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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 11

“I have spoken to you about many things, about Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, Arbitration and other subjects. But there was one truth that I have always tried, and those who have worked with me have also tried, to lay down as the foundation-stone of all that we preached. It is not by any political programme, not by National Education alone, not by Boycott alone, that this country can be saved. Swadeshi by itself may merely lead to a little more material prosperity, and when it does, you might lose sight of the real thing you sought to do in the glamour of wealth, in the attraction of wealth and in the desire to keep it safe…. Under the Roman Empire there was material development,[1] there was industrial progress, but industrial progress and material development did not bring life to the Nation. When the hour of trial came, it was found that these nations which had been developing industrially, which had been developing materially, were not alive. No, they were dead, and at a touch from outside they crumbled to pieces…. What is the one thing needful? … the idea that there is a great Power at work to help India, and that we are doing what it bids us…. God is there, and it is His mission, and He has something for us to do. He has a work for His great and ancient nation…. You have been called upon to do God’s work.”

— Sri Aurobindo’s speech in Bombay

From Baroda Sri Aurobindo went to Poona.[2] Lele accompanied him at his request. When invited to deliver a speech, he asked Lele what he should do, since he was ‘in that silent condition — without any thought in the mind’. “Lele told him to make Namaskar[3] to the audience and wait and speech would come to him from some other source than the mind. So, in fact, the speech came, and ever since all speech, writing, thought and outward activity have so come to him from the same source above the brain-mind.”[4]

At Poona Sri Aurobindo delivered two lectures — the first on the 12th January on Ramamurty, then known as the Sandow of India, and in that connection, he spoke on the development of the will-power for national work, and the second on the 13th on National Movement in Bengal, which he characterised as God-inspired. Even the leaders, he said, could not believe that the movement would assume such huge proportions and be so mighty in its action and effect. Weak Bengalis had been filled with strength. The students showed such heroic courage and readiness for sacrificing themselves on the altar of the Motherland that they became the real leaders and the old leaders their followers. At the end of the meeting, Tilak summed up the speech and thanked the speaker.[5]

From Poona Sri Aurobindo went to Bombay. There, at Girgaum, he spoke on National Education on the 15th January, 1908. We reproduce below a few words from a report of the speech, published in Tilak’s Marathy paper, Kesari: “The meaning of national education is now well understood in Bengal, but the case seems to be quite otherwise in this part of the country. Even the Hon. Mr. Gokhale showed his ignorance of the matter by tampering at Surat with the wording of the resolution on national education passed at the Calcutta Congress. Some of these people appear to think that there can be no ‘national’ education for India, where, according to them, the existence of various conflicting creeds and races makes the growth of a feeling of nationality an impossibility. This view is utterly wrong. The very geographical position of the country, isolating it from other parts of the world, argues its separate national existence. Italy, which is isolated like India, achieved national independence within a space of thirty years. Shivaji, Akbar, Ashoka as well as the Rishis of old are amongst the component parts of the Indian nation. Let us learn from Japan how to awaken the national spirit among the people by a contemplation of the heroic deeds of our ancestors. Let us bear in mind that we have a debt to discharge not only towards our ancestors, but also to our posterity. If such a noble ideal is steadily kept before our mental vision, we shall see that our nation gives birth to great philosophers, statesmen, generals. This ideal has been kept in view in guiding the movement for national education in Bengal. In teaching geography, we impress upon the minds of our students that India is their motherland, and that Maharashtra produced Shivaji, that the Punjab was once ruled by Ranjit Singh, and that the Himalayas gave shelter to our ancient Rishis. History and philosophy, too, are taught in a similar manner with a view to awaken the spirit of nationality amongst the pupils. Nothing that is useful or important is neglected in the scheme, and instruction is, as far as possible, imparted in the vernacular…. In profiting by our contact with Western civilisation, we should be careful not to cut ourselves adrift from our original moorings, but should at the same time imitate the Japanese in taking the fullest advantage of modern scientific discoveries.[6] In political matters we have much to learn from the Western nations, and we shall also turn to them for lessons in popular Government. In our scheme of national education we teach students how to take an active part in politics, as we believe that without such training their education will not be complete. As we teach them some handicrafts, they find it easy to obtain moderately remunerative employment on leaving our schools, which is not the case with pupils attending Government institutions. Our seventh standard equals the intermediate course of the Indian Universities. Self-reliance forms the guiding principle of our scheme of education. We do not look to Government for help, as we think that State assistance will destroy our national stamina….”[7] He made it perfectly clear that national education should be through the mother tongue, but that English should be retained as a secondary language. On the 19th January, Sri Aurobindo was asked to address a meeting held under the auspices of the Bombay National Union at Mahajanwadi. The subject of the speech was ‘The Present Situation’. We have already quoted a few words from this speech at the head of this article, and we shall quote a few of the concluding words of it again. “…He is revealing Himself in you not that you may be like other nations, not that you may rise merely by human strength to trample under foot the weaker peoples, but because something must come out from you which is to save the whole world. That something is what the ancient Rishis knew and revealed, and that is to be known and revealed again today; it has to be revealed to the whole world, and in order that He may reveal Himself, you must first realise Him in yourselves, you must shape your lives, you must shape the lives of this great nation, so that it may be fit to reveal Him, and then your task will be done, and you will realise that what you are doing today is no mere political uprising, no mere political change, but that you have been called upon to do God’s work.”[8]

Tilak’s paper, Kesari, published a report of the above speech from which we reproduce a few sentences: “Though the hand-bills announcing the lecture were published only four hours before the time fixed for the lecture, over three thousand people gathered to hear Babu Arvind Ghose. He… remarked that the secret of the new awakening in Bengal lay in a firm belief in the justice of the national cause and an abiding faith in God[9]… the national movement in Bengal was based on the fact that what seemed impossible to ordinary minds was easy to those who had unshakable faith in God. It is feelings like these that enabled the Bengalis to disregard harassments, floggings and incarceration….”[10]

In the last instalment of the Life of Sri Aurobindo, we promised our readers some explanation of the ‘City’, referred to in the poem, Nirvana, reproduced there. Let us now hear about it from Sri Aurobindo himself: “When I was in Bombay, from the balcony of the friend’s house I saw the whole busy movement of Bombay as a picture in a cinema show, all unreal and shadowy. Ever since I have maintained that poise of mind — never lost it even in the midst of difficulties. All the speeches I delivered on my way to Calcutta were of the same nature — with some mixture of mental work in some parts.”[11]

Sri Aurobindo left Bombay for Nasik. Before parting from Lele, he says, “I asked for his instructions. In the meantime I told him of a Mantra that had arisen in my heart. Suddenly, while giving instructions, he stopped and asked me if I could rely absolutely on Him who gave me the Mantra. I replied that I could always do that. Then Lele said that there was no need of further instructions.”[12]

Regarding this state of the silent mind, Sri Aurobindo said later in one of his evening talks: “All that I wrote in the Bande Mataram and the Karmayogin was from this Yogic state. It used to run down to my pen while I sat down to write. I always trusted the inner Guide even when it seemed to be leading me astray….”[13]

At Nasik he delivered a lecture on 24th January on Swaraj. He said that Swaraj is life, Swaraj is amrita, Swaraj is mukti. Swaraj cannot be granted by any outside agency. Man is born free. If he has lost his freedom, he must regain it. Fitness for Swaraj can be acquired only in Swaraj. Among the means of winning Swaraj, he said, the first and greatest was faith in God. For, God[14] commands and inspires us to conquer our freedom. Tukaram and Ramdas spread the gospel of freedom, and Shivaji conquered it. God’s will was working through the youth of the country. He delivered another lecture there, but we have not been able to get any authentic record of it.

From Nasik Sri Aurobindo went to Dhulia and addressed there a meeting on the 25th on the subject of Swadeshi and Boycott. From Dhulia he went to Amraoti (Berar), where he spoke at the Grand Square of the National School on 29th. The meeting commenced with the singing of the Bande Mataram. He said that Bande Mataram was not only a national anthem to be looked on as the European nations look upon their own, but one charged with mighty power, being a sacred mantra, and revealed to us by the author of Anandamath (Bankim Chandra), who might be called an inspired Rishi. He criticised the so-called patriots of the time who might be well-wishers of India, but not men who loved her. He who loved his mother never looked to her defects, never disregarded her as an ignorant, superstitious, degraded and decrepit woman. He then touched upon the subject of the three koshas or sheaths of the nation. It was a subject of incalculable significance, one which revealed in a flash of light the esoteric knowledge which made him often speak of the soul of the nation and its age-old world-mission, and of God being the Guide of its destiny. As every man or creature has three sheaths or bodies, according to the Yogic knowledge of the ancients — sthūla or the gross body, sūkṣma or the subtle, and kāraṇa or the causal, so has a nation.[15] He who sees only the outer shell or body of the Indian nation, knows nothing of the essential and evolutionary truth of its soul. His patriotism may be intense, and his martyrdom noble-hearted and sincere, but it is a narrow and half-blind patriotism, a martyrdom, inspiring but ignorant, not instinct with knowledge. As it takes a Yogi — a Buddha, a Christ, or a Ramakrishna — to see the soul of a man lodged within his body, so it takes a Yogi to see the soul of a nation behind its geographical and cultural configurations. The very introduction of this truth must have gone home to his audience with a blaze of revelation.

A summary of the above speech is included in the Speeches of Sri Aurobindo. A brief report of it concludes with the following words: “The manner he treated of love and devotion was exceedingly touching, and the audience sat before him like dumb statues, not knowing where they were or whether they were listening to a prophet revealing to them the higher mysteries of life….”[16]

From Amraoti Sri Aurobindo went to Nagpur, and delivered three lectures there. The subject of the first lecture, delivered on the 30th January, was Policy of the Nationalist Party. The subject of the second on the 31st was ‘The Work’ before us.

In the second lecture he impressed upon his audience the truth of his constant experience that behind the political movement there was the divine Power, and that it was not the leaders but God Himself who was leading it. It was, indeed, a spiritual revolution preluded and prepared by a political revolution. If they wanted to re-create or reconstruct the nation, they must prepare themselves for the utmost sacrifice. On the 1st February he delivered his third lecture — ‘Commercial Swaraj’ and ‘Educational

Swaraj’.[17] It pained him to see, he said, that some of the mill-owners in Bombay and Calcutta were opposing the growth of the Swadeshi industry. He appealed to the rich to come forward to help Swadeshi even at a sacrifice. He asserted that if the nation had commercial and educational Swaraj, political Swaraj would follow as a natural consequence.

In these lectures, most of which are not available in the original English form,[18] Sri Aurobindo spoke, or, to be more exact, was made to speak, of God being the leader of the manifold renaissance in India and her mission of giving the spiritual light to humanity. His politics had become one with his Yoga. He was a unique phenomenon in Indian politics — a Yogi-politician, who was at once a God-directed prophet and preacher of spiritual nationalism and an inscrutable but consummate political strategist.

Concluding his political tour[19] of Maharashtra, which is said to have been undertaken at the instance of Tilak, Sri Aurobindo returned from Nagpur to Calcutta.

[1] “when under the Emperors, the old Romans asked for nothing but bread and amusements, they became the most abject race conceivable, and… basely fell into slavery to the invading Barbarians.” — Mazzini, The Duties of Man.

[2] During his stay at Poona, he visited the Parvati hills where he had an experience in the form of a contact with the Infinite, similar to what he had before in Kashmir when he visited the Sankaracharya hills there. He had also a private interview with Tilak’s Guru, Anna Saheb Patwardhan and with some of the young revolutionaries at Poona.

[3] Obeisance or salutation.

[4] Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

[5] Taken from authentic Marathi sources.

[6] Sri Aurobindo welcomed what was quickening and healthy in Western civilisation, and was in favour of harnessing modern scientific inventions to the welfare of man.

[7] Source-Material of a History of the Freedom Movement in India (Collected from Bombay Government Records, Vol. II, pp. 952-53).

[8] Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.

[9] “Faith in God burns with an immortal light through all the lies and corruption with which men have darkened His name.” — Mazzini, The Duties of Man.

[10] Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India (Collected from Bombay Government Records, Vol. II, pp. 952-53)

[11] Life of Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Do not abandon the banner which God has given you.” — Mazzini (The Duties of Man) “Your Country is the token of the mission which God has given you to fulfil in Humanity.” — Ibid.

[15] He deals with this subject in his book, The Human Cycle and we have already referred to it before.

[16] Speeches of Sri Aurobindo.

[17] According to the report published in the Bande Mataram of the 9th February, 1908, the subject of this lecture was Swadeshi and Boycott. But an authentic Marathy source differs.

[18] That is why we have devoted so much of our limited space to a reproduction of some parts of them here. If nothing else, they have a considerable historical and biographical value.

[19] It was not a regular tour with a pre-arranged plan and programme. As Sri Aurobindo says: “There was no tour. Sri Aurobindo went to Poona with Lele and after his return to Bombay went to Calcutta. All the speeches he made were at this time (except those at Bombay and at Baroda) at places on his way wherever he stopped for a day or two.” — Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother.

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