Aurobindo, Sri

Aurobindo, Sri
(Aurobindo Ghose)
   philosopher sage of modern India and creator of Integral Yoga
   Aurobindo Ghose, later named Sri Aurobindo, was one of the great sages of modern India. After an influential political career in the cause of Indian independence, he turned to the spiritual and developed the very influential Integral Yoga path, which combined practices from many differ-ent historic Indian yogas.
   Ghose was born on August 15, 1872, in the Indian state of Bengal to a surgeon, Dr. Krish-nadhan Ghose, and his wife, Swarnalata Devi. His father aimed to turn his fourth child into an Anglicized gentleman, giving him the name Aurobindo Ackroyd (he later dropped his middle name) and sending him at the age of seven to a convent school in Darjeeling. Shortly thereaf-ter he was packed off to Manchester, England, where he was educated at home for five years and isolated from “Indian” influences. In 1889 he entered Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in Latin, Greek, and French. In 1893 he returned to India and joined Baroda Col-lege, where he taught English and French and eventually became vice principal. In 1901 he married 14-year-old Mrinalini Bose, not long after beginning his political activity in support of Indian independence. Because of his absences from home and spiritual pursuits, this marriage, though affectionate, produced no children. Mrin-alini died at the age of 32, just before her planned move to the Pondicherry ASHRAM Aurobindo had established.
   In 1903 in Kashmir an important spiritual event took place in Aurobindo’s life. Through the aid of a teacher, Bhaskar Lele, he realized the non-dual nature of the “characterless” divine Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950), founder of Integral Yoga (Nirguna Brahman). Moving to Bengal in 1906 he plunged into revolutionary political activity, help-ing to found the journal Bande Mataram (Hail to the Mother India!) and writing many articles for it. As a result of these articles he was arrested on August 16, 1907, on a charge of sedition; he was arrested again in 1908 and spent a year in Alipore jail awaiting trial.
   Aurobindo Ghose is known in India more for this political activity on behalf of India’s indepen-dence (years before Gandhi returned from South Africa) than for his great spiritual work. It is only among Bengalis that is he well known and hon-ored as a sage. The year in Alipore Jail was a turn-ing point for Aurobindo Ghose. There he read the BHAGAVAD GITA, practiced yoga, and experienced a vision of Krishna that was powerful and trans-formative. Not long after he was released from jail he headed south to the French protectorate of Pondicherry, in part to avoid rearrest by the Indian police. In 1914 a Frenchman by the name of Paul Richard persuaded Aurobindo to write philosophy for a monthly journal called Arya. Aurobindo had begun to develop a reputation as a yogi and Richard was interested in his philoso-phy. All of Sri Aurobindo’s major works except the epic poem Savitri were first published serially in this magazine. As fate would have it, Richard’s wife, Mirra Alfassa, was to find in Aurobindo the fulfillment of her spiritual calling. In 1920 she left her husband and joined Sri Aurobindo in his spiritual quest; she would soon be dubbed the Mother.
   In 1920 Ghose began to accept the name Sri Aurobindo, and he began delving more deeply into the unique yoga that he had initiated. His new ashram flourished after the arrival of Mirra Richard. On November 24, 1926, Sri Aurobindo announced that he had reached the “Overmind” in his meditations and retired from active ashram life. He left the external activities of the ashram to the care of Mother, who attended to all its affairs and developments until her death in 1973. In 1928 Sri Aurobindo released his book, The Mother, which declared to the doubters that the consciousness of the Mother and his conscious-ness were one and the same. In 1939–40 the ashram released the book Life Divine, one of Sri Aurobindo’s masterpieces. On December 5, 1950, Sri Aurobindo left his body.
   Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s yoga had unique characteristics. Sri Aurobindo argued that each of the yogas that had been developed in India had its own important and positive ele-ments, but that practicing any one of them solely would lead to unbalanced spiritual development. In his book Synthesis of Yoga he outlined how the yogas of the Bhagavad Gita particularly could be harmonized into a synthesis that would serve the whole human being: the physical, emotional, mental, psychic (soul), and spiritual levels, he argued, all needed tending. The term for the yoga that would involve all these levels of the human being was in Sanskrit Purna Yoga, or “Complete Yoga.” This term was translated by Sri Aurobindo as Integral Yoga, which he adopted as the name of his path.
   Sri Aurobindo argued vehemently that the world was real, rejecting the Indian philosophical view that it was illusory. Equally importantly, he believed the world was evolving toward a state of perfection. He drew from science his belief that life emerged from matter and consciousness from life. He argued therefore that superconsciousness or the “Supramental” stage must develop from ordinary consciousness.
   Sri Aurobindo’s yoga aimed at accelerating the advance of this evolution toward “Super-manhood.” His and the Mother’s efforts were entirely focused on engendering what they called the “Supramental” manifestation, which would transform not only all human beings, but all life and even all matter. Their effort was effectively to unlock the divine within matter itself; thus, they referred to their philosophy as Divine Materialism. This was the vision that was developed in Sri Aurobindo’s massive book The Life Divine.
   Sri Aurobindo acknowledged at his death in 1950 that he had not yet achieved the “descent of the Supramental” and indicated that this would occur through the efforts of the Mother. In 1956 Mother indeed announced that the descent had occurred. In 1968 she inaugurated AUROVILLE, a new utopian city in southern India dedicated to the realization of her goals. It was intended as an international city, belonging to “nobody in par-ticular.” Along with the ashram in Pondicherry, this city flourishes to this day and is still develop-ing according to the Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s principles and philosophy.
   Significantly, Sri Aurobindo and Mother never desired to create a new cult or religion. Their goal was nothing less than the transformation of the conditions of existence for all of humanity. As a result, no successor was appointed to follow Mother. A loose-knit but devoted group of admir-ers have continued to practice the yoga in creative and ever changing ways. Perhaps the best known admirer of Sri Aurobindo in America was Dr. Hari-das CHAUDHURI, who in 1968 founded the Califor-nia Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, a graduate school dedicated to the development of “mind, body and spirit.”
   Ashrams devoted to Sri Aurobindo have been established at several sites in the United States. The first such ashram was the Cultural Integra-tion Fellowship in San Francisco, founded by Chaudhuri in 1951. Another important ashram is Matagiri, founded by Sam Spanier and Eric Hughes in 1968 in the Catskill mountains of New York State. The name Matagiri means “Mother’s mountain” in Sanskrit. A third developing ash-ram in America dedicated to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is the Lodi, Califor-nia, ashram founded in the 1990s, with its well-known Auromere book outlet (books\, the main American source for books writ-ten by and about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
   Further reading: Peter Hees, Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Robert McDermott, ed., The Essential Aurobindo (New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1987); Satprem, Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness. Translated from the French by Tehmi (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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