Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 4

“There are some men who are self-evidently super-human, great spirits who are only using the human body. Europe calls them supermen, we call them vibhutis. They are manifestations of Nature, of divine power presided over by a spirit commissioned for the purpose, and that spirit is an emanation from the Almighty, who accepts human strength and weakness but is not bound by them. They are above morality[1] and ordinarily without a conscience, acting according to their own nature. For they are not men developing upwards from the animal to the divine and struggling against their lower natures, but beings already fulfilled and satisfied with themselves. Even the holiest of them have a contempt for the ordinary law and custom and break them easily and without remorse, as Christ did on more than one occasion, drinking wine, breaking the sabbath, consorting with publicans and harlots; as Buddha did when he abandoned his self-accepted duties as a husband, a citizen and a father; as Shankar a did when he broke the holy law and trampled upon custom and ācāra[2] to satisfy his dead mother….”

— “Historical Impressions” by Sri Aurobindo

Let us now pause for a moment upon an important point which crops up at this stage of our inquiry in regard to the prophet and high priest of the renaissance in India: Who can command a total vision of the evolutionary march of a nation and its destiny?

The nation, like the individual, has a triple body — the sthūla or gross, the sūkṣma or subtle, and the kāraṇa or causal. As the gross body of the individual is only the outer crust or coating of the inner being, so the physical body of the nation is only its mutable material covering. To see only its material covering or shell, its social and political configuration, and regard that alone as one’s nation is to miss the truth of its inner and inmost existence. The acorn gives no hint of the oak, or the caterpillar of the butterfly. Saul keeps St. Paul cocooned in himself. We have to see — and how can we, unless we develop the inner sight and the intuitive vision? — also its sūkṣma or subtle body, and the kāraṇa or causal. It goes without saying that all of us do not possess this vision. It is only the intuitive vision, by inner identity, of the causal body that can reveal the truth of the soul of a nation and its mission and destiny. A mere ardently patriotic or economic, political or moral approach to its characteristic mores and behaviour patterns can yield nothing but a partial knowledge of its changing material form. Even history, as it is written, is a crippled explorer of its past, and a blind guide to its future.

Who, then, can see the causal body of a nation, and know its mission and destiny? The question can be answered by a counter-question: Who can see the causal body of an individual and know his destiny? It will be readily conceded by those who have even a rudimentary knowledge of the human soul and its spiritual and psychological constitution that it is only a Yogi who can do it, and none other. The Yogi’s power of self-identification with every being and everything in the world enables him to know its essential reality and its evolving forms. Nothing can be hidden from that vision, as Yogis and mystics have testified in all ages and countries.[3] What is visualised in the causal body is the truth of the soul, whether of the individual or of the nation, and is irresistible in its self-expressive dynamic. But it may — and often does — take long to manifest on the physical plane, the length of the time depending on various spiritual and psycho-logical factors beyond the range of human vision, and also on the degree of the resistance of the physical nature itself. And it is this length of time taken for manifestation or materialisation that gives an apparent plausibility to the facile verdict of the sceptic and the materialist that the words of the prophet are but the rosy dreams of a romantic visionary or the airy castles of an exuberant Utopian. A deeper vision, to which the materialist is usually averse, would reveal the truth that what is in the causal or seminal state passes into the subtle or subliminal through a complex play of forces and, in the same way and in its own time, manifests in the material. The material self-projection of the causal Idea is what is known as the physical universe, to which materialism keeps its vision and action stubbornly confined. The inevitability of the materialisation of the causal truth remains beyond doubt, but its prediction in terms of the time of our reckoning is often a precarious affair.

It is an historical fact to which we can no longer turn a blind eye that among the most passionate lovers and devoted servants of Mother India in the modern times, there have been only two who were Yogis, possessing the Yogic vision and intuition — Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Some of the others were disciples of Yogis — Tilak,[4] Bepin Pal, P.C. Mitter of the Anusilan Samity, and Aswini Kumar Datta of Barisal, to name only a few. But, though they were spiritually inclined, they never claimed to possess any intuitive vision or to have attained any such close contact with the Divine as to be able to receive His direct guidance in their active lives. There were many other Yogis, but they do not concern us here, because they were not avowed nationalists.

Love of India was an intense passion of Vivekananda’s being — it was interwoven with his consuming love of God. Nivedita, who lived closer to him and knew him more intimately than anybody else, says that India was the queen of the adoration of the Swami’s heart.[5] But the source of this profound love was more in his spiritual vision than in his blood and upbringing. His spiritual vision penetrated into the prehistoric past of India and made him see her unparalleled glory, her perennial role as the giver of Light to the world, and her massive and varied contribution to the culture of humanity. It made him see, and with equal clarity, and without any biassed slurring over of unpalatable facts, the later decline of her spirituality, its defensive recoil from the commerce of life, which it branded as an illusion and a snare, and its degeneration into a soulless formalism, and the rigidity of a sterile, dogmatic orthodoxy. He was unsparing in his denunciation of the dry-rot from which the culture of the land was suffering, and the inert, unthinking conformism of the mass mind. It made him also see with marvellous lucidity the destiny of India, the final fulfilment of her past promise, and the meridian blaze of the future Light of which the first dawn was witnessed in the age of the Veda. “This is the land from whence, like the tidal waves, spirituality and philosophy have again and again rushed out and deluged the world. And this is the land from whence once more such tides must proceed in order to bring life and vigour into the decaying races of mankind,” declared the Swami. “Before the effulgence of this new awakening in India the glory of all past revivals will pale like stars before the rising sun, and compared with the mighty manifestation of renewed strength, all the many past epochs of renaissance will be mere child’s play.” He was convinced that the mission of India was the regeneration of man and the spiritualisation of the human race.

In almost identical terms, because by an almost identical spiritual vision, has Sri Aurobindo spoken of the glory of India’s past, and the still greater glory of her future. “India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples… the ancient immemorable Shakti recovering her deepest self, lifting her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma.”[6] “We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future.”[7] “The sun of India’s destiny would rise and fill all India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world.”[8]

It was this indispensable work, the work of helping the birth of “the noons of the future”; of creating the conditions for the Light of the Spirit to fill all India and “overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world”; the work of realising the destiny of India, so that she might fulfil the destiny of mankind; the inevitable evolutionary work of raising man to the sunlit peaks of his being from the dim valleys of his mental consciousness, and unveiling the divine glory in his nature and life, so dear to Vivekananda’s heart, and so glowingly prophesied by him, for which God summoned Sri Aurobindo away from the field of politics to the infinitely vaster fields of supramental conquest. Sri Aurobindo was assured from within of the freedom of India. He knew that the fire he had breathed into the torpid veins of his countrymen, the love and the devotion for Mother India with which he had imbued them, the ardent spirit of service and sacrifice with which he had inspired them, and the programme of non-cooperation and passive resistance which he had chalked out so clearly and forcefully for them to follow, would lead them, in spite of all detours and setbacks, to the cherished goal of independence. As the leading Indian historian, Dr. R.C. Majumdar, says: “While Tilak popularised politics and gave it a force and vitality it had hitherto lacked, Aravinda spiritualised it and became the high-priest of nationalism as a religious creed. He revived the theoretical teachings of Bankim Chandra and Vivekananda, and introduced them in the field of practical politics.[9] Tilak had raised his voice against the policy of mendicancy followed by the Congress, but it was reserved for Aravinda to hit upon a positive approach to the problem. He anticipated Mahatma Gandhi by preaching the cult of passive resistance and non-cooperation as far back as 1906.”[10] “But however much opinions might differ on these points, one must recognise that apart from the general forces working for nationalism, the movement was especially or more directly inspired by the teachings of Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda and Aravinda, who placed the country on the altar of God and asked for suffering and self-immolation as the best offerings for His worship… these teachings… inspired the lives of many a martyr who hailed the scaffold with a smile on their lips or suffered torments worse than death without the least flinching….”[11]

Sister Nivedita, who had read Sri Aurobindo’s fiery articles in the Indu Prakash and heard about him from various sources, saw him for the first time at Baroda, and was immensely impressed by his Yogic bearing, his rock-like calm, his serene poise, vibrating with superhuman power, and the steady gaze of his far-seeing eyes — eyes of “one who gazes at futurity”, as Nevinson has expressed his observation. She promised him unreserved support in his political work, which was then being carried on in secret through Jatin Banerji, Barin, and others in Bengal; for, being in the State service, he was not publicly taking part in the politics. And when Sri Aurobindo left the State service and threw himself into politics, none was so intimate with him, none rendered him so devoted and persistent a help, none appreciated so well the significance of his work as Sister Nivedita, of whom Prof. Atindra Nath Bose says: “His (Vivekananda’s) disciple, Nivedita, took the (revolutionary) fire (from her Master) and blew it among the young nationalists who were seeking a new path.”[12]

A few extracts from Nivedita’s biography, The Dedicated, by Lizelle Reymond, will show the inner affinity and understanding which existed between Sri Aurobindo and the spirited Irish lady, Nivedita, whom Vivekananda had moulded with his own hands and charged with something of his own creative fire:

“…India, ‘Mother India’, had become her Ishta, the supreme object of her devotion, in which she perceived the aim of her life and the peace of her acceptance.

“And in Baroda she made the acquaintance of Aurobindo Ghosh…. He and Nivedita were already known to one another through their writing, as well as through their bond in their love of India[13] and of freedom. To Aurobindo Ghosh, Nivedita was the author of Kali, the Mother. To her, he was the leader of the future,[14] whose fiery articles in the Indu Prakash… had sounded opening guns in the coming struggle, four years before.

“What he (Sri Aurobindo) was doing was to impart an esoteric significance to the nationalist movement, and make it a confession of faith. In appearance a passive type, a quiet — even silent — figure, he was a man of iron will whose work, personality, possessions, earnings, belonged to God and to that India which he considered not as a geographical entity but as the Mother of every Hindu; and he seized hold on the people and created between them and the nation a profoundly mystic bond…. The nationalism he taught was thus a religion in itself, and it was so that he had become the teacher of the nation. He wanted every participant in the movement to feel himself an instrument in the hand of God, renouncing his own will and even his body and accepting this law as an act of obedience and inner submission…. This injunction to act, endure, and suffer without question — to let oneself be guided by the assurance that God gives strength to him who struggles — required sacrifices which became in turn a reservoir of power from which new fighters drew inspiration to go forward. The individual and the community were no longer separated…. Aurobindo Ghosh with his clear insight into the swadharma (law of action) of his own people was suffusing it with a spiritual strength[15] and making it live.

“Aurobindo Ghosh was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated… to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones of his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison…

“With a mere handful of supporters — Nivedita among them — he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in the weakening society. His mission was now that of a Yogin sociologist.

“…He was already known as the ‘seer’ Sri Aurobindo, although still involved in political life, and as yet not manifested to his future disciples on the spiritual path. For Nivedita he was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India, the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teaching.[16]

“Aurobindo’s open and logical method of presenting his own spiritual experience, and revealing the divine message he had received in his solitary meditation, created the necessary unity between his past life of action and his future spiritual discipline. He said: “When I first approached God, I hardly had a living faith in Him…. Then in the seclusion of the jail I prayed, ‘I do not know what work to do or how to do it. Give me a message.’ Then words came: ‘I have given you a work, and it is to help to uplift this nation…. I am raising up this nation to send forth My word…. It is Shakti that has gone forth and entered into the people. Long since, I have been preparing this uprising and now the time has come, and it is I who will lead it to its fulfilment!’

“Nivedita thought she could still hear the voice of Swami Vivekananda stirring up the masses: ‘Arise, sons of India! Awake!’ That had been the first phase of the struggle. Now this life-giving cry was repeated differently, because the effort required in the changing circumstances was no longer identical; but the source of it was still the same! Now the new order was that every individual should become a sadhaka of the nation — a seeker — so that ‘the One could find Himself and manifest Himself in every human being, in all humanity.’ Aurobindo Ghosh was throwing out the first ideas of the integral yoga he was to teach, depicting man in his cosmic reality. At the same time in the Transvaal there was another young leader, named Gandhi, practising with thousands of Hindus the doctrine of passive resistance. Was Aurobindo Ghose to become the leader of another movement of collective consciousness? No, his mission was of a different nature. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in Yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter, but a Yogi.”

The above long quotation, besides being vivid and authentic, focuses our attention on some important points: that Nivedita had the keen insight to discern the Yogic will and drive behind Sri Aurobindo’s dedicated life and activities; that she clearly perceived the spiritual and national significance of the unparalleled sacrifices joyfully made by the youth of Bengal under the direct inspiration of Sri Aurobindo — “sacrifices which became in turn a reservoir of power from which new fighters drew inspiration to go forward” — in Bengal and elsewhere; that Sri Aurobindo “was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India”, and not a world-shunning ascetic, spurning life’s salutary activities and seeking personal salvation; that he was “the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teaching”; and that “he was the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from.” The only thing which needs a little clarification is that the “Yogic solitude” Nivedita speaks of was an inner solitude, and not at all a severance of all relations with the outer world; for Sri Aurobindo, since the very beginning of his adult life, has regarded life as the only field for the integral realisation of the integral Divine, and His manifestation in Matter. His union with the Divine included his union with the whole universe — with all humanity, and all beings, here and otherwhere.

Nivedita’s close collaboration with Sri Aurobindo from 1902-3 to the beginning of 1910, when he retired from politics, is a matter of history. Realising the presence of her Guru in Sri Aurobindo, she had accepted him as the destined Guru and champion of the national movement, and spared no pains in giving him every help in her power, from contributing to his papers to enlisting support for and organising the revolutionary party. Being on intimate terms with most of the luminaries of contemporary India, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, P.C. Roy, Bepin Chandra Pal, Brahmabandhava Upadhyaya, Ramananda Chatterji, R.C. Dutt, Okakura, the Japanese art connoisseur, Gokhale, Tilak etc., she exerted a great influence in various fields of the resurgent life of the nation. Jagadish Chandra Bose and P.C. Roy gave her a run of their laboratories, where, in the evening, she taught some young revolutionaries how to make bombs.[17] Her transparent sincerity, her intense love of India and her rare insight into the core of her culture, her flaming personality, and her brilliant mind and versatile genius endeared her to all. She had become, as Rabindranath puts it, “the mother of people”. What she did for Jagadish Chandra Bose and Abanindranath Tagore has been warmly acknowledged by them.

Next to Nivedita, it was Rabindranath who had the insight to perceive, earlier than many others, the spiritual greatness of Sri Aurobindo, and the mission of his life. In a moved Bengali poem, written on Sri Aurobindo in 1907, he made his obeisance to him, as we have already seen, and called him “the voice incarnate of India’s soul”. It was a phrase, which captured with a singular precision and felicity the real purpose and significance of Sri Aurobindo’s life. This insight of Rabindranath was a gift of his poetical genius. Prafulla Kumar Sarkar, in his Bengali book, Jatiya Andolane Rabindranath (Rabindranath in the National Movement), says “…This extraordinarily powerful man (Sri Aurobindo) created, as if by a magical spell a revolution in the political field of Bengal…. Sri Aurobindo, the leader of the New Party, was his (Rabindranath’s) friend and fellow worker. In his poem, Salutation to Sri Aurobindo, he has left an imperishable testimony to the deep respect he had for him.” Rabindranath had read some of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, heard much about him from Dinendra Kumar Roy, a man of letters, who had lived with Sri Aurobindo for some time at Baroda, and followed his brilliant career with growing admiration. He was also acquainted with Sri Aurobindo’s thoughts and ideas through his political deputies in Bengal, particularly Barin and Jatin. And when Sri Aurobindo left Baroda and went to Bengal as the first Principal of the newly-founded National College, of which Rabindranath was one of the chief organisers, they came into close touch with each other. Rabindranath saw Sri Aurobindo several times at his residence or his office, and exchanged views with him. Sri Aurobindo’s editorials in the Bande Mataram fired his patriotic feelings, and thrilled his poetical sensibilities. These intimate contacts and communion of two great souls contributed much to the development of the national spirit and enriched the cultural heritage of Bengal. Rabindranath’s admiration,[18] affection and respect deepened into wondering reverence, which he expressed again, later, in his generous tribute to Sri Aurobindo, whom he interviewed at Pondicherry in 1928. “At the very first sight I could realise that he had been seeking for the soul and had gained it, and through his long process of realisation had accumulated within him a silent power of inspiration. His face was radiant with an inner light…. I felt that the utterance of the ancient Hindu Rishi spoke from him[19] of that equanimity which gives the human soul its freedom of entrance into the All. I said to him: “You have the Word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice: ‘hearken to me.’” This homage, perhaps, the highest Rabindranath ever paid to any of his contemporaries, was, in essence, the same as rendered by Nivedita in her heart to Sri Aurobindo, and expressed in her unstinted collaboration with him during his political life. Both of them hailed him as the prophet and high priest of the renaissance of India, and seemed to divine the secret purpose of his retirement from active political life.

There were three more leaders of all-India fame — Lal-Bal-Pal — whose contribution to the Indian renaissance we shall now try to estimate, and incidentally refer to the appreciation of the creative spirituality of Sri Aurobindo’s life and nature by Tilak, Tilak’s Guru, Annasaheb Patvardhan, C. R. Das and Subhas Chandra Bose.


[1] “Great men are above the principles of common morality.” — Tilak

[2] Social usage and observances.

[3] At a mere glance, Sri Ramakrishna could see the soul of a man and predict his destiny.

[4] Tilak’s Guru was a Yogi, Annasaheb Patvardhan by name.

[5] “Vivekananda himself had ideas about political work and had spells of revolutionary fervour.” Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran (Published in Mother India, February 21, 1963).

[6] The Foundations of Indian Culture by Sri Aurobindo.

[7] Essays on the Gita by Sri Aurobindo.

[8] Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.

[9] This statement brings out the practical side of Sri Aurobindo’s nature, and proves him to be a realist no less than an idealist. He always deprecated and discouraged emotional impulses in his followers, and advised them to base their action on their intelligent will, quickened and impelled by a spirit of service and sacrifice for Mother India.

[10] Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.

[11] Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.

[12] Studies in the Bengal Renaissance.

[13] According to Nevinson she was “drunk with India”.

[14] Italics are ours.

[15] Italics are ours.

[16] Italics are ours.

[17] Sri Aurobindo once said about Nivedita: “She was one of the revolutionary leaders…. She was open, frank and talked freely of her revolutionary plans to everybody…. Whenever she used to speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality that came out…. She took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work.” — Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.

[18] We are reliably informed that Rabindranath’s saintly elder brother, Dwijendranath, was a great admirer of Sri Aurobindo. He was a regular reader of the Arya, a monthly journal, which Sri Aurobindo edited at Pondicherry from August 1914 to January 1921, and expressed his view that never, since the days of the Vedic Rishis, had such a spiritual message been delivered to mankind.

[19] Italics are ours.

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