In an effort to present some aspects of Sri Aurobindo's integral philosophy and vision for the future, the Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies at Jadavpur University has collected eleven papers on various subjects. These include a look at Sri Aurobindo's theory of the evolution of consciousness, a comparison between the standpoints of quantum mechanics and spiritual experience as to the creation of the world, essays on The Life Divine, and a study of Sri Aurobindo's aesthetics as expressed in Savitri. Other essays provide an analysis of the philosophical similarities between Sri Aurobindo and Heraclitus, a critical appreciation of Sri Aurobindo's political theory, and a look at his seminal thoughts on education.
Aparajita Mukhopadhyay of the Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies at Jadavpur University has done a commendable job in weaving a garland of essays on various perspectives of Sri Aurobindo’s thought. The diversity of topics brings a freshness, more so, as often the same theme is approached in different ways. Perhaps the most significant motif is how different authors have approached Sri Aurobindo’s concern for finding a justifiable link between the One and the Many, the Unity and the Multiplicity. Indeed this problem has plagued the Indian psyche for thousands of years. Swami Vivekananda had even commented that it had been unsolved through millenniums, and that the concept of Maya was not a solution as it represented a statement of facts and was more descriptive than explanatory. R. C. Pradhan uses the logic of the Infinite to trace how Sri Aurobindo takes an integral approach to preserve both unity and diversity in the creative Real-Idea of the Supermind. S. E. Bhelke demonstrates how Sri Aurobindo uses the logic of opposition and the concept of negation to transcend unilayered structures so that oppositions and incompatibilities thought to be otherwise inconsistent could be integral parts of the same unitary reality. Dilip Kumar Roy in a scholarly yet lucid exposition shows how Heraclitus, the legendary Greek thinker, considered both unity and multiplicity to be real and eternally co-existent, a view in consonance with the Aurobindonian paradigm. Ulrich Mohrhoff mixes style and precision to explain how form and its structure change to formlessness, paving the way for the quantum world to understand the timeless, unlimited dimension of reality at an omnipresent point from where again one can trace the coming into being of form. Just as Ulrich analyzes the state of formlessness, Raghunath Ghosh traces how the state of deathlessness in Sri Aurobindo’s ‘overhead poetry’ can be used as a starting point to explain the harmony between the ultimate One and the cosmic divergent.
Besides the relation between the One and the Many, the relation of Ananda (Bliss) and Evil in Sri Aurobindo’s synthetic exposition has also been explored in this collection from various standpoints. In a significant contribution, Stephen Phillips differentiates between moral evils and natural evils (disease, old age and death) and suggests that like moral evils, natural evils are also the result of our deeds. It is not clear why Phillips excludes natural catastrophes but even within the Aurobindonian framework everything need not be accounted for on the basis of Karma. Certain calamities happen when the lower nature, both in the individual and in the terrestrial manifestation, offers resistance to descending higher powers. Phillips believes that the intrinsic Bliss of the Brahman should not be simplistically equated with the instrumental delight in the ‘inessential self-manifestation’ though he does not clarify why the ‘finite’ manifestation can be ‘inessential’ in the Aurobindonian rubric. After all, it has been acknowledged that the instrumental delight very often represents a deviation and distortion of the original intrinsic Bliss, and it is from that imperfect (which probably Phillips calls inessential) matrix that the trajectory to the source has to be traced back. Indrani Sanyal deals with similar issues in an exposition of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings to show how Evil manifests from the Divine Matrix without having fundamentality or eternity yet having a meaning in the evolutionary scheme.
Another important theme that has been approached from different perspectives, though not as exhaustively as other themes, is the relation between the individual and the collectivity. This is welcome as Sri Aurobindo’s social perspective has not been studied to the same extent as his metaphysics. It is joyful to read Susmita Bhattacharya’s journey from the myth as a bonding factor in Sartre to the fraternity based on the ego-surpassing soul-camaraderie visualized by Sri Aurobindo. Asok Mukhopadhyay has contributed a piece on understanding Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Sanatana Dharma that leads from nationalism to internationalism, but a more detailed understanding of how individualism and collectivism is dealt with in The Ideal of Human Unity
would have added more value to this essay. Indeed, the psychological impasse between the individual and the collectivity is more basic in Sri Aurobindo’s political thought than the concern with clans and tribes, which Mukhopadhyay believes was the prime motivator of Sri Aurobindo’s political thinking. Similarly, Bijayananda Kar’s scholarly article on spiritual humanism is a powerful essay, but could have been enriched with an appreciation of the psychological insights in Sri Aurobindo’s thought that actually preceded the transpersonal perspective in contemporary psychology, where mystical experience has been given due importance. Kar is concerned that even if a mystical experience is accepted to be genuine, the universality of the content cannot be rationally justified. This issue has already been taken up by contemporary consciousness-researchers studying intersubjectivity with transpersonal technology. Besides, it is important to understand Sri Aurobindo’s description of how intuition per se performs the role of critical reason in a higher denouement.
Anirban Ganguly, an alumnus of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, has written a seminal essay on Sri Aurobindo’s early thoughts on education that gives illuminating insights into how Sri Aurobindo was preparing himself to lay the foundations of his later work.
The most important contribution of this collection of essays lies in its heuristic value, for it raises many insightful queries that call for multifaceted research.
Dr Soumitra Basu
Dr Basu is a psychiatrist exploring the consciousness paradigm of health, psychology, and psychotherapy from the integral perspective of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.