Although Sri Aurobindo was primarily a mystic and a yogi with a global vision and is one of the greatest names in the spiritual annals of humanity, he came from a Hindu stock, and for that reason alone some people have looked upon him as the representative of the Hindu view. But to limit Sri Aurobindo to Hinduism is like characterising modern science and technology as purely Christian, since by and large they originated in the Christian countries. Besides, there have been some mischievous attempts in recent years to portray Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo as primarily Hindu nationalists, or champions of militant Hinduism. This is a travesty of truth.
As for Hindu nationalism, Sri Aurobindo held that it was an anachronistic notion in the 20th century, and if these two great men were ‘militant’ about anything, it was about spirituality as the universal religion of man, and not about any sectarian religion. In fact, Sri Aurobindo held that the time for religions was over, whatever their need and justification at a certain stage in human history. He believed that mankind was entering the age of universal spirituality. He has categorically declared that his Ashram and his teachings were not based on Hindu religion or culture or any religion or nationality, but on the Truth of the Divine which is the spiritual ideal behind all religions and on the truth of the supramental consciousness which is not known to any religion. [...]
Strange indeed are the measures and criteria some of the leaders of public opinion in our country have evolved by which a person’s genuineness as a secularist is to be judged. He who hopes to be counted among the accredited secularists must hold Hindus and Muslims equally guilty in every instance of communal disturbance; he should hold Hinduism and Islam equal in everything, except that he is free to damn Hindu culture and Hindu scriptures, but he should say nothing critical about Islam either in India or anywhere else in the world. Finally, a secularist must make fun of all religions. [...]
The spirituality of which Sri Aurobindo has been the most articulate spokesman in our time respects the freedom of the human soul, because it is fulfilled by freedom; and the deepest meaning of freedom is the power to expand and grow towards perfection by the law of one’s own nature. True spirituality gives freedom to philosophy and science, to man’s seeking for political and social perfection and to all his other powers and terrestrial aspirations. Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo exemplify best the spirit of liberalism which has created out of the medieval Hinduism a vibrant, modern Hinduism, more than willing to reaffirm what is basic to the Hindu faith - respect for all religions. [...]
Our attempts should be to strengthen the hands of the liberal elements and not to pamper to the whims of the extremists for winning their votes. Nevertheless, it is not realism to ignore this growing hold of fundamentalism on Islam in India even today. The politicization of Islam has added fuel to the fire of fundamentalism.
Sri Aurobindo had a clear recognition of these singular difficulties and therefore he recognised that co-existence with a community such as Islam required a federal spirit, even wider than that which has made India the most tolerant country in the world to other religious faiths and modes of worship. There will have to be such a genuine spirit of federalism as would convince Muslims that it is not the goal of Hinduism either to destroy Islam or to absorb it within Hinduism. This would necessitate evolving a formula of national unity by expanding the old idea of federalism. [...]
On several occasions in India we have failed to make a distinction between the moral and political blackmailing tactics of a few hooligans and the genuine aspirations for social and economic justice of the silent majority in our Muslim population. The vote arithmetic on which our democracy is based has even encouraged these hooligans. Giving in to the blackmailing tactics of such groups is dangerous to both the communities. A sentimental approach or one which is overtly moralistic only adds fuel to this conflict situation. A firm and impartial handling of conflicts arising out of this mindset is as important for our political health and stability as safeguarding the identity of the minority religions. [...]
In my discussion here I have deliberately avoided mentioning the current conflict between the ideologies of the so-called secularists and the so-called champions of Hindu nationalism. In my view these so-called secularists are motivated by genuine humanitarian considerations but in practice they seem to be perpetuating a mix of the political and sentimental approaches which have so far proved disastrous. From political platforms we preach that religion should be kept out of politics, but how do we keep religion out of politics as long as we can not eschew the temptation of depending on religious vote-banks? That is the surest way of politicising religion and politicising religion is the easiest way of getting caught in the vicious grip of fundamentalism, and fundamentalism is a game at which many can play; we should not look surprised when we find that Hindus can be made to play it as zealously as any other religious group in the country.
Regarding the ideology of the so-called champions of Hindu nationalism, it is possible to infer what Sri Aurobindo’s reactions to their ideology would have been from the comments he made a long time ago (Karmayogin, Nov.6, 1909) on the ideology of a group called the Hindu Sabha, which was started in Bengal in the first decade of this century. Sri Aurobindo said in his article that if this Hindu Sabha stood for a new spiritual impulse based on Vedanta, the essential oneness of man, the lofty ideals of brotherhood, freedom, equality, and a recognition of the great mission and mighty future of the Hindu spiritual ideals and disciplines and of the Indian race, then it would be serving a great objective.
If, on the other hand, it is inspired by motives of rivalry against the Mohammedan intransigence and by a desire to put the mass and force of a united Hinduism against the intensity of Muslim self-assertion, then it has to be regarded a retrogressive movement and must be rejected. Sri Aurobindo was categorical that Hindu nationalism had probably a meaning in the times of Shivaji and Ramdas, probably it was both possible and necessary at that time, but in present-day India such an ideology had no place. Under modern conditions, there was room only for an Indian nationalism.
What lessons can we then draw from this analysis of the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity in Sri Aurobindo’s light?
a) Hindu-Muslim unity can not be achieved through political cleverness, or by flattering the Muslims. It can be achieved only by cleansing our hearts of prejudices and our minds of misunderstandings.
b) The Hindu must extend to the Muslim brother the love of the patriot realising that Mother India has given him too a permanent place in her bosom. Nothing should be done which would threaten the identity of the various religious minorities of India.
c) The temptation of exploiting the Muslim community purely as a vote-bank must be given up. The real economic, social and educational interests of this community should be addressed so that the community does not feel marginalised.
d) The problems created by religious fundamentalism should not be papered over; we should learn to make a clear distinction between the real interest of a community and the attempts it can make to exploit its minority status. Thuggery and hooliganism must be severely dealt with, no matter in what community it is found. The liberal elements within Islam should be encouraged.
e) It should be remembered that by weakness and cowardice one can never conciliate Islam. Hinduism should be more dynamic and world-affirming and revive its commitment to the ideal of making our terrestrial life perfect. More clearly and decisively than ever before, Hinduism should rise above mere religiosity and reveal its true nature as a spiritual culture; only then will it be able to fulfil its historic mission of showing to the world how to fuse spiritually with other religions on a vast scale.