16 May 2008

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11 May 2008

Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the Ashramites

Sri Aurobindo was and even now is the most misunderstood spiritual person in India. And for that matter people outside Sri Aurobindo ashram do not have the right idea about the Ashram and the devotees of the Ashram. Sri Aurobindo was not a traditional spiritualist in the sense as conceived in the psyche of Indian people. India, from time immemorial, is the only land which regards the spiritual seekers in the highest esteem amongst the people of other pursuits. According to some spiritual persons India is God’s own home. In all ages and times thousands of people have abandoned the ordinary life and embraced the difficult path of spiritual disciplines. There were innumerable sages, yogis, fakirs and sadhus in the recorded history of India. But there were hundred times more of them who remain unknown for obvious reasons. Perhaps in every Hindu family in India has a sanyasin in its past.

So we are aware of the common characteristics of the God-seekers of whom we know by the words of mouth or by reading history. They all were visibly passionate in their seeking and were almost mad after God. We know this from the lives of Sri Chaitanya , Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Trailanga and many others. Sri Aurobindo showed no such passion –never in his life. He was an accomplished westerner, and so, many people are inclined to consider it an attribute of western character. Yes –Sri Aurobindo was an accomplished westerner but the life of his mission had no relation of his being grown up or being educated in western atmosphere.

Sri Aurobindo was never interested in spiritual matters exclusively for his self development. He never had any ambition of being a yogi. In his early period when he felt interested in spirituality –it was only because he wanted to acquire spiritual power that might help him to his fight for independence of his motherland. But this did not hold to his mind for long. He was soon involved in his sadhana for the whole of humanity. As per him this was also not from his own choice. He was chosen by his God for a difficult mission hitherto un-attempted –to change the fulcrum of creating consciousness in the world. Man has to move to exceed him. But this appeared queer to most people in India (I do not like to drag the whole world here). He was alone in his work. Nobody before him uttered such a possibility and treaded a path that could lead him to his destination before him. From his formidable loneliness –he wrote:

…We may find when all the rest has failed

He accepted this world as real as Brahma. But easier said in philosophy than done in life and guiding people to that end. So Sri Aurobindo took upon himself first the heat of that transforming consciousness so that it might act through the conscious sadhana of his disciples. The Mother appeared on the stage to help transmuting the new consciousness in the Ashram devotees. The Mother was the personified consciousness-shakti Sri Aurobindo sought to bring down. So the Mother established a group of people in a community for her work. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother never had any intention of establishing an ashram in the traditional necessity of the term. They did not try to make the ashram people as good, religious human beings. Even they did not need God-loving persons as their devotees. They needed people who had inner call to do his yoga. That was the only criterion. They want to transform the evil and the ignorant base into the Divine Consciousness-the Supramental Consciousness as per Sri Aurobindo’s terminology. He knew the root of this unhappy and ignorant world and said time and again that and if we do not change from within we can not change the outside. Death is according to him a required necessity of ignorant and imperfect life.

Once the Mother, in response to a question, told, that her work would not be done with enlightened and elite persons like Vivekananda. They required the representative human moulds containing the inner aspiration to exceed humanity. Sri Aurobindo told that one must go through the hell in order to reach heaven. We must discover the evils within us so that we could transform it. To Sri Aurobindo-‘goodness’ was not the required element in a devotee.

An individual is not complete in itself. The collective is contained in the individual. So the ashram people are variously representative of the collectivity. And the Ashram is nothing but a kind of laboratory. The Mother said “You no longer do yoga for yourself alone; you do it for everybody, unintentionally, automatically.” Sri Aurobindo reminded us “Accepting life, he (the seeker of the integral Yoga) has to bear not only his own burden, but a great part of the world’s burden too along with it, as a continuation of his own sufficiently heavy load. Therefore his Yoga has much more of the nature of a battle than others’; but this is not only an individual battle, it is a collective war waged over a considerable country. He has not only to conquer in himself the forces of egoistic falsehood and disorder, but to conquer them as representatives of the same adverse and inexhaustible forces in the world…” It’s a tremendous work and a devotee in the ashram feels constantly a tremendous pressure that is constantly at work from within and above even when the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are not physically present in their Ashram. Sometimes one could not bear the pressure and left the ashram. Sometime a few persons have become deranged or gone low.

One should, before criticizing the ashram people as not ideal from their customary impression, properly know for what the people are there. There are many good people in this world and many of them are even extraordinary in spiritual matters than we find in the Ashram. The distinctiveness of Sri Aurobindo Ashram is perceptible from its externality. There is no temple and none, as some inside such buildings, to worship. There is no such activity like bhajan or kirtan (devotional songs sung inside a temple). There is no guru or master for physical guidance in sadhana. There is a general discipline as is required if one lives a community life. One has to work in any of the various departments of the Ashram. For spiritual sadhana –there are guidelines as stated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in various places. Nobody is asked to follow the spiritual discipline in all sincerity as there is no such outside authority. It’s one’s own inner guidance that matters. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not believe in external imposition. One must grow from within. One may have all the facilities to pursue his or her creative activities. So far as sports and swimming are concerned –a devotee is afforded with the most modern facilities. The Mother insisted on sports and physical exercises as in integral Yoga the fitness of the physical body is essential. So except the samadhi-area one does not find any evidence from which it can be immediately perceived that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a place for spiritual activity.

One must know what for Sri Aurobindo came to this world and should try to understand the tremendous suffering he had to undergo before trying to get any impression of the devotees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. If we have any expectation from others (as per our ideal), we should realize that one should not fire keeping his gun on other’s shoulder. If I can make a progress it may definitely help others even the ashramites to progress and vice versa.

It is not easy to simply live in the Ashram in its apparent easy life. There is the tremendous pressure of the Mother’s consciousness here.

1 May 2008

The Veda and Sri Aurobindo's Light

O Flame, O ray in our limited existence, bring for us an illumination full of utter energy, by an all-encompassing felicity cleave forward our path towards the plentitude.

- Hymn to Agni (Rig Veda)

She of the vision of knowledge, she of its flowing inspiration, she of its vastness, three goddesses who give birth to the Bliss, they who stumble not, may they take their seats at the alter strewn of the sacrifice.

- Hymn to Agni (Rig veda)

The Rig Veda rises out of the ancient dawn with the sound of a thousand-voiced hymn lifted from the soul of man to an all creative Truth and an all- illumining Light.

-Sri Aurobindo

Those in this world are unfortunate who have not had the touch of Sri Aurobindo’s mind. In him the East and the West found the best meeting ground. He was in every inch a realist and in the perfectly integral sense of matter, a materialist per se. He never followed anything with any preconceived idea or whose veracity lied only on customary belief. He had a mind of a scientist who never accepts anything without verification of its reality. So he was not warmly welcome to the majority of religious persons of India –the country, perhaps best explored in his spiritual mission as a land of Divine Presence. To the atheists he remains to be accepted as a great thinker or philosopher but is summarily refused for his vision of a future of mankind in a higher consciousness, notwithstanding his irrefutable logical explanations for such an unalterable destiny. Actually the materialists also follow a religion like the believers. The difference is that they are not aware that their system of seeking is also based on their absolute faith in the system itself –the system, Mind works with, under an integral process in evolution. The believers here in India are deeply rooted in Mayavada of Shankaracharya. So some believers even think of him as an atheist for his taking up of matter as something in the scheme of his sadhana.

If there can be any incarnation of the aspiration of modern man, then Sri Aurobindo was definitely an incarnation. He accepted with due regard all the positive progressive elements of modern man. So he assured his devotees that he had tested his every spiritual realization more rigorously than a scientist testing his result before declaring it to be true. He never accepted anything which he had not personally realized.

He was a pedant in the general sense of the term. But he never accepted that he would go to be known as a savant or philosopher. He wrote on many things of human activities. But to any serious reader he appears to be telling from his own understanding and solid realization. Sri Aurobindo –was not a scholar in the mechanical and current sense of the term. But if he felt a need to know anything for some purpose he studied the subject and became a master of it. But he didn’t study in the usual way. Whenever he took up something seriously –he went on researching on the matter. In this matter his characteristic inclination was more akin to western scientific researchers. He never insisted people –whenever he required addressing people outside his own spiritual community in the Ashram, he expected them to be rigorous in finding the real and the system must be secure and fool-proof.

So had there been no Sri Aurobindo –the hymns of the Veda still remain to be “the sacrificial compositions of a primitive and still barbarous race written around a system of ceremonial and propitiatory rites, addressed to personified Powers of Nature and replete with a confused mass of half-formed myth and crude astronomical allegories yet in the making.” Now it is for Sri Aurobindo with his scholarly and scientific efforts the secrets have been revealed before people. He refuted with his irrefutable light, Sayana and the later western scholars. Though there were three modern Indian contributions viz. Tilak, T.Paramasiva Aiyar and Swami Dayananda Saraswati but-none of them were free from conjectural opinions and can stand the rigorous tests that are essential in the matter.

Sri Aurobindo had –in his early period accepted without much interest the conclusions of European Scholarship ‘both as to the religious and and as to the historical and ethnical sense of the ancient hymns.” He had regarded as he had knew about the Rig Veda in modern translation as “an important document of our national history, but seemed of small value or importance for the history of thought or for a living spiritual experience.”

So what transpired Sri Aurobindo to be interested in The Vedas? In his own words he had regarded the Upanishads ‘as the most ancient source of Indian thought and religion-the true Veda, the first Book of knowledge’. He had been made to learn that “the Veda for the priests, the Vedanta for the sages”. Let us know how Sri Aurobindo had been drawn into the secret realms of the Vedas in his own words.

He wrote in his The Secret of the Veda,-“My first contact with Vedic thought came indirectly while pursuing certain lines of self-development in the way of Indian Yoga, which, without my knowing it, were spontaneously converging towards the ancient and now unfrequented paths followed by our forefathers.” During this period of his sadhana he had been experiencing regularly, in him, figures of three female energies, Ila, Saraswati and Sarama-representing ‘severally three out of four faculties of the intuitive reasons,-revelation, inspiration and intuition’. He wrote that two of these names had not been well known to him as names of Vedic goddesses. He knew that they were connected rather with the current Hindu religion or with old Puranic legend, Saraswati, goddess of learning and Ila, mother of the Lunar dynasty. He went on “But Sarama was familiar enough. I was unable, however, to establish any connection between the figure that rose in my mind and the Vedic hound of heaven, who was associated in my memory with the Argive Helen and represented only an image of the physical Dawn entering in its pursuit of the vanished herds of Light into the cave of the Powers of darkness.” Thus had been the beginning of his search and subsequent research in the seclusion of his lone room in Pondicherry.

But before that he had been struck with some of his observation during his stay in Southern India for political activities which ultimately intensified his involvement with the secret of the Veda. It is always better to read in his own words, his own experiences. He wrote “Two observations that were forced on my mind, gave a serious shock to my second-hand belief in the racial division between Northern Aryans and Southern Dravidians. The distinction had always rested for me on a supposed difference between the physical types of Aryan and Dravidian and a more definite incompatibility between the northern Sanskritic and the southern non-Sanskritic tongues. I knew indeed of the later theories which suppose that a single homogeneous race, Dravidian or Indo-Afghan, inhabits the Indian peninsula; but hitherto I had not attracted much importance to these speculations. I could not, however, be long in Southern India without being impressed by the general recurrence of northern or ‘Aryan’ types in the Tamil race. Wherever I turned, I seemed to recognize with a startling distinctness, not only among the Brahmins but in all cases and classes, the old familiar faces, features, figures of my friends of Maharashtra, Gujerat, Hindustan, even, though this similarity was less widely spread, of my own province, Bengal. The impression I received was as if an army of all the tribes of the North had descended on the South and submerged any previous populations that may have occupied it. A general impression of a southern type survived, but it was impossible to fix it rigidly while studying the physiognomy of individuals. And in the end I could not but perceive that whatever admixtures might have taken place, whatever regional differences might have been evolved, there remains, behind all variations, a unity of physical as well as of cultural type throughout India. For the rest, this is a conclusion to which ethnological speculation itself has an increasing tendency…………

“And there was always the difference of language to support the theory of a meeting of races. But here also my preconceived ideas were disturbed and confounded. For, on examining the vocables of the Tamil language, in appearance so foreign to the Sanskritic form and character, I yet found myself continually guided by words or by families of words supposed to be pure Tamil in establishing new relations between Sanskrit and its distant sister, Latin, and occasionally, between the Greek and the Sanskrit. Sometimes the Tamil vocable not only suggested the connection, but proved the missing link in a family of connected words. And it was through this Dravidian language that I came first to perceive what seems to me now the true law, origins and, as it were, the embryology of the Aryan tongues. I was unable to pursue my examination far enough to establish any definite conclusion, but it certainly seems to me that the original connection between the Dravidian and Aryan tongues was far closer and more extensive than is usually supposed and the possibility suggests itself that they may even have been two divergent families derived from one lost primitive tongue. If so, the sole remaining evidence of an Aryan invasion of Dravidian India would be the indications to be found in the Vedic hymns.”

So with this ‘double interest’ Sri Aurobindo took up for the first time studying the Veda in original. After not a very long time he discovered that the Vedic indications of a distinction between Aryans and Dasyus and the identification of the latter as indigenous Indians was not as solid as Sri Aurobindo had supposed earlier. Interestingly, he discovered that a ‘considerable body of profound psychological thought and experience lying neglected in these ancient hymns.’ On this he continued with profound interest, “ And the importance of this element increased in my eyes when I found, first, that the mantras of the Veda illuminated with a clear and exact light psychological experiences of my own for which I had found no sufficient explanation either in European psychology or in the teachings of Yoga or of Vedanta, so far as I was acquainted with them, and, secondly, that they shed light on obscure passages and ideas of the Upanishads to which, previously, I could attach no exact meaning and gave at the same time a new sense to much in the Puranas.”

Thus was the beginning of the journey of Sri Aurobindo to the world of truth of the Veda. He discovered the truth of the Veda-the earliest literature (spiritual or otherwise) of the world. In deciphering the words he had to discover the identities of the Rishis and their time. So he took up the entire Veda in original and discovered the meaning of the mantras, comparing the root-words with Greek and Tamil, hitherto unknown to the world or known in ignorant and derogatory sense as some barbarians’ appeasing the unknown powers of Nature for material benefits. My intention here is not to discuss the secret meanings of the mantras but to highlight what Sri Aurobindo discovered in his research about the differences of so called Aryans and Dravidians and the North-South divide that have been supposed to breed an impression that there was no fundamental link between the two different tongues and races (Sri Aurobindo perhaps liked to use the word ‘ethnicities’). Sri Aurobindo studied philology and in his own way tried to conceive the intents of the mantras. He wrote that Comparative Philology helped a lot but in the present state of this science it was yet to attain maturity. He wrote,” Modern Philology is an immense advance on anything we have had before the nineteenth century. It has introduced a spirit of order and method in place of mere phantasy; it has given us more correct ideas of the morphology of language and of what is or is not possible in etymology. It has established a few rules which govern the the phenomena of the detritions of language and guide us in the identification of the same word or of related words as they appear in the changes of different but kindred tongues. Here, however, its achievements cease. The high hopes which attended its birth, have not been fulfilled by its maturity. It has failed to create a Science of Language and we are still compelled to apply to it the apologetic description given by a great philologist after some decades of earnest labour when he was obliged to speak of his favourite pursuits as ‘our petty conjectural sciences’. But a conjectural science is of no Science at all.”

So Sri Aurobindo had to depend on his own understanding based on his irrefutable logic and his overriding wisdom-still unparallel in this realm of the Veda.

I have had to relate all this to those who have not read Sri Aurobindo’s voluminous book-“The Secret of the Veda”. I have had to inform them the basic problems of discovering the secret of the Veda in absence of any recorded history of that far ancient era of human civilization and the absence of a well-formed and matured Science of Language. Surprisingly, a very recent revelation from The Indian Genome Variation (IGV)’s mammoth effort to analyse genetic variation across the Indian population has erased the dividing lines that separate caste and religious groups. The study by a consortium of six Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories and the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta has arrived through the process of their research studies that Dravidian lineages have mixed with Indo-Europeans, Austroasiatics have mingled with Dravidians, and bridge populations in central India are blends of Dravidian, Indo-European and Himalayan groups. Their analysis also shows that Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims are genetically similar and share genetic similarities with Dravidian groups. It is also said that some Dravidian speaking population groups have Indo-European lineage.

I have cited only the relevant portion of the above scientific findings to show that it proves what Sri Aurobindo, first through his intuition and then through his intensive studies of Tamil and the Vedic vocables (and through his sadhana) firmly established that there exists no such distinctively separate physical roots that may divide the Dravidians and the northern Aryans. From this it becomes evident that the two seemingly different tongues-Tamil and Sanskrit may have ancient links (as Sri Aurobindo showed in his Secret of the Veda) hidden in the formation of Vedic words.

After this startling revelation –the Science of Languages requires to be a true and mature Science (free from conjectures) as advised by Sri Aurobindo almost hundred years ago.

Finally I like to quote a portion of Sri Aurobindo’s letter to the editor of The Hindu dated 26th August, 1914 in response to criticism of the opening chapter of The Secret of the Veda. Sri Aurobindo wrote,”…My point was that such knowledge, when it expressed a developed philosophy and psychology, stood in need of historical explanation,-a very different matter. If we accepted the European idea of an evolving knowledge in humanity,-and it is on that basis that my argument proceeded –we must find the source of the Brahmavada either in an extraneous origin such as a previous Dravidian culture-a theory which I can not admit, since I regard the so called Aryans and Dravidians as one and homogenous race-or in a previous development, of which the records have either been lost or are to be found in the Veda itself.” But I can not see any possibility of the coming of the seer and scientist-philologists in near future. Sri Aurobindo –himself already prepared a ground for them and indicated many results he discovered for the posterity. I’ll conclude with Sri Aurobindo’s comment on his own work.

“I do not claim that mine is the first attempt to give an adhyatmic interpretation of the Veda. It is an attempt –the first or the hundredth matters little-to give the esoteric and psychological sense of the Veda based throughout on the most modern method of critical research. Its interpretation of Vedic vocables is based on a re-examination of a large part of the field of comparative philology and a reconstruction on a new basis which I have some hope will bring us nearer to a true science of Language. This I propose to develop in another work, the “Origins of Aryan Speech”.