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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Sathyam - Truth is a Pathless Land > Unfolding Consciousness > Relevance of Aurobindo > Satprem on Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness
- Satprem (Bernard Enginger) -
[at amazon.com - *Satprem, Luc Venet (Translator) -
Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness 1993]

 January 1970

"...There was a great saint in India who, for many years before he found peace, used to ask whomever he met: "Have you seen God? Have you seen God?" He would always go away frustrated and angry because people told him stories. He wanted to see. He wasn't wrong, considering all the deception men have heaped onto this world, as onto many others. Once we have seen, we can talk about it; or, most probably, we will remain silent. Indeed, we do not want to deceive ourselves with words; we want to start from what we have, right where we are, with our cloddy shoes and the little ray of sunshine on the good days; such is our simple hearted faith. We see that the world around us is not so great, and we aspire for it to change, but we have become wary of universal panaceas, of movements, parties, and theories. So we will begin at square one, with ourselves such as we are; it isn't much, but it's all we have. We will try to change this little bit of world before setting out to save the other. And perhaps this isn't such a foolish idea after all; for who knows whether changing the one is not the most effective way of changing the other? ..." From the Introduction

"The capital period of my intellectual development," confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, "was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!" - The Last of the Intellect

 

From the Preface

Hypnotized as we are by the "inescapable" scientific conditions of the present world, we have come to believe that our hope lies in an ever greater proliferation of machines, which will see better than we do, hear better than we do, calculate better than we do, heal better than we do--and finally, perhaps, live better than we do.

"The age of adventures is over. Even if we reach the seventh galaxy, we will go there helmeted and mechanized, and it will not change a thing for us; we will find ourselves exactly as we are now: helpless children in the face of death, living beings who are not too sure how they live, why they are alive, or where they are going. On the earth, as we know, the times of Cortez and Pizarro are over; one and the same pervasive Mechanism stifles us: the trap is closing inexorably. But, as always, it turns out that our bleakest adversities are also our most promising opportunities, and that the dark passage is only a passage leading to a greater light. Hence, with our backs against the wall, we are facing the last territory left for us to explore, the ultimate adventure: ourselves.

Indeed, there are plenty of simple and obvious signs. This decade's [the 60's] most important phenomenon is not the trip to the moon, but the "trips" on drugs, the student restlessness throughout the world, and the great hippie migration. But where could they possibly go? 

There is no more room on the teeming beaches, no more room on the crowded roads, no more room in the ever-expanding anthills of our cities. We have to find a way out elsewhere.

But there are many kinds of "elsewheres." Those of drugs are uncertain and fraught with danger, and above all they depend upon an outer agent; an experience ought to be possible at will, anywhere, at the grocery store as well as in the solitude of one's room--otherwise it is not an experience but an anomaly or an enslavement. Those of psychoanalysis are limited, for the moment, to the dimly lit caves of the "unconscious," and most importantly, they lack the agency of consciousness, through which a person can be in full control, instead of being an impotent witness or a sickly patient. 

Those of religion may be more enlightened, but they too depend upon a god or a dogma; for the most part they confine us in one type of experience, for it is just as possible to be a prisoner of other worlds as it is of this one--in fact, even more so. Finally, the value of an experience is measured by its capacity to transform life; otherwise, it is simply an empty dream or an hallucination.

Sri Aurobindo leads us to a twofold discovery, which we so urgently need if we want to find an intelligible meaning to the suffocating chaos we live in, as well as a key for transforming our world. By following him step by step in his prodigious exploration, we are led to the most important discovery of all times, to the threshold of the Great Secret that is to change the face of this world, namely, that consciousness is power.

Hypnotized as we are by the "inescapable" scientific conditions of the present world, we have come to believe that our hope lies in an ever greater proliferation of machines, which will see better than we do, hear better than we do, calculate better than we do, heal better than we do--and finally, perhaps, live better than we do. Indeed, we must first realize that we can do better than our machines, and that the enormous Mechanism that is suffocating us is liable to collapse as quickly as it came into being, provided we are willing to seize on the true power and go down into our own hearts, as methodical, rigorous, and clearheaded explorers. 

"I become what I see in myself. All that thought suggests to me, I can do; all that  thought reveals in me, I can become.  This should be man's unshakable faith  in himself, because God dwells in him."

Then we may discover that our splendid twentieth century is still the Stone Age of psychology, that, in spite of all our science, we have not yet entered the true science of living, the real mastery of the world and of ourselves, and that there lie before us horizons of perfection, harmony and beauty, compared to which our most superb scientific discoveries are like the roughcasts of an apprentice.

"I become what I see in myself. All that thought suggests to me, I can do; all that  thought reveals in me, I can become.  This should be man's unshakable faith  in himself, because God dwells in him."


From the Introduction...

There once was a wicked Maharaja who could not bear to think that anyone was superior to him. So he summoned all the pandits of the realm, as was the practice on momentous occasions, and put to them this question: "Which of us two is greater, I or God?" The pandits began to tremble with fear. Being wise by profession, they asked for time; they were also concerned for their positions and their lives. Yet, they were worthy men who did not want to displease God. As they were lamenting their predicament, the oldest pandit reassured them: "Leave it to me. Tomorrow I shall speak to the Prince." The next day, the whole court was gathered in a solemn durbar when the old pandit quietly arrived, his hands humbly joined together, his forehead smeared with white ashes. He bowed low and spoke these words: "O Lord, undoubtedly thou art the greater." The Prince twirled his long moustache thrice and tossed his head high. "Thou art the greater, King, for thou canst banish us from thy kingdom, whilst God cannot; for verily, all is His kingdom and there is nowhere to go outside Him."

This Indian tale, which comes from Bengal, where Sri Aurobindo was born, was not unknown to him who said that all is He--gods, devils, men, the earth, not just heaven--and whose entire experience leads to a divine rehabilitation of matter. 

For the last half century, psychology has done nothing but reinstate the demons in man; it is possible, as André Malraux believed, that the task of the next half century will be "to reinstate the gods in man," or, rather, as Sri Aurobindo put it, to reinstate the Spirit in man and in matter, and to create "the life divine on earth": 

The heavens beyond are great and wonderful, but greater yet and more wonderful are the heavens within you. It is these Edens that await the divine worker.

There are many ways to set out to work; each of us has, in fact, his or her own particular approach: for one it may be a well-crafted object or a job well done; for another a beautiful idea, an encompassing philosophical system; for still another a piece of music, the flowing of a river, a burst of sunlight on the sea; all are ways of breathing the Infinite. But these are brief moments, and we seek permanence. These are moments subject to many uncontrollable conditions, and we seek something inalienable, independent of conditions and circumstances--a window within us that will never close again.

And since those conditions are difficult to meet here on earth, we speak of "God," of "spirituality," of Christ, of Buddha, and the whole lineage of great religious founders; all are ways of finding permanence. But it may be that we are not religious or spiritual men, but just men, tired of dogmas, who believe in the earth and who are suspicious of big words. We also may be somewhat weary of too much intelligent thinking; all we want is our own little river flowing into the Infinite. There was a great saint in India who, for many years before he found peace, used to ask whomever he met: "Have you seen God? Have you seen God?" He would always go away frustrated and angry because people told him stories. He wanted to see. He wasn't wrong, considering all the deception men have heaped onto this world, as onto many others. Once we have seen, we can talk about it; or, most probably, we will remain silent. Indeed, we do not want to deceive ourselves with words; we want to start from what we have, right where we are, with our cloddy shoes and the little ray of sunshine on the good days; such is our simple hearted faith. 

We see that the world around us is not so great, and we aspire for it to change, but we have become wary of universal panaceas, of movements, parties, and theories. So we will begin at square one, with ourselves such as we are; it isn't much, but it's all we have. We will try to change this little bit of world before setting out to save the other. And perhaps this isn't such a foolish idea after all; for who knows whether changing the one is not the most effective way of changing the other?

What can Sri Aurobindo do for us at this low altitude? 

There is Sri Aurobindo the philosopher, and Sri Aurobindo the poet, which he was essentially, a visionary of evolution; but not everyone is a philosopher or a poet, much less a seer. But would we not be content if he gave us a way to believe in our own possibilities, not only our human but our superhuman and divine possibilities, and not only to believe in them but to discover them ourselves, step by step, to see for ourselves and to become vast, as vast as the earth we love and all the lands and all the seas we hold within us? For there is Sri Aurobindo the explorer, who was also a yogi; did he not say that yoga is the art of conscious self-finding?

It is this exploration of consciousness that we would like to undertake with him. If we proceed calmly, patiently, and with sincerity, bravely facing the difficulties of the road--and God knows it is rugged enough--there is no reason that the window should not open at some point and let the sun shine on us forever. Actually, it is not one but several windows that open one after another, each time on a wider perspective, a new dimension of our own kingdom; and each time it means a change of consciousness as radical as going from sleep to the waking state. We are going to outline the main stages of these changes of consciousness, as Sri Aurobindo experienced them and described them to his disciples in his integral yoga, until they take us to the threshold of a new, still unknown experience that may have the power to change life itself.

For Sri Aurobindo is not only the explorer of consciousness, he is the builder of a new world. Indeed, what is the point of changing our consciousness if the world around us remains as it is? We would be like Hans Christian Andersen's emperor walking naked through the streets of his capital. Thus, after exploring the outermost frontiers of worlds that were not unknown to ancient wisdom, Sri Aurobindo discovered yet another world, not found on any map, which he called the Supermind or Supramental, and which he sought to draw down upon Earth. He invites us to draw it down a little with him and to take part in the beautiful story, if we like beautiful stories. 

For the Supermind, Sri Aurobindo tells us, brings a dramatic change to the evolution of consciousness on earth; it is the change of consciousness that will have the power to hope--as thoroughly and lastingly as the Mind did when it first appeared in living matter. We will see, therefore, how the integral yoga leads to a supramental yoga, or yoga of terrestrial transformation, which we will try to outline only, because the story is still in the making; it is quite new and difficult, and we do not quite know yet where it will take us, or even whether it will succeed.

That, in fact, depends a little upon us all..."


From Chapter 3 - The Last of the Intellect

"The capital period of my intellectual development," confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, "was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!"

It had taken Sri Aurobindo fourteen years to cover the road of the West; it was to take him almost as much time to cover the path of India and to attain the "summit" of the traditional yogic realisations, that is, the starting point of his own work. But what is interesting for us is that even this traditional road, which we must look upon as a preparation, Sri Aurobindo traversed outside all customary rules, as a freelance or rather as an explorer who cares little for precautions and for maps and thus avoids many useless windings because he has simply the courage to go straight ahead.

It was then not in solitude nor with legs crossed nor under the guidance of an enlightened Master that Sri Aurobindo was to begin the journey but as we might do ourselves, without knowing anything about it, right in the midst of life - a life as tumultuous and disturbed as ours may be - and all alone.

The first secret of Sri Aurobindo is undoubtedly to have always refused to cut life into two - action, meditation, inner, outer, and all the gamut of our false separations; from the day he thought of yoga he put everything into it: high and low, within, without, all was good enough for him, and he started off without a look behind. Sri Aurobindo has not come to give us a demonstration of exceptional qualities in an exceptional milieu, he has come to show us what is possible for man and that the exceptional is only a normality not yet mastered, even as the supernatural, he said, is that the nature of which we have not attained or do not yet know, or the means of which we have not yet conquered.' Fundamentally, everything in this world is a question of right concentration; there is nothing which will not finally yield up to a well-directed concentration.

When he landed at the Apollo Bunder in Bombay a spontaneous spiritual experience seized him, a vast calm took possession of him; but he had other problems: food, living. Sri Aurobindo was twenty. He found a job with the Maharaja of Baroda as professor first of French, then of English, at the State College of which he soon became VicePrincipal. He also worked as the private secretary of the Prince. Between the Court and the College his hands were already full, but it was the destiny of India which preoccupied him. He went several times to Calcutta, acquainted himself with the political situation, wrote articles which created a sensation, for he was not satisfied with calling the queen-empress of India an old lady so called by way of courtesy he invited his compatriots to shake off the British yoke and attacked the mendicant policy of the Indian Congress: no reforms, no collaboration.

His aim was to organise all the energies of the nation for a revolutionary action. This must have required some courage in 1893 when the British hegemony extended over three-fourths of the globe. But Sri Aurobindo had a special way of attacking the problem; he did not lay the blame upon the English but upon the Indians themselves: Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our purblind sentimentalism.$ Here is already a dominant note of Sri Aurobindo who, in the political battle as in the spiritual and in all circumstances, asks us to search within ourselves and not outside or elsewhere for the causes of our misfortunes and of the calamities of the world; outer circumstances are merely the unfolding of what we are, said later she who shared his work.

Sri Aurobindo soon realised that newspaper articles did not suffice to awaken a country; he began underground work which was to lead him to the threshold of the gallows. For thirteen years Sri Aurobindo was to play with fire.

However, this young man was neither agitated nor fanatical: "His smile was simple like that of a child, as limpid and as sweet," wrote his Bengali teacher who lived with him for two years (Sri Aurobindo had naturally begun to study his mother-tongue), and with a touching naivety his teacher adds:

"Before meeting Sri Aurobindo I had imagined him as a stalwart figure dressed like a European from head to foot, immaculate, with a stern look behind his spectacles, a distorted accent (of Cambridge, evidently!) and a temper exceedingly rough.... Who could have thought that this bronzed young man with the soft and dreamy eyes and long wavy hair parted in the middle and falling to the neck, clad in a common coarse Ahmedabad dhoti and a close-fitting Indian jacket, on his feet old-fashioned slippers with upturned toes, and the face slightly marked with small-pox, was no other than Mister Aurobindo Ghose, a living well of French, Latin and Greek?"

For the rest, Sri Aurobindo was not yet through with books, the occidental momentum was still there; by huge cases he devoured books ordered from Bombay and Calcutta: "Aurobindo would sit at his work-table," continues his Bengali teacher, "and read in the light of an oil lamp till one in the morning, oblivious of the intolerable mosquito-bites. I would see him seated there in the same posture, for hours on end, his eyes fixed on the book, like a yogi plunged in the contemplation of the Divine, lost to all that went on around. Even if the house had caught fire, it would not have broken this concentration."

Novels, English, Russian, German, French, filed past him thus and also in ever larger numbers the sacred books of India, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Ramayana, without his having ever stepped into a temple save through curiosity. "Once having returned from College," narrates one of his friends, "Sri Aurobindo sat down, picked up a book at random and began to read it whilst Z and some friends began a noisy game of chess. After half an hour he put down his book and took a cup of tea. We had already seen him do this many a time and were waiting eagerly for a chance to verify whether he read the books from cover to cover or whether he only skimmed through a few pages here and there.

The test began immediately. Z opened the book, read a line aloud and asked Sri Aurobindo to repeat the sequel. Sri Aurobindo concentrated for a moment and repeated the entire page without a single mistake. If he could read a hundred pages in half an hour, no wonder he could read a caseful of books in so incredibly short a time." But Sri Aurobindo did not stop at the translations of the sacred texts, he began to study Sanskrit which he learnt by himself- a fact typical of him: indeed a thing had but to be considered difficult or impossible, and he refused to take anyone's word for it, be he grammarian, pandit or clergyman, and wished to make the experiment himself, directly. This method possibly had advantages, for not only did he learn Sanskrit but discovered a few years later the lost meaning of the Vedas (The Vedic Age, prior to that of the Upanishads, which was its heir, may be placed before 4000 B.C)

The day came, however, when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual gymnastics. Probably he had seen that one can continue indefinitely to amass knowledge and to read and read and to learn the languages, even all the languages in the world and all the books in the world, and yet not advance an inch.

For the mind does not seek to know truly, though it seems to - it seeks to grind. Its need of knowledge is primarily a need of something to grind. And if perchance the machine were to come to a stop because the knowledge was found, it would quickly rise in revolt and find something new to grind, to have the pleasure of grinding and grinding: This is its function. That within us which seeks to know and to progress is not the mind but something behind it which makes use of it:

"The capital period of my intellectual development," confided Sri Aurobindo to a disciple, "was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone!"

Sri Aurobindo had come to a turning-point; the temples did not interest him and the books were empty. A friend advised him to practise yoga, Sri Aurobindo refused: A yoga which requires me to give up the world is not for me; he even added, a solitary salvation leaving the world to its fate was felt as almost distasteful.

But one day Sri Aurobindo witnessed a curious scene, though one quite common in India; yet banality is often the best pretext for an inner starting-point. His brother Barin had fallen ill having caught a dangerous hill-fever (Barin was born when Sri Aurobindo was in England; it was he who served as Sri Aurobindo's secret messenger for the organisation of the Indian resistance in Bengal), when there arrived one of those half-naked wandering monks, smeared with ashes, who are called naga-sannyasins. He was perhaps on his way begging food from door to door as is their custom, when he saw Barin rolled up in his bed-sheets, shivering with fever. Without a word he asked for a glass of water, cut it through cross-wise with a knife while he chanted a mantra, and gave it to the sick man to drink. Five minutes later Barin was cured and the monk had disappeared.

Sri Aurobindo had heard much about the strange powers of these ascetics but this time he had seen with his own eyes. He felt then that yoga could serve other ends than mere escape. Now, he had need of power to liberate India:

“The agnostic was in me, the atheist was in me, the sceptic was in me and I was not absolutely sure that there was a God at all.... I felt there must be a mighty truth somewhere in this yoga.... So when I turned to the yoga and resolved to practise it and find out if my idea was right, I did it in this spirit and with this prayer to Him, "If Thou art, then Thou knowest my heart. Thou knowest that I do not ask for Mukti (liberation), I do not ask for anything which others ask for. I ask only for strength to uplift this nation, I ask only to be allowed to live and work for this people whom I love..”

It was thus that Sri Aurobindo set out.

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