Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
The final task that Hinduism has to fulfil is to bring spirituality into life itself. If Hinduism has to fulfil its true role in the renaissance of India, in the rebirth of the soul of India, “it must insist much more finally and integrally than it has as yet done on its spiritual turn, on the greater and greater action of the spiritual motive in every sphere of our living” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 32). This does not mean eliminating religion; it simply means graduating from religion into spirituality.
When one studies the history of Hinduism, one finds that it has passed through two complete outwardly-oriented stages; while a third, more inwardly-turned stage has taken its initial steps and is the destiny of her future.
The early Vedic was the first stage: then religion took its outward formal stand on the natural approach of the physical mind of man to the Godhead in the universe (in the form of the rites and rituals associated with the external practice of yagna), but the initiates – those who were ready to understand and practise the inner sense, the esoteric meaning hidden in the Vedic scripture – guarded the sacrificial fire of a greater spiritual truth behind the outer form.
But the greatest power of the Vedic teaching, that which made it the source of all later Indian philosophies, religions, systems of Yoga, lay in its application to the inner life of man… The Upanishads have always been recognised in India as the crown and end of Veda; that is indicated in their general name, Vedanta. And they are in fact a large crowning outcome of the Vedic discipline and experience. The time in which the Vedantic truth was wholly seen and the Upanishads took shape, was, as we can discern from such records as the Chhandogya and Brihadaranyaka, an epoch of immense and strenuous seeking, an intense and ardent seed-time of the Spirit. In the stress of that seeking the truths held by the initiates but kept back from ordinary men broke their barriers, swept through the higher mind of the nation and fertilised the soil of Indian culture for a constant and ever increasing growth of spiritual consciousness and spiritual experience. This turn was not as yet universal…” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 202-204)
The Purano-Tantric was the second stage: then religion took its outward formal stand on the first deeper approaches of man’s inner mind and life to the Divine in the universe, but a greater initiation opened the way to a far more intimate truth and pushed towards an inner living of the spiritual life in all its profundity and in all the infinite possibilities of an uttermost sublime experience.
The second or post-Vedic age of Indian civilisation was distinguished by the rise of the great philosophies, by a copious, vivid, many-thoughted, many-sided epic literature, by the beginnings of art and science, by the evolution of a vigorous and complex society, by the formation of large kingdoms and empires, by manifold formative activities of all kinds and great systems of living and thinking. …this was the age of a high outburst of the intelligence working upon life and the things of the mind to discover their reason and their right way and bring out a broad and noble fullness of human existence. But in India this effort never lost sight of the spiritual motive, never missed the touch of the religious sense. It was a birth time and youth of the seeking intellect and, as in Greece, philosophy was the main instrument by which it laboured to solve the problems of life and the world. Science too developed, but it came second only as an auxiliary power. It was through profound and subtle philosophies that the intellect of India attempted to analyse by the reason and logical faculty what had formerly been approached with a much more living force through intuition and the soul’s experience. But the philosophic mind started from the data these mightier powers had discovered and was faithful to its parent Light; it went back always in one form or another to the profound truths of the Upanishads which kept their place as the highest authority in these matters. There was a constant admission that spiritual experience is a greater thing and its light a truer if more incalculable guide than the clarities of the reasoning intelligence.
Indian religion followed this line of evolution and kept its inner continuity with its Vedic and Vedantic origins; but it changed entirely its mental contents and colour and its outward basis. It did not effectuate this change through any protestant revolt or revolution or with any idea of an iconoclastic reformation. A continuous development of its organic life took place, a natural transformation brought out latent motives or else gave to already established motive-ideas a more predominant place or effective form.
Indian religion absorbed all that it could of Buddhism, but rejected its exclusive positions and preserved the full line of its own continuity, casting back to the ancient Vedanta. This lasting line of change moved forward not by any destruction of principle, but by a gradual fading out of the prominent Vedic forms and the substitution of others. There was a transformation of symbol and ritual and ceremony or a substitution of new kindred ﬁgures, an emergence of things that are only hints in the original system, a development of novel idea-forms from the seed of the original thinking. And especially there was a farther widening and fathoming of psychic and spiritual experience… (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 205-209)
A thorough study of this evolutionary journey of Hinduism tells us that all this has been a long preparation for a third stage which belongs to the future. The journey from Vedic-Upanishadic to Purano-Tantric stages has carried in itself a greater widening of the most essential motive and seed-idea that drives the march of Indian civilisation, namely, the spiritual motive of human life. The deepest knowledge which was once reserved for a small group of initiates capable of great intuitive and revelatory capabilities gradually became more widespread in the second stage of Indian civilisation. What was once a more outward-focused religion for ordinary men and women gradually became more inward oriented as schools of systematic and rational philosophies were founded.
But the evolution continues. Not only the Mind but the entire Life has to experience the touch of the Spirit. Further widening of the spiritual impulse is needed. This future movement of the Indian spiritual mind has a double impulse.
Its will is to call the community of men and all men each according to his power to live in the greatest light of all and found their whole life on some fully revealed power and grand uplifting truth of the Spirit. But it has had too at times a highest vision which sees the possibility not only of an ascent towards the Eternal but of a descent of the Divine Consciousness and a change of human into divine nature. A perception of the divinity hidden in man has been its crowning force. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 215)
But such a turn cannot be rightly understood in the ideas or language of the West-oriented or West-centric modern religious reformer or his imitators. This future direction of the Indian religion or Hinduism — which speaks of both the ascent of the consciousness towards the Eternal as well as of the descent of the Divine Consciousness into the very nature of human being and earthly life so as to transform it — can not be completely appreciated or imagined by either “the purist of the reason or the purist of the spirit.” This future direction points not only challenges the limits of the present human reason but also points to a truth beyond the hitherto realised truths of the spirit. It carries the potential of turning human life into a divine super-life.
And not until this third largest sweep of the spiritual evolution has come into its own, can Indian civilization be said to have discharged its mission, to have spoken its last word and be functus officio, crowned and complete in its office of mediation between the life of man and the spirit. (p. 216)
When speaking of the future movement of the human mind and spirit, the Mother once spoke of the necessity of getting rid of the old division of mind:
The division between “ordinary life and “spiritual” life is an outdated antiquity…
There is no “spiritual life”! It is still the old idea, still the old idea of the sage, the sannyasin,… who represents spiritual life, while all the others represent ordinary life—and it is not true, it is not true, it is not true at all.
If they still need an opposition between two things—for the poor mind doesn’t work if you don’t give it an opposition— if they need an opposition, let them take the opposition between Truth and Falsehood, it is a little better; I don’t say it is perfect, but it is a little better. So, in all things, Falsehood and Truth are mixed everywhere: in the so-called “spiritual life”, in sannyasins, in swamis, in those who think they represent the life divine on earth, all that—there also, there is a mixture of Falsehood and Truth. It would be better not to make any division. (Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 12, On Education, pp. 401-02)
We may say that the future direction of Hinduism does not go by the way of reviving old forms of its religio-spiritual culture. The future belongs to those who will not be chained by the hitherto old divisions of spiritual life and ordinary life, who will rather walk in freedom on the path of a deeper inner seeking for Truth. They will not be confined by the old forms, no matter how sacred and valuable they have been in their time. They will at the same time recognise that in their march toward the future they need not give up on the eternal fundamental principles of the socio-religio-spiritual culture that decided to give itself the name of Sanatana Dharma. Rather the demand of the future is to go back to the truth of these fundamental principles and make them the governing motive of all life, in a new way which has for its objective the spiritualising of the entire human nature and earthly life.
In the light of all that has been presented so far, we now come to understand the future role of India as a civilisation and of Hinduism as a religio-spiritual basis of her culture. We now come to recognise that India’s mission is not to become like any other nation in the world but to remain true to her original soul-motive and progress on her march to spiritualise the Life and its various fields of self-expression.
…by following certain tempting directions [India] may conceivably become a nation like many others evolving an opulent industry and commerce, a powerful organisation of social and political life, an immense military strength, practising power-politics with a high degree of success, guarding and extending zealously her gains and her interests, dominating even a large part of the world, but in this apparently magnificent progression forfeiting its Swadharma, losing its soul. Then ancient India and her spirit might disappear altogether and we would have only one more nation like the others and that would be a real gain neither to the world nor to us. It would be a tragic irony of fate if India were to throw away her spiritual heritage at the very moment when in the rest of the world there is more and more a turning towards her for spiritual help and a saving Light. This must not and will surely not happen; but it cannot be said that the danger is not there. (CWSA, Vol. 36, pp. 503-504)