Sri Aurobindo (শ্রী অরবিন্দ Sri Ôrobindo) (August 15, 1872–December 5, 1950) was an Indian nationalist, scholar, poet, mystic, evolutionary philosopher, yogi and guru. After a short political career in which he became one of the leaders of the early movement for the freedom of India from British rule, Sri Aurobindo turned to explore spiritual realms of human existence and, as a consequence, developed a new path which he termed integral yoga.
Sri Aurobindo grew as a result of his spiritual pursuits into a visionary of new evolution, a poet of the plenitudes and profundities of the hidden realities of man and life, a seer-philosopher of the ascent of human life to the next higher level of its existence on earth. The Times Literary Supplement wrote:
The major writings of Sri Aurobindo comprise, in poetry, his epic poem Savitri, and the Collected Poems and, in prose, in a number of highly acclaimed books such as The Life Divine, Synthesis of Yoga, Secret of Veda, Essays on the Gita, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, Renaissance in India and other essays, Supramental Manifestation upon Earth, The Future Poetry, Thoughts and Aphorisms, and several volumes of his letters.
During the First Partition of Bengal from 1905 to 1912, he became a leader of the group of Indian nationalists known as the Extremists for their willingness to use violence and advocate outright independence, a plank more moderate nationalists had shied away from up to that point. He was one of the founders of Jugantar party, an underground revolutionary outfit. He was the editor of a nationalist Bengali newspaper Vande Mataram (spelt and pronounced as Bônde Matôrom in the Bengali language) and as a result came into frequent confrontation with the British Raj. In 1907 he attended a convention of Indian nationalists where he was seen as the new leader of the movement.
It was at this point that Rabindranath Tagore paid him a visit and wrote the lines:
His conversion from political action to spirituality occurred gradually, first at Vadodara (then Baroda) while following meditation instruction of a Maharashtrain yogi Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, and second, while incarcerated for a year in the Alipur jail as an undertrial prisoner in Kolkata in the province of Bengal. At the same time, he was inspired by his meditating on the Bhagavad Gita. Sri Aurobindo claimed to be visited in his meditations by the renowned Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu philosopher of great importance to Advaita Vedanta, in order to guide Sri Aurobindo in an important aspect of his spiritual practice or yoga. Sri Aurobindo later said that while imprisoned he saw the convicts, jailers, policemen, the prison bars, the trees, the judge, the lawyers as different forms of Vishnu in the spiritual experience of Vasudeva.
The trial for which he was incarcerated was one of the important trials in Indian nationalism movement. There were 49 accused and 206 witnesses. 400 documents were filed and 5000 exhibits were produced including bombs, revolvers and acid. The English judge, C.B. Beechcroft, had been a student with Sri Aurobindo at Cambridge. The Chief Prosecutor Eardley Norton displayed a loaded revolver on his briefcase during the trial. The case for Sri Aurobindo was taken up by Chittaranjan Das. Chittaranjan Das, in his conclusion to the Judge, said: "... My appeal to you is this, that long after the controversy will be hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation will have ceased, long after he (Sri Aurobindo) is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed, not only in India, but across distant seas and lands. Therefore, I say that the man in his position is not only standing before the bar of this Court, but before the bar of the High Court of History." The trial ("Alipore Bomb Case, 1908") lasted for one full year. Sri Aurobindo was acquitted.
Afterwards Aurobindo started two new weeklies: the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali. However, it appeared that the British government would not tolerate his nationalist program as Lord Minto wrote about him: I can only repeat that he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with.
Somewhat later, he wrote a small book entitled The Mother which was published in 1928 as a kind of "instruction manual" for the practice of the Integral Yoga. In this short book, Sri Aurobindo wrote about the Divine Mother, the consciousness and force of the Supreme, and about the "Four great Aspects of the Mother, four of her leading Powers and Personalities (which) have stood in front in her guidance of the Universe and her dealings with the terrestrial play..." He also wrote about the conditions to be fulfilled by the "Sadhaka" or practitioner of the yoga in order to be receptive to the Mother's Grace. He also explicated his unique and original view of money and wealth: "Money is a sign of universal force, and this force in its manifestation on earth works on the vital and physical planes and is indispensable to the fullness of outer life. In its origin and its true action it belongs to the Divine. But like other powers of the Divine it is delegated here and in the ignorance of the lower Nature can be usurped for the uses of the ego or held by Asuric influences and perverted to their purpose."
For some time afterwards, Sri Aurobindo's main literary output apart from the revision of some of the works written for the Arya was his voluminous correspondence with his disciples. His letters, most of which were written in the 1930s, numbered in the several thousands. Many were brief comments made in the margins of his disciple's notebooks in answer to their questions and reports of their spiritual practice; others extended to several page carefully composed explanations of practical aspects of his teachings. These were later collected and published in book form in three volumes of Letters on Yoga. In the late 1930s, Sri Aurobindo resumed work on a poem he had started earlier; he continued to expand and revise this poem for the rest of his life. It became perhaps his greatest literary achievement, Savitri, an epic spiritual poem in blank verse of approximately 24,000 lines.
Although Sri Aurobindo wrote most of his material in English, his major works were later translated into a number of languages, including the Indian languages Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati, Marathi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, as well as French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Slovene and Russian. A large amount of his work in Russian translation is also available online.
Sri Aurobindo's close spiritual collaborator, Mirra Richard (b. Alfassa), was known as The Mother. She was born in Paris on February 21, 1878, to Turkish and Egyptian parents. Involved in the cultural and spiritual life of Paris, she counted among her friends Alexandra David-Neel. She went to Pondicherry on March 29, 1914, finally settling there in 1920. Sri Aurobindo considered her his spiritual equal and collaborator. After November 24, 1926, when Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion, he left it to her to plan, run and build the growing Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the community of disciples that had gathered around them. Some time later when families with children joined the ashram, she established and supervised the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (which, with its pilot experiments in the field of education, impressed observers like Jawaharlal Nehru). When Sri Aurobindo died in 1950, the Mother continued their spiritual work and directed the Ashram and guided their disciples. In the mid 1960s she started Auroville, an international township sponsored by UNESCO to further human unity near the town of Pondicherry, which was to be a place "where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities." It was inaugurated in 1968 in a ceremony in which representatives of 121 nations and all the states of India placed a handful of their soil in an urn near the center of the city. Auroville continues to develop and currently has approximately 1700 members from 35 countries. The Mother also played an active role in the merger of the French pockets in India and, according to Sri Aurobindo's wish, helped to make Pondicherry a seat of cultural exchange between India and France. The Mother stayed in Pondicherry until her death on November 17, 1973.
The Mother's attempts to establish the new supramental consciousness on earth and her personal effort of physical transformation of her own body are described in the 13-volume series of books known as Mother's Agenda.
One of Sri Aurobindo's main philosophical achievements was to introduce the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought. Samkhya philosophy had already proposed such a notion centuries earlier, but Aurobindo rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya, and proposed an evolution of spirit along with that of matter, and that the evolution of matter was a result of the former.
He describes the limitation of the Mayavada of Advaita Vedanta, and solves the problem of the linkage between the ineffable Brahman or Absolute and the world of multiplicity by positing a transitional hypostasis between the two, which he called The Supermind. The supermind is the active principle present in the transcendent Satchidananda; a unitary mind of which our individual minds and bodies are minuscule subdivisions.
Sri Aurobindo rejected a major conception of Indian philosophy that says that the World is a Maya (illusion) and that living as a renunciate was the only way out. He says that it is possible, not only to transcend human nature but also to transform it and to live in the world as a free and evolved human being with a new consciousness and a new nature which could spontaneously perceive truth of things, and proceed in all matters on the basis of inner oneness, love and light.
Sri Aurobindo argues that humankind as an entity is not the last rung in the evolutionary scale, but can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations associated with an essential ignorance to a future state of supramental existence. This further evolutionary step would lead to a divine life on Earth characterized by a supramental or truth-consciousness, and a transformed and divinised life and material form. (Life Divine bk II, ch 27-8)
A central tenet of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy is that the Truth of existence is an omnipresent Reality that both transcends the manifested universe and is inherent in it. This Reality, referred to as Brahman, is an Absolute: it is not limited by any mental conception or duality, whether personal or impersonal, existent or nonexistent, formless or manifested in form, timeless or extended in time, spaceless or extended in space. It is simultaneously all of these but is bound by none of them. It is at once the universe, each individual being and thing in the universe, and the Transcendent beyond the universe. In its highest manifested poise, its nature may be described as Sachchidananda—infinite existence, infinite consciousness, and infinite delight or bliss—a triune principle in which the three are united in a single Reality. In other words, it is a fully conscious and blissful infinite existence. The importance of this concept for humanity lies in its implication that Brahman is our deepest and secret Reality, it is our true Self, and it is possible to recover this Reality of our being by removing the veil of ignorance that hides it from us and imprisons us in a false identification with an apparently divided and limited egoistic movement on the surface of our being. This is the metaphysical basis for Sri Aurobindo's yoga, the discipline given to consciously unite our phenomenal existence and life with our essential Reality.
How has the absolute Brahman, Sachchidananda, become what we see here around us—this world of inconscient matter, struggling life, ignorance, limitation, conflict, suffering, death, and evil? In answering this question, Sri Aurobindo explains that the Absolute is not bound—not bound to its infinite existence, not bound to its infinite consciousness and the force inherent in that consciousness, not bound to its infinite bliss. Second, he explains that by definition Brahman is capable of manifesting within its absolute existence innumerable, limited, even distorted and contrary forms of its being. We may further deduce that an infinitely extended, infinitely diverse manifestation, replete with objects and beings ranging from the most unconscious, the most vile, to the most conscious, the most beautiful, the most divine, would be perfectly consistent with an existence that was Absolute.
But how does the Brahman do this? Through what Sri Aurobindo describes as the principle of exclusive concentration. This principle is best explained through the example of our own ability to narrow our conscious awareness on a particular idea or perception, putting behind in the background of our focused awareness the rest of our conscious existence. When an author concentrates in writing her story—developing the characters, the scene, the action—her own personal identity becomes for the moment lost to her conscious awareness. Her consciousness enters into the story and identifies with it. She does not cease to be what she is or lose her knowledge of her identity, but practically her awareness is narrowed and identified at a point. This ability to focus awareness and put into the background all else is inherent in consciousness. It is through a similar process that the One and Infinite Being becomes the many, apparently separate, individual beings and things we see manifested in the universe. The separation is in appearance only, for in truth all individuals are constituted by the One, are That in their Reality, for there is nothing outside the Absolute. They are forms and appearances of its Being, expressions of its Consciousness, movements of its Delight.
According to Sri Aurobindo, for our world in particular—there are other worlds that follow a different process—there is taking place a gradual awakening of consciousness over time, an evolution of consciousness. Through its principle of exclusive concentration, the One became matter, losing all conscious awareness in the form of inanimate matter. From this base it is progressively awakening through the life of the plant, the beginnings of mind in the animal, the full emergence of mind in humanity, and is now stirring to awaken fully through the emergence of a greater consciousness than mind, the Supermind, in which the fullness of the undivided consciousness and infinite delight of the One will be manifest in individualities embodied here on earth. This evolution of consciousness, from the worm to the god, is the central process, aim, and significance of our existence.
There is the further question of why the Absolute would manifest in this way, and in particular, why pain, suffering, evil would be allowed to exist. For there is no shifting of responsibility possible here, there is nothing or no one outside the Absolute. It is a complex problem and there are various sides to the answer that Sri Aurobindo provides; here it is possible only to suggest the outlines of the solution. One point that Sri Aurobindo emphasizes is that it is the Brahman who thus suffers, it is not imposed on someone or something outside the Brahman. A second point he makes is that limitation and ignorance are inherent consequences of the plunge of the Absolute consciousness into the inconscience and its slow evolutionary awakening—pain, suffering, and evil developed as consequences or corollaries of limitation and ignorance. A third point is that while pain, suffering, and evil are abhorrent to our limited ethical sensibilities, they also may serve a purpose in the larger scheme of the evolutionary process. That is, they may be the spurs needed to drive a dense and ignorant emerging consciousness towards its own fullness and ultimate release into the infinite and eternal, into the truth and delight of the divine existence. Furthermore, the end of the process, hidden from our narrow view, of a divine existence on earth, may carry within it the justification for the hard conditions of its gradual manifestation in time.
To overcome these, as explained above, Man must embark on a process of self-discovery in which he uncovers his Divine nature. Aside from perfecting the limited parts of his psychological nature, he makes a double movement (1) above mind to intuitive mind and above, and (2) a movement within, inside to his true self and evolving soul (the Psychic Being). The latter enables him to overcome his ego sense that supports the limited and divided nature and knowledge that is his Ignorance.
These two movements allow him to move beyond the divisions and dualities of life and see instead them as harmonies and complementary aspect, including that which exists between Spirit and Matter. As he goes deeper within, he also opens to the spiritual Force that is descending in the atmosphere, which enables him to make the decisive change.
Eventually the spirit works to overcome his limited nature, which is followed by the (ultimate) supramental transformation. Thus, we see three stages through which man emerges from his original Ignorance nature: the Psychic, the Spiritual, and the Supramental change. This is Sri Aurobindo’s Triple Transformation. At that point, his essential Ignorance born of creation is turned into an Integral Knowledge, and his vital, psychological and physical parts are transformed, ushering a new supramental individual (Gnostic being), and in tandem with others, a supramental social existence (i.e. a Divine life on earth).
Sri Aurobindo indicated that his greatest discovery was the existence of a Psychic Being (i.e. an Evolving Soul) within that is the essence of our spiritual selves. If we forge our way into the deepest parts of our being the Subliminal realm, we will come upon a Personal Evolving Soul. From this Psychic Being we can overcome the limits of consciousness of the individual human. From there we perceive our true nature and essence; we become more aware of our surroundings; we become one with others and life; we experience an inner Guide that influences to move in the right direction and catches our negative propensities as they arise on the surface; we come in touch with our universal nature; we come in touch with the transcendent reality and spiritual Force; we overcome the limits of time, bringing timelessness into time; and evoke the powers of the Infinite into this finite existence, to name several. Also when we plunge within and touch the evolving soul, we move up in consciousness above mind to spiritual mind of illumination, intuition, revelation, and (supramental) truth consciousness. It should also be noted that this psychic entity is itself evolving, as it enters the person’s whose experience it believes it can benefit from, extracts the essence of that person’s experience, and then moves on to the next birth until it is fulfilled in its journey through space and time. The connection to the evolving soul is thus the key to the evolution from this the human side, as from there we overcome the inherent Ignorance, division, dualities, and suffering of Man, enabling him to fulfill his human aspiration of God, freedom, joy, and immortality. (From the spiritual side, it is the descending Supramental Force that enables the progress of life to its ultimate capacity. The two together, the connection to the Psychic Being and the surrender to the descending (supramental) Force are the keys to the evolution and transformation of the individual, humanity, and life in the universe.)
Sri Aurobindo's vision of the future includes the appearance of what we may a call a new species, the supramental being, a divine being which would be as different and superior to present humanity as humanity is to the animal. It would have a consciousness different in kind than the mind of the human, a different status and quality and functioning. Even the physical form of this being would be different, more luminous and flexible and adaptable, entirely conscious and harmonious. Between this supramental being and humanity, there would be transitional beings, who would be human in birth and form, but whose consciousness would approach that of the supramental being. These transitional beings would appear prior to that of the full supramental being, and would constitute an intermediate stage in the earth evolution, through which the soul would pass in its growth towards its divine manifestation as the supramental being in the earth nature.
Thus, an important part of Sri Aurobindo's future vision is the elucidation of the transitional being and the supramental being. Although it is frequently mentioned in his writings that the supramental consciousness is impossible to describe in mental terms, he has nevertheless provided clear indications of its general nature and capacities. These have been described at length in Sri Aurobindo’s books The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Supramental Manifestation Upon Earth, and Savitri. Mother's Agenda, which is a 13 volume edited transcription of the Mother’s conversations with a disciple called Satprem between the years 1951 and 1973, also has much information on the nature of the new species and its emergence. The descriptions made of the nature of the transitional and supramental beings are dazzling, above ordinary conceptions of human possibility. We may give as an example, which touches upon a defining characteristic, this sentence from Sri Aurobindo's chapter “The Gnostic Being” in The Life Divine: “A complete self-knowledge in all things and at all moments is the gift of the supramental gnosis and with it a complete self-mastery, not merely in the sense of control of Nature but in the sense of a power of perfect self-expression in Nature.” (p. 973)
Another interesting aspect of the vision is the manner and sequence of processes through which the supramental being will make its appearance in the earth nature. Again, these processes were not specified in exact detail, and in many cases they were presented as possibilities or probabilities rather than as certainties, but Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have been given very interesting suggestions and outlines of the scenario. Sri Aurobindo indicates that “there will be established on earth a gnostic Consciousness and Power which will shape a race of gnostic spiritual beings and take up into itself all of earth-nature that is ready for this new transformation. It will also receive into itself from above, progressively, from its own domain of perfect light and power and beauty all that is ready to descend from that domain into the terrestrial being.” (The Life Divine, p. 967) He further indicates that “The creation of a supramental being, nature, life on earth, will not be the sole result of this evolution; it will also carry with it the consummation of the steps that have led up to it; for it will confirm in possession of terrestrial birth the Overmind, the Intuition and the other gradations of the spiritual nature-force and establish a race of gnostic beings and a hierarchy, a shining ladder of ascending degrees and successive constituent formations of the gnostic light and power in earth nature.” (The Life Divine, p. 968) In other words, there would be established ascending levels of transitional beings, manifesting the levels of consciousness and expressive nature intermediate between the ordinary human and the supramental levels.
Sri Aurobindo indicates that even all of nature might be affected by the appearance of the supramental light and force:
"A dominant principle of harmony would impose itself on the life of the Ignorance; the discord, the blind seeking, the clash of struggle, the abnormal vicissitudes of exaggeration and depression and unsteady balance of the unseeing forces at work in their mixture and conflict, would feel the influence and yield place to a more orderly pace and harmonic steps of the development of being, a more revealing arrangement of progressing life and consciousness, a better life-order. A freer play of intuition and sympathy and understanding would enter into human life, a clearer sense of the truth of self and things and a more enlightened dealing with the opportunities and difficulties of existence." (The Life Divine, p. 969)
The development of human society and world culture is another important aspect of Sri Aurobindo's future vision. In his book The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo described the various stages of the development of human society which have led to the present subjective age that is beginning, and the possibilities of a future spiritual age. This spiritual age would be characterized by the dominance of a spiritual ideal and trend in world culture.
It is in the acceptance of the spiritual ideal and a sincere turning of the being towards its manifestation—first by individuals, then by “a great number of individuals,” and finally by the community—that marks the advent of the spiritual age. This turn must start with individuals, only afterwards can it become established more generally in the social order. But this turn towards the spirit and soul as the effective leader and master of the mind, life, and physical existence must be true and sincere, there must be a genuine shift from the mental and vital ego to the divine. This true change of standpoint from the ego to the spirit is difficult to establish even in the individual, for the society, for the mass of humanity, it is an even greater difficulty. As this change becomes effectively realised first in individuals, through them it must be powerfully communicated to the society as a whole as an uplifting ideal, not something that is imposed. Then gradually it will become accepted and assimilated into segments of the society, and from there permeate throughout the society and become generalized. The signs of this turning in the society would become evident in all its aims and activities and institutions. It “would make the revealing and finding of the divine Self in man the whole first aim of all its activities, its education, its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure... It would embrace all knowledge in its scope, but would make the whole trend and aim and the permeating spirit not mere worldly efficiency, but this self-developing and self-finding.” (The Human Cycle, p. 256)
In The Synthesis of Yoga, and in his voluminous correspondence with his disciples collected under the title Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo laid out the psychological principles and practices of the Integral Yoga or Poorna Yoga. The aim of the yoga is to enable the individual who undertakes it to attain conscious identity with the Divine, the true Self, and to transform the mind, life, and body so they would become fit instruments for a divine life on earth. Practitioners believe achieving the ultimate aims of Integral Yoga requires an entire devotion.
The Integral Yoga utilizes various yogic practices of India's cultural heritage and synthesizes them with its own unique methods, however, there is no one set method or practice that its practitioners follow. Certain broad guidelines have been provided, several basic approaches have been described, and many specific practices and techniques have been suggested. But for each individual who undertakes this discipline, the specific path will differ. The reasons for this are twofold. The first is that, according to Sri Aurobindo, the goals of this yoga can be achieved only through the guidance and power and action of the Divine. The Divine uses many methods and the circumstances of life flexibly with a wisdom and subtle precision impossible in a rigid programme. The second reason is that each individual presents unique characteristics, possibilities, and obstacles that can only be taken into account by the Divine that sees and holds all things in its total regard.
The central guiding principle of this yoga is a complete surrender to the Divine. It is the Divine alone who can transform and divinise our human consciousness and life. Elaborating on this central principle, Sri Aurobindo has characterized the discipline to be followed as a “triple labor of aspiration, rejection, and surrender.” Aspiration means the sustained call of the individual to the Divine to take possession of the ego-centered and limited surface being. Rejection involves separating oneself and withdrawing from all wrong movements that contradict or conflict with the aims of the yoga. Together, the force of aspiration and the rejection of the obstacles in the nature work to effect a sincere and true surrender of all the parts of the being to the Divine. In proportion to the completeness of this surrender, the individual will feel the Divine taking up the being and working in it, substituting and pouring into it its own higher powers of peace, wisdom, harmony, force, beauty, and delight.
There are several basic approaches within which these three practices may be embedded or with which they may be harmonized. The first of these approaches is the yoga of works, and here works has a broad significance that includes all one's actions external and internal. Its central character is that all one's actions are to be done as an offering to the Divine and no longer for the personal satisfaction of the ego or even for the benefit of a greater social purpose. Through this offering—which progressively must expand to the extent that this remembrance of the Divine and inner self-offering become the constant state of the being—the inner contact with the Divine grows increasingly close and entire. As this inner communion develops, one's actions begin to be felt as being originated, guided, inspired, and even executed by the Divine, eventually one feels oneself simply to be a pure channel for the outflow of a divine action.
The second approach is the yoga of knowledge. Here the central process is a drawing back of the true divine Self from its false identification with the limited personal ego, as well as a drawing back from identification with the superficial movements of mind, and life, and body. Here Sri Aurobindo capitalizes on a fundamental distinction in our conscious existence, that between the conscious, witnessing being or spirit, the Purusha, and the workings of the nature, Prakriti. In this approach, the Purusha disengages itself first from the body, observing its workings silently as a witness but not identifying with them. Subsequently, the Purusha separates itself in a similar manner from the action of the life-energy and the mind. After this separation of the Purusha from the Prakriti has been achieved, there remains a vague, elusive sense of “I,” an essential ego-sense. This sense of “I” also must be eliminated through a constant denial of its fundamental reality, and through a “constant fixing of the thought on the idea of the One and Infinite in itself or the One and Infinite everywhere.” These processes change first the mental outlook on oneself, which in turn deepens into a spiritual realisation in the substance of the being.
A third approach to the Divine is through the yoga of love and devotion. Here it is the emotional nature that is to be turned entirely towards the Divine Being in a movement of devotion, love, and self-giving. According to Sri Aurobindo, the Divine is not only an impersonal abstraction or state of existence, but is capable of varied relations with its conscious individualities manifested in the infinity of its being. The Divine can be viewed and approached as the Master of our existence, as our Father, Mother, Friend, Guide, Lover. The heart of this approach is the progressive development of a personal relation or relations with the Divine, in which the Divine is brought into close and frequent relation, gradually developing into a constant and increasingly intense and intimate relation. The crown of this movement is the delight of conscious union with the Divine.
A fourth approach is through what Sri Aurobindo has called the yoga of self-perfection. This approach has elements in common with the others, because to perfect the nature it is necessary to disengage the Self from the ego and the outer nature, and to become receptive to the action of the Divine who alone can effect this change. The first need is to purify the various parts of the mental, vital, and physical nature. Each part has a particular function in the overall expression of the spirit in the outer nature. Ordinarily, however, the various parts of the nature do not keep to their proper role, but become intermixed and confused with the others. Purification is to become aware of the complex elements of the nature, and to put this confused action into order. In addition, the various elements of the being must be developed and uplifted beyond their ordinary action and abilities and raised to their highest possibilities. As part of this elevation, the yoga of self-perfection includes in its scope the development of the higher reaches of the mind beyond the intellect—the higher mind, illumined mind, intuition, and Overmind. As the consciousness successively ascends to each higher level, their greater lights and powers are brought down to enlighten and change the lower nature. Ascending beyond even the Overmind, one enters the supramental consciousness, an entirely divine consciousness and omnipotent force, which alone can entirely transform and perfect the outer nature.
These four basic approaches constitute the main lines of spiritual discipline of the Integral Yoga. Each of the four feeds into the others and assists in their development and perfection. Depending on the individual, one or another approach may be emphasized in the beginning, but eventually all are developed so as to include all the parts of the nature in the inner realisation and the outer transformation of the being. For the principle of the Integral Yoga is that all the parts of the nature participate in the Divine Consciousness and Delight and express this divinity in a transformed outer life.
Sri Aurobindo's spiritual vision extends beyond the perfection and transformation of the individual; it includes in its scope the evolution and transformation of human society. In both the individual and in the society, the soul and spirit is at first hidden and occult, influencing the direction and course of development from behind, but allowing nature to follow its gradual, zigzagging, and conflict-ridden course. Afterwards, as mind develops and becomes more and more dominant over the obscure impulses and ego-centered drives of the vital nature, a clearer, more objective and enlightened perception and approach towards human existence and development become possible. At some highest stage of mental development, there comes into view a greater possibility and principle that is spiritual and supramental in nature, and it is at this point that a true solution to humanity's persistent problems becomes visible in the context of a greater and more radical transformation of human life into a divine living.
In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo describes the stages of development of human society, illustrating with a perceptive analysis of historical and political developments and trends, and outlining a future ideal society towards which he says it is moving. Starting from Lamprecht's theory that societies pass through several distinct psychological stages of development—symbolic, typal and conventional, individualist, and subjective—Sri Aurobindo expresses his view of historical and sociological development in the light of his own theory of spiritual evolution. After taking a passing glance at the symbolic, typal, and conventional stages in Indian and European history, Sri Aurobindo focuses on the individualistic and the beginning subjective stages of modern societies. He then presents a more detailed picture of a future spiritual stage in which he indicates all the others will find their meaning and towards which they unconsciously move. The symbolic stage is illustrated by the ancient Vedic age, in which “the religious institution of sacrifice governs the whole society and all its hours and moments, and the ritual of the sacrifice is at every turn and in every detail, as even a cursory study of the Brahmanas and Upanishads ought to show us, mystically symbolic.” The typal stage is characterized by a dominance of psychological and ethical concerns and motives; all else, including spiritual and religious concerns, are subordinate to these. In Indian society, it was best expressed in the ideal and concept of Dharma, the upholding of tradition and the fulfillment of one's social position and responsibility. In the conventional stage, the outward expressions of the ideal overshadow the ideal itself, such that customs, outward signs and symbols become ends in themselves, and their inner spirit and significance becomes eclipsed. In its early phase, the spirit and inner significance of the social institutions still live and thrive within well-developed structures, but afterwards the institutions become more and more formalized and artificial, and their inner purpose and significance become obscured. In Indian society, this is illustrated with the growing rigidity of the caste system in which the society was organized, with its increasing emphasis on custom, heredity, and ritual.
Sri Aurobindo explains that “the individualistic age of human society comes as a result of the corruption and failure of the conventional, as a revolt against the reign of the petrified typal figure.” He illustrates the occurrence of this stage in Europe beginning with its revolt of reason against the Church and fixed authority and its continuation and blossoming with the growth of scientific inquiry. Through science, a new basis of principles and laws could be discovered and established that were open to scrutiny and logical analysis and reasoning. There were also established the democratic ideals that all individuals had the right to develop to the full stature of their capabilities, and that the individual was not simply a social unit with a social function, but also had unique individual needs, possibilities, and tendencies which should be allowed freedom and opportunity for development. As a part of the revolt against traditional authority, there developed in some regions another intellectual philosophy and political movement, apparently in contradiction to individualism, of the supremacy of the society as a whole over the individual. Sri Aurobindo also analyses the strengths and limitations of this viewpoint, and its relations and opposition to the democratic ideal.
The subjective age comes as an outgrowth of the individualistic and rational questioning of the conventional institutions and structures of society. The individualistic age culminates in a new intellectual foundation and development in all the spheres of life, but this rational view of the world and the self can only go so far, it cannot reach into the depths of the being. Nevertheless, its questioning spirit, its search for truth leads it beyond its own capabilities, leads it to search for a deeper foundation and a more complete understanding of the mysteries and subtleties of self and world. The subjective age begins when society begins to search for the deeper truths of its existence below the surfaces which the reason has explored and explained in an ordered, but limited sense. He explains that examples of this tendency are already apparent. In education, there is the trend to understand the psychology of the growing child and to base systems of teaching upon this basis. In criminal justice, there is an effort to understand the psychology of the criminal, and to strive to educate and rehabilitate rather than simply punish or isolate. In societies and groupings of people, there is a growing tendency to regard them as living and growing organisms with their own soul and inner tendencies, which must be fostered, developed, and perfected.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the present subjective age, with its inward turn towards the essential truth of the self and of things, opens the possibility of a true spiritual age. He explains that the subjective age could conceivably stop short of becoming spiritual. He says that a true spiritual age will come only if the idea becomes strong in the intellectual life of humanity that the Spirit is the true Reality standing behind our physical existence, and that to realise the Spirit and express it outwardly in mental, vital, and physical terms is the real meaning and aim of human existence. Sri Aurobindo argues that there is a deeper spiritual Reality that is the true Self of both the individual and the society, and it is only by identifying ourselves with it, rather than the limited and superficial individual or social ego, that the individual and social existence find their true center and their proper relation with one another. In a spiritual age, therefore, he says that society would “make the revealing and finding of the divine Self in man the whole first aim of all its activities, its education, its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure.”
In Renaissance in India" (earlier called "The Foundations of Indian Culture), Sri Aurobindo examines the nature of Indian civilization and culture, its central motivating tendencies, and how these are expressed in its religion and spirituality, its art, literature, and politics. The first section of the book provides a general defense of Indian culture from disparaging criticism due to the misunderstanding of a foreign perspective, and its possible destruction due to the aggressive expansion and infiltration of Western culture. This section is interesting in the light it sheds on the nature of both Eastern and Western civilizations, how they have developed over the centuries, how they have influenced each other throughout the ages, and the nature and significance of these exchanges in the recent period. The principle tenet of the exposition is that India has been and is one of the greatest civilizations of the world, one that stands apart from all others in its central emphasis, or rather its whole foundation, based on spirituality, and that on its survival depends the future of the human race—whether it shall be a spiritual outflowering of the divine in man, or a rational, economically-driven, and mechanized association of peoples.
After an overall view of the culture, we are taken on a more detailed tour of each of the primary components of Indian culture, beginning with its religion and spirituality, the heart and soul of Indian culture, and the basis for all its various manifestations. Sri Aurobindo quickly takes the reader to the core of the matter:
"The fundamental idea of all Indian religion is one common to the highest human thinking everywhere. The supreme truth of all that is a Being or an existence beyond the mental and physical appearances we contact here. Beyond mind, life and body there is a Spirit and Self containing all that is finite and infinite, surpassing all that is relative, a supreme Absolute, originating and supporting all that is transient, a one Eternal... This Truth was to be lived and even to be made the governing idea of thought and life and action... All life and thought are in the end a means of progress towards self-realisation and God-realisation." (p. 125) But Sri Aurobindo does not simply reveal the essence of Indian religion and spirituality, he sets this in the context of its religious and spiritual traditions, examines its development through the ages, and puts it into relief and contrast with European religion. We are shown how the spiritual essence was already present in the Vedas, the world's oldest spiritual scriptures, though much of these sacred teachings were couched in a veiled symbolic language accessible only to the initiate. Subsequently, the Upanishads revealed the same essential teachings to the masses in a philosophical language, and still later, the various multifaceted spiritual approaches to the Infinite were developed in epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, with the core spiritual teaching placed in the latter's episode of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as through many other religious movements and spiritual teachings.
In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo next examines the nature and qualities of Indian art, concentrating on its architecture, sculpture, and painting. His focus is on revealing the essence of Indian art, its foundation in spirituality, its rich complexity, its depiction and expression of the Divine and the inner worlds and the soul of mankind. As he puts it, “Indian architecture, painting, sculpture are not only intimately one in inspiration with the central things in Indian philosophy, religion, Yoga, culture, but a specially intense expression of their significance... They have been very largely a hieratic aesthetic script of India's spiritual, contemplative and religious experience.” Sri Aurobindo reveals an extraordinary knowledge and appreciation of Indian art. At the same time, he is sensitive to cultural differences in understanding and appreciation, and is carefully instructive in considering the differences in European and Indian art, and in the aesthetic sensibilities that are likely to arise from these differences. As a result, this section of his book gives the Western reader the essential keys to enter into a deeper appreciation of Indian art, while giving the Indian, who may be influenced more or less strongly by Western cultural pressures, a better understanding and firmer confidence in India's artistic traditions.
In the chapters on Indian literature, we are shown again the fundamental spiritual basis of Indian culture, as the earliest and greatest formative works of Indian literature are spiritual and religious. We are given introductions to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the great Epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the later classical age of ancient literature including the poetry of Kalidasa, various philosophical writings of the Middle Ages, the religious poetry of the Puranas, the yogic and spiritual texts of the Tantras, Vaishnava poetry, and others. Here we are given only a taste of the spiritual substance of this sacred literature and some appreciation of the tremendous influence it had upon the development of Indian spirituality and culture. Sri Aurobindo further developed his exposition of the most important spiritual texts — Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (an episode in the Mahabharata) — in separate books: The Secret of the Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, and Essays on the Gita. In The Foundations of Indian Culture we are given a wonderful overview of this literature, enabling the reader to appreciate the nature of each body of work while at the same achieving a sense of the overall breadth and the development over time of the literature as a whole.
In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo also examines the Indian polity, the development of India's administrative and governing structures set in their historical context. Here as in the other aspects of Indian culture, we find a fundamental basis in spirituality, and a sophisticated, intuitive, and humane development. We are shown in considerable detail and with an obvious mastery of facts, the arrangement and workings of the governing structures from ancient times to the present. A central tenet of the system was its focus on the upholding of Dharma, the duty and right rule of action for individuals of varying positions in the society, including the king. The governing structures developed organically, from the extended family, to the clan and villages, to associations among smaller grouping, to larger grouping within kingdoms. Power and legislative authority was distributed throughout the system, and included civic and general assemblies that represented a cross-section of the peoples. The monarch was in effect a constitutional monarch that could be removed due to mismanagement or abuse of power through the assemblies. We are shown how the system eventually broke down under foreign invasion and influence. We are led to the admission that in an important sense the political system failed in that it was unable to achieve a unity of the all the Indian subcontinent, a difficult endeavor in any case, nor could it sufficiently protect its peoples from foreign military invasion and subjugation. Interestingly, this failure is ascribed in part to the inner and spiritual basis of Indian culture and polity, which is inconsistent with a superimposed, artificial administrative structure, which would have been easier to establish. He argues that this inner basis of India's unity, reflected most directly in her spirituality and religion but also in the other fields of culture, has remained intact throughout the millennia, despite India's frequent and enduring foreign occupations.
One of the most significant contributions of Sri Aurobindo to Hinduism was his setting forth an esoteric meaning of the Vedas. The Vedas were considered by some to be composed by a barbaric culture worshiping violent Gods. Sri Aurobindo felt that this was due to a [biased view of Western scholars] who had preconceived views on Hindu culture.
Sri Aurobindo believed there was a hidden spiritual meaning in the Vedas. He viewed the Rig Veda as a spiritual text written in a symbolic language in which the outer meaning was concerned with ritualistic sacrifices to the gods, and the inner meaning, which was revealed only to initiates, was concerned with an inner spiritual knowledge and practice, the aim of which was to unite in consciousness with the Divine.
In this conception, Indra is the God of Mind lording over the Indriyas, that is, the senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste etc). Vayu represents air, but in its esoteric sense means Prana, or the life force. So when the Rig Veda says “Call Indra and Vayu to drink Soma Rasa” the inner meaning is to use mind through the senses and life force to receive divine bliss (Soma means wine of Gods, but in several texts also means divine bliss, as in Right-handed Tantra). Agni, the God of the sacrificial fire in the outer sense, is the flame of the spiritual will to overcome the obstacles to unite with the Divine. So the sacrifice of the Vedas could mean sacrificing ones ego to the internal Agni, the spiritual fire.
Sri Aurobindo's theory of the inner spiritual significance of the Vedas originally appeared serially in the journal Arya between 1914 and 1920, but was later published in book form as “The Secret of the Veda." Another book, "Hymns to the Mystic Fire," is Sri Aurobindo's translation of the spiritual sense of many of the verses of the Rig Veda.
'Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol' is Sri Aurobindo's epic poem of 12 books, 20000+ lines about an individual who overcomes the Ignorance, suffering, and death in the world through Her spiritual quest, setting the stage for the emergence of a new, Divine life on earth. It is loosely based on the ancient Indian tale of 'Savitri and Satyavan' from the Mahabharata.
The Mother, who was Sri Aurobindo's spiritual collaborator said this of Savitri: "... everything is there: mysticism, occultism, philosophy, the history of evolution, the history of man, of the gods, of creation, of Nature. How the universe was created, why, for what purpose, what destiny - all is there. You can find all the answers to all your questions there. Everything is explained, even the future of man and of the evolution, all that nobody yet knows. He has described it all in beautiful and clear words so that spiritual adventurers who wish to solve the mysteries of the world may understand it more easily."
Sri Aurobindo, not only expressed his spiritual thought and vision in intricate metaphysical reasoning and in rich and subtly perceptive psychological terms, but also in profound and beautiful poetry. In Sri Aurobindo's theory of poetry, written under the title The Future Poetry, we can appreciate the importance he attached to art and culture for the significance it has for the spiritual evolution of mankind. He believed that a new, deep, and intuitive poetry could be a powerful aid to the change of consciousness and the life required to achieve the spiritual destiny of mankind which he envisioned. Unlike philosophy or psychology, poetry could make the reality of the Spirit living to the imagination and reveal its beauty and delight and captivate the deeper soul of humanity to its acceptance. It is perhaps in Sri Aurobindo's own poetry, particularly in his epic poem Savitri, that we find the fullest and most powerful statement of his spiritual thought and vision.
Consistent with his spiritual vision and the coherence of the many-sidedness of his work, Sri Aurobindo's ideal of poetry is the mantra, an outflow and direct expression of the divine Reality. He suggests that true poetry is a creation of neither the intelligence nor the imagination, but rather it is a creation of the soul. At the same time, the true recipient and, let us say, true target of poetry is neither the intelligence, the emotions, nor the vital nature, but rather again it is the soul of the listener. The intelligence, imagination, emotions, and vital nature are instruments of the soul and thus may shape or color the poetry, Sri Aurobindo says, but “the more rapidly and transparently [they] do their work of transmission, the less they make of their separate claim to satisfaction, the more directly the work reaches the sinks deep into the soul, the greater the poetry.”
While he grants an indispensable place for technique in poetry and discusses it in some detail, he gives it a secondary place quite subordinate to the poetic inspiration. He says of all the arts, technique is perhaps least important in poetry. He explains that this is because the instrument of poetry, the rhythmic word, is more full of subtle and immaterial elements than the instruments of other arts; it is more complex, flexible, variously suggestive, and has more possibilities in many directions.
In The Future Poetry, Sri Aurobindo analyzes the development of English poetry, indicates the significance and direction of its drift, and then traces the lines of its future development. Sri Aurobindo indicated that the poetry of the future would embody a harmony of five eternal powers: Truth, Beauty, Delight, Life and the Spirit. The Truth that the future poetry will embody is not simply the limited truth of the outward life and nature, nor the truth of reason, philosophy, or science. Truth, says Sri Aurobindo, “is the very face of Infinity and Aditi herself, the illimitable mother of all the gods.” In a revealing passage he says, “its field is all soul experience, its appeal is to the aesthetic response of the soul to all that touches it in self or world; it is one of the high and beautiful powers of our inner and may be a power of our inmost life. All of the infinite Truth of being that can be made part of that life, all that can be made true and beautiful and living to that experience, is poetic truth and a fit subject matter of poetry.”
Just as poetry is concerned with the infinite truth, it is concerned with the infinite life of the spirit in its many creations. It is concerned more with the inner life than the outer, though outer circumstances, the objective world can be a means or a vehicle to contact or express that deeper inner life. It is a deeper and wider life that the future poetry will express and open for us, a life not imprisoned in the moment and the immediate act, but a life which has the background of eternity and the act which carries within it an eternal peace and the momentum of a universal power.
Even more essential to the future poetry are Delight and Beauty. Sri Aurobindo says that “delight is the soul of existence,” and “beauty is the concentrated form of delight.” He indicates that behind all things, whatever their appearance to the surface mind, there is an intrinsic spiritual delight and beauty. This bliss inherent in all existence is called Ananda in the ancient Indian scriptures, and it is this deeper delight and beauty in the essence of things that moves the poet and finds expression through poetry.
Sri Aurobindo believed that a great spiritual destiny awaits humanity. He indicated that the future poetry would be inspired by and express this greater spiritual consciousness and life. The spirituality that it could thus reveal and inspire in mankind is the view of existence as a progressive manifestation of the Divine in the universe and mankind's life as a field for a possible transformation into a new and perfected and divinised life. It would help open humanity to its deepest soul, to the higher levels of mind and spirit and to the vastness of the cosmic consciousness. It would show a solution and way of deliverance for humanity from its vital unrest and mental questioning by the uplifting strength of the Spirit within and its supporting calmness and power of knowledge and mastery. It would reveal the unity of the self with other conscious beings in Nature, the soul and life of the plant and animal, the soul and life of things that seem inert. It would reveal to mankind the meaning of existence, express the universal delight and beauty and power of a higher life, and the infinite potentialities of our future existence. We find in Savitri, Sri Aurobindo's epic poem of about 24,000 lines in blank verse, a wonderful expression of the future poetry that he described and predicted. Based on a tale from the ancient Indian epic, The Mahabharata, of love conquering death, Savitri describes in vivid detail and grand proportions the nature and significance of existence, the secret worlds and inner experiences of a master Yogi, the many layers and levels of human and cosmic consciousness, the reason of suffering, and the way out. In this poem one can begin to see and feel the spiritual nuances that are described so intricately and exhaustively in Sri Aurobindo's prose works.
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) became heavily inspired by the writings of Satprem about Sri Aurobindo during a week in May 1968, a time of which the composer was undergoing a personal crisis and had found Aurobindos philosophies were relevant to his feelings at the time. After this experience, Stockhausen's music took a completely different turn, focusing on mysticism, that was to continue right up until the end of his career.
Mother India is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's originally fortnightly, now monthly, cultural review. It was started in 1949, the founding editor being K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran), who continues as editor for over fifty years.
Collaboration is a journal dedicated to the spiritual and evolutionary vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Content includes articles, essays, poetry, and art. Topics range across the theory and practice of Integral Yoga, the place of humankind in the universe, consciousness, and transformation.
Sri Aurobindo lived at a key moment in the history of thought when Marxist materialism, Nietzschean individualism and Freudian vitalism were popular and fashionable. Phenomenology and existentialism developed alongside them.
Sri Aurobindo's ideas about the further evolution of human capabilities influenced the thinking of Michael Murphy – and indirectly, the human potential movement, through Murphy's writings. The American philosopher Ken Wilber, has been strongly influenced by Sri Aurobindo's thought, but has integrated some of its key ideas with other spiritual traditions and modern intellectual trends; Wilber's interpretation has been strongly criticised by Rod Hemsell. New Age writer Andrew Harvey also looks to Sri Aurobindo as a major inspiration. Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson is also heavily influenced by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the spiritual community that grew up around him and was organized and directed by the Mother, continues to operate with slightly more than 2000 members and a similar number of nonmembers who live nearby and are associated with the Ashram's activities. The experimental international city of Auroville, founded by the Mother and based on Sri Aurobindo's ideals, is located about 10 km from the Ashram; it has approximately 2000 members from around the world, and an international base of support groups called Auroville International.
The one aim of [my] yoga is an inner self-development by which each one who follows it can in time discover the One Self in all and evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinize human nature|20px|20px|Sri Aurobindo On Himself