A Letter of Sri Aurobindo to His Brother
Date unfixable [April 1920]
I have received your three letters (and another one today), but up till now I have not managed to write a reply. That now I sit to write is itself a miracle, because I write letters once in a blue moon, especially letters in Bengali. This is something I have not done even once in the last five or six years. If I can finish the letter and post it, the miracle will be complete.
First, about your yoga. You want to give me the charge of your yoga, and I am willing to accept it. But this means giving it to Him who, openly or secretly, is moving me and you by His divine power. And you should know that the inevitable result of this will be that you will have to follow the path of yoga which He has given me. the path 1 call the Integral Yoga. This is not exactly what we did in Alipur jail, or what you did during your imprisonment in the Andamans. What I started with, what Lele gave me, what I did in jail — all that was a searching for the path, a circling around looking here and there, touching, taking up, handling, testing this and that of all the old partial yogas, getting a more or less complete experience of one and then going off in pursuit of another. Afterwards, when I came to Pondicherry, this unsteady condition ceased. The indwelling Guru of the world indicated my path to me completely, its full theory, the ten limbs of the body of the yoga. These ten years he has been making me develop it in experience; it is not yet finished. It may take another two years. And so long as it is not finished, I probably will not be able to return to Bengal. Pondicherry is the appointed place for the fulfilment of my yoga — except indeed for one part of it. that is, the work. The centre of my work is Bengal, but I hope its circumference will be the whole of India and the whole world.
Later I will write to you what my path of yoga is. Or, if you come here, I will tell you. In these matters the spoken word is better than the written. For the present I can only say that its fundamental principle is to make a synthesis and unity of integral knowledge, integral works and integral devotion, and, raising this above the mental level to the supramental level of the Vijnana, to give it a complete perfection.
The defect of the old yoga was that, knowing the mind and reason and knowing the Spirit, it remained satisfied with spiritual experience in the mind. But the mind can grasp only the fragmentary; it cannot completely seize the infinite, the undivided. The mind’s way to seize it is through the trance of samadhi. the liberation of moksha, the extinction of nirvana, and so forth. It has no other way. Someone here or there may indeed obtain this featureless liberation, but what is the gain? The Spirit, the Self, the Divine is always there. What the Divine wants is for man to embody Him here, in the individual and in the collectivity—to realise God in life. The old system of yoga could not synthesise or unify the Spirit and life; it dismissed the world as an illusion or a transient play of God. The result has been a diminution of the power of life and the decline of India. The Gita says; utsideyur ime loka na kuryam karma ced aham, “These peoples would crumble to pieces if I did not do actions.” Verily “these peoples” of India have gone down to ruin. What kind of spiritual perfection is it if a few ascetics, renunciates, holy-men and realised beings attain liberation, if a few devotees dance in a frenzy of love, god-intoxication and bliss, and an entire race, devoid of life and intelligence, sinks to the depths of darkness and inertia? First one must have all sorts of partial experience on the mental level, flooding the mind with spiritual delight and illuminating it with spiritual light; afterwards one climbs upwards. Unless one makes this upward climb, this climb to the supramental level, it is not possible to know the ultimate secret of world-existence; the riddle of the world is not solved. There, the cosmic Ignorance which consists of the duality of Self and world, Spirit and life, is abolished. Then one need no longer look on the world as an illusion: the world is an eternal play of God, the perpetual manifestation of the Self. Then is it possible fully to know and realise God—samagram mam jnatum pravistum, “to know and enter into Me completely”, as the Gita says. The physical body, life, mind and reason, Supermind. the Bliss-existence—these are the Spirits five levels. The higher we climb, the nearer comes a state of highest perfection of man’s spiritual evolution. When we rise to the Super-mind, it becomes easy to rise to the Bliss. The status of indivisible and infinite Bliss becomes firmly established — not only in the timeless Supreme Reality, but in the body, in the world, in life. Integral existence, integral consciousness, integral bliss blossom out and take form in life. This endeavour is the central clue of my yogic path, its fundamental idea.
But it is not an easy thing. After fifteen years I am only now rising into the lowest of the three levels of the Supermind and trying to draw up into it all the lower activities. But when the process is complete, there is not the least doubt that God through me will give this supramental perfection to others with less difficulty. Then my real work will begin. I am not impatient for the fulfilment of my work. What is to happen will happen in God’s appointed time. I am not disposed to run like a madman and plunge into the field of action on the strength of my little ego. Even if my work were not fulfilled, I would not be disturbed. This work is not mine, it is Gods. I listen to no one else’s call. When I am moved by God, I will move.
I know that Bengal is not ready. The spiritual flood which has come is for the most part a new form of the old. It is not a real change. But it too was needed. Bengal has been awakening within itself all the old yogas in order to exhaust their ingrained tendencies, extract their essence and with it fertilise the soil. First it was the turn of Vedanta: the doctrine of non-dualism, asceticism, the Illusionism of Shankara, and so forth. Now, according to your description, it is the turn of the Vaishnava religion : the divine Play, love, losing oneself in the delight of spiritual emotion. All this is very old and unsuitable for the new age. It cannot last, for such excitement has no lasting-power. But the Vaishnava way has this merit, that it keeps a certain connection between God and the world and gives a meaning to life. But because it is a partial thing, the connection and the meaning are not complete. The sectarianism you have noticed was inevitable. This is the law of the mind: to take one part and call it the whole, excluding all the other parts. The realised man who comes with an idea keeps, even if he leans on the part, some awareness of the whole — although he may not be able to give it form. But his disciples are not able to do this, because the form is lacking. They are tying up their bundles — let them. When God descends completely on the country, the bundles will open of themselves. All these things are signs of incompleteness and immaturity. I am not disturbed by them. Let the force of spirituality have its play in the country in whatever way and through as many sects as there may be. Afterwards we shall see.
This is the infancy, the embryonic state, even, of the new age, just a hint, not yet the beginning.
Then about Motilal’s group.1 What Motilal got from me is the first foundation, the base of my yoga—surrender, equality etc. He has been working on these things; the work is not complete. One special feature of this yoga is that until the realisation has been raised to a somewhat elevated level, the base does not become solid. Motilal now wants to rise higher. In the beginning he had a number of old fixed notions. Some have dropped off, some still remain. At first it was the notion of asceticism — he wanted to create an Aurobindo order of monks.2 Now his mind has admitted that asceticism is not needed, but the old impression in his vital being has still not been thoroughly wiped out. This is why he advocates renunciation and asceticism while remaining a part of the life of the world. He has realised the necessity of renouncing desire, but he has not fully been able to grasp how the renunciation of desire can be reconciled with the experience of bliss. Moreover, he took to my yoga—as is natural to the Bengali nature —not so much from the side of knowledge as from the side of devotion and service. Knowledge has blossomed out a little : but much more is yet to come, and the fog of sentimentality has not been dissipated, though it is not so thick as it used to be. He has not been able to get beyond the limitations of the sattwic nature, the temperament of the moral man. The ego is still there. In a word, his development is progressing, it is not complete. But I am in no hurry. I am letting him develop according to his own nature. I do not want to fashion everybody in the same mould. The real thing will be the same in all, but it will take many aspects and many forms. Everyone grows from within; I do not wish to model from outside. Motilal has got the fundamental thing; all the rest will come.
You ask, “Why is Motilal tying up his bundle?” I will explain. First, some people have gathered round him who are in contact with him and with me. What he received from me. they too are receiving. Secondly, I wrote a small article in Prabartak3 called
1 The Prabartak Sangha of Chandernagore. West Bengal, founded by Motilal Roy. an early associate of Sri Aurobindo.
2 Today I have received a letter from Motilal He writes that he never had this idea, he was misunderstood [Sri Aurobindo's note]
3 A magazine published by Motilal Roy’s Prabartak Sangha
“About Society”4 in which I spoke about the sangha or community. I do not want a community based on division. I want a community based upon the Spirit and giving form to the unity of the Spirit. This idea Motilal has taken up under the name deva-sangha (divine community). I have spoken in my English writings of the “divine life”. Nolini has translated this as deva-jivana. The community of those who want the deva-jivana is the deva-sangha. Motilal has begun an attempt to establish this kind of community in seed-form in Chander-nagore and to spread it across the country. If the shadow of the fragile ego falls upon this sort of endeavour, the community turns into a sect. The idea may easily creep in that the community which will be there in the end is this very one, that everything will be the circumference of this sole centre, that all who are outside it are not of the fold or, even if they are, that they have gone astray, because they are not in accord with our current line of thinking. If Motilal is making this mistake—he may have some tendency to make it, though I do not know whether he has done so or not —it will not do much harm, the mistake will pass. Much work has been done and continues to be done for us by Motilal and his little group —something nobody else has been able to do up till now. The divine power is working in him, there is no doubt about that.
You will perhaps ask. “What is the need of a sangha? Let me be free and fill every vessel. Let all become one. let all take place within that vast unity.” All this is true, but it is only one side of the truth. Our business is not with the formless Spirit only; we have to direct life as well. Without shape and form, life has no effective movement. It is the formless that has taken form, and that assumption of name and form is not a caprice of Maya. The positive necessity of form has brought about the assumption of form. We do not want to exclude any of the world’s activities. Politics, trade, social organisation, poetry, art, literature — all will remain. But all will be given a new life, a new form. Why did I leave politics? Because our politics is not the genuine Indian thing: it is a European import, an imitation of European ways. But it too was needed. You and 1 also engaged in politics of the European style. If we had not done so. the country would not have risen, and we would not have had the experience or obtained a full development.
4 Presently published under the title “The Chariot of Jagannath” (Jagannather Rath).
Even now there is a need for it, not so much in Bengal as in the other provinces of India. But now the time has come to take hold of the substance instead of extending the shadow. We have to awaken the true soul of India and to do everything in accordance with it. For the last ten years I have been silently pouring my influence into this foreign political vessel, and there has been some result. I can continue to do this wherever necessary. But if I took up that work openly again, associating with the political leaders and working with them, it would be supporting an alien law of being and a false political life. People now want to spiritualise politics — Gandhi, for instance. But he can’t get hold of the right way. What is Gandhi doing? Making a hodge-podge called satyagraha out of “Ahimsa parama dharma”.5 Jainism. hartal, passive resistance, etc. ; bringing a sort of Indianised Tolstoyism into the country. The result—if there is any lasting result—will be a sort of Indianised Bolshevism. I have no objection to his work; let each one act according to his own inspiration. But it is not the real thing. If the spiritual force is poured into these impure forms — the wine of the spirit into these unbaked vessels — the imperfect things will break apart and spill and waste the wine. Or else the spiritual force will evaporate and only the impure form remain. It is the same in every field of activity. I could use my spiritual influence; it would give strength to those who received it and they would work with great energy. But the force would be expended in shaping the image of a monkey and setting it up in the temple of Shiva. If the monkey is brought to life it may grow powerful, and in the guise of the devotee Hanuman do much work for Rama — so long as the life and strength remain. But in the temple of India we want not Hanuman but the Godhead, the Avatar, Rama himself.
I can associate with everyone, but only in order to draw them all onto the true path, while keeping the spirit and form of our ideal intact. If that is not done we will lose our way and the true work will not be accomplished. If we are spread out everywhere as individuals, something no doubt will be done; if we are spread out everywhere in the form of a sangha, a hundred times more will be accomplished. But the time has not yet come for this. If we try to give it form hastily, it will not be the exact thing 1 want. The sangha will at first be in a diffused form.
5 “Non-violence is the highest law”
Those who have accepted the ideal, although bound together, will work in different places. Afterwards, bound into a sangha with a form like a spiritual commune, they will shape all their activities according to the Self and according to the needs of the age. Not a fixed and rigid form like that of the old Aryan society, not a stagnant backwater, but a free form that can spread itself out like the sea with its multitudinous waves—engulfing this, inundating that, absorbing all—and as this continues, a spiritual community will be established. This is my present idea ; it is not yet fully developed. What is being developed is what came to me in my meditations at Alipur. I shall see what shape it finally takes later. The result is in God’s hands — let his will be done. Motilal’s little group is just one experiment. He is looking for the means to engage in trade, industry, agriculture, etc. through his sangha. I am giving force and watching. There may be some materials for the future and some useful suggestions to be found in it. Do not judge it by its current merits and demerits or its present limitations. It is now in a wholly initial and experimental stage.
Next I will discuss some of the specific points raised in your letter. I do not want to say much here about what you write as regards your yoga. It will be more convenient to do so when we meet. But there is one thing you write, that you admit no physical connection with men, that you look upon the body as a corpse. And yet your mind wants to live the worldly life. Does this condition still persist? To look upon the body as a corpse is a sign of asceticism, the path of nirvana. The worldly life does not go along with this idea. There must be delight in everything, in the body as much as in the spirit. The body is made of consciousness, the body is a form of God. I see God in everything in the world. Sarvam idam brahma, vasudevah sarvamiti (“All this here is the Brahman”, “Vasudeva, the Divine, is all”) —this vision brings the universal delight. Concrete waves of this bliss flow even through the body. In this condition, filled with spiritual feeling, one can live the worldly life, get married or do anything else. In every activity one finds a blissful self-expression of the divine. I have for a long time been transforming on the mental level all the objects and experiences of the mind and senses into delight. Now they are all taking the form of supramental delight. In this condition there is the perfect vision and experience of Sachchidananda—the divine Existence. Consciousness and Bliss.
Next, in reference to the divine community, you write, “I am not a god, only some much-hammered and tempered steel.” I have already spoken about the real meaning of the divine community. No one is a god, but each man has a god within him. To manifest him is the aim of the divine life. That everyone can do. I admit that certain individuals have greater or lesser capacities. I do not, however, accept as accurate your description of yourself. But whatever the capacity, if once God places his finger upon the man and his spirit awakes, greater or lesser and all the rest make little difference. The difficulties may be more, it may take more time, what is manifested may not be the same—but even this is not certain. The god within takes no account of all these difficulties and deficiencies; he forces his way out. Were there few defects in my mind and heart and life and body? Few difficulties? Did it not take time? Did God hammer at me sparingly—day after day, moment after moment? Whether I have become a god or something else I do not know. But I have become or am becoming something—whatever God desired. This is sufficient. And it is the same with everybody; not by our own strength but by God’s strength is this yoga done.
It is good that you have taken charge of Narayan. The magazine began well, but later it drew a narrow sectarian line around itself; fostered feelings of faction and began to rot. At first Nolini wrote for Narayan, but later he was obliged to turn elsewhere, because it gave no scope to free opinion. There must be the free air of an open room, otherwise how can there be any power of life? Free light and free air are the primary nourishment of the life-force. At present it is not possible for me to contribute anything. Later I may be able to give something, but Prabartak also has its claim on me. It may at first be a little difficult to satisfy calls from both directions. We shall see when I begin to write in Bengali again. At the moment I am short of time; it is not possible for me to write for anything except the Arya. Each month I alone have to provide 64 pages; it is no small task. And then there is poetry to write; the practice of yoga takes time; time is also needed for rest. Most of “On Society”, which Saurin has with him, has probably appeared in Prabartak. The rest of what he has must be a draft; the final revision has not been done. Let me have a look at it first. We shall see then whether it can be published in Narayan.
You write about Prabartak that people cannot understand it, it is misty, a riddle. I have been hearing the same complaint all along. I admit that there is not much clear-cut thinking in Motilal’s writing; he writes too densely. But he has inspiration, force, power. In the beginning Nolini and Moni wrote for Prabartak and even then people called it a riddle. But Nolini’s thinking is clear-cut, Moni’s writing direct and powerful. There is the same complaint about the Arya; people can’t understand it. Who wants to give so much thought and consideration to his reading? But in spite of this, Prabartak was doing a lot of work in Bengal, and at that time people did not have the idea that I was writing for it. If now it does not have the same effect, the reason is that now people are rushing towards activity and excitement. On one side there is the flood of devotion, on the other side the effort to make money. But during the ten-year period that Bengal was lifeless and inert, Prabartak was its only fountain of strength. It has helped a lot in changing the mood of Bengal. I do not think its work is over yet.
In this connection let me tell you briefly one or two things I have been observing for a long time. It is my belief that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or religion, but a diminution of the power of thought, the spread of ignorance in the birthplace of knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think — incapacity of thought or “thought-phobia”. This may have been all right in the mediaeval period, but now this attitude is the sign of a great decline. The mediaeval period was a night, the day of victory for the man of ignorance; in the modern world it is the time of victory for the man of knowledge. He who can delve into and learn the truth about the world by thinking more, searching more, labouring more, gains more power. Take a look at Europe. You will see two things: a wide limitless sea of thought and the play of a huge and rapid, yet disciplined force. The whole power of Europe is here. It is by virtue of this power that she has been able to swallow the world, like our tapaswis of old, whose might held even the gods of the universe in terror, suspense, subjection. People say that Europe is rushing into the jaws of destruction. I do not think so. All these revolutions, all these upsettings are the first stages of a new creation. Now take a look at India.
A few solitary giants aside, everywhere there is your simple man, that is, your average man, one who will not think, cannot think, has not an ounce of strength, just a momentary excitement. India wants the easy thought, the simple word; Europe wants the deep thought, the deep word. In Europe even ordinary labourers think, want to know everything. They are not satisfied to know things halfway, but want to delve deeply into them. The difference lies here. But there is a fatal limitation to the power and thought of Europe. When she enters the field of spirituality, her thought-power stops working. There Europe sees everything as a riddle, nebulous metaphysics, yogic hallucination — “It rubs its eyes as in smoke and can see nothing clearly.” But now in Europe not a little effort is being made to surmount even this limitation. Thanks to our forefathers, we have the spiritual sense, and whoever has this sense has within his reach such knowledge, such power, as with one breath could blow all the immense strength of Europe away like a blade of grass. But power is needed to get this power. We, however, are not worshippers of power; we are worshippers of the easy way. But one cannot obtain power by the easy way. Our forefathers swam in a vast sea of thought and gained a vast knowledge; they established a vast civilisation. But as they went forward on their path they were overcome by exhaustion and weariness. The force of their thought decreased, and along with it decreased the force of their creative power. Our civilisation has become a stagnant backwater, our religion a bigotry of externals, our spirituality a faint glimmer of light or a momentary wave of intoxication. So long as this state of things lasts, any permanent resurgence of India is impossible.
It is in Bengal that this weakness has gone to the extreme. The Bengali has quickness of intellect, a capacity for feeling, intuition. In all these qualities he is the foremost in India. Each of these qualities is necessary, but they are not in themselves sufficient. If there were added to them depth of thought, manly force, heroic audacity, proficiency and delight in prolonged labour, the Bengali would become the leader not only of India, but of the world. But the Bengali does not want this; he wants to pick up things the easy way — knowledge without thought, results without labour, spiritual perfection after an easy discipline. He relies on emotional excitement, but excessive emotion devoid of knowledge is the very symptom of the disease. What has the Bengali been doing from the time of Chaitanya onwards, from long before that, in fact?
Catching hold of some easy superficial aspect of spiritual truth and dancing about for a few days on waves of emotion; afterwards there is exhaustion, inertia. And at home, the gradual decline of Bengal, the ebbing away of her life-force. In the end, what has the Bengali come to in his own province? He has nothing to eat and no clothes to wear, there is wailing on every side. His wealth, his business and trade, even his agriculture begin to pass slowly into the hands of outsiders. We have abandoned the yoga of divine power and so the divine power has abandoned us. We practise the yoga of love, but where there is no knowledge or power, love does not stay. Narrowness and littleness come in. In a narrow and small mind, life and heart, love finds no room. Where is there love in Bengal? Nowhere else even in this division-ridden India is there so much quarrelling, strained relations, jealousy, hatred and factionalism as in Bengal.
In the noble heroic age of the Aryan people there was not so much shouting and gesticulation, but the endeavour they set in motion lasted many centuries. The Bengali’s endeavour lasts for a day or two. You say what is needed is emotional excitement, to fill the country with enthusiasm. We did all that in the political field during the Swadeshi period; everything we did has fallen in the dust. Will there be a more auspicious outcome in the spiritual field? I don’t say there has been no result. There has been; every movement produces some result. But it is mostly in an increase of possibilities. This is not the right way to steadily actualise the thing. Therefore I do not wish to make emotional excitement, feeling and mental enthusiasm the base any longer. I want to make a vast and strong equality the foundation of my yoga; in all the activities of the being, which will be based on that equality, I want a complete, firm and unshakable power; over that ocean of power I want the radiation of the sun of Knowledge and in that luminous vastness an established ecstasy of infinite love and bliss and oneness. I do not want tens of thousands of disciples. It will be enough if I can get as instruments of God one hundred complete men free from petty egoism. I have no confidence in guruhood of the usual type. I do not want to be a guru. What I want is for someone, awakened by my touch or by that of another, to manifest from within his sleeping divinity and to realise the divine life. Such men will uplift this country.
Do not think from reading this lecture that I despair of the future of Bengal. I too hope for what they are saying — that this time a great light will manifest in Bengal. But I have tried to show the other side of the shield, where the defects, failings and deficiencies lie. If these remain, that light will not be great, nor will it endure. The saints and great men you have written about appear to me rather dubious. Somehow I do not find in them what I am looking for. Dayananda6 has all sorts of wonderful powers. Illiterate disciples of his do remarkable automatic writing. All right, but this is only a psychic faculty. What I want to know about is the real thing in them and how far it has progressed. Then there is another — he stirs a person to his depths just by touching him. Very well, but what does that thrill lead to? Does the person become by this touch the kind of man who can stand like a pillar of the new age, the divine Golden Age? This is the question. I see you have your doubts about this. I have mine too.
I laughed when I read the prophecies of those saints and holy-men — but not a laugh of scorn or disbelief. I do not know about the distant future. The light God sometimes gives me falls one step ahead of me; I move forward in that light. But I wonder what these people need me for. Where is my place in their great assembly? I am afraid they would be disappointed to see me. And as for me, would I not be a fish out of the water? I am not an ascetic, not a saint, not a holy-man — not even a religious man. I have no religion, no code of conduct, no morality. Deeply engrossed in the worldly life, I enjoy luxury, eat meat, drink wine, use obscene language, do whatever I please — a Tantrik of the left-hand path. Among all these great men and incarnations of God am I a great man or an incarnation? If they saw me they might think I was the incarnation of the Iron Age, or of the titanic and demoniac form of the goddess Kali — what the Christians call the Antichrist. I see a misconception about me has been spread. If people get disappointed, it is not my fault.
The meaning of this extraordinarily long letter is that I too am tying up my bundle. But I believe this bundle is like the net of Saint Peter, teeming with the catch of the Infinite. I am not going to open the bundle just now. If it is opened too soon, the catch may escape.
6 A yogi of eastern Bengal, alive when this letter was written. Not to be confused with Swami Dayananda of the Arya Samaj.
Nor am I going back to Bengal just now — not because Bengal is not ready, but because I am not ready. If the unripe goes amid the unripe, what can he accomplish?
P.S. Nolini writes that you are coming not at the end of April, but in May. Upen8 also wrote about coming. What about that? Is he staying with you or elsewhere? Mukundilal has sent me a letter to be redirected to Sarojini.9 But I don’t know where Sarojini is, so I am sending it to you. Please forward it.
I have received a letter from Motilal. I gather from it and from some other circumstances that the shadow of a misunderstanding has fallen between him and Saurin.10 This may develop into mutual dislike. It is most improper that such a thing should happen among ourselves. I shall write to Motilal about this. Tell Saurin to be careful not to give the least occasion for the opening of such a breach or rift. Somebody told Motilal that Saurin has been telling people (or giving them the impression) that Aurobindo Ghose has nothing to do with Prabartak. Saurin certainly never said anything like this, for Prabartak is our paper. Whether I write for it in my own hand or not, God through me is giving the force that enables Motilal to write. From the spiritual point of view, the writing is mine; Motilal just adds the colour of his mind. Probably what Saurin said is that Aurobindo Ghose himself does not write Prabartak’s articles. But it is not necessary to say even that. It may create a wrong impression just opposite the truth in people’s minds. I have to some extent kept it a secret who writes or does not write for Prabartak. Prabartak (“The Initiated”) itself writes Prabartak. The Power itself is the writer; it is not the creation of any particular individual. This is the truth of the matter. Devajanma11 and other publications with articles by Nolini and Moni have come out in book form and there too no names have been given. It is the same principle. Let it be like that until further order.
7 Elder brother.
8 Upendranath Bannerjee. Like Barin. he was sentenced to transportation for life for his part in the Alipur Bomb Conspiracy. In 1919 or 1920 both men were granted amnesty.
9 Sri Aurobindo’s sister.
10 A cousin of Sri Aurobindo’s wife; he was staying with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry. but at the time of this letter was in Bengal.
11 A collection of essays.