When does the soul enter the body?

An Indian spiritual Guru, who shall remain unnamed, was recently asked the question by someone in an American audience: “When does the soul choose a body?  After conception, is it ok to abort a foetus if we already have children and do not want an accidental pregnancy?“.  The question assumes significance because unlike Christianity, which declares that life begins at conception, Hinduism avers  that the souls reincarnate into newer bodies through reincarnation.  Since abortion is a politically charged issue, a hushed murmur rippled through the crowd before the Guru gently defused the tension by leaving the question unanswered.  (see also Religion_and_abortion)

While Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa did not specifically comment on  abortion, they did offer a few pertinent remarks on time of conception and contraception, which we present here.

Mother Mirra Alfassa on the time of entry of the soul

(The Mother based on her occult insights presents a fluid timeline.)

It depends on the state of development of the soul which wants to reincarnate ― we take the word “soul” here in the sense of the psychic being, what we call the psychic being ― it depends on its state of development, on the milieu in which it is going to incarnate, on the mission it has to fulfil ― that makes many different conditions….It depends very largely on the state of consciousness of the parents. For it goes without saying that there is a stupendous difference between conceiving a child deliberately, with a conscious aspiration, a call to the invisible world and a spiritual ardour, and conceiving a child by accident and without intending to have it, and sometimes even without wanting it at all. I don’t say that in the latter case there cannot also be an incarnation, but it usually takes place later, not at the conception.

For the formation of the child it makes a great difference.

If the incarnation takes place at the conception, the whole formation of the child to be born is directed and governed by the consciousness which is going to incarnate: the choice of the elements, the attraction of the substance ― a choice of the forces and even the substance of the matter which is assimilated. There is already a selection. And this naturally creates altogether special conditions for the formation of the body, which may already be fairly developed, evolved, harmonised before its birth. I must say that this is quite, quite exceptional; but still it does happen.

More frequently there are cases in which, just at the moment of its birth, that is to say, of its first gesture of independence, when the child begins to develop its lungs by crying as much as it can, at that moment, very often, this sort of call from life makes the descent easier and more effective.

Sometimes days and at times months pass, and the preparation is slow and the entry takes place very gradually, in quite a subtle and almost imperceptible way.

Sometimes it comes much later, when the child itself becomes a little conscious and feels a very subtle but very real relation with something from above, far above, which is like an influence pressing upon it; and then it can begin to feel the need of being in contact with this something which it does not know, does not understand, but which it can only feel; and this aspiration draws the psychic and makes it descend into the child.

I am giving you here a few fairly common instances; there are many others; this may happen in innumerable different ways. What I have described to you are the most frequent cases I have seen.

So, the soul which wants to incarnate stays at times in a domain of the higher mind, quite close to the earth, having chosen its future home; or else it can descend further, into the vital, and from there have a more direct action; or again it can enter the subtle physical and very closely govern the development of its future body.

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, p 335-338)

Sri Aurobindo on birth control (contraception)

[Sri Aurobindo's observations stem from the recognition that the vast majority of human beings are not capable of self-control.  A one-size-fits-all approach of imposing  impractical moral rules on all mankind worsens the problem by precipitating psychological disorders in large sections of society.  A better approach is to offer people some psycho-spiritual tools (e.g. Yoga) to regain self-awareness and recover their true nature, and hope for the best.  ]

(Sri Aurobindo refuted criticism of birth control in an article.)

Sri Aurobindo: Scientists and medical men have devised methods by which birth control may be made effective without any injury. The objects are twofold: first, the prevention of too many children; secondly, keeping the woman in good health, so that the few children she gives birth to may be healthy.  Of course inner control is better. But can that be expected of the man?…

Disciple: Gandhi has quoted all the doctors who oppose this method.

Sri Aurobindo: But he has not quoted those who support it.

Disciple: One objection is that it will increase licence.

Sri Aurobindo: That again is the moralist idea. There are the two extremes: one extreme is inner control, the other is free indulgence; mid-between comes the system of birth control.

(India’s Rebirth, Part III, August 29 1926, page13)

Another conversation on the topic

Nirodbaran: Anilbaran has forwarded a letter from some Rajkumar Bhattacharya of Dacca, who seems to be a permanent invalid from asthma and bronchitis and has no energy left for sadhana(spiritual practice). He has a dozen children. His wife died last year.  He says that strangely enough he didn’t cough a single time while writing the letter.

Sri Aurobindo: Then he can go on writing such letters. But why did he spend all his energy in creating and rearing children, so that none is left for sadhana (spiritual practice)?

Nirodbaran: Do you think birth control would have helped? People say birth control has no religious sanction.  Children are supposed to be given by God.

Sri Aurobindo: So is asthma then. Why take any treatment for it?

Nirodbaran: Birth control is an artificial means. Gandhi is against it.

Sri Aurobindo: I know. But civilisation is also artificial, and even Gandhi’s loin-cloth. What do you say?

Nirodbaran: But the loin-cloth is such a small artificiality. Gandhi says self-control instead of birth control. The latter is likely to create more indulgence

Sri Aurobindo: Of course if one can exercise self-control, it is best. But why didn’t this man do that instead of producing six children and causing the death of his wife? Birth control is not creating indulgence in Europe. Indulgence in which respect? Legitimate or illegitimate?

Nirodbaran: Even in legitimate relationships, it is said that birth control will remove the restraint imposed on people by the fear of having a large family.

Sri Aurobindo: Does Gandhi say that?

Nirodbaran: I don’t know precisely, but he says that such artificial means cause more harm than good.

Sri Aurobindo: That is a different matter. But I don’t think any fear can stop indulgence. People will indulge all the same in spite of fear of consequences when they have an impulse.

(This observation echoes verse 3.33 of the Bhagavad Gita  “Prakritim yanti bhutani nigrahah kim karishyati.” Human beings act according to their acquired nature; what can coercion achieve?)

Nirodbaran: Under present economic conditions it is better, I think, to adopt birth control.

Sri Aurobindo: Yes, since most people can’t exercise restraint.

(Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, 4 Feb 1940, page 418)

Related Posts

  1. How to make the right choice when faced with a serious decision
  2. Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
  3. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Astrology
  4. The Aurobindonian model of Karma
  5. The transmutation of sexual energy
  6. Sublimating the sexual urge through Yoga
  7. Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
  8. Towards more conscious sleep and dreams
  9. Raising a child prodigy
  10. Does population growth invalidate reincarnation?
  11. Cases of reincarnation across religions
  12. Why one should not hate the sinner?
About these ads

38 thoughts on “When does the soul enter the body?

  1. Jose Maria

    Hi Sandeep, thanks for your work.
    I think that Mother said something about the average time psychic beings enter the body. I think she said around 3 months. That could be an indication to alow abortion before that time.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      These are some excerpts from the above article which will help us understand Gandhi’s position, as well as Sri Aurobindo’s response to it seen above.

      Census studies, which had been conducted decennially since 1881, provided increasingly sophisticated data that some interpreted to indicate disturbing rates of population growth and evidence of poor health and economic misery among that expanding population. P.K. Wattal’s The Population Problem in India: A Census Study, published in 1916 and in revised versions in 1934 and 1938, was one of the first monographs to raise the need to limit population as an issue of public policy in India.

      In his first book, Morality and Birth Control (1921), he (R.D. Karve) argued that contraception was, indeed, morally acceptable. N.S. Phadke, a professor of philosophy and a novelist in Marathi, also began to champion contraception during the early 1920s. He was among the first Indians to correspond with Margaret Sanger and to publish in her journal, the Birth Control Review

      The Madras Neo-Malthusian League, founded by some elite Tamil Brahmins, sought to spread knowledge of reproductive control and to give medical assistance on hygienic contraceptive methods to married people “who desire to limit their families or who are in any way unfit for parenthood.”

      Margaret Sanger had initially come to know of the movement for reproductive control in India through male leaders such as Phadke, Karve, and Pillai.

      (Agnus) Smedley further cautioned (Margaret) Sanger that in India “it is better not to stress the woman freedom viewpoint until you have a foothold” when she propagandized for birth control…Smedley clearly indicated that she perceived a need to underplay certain implications of birth control for an Indian audience because of a possible unreceptivity to increased personal freedom for Indian women…She also indicated the need to avoid controversy by citing an Asian rather than a western model at a time

      In 1920, Gandhi had advocated suspending procreation through brahmacharya (celibacy), which referred to the student stage of male Hindu life when one was to study the ancient Vedas and to practice continence, until India became free.

      He (Gandhi) agreed “there can be no two opinions about the necessity of birth control. But the only method handed down from ages past is self-control or Brahmacharya.”

      A few weeks later, Gandhi added that women would reject artificial methods as inconsistent with their dignity. Such methods would increase the appetite for sex
      and would result in the dissolution of the marriage bed.

      In late November 1935, Margaret Sanger, the self-proclaimed coiner of the term birth control, steamed into Bombay harbor…Her most publicized activity in India, attracting space in Indian newspapers and the New York Times, was her pilgrimage to Wardha, the remote site of Mahatma Gandhi’s village ashram in central India, in early December 1935. Earlier in the year, Margaret Cousins had told her that “Mahatma Gandhi is the greatest stumbling bock to the B.C. movement in India. . . .But women go ahead in spite of him and then he gives in and learns.”

      Birth control for Gandhi meant abstinence. When he began his conversation with Sanger, his premise was that women must deny their husband’s sexual demands when they would endanger their health or produce too many children, since he wanted women “to learn the primary right of resistance.”

      Raising the issue of class, Gandhi thus questioned the right of the educated, elite women who were members of the AIWC and foreign women such as Sanger to argue about the desire of poor, especially village, women for access to artificial means of contraception

      A persistent antagonist, Sanger continued her discussions with Gandhi for a day and a half. When she left Wardha, she thought that she had secured two concessions from Gandhi, namely that “he does not necessarily imply life-long celibacy for the mass but rather the regulation of their sex functions so that they shall not waste or exhaust their vital force through sexual intercourse and … he is willing to concede that the “safe period,” after scientific study, may be the answer.

      Mahadev Desai, the private secretary to Gandhi, commented that “as Mrs. Sanger was so dreadfully in earnest Gandhiji did mention a remedy which could conceivably appeal to him. That method was the avoidance of sexual union during the unsafe period. . . .” Gandhi preferred such a method since it included some element of self-control.

      Conclusion

      They (Indian men and women) wanted to reduce birth rates for nation-building goals: to ameliorate the economic conditions in India and to enhance the health of the Indian population….They appropriated Neo-Malthusian and eugenic arguments but shaped them to their own visions of a strong Indian nation….Indian women activists began with the rhetoric of their male counterparts, but they emphasized health issues as their main rationale for promoting contraception….This appeal reflected their acceptance of motherhood as the primary occupation of Indian women, and it simultaneously supported the nationalist goal of creating a new and better Indian society. It also served implicitly to answer critics, especially Gandhi, who claimed that contraception was immoral.

      Reply
  2. Mohan

    There’s an interesting reference on this subject in Satprem’s “Mother or the Divine Materialism”. It occurs where the Mother recounts her out-of-body explorations alongside Theon.

    She speaks of when the thread of light was cut and re-entering the body became almost impossible; however with great combined effort (she and Theon) she managed the feat, but when this happened there was a great shock to her nervous system accompanied by agonising pain. It is at this point that she equates her episode of re-entering of the body to that of Jivatman entering the body at birth; it is that shock/pain that causes the baby to cry uncontrollably.

    It has been over a year since I read the passage: I hope I’ve not introduced any error in my recollection!

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I found the episode in the Mother’s Agenda, May 28, 1960. See the remark in bold at the end.

      It was at Tlemcen, in Algeria. While Mother was in trance, Theon caused the thread which linked Mother to her body to break through a movement of anger. He was angry because Mother, who was in a region where she saw the ‘mantra of life,’ refused to tell him the mantra. Faced with the enormity of the result of his anger Theon got hold of himself, and it took all Mother’s force and all Theon’s occult science to get Mother back into her body – which created a kind of very painful friction at the moment of re-entry, perhaps the type of friction that makes new born children cry out.

      Reply
  3. Sandeep Post author

    Question: When great souls want to be born upon earth, do they choose their parents?

    Mother Mirra Alfassa: Ah! that depends on their state of consciousness, it depends on the state of their psychic formation. If the psychic being is completely formed, if it has reached the perfection of its being and is free to reincarnate or not, it has also the capacity of choosing. But I believe I have explained that to you already. They don’t have a physical sight like ours so long as they are not in a body. So, evidently, they look for a body which is adapted and fit to express them, but they must give its share to the material inconscience, if it may be put thus, and to the necessity to adapt themselves to the most material laws of the body. So, from the point of view of the psychic, the choice of the place where one is born is important, it is more than an insignificant detail. But there are so many things that can’t be foreseen. For instance, one chooses an environment, a country, a certain type of family, one tries to see the nature of the likely parents, one asks for certain already well-developed qualities in them and a sufficient self-mastery. But all this is not enough if one does not carry in oneself a sufficient dynamism to overcome the obstacles. So, all things considered, this is not enormously important. Anyhow, even at the best, even if the parents have collaborated consciously, there is an enormous mass of the subconscient and the yet lower inconscient which from time to time rises again to the surface, gets stirred up, damages the work, makes calmness and silence indispensable. Always, always a preparation is needed, even if one has chosen – a long preparation. Not to speak of the phenomenon of being half-stunned at the moment of birth, the descent into the body, which often lasts for a very long time before one can escape from it completely.
    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 5, p 412)

    Reply
  4. Pingback: How to bring up a child | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. Pingback: Birthmarks due to reincarnation | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  6. Pingback: On suicide, euthanasia, and capital punishment | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Sandeep Post author

    Contrary to the Mother Mirra Alfassa who says above that the time when soul enters the body is flexible (more advanced souls may shape their birth from conception), the Garbha Upanishad, which was written centuries ago, claims that the soul enters the body in the seventh month:

    Saptame Mase Jivane Sanyukto Bhavati
    Ashtame Mase Sarvasampurno Bhavati

    Translation: In the seventh month, [the embryo] comes to have the jīva (conscious self), and in the eighth month, it becomes complete in every sense.

    You can read the English translation of this Upanishad by Subhash Kak online at: http://www.dharmicscriptures.org/GarbhaUpanishad_Kak.pdf

    Another interesting assertion from the Upanishad regarding the forgetfulness of past births which occurs at the moment of birth:

    When he (i.e. the baby) reaches the birth canal and comes out of it with great difficulty, he is touched by an all-pervading movement [Māyā] that causes him to forget previous births and the good and the bad deeds performed therein.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: On death, burials, cremations, funerals and resurrection | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  9. Sandeep Post author

    An observation by Sri Aurobindo on “When the soul enters the body” which concurs with the Mother.

    “As regards the stage at which the soul returning for rebirth enters the new body no rule can be laid down, for the circumstances vary with the individual. Some psychic beings get into relation with the birth-environment and the parents from the time of conception and determine the preparation of the personality and future in the embryo, others join only at the time of delivery, others even later on in the life and in these cases it is some emanation of the psychic being which upholds the life. It should be noted that the conditions of the future birth are determined fundamentally not during the stay in the psychic world but at the time of death – the psychic being then chooses what it should work out in the next terrestrial appearance and the conditions arrange themselves accordingly.”

    (Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 22, p 440)

    Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    The ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata, recounts the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. One of the tragic characters in this epic is Abhimanyu. As an unborn child in his mother’s womb, Abhimanyu learned the knowledge of entering the deadly and virtually impenetrable Chakravyuha (a battle formation) from Arjuna, his father. The epic says that the baby overheard his father, Arjuna, explaining battle tactics to his mother Subhadra, while he was still in his mother′s womb. When Arjuna was about to explain how to exit from the Chakravyuha, he discovered that Subhadra had fallen asleep. Therefore, he stopped talking. As a result, Abhimanyu gained incomplete knowledge on how exit the formation.

    Years go by. Abhimanyu grows up and is one day assigned to penetrate the Chakravyuha during the Mahabharata. He successfully breaks the formation but, not knowing how to exit, sadly meets a tragic death. (some text copied from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abhimanyu)

    In the context of Abhimanyu’s ancient tale, a recent book Origins How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul discusses new research that shows how much we learn in the womb

    See two articles on her book:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/28/health/research/28fetal.html
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2021065,00.html

    Ms. Paul devotes each chapter to an environmental influence that can arise during the corresponding month of pregnancy. For example, she writes about findings that babies born to obese women used insulin less effectively than those whose mothers had weight-loss surgery before pregnancy.

    See her TED Talk

    Reply
    1. Sandeep

      Babies Learn to Recognize Words in the Womb

      Be careful what you say around a pregnant woman. As a fetus grows inside a mother’s belly, it can hear sounds from the outside world—and can understand them well enough to retain memories of them after birth, according to new research.

      It may seem implausible that fetuses can listen to speech within the womb, but the sound-processing parts of their brain become active in the last trimester of pregnancy, and sound carries fairly well through the mother’s abdomen. “If you put your hand over your mouth and speak, that’s very similar to the situation the fetus is in,” says cognitive neuroscientist Eino Partanen of the University of Helsinki. “You can hear the rhythm of speech, rhythm of music, and so on.”

      Read more@
      http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2013/08/babies-learn-recognize-words-womb

      Reply
  11. Sandeep Post author

    Did Early Christians Practice Birth Control? A history of the Catholic ban on contraception.

    The Bible never mentions artificial birth control, although it was certainly practiced in some cultures, even in pre-biblical times….Perhaps the first direct pronouncement against contraception in Christian teachings comes from St. Clement of Alexandria, who in 191 A.D. wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” Clement based this verdict on several passages from the Bible, including God’s famous command in Genesis, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He also cited the story of Onan, who was punished with death for spilling his seed on the ground.

    Read more @ http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/02/obama_birth_control_battle_when_did_catholics_ban_contraception_.html

    Reply
  12. Pingback: On Birth and Incarnation | LunarAle

  13. mysticservant

    It’s shocking how Sri Aurobindo carried on two conversations on birth control without even mentioning women. So where are women in this equation? Standing there in the background as the baby-production machines who depend on whether or not their husbands exercise self-restraint? The issue is not merely self-restraint, but also women’s control over their own bodies. And it would have been even better if Sri Aurobindo not only mentioned this, but also mentioned how patriarchal marriage and sexuality makes women not totally in control of their own sexual lives either.

    Perhaps Sri Aurobindo thought of this but did not say it. But by continuing the conversation with his (undoubtedly misogynistic) male disciples and not correcting them, he just went and encouraged their misogyny. Yay.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Sri Aurobindo was speaking in a time when the birth control pill and radical feminism had not been invented :-) It is a historical fallacy (its called presentism) to project current cultural mores into the past and expect him to embrace the present-day rhetoric of “women’s right to control her body“.

      Sri Aurobindo did discuss women’s individuality (or lack of it) in India in another conversation. See the rhetorical question at the end.

      NIRODBARAN: Some doctors say that early marriage is bad, especially for the woman because her body is still immature and undeveloped and the strain of pregnancy will tell on her health, and that the children born will also be unhealthy. But in ancient India early marriage was the custom and yet people seem to have lived to a ripe old age.

      SRI AUROBINDO: The long life was due to the early state of mankind. . .

      PURANI: There was no economic struggle then.

      SRI AUROBINDO: Apart from that, their habits were vigorous and natural. What, according to medical science, should be the marriage age?

      NIRODBARAN: Twenty or after. Of course, there is again another school. One famous authority says that early marriage is good and very healthy. After twenty the bones become fixed and rigid. Flexibility of the organs is lost and this causes great difficulty during labour.

      SRI AUROBINDO: That is true. No rules can be fixed for these things. Formerly sixteen to eighteen was the age for marriage. I know about someone in my uncle’s family. I mean Hatkhola Dutta’s children. The girl was only thirteen when she first delivered. She got a boy, who I saw when he was thirteen or fourteen. He was very tall, healthy and handsome. The rest of the children, among them three girls, were a little shorter but all handsome. The three girls were the most beautiful. I have ever seen and all the children were remarkable specimens of humanity. You know the story of Akshay Maitra?

      NIRODBARAN: No.

      SRI AUROBINDO: He was a great social reformer. Once at a meeting he was holding forth against early marriage. After his speech, his father who was present got up and said, “The lecture was very interesting, but the lecturer is my son and was born out of my early marriage. You see how tall and strong and healthy he is? Then he has himself married early and he too has a son who is so strong and rowdy that it is difficult for us to stay at home.” (Laughter).

      NIRODBARAN: The old man must have carried the meeting. Another point in favour of early marriage is that the girl being quite young can be moulded and adapted to the family and there is thus more prospect of happiness.

      SATYENDRA: That is a point because of the joint-family system.

      NIRODBARAN: No, even otherwise it tends to make the married life of the couple happy. If the girl is already grown up, she has an individuality of her own and is no longer plastic.

      SRI AUROBINDO: You mean that the girl should always be educated with a view to marriage and she should have no individuality of her own? Most women, of course, think only of marriage and in India they do not have their own individuality.

      (Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, 4 Feb 1940)

      Reply
      1. mysticservant

        Well, I wasn’t really judging Sri Aurobindo so much as pointing out this characteristic of the conversation. It was more of an observation about how bad the discourse was back then, than a personal judgment on Sri Aurobindo. Btw some sort of discourse of women’s autonomy was around prior to Sri Aurobindo’s having that conversation with Nirodbaran. For example the suffragette movement had begun by then, and the language of women’s rights and liberties was in use (though it wasn’t specifically applied to the issue of contraception).

        It is true that Sri Aurobindo was working within the discourses and established thought-forms of his time, though I do expect him to be somewhat ‘ahead of his time’ due to his being Enlightened. I guess he was to some extent, as the excerpt above indicates.

        Reply
        1. mysticservant

          Wait a second, I just remembered something! John Stuart Mill was around earlier than Sri Aurobindo, and he was waay more progressive on these issues. I retract my statement about Sri Aurobindo being somewhat ahead of his time. In fact, he seems to have been less progressive on matters of gender than many others of his time. Even Tagore was apparently more interested in women’s liberation. I think Aurobindo was just not a feminist, just not interested in that issue. It’s a personality flaw, maybe.

          Reply
          1. Sandeep Post author

            Every person is different and sees life through his or her life-experience and priorities. Sri Aurobindo was a poet by nature rather than a sociologist like John Stuart Mill. If we peruse his early writings, we see him talking of the sweetness of a woman’s soul rather than the desire for strong individuality.

            Between 1890-1892 while he was in England, Sri Aurobindo wrote the “Harmony of Virtue” – a dialogue between an Indian (Keshav Ganesh) and an Englishman (Broome Wilson) modeled on the Platonic dialogues. In one of these dialogues, Keshav criticizes Bentham’s utilitarian theory as follows:

            What I mean is this; the utilitarian arrives at his results by an arbitrary application of the epithets “good” and “bad”. This mistake is of perpetual occurrence in Bentham and gives the basis for the most monstrous and shocking of his theories. For example the servitude of women is justified by the impossibility of marriage without it. (Early Cultural Writings, CWSA vol. 1, p 22)

            In another dialogue, Keshav says

            Have you never learned by experience or otherwise how a girl will torment her favoured lover by a delicate and impalpable evasion of his desires and will not give him even the loan of a kiss without wooing…And this trait in women we impute to feminine insincerity and to maiden coyness and to everything but the real motive, and that is the primitive and eternal passion of cruelty appearing in the coarse fibre of man as crude and inartistic barbarity, but in the sweet and delicate soul of woman as a refined and beautiful playfulness and the inseparable correlative of a gentle and suave disposition. (CWSA vol. 1, p 67)

            In 1893-94 he wrote an essay on the Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterji, in which he praises Bankim’s insight into the character of Indian women.

            Insight into the secrets of feminine character, that is another notable concomitant of the best dramatic power, and that too Bankim possesses. Wade as you will through the interminable bog of contemporary fiction, you will meet no living woman there. Even novelists of genius stop short at the outside: they cannot find their way into the soul. Here Fielding fails us; Scott’s women are a mere gallery of wax figures, Rebecca herself being no more than a highly-coloured puppet; even in Thackeray the real women are only three or four. But the supreme dramatic genius has found out this secret of feminity. Shakespeare had it to any degree, and in our own century Meredith, and among ourselves Bankim. The social reformer, gazing, of course, through that admirable pair of spectacles given to him by the Calcutta University, can find nothing excellent in Hindu life, except its cheapness, or in Hindu woman, except her subserviency. Beyond this he sees only its narrowness and her ignorance. But Bankim had the eye of a poet and saw much deeper than this. He saw what was beautiful and sweet and gracious in Hindu life, and what was lovely and noble in Hindu woman, her deep heart of emotion, her steadfastness, tenderness and lovableness, in fact, her woman’s soul; and all this we find burning in his pages and made diviner by the touch of a poet and an artist. Our social reformers might learn something from Bankim. Their zeal at present is too little ruled by discretion. They are like bad tailors very clever at spoiling the rich stuffs given over to their shaping but quite unable to fit the necessities of the future. They have passed woman through an English crucible and in place of the old type, which, with all its fatal defects, had in it some supreme possibilities, they have turned out a soulless and superficial being fit only for flirtation, match-making and playing on the piano….So we should have a race of women intellectually as well as emotionally noble, fit to be the mothers not of chatterers and money-makers, but of high thinkers and heroic doers.(CWSA vol. 1, p 110)

            In the same essay, we find him praising Bengali women for keeping Bengali literature alive when the men had turned to reading English books.

            Even now you will hear Anglicised Bengalis tell you with a sort of triumph that the only people who read Bengali books are the Bengali ladies. The sneer is a little out of date, but a few years ago it would not have been so utterly beside the mark. All honour then to the women of Bengal, whose cultured appreciation kept Bengali literature alive! (CWSA vol. 1, p 116)

      1. Sandeep Post author

        In this charged atmosphere, your “Wow” can be interpreted as “War on women” :-)

        Reply
        1. Mohan

          War on women :D

          No. I didn’t know how else to reply to mysticservant’s comment. It’s just that when I read His words (just as with anything else SA writes), I was looking for instruction.

          Reply
  14. mysticservant

    I can’t reply directly to your most recent comment, as there is no reply button on it.

    John Stuart Mill was not a sociologist, but a philosopher. He was much more progressive on matters of gender — simply saying people are different does not discount that! Yes, people are different, and between JSM and Sri Aurobindo one of the differences is that the former was more attuned to women’s oppression and sympathetic to the cause of women’s liberation. He was also secular and rational, and not particularly spiritual, which saved him from all the ‘essential feminine’ nonsense which has oppressed women throughout history (and mystics are particularly prone to believing, since they already believe in non-material ‘essences'; it’s only a short step from there to genderizing the ‘essences’ and ruining women’s lives forever :P).

    Most of what you pasted from Sri Aurobindo in that comment involved gender essentialism, i.e.the idea of an essential femininity and a ‘woman’s soul’. These are actually sexist ideas that even John Stuart Mill (despite living before Sri Aurobindo, and being a man himself) rejected and ridiculed. One of the major ways in which the patriarchal system is perpetuated is through gender essentialism, i.e. through the perpetuation of ideas of essential feminine and masculine nature. Sri Aurobindo unfortunately gave in to such ideas without really questioning them, and in his personal life he wasn’t exactly a feminist either (e.g. marrying a young girl).

    None of this makes me love him any less, or makes me deny his spiritual Enlightenment, or makes me cease to think of him as my Guru. I see these as flaws of the outer personality. He probably had some Hindu samskaras which he needed to work through (and maybe never did?). Fortunately a lot has changed since his time, and now more people are able to see through gender essentialism and try not to trap women in a ‘feminine’ box (see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity).

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      It may not help but here’s another dialogue I found on the subject

      Nirodbaran: Whatever may be the reason of the difference between a man and a woman, it can’t be gainsaid that they can efface themselves more completely or more easily for the sake of love.

      Sri Aurobindo: They have been trained to it through the ages – that is Subjection, self-effacement, to be at the mercy of man con their lot – it has given them that training. But it has left them also another kind of ego which is their spiritual obstacle – the ego which is behind the abhiman….

      Nirodbaran:Can it be said that because they live more in their heart than in their head, their path is easier?

      Sri Aurobindo: All these clear-cut assertions are mental statements – mental statements are too clear-cut to be true, as philosophy and signs have begun to discover. Life and being are too complex for that.

      (Nirodbaran, Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo)

      This whole thread requires a completely new post, but then it doesn’t matter what you or me perceive him to be, so we could just drop the matter. Nevertheless, I just want to clarify one thing right now.

      Sri Aurobindo unfortunately gave in to such ideas without really questioning them, and in his personal life he wasn’t exactly a feminist either (e.g. marrying a young girl).

      Firstly, you can’t expect him to fight all the social ills of the time at once. It takes time to mature in life.

      Sri Aurobindo married a young girl because he was following the custom in those days. Even if he wanted to marry a woman of his age and education, he wouldn’t have found one because there would have been none around. In Hindu society a hundred years ago, all girls were married off before the age of 14 because it was considered inauspicious to do otherwise. In 1890, the British introduced an age of Consent act to raise the minimum age from 10 to 12. Anandamayi Ma, who later became a Guru, was married at the age of 13. Rabindranath Tagore, whom you claim was more evolved on women’s liberation, married a young girl of 10 years. Ramakrishna Paramahansa married a girl of 6 years, after asking his family to look for a certain girl in the neighbouring village who he knew was destined to be his spiritual companion. This girl, who later became Sarada Ma, stayed at her father’s house until she attained maturity.

      Reply
      1. mysticservant

        Sri Aurobindo was exposed to the Brahmo Samaj, who were reformist on these issues. His family was liberal and his father highly anglicized. There is no evidence that he was pressured to marry such a young girl. According to Peter (who I know you don’t like, but he is nevertheless a reputed and published historian) Sri Aurobindo chose a ‘traditional’ marriage even though he had the freedom to choose otherwise. My suspicion is that he had traditional Hindu samskaras that he may never have overcome.

        Sandeep, what you pasted is yet another dialogue between Sri Aurobindo and some man. Men talking about women is not progressive, any more than a bunch of white people gathering together to talk about blacks is. I don’t need to be taught about the nature of myself or women in general by traditional men (in the mid-20th century) who don’t even know how to have a conversation about contraception without erasing women! We (women) have the epistemic advantage of the oppressed on matters of patriarchy, so no understanding of such issues is possible without hearing our voices. The epistemic advantage of the oppressed applies to all systems of oppression, btw, not just patriarchy. Also, the dialogue you pasted is irrelevant to anything I said, so, yeah… thanks for the random bringing up of abhimana as if that’s in any way relevant to my point.

        Reply
        1. Sandeep Post author

          Sri Aurobindo’s father had already died in 1893 and his grandfather Rajnarain Bose had died in 1899. His mother was disabled by a mental illness. In the absence of any guidance from such close family members, he advertised in the newspapers and found a wife. I don’t need some American historian to teach me how life worked in Hindu society a hundred years ago.

          In order to understand Sri Aurobindo, you need to first clear your own samskaras – all the grievances you have developed against society.

          Reply
          1. mysticservant

            Er, what? All the grievances I’ve developed against society? No, I don’t think so. I don’t have any such ‘grievances’, and this judgment of mine about Sri Aurobindo is purely intellectual. I have no personal emotional issues with him whatsoever (this has not even effected my sadhana). Please do not presume to know me or my ‘samskaras'; and I especially think you’re not one to talk given your, let’s say, not completely clean track record when it comes to sexism. For all we know, it’s you who needs to overcome your sexist and possibly Hindu samskaras, lol. Not that I would say such a thing, because it would be presumptuous of course…

            “In the absence of any guidance from such close family members, he advertised in the newspapers and found a wife.”

            So why did he choose a wife that was so young? He still wasn’t pressured, as far as I know, and you have not presented any evidence that he was. And this doesn’t even begin to address the gender essentialist statements, statements that, for example, the Mother did not make or agree with. Is the fact that she was a woman perhaps the reason? Why would it be surprising, given that men are generally misogynistic, that a man living prior to the major feminist movement (the so-called ‘second wave’) would end up saying a misogynistic thing or two? I would actually be surprised if this were not the case. This is not a personal slight against him, but you can interpret it as such if you want to.

          2. Sandeep Post author

            The 1901 Census of India conducted by the British government makes it evident that it would have been near impossible for the 28-year old Sri Aurobindo to find a woman of his age and education. The orthodox society of his time advocated marriage at around the age of 15 for girls. Volume 6, Part 1, Chapter VII of the census report pertains to marriage in the province of Bengal.

            The report states :

            Amongst females the figures are even more striking. Less than a third of the total number are unmarried and of these four-fifths are under 10 and three quarters of the remainder are under 15; only 4 per cent of the total number of single females are over 15 years of age. …The females who are spinster at the age of 20 and upwards are either prostitutes or persons suffering from some bodily affliction, such as leprosy, blindness and the like. The number of genuine old maids is very small….Of the females enumerated between the ages of 20 and 30, for example, a ninth were returned as widows. (page 247 – or page 267 of the online PDF)

            The most suitable age for the marriage of a girl is said to be 8, at which age Gauri is believed to have been married to Siva or 9, which was the age of Rohini at the time of her marriage with Chandra, the moon. The general feeling amongst Hindus at the present day supports the view of the Shastra, and amongst many castes, a man who fails to procure a husband for his daughter before she becomes mature is liable to social ostracism. There are, however, many exceptions, and the Kulin Brahmans of Bengal Proper prefer to allow their daughters to remain unwed rather than to give them to unsuitable bridegrooms.

            But although marriage is enjoined at an early age, cohabitation prior to sexual maturity is condemned. It is said that the offspring of an immature girl will be sickly for ever, and the age of sixteen is mentioned as the proper time on the side of the female for commencing married life. The authorities, however, are conflicting, and there is a passage in Manu where 12 years is named as a suitable age for the consummation of a girl’s marriage.

            In Bengal and Bihar the usual practice at the present day is for the newly-married girl to go for a few days to her father-in-law’s house, after which, unless she has attained puberty or her husband is a widower, she returns home, where she stays: usually for one year, but often, if very young, for much longer. She must not go to live with her husband in an even year from the date of her marriage or her birth (the practice varies), i.e., she may go in the 1st, 3rd or 5th year, but not in the 2nd or 4th. The day and month must be auspicious, the rules in this respect being the same as those for the first marriage. (pp 249-250)

            Literacy amongst women is discussed in Chapter IX on Education, starting from page 297

            The book is online Census of India, 1901 , Volume 6, Part 1

            Some data on Brahmo marriages can also be perused online. On pages 91 and 92 of the Brahmo year-book of 1878, we read of some marriages that they registered. Most of the girls who were married are of age 15. The ones who were older are listed at widows.

  15. mike

    So, lf SA was some kind of chauvinist how do we explain His attitude toward the Mother and giving a woman entire control of the Ashram.
    Does SA actually use the phrase ‘WOMAN’S SOUL’ , because in my book the ‘soul’ is genderless anyway, and that’s where we should be coming from.
    Are we really able to judge Sri Aurobindo on these matter’s. lf we believe He was an Avatar with a Divine vision aren’t all these ‘feminist’ statement’s a little too mundane. l think He explained it perfectly in the quote: [l think 'signs' is mean't to be 'science']:

    “Sri Aurobindo: All these clear-cut assertions are mental statements – mental statements are too clear-cut to be true, as philosophy and science have begun to discover. Life and being are too complex for that.”

    Reply
  16. MT

    From the Mother, Questions and Aswers, 1954

    This masculine-feminine business is a trick of Nature, it has arranged
    things here like that. Now, let me tell you: when one descends
    from above, well, right up there one has no idea of masculine and
    feminine and all that nonsense; as you come down and arrive
    here, it starts to become something real. So you tell yourself,
    “Well, well! That’s how Nature has arranged things.” Good!
    But what I say is that these conceptions—these very conceptions
    which make one element masculine and the other feminine—
    this is a conception which has come from below, that is, has
    come out of man’s brain which cannot think otherwise than of
    MAN and WOMAN —because he is still an animal.

    Reply
  17. Sandeep Post author

    Twins fighting in the womb

    The amazing images of twins in utero come from a study aimed at using MRI machines to diagnose a potentially deadly condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, Reuters reports.

    The rare condition occurs only in identical twins, when blood from one twin moves into the other. That can significantly reduce the supply in the twin that loses the blood, causing him or her to be born smaller than their sibling, and with paleness, anemia and dehydration. The twin that receives the blood may be born larger than the other twin with increased blood pressure that may lead to heart failure.

    The video was made at London’s Center for Fetal Care, according to Reuters, and the so-called cinematic-MRI the hospital used was able to pick up the pictures of what appears to be unborn twins fighting for space in mom’s womb.

    Reply

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s