This book consists of notes, letters, telegrams, and public statements written by Sri Aurobindo at various times. It includes approximately three hundred pages of material not included in the SABCL edition: well over a hundred pages are published here for the first time and the rest were previously published only in journals or as parts of different books. Of the material already published in the SABCL edition and included in this new book, half is from the now-discontinued volume Sri Aurobindo On Himself and the other half from Letters on Yoga and the Supplement volume, which was never brought out as an independent book. Most of the rest of the letters from On Himself, written by Sri Aurobindo after 1927 and touching on the subject of himself and his sadhana, will be included in a new volume entitled Letters on Himself and the Ashram.
This documentary volume is divided into four parts: autobiographical notes, which consist primarily of things he wrote to correct statements made by others about him; letters of historical interest, mostly written before 1927 to family members, political and professional associates, people interested in his yogic practice, and public figures; public statements on Indian and world events; and public notices concerning his ashram and yoga. It contains a detailed table of contents and nearly sixty pages of editorial notes, containing information on the people and historical events referred to in the texts.
“There were three sides to Sri Aurobindo’s political ideas and activities. First, there was the action with which he started, a secret revolutionary propaganda and organisation of which the central object was the preparation of an armed insurrection. Secondly, there was a public propaganda intended to convert the whole nation to the ideal of independence which was regarded, when he entered into politics, by the vast majority of Indians as unpractical and impossible, an almost insane chimera. It was thought that the British Empire was too powerful and India too weak, effectively disarmed and impotent even to dream of the success of such an endeavour. Thirdly, there was the organisation of the people to carry on a public and united opposition and undermining of the foreign rule through an increasing noncooperation and passive resistance.’
– Sri Aurobindo, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, pp. 47
“FROM PERSONAL PREDICAMENTS TO TRANSPERSONAL ALTITUDES”
by Manoj Das
“?…when I came to Calcutta in 1913, Aurobindo was already a legendary figure. Rarely have I seen people speak of a leader with such rapturous enthusiasm and many were the anecdotes of this great man, some of them probably true, which travelled from mouth to mouth,” wrote Netaji Subhas Chandra in An Indian Pilgrim. By then Sri Aurobindo had already ‘disappeared’ from the palpable political scene for three years. One can imagine the overabundance of rumours and anecdotes in circulation when the news spread, early in 1910, that a warrant had been issued against Sri Aurobindo but that the police were unable to trace him. The quality and quantity of such rumours can be assessed from the statement the Karmayogin, that had come under the editorship of Sister Nivedita, was obliged to issue in March 1910, declaring that Sri Aurobindo had, indeed, not gone over to Tibet and “if he is doing any astral business with Kuthmi or any of the other great Rishis, the fact is unknown to his other Koshas.”
Once it was authentically known that Sri Aurobindo had chosen Pondicherry for his abode and that he was engrossed in Yoga, the curiosity about him and interest in him among the intelligentsia of the time took a new turn and several authors came forward to write his biography. In fact, the very first biography of him in English, Life of Arabinda Ghose by R. Palit, came out the very next year, in 1911. While the well-written book had tried projecting the ideas of Sri Aurobindo as they were known by then, in his enthusiasm the author did not care to check his facts and mentioned, instead of Surat, Pune as the site of the historic Congress split. (Alas, even recently, writing about Sri Aurobindo, a celebrated contemporary writer refers to the ruler of Baroda as Madhavrao Sindhia.)
But some of the early biographers had the great good fortune of getting their errors corrected by Sri Aurobindo himself, though he did it because of the persistent appeals from the authors and because he could not have shut his eyes to the glaring “inaccuracies of fact” staring him in the face. He, however, saw no point in these well-meaning endeavours of his would-be biographers. As he wrote to one such aspiring spirit: “I see that you have persisted in giving a biography-is it really necessary or useful? The attempt is bound to be a failure, because neither you nor anyone else knows anything at all of my life; it has not been on the surface for man to see.”
The last clause in the quote is the precise-most statement on the cause of nobody being able to write a biography of Sri Aurobindo. We are still far from mastering any insight into his actions in the planes of Consciousness, glimpses of which we may have in the epic Savitri. Probably nowhere else his real task, his struggle to accomplish that task, his sacrifice and success – to whatever extent our human terms and values could describe them – had been more precisely summarized than on his Samadhi, through the Mother’s words.
Here then we can sense yet another trait of supreme nobility – or call it divinity – of Sri Aurobindo. Engrossed though he was in exploring the alpha and omega of Consciousness, he did not pass over as simply shallow, superficial or phony the emotions, attitudes, beliefs, philosophies, fancies and fascination of the people around him. With infinite patience he corrected them, disarmed them of their petty notions and appreciated, helped and blessed wherever there was a sign of openness towards the light he sought to bring down into the twilight of our sensibility.
Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest is a compendium of these interventions of Sri Aurobindo: of numerous corrections and remarks on the efforts of authors trying to reconstruct the events constituting his life on the surface, of his observations on several matters of historical importance both national and international, his letters to newspapers, as well as his statements on his Yoga and the Ashram, spanning a period of about six decades. While some of these pieces had been compiled earlier in Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on the Mother and in one or two other books, this volume presents several items hitherto unpublished in any book. This apart, what imparts to the volume a new character is its editorial arrangement and cardinally important footnotes.
Most of the items are Sri Aurobindo’s letters, written to a wide range of people including seekers, his associates in the earlier phase of his life and his relatives, as well as to political personages including Bipin Chandra Pal, Joseph Baptista, B.S. Munje, C.R. Das, S. Radhakrishnan, Morarji Desai, Surendra Mohan Ghosh, Kailash Nath Katju and K. M. Munshi. The communications are personal, yet what arise from them are transpersonal illuminations.
Issues which had remained a question for many – such as Sri Aurobindo’s unwillingness to see Gandhi-ji despite the latter’s eagerness for it – get explained through Sri Aurobindo’s own words. Those who think that there was no difference between the political ideologies of Sri Aurobindo and Tilak should feel enlightened in reading Sri Aurobindo’s letter of December 1, 1922, to Barindra Kumar Ghose. This was in response to Barindra Kumar informing him that C.R. Das proposed to publish a portion of a letter he (Das) had received from Sri Aurobindo. Out of context, the passage intended to be reproduced could mean that Sri Aurobindo supported some policies of Gandhi or of Tilak. But, says Sri Aurobindo: “My own policy, if I were in the field, would be radically different in principle and programme from both, however it might coincide in certain points. But the country is not yet ready to understand its principle or to execute its programme.”
There are his observations on the Second World War, Cripps proposal, Wavell Plan, the assassination of Gandhi-ji, etc. that by now are widely known, but put together, they give us a firm angle to look at the situations of those days.
The Mother India that in its early phase was being published from Bombay and edited by K.D. Sethna was believed by all to be the journal projecting more or less Sri Aurobindo’s views on men and matters. Once, Sethna proposed to write a passage that ended with “till we put ourselves in the care of some Rishis among leaders”. Sri Aurobindo of course advised him to change it to “till the eyes of India’s leaders see more clearly?” etc. But feel the laughter in it: “I do not know of course who may be acclaimed as the Rishi in question,-the only one with a recognized claim to the title is not likely to be called from Tiruvannamalai to Delhi and would certainly refuse his consent to the transfer. But it is evident that the eyes of your readers will turn at once towards Pondicherry and consider that it is a claim to my appointment either to the place filled so worthily by C.R. or the kindred place admirably occupied by Nehru. I am a candidate for neither office and any suggestion of my promotion to these high offices should be left to other announcers and the last place in which it should occur is Mother India. So out with the Rishi.”
Some of the letters on the psychological problems of sadhaks, elaborate and pointed, are like a tender ray into the consciousness of men, a guide for introspection by seekers; for example, the letter explaining the delusions nurtured by a disciple (pp. 309-12). Thus, mundane and spiritual, political and historical, the topics covered by the volume are varied, and a reader emerges amazed and enlightened about the incredibly wide reach of Sri Aurobindo’s comprehension and compassion. He knew the pits to which man could descend and the sublime heights one could touch. But a feeling the reader has is: he was constant like the polestar in his vision of man’s destiny. Suddenly, a few lines from a poem by an old, good poet, Longfellow, assumed a new import in this author’s mind:
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
? – Manoj Das
Shri Manoj Das is a well-known writer. A Padma awardee, he is a recipient of the Saraswati Samman and Sahitya Akademi award.