Sri Aurobindo’s Five Dreams: Nation-Souls and the Triple Transformation
By Debashish Banerji
– Based on a talk given at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi on August 15, 2008, reproduced with kind permission from February 2010 issue of Srinvantu, Kolkata, India.
Sri Aurobindo was born on August 15, 1872 and on the same day in 1947 India achieved her freedom from British rule. On that occasion Sri Aurobindo wrote out a message to the new nation which was read out over the radio. This message outlined five dreams of Sri Aurobindo, in each of which India featured prominently. We find from a perusal of these dreams how significant a part India played in Sri Aurobindo’s vision for the future of humanity and of the world.
The first of these dreams was the attainment of freedom for India. Sri Aurobindo announced this dream in the most profound sense, so that the newly acquired political freedom of India was acknowledged but the much that was left unaccomplished was also made clear. The scope of a national freedom for Sri Aurobindo was not merely freedom from colonial rule, but a true independence of the subjective life of the nation, a freedom within; and he linked this notion of freedom with the idea of national unity. He said that India was free but she was not united and he touched on a major source of disunity in the nation in Hindu-Muslim relations which manifested in the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
The second dream announced by Sri Aurobindo was the rise of Asia in the comity of nations, so as to balance the Eurocentric inequality of the modern age and to regain the place of vital significance that she held in the pre-modern past. Sri Aurobindo shared his perception that this was beginning to happen and that India had an important role to play here.
The third dream of Sri Aurobindo was world union – a global polity in which the security of the world was assured and a sense of harmony and concord developed among the peoples of the world.
The fourth dream was the spiritual gift of India to the world. Here he pointed to the fact that under present circumstances, with the various kinds of difficulties and cataclysms that mankind had created for itself and was forced to endure, increasing attention would turn to the spirituality of India, a process which had already substantially begun in his time.
The fifth dream of Sri Aurobindo was humanity’s rise to a new stage of being, a new kind of life or a new species which overcame the limitations of the present human constitution; and he placed this in the future.
Overall, Sri Aurobindo’s five dreams announce a hopeful and optimistic vision for India and the future of the world. At the same time, this is not a naïve optimism. We find him as one of the clearest observers and analysts of the difficulties and problems of modernity and yet, beyond these dangers, he holds out the light of optimism for the human future.
The Question of Unity
It is instructive for us to pay close attention to these five dreams of Sri Aurobindo today, so that we may assess where we stand with respect to them in our present time; and discover messages there which we may hold close to our hearts and turn into aspirations, and convert into will so as to fashion our national and international destiny. It is important to realize that to orient ourselves properly to Sri Aurobindo’s dreams, it is necessary to divest ourselves of the inertia which treats them as prophecies written into some divine calendar. They are invitations to participation, dreams that seek our adherence to turn them into realities.
When we look at these dreams as a whole, we find that a major thread running through them all is the question of unity – national or subcontinental unity, continental unity and global unity. We may start by asking ourselves where we stand with respect to these unities in today’s world. From the superficial point of view, we may say that we are more united today than ever before in history. The world has shrunk today in our minds. We travel large distances very quickly, we enjoy routinely goods and services available at great distances; we mingle with people from cultures spread across the planet, working in multicultural projects of unheard of complexity. So when we contemplate these facts, it seems that a much greater global unity has developed since the time of Sri Aurobindo’s announcement of his five dreams in 1947.
But when we contemplate more deeply the locus of unity which Sri Aurobindo intends in his five dreams, we realize that there is a big gulf separating us from his dreams of unity at a variety of levels. The unity we have achieved is only a materialistic unity – a unity driven by material and commercial forces. We seem to be closer to one another than before but that is because our subjectivity has been tailored into uniformity by the techno-commercial forces of the modern world. Common lifestyles have become normalized across the world due to the determining regime of a world market. On the face of it, this is not apparent, since there seems to be so much choice we find ourselves faced with at every moment, we have even coined the term overchoice to describe this peculiarly contemporary phenomenon. But if we look closer at these choices, they turn out to be merely choices of consumption with cosmetic differences – flavors, tastes, hardly choices of alternate destiny arising from the human depths. We as a world humanity today lead lives in which everything is packaged into commodities – our work and leisure – so that every aspect of our time is conditioned and made demands on. This makes our subjectivity determined and dwarfed, we are left with little or no time, space or energy for a growth of consciousness in our lives. We have little creativity left outside of the constraining boundaries of this determination to express new dimensions of existence.
It is this common condition of servitude that constitutes our unity today. We are united in our bondage to the global world Market. Is this the unity Sri Aurobindo had in mind when he announced his five dreams?
Colonialism and Globalization
Sri Aurobindo begins his address by saying: “August 15 is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the divine force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life and the beginning of its full fruition.” Let us contemplate this work with which as he says, he began his life, and the beginning of whose full fruition he observes on August 15, 1947. The steps that he is referring to here take us back a hundred years to India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule. India was occupied by the British at that time, but this was not a privilege granted only to India. Colonialism was an endemic condition that pervaded most of the non-western world, what is largely called today the developing nations. We may say that all of Asia was colonized, if not politically, then culturally and mentally. India was part of this condition of colonization. Colonization meant racial and civilizational subjugation, economic exploitation, political domination, oppression of many kinds. Now, it is natural that sooner or later, an oppressed people would want freedom. And so, in India, there was a movement for freedom. But colonization itself was an epiphenomenon, a symptom of a much larger ideological movement of European intellectual history, that continues to work its way in the present. This is what took its roots in the 18th c. and is known as the European Enlightenment.
This term “Enlightenment,” as we know it today, has a variety of connotations. It is a term used to describe, rather vaguely, the Buddha’s spiritual attainment, for example. But it is more commonly a term which is used to describe a condition of freedom and expression of the mind as a common property of all humanity, an ideal which developed in 18th c. Europe. On the face of it, this sounds like a noble ideal and we would be hard put to see any connection between this and colonialism or to relate it to a study of what Sri Aurobindo meant by the term “unity” when he began his life in Indian politics. The Enlightenment is an intellectual revolution in which the sense of the divinity of man as a rational being is brought to the front as the definition of humanity. It asserts the intuition of a world which can be understood by the mind in terms of laws. Historically, it arises as a reaction to the religious excesses of the Dark Ages with the revolutionary idea that human individuals do not need any intermediaries between themselves and God, because God is Reason and man possesses a faculty of reasoning. The exercise of the Mind to arrive at the full “Reason” of the world and its expressions would constitute the godhood of man, since by knowing the laws by which the universe is run, he would be in possession of God’s organ of Knowledge. He would thus be an equal of God. This would be the true freedom of the Mind, and this is what would constitute Enlightenment.
What this rational Enlightenment proposes thus, is nothing short of a seeking for omniscience. This becomes the entire project of Modernity, spawning a systematic development of rational knowledge, the birth of the modern Academy and its organization of the world, a process continuing to this day. The utilization of Knowledge for expressing fully the potential of the world, for bettering the world we live in sounds like a most noble ideal, but what stamps it with defect is the Will to Power which it inevitably expresses. This hinges on the question of the limits of human or rational knowledge but more so, on the misuse of the will which is natural to humankind. The Will to Power subjects the Will to Knowledge to its own desire to possess, exploit and enjoy the world and its resources and creatures. The essential experience of separateness endemic to humanity makes each individual person or group treat itself as the center of the universe and all “others” as either a threat or an element for assimilation, possession and enjoyment. The goals of bettering the world slip easily into the goals of utilizing knowledge for accumulating more and more profit, developing huge machineries for creating more and more surplus for the accumulation of profit and expanding techniques for creating desire for the consumption of the surplus produced.
Western man’s religious life has also been exploited to make this possible. As analyzed by Max Weber, the guilt associated with Original Sin in Christianity has been displaced onto a “Protestant work ethic” so as to exploit labor for the accumulation of capital. Similarly, as per thinkers like R.H. Toni, the Old Testament injunction to build perfection on earth has equally been grist to this mill. Thus, this capital accumulation has been a necessary accompaniment of the Enlightenment and, along with the need to convert the whole world to the civilizational ideology of the Enlightenment (what was known as “the white man’s burden), it was as part of this drive for material and subjective exploitation that colonialism arose as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment. Today, the world is no longer politically colonized, but the forces of capital accumulation and the society it produces is no less with us today in and as our era of globalization.
Thus we can see how critical an understanding of this trajectory of modernity is to the notion of national independence. When Sri Aurobindo entered the field of national politics, there were two kinds of approaches to colonialism. The parties who represented these two approaches were the Moderates and the Extremists. The moderate approach was not primarily interested in independence from colonial rule. It called for an end to oppressive policies. It considered the injustices and evils of colonial rule to be what needed overcoming and sought to remedy this through pressing for constitutional change. In other words, its approach was an appeal to the conscience of the colonizer while accepting the superiority of its progressive drive and its right to rule over the nation. Thus, for the Moderates, what the British brought to India were the noble goals of the Enlightenment, which India sorely needed. Humanism, Science and a rational organization of life were seen by them as the great gifts of the west to India and what they pressed for was what they felt to be consonant with the “enlightened” goals of government, a removal of oppressive policies to become true benefactors of India.
What Sri Aurobindo represented was another mode of thinking belonging politically to the group called the Extremists. The Extremists held complete independence from the British to be their political goal and they justified this stand by claiming an alternate civilizational trajectory from that of the west. We find this line of argument consistently for example in the political writings of Sri Aurobindo which emerged in the journal of the Extremists, Bande Mataram. Here we find the call for national independence being issued in the name of a national law of becoming or “dharma.” The use of this term is related to the Gita’s idea of a distinct law of being, swabhava and becoming, swadharma for each individual. Sri Aurobindo adapted this idea for the collective entity of the nation and thus asserted a psychic reality uniting the people of India. By this argument, it is not just to be free of oppression that India needed to be free, but for her people to express what lay latent in the depths of national self-becoming, the swadharma or rashtra-dharma of the nation.
The idea of a national law of self-becoming was never articulated distinctly before this in India and is also an adaptation of the idea of the nation soul which was developed in late 18th c. Germany by thinkers like Johann Herder and G.W.F. Hegel. Looked at from a contemporary historical vantage, this idea of a nation soul is very controversial. This is because we live in the wake of World War II, in which this idea was very drastically and dangerously abused. A national soul, as an ahistorical essence, gives rise easily to the idea of racism and radical cultural relativism. All nations, by this idea, would be seen as eternally distinct with its people making competitive claims on the earth. From this problem of relativism, also arises the question of hierarchy. How are these distinct entities to be ordered in relation to one another and the totality of the world? What is to be at the center and what at the periphery? It is clear that such ideas can easily be abused to justify Apartheid and racial or cultural expansionism. These are also the kinds of problems that led to the second World War, whose disastrous effects brought humanity close to extinction and whose aftermath smoulders all around us. In occult terms, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother referred to the power behind this war as “the Lord of the Nations,” which goes to show how the nation idea can be distorted into something very dangerous, with a possibility of falsehood which can abuse it hugely if one is not careful.
Apart from this, the idea of a nation soul can raise serious problems of an internal nature, if not properly understood. A nation tries to define its identity through the writing of its history. A variety of ideologies can become the bases for contested histories, each of which claim to give voice to the “true” soul of the nation. We see this all around us as a real problem of nationalism, a factor of fratricidal struggle, seeking to determine the destiny of the nation. In India, there are those, for example, who have built a history around the idea of a Hindu nation. Equally ideological and contestational, may be the idea of a “secular nation.” This, for example, was the entire idea behind Nehru’s work on Indian history, to show that the Indian people have accepted a wide variety of ideologies, religious and otherwise, with no priority given to any one. This allows him to posit a socialistic democracy as the form of polity suited to India’s future.
All these ideas, based on the notion of an unchanging essence defining the nation, hold great dangers, which is why contemporary thinkers have chosen to discard this idea of a nation soul. But Sri Aurobindo and others who utilized this idea to speak of a national soul and law of national becoming, did not see this as the basis of a static racist or culturally essentialistic ideology but as an evolving entity with a cultural history moving towards universality. Sri Aurobindo anticipated these dangers in the nation soul idea and made it very clear in his work on social and political philosophy, The Human Cycle, that the entry into a subjective age, one which opens itself to the subjectivity of a nation soul, is fraught with dangers. He writes here of true and false subjectivisms. But he does not discard the idea of a nation-soul. The truth of the nation soul, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the same as the truth of the individual soul as Sri Aurobindo develops it from the tradition of Indian spiritual philosophy. That is, it is a self-concentration of the one Divine Being, one way of self-understanding of the One Being there is. In other words, nation souls are the same in essence, but different in form of perception and form of expression. This is what allows the soul, whether in an individual or a nation, to see itself as the same in all beings. It is the realization of the One Being in many forms, arising from what Sri Aurobindo calls “the multiple self-concentration of the One.” This is what forms the essence of the nation soul for Sri Aurobindo.
These nation souls are differentiated because the Divine Reality, which represents itself in all these souls, is the Infinite One. While being the Same, it is the aspect of its infinite possibilities which finds differentiated manifestation in the perception and expression of souls. This is what provides a radical uniqueness to each soul’s expression, while basing it in Oneness. The realization of such a subjective truth evades the dangers which arise from an essentialistic psychic ontology, a static monadology without any basis in unity. Sri Aurobindo sees the espousal of such a radical essentialism without unity as a false subjectivism, which seeks to assert its “truth” against all others or dominate the others through a world ordering mythology in which it assumes the position of centrality. On the other hand, the realization of a differentiation based on an expression of the Infinite One would move towards an acceptance of plurality based in the wonder of difference-in-unity, a Being-in-Becoming of the Infinite One. This Sri Aurobindo sees as a “true subjectivism.”
The Five Dreams and the Triple Transformation
Such a “true subjectivism” is better understood in terms of cultural history, as a process of continuities and disjunctions. The evolving nation soul develops its forms through its cultural body. It makes its appearance as a self-identifying concept among the people of a region at a certain point in time and develops along certain lines of preserved preference due to cultural momentum, but is not restricted to them. To understand better the trajectory of evolution of a nation soul, we may compare its movements to those in the development of the individual soul. Here we may see three major movements, which could be related to the idea of Triple Transformation introduced by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine and elsewhere. The first of these movements of history is the creation and proper unification of its instrumental body. This relates at once to the first of Sri Aurobindo’s five dreams and the first of the three transformations which he sets up as the trajectory of human evolution in the individual. The first of the three transformations is the development of a nature body adapted to the use of the psychic being and the emergence of the psychic being as the controller and leader of this expressive nature. Similarly, the first of Sri Aurobindo’s dreams is the freedom and integration of the nation, the preparation and integration of the instrumentality for the use of the nation soul. Sri Aurobindo sees the swadharma of the Indian nation as one which seeks the realization of the Divine in innumerable ways. Each constituent of the national body has its own approach to that Infinite One which attracts it and the nation soul is empowered in the fostering of cultural plurality and syntheses which allow all these myriad lines of seeking their full power of development.
The second movement in the evolution of the nation soul can be seen as its growth towards universality. This is also related to the second transformation in Sri Aurobindo’s formulation of the triple transformation. This is the realization of the Cosmic Consciousness, that which is all-inclusive and sees other forms of approaches as perspectives having differences which are related in a harmony based in an implied Oneness. For the nation soul, this means a growth in the power of relation with other ways of becoming, an expansion out of a narrow way of looking at reality. Such an expansion takes delight in other ways of becoming and forms relations of commonalty, hybridity or syncretism, leading eventually to an inclusion of all other ways as part of one’s own. However, such formulations would continue to respect other kinds of syntheses which may be developed by other ways of becoming. This provides the scope of the second and third dreams of Sri Aurobindo – the rise of Asia as a continental reality in which India plays its part, and the development of world union.
These movements are not temporally exclusive, that is they do not form phases of development which wait for completion before moving to the next. However, for the success of India’s part in the rise to prominence of Asia and for its part in world union, it is important for the development of subjective unity based on an interchange of spiritual plurality in the nation. In fact, one may say that universality is part of the articulated essence of India’s soul, in its espousal of “the world family,” basudhaiva kutumbakam. To realize this, to make it concrete and manifest in the nature body that we call India, is part of its movement towards the goals of the second and third dreams of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo brings together the drift of these three dreams in his fourth dream – the gift of India’s spirituality to the world. This, indeed, is how Sri Aurobindo sees India’s swadharma. But this is not a static spirituality based on a monocultural reading of history – as for example in the idea of a Hindu nation. India’s spirituality is not merely a repetition of its past, it consists in the lived adaptations of the present. This is what Sri Aurobindo makes very clear in his statement: “We belong not to the dawns of the past but to the noons of the future.”
What may be seen as the third movement of the nation soul relates to the fifth of Sri Aurobindo’s dreams. This is the most profound movement and is also identical with the third of the three transformations in Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. This is the further journey of the soul out of its cosmic context into a transcendental dimension, from where it may create a new humanity or rather a superhumanity. This is the dream of a new species, where human souls, prepared through a cosmic unity, rise in consciousness to a higher level of being not yet manifest in the race, and from this vantage, can reformulate the expression of humanity. This goal, perhaps even in its beginnings, belongs to the future, as he says. For this, we need to have some sufficient realization of the first four dreams and we are still very far from that.
The One Nation and the Two Nations
Now, the question to ask is what do these dreams have to do with us? The easiest answer is to say that these are predictions of an avatar and all we need to do is to wait for their achievement. Unfortunately, as the Mother says somewhere, Nature is in no hurry, and predictions or not, these dreams will remain dreams were we not to participate in making them realities. So, let us consider these dreams in terms of their contemporary realization. Where are these dreams today and what is needed to move towards them? The first dream concerns itself with the unity of the nation, not merely political unity but cultural unity, a unity in cultural psychology. One may even say, that for Sri Aurobindo this psychological unity comes before political unity. Political unity can hardly be secure if there isn’t a psychological unity among the peoples of the nation. As a nation, India has experienced various forms of cultural unity in the past. Sri Aurobindo raises here one of the most difficult problems of unity we are faced with today – the Hindu-Muslim question and politically related to this, the India-Pakistan question. Sri Aurobindo says that the political division into India and Pakistan should not be treated as a settled fact. What he is saying here, has its roots in cultural history in the debate between what is known as the one nation and the two nation theory. The one nation theory is based on the idea that Hindus and Muslims in India share a cultural psychology, that in some way, Indian Islam has developed into a synthetic form which shares an acceptance in difference with Hindu forms and vice versa. The two nation theory implies that Hindus and Muslims in India live two completely different realities and are better parted into two nations. The two nation theory has made its appearance in relatively modern times and represents a politicization of religious identities, made to look like a historical fact. It is a rhetorical formulation. If we look back at India’s past, we find many synthetic formulations which have tried to bring Hindu and Muslim spiritual forms into relation or unity with one another. These attempts have become part of the cultural history of the peoples of India, irrespective of religion.
Creative spiritual personalities have arisen in Indian history, such as the Chisti saints, Sufis like Kabir and Nanak, in modern times, personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam or the spiritual genius of Sri Ramakrishna, who united in his own life the various spiritual experiences of different religious traditions. It could be said that India had been under Islamic hegemony for four or five hundred years, but during this period, there were also signal achievements of synthesis and harmony. A great flowering of hybrid Indian culture, transcending religious differences, developed during the Mughal period and the history of India would have been very different had Dara Shikoh, the eldest son and rightful heir of Shah Jehan assumed the throne of Mughal India. The Mughal court was dominated by two Sufi denominations, the Chistis and the Naqshbandis. Of these, the Chistis created a synthetic spiritual culture through hybridization with Vaishnavism. The Mughal emperors who were under the influence of the Chistis, eschewed orthodoxy and promoted spiritual dialog and synthesis. Unfortunately, the Naqsbandhis were more orthodox and lent their support to the ulemas. The regime of Aurangzeb established an Islamic orthodoxy which could be said to lay the seeds for the modern idea of the two nation theory.
If we study the periods and personalities who helped in the manifestation of a cultural closeness among Hindus and Muslims, we find an embracement of the spiritual history of India beyond all orthodox formations. This is what brings us into contact with the nation soul, a culture of pure self-discovery, experience and manifestation of the spirit, however it may come. This implies spirituality in a creative vein, not a clinging to forms and a policing of boundaries. Spirituality stuck in the forms of the past is one thing, India has created many great forms of social practice leading to experiences of the spirit, but if these become exclusive or if they seek to erase the realities of other forms by co-optation, this leads only to internal strife and division, hardly the integration of the social body or the first step towards the manifestation of the nation soul as per Sri Aurobindo. What we call Hinduism has created such a form which tends to define it today, a form of Puranic religion, habits and customs of life and worship, to give body to spiritual experiences. If we follow these forms with a spiritual aim, we may have high realizations of the spirit, as innumerable saints and yogis have affirmed. But let us not forget that these forms also have a historicity, they were created at a certain point in time and answer to certain social conditions. Can we dare to modify or break them? Can we dare to create new forms? Do we have the power to create a new spirituality which will represent a greater cultural psychology of inclusion and realization for the nation? This is the invitation of the first dream of Sri Aurobindo. It calls on the people of India attuned to its nation soul to allow the power of spirituality to become creative in themselves and embrace every form, all shades of realization which have left their mark in the history of the nation. All this history belongs to us and is not to be thrown aside. What we need to protect ourselves from is not this or that spiritual form but all orthodoxy. What we need to embrace instead is a creative and all-embracing spirituality.
Asia is One
Sri Aurobindo’s second dream concerns the rise of Asia. Today much is being said about Asia becoming a major player in the world market. India and China are often spoken of as holding the key to the economic future of the world. If this is all the destiny of India and of Asia, as an economic giant in the drive for a new developing globalization, then we have lost a great opportunity. The Asia that Sri Aurobindo is speaking of is an Asia fertilized by powerful rivers of spirituality, many emanating from India – the Asia that received Buddhism and Hinduism and made its own forms of these, the Asia through which Islam spread not as an orthodoxy but as Sufi mysticism, the Asia in which Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto mingled their rivers with Buddhism in new creative forms through many regional histories. This eclectic spiritual continent called Asia is what Sri Aurobindo is referring to. To approach this, we have to move our attention from the material and economic to the depths of the cultural and spiritual. Do we see any movements of this kind today? I don’t see any. Here again, is where our aspirations come in, we have to make these dreams into realities.
At the turn of the 19th/20th century, Sri Aurobindo started an anti-colonial revolutionary movement in Bengal with a few splinter groups who has already received some preparation towards revolutionary action, not by an Indian, but by a Japanese ideologue by name of Okakura Kakuzo. He had come from Japan to India in 1902 looking for a spiritual personality to take back so as to to re-enliven Japanese spiritual culture. The personality he wished to take back was Vivekananda. This did not happen, since Vivekananda died that year, but Okakura also brought a message to India. This was the message of Pan-Asianism, which he expressed in his famous book, The Ideals of the East. Okakura began this book with the line “Asia is one” and in its very first page, he referred to an all-embracing “Advaita” as the very soul of Asia, a spirit of non-dual spirituality which flowed into the whole of the continent from India. It is this spirit which needs to be kindled in dynamic and living forms today. This rekindling is necessary if Asia of the ages is to rise again into the comity of nations and realize the dream of Sri Aurobindo. This is hardly the Asia which is today playing out a derivative role furthering the commercial vision of the European Enlightenment through neo-liberal globalization.
The Religion of Humanity
Sri Aurobindo’s third dream concerns world unity. Given the forces of globalization weaving a single lifestyle across the world today, it would seem that this dream is close to fulfillment. But once again, this global reality is driven by forces of capital accumulation and economic inequality. Is this the confederation of nations which Sri Aurobindo had in mind? Or an international policy protecting the interests of all the peoples of the world? At the end of World War II, an organ was created for just such a purpose. This was the United Nations. But the United Nations is a highly compromised entity today. It is merely a political tool for certain world powers. Here again, we must realize that for the world union Sri Aurobindo had in mind, external mechanisms like economics and politics are not enough. We must find creative powers to build a global unity which discovers the commonalty of all human beings. Ideologically, this was attempted in Europe through international movements such as Marxism and Socialism. Such ideologies are with us even today. Internationalism as an attempt to define and solve human problems irrespective of cultural differences, problems of human rights, democracy, equality, basic needs continue to be attempted, as variations of the ideals of the Enlightenment, but these solutions don’t go deep enough in their dealings with the darkness that lurks in human hearts. Sri Aurobindo presents instead the ideal of the religion of humanity. This ‘religion of humanity’ is very different from any sectarian religion, just as it is very different from an internationalist Socialism. It is based on the discovery of the soul. The ideal of psychic self-discovery equally enables the discovery of the soul in all individuals. There is a line in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga which opens up the kind of practice leading to such a goal. Here he says, “The realization of oneness and the practice of oneness in difference is the whole of the yoga.” This line returns us to the profound meaning of unity and difference in individual and national souls. It is a practice of this kind that constitutes the essence of realization of the nation soul and of world unity.
A Grass Roots Spirituality
Sri Aurobindo’s fourth dream is that of India’s spiritual gift to humanity. Sri Aurobindo points out that given the changing circumstances and anxieties of our times, people will turn more and more to spiritual solutions and look to India and her long history of spiritual experimentation for solutions. Here he warns that it would indeed be a pity if when the world most needs the benefit of India’s spiritual gift, the citizens of modern India, attracted by the glittering trinkets of global materialism, would themselves devalue or cast away the riches of the soul. In the burgeoning mega-cities of contemporary India, how much value do we give to spiritual solutions? Or has spirituality been reduced to a tool for stress-free and efficient business management? This is what contemporary thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek criticize when they talk of New Age Buddhism becoming the perfect and appropriate subjective counterpart of world capitalism. Yet, perhaps, beyond this easy co-optation, and under the surface of what seem to be comfortable neo-liberal lives, growing fears, anxieties and discontents stemming from nightmares of slippery terrorism, unpredictable financial collapse and/or ecological disaster also mark our age. It is here that people are left to seek for personal solutions which the hubris and self-confidence of the Enlightenment cannot provide. Perhaps somewhere in the occult range of human species consciousness, a shadowy seeking for a new synthesis of yoga is beginning to raise its lonely tongue of aspiration. But even as this need grows around us, how many among us are in a position to offer the help that is necessary? For the spiritual gift of India to answer to the need of the hour, new leaders are necessary – not only at official or institutional levels but at the grass-roots. Many times in India’s past, such waves of spiritual adaptation and experimentation have spread through the country from among the masses. In recent history, the Sufi, Bhakti and Sant movements of the 16th c. are cases in point. But in our present times, when the light of tradition either burns dimly or has been transformed to the lurid glow of fundamentalism, a new inspiration is necessary to kindle the flames of a postsecular world spirituality. Sri Aurobindo has provided a spiritual vision which can sustain and transport us through our contemporary global condition. Thus, it is those who have been touched by the light of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who carry a special responsibility, to make available viable spiritual solutions beyond an exotic traditionalism or a sectarian narrowness. This again, is something of India’s future which needs to be built, a dream to be realized only through sincerity of practice. This too, is very far from being realized, unless enough individuals develop the will to accelerate and intensify its aspiration in their lives.
City States of the Future
Sri Aurobindo’s fifth dream, the transition of humanity (or at least a portion of it) to a new species, is still distant from us. But here, as in the case of his other dreams, it is Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who have left us their own examples towards this eventuality so that we may tune our aspirations towards it. Further, they have given us the beginnings of social formulations for preparing this transition, what Sri Aurobindo has termed “laboratories of the life divine.” These include the communities founded by them, such as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. To prepare ourselves for a change in consciousness leading to a new form of being and becoming, are we being told to gravitate to these places and swell their populations? There is much that we can learn from these places, but if we do not understand the forces with which they were constructed and the world forces they were put in dynamic relationship with, all we will see there are forms of shelter, locations of escape from the modern world. Or if we turn to the practices of the inner life that form the habitus of these places, we may easily lose our connection with the demands of modernity. But it is not for this that these locations were established by their founders. These environments were established to be sites of selective assimilation and engagement with all the forces of the world, so as to have a world transforming potential. In some way, this kind of response to modernity has also been approximated by a number of other social experiments that arose during the period of India’s national struggle for independence. We may think of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan – Visvabharati, the educational center for the making of the Universal Man, Visva Manav, or even Gandhi’s ashram at Sabarmati. These are all attempts at consolidating the inner life against the fragmenting sway of the global techno-commercial forces of modernity, the overwhelming flood which is occupying the world and fashioning human subjectivity today. If humanity is to have a chance at opening up the possibility for Sri Aurobindo’s fifth dream, it can only be through the creation of social conditions where the expressions of a collective spiritual life can take precedence over the ever-accelerating determinisms of production and consumption of a global world market. These are the sites of soul building, not ashrams in the sense of shelters but the autonomous intentional communities and city states of the future that we need to conceptualize and build collectively. So long as the privileging of our national target remains economic success in the world market, this dream of the future will elude us. We have to think and act differently, as individuals and as collectives.
Thus, to contemplate India’s future, as extended in the vision of Sri Aurobindo, it is of paramount importance that we cease from a passive acquiescence to the forces of the world or treat Sr Aurobindo’s dreams as inevitable prophecies. We must hold these dreams near to our hearts and make them our own. To sustain a dream in one’s attention is the very essence of meditation. The Mother makes this need of the hour very clear to us. She asks us never to forget that we are participating in the birth of a new world – to keep this idea in the forefront of our consciousness, to wake with it and go to sleep with it. The Mother says about the supramental manifestation that it may be achieved in a thousand years or it may be achieved in a few hundred years. It depends on human aspiration and practice. The same can be said about Sri Aurobindo’s dreams for the destiny of India. We are not called upon by Sri Aurobindo to be astrologers; we are called upon to be people of aspiration and will. Of course, it is not all in our hands, there are cosmic powers much greater than us as we are presently constituted that have a stake in the future. But unless we become active participants in the process, be able to interpret our times and intensify the movement towards the fulfillment of these dreams, they will remain deferred or even defeated.