Born on August 15, 1872, in Calcutta, Sri Aurobindo was the third child of Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose and Swarnlata Devi. At the age of seven he and his two elder brothers were taken by his father to England for education. He lived in England for fourteen years. A brilliant scholar, he had mastered even before he was twenty years old, Greek and Latin, English and French and had also acquired some familiarity with continental languages like German and Italian. In 1890, he passed the open competition for the Indian Civil Service but felt no call for it and by certain manoeuvres managed to get himself disqualified for riding without himself rejecting the Service, which his family would not have allowed him to do. While in England he had obtained an appointment in the Baroda State Service. He left England in January, 1893, and passed 13 years, from 1893 to 1906, in the Baroda Service. These were years of self-culture, of literary activity, and of preparation for his future work. In England he had received an entirely occidental education without any contact with the culture of India and the East. At Baroda he made up the deficiency, learned Sanskrit and several modern Indian languages, especially Bengali, Marathi and Gujarati. In 1906 Sri Aurobindo quit his job in Baroda to join the political movement.
When Sri Aurobindo entered into Indian Politics the Congress Party was merely a platform for the meek political leaders to request the British government for moderate reforms and that too in an eulogising and polite manner. Sri Aurobindo organized the youth within the party for a more radical action. His idea was to capture the Congress and to make it an instrument for revolutionary action instead of a centre of a timid constitutional agitation which would only talk and pass resolutions and recommendations to the foreign Government. It was he who paved the way for the historic struggle between the Moderates and the Nationalists (called by their opponents Extremists) which led to a split in the Congress in Surat in 1907 and ultimately resulted in the victory of the Nationalists and altogether and decisively changed the course of the freedom struggle in India.
Sri Aurobindo joined hands with Bipin Chandra Pal in the editing of the Bande Mataram, an english daily, in 1906. His first pre-occupation was to declare openly for complete and absolute independence as the aim of political action in India and to insist on this persistently in the pages of the journal; he was the first politician in India who had the courage to do this in public and he was immediately successful. The party took up the word Swaraj to express its own ideal of independence and it soon spread everywhere.
Sri Aurobindo was prosecuted by the British government twice, first in 1907 and again in 1908 when he was detained as an undertrial prisoner for one year. In both cases he had to be acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence. One day in February, 1910, he received a Divine ‘Adesh’ to go to Chandernagore. After staying there for some time he sailed for Pondicherry in French India in the beginning of April and reached there on April 4,1910. At Pondicherry, his practice of Yoga became more and more absorbing and the magnitude of the spiritual work set before him became more and more clear to him, and he saw that the concentration of all his energies on it was necessary. He also saw that India was destined to be free and his personal intervention in politics would therefore be no longer indispensable.
The part Sri Aurobindo took publicly in Indian politics was of brief duration, for he turned aside from it in 1910 and withdrew to Pondicherry; much of his programme lapsed in his absence, but enough had been done to change the whole face of Indian politics and the whole spirit of the Indian people to make independence its aim and non-cooperation and resistance its method, and even an imperfect application of this policy heightening into sporadic periods of revolt has been sufficient to bring about the victory. The course of subsequent events followed largely the line of Sri Aurobindo’s idea. The Congress was finally captured by the Nationalist party, declared independence its aim, organised itself for action, took almost the whole nation minus a majority of the Mohammedans and a minority of the depressed classes into acceptance of its leadership and eventually….. secured from Britain acceptance of independence for India.
After his arrival in Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo concentrated all his energies in the practice of Yoga. At first there were only four or five disciples living with him. Afterwards more and more seekers started coming to him for spiritual guidance. However, it could not yet be called an Ashram. It was only after the final arrival of the Mother in Pondicherry on 24 April, 1920, that the Ashram started taking shape. On 24 November, 1926, Sri Aurobindo had a major realisation in his Yoga, which he called the descent of the Overmind in the physical. After this he retired into seclusion in his room for exclusive concentration on his Yoga of world transformation. Even after the retirement he continued to guide the sadhaks through letters but even this was stopped when it began to take too much of his time. After Sri Aurobindo’s retirement the Mother completely took charge of the material development of the Ashram as well as the spiritual guidance of the sadhaks. Sri Aurobindo stayed in seclusion till he left his body on 5 December, 1950.
Sri Aurobindo called his Yoga the ‘Integral Yoga’. It takes up the essence and many processes of the old Yogas but is new in its aim, standpoint and the totality of its method. According to Sri Aurobindo the created world is not a mistake or a vanity and illusion to be cast aside by the soul returning to heaven or Nirvana, but the scene of a spiritual evolution by which out of this material Inconscience is to be manifested progressively the Divine Consciousness in things. Mind is the highest term yet reached in the evolution, but it is not the highest of which it is capable. There is above it a Supermind or eternal Truth-consciousness which is in its nature the self-aware and self-determining light and power of a Divine Knowledge. Mind is an ignorance seeking after Truth, but this is a self-existent Knowledge harmoniously manifesting the play of its forms and forces. It is only by the descent of this supermind that the perfection dreamed of by all that is highest in humanity can come. It is possible by opening to a greater divine consciousness to rise to this power of light and bliss, discover one’s true self, remain in constant union with the Divine and bring down the supramental Force for the transformation of mind and life and body. To realise this possibility has been the dynamic aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga.
All other Yogas regard this life as an illusion or a passing phase; the supramental Yoga alone regards it as a thing created by the Divine for a progressive manifestation and takes the fulfilment of the life and the body for its object. The Supramental is simply the Truth-Consciousness and what it brings in its descent is the full truth of life, the full truth of consciousness in Matter.
Sri Aurobindo gave all his time in preparing the physical nature for the descent of the Supermind. It may be noted here that the descent of the Supermind was brought about by the Mother on February 29, 1956, with an active collaboration from Sri Aurobindo from his abode in the subtle physical plane.
Sri Aurobindo was essentially a poet, an intellectual and a writer before he took to Yoga. These mental faculties achieved perfection and became vehicles of inspired and revelatory speech in the course of his Yogic life. In his hands the English language itself acquired new powers. To the wealth of his early poetry, plays, essays and translations he added in Pondicherry his great works, The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, translations and interpretations of the Vedas and Upanishads, The Essays on the Gita, The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Psychology of Social Development (The Human Cycle), The Ideal of Human Unity, and The Future Poetry. These works first appeared serially in the Arya, a philosophical monthly he edited from 1914 to 1920. Most of these writings were later revised and issued in book-form and comprise the core of his teaching and his global view of things. Apart from these, he wrote a large number of letters to his disciples guiding them in their spiritual life. These have been compiled and now form an important part of his message. However, the latest and the most perfect expression of his vision and message is to be found in his poetry. In Pondicherry he wrote a considerable number of short poems and revised and completed his supreme creation – the epic poem Savitri over which he had worked for more than forty years. In this creation of nearly 24,000 lines in blank verse, he gives us the full spectrum of his spiritual vision and experience, his world view in this poem Mantric and revelatory. This is the longest poem ever written in English and, according to an American critic, “It is probably the greatest epic in the English language….a perfect cosmic poem”.
Note:The above text has been prepared with the help of some autobiographical notes by Sri Aurobindo.