By Gaurav Sharma
The well-rounded education Scholastic years
In the early phases of his childhood, Aurobindo was exposed to a typical English education encompassing elements of French, Latin and Greek thought processes and ways of working. Aurobindo also acquired a familiarity with Italian and German languages.
Besides secular education, Aurobindo was also subjected to particulars of religion. However, the Christian teachings that were propounded during his education generally bored him to the extent of repulsion.
Under the tutelage of Reverend W.H Drewett, Aurobindo developed a distaste and disgust for religion, viz-a viz the evangelical strictures.
At this juncture, the very thought of religion made his stomach churn so much that he considered himself as an atheist but later affirmed agnosticism.
After completing his academic education, Aurobindo took the Civil Service Exams in England, with an aim to fulfill his father’s aspirations. Coming out with flying colors, Aurobindo scored an impressive ranking of 11 out of 250 competitors.
His lack of interest in the profession, however, meant that he appeared intentionally late for the practical exam, thereby disqualifying himself from the service. Subsequently, he moved to India by securing a place in the Baroda State Service.
Professional struggle culminates into political rebellion
After working for the Survey and Settlement Department and serving the Department of Revenue and the Secretariat in Baroda for some years, Aurobindo undertook a variety of miscellaneous jobs like teaching grammar, writing speeches for the Maharaja, teaching part-time French and managing schools.
Apart from teaching students, Aurobindo taught himself Sanskrit and Bengal. Writing was also one of the multifarious talents that Aurobindo harbored and put into great use. At the nascent stage, Aurobindo contributed articles to the Indu Prakash, a Marathi-English daily of Bombay, but later expanded his writings through self-started journals and papers.
Soon, Aurobindo became deeply interested in the freedom struggle of India, becoming one of the pioneering leaders in India’s fight for independence.
With a burning patriotic desire in his heart, Aurobindo started taking interest in politics and became actively engaged in underground political activities. He was already influenced by the study of revolutionary ideas (revolts in America and Italy), which expounded rebellion to overthrow colonial rule.
Before embracing extremism in toto, Aurobindo participated as a convener in forming the principles of Swadeshi, Swaraj, Boycott and National Education.
A meeting with extremist leaders, such as Lokmanya Tilak, however, made Aurobindo question his views on the methods required to guarantee India’s freedom.
He started organizing various resistance groups in Bengal and also funded the military training of Jatindra Nath Banerjee. Travelling extensively to Bombay, Baroda and Pune, Aurobindo beefed-up the support for the nationalist cause by meeting various other groups and organizing nationalist speeches.
The “visit” of Swami Vivekananda sparks a spiritual evolution
A year later in 1908, the bombing in Alipore led to the incarceration of Aurobindo. While in solitary confinement, Aurobindo witnessed a mystical experience in which he was “visited” by Vivekananda.
“It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in my solitary meditation and felt his presence,” Aurobindo is known to have remarked on his experience in Alipore jail.
After being released from prison, Aurobindo started two new publications ‘Karmayogin’ in English and ‘Dharma’ in Bengali.
‘To my Countrymen,’ an article published in ‘Karmayogin’ specified Aurobindo’s retirement from political life and signaled his ascent into spiritual life.
He soon moved to Pondicherry and immersed himself in the reclusive practice of Yoga. After intense and secluded application of Yoga practice, Aurobindo started a philosophical magazine called ‘Arya.’
The publication, which ceased operation in 1921, was revised and eventually transformed into book form. This included a rich corpus of philosophical and experiential knowledge in the form of The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on The Gita, The Secret of The Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, The Renaissance in India, War and Self-determination, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Future Poetry.
A humanistic view of Spirituality
Aurobindo vision of spirituality was grounded in the concept of unity of humanity. He challenged the theory of evolution by highlighting its limited scope of reason and arguing that life was already present in matter.
In his book, The Ideal of Human Unity, Aurobindo explained how humanity could be united.
According to Aurobindo, national egoism in the name of patriotism was the major reason for division of people and propelling of wars.
Commercially driven nations were most likely to conflict again over control of markets and wealth. He pointed out that unrestricted commercialization would inevitably lead to “stupendous military organizations” and unbridled hunger for power.
The spiritual stalwart unabashedly summed up modern war as “the bastard offspring of wealth-hunger and commercialism with political ambition as its putative father.”
The only way the world could survive was by realizing the “religion of humanity.” Violence could be stymied when people transcended the commercial interests by using a spiritual motive to subordinate their political and economic objectives.
The sacredness of life, irrespective of the distinctions of caste, color, creed, religion, social advancement, political affiliations and national boundaries would be the prime uniting factor for humanity.
“Supra-natural” oneness was to be the plank on which a peaceful human society was to be built. The spiritual effects would not only transform the physical, psychic, intellectual and the ethical aspects of an individual, but would lead to a “super-conscious” society and culture.
The religio-spiritual fervor of Aurobindo cascaded beyond the narrow limiting boundaries invented by man, embracing the whole humanity into its widespread, loving arms.
Perhaps, Aurobindo holds the anodyne for uniting the apparently diverse populace that characterizes democratic nations in the globalized world today.