Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 21

Under the caption, The Past and the Future, Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Karmayogin of 25th September, 1909:

“The debasement of our mind, character and tastes by a grossly commercial, materialistic and insufficient European education is a fact on which young Nationalism has always insisted. The practical destruction of our artistic perception and the plastic skill and fineness of eyes and hand which once gave our productions pre-eminence, distinction and mastery of the European markets, is also a thing accomplished. Most vital of all, the spiritual and intellectual divorce from the past which the present schools and universities has effected, has beggared the nation of the originality, high aspiration and forceful energy which can alone make a nation free and great. To reverse the process and recover what we have lost, is undoubtedly the first object to which we ought to devote ourselves. And as the loss of originality, aspiration and energy was the most vital of all these losses, so their recovery should be our first and most important objective. The primary aim of the prophets of Nationalism was to rid the nation of the idea that because temporary causes had brought us low and made us weak, low therefore must be our aims and weak our methods. They pointed the mind of the people to a great and splendid destiny, not in some distant millennium but in the comparatively near future, and fired the hearts of the young men with a burning desire to realise the apocalyptic vision…. To raise the mind, character and tastes of the people, to recover the ancient nobility of temper, the strong Aryan character and the high Aryan outlook, the perceptions which made earthly life beautiful and wonderful, and the magnificent spiritual experiences, realisations and aspirations which made us the deepest-hearted, deepest-thoughted and most delicately profound in life of all the peoples of the earth, is the task next in importance and urgency.

“…We have to recover the Aryan spirit and ideal and keep it intact but enshrined in new forms and more expansive institutions. We have to treasure jealously everything in our social structure, manners, institutions, which is of permanent value, essential to our spirit or helpful to the future; but we must not cabin the expanding and aggressive spirit of India in temporary forms which are the creation of the last few hundred years. That would be a vain and disastrous endeavour. The mould is broken; we must remould in larger outlines and with a richer content…. Our half-aristocratic, half-theocratic feudalism had to be broken in order that the democratic spirit of the Vedanta might be released and by absorbing all that is needed of the aristocratic and theocratic culture, create for the Indian race a new and powerful political and social organisation. We have to learn and use the democratic principle and methods of Europe in order that hereafter we may build up something more suited to our past and to the future of humanity. We have to throw away the individualism and materialism and keep the democracy. We have to solve for the human race the problem of harmonising and spiritualising its imlpulses towards liberty, equality and fraternity…. Aesthetic arts and crafts cannot live against the onrush of cheap and vulgar manufactures under the conditions of the modern social structure. Industry can only become again beautiful if poverty and the struggle for life are eliminated from society and the co-operative State and commune organised as the fruit of a great moral and spiritual uplifting of humanity. We hold such an uplifting and reorganisation as part of India’s mission…. The men who would lead India must be catholic and many-sided. When the Avatar comes, we like to believe that he will be not only the religious guide, but the political leader, the great educationist, the regenerator of society, the captain of co-operative industry, with the soul of the poet, scholar and artist. He will be in short the summary and grand type of the future Indian nation which is rising to reshape and lead the world.”

India has won political independence, but she has yet to regain her soul. She has yet to realise that she has a great destiny, a marvellous future, more glorious than her past, and an unprecedented mission to accomplish for the world. Only dimly has she descried this mission, and in her ignorance she has given it an ethical and moral pigmentation. She has not yet recovered the spiritual treasures of her ageless past and learned to draw her sap from it for the creation of her future. Many of her children do not even believe that she has a soul and a world-mission. They do not even care to know whether they have their roots in the past.

Sri Aurobindo speaks of these ever-green roots. He exhorts us to steep ourselves in the aroma of the past and march forward to the greater glories of the future. As he says elsewhere, “We do not belong to the dawns of the past, but to the noons of the future.” A blind attachment to the past spells sterility and stagnation. But a stark disowning of it spells spiritual and cultural death. A rootless, denationalised India can create no great future for herself. An infatuated aping of the West can only lead her to the abyss on the brink of which the West itself is tottering today. India has to create her future and forge her culture, her literature, her arts and sciences, her educational system, her politics, and her commerce and industry in the fire of her specific spiritual genius. Her dynamic, realistic spirituality will renovate the world.

Sri Aurobindo serialised his “Brain of India” in the Karmayogin of October 9, 1909. His poem, “Invitation”, was published in the same paper on the 6th November, and another poem “Who” on the 13th. Another sequence on “The National Value of Art” was started on the 20th November. His poem, “Image”, was also published on the same date. His drama, “The Birth of Sin” was begun on the 11th December and a poem, “Epiphany”, was published on the 18th December. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, politics, poetry, drama, philosophical essays and dissertations on art, all went together. Or, it was rather out of his yoga that flowed a ceaseless stream of energy expressing itself in these forms of activity. His yoga was, indeed, a multi-expressive integration of dynamic spiritual potentials. We quote below a few lines from each of his three poems, “Invitation”, “Who”, and “Epiphany”, for they reveal something of his creative yoga.

INVITATION
I sport with solitude here in my regions,
Of misadventure have made me a friend.
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.

WHO
The Master of man and his infinite Lover,
He is close to our hearts, had we vision to see;
We are blind with our pride and the pomp of our passions,
We are bound in our thoughts where we hold ourselves free.

EPIPHANY
The God of Wrath, the God of Love are one,
Nor least He loves when most He smites. Alone
Who rises above fear and plays with grief,
Defeat and death, inherits full relief
From blindness and beholds the single Form,
Love masking Terror, Peace supporting storm.

At this time rumour spread again of arrests and deportations. Sri Aurobindo’s writings were causing a great deal of alarm to the mighty British Raj, but it found itself at its wits’ end as to how to take action against one who gave it no plausible grounds for framing a charge. We know that Sri Aurobindo had scotched the first rumour in July by publishing his “An Open Letter to my Countrymen”. This time, too, he published an article entitled “To my Countrymen” in the Karmayogin of December 25, and it produced the same result. In this article he wrote among other things:

“The period of waiting is over. We have two things made clear to us, first, that the future of the nation is in our hands, and, secondly, that from the Moderate party we can expect no cordial co-operation in building it. Whatever we do, we must do ourselves, in our own strength and courage. Let us then take up the work God has given us, like courageous, steadfast and patriotic men willing to sacrifice greatly and venture greatly because the mission also is great. If there are any unnerved by the fear of repression, let them stand aside. If there are any who think that by flattering Anglo-India or coquetting with English Liberalism they can dispense with the need of effort and the inevitability of peril, let them stand aside. If there are any who are ready to be satisfied with mean gains or unsubstantial concessions, let them stand aside. But all who deserve the name of Nationalists, must now come forward and take up their burden.

“The fear of the law is for those who break the law. Our aims are great and honourable, free from stain or reproach, our methods are peaceful, though resolute and strenuous. We shall not break the law and, therefore, we need not fear the law. But if a corrupt police, unscrupulous officials or a partial judiciary make use of the honourable publicity of our political methods to harass the men who stand in front by illegal ukases, suborned and perjured evidence or unjust decisions, shall we shrink from the toll that we have to pay on our march to freedom? Shall we cower behind a petty secrecy or a dishonourable inactivity? We must have our associations, our organisations, our means of propaganda, and if these are suppressed by arbitrary proclamations, we shall have done our duty by our motherland and not on us will rest any responsibility for the madness which crushes down open and lawful political activity in order to give a desperate and sullen nation into the hands of those fiercely enthusiastic and unscrupulous forces that have arisen among us inside and outside India. So long as any loophole is left for peaceful effort, we will not renounce the struggle. If the conditions are made difficult and almost impossible, can they be worse than those our countrymen have to contend against in the Transvaal? Or shall we, the flower of Indian culture and education, show less capacity and self-devotion than the coolies and shopkeepers who are there rejoicing to suffer for the honour of their nation and the welfare of their community?

“What is it for which we strive? The perfect self-fulfilment of India and the independence which is the condition of self-fulfilment are our ultimate goal. In the meanwhile such imperfect self-development and such incomplete self-government as are possible in less favourable circumstances, must be attained as a preliminary to the more distant realisation. What we seek is to evolve self-government either through our own institutions or through those provided for us by the law of the land. No such evolution is possible by the latter means without some measure of administrative control. We demand, therefore, not the monstrous and misbegotten scheme which has just been brought into being, but a measure of reform based upon those democratic principles which are ignored in Lord Morley’s Reforms, — a literate electorate without distinction of creed, nationality or caste, freedom of election unhampered by exclusory clauses, an effective voice in legislation and finance and some check upon an arbitrary executive. We demand also the gradual devolution of executive government out of the hands of the bureaucracy into those of the people. Until these demands are granted, we shall use the pressure of that refusal of co-operation which is termed passive resistance…”

In the last paragraph of the article Sri Aurobindo calls upon his countrymen to organise the national strength. National education must be made truly national, the movement of arbitration must be taken up again and the Swadeshi movement must be galvanised and fired with a forceful purpose. He strongly counsels the organisation of the Nationalist party, and the establishment of a Nationalist Council and Nationalist Associations throughout the country.

The rumour of deportation ceased for the moment. To deport or not to deport Sri Aurobindo was the problem that plagued the bureaucracy. They did not know that the Light which led him was not of his sharp political intelligence, and the shield that protected him was not of his own making. Had not the Divine told him in Alipore jail, “…it is not my will that this time either you should be convicted or that you should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country… I give you the Adesh to go forth and do my work.”[1] Arrest or deportation was thus barred out by the Supreme Tribunal of Universal Justice.


[1] Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.

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