Tree of Knowledge

The Tree of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Sadhana

Born in Calcutta, then still the capital of British India, on 15 August 1872, Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose — the Western middle name was given him by his father at birth — was the third son of his parents Dr Krishnadhan Ghose and Swarnalata Devi. The honorific ‘Sri’ was later commonly used as a mark of respect or worship and that became an integral part of his name. In Sanskrit, the word Aurobindo means lotus. Aurobindo’s father chose this name for him, thinking that it was unique, but he little suspected that, in the language of occultism, the lotus is the symbol of divine consciousness. Aurobindo received his early education in a convent school intended for European children and in 1879 was taken by his father to England for schooling in Manchester and later at St Paul’s School, London. A scholarship from St Paul’s enabled Aurobindo to go to King’s College, Cambridge, in 1889. Aurobindo won practically all the prizes in Greek and Latin. He passed the first part of the classical Tripos in the first class in 1892. The same year he successfully passed his Indian Civil Service Examination. But he did not report for the riding test and thereby was disqualified for the civil service.

Sri Aurobindo started writing at an early age, even during his study at Manchester (1879-84), and continued with his creativity through all the turbulent phases of his life, even during his incarceration. His first book, a collection of poems, Songs to Myrtilla, was published in 1895. Between that and the last work to be published during his lifetime, Savitri (1950), he wrote extensively on yoga, culture, sociology, in addition to his poetry and plays — all contributions of far-reaching and multi-faceted importance to human thought and action. He has given us a new cosmology and a new metaphysics in his Life divine ‘considered as the philosophical masterpiece of the century’ (Vrekhem 1999, p. 44), which has revolutionized our very conception of psychology and given it a new basis in Life Divine and in his letters. He formulated a profoundly new approach to sociology in his The human cycle and showed through a searching analysis of past and current systems of social and political thought how a truly spiritual attitude is essential as a foundation of a new and lasting social order. He extended the application of this very approach to the sphere of international politics in his The Ideal of Human Unity.

In his The secret of the Vedas, The essays on the Gita and writings on Upanishads, he opened up new and epoch-making ways of studying the ancient Indian texts, throwing new light on philosophy and reducing both anthropology and anthropomorphology to their proper place in a balanced scheme of knowledge. He offered an illuminating interpretation of Indian culture down the centuries in his The foundations of Indian culture.

The teaching of Sri Aurobindo starts from that of the ancient sages of India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us all.

Sri Aurobindo’s teaching states that this One Being and Consciousness is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be insentient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards greater perfection. Life is the first step of this release of consciousness; mind is the second; but the evolution does not finish with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness which is spiritual and supra-mental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it becomes possible for life to manifest perfection.

But while the former steps in evolution were taken by Nature without a conscious will in the plant and animal life, in man Nature is able to evolve by a conscious will in the instrument. It is not the case, however, that this can happen in man by the mental will alone, for the mind goes only to a certain point and after that will on its own only move in a circle. A conversion has to be made, a turning of the consciousness by which mind has to change into the higher principle. This method is to be found through the ancient psychological discipline and practice of Yoga.

In the past, it has been attempted by a drawing away from the world and a disappearance into the height of the Self or Spirit. Sri Aurobindo teaches that a descent of the higher principle is possible which will not merely release the spiritual Self out of the world, but release it also in the world, and replace the mind’s ignorance or its very limited knowledge by a supra-mental Truth-Consciousness which will be a sufficient instrument of the inner Self and will make it possible for the human being to find himself dynamically as well as inwardly and help him grow out of his animal humanity into a diviner race. The psychological discipline of yoga can be used to that end by opening all the parts of the being to a conversion or transformation through the descent and working of the higher still concealed supra-mental principle.

This, however, cannot be done at once or in a short time or by any rapid or miraculous transformation. Many steps have to be taken by the seeker before the supramental descent is possible. Man lives mostly in his surface mind, life and body, but there is an inner being within him with greater possibilities to which he has to awake — for it is only a very restricted influence from it that he receives now and that pushes him to a constant pursuit of a greater beauty, harmony, power and knowledge.

Source: Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) by MK Raina & ‘Sri Aurobindo on Himself’ 

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