Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 3

“…There are times when a single personality gathers up the temperament of an epoch or a movement and by simply existing ensures its fulfilment…. Without the man the moment is a lost opportunity; without the moment the man is a force inoperative. The meeting of the two changes the destinies of nations and the poise of the world is altered by what seems to the superficial an accident. Every great flood of action needs a human soul for its centre, an embodied point of the Universal Personality from which to surge out upon others[1]…. History lays much stress on events, a little on speech, but has never realised the importance of souls…. Only the eye of the seer can pick them out from the mass and trace to their source these immense vibrations….”

— “Historical Impressions” by Sri Aurobindo

The four outstanding spiritual experiences which had come to Sri Aurobindo as prophetic gifts of God, his subsequent practice of Yoga and its guidance by the Divine Light, which gradually took charge of his whole being and moved it, as we learn from his confidential letters to his wife, brought to light by the police during his trial in the famous Alipore Case, and the spontaneous, perceptive homage of some of his greatest contemporaries, whom we have already quoted, — all these go to prove that here was one who was born to a historic mission, and who knew, more or less clearly, what he had been sent to attempt and accomplish. Our first point that Sri Aurobindo’s politics was the politics of a Yogi, divinely directed and multiply oriented, preluding and preparing the rebirth of the soul of India for the regeneration of mankind, has thus been substantially confirmed.

This leads us to another point, a collateral issue, which we have to tackle here, if we would understand the whole meaning and significance of the renaissance in India, of which Ram Mohan Roy was the first herald and initiating genius.[2] Every great revolution, spiritual, social, political, or scientific, is a release of the mighty ideative and dynamic forces of the Time-Spirit, which seeks to inaugurate a new order or a new era in a nation, society, or humanity. And the Time-Spirit incarnates itself in one or two individuals who are born to be its precursors or prophets, priests and realises. Both the forces, ideative and dynamic, of a revolution work at once in a sort of polar interaction between concentration and diffusion. There is a concentration of them in the pioneers and realisers, who are used as epitomes and vessels, sending forth the electric currents of creative inspiration[3], and a dilution and diffusion in the commonalty for the preparation of the field of their action in the appointed hour. This is the double aspect of every revolution, viewed from the stand-point of its birth, growth, and expansion; and history amply illustrates this truth. What is conscious and articulate in the prophets and torch-bearers, remains, in the beginning, subconscious in the people[4], and throws out stray sparks of its urge and intention in the minds of the elite. Mostly it is felt as an inchoate but persistent aspiration, a vague and indefinite yearning, an instinctive reaching out towards a delivering change. Some of the elite receive its thought-waves, and express them as best they can, each in his own way. But there is, more often than not, a distortion or diminution of them in the minds of the elite who cannot help mixing them with their own prejudices and preconceptions. It is only the prophets who embody and express the inspirations of the Time-Spirit in their purity, so long as they remain loyal to it in the depths of their being. Pythagoras and Plato, Zoroaster and Christ and Mohammed, Leonardo, Galileo and Newton, Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre and Napoleon, Mazzini and Garibaldi, Marx and Lenin etc., in the West, and Rama, Sri Krishna, Mahavira and Buddha, Shankaracharya and Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda etc., in India, all have been, in their different spheres of work, such prophets and pioneers, or executors and realisers of the invincible Will of the Time-Spirit.

The working of the Will of the Time-Spirit progresses through a constant tug and tension between the forces of new creation and the forces of conservation, and both are indispensable for the shaping of the future. The forces of conservation make for continuity with the past and the transmission of all that was essential, live, and productive in it into the mould of the present, and it is out of the pregnant present, however desolate and chaotic it may appear on the surface, that the new forces surge out to construct the future. But the whole movement is a very complex process, baffling to the rational mind of man. The prophet or pioneer is one who incarnates both the forces of conservation and the forces of new creation. He is the child of the past and the parent of the future[5]. It is not always that he brings something brand-new to the nation or the country he represents. Nor is it at all necessary that he should be original in the idea or ideal he holds up for realisation. Buddha was fundamentally indebted to the Upanishads, Christ to Moses and the Old Testament, and Luther to Wycliff and Erasmus. There can be no creation in a void. No genius is a mushroom, or a freak of Nature. No culture that is rootless can revive after it has had its natural decay and death. What is distinctive in the mission of a prophet or a forerunner is a summing up in himself of both the fertile forces of conservation and those of new creation in a harmonious blend, and marshalled in a dynamic, revolutionary drive, powerful enough to cleave through the barrage of opposing forces, towards the building of the future. He has a vision which none else in the epoch possesses in equal measure, an intuitive perception of the course he has to follow, or at least gleams and flashes which lead him through it, and an uncanny suppleness, which often appears as an incomprehensible, unpredictable eccentricity, in his dealings with the interlocked complex of forces, contending for mastery.

So long as he remains loyal to the vision and intuition guiding him from within, he is invincible. He radiates a power which acts with the victorious might of the elemental forces of Nature. “A messenger he”, says Carlyle, “sent from the Infinite Unknown with tidings to us. Direct from the Inner Fact of things; — he lives, and has to live, in daily communion with that…. Really his utterances, are they not a kind of revelation?… It is from the heart of the world that he comes; he is a portion of the primal reality of things…. The ‘inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding’: we must listen before all to him.” He, “with his free force, direct out of God’s own hand, is the lightning…. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire like his own. In all epochs of the world’s history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable saviour of his epoch; — the lightning, without which the fuel never would have burnt.”[6] He may be hooted or persecuted, crucified or poisoned, but his mission can never fail to prosper, for it bears within it the breath and fiat of the Time-Spirit. There may be resistance, more or less vehement and persistent, of blind orthodoxy or entrenched convention; but nothing can stand for long in the way of his work. His creative ideas permeate the people, and evoke a response in them. His touch revives and kindles. He fashions heroes out of common clay. What was at first subconscious in the masses emerges, little by little, into the light of consciousness; what seemed fantastic or chimerical assumes the solidity and definiteness of reality; what was repellent begins to attract. The prophet is then hailed as a deliverer, and canonised.

But if, in a crucial moment of his work, when the tenacity of his faith and the stubbornness of his faithfulness to his vision and intuition would have sustained him, and sped him on, the pioneer falls back on his reasoning mind and suffers its inveterate doubts to cloud his consciousness, or allows himself to be led, not by the inner urge but by the amorphous opinions of the people he is leading, and lets his egoistic ambition get the better of his loyalty to the inner Light, he falls, as Luther fell, or is flung aside, as Napoleon was flung aside. The secret of his success lies in his absolute fidelity to the Light within him, even when it seems obscured for a moment by the swirling dust of Time’s passage. In short, the central psychological factor in a revolution worth the name is the complex and comprehensive personality[7] of the pioneer geared to the Time-Spirit, and receptive and plastic to its inspirations. He is not so much an individual man, experimenting with Truth in the dim light of his faith and reason, and groping his way forward, but a focal point of universal forces, releasing into expression the elements that go to construct the future.

For an objective study of the origin and development of a revolution, it is, therefore, essential to discover the prophetic vision and pioneering inspiration which initiate it. It is in them that we can discern the entire seed and potentiality of it. Otherwise, we see only the ripples and waves it casts up on the surface, and ignore the deeper springs from which they emerge. The protagonist of a revolution is a living focus of its possibilities and a prism of its diverse colours. Not to know him in the inner truth of his being is to miss the real import of his mission and the purpose and significance of the revolution. What historian can hope to study fruitfully the Renaissance in the West without arriving at a proper assessment of the role Leonardo da Vinci played in it? or, the scientific revolution of the modern times without a correct estimate of the part played in it by Newton and Einstein?

We have, therefore, set out to study the history of the renaissance (not the freedom movement only) in India by ascertaining, on the solid basis of historical data and contemporary evidence, as to who was the personality that can be called the prophet and pioneer of it.

The renaissance can, of course, be traced back to Raja Ram Mohan Roy, as we have already said above. Ram Mohan’s contribution to religious, social and political reconstruction of India was immense and magnificent. Dayananda Saraswati sought to give a new orientation to the religious and social life of the nation by linking it to its ancient roots. But not until Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda brought down a tidal wave of creative spirituality and touched every aspect of Indian life into an unwonted glow of galvanised consciousness, did the lineaments of the renaissance shine out on the horizon with a radiant distinctness. We cannot measure the debt we owe to the lightning personality of Vivekananda. Sri Aurobindo says about him: “We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India, and we say: ‘Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.’” The first incipient outline of an unprecedented synthesis was thus traced, and the perennial founts of India’s mighty spirituality were unsealed. Bankim, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and a few others evoked various powers of the soul of India and considerably helped the expansion and enrichment of her culture. In the field of politics and social reform, there came a glorious band of dynamic personalities, all impelled by the overmastering urge to serve the motherland and raise the nation to the manifold greatness of its destiny. And yet, when we scrutinise the aims and achievements of all these illustrious personalities, we are driven to conclude that there was not one among them who had a global vision of all the potentialities, spiritual, moral, intellectual, aesthetic, cultural, political and economic, of the renaissance that was taking place in India. Each of them had his gaze fixed upon one or a few aspects and potentialities, and considered their realisation as the sole object of their endeavour, and perhaps the whole purpose of the national resurgence. That the resurgence meant the re-emergence of the immortal soul of India and its mission for the regeneration and reconstruction of humanity[8], escaped even the most perceptive of them. India waited for her chosen son, the “voice incarnate” of her soul, to touch her into the spring-tide splendour of her renewed life, and the world waited for India’s Light to lead her out of the gloom of its moral and cultural collapse. God beckoned man to rise beyond his animal humanity.

As the individual has his soul, his deathless being, which seeks self-fulfilment in life, so the nation has a soul, its inmost being, which seeks to realise its destiny, “…the primal law and purpose of a society, community or nation is to seek its own self-fulfilment; it strives rightly to find itself, to become aware within itself of the law and power of its own being and to fulfil it as perfectly as possible, to realise all its potentialities[9], to live its own self-revealing life…. The nation or society, like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind, and a soul behind all these signs and powers for the sake of which they exist. One may see even that, like the individual, it essentially is a soul rather than has one; it is a group-soul that, once having attained to a separate distinctness, must become more and more self-conscious and find itself more and more fully as it develops its corporate action and mentality and its organic self-expressive life.”[10]

The leader who identifies himself with this nation-soul and feels in himself, not only all its many-branching powers and potentialities, but its urge and inspiration to realise them, is the true pioneer, commissioned to lead the nation to its ultimate destiny. “Nationalism is itself no creation of individuals and can have no respect for persons. It is a force which God has created, and from Him it has received only one command, to advance and advance and ever advance until He bids it stop, because its appointed mission is done. It advances, inexorably, blindly, unknowing how it advances, in obedience to a Power which it cannot gainsay, and everything which stands in its way, man or institution, will be swept away or ground into powder beneath its weight. Ancient sanctity, supreme authority, bygone popularity, nothing, nothing will serve as a plea.

“It is not the fault of the avalanche if it sweeps away human life by its irresistible and unwilled advance; nor can it be imputed as moral obliquity to the thunderbolt that the oak of a thousand years stood precisely where its burning hand was laid. Not only the old leaders but any of the new men whom the tide has tossed up for a moment on the crest of its surges, must pay the penalty of imagining that he can control the ocean and impose on it his personal likes and desires. These are times of revolution when tomorrow casts aside the fame, popularity and pomp of today. The man whose carriage is today dragged through great cities by shouting thousands amid cries of ‘Bande Mataram’ and showers of garlands, will tomorrow be disregarded, perhaps hissed and forbidden to speak. So it has always been and none can prevent it…. Men who are now acclaimed as Extremists, leaders of the forward movement, preachers of Nationalism and embodiments of the popular feeling will tomorrow find themselves left behind, cast aside, a living monument of the vanity of personal ambition…. Only the self-abnegation that effaces the idea of self altogether and follows the course of the revolution with a child-like belief that God is the leader and what He does is for the best, will be able to continue working for the country.[11] Such men are not led by personal ambition and cannot, therefore, be deterred from following the Will of God by personal loss of any kind.

“Revolutions are incalculable in their goings and absolutely uncontrollable. The sea flows and who shall tell it how it is to flow? The wind blows and what human wisdom can regulate its motions? The Will of Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by that Wisdom.[12] When our work is done, we should realise it and feel glad that we have been permitted to do so much. Is it not enough reward for the greatest services that we can do, if our names are recorded in history among those who helped by their work or their speech, or better, by the mute service of their sufferings to prepare the great and free India that will be? Nay, is it not enough if unnamed and unrecorded except in the Books of God, we go down to the grave with the consciousness that our finger too was laid on the great Car and may have helped, however imperceptibly, to push it forward? This talk of services is a poor thing after all. Do we serve the Mother for a reward or do God’s work for hire? The patriot lives for his country because he must; he dies for her because she demands it. That is all.”[13]

“The Will of the Divine Wisdom is the sole law of revolutions and we have no right to consider ourselves as anything but mere agents chosen by the Wisdom.” — This is exactly the truth which Swami Vivekananda knew and preached, and Sri Aurobindo taught and practised all his long life. It was essentially a Yogic Knowledge and a Yogic way of life.

If we would have a total view, in the true perspective, of all the potentialities of the rebirth of India’s soul and the ultimate fulfilment of the destiny of this ancient nation, the dawns of whose culture were luminous with the glory of God in man, we have to discover who among the greatest leaders of India, embodying in himself the powers and purpose of the renaissance, served the Will of God as enshrined and revealed in the nation-soul[14] from the beginning of his life to the very end of it, without being cast aside by the Time-Spirit before his mission was accomplished? We have to discover, not which of the leaders was the true mouth-piece of the will of the nation-soul only to political and economic freedom, or which of them worked for its moral, religious and spiritual greatness, but which of them was the prophet and realiser of its integral fulfilment. Who had the unified vision of all the facets of the national renovation, and the creative will to carve out the many-splendoured future of India? Who among them saw and knew, like Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda before him, and proclaimed by the power of his words and the complex pattern of his ceaseless activities, that India was rising, not for herself but for the world,[15] that the world would sink into a perpetual night of cultural darkness unless the light of the soul of India shone out once again to deliver it, and that the political freedom of India, which was the sole aim of the earnest endeavours of most of the leaders, was only an indispensable prelude to the integral freedom, perfection and fulfilment of humanity? Who, among them, remaining absolutely faithful to the directing Light of God, followed the ascending curve of the unfoldment of the nation-soul, phase by phase, stage by stage, flexibly adapting his steps to the rhythms of its progress, in order to lead it to its supreme end?

“God has set apart India as the eternal fountainhead of holy spirituality, and He will never suffer that fountain to run dry. Therefore Swaraj has been revealed to us. By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom. Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga and the hearts of her people will be lifted up into the neighbourhood of the Eternal.”[16]

“Once more in the land of the saints and sages will burn up the fire of the ancient Yoga….” Here we have at once a prescience and a prophecy of the colossal work that was to rear its edifice on the secure foundation of political freedom[17]. The integral Yoga was to transform human nature into Divine Nature and human life into Divine Life[18].


[1] Italics are ours.

[2] But he heralded and initiated, not the whole of the renaissance, but only an important part of it — the religious, socio-political and educational reform.

[3] “Inspiration is real work. Let the truly inspiring word be uttered and it will breathe life into dry bones.” — Bande Mataram, 23.2.1908

[4] “Every profound truth waits for the life that shall be all its voice, and when that is found, it comes within the reach of mutitudes to whom it would have remained inaccessible.” — Sister Nivedita

[5] “…Pioneers always depend on the help of those who have gone before them; the present stands on the past, as a house on its foundations.” — Montessori

“If we have to be true to the genius of the race, if we have to appeal to the soul of the nation, we have to drink deep of the fountain of the past, and then proceed to build the future.” — Vivekananda

[6] Hero and Hero Worship by Carlyle.

[7] Aldous Huxley calls the Prophet a “National Person”.

[8] “The world waits for the rising of India to receive the divine flood in its fullness.” The Ideal of the Karmayogin by Sri Aurobindo.

[9] Italics are ours.

[10] The Human Cycle by Sri Aurobindo, Chapter IV.

[11] Italics are ours.

[12] Italics are ours.

[13] “Revolution and Leadership” — Bande Mataram, 9.2.1908.

[14] “The movement of 1905 in Bengal pursued a quite new conception of the nation, not merely as a country, but a soul, a psychological, almost a spiritual being and even when acting from economical and political motives, it sought to dynamise them by this subjective conception and to make them instruments of self-expression rather than objects in themselves.” — The Human Cycle, Chapter IV

[15] “She (India) is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great.” — Uttarpara Speech by Sri Aurobindo.

[16] From the Bande Mataram, 23.2.1908.

[17] “The true aim of the nationalist movement is to restore the spiritual greatness of the nation by the essential preliminary of its political regeneration.” From Bande Mataram. “Politics and Spirituality”, 10.11.1907.

[18] “We believe that it is to make Yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the Yoga she will get the strength to realise her freedom, unity and greatness, by the yoga she will keep the strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.” — Sri Aurobindo The Ideal of the Karmayogin

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