|If I am permitted to begin with a few personal
words, I would like to say that I am, almost every day of my
life, conscious of having been blessed with a twin privilege :
that of having landed in India twenty-one years ago, and that
of having discovered Sri Aurobindo and Mother even earlier.
Earlier, that is, while a teenager in France in 1972, the year
of Sri Aurobindos centenary. I would never have imagined
that, twenty-five years later, I would be asked to participate
in the celebrations of his 125th birth anniversary. All I knew
was that I could find nothing in France or in the West that
could give a full meaning to my life, nothingin its science,
its philosophies, even its culturethat could convince
me that life is worth living. The first few pages I read by
and about Sri Aurobindo put an end to that questand were,
of course, the beginning of another.
Living in India has been another adventureand yet the
same. It has brought a constantly enriching, constantly growing
experience, which I have always tried to see through Sri Aurobindos
eyes, if I may say so. For I do not think that anyone has
been able to convey more clearly and beautifully what India
is, what she represents for herself and for the world. And
not only to convey it, but to work for it.
Not that India is today the heaven we would all dream her
to be. Far from it. But Sri Aurobindo always saw behind the
appearances of the moment, however disheartening they may
be. He saw Indias ancient strength, the causes of her
decay, the certainty of her rebirth. For sixty years, from
his student days in Cambridge to his passing in 1950, his
will for the fulfilment of Indias destiny never wavered.
He fought for it, suffered for it, poured all his energies
towards it. Sixty years is a long time in a mans life.
Now, what is it that makes this country generate this sort
of passionate love in her children ?Not in all
of them, unfortunately, but there have been enough bright
examples from Bankim to Tilak, from Vivekananda to Subramania
Bharati, from Tagore to Lala Lajpat Rai. What does India mean
on a deeper level ? And can that deeper meaning find
any practical, immediate application in changing Indias
present condition, which, understandably, it is the favourite
pastime of most Indians to decry ? Or is the greatness
of Indian civilization a hollow, ineffective slogan ?
And if this civilization has survived through 6 to 7,000 years,
is it only to be now dismissed as unsuited to our modern
Before we attempt to find in Sri Aurobindo some answers to
these questions, I feel we would gain from a critical glance
at the West. From a distance, we see a mighty glittering edifice,
impressive enough to hold anyone in awe; the achievements
are dazzling, the talents plentiful. If, however, we come
closer, we notice cracks on the façade, some of which
have grown wide in recent years, in spite of all the desperate
patching up; and if, uninvited, we go to the back of the building,
we meet piles of garbage and are struck by a stench emanating
from the foundations. This is the experience of a number of
Westerners, though few of them would be ready to put it as
bluntly. Western society today believes only in exploitation,
expansion, efficiency, competitivenessand
seeks to transform its members into unthinking cogs in a huge
Machine. We will certainly find some remarkable individuals
here and there, but the mass is left to live from day to day,
with, now and then, the luxury of a fit of depression, when
the void in their hearts becomes a little too acute. Or, if
it is not depression, it is a bottomless pit of degradation.
Western civilization, if it can be given this noble name,
was built on cynical greed, with a thin veneer of culture
to give it a respectable appearance. Anyone who finds this
statement excessive should study the way leading
Western nations spend their time selling weapons of death
to everyone, then sending peace missions to extinguish the
wars they started, and more bombers in case the peace missions
are turned down. Not to speak of the countless dictators and
terrorists they constantly create, only to fight them in the
name of human rights once they are found inconvenient.
Or, again, look at those giant corporate houses which think
nothing of laying the earth waste as long as they can make
a few more dollars. No one knows where the whole machine is
heading, nor does anyone carealthough many, especially
among the ordinary people, vaguely and anxiously sense that
things cannot go on much longer. Such unhealthy foundations
are sure to decay before long, and the signs of impending
disintegration are not lacking, whether in the economic or
the social fields.
Sri Aurobindo, who last century imbibed all the culture Europe
had to offer him, saw very soon through the Wests chosen
direction. He wrote in 1910 :
Was life always so trivial, always so vulgar, always
so loveless, pale and awkward as the Europeans have made
it ? This well-appointed comfort oppresses me, this
perfection of machinery will not allow the soul to remember
that it is not itself a machine. Is this then the end of
the long march of human civilisation, this spiritual suicide,
this quiet petrifaction of the soul into matter ? Was
the successful businessman that grand culmination of manhood
toward which evolution was striving ? After all, if
the scientific view is correct, why not ? An evolution
that started with the protoplasm and flowered in the ourang-outang
and the chimpanzee, may well rest satisfied with having
created hat, coat and trousers, the British Aristocrat,
the American Capitalist and the Parisian Apache. For these,
I believe, are the chief triumphs of the European enlightenment
to which we bow our heads. [...] What a bankruptcy !
What a beggary of things that were rich and noble !
Europe boasts of her science and its marvels. But [...]
to the braggart intellect of Europe the Indian is bound
to reply, I am not interested in what you know, I
am interested in what you are. With all your discoveries
and inventions, what have you become ? Your enlightenment
is greatbut what are these strange creatures that
move about in the electric light you have installed and
imagine that they are human ? Is it a great gain
for the human intellect to have grown more acute and discerning,
if the human soul dwindles ? [...] Man in Europe is
descending steadily from the human level and approximating
to the ant and the hornet. The process is not complete but
it is progressing apace, and if nothing stops the debacle,
we may hope to see its culmination in this twentieth century.
After all our superstitions were better than this enlightenment,
our social abuses less murderous to the hopes of the race
than this social perfection.
Ninety years later, what was then behind the veil is now
out in the open. We have almost reached the culmination
of the Wests failure. It has failed in spite of all
its achievements because it has ignored what we are,
scoffed at what we are expected to become. And
that is precisely, for Sri Aurobindo, the heart of Indian
civilization, its constant concern through ages, in art or
science or yoga, in every activity of life. The laboratory
of the soul has been India,
he said. Indian culture is simply the culture of mans
inner richness. It is a realization that the entire universe
is divine, tree, bird, man and starand our Mother Earth,
whom the West has for two thousand years regarded as a chunk
of inanimate matter created to serve our ever-expanding greeds.
While fighting for Indias independence, Sri Aurobindo
reminded his countrymen :
This great and ancient nation was once the fountain
of human light, the apex of human civilisation, the exemplar
of courage and humanity, the perfection of good Government
and settled society, the mother of all religions, the teacher
of all wisdom and philosophy. It has suffered much at the
hands of inferior civilisations and more savage peoples;
it has gone down into the shadow of night and tasted often
of the bitterness of death. Its pride has been trampled
into the dust and its glory has departed. Hunger and misery
and despair have become the masters of this fair soil, these
noble hills, these ancient rivers, these cities whose life
story goes back into prehistoric night. [... But] all our
calamities have been but a discipline of suffering, because
for the great mission before us prosperity was not sufficient,
adversity had also its training; to taste the glory of power
and beneficence and joy was not sufficient, the knowledge
of weakness and torture and humiliation was also needed.
One hopes that the lesson of weakness and humiliation is
coming to its end. It has lasted long enough. But, for Sri
Aurobindo, it can only end if we get rid of a central misconception,
a fatal misconception. When we speak of the laboratory
of the soul, of Indias wisdom and spirituality,
a widespread tendency is to think that all this is fine for
those confined to ashrams, or perhaps for old age, but of
little practical use to build a nation. Sri Aurobindo frankly
disagrees. To him, inner growth can never contradict outer
growth, but can alone put it on a sound foundation. Referring
to Indias extraordinarily creative past, which certainly
never neglected material life and achievements, he observed :
Without this opulent vitality and opulent intellectuality
India could never have done so much as she did with her spiritual
tendencies. It is a great error to suppose that spirituality
flourishes best in an impoverished soil with the life half-killed
and the intellect discouraged and intimidated.
It is an error, we repeat, to think that spirituality is
a thing divorced from life.
When, in 1920, Sri Aurobindo was asked to resume politics,
while spelling out his reasons for turning down the request,
he also said :
I have always laid a dominant stress and I now lay an
entire stress on the spiritual life, but my idea of spirituality
has nothing to do with ascetic withdrawal or contempt or
disgust of secular things. There is to me nothing secular,
all human activity is for me a thing to be included in a
complete spiritual life.
With half-veiled causticity, Sri Aurobindo explained :
People care nothing about the spiritual basis of life
which is India's real mission and the only possible source
of her greatness, or give to it only a slight, secondary
or incidental value, a something that has to be stuck on
as a sentiment or a bit of colouring matter. Our whole principle
We are sometimes asked what on earth we mean by spirituality
in art and poetry or in political and social lifea
confession of ignorance strange enough in any Indian mouth
at this stage of our national history. [...] We have here
really an echo of the European idea that religion and spirituality
on the one side and intellectual activity and practical
life on the other are two entirely different things and
have each to be pursued on its own entirely separate lines
and in obedience to its own entirely separate principles.
[... But] true spirituality rejects no new light, no added
means or materials of our human self-development. It means
simply to keep our centre, our essential way of being, our
inborn nature and assimilate to it all we receive, and evolve
out of it all we do and create. [... India] can, if she
will, give a new and decisive turn to the problems over
which all mankind is labouring and stumbling, for the clue
to their solutions is there in her ancient knowledge. Whether
she will rise or not to the height of her opportunity in
the renaissance which is coming upon her, is the question
of her destiny.
To achieve Indias renaissance, Sri Aurobindo
boldly and repeatedly called on his countrymen to develop
the Kshatriya spirit, almost lost after centuries of subjection :
The Kshatriya of old must again take his rightful position
in our social polity to discharge the first and foremost
duty of defending its interests. The brain is impotent without
the right arm of strength.
What India needs especially at this moment is the aggressive
virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation,
fearless resistance, courageous attack; of the passive tamasic
spirit of inertia we have already too much. We need to cultivate
another training and temperament, another habit of mind.
And how do we cultivate that other training and temperament ?
We can cultivate it on the individual or on the collective
level. Individually, that is yoga; it means opening ourselves
to a wider consciousness and a greater power; it means allowing
them to fashion anew our hardly human nature. And of course,
it means discarding the misconception that yoga is good only
for escaping from this world. Recently, a young Indian friend
asked me, But what is the benefit of yoga ?
Overlooking the rather mercantile aspect in his question,
I tried to explain that the benefit is all that
ordinary life cannot provideall that the ancient Rishis
were after : true mastery, true power, true expansion,
and a true understanding of the world, which is so tragically
lacking today. I dont think my young friend was convinced
it was really worth all the trouble ! Which is why Sri
Aurobindo never expected too many people to sincerely practise
his exacting integral yoga.
That brings us to the slower but crucial collective level.
Sri Aurobindo always laid great stress on education. He himself
had the best European education while in Cambridge, and, between
1897 and 1906, was a professor in the Baroda State College,
then in the Bengal National College. So he knew the question
in depth. And he had hopes in the young.
Our call is to young India. It is the young who must be the
builders of the new worldnot those who accept the competitive
individualism, the capitalism or the materialistic communism
of the West as India's future ideal, not those who are enslaved
to old religious formulas and cannot believe in the acceptance
and transformation of life by the spirit, but all who are
free in mind and heart to accept a completer truth and labour
for a greater ideal.
Sri Aurobindo never tired of calling for what he termed a
national education. He gave this brief definition for
[It is] the education which starting with the past and
making full use of the present builds up a great nation.
Whoever wishes to cut off the nation from its past is no
friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage
of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must
therefore save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge,
character and noble thought in her immemorial past. We must
acquire for her the best knowledge that Europe can give
her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national
temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching
humanity has developed, whether modern or ancient. And all
these we must harmonise into a system which will be impregnated
with the spirit of self-reliance so as to build up men and
Sri Aurobindo had little love for British education in India,
which he called a mercenary and soulless education,
and for its debilitating influence on the the innate
possibilities of the Indian brain. In India,
he said, the students generally have great capacities,
but the system of education represses and destroys these capacities.
As in every field, he wanted India to carve out her own path
The greatest knowledge and the greatest riches man can
possess are [India's] by inheritance; she has that for which
all mankind is waiting. [...] But the full soul rich with
the inheritance of the past, the widening gains of the present,
and the large potentiality of the future, can come only
by a system of National Education. It cannot come by any
extension or imitation of the system of the existing universities
with its radically false principles, its vicious and mechanical
methods, its dead-alive routine tradition and its narrow
and sightless spirit. Only a new spirit and a new body born
from the heart of the Nation and full of the light and hope
of its resurgence can create it.
It is beyond this brief presentation to spell out the features
of a national education as Sri Aurobindo envisioned it; let
me just mention that he laid great stress on the cultivation
of powers of thought and concentration, which runs counter
to the present system of rote learning. The student had to
be trained to think freely and deeply : I believe
that the main cause of India's weakness, Sri Aurobindo
observed in 1920, is not subjection, nor poverty, nor
a lack of spirituality or Dharma, but a diminution of thought-power,
the spread of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge. Everywhere
I see an inability or unwillingness to think.
Sri Aurobindo also insisted on mastery of ones mother-tongue,
on the teaching of Sanskrit, which he certainly did not regard
as a dead language, on artistic values based on
the old spirit of Indian art, all of which he saw as essential
to the integral development of the childs personality.
In short, nothing whether Indian or Western was rejected,
but all had to be integrated in the Indian spirit.
This is clearly not the line Indian education has taken.
If we see today that nothing even of the Mahabharata or the
Ramayana is taught to an Indian child, we can measure the
abyss to be bridged. That the greatest epics of mankind should
be thrown away on the absurd and erroneous pretext that they
are religious is beyond the comprehension of an
impartial observer. A German or French or English child will
be taught something of Homers Iliad and Odyssey, because
they are regarded as the root of European culture, and somehow
present in the European consciousness. He will not be asked
to worship Zeus or Athena, but will be shown how the Ancients
saw and experienced the world and the human being. But Indian
epics, a hundred times richer and vaster in human experience,
a thousand times more present in the Indian consciousness,
will not be taught to an Indian child. Not to speak of other
important texts such as the beautiful Tamil epics, Shilappadikaram
and Manimekhalai. Even the Panchatantra and countless other
highly educational collections of Indian storieseven
folk storiesare ruled out.
The result is that young Indians are increasingly deprived
from their rightful heritage, cut off from their deeper roots.
I have often found myself in the curious position of explaining
to some of them the symbolic meaning of an ancient Indian
myth, for instanceor, worse, of having to narrate the
myth itself. Again, a French or English child will be given
at least some semblance of cultural identity, whatever its
worth; but here, in this country which not long ago had the
most living culture in the world, a child is given no nourishing
foodonly some insipid, unappetizing hodgepodge, cooked
in the West and pickled in India. This means that in the name
of some irrational principles, India as an entity is throwing
away some of its most precious treasures. As Sri Aurobindo
put it :
Ancient India's culture, attacked by European modernism,
overpowered in the material field, betrayed by the indifference
of her children, may perish for ever along with the soul
of the nation that holds it in its keeping.
Certainly some aberration worked upon the minds of those
who devised Indian education after Independence. Or perhaps
they devised nothing but were content with dusting off Macaulays
brainchild. It is painful to see that the teaching of Sanskrit
is almost systematically discouraged in India; it is painful
to see that the deepest knowledge of the human being, that
of yogic science, is discarded in favour of shallow Western
psychology or psychoanalysis; it is painful to see that the
average Indian student never even hears the name of Sri Aurobindo,
who did so much for his country; and that, generally, Western
intellectualism at its worst is the only food given to a nation
whom Sri Aurobindo described as once the deepest-thoughted.
India will certainly be compelled to address these central
questions in the very near future, even as the Western edifice
crumbles. Again and again, in the clearest and strongest terms,
Sri Aurobindo asserted that India can never survive as a nation
if she neglects or rejects what was always the source of her
strength. Again and again, he saw India as the key to humanitys
In 1948, just two years before his passing, Sri Aurobindo
said in a message to the Andhra University :
It would be a tragic irony of fate if India were to
throw away her spiritual heritage at the very moment when
in the rest of the world there is more and more a turning
towards her for spiritual help and a saving Light. This
must not and will surely not happen; but it cannot be said
that the danger is not there. There are indeed other numerous
and difficult problems that face this country or will very
soon face it. No doubt we will win through, but we must
not disguise from ourselves the fact that after these long
years of subjection and its cramping and impairing effects
a great inner as well as outer liberation and change, a
vast inner and outer progress is needed if we are to fulfil
India's true destiny.
Sri Aurobindos Indias Rebirth (3rd
ed., 2000; also in Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, Oriya, Tamil
and Gujarati translations) is co-published and distributed
from Abroad, 3.454-456.
62 Sriranga, 2nd Main, 1st Cross
T. K. Layout, Saraswatipuram
Mysore - 570 009, India
Mataram, 28 March 1908, 1.800.
7 October 1907, 1.560-561.
Renaissance in India, 14.404.
19 June 1909, quoted in Indias Rebirth (Mysore, 1997),
a letter to Motilal Roy, May 1920, 27.487.
Renaissance in India, 14.426-433.
Mataram, 8 April 1907, 1.244.
Ourselves, 15 August 1920, 16.331.
Ibid., 7 June 1907, 1.405.
Bande Mataram, 24 February 1908, 1.718.
The National Value of Art, in Karmayogin,
20 November 1909, 17.231.
National Education, April 1918, 27.505.
“National Education,” April 1918, 27.505. 
Letter to Barin Ghose, April 1920, Indias Rebirth, p. 151.
The Foundations of Indian Culture, 14.1.
Karmayogin, 25 September 1909, 2.211.
Message to the Andhra University, December 1948, On Himself,