Remembering Aurobindo and his quest for unity
We are now being encouraged to look back on the horrors of Partition on the eve of Independence Day. But in a message broadcast on All India Radio on August 14, 1947, the day before the country was divided, one of the most prominent philosophers and yogis of his time, Sri Aurobindo, saw hope in the Indian belief in the unity of all things.
Aurobindo was born in Bengal, but educated at a British public school and then later, Kings College, Cambridge. He returned to India and entered the service of the Gaekwad of Baroda. From there, he moved to Kolkata (then, Calcutta) and joined politics because he wanted to establish a movement demanding Independence in place of “the futile ambling Congress methods then in vogue”. He was arrested and jailed. On receiving intimation of another arrest, and this time, deportation, he moved to Puducherry (then Pondicherry), which was a French colony at the time. He spent the last 40 years of his life there, evolving his philosophy through writing and yoga.
In his broadcast message, Aurobindo described five dreams he had for India’s future, which unfortunately was overshadowed by Jawaharlal Nehru’s tryst with destiny speech. I was only reminded of these when I was invited to take part in a webinar this Independence day. It was arranged by Auroville, a universal city in the making, near Puducherry, dedicated to the idea of human unity, based on the vision of Aurobindo and his collaborator known as “The Mother”.
The theme of Aurobindo’s message which struck me was unity. Not surprisingly, bearing in mind the timing of the broadcast, he dreamt first of reuniting India. That has not been fulfilled, and in the present climate, it might be considered anti-national to even think of it. But is it anti-national to dream, as Aurobindo also did, of “increasing recognition of the need for peace concord, and common action” in Indo-Pakistan relations?
Aurobindo’s dream of a World Union has also not been fulfilled. It could be argued that the world has become more united over the last 74 years, but, at this time, the need for greater unity is particularly obvious. Countries must be united to make the Glasgow climate conference a success. United States President Joe Biden moved to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord after he was sworn in. His climate envoy, John Kerry, said that the Glasgow conference is “the last best chance to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis”.
Having sat back and watched helplessly as the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan, G7 nations, are scrambling to try and formulate a united stand to prevent this regime, like its predecessor, from committing human rights abuses and sheltering international terrorists.
The last two dreams of Aurobindo were about India giving its spiritual gifts to the world. He believed “more and more eyes are turning towards her (India) with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings but to her psychic and spiritual practice”. That, I believe, continues today. In a collection of essays called The Renaissance in India and Other Essays On Indian Culture, he wrote, “In the larger ideas of it (spirituality) that are now coming on us even the greatest religion becomes no more than a broad sect or branch of the one universal religion.”
So, even in the tragedy of Partition’s disunity, when religion was taken as a justification for hideous violence, Aurobindo held on to his faith in unity. Furthermore, he maintained that unification was “a necessity of nature, an inevitable movement which only human imbecility and stupid selfishness can prevent.” Unfortunately, there is still no shortage of imbecility and selfishness today.
The views expressed are personal