1872 - 1950

By Anodea Judith

Sri Aurobindo was a political activist, Indian Yogi, and spiritual master, who first came to prominence in India's struggle for independence from the British, in an extremist nationalist movement in 1908. He was convinced that any political freedom must be imbued with spiritual elements and thus created a new vision of India, in which her independence was grounded in the necessity of preserving the great teachings of Indian religion, which he predicted would be essential to saving our global humanity at some future point in history. This revolution would occur collectively through a critical mass of enlightened individuals.

His spiritual practice was grounded in yoga and meditation. However, he did not advocate a withdrawal from the affairs of life, but a full political engagement that was based in spiritual understanding and practice. In fact his discovery of yoga as a young adult, after returning from his English education at King's college in Cambridge, was what reconnected him to his Indian roots, and convinced him of India's ultimate value. He was immediately transformed and enthralled by the practice, experiencing electric power around his head, the presence of the Divine within, and the silent Brahmin consciousness, or union with the absolute.

Aurobindo's ultimate belief was in the spiritual nature of all reality, which he described as being, consciousness, and bliss (sat-chit-ananda). To him, the underlying thrust of the entire phenomenal world is a spiritual evolution in consciousness toward a situation in which all material forms will reveal the indwelling spirit. He postulated several states of consciousness, such as the Overmind, Intuitive mind, Higher mind, and Illumined mind. These states he saw as interconnected and revealing different levels of reality and unity. Normal waking consciousness is steeped in individualism, while the higher states reveal an ultimate unity. Psyche or soul was the manifestation of the divine as it occurs within individuals, for the purpose of reuniting with the universal.

Sri Aurobindo was a mystic who achieved his ascending levels of consciousness through yoga and meditation. Yet, in 1926 he had a profound experience of the Overmind descending into him, and stressed that it is not merely transcendence that we are seeking, but an integration of that higher mind with our involvement in the daily world. In this way, he described his spiritual practice as Integral Yoga, for it integrated the many systems of India, with daily practice and political and worldly activity. "For truth and knowledge are an idle gleam, if knowledge brings not power to change the world."
"Our experience of the descending current is the experience of the transforming Force."
"Virtue is a pretentious impurity. The only sin is to be discouraged."

"There is an evolution of the consciousness behind the evolution of the species and this spiritual evolution must end in a realization, individual and collective, on the earth."

Further reading:
Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness
by Satprem
The Essential Aurobindo, by Robert McDermott
Sri Aurobindo: A Biography and History, by K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar;
and a collection of Aurobindo's writings:
Birth Centenary Library, Pondicherry, India (a 30 volume set).

Written by Anodea Judith, Dec. 96;