Sri Aurobindo – The great Indian Philosopher!
August 15th is also the birthday of India’s best modem philosopher and spiritual Guru, Sri Aurobindo. Vadodara has a special connection to him because when he finished his Civil Services study in Kings College, UK and was on his way back to India, he met Sayajirao Gaekwad III (A Great visionary King of Vadodara) on the ship. The king saw great potential in him and offered for him to come to Vadodara. He was appointed as an English professor at M S University of Vadodara.
After a couple of years of focusing on meditation and spiritual activities, he stopped attending college and only came in to collect his salary. Many colleagues didn’t like this and complained to the King. Gaekwad agreed to their concerns and decided it wasn’t fair for someone like him to come to college to take a salary. As a result, his salary was sent to his home after that event.
Aurobindo’s father had him study in Britain to avoid being influenced by Indian culture and philosophy. However, destiny had other plans, and he ended up in Vadodara, where his spiritual journey started.
His work is hard to understand, mostly because he chooses difficult words to describe his ideas. For example, he wrote a very long poem called Savitri which explains deep philosophy but is very complex to understand; I could never finish that book beyond ten pages despite having commentary on the poem.
To understand existence, you must consider both mind and matter equally. This is what he says. By getting exclusivity of both soul and material, you can begin to understand existence as a whole.
He was clear about the scientific side and stated that science could never reach a final truth. Science constantly changes and updates based on empirical knowledge and observations. To further explain this, he quoted Emile Kant’s concept of ‘thing in itself, which outlines the limitations of our senses. In other words, science will always continue to search for answers because there is always something beyond what we know.
On the soul side, he said that the concept of exclusivity has caused much harm to India because we never assumed the matter was fundamental and essential; we always considered it as ‘Maya.’
Bergson and Nietzsche, two well-known western philosophers, highly inspired his work. He didn’t see eye to eye with Darwin’s perspective on evolution and eventually came up with his theory that placed a heavier focus on spirituality.
Bergson’s work highly inspired Aurobindo for many reasons, one being that he was able to disprove Darwin’s theory successfully. Bergson stated that life was not a result of chance, as Darwin claimed, but rather it was always present in the matter (which he referred to as Ellan vital). Life is established when the matter is organized, and chemistry refers to this as organic matter. This concept appealed to Aurobindo because it aligned with Indian philosophical concepts.
nasato vidyate bhavo
nabhavo vidyate satah
ubhayor api drsto ‘ntas
tv anayos tattva-darsibhih
Simply, It says creation cannot arise from nothingness; it can only arrive from something concrete.
On the topic of evolution, he said that it would not end with the man but that the subsequent evaluation would happen in consciousness. He said that the divine force causing this evaluation is Satcitananda, “sarvaṃ khalvidaṃ Bhrahma!”
These three concepts- Sat/absolute Truth, Chit/changing power, and Anand is the manifestation of Chit- are what cause creation.
To achieve psychic transformation, Sri Aurobindo suggested finding unity between objects. Once the psychic transformation is complete, we must work on emotional transformation to control our vital energy. After this, we can achieve spiritual transformation. The first two transformations can be achieved through education, but the third spiritual transformation requires other methods, such as Sadhana or Integral Yoga.
By raising our consciousness, we gain the ability to see beyond the physical world and control our senses. We can become illuminated beings that can make decisions based on a higher understanding.
After we reach a certain level of evolution, we can understand and explain the logic of the infinite. This is something that is usually not possible for those who only think with a logical mind.
Lastly, we get to supermind, which will create superman. He will be the glory of earth and even be able to create new creations. His high moral character would be easy to understand the all-natural concept, and we will become like gods!
He disagrees with Shankar’s Maya concepts and says that creation is not Maya, but Leela/Lila of brahman. He says that if you agree with Maya, it becomes a self-defeating argument of Advait as we assume two entities now.
He used Hegel’s dialect/negation of the negation (Being Determinate) to refute Shankar’s concept of absolute Brahman. In doing so, Hegel showed that becoming is not the same as being and that it is actually what creates ‘becoming.’
In Becoming the Being which is one with Nothing, and the Nothing, which is one with Being, are only vanishing factors; they are and are not. Thus by its inherent contradiction, Becoming collapses into the unity in which the two elements are absorbed. This result is accordingly Being Determinate. “
Sri Arvindo insists that Brahman is not just some ethereal concept like Shankar describes it but is something more practical and real. Furthermore, he believes that Brahman is responsible for everything in existence- even the Maya, or the illusory world as it’s called.
He says that creation is a playground, and we should aim to find bliss in it. He disagrees with Buddha’s assertion that the fundamental property of creation is suffering- instead, he believes it is bliss. However, we experience suffering because we’re limited to using our senses to see the world. He describes a term called dexterity, or divine vision, that allows us to see beyond what our senses would typically allow.
Later in his life, he also got involved in a freedom fight after moving to Kolkota. He was running a secret publishing house when the British government caught him. He was convicted and spent a few years in prison. Finally, he was allowed to go on the condition of leaving Kolkota and all freedom fighting activities. That’s how he moved to Puducherry and spent the rest of his life practicing spiritual activities with a French lady called Mother.