Over the past few years, quite a few blog readers have written to me appreciating the manner in which I have presented the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I would attribute much of it to my Guru whom I met early in my teenage years. My experiences with him seemed to correspond closely with the manner in which the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother interacted with their disciples. It is this correlation which has enabled me to provide an alternative perspective on their life and teachings.
Xu Fancheng (Chinese: 徐梵澄) was born in Changsha, Hunan province, on 26th October 1909. As a child he studied classical Chinese. In 1929 he went to Germany to study the History of Art at Heidelberg University. He also practiced wood engraving there and became the first Chinese artist of the new style wood engraving. He came back to China in 1932, and encouraged by Luxun (one of the most famous writers of modern China), he started to translate the works of Nietzsche from German into Chinese, and became the first expert of Nietzsche’s philosophy in China.
There are many secondary works which profess to explain Sri Aurobindo’s views on nationalism, but it is better to read what he himself said on the matter. These are a few selections from the works of Sri Aurobindo on Nationalism. These pieces first appeared in the Karmayogin journal in 1909. Later in life, Sri Aurobindo saw these writings as outdated remnants of his extinct political persona but to us they remain luminous milestones indicative of his political sagacity and broad vision.
In the context of the recent Delhi gang rape case, a woman from India wrote to me asking “what take spirituality has on crimes such as these. Does the victim suffer because of sanchit (past accumulated) karma? Should one regard whatever happens as good?” A few weeks before this horrific Delhi incident, another woman had asked on a mailing list: “There are lots of places where Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. I cannot see this when I think of someone being raped or tortured or molested. Can someone explain how this can be?”. Today, Huffington Post published a short piece by Dr. Deepak Sarma, professor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, questioning what answer Karma can offer in response to such tragedies. In light of all this discussion, these are some answers based on the model of Karma proposed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I am not sure if I have satisfactory answers to these profound questions but I am going to try!
A reader from India asked a question which deserves to be highlighted as a separate blog post. The question was: “Many times people on their way to temples meet with accidents and die. What is the point of praying to Deities if they cannot protect their own devotees ? We also hear of stories where people claim that their beloved Deity saved them. How do we know if it was the Deity who intervened. Why does the Diety intervene in one case and not in another?”
Youth is a fragile period when boundaries are fluid and ethical values are not yet established, when there is a surfeit of energy but no balance of mind or depth of perception. During this phase, insecure and ignorant men and women lost in the merry company of debauched friends often succumb to peer pressure and undertake foolhardy actions which can trap them in lifelong vices. Gaining experience in alcohol, sex and drugs is mistakenly regarded as a sign of maturity. On three occasions in his youth, Mahatma Gandhi was inadvertently drawn by friends into a tryst with prostitutes but escaped narrowly due to his childlike timidity or his nascent ethical personality. He related these episodes in response to a question on the power of Ramanama (i.e. the chanting of the name “Rama”). This article first appeared in the Navjivan (“new life”) newspaper that Gandhi used to publish from Ahmedabad.
In 1934, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian freedom struggle, sought to meet Sri Aurobindo because they had never met in person before. The latter declined the request because he didn’t want to break the seclusion that he had been observing since 1926. Strangely, the Mother who had no such restriction also declined to meet him. By combining the correspondence available in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi with the records in the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, it is possible to build a complete picture of why this important meeting never transpired. One of Mahatma Gandhi’s letters seen below also furnishes us with a second-hand account of daily life in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
This article brings together some predictions and uncanny observations made by Sri Aurobindo that were fulfilled later in time. To preserve chronological fidelity, I will only draw on remarks which predate the actual occurrence of the event. If the modern tech-savvy yogi had to record predictions about the future, he or she could use Trusted timestamping(digital notary), a cryptographic technology which is now available in commercial software products. Such technology was unfortunately not available in Sri Aurobindo’s time nor did he care to impress others with his yogic abilities. Consequently, the neutral observer wishing to verify these predictions has to rely on a combination of trust as well as the fact that the original manuscripts from which these remarks are drawn are preserved in the Archives Department of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.
Dec 30, 1896. Swami Vivekananda was fast asleep on the ship which was taking him back to India after a whirlwind tour of Europe and America when he had a vivid dream. An old and bearded man appeared before him, saying, “Observe well this place that I show to you. You are now in the island of Crete. This is the land in which Christianity began.” In support of this origin of Christianity, the speaker gave two words, one of which was Therapeutae, and showed both to be derived direct from Sanskrit roots. “The proofs are all here,” added the old man, pointing to the ground, “Dig and you will find!”. The Swami woke, feeling that he had had no common dream, and tumbled out on deck, to take the air. As he did so, he met a ship’s officer, turning in from his watch.
Sri Kumaré is an enlightened guru from the East who has come to America to spread his teachings. Kumaré sets off to Phoenix, Arizona to build a following. He takes with him two disciples — Kristen to teach yoga and Purva to book events — who will become Kumaré’s first followers and greatest public messengers.
“The problem of woman” is a talk given by the Mother in 1955. It is an addendum to the previous post on “Gender differences“. I am posting it separately because it is too long to be added as a comment. Included in this post is a recently posted video of an up-and-coming Palestinian women’s football team which admirably complements the Mother’s thoughts on physical training for women.
This article is off the beaten track. It concerns an intriguing similarity between the myth behind the “Le moulin du diable” (Devil’s Mill) in Guerande, France and the myth connected to the Kamakhya temple in Assam, India. In both cases, the Devil has to build some structure within a night in order to secure a bride. The Devil almost succeeds in his task before a cock prematurely crows to signal that night has ended. Since this similarity has not been noticed before, I am posting it here.
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.
Akbar (1542-1605) was the third Mughal Emperor who ruled over much of Northern and Central India. The family was Turko-Mongol in origin. Akbar, after ascending to the throne at the age of fourteen, cemented his power with successive victories over insubordinate local chieftains. He was a great patron of art and culture, somewhat analogous to Lorenzo the Magnificent of the House of Medici, who nourished the artistic community in Florence and turned the city into a locus of the Italian Renaissance. Akbar was known for his syncretic and liberal religious policy. Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and even Jesuits who had travelled all the way from Europe by sea to spread Christianity graced the royal court of Akbar. When he was thirty six years old, he had a mystical experience which seems to have been a turning point in his life.
In the centuries-old Indian city of Varanasi, there is a hotel with a weird check-out policy: if you don’t die within two weeks, the manager will politely ask you to leave. The hotel caters to a clientele of faithful Hindus who travel to Varanasi specifically to die (more on that hotel later). They are solemnly adhering to the norms laid down in the hoary scriptures that state that death in Varanasi (aka Kashi, Banaras) and some other holy cities can guarantee liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. Is this fast-track to liberation a parochial and outdated belief, or does it imply that anyone living anywhere in the world can attain liberation from rebirth by dying in an Indian holy city? In this article, we examine the continuing validity of such affirmations.
“How would the lives of Western women have been different if they had been raised to believe that God was a Mother, all loving and all powerful?” It is with this thought-provoking question that Lisa “Prajna” Hallstrom opens her book Mother of Bliss on the life of the Bengali woman saint, Anandmayi Ma(1896-1982). Hallstrom, through this book, sought to understand the phenomenon of female spiritual Gurus in India. (See her website)
This article presents presumably decisive proof of the origin of the Sapta Chatusthaya and maybe of interest more to longtime Aurobindonians than others. The Sapta Chatusthaya (Seven Quartets) is a program for inner yogic development that Sri Aurobindo received through his spiritual visions sometime in the 1908-1912 period. However, the exact origin of this program has been regarded as uncertain because Sri Aurobindo’s early spiritual realizations occurred during a turbulent period of his life when he was actively involved in India’s freedom struggle against the British rule, in the course of which he had to undergo a year’s imprisonment and was subsequently actively pursued and watched by British spies for several years.
In this article, we present some fascinating cases of people being reborn into a different religion which were investigated by Dr Antonia Mills, currently Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia. When evidence of this kind surfaces, it can spur introspection into the validity of varying religious practices that people fastidiously observe because we are abruptly confronted with the fact that behind those holy foods and holy clothes and prayer rituals, we are indeed innately the same – all orphans of the One Divine; that our religious beliefs are just condensed thought-forms affirmed consistently in the mind, which, if relinquished, might obliviously open us to the nature of the Ultimate Reality.
The short answer to the question “Are Indians more spiritual” is “no, certainly not“. If you look at the hoi polloi, they can be as materialistic as people in other countries – spending their leisure hours shopping in malls and merrily wining and dining their way through life. But the long answer is a little more complicated since it requires some occult perception of the cultural and subconscious atmosphere which pervades in every country. In this article, we present some observations by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa on the East-West differences as regards the spiritual pursuit. Do bear in mind that these observations are not eternal truths. These remarks were uttered at a certain point in time and come with an expiration date, because conditions in various countries can change over time.