Subhas Chandra Bose on Sri Aurobindo

Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-unknown) was an Indian revolutionary who rose to prominence during India’s struggle against the British rule.  In 1941, he escaped house arrest and traveled to Germany to seek Hitler’s help to raise an Indian army.  Disillusioned by Hitler, he then went to Japan where he assumed command of an army of Indian POWs(Indian soldiers captured by Japan while fighting under the Allied flag in Asia).  At its height, the army called the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National army) comprised of 80,000 men and saw action against the British in Burma and the north-eastern provinces of India.  The circumstances of Subhas’s death remain unknown.  His body was never found.

In this account from his memoirs “An Indian pilgrim” written in 1937, Subhas Chandra Bose relates the influence that Sri Aurobindo, senior to him by twenty-five years, had on his early life:

In my undergraduate days Arabindo Ghose was easily the most popular leader in Bengal, despite his voluntary exile and absence since 1909. His was a name to conjure with. He had sacrificed a lucrative career in order to devote himself to politics. On the Congress platform he had stood up as a champion of left-wing thought and a fearless advocate of independence at a time when most of the leaders, with their tongues in their cheeks, would talk only of colonial self-government. He had undergone incarceration with perfect equanimity. His close association with Lokamanya B. G. Tilak had given him an All-India popularity, while rumour and official allegation had given him an added prestige in the eyes of the younger generation by connecting him with his younger brother, Barindra Kumar Ghose, admittedly the pioneer of the terrorist movement. Last but not least, a mixture of spirituality and politics had given him a halo of mysticism and made his personality more fascinating to those who were religiously inclined. When I came to Calcutta in 1913, Arabindo was already a legendary figure. Rarely have I seen people speak of a leader with such rapturous enthusiasm and many were the anecdotes of this great man, some of them probably true, which travelled from mouth to mouth. I heard, for instance, that Arabindo had been in the habit of indulging in something like automatic writing. In a state of semi-trance, pencil in hand, he would have a written dialogue with his own self, giving him the name of ‘Manik’. During his trial (in the Alipore bomb case), the police came across some of the papers in which the ‘conversations’ with ‘Manik’ were recorded, and one day the police prosecutor, who was excited over the discovery, stood up before the Court and gravely asked for a warrant against a new conspirator, ‘Manik’, to the hilarious amusement of the gentlemen in the dock.

In those days it was freely rumoured that Arabindo had retired to Pondicherry for twelve years’ meditation. At the end of that period he would return to active life as an “enlightened” man, like Gautama Buddha of old, to effect the political salvation of his country. Many people seriously believed this, especially those who felt that it was well nigh impossible to successfully contend with the British people on the physical plane without the aid of some supernatural force. It is highly interesting to observe how the human mind resorts to spiritual nostrums when it is confronted with physical difficulties of an insurmountable character. When the big agitation started after the Partition of Bengal in 1905, several mystic stories were in circulation. It was said, for instance, that on the final day of reckoning with the British there would be a “march of the blanketeers” into Fort William in Calcutta. Sannyasis or fakirs with blankets on their shoulders would enter the Fort. The British troops would stand stock-still, unable to move or fight, and power would pass into the hands of people. Wish is father to the thought and we loved to hear and to believe such stories in our boyhood.

As a college student it was not the mysticism surrounding Arabindo’s name which attracted me, but his writings and also his letters. Arabindo was then editing a monthly journal called Arya in which he expounded his philosophy. He used also to write to certain select people in Bengal. Such letters would pass rapidly from hand to hand, especially in circles interested in spirituality-cum-politics. In our circle usually somebody would read the letter aloud and the rest of us would enthuse over it. In one such letter Arabindo wrote, “We must be dynamos of the divine electricity so that when each of us stands up, thousands around may be full of the light – full of bliss and Ananda.” We felt convinced that spiritual enlightenment was necessary for effective national service.

But what made a lasting appeal to me was not such flashy utterances. I was impressed by his deeper philosophy. Shankara‘s Doctrine of Maya was like a thorn in my flesh. I could not accommodate my life to it nor could I easily get rid of it. I required another philosophy to take its place. The reconciliation between the One and the Many, between God and Creation, which Ramakrishna and Vivekananda had preached, had indeed impressed me but had not till then succeeded in liberating me from the cobwebs of Maya(the theory that the world is an Illusion). In this task of emancipation, Arabindo came as an additional help. He  worked out a reconciliation between Spirit and Matter, between God and Creation, on the metaphysical side and supplemented it with a synthesis of the methods of attaining the truth – a synthesis of Yoga, as he called it. Thousands of years ago the Bhagavad Gita had spoken about the different Yogas -Jnana Yoga or the attainment of truth through knowledge; Bhakti Yoga or the attainment of truth through devotion and love; Karma Yoga or the attainment of truth through selfless action. To this, other schools of Yoga had been added later -Hatha Yoga aiming at  control over the body and Raja Yoga aiming at control over the mind through control of the  breathing apparatus. Vivekananda had no doubt spoken of the need of Jnana (knowledge), Bhakti (devotion and love) and Karma (selfless action) in developing an all-round character, but there was something original and unique in Arabindo’s conception of a synthesis of Yoga. He tried to show how by a proper use of the different Yogas one could rise step by step to the highest truth. It was so refreshing, so inspiring, to read Arabindo’s writings as a contrast to the denunciation of knowledge and action by the later-day Bengal Vaishnavas. All that was needed in my eyes to make Arabindo an ideal guru for mankind was his return to active life [1].

A few years after writing this book, Subhas was to fight alongside the Japanese against the British occupation in India.  Sri Aurobindo was extremely displeased by his actions, because  he “saw” that if the Japanese succeeded, it could sink India into a new round of colonialism and hardship.  He had seen in an vision as early as 1910 that the British would one day leave India on their own.  The following passage regarding Subhas’s actions occurs in a letter dated 5th April, 1947 written by Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, Dilip Kumar Roy:

You will remember that both the Mother and I were very angry against Subhas for having brought the Japanese into India and reproached him with it as a treason and crime against the Motherland. For if they had got in, it would have been almost impossible to get them out. The Mother knows the Japanese nation well and was positive about that. Okawa, the leader of the Black Dragon (the one who shammed mad and got off at the Tokyo trial) told her that if India revolted against the British, Japan would send her Navy to help, but he said that he would not like the Japanese to land because if they once got hold of Indian soil they would never leave it, and it was true enough. If the Japanese had overrun India, and they would have done it if a powerful Divine intervention had not prevented it and turned the tables on them, they would have joined the Germans in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus and nothing could have saved Europe and Asia from being overrun. This would have meant the destruction of our work and a horrible fate for this country and for the world. You can understand therefore the bitterness of our feelings at that time against Subhas and his association with the Axis and the disaster to his country for which he would have been responsible. Incidentally, instead of being liberated in 1948, India would have had to spend a century or several centuries in a renewed servitude. When therefore the Mother heard that you were writing a book eulogising Subhas, she disapproved strongly of any such thing issuing out of the Ashram and she wanted that you should be asked not to publish it.

. . . Subsequently she met one of the chief lieutenants of Subhas, a man from Hyderabad who had been his secretary and companion in the submarine by which he came from Germany to Japan, and he recounted his daily talks in the submarine and strongly defended his action. From what he said it was evident although we still regarded Subhas’s action as a reckless and dangerous folly, that the aspect of a crime against the country disappeared from it. Since then Mother modified her attitude towards Subhas; moreover, the war was receding into the past and there was no longer any room for the poignancy of the feeling it had raised and it was better that all that should be forgotten[2].

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (bottom, third from left) and Members of the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) in 1940’s. Click image for source

References

  1. Subhas Chandra Bose, An Indian pilgrim; or, Autobiography of Subhas Chandra Bose, 1897-1920,  Calcutta, Published for Netaji Publication Society by Thacker, Spink, 1948. pp 53-56
  2. Sri Aurobindo.  Letters on Himself and the Ashram, CWSA vol. 35, pp. 201-201

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  2. Sri Aurobindo’s interaction with an American soldier during World War II
  3. Sri Aurobindo’s 1947 meeting with two French visitors
  4. Sri Ramakrishna’s occult contact with Sri Aurobindo
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20 thoughts on “Subhas Chandra Bose on Sri Aurobindo

  1. mike

    ” Shankara‘s Doctrine of Maya was like a thorn in my flesh. I could not accommodate my life to it nor could I easily get rid of it. I required another philosophy to take its place. The reconciliation between the One and the Many, between God and Creation, which Ramakrishna and Vivekananda had preached, had indeed impressed me but had not till then succeeded in liberating me from the cobwebs of Maya(the theory that the world is an Illusion). In this task of emancipation, Arabindo came as an additional help”

    Yes, this business about the world/creation being an ‘lllusion’ confused me for a long time. Everything l read seemed to be saying this. lt was only When l read Sri Aurobindo [letter’s on Yoga, l think] saying that the world is NOT an lllusion, only the WAY WE SEE IT is an lllusion. This totally cleared up my confusion – the way SA said the Divine is everything, so everything is Divinely REAL. Only, until we see the Divine in all things we are not seeing the whole Reality, just a small part of it – the surface reflection, lf you will , but even so, everything in the creation IS a REAL manifestation of the Divine. At least l think that’s what SA mean’t].

    Reply
  2. Sandeep Post author

    A conversation between Sri Aurobindo and a disciple in 1926:

    “A letter from Subhas Chandra Bose to Dilip Kumar Roy appeared in the “Pravartak” of Chandernagore. Subhash remarked in it that “though he had great respect for Vivekananda he considers Sri Aurobindo — “gabhir” deeper than the former. In the letter he accepts Sri Aurobindo as a genius and a great Dhyani (sage), but he thinks that too long remaining away from what is called “active life” tends to one-sided development and may help some few to become Supermen, but for the generality of men he would prefer the path of service and work.

    This letter was read out by a disciple. Sri Aurobindo heard it and was glad that it was short.”

    (A.B. Purani, Evening Talks, 22nd Feb 1926)

    Reply
  3. Selvam

    “It was so refreshing, so inspiring, to read Arabindo’s writings as a contrast to the denunciation of knowledge and action by the later-day Bengal Vaishnavas”; Subhas Chandra Bose was not happy with the mono Bhakti yogic approach of the Hare Krishna movement. He also didn’t like Shankara‘s Doctrine of Maya. This prominent Indian has some valid criticisms on aspects of Hinduism, which are not diminished by his later misjudgements of the Nazi and Japanese military.

    Reply
  4. Sandeep Post author

    Sri Aurobindo: You will remember that both the Mother and I were very angry against Subhas for having brought the Japanese into India and reproached him with it as a treason and crime against the Motherland.

    History has proved that Sri Aurobindo was right on the Japanese intent to occupy and control India. Historical records established since then show that when the Japanese briefly occupied the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Indian ocean from 1942-1945, they maintained a tight grip and committed numerous atrocities.

    See various incidents described under
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_the_Andaman_Islands

    On December 29, 1943, political control of the islands was theoretically passed to the Azad Hind government of Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose visited Port Blair to raise the tricolour flag of the Indian National Army. During this, his only visit to the Andamans, he was kept carefully screened from the local population by the Japanese authorities. Various attempts were made to inform him of the sufferings of the people of the Andamans, and the fact that many local Indian Nationalists were at that time being tortured in the Cellular Jail. Bose does not seem to have been aware of this, and the judgment of some is that he “failed his people”.[10] After Bose’s departure the Japanese remained in effective control of the Andamans, and the sovereignty of the Arzi Hukumat-e Hind was largely fictional.[11] The islands themselves were renamed “Shaheed” and “Swaraj”, meaning “martyr” and “self-rule” respectively. Bose appointed General Loganathan as the governor of the islands, and had limited involvement with the administration of the territory. During his interrogation after the war Loganathan admitted that he had only had full control over the islands’ vestigial education department, as the Japanese had retained control over the police force, and in protest he had refused to accept responsibility for any other areas of Government. He was powerless to prevent the worst Japanese atrocity of the occupation, the Homfreyganj massacre of the 30th January 1944, where forty-four Indian civilians were shot by the Japanese on suspicion of spying. Many of them were members of the Indian Independence League.[12] Notionally this government continued to administer the islands, which were almost the only territory it ever acquired, until the British retook them in 1945, but in practice little had changed.

    Reply
    1. Swaraj

      It seems you are more comfortable to associate yourself with British ..then with Bose. Whatever may be your pretext your mental emptyness is very clear. Aurobindo was a great jogi but his sacrifice and struggle for his coutry is dwarf in front of ocean called Netaji.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        Subhas Bose was a fiery patriot but mistook Japanese intent. The above passage only demonstrates that Sri Aurobindo had greater foresight in international affairs.

        yes, I do enjoy “mental emptiness” due to meditation. It keeps the head wonderfully relaxed.

    1. Alak Ranjan Basuchoudhury

      Netaji, having long experience of facing cruel and cunning British diolpmats and tackling inr international politicians, it is childish to think that he woult fail to realize the possibility of Japanese evil intensions. When he was asked asked'”What shall we do if the Japs try to capture India after the British are driven out?’, Netaji’s reply was :- Turn your gun towards the Japs and fight them also!’ This is mentioned in the book ‘INA & its Netaji” by Shahnawaz Khan.
      Similar incidents happened in case of Burma, when japan tried to interven in the burmese territory liberated from British occupation. Then Anti facist movement was organised by Gen. Aung Sung [father of Aung Sung Su Chi] and Netaji was well aware of these developments and he maitained good relations with the anti Japan activists led by Aung Sung.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        thanks for the comment.

        >> Alak : it is childish to think

        I wish people would provide facts and counter-arguments without labeling anyone as “childish” or “mentally empty” as the previous commentator had done.

  5. Sandeep Post author

    When the big agitation started after the Partition of Bengal in 1905, several mystic stories were in circulation. It was said, for instance, that on the final day of reckoning with the British there would be a “march of the blanketeers” into Fort William in Calcutta. Sannyasis or fakirs with blankets on their shoulders would enter the Fort. The British troops would stand stock-still, unable to move or fight, and power would pass into the hands of people.

    In the passage above, Subhas Bose refers to the “march of the blanketeers”. This phrase originates in Britain, where the original march took place in 1817.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanketeers#Assembly_and_march

    On 10 March 1817 around 5,000 marchers, mainly spinners and weavers, met in St. Peter’s Field, near Manchester, along with a large crowd of onlookers, perhaps as many as 25,000 people in total.[1] Each marcher had a blanket or rolled overcoat on his back, to sleep under at night and to serve as a sign that the man was a textile worker, giving the march its eventual nickname. The plan was for the marchers to walk in separate groups of ten, in order to avoid any accusation of illegal mass assembly.[4] Each group of ten carried a petition bearing twenty names, appealing directly to the Prince Regent to take urgent steps to improve the Lancashire cotton trade…. (read more at the link above)

    Reply
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  10. akad24

    25 years younger to, still wish to know : is/are there any written communication/s betweet Sri Aurobindo & NETAJI S C BOSE? If yes, let know about it in details.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      It is possible that the term “terrorist” had a different connotation a hundred years ago, given the latest controversy referring to Bhagat Singh also as a terrorist.

      Historian D N Jha, who was the head of department of DU in 1988 when the book was first introduced in the syllabus said the book was of “seminal importance”. “When the book was written, the use of the word “terrorist” meant somebody different from a “moderate”; someone who did not believe in ahimsa (non-violence),” he said.

      In a joint statement, authors Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan said, “Bipan Chandra.clearly said that it is a term we use without any pejorative meaning and for want of a different term.” In his later writings, Bipan Chandra stopped using the term as it has acquired a very negative meaning recently.”

      See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bhagat-singh-revolutionary-terrorist-delhi-university-2773566

      Reply

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