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Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) Aurobindo Ghose was a leading Indian nationalist at the beginning of the twentieth century who
became a yogin and spiritual leader as well as a prolific writer (in English) on mysticism, crafting a mystic philosophy of Brahman (the
Absolute or God).
Aurobindo fashioned an entire worldview, a system intended to reflect both science and religion and to integrate several concerns of philosophy - epistemology, ontology, psychology, ethics - into a single vision.
Of particular importance to his cosmological thinking was evolutionary biology.
But Aurobindo also understood the fundamental nature of matter to include - for metaphysical reasons - an 'evolutionary nisus' that ensures the emergence of individuals capable of mystical experience in which the supreme reality, Brahman, is revealed. 1 Life Commonly referred to as Aurobindo, or, by followers, as Sri Aurobindo ('Sri' is honorific), Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta.
He spent fourteen years in England from the age of seven until graduating from King's College, Cambridge University.
He died surrounded by disciples in the French colony of Pondicherry in South India.
Aurobindo's politics were not of the passivist variety later endorsed by Gandhi.
He used the editorial columns of the nationalist newspaper Bande Mataram (Hail to Mother India) to call rather openly for open rebellion.
Arrested on charges of sedition and then 'waging war', he spent a year in prison before being acquitted in 1909.
Still harassed by the British authorities, he retreated to Pondicherry, retired from politics and wrote voluminously while practising meditation and yoga.
In addition to his metaphysical writings, Aurobindo wrote an epic poem (Savitri, one of the longest in English) and works on psychology, political philosophy, ethics, culture and yoga. 2 Metaphysics Aurobindo puts forth in The Life Divine, his principal work of philosophy, a thoroughly realist metaphysics: there is an essential God or Brahman (the two terms are with Aurobindo roughly interchangeable) and real physical objects - transcendent in the sense of existing independently of our experience - with much intermediate to these two 'poles of being'.
He couples his realism with an empiricist epistemology that brooks no illusory element.
Illusions and misperceptions are analysed as false combinations of presentations of realities.
Objects stand in causal relations to perceivers, though causal media vary.
Aurobindo defends an epistemic parallelism between the indications of sensory and mystical experiences, with the latter carrying most of the weight regarding the existence and nature of Brahman - although variations on teleological, cosmological and other arguments of rational theology are presented too.
Aurobindo's realism is not unreflective; he considers and rejects several varieties of phenomenalism, including Buddhist and Vedāntic theories that use a phenomenalist understanding of sensory objects to defend the possibility of enlightenment experiences held to be a supreme personal good.
Aurobindo endorses such possibilities of enlightenment (nirvā a, for example), but proposes that his realist views provide better explanations both of mystical experiences and of our everyday world.
There is tension, in Aurobindo's metaphysical writings, between a mystical foundationalism, Aurobindo's sense of the veridicality of yogic experiences, and a speculative theology, a sense that Brahman as the Absolute cannot be perfectly known.
Throughout The Life Divine, Aurobindo weaves a view of a 'self-manifesting Brahman' with close attention to an overall coherence of theory.
Brahman - in essence perfect Being, Consciousness-Will and Bliss or Value (so Aurobindo renders a traditional characterization of Brahman as saccidānanda) involutes aspects of itself - that is, contracts - so that certain finite possibilities can emerge, a process that has an outer limit in the 'inconscient' energies of matter.
But such apparent inconscience cannot remain because it is nothing but Brahman.
universes that are incompatible with Brahman's essential nature are strictly impossible.
Thus conscious beings are destined to evolve. In other words, God (that is, Brahman) works within limits, and could not, for example, make 2 + 2 = 5.
God cannot create an entirely insentient world since God is constrained by the metaphysical law ex nihilo nihil fit ('nothing from nothing') to create out of God's own nature of Consciousness and Bliss.
Thus this world is destined to evolve sentient material beings and eventually a divine life conceived as a society where many have experience of Brahman. 3 Views on evil Evil, which is rooted in the insentience of matter and the limitations it imposes on life (the converse of valuable possibilities it secures), is fated to diminish and even disappear as evolution proceeds - possibly past the human species.
The future evolution that Aurobindo envisages is the working out of a divine intention in which human effort, however, has a crucial role.
Humans have developed a sufficient measure of freedom and self-determination to further the evolutionary progression, as divine delegates as it were.
In a second, revised and expanded, edition of The Life Divine (1943-4), Aurobindo elaborates his theory of individual progress, amplifying a mystical psychology and enlarging on a theory of rebirth.
Brahman's self-manifestation includes other 'worlds', or 'planes of being', said to be accessible to us in a mystic trance and which the developing divine individual ('psychic being' or 'soul') is said to enter upon the death of the body.
The material universe does not exhaust the manifestation of Brahman, but it is, Aurobindo claims, the only evolutionary world.
The others are 'typal', with no evolutionary emergence.
In this world, the soul, profiting from all its experience, develops an increasingly refined and finely etched personality in terms of body, life and mind.
The value of this development discounts, Aurobindo reasons, the evil made possible and even necessary by the insentience of matter inasmuch as matter makes possible such an evolutionary world. 4 Relation to classical Vedānta Aurobindo manages an extraordinary consistency; critics have tended to fault him not for tensions among his many claims but for wrongly weighing 'mystical data'.
Though little known in the West, his system enjoys in India significant influence both among professional philosophers and a larger intellectual community.
The speculative originality evident in Aurobindo's intricate theodicy and theory of evolutionary progress sets his system apart from classical Vedānta, the traditional Hindu philosophy based on sacred texts (principally Upani ads and the Bhagavad Gītā).
But Aurobindo also relies heavily on these works.
He says he understands them as records of mystical experiences similar to his own, not as mainstays of a revealed tradition.
Critics, particularly in India, have often misunderstood Aurobindo's approach to traditionally sacred texts, viewing his philosophy as NeoVedānta and fuelling worries that Aurobindo, like all mystics perhaps, is ethnocentric in his claims.
But despite the distancing from traditional Hinduism, such worries about cultural shaping remain (see Mysticism, nature of §3).
Western influences on Aurobindo's thought have not been adequately studied.
Platonic and Neoplatonic reverberations abound, and there are echoes of Hegel and Nietzsche.
Aurobindo read widely in Western literature (he won prizes in Classics at Cambridge) as well as in Sanskrit, which he learned through English, in effect his mother tongue.
A hero of the Indian nationalist movement could be expected to cast his thought in the rich philosophical terminology of the classical Sanskrit tradition (consider also the case of Gandhi).
But Aurobindo's inspirations were arguably as much Western as Indian.
There is also with Aurobindo, as with all great thinkers, an element of creativity that transcends cultural precedent.. »
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