Monday, September 28, 2015

Idea of India as conceived by Sri Aurobindo

Peter Heehs: Publications
Articles in Magazines, Newspapers and Websites
2014. “India’s Etiquette Police.” Columbia University Press Blog. March 5.

2014. “Banished from the Bookshelves: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.” Outlook, March 3, p. 56. Online version here

2011. “The Mother’s Evolutionary Vision.” EnlightenNext. Issue 47, 85-94.

2009. “Fisherman’s Cove” and “Hotel de l’Orient.” In Outlook Traveller Getaways: 100 Best Resorts & Retreats in India (New Delhi: Outlook Publishing), 275-276, 383.

2008. “The Bomb that Shook an Empire.” The Pioneer (New Delhi), November 22.

2008. Getting beyond the Conventions of Biography — and Hagiography Too. Columbia University Press Blog. August 4.

2008. “Trial and Error.” The Statesman (Kolkata), May 4, p. 7.

2008. “Creative Anarchy” (Special Feature on Auroville). In Outlook Traveller Getaways: Wellness Holidays in India (New Delhi: Outlook Publishing), 413–424.

2004. “Idea of India.” Life Positive. April–June.
Distorted view
In a speech of 1909, delivered at the invitation of a Hindu group in Uttarpara, Sri Aurobindo did connect his “religion of nationalism” with the sanatana dharma; but he made it clear that he did not mean by this any sectarian religion, but the “eternal religion” that underlay all limited systems of belief. “A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can only live for a limited time and a limited purpose,” he pointed out. The eternal religion would live forever because it was based on the realisation that God “is in all men and all things”.

In contemporary India, political leaders of the past have been turned into tokens that are exchanged by party bosses at election time. It is not surprising that Sri Aurobindo has been subject to this kind of commerce. One party places out-of-context quotations from his works in its manifesto; a rival party says it plans to base its programme on his ideals. A religio-political pressure group features him prominently on its website; a journalist writes that he was “was second to none” in promoting religion-tainted politics. None of these exploiters or critics of Sri Aurobindo’s legacy show adequate familiarity with his works.

A journalist, Jyotirmaya Sharma (in his recent book Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism), draws most of his quotations from edited compilations. In concluding, he perpetrates the following anachronism: “The Maharshi [Sri Aurobindo] has turned into a pamphleteer of the Hindu rashtra concept without being conscious of it.” It certainly is regrettable that proponents of the Hindu Rashtra should selectively appropriate Sri Aurobindo’s works, even when he explicitly stated that he was opposed to the very idea. “We do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions,” he wrote in 1909. “Under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole.” It is equally regrettable that opponents of Hindutva should combine out-of-context snippets from Sri Aurobindo’s works in a distorted presentation that excludes key portions of his thought.

Visions of future
On his 75th birthday, Sri Aurobindo sketched the five “world-movements” he had hoped to see fulfilled in his lifetime. During his youth, they had seemed to be “impractical dreams”. Now they were “on their way to fulfillment”. The first was “a revolutionary movement that would create a free and united India”. This (he was speaking on August 15,1947, the day India received independence) was now a reality. But his hopes for a more equitable international order extended beyond the borders of his own country. He dreamed also of “the resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia”, and of “a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind”.

Sri Aurobindo’s nationalism, even while he was active in Indian politics, was not coloured by that smug self-flattery that characterises most modern ‘patriotism’. He noted as early as 1919 that Indians had to have “the courage to defend our culture against ignorant occidental criticism and to maintain it against the gigantic modern pressure”, but that they also had to have the “courage to admit not from any European standpoint but from our own outlook the errors of our culture”. Pride in the accomplishments of one’s motherland should not take the form of an “unthinking cultural chauvinism which holds that whatever we have is good for us because it is Indian or even that whatever is in India is best, because it is the creation of the Rishis”. What India needed was not an isolated self-glorification, but “a unity with the rest of mankind, in which we shall maintain our spiritual and our outer independence”.

Peter Heehs is author of four books, including The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India (OUP, second edition 2004), and editor of The Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo (OUP, 1997) and Indian Religions: The Spiritual Traditions of South Asia (Permanent Black, 2002). He is based in Pondicherry.

Articles in Professional Journals and Books
2014. “Practices of Non-Theistic Spirituality.” Gandhi Marg 36, 2&3 (July-December): 251-68. (Pdf file available here)

2013. “Aurobindo.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, vol. V, ed. Knut A. Jacobsen. Leiden: Brill, 397-404.

2013. Roots, Branches, and Seeds: The teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo examined in the light of Indian tradition, colonial modernity and one another. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Occasional Paper, History and Society Series, No.14. (Pdf file available here)

2011. “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Integral Yoga: A Study in Cross-Cultural Influence”.Aries 11:2 (September): 219-247 (Pdf file available here).

2010. “Introduction”. In P. Vir Gupta, C. Mueller, and C. Samil, Golconde: The Introduction of Modernism in India. Bangalore: Inform.

2009. “Revolutionary Terrorism in British Bengal”. In E. Boehmer and S. Morton, eds., Terror and the Postcolonial. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2008. “Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism”. Published online in AntiMatters 2.2 (April).

2013. Situating Sri Aurobindo: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press.

2013. Writing the Self. New York: Bloomsbury. Named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 by Choice.

2008. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. New York: Columbia University Press.

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