Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872- 1950) went to England for education when he was seven. His political life began there in his teens. Although he qualified in the ICS examination, he was not selected as he chose to abstain from the horseriding test. He secured a First in Classics and a Tripos at Cambridge in 1892. Returning to India in 1893, he joined the Baroda College as professor of English, and later became its principal. In 1902, he came in touch with Thakur Saheb who was then the leader of a secret Maharastra revolutionary group, and was thus initiated into the revolutionary movement. Participating in the protest against the partition of Bengal in 1905, Sri Aurobindo left Baroda College.
The next year, in 1906, he settled in Bengal and joined the newly started National College as its principal. In 1907, he gave a revolutionary turn to the apolitical organization Anushilan Samiti which was founded in 1902 by its president, Pramathanath Mitra, of which he was a Vice-President. He reorganized it and made Sister Nivedita its member. Under his direction young men, including his brother Barindra Ghose, were making bombs and guns. Sri Aurobindo was a follower of Tilak when the latter left the Congress in Surat and took to extremism. Tilak was no longer prominent in Indian politics after 1908 when he was sentenced to transportation for six years and sent to Mandalaya jail on a charge of sedition.
Meanwhile, Sri Aurobindo was appointed Assistant Editor by another extremist, Bipin Chandra Pal, in his English paper, Bande Mataram,. He soon took charge of the paper as Pal was “eased out of it” in 1907. Swami Vivekananda’s brother, Bhupendranath and Barindra, who were also connected with the work of Bande Mataram, found Pal “half-hearted”. Pal’s faith in revolutionary idealism did not last long. In 1913, he “pleaded for the continuation of the British connection in view of the immense possibilities of federal internationalism”. Sri Aurobindo was accused of seditious writings in Bande Mataram and was accused of involvement in the Alipore bomb case in 1908. While in jail, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das fought for him in court and proved that he was not guilty.
He was in Alipore jail for a year as an undertrial and was acquitted for want of evidence but Barindra was sentenced to transportation for life. After his release he brought out the English weekly Karmayogin and the Bengali weekly Dharma. Now his connection with revolutionary activity was open and clear. A warrant of arrest was therefore issued against him in February 1910 for writing an article titled “To My Countrymen”. Realising his impending incarceration, he secretly left for his home town, the French Chandannagar, from where he moved to Pondicherry and spent the rest of his life there in a spiritual quest. Deshbandhu described Sri Aurobindo as “the prophet of nationalism”.
But where did he get so much power and inspiration from? Prof. Subodh Chandra Sengupta has the correct answer: “It was Swami Vivekananda who introduced the cult of Shaktiworship, which was taken up by a succession of brilliant men, the first two being Aurobindo Ghose and Barindra Ghose, who might be called the joint authors of Bhawani Mandir.” It was a political tract the idea of which was Barindra’s and the writing of Sri Aurobindo’s. It was displayed in the Alipore Conspiracy case. Initially, Sri Aurobindo wasn’t perhaps acquainted with Swamiji’s writings but felt their impact, “which was the fountain of Swamiji’s pervasive influence”.
Going through his works subsequently and by dint of his interactions with Sister Nivedita and others, he became knowledgeable about Swamiji. His knowledge about Sri Ramakrishna was also remarkable. Though he didn’t meet them, their lives and spiritual ideas took deep roots in his mind. He however met Sarada Devi in 1910 on “a Sunday” and paid his respect to her at the Udbodhan House in Baghbazar. His wife Mrinalini Devi was an initiated disciple of Sarada Devi. Both were worshipers of Kali. Mrinalini Devi was a well-known spiritual personality by her own right and had a following. She stayed all her life at Chandannagar. Sri Aurobindo claimed that he received three messages on a mystical plane from Sri Ramakrishna between 1908 and 1912.
By his own admission, Sri Ramakrishna’s influence on the development of his spiritual life was profound. He said to a disciple: “Remember also that we derive from Ramakrishna. For myself it was Ramakrishna who personally came and first turned me to this Yoga.” He also claimed that Swamiji mystically communicated to him various instructions in meditation during his imprisonment for a year. He said: “Vivekananda in Alipore jail gave me the foundations of that knowledge which is the basis of our Sadhana.” Considering these two statements alone, if one presumes that he held Ramakrishna- Vivekananda as his Guru one would not be wrong. Those two spiritual phenomena in his life are ample reason to believe that Ramakrishna and Vivekananda were pathfinders in his mystical journey.
That his mind was suffused with their thoughts is evident from many of his religious and philosophical writings which exude their ideas eloquently. In an editorial piece of Dharma (26 Poush 1316) with the heading Sri Ramakrishna O Bhabishyat Bharat, he said with an absolute faith to show that Sri Ramakrishna was the highest manifestation of the power of God. He wrote: “The man appeared as Sri Ramakrishna is the Antaryami Bhagawan.” He had also written unequivocally, Satya-yuga arrived on earth by the touch of Sri Ramakrishna’s feet; the world is dipped in joy in his touch; with his Advent, the gloom accumulated over centuries disappeared. He established Yuga-dharma, and was the sum total of all the earlier Avataras. Sri Aurobindo was convinced that “Sri Ramakrishna gave to India the final message of Hinduism to the world.”
Similarly, his estimation about Swamiji was tremendous. He described him as “a very lion among men”. He said: “The going forth of Vivekananda, marked out by the Master (Sri Ramakrishna) as the heroic soul destined to take the world between his two hands and change it, was the first visible sign to the world that India was awake not only to survive but to conquer.” Sri Aurobindo was a prolific writer on the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. His interpretations of these important scriptures were “in the non-sectarian spirit of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda”. In a treatise on Isha Upanishad he reflected on Sri Ramakrishna’s precept of non-difference (abhedatwa) between Brahman and Shakti. Sri Ramakrishna is specially conspicuous in his book The Life Divine. He used in it in the parables and analogies used by Sri Ramakrishna. “Developing Sri Ramakrishna’s teaching that ‘everything is possible for God’, Sri Aurobindo claims that the ‘infinite is illimitably free, free to determine itself infinitely, free from all of its restraining effect of its own creations’.”
Again, as Sri Ramakrishna said God is both “with and without form”, so also Sri Aurobindo said that the Divine Being “is at once Form and the Formless”. There are numerous such instances in his works which he believed deserve allusions for the benefit of the seekers of Truth and God. According to Sri Aurobindo, all religions “express one Truth in various ways and move by various paths to one goal”. In the final analysis Vedanta propounds that “the Infinite Reality is at once personal and impersonal, static and dynamic, with and without form, immanent and transcendent”.
He affirmed “the harmony of all religions precisely on the basis of this non-sectarian Vedantic worldview”, faithfully following Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. The actual revolutionary activity of Sri Aurobindo spanned hardly four years. But his spiritual pursuit spanned four decades. Within this period he raised himself by intense sadhana to be an extraordinary yogi of distinctive character and epitome. Cutting across classes, communities and countries, he is now globally acceptable as a spiritual pathfinder for peace and harmony.
(The writer is with Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur)