While I was staying at the Aurovalley ashram near Rishikesh I read more about Sri Aurobindo and his philosophy. This was written on April 11, 2011
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta in 1872. At the age of seven he was sent to England by his Anglophile father and educated at St Paul’s School and then at King’s College. He returned to India in 1893 to join the Baroda State Service and then actively participated in politics, leading the extremist faction of the Indian freedom movement. He was arrested and imprisoned several times, and while in prison he underwent profound spiritual experiences. He was eventually acquitted of all charges and moved to Pondicherry, then a French territory, to devote himself to his study of yoga. Later he was joined by a French born Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother, who after some time took over the management of the Aurobindo ashram and the spiritual community. On November 24, 1926 Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion to focus on his spiritual work and after over 24 years in solitary concentration, he passed away on December 5, 1950.
Sri Aurobindo was a political leader (considered one of the most dangerous man in India by the British), yogi, poet, philosopher, and a spiritual teacher. His intensive studies and extensive interpretation of the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, coupled with his own spiritual experiences led him to develop an original philosophy. His philosophy is based on the belief that the human being is not the end of the evolutionary process. Sri Aurobindo believed that the next stage in the human evolution is a Superman, who has evolved from an ego-centric human into a higher level of consciousness. This Superman, he believed, is an intermediate being between man and the Absolute, the Divine. Subsequently, he supposed that an even higher being than the Superman will emerge as total perfection is the destiny of consciousness. The Supramental being, what Sri Aurobindo calls the Divine, and the concept of the different levels of consciousness can be found in the Vedas, the Upanishads, and in the Yoga Sutras. What is new to me is the evolutionary dimension he takes to it. While I find his philosophy interesting and unique, I am less certain about taking his beliefs literally as some of his devotees have done. I read that some believe the Supramental Manifestation on earth is imminent and his disciples are awaiting the descent of the Divine…
While both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother insisted that this philosophy does not turn into a religion, some devotees believed that some miraculous physical transformation would take place after their teachers’ passing and there is a cult like following and worship around the two leaders. While confirming the purity and the true intentions of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, the two leaders repeatedly deified each other to their disciples. As I learned more about the lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, I began to get a clearer idea as to why Auroville was a bit “creepy” to me. I can understand some level of reverence and paying homage to one’s Guru, but living in a city conceived by the Mother, having a photo of her in every room of your house, meditating in a temple with a giant crystal in the middle, and prostrating yourself to pray to the Mother feel very close to religious worship.
The Aurovalley ashram where I stayed for two weeks follows the Aurobindo tradition and his teachings, but the evolutionary process Sri Aurobindo believe was hardly mentioned by the swamiji at all. There are photos of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo everywhere I went, but I didn’t find any cultish blind devotion there. Certainly there were some devotees who knelt before the big green crystal or to the photos of the Mother and prayed, but I wasn’t one of those people. During our satsang, the swamiji answered our everyday questions with sincerity and with patience. Some of the questions didn’t make any sense to me at all but the swamiji answered them all without blinking an eye (one woman asked with a perfectly straight face, “swamiji, what is the purpose of snakes?”)
As for me, my staying at this ashram served as a perfect bookend to my visit to India. I started my trip to this wonderful country with two weeks at the Sivananda ashram near the southern tip of India where I detox-ed my body and mind from the life in New York and the indulgences of my European travels. I ended my four months in India at the Aurovalley ashram in the north near the Himalayas, reflecting on my incredible trip and getting my body and mind ready for what lies ahead. The swamiji said the other day that if you live your life with ignorance the decisions you make in your life seem difficult and confusing, but if your intentions are pure and clear things will all fall into place. Setting aside the belief in the Supramental evolutionary process and the religious tones, I think the heart of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings is the same as what I’ve learned from yoga.
One in All, All in One, All in All.