Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time Travel to the Past

In June 1909, Sri Aurobindo started a newspaper in English called Karmayogin, described as 'a Weekly Review of National Religion, Literature, Science, Philosophy, etc' And in August of the same year, he began a Bengali weekly named Dharma. The aim was to bring Dharma to centre stage in national life. It was not popular Hinduism that he had in mind but rather 'the religion which embraces Science and Faith, Theism, Christianity, Mohammedanism and Buddhism and is yet none of these'. The name 'Hinduism' was merely incidental because although the Hindu nation had coined it, it was 'not circumscribed by the confines of a single country'. By February 1910, Sri Aurobindo was once again in the line of police investigation. His message 'To My Countrymen', as well as political assassinations by his one-time associates, prompted the authorities to raid his Karmayogin office. It is around this time that on the basis of an 'adesh' (spiritual command) received, he left for Chandernagore in French India. From there, subsequently on board the S. S. Duplex, he sailed for Pondicherry and arrived there on 4 April 1910.

Pondicherry: 1910-39

Pondicherry, in 1910, boasted of a group of nationalists who were in exile in French India. They included Subramaniam Bharati, S. N. Tirumalachari and V. V. S. Iyer. Upon arrival, Sri Aurobindo lived in the house of Shankar Chettiar in the company of five of his associates from Bengal, as a 'religious recluse' without any political interests. They led an austere life and money was hard to come by. He shifted houses three times, and in October 1913, he moved into the house on Rue Francois Martin. He studied the Vedas, meditated and practised Yoga. Visitors were few, and even fewer were allowed to see him. They included Alexandra David Neel, a legendary French writer who came to Pondicherry in 1911. However, the most important visitor was Paul Richard, a barrister who came to Pondicherry in 1910 in connection with the French elections. Richard, drawn to mysticism .and spirituality, part of a mystical society led by Max and Thelma Theon in Algeria, thought that in Sri Aurobindo he had found the Master that he and his wife Mirra, an accomplished mystic in her own right, were looking for.

With Mirra, Richard came back to Pondicherry in 1914. At his suggestion and financial support, a philosophical journal called Arya was launched on 15 August 1914. While the journal was meant to have joint contributions by Richard and Sri Aurobindo, the latter ended up writing most of the pieces since the First World War intervened, and the Richards had to return to France. Phinted at the Modern Press, Pondicherry and published from 7 Rue Duplex, Arya intended to fulfill two objectives. First, to develop a systematic study of the 'highest problems of existence', and second, to give rise to 'the formation of a vast synthesis of knowledge, harmonising the diverse religious traditions of humanity occidental .is well as oriental'. The journal desired to publish 'synthetic studies in speculative philosophy', 'translations and commentaries of ancient texts', 'Studies in Comparative Religion' and 'Practical Methods of Inner Culture and Development'.

Describing the aim of the journal, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

Its object is to feel out for the thought of the future, to help in shaping its foundations and to link it to the best and most vital thought of the past. The earth is a world of Life and Matter, but man is not a vegetable, nor an animal, he is a spiritual and thinking being who is set here to shape and use the animal mould for higher purposes, by higher motions, with a more divine instrumentation. The problem of thought is to find out the right idea and the right way of harmony; to restate the current and eternal spiritual truth of Self 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 and that the mental and psychical life of man may express the spiritual life through the utmost possible expansion of its own riches, power and complexity, and to seek for the means and motives by which his external life, his society and his institutions may remold themselves progressively in the truth of the spirit and develop towards the utmost possible harmony of individual freedom and social unity.

In the Arya, Sri Aurobindo wrote on a variety of topics on which his reputation is built today: literature, poetry, philosophy, the Vedas, Upanishads, the Gita, and social and political thought.

No comments: