Sri Aurobindo: the Prophet of Optimism
He saw a world that is from a world to be. – SRI AUROBINDO (Savitri, Book 3, Canto 3, p. 330)
Sri Aurobindo was an unprecedented figure in history. Sent to England by his father at age seven, he returned to India at age 21, only to immerse himself in the ancient Indian scriptures for the next fourteen years. Thus, by age 35, he had become a perfect synthesis of the East and the West. With his remarkable intellect, he had not only absorbed knowledge from both sides of the globe, he had also had a critical look at both, and had related it to the past, present and future of the world. He had started writing poetry as a schoolboy, and continued to be a prolific writer all his life. He wrote poetry, and also prose that reads like poetry. Besides his remarkable intellect, he had phenomenal spiritual capacity. Hence all his writings are illuminated by his spiritual insights and realization. He worked out a powerful synthesis of the traditional schools of yoga, which sought to preserve the spirit of yoga instead of emphasizing the form. In his school of yoga, known as integral yoga, the approach is predominantly inside-out. The aim of his yoga is an inner psycho-spiritual transformation, which should get reflected in outer life. What distinguishes his yoga from all others, however, is its collective goal. It does not stop at individual realization, but instead aims at raising the level of consciousness of humanity as a whole. The trend of evolution so far has been a progressively better manifestation of the Consciousness of the Divine hidden in all creation. But the present level of human consciousness, which is essentially a mental consciousness when at its best, is still so far removed from divine consciousness that the world is full of evil, suffering and misery. It is only a radical upward shift in human consciousness that can wipe out the problems of human existence. Integral yoga not only aims at such a shift, Sri Aurobindo was certain that such a shift will take place, and in not too distant a future. He was probably the first spiritual master to offer the certitude that the perfection of human terrestrial existence is possible and inevitable.
Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary optimism about the future of mankind was not based on his being cut off from the present realities of human life. He was aware of how much of the animal there still is in man.
An animal with some instincts of a god,
His (man’s) life a story too common to be told,
His deeds a number summing up to nought, …
(Savitri, Book 1, Canto 5, p. 78)*
He was also aware of how blunt the human mind is as a tool for approaching and realizing the Divine.
For when he (man) strives for things surpassing earth,
Too rude the workman’s tools, too crude his stuff, …
Our being thrills with high far memories
And would bring down their dateless meanings here,
But, too divine for earthly Nature’s scheme,
Beyond our reach the eternal marvels blaze.
(Savitri, Book 2, Canto 2, p. 109)
His intimate knowledge of the typical human nature comes out very clearly in another passage from Savitri. Very few are chosen by the Divine to aspire for heaven; still fewer are those who respond to the call. It is only when in trouble that man turns to the Divine. So long as all is well with life, man is quite content to live like everybody else.
Heaven’s call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds;
The doors of light are sealed to common mind, …
Only in an uplifting hour of stress
Men answer to the touch of greater things: …
To be the common man they think the best,
To live as others live is their delight.
(Savitri, Book 11, Canto 1, p. 689)
But the future of human life is sure to be better because the evolution of consciousness on earth has shown an unmistakable direction determined by the Divine.
There is an Influence from a Light above,
There are thoughts remote and sealed eternities:
A mystic motive drives the stars and suns.
(Savitri, Book 2, Canto 5, p. 169)
The Influence from the Light above will ensure the evolution on earth of a creature that will express divine Knowledge, Beauty and Bliss much better than any creature so far.
A new creation from the old shall rise,
A Knowledge inarticulate find speech,
Beauty suppressed burst into paradise bloom,
Pleasure and pain dive into absolute bliss.
(Savitri, Book 3, Canto 3, p. 330)
Looking at the present imperfections of the world, terrestrial perfection may look like a utopian dream. Sri Aurobindo explains the gap between the world as it is and as it would one day be by looking upon the world as a work-in-progress.
An attempt, a drawing half-done is the world’s life;
Its lines doubt their concealed significance,
Its curves join not their high-intended close.
(Savitri, Book 2, Canto 1, p. 100)
But that does not mean that the world will for ever remain an unfinished product. The seed hardly gives us an idea of the tree it could one day be.
Because he is infant, shall he never grow?
Because he is ignorant, shall he never learn?
In a small fragile seed a great tree lurks,
In a tiny gene a thinking gene is shut;
A little element in a little sperm,
It grows and is a conqueror and a sage.
(Savitri, Book 10, Canto 3, p. 623)
Sri Aurobindo looks upon Love as the seed that has been planted by the Divine on earth to make sure that the earth shall one day become heaven. Love that starts as an animal desire first grows into passionate human love, then becomes deep friendship, and finally evolves into love for the Divine.
All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky,
And love that was once an animal’s desire,
Then a sweet madness in the rapturous heart,
An ardent comradeship in the happy mind,
Becomes a wide spiritual yearning’s space. … …
Love must not cease to live upon the earth;
For love is the bright link twixt earth and heaven,
Love is the far Transcendent’s angel here;
Love is man’s lien on the Absolute.
(Savitri, Book 10, Canto 3, pp. 632-633)
Sri Aurobindo offers not just the possibility of change, but the certitude that the world shall change.
A greater Truth than earth’s shall roof-in earth
And shed its sunlight on the roads of mind;
A power infallible shall lead the thought,
A seeing Puissance govern life and act,
In earthly hearts kindle the Immortal’s fire.
(Savitri, Book 11, Canto 1, p. 707)
The impact of the greater truth that shall envelope the earth on human nature is equally certain.
Man too shall turn towards the Spirit’s call.
Awake to his hidden possibility,
Awake to all that slept within his heart
And all that Nature meant when earth was formed
And the Spirit made this ignorant world his home,
He shall aspire to Truth and God and Bliss.
(Savitri, Book 11, Canto 1, p. 709)
And, this change shall affect not just a few, but the multitude. Thus, what is rare today shall become the norm.
Even the multitude shall hear the Voice
And turn to commune with the Spirit within
And strive to obey the high spiritual law:
This earth shall stir with impulses sublime,
Humanity awake to deepest self,
Nature the hidden godhead recognize.
(Savitri, Book 11, Canto 1, p. 709)
How all this will happen may be beyond our imagination, but that does not mean it cannot happen. God is great and wonderful are His ways.
His being is a mystery beyond mind,
His ways bewilder mortal ignorance;
The finite in its little sections parked,
Amazed, credits not God’s audacity
Who dares to be the unimagined All
And see and act as might one Infinite.
(Savitri, Book 10, Canto 4, p. 657)
All can be done if the God-touch is there. (Savitri, Book 1, Canto 1, p. 3)
* Savitri is Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem of about 24,000 lines.