Sri Aurobindo

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Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo (August 15, 1872December 5, 1950) was an Indian nationalist, scholar, poet, Hindu mystic, evolutionary philosopher, yogi and guru. His followers further believe that he was an avatar, an incarnation of the supreme being.

Sri Aurobindo spent his life—through his vast writings and through his own development—working for the freedom of India, the path to the further evolution of life on earth, and to bring down what he called the Supramental Truth Consciousness Force to enable such progress.

The birthday of Sri Aurobindo, August 15 is also the date which Indians celebrate as the Independence Day of India.


Early experiences

Template:Sri Aurobindo Sri Aurobindo was born Aurobindo Akroyd Ghose (usually pronounced and often written as Ghosh) in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, in 1872. His father was Dr K. D. Ghose and his mother Swarnalata Devi. Dr Ghose, who had lived in Britain, and had studied at Aberdeen University, was determined that his children should have a completely European upbringing, sent Aurobindo and his siblings to the Loretto Convent School at Darjeeling. At the age of seven Aurobindo was taken along with his two elder brothers, Manmohan and Benoybhusan, to England. They were placed with a clergyman and his wife. There Aurobindo was educated privately by Mr and Mrs Drewett. Mr Drewett, himself a scholar in Latin, ground him so well in Latin that when he was sent to St. Paul's school in London, the head master took Aurobindo upon himself to ground in Greek and then pushed him rapidly into the higher classes of the school. The last three years at St. Paul's were spent in reading, especially English Poetry. At St. Paul's he received the Butterworth Prize for literature, the Bedford Prize for history and a scholarship to Cambridge University. He returned to India in 1893.

During the First Partition of Bengal from 1905 to 1912, he became a leader of the group of Indian nationalists known as the Extremists for their willingness to use violence and advocate outright independence, a plank more moderate nationalists had shied away from up to that point. He was the editor of a nationalist Bengali newspaper Vande Mataram (spelt and pronounced as Bande Mataram in the Bengali language) and came into frequent confrontation with the British Raj as a result. In 1907 attended a convention of Indian nationalists where he was seen as the new leader of the movement. But his life was beginning to take a new direction. In Baroda he met a Maharashtrian yogi called Vishnu Bhaskar Lele who convinced him to explore the ancient Hindu practices of yoga.

It was at this point that Rabindranath Tagore paid him a visit and wrote the now famous lines:

Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee! O friend, my country's friend, O Voice incarnate, free, Of India's soul....The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God Hath come...Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee.

Final conversion

His final conversion from an active nationalist into a profound Hindu sage and seer occurred while incarcerated for a year in the Alipur jail in Kolkata in the province of Bengal. While incarcerated he was inspired by his meditating on the famed Hindu scripture of the Bhagavad Gita.

While in Alipore Jail, Sri Aurobindo claimed to be visited by the renowned Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu philosopher of great importance to neo-Advaita Vedanta, in his meditation. The swami guided Sri Aurobindo's yoga and helped him to scale great heights. It was there Sri Aurobindo saw the convicts, jailers, policemen, the prison bars, the trees, the judge, the lawyer etc., in the experience and realization of Narayana, a form of Vishnu. Sri Aurobindo was even able to see compassion, honesty and charity in the hearts of murderers.

The trial for which he was incarcerated was one of the important trials in Indian nationalism movement. There were 49 accused and 206 witnesses. 400 documents were filed and 5000 exhibits were produced including bombs, revolvers and acid. The English judge, C.B. Beechcroft, had been a student with Sri Aurobindo at Cambridge. The Chief Prosecutor Eardley Norton displayed a loaded revolver on his briefcase during the trial. The case for Sri Aurobindo was taken up by C.R. Das. The trial lasted for one full year. Aurobindo was acquitted.

Afterwards Aurobindo started two new weeklies: the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali. However, it appeared that the British government would not tolerate his nationalist program as Lord Minto wrote about him: I can only repeat that he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with.

Sought again by the Indian police he was guided to the French settlements and on April 4, 1910 he finally found refuge with other nationalists in the French colony of Pondicherry.

Philosophical and spiritual writings

Template:Integral theoryIn 1914 after four years of concentrated yoga at Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo launched Arya, a 64 page monthly review. For the next six and a half years this became the vehicle for most of his most important writings, which appeared in serialised form. These included The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on The Gita, The Secret of The Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, The Foundations of Indian Culture, War and Self-determination, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and The Future Poetry. Sri Aurobindo however revised some of these works before they were published in book form.

After this prolific output, Sri Aurobindo's only literary works, apart from some poems and essays, was his epic poem Savitri, which he continued to revise for the rest of his life. However, following his retirement from public life in 1926, he maintained a voluminous correspondence with his disciples. His letters, most of which were written in the 1930s, numbered in the several thousands, and some of these were later published in three volumes as Letters on Yoga.

Although Sri Aurobindo wrote most of his material in English, his major works were later translated into a number of languages, including the Indian languages Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati, Marathi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, as well as French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian. A large amount of his work in Russian translation is also available online.

The Mother

His closest collaborator in his yoga, Mirra Richard, was known as The Mother. She was born in Paris to Turkish and Egyptian parents and came to Pondicherry on March 29, 1914, finally settling there in 1920. After November 24, 1926, when Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion, she supervised the organization of the ashram and later institutes like Auroville, The international township near the town of Pondicherry. She became the leader of the community after Sri Aurobindo passed away; she is revered by followers of Sri Aurobindo as well.

The Mother's attempts to bring the new consciousness into life and her personal effort of physical transformation of her own body are described in the 13-volume series of books known as The Agenda.

Contribution to Hindu philosophy

One of Aurobindo's main philosophical achievements was to introduce the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought. Samkhya philosophy had already proposed such a notion centuries earlier, but Aurobindo rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya, and proposed an evolution of spirit rather than matter.

He rejects the Mayavada of Advaita Vedanta, and solves the problem of the linkage between the ineffable Brahman or Absolute and the world of multiplicity by positing a transitional hypostasis between the two, which he called The Supermind. The supermind is the active principle present in the transcendent Sachchidananda; a unitary mind of which our individual minds and bodies are minuscule subdivisions.

Aurobindo's evolutionary philosophy

These philosophical and cosmological themes are applied to Sri Aurobindo's vision of cosmic and human evolution. He argues that mankind as an entity is not the last rung in the evolutionary scale, but can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations, moving out of an essential Ignorance born of creation, to a future state of Supramental existence. This would be a Divine Life on Earth characterised by knowledge, truth, substance and energy of supramental consciousness. (Life Divine bk II, ch 27-8)

There are interesting parallels between Sri Aurobindo's vision and that of Teilhard de Chardin (see e.g. K.D. Sethna 1973 Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a focus on fundamentals)


Sri Aurobindo's cosmology (described in his opus The Life Divine) explains the cosmos as coming about through the Absolute dividing into Existence, i.e. it existed; Consciousness-Force, i.e. It is a force and it is conscious of its existence; and Delight, i.e. it delights in the awareness of Its existence. This triune extended to a fourth aspect, the Supramental power that enabled the Consciousness Force to divide into an essential energy at rest. This is the plane of Life. That energy/life then moved, taking shape first as matter, then animus of life, then mind (predominantly in man). In other words, the supramental is the power that organized the spirit into the forms of creation. It divides the force so that it could take shape as individual forms of creation. All existence is thus forms of the original Force/Energy.

Process of Creation -- The process of creation of the universe is the very same process by which an individual and any collective entity in the cosmos develops, grows, and evolves.

Purpose is Delight of Being -- The universe created a universe in order to extend its own delight into the details of creation. When we discover our higher nature, that discovery results in the delight for which the Absolute enabled the cosmos.

Ignorance to Knowledge Enables Delight -- The universe was born of ignorant forms. In discovering the highest consciousness, one moves from Ignorance to Knowledge, experiencing the delight of being for which the universe was created.

Reason for Ignorance -- All forms were born of an inconscience, unconsciousness, and Ignorance. It was so because it allowed for the greatest multiplicity and possibility of forms, which would enable the greatest possibility for delight in discovery of its highest nature.


The process of the universe emerging from the Absolute is referred in The Life Divine as involution. The subsequent process of life emerging from matter and mind from life is evolution. Each level that emerges in the evolution (matter, then the vital, then the mindl) is already involved in the previous level, including the spirit in the deepest part of each. The ultimate purpose of creation is to reunite the Consciousness (lost in the Involution) with the Force by bringing the Spiritual Being into the Becomings of life enabling a Divine life on earth.

This evolution occurs on a number of levels:

  • Evolution of Collectives of Society: In that process he brings in these powers to all aspects of life enabling the evolution and transformation in all the organizations and collectives he partakes in. In this way, he enables the mental and spiritual transformation of society, a movement upward from its current predominantly vital status.
  • Evolution of Life on Earth: A divine life on earth, in which the collective is peopled with individuals who have attained these ultimate stages of development is the basis for a collective divine life on earth. This fulfills the evolutionary purpose of earthly existence.
  • Evolution of the Universe: In reaching his ultimate potential Man not only serves the evolutionary goals for the Individual, but also for the Universe, and the Transcendent Reality. The universe is thus seen as evolving through man to its spiritual fulfillment.

Other points

  • Through his rise in consciousness the individual attains the perfection of his being at all planes – physical, vital, mental, and spiritual.
  • Life evolves through contradictory opposites. From the perspective of higher consciousness these are seen as complementary, necessary opposites.
  • The contradiction between the Spirit and Life is resolved through higher consciousness, in which they are unitary rather than separate. This is the vision of the oneness and unity of Brahman in the form of the unity of the Creator and Creation, of the One and the Many, of Being and Becoming.
  • The Ignorance serves as great a purpose as the Knowledge, as does the Negative with the Positive, and the Evil with the Good. Both sides of these dualities serves Nature's purpose of evolution.

Aurobindo's practical method: integral yoga

The theoretic teaching is balanced by a practical method, called Integral Yoga.

Integral Yoga is so-called because it involves the synthesis of the three yogas - bhakti, karma, and jnana - of the Bhagavad Gita.

Of these three, bhakti is central, and in keeping with the Hindu tradition of the Divine Mother, Sri Aurobindo teaches devotion to The Mother, personified in his co-worker Mirra Richard, henceforth called The Mother. In his letters to his disciples, advises them to consecrates every action to the Mother, and surrender to Her and the Divine Force expressed through Her.

In this way the work of self-transformation involves rejecting the Desire Soul or surface ego in the Outer Being, and opening up to the depths within. Finally the Psychic Being, the personal evolving soul comes to the fore, along with an opening to higher spiritual realms, moving out of time, and finiteness to oneness, timelessness, and infinity. In The Life Divine and the Letters these two processes are referred to as Psychicisation and Spiritualisation, both absolutely essentual. Psychicisation alone does not mean Enlightenment, and Spiritualisation without the Psychic Being can be disastrous for the individual sadhaka, who may be trapped by snares like those of the intermediate zone. But the double movement together enable an opening to a descent of the higher levels of Spiritual mind beyond the thinking faculty and limitations of reason. These are intermediate stages on the path of ascent to the Supermind. The task of the Yoga is to allow the inner Psychic and higher Spiritual consciousness to transform the faculties of the outer being - the mental, vital and physical being.

The supramental transformation is the final stage, enabling the birth of a new individual fully formed by the supramental power, the same power that enabled the universe to be created in the first place from out of a Divine Source. Such individuals would be the forerunners of a new truth-consciousness based supra-humanity.

Aurobindo's influence

Sri Aurobindo's ideas about the further evolution of human capabilities influenced the thinking of Michael Murphy (who studied at Aurobindo's Ashram in India) – and indirectly, the human potential movement, through Murphy's writings. The American philosopher Ken Wilber, although deeply influenced by Aurobindo, has tried to reduce the reliance on metaphysics in Aurobindo's thought. Wilber's interpretation has been strongly criticised by Rod Hemsell. New Age writer Andrew Harvey also looks to Aurobindo as a major inspiration.


  • " [Fire represents the] forceful heat, flaming will...and burning brightness [of the divine]."
The Immortal Fire (1974), page 3-4.
  • "The one aim of [my] yoga is an inner self-development by which each one who follows it can in time discover the One Self in all and evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinize human nature."
— "Aurobindo on Aurobindo"

Partial bibliography

  • Bases of Yoga, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-77-9
  • Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-78-7
  • Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo's Yoga, (compiled by M.P. Pandit), Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-74-4
  • Essays on the Gita, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-18-7
  • The Future Evolution of Man, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-940985-55-1
  • The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-44-6
  • Hymns to the Mystic Fire, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-22-5
  • The Ideal of Human Unity, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-914955-43-8
  • The Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo's Teaching and Method of Practice, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-76-0
  • The Life Divine, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-941524-61-2
  • The Mind of Light, L

otus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin ISBN 0-940985-70-5

Related links

Topics in Hinduism
Shruti (primary Scriptures): Vedas | Upanishads | Bhagavad Gita | Itihasa (Ramayana & Mahabharata) | Agamas
Smriti (other texts): Tantras | Sutras | Puranas | Brahma Sutras | Hatha Yoga Pradipika | Smritis | Tirukural | Yoga Sutra
Concepts: Avatar | Brahman | Dharma | Karma | Moksha | Maya | Ishta-Deva | Murti | Reincarnation | Samsara | Trimurti | Turiya
Schools & Systems: Schools of Hinduism | Early Hinduism | Samkhya | Nyaya | Vaisheshika | Yoga | Mimamsa | Vedanta | Tantra | Bhakti
Traditional Practices: Jyotish | Ayurveda
Rituals: Aarti | Bhajans | Darshan | Diksha | Mantras | Puja | Satsang | Stotras | Yajna
Gurus and Saints: Shankara | Ramanuja | Madhvacharya | Ramakrishna | Vivekananda | Sree Narayana Guru | Aurobindo | Ramana Maharshi | Sivananda | Chinmayananda | Sivaya Subramuniyaswami | Swaminarayan | A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Denominations: List of Hindu denominations
Vaishnavism | Saivism | Shaktism | Smartism | Agama Hindu Dharma | Contemporary Hindu movements | Survey of Hindu organisations
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