Friday, May 29, 2009

India has been and is one of the greatest civilizations of the world

Sri Aurobindo (Bengali: শ্রী অরবিন্দ Sri Ôrobindo) (August 15, 1872December 5, 1950) was an Indian nationalist and freedom fighter, poet, mystic, evolutionary philosopher, Yogi and spiritual master. [1]

Philosophy of social evolution
Sri Aurobindo's spiritual vision extended beyond the perfection and transformation of the individual; it included within its scope the evolution and transformation of human society. In both the individual and in society, the soul and spirit is at first hidden and occult. This hye argues influences the direction and course of development from behind, but allowing nature to follow its gradual, zigzagging, and conflict-ridden course. Afterwards, as mind develops and becomes more dominant over obscure impulses, the ego-centered drives of vital nature. This results in a more objective, enlightened perception and approach towards human existence and the potential developments that become possible. At the highest stage of mental development he argues that a greater possibility and principle becomes apparent, which is spiritual and supramental in nature. At this point a true solution to humanity's problems becomes visible in the context of a radical transformation of human life, into a form of divine existence.

In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo describes the stages of development of human society, illustrating with a perceptive analysis of historical and political developments and trends, and outlining a future ideal society towards which he says it is moving. Starting from Lamprecht's theory that societies pass through several distinct psychological stages of development—symbolic, typal and conventional, individualist, and subjective—Sri Aurobindo expresses his view of historical and sociological development in the light of his own theory of spiritual evolution. After taking a passing glance at the symbolic, typal, and conventional stages in Indian and European history, Sri Aurobindo focuses on the individualistic and the beginning subjective stages of modern societies. He then presents a more detailed picture of a future spiritual stage in which he indicates all the others will find their meaning and towards which they unconsciously move.

The symbolic stage is illustrated by the ancient Vedic age, in which “the religious institution of sacrifice governs the whole society and all its hours and moments, and the ritual of the sacrifice is at every turn and in every detail, as even a cursory study of the Brahmanas and Upanishads ought to show us, mystically symbolic.” The typal stage is characterized by a dominance of psychological and ethical concerns and motives; all else, including spiritual and religious concerns, are subordinate to these. In Indian society, it was best expressed in the ideal and concept of Dharma, the upholding of tradition and the fulfillment of one's social position and responsibility. In the conventional stage, the outward expressions of the ideal overshadow the ideal itself, such that customs, outward signs and symbols become ends in themselves, and their inner spirit and significance becomes eclipsed. In its early phase, the spirit and inner significance of the social institutions still live and thrive within well-developed structures, but afterwards the institutions become more and more formalized and artificial, and their inner purpose and significance become obscured. In Indian society, this is illustrated with the growing rigidity of the caste system in which the society was organized, with its increasing emphasis on custom, heredity, and ritual.

Sri Aurobindo explains that “the individualistic age of human society comes as a result of the corruption and failure of the conventional, as a revolt against the reign of the petrified typal figure.” He illustrates the occurrence of this stage in Europe beginning with its revolt of reason against the Church and fixed authority and its continuation and blossoming with the growth of scientific inquiry. Through science, a new basis of principles and laws could be discovered and established that were open to scrutiny and logical analysis and reasoning. There were also established the democratic ideals that all individuals had the right to develop to the full stature of their capabilities, and that the individual was not simply a social unit with a social function, but also had unique individual needs, possibilities, and tendencies which should be allowed freedom and opportunity for development. As a part of the revolt against traditional authority, there developed in some regions another intellectual philosophy and political movement, apparently in contradiction to individualism, of the supremacy of the society as a whole over the individual. Sri Aurobindo also analyses the strengths and limitations of this viewpoint, and its relations and opposition to the democratic ideal.

The subjective age comes as an outgrowth of the individualistic and rational questioning of the conventional institutions and structures of society. The individualistic age culminates in a new intellectual foundation and development in all the spheres of life, but this rational view of the world and the self can only go so far, it cannot reach into the depths of the being. Nevertheless, its questioning spirit, its search for truth leads it beyond its own capabilities, leads it to search for a deeper foundation and a more complete understanding of the mysteries and subtleties of self and world. The subjective age begins when society begins to search for the deeper truths of its existence below the surfaces which the reason has explored and explained in an ordered, but limited sense. He explains that examples of this tendency are already apparent. In education, there is the trend to understand the psychology of the growing child and to base systems of teaching upon this basis. In criminal justice, there is an effort to understand the psychology of the criminal, and to strive to educate and rehabilitate rather than simply punish or isolate. In societies and groupings of people, there is a growing tendency to regard them as living and growing organisms with their own soul and inner tendencies, which must be fostered, developed, and perfected.

According to Sri Aurobindo, the present subjective age, with its inward turn towards the essential truth of the self and of things, opens the possibility of a true spiritual age. He explains that the subjective age could conceivably stop short of becoming spiritual. He says that a true spiritual age will come only if the idea becomes strong in the intellectual life of humanity that the Spirit is the true Reality standing behind our physical existence, and that to realise the Spirit and express it outwardly in mental, vital, and physical terms is the real meaning and aim of human existence. Sri Aurobindo argues that there is a deeper spiritual Reality that is the true Self of both the individual and the society, and it is only by identifying ourselves with it, rather than the limited and superficial individual or social ego, that the individual and social existence find their true center and their proper relation with one another. In a spiritual age, therefore, he says that society would “make the revealing and finding of the divine Self in man the whole first aim of all its activities, its education, its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure.”

Analysis of Indian culture
In Renaissance in India (earlier called The Foundations of Indian Culture), Sri Aurobindo examines the nature of Indian civilization and culture, he looked at its central motivating tendencies and how these are expressed in its religion, spirituality, art, literature, and politics. The first section of the book provides a general defense of Indian culture from disparaging criticism due to the misunderstanding of a foreign perspective, and its possible destruction due to the aggressive expansion and infiltration of Western culture. This section is interesting in the light it sheds on the nature of both Eastern and Western civilizations, how they have developed over the centuries, how they have influenced each other throughout the ages, and the nature and significance of these exchanges in the recent period. The principle tenet of the exposition is that India has been and is one of the greatest civilizations of the world, one that stands apart from all others in its central emphasis, or rather its whole foundation, based on spirituality, and that on its survival depends the future of the human race—whether it shall be a spiritual outflowering of the divine in man, or a rational, economically-driven, and mechanized association of peoples.

After an overall view of the culture, we are taken on a more detailed tour of each of the primary components of Indian culture, beginning with its religion and spirituality, the heart and soul of Indian culture, and the basis for all its various manifestations. Sri Aurobindo quickly takes the reader to the core of the matter:

"The fundamental idea of all Indian religion is one common to the highest human thinking everywhere. The supreme truth of all that is a Being or an existence beyond the mental and physical appearances we contact here. Beyond mind, life and body there is a Spirit and Self containing all that is finite and infinite, surpassing all that is relative, a supreme Absolute, originating and supporting all that is transient, a one Eternal... This Truth was to be lived and even to be made the governing idea of thought and life and action... All life and thought are in the end a means of progress towards self-realisation and God-realisation." (p. 125)

But Sri Aurobindo does not simply reveal the essence of Indian religion and spirituality, he sets this in the context of its religious and spiritual traditions, examines its development through the ages, and puts it into relief and contrast with European religion. We are shown how the spiritual essence was already present in the Vedas, the world's oldest spiritual scriptures, though much of these sacred teachings were couched in a veiled symbolic language accessible only to the initiate. Subsequently, the Upanishads revealed the same essential teachings to the masses in a philosophical language, and still later, the various multifaceted spiritual approaches to the Infinite were developed in epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, with the core spiritual teaching placed in the latter's episode of the Bhagavad Gita, as well as through many other religious movements and spiritual teachings.

In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo next examines the nature and qualities of Indian art, concentrating on its architecture, sculpture, and painting. His focus is on revealing the essence of Indian art, its foundation in spirituality, its rich complexity, its depiction and expression of the Divine and the inner worlds and the soul of mankind. As he puts it,

“Indian architecture, painting, sculpture are not only intimately one in inspiration with the central things in Indian philosophy, religion, Yoga, culture, but a specially intense expression of their significance... They have been very largely a hieratic aesthetic script of India's spiritual, contemplative and religious experience.”

Sri Aurobindo reveals an extraordinary knowledge and appreciation of Indian art. At the same time, he is sensitive to cultural differences in understanding and appreciation, and is carefully instructive in considering the differences in European and Indian art, and in the aesthetic sensibilities that are likely to arise from these differences. As a result, this section of his book gives the Western reader the essential keys to enter into a deeper appreciation of Indian art, while giving the Indian, who may be influenced more or less strongly by Western cultural pressures, a better understanding and firmer confidence in India's artistic traditions.

In the chapters on Indian literature, we are shown again the fundamental spiritual basis of Indian culture, as the earliest and greatest formative works of Indian literature are spiritual and religious. We are given introductions to the Vedas, the Upanishads, the great Epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the later classical age of ancient literature including the poetry of Kalidasa, various philosophical writings of the Middle Ages, the religious poetry of the Puranas, the yogic and spiritual texts of the Tantras, Vaishnava poetry, and others. Here we are given only a taste of the spiritual substance of this sacred literature and some appreciation of the tremendous influence it had upon the development of Indian spirituality and culture. Sri Aurobindo further developed his exposition of the most important spiritual texts — Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita (an episode in the Mahabharata) — in separate books: The Secret of the Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, and Essays on the Gita. In The Foundations of Indian Culture we are given a wonderful overview of this literature, enabling the reader to appreciate the nature of each body of work while at the same achieving a sense of the overall breadth and the development over time of the literature as a whole.

In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo also examines the Indian polity, the development of India's administrative and governing structures set in their historical context. Here as in the other aspects of Indian culture, we find a fundamental basis in spirituality, and a sophisticated, intuitive, and humane development. We are shown in considerable detail and with an obvious mastery of facts, the arrangement and workings of the governing structures from ancient times to the present. A central tenet of the system was its focus on the upholding of Dharma, the duty and right rule of action for individuals of varying positions in the society, including the king. The governing structures developed organically, from the extended family, to the clan and villages, to associations among smaller grouping, to larger grouping within kingdoms. Power and legislative authority was distributed throughout the system, and included civic and general assemblies that represented a cross-section of the peoples. The monarch was in effect a constitutional monarch that could be removed due to mismanagement or abuse of power through the assemblies. We are shown how the system eventually broke down under foreign invasion and influence. We are led to the admission that in an important sense the political system failed in that it was unable to achieve a unity of the all the Indian subcontinent, a difficult endeavor in any case, nor could it sufficiently protect its peoples from foreign military invasion and subjugation. Interestingly, this failure is ascribed in part to the inner and spiritual basis of Indian culture and polity, which is inconsistent with a superimposed, artificial administrative structure, which would have been easier to establish. He argues that this inner basis of India's unity, reflected most directly in her spirituality and religion but also in the other fields of culture, has remained intact throughout the millennia, despite India's frequent and enduring foreign occupations.

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