From the Near to the Far

Essays in Response to some Aurobindonian Concepts and Creative Modes

— Dr Saurendranath Basu


Price: Rs 250

Pages: 194
Dimensions (in cms): 14x21
Hard Cover
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Education Centre, Habra

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About From the Near to the Far

The essays in this collection deal with a range of subjects, including studies on Sri Aurobindo's epic Savitri and his long poem Ilion, and related literary themes, mostly concerned with poetry. Several comparative essays are devoted to the poetry of Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath Tagore; others touch upon the spiritual vision of Tagore, Vivekananda, and Sri Aurobindo. A few essays are concerned with Sri Aurobindo's philosophy of aesthetics as well as the integration of education and spirituality as fundamental to the evolution of consciousness.


This slender volume, From the Near to the Far by Dr. Saurendranath Basu, contains several essays that bring together various aspects of modern thought, or perhaps not so modern, when we consider the current trend of thought and its orientation.

For example, the concept of humanism, of bringing the world together, of one humanity, or even human unity—all these ideas have taken on distinct hues and now seem to mean something quite new and different. Thus, while going through these essays, one is reminded of the deeper understanding and significance of these age-old ideals. These essays encompass many subjects and cover a wide area of interest: from Savitri to humanism to the comparative study of poetry and more. In the process, they bring together thinkers and seers of a past era. Such minds and such vision—a vision that looked at life and mankind in its entirety, a perspective that seems to be missing in the world of modern thought, which tends to compartmentalise and is therefore often superficial. The ideas and beliefs held by these personalities came from a higher region and carried a visionary truth which they expressed with deep conviction, giving life an upward swing. Life became worth living because it was given a direction and an orientation—an ideal for which man had to exert himself, stretch out and up. Looked at from this point of view, this volume serves as a reminder that life can be lived with a deeper intent.

A major part of the book is devoted to poetry. It opens with Sri Aurobindo's Savitri. The author has a novel way of appreciating this most wonderful epic, which continually overwhelms and bewilders us. He has taken this bewilderment as the subject of the chapter "An Uninitiated Reader's Response to Savitri". This is a rarely explored area, namely the magical poetic beauty of Savitri that casts a spell on the reader even when he does not always understand its content. For the lover of poetry is attracted by its "beauty and strength", "he is overawed by the grandeur of the animated spirituality". Any time spent with Savitri thus becomes a special moment in his life. Later in the book we find another kind of appreciation of the epic in the chapter on K. D. Sethna as a "crusader of aesthetic yoga". There the author calls Savitri the "Odyssey of Integral Yoga" where yoga and poetry come together. He also appreciates the "sensitive analysis of stylistic effect" by Sethna, who uses wonderful quotations from Savitri as examples of adequate style, effective style, illumined style, etc.

Other chapters are comparisons – perhaps a bringing together would be a more correct description – of the sonnets of Sri Aurobindo and the songs of Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath's unique characteristic is his abiding love of nature and his ability to see beyond the obvious, to feel the existence of a spirit or a force pervading the entire creation. His songs often take flight, and this upward movement is communicated to the listener, leaving him yearning for the Infinite. This, the author says, is the prerogative of the poet. To realise the vastness of his own being in the freedom of the Spirit's silence is the prerogative of the yogi. But, to put it in the author's own words, "to be able to seize the whole situation of the spirit in terms of poetic idiom and to make it spiritually creative and creative spiritually as well, is the prerogative of a poet who has an equal command in both spheres, Yoga and poetry". The similarity between these two poets is found in their perception of nature, which they see as pervaded by the presence of the Creator. The author has quoted extensively from the poets to compare them, but I am left still with a lingering doubt—can they be at all compared?

"Rabindranath, Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda: Towards Divine Humanity and Human Divinity" features three great personalities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their concepts of humanism. Rabindranath was convinced that "the emergence of the Spiritual Man within a man's own self is an imperative". He often defines this as a poet's religion because he feels a poet's experience is derived from a creative truth not bound by any dogma. The author quotes Rabindranath: "To give perfect expression to the One, the Infinite, through the harmony of the many; to the One, the Love, through the sacrifice of the self, is the object of our individual and our society."

For Swami Vivekananda, the emancipation of man will remain a dream unless the divinity of man becomes an unshakeable faith. The author calls Vivekananda's concept one of "Divinised Materialism" and quotes from one of his letters: "My to preach unto mankind their divinity; and how to make it manifest in every movement of life." Vivekananda says that man has to become more and more aware of this intrinsic divinity; only then can society be emancipated.

The author notes that Sri Aurobindo's concept of human emancipation might be termed a "Materialised Divinity". Sri Aurobindo, as we know, stops at no half-measures: total transformation is the only way to spiritualise human life. The huge contribution of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna to the process of India fulfilling her divine destiny is significant. Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand, believes that the Divine is our destiny, not only "the supracosmic but the cosmic and the individual", to quote the Master. The goal is not nirvana, to lose oneself, but to include the entire life and all in it. It is a path never yet followed, an aim never before attempted. Sri Aurobindo would say that to know and to identify with the Divine is just the beginning; the human consciousness must be taken up by the spiritual beyond the mental and transformed—only then can any lasting change in society be effected.

On the subject of education, they also differ substantially. For Swami Vivekananda, one must throw away egoistic attachment and material ties and devote oneself to the selfless service of the poor. For it is through serving the poor that man finds oneness with the world. In Sri Aurobindo's view, education should help the growth of man's consciousness from an early age so as to prepare the ground for the descent of the power of the Spirit. As the Mother explains, everything we have now is given to us here in this life – language, habit, custom – and, therefore, the starting point is to seek something in us that is independent of all this.

The chapter on poetry and poets is a delightful read, a charming subject delightfully arranged. It contains some extracts from A. B. Purani's Evening Talks and Nirodbaran's Talks with Sri Aurobindo. The lover of poetry will find it immensely instructive to see how the Lord looked at the well-known and well-loved poets of English literature. This is a totally engaging chapter. Another appealing chapter, towards the end of the book, discusses Nolini Kanta Gupta's critical essays on Rabindranath. These essays show an unusual depth of understanding and are perhaps the best that have been written about the poet. One feels grateful that the author has included this chapter in his collection.

Many subjects have been dealt with in this volume. Perhaps the chapters could have been arranged in a more orderly manner, grouping them by similar subjects. Overall, one can say this book provides a reconsideration of a past age, which arouses a rethinking of the old masters—a reminder. Going through the volume was a pleasant experience.

— Nandita Chatterjee

Nandita Chatterjee has been a teacher at SAICE since 1956. She teaches English at School Level and Bengali at Higher Course and School Level. She also serves as a librarian in the teachers' library.

December 2012