude:
    All had become one strange Unnameable,
An unborn sole Reality world-nude,
    Topless and fathomless, for ever still.

A Silence that was Being’s only word,
    The unknown beginning and the voiceless end
Abolishing all things moment-seen or heard,
    On an incommunicable summit reigned,

A lonely Calm and void unchanging Peace
On the dumb crest of Nature’s mysteries.

Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems: Adwaita

So you can see that this experience which yogis have at the end of their Yoga, Sri Aurobindo had soon after he started yoga. As I said, Sri Aurobindo’s life reads as it is a summary of the evolution of mankind, including India and the west within a few years of three decades and then summarising within a short period a long history of yoga. And yet, as it says, it was not nothing actually, he had no specific important results of his yogic efforts until 1907 which he himself has said that was the true experience. In the meantime while his yogic efforts were going on he had begun his political struggle between 1901 and 1905 beyond doubt.

India's root of struggle in 1905 when Lord Curzon divided Bengal he felt that was the time when a political struggle could be initiated. It was at that time that he received a call from some of the leaders of Bengal who had established a National College in Calcutta with an idea to educate people who were in British schools and colleges and giving them the education that is fit for Indian nationalism. So he accepted this offer and he went from Baroda to Calcutta. In fact if you can see at the age 7 he had left Begnal and only now at this stage of his life, that he returned to Bengal, but when he came back to Bengal, he came like a hurricane.

In the pages of Bande Mataram he began to write articles after articles on Indian nationalism and work for the complete freedom of India. Within one year he himself resigned from the principalship of the National College because his engagement with political life became more and more important and demanding. When he left the College, there was a very memorable speech that he gave to the students, when he said there are times in history when only one thing stands out for which everything is to be sacrificed. He told young people today is a moment and the only thing that matters is India's freedom and everything else is to be sacrificed for it. What he wrote in Bande Mataram, it's very difficult to summarise in such a short time, but I would very much wish that even today, all the articles he wrote have relevance.

The message of nationalism which was given by him at that time, even the modern students of today need to listen to what is essential nationalism. As I said in the morning, this was one of the questions. He said, the nature of religion did not constitute nationalists, the nature of languages does not constitute nationalism, the nature of worship does not constitute nationalism. Only two characters constitute nationalism: a soul and a physical geography in which groups of people have assembled, they maybe of different races, different languages. At that time in the United States, eleven languages were being spoken. He said, look at USA, 11 languages and yet USA is a nation. Even now Switzerland, for example, has three official languages and yet it is a nation. So mere language is not the hallmark of nationalism. Even in a small country like England, he said 'how many races are there in England'. Even now there are numerous races in England. So mere race is not necessary for nationalism. It’s a geographical location where groups of people have come together form the history of this group of people. This is a necessary ingredient of nationalism. But most important is a resolution on the part of the people living there. Not language, not race, it is the aim that is important, in which people feel widened with this aim. A plural perception of the aim puts nationalism awake and if it is nurtured, a great national spirit can be created. And he said India at present has now the common aim. Indian people have joined together as a great fire burning today in India, and this mantra Bande Matram can unite the whole of India. What I am saying is a summary of his statement, because it's long and at length Sri Aurobindo has written many many articles and has explained what really nationalism means. And even today our young people ought to learn that.

Secondly, in these columns of Bande Mataram, he chalked out an external aspect of the work that he had envisaged for India. And even now if you read later on what happened in India was actually working out of that program. In these two seminal years he had chalked out a plan of action which was actually followed out afterwards upto 1947. The first was passive resistance, second was boycott. It was Sri Aurobindo who taught what boycott is. The third was swadeshi, burning of the western clothes imported from the west was witnessed in 1907 in India, not later on, people think it was Gandhi who brought. It was Sri Aurobindo’s idea, swadeshi. And fourth was national education.

It was the four plans of action that he gave to India through these pages. and later on you can see the whole history of India thereafter, whatever her program, passive resistance, boycott, swadeshi, it was the same thing that continued. Sri Aurobindo’s internal idea was armed resurrection. And although it was at a national level, not followed up. Secretly, you can see that it was wise of him, people were not ready for armed revolution. It is that pressure that Britishers ultimately caved to, apart from many other reasons. Historical reasons are always multiple and one can’t say this was alone responsible. But even that played a role.

This is in those two years time he has expounded brilliantly with tremendous electric force. Even Nehru writes somewhere in his comments that he was at that time in Cambridge, “it was a week after week I was waiting for the arrival of Bande Mataram to read the message of Bande Mataram”. And this was true of many Indians at that time. If you read the history of the nationalist movements all over the world, you will find not a single nation had a parallel with what happened during those two years in India and those two years changed the entire spirit of India, and this stirred the British people tremendously against Sri Aurobindo. In fact the Viceroy wrote at that time that Sri Aurobindo is the most dangerous man in India and something should be done to see that he is eliminated. It was during this period that his yoga was continuing, in the thickness of this kind of a life when he had just come back from Surat Congress of which I had just told you this morning. Tilak was not allowed to speak and that led to a breakdown of the Congress.

He returned back from there to Baroda. He was introduced to a maharashtrian yogi called Lele. And to him he said that he was not making any headway in yoga, Sri Aurobindo said. So Lele told him he should sit down for meditation and he should see his thoughts which you normally think are being thought by our brain. So he should concentrate and see that all thoughts come from outside. And he said if you can fling them away then you have a true yogic experience. And Sri Aurobindo got a result which he had not expected. He did not want that his meditation should end in the kind of experience that Sri Aurobindo ultimately had. He wrote of this wonderful experience, because this is the most decisive experience in his life. Thereafter he was no more what he was before. Sri Aurobindo says that:

It was my great debt to Lele that he showed me this. “Sit in meditation,” he said, “but do not think, look only at your mind; you will see thoughts coming into it; before they can enter throw them away from you till your mind is capable of entire silence.” I had never heard before of thoughts coming visibly into the mind from outside, but I did not think of either questioning the truth or the possibility, I simply sat down and did it. In a moment my mind became silent as a windless air on a high mountain summit and then I saw a thought and then another thought coming in a concrete way from outside; I flung them away before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free. From that moment, in principle, the mental being in me became a free Intelligence, a universal Mind, not limited to the narrow circle of personal thought or a labourer in a thought-factory, but a receiver of knowledge from all the hundred realms of being and free too to choose what it willed in this vast sight-empire and thought empire.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Himself and the Ashram: Meeting with Vishnu Bhaskar Lele

Sri Aurobindo continued to explain his experience in another letter where he says the following:

There was an entire silence of thought and feeling and all the ordinary movements of consciousness except the perception and recognition of things around without any accompanying concept or other reaction. The sense of ego disappeared and the movements of the ordinary life as well as speech and action were carried on by some habitual activity of Prakriti alone which was not felt as belonging to oneself. But the perception which remained saw all things as utterly unreal; this sense of unreality was overwhelming and universal. Only some undefinable Reality was perceived as true which was beyond space and time and unconnected with any cosmic activity but yet was met wherever one turned. This condition remained unimpaired for several months and even when the sense of unreality disappeared and there was a return to participation in the world-consciousness, the inner peace and freedom which resulted from this realisation remained permanently behind all surface movements and the essence of the realisation itself was not lost.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Himself and the Ashram: Nirvana and the Brahman

So this is a kind of experience of permanence, of silence and what is called in India the experience of the Brahman. Again Sri Aurobindo describes his experience in one his poems, and one of them is Nirvana. I shall read out for you because the poetic expression gives always the truth more vividly than any prose can give.

All is abolished but the mute Alone.
    The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
    Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
    Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
    Flow, a cinema’s vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.

Only the illimitable Permanent
    Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
        Replaces all,—what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
    Either to fade in the Unknowable
        Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.

Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems: Nirvana