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Deliberations on The Life Divine: Volume I (Book I: Chapters I-VI)

Chapterwise Summary Talks

— Ananda Reddy

Price: Rs 160

Soft Cover
Pages: 187
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research Trust, Pondicherry
ISBN: 978-81-901891-5-6

About Deliberations on The Life Divine: Volume I (Book I: Chapters I-VI)

The first in a series of projected volumes, this book is a transcribed edited version of talks delivered by the author on the first six chapters of Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine. Dr Reddy's approach is to explain in the simplest of terms the main philosophical arguments presented by Sri Aurobindo by showing how he takes up an argument from multiple viewpoints and then finds a natural and unifying synthesis through spiritual experience and intellectual thought. The author has kept intact the direct, expository tone of the talks, making this an easily approachable book. Each chapter studies the main arguments in brief and is followed by lecture notes that encapsulate the contents in outline form.


At the end of the first year of publication of the monthly journal Arya Sri Aurobindo writes

The problem of thought therefore is to find out the right idea and the right way of harmony; to restate the ancient and eternal spiritual truth of the Self so that it shall re-embrace, permeate and dominate the mental and physical life; to develop the most profound and vital methods of psychological self discipline and self development so that the mental and psychical life of man may express the spiritual life through the utmost possible expansion of its own richness, power and complexity; and to seek for the means and motives by which his external life, his society and his institutions may remould themselves progressively in the truth of the spirit and develop towards the utmost possible harmony of individual freedom and social unity.

He continues later,

Our first preoccupation in the "Arya" has therefore been with the deepest thought that we could command on the philosophical foundation of the problem; and we have been so profoundly convinced that without this basis nothing we could say would have any real, solid and permanent value that we have given perhaps too great a space to difficult and abstruse thought whether in the shaping of our own ideas or in the study and restatement of the ancient Eastern knowledge. Our excuse is that we come forward as ourselves learners and students and must begin at the roots to proceed forward safely.

This then is Sri Aurobindo's apology for giving the pride of place among his writings to The Life Divine. It is true that Savitri is the ne plus ultra of the Master's writings, yet I would aver that without first acquiring the philosophical basis of The Life Divine the reader is likely to miss some of the profound significance in which the lines of Savitri are couched.

The book under review is titled Deliberations on The Life Divine, Volume One. Its author is Ananda Reddy. Dr. Reddy is the Director of Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research (SACAR). The volume under consideration is the transcribed and edited version of the first of his series of talks on Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine. It presents a simplified explanation of the main arguments of the first six chapters of The Life Divine. The book is meant for the lay person and the neophyte. By his own admission, Reddy points out that the focus of editing has not been to produce a well-written book but rather to retain the tenor of the original talks. Reddy dispenses with the literary and philosophical idiom and presents his ideas plainly. Yet this is not a bald presentation. Reddy quotes from various sources to buttress his explanations. Each chapter is followed by lecture notes which are a concise summary of the arguments. The book also emphasizes the continuity of thought that links the various chapters of The Life Divine. This will be very helpful for a newcomer to Sri Aurobindo's thought, or even to philosophy in general.

When we consider the value that Sri Aurobindo attached to The Life Divine the didacticism of Reddy's approach can be justified. Part of The Life Divine's complexity stems from the complexity of the subject matter itself, which is mostly far removed from the workaday world. The other element is the architectonic style which Sri Aurobindo adopts for his rational presentation of spiritual experience. These, coupled with Sri Aurobindo's austere classical prose, may appear forbidding to some people as they first approach this monumental work. Reddy's lectures are easy to digest and will help allay any concern a lay reader may have of The Life Divine being beyond the scope of his ability to understand.

"Things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler." If one may point out a flaw in an otherwise welcome volume it is this: in his eagerness to be intelligible to the layman Reddy sometimes compromises on the real purport of Sri Aurobindo's words. To give but one example, on page 16 of his book Reddy points out that human progress towards the next step in evolution comes through revolutionary individuals like Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Swami Vivekanada and others. Now in this example Vivekananda is the only spiritual figure. When Sri Aurobindo talks about the higher and deeper experiences which are abnormal to humanity as coming through "by a revolutionary individual effort", surely he did not have Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein in mind-however great by human standards they might have been. In fact in a letter Sri Aurobindo writes, "One man who earnestly pursues the Yoga is of more value than a thousand well-known men."

For a person not trained or gifted in meditative or even speculative reason this volume can be of immense help. And if it leads aspirants to read The Life Divine on their own it would have fulfilled its humble but useful purpose.

— Hemant Kapoor

Hemant is an M.Sc. in Chemistry from I.I.T., Kanpur. He is on the editorial team of the Mother India journal. His interests include poetry and philosophy.

May 2007