Of all Indian scriptures, the Bhagavat Gita has likely been
the one most commented on. Indias sages, yogis, philosophers,
thinkers have, as a rule, regarded it a sacred duty to add
theirs to the long list of commentaries on these eighteen
brief chapters from the Mahabharataa mere 700 slokas
which have left the deepest of imprints on the Indian psyche
for so many centuries.
Sri Aurobindo was no exception to the rule. But before writing
his famous Essays on the Gita in his monthly Arya between
1916 and 1920, he had had a long acquaintance with the Song
of the Lord. That was no mere intellectual or philosophical
inquiry, for, in the true tradition of yoga, Sri Aurobindo
always was an experimenter before anything elsehe even
rejected the label of philosopher : [Modern]
philosophy, he said, I consider only intellectual
and therefore of secondary value. Experience and formulation
of experience I consider as the true aim of philosophy.
From his return from England to India in 1893, at the age
of twenty, and until 1905, Sri Aurobindo worked in the Baroda
State Service. That left him enough leisure to immerse himself
in Sanskrit scriptures, since, having had a completely Western
education, he wanted to rediscover his roots. Among his favourites
were the two Epics, the Upanishads, and Kalidas. He translated
large portions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata into English,
though only a few survived his later tribulations. Romesh
Chandra Dutt, whose own adaptations of the Epics were popular
in those days, asked to see Sri Aurobindos translations
at Baroda, and remarked that had he seen them earlier, he
would never have published his own..
In that very first study of the Gita before he was even thirty,
the one thing that struck Sri Aurobindo was its bold gospel
and its stress on the Kshatriyas duty to protect
the world from the reign of injustice,
a virile and distinctive Indian message as he immediately
The Christian and Buddhistic doctrine of turning
the other cheek to the smiter, he scribbled in his
notebooks, is as dangerous as it is impracticable.
[It is] a radically false moral distinction and the lip
profession of an ideal which mankind has never been able
or willing to carry into practice. The disinterested and
desireless pursuit of duty is a gospel worthy of the strongest
manhood ; that of the cheek turned to the smiter is a gospel
for cowards and weaklings. Babes and sucklings may practise
it, because they must, but with others it is a hypocrisy.
The Gitas stress on true manhood and desireless
duty or nishkama karma was to be Sri Aurobindos
prime inspiration during his revolutionary days. It is little
known that Sri Aurobindo was, in 1906, the first Indian to
openly call for complete independence from the British Empire,
at a time when the Congress Moderates were busy praising the
providential character of British rule in India
and swearing their unswerving allegiance to the British
crown. Through the pages of the English daily Bande
Mataram and in his speeches, Sri Aurobindo exhorted his countrymen
to find in themselves the strength to stand up to their colonial
masters. He soon became the leader in Bengal of those whom
the Moderates contemptuously called the Extremists.
In April 1908, a few days before his arrest in the Alipore
Bomb Case, he wrote :
A certain class of minds shrink from aggressiveness as if
it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the
delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand
as something monstrous and sinful. Heal hate by love,
drive out injustice by justice, slay sin by righteousness
is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak
of love than to love.... The Gita is the best answer to those
who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering
Clearly, Sri Aurobindo anticipated here the rise of non-violence
as a creed ; but he took Sri Krishnas admonition of
Arjuna literally and, like Swami Vivekananda, put his faith
in strength, not in ahimsa. Shortly after his release from
jail the following year, Sri Aurobindo developed this point
in a speech on the Gita at Khulna :
The virtue of the Brahmin is a great virtue : You shall not
kill. This is what Ahimsa means. [But] if the virtue of Ahimsa
comes to the Kshatriya, if you say I will not kill,
there is no one to protect the country. The happiness of the
people will be broken down. Injustice and lawlessness will
reign. The virtue becomes a source of misery, and you become
instrumental in bringing misery and conflict to the people.
The teaching of the Gita, he said in his concluding words,
means perfection of action. It makes man great. It gives
him the utter strength, the utter bliss which is the goal
of life in the world.
Indeed, the revolutionaries in Bengal and Maharashtra drew
such inspiration from the Gita that the colonial authorities
came to regard it as a gospel of terrorism, and
it became one of the most sought-after pieces of evidence
in police raids ; it is also one of the chief influences cited
in the 1918 Rowlatt Sedition Committee Report, side by side
with Swami Vivekanandas works.
Sri Aurobindo himself is said to have given initiation to
several revolutionaries by making them swear on the Gita that
they would do everything to liberate India from the foreign
But in the columns of the Karmayogin, he took objection to
this summary characterization of the Gita :
We strongly protest against the brand of suspicion that has
been sought to be placed in many quarters on the teaching
and possession of the Gitaour chief national heritage,
our hope for the future, our great force for the purification
of the moral weaknesses that stain and hamper our people..
Though he drew strength from the Gita, Sri Aurobindo knew
better than to see in it a mere gospel of war and heroic
action, a Nietzschean creed of power and high-browed strength,
of Hebraic or old Teutonic hardness.
During his year-long solitary imprisonment in the Alipore
jail, he intensively practised the yoga spelt out by Sri Krishna.
Soon after his unexpected acquittal in May 1909, in his famous
speech at Uttarpara he recounted something of his experience
He placed the Gita in my hands. His strength entered
into me and I was able to do the Sadhana of the Gita. I
was not only to understand intellectually but to realise
what Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands
of those who aspire to do his work..
To realize, let us note again. And what he first
realized was the divine Oneness described in the Gita : The
man whose self is in Yoga, sees the self in all beings and
all beings in the self, he is equal-visioned everywhere. He
who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, to him I do not
get lost, nor does he get lost to Me. (VI.29, 30) In
Sri Aurobindos words :
I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it
was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned ;
no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the
branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not
the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom
I saw standing there and holding over me his shade. I looked
at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for
a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was
guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse
blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms
of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover....
I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the
murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw
Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened
souls and misused bodies.
When the case opened ... I was followed by the same
insight. He said to me, When you were cast into jail,
did not your heart fail and did you not cry out to me, where
is Thy protection ? Look now at the Magistrate, look now
at the Prosecuting Counsel. I looked and it was not
the Magistrate whom I saw, it was Vasudeva, it was Narayana
who was sitting there on the bench. I looked at the Prosecuting
Counsel and it was not the Counsel for the prosecution that
I saw ; it was Sri Krishna who sat there and smiled. Now
do you fear ? He said, I am in all men and I
overrule their actions and their words.
Such was the supreme experience Sri Aurobindo received in
jail, which never left him afterwards. And such is the supreme
paradox of the Gita, that we must act and act boldly and sometimes
fiercely, knowing and seeing all the while that all is He,
that there is nothing in this entire universe that is not
essentially the Divine. I stress the word essentially,
because there lies, according to Sri Aurobindo, the key to
the apparent paradox : all is essentially divine, but until
it is manifestly so, this creation will remain a Kurukshetra
and it will be our duty to fight for the truth. For the Gita
is not concerned with our shallow and too often hypocritical
human rights ; it deals rather with our human
duties : we are human beings only if we are prepared to fight
for the truth, not otherwise.
In his Essays, Sri Aurobindo expounded at length, and never
in a dry metaphysical manner, every aspect of the Gita, ethical
and spiritual : its stress on action, its karma yoga based
on true equality, non-attachment and renunciation of the ego,
culminating in the abandonment of all dharmas, its broad synthesis
of Vedanta, Sankhya, Jñana, Bhakti and even Tantra,
its deep insights into the workings of Nature, into human
nature with its divine as well as diabolical possibilities,
its call to go beyond morality and the three gunas to the
supreme truth.... I cannot even outline here these profound
expositions which go to the roots of almost every problem
of life and yoga which Indian thought and practice has faced.
But, at the cost of incompleteness, there is one core teaching
of the Gita we need to look into, one that Sri Aurobindo lays
particular stress on, and the very one that had inspired him
during his revolutionary daysthat is, the problem of
action and the use of force to defend dharma.
It is customary nowadays to hear that Hinduism is at bottom
a message of tolerance and non-violencethat
has become a kind of slogan which our politicians and media
people alike are fond of mouthing without even stopping to
think about it. Let us for now pass over the question of tolerance,
except to recall these words of Sri Krishna : Even those
who sacrifice to other godheads with devotion and faith, they
also sacrifice to Me.... I am equal in all existences, none
is dear to Me, none hated (9.23, 29)this, along
with the famous Vedic affirmation about the many names of
the One Existent, contains much more than what is ordinarily
meant by tolerance, and it is an assurance we
are not likely to encounter in any Scripture of the three
But let us rather dwell on the point of non-violence. Our
first observation is that, unlike Buddhism or Jainism, Hinduism
never made a universal doctrine of ahimsa, which remained
limited to the Brahmins dharma, even then with qualifications.
True, we have in the Mahabharata the maxim ahimsa paramo dharmah,
ahimsa is the highest law, but that is never intended
for the Kshatriya. There is even a very sensible observation
made to the Brahmin Kausika : When the earth is ploughed,
numberless creatures lurking in the ground are destroyed....
Fish preys upon fish, various animals prey upon other species,
and some species even prey upon themselves.... The earth and
the air all swarm with living organisms which are unconsciously
destroyed by men from mere ignorance. Ahimsa was ordained
of old by men who were ignorant of the true facts. There is
not a man on the face of the earth who is free from the sin
of doing injury to creatures.
Then there is the humorous episode in the Devi Bhagavata (skanda
4), in which Brihaspati (in the guise of Sukracharya) preaches
ahimsa paramo dharmah to the Asuras and enjoins them not
to injure even those who come to kill youbut this
he preaches to the Asuras so as to disarm them, not to the
Devas ! Finally, let us note that even Jainism, which made
the maxim one of its central teachings, allows monks to attain
liberation by fasting to deathan undeniable act of himsa.
There is clearly nothing absolute about the much-abused saying.
There is also nothing non-violent about the wars in the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata, about some of the Vedas fierce
gods, or Durgas and Kalis pitiless destruction
of Asuras. Sanskrit texts, as also the Sangam literature and
folk legends, resound with heroes and heroic deeds, and Sri
Krishna echoes them when he declares : I am the strength
of the mighty (10.36).
As was his wont, Sri Aurobindo faced this central problem
Unless we have the honesty and courage to look existence
straight in the face, we shall never arrive at any effective
solution of its discords and oppositions. We must see first
what life and the world are.... Our very bodily life is
a constant dying and being reborn, the body itself a beleaguered
city attacked by assailing, protected by defending forces
whose business is to devour each other....War and destruction
are not only a universal principle of our life here in its
purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral
existence.... It is impossible, at least as men and things
are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe
really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which
is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct.
Significantly, this passage from his Essays was published
in the December 1916 issue of the Arya, in the middle of the
First World War, but also when Mahatma Gandhi had joined the
national movement and started propagating his doctrine of
ahimsa. Sri Aurobindo continues :
This world of our battle and labour is a fierce dangerous
destructive devouring world in which life exists precariously
and the soul and body of man move among enormous perils,
a world in which by every step forward, whether we will
it or no, something is crushed and broken, in which every
breath of life is a breath too of death. To put away the
responsibility for all that seems to us evil or terrible
on the shoulders of a semi-omnipotent Devil, or to put it
aside as part of Nature, making an unbridgeable opposition
between world-nature and God-Nature, as if Nature were independent
of God, or to throw the responsibility on man and his sins,
as if he had a preponderant voice in the making of this
world or could create anything against the will of God,
are clumsily comfortable devices in which the religious
thought of India has never taken refuge. We have to look
courageously in the face of the reality and see that it
is God and none else who has made this world in his being
and that so he has made it. We have to see that Nature devouring
her children, Time eating up the lives of creatures, Death
universal and ineluctable and the violence of the Rudra
forces in man and Nature are also the supreme Godhead in
one of his cosmic figures.
In these days when, again, easy and noisy slogans have
taken the place of thinking and discerning, and when we
are constantly told that All religions are the same
and speak the same truth, mark how Sri Aurobindo never
fails to point out the distinctive traits and contributions
of the Indian genius :
It is only a few religions which have had the courage
to say without any reserve, like the Indian, that this enigmatic
World-Power is one Deity, one Trinity, to lift up the image
of the Force that acts in the world in the figure not only
of the beneficent Durga, but of the terrible Kali in her
blood-stained dance of destruction and to say, This
too is the Mother ; this also know to be God ; this too,
if thou hast the strength, adore. And it is significant
that the religion which has had this unflinching honesty
and tremendous courage, has succeeded in creating a profound
and widespread spirituality such as no other can parallel.
For truth is the foundation of real spirituality and courage
is its soul.
Bracing words these, but lest one might imagine that Sri
Aurobindo is advocating some blood-thirsty cult, let me add
this conclusion of his :
A day may come, must surely come, we will say, when
humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for
the reign of universal peace ; meanwhile the aspect of battle
and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to
be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy
Note the word practical. It should now be clear
that Sri Aurobindo radically differed from the Mahatma on
the practice of non-violence, and as this difference is glossed
over in conventional scholarship, I think we should examine
it, since such differences, far from being awkward, are in
fact fecund if faced honestly. It is true that in April 1907,
Sri Aurobindo had exposed in a series of brilliant articles
in the Bande Mataram his Doctrine of Passive Resistance
intended to become a mass movement against British rule, and
that the series, which was read throughout the country in
those days, seems to have influenced Gandhi on his return
from Africa. But Sri Aurobindo never made a cult of ideology
either, and in those same articles he had also spelt out the
limits of non-cooperation and passive resistance, which he
saw as the only practicable policy of the day in the face
of the rulers crushing military superiority and the
Congress Moderates lack of support for the ideal of
Every great yajña has its Rakshasas who strive to
baffle the sacrifice.... Passive resistance is an attempt
to meet such disturbers by peaceful and self-contained brahmatejas
; but even the greatest Rishis of old could not, when the
Rakshasas were fierce and determined, keep up the sacrifice
without calling in the bow of the Kshatriya. We should have
the bow of the Kshatriya ready for use, though in the background.
Politics is especially the business of the Kshatriya, and
without Kshatriya strength at its back, all political struggle
Nevertheless, considerable similarities in the practical
aspects of the two leaders policies prompted some scholars
to paint them with the same brush. When, at the time of Independence,
a biographer of his fell victim to such facile parallels,
Sri Aurobindo protested in the following note (written in
the third person) :
In some quarters there is the idea that Sri Aurobindos
political standpoint was entirely pacifist, that he was opposed
in principle and in practice to all violence and that he denounced
terrorism, insurrection, etc., as entirely forbidden by the
spirit and letter of the Hindu religion. It is even suggested
that he was a forerunner of the gospel of Ahimsa. This is
quite incorrect. Sri Aurobindo is neither an impotent moralist
nor a weak pacifist.
The rule of confining political action to passive resistance
was adopted as the best policy for the National Movement at
that stage and not as a part of a gospel of Non-violence or
pacifist idealism. Peace is a part of the highest ideal, but
it must be spiritual or at the very least psychological in
its basis ; without a change in human nature it cannot come
with any finality. If it is attempted on any other basis (moral
principle or gospel of Ahimsa or any other), it will fail
and even may leave things worse than before.... Sri Aurobindos
position and practice in this matter was the same as Tilaks
and that of other Nationalist leaders who were by no means
Pacifists or worshippers of Ahimsa.
It may appear hard to accept that the gospel of Ahimsa may
leave things worse than before. But can we for a moment
picture what would have happened if, in the middle of the
Second World War, with much of Europe including France under
German occupation, Britain had given way to the Nazi wave
? And yet that is exactly what the Mahatma exhorted the British
to do in his famous 1940 open letter to every Briton,
in which he called for the British to lay down their arms
because war is bad in essence, to fight
Nazism without arms or ... with non-violent arms, and
to invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take ...
possession of your beautiful island.
No doubt Hitler would have been delighted had Britain followed
such advice, just as Duryodhana would have been highly pleased
to see Arjuna lay down his bow. But in both cases, what would
have been the result for mankind ?
By contrast, in September 1940, Sri Aurobindo sent the
Governor of Madras a contribution and a message in support
of the Allies during the War :
We feel that not only is this a battle waged in just
self-defence and in defence of the nations threatened with
the world-domination of Germany and the Nazi system of life,
but that it is a defence of civilisation and its highest
attained social, cultural and spiritual values and of the
whole future of humanity. To this cause our support and
sympathy will be unswerving whatever may happen...
Or let us consider the case of the 1942 Cripps mission.
Harried by Germany, increasingly pressured by the U.S.A.,
a proud and reluctant Churchill, who had sworn ever to protect
the Empire, was compelled to present to India on a gold
platter an offer of dominion status, so as to secure her
support during the war. (That was the third such offer since
the start of the War, but in more explicit terms than ever.)
In spite of messages from Sri Aurobindo to the Congress
urging them to accept the proposal which amounted to virtual
independence at the end of the War, and although others
(including Nehru and Rajagopalachari) favoured it, Gandhi
told Sri Aurobindos messenger he found it unacceptable,
once again because of his opposition to war.
(Churchill also, I should add, forbade Sir Stafford Cripps
to show the slightest flexibility.) The result of Gandhis
dogmatic stand on the evil nature of wara dogma Sri
Krishna rebuffs in the Gitawas to be tragic for India.
It not only meant an unnecessary postponement of Independence,
but it made Indias bloody vivisection unavoidable,
even as the Mahatma promised it would happen only over
his dead body ; it also meant three wars with our
neighbour and the continuing war of attrition and terrorism
In his History of the Freedom Movement in India, the distinguished
historian R. C. Majumdar was forced to reject the generally
accepted view which gave Mahatma Gandhi the sole credit
for the freedom of India.
He noted :
It has been my painful duty to show that ... the popular
image of Gandhi cannot be reconciled with what he actually
was.... It will also be seen that the current estimate of
the degree or extent of his success bears no relation to
Today we find that more and more scholars are rallying to
those views and, while giving due respect to the Mahatma,
are beginning to whisper that his rigid insistence on an impracticable
non-violence may have cost the country dear.
Such a reassessment can only be healthy, for there is nothing
more debilitating than to draw a righteous veil over errors
of the past.
Still, we should note that Gandhi did try to understand Sri
Aurobindos viewpoint ; in 1924, for instance, he sent
his son Devadas to Pondicherry to sound him on non-violence.
Sri Aurobindo simply replied, Suppose there is an invasion
of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with
We all know what happened when Kashmir was invaded immediately
after Independence, or when Chinese troops poured into India
in 1962, or even last year when Pakistani troops occupied
peaks in Kargil. And I am afraid there are more Kargils to
come. It is a moot point what the Mahatmas advice would
be in such cases : to lay down arms and meet the enemy with
The following words of Sri Aurobindo, written in December
1916 in his Essays on the Gita, appear prophetic in retrospect
We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war
or any even defensive employment of physical violence ?
Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force
in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns,
pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease
and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction
of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence...
If, therefore, we mean the Gitas teaching to be a practical
one, which is what Sri Aurobindo did, we have to reject non-violence
as a creedit may remain an individuals choice,
for every individual is free to follow his preferred path,
but anyone who has to wage a battle for dharma or for the
truthwhich comes to the same thingwill find a
better ally in the use of shakti which the Gita advocates.
Arjuna is of course something of all of us, the symbol of
the struggling human soul, in Sri Aurobindos
words, and Kurukshetra is the battle of life,
even of our humdrum everyday life if we take the trouble of
living for a purpose. Resist a corrupt official and a Kurukshetra
opens in front of you ; let a womens group take on liquor
barons and you can hear the twang of the Gandiva ; if a few
villagers or tribals oppose a timber mafia, you will see a
hundred Kauravas rise ; or simply try to keep your street
clean and learn what ghoram karma is all about !
Now, a frequent misconception is that if we reject non-violence,
we must fall into violencethere is no alternative beyond
those two opposite poles. That is a terrible and costly confusion,
which the Gita goes to great pains to dispel : between blind,
asuric violence and noble but impotent non-violence, there
is conscious, detached shakti, which can remain powerfully
still or also wage war, as circumstances demand. True, in
the worlds history, most aggressive expansions, especially
the Christian and Islamic, followed the asuric path and washed
the earth with bloodthere is at least one notable exception,
though, and that is India, whose sole weapon of conquest was
always her culture. Yet she was by no means non-violent. Alexander
was confronted by Pauravas armies ; the Pratihara empire,
the last Hindu empire of Northwest India, checked the progress
of Islam into India for three centuries ; we know well enough
the great deeds of a Shivaji or a Lakshmibai and countless
other heroes of this land, including those who fought and
often died for Indias freedom. Sri Krishnas injunctions
as to the Kshatriyas dharma were therefore no dead letter
in Indias past.
As to the present, it is a frequently heard complaint that
Mahatma Gandhis teaching of non-violence is no longer
followed in India ; but it rather seems to me that it has
penetrated the collective Indian consciousness deep enough
to make it wince at the very thought of force and put a brake
on its use even when and where it is patently needed. Certainly
no other country would have tolerated with so little reaction
the amount of aggression India has suffered since Independence,
and at what terrible cost.
Indias one tragedy is that she has not had the courage
to put to effective use the elements of strength in her heritage.
The Gita provides a telling case in point. Here is a brief
and accessible text, with nothing esoteric to it, which has
evoked the admiration of countless thinkers outside India,
from Emerson to Aldous Huxley and André Malraux, here
is the best possible guide of ethics (though not merely that),
which disentangles with miraculous ease some of the most knotty
questions humanity has askedand, except for a course
or two of philosophy, our schools and colleges will not teach
it to our children. And why not ? Because, so far as I have
been able to make out, it is a religious text.
A more thoughtless aberration would be hard to come by, and
I wonder how those who drafted Indias education policy
arrogated the right to deprive young Indians of their heritage.
No, the Gita is not a religious or even a Hindu
scripture, it belongs to all humanity and its very text repeatedly
makes this universality plain :
I am the path and goal, says Sri Krishna,
the upholder, the master, the witness, the house and
country, the refuge, the benignant friend ; I the birth
and status and destruction of apparent existence, I the
imperishable seed of all and their eternal resting-place....
I am the silence of things secret and the knowledge of the
knower.... Nothing moving or unmoving, animate or inanimate
in the world can be without me. (9.18, 10.38, 10.39)
Is this a sectarian declaration ? Moreover, the Gita is about
dharma and dharma is not religion, it is ethics in the deepest
sense. If we decide that education is only intended to prepare
children for getting jobs and has nothing to do with making
better human beings out of them, then we admit that there
is no more meaning to a mans life than to an ants.
The Gitas message is a practical tool : it gives a purpose
in life, and a purpose is something practical ; it gives strength,
and strength is something practical ; it gives self-confidence,
elevation in thought, a broader view of life, a deeper understanding
of human nature, and those are all practical things. I believe
India would be in a better shape today had the Gita not been
kept out of sight and hearing of young Indians, except for
some abstract study of the Sankhya philosophy or a few slokas
for burials and other ceremonies. Was Sri Aurobindos
depiction of the Gita as our chief national heritage,
our hope for the future just so many empty words ?
Permit me to quote Swami Vivekananda too, in whose name we
are gathered today. Speaking in Calcutta to a few young aspirants,
he said :
In order to remove this delusion which had overtaken
Arjuna, what did the Bhagavan say ? As I always preach that
you should ... draw [a mans] attention to the omnipotent
power that is in him, in the same way does the Bhagavan
speak to Arjuna : Thou art that Atman imperishable,
beyond all evil... Yield not to unmanliness. If you,
my sons, can proclaim this message to the world, Yield
not to unmanliness, then all this disease, grief,
sin and sorrow will vanish from the face of the earth in
three days.... Proclaim to the whole world with trumpet
voice, There is no sin in thee, there is no misery
in thee ; thou art the reservoir of omnipotent power. Arise,
awake, and manifest the divinity within !
Because they insisted on building a new, rejuvenated India
on the great truths of her ancient heritage and not on the
fleeting destructive values of the West, neither Sri Aurobindo
nor Swami Vivekananda are in favour with current thinking,
if it can be called that. In fact, today they would probably
be labelled revivalists by our hypnotized intelligentsia,
and they would certainly find themselves swimming against
the cheerless tide, at loggerheads with almost every direction
the country has taken since Independence, and with the educational
system in particular. They would never have imagined that
education in free India could have rejected anything having
to do with Indian culture, preferring to go on with Macaulays
denationalizing methods. Is Indian culture then something
so shameful, so ignoble that it has to be concealed from our
children, except in the privacy of the home ? Well, perhaps
it is after all, but if it is, let us have the courage to
declare so openly and have done with it rather than brandish
it just to attract foreign tourists to a few temples and ruins.
I cannot resist the temptation of mentioning a case in point
: it is significant that none of our successive education
ministers thought it worthwhile to give Swami Vivekanandas
or Sri Aurobindos names to just one out of the 216 universities
spread over the country ; Mahatma Gandhi has two universities
in his name, one of which is of course this one here ; Dr.
Ambedkar has six, Jawaharlal Nehru three, and a number of
much lesser Indians have one. But no Swami Vivekananda
University, no Sri Aurobindo UniversitySwami
Vivekananda who shook India awake, Sri Aurobindo who in 1906
became the first principal of the newly opened Bengal National
College, Sri Aurobindo the Nationalist leader, the editor
and chief writer of Bande Mataram and Karmayogin, Sri Aurobindo
who laid the foundations for an original Indian perspective
in so many fields of yoga, thought, action, and life.
This omission may be a small thing in itself, but it is revealing
of the unease the establishment feels towards these awkward
personalities. Which Indian student ever learns anything of
substance about Swami Vivekananda or Sri Aurobindo ? Either
we find them worthy of being taught to our children for their
greater benefit as human beings, in which case we should roll
up our sleeves and set to work, or there is no point in making
them objects of hollow praise as is too often the case.
Sri Aurobindo had and still has a message for his country,
and a practical one, for he was no effete dreamer. Whether
calling for Indias independence, supporting the Allies,
urging acceptance of Cripps proposal, he practised what
he called spiritual realism.
It is Indias misfortune that he was not heard, and her
continuing misfortune that he and Swami Vivekananda are shoved
aside like museum pieces.
Of course, it would be a mistake to equate Sri Aurobindo
entire teaching and yoga with the Gita. As he said,
I regard the spiritual history of mankind and especially
of India as a constant development of a divine purpose,
not a book that is closed and the lines of which have to
be constantly repeated. Even the Upanishads and the Gita
were not final though everything may be there in seed....
But in all his actions, Sri Aurobindo faithfully followed
the spirit of the Gita. His life is, in my opinion, the best
commentary on the great Scripture.
If one is among the ... seekers of [the] Truth,
he once wrote to a disciple, one has to take sides
for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it
and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either
side, to refuse any action of hostility even against assailants
; Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samata, strongly
rebuked his attitude and insisted equally on his fighting
the adversary. Have samata, he said, and
seeing clearly the Truth, fight. ... It is a spiritual
battle inward and outward ; by neutrality and compromise
or even passivity one may allow the enemy force to pass
and crush down the Truth and its children.
Sri Aurobindos Indias Rebirth
(3rd ed., 2000; also in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Oriya, Tamil
and Gujarati translations) is co-published and distributed
62 Sriranga, 2nd Main, 1st Cross
T. K. Layout, Saraswatipuram
Mysore - 570 009, India
Evening Talks recorded by A. B. Purani (Pondicherry :
Sri Aurobindo Society, 1982), p. 105
Mothers ChroniclesBook Five : Mira Meets the
Revolutionary by Sujata Nahar (Mysore : Mira Aditi, 1997),
Notes on the Mahabharata, 3.169.
See Indias Rebirth (Mysore : Mira Aditi, 3rd
edition, 2000), p. 19.
FrIbid., p. 46.
Karmayogin, June 25, 1909, 2.427.
Sedition Committee 1918 Report under Honble Mr. Justice
Rowlatt (reprinted Calcutta : New Age Publishers, 1973),
p. 17 & 23.
R. C. Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement in India
(Calcutta : Firmal KLM, vol. 3, 1988), vol. I p. 408.
Karmayogin, 12 January 1910, 2.401.
Essays on the Gita, 13.52-53.
Uttarpara Speech, 30 May 1909, 2.3.
Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Ch. 207, adapted from K. M. Gangulis
translation (Delhi : Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000), vol. I p.
Essays on the Gita, 13.38-39.
Bande Mataram, 23 April 1907, 1.122.
On Himself, 26.22.
Amrita Bazar Patrika, Method of Non-violenceMahatma
Gandhis appeal to every Briton, July 4, 1940.
See a longer extract and Sri Aurobindos reaction to
the open letter in Indias Rebirth, p. 227.
On Himself, 26.393.
See Indias Rebirth, p. 235-236.
R. C. Majumdar, History of the Freedom Movement in India,
vol. 3, p. xiii.
Ibid., p. xviii.
See for instance N. S. Rajaram, Gandhi, Khilafat and the
National Movement (Bangalore : Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana,
Evening Talks, p. 53
Essays on the Gita, 13.39.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Almora : Advaita
Ashrama, 1948), vol. IV, p. 105-106.
The Human Cycle, 15:228
On Himself, 26.125.
Letters on Yoga, 23.665-666.