Sri Aurobindo Institute of Indian Culture. (SAIIC) Shillong workshop, 26,Oct -7 Nov, 2006 - 6. Life of Sri Aurobindo—Summary of the History of Evolution

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

Again these are fourteen lines, it’s a sonnet again. Now Sri Aurobindo does not accept the unreality of the world. He does not accept the world to be an illusion as many Indian philosophers consider it to be, but this experience was the experience of the world as an illusion in which Sri Aurobindo said that this experience remained permanent, but it expanded. This is how Sri Aurobindo’s experience began with Advaita, but went on expanding. Once again, the summary of all spiritual revolution of mankind was being enacted within such a short time. Bhagawat Gita spoke of Purushottama. Where Sri Krishna says, I am akshara, immutable. He also says, I am kshara, I am also mutable. He said beyond these two I am Purushottama. He had not read the Gita at that time, it was to come later on. And yet he had this experience, first of akshara, and later on he had the experience of shara, particularly one year after he had his experience in Alipore jail, of universality, of dynamic reality based upon akshara. This combination of shara and akshara of which Gita speaks, he did not have at that time, he only got it in 1908. and in that one whole year it was this experience and remember he continued to write for Bande Mataram. Those fiery articles which were there and he says he wrote in complete silence of mind. From 1907 he says, mind has disappeared. His whole consciousness was empty of what we call mind and he said 100 realms of knowledge were open to him. Now this yogic experience and realisation in which his ego disappeared and stupendous, immortal’s peace and silence, it was in that state of consciousness that he still continued to write for Bande Mataram. How this could have happened, it is for everyone to ask this question truly and should ask this question. How could this happen? Anyone who doubts the truth of yoga, for him it’s an enigma. Somebody who said, permanently I lived in silence and we have physical proof of whole writings at that time. How could this happen? This is an objective truth, if anyone wants objectivity. Sri Aurobindo writes on this subject. He says because later on, he had rejected illusionism in his philosophy on the process of a double experience of Reality, which was the truth also of the Upanishads, Gita and also the Veda.

It is not as if he did not tell the experience of illusionism, it is because he had the experience, but he himself would go and expand beyond it and only on that basis he has rejected illusionism, and this is what Sri Aurobindo has written:

Now to reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own Yoga. It threw me suddenly into a condition above and without thought, unstained by any mental or vital movement; there was no ego, no real world—only when one looked through the immobile senses, something perceived or bore upon its sheer silence a world of empty forms, materialised shadows without true substance. There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer, indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real. This was no mental realisation nor something glimpsed somewhere above,—no abstraction—it was positive, the only positive reality—although not a spatial physical world, pervading, occupying or rather flooding and drowning this semblance of a physical world, leaving no room or space for any reality but itself, allowing nothing else to seem at all actual, positive or substantial. I cannot say there was anything exhilarating or rapturous in the experience, as it then came to me,—the ineffable Ananda I had years afterwards,—but what it brought was an inexpressible Peace, a stupendous silence, an infinity of release and freedom. I lived in that Nirvana day and night before it began to admit other things into itself or modify itself at all, and the inner heart of experience, a constant memory of it and its power to return remained until in the end it began to disappear into a greater Superconsciousness from above. But meanwhile realisation added itself to realisation and fused itself with this original experience. At an early stage the aspect of an illusionary world gave place to one in which illusion is only a small surface phenomenon with an immense Divine Reality behind it and a supreme Divine Reality above it and an intense Divine Reality in the heart of everything that had seemed at first only a cinematic shape or shadow. And this was no reimprisonment in the senses, no diminution or fall from supreme experience, it came rather as a constant heightening and widening of the Truth; it was the spirit that saw objects, not the senses, and the Peace, the Silence, the freedom in Infinity remained always with the world or all worlds only as a continuous incident in the timeless eternity of the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga - II: The Adwaita of Shankaracharya

He adds:

Now that is the whole trouble in my approach to Mayavada. Nirvana in my liberated consciousness turned out to be the beginning of my realisation, a first step towards the complete thing, not the sole true attainment possible or even a culminating finale.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga - II: The Adwaita of Shankaracharya

In a way, this is the major point that I would like to underline in Sri Aurobindo’s life. He was no more that Sri Aurobindo that people knew. From thereafter whatever he did was not from the surface as very often people say, he decided to do this and he decided to do that. And we say ego was no more there, the memory was not there, ordinary will was not there, it was something else which was now onwards working in him.

Now after he returned from this experience he went to Calcutta again and he started his work on Bande Mataram. this experience. It was at that time that one night suddenly, the British soldiers came in his house and arrested him and took him away to the Alipore jail. He was charged with sedition, he was charged with trying to overthrow the government, it was treason of the government. This was a charge, an accusation, but such accusation are so serious that one can’t even get bail for this, detention in the jail for an undertrial was inevitable.

This was another major experience of his life. In this entire experience of Sri Aurobindo he has declared, we are very fortunate that he has described in a speech that he gave after he was acquitted in 1908. In April 1908 he was arrested and for one year he remained in jail. And when he was released he went to Uttarpara at that time and he gave a speech in Uttarpara. And this Uttarpara speech is basically the truth of his life. I shall read out to you, one or two small passages. So I am now reading the description that he has given in his speech and when you have time, I would recommend you to read it again and again. By the time he was release from jail, Bande Mataram had been dismantled, the whole scene in the country had changed and a great wave of demoralisation had taken place. Great leaders were already deported from India, and there was a hush. And no political movement was thriving. So at that time he started another magazine, a journal called Karmayogin and in Karmayogin this Uttarpara speech is available. So I read to you what Sri Aurobindo says. He says:

I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell, but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Srikrishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Srikrishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover. This was the first use of the deeper vision He gave me. I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies.

Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin: Uttarpara Speech

When the case opened in the lower court and we were brought before the Magistrate I was followed by the same insight. He said to me, “When you were cast into jail, did not your heart fail and did you not cry out to me, where is Thy protection? Look now at the Magistrate, look now at the Prosecuting Counsel.” I looked and it was not the Magistrate whom I saw, it was Vasudeva, it was Narayana who was sitting there on the bench. I looked at the Prosecuting Counsel and it was not the Counsel for the prosecution that I saw; it was Srikrishna who sat there, it was my Lover and Friend who sat there and smiled.

Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin: Uttarpara Speech

It was this experience that Sri Aurobindo has described at length in Uttarpara speech. For want of time, I am giving this summary of one huge subject of that experience. He explained that Sri Krishna told him that you have been brought to jail because Sri Krishna wanted him trained. It was for the purpose of training him that Sri Krishna found a way of bringing him to the jail so that he can have complete seclusion, complete silence all the time, that was needed for this great period of training. It was during that period that he realised that Sri Krishna told him that there is a great work awaiting India. Freedom of India is certain, it was a guarantee that was given by Sri Krishna—India will be free. But India becomes free not for the sake of freedom but for the sake of humanity, a great work has to be done by India and that cannot be done if Yoga is not perfected.

Now this statement that Yoga is to be perfected, that despite thousands of years of yoga in India, it was Sri Krishana who told him that Yoga had not been perfected and Sri Aurobindo had to perfect that Yoga. And only then can India do the real work of India for humanity. This in substance is the most fundamental thing in the life of Sri Aurobindo.

I think I can stop here today unless we have some questions and we can discuss those questions.

Q: What has happened to India after the Bengal partition?

I think I too have the same question in my mind. I can only share some views with you because I have no answer actually but except I have some reflections on this. To understand what has happened to India after Bengal, we have to go back to the 18th century of India. If you examine what happened to India in the 18th century it would give a barometer of the things that happened in India at that time. What was the crystallisation of the greatest form of Indian religion in the 18th century? India had become over-religious, over-religious in the sense—full of rituals, to take bath seven times a day, ritualistic scriptures, dogmatic, unquestioning. That was then the first scenario.

Second scenario was, in the Mughal empire after Auranzeb’s death in 1707, India had lost the centre. Marathas who had come up because of Shivaji did. It was the great vision of Shivaji, Shivaji did not want to establish Maratha power, it is not sufficiently known that Shivaji was a nationalist, he wanted to establish a nation. There is a very interesting dialogue between Shivaji and Jai Singh written by Sri Aurobindo. You know, Sri Aurobindo has written a small little piece called Conversations of the Dead and there Shivaji and Jai Singh meet each other and they're dead and they exchange notes as to what they did in life. Jai Singh, he was the protege of the Mughals and he had fought against Shivaji. Since, ultimately, what happened? Nothing. If you had to join Aurangzeb at that time, you would have reached great glory. Shivaji said, I am not fighting for glory, I am fighting to establish federalism in India. What you did, where did the power ultimately went? You tried to make Malecha powerful in India, a narrow man. This question of narrowness is very important. As far as Shivaji realised, his understanding was to bring all the forces of the nation together, we couldn’t do that, but look at the lives of some of the Peshwas, the story of Algoda where he got his own nephew killed, the real Peshwa and many other practises in which they were indulging at that time. It’s a horrible story.

The third aspect was the arrival of the British and there was not a single leader of India who could see as to what it meant. There was no historian at that time who had that vision. But when some such power comes at a time when kingdoms are falling apart, where religion has become an irreligion without any power in the country and a new force coming into India will result into a great crisis. India’s own kings and nawabs had to employ Britishers for their own armies. Tipu Sultan had to employ them for his army. None had any vision.

Now these three reasons were actually the bedrock of the ascendance of the British. Well, if you look at the present time of today, in many respects it’s a repetition of the 18th century. Central power has become weak, no centre to hold, small little people are moving about, stepping about, religion has become a matter of routine, ceremony instead of spiritual quest. Vivekananda challenged, you talk about God, have you seen God? Today I don’t see anybody asking this question at all. I have moved about meeting many students and teachers, hardly I find anybody worried about this question at all. Whether they are satisfied that God exists? Not at all, what is going on in the world is perfectly alright! Stop questioning! Exactly as it was in the 18th century.