Thus Tilak's method of action was democratic and constitutional. He bad stirred the popular imagination and taught the people the necessity for united action. He had constructed a practical programme for the achievement of his political objective. He had defined for all time the purpose of the Indian movement for self-rule— Swaraj—and he had begun to develop the techniques that would be used in the popular movement to realize that goal effectively.
Tilak left a monumental legacy to the independence movement. Gandbiji and those who came after Tiiak could build upon the works and victories which he had won. In his battles against orthodoxy, lethargy and bureaucracy, he was largely successful. The independence movement, largely through his work, had been victorious over stagnation, the spirit of orthodoxy that was negative, that compart-sMoted rather than unified, and that could not rise to accept the challenges of the twentieth century. Tilak freed the nation from lethargy and stagnation, and in awakening the people inspired them with a promise of awakening India, an India united, strong and capable of action, self-reliant and on the road to victory.
SRI AUROBINDO GHOSH (I 872-1 950)
Sri Aurobindo and the Indian Renaissance Movement
It is becoming increasingly evident to progressive minds the world over that we are passing through a critical, transitional period. The disillusionment caused by the last war h^s given way to chauvinism, and the great powers of the world seem to be again hurtling forward to a bloodier war. In fact the two world wars have remained ineffective in civilizing our leaders, and the future of humanity seems yet to be dismal.
In spite of the intensified malevolence of certain retrograding forces, the mystical as well as some optimistic students of politics visualize in the near future the ideal of a world-state and a world-culture. Both East and West have contributed to this ideal of world-culture—one in spirit but manifold in its self-expression. From the East have poured forth treasures of the inner life—spiritual truths, which can be tested operationally like those of modern physics. The West has given a meaning and value to the earthly life by stressing the importance of the individual man and his enlightened use of the forces of Nature. Without this vital touch of the earth, an integral spiritual evolution is almost impracticable.
India's recent contributions to this unifying process have been epitomized in the personalities of men like Gandhi the pacifist, Tagore the poet, Dr. Bhagwan Das the spiritualist, and Vinoba Bhave the 'saint on the march'. But enveloping and integrating their varied realizations of life were the profound spiritual experiences of a man, known as Sri Aurobindo Ghosh.
Sri Aurobindo was one of the most creative and significant figures in the Indian renaissance movement. He was gifted with surprising powers of intellect and mysticism. In him, we find a synthesis of varied thoughts, and it is difficult to understand his thought-system unless we take an integrated view of human knowledge and human life. Romain Rolland regarded him as the highest synthesis of the genius of Europe and the genius of Asia. Rabindra-nath Tagore hailed him as the most pronounced exponent of the spiritual message of India to the world. Rr. Radhakrishnan considered him perhaps the most accomplished of modern Indian thinkers and in a statement to the press after Aurobindo's death declared him to be the greatest intellectual of our age. Praising Aurobindo, the Rev. E. F. Hill wrote in the World Review, dated October, 1949 :
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"Sri Aurobindo is the greatest contemporary philosopher and great in
the company of the greatest mystics of all time Aurobindo's
psychological insight is so sharp and clear, and the universe it explores is so vast that, in comparison, Western psychology, even the work of Freud when one allows in full the measure of its greatness, is like the groping of a child in the dark . . .The work of Aurobindo compels not comparison but concordance with the Fourth Gospel. Here are two men, peers in their right in the realm of highest knowledge and peers iu relations to each other." These praises by men of high learning show the breadth and strength of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy.
Sri Aurobindo showed sigrs of genius and acquired great learning while he was a student in England for fourteen years, from the age of seven to the age of twenty-one. He, during his stay there, penetrated deeply into the Greek and Latin classics and studied great European masters from Homer to Goethe. His poetic powers achieved fruition when he was working as a Professor of English at Baroda. He studied the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita, and came to the conclusion that these great books of ancient India did not contain intellectual dialectical metaphysics, but represented the outpourings of profound and intense esoteric realizations. The Vedantic synthetic philosophy of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda influenced him deeply. From 1905 to 1910, Aurobindo pursued a political career as a leader in the nationalist movement in Bengal. He began to be revered as the messiah of a new, inspired and fervent nationalism. He preached the sanctification of patriotism as the dedicated worship of India. He was one of the acknowledged leaders of the new Extremist Party of nationalists. Lokmanya Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal were the champions of an assertive nationalism. Sri Aurobindo will ever be remembered as the prophet of a pure religion of nationalism. His heroic and saintly figure will continue to occupy an honoured place in the annals of Indian nationalism. He had the moral courage to champion the creed of absolute swaraj for India as early as 1907.
A Synthesis of Ancient Vedanta and Modern European Philosophy
As a political leader and writer, Aurobindo attempted to construct a synthesis of the ancient Vedanta and modern European political philosophy. His 'political vedantism' was not merely a restatement of the world-affirming tendencies of the Upanishads, but also a concrete social philosophy for the reconstruction of the social and political life of a dependent nation. Thus Aurobindo, besides °eing a leader of men and political action, a poetic-metaphysician and a sage, has a place as a political thinker and social philosopher.
Sri Aurobindo's political ideas are to be interpreted and understood in the rich background of Indian metaphysics. He produced three important works in the field of political philosophy. His Ideal
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of Human Unity is reminiscent of Dante's De Monorchia and Kant's Perpetual Peace. On the basis of a great knowledge of European and Indian history and in the framework of spiritual metaphysics Aurobindo taught the gospel of one world and the inner oneness of man. His Human Cycle is another significant work in the field of political philosophy. In this work, Sri Aurobindo enunciates a psychological and metaphysical approach to the study of the evolution of human civilization and culture. His Foundations of Indian Culture contains some mature reflections on the social and political evolufion of India, and it can be rightly viewed as a work on the philosophy of India's history. These three works are enough to understand the development of Aurobindo's political ideas and establish his claim as a consistent political thinker. There are ideas of social and political relevance in some of his other works too. His Evolution, Superman and Ideals and Progress may also safely be taken as books on political philosophy, particularly if we bear in mind that f they are meant to counterbalance the tremendous influence of Darwinian ideals of evolution and the Nietzschean concept of Superman on political thought and practice. Hence, although these three small books of Sri Aurobindo do not technically deal with the concepts and institutions of Politics, they do have significant political and sociological relevance.
Spiritual Determinism in History
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Pondicherry, Aurobindo Ashram (1950), pp. 1-2.
Sri Aurobindo, as a political philosopher, accepted spiritual determinism in history. He saw a spirit behind the external historical currents and forces. According to him, history on the external surface is "a confused torrent of events and personalities or a kaleidoscope of changing institutions."1 But the constant change that is characteristic of the historical reality does not yield its real internal meaning. The spiritual dialectic of history has to be grasped.' In its real sense, history is the revelation and manifestation of the spirit. "The history of the cycles of man is a progress towards the unveiling of the Godhead in the soul and life of humanity ; each high event and stage of it is a divine manifestation." The task of^ a philosophy of history is not merely to discover the general pattern of social and political causation but to find out and grasp the creative meaning and immanent soul of history. History is being perpetually created on several planes of existence. In the higher planes of typical existence, we have history but not evolutionary progression. History in the sense of an inter-linked chain of facts, events and phenomena, leading to the realization of some definite goals, is a characteristic of our terrestrial manifestation alone
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Aurobindo accepted the reality of a Universal Omnipresent Being or Existence "which fulfils itself in the world and the .individual and the group with an impartial regard for all as equal powers of its self-manifestation." History is the fulfilment of the Divine Spirit. Politics can be conceived as a fulfilment of the spirit on the historical plane. The movement of Swaraj can be thus regarded as the fulfilment of God by the fulfilment of the people through their independent mode and patterns of individual, social, communal and national life.
Sri Aurobindo's notion of the fulfilment of God through the constellation of groups, associations and collectivities sounds a new note in Indian political thought. It indicates the influence of Hegel's political philosophy on Aurobindo. It is quite difficult to trace the roots of the conception of divine fulfilment through human groups and societies in the Gita or the old scriptures of Hinduism. The transcendental Purushottama of the Gita is an eternally perfect self-sufficient Being and is in no need of fulfilment. Fulfilment of God through group and associational life is definitely a western concept. Some of the passages of the Mahabharata and the Pu'ranas as well as the parables of the Bodhisat in the Jatakas do imply the progressive expansion and development of a man's being through social, altruistic and humanitarian service, but the notion of the fulfilment of God by "fulfilling ourselves in our individual life, in the family, in community, in the nation, in humanity,"3as advocated by Aurobindo, has been primarily a concept popularized in German idealistic and romantic thought and brought to England by the Hegelian idealists. Fulfilment implies want, desire and need, but the Transcendental Being does not experience want. The notion of fulfilment may be applied to the pure Being of Hegel, but not to the Sachchidananda of the Vedanta.
3 Sri Aurobindo : Speeches, Pondicherry, 19S2, pp. 104-05.
Aurobindo, for constructing his philosophy of political history, accepted the principle of spiritual determinism in history. According to him, behind the apparently meaningless and often contradictory events of history the working of Divine Being may be seen. History is the manifestation and progressive self-revelation of Brahman, the Absolute. Aurobindo illustrated his theory of the dynamic activity of Kali, the directing force of the Spirit, with special reference to two historical movements—the French Revolution and Indian National Movement. The French Revolution occurred due to the will of God. As long as the leaders of the revolution—Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre and Napoleon—manifested in their action the will of Kali (or Zeit-Geist), she allowed them to work. When they wanted to assert their egoism and vital ambition, she hurled them off the stage. Aurobindo considered the action of the French Revolution to be
the death-dance of Kali. "Death to all those who oppose God's evolution.'"
Aurobindo applied his theory of divine determinism in history also to the Indian National Movement. The partition of Bengal provided an opportunity for the development of an exalted nationalism in India. "Nationalism is immortal; nationalism cannot die, because it is no human thing : it is God who is working in Bengal. God cannot be killed, God cannot be sent to jail."6 Aurobindo considered God or Atman to be the leader of the movement, and hence in his speeches, he advocated a return to the spirit and the realization of its plans and dictates. If the voice of the spirit could be listened to and apprehended, there could always be found people who would act according to the commands of a God-inspired leader.
Being a mystic who read the will of God in history, Aurobindo interpreted all the principal events in the course of the Bengal nationalist movement as well as the movement of Indian nationalism as designed and willed by God. He considered the historic breach in the two sections of the Congress at Surat in 1907 also to be a part of the Divine Will in action. Tilak's deportation to Mandalay in Burma was also the will of God. "It is He, not any other, who has taken them and His ways are not the ways of men, for He is all-wise." Since the real leader of movement was not Tilak or Ashwini Kumar Datta, however great they might be, but God Himself, His Will had to be accepted."
"Historical Impressions", Sri Aurobindo Mandira Annual, No. 8, 1949, P. 164.
Sri Aurobindo : Speeches, pp. 8-9.
Ibid., pp. 39-40.
This theory of divine determinism in history and the notion of the ultimate leadership of political movements by God is a cardinal belief of the Hindu philosophical mind. In the Mahabharata and the Puranas, there are stories illustrating providential interventions in the course of history. In the Gita, it is stated that wherever there is anything great and colossal in human and cosmic history, that is to be considered as a manifestation of the Divine Spirit. The Vedas also contain a classic story of the fight between Indra and Vritra, where the king of gods is solicited to kill a great destructive demon. This kind of supreme theological determinism applied to history we do not find in medieval scholasticism or German idealism. It is a kind of majestic faith deriving particularly from the Glta's idea of God being behind historical movements and guiding men's motives and actions according to His predetermined plans and the Samkhya idea that man does not really do anything, nature being the real agent. It is almost a literal application to politics of the great Vedantic saying that 'all is the Brahman'. Thus, Aurobindo's saying that God is both the worker and the work in Bengal nationalism as
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well as Indian nationalism, has its roots in the ancient Hindu metaphysics. The only difference is that he incorporated some illustrations from the history of Europe to substantiate his viewpoint.
Aurobindo's creed of nationalism was of a cosmopolitan character. He considered nationalism a necessary stage in the social and political evolution of man towards human unity. Aurobindo wrote : ".. .in the conditions of the world at present, even taking into consideration its most disparaging features and dangerous possibilities, there is nothing that needs alter the view we have taken of the necessity and inevitability of some kind of world-union ; the drive of Nature and the compulsion of circumstances and the present and future need of mankind make it inevitable. The general conclusions we have arrived at will stand and the consideration of the modalities and possible forms or lines of alternative or successive development it may take. The ultimate result must be the formation of a world-state and the most desirable form of it would be a federation of free nationalities in which all subjection or forced inequality and subordination of one to another would have disappeared and, though some might preserve a greater natural influence, all would have an equal status. A confederacy would give the greatest freedom to the nations constituting the world-state, but this might give too much room for fissiparous or centrifugal tendencies to operate ; a federal order would then be the most desirable. All else would be determined by the course of events and by general agreement or the shape given by the ideas and necessities that may grow up in the future. A world union of this kind would have the greatest chances of long survival or permanent existence."7
Spiritual Man : The Ideal of Human Unity
"ISri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pp. 399-400.
While building the main body of his political philosophy, Sri Aurobindo started with the conception of a spiritual man. The individual, according to him, is not a mere physical conglomeration and complex of material inconscient force, but is a spiritual soul, a being and self-expression of the Universal and Transcendental Reality. The individual is a divine soul and the attainment of spiritual freedom and immortality is his aim. Looked at from the metaphysical standpoint, his temporary or even illusory existence, characterized by the inevitability of physical extinction, represents only the apparent view of his being. Really, man is a persistent individual and spiritual self and his final aim is the realization of a gnostic consciousness which would imply the governance and determination of his life by a unified self-awareness and all-awareness, and this means that he has to obtain and abide in a cosmic and even a supra-cosmic consciousness. The true individual is "a conscious power of being
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of the Eternal, always existing by unity, always capable of mutual It is that being which by self-knowledge enjoys liberation and mortality."
If individual, according to Aurobindo, is a soul incarnated for i divine fulfilment upon earth, the collectivity also is a 'soul-form the Infinite, a collective soul myriadly embodied upon earth for a divine fulfilment,' The society or the nation or other cooperative organic collectivities are sub-souls necessary for the complex manfi festation of the divine. Each society develops a sub-soul or group-' soul, character, type of mind and evolves its own governing antf ordering ideas and tendencies that shape its life and institutions.8
Aurobindo thought that since both the individual and the society were manifestations of the Divine Reality, there should not be an* antagonism in their aims and practice. Any exaggerated notion of a self-assertive, vital, egoistic, self-fulfilling individual is as onesided at the equally exaggerated conception of the all-encompassing totali-, tarian claims of the social collectivity and the social self. A balance-not a mechanical arrangement but a harmonious synthesis—has to be arrived at, and the ideal law of social development, according to Aurobindo, is the rule of perfect individuality and perfect reciprocity—'self-realization is the sense, secret or covert, of the individual and of social development.'9
Philosophy of State
With regard to Aurobindo's philosophy of the state it can be stated that he did not develop any systematic theory of the state like Hegel, Green or Bosanquet. His theory of the state is related to his conception of the role of reason in the socio-political evolution of man. The first stage of human evolution, according to him, is infra-rational and is marked by the dominance of instincts, haphazard institutions and impulses. The Jatidharma and the Kuladharma of ancient India are the product of this age. In this age, rationalism as a social force is only implicit and it can be called the age of natural society. The 'subconscient principle of life within it' is the motive and constructive power of society. The second is the rational age when the communal mind becomes more and more intellectually self-conscious. The third stage belongs to the future and would be marked by greater stress on the supra-rational subjective consciousness. In the third stage, the powers of intuition, over-mental and even supra-mental consciousness would be used for the total transformation of man and the divine perfection of society.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, p. 260,
op. cit., p. 86.
The state represents the great instrument of transition from the first or the infra-rational organic stage to the second stage or that of rational society. The state gets its coercion-mechanism regularized
SRI AUROBINDO GHOSH 115
and stabilized through the acquisition of the monopoly of the legal power of violence and becomes the great instrument for safeguarding public order and efficiency. The history of the state represents an advancing process of political unification and solidification through "the development of a central focus of organized power. The condition of man before the emergence of the state is marked by the dominance of ethnic sentiments of kinship. The state is based on territorial centralization which leads to legislative and administrative centralization. In other words, the state is synchronistic with the centralization of political power.
But although, according to Aurobindo, the advent of the state symbolizes the replacement of infra-rational instincts, intuitions and natural experimentations as social agencies by social reason, he thought of the state only in mechanical terms. In actual practice, the career of the state has been marked by the lack of internal checks and scruples and often the pursuit of Machtpolitik and Realpolitik has vitiated the fair face of the earth. Hence Aurobindo was against the attribution of any ethical or moral character to the state. He remarked : "It has no soul or only a rudimentary one. It is a military, political and economic force : but it is only in a slight and undeveloped degree, if at all, an intellectual and ethical being. And unfortunately the chief use it makes of its undeveloped intellect is to blunt by fictions, catchwords and recently by state philosophies, its ill-developed ethical conscience."10 Hence although theoretically the 'tote claims to represent and crystallize the best available political wisdom in the country, the phenomena and dynamics of the state are marked by lustful struggles, sectional and group hatreds and jealousies and the absence of a harmonizing synthetic ethical principle. Oftentimes, the state could have accelerated social progress by aiding those idealistic souls who have something good to contribute to the community but the huge colossus of the state machine hardly leaves iroo'n for 'deploying and using the sincerity, energy, idealism of ™e best individuals.' Hence the organized state is not the represen-wnve of the best mind and best idealism of a nation. ^ Aurobindo also repudiated the organic conception of the state, wtnough he used the organic analogy with reference to the society. Recording to him. the state is not an organism : it is a machinery, ■no: it works like a machine, without tact, taste, delicacy or intui-T*0' It tries to 'man-facture, but what humanity is here to do is to ^* and create.' The illustration of mechanical nature of the state Bur *°un<! in countries bnvjng state.controlled education. The £ P°je of education is to ere te a developed personality by fostering ward growth of a man's faculties and powers. But a state-controlled for0411011 amounts to indoctrination and the spread of propaganda creeds and cults dear to the party in actual power. In several
10 The ideal of Human Unity, p. 24.
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fascist countries we can see this process of the transformation of education from a system encouraging growth in the valuation of personality into a device for the uniform transmission of the political creeds of the ruling parties. Hence he thought that although it was possible to have a national education, a national religion and a national culture, a state education, a state culture or a state religion represented an absurd monstrosity and an unnecessary accentuation of the power of the state, Aurobindo, like Spencer, was of the view that there should be neither a state education nor an established church. He spoke as an individualist when he referred to the removal of obstacles as the business of the state.
But it would be a mistake to consider Aurobindo an economic individualist. When he talked about the removal of avoidable injustice and wanted the state to secure for all 'a just and equal chance of self-development and satisfaction to the extent of his powers and in the line of his nature,' he not only reminded us of T. H. Green's conception of positive freedom, but had made considerable headway in the acceptance of the socialist social philosophy. Although Aurobindo accepted the egalitarian economic philosophy of socialism, he would not say that the goal of individual life and the state was the same. According to Aristotle, the end of both the individual and the state is the maximization of virtuous activities. But while for Aurobindo the goal of the individual is the attainment of gnostic consciousness and spiritual salvation, the state is to him, at best, a machine to realize the socialist .social and economic ideal. It is because Aurobindo considered the state, unlike Hegel, the product of human reason.
Democracy, Socialism and Pacifism : The By-products of Idea of Humanism
Aurobindo regarded democracy, socialism and pacifism, to a great extent, as the by-products of, or at least vitally inspired by, the inward presence of the idea of humanism. Democracy, because of its concepts of equality and humanity, had a tremendous appeal for the European peoples. However, Aurobindo was of the opinion that democracy, in practice, suffered from certain weaknesses and that it could not be regarded as the highest development of social reasoning and order. He thought that there had been four consequences of the individualistic democratic ideal in practice. First, although the concept of equality has been loudly preached, in actual practice a dominant class has obtained social and political leadership in the name of democracy. Secondly, in practice it amounts not to the government of the people by and for the people, but to the rule of the bourgeois and to the ascendancy of the plutocratic sections. Aurobindo thought that perfect and real democracy existed nowhere in the world and 'everywhere the propertied and professional classes and the bourgeoisie have governed m the name of the people*. Thirdly, he stated that behind the" democratic structure the really
SRI AUROBINDO GHOSH
active force was a powerful minority. Everywhere there is a trend towards the growth of an elite which is dangerous to the practice of real democracy. Fourthly, Aurobindo was also critical of the mechanism of modern representative democracy. His criticism of the representative system amounts to the statement of the empirical fact that the legislators do not really represent the electorate.
And because the democratic system suffers from several defects, Aurobindo was sceptical about its being the guarantee of liberty. It is correct that in some of the highly advanced democratic countries democracy has protected the people from the recrudescence of brutal and violent forms of tyranny as found in older times. But in others "we see today the democratic form of government march steadily towards such an organized annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems."11
Besides being a critic of the modern representative democracy of the West, Aurobindo was also opposed to the Benthamite utilitarianism as an ethical and political norm. In place of 'the greatest good of the greatest number', he put forth the idea of the good of all. Aurobindo regarded the mathematics of Bentham as artificial and egoistic. It neglects the interest of the minority. As the ultimate reality, according to Aurobindo, is the spiritual being, a man must direct his efforts towards the realization of the good of all living beings. The utilitarian theory of 'pleasure and pain' should be replaced by the ethical ideal of good of all sentient beings.
Sri Aurobindo was equally opposed to the capitalist system of economy. He was against the tendencies towards th growth of authoritarianism, bureaucracy, concentration and the like in modern capitalist system. Aurobindo was also critical of socialism for the same reason. However, he thought that the socialist ideal of'equal opportunity and the guarantee of a social and economic minimum to all' was of a great significance which must be accepted for organizing the social and economic life of a society. The acceptance of this socialist ideal by him was quite indicative of the Western political influence on him.