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The Fundamental Concepts of Sri Aurobindo

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The Fundamental Concepts
of Sri Aurobindo
Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities,
Pondicherry University,Puducherry-605 014,India
Sri Aurobindo ( 1872-1950) is one of the
most influential contemporary Indian
philosophers and mystics.
According to G.H. Langley: “ Sri Aurobindo
is both a poet and speculative thinker .
The same is true of Rabindranath Tagore,
but the thought of Sri Aurobindo appears
systematic than that of Tagore.”
Sri Aurobindo: Indian Poet, Philosopher,
Mystic ( Royal India, Pakisthan, Ceylone
Society, David Marlowe Ltd).
His original name was Arabinda Akryod
The philosophy of Sri Aurobindo is known
as integral philosophy for it combines
physical, vital and mental elements into
one single whole.
Most of his important writings appeared in
his journal The Arya between 1914-20.
These writings of Sri Aurobindo were
published later in the form of books with
some revisions. They are: The Essays on
the Gita; Synthesis of Yoga; The Human
Cycle; The Ideal of Human Unity; The Life
Divine; Two Volumes of Collected Poems:
and Savitri.
It consists of twenty seven thousand
His writings express a steady vision with
regard to the evolution of the world, and
of man, through different stages, points to
the divine destiny of man.
A harmonious and integral culture of
physical, vital, and mental potentialities of
man lead him to super-human level to
realize the sublime truth (sat-cit-ananda) .
Aurobindo’s Views on Evolution
The problem of evolution has attracted the
attention of philosophers and scientists
alike. Several theories of evolution have
been advanced by them.
Even before the scientists have advanced
philosophers in the East and the West
have advanced their theories.
For instance it is mentioned in the
Taittiriya Upanishad: �In the beginning all
this Universe was Non-existent and
unmanifest from which manifest existence
was born. Itself created itself, non other
created it. Therefore, they say of it the
Well and beautifully made.”
Similarly, one of the orthodox systems of
Indian philosophy, Samkhya talks about
evolution. The proximity of Prakriti, the
primordial substance, to Purusha, the
consciousness, disturbs the equilibrium of
the gunas (sattva,rajas, and tamas)
which results in evolution.
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher,
made a significant contribution to the
theory of evolution. As a biologist he
attributed evolutionary changes to natural
causes. He held that evolution of life
started from the primordial soft mass of
living matter, and it is a gradual process
beginning with plants to animals with
sensitivity, and to man.
The mechanistic theorists of evolution held
that life has arisen from inorganic matter
controlled by natural laws. The modern
evolutionists like Lamark, Darwin, and De
Vries made significant contributions to the
theory of evolution.
Bergson in the West advanced creative
evolution, and Sri Aurobindo spiritual
In his The Life Divine Sri Aurobindo
discusses at length his spiritual theory of
evolution. According to him: “ There
seems to be no reason why Life should
not evolve out of material elements or
Mind out of living forms, unless we accept
the Vedantic solution that life is already
involved in matter and mind in life….”
Most of the modern evolutionists ignored
this point. The principle of evolution
towards Spirit, Light and Knowledge loses
all its significance unless it is assumed that
the Spirit itself has involved in matter,
darkness and ignorance. In other words,
evolution necessarily involves involution.
This is what is known as ascent by
descent. Sri Aurobindo attacks both
materialist and idealist theories.
There is self contradiction in materialism
for it cannot explain how unconscious
consciousness from it. Both Darwin and
Spenser spoke of adaptation between an
individual and his
environment, but
human individual cannot accept his
environment as fixed and determined
forever. Similarly, idealist theories held
that reason is the highest stage of
evolution. If it were so, then there is no
evolution beyond reason. Contrary to
these views Sri Auroindo advocates
evolution in terms of spiritualistic and
humanistic principles. The spirit is the
Supreme Reality. It is the source of
creation and evolution, and also the end
of realization. The Spirit evolves out of
matter since it is already implicit in it. The
Supreme Reality is both stable and
dynamic. It is an integration of Being and
becoming. The reality of the world is due
to the manifestation of the Divine Unity
into the world. The higher involves itself in
the lower in order to evolve out of it. Sri
Aurobindo’s evolution centres around his
concept of Consciousness-Force which is
active. He calls it Life-Force or Divine
Sakti. It is the power behind all the
creation. The Supreme Reality is the one
without the second. Both Spirit and matter
are real as there is Brahman in them. It is
According to Sri Aurobindo:’ The ascent to
the divine Life is the human journey, the
work of works, the acceptable sacrifice.”
The descent or the involution is selfconcealing while the ascent or the
evolution is the self-unvealing of the
Reality. There are successive levels of
desceding journey of Reality. There are
several stages through which Reality
gradually veils itself. Similarly, there is a
progressive development in the ascending
journey. The revelation of the unveiling of
the Reality has to cross many steps
leading to total realization. There are in
fact, three important stages of evolution,
namely, of matter, of life, and of mind. At
present we are in the mental plane.
Without the downward march of involution
there is no evolution. It follows the same
patter of descent from mind to life, and
from life to matter.
The salient feature of Sri Aurobind’s
evolution is that it solves the puzzle. The
puzzle is that: how does life arise out of
lifeless matter? The Conscious-Force is
there in matter in a dormant from. I other
words, matter is nothing but Spirit in a
different form. The inert matter is
potentially endowed with Conscious-Force.
The descent starts from Truth and reaches
matter through Conscious-Force, bliss,
super-mind, mind, psyche, and life. The
order of the ascent would be just reverse.
The order is as follows: matter to life, life
to psyche, psyche to mind, mind to higher
mind, higher mind to illumined mind,
illumined mind to intuitive mind, intuitive
mind to over mind ad over mind to Truth
the Super-mind. To quote Sri Aurobindo
here: “ For each successive level of
descent to the Divine is to man a stage in
the ascent; each veil that hides the
unknown god becomes for the God-lover
and God-seeker an instrument for His
unveiling.” Why is that there is a process
of involution and evolution? He calls it “ a
game or Lila of God”. But a game has a
has an object to be achieved. What is
achieved in the process of evolution is a
triple process of “ heightening, widening
and integration.” This is the most original
contribution of Sri Aurobindo. The process
of heightening takes us from lower levels
of existence to higher levels and to the
highest level. The process of widening a
new quality is acquired. Thus something
new emerges. In the process of integration
the lower forms of existence get
integrated with the higher forms. To quote
Sri Aurobindo here: “ Our mental,
physical, vital existence need not be
destroyed by our self-exceeding , nor they
spiritualized; they can and do become
much richer, greater, more powerful and
more perfect.” The triple process of
evolution leads to cosmic salvation. But
what is the role of individual in the
process of evolution? The role of individual
cannot be ignored. The evolution can be
hastened by individual effort. The
transformation can be hastened by spiritul
awakening. This is the essence of spiritual
evolution. Sri Aurobindo’s evolution can be
called purposive for it goes back to the
level of matter. This is unavoidable. At the
same time it is treated as emergent for
the supra-mental consciousness is a
sudden and uncertain occurence. Also the
effect is already there in the cause. Thus
he subscribes to satkaryavada.
Social Philosophy
Sri Aurobindo advocated karmayoga. The
Bhagavadgita advocates the philosophy of
action. As humans we cannot remain idle
for all the births human birth is more
precious. To act is to act in accordance
with dharma. Therefore one should not
shirk one’s responsibilities as a citizen of
the society.
It is mistake to think that the spiritual
philosophy has no relevance to society.
metaphysicians and mystics have no role
to play in social reconstruction. We need
to segregate religion and spirituality first
of all. To be spiritual does not mean to be
religious. The former is only a doctrinaire
and denomination interested in spreading
a belief system of its own , and the latter
is a kind of disposition, a disciplined way
of life through which one can attain
spiritual awakening. In this sense to be
spiritual is to be symbol of purity.
Like any other social philosopher, Sri
Aurobindo tries to analyze the basic
human nature, ad the place, status, and
role of man in society.
Man’s being has inner and outer
represented by the spiritual element and
the outer the materialistic. They are
integrated into one single being. Both
these components have to be given equal
importance for a total development of
human personality. The control over inner
being is to prepare oneself for the new ss
society or social order. He observes: � The
erring race of human beings dream always
of perfecting their environment by the
machinery of government and society; but
it is only by the perfection of the soul
within that the outer environment can be
perfected.” Sri Aurobindo says that there
is no historical evidence to show that
there is man without society.
Man and society are interdependent. They
are the self-expressions of the Supreme
Reality. The entire universe, humankind,
and society are all manifestations that
single Reality. Every individual is born in a
society and needs the support of society
for developing his/her physical, mental,
and vital being. There should be perfect
equilibrium among these three aspects
that are responsible for healthy human
development. The concept of �unity’ is
very important in showing the relationship
between man and society. The question of
unity arises only when there is diversity.
Te polarity between these concepts need
not be over emphasized for they are not
antithetical to each other. The rich
diversity that we see in society certainly
allows unity. Of course men are often
driven by intellectual urges and impulses
that make them act selfishly. This is the
starting point of all social evils. To contain
these social evils governments and states
use their discretion in framing laws and
rules. Do they really work? Thus the
government machinery is used as an
external force. The genuine unity lies in
the very nature of Spirit. The social
cohesion achieved through external means
is only temporary. It becomes permanent
only when it is achieved through spiritual
means. The primary objective of all social,
political, and other human organizations is
to help each other to evolve suramental
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