To commemorate Sri Aurobindo’s sesquicentennial birth anniversary we plan to present 150 articles written by a number of distinguished individuals for the Sri Aurobindo Circle magazine between 1954-1998. Except for sectioning it by subtitles, we have not made any changes whatsoever and are presenting each article as originally published.
Together, these articles explore a wide range of subjects covering Sri Aurobindo’s life and works. The first article in this series entitled Sri Aurobindo – His Life and Teachings by Professor J. N. Chubb was first published in 1962.
Jehangir Nasserwanji Chubb was Professor and Head of the Dept of Philosophy at Elphinstone College, Mumbai from 1948 to 1965. He had The Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s darshan several times and was greatly influenced by them. He was given a mantra by The Mother and received her help many times to resolve his personal problems. After retiring from Elphinstone, Dr Chubb’s intellectual pursuits carried him to the USA where he taught at Case Western Reserve University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for many years before he returned to India. Succinctly and with great clarity, Chubb demonstrates his deep understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s works and Integral Yoga in this article. Describing Sri Aurobindo as a “messianic” personality and “harbinger of divinity”, Chubb explains the Integral Yoga as “the denial of all denials and the rejection of all dichotomies of thought that seek to confine the divine in partial formulations”, and as a yoga that aims to establish “a divine life in a divine body”.
Sri Aurobindo – His Life and Teachings
By J. N. CHUBB
AUGUST 15th is a memorable date in the history of this country. It marks the dawn of Indian independence after a long and troubled night of political subjection. It also coincides with the birth-date of one of her greatest sons, who was largely instrumental in placing the ideal of independence before the country and getting it officially accepted by the National Congress in 1906, and the fervour of whose patriotism, mounting on the one hand to the passion of a religion and, on the other, organizing itself into a comprehensive philosophy and programme for the uplift and regeneration of our country, quickened the pulse and stirred the blood of the people in a manner and to a pitch which has few parallels in the history of political upheavals. This was Aurobindo Ghosh, subsequently known as Sri Aurobindo, who was born on 15th August in I872.
A Harbinger of Divinity and a Colossus of Human Intellectual Activities
History is by and large moulded not by economic and material forces but by men, their ideas and the power of their spirit. The measure of their greatness is determined partly by the field of their activity, the sphere in which they lived, laboured, loved, suffered and gave of their best. But among the Great there is a small group of messianic personalities who come into the world, not for the fulfillment of specialised interests and limited or parochial purposes, but as harbingers of Divinity. Theirs is a cosmic enterprise. They come to lay their saviour hands on humanity and bring to the world a new dispensation of the Eternal Light and Love. Such were Krishna, Buddha, Christ and Ramakrishna, to mention the greatest of them. To this exalted lineage belongs Sri Aurobindo in our times. Apart from his life’s mission and divine calling, to which I shall revert later, Sri Aurobindo was a colossus among his contemporaries in many fields of human activity. A master of several languages, he had absorbed the learning and culture of Europe as well as of India, and in his major writings on diverse subjects, political, cultural, literary, philosophical and religious, one is at once struck by the breadth of vision and a rare combination of deep sensitivity and intellectual vigour and clarity. In these writings Sri Aurobindo has laid the foundations of a world-culture, achieving, in the words of Romain Rolland, “the most complete synthesis between the genius of the West and of the East.”
In the field of literature his genius has shone as both critic and artist. He is recognized as a master of English prose and his output in poetry is prolific, but much of it still awaits the attention of the world. Sri Aurobindo has written of the new age of mystical poetry and has prophesied that the poetry of the future will approximate to the Mantra. His own epic poem, Savitri, which is at once the creation of the poet and the transcription of the seer’s vision, presenting “a grand march of forms of cosmic beauty and harmony” is offered as an example of the new poetry. It is an architectural marvel in sound
Hewn from the silence of the Ineffable.
One can hear the reverberations of the poetic Mantra in these lines from Savitri:
Across a void retreating sky he glimpsed
Through a last glimmer and drift of vanishing stars
The superconscient realms of motionless peace
Where judgment ceases and the word is mute
And the Unconceived lies pathless and alone.
And again in these lines describing Savitri in whom the Godhead of Love finds perfect incarnation :
As in a mystic and dynamic dance
A priestess of immaculate ecstasies
Inspired and ruled from Truth’s revealing vault
Moves in some prophet cavern of the gods,
A heart of silence in the hands of joy
Inhabited with rich creative beats
A body like a parable of dawn
That seemed a niche for veiled divinity
Or golden temple-door to things beyond.
Rarely before has Nature been so prodigal in her gifts. “Sri Aurobindo is one of the greatest thinkers,” says an American Professor of Philosophy, “indeed he has attained incomparable triune greatness as poet, philosopher and saint.”
Outstanding Scholar dedicated to Country, Humanity and God
Of Sri Aurobindo’s life we can but mention the bare externals, for he has warned us: “No one can write about my life because it has not been on the surface for men to see.” He was the son of Dr. K.D. Ghosh, a thoroughly anglicised Bengali, who had resolved that his sons would be brought up exclusively in the atmosphere of Western culture and not be exposed to any Indian influence. With this object he sent them to England for their education. Aurobindo was then 7 years of age and was placed in the charge of Rev. Drewett of Manchester who was an accomplished Latin scholar and from whom Aurobindo received a grounding in English and Latin. At the age of 12 he was admitted to St. Paul’s school where he spent 5 years in mastering the Classics and reading voraciously outside the curriculum in French and English literature and history. The headmaster of the school declared that of all the boys who passed through his hands during the last 25 or 30 years Aurobindo was far and above the most richly endowed in intellectual capacity. In his final examination he secured an open scholarship to King’s College in Cambridge and passed the Classical Tripos examination in the first division at the end of his second year. The great Oscar Browning told Aurobindo, “I have examined papers at thirteen examinations and I have never during that time seen such excellent papers as yours. As for your essay, it was wonderful.”
Sri Aurobindo went on to pass the I.C.S. examination but was disqualified because he did not appear for the riding test. Sri Aurobindo said later that he had contrived to get himself rejected as he felt no call for the I.C.S. There was a greater call to which he responded—the call of his Motherland. He had joined a secret society named the “Lotus and Dagger” whose members took a vow to work for the liberation of India. At that time the Gaikwar of Baroda was in London and took young Aurobindo into the Baroda State Service in which he was, after a time, appointed Professor of English and finally the Vice-Principal of the College in 1904. Two years later he resigned from the Baroda service and joined the newly established National College in Bengal as its Principal on a nominal salary of Rs. 100 a month in the hope that this would give him an opportunity to organize a thoroughly national system of education. Wealth and position meant nothing to him. His was to be a life dedicated to country, humanity and God. His contemporary Bipin Chandra Pal wrote of him, “His own native province called for him. It laid on him the vow of poverty. It offered him the yoke of the saviours of their people and the uplifters of humanity—the yoke of calumny, persecution, imprisonment and exile.” Finding that conditions did not permit him to carry out his educational reform, Sri Aurobindo left the National College for the wider fields of political action. From a tutor of a few youths he became “the teacher of a whole nation.”
Nirvana was just an early step and not the goal of his spiritual Odyssey
Sri Aurobindo’s practice of yoga and pranayama had begun in 1904 with remarkable results, but it was in 1907 when he met the Maharashtrian yogi Lele that he had his first major spiritual realization. Within three days of his initiation Sri Aurobindo achieved what is traditionally considered to be the acme of mystical contemplation. His mind, as he puts it, “became silent as a windless air on a high mountain summit”, and effortlessly, “I walked into Nirvana or rather Nirvana walked into me.” This was, however, the beginning and not the goal of his spiritual Odyssey. As an under-trial prisoner in Alipur jail he practised the yoga of the Gita. This sadhana culminated in a vision of and union with the Universal Divine immanent in himself and all beings. This too was not the end. After his acquittal in the Alipore bomb case he received a divine mandate to proceed to Chandernagore and from there to Pondicherry where he arrived in 1910. Pondicherry was his “place of retreat, his cave of tapasya”, but not of the ascetic kind; for here he laboured for 40 years, along with his collaborator, the Mother, in pursuing and perfecting a new yoga, which he called the integral yoga or the yoga of the supermind. Its novelty lay not merely in hewing out a new pathway to Divinity, but in bringing down the Divine Consciousness, the Power and the Ananda into the world of Nature and transforming the earth into a true manifestation of divine harmony and plenitude. Heaven he had possessed, but not the earth. Not satisfied with this, he made his aim to overcome, not merely in theory, but in actual dynamic fact, the opposition between the extreme terms of existence, Spirit and Matter. He laboured to release the light of the Spirit locked up in Matter and blacked out in its inconscient base, he worked incessantly to bring about a collective salvation for the human race, not by a withdrawal into a heaven above or Nirvana, but by transplanting heaven to earth and regenerating human society by a descent into the world of a new range of the Spirit’s Light and Power never before achieved or even dreamt of by ignorant humanity. This was not the labour of a world-shunning recluse, but of a divine lover of humanity whose compassionate gaze was never for a moment lifted from the earth. “My yoga”, says Sri Aurobindo, “is done not for myself who need nothing and do not need salvation or anything else, but precisely for the earth- consciousness.” To quote from Savitri, his aim was to
Change the tragedy of the ignorant world
Into a Divine Comedy of joy
And the laughter and the rapture of God’s bliss.
Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga is the denial of all denials and the rejection of all dichotomies and partial formulations of the Infinite
In his magnum opus, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo has set out the philosophical structure of his world-transforming yoga. Sri Aurobindo was not a philosopher in the sense of one living in the mental divided consciousness and imaginatively piecing together the fragments of spiritual experience into a constructed unity. His book is an activity of recording, in the language of the analytic intellect, his direct realizations of the Infinite, from the background of an ineffable silence. It records his experience of the supreme Reality in all its vastness and many-sided perfection and, what is distinctive of his philosophy, the divine intention working secretly in the heart of Time, in the evolutionary manifestation and in human history. The outstanding feature of Sri Aurobindo’s thought or rather vision is its integrality. It is integral not only in the sense that it regards all things as comprehended and transcended in the ineffable Brahman, but in the special sense that everything is shown to have its genuine reality, its own divine truth, its characteristic self- fulfillment in the self-expression of the Whole. It is in this sense that Sri Aurobindo’s vision and yoga transcend and bring to a culmination the past yogas and all the past systems of Vedanta and spiritual philosophy. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is the denial of all denials and the rejection of all dichotomies of thought that seek to confine the Infinite in partial formulations. The Infinite has been revealed in a variety of its aspects, the Static, the Dynamic, the Transcendent, the Cosmic and the Individual. It has been revealed as both Nirguna and Saguna, the featureless Impersonal and the Supreme Person endowed with all divine qualities. In all these revelations, however, the significance of the world of Matter and the entire field of manifestation is hardly touched upon. The result has been that man’s ultimate destiny is inevitably conceived as personal salvation, the withdrawal from life and the temporal order into some haven of eternity. The spiritual adventure of India and, indeed, of the whole world has ended in some form of Mayavada, the relative order and life on earth in a material body being regarded, not necessarily as illusory, but as lacking in any ultimate significance and divine fulfillment.
The Integral Yoga aims to establish on Earth a Divine Life in a Divine Body
Sri Aurobindo who had achieved all the traditional spiritual realizations before coming to Pondicherry, gave to the world a new revelation of the Divine. He has revealed the Divine as the Supermind, which according to him is the dynamic Self-Vision of the Absolute and holds in it the secret of manifestation and the evolutionary ascent of Nature. It is the Divine Truth-Consciousness which contains the truth and fulfillment of that which the three parts of the lower nature, body, life and mind, are seeking to express. Evolution starts not with Matter, which is only the first formed term in the series, but with the Inconscient referred to in the Vedas as “darkness covered by intenser darkness”. This Inconscient, says Sri Aurobindo, is only apparently the opposite of the consciousness. It has no independent being, nor is it a creation ex nihilo; it is the Divinity itself, self-coiled, self-veiled, with its Light self obscured. A Godhead coiled in a sleep of trance lies at the origin of the manifested universe and awakes gradually in the successive organized forms of Matter, Life and Mind. At the level of the rational mind, the soul, imprisioned in Nature, feels the call of the eternal Spirit and chooses to withdraw from the field of evolution to ascend into the timeless and transcendent Brahman. If this ascent and withdrawal were final, as all spiritual philosophy has hitherto regarded it, then the evolutionary process would, according to Sri Aurobindo, lose all significance. Besides, this sole preoccupation with salvation, moksha or nirvana, would shut out the possibility of a further exploration of the inexhaustible riches of the Infinite. But the Mind, says Sri Aurobindo, is not the last stage in the evolutionary process. Beyond it and yet to emerge and organize itself on earth, in the world of Matter and human relations, is the Supermind which is the highest mode of consciousness in manifestation. This new consciousness will take up the body, life and mind and transform them into luminous instruments of the indwelling spirit, not merely suffering them or casting them aside as “figments of Nescience”, but bringing out their latent divine truth and characteristic mode of self-fulfillment. A divine life in a divine body is the next step in evolution and the translation into fact of the secret intention in the heart of Time, the unveiling of the Mystery locked in the Inconscient base of the earth-evolution. It will bring forth a race of gnostic beings, as far above the present human race as man is above the animals. It will resolve the final antinomy between Spirit and Matter and instead of a rejection make possible “a new, liberated, sovereign acceptance of material Nature.”
This was the new yoga which Sri Aurobindo gave to the world and for the fruition of which he worked ceaselessly till he laid down his body of Light on 5th December, 1950. He will come to be known as the Avatar of the Supra- mental Age of humanity, who, in the words of the Mother “worked, struggled, suffered, hoped, endured” and who “willed all, attempted all, prepared, achieved all,” so that
The eyes of the Timeless might look out from Time
And the world manifest the unveiled Divine.