Sri Aurobindo’s influence on Russians

Here is an interesting history of how Russians came into contact with Sri Aurobindo during the time of the Soviet Union.  This article was originally posted on the website of Varuna Energy & Water Pvt. Ltd., which is a unit based in Auroville.

When the iron curtain fell and Russia opened up to allow philosophical and spiritual thought to be accessed freely by the public, Sri Aurobindo was one of the first to create an impact in the new realms of mental freedom. Till then one would have gone to prison if one was caught with one of the unauthorised publications of Sri Aurobindo, which were secretly circulated in Russia and its neighbouring countries.

The system was simple: the public was not allowed to have access to any literature which was not in favour with the communist system. There was only a small elite which was having access to the libraries in which all important books were kept. Nothing leaked out to the masses, which were kept away from all philosophical, spiritual or political thought which was not favouring the political system of the communist party.

During this difficult time in the former Soviet Union there developed two openings which brought the public to some extent into touch with Sri Aurobindo. One was a small circle of academics in Moscow, all of them Russian Jews, which had noticed the great essence behind Sri Aurobindo’s writings. One of them was Mira Salganic, head of the Russian Writer’s Union and cultural attaché to India. Then there was Dr. Ribakov, head of the Oriental Institute of Studies, and Prof. Kostuchenko, plus two or three other Professors of Philosophy. They had a daring plan, which was dangerous but clever. Professor Kostuchenko wrote a book on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo which explained his thoughts and included as many quotations as possible, but which was finally critical of Sri Aurobindo. The Oriental Institute of Studies published this book, and thus Sri Aurobindo became known in Russia. Many people who read the book became interested, and subsequently followers of Sri Aurobindo, in spite of the negative comments which Prof. Kostuchenko had to place inside the book to make its publication possible.

At the same time in St. Petersburg a small circle of people gathered around Piotr Zorin, who was working at the University of St. Petersburg. This circle had established a link to the well-protected libraries in which all philosophical books were kept. They first copied secretly by hand or by photocopy some of the works of Sri Aurobindo and smuggled them out. They then started to translate the books, as well as they could, and started circulating the Russian versions by way of photocopies to a narrow circle of friends and likeminded persons. During this so-called Samizdat period, several Russians went to prison for having been found with an illegal copy of one of Sri Aurobindo’s books.

Finally the group managed to get hold of Satprem’s book “The Adventure of Consciousness” in its French original. This book was not found in the Russian secret libraries; it had to be smuggled into Russia from France. Eight copies were sent to Russia via different routes and methods, of which two finally arrived. It then took the group eight years to translate the book. The translation was completed just as Perestroika and Glasnost opened the country to non-communist thought. The book was then published by Leningrad University and 100,000 copies were printed. They sold out immediately, and another print-run of 100,000 copies was printed and distributed. In other parts of Russia the book also found widespread acceptance, and unauthorised publications started popping up. In Tomsk in Siberia 100,000 pirate copies were published, followed by other editions from several newly created publishing houses.

It is difficult to estimate the final number of how many copies of this book ended up being distributed in Russia, but most probably it crosses half a million. In fact today more Russians have read a book of or on Sri Aurobindo than the total of all other readers from around the world.

At that time, when Russian thought became free, a fresh element was added to the newly arising movement of Sri Aurobindo in the east-block countries. Madanlal Himatsingka had sold All India Press, a unit started by the Mother, to Michael, and he set up a publishing house in St. Petersburg with the aim of translating and publishing all the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in Russian. About 10 translators were employed, amongst them Mira Salganic, who translated books like Foundations of Indian Culture, Hymns to the Mystic fire, Secret of the Vedas and Essays on the Gita. Prof. Kostuchenko wrote an introduction to the collected works of Sri Aurobindo, and Valentina, the wife of Piotr Zorin, translated Letters on Yoga and Synthesis of Yoga. The books were first printed in Pondicherry in All India Press, but finally it became more economic to print the books in Russia itself.

As long as there were many titles still not translated there was a great demand for the original English versions of Sri Aurobindo’s books. Madanlal donated the old stock of All India Press to the project, and a full container of books of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in English and French was despatched to St. Petersburg.

After a few more years, with more titles available in Russian, sales of English and French versions of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother completely stopped.

By then most of the important titles of Sri Aurobindo had been translated, together with a good part of the volumes of Mother’s collected works. Also some “secondary literature” like ‘Beyond Man’ of Georges Van Vrekhem or his ‘On Hitler’, as well as the first direct translation of Sanskrit texts of Shankaracharya into Russian, had become available.

The project in Russia to translate and publish the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is slowly reaching the point it was first aimed at, and so the focus is coming back to the international market. The team around Varuna then took up publication – in collaboration with the Delhi Ashram – of a photo-book with selected pictures of the Mother. This book was printed in Germany and has been distributed in its English version in India, in its Russian version from St. Petersburg. A similar book with pictures of Sri Aurobindo is in the pipeline. All the old English and French books of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother which had been exported to Russia, but which remained unsold, were re-imported to Pondicherry. Many of them are not available in this particular format – like pocket editions etc – here in India. They are sold now in Auroville, Pondicherry and Chennai Airport.

The really interesting new facet of Varuna’s publication section is working with electronic formats of the books. We are currently working at transforming all the main works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into e-pub format, both for the English and Russian texts, and intend to publish them for e-book use as well as for i-pad use. For i-pad we intend also to create an App for download with pictures of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

There are still lots of other possible ways we can help open up access to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s works, or provide readers with modern solutions and nice tools to remain in touch with them. There are also still many parts of the world where Sri Aurobindo is hardly known or his works are not yet translated. For example China. The composition of nationalities in Auroville mirrors quite well the development of book sales in the outside world. The first books of Sri Aurobindo translated and sold in a systematic way outside India were in France and Germany. Accordingly there are many French and German nationals in Auroville. Many of the Russians who are in Auroville have come following contact with the Russian publications. The fact that there are hardly any Chinese Aurovilians reflects well the fact that Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s books have still not been translated and published in China.

So there is still a lot of work ahead of us.

Originally posted at http://varuna.org.in/index.php/related-projects/publication-of-sri-aurobindo-s-mother-s-works

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49 thoughts on “Sri Aurobindo’s influence on Russians

  1. Harsh Shubhra

    It was a wonderful surprise to read about Sri Aurobindo’s work being read by the Russians but what I fail to understand is how the same thought is so unread in the land just across.

    China ought to read, for it surely is making a huge impact worldwide.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Young Chinese are turning to Buddhism to fill the spiritual void caused by excessive materialism

      From http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/LL02Ad01.html

      A 2007 survey by the Research Center for Religious Culture at East China Normal University found that of 4,500 people questioned across 31 provinces and autonomous regions, 33% claimed to believe in Buddhism.

      […]

      Research by the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in the United States, announced at the 7th Symposium of the Social Scientific Study of Religion in China in July, found that interest in Buddhism has exploded in the last three decades. About 185 million Chinese follow Buddhism today, the Center found.

      Reply
  2. mike

    They probably are read in secret, because you know what the chinese regime is like aka Tibet and Human Rights.

    There is a prediction by SA about china which l think is genuine [it’s nirod, l think] – from the link below:

    ” Sri Aurobindo predicted also “the Russo-Chinese rift and the disintegration of China one day”.

    http://www.searchforlight.org/nirod/TALKS.html

    l’m not sure what SA means by ‘disintegration’ – l don’t think He’s referring to the chinese move to communism, or the people’s revolution or the cultural revolution under Mao. That’s not exactly a ‘disintegration’ is it.
    At the moment their economy is expanding enormously and it’s about to overtake the US on the export front, so ‘disintegration’ might a while yet.

    Reply
  3. Helen Stewart

    Good article, Sandeep! Thank you. Also, I thank you from the depth of my being for giving me permission to quote. I don’t have a budget for book-buying and I’m all the more grateful!
    I popped in to say that someone, or perhaps more than one person from China is my blogs regular reader. Also, someone from North Korea, is. I like that.

    Because Aurobindo’s work mirrors what the awakened consciousness of my Soul revealed to my eye of contemplation — thanks to Kundalini Shakti awakening / rising / meeting her Beloved in a permanent ‘congress union’ — I quote him in my blog a lot.
    Not only that, I designated him as my “peer review” person. I mention this in todays blog. (If curious: spiritspeaks-theofilia.blogspot.ca — *today’s topic is on ‘Synchronicity – Divine Siddhis’ )

    Reply
  4. Ian James

    We’ve missed you Sandeep, have you been on your holidays?

    One has to replace in oneself, the craftiness of the adult with the joyful innocence of the child but this must be done without losing the wisdom & maturity one has gained.
    ~ Sandeep, 20 December 2009.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Ian: We’ve missed you Sandeep, have you been on your holidays?

      no Ian, just busy working (and enjoying it as well). You need to earn a living, if you don’t live in an Ashram.

      I hope to post more often in the future, but not weekly as before.

      Reply
      1. mwb6119

        Hello Sandeep. I do not interact often, but I do keep up on your blogs and also I dive into your archives fairly often. Thank you for your efforts.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        thanks 🙂
        The blog was a labour of love and I do hope to write more often in the future.

      3. mwb6119

        “This word was seed of all the thing to be:
        A hand from some Greatness opened her heart’s locked doors
        And showed the work for which her strength was born.
        As when the mantra sinks in Yoga’s ear,
        Its message enters stirring the blind brain
        And keeps in the dim ignorant cells its sound;
        The hearer understands a form of words
        And, musing on the index thought it holds,
        He strives to read it with the labouring mind,
        But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:
        Then, falling silent in himself to know
        He meets the deeper listening of his soul:
        The Word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:
        Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body’s self
        Are seized unutterably and he endures
        An ecstasy and an immortal change;
        He feels a Wideness and becomes a Power,
        All knowledge rushes on him like a sea:
        Transmuted by the white spiritual ray
        He walks in naked heavens of joy and calm,”
        Savitri Book IV: Canto III

  5. Pingback: The One Self In All. | THE ONENESS of HUMANITY

  6. Lata Iyer

    I worked in China for 6 years for about 5 months in a year. At that time, Nandlal Patel of Singapore wanted to dispose off the Chinese books of Hsu in his custody. Some of these books were translations, and others Hsu’s own books on India and Hindu literature. I took plenty of these books and asked friends to place them in libraries. What I understood from my Chinese friends was that these books are in Classical Chinese and are currently not understood by the present populace of China as a simplified Chinese is in vogue. I then got the Indian Embassy in Beijing to donate these books to Chinese libraries and educational institution. For some reason, the Embassy turned down our suggestion. I am sure that Sri Aurobindo’s books will find an audience in China, even though it could turn out to be a limited one.

    Reply
  7. kinnari shah

    Your blogs are wonderful. i keep coming on this site to explore the Lord in my being entirely…thanks a lot for this wonderful blogs….Shri Sandeep.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Auroville | Earthpages.ca

  9. Pingback: A book on Sri Aurobindo in Arabic | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  10. Darius

    Thank you very much for this interesting post. It’stotaly new info for me.
    I have a feeling as if it was just yesterday. The first book I read in Russian was Satprem’s Mother trilogy which i get from my good friend. It was printed on printing mashine with exhausted ink therefore some parts of text were hard to read. On the other hand it had good hard cover and the book was bound better than in soviet printing house.
    The strange thing is that I never felt any danger from KGB side regarding these forbidden texts despite the fact that me and my closest people were under constant KGB radar.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Darius:despite the fact that me and my closest people were under constant KGB radar.

      Glad you survived, Darius!

      Reply
      1. Darius

        Dear Sandeep I don’t think yuo used right word. The situation wasn’t that bad 🙂
        And thank you for the excellent blog. I missed an opportunity to thank you in my first post here. You are doing very very great work.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        thanks Darius. I dont get time to update the blog right now but maybe I will in a few months

      1. Darius

        Thank you fo the link Mike. I am aware of it. There is another good one http://integral-yoga.narod.ru. IMO this is an oldest exhaustive source. I prefered those books in english when they become available except Adventure of Consciousness because I liked russian translation very much. IMHO russian transations of Synthesis of yoga and Integral yoga were also very good. But I wouldn’t recommend russian version of Agenda to anyone.

  11. nizken

    Why do almost all gurus or spiritual personalities like Sri Aurobindo arise in India and not anywhere else in the world? I’ve never come across any important guru phenomenon in areas like Surinam, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Pakistan or the UK etc which contain significant numbers of immigrant Indian populations for quite some generations….
    Is it something to do with India as a nation and there being some kind of special spiritual forces which give rise to important spirituality there? This worries me if in case I’m missing out on any important secret sects or schools there in India which have kept secret truths alive through the centuries (and which may themselves have produced masters like Ramakrishna and SA & M) India is a huge country so do you think there might be some secret schools or ashrams there which may have advanced even further than SA & M’s teachings?

    Reply
  12. mike

    l think their have been many realized ppl around the world outside lndia, but Avatars like SA and M appear to be exclusive to lndia. As Don said in an earlier post:

    “Sri Aurobindo spoke of mystics in the west realizing through bhakti almost identical spiritual realities (realizing a reality – sorry for the silly phrasing;>)) as yogis. This doesn’t lessen my sense of India as the “guru of the world”

    ln the west guru’s would probably be called saints or mystics – like padre pio, st theresa of avila, khrishnamurti perhaps – and lot’s of psuedo-occultists. One of the greatest would be Daskalos [lived in cyprus] who had amazing abilities just like the Mother, from childhood, and you only have to read about his life to see He was Highly realised, IMO.
    l don’t think there are any around at the moment who would have advanced further than SA and M [but what do l know] – not publicly anyway. And SA said He would be the first to come back in a Supramental body, if l remember….

    Reply
  13. mike

    l should add that there have been a great many highly advanced Sufi’s in the middle-east – Rumi etc.. Mother’s teacher’s – the Theon’s [madam theon was english, l believe]. Even Bahaulla and his son [who Mother was very fond of] Abdul Baha.

    Reply
    1. nizken

      I was a total materialist and physicalist until I came across Sri Aurobindo & Mother due to Nehdia 4 yrs ago, hence I have very little information about mysticism or even philosophy. I have barely read anything apart from Sri Aurobindo’s works & Ramakrishnas in this field (this is one reason why I’m so worried about any other existent Indian spiritual leaders in my reply above!) I have been obsessed with Sri Aurobindo’s works for the past 3 yrs and wonder if there is anything else out there that I may be missing out on….

      Reply
      1. Darius

        Dear Nizken, may I little man give you an advice? If you have a hunger for truth don’t read too much books. You better call call call… All you need is some sincerity and fire in your heart.

      2. nizken

        Thank you Darius, I sincerely agree with that too. I have not really read too much spiritual literature, also many people have warned me that wading through books & literature is a bit like wading through horse-manure. I must agree with that given how much time I’ve spent on European literature and philosophy in the past. I guess personal effort and the heart’s longing is really what is most important?
        I’m going to mostly read SA & M’s works and hopefully that should be enough to carry me through my spiritual quest?

  14. mike

    l doubt your missing out on anything Nick. l’ve waded through most paths and l’ve never found anyone more lucid than SA and M – even in Sri Ramakrishna and Viivekananda, Ramana, Yogananda etc.. and l’ve read some incredible books..
    l was a materialist too [actually attempted suicide a few times, and ended up in mental institutions – dark days], My eye’s were first opened to other realities in the books of lobsang rampa, that my father just happened to be reading at the time [rampa is possibly a fraud, but his writings held a truth that started me on a great search.. l found Yogananda’s ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ and later on Satrprem’s ‘Adventure in Consciousness’. After that l devoured everything l could find from occultism to the Highest Spirituality, until l was led to SA and M. So, l know where your coming from.

    Reply
    1. nizken

      I have Yogananda’s book downloaded, do you recommend me reading it fully? I found it authored quite emotion-filled and there was a reference to ‘mermaids’ in it so I put it down at that point. Does anyone here recommend Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “Phenomenon of Man” or “The Divine Milieu?” I heard his ideas about the Omega Point are very similar to SA (in a scientific intellectual manner)

      Reply
  15. mike

    l enjoyed Yogananda’s book when l read it – l don’t remember the reference to ‘mermaid’s’ though lol. l found the chapter on the ‘afterlife’ very interesting – when his teacher Sri Yukteshwar came back after he died and gave a full-blown account.

    l’ve only read bits of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s works, but from what l heard, they say he had only written about what SA had actually experienced. l believe Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had 3 major realisation’s in his life, but l’m not sure what level they were at.
    l remember there was a book written, giving a comparitive analysis of him and SA called: A Study in Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. By R. C Zaehner

    Reply
  16. Darius

    Dear Nizken, my main point was that live spiritual practise is better than reading books even if those books are written by such spiritual giants like SA or M.
    Please don’t get me wrong I am against excessive reading not against reading in general.

    I would like to add that IMO true value of SA and M books is in their great power but not in their intelectual content. And it’s not just sound opinion it’s material fact as Mother used to say. It radiate special kind of vibration which I never felt coming from books of other spiritual authors. I personally know women which got opened her Ajna simply by reading Agenda.
    I myself being rather ignorant about yoga and its specifics received first portion of Shakti in my life after reading Integral yoga of SA. One must be just a bit more sensitive than ordinary man to feel this force hidden in these texts.
    Therefore it’s more important to feel that vibe than to comprehend mentaly the content of SA and M writings. Another important point is that the truth evolves continuously. Those experiences described in M or SA books 50-70 years ago are not necessarily same today and mind can’t grasp dynamics of these changes. Just my 2 cents on this matter.
    I apologize for my poor English. Hopefully my post is understandable enough.

    Reply
  17. mike

    Yes, Darius, l believe your right about the Truth evolving – obviously it has to, or we remain static without any progress. God knows what the Supramental Force and Power are achieving in the world at large today – things do seem to be speeding up and a lot of disgusting but necessary things are emerging [so many revolts and revolutions all over] into the Light to be dealt with.
    SA and M’s books definitely have a Power and as you say should be read from the heart not the intellect. They’ve both said as much, and they said too that a special Force was put in certain books [as in Satprem’s books] like Savitri etc….

    Reply
  18. Amjad

    There is an integral yoga centre in moscow and devotee gather on regular basis. But still i must say there is great deal of darkness in Russian federation.
    Great deal of xenophobia, racism and ignorance
    http://www.sova-center.ru/en/
    A real dichotomy exists, in a society that prides itself on intelligence and education, when i have spoken to vast number of Russians and some of the views and attitudes belong of the 18th century!
    And politically i is not a country that harbours peace, ask the Georgians, Ukrainians. etc
    Lord of nations is certainty at work there. I would love to have Sri Aurobindo/Mothers expert view on this.
    I certainly believe there must be more caution in divulging hidden and occult knowledge to people who are not ready.
    Foreigners are prohibited from certain Russian churches and places of interest etc

    Reply
  19. Darius

    Russia is a legal mafia state where the government itself is organized crime but instead of fighting russians chose to live on their knees.

    Reply
  20. dimobilous


    Maybe it was an occult influence of Sri Aurobindo on russian painter Konstantin Yuon, who painted the supramental manifeststion upon Earth 🙂

    Reply
  21. Darius

    I’ve never heard of such Yuon’s painting. Would you be so kind to post a link of this painting image?

    Reply
  22. mw

    I clicked on the link/icon he [demobilous] provided and the image of “New Planet” by Youn [1921] appeared. ???

    Reply
  23. mike

    Yes, mark, your right, demobilous’s icon/avatar takes you to the wikipeodia entry for Konstantin Yuon, but nothing there about the ‘Supramental’ painting..

    Reply
    1. mw

      Perhaps that image is being indicated as “synonymous”, that is, in the case there is no actual “Supramental” painting.

      Reply
  24. mike

    “But still i must say there is great deal of darkness in Russian federation.
    Great deal of xenophobia, racism and ignorance”

    Yes, amjad, russia still seems to be very much in the dark ages. l saw a UK documentary recently about homophobia over there, mainly instigated by putin, l believe. A british reporter went to moscow to investigate the attitude towards homosexuals. Apparently, there are many gangs beating them up in the streets. He asked one group what they would like to do to homosexuals and one picked up a rock and said ‘stone them like it says in the bible’, or words to that effect – very ‘old testament’. Most of these people have got it in there heads that homosexuals are paedophiles. At least that’s the excuse they’re using to justify their actions..

    Reply
    1. mw

      Homophobia is still very strong here in the US and we are supposed to be the “cutting edge”. Has anyone here looked into the Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck/Cris Cowan/Clare Graves? I know that Ken Wilber uses it but it is actually separate from his philosophy, he just incorporates it.

      Here’s a brief:

      “Overview

      Spiral Dynamics is an approach to understanding the development of worldviews or value systems within individuals, organisations and societies that was developed by Dr Don Beck and Chris Cowan in the 1990’s, based on the work of the late Professor Clare W Graves.

      The theory argues that it is possible to identify a series of worldviews that together describe the essentially different ways in which people see and engage with the world. The emergence of these codes or worldviews in the development of an individual, the maturation of a organisation or the evolution of a society can be seen to follow a clear sequential pattern, although the way in which this takes place in practice is unique to each person, group or society. This approach suggest that these worldviews are activated within us according to our history, core personality and the life conditions and challenges we are facing. It does not say that we go through stages of development in a discreet, linear fashion, progressing neatly from one stage to another, but that each of these worldviews can be more or less activated in each of us at any one time. Therefore each of us has a unique value systems profile that tells our unique story.

      The general principles of the evolution of these value systems include:

      -a progression from less complex to more complex and sophisticated expressions
      -a spiral alternation between individualistic and collectivist worldviews, between expressing self and sacrificing self
      -that each value system needs to become activated within an individual at some basic level (even if not very apparent) before subsequent more complex systems are able to emerge
      -Understanding these different value systems, the sequence and pattern in which they emerge, is key to a number of challenges and issues including:

      -facilitating the development of individuals, groups, organisations and communities
      -understanding and resolving conflict (within a personality, a group, a society or globally)
      -knowing what motivates people and what language to use to engage them
      -changing deeply embedded mindsets, attitudes and behaviours

      An understanding of these different worldviews or value systems and how they work, gives you an essential insight into the underlying patterns that shape the way the world is changing today. Personally, it helps me make sense of almost everything that I see going on, not just with individuals and groups within organisations, but also at a societal, global and historical level. In organisational work it complements the use of horizontal systems for profiling personality (such as Myers-Briggs, Belbin, Strengthsfinder, Insights, etc).

      Unfortunately the way in which the Spiral Dynamics approach has been packaged and presented doesn’t always make it easily understood and accepted by organisational leaders and practitioners, so I have been working away over the years at making it more accessible and developing relevant diagnostic tools for use in organisational work, which I present in my courses or workshops. …” http://www.aubynhoward.com/SpiralDynamicsIntro.html

      Reply

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