Bṛhat

Sri Aurobindo’s School of Bhavānī Bhāratī
The 2nd in our schools of thought series is on Sri Aurobindo, who gave us the method of attaining true svarāja.

Sri Aurobindo is akin to a Himālayan peak, whose first glimpse leaves an indelible awe inspiring impression on our mind. A revolutionary, a nationalist leader, a philosopher, a poet, a yogi and a seer. An ordinary mind moves from known to yet another known with a sense of calculable fear. A spiritualized mind establishes an enduring link between the known and the unknown. Whereas, a seer’s mind traverses the realms of the unknown to bridge countless chasms of time. Sri Aurobindo is that seer who saw with sublime clarity the role for India in forging a brilliant future for humanity.

Inspiration that flows from his pen holds the wideness of the mountain range and vastness of the sky. In an act of transformation this inspiration widens the horizons of one’s mind. To achieve this transformation we must approach his works with humility. His work is a living throb and can guide us in our journey of self-fulfillment, as an individual and as a nation.

This essay discusses:

  • What were his early inspirations as a nationalist leader ? How did the spiritual path become an enduring basis for all his pursuits?
  • Rejuvenating ancient civilization, Bhārata. Road map of self-finding for young nation state, India.
  • Envisioning nation building with sanātana dharma as the central idea.
  • Blessings of Bhavānī Bhāratī

In 1905 Sri Aurobindo was in search of ways to anchor his revolutionary activities in spiritual sādhanā. By then he had few spiritual experiences. These experiences revealed to him the forces that are beyond the reach of the rational mind of the man. His limited spiritual goal was to attain such strength and put it to liberating India. In this regard he met a few spiritual figures. On one such occasion, he spent some time in a small town in Gujarat called Chandod, with a disciple of a yogi. When he returned from this trip, there was a marked difference in Sri Aurobindo’s attitude. He was now given to worshipping the goddess with great fervour. He changed his routine by reducing his diet to only one meal a day and mostly maintained silence. What transpired during this trip remains a decisive episode. In his own words he recollects the experience at Kālī temple:

With my Europeanized mind I had no faith in image-worship and I hardly believed in the presence of God. I went to Kernali where there are several temples. There is one of Kālī and when I looked at the image I saw the living presence there. For the first time, I believed in the presence of God.…Or you stand before a temple of Kālī beside a sacred river and see what? a sculpture, a gracious piece of architecture, but in a moment mysteriously, unexpectedly there is instead a Presence, a Power, a Face that looks into yours, an inner sight in you has regarded the World-Mother.​

The Impetus of this World-Mother transformed into Bhavānī Bhāratī, a Sanskrit poem. He composed it in praise of the Mother of Bhāratas. Opening lines of this sonnet establish the identity of Bhāratīyas:

I am the Mother, O child, of the Bhāratas, the eternal people beloved of the Gods, whom neither hostile Fate nor Time nor Death has a power to destroy.

“Eternal people beloved of the Gods,”- such a potent line! This relationship that we have forged with divine forces, devatās, is irrepressible. From the early dawn of this civilization we have invoked them through yajñas and diverse folk rituals. We sought their blessings in running our society. Their favour was most sought after, for founding institutions, running kingdoms, organizing knowledge. In every endeavor our devatās stood in the centre. Our connection to them remained uncompromising.

Sri Aurobindo’s experience in the Kālī temple, rekindled this sacred relationship. Power of this experience was put in service of liberating India. Fierce forms of the Divine Mother were always the leading forces of great kingdoms. Kakaṭiyās in the then Andhra Pradesh and the warrior clans of Kerala worshipped Goddess Bhadrakālī. Inspiration that Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj drew was by worshipping Mā Bhavānī. Mā Durgā is worshiped as the protector Goddess in the east of India. Mā Vaiśṇodevī in Jammu and Kashmir. Mā Camuṇdeśvarī leads the kingdoms in the Kannada region. It is invocation of the same governing, organizing and protecting force, that then synergized into Mā Bhāratī. It is inspiration sown by the Divine Mother that made Sri Aurobindo state to his followers –

Be very careful to follow my instructions in avoiding the old kind of politics. Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfillment of the sanātana dharma its only svarāja.​

Can India be reborn?

This is the question that assails our minds in current times. Most often answers we find are demoralizing and instill deep self doubt about our own future. Sri Aurobindo’s writings on Bhavānī Bhāratī deal with this question. Some excerpts are presented here.

Many of us, utterly overcome by tamas, the dark and heavy demon of Inertia, are saying nowadays that it is impossible, that India is decayed, bloodless and lifeless, too weak ever to recover, that our race is doomed to extinction. It is a foolish and idle saying. No man or nation need be weak unless he chooses, no man or nation need perish unless he deliberately chooses extinction.

What is a nation ? Śakti of its millions…

For what is a nation ? What is our Mother-country ? It is not a piece of earth, nor a figure of speech, nor a fiction of the mind. It is a mighty Śakti, composed of the Śakti’s of all the millions of units that make up the nation, just as Bhavānī Mahiṣāsura Mardinī sprang into being from the Śaktis of the millions of gods assembled in one mass of force and welded into unity. The Śakti we call India, Bhavānī Bhāratī, is the living unity of the Śaktis of the three hundred million people, but she is inactive, imprisoned in the magic circle of tamas, the self indulgent inertia and ignorance of her sons. To get rid of tamas we have but to wake the Brahman within.

How did a civilization that meditated on myriad facets of Self end up in a state of perpetual Self-doubt?

Sri Aurobindo assessed the spectrum of challenges that confronted India. In his diagnosis he felt that its soul power lies in its spiritual well being. It is the weakness of this spiritual health that is ailing us. He categorically states that it is not lack of knowledge (jñāna) or bhaktiḥ that is the cause of our dire state but the lack of Śakti alone. Such an uncompromising assessment saves us huge time and energy. It is the strength that defines all transactions of the world. When one comes face to face with an adversary, what matters at that moment of truth is strength. Do you have strength to defend yourself ? When the civilization lacks Śakti, this weakness permeates all facets of its life. It fails to develop into an intellectually vibrant society. It results in a society that lacks kṣatra tejas or valour, a society that lacks capacity for hard and purposeful work. Ultimately it turns into a moribund society inflicted by tamas, an indomitable inertia.

A closer look at this assessment about Śakti, brings in a strong sense of familiarity with the words of Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji’s line of assessment was similar. In fact Swamiji’s words might have laid the foundation for Sri Aurobindo’s vision and work. Rebuilding our strength and overcoming our weakness forms the nucleus of the re-birthing process of Bhārata. Sri Aurobindo says,

To get strength we must adore the Mother of Strength.

Strength then and again strength and yet more strength is the need of our race. But if it is strength we desire, how shall we gain it if we do not adore the Mother of Strength? She demands worship not for Her own sake, but in order that she may help us and give herself to us.

This is no fantastic idea, no superstition but the ordinary law of the Universe. The Gods cannot, if they would, give themselves unasked. Even the eternal comes not unawares upon men. Every devotee knows by experience that we must turn to Him and desire and adore Him before the Divine spirit pours in its ineffable beauty and ecstasy upon the soul. What is true of the Eternal is true also of Her who goes forth from Him.​

This is the dharma that for the salvation of humanity was cherished in the seclusion of this peninsula from old. It is to give this religion that India is rising. She does not rise as other countries do, for self or when she is strong, to trample on the weak. She is rising to shed the eternal light entrusted to her over the world. India has always existed for humanity and not for herself and it is for humanity and not for herself that she must be great.”

After this episode Sri Aurobindo started withdrawing from active politics. He dedicated his time more for spiritual pursuit by divine command, adesa. But he held within him an enduring vision of Human Unity forged under the aegis of sanātana dharma. In fact this compelling vision remained an inseparable part of his Integral or Pūrṇa Yoga. His vision about Politics, Culture, Philosophy and Metaphysics, were all now founded on the firmament of Pūrṇa Yoga.

Journey of Self finding – Nation Soul

Sri Aurobindo reconceptualized the abstract notion called Nation into an embodiment called Nation Soul. This identity-forming process is a tremendous contribution from him. The idea of a Nation popularly stands out as an abstract idea. This in turn results in a weak vision of National Development. When one delves into abstracts, the process of self discovery gets hampered. This is a simple subconscious truth we practise in managing our own relationships. We do not relate and live with an ‘idea’ called father, mother, spouse or children. Avoiding such abstraction helps us live meaningful lives.

Similarly one can sense the presence of a being behind this idea of Nation. A being that is as living as any individual with its organic life processes and need for self expression. By coming in contact with that being, we enter into a meaningful relationship with our Nation. Thus we can also understand its upheavals and triumphs. We understand the wholeness of its organic development. This helps us in contextualizing ‘freedom’ in a robust way, rather than trapping it in abstractions. In Sri Aurobindo’s words,

We speak often of the Hindu religion, of the sanātana dharma, but few of us really know what that religion is. Other religions are preponderantly religions of faith and profession, but the sanātana dharma is life itself; it is a thing that has not so much to be believed as lived.​

…..conception of the nation not merely as a country, but a soul, a psychological, almost a spiritual being and, even when acting from economical and political motives, it sought to dynamise them by this subjective conception and to make them instruments of self-expression rather than objects in themselves.

This is a pivotal vision to re-imagine our Nation as a civilizational being, Nation Soul, which is re-awakening. Reawakening as a journey implies unburdening of severe conditioning that we have been subject to. Our slave mentality has to be dropped. Attitude of undue servitude needs to be thrown off. But this process of de-colonization is only half the story. For there needs to be a positive aspiration such as ‘to be ourselves’, to grasp the depths and vastness of character of our Nation Soul.

What does the idea of Self mean in the context of a nation?

Sri Aurobindo points at this self which grossly appears as territoriality in its outermost manifestation. Its next level of manifestation is by way of its political status, economic well being, its laws and institutions. Beyond these outer manifestations Sri Aurobindo points to a subtler communal consciousness, which has always held us, all its people, as one unit. This ushers greater clarity about self-identity, of the Nation Soul.

When we realize that the land is only the shell of the body, though a very living shell indeed and potent in its influences on the nation, when we begin to feel that its more real body is the men and women who compose the nation-unit, a body ever changing, yet always the same like that of the individual man, we are on the way to a truly subjective communal consciousness.​

Our nation too should pursue this path of self-finding to recognize this ‘aham – tattva’ the true I-ness. To be aware of the stamp of the Nation Soul in its unique culture, art, politics, trade and all its outer expressions. Power of this being, its destiny, is a real tangible force. A force that mystically shapes many outcomes of the civilization. This conceptualization is very distinct from how the modern Western view defines a nation. The latter always operates on the basis of external identities only. One finds Western societies reluctant to enter into contact with this subjective identity.

Despite the staggering cultural diversity of the ancient Bharatha, the stamp of this unique civilizational identity is ever present. Now the journey of rediscovering this unique identity as the fledgling nation state of India has to be undertaken. This journey is akin to awakening someone who is in deep slumber. What is the strength that needs to be garnered to cure this chronic amnesia? It is evident that nothing less than yogic strength is going to serve the purpose. We are in need of an incredible yogic endeavour to accomplish this sacred mission.

Sri Aurobindo equates this path of self-finding with that of a yogi’s journey. He cautions us about the perils that surround such a profound inward search. He takes the example of Germany in this regard. He acknowledges the efforts of Germany’s philosophers and thinkers in nourishing this aspiration of self-finding. But the outward manifestation of this aspiration turned out to be disastrous. The light of its philosophy could not illuminate its operating institutions and organizations. Thus this aspiration was corrupted in action and it plunged not just Germany but the whole world into deep darkness. Sri Aurobindo writes,

That befell her (referring to the German nation) which sometimes befalls the seeker on the path of Yoga, the art of conscious self-finding,—a path exposed to far profounder perils than beset ordinarily the average man,—when he follows a false light to his spiritual ruin. She had mistaken her vital ego for herself; she had sought for her soul and found only her force.​

For she had said, like the Asura, “I am my body, my life, my mind, my temperament,” and become attached with a Titanic force to these; especially she had said, “I am my life and body”, and than that there can be no greater mistake for man or nation. The soul of man or nation is something more and diviner than that; it is greater than its instruments and cannot be shut up in a physical, a vital, a mental or a temperamental formula.”

Sri Aurobindo’s diagnosis of Germany’s flawed pursuit of Self-finding can be phrased as pursuit of false subjectivism. He writes,

It is evident that there is a false as well as a true subjectivism and the errors to which the subjective trend may be liable are as great as its possibilities and may well lead to capital disasters. This distinction must be clearly grasped if the road of this stage of social evolution is to be made safe for the human race.​

Spiritual Strength of Bhārata

While such a journey of self-finding is fraught with perils, it can be said with fair confidence, there are factors in our favour that can mitigate such risks to a great extent. A key factor is the spiritualized component of our culture. The spiritual oneness that continues to run in our society uninterrupted for several millennia. It runs in our kṣetras, it runs in our countless spiritual traditions. This spiritual throb encourages us to worship nature as opposed to its exploitation. Seminal ideas such as karma and dharma provide unitary vision of the civilization. These are guiding forces, when followed, help to overcome the pitfalls of an egoistic indulgence. With this potent power of Ādhyātmika Śakti we stand a good chance of escaping the perils of false subjectivism.

Making a compelling observation in the sphere of culture, here Sri Aurobindo incisively outlines what is his vision of culture is and how Bhārata differentiates itself from other civilizations in making the spiritual goals central to all its pursuits:

A true happiness in this world is the right terrestrial aim of man, and true happiness lies in the finding and maintenance of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body. A culture is to be valued to the extent to which it has discovered the right key of this harmony and organized its expressive motives and movements.​

And a civilization must be judged by the manner in which all its principles, ideas, forms, ways of living work to bring that harmony out, manage its rhythmic play and secure its continuance or the development of its motives. A civilization in pursuit of this aim may be predominantly material like modern European culture, predominantly mental and intellectual like the old Graeco-Roman or predominantly spiritual like the still persistent culture of India.

India’s central conception is that of the Eternal, the Spirit here encased in matter, involved and immanent in it and evolving on the material plane by rebirth of the individual up the scale of being till in mental man it enters the world of ideas and realm of conscious morality, dharma. This achievement, this victory over unconscious matter develops its lines, enlarges its scope, elevates its levels until the increasing manifestation of the sātvika or spiritual portion of the vehicle of mind enables the individual mental being in man to identify himself with the pure spiritual consciousness beyond Mind.

India’s social system is built upon this conception; her philosophy formulates it; her religion is an aspiration to the spiritual consciousness and its fruits; her art and literature have the same upward look; her whole sanātana dharma or law of being is founded upon it. Progress she admits, but this spiritual progress, not the externally self-unfolding process of an always more and more prosperous and efficient material civilization. It is her founding of life upon this exalted conception and her urge towards the spiritual and the eternal that constitute the distinct value of her civilization. And it is her fidelity, with whatever human shortcomings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world.​

Thus Sri Aurobindo bonds the process of self-finding to the process of spiritual progress. He is not a mere advisor, he actually followed this line of thought in the midst of the freedom struggle. This compelling inward need for self-finding , re-imagining and envisioning had commenced right in the middle of a tumultuous freedom struggle. We were always aware of our civilizational identity, but what were we as a nation? What does this new identity as a nation mean? These tumultuous questions metaphorically resemble the mind frame of great warrior Arjuna in the middle of kurukṣetra war. A situation of crisis that infuses despondency. It is in the midst of crisis that light shines on our minds and a steely resolve is voiced out ‘to find oneself, to be that self and uphold the dharma of that self at all costs’. Sri Aurobindo’s vision not only bolsters this resolve but presents a vast psychological framework that can help us, the nation, to overcome the ever assailing crisis of self-identity.

Recognition of one’s inner core at an individual collective level and awakening to the inner essence of other individuals and collectives, is indeed a foundational value of the Sanātana Dharmic thought. It can forge reliable collaborations amongst nations and individuals to counter the trajectory of humanitarian, economic, and ecological collapse. This approach ushers minds of individuals, leaders, and nations, to meditate on the interconnectedness of it all and to seek recourse in the infinite strength that is the true nature of the Cosmic Soul, whom we refer to as Puruṣottama.

In recent times we are witness to a notable enthusiasm in finding our roots and defining our future on the grounds of our civilizational dharma. This phase has arrived after years of continued subjugation to a colonial mindset despite several decades of our political independence. We need to pray to the Divine Mother, Bhavāni Bhāratī, to not let this resolve go back into the darkness of ignorant sleep. We have to pray to her to guide this fire for defining our civilizational goals. All this needs to be done while enduring the attacks from corrupted ideologies that prevail in the domains of culture and politics. This resolve needs strength, Śakti, which is possible to attain at the feet of the Divine Mother. This then is Sri Aurobindo’s road map for civilizational rejuvenation, a rāja mārga to realize our destiny.

Truth comes to us as a light, a voice, compelling a change of thought, imposing a new discernment. Of ourselves and all around us. Truth of thought created truth of vision and truth of vision forms in us a truth of being (Satyam). Flows naturally truth of emotion, will and action. This is indeed the central notion of the Veda.
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