Sri Aurobindo

India is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Aurobindo.

  1. First phase of his life was devoted to the liberation of our motherland from British rule.
  2. Second phase of his life was devoted to the liberation of humanity from its enslavement to ignorance.

Contributions to Freedom Struggle

  1. Western Education: Aurobindo was entirely educated in England. He went to Cambridge and studied classics. His father wanted him to join the Indian Civil Services. However, Aurobindo was already touched by the desire to see India free and decided against joining colonial administration.
  2. At Baroda: On his return to India, he joined the service of Baroda and remained there till 1906. He contributed articles to Indu Prakash, writing columns under the name ‘New Lamps for Old’ and started taking an active interest in the politics of freedom struggle. He worked behind the scenes as his position at Baroda barred him from overt political activity. He established links with Lokmanya Tilak and Sister Nivedita.
  3. At Calcutta:He returned as the first principal of Bengal National College and started to impact national education for Indian youth. He resigned from this post because of his increasing involvement in the Swadeshi movement.
  4. One of the first nationalist leaders to insist on full independence for India. He subscribed to an extremist ideological spectrum and advocated for passive revolution and non-cooperation. He was involved with Anushilan Samiti and started secret revolutionary activity.
  5. Alipore Bomb Conspiracy Case:He was arrested in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy, after which he transformed his politics from national pursuit to the emancipation of humanity. Thus, his life is an example of how prisons can transform human beings into spiritual paths.

Ideas during his Early Phase

  1. Cultural and Spiritual Nationalism: For him, India was like his mother and hence he was highly devoted to her. He glorified India as Mother Goddess. Nationalism for him was not merely a political movement, but nationalism was like a religion.
  2. Ideals of Swaraj and Swadeshi: Swaraj i.e., self-rule by Indians was not merely of economic and political nature but it was Aurobindo who believed that world needed Indian freedom as much as India needed it for itself. He appreciated the West for its material progress but found it spiritually deprived. He thus advocated for the freedom of India not only for its own sake but for the emancipation of the west and world at large.
  3. He advocated independence for India for following reasons:
    • The process of development of human beings is more important in spiritual and moral spheres as compared to material advancement.
    • He appreciated the West for its material progress but found it spiritually deprived.
    • He thus advocated for the freedom of India not only for its own sake but for the emancipation of the west and world at large.
  • Passive Resistance: Aurobindo knew well that it was almost impossible to oust the British militarily given their military might. By passive resistance, he meant ‘organised defensive resistance’ to British rule by reducing India’s dependency on the British administration. It involved two things:
    • Constructive activities like creating institutions of need, parallel to government such as opening of schools, local community courts etc.
    • Opposition of foreign schools and foreign courts etc.
      • Thus, passive resistance did not mean only the institution of swadeshi but resistance to foreigners at the same time. Passive resistance was a new kind of struggle which required more courage, endurance and capacity to suffer compared to active organised resistance involving riots, assassinations or armed revolts.
      • Thus, self-help and boycott, two complementing strategies, continued operating methods of passive resistance.

Ideas in Later Life

  1. Human Unity: uHumHuman unity represents both triumph and failure of reason. In this stage, human beings collectively begin to live more deeply and purposively. From here humankind must advance towards the realisation of spiritualised society. This unity will not be a mechanical unity established by the state or any other organization as such mechanical unity negates the diversity of various groups. This unity will come from the moral and spiritual transformation of human society.
  2. Integral Yoga: Aurobindo argues that divine Brahman manifests as empirical reality through divine play. Aurobindo argues that the world can evolve into a better place with the evolution of the human species into greater beings, just as humans evolved from animals. Current status of human evolution is an intermediate stage in the evolution of a being.
  3. Supermind: According to Aurobindo, Supermind is an intermediary power between unmanifested Brahman and manifested world. Supermind is not completely alien to us and can be realised within ourselves as it is always present within the mind since the latter is identical with the former and contains it as a potentiality within itself.
  4. Founded Auroville in Puducherry to create a universal town where men and women of all countries can live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, politics and nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.

Views of Aurobindo on Gandhi

  • Critical of Gandhian strategy to attain freedom, and in particular, Gandhi’s insistence on Ahimsa as the national creed.
  • Khilafat movement: Critical of Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement which, Aurobindo believed, could only end in hardening the division between Hindus and Muslims.
  • World War II and Cripps proposals: Aurobindo supported the British position on both.
  • There was a sharp contrast in interpreting the ancient concept of Kshatriya Dharma spelt out in Bhagwad Gita. Aurobindo believed that the use of force was perfectly justified if the cause was under Dharma. In contrast with Gandhi’s position during the freedom struggle and World War II, during which Gandhi appealed to the British to lay down their arms before the advancing German Army.
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