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At the Feet of The Mother

Works of Sri Aurobindo: Karmayogin CWSA 08 (1)

Karmayogin was launched by Sri Aurobindo on the 19th June 1909 as a weekly review of National Religion, Literature, Science, Philosophy etc. six weeks after his acquittal from the Alipore trial case. It is well known that this period of one year during which Sri Aurobindo was kept in solitary confinement turned to be a period of rapid transformation for him. The revolutionary yogi of the Bande Mataram days was transformed into a Yoga-Siddha of the highest order. The imprisonment had released him completely from the prison of Ignorance. The person who went into the prison was the Editor of Bande Mataram. The person who came out was a Jivanmukta and Karmayogi. The name of the journal that he now launched was perfectly apt. The very first issue of the journal reproduced contents of his first speech delivered on the 30th May 1909 soon after his release from the Alipore Jail. He spoke as one who had seen God as indeed he had. The fire of Bande Mataram had entered a depth wherein it had become one with the Fire that we carry within our hearts as the secret godhead immanent in man. He spoke as one moved by God.

CWSA 08 Karmayogin Summary

Karmayogin was launched by Sri Aurobindo on the 19th June 1909 as a weekly review of National Religion, Literature, Science, Philosophy etc. six weeks after his acquittal from the Alipore trial case. It is well known that this period of one year during which Sri Aurobindo was kept in solitary confinement turned to be a period of rapid transformation for him. The revolutionary yogi of the Bande Mataram days was transformed into a Yoga-Siddha of the highest order. He has had the Nirvana experience before being convicted and taken to the Alipur jail on false charges.  This powerful experience formed the backdrop of his stay in the solitary confinement which, as the days rolled by, proved to be part of the larger Divine plan. It became his trysting ground with God.

The imprisonment had released him completely from the prison of Ignorance. The person who went into the prison was the Editor of Bande Mataram. The person who came out was a Jivanmukta and Karmayogi. The name of the journal that he now launched was perfectly apt. The very first issue of the journal reproduced contents of his first speech delivered on the 30th May 1909 soon after his release from the Alipore Jail. He spoke as one who had seen God as indeed he had. The fire of Bande Mataram had entered a depth wherein it had become one with the Fire that we carry within our hearts as the secret godhead immanent in man. He spoke as one moved by God.

When I was asked to speak to you at the annual meeting of your sabha, it was my intention to say a few words about the subject chosen for today,—the subject of the Hindu religion. I do not know now whether I shall fulfil that intention; for as I sat here, there came into my mind a word that I have to speak to you, a word that I have to speak to the whole of the Indian Nation. It was spoken first to myself in jail and I have come out of jail to speak it to my people. …

When I went to jail, the whole country was alive with the cry of Bande Mataram, alive with the hope of a nation, the hope of millions of men who had newly risen out of degradation. When I came out of jail I listened for that cry, but there was instead a silence. A hush had fallen on the country and men seemed bewildered; for instead of God’s bright heaven full of the vision of the future that had been before us, there seemed to be overhead a leaden sky from which human thunders and lightnings rained. No man seemed to know which way to move, and from all sides came the question, “What shall we do next? What is there that we can do?” I too did not know which way to move, I too did not know what was next to be done. But one thing I knew, that as it was the Almighty Power of God which had raised that cry, that hope, so it was the same power which had sent down that silence. He who was in the shouting and the movement was also in the pause and the hush.    

Inwardly thus transformed Sri Aurobindo spoke the word that he had to speak. The weekly journal lasted barely 9 months but the 38 odd issues had left s permanent stamp upon the psyche of the Indian nation. Each issue of Karmayogin contained the following:

(1) Facts and Opinions. From the 32nd issue onwards this regular column was changed to Passing Thoughts.
2) One or two leading articles dealing with the same subjects in more depth.
3) Literary works, including translations from the Sanskrit and the Bengali, poems, etc.
4) Transcriptions of speeches. Some of them were revised by Sri Aurobindo for publication in the Karmayogin.
5) Articles and speeches by other persons reproduced from the Indian and British press.
(8) Articles written for the Karmayogin by other persons.
(9) Two or three pages of ordinary news per issue.
(10) Advertisements.

The Volume under review of course contains only articles, views and speeches by Sri Aurobindo.  The issues carried a picture of Sri Krishna and Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra, an image that Sri Aurobindo considered as typical and significantly meaningful, representative of the Divine Master of Works and all Creatures and the human disciple and instrument. It is also helpful to note that not all the articles published in the Karmayogin are included in this particular volume that bears the same name. There are poems such as Baji Prabhou, Invitation, Who that are published as part of Collected Poems. There are also number of significant essays that are part of Volume 13 (Essays in Philosophy and Yoga). The writings and commentaries on the Isha, Kena and the Katha Upanishad that were published in the Karmayogin journal have gone under the volume on Upanishads (after being revised by Sri Aurobindo for the Arya). A number of cultural writings have found a place in Volume 1 (Early cultural Writings). What seems to have been kept in this particular volume are mainly political writings and comments on certain incidents, few short articles and speeches and of course crowning it all, though the very first jewel of the series, the famous Uttarpara Speech that lays down the foundations of Sanatan Dharma. Thus while this volume is uplifting as indeed all of Sri Aurobindo’s writings are, it may not be possible to fathom his inner state and the divine impulsions that were moving him by looking at these writings alone.

With this brief background, we can now take a quick look at some of these different columns by Sri Aurobindo.

Writing about what the journal and the men and the idea forces behind it stand for, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

The Karmayogin comes into the field to fulfil a function which an increasing tendency in the country demands. The life of the nation which once flowed in a broad and single stream has long been severed into a number of separate meagre and shallow channels….

The tendency is now for these streams to unite again into one mighty invincible and grandiose flood. To assist that tendency, to give voice and definiteness to the deeper aspirations now forming obscurely within the national consciousness is the chosen work of the Karmayogin….

We have said that Brahmatej is the thing we need most of all and first of all. In one sense, that means the pre-eminence of religion; but after all, what the Europeans mean by religion is not Brahmatej; which is rather spirituality, the force and energy of thought and action arising from communion with or self-surrender to that within us which rules the world. In that sense we shall use it. This force and energy can be directed to any purpose God desires for us; it is sufficient to knowledge, love or service; it is good for the liberation of an individual soul, the building of a nation or the turning of a tool. It works from within, it works in the power of God, it works with superhuman energy. The re-awakening of that force in three hundred millions of men by the means which our past has placed in our hands, that is our object.

The Karmayogin will be more of a national review than a weekly newspaper. We shall notice current events only as they evidence, help, affect or resist the growth of national life and the development of the soul of the nation. Political and social problems we shall deal with from this standpoint, seeking first their spiritual roots and inner causes and then proceeding to measures and remedies. In a similar spirit we shall deal with all sources of national strength in the past and in the present, seeking to bring them home to all comprehensions and make them applicable to our life, dynamic and not static, creative and not merely preservative. For if there is no creation, there must be disintegration; if there is no advance and victory, there must be recoil and defeat.

The twofold task undertaken by the journal was revival of the true Indian Spirit as well as its regeneration. Through its pages Sri Aurobindo can be seen laying down the broad foundations of the resurgence of India as a nation. We may say that if in Bande Mataram we see the labour pains of new birth, in the Karmayogin we see the rebirth of Indian conception of the Self and World. Subsequently through the pages of the Arya Sri Aurobindo gave birth to a new conception of life for the world and humanity. Bande Mataram mainly laid down the lines for India’s political freedom, Karmayogin showed the way towards a larger spiritual freedom for India and humanity. As he spoke at Uttarpara that India had to rise, will rise because it is the Divine who has undertaken this task, but India’s rise is not meant for India alone but for the entire human race. As early as 1909, when India lay low in self esteem, in a state of tamas wherein its only hope seems to lie in becoming either a vassal state of England or else a poor imitation of Europe, Sri Aurobindo wrote revealingly.

A Nation is building in India today before the eyes of the world so swiftly, so palpably that all can watch the process and those who have sympathy and intuition distinguish the forces at work, the materials in use, the lines of the divine architecture. This nation is not a new race raw from the workshop of Nature or created by modern circumstances. One of the oldest races and greatest civilisations on this earth, the most indomitable in vitality, the most fecund in greatness, the deepest in life, the most wonderful in potentiality, after taking into itself numerous sources of strength from foreign strains of blood and other types of human civilisation, is now seeking to lift itself for good into an organised national unity. Formerly a congeries of kindred nations with a single life and a single culture, always by the law of this essential oneness tending to unity, always by its excess of fecundity engendering fresh diversities and divisions, it has never yet been able to overcome permanently the almost insuperable obstacles to the organisation of a continent. The time has now come when those obstacles can be overcome. The attempt which our race has been making throughout its long history, it will now make under entirely new circumstances. A keen observer would predict its success because the only important obstacles have been or are in the process of being removed. But we go farther and believe that it is sure to succeed because the freedom, unity and greatness of India have now become necessary to the world. This is the faith in which the Karmayogin puts its hand to the work and will persist in it, refusing to be discouraged by difficulties however immense and apparently insuperable. We believe that God is with us and in that faith we shall conquer. We believe that humanity needs us and it is the love and service of humanity, of our country, of the race, of our religion that will purify our heart and inspire our action in the struggle.

A whole agenda for the future was laid out for India, the task it was rising to undertake.

The task we set before ourselves is not mechanical but moral and spiritual. We aim not at the alteration of a form of government but at the building up of a nation. Of that task politics is a part, but only a part. We shall devote ourselves not to politics alone, nor to social questions alone, nor to theology or philosophy or literature or science by themselves, but we include all these in one entity which we believe to be all-important, the dharma, the national religion which we also believe to be universal. There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the sanatana dharma, the eternal religion. Under the stress of alien impacts she has largely lost hold not of the structure of that dharma, but of its living reality. For the religion of India is nothing if it is not lived. It has to be applied not only to life, but to the whole of life; its spirit has to enter into and mould our society, our politics, our literature, our science, our individual character, affections and aspirations. To understand the heart of this dharma, to experience it as a truth, to feel the high emotions to which it rises and to express and execute it in life is what we understand by Karmayoga. We believe that it is to make the yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the yoga she will get the strength to realise her freedom, unity and greatness, by the yoga she will keep the strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.

In this work of Nation-building and even more importantly building a new social order based on Truth and Dharma and true greatness of the Indian spirit, Sri Aurobindo appealed to the youth of India in powerful soul-stirring words: 

We say to the individual and especially to the young who are now arising to do India’s work, the world’s work, God’s work, “You cannot cherish these ideals, still less can you fulfil them if you subject your minds to European ideas or look at life from the material standpoint. Materially you are nothing, spiritually you are everything. It is only the Indian who can believe everything, dare everything, sacrifice everything. First therefore become Indians. Recover the patrimony of your forefathers. Recover the Aryan thought, the Aryan discipline, the Aryan character, the Aryan life. Recover the Vedanta, the Gita, the Yoga. Recover them not only in intellect or sentiment but in your lives. Live them and you will be great and strong, mighty, invincible and fearless. Neither life nor death will have any terrors for you. Difficulty and impossibility will vanish from your vocabularies. For it is in the spirit that strength is eternal and you must win back the kingdom of yourselves, the inner Swaraj, before you can win back your outer empire. There the Mother dwells and She waits for worship that She may give strength. Believe in Her, serve Her, lose your wills in Hers, your egoism in the greater ego of the country, your separate selfishness in the service of humanity. Recover the source of all strength in yourselves and all else will be added to you, social soundness, intellectual preeminence, political freedom, the mastery of human thought, the hegemony of the world.”

How far-reaching was his vision can be understood by his deep insight into the Hindu-Mahomedan unity. What he wrote then stands as much valid today.

Of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Mahomedan unity cannot be effected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down, in the heart and the mind, for where the causes of disunion are, there the remedies must be sought. We shall do well in trying to solve the problem to remember that misunderstanding is the most fruitful cause of our differences, that love compels love and that strength conciliates the strong. We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Musulman brother, remembering always that in him too Narayana dwells and to him too our Mother has given a permanent place in her bosom; but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter out of a selfish weakness and cowardice. We believe this to be the only practical way of dealing with the difficulty.

In the Bande Mataram we see the country as God, in Karmayogin we see the country in God within God’s larger Unity. Speaking of God’s Ways he revealed:

When it is said that God’s ways are inscrutable, it is simply meant that man’s reason, on which the Bengalee lays so much stress, is not always sufficient to estimate at the time the object He has in a particular dispensation of calamity or defeat. It seems to be nothing but calamity and defeat and it is only afterwards that the light of reason looking backwards is able by the illumination of subsequent events to understand His doings. Therefore we must have faith and an invincible faith or else the calamities will be too great for our courage and endurance.

Nay, God was not just a silent spectator watching the unfolding of the game but an active participant, the sole Master and Leader. He further clarifies as if in defense of God and His ways.

It is strange to find a philosopher like our contemporary parading in this twentieth century the ancient and hollow platitude that such a doctrine, however true, ought not to be applied to individual conduct because it will abrogate morality and personal responsibility. This is a strange answer, too, to an argument which simply sought to confirm the faith and endurance of our people in calamity by the belief that our confidence in our future was not mistaken and that these calamities were necessary for God’s high purpose. The evil we spoke of was not moral evil, but misfortune and calamity. But we do not shrink from the doctrine that sin also is turned to His purposes and, so far as that goes, we do not see how such a doctrine abrogates morality. The wisdom and love of God in turning our evil into His good does not absolve us of our moral responsibility. Our contemporary shows thiswant of connection between the two positions himself when he asks whether one should not in that case play the traitor in order to assist the progress of the tendency. The gibe shows up the absurdity not of our faith but of his argument. Our selfish or sinful acts, our persistence in ignorance or perversity are for the best in this obvious sense that God makes out of them excellent material for the work He is about, which always tends to the good of humanity. The persecution of Christianity by the powers of the ancient world was utterly evil, but it was for the best; without it there could not have been that noble reaction of sublime and exalted suffering which finally permeated the human mind with the impulse of sacrifice for high ideals, and by introducing a mental soil fit for the growth of altruism sowed the seeds of love, sweetness and humanity in that hard selfish lust-ridden European world. The Bengalee no doubt would have counselled the Christian martyrs not to be so rash and unreasoning but to demand from God a balance of profit and loss for each individual sacrifice and only aftermature deliberation decide whether to obey the voice of God in their conscience or offer flowers to Venus and divine homage to Nero.

We see here an extremely subtle and high spiritual intelligence at work. His consciousness grown vast started including the world affairs. It was as if someone was moving amidst the stars watching now over Persia, now over Greece and Turkey, Spain and London while all the while watching over India’s destiny. A new revolution was being silently initiated through the Karmayogin with far-reaching consequences. It was yet a tilling of the soil while the sowing would wait for few more years when the world would be churned vigorously during the First World War. He wrote towards the end of the journal.

But in Europe and India alike we seem to stand on the threshold of a vast revolution, political, social and religious. Whatever nation now is the first to solve the problems which are threatening to hammer Governments, creeds, societies into pieces all the world over, will lead the world in the age that is coming. It is our ambition that India should be that nation. But in order that she should be what we wish, it is necessary that she should be capable of unsparing revolution. She must have the courage of her past knowledge and the immensity of soul that will measure itself with her future. This is impossible to England, it is not impossible to India. She has in her something daemonic, volcanic, elemental—she can rise above conventions, she can break through formalities and prejudices. But she will not do so unless she is sure that she has God’s command to do it,— unless the Avatar descends and leads.

The tilling done, the Avatar was preparing to descend fully into him. He had done what he had to do for India though he continued to watch over its future through the newfound vision that looks at the Unseen and the Power that works from behind the scenes but much more powerfully and assuredly. Receiving the Divine Command he sailed to Chandernagore and later to Pondicherry in early 1910. The journal continued for some time in the hands of Sister Nivedita, the fiery Irish revolutionary yogi. When rumours started floating about Sri Aurobindo’s sudden departure, he wrote a small piece for publication in the Karmayogin laced with subtle humour as if the danger had opened the doors to the delight that was awaiting his arrival and further elsewhere in wider fields and for a much greater cause, a work that he alone could do with the spirit of spiritual renunciation and sacrifice that he embodied, the subtle and high intelligence that he was born with, the deep compassion and will to find the real causes and cure for human suffering and above all an absolute faith and surrender to the Divine within.  The future was waiting to receive him or shall we say he was the future waiting to reveal himself at an appropriate time. About his disappearance he wrote in the third person:

Sj. Aurobindo Ghose

We are greatly astonished to learn from the local Press that Sj. Aurobindo Ghose has disappeared from Calcutta and is now interviewing the Mahatmas in Tibet.

We are ourselves unaware of this mysterious disappearance. As a matter of fact Sj. Aurobindo is in our midst and, if he is doing any astral business with Kuthumi or any of the other great Rishis, the fact is unknown to his other Koshas. Only as he requires perfect solitude and freedom from disturbance for his Sadhan for some time, his address is being kept a strict secret. This is the only foundation for the remarkable rumour which the vigorous imagination of a local contemporary has set floating. For similar reasons he is unable to engage in journalistic works, and Dharma has been entrusted to other hands.

Karmayogin no. 37, 19 March 1910

An era had come to an end but in its folds, it guarded the seeds of a New Light that was yet to emerge and for which he would dedicate the rest of his earthly life. The last of his testament published in the Karmayogin Volume number 38 on the 26 March 1910.

There are two movements of humanity, upward and downward, and both are irresistible. It may seem for a moment that the downward movement is arrested and an upward lift may for a while rejoice the hearts that are attached to a cause forsaken by God and Destiny. The majestic or impetuous rise of a religion, an idea, a nation may for a fleeting period be held back by main force and with a fierce and infinite labour the wheel may be driven back for the space of an inch or even two. But God cannot be deceived and God cannot be conquered by violence. Where He is the Charioteer, victory is certain and if He wheels back, it is only to leave ground which is no longer advantageous to Him and shift the conflict to terrain fixed beforehand for the victory. Often He forces His adversaries to drive Him from ground conquered and occupied in order that they may exhaust their strength on a position never meant to be permanently held and by their very triumph prepare a more decisive overthrow.

Minute minds fix themselves on details and say, “Here we have failed, there we have prevailed”; and if the record of defeats seems to be long and ill-balanced by doubtful successes, they grow discouraged and apprehend the ruin of their cause. So men deceive themselves as to the trend of events by not keeping their eyes open to the great stream of inevitable tendency which prevails over all backwashes and petty currents. And where defeat is predestined for a season, their want of faith leads to the very calamity which they apprehended. The eye of Faith is not one with the eye of Knowledge;—Faith divines in the large what Knowledge sees distinctly and clearly; but in the main thing Faith and Knowledge are one and the wisdom of the Lover is justified and supported by the wisdom of the Seer. Faith fights for God, while Knowledge is waiting for fulfilment, and so long as the latter is withheld, the former is necessary. For without indomitable Faith or inspired Wisdom no great cause can conquer.

We must look therefore to the great tendency of things and interpret in their light the minute events that are passing at the moment. Is the main tendency of things upward or downward? If it is downward, even then we must strive, for the man who abandons a cause which is right because it is denied success, is despicable, and he inflicts a wound on mankind in the present and the future. Great causes which are fought out boldly to the end are made sacred by courage and suffering and their resurrection and final victory is inevitable. Only those which are supported by cowards and meanly abandoned, are erased from the books of the future. The mediaeval movement of civic liberty in France and Italy failed and gave place to Teutonic despotism, but it revived with a hundredfold force in the French Revolution and it was the impetuous rush earthwards of the souls that had fought for it hundreds of years before that shattered to pieces the once victorious feudal system. But if, as we are assured, the movement is upward, then we may persist in absolute confidence, sure that reverses in details are only meant to prepare and point the true way to victory.

Persistence does not imply persistence in methods that have proved to be infructuous or from which, though temporarily fruitful, God has withdrawn His sanction….

God Himself is our master and teacher, for He would give to His chosen nation a faultless training and a perfect capacity. Only we must be ready to acknowledge our mistakes, to change our path, to learn. Then only shall we victoriously surmount all obstacles and move steadily, impetuously, but without stumbling or swerving, to our goal….

It has been driven home to us by experience after experience, that not in the strength of a raw unmoralised European enthusiasm shall we conquer. Indians, it is the spirituality of India, the sadhana of India, tapasya, jnanam, shakti that must make us free and great. And these great things of the East are ill-rendered by their inferior English equivalents, discipline, philosophy, strength. Tapasya is more than discipline; it is the materialisation in ourselves by spiritual means of the divine energy creative, preservative and destructive. Jnanam is more than philosophy, it is the inspired and direct knowledge which comes of what our ancients called drishti, spiritual sight. Shakti is more than strength, it is the universal energy which moves the stars, made individual. It is the East thatmust conquer in India’s uprising. It is the Yogin who must stand behind the political leader or manifest within him; Ramdas must be born in one body with Shivaji, Mazzini mingle with Cavour. The divorce of intellect and spirit, strength and purity may help a European revolution, but by a European strength we shall not conquer….

Either Nationalism will purify itself, learn a more sacred truth and command a diviner impulse, or it will have to abandon utterly its old body and get itself a new. The pressure of events seems to be pointing in the latter direction. But in either case defeat cannot be the end, victory must be the end.

In all the events of the last year and a half the voice of the divine Teacher can be heard crying to us, “Abandon that you may possess; do my will and know yourselves, purify yourselves, cease to follow your fancies.” He that has ears, let him hear. Knowledge will not come without self-communion, without light from within, not even the knowledge of the practical steps that can lead to success. Every step that is taken in the light of a lower wisdom will fail until the truth is driven home. The work that was begun at Dakshineshwar is far from finished, it is not even understood. That which Vivekananda received and strove to develop, has not yet materialised. The truth of the future that Bijoy Goswami hid within himself, has not yet been revealed utterly to his disciples. A less discreet revelation prepares, a more concrete force manifests, but where it comes, when it comes, none knoweth.

Within a week of this last testament, Sri Aurobindo was on his way to Pondicherry to finish the unfinished work he mentioned towards the close of the Karamyogin journal. The karmayogin had done what was to be done. A nation was aroused, its spirit revived, and within a short period, towards a yet greater future was turned his face.

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