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Monday, April 12, 2010



This essay is an attempt to discover and describe contemporary relevance of the essence of Sri Aurobindo’s vision of Indian Nationalism, as reflected in the writings, speeches and events of his political and Pondicherry life.

We live in a time when the idea of Indian Nationalism is often associated with Hindu religiosity, tradition and creed. Perhaps history does provide valid reasons to conjure up such an image of the great Indian Nation but this reputation of the term is shallow, 
ill-informed, fragmented and incomplete. It vitiates much of the true ideology and practice that India stands for; it is partly due to a derogatory image created for the many benefits of India’s foreign oppressors and partly due to the repeated failure of her own people to live by the true values she represents.

It is time we saw things as they are, with courage and clarity, and not through the coloured looking glass of an alien and self proclaimed authority. For it is our nation and it is in our highest interest to know her fully, deeply and honestly.

Sri Aurobindo and India

It was early 20th century, a time when the nation was looking for a new direction, a new light that would lead it to freedom and unity. After centuries of foreign rule, oppression, retardation and self-oblivion India was ready to be awakened. The grounds had been prepared sufficiently by the early reformers of the day. Bengal and Maharashtra were charged with passion. This was the momentous time when Sri Aurobindo (then Aurobindo Ghose) whose “genius shot up like a meteor and though on the high skies only for a time, who flooded the land from Cape to Mount with the effulgence of his light,” (Pattabhi Sitaramayya, as cited by Manoj Das in his Review of Record of Yoga, Vol. 1 & 2, stepped into the forefront of Indian politics. His life had been shaped deftly to fulfill this knightly role, first in the academic elite of England as a student and later in the years of his study and knowledge of India at the service of the Gaekwad of Baroda. Through his fiery articles in various national publications and through his founding of the extremist wing of the Indian National Congress, Sri Aurobindo supplied, with an accurate and forceful command, the new vision and the new energy that the country needed. He demanded, for the first time, a no compromise “Purna Swaraj”, and made it a national war cry and a national mission. He infused in the nation the spirit of do or die, the enthusiasm that swept the country and rose again and again in surging waves until it won India her freedom from the Raj. His role in India’s freedom struggle is pivotal and second to none other. He was proclaimed by his contemporaries as the prophet of patriotism, the leader of Indian Nationalism and declared unsparingly by the British as “the most dangerous man” to reckon with.

In the National radio broadcast message of India’s independence on 15th August 1947, which was also his own birthday, Sri Aurobindo spoke of the five dreams he had for India. India’s freedom and unity, Asia’s freedom and resurgence; India’s spiritual gift to the world in showing the way of a spiritual life; a world unity based on the recognition of national individuality and the acceptance of the idea that only in a full and free expression of national value can there be international oneness and that all nations are here to express different facets of the same world reality; and the advent and establishment of a new Truth consciousness upon earth to enable man to take the next step in evolution.
If the early phase of Sri Aurobindo’s life was devoted to the freedom struggle of India, his life at Pondicherry was devoted to yet another struggle for freedom - mankind’s freedom from its bondage to ignorance.
The New Formula

It is said that every age must figure out its own formula of ideology and action to overcome the crisis that plagues it. Although the Truth always remains unchanged, its application must undergo vast revision as per the time, the people and the place it seeks to establish itself.

In the following passage from Sri Aurobindo we find the possibility of formulating such an equation for our age:

“India of the ages is not dead nor has She spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples. And that which must seek now to awake is not an anglicized oriental people, docile people of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure, but still the ancient immemorable Shakti recovering her deepest self, lifting her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma.” (India’s Rebirth: A Selection from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, talks and speeches, back cover)

In this message lies the key to our present problems as a nation and as individuals. In this Dharma lies our passage to the change we seek; in it lies our highest creativity and originality, our noblest living and our greatest victory.

Our present times are those of mismatch, duality, excess and superficiality. We have long forgotten the habit of Dharma! We have sailed far from the reign of the Shakti! But in every crisis it is in the Vedas that we have found our guiding light. The triple formula of Satyam-Ritam-Brihat, the True, the Right, the Vast, holds true even today, if only we could reapply it to our modern variables! Only then we shall be empowered to initiate the change we seek. Until then all is a futile circling.
Dharma, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the crucial link between man’s animal tendencies and his higher divine possibilities. It is the ordering, fulfilling, training and uplifting of all that is lower and unbridled in him, in order to make it ready for a higher order. This law or Dharma varies and assumes freer lines as it rises in the ladder of evolution and type. Dharma is not a creed or a cult, “it is the right law of functioning of life in all its parts. The tendency of man to seek after a just and perfect law of his living finds its justification in the Dharma.”(SABCL, Vol. 14, p. 104)

Sri Aurobindo invites us to turn to this Dharma once again. He reinterprets and revisits its relevance to our crumbling modernity. He offers to us, through a grand synthesis of the past and the future, the victorious crown that this Dharma shall reinstate in our life and nation. He foresees that it is only our adherence to such a grand and unifying Dharma that can save us.
The Difficulty

Given the sheer vastness of India’s cultural diversity and the difficulties of the human nature, the agenda of an Indian Nation cannot be a thing straight and simple. It poses a complex problem for any aspiration of unity whether political, physical or psychological. Obviously such an Indian confederation must attempt a unity on all three levels for it to be lasting and real. What are the crucial guidelines and principles amidst the plethora of do’s and don’ts of modern India that will actually work in our times? Sri Aurobindo’s life, and the vision he works out through it, give clear directions in this regard and it appears possible to build a rich and feasible structure of ideology and practice for Indian Nationalism by reading into its core significance and putting together under a common penumbra its key elements.

Sri Aurobindo saw the difficulty of such an endeavour but he also saw through the secret of its possibility. To those who argued against a cultural solidarity for India as an impossible thing, he answered with certitude, “One might just as well say that different chemical elements cannot combine into a single substance as that different races cannot combine into a single nation”. (SABCL, Vol. 1, p.526)
The Sanatan Dharma

Sri Aurobindo defines culture as being the harmonious building of life and its activities around the highest conception of Truth envisaged by its people. The Indian Culture always sought to live for and by the Spirit. The aim of her Dharma in every age and in every activity of life was to secure this highest interest of the Spirit.

In ancient India Dharma was a living thing; its scope of action was all pervasive and all inclusive. Right from the Vedic times to the Upanishadic and later to the age of the Shastra and Purana, Dharma was clearly formulated and expressed according to the development of the people and their capacity to grasp the truth; it was made accessible through education and implemented at every stage of life with a joyous sense of duty and pride as the one thing important. There was the individual Dharma, the family Dharma, the clan Dharma, the Dharma of the king, the Dharma of the different stages of life right from childhood to youth and old age; there was the Dharma of crisis and the Dharma of mundane-ness. Dharma gave dignity to life. It brought people together; it was vast and differentiated at the same time. It was founded on the perception that there is but One Supreme Reality that expresses itself in the many and which seeks to be realized once again in the earthly life of the many through innumerable paths and means. It is this solidity of vision that gave the Indian Dharma its strength, resilience, flexibility and all pervasiveness.

It is to this universal and unanimous Dharma that the rishis gave the name Sanatan Dharma, the eternal and original Dharma, the Dharma that embraces and tolerates all Dharmas for each is a unique path to the Supreme. This global Dharma is the only religion India has, the only truth she abides by and attempts to recreate in all her vast history and in all her present strivings. No matter how distorted and forgotten it may have become today it is only this that wants to be rediscovered in this entire crisis.

Sri Aurobindo was categorical in his Uttarpara speech when he said that freedom and unity are not political aspirations for a larger self-interest; they are meant for God’s purpose in the world. Freedom is the first condition of existence, the first prerequisite for an individual or nation to live and grow by its inner truth, that which it is here to fulfill. India’s mission is a mission for the world. She does not live for herself as other nations do. She is here to show the world a new way of life, a new order and a new harmony founded upon the highest principles. How shall she do this if she is not herself free and united?

The Indian way must always be to see the inner truth of things, the truth of her diverse people and the truth of the people of the world. India must attempt in all her education, administration, commerce, polity, science and art to give a free reign to this truth so it may prosper and bring through that prosperity the Oneness and Harmony of a Divine order.

When her people shall know and feel the amplitude of the Sanatan Dharma, when they shall be convinced of its ultimate purpose, then India will rise again! This time she will be unstoppable for she will ride mighty on the Shakti of the Sanatan Dharma.
The Dharma of the Indian Citizen

A great Nation is built on great individuals. Not just the small elite but the common man, you and me, must now aspire to be great! Great in the Indian way! Great as in a large divine perfection. This aspiration which was common in India’s past, must become again a living force in the heart and mind of each Indian citizen. Greatness no longer for a personal agenda but for the cause of the Nation and finally for the purposes of the World. Vasudaiva Kutumbakam!

The perception of the value and use of human life must undergo a sea change. Each of us is a base and headquarter for Divine action in the world. “My life is Yours, Do what You will! I shall be your perfect instrument!” This should the new age motto! Nothing less and nothing more. When this view of existence becomes a driving reality then the new doors shall open up and the new way shall be revealed to us. All hangs precariously on this consent.

To Pause! To Rethink! To recognise that which is the highest in oneself! To follow that which is truest in oneself! To be ruthlessly sincere! To resist all that pulls downward, all that takes away for from Truth, all that is anything other than the highest one understands. This is the need of the hour! Let us recall the message of Krishna to Arjuna to do his best and leave the rest to the Divine! To do work as an offering to the Divine. To expect nothing except the joy derived from such a lofty ideal.

To replace our compulsive and exclusive stress on greed, ego, wealth and power with an active and integral search for divine perfection. To restore the noble balance between Artha, Kama, Dharma, Moksha, as it was in our glorious past. To give each its proper place in our life so that we may optimize life and work out efficiently what it is actually meant for. All the fatal ills of our day are the result of a long drawn overemphasis, to the extent of a catastrophic exclusiveness, of the glitzy cult of Artha and Kama, Materialism, Utilitarianism and Desire, and the convenient effacement of Dharma and Moksha, righteousness, truth, equality and the ideal of liberation from the ego!

To wake up to the one fact that matters most: all this exuberance of world play is only an attempt, a means of the Divine to break away from the dualities of ignorance and establish the truth of Oneness, Delight and Love! To accelerate this Universal intent by a conscious collaboration of one’s will and action is then the main demand of the modern man’s Dharma. Then equality, freedom and brotherhood will not be some vague and far off cry but a near and growing reality. It will then form the basis for great Nations and their march to form a great World.

Only when we have fulfilled reasonably the Dharma of the individual can we proceed to fulfill the Dharma of the citizen. Only then will our pale and nominal sense of Indian-ness turn into a vibrant and fertile love for India.

“The feeling of almost physical delight in the touch of the mother-soil, of the winds that blow from Indian seas, of the rivers that stream from Indian hills, in the hearing of Indian speech, music, poetry, in the familiar sights, sounds, habits, dress, manners of our Indian life, this is the physical root of that love. The pride in our past, the pain of our present, the passion for the future are its trunk and branches. Self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, great service, high endurance for the country are its fruit. And the sap which keeps it alive is the realization of the Motherhood of God in the country, the vision of the Mother, the knowledge of the Mother, the perpetual contemplation, adoration and service of the Mother.” (SABCL, Vol. 1, pp. 125-26)

The Dharma of the patriot-citizen is to be fearless and ruthless in his allegiance to his country. He must be prepared to be the Kshatriya, the warrior who can smite when the need arises, who is selfless and courageous in the face of evil. He will not shun war and violence as immoral, but look upon them “as a stimulus, as a means of awakening”. Till humanity at large is not united enlightened battle and struggle will be used nobly to keep at bay the darker forces. “The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfillment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint”. (SABCL, Vol. 1, p. 127)

The patriot is also called upon to have a sharp intellect, a dispassionate, acute and seeing intelligence in search of the truth of things. The time for the “unaided intellect” is gone, says Sri Aurobindo. Reason shall be backed by Faith, Selflessness and Courage which come not from being “a Nationalist in the European sense, meaning in a purely materialistic sense”, but from a realization that “the three hundred millions of people in this country are God in the nation”. (Bose, 2007, p. 136)

To work for our country so she may prosper, to educate ourselves so she may shine, to suffer so she may rejoice, is the new mantra that Sri Aurobindo gives to the youth of Inida. The unity that he urged was not of opinion or speech or intellectual conviction. “Unity is of the heart and springs from love”. (SABCL, Vol. 1, p. 887)

To finish the work that India began with our Vedic forefathers is the call of our duty, the Dharma that we must now take up as Indians and as world citizens. Nationalism must finally grow into Universalism and Cosmopolitanism.

“Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call. …But being pure cast aside all fear; for the hour is often terrible, a fire and a whirlwind and a tempest, a treading of the winepress of the wrath of God; but he who can stand up in it on the truth of his purpose is he who shall stand; even though he fall, he shall rise again; even though he seems to pass on the wings of the wind, he shall return. Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected, the incalculable, the immeasurable.” (SABCL, Vol. 17, p. 1)

Works Cited:
Bose, Sugata (2007). The Spirit and Form of an Ethical Polity: A Meditation on Aurobindo’s Thought. Modern Intellectual History, 4 (1), pp. 129–144.
An individual or a nation cannot rise to its full height except through trouble and stress. The stone block patiently submits to hammering, cutting and chiselling to be made into the statue which pleases the eye and gladdens the soul.
Sri Aurobindo, CWSA vol. 6-7, p. 248

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