From the Editor's Desk...
We are pleased to inform that New Race has once again become a quarterly publication with a new issue around each Darshan. The February and August issues will continue to present the emerging voices of the learners enrolled in various courses and programmes at Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow (TUT). The November and April issues will mostly feature contributions of our facilitators and some of our TUT alumni.
This is the season of rains. Isn’t it delightful to see how beautifully shining the leaves and flowers look in the morning after a good night’s rain, as if the cleansing and purification has given them a new life? Not to mention the dusty roads and streets that also emerge out refreshingly clean after a mighty downpour. All seems to become beautiful. But do we often take a moment to experience this beauty? While many of us may buy expensive bouquets of ‘artificial’ flowers to decorate a corner of our homes, yet we miss the little beautiful flower growing near the garbage dump on the sidewalk in our rush to get to the market.Why is it that so many of us miss to appreciate the spell-binding beauty of the quiet rays of morning sun shining through our living room windows as we hurry to finish the morning chores and get ready to face the little world out there? Beauty is all around us and yet we don’t see it.
In the present issue we have incorporated some artistic expression as a way to symbolise human being’s individual and collective quest for Beauty. We open this section on the theme of Art, Beauty, and Yoga by including a selection of relevant quotes from The Mother. We also include an essay written by late Professor V. Madhusudan Reddy, the visionary-pioneer behind SACAR and TUT. His words inspire the creator in all of us when he says that “great art reveals the soul of beauty and not the intellectual truth of things.” Ms. Margaret Phanes, one of our facilitators from the USA, shares some of her beautiful digital imagery which she has been creating for a number of years to concretise the experiences and concepts of Integral Yoga.
Themes of social harmony and human unity form the background of our next three essays. Today we frequently read and hear about the inter-faith dialogues and religious leaders’ calls for tolerance. Many organisations consider it as part of their ‘social
responsibility’ to promote such events. Yet the reality of religious wars and violence in the name of
faith continues. Why don’t such well-intentioned attempts make any difference? We often wonder. What does Indian spirituality offer us in our search for spiritual unity? Readers may find some hints to such questions in these pages. When so much of the news today is about violence and fear, and where hopelessness and helplessness abound, Dr. Daryl Paulson, another one of our TUT facilitators from the USA, writes about the significance of Sri Aurobindo for our present times. Dr. Ananda Reddy, the President of TUT, explores the Indian Nation-Soul and India’s destined role for fostering a spiritual fusion and unity in order to bring about human unity. The focus on inner unity continues with the next article focusing on the Indian-American group soul.
In the final two essays we turn our attention from group soul to individual soul, from collective evolution to individual evolution. A former student of TUT, Shruti Bidwaikar, presents a broad overview of many different views on Concept of Man, before bringing to our attention Sri Aurobindo’s deep insights on the nature of Man, his destiny and his future evolution. It is only apt to follow this review of what is Man at present by taking a peek into the New Man, the New Race that is the future. Another former student of TUT, Shantha Rajan, takes us on that journey as she writes about the pioneers of the new race. She invokes Sri Aurobindo’s Invitation and reminds us of the Master’s “clarion call to those who wish to herald a divine life on this very earth.”
From the Mother’s words about true art as “the expression of beauty in the material world” (CWM 5, 1976, p. 332) to Sri Aurobindo’s Invitation to the pioneers in search of the Beautiful Divine Life on Earth, we seem to have come back full circle: the spiralling circle of Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit.
As I close my first editorial, I offer my deepest gratitude to the Mother for making it possible for me to move to Pondicherry. I thank everyone at SACAR for accepting me so warmly in their family and in the Mother’s work being pursued here. Till next time..........… Beloo
ON ART, BEAUTY AND YOGA
The Mother, Self-portrait
… there is a considerable difference between the vision of ordinary people and that of artists. Their way of seeing things is much more conscious and complete than that of ordinary people. When one has not trained one’s vision, one sees vaguely, imprecisely, and has impressions rather than an exact vision. An artist, when he sees something and has learnt to use his eyes — for instance, when he sees a figure, instead of seeing just a form, like that, you know, a form, the general effect of a form, of which he can vaguely say that this person resembles or doesn’t much resemble what he sees — sees the exact structure of the figure, the proportions of the different parts, whether the figure is harmonious or not, and why; and also of what kind or type or form it is; all sorts of things at one glance, you understand, in a single vision, as one sees the relations between different forms. (CWM 6, 1979, p. 83)
When one paints a picture or composes music or writes poetry, each one has his own way of expression. Every painter, every musician, every poet, every sculptor has or ought to have a unique, personal contact with the Divine, and through the work which is his specialty, the art he has mastered, he must express this contact in his own way, with his own words, his own colours.For himself, instead of copying the outer form of Nature, he takes these forms as the covering of something else, precisely of his relationship with the realities which are behind, deeper, and he tries to make them express that. Instead of merely imitating what he sees, he tries to make them speak of what is behind them, and it is this which makes the difference between a living art and just a flat copy of Nature. (CWM 8, 1977, p. 159)
But when you are in Yoga, there is a profound change in the values of things, of Art as of everything else; you begin to look at Art from a very different standpoint. It is no longer the one supreme all-engrossing thing for you, no longer an end in itself. Art is a means, not an end; it is a means of expression. And the artist then ceases too to believe that the whole world turns round what he is doing or that his work is the most important thing that has ever been done. His personality counts no longer; he is an agent, a channel, his art a means of expressing his relations with the Divine. (CWM 3, 1977, p. 104)
In the world of forms a violation of Beauty is as great a fault as a violation of Truth in the world of ideas. For Beauty is the worship Nature offers to the supreme Master of the universe; Beauty is the divine language in forms. And a consciousness of the Divine which is not translated externally by an understanding and expression of Beauty would be an incomplete consciousness.
But true Beauty is as difficult to discover, to understand and above all to live as any other expression of the Divine; this discovery and expression exacts as much impersonality and renunciation of egoism as that of Truth or Bliss. Pure Beauty is universal and one must be universal to see and recognise it. (CWM 1, 1979, p. 349)
In everything, everywhere, in all relations truth must be brought out in its all-embracing rhythm and every movement of life should be an expression of beauty and harmony. Skill is not art, talent is not art. Art is a living harmony and beauty that must be expressed in all the movements of existence. This manifestation of beauty and harmony is part of the Divine realisation upon earth, perhaps even its greatest part. (CWM 3, 1977, p. 109)
Art is nothing less in its fundamental truth than the aspect of beauty of the Divine manifestation. Perhaps, looking from this standpoint, there will be found very few true artists; but still there are some and these can very well be considered as Yogis. For like a Yogi an artist goes into deep contemplation to await and receive his inspiration. To create something truly beautiful, he has first to see it within, to realise it as a whole in his inner consciousness; only when so found, seen, held within, can he execute it outwardly; he creates according to this greater inner vision. This too is a kind of yogic discipline, for by it he enters into intimate communion with the inner worlds. (CWM 3, 1977, p. 110)
True art is a whole and an ensemble; it is one and of one piece with life. (CWM 3, 1977, p. 109)
…true art is the expression of beauty in the material world; and in a world entirely changed spiritually, that is to say, one expressing completely the Divine reality, art must function as a revealer and teacher of this Divine beauty in life; that is to say, an artist should be capable of entering into communion with the Divine and of receiving inspiration about what form or forms ought to be used to express the Divine beauty in matter. And thus, if it does that, art can be a means of realisation of beauty, and at the same time a teacher of what beauty ought to be, that is, art should be an element in the education of man’s taste, of young and old, and it is the teaching of true beauty, that is, the essential beauty which expresses the divine truth. This is the raison d’être of art. Now, between this and what is done there is a great difference, but this is true raison d’être of art. (CWM 5, 1976, pp. 332–333)
The discipline of Art has at its centre the same principle as the discipline of Yoga. In both the aim is to become more and more conscious; in both you have to learn to see and feel something that is beyond the ordinary vision and feeling, to go within and bring out from there deeper things. Painters have to follow a discipline for the growth of the consciousness of their eyes, which in itself is almost a Yoga. If they are true artists and try to see beyond and use their art for the expression of the inner world, they grow in consciousness by this concentration, which is not other than the consciousness given by Yoga. (CWM 3, 1977, p. 105)
Ascent to the Truth. Drawn to illustrate the play of the same name, brush and ink. 1956
Sri Aurobindo on Indian Art
The theory of ancient Indian art at its greatest — and the greatest gives its character to the rest and throws on it something of its stamp and influence — is of another kind. Its highest business is to disclose something of the Self, the Infinite, the Divine to the regard of the soul, the Self through its expressions, the Infinite through its living finite symbols, the Divine through his powers. Or the Godheads are to be revealed, luminously interpreted or in some way suggested to the soul’s understanding or to its devotion or at the very least to a spiritually or religiously aesthetic emotion. When this hieratic art comes down from these altitudes to the intermediate worlds behind ours, to the lesser godheads or genii, it still carries into them some power or some hint from above. And when it comes quite down to the material world and the life of man and the things of external Nature, it does not altogether get rid of the greater vision, the hieratic stamp, the spiritual seeing, and in most good work —except in moments of relaxation and a humorous or vivid play with the obvious — there is always something more in which the seeing presentation of life floats as in an immaterial atmosphere. (SABCL, Vol. 14, p. 208)
FINE ARTS: PERCEPTIBLE MEDIATION BETWEEN
THE VISIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE
V. Madhusudan Reddy
True art-creation is the result of a suprarational influx of light and power from above. The artist here always works by vision and inspiration; any interference of the intellect makes a work of art inferior. Reason can only construct but cannot genuinely create. Beauty essentially is the manifestation of Ananda; great art reveals the soul of beauty and not the intellectual truth of things. Whereas classical art lays stress mainly on reason and taste, purity and perfection of aesthetic savor. It does not bring out either the universal truth or reveal beauty in its innermost bearing. Celebrated and surpassing works of art though accomplished under the guidance of an inner power of discrimination that constantly selects in accordance with the laws of aesthesis, always insist on fidelity to the presiding Spirit within. They do not owe any allegiance to Reason but only to the truth of the thing itself, and give an intimate contact with it.
A conscious appreciation of beauty reaches its acme of enjoyment by the exaltation of the soul of artistic creation and not by any mental analysis of its beauty. The intuitive mind in all worthy art completes the action of the rational intelligence. That which we seek through both Religion and Art is the Divine; initially Art may satisfy the physical senses but finally it becomes a quest for the Invisible and the Unknown both in man and in Nature. “To find highest beauty is to find God; to reveal, to embody, to create, as we say, highest beauty is to bring out of our souls the living image and power of God” (SABCL, Vol. 15, p. 135). The ultimate aim of an artist is to discover the Divine through beauty; highest art is that which reveals the Spirit. To realise this supreme splendour it endeavours in the beginning to portray the Divine in life, in man and in Nature. But a truly subjective turn would metamorphose Art into a thing of eternal beauty and salvage the world from getting sunk into the mud-pond of utilitarian and down-to-earth commercialism and ugliness that at present agonize us all. Downgraded and oftentimes degraded so-called realistic Art has cast aside all forms of upward-looking philosophy of life and ‘espoused monstrosities of shape and suggestion’ and dethroned itself from its position royal of cultural leadership of the race.
True Art is not interested in presenting images of the subjective or objective worlds; it sees objects in the light of a wholesome vision that goes behind and beyond their appearances and reveals them as symbols and significant figures of infinite Truth and eternal Beauty. By immediate power of inner truth it elevates human consciousness and liberates it from the shackles of limitation and helplessness. It is in truth a lavish opportunity given to humanity to discover, realise and express the Infinite in the finite.
“Literature and Art”, observes Sri Aurobindo, “are or can be a first introduction to the inner being—the inner mind, vital; for it is from there that they come” (SABCL, Vol. 26, p. 279). Art is one of the most effective means of arriving at the knowledge of the workings of the Divine through Nature and life. A true artist intensely occupied with Nature aesthetically and emotionally must eventually perceive the Infinite both in world-existence and human existence. Art at its finest and best promotes the growth of spirituality in the race. Through history, in many cultures, it has been associated with the spread of formal Religion; while satisfying the laws of aesthetics and fulfilling the emotional demands of humanity, religious art expresses the infinite Spirit. It expresses most positively the divine delight of existence and the manifold manifestation of the divine force in creation. Impatience with outer reality or neglect of the inner spiritual truth will invariably lead to an incomplete and imperfect enjoyment of Reality. The world’s coming future will certainly unite the many partial streams of art-expression into one deep and profound and magnificent current of aesthetic experience of the total truth of things, and bring about a grandiose aesthetic evolution of the race. Perfect art blends together the beauty of the body, the love of the heart and the truth of the mind and spirit; such art helps the artist to become one with God and invariably raises humanity to the level of highest self-revelation through beauty and uplifts it towards a diviner self-knowledge, for the Supreme essentially is satyam sivam sundaram. It is the privilege of Art, its uppermost province, to put humanity in contact with the creativity of Nature, its beauty and its attractiveness, its inexhaustibility and its resourcefulness and freedom and gradually recast the race in the manner of the limitless and measureless. In fact it is in the service of Spirit that Art reaches its highest and perfect self-expression. But it is not always necessary that it should directly seek or express the Supreme though ultimately its highest forms ‘unseal the doors of the spirit’. In its long journey to fulfil its secret mission it could portray Nature for its own sake. And following its own unique law of self-development it finds in the end, inevitably, its fulfilment in the spiritual. It may be true that Art has nothing to do directly with Truth, God for their own sake, but certainly the artist is always carried by a sense of beauty which is very much in his consciousness. And it is in one’s deepest and innermost consciousness that all things become beautiful and delightful; it is in Sachchidananda—the centre and source of supreme harmony—that all the worlds are contained. Great works of Art reveal a greater content of consciousness, peace, harmony and joy through their intense expression of the principle of Beauty. For Art is not only a technique or form of Beauty and its profound expression but “a self-expression of Consciousness under the conditions of aesthetic vision and a perfect execution” (SABCL, Vol. 9, p, 333).
Starting with the sensible and sensuous, visible and concrete, true Art always soars into the invisible and the supersensuous and recreates or new-creates Nature in the image of the Beyond. It tirelessly strives after lasting beauty and more sustained perfection than life can offer, and always reveals the Infinite in the finite. It reveals something of the inner mind and inner life of its human creator and links him up with the innate commonality of the onlookers. It is universal in the measure it is in contact with the infinite Truth.
Art is perfected Nature; it is not confined to the sensuous and the material, it reveals what the soul sees. It is not an imitation of Nature, but an intimate image of the aesthetic sensibility and emotion of the artist. It captures through the medium of beauty the soul-life of the object and interprets its inner truth. By suggestion and interpretation the artist gives much more than Nature; he reveals creatively what Nature conceals crudely. Art is an image of the soul of Nature; it is an aesthetic transformation of Nature. True Art being universal has a direct appeal; it is the yogic-consciousness of the artist that sees the thing-in-itself and brings out its everlasting beauty onto the canvas; even more, the artist transmutes the object by lending to it the truth of his own being.
Fine Arts have a significant role to play in education. They are an unfailing evidence of the creative capacity of an age. The aesthetic norms of one age differ from those of others; they change from one generation to another. They are guided by the vital tendencies, the psychological impulses and creative insights of the race in a given period of time.
In itself Art is not Yoga. Aesthetic values are not necessarily spiritual values; they reflect the light of the Spirit but not rays direct from the Spirit. Nevertheless they can be turned towards the realisation of Spirit. Art, Music and Poetry can serve as windows opening on the hidden Truth; they can be offerings to the Divine, but are not in themselves capable of taking their human creators to the divine Creator. However this too depends upon the consciousness of the artist, the poet and the musician; spiritual aesthesis can always be admitted as a part of yogic life. For artistic creations from a particular plane of creativity can be ennobling and transmuting means of the truth of the Spirit as well as expressions of the beauty and the divine delight of existence. That spiritual life is necessarily synonymous with ascetic surplus-ness is an erroneous and common place notion. This impression or intellection springs from the pervert assumption that withdrawal from life and renunciation of the world are absolutely essential to gain perfect purity and self-mastery. In the process it is completely forgotten that beauty and plenitude, sunshine and gladness of life are also powers and puissances of the Divine. Art at its highest is a significant expression of eternal Light, Power, Truth, Beauty and Bliss; Beauty and Bliss are the very soul of Art, for Ananda is the source and sustenance of the universe of manifestation.
Art, verily, is an ideal mediator between the physical and the supraphysical, Spirit and the truth of life, and this should be its chief function in the future. As a discoverer and revealer of Beauty, the artist is indeed in contact with universal beauty, for Beauty is the perfect manifestation of the Divine in the physical even as “Truth is in the mind, Love in the heart, Power in the vital” (Sri Aurobindo); It is the most tangible way by which earth reveals the Supreme. Beauty is the visible form of Delight; it is Ananda in manifestation.
Sculpture is a nobler form of art; it encompasses perfection of form and possesses a larger harmony; also, it exudes the most exquisite and ineffable perfume of life. It has the special capacity to transform the object into a mode of ecstasy just as what music does with sound. Ancient and medieval India attained in this field a certain amount of mastery, abundance and amplitude. And the material in which the sculptors worked, stone or bronze, points to a unique creative mentality; they lived intensely in the luminous grip of a concrete vision of immortal Beauty and a convincing power of creativity. India enjoys an assured odyssey of more than two millenniums of consummate sculptural creation, and verily this is a fact of rare and great significance in the life of the subcontinent. It speaks very high of a certain harmony and balance that the Indian mind had stuck and maintained for long between the ineffable empyrean and the gross and tangible. All this was accomplished in the language of grace and deep spirituality. Indian sculpture embodies in visible form what the ancient most scriptures hymned out in inspired harmonies of innermost experiences. The sculptor expresses in an extraordinary way in static form a most dynamic experience; indeed he expresses eternity in casts of time. Indian sculpture embodies in a significant way a great spiritual power; it is the most suggestive expression of the utmost spiritual beauty. It is an immortal monument of epic grandeur, epic power, epic truth and epic grace. It has been an extraordinary instrument of manifesting the invisible and ineffable, a perfectly sensible and most tangible and beautiful mode of the supersensible and the intangible, a lyrical body of dignity, beauty and benediction.
Architecture, like sculpture, is another visual art which appeals to the soul. It demands an inner seeing and an inner study, a spiritual self-identification with the external and the secular Indian temple-architecture in particular is the most gorgeous and gracious self-experience of its ancient most spiritual and religious culture. It does not allow under any straining circumstance any immixture of the norms of the immeasurable with those of the measurable. An Indian temple has always been “a house of the Cosmic Spirit, an appeal and aspiration to the Infinite” (SABCL, Vol. 14, p. 214). It, verily, reveals the oneness of the Cosmic Self in the immensity of its world-manifestation; it is a massive and boldest expression of the essential unity in a crowded plurality. It is this spirit of infinite oneness in infinite multiplicity that should progressively return in all that we attempt in the future in
the field of architecture.
[This essay was originally published in: V. Madhusudan Reddy, Towards a Global Future: Agenda of the Third Millennium, A New Curriculum for the Next Future, Institute of Human Study — Aurodarshan Trust, Hyderabad, India, 1993, pp. 31–38 (ISBN: 81-85853-05-3).]
SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: MEDITATIONS OF LIGHT
In 1989, I became an exhibiting digital artist. Although my consciousness work had begun in 1973, my Integral Yoga studies were initiated in 1990. Since that time, I have been creating digital imagery to further concretize the experiences and concepts of Integral Yoga. At the recent Integral Yoga AUM 2007 conference, I gave a presentation called Spheres of Influence: Meditations of Light, in which I included several of my recent images. The presentation involved digital media to visually express some perceptions about Integral Yoga. I am delighted to share some of these images with the readers of New Race.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother embody rich sources of inspiration and experience. We open to their illumination and guidance to deepen our Divine connection. Through digital medium, aspects of their shared vision will be rendered into meditations of light. From an integral perspective, concepts, symbols, forms, and color will be placed before our perception. The intention of these visual meditations is to center our consciousness, concentration, and contemplation. “… as one offers a flower, a prayer, an act to the Divine, one can offer too a created form of beauty, a song, a poem, an image, a strain of music, and gain through it a contact, a response or an experience.” (SABCL, Vol. 22, pp. 199–200)
Many times, while reading or meditating on a significant passage from Sri Aurobindo or the Mother there is an opening for an image to develop. The following images are examples of this process.
The following two images of Transfigure and Spirit in Matter present the concept of the Divine evolution in Matter.
Spirit in Matter
Evolution is not a withdrawing, a subtilization, plane after plane, leading to a reabsorption into the One Unmanifest. It takes place in Matter itself: it is a gradual emergence of higher powers of consciousness, leading to an ever greater manifestation of the divine Consciousness-Force in the material universe. This is the secret significance of the terrestrial evolution. — Future Evolution of Man (P. B. Saint-Hilaire, 1962, Notes).
The image, Psychic Being emphasizes contacting and opening to the Psychic Being and the path of devotion committed to opening the nature to its guidance.
A second approach made by the soul to the direct contact is through the heart: this is its own more close and rapid way because its occult seat is there, just behind in the heart-centre, in close contact with the emotional being in us; it is consequently through the emotions that it can act best at the beginning with its native power, with its living force of concrete experience. It is through a love and adoration of the All-Beautiful and All-Blissful, the All-Good, the True, the spiritual Reality of love, that the approach is made; the aesthetic and emotional parts join together to offer the soul, the life, the whole nature to that which they worship. (SABCL, Vol. 19, p. 902)
Soul Mirror and Soul Refection refer to a process the Mother suggested as a meditation.
… a [psychic] mirror well placed in one’s feelings, impulses, all one’s sensations. One sees them in this mirror. There are some which are not very beautiful or pleasant to look at; there are others which are beautiful, pleasant and must be kept. This one does a hundred times a day if necessary. And it is very interesting … If there is somethingthat is not all right, it casts a sort of grey shadow upon the mirror: this element must be shifted, organised. It must be spoken to, made to understand, one must come out of that darkness. — THE MOTHER [Psychic Education: A Workbook,
Sri Aurobindo Education Society, New-Delhi, 2001, p. 65 (ISBN 81-900175-7-8)]
In Prayers and Meditations, the Mother shared a profound experience of her consciousness, the inner planes and an experience that spread over the earth. In the Radiant Body, the image portrays part of her record, which encompassed her consciousness and her physical body.
Then slowly the column of light came down again forming an oval of living light, awakening and setting into movement — each one in a special way, according to a particular vibratory mode — the centres above the head, in the head, the throat, the heart, in the middle of the stomach, at the base of the spine and still farther down. At the level of the knees, the ascending and descending currents joined and the circulation thus went on uninterruptedly, enveloping the whole being in an immense oval of light. Prayers and Meditations, July 21, 1914 (CWM, Vol. 1, p. 204)
Source Centers was generated from a passage from The Hour of God (SABCL, Vol. 17). The passage contains a list of the Seven Suns of the Supermind and the corresponding Seven Centers of the Life. This image envisions the centers in the body radiating from their source suns.
Illumined Object refers to a reference made by Sri Aurobindo: “The yogis in India very often in order to develop the power use the method of tràñak, concentrating the vision on a single point or object — preferably a luminous object.” (SABCL, Vol. 23, p. 937) I created a digital tràñak to honor this practice.
Equanimity embodies an attribute to be cultivated: “To be able to do anything with equanimity is the principle of Karmayoga and to do with joy because it is done for the Mother is the true psychic and vital condition in this yoga.” (SABCL, Vol. 23, p. 680)
Divine Intermediary is a tribute to the Divine Mother. The background image reflects life in its many aspects: its complexity and its challenge. The Divine Mother is represented by a luminous entity, who comes from beyond time and space to offer her Grace to the children of time. There are many instances where Sri Aurobindo and the Mother discuss the benevolence of the Divine Mother and how she intercedes for her children. Divine Intermediary is the acknowledgement of one of her many roles in our lives.
Sources of inspiration are limitless in the practice of Integral Yoga. The images that have been discussed are some of the perceptions and concepts that have touched a chord of truth in me to be remembered and treasured. There are myriad ways to be inspired by the words and experiences of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. These images are meant to be a reminder of that resource. Inspiration is always available through Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and points us to the truth and love in our relationship with the Divine.
About the artist: Margaret Astrid Phanes, M.A., MFT, is a visionary, artist, and trainer. Ms. Phanes has pioneered digital art as visual meditation. As a trainer, she has worked in digital art and consciousness at University of California at Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay Research Institute, and the College of Botanical Healing Arts. Presently, she teaches digital media arts and concentration meditation training at the College on Maui. She is an online facilitator for the Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow, India. Her artwork has appeared in numerous publications, art and web exhibitions. For more information on digital art as visual meditation, visit: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~phanes
SRI AUROBINDO IN THE NEW AGE
Daryl S. Paulson
With terrorists clamoring at each other from three sides — Islamics, Christians, and Jews — what are we to do, - wait for the Judgment Day? A fair number of people have grown past their magical — spiritual — level development to at least the mental level, where religious interpretation is possible (Gebser, 1984). They can see nothing but hopelessness, helplessness, despair, and alienation. For those who have not developed, it is all about war.
Religion in general has had its problems, in past and present, which has caused many not to take it seriously. For example, to believe some particular Biblical interpretation that the earth is but 6000 years old as indisputably correct, when it has, in scientific fact, been proven wrong, creates a serious doubt over just what the Bible truly reveals. Does it reveal truth or falsehood? This very question and others similar to it are so complex that most people have not tried to determine if they are ‘truth’; they have simply ignored it. They have run away from it and become ‘agents’ of the world, behaving according to their own rules that make little sense to others (May, 1969). They have become transients in their own backyards, unable to act in ways that are truly useful to them. They merely exist in their backyards until they are directly threatened, and then they attack — Christian against Muslim and Muslim against Jew. This has happened in the past and is being prepared for now and for the future. Is there a better way — a way that can transpire to set these people free? Perhaps there is, in Sri Aurobindo’s teachings.
Sri Aurobindo was born in India. His father sent him and his brothers to be educated in England. When he returned to India to fulfill his mission, he was caught between British rule and Indian religion (Iyengar, 1972). He began his mission, spending most of his time writing articles against Britain through his Bande Mataram, in which he claimed the British were stealing the material and intellectual wealth of India. But Sri Aurobindo was not unique yet — until he was blamed for an explosion that took several British lives. Once the explosion occurred, he was arrested and put in Alipur Prison. During his one-year prison stay until his trial, he was lonesome, frustrated and near his end. One day, his divine Self came to him and would not leave. Sri Aurobindo, lonely and confined in a prison cell, heard:
The bonds you have not the strength to break, I have broken for you, because it is not my will nor was it ever my intention that this should continue. I have another thing for you to do, and it is for that that I have brought you here, to teach you what you could not learn for yourself and train you for my work (Iyengar, 1972, p. 57).
This message settled into his being and ultimately transformed him into a spiritual guru. After his trial concluded, he was set free, but he was still concerned about the English law, so he went to Pondicherry — a French territory — to begin his true mission, Integral Yoga. Here, he established three aspects of integral experience:
1. the union with non-temporal or true dimensions of existence;
2. the mobilization of the deepest powers and potentials in the human psyche;
3. cooperation with the divine evolutionary force of being (Chaudhuri, 1965; Satprem, 1969; Sethna, 1992).
His basic idea was that human suffering — moral, religious, and psychological — can be traced to self-estrangement and alienation from existence, primarily due to a loss of contact with ‘Being’ (Sri Aurobindo, 1955). Sri Aurobindo integrated three areas in a harmonious living: the individual, his/her culture, and the universe for all to bear witness (Wilber, 2000).
The Three Yogas: Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana
In his Essays on the Gita and The Bhaghavad Gita, Sri Aurobindo (1997, 2000) states that there are two types of intelligence in human beings. The first is concentrated, poised, homogenous, and directed to singular truth; unity is its characteristic. Its very source of being is concentrated firmly in its source. In the other, there is no single will, no unified intelligence, but an observer or witness, which is ‘above’ it. This will be evident when he discusses the soul.
The Gita, the dialogue of Krishna (the soul) and Arjuna (the man) shows the importance of doing well on earth but without concern for the result. It teaches the value of discrimination in our thoughts and actions. In a blending of yogas, this is tremendously influential for Sri Aurobindo’s synthesis (Rishabhchand, 1959) which combines the three yogas: the yoga of love (Bhakti), the yoga of action (Karma), and the yoga of knowledge (Jnana) into Integral or ‘Purna’ Yoga (Chaudhuri, 1965). It linked action, knowledge, and love into a single, unified way of practice. Sri Aurobindo (1997) wrote about the three yogas as ways of action from The Gita in one manner, that is, do your best work but do not worry about its outcome. Equal emphasis is also given on deepening one’s self-knowledge.
Sri Aurobindo also captured the essence of much of life in his description of the soul. The eastern individual tends to ignore the development in the outer body, and focuses instead on the deeper aspects — the soul. The western individual tends to focus on the body during life and development that it can bring, while ignoring the deeper aspects. Sri Aurobindo lived in both worlds — as a boy in England and as a grown man in India — and understood that life grows up (soul) as well as out (body). He worked within the body to capture the ‘soul’ and its destiny. The ‘psychic being’ is an evolving soul, which does not pass through death, is unbroken, and is independent (Rishabhchand, 1959; Dalal, 2001). Yet, a distinction must be made between the desirous soul (the vital being) and the true soul, or the ‘psychic being’, so one can have true and real knowledge. The desirous soul is often mistaken for the true soul (Dalal, 2001). In most humans, the soul is hidden and covered up by actions of their external nature, that is, going to the store, wondering what to eat, and worrying about their jobs, friends, and social images. They also are told what the soul, God, and the religious life are supposed to be. As they grow, they mistake the ‘vital being’ for the ‘soul’, because it animates them. The soul, for them, is what they have interpreted to be the soul, not their actual soul. This is wrong; the soul is not constricted by them but free of their will. It must be found anew and then developed. When an individual begins a journey on the spiritual path, she/he begins to withdraw from vital desires and becomes ‘divine-driven’ (Dalal, 2001). This is an immense development, for example, where good and bad are not split into separate components but are judged based on their own merit. For one’s inner growth it is critical to bring these components together.
Integral Yoga does not offer a new way to live but a new way of seeing, valuing, and confronting choices and decisions with the necessary responsibility (Chaudhuri, 1965; Schneider, 2007). A harmonious growth of the personality involves growth in physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual realms. It is the blending of power and love; it brings to human relationships an ability to determine efficient action to meet current challenges. It develops in the seeker a constant search for profound peace and full freedom, a vision of new values and hidden possibilities in life. It affirms the ideal of manifesting a Divine Life in the future evolution of individual and society.
For Sri Aurobindo, life is to be lived as a unique presence — in the now. One’s spiritual goals are to be lived in the present. They are not empty vessels to be continually filled with another’s responses or to be pulled from a shelf when needed. They are, instead, to be integrated into one’s life in the here and now. When one sincerely pursues the path of Integral Yoga, one develops a new way of making sense of the outer challenges and troubles in both individual and societal life — including the global terrorism — and is able to surpass the hopelessness and despair resulting from a purely outwardly-focused mental analysis. Sri Aurobindo’s teachings help us look for deeper meanings in the workings of Nature as it pursues its goals through the actions of its various instruments including individuals and nations.
Chaudhuri, H. (1965). Integral Yoga. San Francisco: California Institute of Asian Studies.
Dalal, A.S. (2001). Sri Aurobindo: A Greater Psychology. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Gebser, J. (1984). The Ever-present Origin. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Iyengar, K.R.S. (1972). Sri Aurobindo: A Biography and a History, Vols. I and II. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
May, R. (1969). Love and Will. New York: Norton.
Rishabhchand (1959). The Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo. Westport, CT: Associated Booksellers.
Satprem, L.V. (1969). Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness. New York: Harper & Row.
Schneider, K.J. (2007). From segregation to integration. In Existential-Integrative Psychotherapy (K.J. Schneider, Ed.). New York: Routledge, pp. 15–22.
Sethna, K.D. (1992). The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sri Aurobindo (1955). On yoga, Vol. 1. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sri Aurobindo (1997). Essays on the Gita. The complete works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Vol. 19. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sri Aurobindo (2000). The Bhaghavad Gita. Jhunjhunu, India: Sri Aurobindo Divine Life Trust.
Wilber, K. (2000). The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Vol. 6, 2nd Revised Ed. Boston: Shambhala.
About the author:
Daryl Paulson lives in the USA and is a facilitator at Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow. He facilitates courses on social and political thought of Sri Aurobindo. Daryl has doctorate degrees in Psychology and Human Science.
INDIA’S NATION-SOUL: HER CONTRIBUTION TO HUMAN UNITY
Dr. Ananda Reddy
India is known for her infinite diversity of cultural patterns, religious expressions, languages and customs. This is her strength and this is the secret of her long survival as a culture and a nation.
But now, as days and years pass by, this diversity, instead of binding the nation together, seems to “have culminated here in contradictoriness and mutual exclusion.” (Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Volume One, Nolini Kanta Gupta Birth Centenary Celebrations Committee, Calcutta, 1989, p. 53) Especially, two major religions in India seem to be dividing the country in two irreconcilable divisions, endangering her glorious future.
Sri Aurobindo had worked for an India that would be free for the sake of the world. She would gain freedom not only for her sake but also in order to give to the world her vision of spirituality which is supposed to unite not only religions and castes and creeds but mankind itself.
Unfortunately, this dream of Sri Aurobindo seems to be moving further in time-future. In order to understand what we need to do at this critical juncture, when the nation’s soul is suffering from the deep wounds meted out to her by religious riots, we need to go a bit deeper into the historical development of India.
Going back into her cultural history, we know that “wave after wave of the most heterogeneous and disparate elements—Sakas and Huns and Greeks …” entered “into the oceanic Indian life and culture …” (Ibid., p. 53) and got merged in her culture as though it was her destiny to assimilate all the conflicting elements. The first voice of challenge to this ever-growing spiritual spirit that was founded on the Vedic knowledge was that of Buddhism — “not so much, perhaps, of Buddha as of Buddhism,” (Ibid., p. 54) opines Nolini Kanta Gupta. The basic challenge that was posited by Buddhism was that it denied the authority of the Vedas, and in this denial it denied the spiritual fullness of life, which, in fact, was central to the Vedic socio-religious life. It left such an indelible impression on Indian life that even today, after almost two thousand five hundred years it is still a dominant character of Indian life!
The synthesis sought by the Indian genius for bridging the gap with Buddhism was that it embraced the Buddha as one of the ten Avatars; and the doctrine of Buddhism, its tenets of Nirvana and Maya became the final purushartha for an individual to pursue, namely, the stage of the Moksha and sannyàsa.
However, this schism between Buddhism and Vedanta was one that was within the family and “were commensurable,” (Ibid., p. 55) says Nolini Kanta Gupta. The antinomy was not antagonistic. “The idea or experience of Asat and Maya” (Ibid., p. 55) was there already in the Upanishads as seed thoughts — but not so focused until Buddhism brought them out.
Hence, the real outside schism, the foreign element was that of Islam which revolutionised Indian life patterns. “It was a psychological cataclysm on par with the geological one that formed her body …” (Ibid., p. 55) — emphasised Nolini Kanta Gupta. It is to incorporate this alien element into its life-spirit that India is still struggling — and it is truly her test.
Is it really possible for the Indian soul to pass this test and assimilate Mohamedan element also? To a similar question Sri Aurobindo answered, way back in 1926:
Why not? India has assimilated elements from the Greeks, the Persians and other nations. But she assimilates when her Central Truth is recognised by the other party, and even while assimilating she does it in such a way that the elements absorbed are no longer recognisable as foreign but become part of herself. For instance, we took from the Greek architecture, from the Persian painting etc.
The assimilation of the Mahomedan culture also was done in the mind to a great extent and it would have perhaps gone further. But in order that the process may be complete it is necessary that a change in the Mahomedan mentality should come. The conflict is in the outer life and unless the Mahomedans learn tolerance I do not think the assimilation is possible.
The Hindu is ready to tolerate. He is open to new ideas and his culture has got a wonderful capacity for assimilation, but always provided that her Central Truth is recognised. (A.B. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Third Edition, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, 1982, p. 282)
This kind of assimilation could be possible because Hinduism basically believes that the supreme Divine is One; at the same time it is also there in the heart of each living form. And most importantly, this supreme Divine can be realised or approached in innumerable ways — as many ways as there are people. With this catholic spiritual attitude it has become a vast ocean of spiritual culture and experience.
The demand of the times is that India brings about a ‘spiritual fusion and unity’ into the deep psychological problems of religions. Nature has tried and succeeded in the fusion of blood — all the present races are really a fusion of races, say the scientists — though, as Sri Aurobindo remarked: “There are seven root races and others are sub-races ...” (Ibid., p. 177) Nature seems to be trying at present a large fusion of cultures between the East and the West — a process that had started with the building of empires and the process of imperialism. For such a fusion of culture, North America seems to be Nature’s laboratory. But Nature seems to have left to India to solve the most difficult problem — the fusion of religions.
To a question by a Muslim disciple Sri Aurobindo answered:
[Disciple:] Had Mahomedanism no message for India?
[Sri Aurobindo:] I have written clearly that the coming of so many religions to India was part of her spiritual destiny and a great advantage for the work to be done. (Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, August, 2000, p. 72.)
This is one of the great problems that India has to solve not only for herself but for the world. Can India ever solve this problem? That is the real question. A solution is there, not on the political level, but on a spiritual plane which alone can achieve the fusion of religions and the necessary unity.
A possible solution:
Once Swami Vivekananda had remarked that the ideal combination of man would be “a Hindu soul with a Muslim body” (Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Volume One, Nolini Kanta Gupta Birth Centenary Celebrations Committee, Calcutta, 1989, p. 56). Islam is basically “a dynamic spirit” (Ibid., p. 56) that had set out to conquer “the physical world for the Lord” (Ibid., p. 56) — an attitude that is quite complementary to the Hindu attitude to life as seen after the influence of Buddha and Shankaracharya. But unlike other religions which mingled into Hindu life and spirit, Islamic religion maintained a strong uncompromising individuality, very difficult to be assimilated.
There is a very interesting set of correspondence between Sri Aurobindo and a Muslim disciple of his, written in the early thirties, which I would like to quote to show the possibility of India coming through this problem of religious fusion. I take the liberty of quoting at length the relevant passages of this correspondence.
[Disciple:] I wish also to ask this: The Mother has often issued notices saying, “When a man comes here [Sri Aurobindo Ashram], he ceases to be a Hindu or a Mahomedan etc.” Though there is sufficient pressure on the Mahomedans to cease to be Mahomedan, does anybody cease to be a Hindu? Is the idea even believed by any Hindu sadhak? … Under these circumstances, God alone knows if it is right or sensible for me to live on and see the ruin without doing anything to bring in the Mohamedan influence here. When I surrendered, I had not ceased to be a Mahomedan as I did afterwards.
[Sri Aurobindo:] If there is anybody in this Ashram who is a Hindu sectarian hating Mahomedans and not opening to the Light in which all can overcome their limitations and in which all can be fulfilled (each religion or way of approaching the Divine contributing its own element of the truth, but all fused together and surpassed), then that Hindu sectarian is not a completely surrendered disciple of Sri Aurobindo. By his narrowness and hatred of others he is bringing an element of falsehood into the work that is being done here.
When I spoke of the outside world, I meant all outside including the Hindus and Christians and everyone else, all who have not yet accepted the greater Light that is coming. If this Ashram were here only to serve Hinduism I would not be in it and the Mother who was never a Hindu would not be in it.
What is being done here is the preparation of a truth which includes all other Truths but is limited to no single religion or creed, and this preparation has to be done apart and in silence until things are ready. It is in that sense that I speak of the rest of the world and all its component parts as being the outside world — not that there was nothing to be done or no connection to be made; but these things are to be done in their own proper time.
Do you tell me that all the people here show the spirit you speak of against the Mahomedans or are you generalizing from particular cases? If it is as you say, I am quite ready to intervene to put a stop to it. For such a spirit would be entirely opposed to the Truth I am here to manifest. (Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, August, 2000, pp. 70 and 72)
In the same vein but on another occasion, he wrote to the same Muslim disciple:
There is no place for rigid orthodoxy, whether Hindu, Mahomedan or Christian in the future. Those who cling to it, lose hold on life and go under — as has been shown by the fate of the Hindus in India and of the orthodox Mahomedan countries all over the world…In the supramental creation fundamental truth will always find a place; but orthodoxy means a clinging to narrow limitations, and limitations of that kind cannot exist in the supramental creation. All that is permanently true will be taken up into the creation of the future. (1932) (Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Feb, 2000, p.80)
I guess that at a deeper level these reactions of the religious fundamentalists could be a reaction against the modern denial of the fundamental values of life — God, Soul, Truth, etc. Old religionism is showing its ugly face only to threaten the ugly modern economic barbarianism. The economic barbarians are those for whom the only effort is a greater amassing of objects and of comfort, pleasure and lethargy. Against this fundamental materialistic man is the rise of the religious fundamentalist seen all over the world. May be this terrorism will take us beyond religion and beyond the fundamentalism of materialism. Ultimately, it is all a clash of fundamental unregenerate attitudes of materialism and of religion. Both have to give way to the new consciousness or the supramental creation. As man has not consented to be spiritualised, he is forced to face these drastic ways of destruction and horror. It is his resistance to the ‘new’ that is the cause of all these crushing and painful and bleeding circumstances!
A fusion of religions does not come through a religious dialogue or a religious tolerance. That is because the spirit of tolerance towards each other is not a true spiritual fusion. It is a moral and a religious concession only — it does not indicate anything deeper in one’s consciousness, except perhaps a bit of wideness of mind and heart. It is only someone of the stature of Sri Ramakrishna or a few other individuals like Sant Kabir who resolved in their consciousness this spiritual fusion. Otherwise, the tensions have always remained hidden in the heart of members of the religious communities — like the fire simmering in embers. With the least provocation the fires of hatred, violence and vengeance leap forth, ending in massive deaths and unthinkable cruelty from each side. This hatred is largely in the subconscient of these communities, and the politicians and religious bigots only add fuel to this subconscient fire of hatred which threatens at present to engulf the whole country.
When the same Muslim disciple asked Sri Aurobindo in 1932:
[Disciple:] Formerly I believed that if the Hindus and Mahomedans fight in India the Mahomedans will win, but I have slowly begun to doubt this. I want to ask Sri Aurobindo if there is any likelihood of such a fight and if the forces are nearly equal on both sides or one side is superior to the other.
[Sri Aurobindo:] It is to be hoped that in time the present mentality will pass away and both the communities learn to live as the children of the same Mother. If they fight, neither is likely to gain but both to lose, even perhaps giving an opening to a third party as has happened before in their history.” (ibid)
To the same Muslim disciple who wrote to Sri Aurobindo in a challenging manner, the Master replied:
[Disciple:] Again, when Sri Aurobindo writes about what he is going to manifest here, I wonder why such a great thing is partial. Why should that creation be formed in such a way as to exclude Mahomedans from it and put on them an all-round pressure which is experienced by nobody else. To give up one’s past and forget it or to try not to think about it is one thing; to go through the humiliation of taking up the way of others is most difficult, almost shameful, and I have lost faith in it.
[Sri Aurobindo:] It is news to me that I have excluded Mahomedans from the Yoga. I have not done it any more than I have excluded Europeans or Christians. As for giving up one’s past, if that means giving up the outer forms of the old religions, it is done as much by the Hindus here as by the Mahomedans. Every Hindu here — even those who were once orthodox Brahmins and have grown old in it, — give up all observance of caste, take food from Pariahs and are served by them, associate and eat with Mahomedans, Christians, Europeans, cease to practice temple worship or sandhya (daily prayers and mantras), accept a non-Hindu from Europe as their spiritual director. These are things people who have Hinduism as their aim and object would not do — they do it because they are obliged here to look to a higher ideal in which these things have no value. What is kept of Hinduism is Vedanta and Yoga in which Hinduism is one with Sufism of Islam and with the Christian mystics. But even here it is not Vedanta and Yoga in their traditional limits (their past), but widened and rid of many ideas that are peculiar to the Hindus. If I have used Sanskrit terms and figures, it is because 1 know them and do not know Persian and Arabic. I have not the slightest objection to anyone here drawing inspiration from Islamic sources if they agree with the Truth as Sufism agrees with it. On the other hand I have not the slightest objection to Hinduism being broken to pieces and disappearing from the face of the earth, if that is the Divine will. I have no attachment to past forms; what is Truth will always remain; the Truth alone matters. (Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, August, 2000, p. 74)
India has the master-key to the serious problem of fusion of religions. The key named ‘spirituality’ which looks at expressions of life, religions, art, science, businesses, services, all as forms and names of the single spirit, the Divine. A spiritual person is one who has the fundamental and essential experience of whatever religion he may choose to belong, and has a catholicity of understanding, which comes essentially out of his deeper inner self, of an appreciation of all facets and expressions of life as facets of a single Reality.
Secondly, we have to bring this inner experience into our thoughts and emotions and actions — it is the best way to lead us beyond religions, into the spirituality of the future. This adherence to a higher truth without the barriers of customs, creeds and ceremonies is the thing that is wanted in India. It may seem an ideal that is beyond the possibility of the common man. But a spiritual symbiosis is the only way of the future. The principle of symbiosis, exemplified in the 100th monkey, can come of use here: a strong nucleus of spiritual aspirants, a small group of seekers of the adventure of consciousness, seeking and assimilating the New Consciousness is enough to start an atomic reaction which could one day explode as a spiritual-bomb engulfing all humanity in a new Light and Life.
[A talk given at Sri Aurobindo Complex, Bangalore, in 2004. The text is inspired by Nolini Kanta Gupta’s article: ‘The Basis of Unity’, Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Volume One, and by the correspondence between Sri Aurobindo and one of his Muslim disciples.]
When all is said, Love and Force together can save the world eventually, but not Love only or Force only. Therefore Christ had to look forward to a second advent and Mahomed’s religion, where it is not stagnant, looks forward through the Imams to a Mehdi.
(SABCL, Vol. 17, p. 100)
SEARCH FOR A GROUP-SOUL: CASE OF INDIAN-AMERICANS
A search begins …
I lived in the US for more than 14 years; December 15, 2006 marked the completion of 14 years, and I moved to Pondicherry, India, in August 2007. What I share in this exploratory essay is based on my personal observation, experience and reflection as an Indian-American. Without claiming any generalization I present to the readers my evolving and emerging view in the light of which I have started to make sense of the bicultural experience that shaped my life and experience for a number of years.
First, a few basic facts. The magnetism of ‘The American Dream’ attracts people from all over the world who make their homes in that land of opportunity. Starting in late 1960s, as a result of changes in the US immigration laws (passage of Public Law 89-236, 1965) scores of Indians began to come with their families to live and earn a living in the United States. By now, there is a clear evidence of the establishment of permanent Indian communities in large urban centers, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Immigration data and the US census records show that Indians are among the fastest growing immigrant groups in the US today. The overall growth rate for Indian-Americans from 1990 to 2000 was 105.87%, the largest growth in the Asian American community, with an average annual growth rate of 7.6%.
Over the years, groups of Indian-Americans have been highly successful at realizing their Indian-American Dreams of comfortable upper middle class lives. Their children have now become highly paid doctors, engineers, and some are now even writers, musicians and actors; and their grandchildren are attending expensive elite schools learning all the necessary stuff needed to become even more successful than their parents and grandparents. And now after having ‘arrived’ on the economic scene, many of these highly successful Indian-Americans are beginning to pay attention to their dual-citizenship-related responsibilities. For the most part, these responsibilities take the form of social involvement in activities, such as organizing Indian cultural programs, fund-raising and campaigning for construction of temples and community centers, advocating for correcting the misrepresentations of India and Indian culture in American textbooks, and other similar ‘identity politics’1 related activities that have sooner or later captured the collective imagination of all immigrant groups in the US. At other times, the social and political activism of several Indian-Americans manifests in other forms, such as financially supporting various social and economic development programs in India, active political campaigning for causes that impact the US–India political relationship, and exerting political pressure to influence US policy regarding India.
Thus, the Indianized version of The American Dream is well on its way of being defined and refined, and for many socially conscious Indian-Americans this version also includes an ever-growing awareness of their Indian identities. In most cases this growing awareness incorporates deliberate attempts at understanding the bi-cultural identity struggles, including the need to maintain a separate Indian identity along with a selected assimilation in the larger American identity. These struggles sometimes get highly intertwined with the struggles to continue to define what it means to be Indian — an identity which is not static and unified but is shifting, evolving, and inherently diverse and multiple. While most of the times these struggles occur at the level of individual and family as they emerge within the context of interactions with the larger American community, often these struggles also take a more public form when these issues are discussed in Indian-American media — print and electronic. (Internet is buzzing with numerous websites that allow Indian-Americans to discuss and debate these issues of identity.)
At times the identity politics debates also take place at the level of representation of one’s group-identity in the larger social discourse. Indian diasporic collective identity in the US is partly constructed by the representations they see of their ‘imagined homeland’ (India) in the media, textbooks, or even in the US policy toward India. The activism of several Indian-American social and political groups reflects how identity is being shaped and even re-structured by the India-related discourse constructed through these representations. This activism can be understood as how a marginalized social-cultural-ethnic group seen as ‘Other’ by the majority groups in the US resists being essentialized and stereotyped through these representations.
Sri Aurobindo’s social philosophy has given me a valuable framework to make sense of and to situate observable Indian-American behaviors and patterns of collective diasporic identity formation. The concept of collective egoism helps explain how one begins to assert one’s distinct social identity, as an Indian among Americans, as a Hindu among non-Hindus, as a minority that is different from American majority. Is such visible demonstration of difference and separate-ness — on the level of individual or group — merely a show of pride, a massaging of individual-ego and group-ego, or lurking underneath and behind all of this is there some veiled truth of the connection between individual-soul and group-soul? Can this collective self-assertion by Indian-Americans be a necessary step — however crude, obscure and vague — by which the group begins on its journey to become self-conscious, self-aware in a search for its group-soul? What might that group-soul be? These are some questions I wish to explore in the remainder of this essay, in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s thought. The tentative and exploratory nature of this analysis requires a free-flowing narrative and a loosely-structured argumentation style.
Individual and Group-ego, Individual and Group-soul
Human life is moved by two equally powerful impulses, one of individualistic self-assertion, the other of collective self-assertion; it works by strife, but also by mutual assistance and united effort: it uses two diverse convergent forms of action, two motives which seem to be contradictory but are in fact always coexistent, competitive endeavour and cooperative endeavour. It is from this character of the dynamism of life that the whole structure of human society has come into being, and it is upon the sustained and vigorous action of this dynamism that the continuance, energy and growth of all human societies depends. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 157)
The geographic dislocation of Indians to the US often forces them — consciously or subconsciously
— to rediscover and re-shape the forms in which the dynamism of their individual and collective life-force manifests. These forms are also moved by the cooperative and competitive motives, as they must involve a synthesis of at least two parallel self-discovery processes, their attempts at locating their psychological connection with the collective psychological history and memories of two collectivities — Indian and American. Of course, as we know neither of these two identities — Indian or American — are static or uniform. These terms are inherently divided, diverse and dynamic, and may convey different meanings to different people, therefore the outward forms of group-identity of Indian-Americans will be multiple, ever-shifting and changing. And these outward forms will carry in them the nature and consequences of the strife and mutuality between individualistic self-assertion and collective self-assertion.
Pointing out a “real identity of nature” between an individual’s and society’s conscious, half-conscious or obscure unconscious groping and attempts at “self-formulation,” Sri Aurobindo writes:
… the primal law and purpose of a society, community or nation is to seek its own self-fulfillment; it strives rightly to find itself, to become aware within itself of the law and power of its being and to fulfill it as perfectly as possible, to realise all its potentialities, to live its own self-revealing life. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 35)
He reminds the readers that this real identity of nature between individual and society exists because like an individual society is also a being:
… a living power of the eternal Truth, a self-manifestation of the cosmic Spirit, and it is there to express and fulfill in its own way and to the degree of its capacities the special truth and power and meaning of the cosmic Spirit that is within it. 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 say 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. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 35)
Like the relation between an individual body and soul, so is the case with the group-soul. Sri Aurobindo describes the identity of nature between an individual soul and group-soul as follows:
There is only this difference that the group-soul is much more complex because it has
a great number of partly self-conscious mental individuals for the constituents of its physical being instead of an association of merely vital subconscious cells. At first, for this very reason, it seems more crude, primitive and artificial in the forms it takes; for it has a more difficult task before it, it needs a longer time to find itself, it is more fluid and less easily organic. When it does succeed in getting out of the stage of vaguely conscious self-formation, its first definite self-consciousness is objective much more than subjective. And so far as it is subjective, it is apt to be superficial or loose and vague. This objectiveness comes out very strongly in the ordinary emotional conception of the nation which centers round its geographical, its most outward and material aspect, the passion for the land in which we dwell, the land of our fathers, the land of our birth, country, patria, vaterland, janma-bhûmi. When we realise that the land is only the shell of the body, though a very living shell indeed and potent in its influences on the nation, when we begin to feel that its more real body is the men and women who compose the nation-unit, a body ever changing, yet always the same like that of the individual man, we are on the way to a truly subjective communal consciousness. For then we have some chance of realising that even the physical being of the society is a subjective power, not a mere objective existence. Much more is it in its inner self a great corporate soul with all the possibilities and dangers of the soul-life. (Sri Aurobindo, 1977, pp. 35–36).
In the light of this quote a few questions emerge. How do we make sense of the enthusiasm of the diasporic emotions? Are the diasporic Indians still at the stage of discovering the “shell of the body” or is there something deeper going on here? Let me examine these questions before proceeding further.
Diasporic Indians have a concrete physical experience of separation from the “shell of the body” and are therefore more prone to live in their emotions that are intensely about expressing the “shell of the body” and vicariously living in unity with it. They have — with their own mental and vital view of things — constructed an image of “shell of the body” that may not be the same as the shell of the body that Indians in India experience. So they go on month-long ‘India’ vacations when they travel the sites that they feel represents their India — old palaces now converted into expensive hotels, old forts that tell the glorious history of their homeland, religious places where they feel reconnected with their heritage, and yes, even American-style shopping malls that make them feel they don’t need to sacrifice the little physical comforts of American-style life.
The enthusiasm of diasporic Indians is about this mental, emotional construction of “shell of the body” not necessarily the real, concrete shell that surrounds Indians living in India in its throbbing, breathing, living truth. This real shell includes all that the ‘tourist’ Indian coming from New York does not visit for ‘seeing’.
But because of this very constructed nature of the shell of the body that diasporic Indians are discovering, they are becoming more aware that this construction is a subjective one. And it is in this developing awareness that there is a glimmer of next level of awareness that underneath the shell needs to be discovered the more subjective meaning of living the Indian life in India. So the children of ‘tourist’ Indians from New York now also go for three-month ‘learning’ stay in India through their colleges’ study abroad program. Also, there are now organizations like Indicorps (http://www.indicorps.org/) which help them experience — even if it is for a short period of time — selected aspects of the subjective consciousness of selected sections of Indian people.
To continue our analysis of the Indian-American collective experience, I invoke now Sri Aurobindo’s description of the “objective” or “superficial or loose and vague” subjective attempts of a group’s striving for becoming self-conscious. This provides an appropriate framework to understand why a group of Indians removed from their “janma-bhûmi” would develop a strong connection with the emotional conception of the nation which centers around the most outward and material aspects. These connections resulting from a strong affiliation to their group-identity (illustrated by the earlier-mentioned identity politics-driven examples) and resulting in passion-driven social and political activism on behalf of their group exist on the outer and apparent surface, and hence can be seen as individual ego-self feeding itself off the group-ego and vice versa. But, does this connection between apparent individual identity and apparent group-identity hide in its womb something deeper, something more real than this, or something struggling to reveal and find itself? If we agree with Sri Aurobindo’s meaning and interpretation of group-soul, our answer may be ‘yes’:
A psychic self-knowledge tells us that there are in our being many formal, frontal, apparent or representative selves and only one that is entirely secret and real; to rest in the apparent and to mistake it for the real is the one general error, root of all others and cause of all our stumbling and suffering, to which man is exposed by the nature of his mentality. We may apply this truth to the attempt of man to live by the law of his subjective being whether as an individual or as a social unit one in its corporate mind and body. (Sri Aurobindo, 1977, p. 44)
I propose that behind the sensational-vitalisitic attempts of Indian-American communities to play the game of identity politics, to assert its collective self, to passionately engage in social-political activism, there may be deeply hidden and remote signs of the group-soul of Indian-Americans trying to find its true “subjective communal consciousness.” I wish to quickly add here that in most cases this may not be a conscious attempt, but perhaps the attempts to discover or forge even a physical-vital communal consciousness may be the first and essential step.
The emphasis placed by individual Indian-Americans on preserving the outward forms of Indian identities as reflected in proliferation of desi restaurants, stores and markets, cultural events and community celebrations of Indian festivals, native language classes for children, Sunday classes to ensure that next generations of Indian-Americans know their religious and spiritual traditions, pujas and satsangs at temples, and many other similar activities can be explained as a:
… vague sense of … subjective existence at work even on the surface of the communal mentality. But so far as this vague sense becomes at all definite, it concerns itself mostly with details and unessentials, national idiosyncrasies, habits, prejudices, marked mental tendencies. It is, so to speak, an objective sense of subjectivity … It [the community] clings indeed always to its idiosyncrasies, habits, prejudices, but in a blind objective fashion, insisting on their most external aspect and not at all going behind them to that for which they stand, that which they try blindly to express. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 37).
This suggests that behind the initial stumblings and strivings of Indian-Americans to cling to their “idiosyncrasies, habits, prejudices, marked mental tendencies” manifested in attempts to deliberately identify with, preserve and protect the outward ways of being ‘Indian’ might be something which is trying to express itself, the true subjective consciousness. In some form and to some extent this expansion of individual ego into a collective one helps transcend the limits of individual egoism (concerns about self and family) by being concerned about larger egoism of the group (e.g., how can Indian-Americans and South Asian-Americans get more social, political recognition). As Sri Aurobindo writes:
In society he [the individual] finds a less intimate but a larger expansion of himself and his instincts. A wider field of companionship, interchange, associated effort and production, errant or gregarious pleasure, satisfied emotion, stirred sensation and regular amusement are the advantages which attach him to social existence. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 160)
The “objective sense of subjectivity” (objective as in outward) that Indian-Americans begin to experience and express in the form of outward efforts to express and preserve their Indian identities helps them enlarge their individual ego-self into a collective-ego-self, a group-ego which is separate from other group-egos surrounding them (European-Americans, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Korean-Americans, etc.). At the same time there is a tendency to further expand the collective ego-self as reflected in identities, such as South Asian-Americans, Asian Americans, and other similar collectivities. There are also signs of conflict between the identity labels of Indian-Americans and South Asian-Americans. In some ways, this emphasis on ‘being different from others’ also acts as an important resistance against the uniform-izing tendency of The American Dream.
With the “full rationalistic flowering” of Indian-Americans’ “instinct of collective life” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 162), over time their individual, familial and small group strivings to discover a subjective consciousness get more organized and visible. This attempt at collective organization translates into social and political activism and gets reflected in emergence of numerous Indian-American social, cultural, and political organizations. This furthers the evolution of Indian-Americans as a separate group-ego or a collectivity, or even a society within the larger American society. And it serves an important purpose for the individual Indian-Americans by giving them a collective identity and meeting their collective vital needs.
For the society is only a still larger vital competitive and cooperative ego that takes up
both the individual and the family into a more complex organism and uses them for the collective satisfaction of its vital needs, claims, interests, aggrandisement, well-being, enjoyment. The individual and family consent to this exploitation for the same reason that induced the individual to take on himself the yoke of the family, because they find their account in this wider vital life and have the instinct in it of their own larger growth, security and satisfaction.
(Sri Aurobindo, 1997, pp. 161–162)
The more this group of immigrants to the US gets organized and emerges into a separate collective-ego, the more it interacts with other collective-egos in both cooperative and competitive ways.
But since the society is one competitive unit among many of its kind, and since its first relations with the others are always potentially hostile, even at the best competitive and not cooperative, and have to organized in that view, a political character is necessarily added to the social life … (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 162).
The political campaigns led by several Indian-Americans — on individual and group level — are a reflection of their becoming a politically-conscious social unit in themselves. Because of the divided nature of their “collective self-assertion” (Indian and American), the nature of their social and political activism takes such forms as campaigning for or against causes that are generally about some of the ways their perceptions of India or Indian-ness either competes or cooperates with their perceptions of America or American-ness.
“The primary impulse of life is individualistic and makes family, social and national life a means for the greater satisfaction of the vital individual.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 159) The modern idea of society is founded upon the primary and predominant part played by this vital dynamism in the formation and maintenance of society, according to Sri Aurobindo. In this respect, the social or collective ego-assertion gives an individual a solid grounding to grow into oneself and to develop a strong sense of one’s individual identity, a resting place for one’s constant vitalistic seeking for bigger field of activity and perhaps also a place from where one can begin the process of peeling off one’s layers of outer identity — familial, social, cultural, political — and to see oneself as a human being who is capable of expanding one’s concept of self to include all. Thus, this relation between individual-ego and group-ego serves an important purpose but only as a transitory step toward both the individual and group finding the hidden individual-soul and group-soul. It is in this constant and continuous process of self-finding — both for individual and group — that life fulfills itself and paves the way for transcending the limits, constraints and burdens imposed by the external forms as the inward journey toward true subjective consciousness begins.
All the discussion so far is a reflection of the higher significance given to the realms of social and political, the apparent and frontal selves, on the level of a highly limited subjective existence. But if this search for subjective communal consciousness rests in the apparent and frontal — represented in social, cultural, and political organizations, social awareness and political campaigns, community events and conferences, regardless of the ideologies being championed by any of these — that general error caused by the nature of individual and group mentality will
be a loss for the future of the group’s and humanity’s collective evolution.
Man must learn not to suppress and mutilate but to fulfill himself in the fulfillment of mankind, even as he must learn not to mutilate or destroy but to complete his ego by expanding it out of its limitations and losing it in something greater which it now tries to represent. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 300)
With time, and as a result of further deepening of the attempts of Indian-American groups to ‘find themselves’ these strivings may get to the deeper, real subjective being, the soul of the group or nation that is India, and soul of the group or nation that is America.
It is when this subconscious power of the group-soul comes to the surface that nations begin to enter into possession of their subjective selves; they set about getting, however vaguely or imperfectly, at their souls. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 37)
In the US one finds a burgeoning body of literary and academic work that interprets and analyzes this constantly evolving Indian-American identity. But what interests me here is the question: when the Indian-American ultimately finds his subjective self, will he retain the difference of this cultural identity or will the difference efface itself because it has found that source which is the common source of all — the Universal Being or consciousness?
In the light of Sri Aurobindo’s social psychology I am inclined to say that once the Indian-American finds the source which is the common source of all — the Universal Being or consciousness — the issue of ‘identity’ becomes mute. Forming identity is an outward process, searching for self is an inward journey. But the inner truth also gets represented in outward forms, and that is where the diversity or multiplicity of identities may provide the necessary richness that is needed by the Universal Being to express itself in its full potential and infinite variation. Thus there may still be many Indian-American aspects of identity-formation being celebrated in various outward forms of presentation and representation, Indian-American community and service organizations engaged in different activities, and even the conflicting feelings resulting from hyphenated identities may still be the basis of a lot of outward action among Indian-Americans. But when this outward experience is based in the inner subjective consciousness that is universal, the outer Indian-American identity is not in conflict with Indian or American identity because those two are also just outer layers not the true inner consciousness. The inner true Indian-American soul connects with the inner true Indian and inner true American souls despite the different and multiple forms of Indian and American cultural identities.
In the case of Indian-Americans, as they continue to work toward formulating and asserting their group-ego, underneath their attempts may be lurking a deeper invisible urge to break the shell of group-ego, the body of being Indian-American, and to get in touch with the soul that may be termed as Indian-American group-soul. When we move beyond the level of group-identity and toward developing a sense of the group-soul, we begin to enter the deeper realms of psychological and subtle. And in the case of Indian group-soul, as Sri Aurobindo would remind us we also begin to enter the realm of the spiritual.2 If we agree that the spirituality is the soul of India, the prevailing context of the materialist versus spiritualist divide in American mainstream consciousness may create a psychological conflict as Indian-Americans continue with their journey to discover or realize their group-soul. To what extent and in what ways this Indian-American group-soul will become a synthesis of American group-soul and Indian group-soul remains to be discovered as time goes by.
What also remains a matter of future discovery is the interpretation that Indian-Americans will make of American group-soul. Consciously or unconsciously, their outward actions and behaviors will be in some way a reflection of — remote and loosely formulated as it may be — an attempt at unfolding hidden inner connection with the Indian group-soul. “[T]his is true that by constant enlargement, purification, openness the reason of man is bound to arrive at an intelligent sense even of that which is hidden from it, a power of passive, yet sympathetic reflection of the Light that surpasses it” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 123). Some Indian-Americans might at some point in their lives begin to feel an awareness of this latent connection to Indian group-soul, though they may not become aware of this connection in these specific terms. This may happen because underneath the very temporary identities of national, ethnic, or cultural belonging, their inner journeys will also happen in the context of their outer journeys. By the fact of the Indian group-soul hidden — no matter in however latent form that may be — in their apparent group self, and as they become more self-conscious of their Indian-American group experience, they may find it relatively easier3 to discover a connection with a group-soul that is Indian. They may or may not experience similarly deep connection to what might be seen as American group-soul, or they may try to find it in their own unique way, which will be partly guided by their gradual unfolding of the subjective experience or awareness of the Indian group-soul.
It must be remembered that Indian social life has subordinated almost entirely the individual to the family … the mould of society has been long of an almost iron fixity putting each individual in his place and expecting him to conform to it … a courageous solution is only possible where there is freedom of personal will; but where the only solution (in one remains in this life) is submission to the family will, there can be nothing of the kind. It is a secure life and can be happy if one accommodates oneself to it and has no unusual aspirations beyond it or is fortunate in one’s environment; but is has no remedy for or escape from incompatibilities or any kind of individual frustration; it leaves little room for initiative or free movement or any individualism. (Sri Aurobindo, 1970, p. 871)
This Indian social value that could discourage individual freedom is contrasted with one of the hallmarks of American individual and collective consciousness, namely, the emphasis on individualism and freedom. Though it must be remembered that both of these American ideals are primarily or only understood on a materialistic plane, and that historically both of these have not been part of the experience of many Americans. However, an individualistic bent is sufficiently ingrained in American mind and psyche, even though its outward manifestations could be somewhat crude and overly rationalistic and secular in character.
Also, American modernity with its emphasis on materialistic and social progress and its constant attempts at creating efficiently organized collective life are outcomes of the scientific, rationalistic mindset that objectifies, externalizes, and concerns itself mostly with the practical so that “[l]ife itself is the only object of living.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 158) “A purely rational society could not come into being and, if it could be born, either could not live or would sterilize and petrify human existence.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 123), and it is to move outside of the prison of rationality, that the West has always looked to the East and tried to revive and renew those ideas from its ancient heritage that resisted complete objectification and materialistic tendencies. The collective Indian consciousness, on the other hand, carries deep within it the ancient ideal that “life is a seeking for God and for the highest self …” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 159). A true seeking of the Divine happens in complete freedom and is always an individual journey. So with Indian emphasis on spirituality and American emphasis on individual freedom, a question, no matter how idealistic it may sound, emerges: Is it likely that as the Indian-American collectivity continues with its search for true subjective consciousness, the subconscious pull of Indian ideal of life as a seeking for Divine finds a happy union with the subconscious American ideal of freedom of the individual?
The trend of increasing popularity of Indian spiritual practices in the US may be somewhat of an external manifestation of how the material foundation is already being prepared (though this preparation may be happening in crude, obscure and stumbling manner, and often blatantly mixed with economic and political motivations) for the emergence of such an idealistic vision of Indian-American group-soul. Though of course, the recently increasing presence of Indian immigrant groups in the US may have little to do with this popularity, and perhaps the 1893 speech of Swami Vivekananda may have been the starting point, but the increasing interactions between two collective-consciousnesses — Indian and American — even if they are first on the level of externalities, may enable conditions necessary for the birth of a new group-consciousness that is reflected in new external forms and internal dynamics of life-force and spirit-force. This new group-consciousness may then in its self-conscious aim seek for its group-soul that is a synthesis of soul of India and soul of America. And this new group-consciousness with its deeper truth of individualism implying that an individual is not “merely a member of human pack … [but] a soul, a being, who has to fulfill his own individual truth and law as well as his natural or his assigned part in the truth and law of the collective existence” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 24) could further steer the direction of American mainstream consciousness toward true subjectivism and spiritual aim of life.
This realization of Indian-American group-soul will still only be a step, till it is ready to experience the higher vision of Self which is beyond the group-soul and connects with the soul of humanity, and lives in true freedom. While an individual has the “tendency of self-limitation and subjection to his environment and group, but he has also the equally necessary tendency of expansion and transcendence of environment and groupings.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 69).
But until that Dawn of expansion and transcendence …
Thus the community stands as a mid-term and intermediary value between the individual and humanity and it exists not merely for itself, but for the one and the other and to help them to fulfill each other. The individual has to live in humanity as well as humanity in the individual; but mankind is or has been too large an aggregate to make this mutuality a thing intimate and powerfully felt in the ordinary mind of the race, and even if humanity becomes a manageable unit of life, intermediate groups and aggregates must still exist for the purpose of mass-differentiation and the concentration and combination of varying tendencies in the total human aggregate. Therefore the community has to stand for a time to the individual for humanity even at the cost of standing between him and it and limiting the reach of his universality and the wideness of his sympathies (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, p. 69).
The search continues …
Sri Aurobindo (1970). Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Edition (SABCL), Volume 23, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1970.
Sri Aurobindo (1997). The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, War and Self-determination, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo (CWSA), Vol. 25, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department.
Varma, V. P. (1960/1990). The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.
1 “Identity politics is the political activity of various social movements for self-determination. It claims to represent and seek to advance the interests of particular groups in society, the members of which often share and unite around common experiences of actual or perceived social injustice, relative to the wider society of which they form part. In this way, the identity of the oppressed group gives rise to a political basis around which they then unite. Despite the purportedly overlapping definitions with social identity its adherents claim it possesses, such as encompassing the development of a social identity for group members and providing a body of thought which may be used to challenge dominant stereotypes, identity politics means more than the sole recognition of social identity, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. Rather, identity politics seeks to carry this social identity forward, beyond mere self-identification, to a political framework based upon that identity.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identity_politics)
2 Sri Aurobindo sees India as the Divine Mother, and it is this divinity hidden in the Indian nation-soul that must be awakened and realized. More significantly, he accepts the spiritual concept of the realization of God in the nation, and also beyond the nation, in humanity. So in his thought, the idea of group-soul or nation-soul, as immortal as it maybe, is only a necessary step towards internationalism and inner human unity. Also, since Sri Aurobindo accepts the idea of divine motherhood of the nation, he is not worried by the problem of divergence of the mutual interests of the individual and the nation. He does not stand for the suppression of the separate individuals or groups of individuals by the nation. According to Sri Aurobindo, the individual also is divine, if the nation is divine; and hence both being aspects of the same being, the nation is only a stage for the divine fulfillment of the individual (Varma, 1960/1990, p. 200).
3 Sometimes the geographic separation may make such a sprouting of the seed a bit easier, though that is not always the case. In individual cases, geographic dislocation sometimes may make these issues of group-soul attachment much more severe and pronounced than what might have been the case if one had never left one’s ‘homeland’.
1. Much of the analyses of Indian-American experience presented in this article are my reflections based on the personal experience and observation over more than 14 years of living in the US. These highly subjective reflections are presented here with full appreciation that an individual’s subjective experience cannot provide much or any substance for generalizing to a larger aggregate. But perhaps in some way each individual’s unique journey of identification with group-ego and group-soul, and consequent attempts at transcending the hold of both on one’s inner self are all one has to learn from in a process of self-inquiry and self-awareness which aim at a seeking for the highest self.
2. Some of the discussion presented in this essay may be especially relevant for those Indian-Americans who identify with spiritual and religious traditions collectively known as Sanâtana Dharma (Hinduism). Besides the fact that I am from such a background and therefore can speak with a bit more experiential authenticity about some aspects of Hindu-American experience than about the experiences of Indian-Americans who identify with other religious or spiritual traditions, the other reason why these issues may be of more relevance to Hindu Americans is that the philosophical or metaphysical foundations of traditions grouped under Sanâtana Dharma (or Hinduism) are in many ways deeply contrary to the more materialistic foundations of mainstream western cultures. However, at the same time it is important to add that because of the multi-religious nature of Indian society, the psychological impact on overall Indian consciousness of the inherent multiplicity, plurality, heterogeneity, and respect for diversity of faiths and belief systems all of which are at the core of traditions collectively known as Sanâtana Dharma, and the ever-renewing organic hybridity resulting from the synthesis of various spiritual traditions in India, much of this may be equally applicable for those Indian-Americans who identify themselves with other religious traditions including Islam, Christianity, and other faiths.
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THE CONCEPT OF MAN
Who is Man? What is the purpose of his existence? What is his destiny? Where does man lead to? All these questions have tormented the brains of men in all ages and in all the civilisations. Why so much fuss about this creature called MAN? The question ‘who is a lion or why is it born’ would have never occurred to anybody! But man (human being) wants to know the reason of his existence. The reason is perhaps:
The animal is satisfied with a modicum of necessity; the gods are content with their splendours. But man cannot rest permanently until he reaches some highest good. He is the greatest of living beings because he is the most discontented, because he feels most the pressure of limitations. He alone, perhaps, is capable of being seized by the divine frenzy for a remote ideal. (SABCL, Vol. 18, p. 46)
Let us take a look at the viewpoints of a few schools of thought.
Materialism and science believe man to be a machine consisting of various parts coordinating to keep the machine working. His intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects are nothing but products of his material nature acting according to the rules of physics and biology. Man is not distinguishable from the other material of creation. Therefore, he has no dignity or inherent worth. Animals (or even plants) have the same inherent worth as man. For science and the school of materialism, man is just another creature like any other animal.
According to the famous philosopher Aristotle, man is Zoon politikon. Zoon politikon is variously interpreted as social or political. Thus, man is a social and political animal. That he is one of those animals who is capable of making relations and can administer the society. Here also man is given the status of animals, may be a little superior. Karl Marx defined man as the product of socio-economic interaction. The main governing principles in man’s life according to Marx are social and economic conditions and relations with others. According to him, if man fails to relate himself actively with others and with nature, he loses himself, becomes alienated; his drives lose human qualities and assume animal qualities. He becomes sick, fragmented and a crippled human being.
Charles Darwin places man to be the product of evolution. The evolution which started from Amoeba has culminated into Man. He has perceived man to have evolved into what we now see as the human form. For him evolution has taken the path from the unicellular organism to the multicellular, from a simple biological organism to more and more complex. Thus, he considers man to be a better form of organism. Freud attributes man to be a sexual animal. He says all human behaviour is the result of the sexual impulse buried in the unconscious of man. He brought in and emphasised the play of unconscious in man. According to him, man has suppressed desires which get stored in the unconscious part of human being. The suppressed things surface at times without the awareness of the conscious man. For him, these suppressed desires are usually related to sex. Thus for him man is a sexual animal.
Adi Shankaracharya places man in relation to God. In his view man has been created by a power called Maya. Maya is the veil between man and God. The purpose of man’s life is to realise God. His only aim is to understand that the world is a falsehood and the only truth is God sitting above in the welkin. Man by his efforts, through yoga-sadhana, should reach up there. This process of reaching up there he called Moksha. The freedom or Mukti from the false world and the vicious circle of life and death. Buddha did not believe in God. He said that man is born to attain Nirvana from this cycle of life and death. As long as man stays in this world, which is full of desires, he is doomed to suffer and take birth again and again. So his ultimate aim is to leave this world and attain Nirvana. “In orthodox Buddhism it [Nirvana] does mean a disintegration, not of soul — for that does not exist — but of a mental compound or stream of associations or sa§skàras which we mistake for ourself.” (SABCL, Vol. 22, p. 46) Both of them neglected the importance of body and gave prime importance to soul. For them man is the soul. Thus, it should return to its abode into the unearthly world. Both dissuaded the fulfilment of the needs of the physical body and emphasised to fulfil the demands of the soul.
Sikhism says, man is the child of God. He is not separate from God. Man has to realise the Presence of God within. One of the verses of Sri Guru Granth Sahib says:
Himself He created and manifested the Naam.
Secondly, the expanse of Universe He made. (SGGS: 463: 4)
(http://www.sikhnet.com/sikhnet/discussion.nsf/3d8d6eacce83bad8872564280070c2b3/d894a8cc83d430b08725674e0074ed78!OpenDocument) [accessed on October 9th, 2007]
Christianity says that God created the world. He created human beings. But it does not speak about man having the part of Divinity within himself.
Swami Vivekananda says, Man is Divine. His concept of man is based on the Vedanta. In one of the verses of Chhandogya Upanishad man is defined as:
“Thou Art That, O Swetaketu” [tat twam asi o swetaketu]
The Vedanta has defined man as a part of the Divine being. The creator being the Divine, the creation is Man. Thus, man has the seed in himself called the God.
All these concepts have tried to throw light upon the question, who is man and what is the purpose of his existence. Most of the western schools, of philosophy, psychology, science, etc., have defined man as the body. He is either a machine, an animal, or a play of forces — social, political, economic, sexual, etc. For them, man is the physical body, capable of thinking and making relations. Man is one who can be the cause and effect of his own survival. Some attempts by Freud and other psychologists have tried to go beyond the body to look into the mind of man, but the result of all the investigation culminates into bodily activity and behaviour. Christianity separates man from God. Thus man remains, a miserable animal; a product of society; a plaything of his own unconscious; and may be having no real motive of existence. He is just like any other animal on the earth.
The Indian philosophers present a different view. They tell us that man is born with a purpose. He is body and mind, but he is capable of realising the unearthly bliss. The view of the Vedanta is the oldest compared to all the others mentioned above and perhaps give us an in-depth look at what man is. However, the mere conception that we are the sons of God, or that we are God, does not make us God. We are still human. Sri Aurobindo tells us about the essence of man and the purpose of his birth.
He says: “Man is a transitional being; he is not final.” (SABCL, Vol. 17, p. 7) He has had a past which is revealed to him but he also has a future. About the past and the present of man he says:
Man is in his characteristic power of nature a mental being, but in the first steps of his emergence he is more of the mentalised animal, preoccupied like the animal with his bodily existence; he employs his mind for the uses, interests, desires of the life and the body, as their servant and minister, not yet as their sovereign and master. It is as he grows in mind and in proportion as his mind asserts its selfhood and independence against the tyranny of life and matter, that he grows in stature. (SABCL, Vol. 19, p. 730)
He also tells us about the future of man; of what is man’s real essence and what would he be:
Man is God hiding himself from Nature so that he may possess her by struggle, insistence, violence and surprise. God is universal and transcendent Man hiding himself from his own individuality in the human being. (SABCL, Vol. 16, p. 382)
The explanations given by Sri Aurobindo tell us that we have evolved and are yet to evolve. They tell us what our real essence is. Sri Aurobindo reveals that the real being is neither only the body nor only the soul. Man has different beings, namely, mental, vital and physical, which are usually mistaken to be the essence of man. We tend to describe man partially as mental being, emotional being or physical body. However, these beings are only instruments for the Divine element in man, called the psychic being, the caitaya puruùa. The caitaya puruùa is the real man. Sri Aurobindo describes psychic being as part of the soul, Jivatman, which takes part in evolution birth after birth. The psychic being grows and comes to the forefront to govern the mind, vital and body. The process of perfection goes on. A stage is reached where man undergoes a transformation of his mind, life and body. Sri Aurobindo says in Savitri, that man is an instrument:
Man is a dynamo for the cosmic work;
Nature does most in him, God the high rest:
Only his soul’s acceptance is his own.
This independent, once a power supreme,
Self-born before the universe was made,
Accepting cosmos, binds himself Nature’s serf
Till he becomes her freedman — or God’s slave. (CWSA, Vol. 34, p. 542)
All the philosophers till the advent of Sri Aurobindo discarded mind, vital and body because they treated them as a hindrance for the soul’s progress. Hence it was advised to leave these three, to free oneself from the bondage and escape into the higher world. However, Sri Aurobindo firmly asserts that these are instruments of the soul and can be divinised and these ought not to be discarded. He has shown us the way to divinise the mental, vital and physical, resulting in their transformation. As one rises, higher transformation takes place at different levels of one’s being.
The concept of transformation becomes compelling and clear in Sri Aurobindo because he has given us the concept of the evolution of consciousness whereas Darwin’s work focused exclusively on the evolution of form. Evolution of consciousness is a gradual unfoldment of the Spirit that is involved in matter. Man is the result of this unfolding of the Spirit, but he cannot be the apex of this evolution as he is imperfect. He has to evolve beyond his present status. Before Sri Aurobindo it was believed that there is a gap between man and God. To quote Sri Aurobindo’s term, it was an “unbridgeable chasm.” (CWSA, Vol. p. 394) However when he tells us that consciousness is the link to bridge this gap, we are assured that the bridge can be made. In man this key to making the bridge is the realised being within, i.e., the psychic being.
We may conclude that the earthly life is not futile, and the body, emotions and mind are not unnecessary parts of human being. They are important as the instruments of the psychic being. The psychic being alone knows that man is destined to evolve and thus it constantly tries to exert itself upon mind, life and body. The realisation of one’s psychic being enables a conscious and accelerated journey towards the higher levels of consciousness. Man possesses mind which is an asset because it keeps him aware and also conscious. Through mind he can be more and more conscious about his mission and ultimately reach his goal. Sri Aurobindo explains the capacities of man in Savitri:
Authors of earth’s high change, to you it is given
To cross the dangerous spaces of the soul
And touch the mighty Mother stark awake
And meet the Omnipotent in this house of flesh
And make of life the million-bodied One. (CWSA, Vol. 34, p. 370)
It is befitting to close this exploration about the Man by listening to M. P. Pandit who helps us understand the role of the present in shaping the future of Man. He writes:
Thus, in the vision of Sri Aurobindo, Man who is the crown of the evolutionary Nature is destined to be a fine product of a Super-Nature, becoming himself perfect and helping to build a world that is perfect. All that has gone before is a preparation, all that is going on at present is a prelude to the coming of New Man embodying a New Consciousness in which the Nature and Soul, Earth and Heaven shall meet. (The Concept of Man, 1987, Dipti Publications, p. 12)
About the author:
Shruti Bidwaikar completed the Orientation Programme at The University of Tomorrow in 2006. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at The Pondicherry University in the Department of English. Her research focuses on Sri Aurobindo’s literary aesthetics.
Our latest book release:
Deliberations on The Life Divine
Book I: Chapters I–VI
(Chapterwise Summary Talks)
by Ananda Reddy
available with SACAR & SABDA
‘INVITATION’ — TO THE PIONEERS OF NEW RACE
With the wind and weather beating round me
Up to the hill and the moorland I go.
Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow?
(Invitation, SABCL, Vol. 5, p. 39)
Through this poem Sri Aurobindo gives a clarion call to those who wish to herald a divine life on this very earth. Presently he may be a loner (“I sport with solitude here in my regions,” — ibid), but he says with certitude that man will: “evolve out of himself the fully conscious being, a divine manhood or a spiritual and supramental supermanhood which shall be the next product of the evolution.” (SABCL, Vol. 19, p. 825) The New Race that would emerge will be only the natural culmination of evolutionary process that has led so far to the present human. We are very familiar with our Master’s theory of evolution of Life from Matter and of Mind from Life. Nature has actively participated in this evolution of consciousness. She knows that the man, as he is today, is not a perfect creation. Man is only a transient being. She will not be satisfied with the thinking animal as has been created. The present-day man has been described in his sonnet ‘Man, the Thinking Animal’ thus:
The task seems to be enormous and mammoth. The possibility seems to be remote. But neither it is improbable nor is it impossible. This is because Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have given us the sunlit path to follow their modus operandi after years of rigorous tapasyà and experimentation on themselves. Having come up to the mind level it is imperative on the mankind to surge forward to the Supermind level which would open up the passage towards the Gnostic society. That would involve the spiritualisation of man and mankind.
Before proceeding further, it would be necessary for us to understand as to how the
Master arrived at this conclusion. Being a deep thinker and a keen observer, Sri Aurobindo saw an inner meaning and a profound pattern in the established theory of evolution. The process of human evolution involves not only the evolution from mere Matter to Life and from Life to Mind, there also has been an evolution of consciousness. There had been involution of Spirit into the Matter. In other words, the Divine descended into Inconscient in the beginning of creation.
This consciousness is rudimentary (almost to the extent of an absence of consciousness) in the material things; developing slowly from animal and climaxing at the level of the man. The Man thinks, emotes, ideates, reasons out and intellectually elevates himself over and above the categories of animals. But still, the development is not complete. According to Sri Aurobindo, “…the thinking animal who develops into the reasoning mental being but carries along with him even at his highest elevation the mould of original animality, the dead weight of subconscience of body …” (SABCL, Vol. 19, p. 825) Man has to evolve from Ignorance to Knowledge; from pain to joy; from suffering to bliss, from animality to Divinity; from Falsehood to Truth; from death to immortality.
That he can evolve is borne out of the fact that he aspires for the aforesaid higher states of consciousness. His aspiration to exceed himself has resulted in the multifarious activities that modern man indulges in. His aspiration, his urge and his capacity to conquer the nature has already been proven beyond doubt. Therefore, there is no reason why there should not be a transition from manhood to supermanhood, by transforming and evolving in the consciousness. But the moot question is when, how and at what pace he would evolve.
So far we have seen the evolution of a human being. There is another aspect to this evolution. As long as the evolution progressed up to the animal kingdom, there was no problem. But with the advent of the thinking animal called man, a new equation has been brought about, that is, man vis-à-vis the society. Man is often called a gregarious animal. But his gregariousness has become the cause of the long drawn out strife and stress that we have been witnessing throughout the ages. History has been a mute spectator of the struggle for survival driven by the egoistic tendencies, distrust between man and man, and greed leading to encroachment of one over the other. After going into details of the evolution of man, society, nation, and the humanity as a whole, Sri Aurobindo has extensively dwelt into the problems of the present-day world. He concluded that the reasoning man with his reasoning faculty alone cannot arrive at any final truth: “The limitations of the reason become very strikingly, very characteristically, very nakedly apparent when it is confronted with that great order of psychological truths and experiences which we have hitherto kept in the background — the religious being of man and his religious life.” (SABCL, Vol. 15, p. 120)
He wants to differentiate religion and spiritualism and chooses the later as the cure for the present day ills. For him God, Freedom and Unity are intertwined. One of the three cannot be realised unless the other two are realised. He beautifully explains: “God is only waiting to be known, while man seeks for him everywhere and creates images of the Divine, but all the while truly finds, effectively erects and worships images only of his own mind-ego and life-ego.” (SABCL, Vol. 15, p. 239)
This could be rectified only through spiritualisation of, first, the individual and then the whole society. He dreamt of a world order: “in which many elements, racial, national, cultural, spiritual can exist side by side and form a multiple unity; in such an order all these antipathies, hostilities, distrusts would die from lack of nourishment. That would be a true state of perfectly developed human civilisation, a true basis for the higher progress of the race.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 685) But this complex Idea cannot be understood by the population at once. The Idea has to be germinated, initially, amongst a few and then taken to the large.
For this to happen, Sri Aurobindo wants two conditions to be fulfilled:
1. The individuals, he calls them affectionately as pioneers who will be able to see, develop and recreate themselves in the image of spirit. Through them, the Idea and its power should be communicated to the masses.
2. It is to these pioneers or the mind-born that the Master extends an ‘Invitation’ with which we started this essay.
We can recall a close resemblance of these pioneers to the Mind-born sons of Lord Brahma — Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanat Kumara and Sanat Sujata. They were the young yogis, ever sixteen, illumined spiritually and always dwelling in the Bliss of Truth-Consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo’s pioneers would be the forerunners of the spiritual age and exemplars in the conversion of the whole life of the human beings as it is now to a life that is led by the spirit. They would be torch bearers of the coming of Spiritual Age, carrying the ‘magic word’ and the ‘mystic fire’ in order to rescue the earth from its suffering. Their role in such a transformation of society is significant because it is not that easy to mould a society which is not plastic enough to subjectivity of the soul.
Our mind is only too comfortable with what is objective in nature. One has to go deeper and deeper into the inner being. This has to be understood and put into practice by our pioneers. The pioneers will not be satisfied with the mere ascent of men into heaven; rather they will have to work for immortality of men here on earth.
The pioneers will not attach themselves to any belief or form; neither will they coerce others into various faiths, dogmas and rituals. They will ensure total freedom for the individual soul to blossom towards attaining the Divinity. They will not attempt to change the society by any machinery or outward institutions. They will try to bridge the Eastern philosophy of man’s destiny and salvation within and the Western attitude of making the quality of life better and more meaningful. Also, they will not attempt to make the people blindly follow a few ‘luminous spiritual figures’.
Also these pioneers, who are at work, would teach that this ‘little ego’ must be abandoned and only then man will have the first glimpse of true spirituality. They will instruct the society that a criminal be not treated as a social hindrance but as one having a spark of divinity in him and help him to evolve. Simultaneously they will treat a saint not as an idol to be worshipped but as an individual with evolved soul whose services to the fellow human beings are to be dedicated.
The transformation may be tardy or quicker. These pioneers will have to confront with
different stages of evolution of consciousness. All humanity will not rise to the same level at once. There may be some who are already spiritualised, others who are only able to live in the light that descends and the vast majority who are not yet ready.
Sri Aurobindo calls upon these pioneers to work for such a race of human beings which would have a mind that is able to receive Truth; the mind will be a Mind of Light. Such a task would be enormous, that is to the say the very least. As Sri Aurobindo says: “The thing to be done is as large as human life, and therefore the individuals who lead the way will take all human life for their province.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 266) In his poem with which we started, he asks:
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.
Stark must he be and a kinsman to danger
Who shares my kingdom and walks at my side
(Invitation, SABCL, Vol. 5, p. 39)
The pertinent question is, if we really want to serve the master, can we become the:
Fore runners of a divine multitude
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
The architects of immortality.
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Lips chanting the unknown anthem of the soul,
High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
(CWSA, Vol. 33, pp. 343–344)
Are we ready to be these pioneers?
About the author:
Shantha Rajan completed the Orientation Programme at The University of Tomorrow in 2006. She is a classical musician, a writer, has an M. Phil. in Economics and lives in Bangalore.
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SRI AUROBINDO CENTRE FOR ADVANCED RESEARCH
Second International Study Camp
on the Vision of Sri Aurobindo
Van Nivas, Nainital, Himalayas
YOGA OF DIVINE LOVE
October 1-9, 2008
Facilitator: Dr. Ananda Reddy
Focus of the talks will be on selected chapters from
The Synthesis of Yoga
Experience the magical beauty of the meditating mountains of the Himalayas,
and revel in Sri Aurobindo’s soul-stirring explanations on
Yoga of Love and Devotion for the Divine
Other features include
Asana practice, meditation, chanting, group discussions,
& long treks along the stunning surroundings
Enjoy the company of participants from across the globe.
Limited Seats, Register Early!
For inquiries and registration, send full details to:
SACAR, 39 Vanniar Street
Vaithikuppam, Puducherry 605012
Email: email@example.com On the web: www.sacar.in
Phone: 0413-2348067 or 9894778977
Participants must arrange themselves for travel to and from Nainital. Camp fee will include lodging and boarding at Nainital from October 1 -8, 2008.