Philosophy and Spiritualism of Sri Aurobindo
The Philosophy and Spiritualism of Sri Aurobindo is a theory of evolution detailed in Sri Aurobindo's "The Life Divine". It argues that humankind is not the last rung in the evolutionary scale, but can evolve spiritually to a future state of supramental existence. This further evolutionary step would lead to a divine life on Earth characterized by a supramental or truth-consciousness, and a transformed and divinised life and material form.
- 1 Evolutionary Philosophy
- 2 Integral Yoga
- 3 Analysis of Indian culture
- 4 Interpretation of the Vedas
- 5 References
- 6 See also
Sri Aurobindo speaks of two movements: that of involution of consciousness from an omnipresent Reality to creation, and an evolution from creation onward.
The process by which the Energy of creation emerged from a timeless, spaceless, ineffable, immutable Reality, Sri Aurobindo refers to as the Involution. In that process the Reality extended itself to Being/Existence (Sat), Consciousness (that generated a Force) - Chit; and Delight (Ananda)-- self enjoyment in existing and being conscious. Through the action of a fourth dimension, Supermind (i.e. Truth Consciousness), the Force (Chit) of Sat-Chit-Ananda was divided into Knowledge and Will, eventually formulating as an invisible Energy that would become the source of creation. Through its own willful self-absorption of consciousness, the universe would begin as Inconscient material existence.
The process of conscious existence emerging out of the Inconscient is referred as evolution. Initially, it emerges gradually in the stages of matter, life, and mind. First matter evolves from simple to complex forms, then life emerges in matter and evolves from simple to complex forms, finally mind emerges in life and evolves from rudimentary to higher forms of thought and reason. As each new principle emerges, the previous stages remain but are integrated into the higher principle. Humanity represents the stage of development of mind in complex material forms of life. The higher development of mind in the mass of humanity is not yet a secure possession. Reason and intellect still do not dominate the life of most human beings; rather, mind tends to be turned to the purposes of the life principle, which is focused on self-preservation, self-assertion, and satisfaction of personal need and desire. But evolution does not cease with the establishment of reason and intellect; beyond mind are higher levels of a spiritual and supramental consciousness which in the nature of things must also emerge. This higher evolution is described as a dual movement; inward, away from the surface consciousness and into the depths, culminating in the realization of the Psychic Being (the personal evolving soul); and then upward to higher levels of spiritual mind (Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, and Overmind), culminating in the final stage of supramentalisation. Whereas these higher levels of consciousness have been attained in particular individuals, they must eventually emerge more universally as general stages in the evolution. When they do emerge, there will come the embodiment of a new species on earth that will be once again united in consciousness with Sachchidananda.
The Omnipresent Reality (Brahman)
A central tenet of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy is that the Truth of existence is an omnipresent Reality that both transcends the manifested universe and is inherent in it. This Reality, referred to as Brahman, is an Absolute: it is not limited by any mental conception or duality, whether personal or impersonal, existent or nonexistent, formless or manifested in form, timeless or extended in time, spaceless or extended in space. It is simultaneously all of these but is bound by none of them. It is at once the universe, each individual being and thing in the universe, and the Transcendent beyond the universe. In its highest manifested poise, its nature may be described as Sachchidananda—infinite existence, infinite consciousness, and infinite delight or bliss—a triune principle in which the three are united in a single Reality. In other words, it is a fully conscious and blissful infinite existence. The importance of this concept for humanity lies in its implication that Brahman is our deepest and secret Reality, it is our true Self, and it is possible to recover this Reality of our being by removing the veil of ignorance that hides it from us and imprisons us in a false identification with an apparently divided and limited egoistic movement on the surface of our being. This is the metaphysical basis for Sri Aurobindo's yoga, the discipline given to consciously unite our phenomenal existence and life with our essential Reality.
How has the absolute Brahman, Sachchidananda, become what we see here around us—this world of inconscient matter, struggling life, ignorance, limitation, conflict, suffering, death, and evil? In answering this question, Sri Aurobindo explains that the Absolute is not bound—not bound to its infinite existence, not bound to its infinite consciousness and the force inherent in that consciousness, not bound to its infinite bliss. Second, he explains that by definition Brahman is capable of manifesting within its absolute existence innumerable, limited, even distorted and contrary forms of its being. We may further deduce that an infinitely extended, infinitely diverse manifestation, replete with objects and beings ranging from the most unconscious, the most vile, to the most conscious, the most beautiful, the most divine, would be perfectly consistent with an existence that was Absolute.
But how does the Brahman do this? Through what Sri Aurobindo describes as the principle of exclusive concentration. This principle is best explained through the example of our own ability to narrow our conscious awareness on a particular idea or perception, putting behind in the background of our focused awareness the rest of our conscious existence. When an author concentrates in writing a story—developing the characters, the scene, the action—their own personal identity becomes for the moment lost to their conscious awareness. Their consciousness enters into the story and identifies with it. They do not cease to be what he or she is, or lose their knowledge of identity, but practically their awareness is narrowed and identified at a point. This ability to focus awareness and put into the background all else is inherent in consciousness. It is through a similar process that the One and Infinite Being becomes the many, apparently separate, individual beings and things we see manifested in the universe. The separation is in appearance only, for in truth all individuals are constituted by the One, are That in their Reality, for there is nothing outside the Absolute. They are forms and appearances of its Being, expressions of its Consciousness, movements of its Delight.
According to Sri Aurobindo, for our world in particular—there are other worlds that follow a different process—there is taking place a gradual awakening of consciousness over time, an evolution of consciousness. Through its principle of exclusive concentration, the One became matter, losing all conscious awareness in the form of inanimate matter. From this base it is progressively awakening through the life of the plant, the beginnings of mind in the animal, the full emergence of mind in humanity, and is now stirring to awaken fully through the emergence of a greater consciousness than mind, the Supermind, in which the fullness of the undivided consciousness and infinite delight of the One will be manifest in individualities embodied here on earth. This evolution of consciousness, from the worm to the god, is the central process, aim, and significance of our existence.
There is the further question of why the Absolute would manifest in this way, and in particular, why pain, suffering, evil would be allowed to exist. For there is no shifting of responsibility possible here, there is nothing or no one outside the Absolute. It is a complex problem and there are various sides to the answer that Sri Aurobindo provides; here it is possible only to suggest the outlines of the solution. One point that Sri Aurobindo emphasizes is that it is the Brahman who thus suffers, it is not imposed on someone or something outside the Brahman. A second point he makes is that limitation and ignorance are inherent consequences of the plunge of the Absolute consciousness into the inconscience and its slow evolutionary awakening—pain, suffering, and evil developed as consequences or corollaries of limitation and ignorance. A third point is that while pain, suffering, and evil are abhorrent to our limited ethical sensibilities, they also may serve a purpose in the larger scheme of the evolutionary process. That is, they may be the spurs needed to drive a dense and ignorant emerging consciousness towards its own fullness and ultimate release into the infinite and eternal, into the truth and delight of the divine existence. Furthermore, the end of the process, hidden from our narrow view, of a divine existence on earth, may carry within it the justification for the hard conditions of its gradual manifestation in time.
The Triple Transformation of the Individual
Sri Aurobindo's argues that Man is born an ignorant, divided, conflicted being; a product of the original inconscience (i.e. unconsciousness,) inherent in Matter that he evolved out of. As a result, he does not know the nature of Reality, including its source and purpose; his own nature, including the parts and integration of his being; what purpose he serves, and what his individual and spiritual potential is, amongst others. In addition, he experiences life through division and conflict, including his relationship with others, and his divided view of spirit and life.
To overcome these limitations, Man must embark on a process of self-discovery in which he uncovers his Divine nature. To that end, he undertakes a three-step process, which he calls the Triple Transformation. It is described in Book II, Chapter 25 of his opus The Life Divine.
(1) Psychic Transformation—The first of the three stages is a movement within, away from the surface of life, to the depths, culminating in the discovery of his Psychic Being (the evolving soul). From that experience, he sees the oneness and unity of creation, and the harmony of all opposites experienced in life. As a result, he begins to shed his essential Ignorance born of creation. He also experiences his true individual nature, shedding his ego and sense of separateness from other and life. He also begins to glean his true individual purpose, as well as his universal and transcendent purpose in life. He comes in touch with an inner Guide that constantly indicates what actions to take and what to avoid. As a result of connecting to the transcendent divine, he experiences a deep pleasure and bliss, causing him to want to surrender to the Divine Will and Intent.
(2) Spiritual Transformation—As a result of making the psychic change, his mind expands and he experiences knowledge not through the hard churning of thought, but through light, intuition, and revelation of knowledge, culminating in supramental perception. Light enters from the heights and begins to transmute various parts of his being.
(3) Supramental transformation—After making the psychic and spiritual change, he makes the supramental and most radical change. Sri Aurobindo says the mind cannot easily perceive this possibility, as it goes beyond past spiritual principles and experiences. It is basically a complete transformation of the mind, the heart, the emotions, and the physical body. Consciousness and Force are reintegrated in the being that were lost in the involution of consciousness from an infinite Reality that began in creation as matter. He also has ultimate knowledge that is matched by a power for its effectuation. Thus, Knowledge and Will become fused and one. Whatever he perceives is able to manifest as a reality, reflecting that same power in the original Reality and Being from out of which the universe manifest. At that point, he has the Vision of Brahman that perceives the integral unity of spirit and Life. That spirit is the source of life, and that life is a manifestation of spirit in an ongoing, endless, integral process. The supramental transformation culminates in the change in the very cells of the body, ushering in a new form of human, devoid of the functioning it now exhibits, replaced by their spiritual equivalents. It is the ultimate transformational change. At that point, a Gnostic being is fully realized, as is a collective, Divine Life on earth.
The Evolving Soul (Psychic Being)
Sri Aurobindo indicated that his greatest discovery was the existence of a Psychic Being (i.e. an Evolving Soul) within that is the essence of our spiritual selves. If we forge our way into the deepest parts of our being the Subliminal realm, we will come upon a Personal Evolving Soul. From this Psychic Being we can overcome the limits of consciousness of the individual human. From there we perceive our true nature and essence; we become more aware of our surroundings; we become one with others and life; we experience an inner Guide that influences to move in the right direction and catches our negative propensities as they arise on the surface; we come in touch with our universal nature; we come in touch with the transcendent reality and spiritual Force; we overcome the limits of time, bringing timelessness into time; and evoke the powers of the Infinite into this finite existence, to name several. Also when we plunge within and touch the evolving soul, we move up in consciousness above mind to spiritual mind of illumination, intuition, revelation, and (supramental) truth consciousness. It should also be noted that this psychic entity is itself evolving, as it enters the person’s whose experience it believes it can benefit from, extracts the essence of that person’s experience, and then moves on to the next birth until it is fulfilled in its journey through space and time. The connection to the evolving soul is thus the key to the evolution from this the human side, as from there we overcome the inherent Ignorance, division, dualities, and suffering of Man, enabling him to fulfill his human aspiration of God, freedom, joy, and immortality. (From the spiritual side, it is the descending Supramental Force that enables the progress of life to its ultimate capacity. The two together, the connection to the Psychic Being and the surrender to the descending (supramental) Force are the keys to the evolution and transformation of the individual, humanity, and life in the universe.)
Sri Aurobindo's vision of the future includes the appearance of what we may a call a new species, the supramental being, a divine being which would be as different and superior to present humanity as humanity is to the animal. It would have a consciousness different in kind than the mind of the human, a different status and quality and functioning. Even the physical form of this being would be different, more luminous and flexible and adaptable, entirely conscious and harmonious. Between this supramental being and humanity, there would be transitional beings, who would be human in birth and form, but whose consciousness would approach that of the supramental being. These transitional beings would appear prior to that of the full supramental being, and would constitute an intermediate stage in the earth evolution, through which the soul would pass in its growth towards its divine manifestation as the supramental being in the earth nature.
Thus, an important part of Sri Aurobindo's future vision is the elucidation of the transitional being and the supramental being. Although it is frequently mentioned in his writings that the supramental consciousness is impossible to describe in mental terms, he has nevertheless provided clear indications of its general nature and capacities. These have been described at length in Sri Aurobindo’s books The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Supramental Manifestation Upon Earth, and Savitri. Mother's Agenda, which is a 13 volume edited transcription of the Mother’s conversations with a disciple called Satprem between the years 1951 and 1973, also has much information on the nature of the new species and its emergence. The descriptions made of the nature of the transitional and supramental beings are dazzling, above ordinary conceptions of human possibility. We may give as an example, which touches upon a defining characteristic, this sentence from Sri Aurobindo's chapter “The Gnostic Being” in The Life Divine: “A complete self-knowledge in all things and at all moments is the gift of the supramental gnosis and with it a complete self-mastery, not merely in the sense of control of Nature but in the sense of a power of perfect self-expression in Nature.” 
Another interesting aspect of the vision is the manner and sequence of processes through which the supramental being will make its appearance in the earth nature. Again, these processes were not specified in exact detail, and in many cases they were presented as possibilities or probabilities rather than as certainties, but Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have been given very interesting suggestions and outlines of the scenario. Sri Aurobindo indicates that “there will be established on earth a gnostic Consciousness and Power which will shape a race of gnostic spiritual beings and take up into itself all of earth-nature that is ready for this new transformation. It will also receive into itself from above, progressively, from its own domain of perfect light and power and beauty all that is ready to descend from that domain into the terrestrial being.” He further indicates that “The creation of a supramental being, nature, life on earth, will not be the sole result of this evolution; it will also carry with it the consummation of the steps that have led up to it; for it will confirm in possession of terrestrial birth the Overmind, the Intuition and the other gradations of the spiritual nature-force and establish a race of gnostic beings and a hierarchy, a shining ladder of ascending degrees and successive constituent formations of the gnostic light and power in earth nature.” In other words, there would be established ascending levels of transitional beings, manifesting the levels of consciousness and expressive nature intermediate between the ordinary human and the supramental levels.
Sri Aurobindo indicates that even all of nature might be affected by the appearance of the supramental light and force:
"A dominant principle of harmony would impose itself on the life of the Ignorance; the discord, the blind seeking, the clash of struggle, the abnormal vicissitudes of exaggeration and depression and unsteady balance of the unseeing forces at work in their mixture and conflict, would feel the influence and yield place to a more orderly pace and harmonic steps of the development of being, a more revealing arrangement of progressing life and consciousness, a better life-order. A freer play of intuition and sympathy and understanding would enter into human life, a clearer sense of the truth of self and things and a more enlightened dealing with the opportunities and difficulties of existence.".
The development of human society and world culture is another important aspect of Sri Aurobindo's future vision. In his book The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo described the various stages of the development of human society which have led to the present subjective age that is beginning, and the possibilities of a future spiritual age. This spiritual age would be characterized by the dominance of a spiritual ideal and trend in world culture.
It is in the acceptance of the spiritual ideal and a sincere turning of the being towards its manifestation—first by individuals, then by “a great number of individuals,” and finally by the community—that marks the advent of the spiritual age. This turn must start with individuals, only afterwards can it become established more generally in the social order. But this turn towards the spirit and soul as the effective leader and master of the mind, life, and physical existence must be true and sincere, there must be a genuine shift from the mental and vital ego to the divine. This true change of standpoint from the ego to the spirit is difficult to establish even in the individual; for the society, for the mass of humanity, it is an even greater difficulty. As this change becomes effectively realised first in individuals, through them it must be powerfully communicated to the society as a whole as an uplifting ideal, not as something that is imposed. Then gradually it will become accepted and assimilated into segments of the society, and from there permeate throughout the society and become generalized. The signs of this turning in the society would become evident in all its aims and activities and institutions. It “would make the revealing and finding of the divine Self in man the whole first aim of all its activities, its education, its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure... It would embrace all knowledge in its scope, but would make the whole trend and aim and the permeating spirit not mere worldly efficiency, but this self-developing and self-finding.”
Sri Aurobindo's spiritual vision extended beyond the perfection and transformation of the individual; it included within its scope the evolution and transformation of human society. In both the individual and in society, the soul and spirit is at first hidden and occult. This he argues influences the direction and course of development from behind, but allowing nature to follow its gradual, zigzagging, and conflict-ridden course. Afterwards, as mind develops and becomes more dominant over obscure impulses, the ego-centered drives of vital nature. This results in a more objective, enlightened perception and approach towards human existence and the potential developments that become possible. At the highest stage of mental development he argues that a greater possibility and principle becomes apparent, which is spiritual and supramental in nature. At this point a true solution to humanity's problems becomes visible in the context of a radical transformation of human life, into a form of divine existence.
In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo describes the stages of development of human society, illustrating with a perceptive analysis of historical and political developments and trends, and outlining a future ideal society towards which he says it is moving. Starting from Lamprecht's theory that societies pass through several distinct psychological stages of development—symbolic, typal and conventional, individualist, and subjective—Sri Aurobindo expresses his view of historical and sociological development in the light of his own theory of spiritual evolution. After taking a passing glance at the symbolic, typal, and conventional stages in Indian and European history, Sri Aurobindo focuses on the individualistic and the beginning subjective stages of modern societies. He then presents a more detailed picture of a future spiritual stage in which he indicates all the others will find their meaning and towards which they unconsciously move.
The symbolic stage is illustrated by the ancient Vedic age, in which “the religious institution of sacrifice governs the whole society and all its hours and moments, and the ritual of the sacrifice is at every turn and in every detail, as even a cursory study of the Brahmanas and Upanishads ought to show us, mystically symbolic.” The typal stage is characterized by a dominance of psychological and ethical concerns and motives; all else, including spiritual and religious concerns, are subordinate to these. In Indian society, it was best expressed in the ideal and concept of Dharma, the upholding of tradition and the fulfillment of one's social position and responsibility. In the conventional stage, the outward expressions of the ideal overshadow the ideal itself, such that customs, outward signs and symbols become ends in themselves, and their inner spirit and significance becomes eclipsed. In its early phase, the spirit and inner significance of the social institutions still live and thrive within well-developed structures, but afterwards the institutions become more and more formalized and artificial, and their inner purpose and significance become obscured. In Indian society, this is illustrated with the growing rigidity of the caste system in which the society was organized, with its increasing emphasis on custom, heredity, and ritual.
Sri Aurobindo explains that “the individualistic age of human society comes as a result of the corruption and failure of the conventional, as a revolt against the reign of the petrified typal figure.” He illustrates the occurrence of this stage in Europe beginning with its revolt of reason against the Church and fixed authority and its continuation and blossoming with the growth of scientific inquiry. Through science, a new basis of principles and laws could be discovered and established that were open to scrutiny and logical analysis and reasoning. There were also established the democratic ideals that all individuals had the right to develop to the full stature of their capabilities, and that the individual was not simply a social unit with a social function, but also had unique individual needs, possibilities, and tendencies which should be allowed freedom and opportunity for development. As a part of the revolt against traditional authority, there developed in some regions another intellectual philosophy and political movement, apparently in contradiction to individualism, of the supremacy of the society as a whole over the individual. Sri Aurobindo also analyses the strengths and limitations of this viewpoint, and its relations and opposition to the democratic ideal.
The subjective age comes as an outgrowth of the individualistic and rational questioning of the conventional institutions and structures of society. The individualistic age culminates in a new intellectual foundation and development in all the spheres of life, but this rational view of the world and the self can only go so far, it cannot reach into the depths of the being. Nevertheless, its questioning spirit, its search for truth leads it beyond its own capabilities, leads it to search for a deeper foundation and a more complete understanding of the mysteries and subtleties of self and world. The subjective age begins when society begins to search for the deeper truths of its existence below the surfaces which the reason has explored and explained in an ordered, but limited sense. He explains that examples of this tendency are already apparent. In education, there is the trend to understand the psychology of the growing child and to base systems of teaching upon this basis. In criminal justice, there is an effort to understand the psychology of the criminal, and to strive to educate and rehabilitate rather than simply punish or isolate. In societies and groupings of people, there is a growing tendency to regard them as living and growing organisms with their own soul and inner tendencies, which must be fostered, developed, and perfected.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the present subjective age, with its inward turn towards the essential truth of the self and of things, opens the possibility of a true spiritual age. He explains that the subjective age could conceivably stop short of becoming spiritual. He says that a true spiritual age will come only if the idea becomes strong in the intellectual life of humanity that the Spirit is the true Reality standing behind our physical existence, and that to realise the Spirit and express it outwardly in mental, vital, and physical terms is the real meaning and aim of human existence. Sri Aurobindo argues that there is a deeper spiritual Reality that is the true Self of both the individual and the society, and it is only by identifying ourselves with it, rather than the limited and superficial individual or social ego, that the individual and social existence find their true center and their proper relation with one another. In a spiritual age, therefore, he says that society would “make the revealing and finding of the divine Self in man the whole first aim of all its activities, its education, its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure.”
In The Synthesis of Yoga, and in his voluminous correspondence with his disciples collected under the title Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo laid out the psychological principles and practices of the Integral Yoga or Poorna Yoga. The aim of Integral yoga is to enable the individual who undertakes it the attainment of a conscious identity with the Divine, the true Self, and to transform the mind, life, and body so they would become fit instruments for a divine life on earth.
Analysis of Indian culture
In Renaissance in India (earlier called The Foundations of Indian Culture), Sri Aurobindo examines the nature of Indian civilization and culture, he looked at its central motivating tendencies and how these are expressed in its religion, spirituality, art, literature, and politics. The first section of the book provides a general defense of Indian culture from disparaging criticism due to the misunderstanding of a foreign perspective, and its possible destruction due to the aggressive expansion and infiltration of Western culture. This section is interesting in the light it sheds on the nature of both Eastern and Western civilizations, how they have developed over the centuries, how they have influenced each other throughout the ages, and the nature and significance of these exchanges in the recent period. The principle tenet of the exposition is that India has been and is one of the greatest civilizations of the world, one that stands apart from all others in its central emphasis, or rather its whole foundation, based on spirituality, and that on its survival depends the future of the human race—whether it shall be a spiritual outflowering of the divine in man, or a rational, economically driven, and mechanized association of peoples.
After an overall view of the culture, we are taken on a more detailed tour of each of the primary components of Indian culture, beginning with its religion and spirituality, the heart and soul of Indian culture, and the basis for all its various manifestations. Sri Aurobindo quickly takes the reader to the core of the matter:
"The fundamental idea of all Indian religion is one common to the highest human thinking everywhere. The supreme truth of all that is a Being or an existence beyond the mental and physical appearances we contact here. Beyond mind, life and body there is a Spirit and Self containing all that is finite and infinite, surpassing all that is relative, a supreme Absolute, originating and supporting all that is transient, a one Eternal... This Truth was to be lived and even to be made the governing idea of thought and life and action... All life and thought are in the end a means of progress towards self-realisation and God-realisation." (p. 125)
But Sri Aurobindo does not simply reveal the essence of Indian religion and spirituality, he sets this in the context of its religious and spiritual traditions, examines its development through the ages, and puts it into relief and contrast with European religion. We are shown how the spiritual essence was already present in the Vedas, the world's oldest spiritual scriptures, though much of these sacred teachings were couched in a veiled symbolic language accessible only to the initiate. Subsequently, the Upanishads revealed the same essential teachings to the masses in a philosophical language, and still later, the various multifaceted spiritual approaches to the Infinite were developed in epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, with the core spiritual teaching placed in the latter's episode of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as through many other religious movements and spiritual teachings.
In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo next examines the nature and qualities of Indian art, concentrating on its architecture, sculpture, and painting. His focus is on revealing the essence of Indian art, its foundation in spirituality, its rich complexity, its depiction and expression of the Divine and the inner worlds and the soul of mankind. As he puts it, “Indian architecture, painting, sculpture are not only intimately one in inspiration with the central things in Indian philosophy, religion, Yoga, culture, but a specially intense expression of their significance... They have been very largely a hieratic aesthetic script of India's spiritual, contemplative and religious experience.” Sri Aurobindo reveals an extraordinary knowledge and appreciation of Indian art. At the same time, he is sensitive to cultural differences in understanding and appreciation, and is carefully instructive in considering the differences in European and Indian art, and in the aesthetic sensibilities that are likely to arise from these differences. As a result, this section of his book gives the Western reader the essential keys to enter into a deeper appreciation of Indian art, while giving the Indian, who may be influenced more or less strongly by Western cultural pressures, a better understanding and firmer confidence in India's artistic traditions.
In the chapters on Indian literature, we are shown again the fundamental spiritual basis of Indian culture, as the earliest and greatest formative works of Indian literature are spiritual and religious. We are given introductions to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the great Epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the later classical age of ancient literature including the poetry of Kalidasa, various philosophical writings of the Middle Ages, the religious poetry of the Puranas, the yogic and spiritual texts of the Tantras, Vaishnava poetry, and others. Here we are given only a taste of the spiritual substance of this sacred literature and some appreciation of the tremendous influence it had upon the development of Indian spirituality and culture. Sri Aurobindo further developed his exposition of the most important spiritual texts — Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (an episode in the Mahabharata) — in separate books: The Secret of the Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, and Essays on the Gita. In The Foundations of Indian Culture we are given a wonderful overview of this literature, enabling the reader to appreciate the nature of each body of work while at the same achieving a sense of the overall breadth and the development over time of the literature as a whole.
In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo also examines the Indian polity, the development of India's administrative and governing structures set in their historical context. Here as in the other aspects of Indian culture, we find a fundamental basis in spirituality, and a sophisticated, intuitive, and humane development. We are shown in considerable detail and with an obvious mastery of facts, the arrangement and workings of the governing structures from ancient times to the present. A central tenet of the system was its focus on the upholding of Dharma, the duty and right rule of action for individuals of varying positions in the society, including the king. The governing structures developed organically, from the extended family, to the clan and villages, to associations among smaller grouping, to larger grouping within kingdoms. Power and legislative authority was distributed throughout the system, and included civic and general assemblies that represented a cross-section of the peoples. The monarch was in effect a constitutional monarch that could be removed due to mismanagement or abuse of power through the assemblies. We are shown how the system eventually broke down under foreign invasion and influence. We are led to the admission that in an important sense the political system failed in that it was unable to achieve a unity of the all the Indian subcontinent, a difficult endeavor in any case, nor could it sufficiently protect its peoples from foreign military invasion and subjugation. Interestingly, this failure is ascribed in part to the inner and spiritual basis of Indian culture and polity, which is inconsistent with a superimposed, artificial administrative structure, which would have been easier to establish. He argues that this inner basis of India's unity, reflected most directly in her spirituality and religion but also in the other fields of culture, has remained intact throughout the millennia, despite India's frequent and enduring foreign occupations.
Interpretation of the Vedas
One of the most significant contributions of Sri Aurobindo was his setting forth an esoteric meaning of the Vedas. The Vedas were considered by some to be composed by a barbaric culture worshiping violent Gods. Sri Aurobindo felt that this was due to non-grasping of vedic symbolism, both by Occidental and Oriental scholars.
Sri Aurobindo believed there was a hidden spiritual meaning in the Vedas. He viewed the Rig Veda as a spiritual text written in a symbolic language in which the outer meaning was concerned with ritualistic sacrifices to the gods, and the inner meaning, which was revealed only to initiates, was concerned with an inner spiritual knowledge and practice, the aim of which was to unite in consciousness with the Divine.
In this conception, Indra is the God of Mind lording over the Indriyas, that is, the senses (sight, touch, hearing, taste etc.). Vayu represents air, but in its esoteric sense means Prana, or the life force. So when the Rig Veda says “Call Indra and Vayu to drink Soma Rasa” the inner meaning is to use mind through the senses and life force to receive divine bliss (Soma means wine of Gods, but in several texts also means divine bliss, as in Right-handed Tantra). Agni, the God of the sacrificial fire in the outer sense, is the flame of the spiritual will to overcome the obstacles to unite with the Divine. So the sacrifice of the Vedas could mean sacrificing ones ego to the internal Agni, the spiritual fire.
Sri Aurobindo's theory of the inner spiritual significance of the Vedas originally appeared serially in the journal Arya between 1914 and 1920, but was later published in book form as “The Secret of the Veda." Another book, "Hymns to the Mystic Fire," is Sri Aurobindo's translation of the spiritual sense of many of the verses of the Rig Veda.
- The Life Divine bk II, ch 27-8
- The Life Divine, p. 973
- The Life Divine, p. 967
- The Life Divine, p. 968
- The Life Divine, p. 969
- The Human Cycle, p. 256
- Letters on Yoga, p. 505