Sri Aurobindo: a glimpse (abridged)1

"Slowly the Light grows greater in the East.
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri"

On August 15th, 1872 Sri Aurobindo took human birth in Calcutta, Bengal, to awaken Mother Earth from her somnolence deep and lead her to the heights of God-rapture-fire. For seventy-eight fleeting years did this mightiest of souls live among us, accepting the world pain and making sacrifice after sacrifice to transform humanity’s age-old ignorance into perfect Perfection.

"My God is Love and sweetly suffers all.
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri"

When Aurobindo was just seven years old, his father took him and his two older brothers to England to receive their education. Aurobindo was to remain in England for fourteen years, far removed from his parents and his homeland. He attended St. Paul’s School in West Kensington, London, and was accepted into King’s College, Cambridge, as an Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.) probationer. Aurobindo was at Cambridge from October 1890 to October 1892. At the end of his studies, Aurobindo secured a First Class result in Latin and Greek, but was disqualified from the open I.C.S. examination for failing to present himself for the riding test. In later years, Sri Aurobindo revealed that he was wandering the streets of London at the time of his appointment. He had resolved to bring about his rejection from the I.C.S. because he felt no call for the administrative life. He preferred poetry, literature, the study of languages and patriotic activities.

At this time, he was introduced to the Gaekwar of Baroda, who offered him a position in his State Secretariat. Aurobindo accepted the position and decided to sail for India in January 1893. Aurobindo’s father was extremely attached to this son, whom he had not seen for fourteen years. He had almost intuitive high hopes that his Auro was to brighten the face of India. Alas, the ship which was to carry Aurobindo sank off the coast of Portugal. On the assumption that his son must have perished with the lost ship, his father died of a broken heart. But Aurobindo boarded a second ship and he reached India safely in February 1893.

As soon as Aurobindo stepped on India’s soil at Apollo Bunder, Bombay, he had a most significant spiritual experience. His entire being was inundated with peace. The all-pervading Presence of the Infinite he felt. This lofty experience came to him unsought. Aurobindo’s father had been an atheist and his children’s upbringing in England did not encompass spirituality. Aurobindo’s spiritual experiences came to him gradually.

Aurobindo spent thirteen years in the Baroda State Service, first in the Secretariat, later as Professor of French and English, and finally as Vice-Principal of the Baroda State College. When one of his students ventured the question, “How can nationalism be developed?” Aurobindo replied, pointing to a wall map of India:

"Look at that map. Learn to find in it the portrait of Bharat Mata. The cities, mountains, rivers and forests are the materials which go to make up Her body. The people inhabiting the country are the cells which go to make up Her living tissues. Our literature is Her memory and speech. The spirit of our culture is Her soul. The happiness and freedom of Her children is Her salvation. Behold Bharat as a living Mother, meditate upon Her and worship Her in the nine-fold way of bhakti."

Consecrated to India’s independence from his Cambridge days, Aurobindo devoted his spare time at Baroda to learning Indian languages, absorbing Indian culture and practising yoga. He conducted secret societies for work towards independence and wrote articles constructively criticising the thinking of India’s political leaders of the National Congress.

In 1903 the Maharaja of Baroda took Aurobindo with him as secretary on a tour to Kashmir. There, on Shankaracharya Hill, high above the valley of Kashmir, Aurobindo had a vivid experience of the vacant Infinite. This experience left an abiding impression on his mind.

"The day-bringer must walk in darkest night.
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri"

In 1906 Aurobindo left Baroda for Bengal. He became the Principal of the Bengal National College. He entered into the vortex of the Bengal national movement. Aurobindo was at once the cynosure and the sanctum sanctorum of Bengal’s heart-shrine.

While Principal of the Bengal National College, he conducted the journals Bande Mataram in English and Yugantar in Bengali. A leader of the secret societies, he also worked ceaselessly — publicly and behind the scenes — sowing the seeds of love of country and her independence in the national mind and heart.

As Aurobindo’s stars were ascending in Bengal politics, India’s greatest poet, Rabindranath Tagore — a patriot and nationalist of the supreme height—proudly and unreservedly voiced forth from his unhorizoned vision-eye:

Aurobindo, do accept Rabindranath’s salutations!
O my friend, O our country’s friend,
You embody the living message-image-light
Of our Mother India’s soul...

[translated from the original Bengali]

In 1907 Aurobindo resigned from the Bengal National College. At his farewell party, his dear students made a loving demand of him to bless them with encouraging and illumining advice as to how they could become choice and worthy sons of Mother India. He responded with a most significant speech, saying:

"...There are times in a nation’s history when Providence places before it one work, one aim, to which everything else, however high and noble in itself, has to be sacrificed. Such a time has now arrived for our Motherland when nothing is dearer than Her service, when everything else is to be directed to that end... Work that She may prosper. Suffer that She may rejoice."

On May 4th, 1908 Aurobindo was suddenly arrested on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Alipore Jail. He was to remain there for twelve months. This period of enforced seclusion was actually a blessing in disguise for Aurobindo. It enabled him to carry on his yoga uninterrupted and he passed hour after hour in his cramped cell in silent contemplation. For fifteen days he vividly heard the voice of Swami Vivekananda speaking to him about the Supermind. As Aurobindo Ghose progressed towards his God-realisation, he had the vision of Vasudeva, Lord Krishna, everywhere and in everything.

Sri Krishna assured him that He would work in and through Aurobindo’s junior counsel, Chitta Ranjan Das, to secure Aurobindo’s acquittal. There would be no need for Aurobindo even to involve himself in the trial. Lord Krishna advised him to remain silent. Aurobindo felt in the inmost recesses of his heart that each surrender-step of his to Lord Krishna would become an entirely new creation. In this way, Aurobindo conquered once and for all his imprisonment-release-doubt-troops.

Sri Krishna also gave Aurobindo direct assurance that India’s independence would be achieved—but that the rest of the work towards that end would be carried out by others, while he himself would have to work for a higher Cause.

While concluding the case for the defence, C. R. Das said:

"...My appeal to you is this—that long after this turmoil, this agitation will have ceased, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands..."

Shortly after his acquittal on 6 May 1909, Sri Aurobindo delivered his historic Uttarpara Speech in which he vividly described his direct experiences of God in Alipore Jail. He concluded by saying:

"...it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you."

In order to give a wider voice to his views and those of other nationalists, Sri Aurobindo started two publications: the Dharma in Bengali and the Karmayogin in English. In 1910 he received an Adesh or ‘Command’ from Above and abruptly quit all his political activities. He retired into seclusion, first at French Chandernagore, then at French Pondicherry, to work for the greater Cause of the world’s spiritual transformation and divinisation.

From 1910 to 1920, from his base at Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo conducted the Arya, a philosophical monthly into which he poured his spirituality-flooded message. These writings formed the basis of his major works: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita and many more. He also wrote essays on poetry and literature, including The Future Poetry, Hymns to the Mystic Fire and two volumes of Collected Poems and Plays. His last and greatest work is Savitri, the epitome of spiritual autobiography. It is an epic of 23,814 lines, far surpassing in height, depth and length any epic in Greek, Latin, English, Italian or German. It is, indeed, a new Veda for the New Age.

On November 24th, 1926 Sri Aurobindo attained to his spiritual perfection. He withdrew from all contacts and put into the hands of his spiritual Collaborator, the Mother, the disciples who had gathered around him. This marked the beginning of the Ashram at Pondicherry.

For over twenty-four years, with the Mother working in front, he continued with his yoga, not caring to rest on the laurels of his first Victory, but pushing upward till he found himself within sight of his supreme and final Victory which alone could achieve the end of his Mission: the descent of what he called the Supermind into the very cells of his physical body.

India’s independence was won on 15 August 1947. Most significantly, this was Sri Aurobindo’s own Birth Day. He was requested to offer a message to the free nation, and he began:

"August 15th, 1947 is the birthday of free India. It marks for her the end of an old era, the beginning of a new age. But we can also make it, by our life and acts as a free nation, an important date in a new age opening for the whole world, for the political, social, cultural and spiritual future of humanity.
August 15th is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition…."

At the age of seventy-eight, for purposes of his own, Sri Aurobindo decided to part with his body, and he carried out this decision on 5 December 1950 after a brief “illness”.

And now, with the kind permission of your souls, I would like to share with you some of my most precious outer possessions and memories. When I joined the Ashram in 1944 as a young boy of twelve years old, I received from Sri Aurobindo a copy of his book Kara Kahani (Tales of Prison Life). Sri Aurobindo had blessingfully written down my name, Chinmoy, in his own handwriting. Needless to say, I was overjoyed.

At the Ashram I had many mentors who encouraged my literary attempts. In 1946 I was inspired to render one of Sri Aurobindo’s Bengali stories about the Vedic sages Vasishtha and Vishwamitra into Bengali verse. Sri Aurobindo’s story is called Kshamar Adarsha (The Ideal of Forgiveness). My poem ran to about two hundred lines. Timidly and devotedly, I submitted it to the Mother. Out of her infinite compassion for me, the Mother gave it to Sri Aurobindo. In a few days’ time, at four-thirty in the afternoon, I was on my way to the volleyball ground. One of Sri Aurobindo’s dearest attendants, Mulshankar, stopped me and said, “Chinmoy, Nirod is reading out to Sri Aurobindo your long poem and Sri Aurobindo is smiling.” When I heard this, I was in the seventh Heaven of delight! A few hours later, Nirod-da sent for me and returned the poem. He told me that Sri Aurobindo had remarked: “It is a fine piece of poetry. He has capacity. Tell him to continue.”

In 1948 I translated one of my Bengali poems about India’s independence into English and, as usual, with utmost timidity, I gave the Mother the poem. Smiling, Mother said to me, “I know it is for Sri Aurobindo that you are giving it to me.” She took it from me to give to Sri Aurobindo.

In 1958 I began writing a play about the Life of Sri Aurobindo, entitled The Descent of the Blue, and I was told by Champaklal, Sri Aurobindo’s sleeplessly self-giving assistant, that the Mother enjoyed hearing my play. It was published serially in the Mother India.

In 1959, on my birthday, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram manager, Amrita — a pioneer-pillar-disciple whose name, meaning ‘Nectar; Immortality’, was bestowed upon him by his Lord Sri Aurobindo himself — presented me with a Parker fountain pen: “Chinmoy, I am giving you my most precious and my most treasured possession. This was the pen our Lord gave me on one of my birthdays many years ago, long before you were born. He himself used it many, many times.”

Finally, my prayerful heart is all gratitude to the Divine Mother for granting me the invaluable blessing-opportunity to be allowed to meditate every morning very early in front of the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s pictures at the place where they used to give Darshan four times a year and also at the two doors of Sri Aurobindo’s main room. This unimaginable privilege started in 1958 and continued until 1964 when I came to America.

No more about myself. Aurobindo’s Cambridge and Sri Aurobindo’s Mother India more, ever more!

"We are sons of God and must be even as He.
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri"

Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo’s mind saw and studied England.
India and India’s heart received and treasured Sri Aurobindo.
The world and the world’s soul adored and loved Sri Aurobindo.
The Universe and the Lord of the Universe claimed, claim, and forever and forever shall claim Sri Aurobindo.
Sri Aurobindo: Eternity-Infinity-Immortality-Vision-Reality’s Oneness-Home.

Long twenty-seven years ago — to be precise, on 23 November 1970 — I was extremely fortunate to give a talk on “The Higher Worlds” here at this august King’s College of Cambridge University. I wish to conclude today my prayerful and soulful talk on Sri Aurobindo, a transcendental pride of Cambridge, the way I began my talk three decades ago:

Cambridge, I bow to your aspiration-height.
I bow to your knowledge-light.
I bow to your divine pride.
True, you are in England, you are of England,
But you are also of the world at large.
The entire world claims you as its very own.

[Sri Chinmoy originally wrote this article in Pondicherry, India. He extensively revised it for this lecture at the University of Cambridge which he was invited to offer to mark the fiftieth anniversary year of Indian Independence by the Reverend George Pattison, Dean of King’s College Chapel.]


  1. OEH 60. University of Cambridge; Cambridge, England, King's College Chapel, 12 November 1997.