This collection of ten essays on Sri Aurobindo's thought begins with a chapter on how to approach Sri Aurobindo's writings through the intellect and by widening the consciousness. Subsequent essays deal with some important themes in Sri Aurobindo's metaphysics, including such key subjects as the supermind, the Self, the psychic being, and the principles of the evolutionary process. The problem of evil and suffering in the world and the evolutionary crisis facing modern civilisation are addressed as adjuncts to the metaphysical discussion. The final essay focuses on The Life Divine as a treatise on the evolution of consciousness, leading to the possibility of a divine life on earth for man.
The book under review is an ‘anthology on Sri Aurobindo' as the author calls it though I would prefer to call it ‘an anthology of lectures on Sri Aurobindo's yogic philosophy'. The author painstakingly explains the knotty problems of the yogic philosophy of Sri Aurobindo in his own words to bring it to a wider audience. The recurrence of the epithet ‘yogic philosophy' ensures that the reader does not misconstrue what he is explaining as mere philosophy but as the yogic experiences of Sri Aurobindo couched in philosophical terms. The author dwells at length on the first chapter of The Life Divine
, Sri Aurobindo's magnum opus, because he believes that it contains an index of the whole of the divine theme as found in that great work.
Let us look more closely at the first chapter of The Life Divine
. It covers the entire gamut of Aurobindonian philosophy or metaphysics, wherein Sri Aurobindo takes man first, his aspiration to exceed himself bringing in its wake a whole lot of problems, problems of disharmony and harmony, his evolutionary past and his evolutionary future. His recurring theme is that man must awake to the need for the realization of the Divine within him and for the divinization of life on earth. His ascent into the static Brahman is a precursor to the bringing down of the glories of the dynamic Divine on the earth. This clarion call to man to divinize life is a radical departure from the old Vedantic realization that ruled India for centuries.
One of the contentious issues in metaphysics is the problem of Being and Non-Being. Sri Aurobindo asserts that the Omnipresent Reality embraces both Being and Non-Being in its inclusive sweep for there are many realities or poises of the Supreme. If any one of these realities is experienced to the exclusion of the others and posited as the only reality there comes into existence a bewildering plethora of contending and contradicting schools of thought such as Adwaita, Vishishtadwaita, Dwaita, etc., each claiming to be the sole repository of Truth. Sri Aurobindo beautifully synthesizes all these into a harmonious whole which he calls the Purnadwaita, and calls his yoga the Integral Yoga.
It is not possible in an essay to dwell at length on all major points of The Life Divine
, and the author has done well to choose specific topics to be presented so that the reader can get some hold on Sri Aurobindo's metaphysical venture. Only one thing needs to be highlighted: something very central and novel to world thought and philosophy, and that is the reality of the psychic being. Any integral approach to the concept of evolution perforce has to consider the psychic being‘s role in the evolution of man. According to Sri Aurobindo, the psychic being is part and parcel of the Divine Consciousness, which evolves a psychic personality, a Purusha, with the help of the innumerable stages of evolution, right from matter to the mental man at present. The ascent of consciousness from matter to plant and thereafter to animal and man is the saga of the emergence of the psychic, which when realized by man heralds the beginning of spiritual life. Thus the importance of the psychic cannot be gainsaid in the final plenary emergence of the Superman and the supramental being. This transcending of the mind and the democratization of spirituality may look like a vain chimera, but the urgent need for this is accentuated by the present crisis through which humanity is passing. The Supermind, its poises and its workings are all presented in detail by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine
, and the author's explanation of these in his lectures may help those who want to understand these new thoughts in all their nuances.
The problem of evil and suffering is a slippery terrain on which many philosophies have floundered. The Semitic religions introduced a clear dichotomy between the Divine and the Devil, and the Devil was as much an irrefutable and inexorable reality as the Divine. But there is no permanent place for Satan in Vedantic philosophy or in Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga. Sin and suffering and death are products of ignorance and falsehood, engendered by the divisive mind and the rampant vital ignorant of the Truth, and with the dawn of the divine consciousness they vanish, and man is liberated into a state of Divine Bliss and Immortality. The author must be congratulated for talking to the audience about this most popular topic in the light of Sri Aurobindo's exquisite chapter in The Life Divine
, "The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil".
The author has added an interesting collection of lectures titled "Essays of General Interest". Sri Aurobindo's views on modern science are not only interesting but also valuable because of the tussle between science and spirituality. Many great minds have taken differing standpoints on this matter of importance in modern times, when man is torn between these two seemingly irreconcilable realities. Modern science, after the advent of quantum mechanics, is shedding some of its untenable rigidities and accepting more and more the non-material reality behind matter, which has been the only reality for the blinkered scientific community. Sri Aurobindo's yogic vision of consciousness determining form and not vice versa is slowly gaining ground in the light of modern discoveries like relativity and in particle physics, neurophysiology and astrophysics. Some exciting new frontiers of science like dark matter are compelling material science to accept the reality of consciousness and its relation to matter. A new science more in tune with spiritual verities is emerging. Under the title "Matter and Consciousness: Modern Science, Vedanta and Sri Aurobindo" the author has many interesting things to say, and the reader is well advised not to skip this chapter. His observations on a renaissance in India and her future role as Guru of the world as well as India's contribution in unifying the materialistic West and the spiritual East are welcome additions to this interesting book.
In conclusion, one can say that the book is a useful addition to the many books purporting to explain in simpler terms the ins and outs of Sri Aurobindo's yogic philosophy. To those who complain that Sri Aurobindo's language is difficult to understand, one can only say that it is not the language that is difficult to understand but the profundity of the ideas he expounds. These are not mental constructs but spiritual experiences couched in a language which challenges the comprehension. I can venture to add that a modicum of familiarity with Vedantic thought would help the reader in following Sri Aurobindo's exposition with some ease. The Life Divine
, in my opinion, is Veda in prose. All told, this book will be helpful for those who want to understand Sri Aurobindo's philosophy and share in his vision.
Since 1972 Bala-bhai has been teaching English, Mathematics, and Numerical Analysis at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.