Part III — Essays

Sri Aurobindo: a glimpse58

Sri Aurobindo was born on August 15th, 1872, in Calcutta. His grandfather, Rishi Rajnarayan Bose, was a patriot of the deepest dye and a pioneer of India's renaissance. His daughter, Swarnalata, became Sri Aurobindo's mother. Sri Aurobindo's father. Dr. K. D. Ghose, was to all outer appearances completely anglicised. However, he too cherished a genuine and abiding love for his Motherland.

At the age of five, Aurobindo was sent to Loreto Convent School in Darjeeling for two years. Strangely enough, it was to this same convent that Mother Teresa was sent when she first arrived in India in 1929 at the age of eighteen.

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 London for five years 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. He 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's mother, Swarnalata, was extremely beautiful. She was known as "the Rose of Rangpur." A most poignant moment occurred when Aurobindo and his mother were reunited. To the family's intense sorrow, over the passage of years she had lost her mental balance and could not recognise her Aurobindo. Only by looking at an old scar on his finger could she verify that it was her own son who had returned.

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

In 1903 the Maharaja 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.

In 1906 the National Movement, centring around the Partition of Bengal, brought Aurobindo to Calcutta. 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)"

Aurobindo's contributions to the cause of lndian independence were also highly appreciated by the towering trinity of Lal-Bal-Pal — Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. Pal, who was one of Aurobindo's closest colleagues in those days, cheerfully accepted six months' rigorous imprisonment just to keep his cherished friend Aurobindo at large.

In 1907 Aurobindo resigned from the Bengal National College. At his farewell party, Aurobindo's students asked him for some words of advice. He responded with a momentous and soul-stirring 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."

Hand in hand with his political activities of those days, Aurobindo also pursued his spiritual inclinations. He took as his spiritual guide a yogi by the name of Vishnu Bhaskar Lele. Just before meeting with Aurobindo, Lele had the intuition that he was about to give initiation to a very great soul. In 1908 Aurobindo stayed with Lele for three days and Lele instructed him in meditation, specially how to make his mind completely blank. Lele was extremely proud of his student. What it had taken Lele himself six long years to accomplish, Aurobindo accomplished in just three days. He far surpassed Lele.

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. 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....

After his acquittal on May 6th, 1909 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.

Because he had taken refuge in French territory, Sri Aurobindo could not be recaptured by the British. However, they posted a spy in his household to report on his movements. This spy became Sri Aurobindo's cook. At the end of six months, the spy came to Sri Aurobindo and made a clean breast of his real motives. Then, with tears in his eyes, he offered Sri Aurobindo all his savings from the Government pay and begged his forgiveness. Sri Aurobindo did forgive him, smilingly and unreservedly.

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 August 15th, 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 December 5th, 1950 after a brief "illness." He left the charge of his work to the Mother, who accepted it and gave her word that she would remain on earth to accomplish his work of integral transformation. Sri Aurobindo, too, gave his word to the Mother that he would not leave the earth atmosphere until his work was done. People living in the Ashram and abroad have been, ever since, feeling his living Presence and Force at work. An immortal event took place on February 29th, 1956, when the manifestation of the Power for which Sri Aurobindo had sacrificed his body took place and it has been operating increasingly in world affairs since that time.

It was the Mother's conviction and assertion that the more the earth responds seriously and sincerely, and offers itself for the radical transformation of its nature, the sooner will it change with the help of the New Light and Consciousness. As confidence was her wont, this goal would be attained, and she left the body in 1973 at the age of ninety-five.

Inner memories of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother I and many others have, but I would like humbly 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 and gave it to Sri Aurobindo.

In 1958 I began writing a play about the Life of Sri Aurobindo and I was told by Champaklal, one of his personal assistants, 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 given by 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. In the beginning, I used to pray and meditate for five minutes and then, gradually, gradually, after a few months' time, it went up to about two hours. My soulful joy knew no bounds, specially when the Mother herself watched and passed by me as I was praying and meditating. This happened four or five times over the course of the years. With my heart's tearful devotion, I place those Heaven-touched moments of my aspiration-life at the Feet of the Divine Mother.

Long twenty-seven years ago — to be precise, on November 23rd, 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.

SAI 58. This essay was originally written in Pondicherry. It was extensively revised in New York on November 5th, 1997, and delivered as a talk by the author at King's College, Cambridge, on November 12th, 1997.