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Born in Calcutta on 15th August 1872, Aurobindo was the youngest of three siblings. He along with his two elder brothers moved to England where he lived and studied for fourteen years from the age of seven. His early education was at St.Paul’s. He continued his education at King's college Cambridge with a senior classical scholarship, where he studied for two years. Though he passed the open examination for the Indian civil service, he could not qualify as he failed to present himself for the riding examination. He left England in 1893 for Baroda where he spent thirteen years first in the Revenue department and then as Professor of English, finally as vice president at Baroda college.
This was the period of intense literary activity and self-development in his life. It was at this time that most of his poetic work that was published later was created. Aurobindo acquired a good knowledge of the culture of ancient, medieval and modern Europe because of his education in England. He was brilliant in Greek and Latin. He learnt French in his childhood at Manchester and also learnt German and Italian by himself in order to study Goethe and Dante in their original tongues. At Baroda he got the chance to learn Sanskrit and several modern Indian languages, assimilating the spirit of the Indian civilization, past and present.
The whole world yearns after freedom, yet each creature is in love with his chains; this is the first paradox and inextricable knot of our nature.
A Patriot at Heart
In 1905 he gave up the Baroda service, to join the agitation against the partition of Bengal. In 1906 he went to Calcutta from Baroda, as principal of the newly founded Bengal national Congress.
During the eight years of his political activity, at first, he worked behind the scene preparing with other coworkers for the swadeshi movement. The agitation against the partition of Bengal provided him an opportunity to bring together moderate leaders of congress to form an all-India party suggesting Tilak, the Maratha leader as the head.
Thus, originated the Nationalist Party, with Swaraj(independence) as its goal. The movement professed non-cooperation with the government and boycott of foreign goods. Creation of a network of national colleges and schools, formation of societies of young people to do the work of police and defense, a policy of passive resistance was the immediate agenda of the party.
Aurobindo was instrumental in starting the daily newspaper ‘Bande Mataram’ of which he was the editor. The newspaper was circulated all over India to awaken the people to participate wholly in the nationalist movement.
In a series of events leading twice to his arrest and acquittal, upon returning from detention, Shri Aurobindo found the party organization broken, the leaders scattered by imprisonment, deportation or self-imposed exile. He strove single handedly for almost a year as the sole leader of the Nationalist party to revive the movement. The publication of an English paper ‘Karmayogin’ and a Bengali weekly ‘Dharma’ was done at this time.
Realizing that the nation was not sufficiently prepared to carry out his policy and programme and he was not the destined leader for that, he withdrew into self-induced retirement. He then sailed to Pondicherry which was then a French colony. During the twelve-month detention in Alipore Jail, he had spent the entire time in the practice of Yoga, awakening the spiritual side of him. At Pondicherry he devoted himself to spiritual work, after refusing the Presidentship of the National Congress.
An aimless life is always a troubled life. Every individual should have an aim. But do not forget that the quality of your aim will depend the quality of your life. Your aim should be high and wide, generous and disinterested; this will make your life precious to yourself and to others. Whatever your ideal, it cannot be perfectly realized unless you have realized perfection in yourself.
Aurobindo’s Spiritual Experiences
Aurobindo is believed to have several spiritual experiences even before he began his practice of yoga in 1904. These experiences were spontaneous and unexpected. These facts were deduced from his notes and letters. The first experience was of the atman or true self when he was reading the Upanishads in London in 1892. The next year a ‘vast calm’ descended on him the moment he set foot on the Indian soil after his long stay in England.
This calm surrounded him and remained with him for many months. Also, in 1893, Aurobindo had a vision of the Godhead surging up from within when he was in danger of a carriage accident. In 1903, he had the realization of the vacant infinite, while walking along the edge of the Takht-i-Suleman in Kashmir and a year later he experienced the’ living presence of Kali’ in a temple on the banks of the Narmada.
A quiet mind does not mean that there will be no thoughts or mental movements at all, but that these will be on the surface, and you will feel your true being within, separate from them, observing but not carried away
In 1904 Sri Aurobindo began yoga and pranayama. Around this time, he met Brahmananda and was greatly impressed by him. But it was only in 1908 that he met the Maharashtrian Yogi, Vishnu Bhaskar Lele who showed Aurobindo how to establish complete silence of mind and immobility of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo succeeded in achieving this state within three days, that usually requires a lifetime of yogic sadhana.
The result was a series of lasting and massive spiritual realizations which opened to him the larger components of yoga. Lele advised him to immerse himself totally into the divine within and to move only when he was moved by the supreme. This henceforth became the foundation and principle of Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana. He parted ways with Lele after a month or two and from this time until the Mother came to India, Sri Aurobindo received no spiritual help.
Spiritual Pursuit and Literary Works
In 1914, after four years of silent contemplation and yogic practices, he started the philosophical monthly ‘Arya’. His important literary works including The Life Divine, The synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, The Isha Upanishads were published serially in the Arya. These works embodied much of the inner knowledge that he had acquired during his spiritual pursuit. His other works had more of the spirit of Indian civilization and culture (The Foundation of Indian Culture), the true meaning of the Vedas (The Secret of the Veda), the progress of human society (The human Cycle), the nature and evolution of poetry (The Future Poetry), the unification of the human race (The Ideal of Human Unity). This was the period when he began to publish his poems.
Formation of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Sri Aurobindo lived in retirement with four or five disciples at first. But slowly as more and more people started following him in his spiritual path, the number grew so much that a community of sadhaks had to be formed. This was the foundation of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Though Aurobindo kept the ashram free from all political connections or actions, he kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual purpose and action.
During the second world war, he declared publicly his support of the Allies, made financial contributions when there were appeals for funds and encouraged those who sought his advice to join the army or share in the war effort. He supported the Cripps offer because by its acceptance that India and Britain could stand united against Hitler’s forces.
Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism.
Aurobindo’s foray into the spiritual realm started in 1908 and 1909 itself during his detention. While Aurobindo was in Alipore jail, he had constant visions of the Godhead in jail. Aurobindo spent most of his time reading the Gita and the Upanishads, meditating and practicing yoga. During this time his view of life changed completely. Initially he had taken up yoga with the idea of acquiring spiritual strength and divine guidance for his political work and freeing his country. but later his inner spiritual life and realization which was continually increasing in magnitude and universality assumed a larger place and took him up entirely.
What had started as a service and liberation of the country now encompassed the whole future of humanity. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is founded on four realizations. The first, the realization of the silent, space less, timeless Brahman he had perceived while meditating with Lele in 1908. The feeling and the perception of the total unreality of the world. The second realization which was gained in Alipore jail, the realization of the cosmic consciousness and the vision of the Divine. Sri Aurobindo had the third realization in 1912, when a long-lasting awareness and dwelling in Parabrahma (the Supreme consciousness) was experienced by him.
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is of the ancient sages of India., that behind the appearance of the universe, there is the reality of a consciousness, supreme and eternal. In Aurobindo’s words “ All beings are united in this one spirit but divided by a separateness of consciousness, who live in ignorance of their true self, in the reality of their mind, body and life. It is possible by certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separate consciousness and become aware of the true self, the divinity within us all”. This method is to be found through the psychological discipline of yoga. Sri Aurobindo teaches that the descent to the higher principle is possible for man which will release the spiritual self by replacing the mind’s ignorance by a supramental truth-consciousness. This will make it possible for human beings to grow inwardly, dynamically from a still physical humanity into divine beings.
This cannot be done within a short time or at once or by any rapid and miraculous transformation. Many steps have to be taken by the seeker before the supramental elevation is possible. Man lives mostly in his surface, mind, body and life. But he has to awaken the inner being with greater potential within him. The first process of yoga is therefore to open the range of this inner being and from there live life governed by the inner light and force. In doing this he can discover his true self, a spark from the divine fire.
Sri Aurobindo’s object was not to propagate any one religion or to amalgamate an older religion into a new religion. The aim of his yoga is an inner self development by which any one who follows it can, in time discover the one self in all and evolve into a higher consciousness than the mental, and physical into a supramental consciousness and transform into a divine being.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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