Taken a political prisoner in the fight for independence of India from Britain, Sri Aurobindo (Calcutta 1872 – Pondicherry 1950) is known today as the creator of a novelty called integral yoga, as a spiritual writer, as a philosopher and not least as a poet. Educated in Cambridge, English became his favorite language, and one in which he writes masterfully.
On his return from Britain in 1892 he became a teacher, engaged in the clandestine activities for independence of his motherland, was caught and succeeded in escaping from jail in 1910, moving to (then French) Pondicherry close to Chennai (Madras) where he dedicated the rest of his life to sadhana, as a yogi inspiring others who gathered around him in an ashram. This is where Mirra Alfassa, (Paris 1875 – Pondicherry 1973) accompanying her husband who ran to become a governor, came to meet him in 1914 and rejoin him indefinitely in 1920.
The scope of Sri Aurobindo’s ideas are universal. Its momentum for India and the world is without contest. Spirituality is real as it incarnates in political life, also. For yoga to be integral, it needs to manifest its transformative power in society.
We are facing this challenge today and with an ever-growing consciousness of our need to intervene as much as we experience a kind of powerlessness. Randomly used in different historical and political contexts for many years, the term ‘new world order’ or ‘one world order’ not only smacks of oligarchic supremacy foisted upon us, the people, but it is actually really happening in front of our eyes. That agenda is being realized, rolled out; not covertly, but openly announced by various texts and conversed upon in those type of gatherings that we are not being invited to (Davos, Bilderberg, BIS, IMF, WB, FED, Blackrock, Vanguard etc, along with the well-known unelected philanthropic individuals).
The New World Order, as has often been commented, is the old world order in a new fashion, with similar structures of oligarchic top to bottom power, wielded by men we never elected and who just weigh on us by dint of their potent technocratic financial impact.
What is evident more than ever is that we need to think afresh about how to come to a society that keeps being human, to conceive of a political framework for our One Humanity.
Sri Aurobindo, not unlike Gandhi, Einstein and a long list of intellectuals, that Nicolas Hagger discusses in full detail,1 envisions what our business as usual mentality shrinks away from like the announcement of a political pest. He conceives of what in our universal hearts is contemplated as something indeed feasible, if we give it the conditions that we have to construe: one federated humanity that will free us from the pettiness of national interests only and opens a horizon of increasing realization of the soul, individually as universally, as realized in the context of favorable political structures.
Utopian megalomania of an intellectual? No, Sri Aurobindo’s voice is worthwhile listening to, because he talks about what we need to hear today as we witness a seemingly unstoppable drive of international finance and technocracy deciding right above and over our individual heads about how we are meant to live in the future, without having ever been asked, interviewed or respected.
It is time that Sri Aurobindo 's inspirational writings be found on the table of those who organize politics. Wishful thinking? Still, there is hope. Also, to wish that specialists of international law and geopolitical strategies start reading his political writings that he compiled and revised in 1949 under the title The Human Cycle.
We need to have the intellectual and ethical instruments to show that an alternative to the cult-like new world order is possible. The spirit of Sri Aurobindo, as forever patent in his The Life Divine, admits of translating his inspirations to couch them in the words of contemporary thoughts of thinkers who are in the field of political philosophy as deliberative non-dominating practice based on ethics.
Earlier on, Immanuel Kant, one of the finest analytical thinkers, made it clear that the nation-state conception as defined at the peace of Westphalia in 1648 is outdated. Kant’s late essay Perpetual Peace. A Philosophical Sketch (Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf) is not an easy but indispensable reading. The nation idea is based on separation, on defense to maintain a state of non-war. Our imperative should be to provide the money wasted for defense as budgets for health and education. We know we could. We see we don't do it. Why and until when?
Intelligence and information should make the transformation of our political system an urgency which is self-evident. We still give in to resistance, deeming it to be impossible to make things change.
Christians put the original sin as the conundrum. I just ascribe it to human frailty, to the lack of self-control, to that weakness that we have as humans to not live up to our best aspirations. Akrasia is Aristotle's word for this: a kind of lack of control, of relative absence of personal power. Relative because there is much room left to enter into that intimate space of personal ethics to uplift one's condition and thereby that of society as a whole. It is in that space of personal intimacy that Sri Aurobindo sends his messages of meditation, of integral yoga, as in The Life Divine and Letters on Yoga.
Words carry the energy to reveal our deep spiritual desire. Words are uplifting, they are metaphorical (literally transporting ahead), carrying us farther, ahead of ourselves. So words and texts become referential to a spiritual reality. Still, texts are never ‘perfect’.
I could imagine Sri Aurobindo agreeing with one of the outstanding intellectuals of the Middle Ages. At the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas made an unsettling experience in a vision that made him stop writing. Reginaldo da Piperno, his secretary, reported later on Thomas's words: “compared to what I have contemplated, all my writings seem to me to be like straw.” (comparatur cum quod vidi, omnia scripta mea videntur mihi ut paleae). I never met Ken Wilber in person. I guess he has a similar feeling towards his own creative writings.
Nevertheless, what is well said maintains its uplifting energy. And if mysticism goes beyond reason, it doesn’t disempower the assertion that two and two make four.
Aurobindo revised his text in 1949 which means he changed or added to it which he would do for sure, should he be present among us.
A spiritual religion of humanity is the hope for the future.
A master of Vedic studies, Sri Aurobindo knows about the implications of religious terminologies, that he resumes, as far as India is concerned, into the all-encompassing category of sanatana dharma.
In the context of his political philosophy, Aurobindo uses the word religion on purpose... to refer with that term to what is not a religion in a confessional sense and not determined and hence limited by a set of rules of faith (dogma), but religion becomes an attitude of equanimity and peace, a spiritual perception of the order that is inherent in humanity, the divine in man, the Spirit in mankind that has as its qualities: freedom, equality and brotherhood.
It is a universal religion which is tantamount to universal humanity: the Religion of Humanity.
Whilst we are still in the strife of religions covertly or overtly striving for world domination, this worldview goes beyond, towards a spirituality beyond religions. What is needed? Meaning who is needed? All of us, getting out of our self-submissive state of victimhood and stand up for our rights as One Humanity, much stronger in ethical substance than the technocratic ‘global leaders’ want to push us into: that shallow world of functioning servants of consumerism being hypnotized into accepting as normal a subtle slavery called ‘freedom’.
We need an alternative narrative to serve our freedom against what I have referred to as schwabism3, trying to hypnotize us into a cognitive dissonance that makes us accept what we actually disapprove of, but have very little space to manifest our political will. For not to fall prey to the deep state(s) we need to encourage the strength of our deep hearts. A David and Goliath situation? Not really, because humanity can outnumber the elitist groups and in the long run recover our power that somehow slipped away between our hands. Because our hands were bound, our voices no longer heard, once elections put the power into the hands of a few, uncontrolled through the absence of referendum-interventions of us the people.
We all know from intimate experience that our highest aspirations stay far from being realized in the way we desired... and some sort of humility is imposed (harshly) on our ego, to then again see the bigger picture and not give up. Sri Aurobindo’s co-creator was Mirra Alfassi known in India as The Mother. She manifests that character who had her eyes constantly riveted on the supramental divine purpose. I met many of whom had been in her presence, that radically changed their lives.
She had a ‘dream’ that was realized in 1968 and became Auroville, the international township of the dawn of a new humanity and to realize a spirituality beyond religions:
There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth...
Those who are familiar with this “laboratory of humanity" as the UNESCO recognized it since its inception, know also about the day to day difficulties to keep this dream alive in a community of people with high ideals wrestling with self- and we-realization. People in Auroville are committed to grow towards the ideal set by the Mother… Challenging - all the time - but worth all the efforts so as to be progressively in tune with an ‘order’ of the world in accordance with our Souls that transcend time and space. That special ‘order', The Mother once called it (not without a sense of humor) a “divine anarchy”. Divine meaning a mode of order completely permeated by divine aspirations and intentions that gives space for the freedoms of individual souls to thrive personally in harmony with others. Religions being mental structures "of the past" as The Mother said, Auroville was founded to realize a human community beyond religions.9 India, the country sometimes called Mother India, has granted Auroville a political framework to make this experiment happen.
Sri Aurobindo has been criticized for putting goals too high... like when he moves step by step up the ladder of the urging drive of evolution, as a consequence of divine involution, all that evolves manifesting what is involved in the Divine. Whoever has lived reading The Life Divine may have made that experience of ascension... and where in the end surrender is the last word of yogic experience. As he said: The first word of integral yoga is surrender and the last word of integral yoga is surrender. He is the teacher of this surrender, and sometimes perceived as a too sophisticated and subtle poetical philosopher. Well, you can also call him a realist. He actually posits the conditions for a real renewal of humanity, a qualitative leap forward, not an imposed type of ’reset’.
Those familiar with his ideas are fond of his expression that “all life is yoga”.4 What is yoga?
Yoga is the contact of the humanity in us with the deity in which it dwells, of the finite with the infinite, of the as yet accomplished evolving and imperfect humanity with its yet unevolved attainable perfection… By that contact the lower rises to the higher, the unevolved evolves, the unborn is created, humanity assumes some part of godhead, man moves upward to God. This upward and self-expanding movement is the utility of Yoga.5
In brief, we have to replace dualities by unity, egoism by divine consciousness, ignorance by divine wisdom, thought by divine knowledge, weakness, struggle and effort by self-contented divine force, pain and false pleasure by divine bliss. This is called in the language of Christ bringing down the kingdom of heaven on earth, or in modern language, realising and effectuating God in the world.6
Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to political philosophy is a clear one. It is based on a consideration of the sovereignties of free countries that confederate out of insight into the advantages of growing into a new entity, out of free will, never out of any kind of coercion. It is about unity in diversity.
A free world-union must in its very nature be a complex unity based on a diversity and that diversity must be based on free self-determination.
Rather some kind of confederation of the peoples for common human ends, for the removal of all causes of strife and difference, for interrelation and the regulation of mutual aid and interchange, yet leaving to each unit a full internal freedom and power of self-determination, would be the right principle of this unity.
A now repeatingly rising problem is that of nationalism, of national interests first, has come to the foreground in Europe as a consequence of a clear lack of a referendum-like involvement of the people in the decision making processes, being left aside in political powerlessness. Aurobindo takes a very subtle, comprehensive and conclusive stance which is worth quoting in extenso:
On the other hand, in a free world-union, though originally starting from the national basis, the national idea might be expected to undergo a radical transformation; it might even disappear into a new and less strenuously compact form and idea of group-aggregation which would not be separative in spirit, yet would preserve the necessary element of independence and variation needed by both individual and grouping for their full satisfaction and their healthy existence. Moreover, by emphasising the psychological quite as much as the political and mechanical idea and basis, it would give a freer and less artificial form and opportunity for the secure development of the necessary intellectual and psychological change; for such an inner change could alone give some chance of durability to the unification. That change would be the growth of the living idea or religion of humanity; for only so could there come the psychological modification of life and feeling and outlook which would accustom both individual and group to live in their common humanity first and most, subduing their individual and group egoism, yet losing nothing of their individual or group power to develop and express in its own way the divinity in man which, once the race was assured of its material existence, would emerge as the true object of human existence.7
I invite the reader to sit down with these inspiring texts8:
The fundamental idea is that mankind is the godhead to be worshipped and served by man and that the respect, the service, the progress of the human being and human life are the chief duty and the chief aim of the human spirit. No other idol, neither the nation, the State, the family nor anything else ought to take its place; they are only worthy of respect so far as they are images of the human spirit and enshrine its presence and aid its self-manifestation.
The mind of man is to be released from all bonds, allowed freedom and range and opportunity, given all its means of self-training and self-development and organised in the play of its powers for the service of humanity. And all this too is not to be held as an abstract or pious sentiment, but given full and practical recognition in the persons of men and nations and mankind. This, speaking largely, is the idea and spirit of the intellectual religion of humanity.
But still in order to accomplish all its future this idea and religion of humanity has to make itself more explicit, insistent and categorically imperative. For otherwise it can only work with clarity in the minds of the few and with the mass it will be only a modifying influence, but will not be the rule of human life. And so long as that is so, it cannot entirely prevail over its own principal enemy. That enemy, the enemy of all real religion, is human egoism, the egoism of the individual, the egoism of class and nation.
The teaching of the political revolution in France consists of what Aurobindo calls a secular “trinity”, substance of a religion of humanity. He alerts us that we need to put ourselves into a special condition to realize these three qualities for a society to become that place on earth that most resembles heaven on earth. His explanation reads as follows8:
The aim of the religion of humanity was formulated in the eighteenth century by a sort of primal intuition; that aim was and it is still to re-create human society in the image of three kindred ideas, liberty, equality and fraternity. None of these has really been won in spite of all the progress that has been achieved.
Freedom, equality, brotherhood are three godheads of the soul; they cannot be really achieved through the external machinery of society or by man so long as he lives only in the individual and the communal ego. When the ego claims liberty, it arrives at competitive individualism. When it asserts equality, it arrives first at strife, then at an attempt to ignore the variations of Nature, and, as the sole way of doing that successfully, it constructs an artificial and machine-made society. A society that pursues liberty as its ideal is unable to achieve equality; a society that aims at equality will be obliged to sacrifice liberty. For the ego to speak of fraternity is for it to speak of something contrary to its nature. All that it knows is association for the pursuit of common egoistic ends and the utmost that it can arrive at is a closer organisation for the equal distribution of labour, production, consumption and enjoyment.
Aurobindo knew that the first condition of real change in a person to then open his or her eyes for the transformation of social life is ‘surrender’. In the Western context, this is also felt in the word ‘conversion’, (metanoia), the deep radical change of inner perspectives that he posits as the necessary condition for real political change on a planetary level8:
Yet is brotherhood the real key to the triple gospel of the idea of humanity? The union of liberty and equality can only be achieved by the power of human brotherhood and it cannot be founded on anything else. But brotherhood exists only in the soul and by the soul; it can exist by nothing else. For this brotherhood is not a matter either of physical kinship or of vital association or of intellectual agreement. When the soul claims freedom, it is the freedom of its self-development, the self-development of the divine in man in all his being. When it claims equality, what it is claiming is that freedom equally for all and the recognition of the same soul, the same godhead in all human beings. When it strives for brotherhood, it is founding that equal freedom of self-development on a common aim, a common life, a unity of mind and feeling founded upon the recognition of this inner spiritual unity. These three things are in fact the nature of the soul; for freedom, equality and unity are the eternal attributes of the Spirit. It is the practical recognition of this truth, it is the awakening of the soul in man and the attempt to get him to live from his soul and not from his ego which is the inner meaning of religion, and it is that to which the religion of humanity also must arrive before it can fulfill itself in the life of the race.
Commemorating and celebrating the 150th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo on this 15th of August 2022 allows for a moment of interiority that might want to become communicative, yes political.
Why not appeal to all men of goodwill and connect for 10 minutes of silence and of intentions once a week or, better, once a day at 7pm? As we know more and more that we are all interdependently connected, that we are actually systemically One world, we can reasonably confide in creating spiritual changes in the minds of people by doing that practice. If we really want change, let’s be the change we wish to see in this world and give it a chance. Give the true Religion of Humanity a chance.
There are movements that base their inspiration on Sri Aurobindo, like the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. I recommend visiting their website to study a well-conceived constitution elaborated by international constitutionalists. Glen Martin provides an inspirational synthesis in his latest book The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet (2021).
1 Nicholas Hagger, World Constitution. Constitution for the United Federation of the World, 2018.
2 The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 25, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part II, Chapter 34, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry 1997, p. 577.
3 Our freedom versus schwabism.
4 The Synthesis of Yoga, Pondicherry, Introduction, p. 9.
5 The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 12, Essays Divine and Human, Pondicherry 1997, p. 349.
6 The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 12, Essays Divine and Human, Pondicherry 1997, p. 107.
7 The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 25, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part II, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry 1997, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, Chapter 31.
8 Sri Aurobindo. The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part II, Chapter 34.
9 The Mother intended to write a book on religions as to pertaining to the past... I owe this information to a conversation with Dr. Kireet Joshi in Delhi. In 2010 I was glad to organize in Auroville an international congress on "Spirituality beyond religions".