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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -4

Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Philosophical studies



            Among the many important discoveries of the twentieth century the discovery of Sri Aurobindo must be reckoned as one.  The developments in the fields of science and political theory had their impacts on cultural valuations.  The seesaw of interests and the dialectics of thought had their importance realized in the diverse ways the cultural process had moved.  It is indeed a very significant fact that during these five decades, the world has tended to come together and its parts have begun to realize that though each area has its distinctive treasures of thought and culture to preserve and offer to the whole, the total picture of the world culture  is bound to sacrifice some of the ‘essentials’ so called of each.  It is, however, not easy to estimate the extent of sacrifices. A world government or an agency that will look after the whole area of human civilization is already in embryo.  All these have not been achieved in a day.  Two wars have certainly aided this movement towards world government.  It must be remembered that the work of promoting, or more fundamentally, of germinating these creative thoughts has been through the most spiritual beings. Significantly the work was undertaken in the last quarter of the last century and we owe deep debt of gratitude to all those who brought the world’s ends together, who worked for the present experimentation in common government, common welfare without considerations of race or colour, idealogy or forms of government.  Swami Vivekananda brought America and India together and some of the finest minds of America had impressed India with a love for human dignity, and years that have rolled by have only enhanced the reputation of America because it has been dynamically experimenting with common solutions in the idea of One world.


            We have, however, passed these many years by way of preparation. The dignity of man has been recognized but man himself has at pains to discover his real universal nature. Humanity has itself to undergo a lot of change; it has to pass beyond the fragmentary ways of thinking, and piecemeal planning; it has to adapt itself to universal needs and not merely collective security (as the latter involves some of the most ugly features of the maxim: ‘all ways are good so long as we win or hold what we have’). The world requires of man quite a different kind of yoga or method of realizing the goal of man. The goal of man cannot be man himself, for this self-concern for mankind, however laudable, narcisstically   adores itself, that living being cannot evolve, and must in due course become static and arrested and live a life of gradual degeneration. Mankind in several parts had gone through this experience whenever it arrived at this conclusion, consciously or unconsciously. One of the important ideas thrown up during the last century was the idea of evolution and many have been the writers who have discussed it threadbare as a scheme of philosophy or as a theory of science. The idea that man is not the goal of man is an ancient one. Men-like-gods has been a common conception. Man must surpass his mere humanity and rise to divinity. The concept itself of a higher evolution or future for man has been the implicit faith of all spiritual striving, and that entailed the discrimination of the nature of man and his body and the nature of individual life and spirit or self. Sri Aurobindo had the fortune of being alive to this basic stimulates of the evolution theory to the modern world. Though it had a restricted scientific application in the biological theories, following Herbert Spencer and Henri Bergson  he saw that it was a vital force in the evolution of the human consciousness itself and would set free the forces of humanity to new and fuller endeavours for the reconstruction of a new One World.


Man must be surpassed or transcended, not of course in the sense assumed by Nietzsche by denying humanity or by enslaving it, but by getting rid of his ignorance that in a myriad ways distorts the unity , pulverizes it and makes it impossible for it to have a grasp of the Reality..


Intellectual thought has, despite its most brilliant exponents, failed to generate that dynamic element that makes for higher evolution. Evolution itself has been expounded by means of the dialectical process by rationalistic idealism, and, by a strange irony, it has been expounded by even inverting that philosophical position. Intellect reveals more paradoxes that arrest evolution rather than stimulate it. The escape into irrationalism or other scientific substitutes for it has not been successful. Intellect becomes a mere tool and no more. Its high prestige has suffered grievously. It is impossible to think that we can have philosophies of the intellect at all in the future. Though it is the finest tool or instrument or organon of knowledge that man has devised and perfected in a sense that even the earliest of the geniuses could never have envisaged, it has become just a human instrument, useful for man as he is and wishes to be-it cannot lead man to higher perceptions or help crossing his ignorance.


Sri Aurobindo sees that the present age requires a new organon, a need felt also by the Russian Ouspensky.  It is not for me here to enter into a comparative appraisal of the merits of the tertium organum of the latter writer. The ways of intellect had led to a lot of scholastic word chopping and humanity has not moved forward. Intellectual activity, instead of being moulded in the patterns of growth, has become a mere tool of stabilizing and preserving old patterns of thought and action; in other words , it has become incapable of inspiring one to move up to the higher levels of thought existence so clearly declared by the master-seers of humanity at the dawn of human history. The mystical writings or revelational scriptures all bear witness to a power of intellectual activity that urged man to grow beyond his intellect itself. This transcending function of intellect seems to have lost force during the centuries that followed and mankind has been left with an intellect that is incapable of performing this high evolutionary function. Thus we have the growth of several divergent schools of intellectual thought so called, ranging from rank scepticism and materialism to idealistic absolutism, static and impotent. There are many things that had made the renunciation of intellect in favour of some kind of irrationalism in the fields of political theories had been bitter. Suspicion of any kind of anti-intellectualism is justified. But it is precisely here that mankind has to be wary and vigilant. Any irrationalism that abridges the liberty of the individual must be false and condemnable, but such non-intellectualism as enhances the liberty of the individual by dispensing the perception of higher values must be considered different. It would not be irrational, nor regressive, but super-rational and progressive. Indian thought had from the beginning sought to arrive at a vision of Reality that discloses the higher values of life such as can transform and integrate our actual living.


Sri Aurobindo is showing the limits of intellect did not merely rest content with widening the operations of the intellect by applying it to wider fields and areas of human understanding and work, but showed also that such ‘trancendental’ applications, if we may so speak of these wider applications, entailed the very modification of the principles of intellectual activity. Not merely does the instrument of human understanding, intellect or reason, undergo change in this process of self-adaptation to cosmic needs, it also reveals its incapacity to change or adapt beyond particular limit. A new faculty in man has to be drawn out, latent as it is in him, the true spiritual force or psychic truth in him, and that would be able to do the work of a cosmic existence and a new world would be opened to the vision of man. Such a faculty or power is not only a psychological possibility but also an evolutionary principle emerging in man at the present lime. This evolutionary force is the supermind or gnostic mind, its operations far exceed the operations of the human intellect, both in respect of the finite world and the infinite spirit.


No longer is man satisfied with an intellectual apprehension or systematization of Reality which he grasps by sections and fragments and unifies in terms  of his own laws of systematization , such as consistency or coherency, which indeed are incapable of achieving their own ideal. Man lives in a world of increasing complexity in social and international and inter-racial relationships as well as inter-ideological perceptions. To plead for the status quo or to seek a divorce between different areas of human life cannot carry him far. The fundamental need today is that of integration the different segments of human life, and the Ultimate integrating principle is that higher power of consciousness which Sri Aurobindo has called the supermind. Sri Aurobindo has clearly seen that the operations of the supermind  are necessary and inevitable, sooner or later. The Global thinking demands universal perceptions rather than collective thinking, which is all that the human mind has been able to improvise at the present time. The notion of the general will in politics during the past two centuries has this forestalling effect of the real universal will, though the Absolute of the Hegelians as the rational is a pseudo-universal, which has failed of its purpose.


The intuition of philosophers has its own history, even as the intellect has. The higher consciousness alone synthetically presents the truth of Reality which somehow comes to man severed as intuition and intellection, as apprehension and coherence.  The operation of higher mind is something known to all those who have closely studied the facts of perception and reasoning. We shall not enter into a survey of the history of philosophy to show how analytical thinking prone to atomistic intellectually makes it impossible to arrive at the original synthesis presented to the higher consciousness of man. The unity of the inward psychological life, thanks to ignorance or attachment to particularities and fragments of experience or concentration on them, gets  divided and hence arises the difficulty of restoring the original oneness or synthesis.


Though mankind in the course of its cultural history became aware of several  levels overmental consciousness, intuition and so on, it was rather a difficult thing for them to present a comprehensive account of Reality. There is one exception however. Indian thought had reckoned as the most important pramana or source of right knowledge in respect of transcendental facts, Sabda or Sruti. The whole of the Vedas was considered to be the direct perception of Reality, not by sense nor by reason or intellect, nor even by the analogizing mind of the poet. It is something that is granted by the divine vision or divya-jnana  or atma darsana . Its knowledge about Reality is intimate and is available in Yoga and is achieved by yajna(self-offering) and yaga(self-sacrifice) – all understood in the psychological sense (adhyatma). Veda is a pramana, and it is only when man becomes possessed of this seer-vision (rsi-jnana), that he begins to perceive Reality wholly and as indivisible and transcendental (nirguna), and as supreme value (that which grants value to everything, being the ground of all). Sri Aurobindo thus found that this achievement of the Veda-pramana in one's psychological consciousness is the most urgent need, for therein lies a key to the new philosophical understanding of Reality. But when he himself undertook this task of applying this supramental understanding or Vedic understanding to the Vedas themselves, he found that it as the first step rather than the final step in knowledge or integral knowledge. He therefore; declared that the Veda opens a way to the still higher levels and pramanas (instruments of knowledge). The understanding of the Veda-pramana unfortunately became so thoroughly scholastic and intellectual during the past thousand and odd years that it no longer was considered to be an organon of knowledge like the intellect or mind but a book and a scripture, to be understand as best as one may. This seems to have been much more serious in the case of other sacred revelational literature also. The spiritual instrument of transcendental Reality was not used at all; instead the intellect was made to interpret and exegetize them. The result was scholasticism, and divergences in interpretations, clever, contradictory and confusing. Systems (darsanas) began to spring up instead of a darsana, the integral vision. Schisms developed within them. Heretical systems, first differing from certain accepted kinds of interpretation, later abandoned dependence on the original revelational  scriptures, feeling that intellect can explain adequately the Reality. A careful look at the darsanas or schools of thought will present certain circumscribing limits fixed for the understanding, and the total apprehension was surrendered even as an ideal. Some like Buddhism and Jainism and the other darsanas gave up the attempt to see the whole steadily and as one. Sri Aurobindo seeks in his magnum opus to undo precisely this disintegrative process of the darsanikas, though his presentation was addressed to all philosophical and other enterprises of the schools Eastern and Western. Underlying his great and original exposition through his pramana (divyanubhava) so nearly resembling the Veda-pramana, and supplementing and correcting it, is this discernment of the defects of an intellectualizing of scholasticism, which even the modern mind has not escaped from. We are yet governed by the logic of the finitizing mind, its dichotomies and dialectical procedures.


If Sri Aurobindo had not throughout his work proceeded to expound his vision of the one integral Reality through the supermind, it might have become utterly alien to the human mind of the present age. One suspects that the perception would be as radically distinct even as Sankara had stated about his two words, the paramarthika and vyavaharika , the Ultimate and the conventional. But the integral conception of Sri Aurobindo bridges the gulf and shows that in the vast perception of the supermind, the appearance gains rather than loses the Real, and the Real permeates the appearance; the supermind transfigures the mental world and rids it of the ignorance and mortality. The logic of the supermind  is the ‘logic of the Infinite’, it is usually said. That at many times in history men thought of the logic of the Infinite is true. But the definitions of the nature of the Infinite and the lack of perception that it is not merely a limiting concept  of the intellect  prevented a more definite formulation of the logic and law of the Infinite Being. Identical mathematics had somehow developed on abstract lines. It must be said that after the complete overthrow of the abstract ideas from the field of philosophy, thanks to British empiricists, it was found that they can have play only in mathematics. Modern mathematical and symbolic logicians have unfortunately not learnt the lesson of history. The Infinite is not only a category of mathematics but is, as being, a category of integral philosophy, recognized by the integral pramana or consciousness, as experience..


A full and fair presentation of this application of the integral consciousness to the several problems of philosophy has been done by distinguished exponents of Sri Aurobindonian thought, such as Dr S.K.Maitra and Dr Haridas Chaudhuri, in recent years.


Thus the future of philosophical studies should be considered to be bright. The inanities of the past twenty years would be things of the past. Aware that there is a new method of approaching the problems of philosophy and life, and indeed a true creative method is inevitable if human intellect itself should cease to despair of its own future, man may boldly go forward towards an international discovery of this new principle in himself. We know that though all men are rational, it is hardly this reason that we draw out in the affairs of the world. Democracy in its true sense should attempt to draw out this inward principle of man in all affairs social, political and spiritual, so that the universality affirmed of reason might be operating at all times and continuously. This, however, is not being done, or else it is seen that this reason is circumscribed and limited to welfare socialisms and politics which more often than not divide nations and people. The creative obligation is forgotten and man tends to wither for lack of incentives to inward peace and spiritual progress.


Supramental Yoga would entail the constant attempt to apply the logic of the supermind or the infinite. In all affairs there is need for drawing out this inward  psychic principle, for the very fulfillment of man entails this self-transcendence.


Sri Aurobindo has with a penetrating insight surveyed the fields of sociology and political theory for the reformulation of the dharma of the modern age in terms of eternal values. Individual psychology has itself to undergo modifications; and the regressive interpretations of the human in terms of the rabbit and rat and other species or in terms of the abnormal have to be checked and revalued. A large ‘transvaluation of values’ not in terms of Nietzschean ideology but in terms of the supermind has to take place and the theory of ‘beyond good and evil’ has to be reformulated in terms of the Real Good. But all these do not involve the liquidation of the human and his world and values but ‘open’ up the ‘closed’ societal conditions and individual consciousness.


In religious consciousness and the methods of attainment of the supramental experience again one has to pass beyond the purely aesthetical conception and limitation of religious experience and arrive at the integral method of total approach. Thus to the psychology of religious experience and the science of yoga Sri Aurobindo has brought the approach of the integral mind.


During and original as these contributions have been, it must be clear that the philosophical method of the integral consciousness or supermind is not capable of being appreciated at once. The integral approach releases a new creative movement that ‘breaks’ through the shell of ‘closed’ finite mental intellections as well as abstract intellectual constructs, even as the elan vital of Bergson is said to do. But with a difference; the integral approach seeks to comprehend both being and becoming, eternity and time, status and dynamis, in its sweeping vision. The infinite opens up its unlimited horizons to the supermind and man realizes his real being and existence in terms of it.


Thus it can be seen that Sri Aurobindo reveals a new and dynamic possibility for the philosophical enterprise in the years to come, different from any past renaissance or mystical resurgence or intellectual revival, based upon sceptical modes of thought and contradictions between theory and practice.


From an unbiased and open-minded study of Sri Aurobindonian literature, it would be plain that Sri Aurobindo has opened a new chapter in philosophic thinking – a chapter of all – embracing integration of the fundamental categories of existence and values of life. In the years to come he would more and more be recognized as the most dynamic thinker of twentieth century.