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Aurobindo Ghose

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Aurobindo Ghose

Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghosh) in 1916.
Born Aurobindo Ghose
(1872-08-15)15 August 1872
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now Kolkata, West Bengal, India)
Died 5 December 1950(1950-12-05) (aged 78)
Pondicherry, French India
(now in Puducherry)
Nationality Indian
Quotation The Spirit shall look out through Matter's gaze.
And Matter shall reveal the Spirit's face.[1]

Sri Aurobindo (Sri Ôrobindo, Bengali: শ্রীঅরবিন্দ) (15 August 1872 – 5 December 1950), born Aurobindo Ghosh or Ghose (Ôrobindo Ghosh, Bengali: অরবিন্দ ঘোষ), was an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, Maharishi, guru and poet.[2] He joined the Indian movement for freedom from British rule, for a while became one of its influential leaders and then turned into a spiritual reformer, introducing his visions on human progress and spiritual evolution.[3]

Sri Aurobindo studied for the Indian civil service at King's College, Cambridge. After returning to India he took up various civil service works under the Maharaja of Baroda and started to involve himself in politics. He was imprisoned by British India for writing articles against British rule. He was released when no evidence was provided. During his stay in the jail he reputedly had mystical and spiritual experiences, after which he moved to Pondicherry, leaving politics for spiritual work.[4][5]

During his stay in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo evolved a new method of spiritual practice, which he called Integral Yoga. The central theme of his vision was the evolution of human life into a life divine. He believed in a spiritual realisation that not only liberated man but also transformed his nature, enabling a divine life on earth. In 1926, with the help of his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa ("The Mother"), he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He died on 5 December 1950 in Pondicherry.[4] He was the first Indian to create a major literary corpus in English.[6]

His main literary works are The Life Divine, which deals with theoretical aspects of Integral Yoga; Synthesis of Yoga, which deals with practical guidance to Integral Yoga; and Savitri, an epic poem which refers to a passage in the Mahabharata, where its characters actualise integral yoga in their lives. His works also include philosophy, poetry, translations and commentaries on the Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita.[4]


Early life

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh was born in a Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal, India on 15 August 1872. His father, Krishna Dhan Ghosh, was District Surgeon of Rangapur, Bengal. His mother, Swarnalata Devi, was the daughter of Brahmo religious and social reformer, Rajnarayan Basu. In 1877, Aurobindo and two elder siblings – Manmohan Ghose and Benoybhusan Ghose were send to the Loreto Convent school in Darjeeling. His father was posted at various positions at the Government hospitals in Bengal during this time. His father was believed to be an atheist according to Sri Aurobindo and wanted his sons to study for Indian civil service in England.

England (1879–1893)

In 1879, Sri Aurobindo and his two elder brothers were taken to Manchester, England for a European education. The brothers were placed in the care of the Reverend W.H. Drewett and his wife in London. Drewett was an Anglican priest whom Ghose knew through his British friends at Rangapur. The Drewetts tutored the Ghose brothers privately; they were asked to keep the tuition completely secular and to make no mention of India or its culture.

Between 1880 and 1884, while his brothers where studying at Manchester Grammar School, Drewett coached Sri Aurobindo in Latin and his wife coached him in French, geography and arithmetic until he joined St Paul's School. Here he learnt Greek, spending the last three years reading literature and English poetry. He also acquired some familiarity with German and Italian. K.D. Ghosh wanted his sons to pass the prestigious Indian Civil Service examination, but in 1889 it appeared that of the three brothers, only young Sri Aurobindo had a chance of fulfilling his father's aspirations, his brothers having already decided their future careers. To become an ICS official, students were required to pass the competitive examination, as well as to study at an English university for two years under probation. Sri Aurobindo secured a scholarship at King's College, Cambridge, coming first in the examination. He also passed the written examination of the Indian Civil Service after a few months, where he was ranked 11th out of 250 competitors. He spent the next two years at King's College.[7]

A blue plaque unveiled in 2007 commemorates Sri Aurobindo's residence at 49 St Stephen's Avenue in Shepherd's Bush, London, from 1884 to 1887.[8]

By the end of two years of probation, Sri Aurobindo had no interest in ICS exam and came late to the horse riding exam purposefully to get himself disqualified for the service.[9]

At this time, the Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, was travelling in England. James Cotton, brother of Sir Henry Cotton, for some time Lieutenant Governor of Bengal and Secretary of the South Kensington Liberal Club, knew Aurobindo and his father secured for him a place in Baroda State Service and arranged for him to meet the prince. He left England for India, arriving there in February 1893.[10] In India Sri Aurobindo's father who was waiting to receive his son was misinformed by his agents from Bombay (now Mumbai) that the ship on which Aurobindo had been travelling had sunk off the coast of Portugal. Ghose who was by this time frail due to ill-health could not bear this shock and died.[11]

Baroda (1893–1906)

In Baroda, Sri Aurobindo joined the state service, working first in the Survey and Settlements department, later moving to the Department of Revenue and then to the Secretariat, and many miscellaneous works like teaching grammar and assisted in writing speeches for the maharaja of Gaekwad.[12] During his work in Baroda he started working as a part-time French teacher at Baroda college, he was later promoted to the post of Vice-Principal.[13] At Baroda, Sri Aurobindo self studied Sanskrit and Bengali.[14]

During his stay at Baroda he contributed to many articles to Indu prakash and spoke as a chairman of the Baroda college board.[15] He published the first of his collections of poetry, The Rishi from Baroda.[16] He also started taking active interest in the politics of India's freedom struggle against British rule, working behind the scenes as his position at the Baroda State barred him from overt political activity. He linked up with resistance groups in Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, while travelling to these states. He established contact with Lokmanya Tilak and Sister Nivedita. He also arranged for the military training of Jatindra Nath Banerjee (Niralamba Swami) in the Baroda army and then dispatched him to organise the resistance groups in Bengal.[17]


Main article: Aurobindo's politics

Sri Aurobindo repeatedly visited Bengal, at first in a bid to re-establish links with his parents' families and his other Bengali relatives, including his cousin Sarojini and brother Barin, and later increasingly in a bid to establish resistance groups across Bengal. But he formally shifted to Calcutta (now Kolkata) only in 1906 after the announcement of Partition of Bengal. During his visit to Calcutta in 1901 he married Mrinalini, daughter of Bhupal Chandra Bose, a senior official in Government service. Aurobindo Ghose was then 28; the bride Mrinalini, 14. Marrying off daughters at a young age was common in 19th century Bengali families.[18]

Aurobindo was influenced by his studies on rebellion and revolutions against England in medieval France and the revolts in America and Italy. In his public activity he took up non-co-operation and passive resistance in front but also took up secret revolutionary activity as a preparation for open revolt, in case that the passive revolt failed.[19]

In Bengal with Barin's help he established contacts with revolutionaries, inspiring radicals like Bagha Jatin, Jatin Banerjee, Surendranath Tagore. He helped establish a series of youth clubs. He helped found the Anushilan Samiti of Calcutta in 1902.[20]

Sri Aurobindo attended Congress meeting in 1906 and participated as a councillor in forming the fourfold objectives of "Swaraj, Swadesh, Boycott and national education". In 1907 at Surat session of Congress where moderates and hardliners had a major showdown, he led the hardliners along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Congress split after this session.[21] In 1907–1908 Aurobindo travelled extensively to Pune, Bombay and Baroda to firm up support for the nationalist cause, giving speeches and meeting various groups. He was arrested again in May 1908 in connection with the Alipore Bomb Case. He was acquitted in the ensuing trial and released after a year of isolated incarceration. Once out of the prison he started two new publications, Karmayogin in English and Dharma in Bengali. He also delivered the Uttarpara Speech hinting at the transformation of his focus to spiritual matters. The British persecution continued because of his writings in his new journals and in April 1910 Aurobindo, obeying an inner command '(Adesh)'which he had formed the habit of unquestioningly heeding, moved to Pondicherry, where Britain's secret police monitored his activities.[22]

Conversion from politics to spirituality

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother

Collected Works · Life Divine · Synthesis of Yoga · Savitri · Agenda ·
Involution/Involution · Evolution · Integral education · Integral psychology · Integral yoga · Intermediate zone · Supermind
Matrimandir · Pondicherry
Sri Aurobindo Ashram · Auroville
Champaklal · N.K.Gupta · Amal Kiran · Nirodbaran · Pavitra · M.P.Pandit · Pranab · A.B.Purani · D.K.Roy · Satprem · Indra Sen · Kapali Shastri
Journals and Forums
Arya · Mother India · Collaboration

The trial ("Alipore Bomb Case, 1908") lasted for one full year, but eventually Sri Aurobindo was acquitted. His Defence Counsel was Chiitaranjan Das. On acquittal, Sri Aurobindo was invited to deliver a speech at Uttarpara where he first spoke of some of his experiences in jail. Afterwards Sri Aurobindo started two new weekly papers: the Karmayogin in English and the Dharma in Bengali.

Sri Aurobindo said he was visited by Vivekananda in the Alipore Jail. In his words, "It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence [.] The voice spoke only on a special and limited but very important field of spiritual experience and it ceased as soon as it had finished saying all that it had to say on that subject."

Sri Aurobindo had various experiences from the time he had landed in India but had not known about any yoga or what yoga was.[23] Later, when Aurobindo became involved with Congress and Bande Mataram, Barin had continued to meet patriotic youngsters for recruitment for such a plan. In 1907, Barin introduced Aurobindo to Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, a Maharashtrian yogi. Aurobindo was greatly influenced by the guidance he got from him, he had instructed Aurobindo to depend on an inner guide and any kind of external guru or guidance would not be required.[24]

In 1910 Sri Aurobindo withdrew himself from all political activities and secretly stayed at Chandarnagore, where he was being searched for one of the articles which was under his name in karmayogin. Later when the warrant against him was dropped he moved to Pondicherry, then a French colony.[25]


In Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo completely dedicated himself to his spiritual and philosophical pursuits. In 1914, after four years of secluded yoga, Sri Aurobindo started a philosophical monthly magazine called Arya. A series of works The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on The Gita, The Secret of The Veda, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, The Upanishads, The Renaissance in India, War and Self-determination, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Future Poetry were published in this magazine. Arya stopped its publication in 1921. Many years later, Aurobindo revised some of these works before they were published in book form.[26]

At the beginning of his stay at Pondicherry, there were few followers, but with time their numbers grew, resulting in the formation of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926.[26] In 1926 he first signed his name as "Sri Aurobindo." Surname seems to have first appeared in print in articles published in Chandernagore in 1920. It did not catch on at that time. He first signed his name Sri Aurobindo in March 1926, but continued to use Sri Aurobindo Ghose for a year or two ..."

For some time afterwards, Sri Aurobindo's main literary output was his voluminous correspondence with his disciples. His letters, most of which were written in the 1930s, numbered in the several thousands. Many were brief comments made in the margins of his disciple's notebooks in answer to their questions and reports of their spiritual practice—others extended to several pages of carefully composed explanations of practical aspects of his teachings. These were later collected and published in book form in three volumes of Letters on Yoga. In the late 1930s, Sri Aurobindo resumed work on a poem he had started earlier—he continued to expand and revise this poem for the rest of his life. It became perhaps his greatest literary achievement, Savitri, an epic spiritual poem in blank verse of approximately 24,000 lines.[27]

Sri Aurobindo left his body on 5 December 1950.[26]

Mirra Richard

Aurobindo's close spiritual collaborator, Mirra Richard (b. Alfassa), came to be known as The Mother simply because Aurobindo started to call her by this name.[28]

Mirra was born in Paris on 21 February 1878. In her 20s she studied occultism with Max Theon. She went to Pondicherry on 29 March 1914, finally settling there in 1920. Aurobindo considered her his spiritual equal and collaborator. After 24 November 1926, when Aurobindo retired into seclusion, he left it to her to plan, run and build the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the community of disciples which had gathered around them. Some time later when families with children joined the ashram, she established and supervised the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education with its experiments in the field of education. When Aurobindo died in 1950, she continued their spiritual work, directed the ashram and guided their disciples.[29][30]


In the mid-1960s The Mother personally guided the founding of Auroville, an international township endorsed by UNESCO to further human unity in Tamil Nadu, near the Pondicherry border, which was to be a place "where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities." It was inaugurated in 1968 in a ceremony in which representatives of 121 nations and all the states of India placed a handful of their soil in an urn near the center of the city. Auroville continues to develop and currently has approximately 2,100 members from 43 countries, though the majority consists of Indians, French, and Germans.[31]

Philosophy and spiritual vision


Aurobindo wrote that his philosophy "was formed first by the study of the Upanishads and the Gita", as well as "knowledge that flowed from above when I sat in meditation".[32] Peter Heehs writes that examination of Aurobindo's manuscripts bears out Aurobindo's statement. Heehs writes that the influence of the Indian Vedantic tradition on Aurobindo's thought was enormous. The other major component was ideas that Aurobindo encountered during his education, such as the theory of evolution.[32]

Another, comparatively minor and indirect influence, mediated through Mirra Alfassa, was some ideas of Max and Alma Théon and Le Mouvement Cosmique, some of which were inspired by Lurianic Kabbalah.[32]

The Life Divine

The Life Divine is Sri Aurobindo's major philosophical opus. It combines a synthesis of western thought and eastern spirituality with Sri Aurobindo's own original insights. The Life Divine covers topics such as the human aspiration, why it remains unfulfilled, the individual's divided nature, the nature of the divine reality, how the universe emerged from a divine source (aka Involution), the role of Supermind in the creation/involutionary process, the nature and methods of evolution from matter to spirit, the means of overcoming our divided nature through higher consciousness, the nature and boundaries of human ignorance, the transformation from our divided nature into a supernature, and the emergence of a gnostic supramental being and a divine life on earth.

Yogic philosophy

Sri Aurobindo calls his yoga as integral yoga, and according to Sri Aurobindo most ways of other yoga are paths to beyond of human existence and towards reaching spirit as a final objective and away from normal life. Sri Aurobindo's philosophy aims at ascending to the spirit and again descending to normal existence to transform it.

According to Sri Aurobindo mind is the highest term reached in the path of evolution till now but has not yet reached its highest potency and calls current mind as an ignorance seeking truth, but he also states that even though the human being is treading in ignorance there is in every human being a possibility of divine manifestation. Sri Aurobindo states that there is a possibility to open oneself to higher divine consciousness which would reveal one's true self, remain in constant union of divine and bring down a higher force (which he names as superamental force) which would transform mind, life and body. To realise the above has been the main objectives of Sri Aurobindo's yoga.[33]

Triple transformation of the individual

Sri Aurobindo argues that Man is born an ignorant, divided, conflicted being; a product of the original inconscience (i.e. unconsciousness) inherent in Matter that he evolved out of. As a result, he does not know the nature of Reality, including its source and purpose; his own nature, including the parts and integration of his being; what purpose he serves, and what his individual and spiritual potential is, amongst others. In addition, man experiences life through division and conflict, including his relationship with others, and his divided view of spirit and life.[33]

To overcome these limitations, Man must embark on a process of self-discovery in which he uncovers his Divine nature. To that end, he undertakes a three-step process, which he calls the Triple Transformation.[34]

(1) Psychic Transformation—The first of the three stages is a movement within, away from the surface of life, to the depths, culminating in the discovery of his psychic being (the evolving soul). From that experience, he sees the oneness and unity of creation, and the harmony of all opposites experienced in life.[34]

(2) Spiritual Transformation—As a result of making the psychic change, his mind expands and he experiences knowledge not through the hard churning of thought, but through light, intuition, and revelation of knowledge, culminating in supramental perception. Light enters from the heights and begins to transmute various parts of his being.[34]

(3) Supramental transformation—After making the psychic and spiritual change, he makes the supramental and most radical change. It is basically a complete transformation of the mind, the heart, the emotions, and the physical body.[34]


Sri Aurobindo not only expressed his spiritual thought and vision in intricate metaphysical reasoning and in phenomenological terms, but also in poetry. Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol is Sri Aurobindo's epic poem in 12 books, 24,000 lines an analogy referring to a story of 'Savitri and Satyavan' from the Mahabharata. Where the characters go through the evolutionary process including bringing upon the divinity into earth transforming it spiritually.[35]


The following authors, disciples and organisations trace their intellectual heritage back to, or have in some measure been influenced by, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

  • Nolini Kanta Gupta (1889–1983) was one of Sri Aurobindo's senior disciples, and wrote extensively on philosophy, mysticism, and spiritual evolution in the light of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's teachings.[36]
  • Pavitra (1894–1969) was one of the very early disciples of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Born as Philippe Barbier Saint-Hilaire in Paris. Pavitra left some very interesting memoirs of his conversations with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in 1925 and 1926, which were published as Conversations avec Pavitra.[37]
  • Sri Anirvan (1896–1978) translated "The Life Divine" in Bengali and "Savitri" into Bengali in "Divya Jeevan Prasanga", published by Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir,1948–51.[38]
  • Indra Sen (1903–1994) was another disciple of Sri Aurobindo who, although little-known in the West, was the first to articulate integral psychology and integral philosophy, in the 1940s and 1950s. A compilation of his papers came out under the title, Integral Psychology in 1986.[39]
  • Nirodbaran (1903–2006). A doctor who obtained his medical degree from Edinburgh, his long and voluminous correspondence with Sri Aurobindo elaborate on many aspects of Integral Yoga and fastidious record of conversations bring out Sri Aurobindo's thought on numerous subjects.
  • Champaklal (1903–1992). Sri Aurobindo's personal attendant, he brought out a collection of reminiscences.
  • Amal Kiran (1904–2011). The most prolific exponent of Sri Aurobindo's poetic, literary and cultural corpus.
  • M. P. Pandit (1918–1993). Secretary to The Mother and the Ashram, his copious writings and lectures cover Yoga, the Vedas, Tantra, Sri Aubindo's epic "Savitri" and others.
  • Sri Chinmoy (1931–2007) joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1944. Later, he wrote the play about the life of 'Sri Aurobindo: Descent of the Blue' and a book 'Infinite: Sri Aurobindo'. An author, composer, artist and athlete, he was perhaps best known for holding public events on the theme of inner peace and world harmony (such as concerts, meditations, and races).[40]
  • Satprem (1923–2007) was a French author and an important disciple of The Mother who published Mother's Agenda (ed.1982), Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness (2000), On the Way to Supermanhood (2002) and more.[41]

Organisations and institutes

  • Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, an integral part of the Ashram, serves as a field of experiment and research in education. For years Sri Aurobindo considered the formation of an Education Centre as one of the best means of preparing the future humanity to manifest upon earth a divine consciousness and a divine life. To give a concrete shape to his vision, the Mother opened a school for children on 2 December 1943. Since then, the school has continued to grow and experiment on various educational problems and issues. In 1951, a Convention was held at Pondicherry which resolved to establish an International University Centre in the town as a fitting memorial to Sri Aurobindo. Accordingly the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre was inaugurated by the Mother on 6 January 1952. In 1959, the Mother decided to rename it "Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education."[42]
  • Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research, located in Pondicherry, India, provides online advanced degree programmes (e.g., MA, M.Phil., and PhD) in Sri Aurobindo Studies. It works in collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Open University which grants the degrees. It also publishes books related to the thought and vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, holds conferences, and sells CDs of talks by Ananda Reddy, its Director, on Sri Aurobindo's various major works.[43]
  • The Integral Life Foundation in Waterford, CT has published several books by Amal Kiran.[44]


Sri Aurobindo's influence has been wide-ranging. In India, S. K. Maitra, Anilbaran Roy and D. P. Chattopadhyaya commented on Sri Aurobindo's work. Writers on esotericism and traditional wisdom, such as Mircea Eliade, Paul Brunton, and Rene Guenon, all saw him as an authentic representative of the Indian spiritual tradition.[45]

Haridas Chaudhuri and Frederic Spiegelberg[46] were among those who were inspired by Sri Aurobindo, who worked on the newly formed American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. Soon after, Chaudhuri and his wife Bina established the Cultural Integration Fellowship, from which later emerged the California Institute of Integral Studies.[47]

Karlheinz Stockhausen became heavily inspired by the writings of Satprem about Sri Aurobindo during a week in May 1968, a time of which the composer was undergoing a personal crisis and had found Aurobindos philosophies were relevant to his feelings at the time. After this experience, Stockhausen's music took a completely different turn, focusing on mysticism, that was to continue right up until the end of his career.[48]

Sri Aurobindo's ideas about the further evolution of human capabilities influenced the thinking of Michael Murphy – and indirectly, the human potential movement, through Murphy's writings.[49]

The American philosopher Ken Wilber has mentioned Sri Aurobindo to be "India's greatest modern philosopher sage"[50] and has integrated some of his key ideas with other spiritual traditions and modern intellectual trends,[51] although his interpretation has been criticised by Rod Hemsell[52] and others. New Age writer Andrew Harvey also looks to Sri Aurobindo as a major inspiration.[53] Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson is also supposed to be influenced by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.[54]


Literary works

Sri Aurobindo was one of the first Indians to create a literary corpus in English.[6] Most of his works include translation of Indian scriptures and also on the yoga system and philosophy he had introduced.[4][55]


See also

Poetry portal
Hinduism portal
Indian religions portal
India portal


Further reading

  • The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo
  • The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo
  • Savitri – A legend and a Symbol, Sri Aurobindo
  • Letters on himself and Ashram, Sri Aurobindo
  • Satprem, Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness 1968, Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press. Exposition of the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the techniques of Integral Yoga.
  • van Vrekhem, Georges: Beyond Man – The Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi 1999, ISBN 81-7223-327-2.
  • Prithwindra Mukherjee, Sri Aurobindo, "Biographies", Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 2000
  • Richard Kitaeff, "Sri Aurobindo", in Nouvelles Clés, n°62, pp. 58–61.
  • Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar', Sri Aurobindo: Meri Drishti Mein, Lokbharti Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008.
  • Mishra, Manoj Kumar. Young Aurobindo’s Vision: The Viziers of Bassora. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2004.

External links

  • Sri Aurobindo Ashram
  • Auroville
  • Symbolism in the Poetry of Sri Aurobindo-By Syamala Kallury

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