The Tree of Knowledge
Sri Aurobindo Ghose: A Sage of Great Intellect
“The meeting of man and God must always mean a penetration and entry of the Divine into human and a self-immergence of man in the Divinity.”
Every year on the 15th of August, which coincides with India’s Independence Day, Hindus celebrate the birth anniversary of Rishi Aurobindo — the great Indian scholar, litterateur, philosopher, patriot, social reformer and visionary. Aurobindo Ghose, later named Sri Aurobindo, was one of the great sages of modern India.
Following his influential political career in the cause of Indian independence, Aurobindo turned to the spiritual realm and developed integral yoga, which managed to combine yogic practices from different historic Indian yogas.
Near the beginning of this century the enlightened sage, Sri Aurobindo, enunciated a new truth which had not been expressed before. In his high states of mergence with the divine reality he saw that the time had come for a new stage in the evolution of mankind. He saw that according to the divine plan, humanity would not just merge into the divine but that it was also destined to manifest the divine right here on earth and that the time for that divine emergence into earth life was now. Sri Aurobindo pointed out that the divine force permeates all matter in a form that we generally call nature. Consciousness and intelligence appear in matter which seems to be inconscient and unintelligent. The process of the divine spirit descending down into matter is called involution. The process by which the divine ascends back upwards out of matter is called evolution.
On the earth, minerals formed and from that sprung life in the form of plants and animals. The origin of life was the first step in the release of the imprisoned consciousness. The second step in this evolution was the development of intelligence in men and animals. These two steps were taken in nature without a conscious will on the part of the evolving forms. But in man, for the first time nature becomes able to evolve by a conscious will within the instrument itself. This inward will does not come from a merely mental process. Instead it comes through a transformation of the mental into a supra (or greater than) mental consciousness which allows the descent of a higher principle into the world for the first time. Sri Aurobindo dubbed that higher principle supramental mind. Supramental mind comes from a plane of manifestation far above the merely mental plane that humans come into contact with. Although the term mind is used, this plane far transcends the logic and intellect that ordinary mind can reach.
Aurobindo Ghose himself was an enormous intellect, even before attaining enlightenment. Although East Indian, he was educated in England from a young age where he studied the classics of literature, often reading them in their native languages. He thoroughly mastered Latin and Greek, went on to study Italian, French and Spanish. As a young student in London, he saturated himself in western culture and literature while remaining completely ignorant of his own native Indian traditions. While he was attending Cambridge he began to take notice of the developments in India as the native population strained against British colonial rule. He felt intuitively that he had a part to play in the struggle of his motherland for independence so he began to study its language and culture. After returning to India he set about learning the major Indian languages — Marathi, Bengali, Hindustan, and the ancient mother tongue Sanskrit which many of the Eastern classics were written in. He devoured books by the hundreds, absorbing his country’s thought, history, and Vedic culture. He felt that Mother India was calling him to add his light and influence to the forces leading towards freedom and independence.
Aurobindo became a political firebrand, urging his fellow revolutionaries and the tepid Indian political leaders of the time on towards unity and independence. He was recognized by his countrymen as a major force for change and viewed with alarm by the ruling British authorities so that in 1907, at the age of 35, he was jailed and charged with treason. He was held in jail for a whole year during which his trial became a national sensation. For his part, he hardly paid attention to the proceedings spending most of his time while in jail and even during the trial, in deep meditation. During his year of quiet in solitary confinement, he had a major spiritual transformation that capped a series of previous illuminations that had occurred since he had returned to Indian soil. He found himself in a state in which everything appeared as Divine. No matter where he looked or what he looked at, he saw only the Divine.
In his illumined state he saw that India was destined to play the part of the light bearer among nations and that that destiny required a free India, unhindered by a ruling colonial power. He also received an inward assurance that he would be acquitted in the trial, and just as he had foreseen, all charges were eventually dropped against him and he was freed. He renewed his activities with vigour and with a new conviction in his cause, over the next few years churning out more articles and gathering ever more support for freedom. Then he learned of his impending re-arrest by the English and discussions arose over the best future course of action. In his own inner calm he heard clearly a voice inside him telling him to leave immediately for a French settlement within India where he would be safe from the English authorities. He followed the voice immediately and once he had arrived at French Pondicherry, he had a further inner revelation that his part in the Indian independence movement was over and that the cause of independence was assured.
From 1910 on he settled permanently in Pondicherry along with a small group of his followers. There he began to write all the major works which would convey to the world the revelations he received while in his state of Divine mergence. He wrote from a state of deep absorption, transferring the realities he saw in his inner vision direct to paper with no intervening mental process. Thus he wrote his major literary works: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and his epic poem Savitri detailing the human past and the future evolution of humanity into the divine state. The Pondicherry settlement grew into what is today the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which continues to publish his books and propagate his wisdom. An offshoot of the ashram is the visionary International community of Auroville, built according to a dream-vision by Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator Mirra Richards (called simply the Mother by his devotees). It was she who inherited the mantle of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual leadership and ran the ashram while he secluded himself from the public and spent the remaining two and a half decades of his life in intense literary effort.
Attainment of Samadhi: After practicing Pranayama (breathing exercises) for several years with small results, Sri Aurobindo met an obscure yogi bhakta (devotee of God) who redirected his spiritual practice. Aurobindo scrupulously followed the Yogi’s direction to clear his mind of all thoughts with the result that he had a radical transformation in consciousness.
“My mind became silent as a windless air on a high mountain summit and then I saw one thought and then another coming in a concrete way from outside. I flung them away before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free.” His mind soared into the vision of the universe as Brahmam. “There was no real world — only when one looked through the immobile senses, something perceived or bore upon its sheer silence a world of empty forms, materialised shadows without true substance. There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real.”
His new state of awareness continued for many months. In this state of absolute vacancy he was scheduled to address a national meeting. His yogi teacher told him to mentally bow down to his audience as Narayana and everything would take care of itself. He followed this advice and found that some force spoke through him. Thereafter whether speaking or writing, it was always done from the silent Brahmic consciousness. But even this state was enlarged upon during his prolonged meditation in his jail cell. There instead of an impersonal and absolute Brahmam he saw a loving, personalized and immanent Divine posing as his jailer, as the guard, the magistrate, the prosecutor and even the jail cell itself. Of this final enlightenment he said: “The only result of the wrath of the British government was that I found God.”
From: Sri Aurobindo on Sri Aurobindo
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