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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 18

“The knowledge of the Yogin is not the knowledge of the average desire-driven mind. Neither is it the knowledge of the scientific or of the worldly-wise reason which anchors itself on surface facts and leans upon experience and probability. The Yogin knows God’s way of working and is aware that the improbable often happens, that facts mislead. He rises above reason to that direct and illuminated Knowledge which we call Vijnanam…”

The Karmayogin dated 19th February, 1910

After his release from the Alipore jail, Sri Aurobindo addressed a few meetings in Calcutta. At a meeting at the Beadon Square held on the 13th June, 1909, under the presidency of Ramananda Chatterji, Sri Aurobindo said among other things, “…and what after all was the repression? Some people sent to prison, some deported, a number of house-searches, a few repressive enactments, limiting the liberty of the press and the platform. This was nothing compared with the price other nations have paid for their liberty. They also would have to suffer much more than this before they could make an appreciable advance towards their goal. This was God’s law; it was not the rulers who demanded the price, it was God who demanded it. It was His law that a fallen nation should not be allowed to rise without infinite suffering and mighty effort…. The sun of India’s destiny would rise and fill all India with its light and overflow India and overflow Asia and overflow the world. Every hour, every moment could only bring them nearer to the brightness of the day that God has decreed.”

On the 23rd June he went to Barisal and delivered a speech at the Jhalakati Conference, “…it is a strange idea, a foolish idea which men have, indeed, always cherished under such circumstances, but which has been disproved over and over again in history, — to think that a nation which has once risen, once has been called up by the voice of God to rise, will be stopped by mere physical repression. It has never so happened in the history of a nation nor will it so happen in the history of India…. Repression is nothing but the hammer of God that is beating us into shape so that we may be moulded into a mighty nation and an instrument for His work in the world. We are iron upon His anvil and the blows are showering upon us not to destroy but to re-create. Without suffering there can be no growth…

“…we are no ordinary race. We are a people ancient as our hills and rivers and we have behind us a history of manifold greatness not surpassed by any other race, we are the descendants of those who performed Tapasya and underwent unheard-of austerities for the sake of spiritual gain and of their own will submitted to all the sufferings of which humanity is capable. We are the children of those mothers who ascended with a smile the funeral pyre that they might follow their husbands to another world. We are a people to whom suffering is welcome and who have a spiritual strength within them, greater than any physical force, we are a people in whom God has chosen to manifest Himself more than any other at many great moments of our history. It is because God has chosen to manifest Himself and has entered into the hearts of His people that we are rising again as a nation…”

The reader will have observed in the passages quoted above — as, indeed, one observes in all Sri Aurobindo’s political speeches and writings — that if there is one thing which recurs oftener than anything else, one thing upon which he insists with his usual force and eloquence, one thing with which he wants to inspire his readers and audiences, one thing which is the burden of his political as well as spiritual songs, it is God, surrender to God’s will, and God’s service. Nobody before him or after ever came to the political field so much drunk with God, so much irradiated by His light, and led so unmistakably by God’s will. His political life was foreshadowed in his life in England and at Baroda, and his spiritual life was foreshadowed in his political life. The student life in England, the scholarly life in Baroda, the political life in Bengal, these superficial divisions are made by those only who cannot view his life as a whole. In fact, as we have already remarked, there was no break in his life at all. It was a natural, continuous evolution, a natural out-flowering. The morning showed the day. The germinating acorn suggested the giant oak.

By the middle of July, 1909, Sister Nivedita returned from Europe with Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and lady Bose under the assumed name of Mrs. Margaret. We reproduce below some passages from an authentic biography of Sister Nivedita by Lizelle Reymond.[1]

“Aurobindo Ghose was now out of prison, and Nivedita had her school decorated as for the most auspicious festival days to celebrate his release. She found him completely transformed. His piercing eyes seemed to devour the tight-drawn skin-and-bones of his face. He possessed an irresistible power, derived from a spiritual revelation that had come to him in prison. During the entire ordeal he had seen before him nothing but the Lord Krishna: Krishna the adored and the adorable, the essence of Brahman, the Absolute in the sphere of relativity: Lord Krishna had become at the same time prisoner, jailor and judge…

“Now, released from prison Aurobindo Ghose found his party discouraged and downcast. With a mere handful of supporters — Nivedita among them — he launched an appeal and tried to rekindle the patriotic spark in a weakening society. His mission was now that of a Yogin sociologist. The two newspapers which he founded — the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali, both violent in tone — preached his lofty aim…

“…he was already known as the ‘seer’ Sri Aurobindo, although still involved in political life, and as yet not manifested to his future disciples on the spiritual path. For Nivedita he was the expression of life itself, the life of a new seed grown on the ancient soil of India, the logical and passionate development of all her Guru’s teachings…

“Aurobindo’s open and logical method of presenting his own spiritual experience, and revealing the divine message he had received in his solitary meditation, created the necessary unity between his past life of action and his future spiritual discipline…

“Nivedita thought she could still hear the voice of Swami Vivekananda stirring up the masses: ‘Arise, Sons of India! Awake!’ That had been the first phase of the struggle. Now this life-giving cry was repeated differently, because the effort required in the changing circumstances was no longer identical; but the source of it was still the same! Now the new order was that every individual should become a sadhak of the nation — a seeker — so that ‘the One could find Himself and manifest Himself in every human being, in all humanity.’ Aurobindo Ghose was throwing out the first ideas of the integral yoga he was to teach, depicting man in his cosmic reality…. He was, as Nivedita understood him, the successor to the spiritual Masters of the past, offering the source of his inspiration for all to drink from in yogic solitude. Since his imprisonment at Alipore, Aurobindo Ghose was no longer a fighter but a Yogi.”

Nivedita was undoubtedly the most influential, resourceful, and fearlessly loyal helper of Sri Aurobindo in his militant nationalism. This brave lady never spared herself in her Guru-given work for the freedom of India. She was the one disciple of Swami Vivekananda’s whom he moulded to perfection according to the truth of her own nature. She had an equal access to many of the offices of the British bureaucracy, the homes of the leading aristocratic personalities of Calcutta, and the hearts of the young nationalists. She was loved and esteemed by almost all who knew her. Since her contact with Sri Aurobindo at Baroda she never ceased helping him in his political work. A remarkable lady with a remarkable record of service for the cause of Indian freedom! But much of this service remains shrouded in a fog, and is not, therefore, adequately recognised. A more detailed and better documented biography of Sister Nivedita, dealing with all aspects — spiritual, political, artistic, and literary — of her life in India, will meet a keenly-felt want.

Asked about Sister Nivedita, Sri Aurobindo said the following in one of his evening talks:

“What do you mean by ‘some sort’? She was one of the revolutionary leaders. She went about visiting various places to come into contact with the people. She was open, frank and talked freely over revolutionary plans to everybody. There was no concealment about her. Whenever she could speak on revolution, it was her very soul, her true personality that came out. Her whole mind and life expressed itself thus. Yoga was Yoga but revolutionary work it was that seemed intended for her. That is fire! Her book, Kali, the Mother, is very inspiring but revolutionary and not at all non-violent.

“She went about the Thakurs of Rajputana, trying to preach to them revolution. At that time everybody wanted some kind of revolution. I myself met several Rajput Thakurs who, unsuspected by the Government, had revolutionary ideas and tendencies…”

Referring to Gandhi’s remark that Nivedita was volatile and mercurial and the subsequent violent protest made by the Modern Review, Sri Aurobindo said, “Nivedita volatile? What nonsense! She was a solid worker.

“Once she came to the Gaekwar and told him to join the revolution, and said, ‘If you have anything more to ask, you can ask Mr. Ghose’ but the Gaekwar never talked politics with me.

“The first time she came to me she said, ‘I hear, Mr. Ghose, you are a worshipper of Shakti, Force’. There was no non-violence about her. She had an artistic side too. Khashirao Jadav and I went to receive her at the station. Seeing the Dharmasala near the station she exclaimed, ‘How beautiful!’ While looking at the college building she cried, ‘How horrible!’ Khashirao said later, ‘She must be a little mad’…. The Ramakrishna Mission was a little afraid of Nivedita’s political activities and asked her to keep them separate from its work.”

Asked about Nivedita’s Yogic achievements Sri Aurobindo said, “I don’t know. Whenever we met we spoke about politics and revolution. But her eyes showed a power of concentration and revealed a capacity for going into trance.” When it was pointed out to Sri Aurobindo that Nivedita had come to India with the idea of doing Yoga, Sri Aurobindo said, “Yes, but she took up politics as a part of Vivekananda’s work. Her book is one of the best on Vivekananda. Vivekananda himself had ideas about political work and had spells of revolutionary fervour. Once he had a vision which corresponded to something like the Manicktola gardens.”[2]

At the Howrah People’s Association Sri Aurobindo delivered a speech on the Right of Association which was published in the Karmayogin on the 17th July, 1909. We reproduce below a few lines from this speech:

“…according to our philosophy it is the idea which is building up the world. It is the idea which expresses itself in matter and takes to itself bodies. This is true also in the life of humanity, it is true in politics, in the progress and life of a nation. It is the idea which shapes material institutions. It is the idea which builds up and destroys administrations and Governments. Therefore the idea is a mighty force, even when it has no physical power behind it, even when it is not equipped with means, even when it has not organised itself in institutions and associations. Even then the idea moves freely abroad through the minds of thousands of men and becomes a mighty force. It is a power which by the very fact of being impalpable assumes all the greater potency and produces all the more stupendous results. Therefore the right of free speech is cherished because it gives the idea free movement, it gives the nation that power which ensures its future development, which ensures success in any struggle for national life, however stripped it may be of means and instruments. It is enough that the idea is there and that the idea lives and circulates. Then the idea materialises itself, finds means and instruments, conquers all obstacles and goes on developing until it is expressed and established in permanent and victorious forms…

“…Association is the mightiest thing in humanity; it is the instrument by which humanity moves, it is the means by which it grows, it is the power by which it progresses towards its final development. There are three ideas which are of supreme moment to human life and have become the watchwords of humanity. Three words have the power of remoulding nations and Governments, liberty, equality and fraternity. These words cast forth into being from the great stir and movement of the eighteenth century continue to act on men because they point to the ultimate goal towards which human evolution ever moves. This liberty to which we progress is liberation out of a state of bondage. We move from a state of bondage to an original liberty. This is what our own religion teaches. This is what our own philosophy suggests as the goal towards which we move, mukti or moksha. We are bound in the beginning by a lapse from pre-existent freedom, we strive to shake off the bonds, we move forward and forward until we have achieved the ultimate emancipation, that utter freedom of the soul, of the body or the whole man, that utter freedom from all bondage towards which humanity is always aspiring. We in India have found a mighty freedom within ourselves, our brother-men in Europe have worked towards freedom without. We have been moving on parallel lines towards the same end. They have found out the way to external freedom. We have found out the way to internal freedom. We meet and give to each other what we have gained. We have learnt from them to aspire after external as they will learn from us to aspire after internal freedom.

“Equality is the second term in the triple gospel. It is a thing which mankind has never accomplished. From inequality and through inequality we move, but it is to equality. Our religion, our philosophy set equality forward as the essential condition of emancipation. All religions send us this message in a different form but it is one message. Christianity says we are all brothers, children of one God. Mohammedanism says we are the subjects and servants of one Allah, we are all equal in the sight of God. Hinduism says there is One without a second. In the high and the low, in the Brahmin and the Shudra, in the saint and the sinner, there is one Narayana, one God and He is the soul of all men. Not until you have realised Him, known Narayana in all, and the Brahmin and the Shudra, the high and the low, the saint and the sinner are equal in your eyes, then and not until then you have knowledge, you have freedom, until then you are bound and ignorant. The equality which Europe has got is external political equality. She is now trying to achieve social equality. Now-a-days their hard-earned political liberty is beginning to pall a little upon the people of Europe, because they have found it does not give perfect well-being or happiness and it is barren of the sweetness of brotherhood. There is no fraternity in this liberty. It is merely a political liberty. They have not either the liberty within or the full equality or the fraternity. So they are turning a little from what they have and they say increasingly, ‘Let us have equality, let us have the second term of the gospel towards which we strive’. Therefore socialism is growing in Europe. Europe is now trying to achieve external equality as the second term of the gospel of mankind, the universal ideal. I have said that equality is an ideal even with us but we have not tried to achieve it without. Still we have learnt from them to strive after political equality and in return for what they have given us we shall lead them to the secret of the equality within.

“Again there is fraternity. It is the last term of the gospel. It is the most difficult to achieve, still it is a thing towards which all religions call and human aspirations rise. There is discord in life, but mankind yearns for peace and love. This is the reason why the gospels which preach brotherhood spread quickly and excite passionate attachment. This was the reason of the rapid spread of Christianity. This was the reason of Buddhism’s rapid spread in this country and throughout Asia. This is the essence of humanitarianism, the modern gospel of love for mankind. None of us have achieved our ideals, but human society has always attempted an imperfect and limited fulfilment of it. It is the nature, the dharma of humanity that it should be unwilling to stand alone. Every man seeks the brotherhood of his fellows and we can only live by fraternity with others. Through all its differences and discords humanity is striving to become one.

“‘…There is one place in which we all meet and that is your common Mother. That is not merely the soil. That is not merely a division of land but it is a living thing. It is the Mother in whom you move and have your being. Realise God in the nation, realise God in your brother, realise God in a wide human association.’ This is the ideal by which humanity is moved all over the world, the ideal which is the dharma of the Kali Yuga…. For the fiat of God has gone out to the Indian nation, ‘Unite, be free, be one, be great’.”

We make no apology for having quoted rather long extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s speech at the Howrah People’s Association. What with the light he throws upon the concept of the word idea, the clarification he gives of the meaning of “association”, the exalted spiritual sense he attaches to the Motherland worshipped as the Mother, the interpretation he gives of the triple gospel of the French Revolution — Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity — and explains how it is being progressively realised in mankind, and the distinction he draws between the parallel lines of advance of the East and the West towards liberty, the whole speech is, indeed, revealing, and will repay repeated readings.

On the 18th July, 1909 Sri Aurobindo delivered a speech at a meeting at College Square over which he presided. At this meeting Sri Aurobindo pointed to the dangerous consequences that the British policy of repression would inevitably entail. He warned the Government that if it tried to smother the peaceful movement of passive resistance, it would drive the young ardent nationalists into sporadic or organised violence. He criticised Mr. Gokhale for saying that Swaraj or autonomy or Colonial Self-Government could not be achieved by peaceful means. He preached again the necessity and potential power of suffering. “We have not said to our young men, ‘When you are repressed, retaliate,’ we have said, ‘suffer’.”

[1] The Dedicated by Lizelle Reymond.
[2] Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran.

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