Every nation has its own special attributes. The special attribute of Germany is its organisation, of the US its enterprise, of Japan its adaptability and of Great Britain its balance. The hallmark of India, in the hey-day of her civilisation, has been the power and profundity of her mind and the purity and punctiliousness of her soul.
It was this power and purity which had made the Indian civilisation as one of the most creative and constructive civilisations of the ancient world. In his own inimitable style, Sri Aurobindo had noted: “For three thousand years at least—it is indeed much longer –she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts—the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity”.
It were the saints and sages of ancient India who, by virtue of their disposition to ponder over, in great depth and in utter solitude, on the mysteries of life, had injected power and potency in the Indian mind. In turn, this power and potency had added to the capacity of the sages and saints to think still more deeply on the phenomena around. The cycle of mutual reinforcement went on, and the sage and saints moved silently, in the inner recesses of their mind, ‘from unreal to real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality’.
One of the fundamental truths discovered was that the universe was an organic web in which every item of life and nature were inextricably enmeshed with every other item and that this web was permeated with cosmic force of which man and nature were the constituents as well as contributors.
Many other principles of living in balance and harmony with nature were also evolved. A philosophic structure, in the form of Vedanta, was raised and a way of attaining elevation of mind and moving towards truth, while carrying out day-to-day work, was indicated through a comprehensive system of yoga.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, which need not be gone into here, the power of the Indian mind, which had produced profound systems and structures of the genre indicated above, began to wane after the seventh century. Soon, there was a near total desertification of the Indian mind, with small meadows of green appearing here and there occasionally.
The ‘mighty evil’ that had invaded the Indian mind and soul was, to a large extent, beaten back by a galaxy of profound thinkers and reformers who brought about a new awakening that led to the great renaissance of the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Out of the stalwarts of renaissance, Sri Aurobindo emerged as the strongest champion of the Indian spirit and expressed the highest confidence in its underlying strength. In no uncertain terms, he declared: “India cannot perish, our race cannot become extinct, because among all the divisions of mankind it is to India that is reserved the highest and most splendid destiny, the most essential to the future of the human race. It is she who must send forth from herself the future religion of the entire world, the Eternal religion which is to harmonise all religions, science and philosophies and make mankind one soul”.
In Sri Aurobindo’s thought, the Sanatana Dharma and India always appear as the two sides of the same coin. But in his famous Uttarapar speech, delivered on May 30, 1909, he placed the former at a higher pedestal. He expressed his belief in these memorable words: “When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world.”
Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the Sanatana Dharma is designed to uplift the entire human race and not merely the Hindus: “What is this religion which we call Sanatana, eternal. It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, … But it is not circumscribed by the confines of single country. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it is the universal religion which embraces all others”.
It needs to be underlined that in the post-Uttarpara-speech period, Sri Aurobindo committed himself mainly to the liberation of human consciousness. He made it clear: “Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfillment of the Sanatana Dharma is only Swaraj.” A regenerated India alone, he thought, could free the world from its “enslavement to materialism” and for pointing to it the “way towards a dynamic integration of Spirit and Matter and to make life perfect with Divine Perfection.” He believed that a great evolution was the real goal of humanity.
After Sri Aurobindo’s thought had undergone a subtle shift at Uttarpara on May 30, 1909, his vision was to liberate India’s consciousness and bring back Sanatana Dharma as her national religion—a religion which is all embracing, non-sectarian and eternal. His vision was to build a nation of Karmayogis who would have a higher consciousness, get rid of their egos, desires and attachments, have no joy over their successes and no grief over their failures, achieve inner rather than outer renunciation, perform passionless and impersonal actions and take themselves to such a height where no distinction is kept between their wills and the will of the Divine and truth of non-duality of existence is fully realised. And, further, his vision was to make us of India’s heritage and cause a situation in which human life would become the Life Divine—‘a perfect expression’ of the Divine Essence.
But what is position today? Has not a deep and dark shadows fallen between Sri Aurobindo’s vision and the reality that obtains in India today? Do we find Karmayogis around or see signs of liberation of India’s spirit? Has there been any advance towards spirituality or higher level of human consciousness?
Clearly, the answer to all such questions is in the negative. On the other hand, what a discerning eye sees around is that in practically every walk of life, be it intellectual, social, political or cultural, reverse gear has been in operation and key activities are now virtually controlled by blind men with lantern in their hands.
On the centenary day—May 30, 2009—of Uttarpara Speech, let all the students and teachers of Sri Aurobindo’s school of thought resolve that they would not lose heart on account of current dismal scenario and would work with a renewed sense of mission to ensure that vision of the great prophet of twentieth century is fulfilled. Undoubtedly, the task is Herculean, the goal is distant and would take a long time to traverse. But let us not forget that even the longest journey begins with the first step.
(The writer is a former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir and a former Union Minister.)