The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

PETER HEEHS
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 528
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/heeh14098
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  • Book Info
    The Lives of Sri Aurobindo
    Book Description:

    Since his death in 1950, Sri Aurobindo Ghose has been known primarily as a yogi and a philosopher of spiritual evolution who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in peace and literature. But the years Aurobindo spent in yogic retirement were preceded by nearly four decades of rich public and intellectual work. Biographers usually focus solely on Aurobindo's life as a politician or sage, but he was also a scholar, a revolutionary, a poet, a philosopher, a social and cultural theorist, and the inspiration for an experiment in communal living.

    Peter Heehs, one of the founders of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, is the first to relate all the aspects of Aurobindo's life in its entirety. Consulting rare primary sources, Heehs describes the leader's role in the freedom movement and in the framing of modern Indian spirituality. He examines the thinker's literary, cultural, and sociological writings and the Sanskrit, Bengali, English, and French literature that influenced them, and he finds the foundations of Aurobindo's yoga practice in his diaries and unpublished letters. Heehs's biography is a sensitive, honest portrait of a life that also provides surprising insights into twentieth-century Indian history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51184-1
    Subjects: History, Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Note on Proper Names
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Part One: Son
    • 1. Early Years in India: Bengal, 1872–1879
      (pp. 3-10)

      Rangpur means “city of delight,” but the town of Rangpur, in Bengal, was so unhealthy in the nineteenth century that people called it Yampur, or “city of death.” The summer of 1872 was particularly bad. The annual outbreak of malaria was followed by a cholera epidemic.¹ No one in the town knew more about the situation than its energetic civil surgeon, Dr. Krishna Dhun Ghose. As the father of two small children and the husband of a pregnant wife, he had personal as well as professional reasons for concern.

      Swarnalotta Ghose was due to give birth in August. As her...

  8. Part Two: Scholar
    • 2. Growing up English: England, 1879–1893
      (pp. 13-35)

      Manchester, where the Ghose boys went to stay, was the center of the most industrialized and densely populated region of England. Rapidly expanding, the city had swallowed up neighboring townships such as Ardwick, where the Reverend William Drewett lived. Minister of the Stockport Road Congregational Church, Drewett stayed with his family in a two-story house at 84 Shakespeare Street. The neighborhood was new and entirely residential. Similar brick houses with similar gardens behind them stood all around.¹ It was an average English townscape, tidy and dreary, that Aurobindo looked back on without affection: “Mean and clumsy were the buildings, or...

    • 3. Encountering India: Baroda, 1893–1906
      (pp. 36-98)

      Aurobindo arrived at Bombay on February 6, 1893 and reached Baroda two days later.¹ He found that the capital of the Gaekwar’s realm was a thoroughly Indian city. A contemporary British visitor strolling through the town’s bazaar was struck by “the open booths, the all but nude men, women and children squatting amongst the merchandise, the crowds, the noise.” It all bore, he noted with some surprise, “no trace of the British Raj.”² Aurobindo would have been equally bemused on his first shopping expedition. He did not know any of the local languages and was just as unaccustomed to seeing...

  9. Part Three: Revolutionary
    • 4. Into the Fray: Calcutta, 1906–1908
      (pp. 101-158)

      Aurobindo was in Calcutta on March 11, 1906 when the report of the educational experts’ committee set up the previous December was considered. After some deliberation, the assembled educators, professionals, landowners, and other leading citizens resolved to establish the National Council of Education. Aurobindo was one of its ninety-two founding members. The other ninety-one knew him as an England-educated Bengali who had been working in Gujarat as a professor in the Gaekwar’s college. Most also were aware that he was the designated principal of the college that they were going to establish. Even so he remained an outsider. Looking back...

    • 5. In Jail and After: Bengal, 1908–1910
      (pp. 159-214)

      On the morning of May 2, 1908 Aurobindo woke to the sound of his sister screaming. As he opened his eyes, Sarojini rushed into the room followed closely by a man with a revolver. In a moment, a second armed man appeared. “Are you Aurobindo Ghose?” he asked. Aurobindo replied in the affirmative.“Arrest him!” the man cried to the constables who followed him into the room. To Aurobindo he then directed “an extremely objectionable expression.” Aurobindo protested, and there was a brief and angry exchange.¹ Mrinalini, mute with embarrassment and fear, rushed out of the room with Sarojini.

      Aurobindo asked...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  10. Part Four: Yogi and Philosopher
    • 6. A Laboratory Experiment: Pondicherry, 1910–1915
      (pp. 217-263)

      While Aurobindo and Bijoy were steaming south aboard the Dupleix, Suresh was trying to convince the Pondicherry Extremists that Aurobindo was about to arrive. After reaching the town on March 31, 1910 Suresh had gone to the India office in search of Parthasarathi Iyengar. Parthasarathi was not there, but his brother, Srinivasacharya, was. He read the letter Suresh had brought and said that he would make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, Suresh would be his guest. For the next three days, Suresh sat around the house, reminding his host occasionally that Aurobindo’s ship was due on April 4. Each...

    • 7. The Major Works: Pondicherry, 1914–1920
      (pp. 264-308)

      The aim of the Arya, Aurobindo wrote in 1915, was to discover and give form to “the thought of the future” and to link it “to the best and most vital thought of the past.”¹ In the early stages of the project, the linkage with the past predominated. A week before the inaugural issue was published, he wrote out a list of twenty-one works he hoped to complete during his lifetime.² Nine were based on the Upanishads, nine on the Vedas; the other three were works of poetry. The scholarly emphasis is consistent with Indian tradition, in which works of...

  11. Part Five: Guide
    • 8. The Ascent to Supermind: Pondicherry, 1915–1926
      (pp. 311-346)

      Asked once about the course of his sadhana in Pondicherry, Aurobindo replied that it might be said that he was “sitting on the path, so far as sadhana was concerned” during the period “between 1915 and 1920 when I was writing the Arya.”¹ He certainly made fewer entries in Record of Yoga during those years, but when he did write, it often was about progress. Evaluating his position in February 1916, he gave himself good marks in four of the seven chatusthayas. In the vital third or vijnana chatusthaya, yogic knowledge, jnana, was “firm, as also telepathy except that of...

    • 9. An Active Retirement: Pondicherry, 1927–1950
      (pp. 347-410)

      Toward the end of 1926 the members of the community that was forming around Aurobindo began to refer to him as Sri Aurobindo. Before then, people called him A. G. The official form, used in signatures and on the title page of books, was Aurobindo Ghose, with or without the Sri. The Sanskrit word sri, meaning literally “riches,” “majesty,” or “beauty,” is often used as an honorific. In modern northern India it is the equivalent of the English honorific “mister.” In more formal usage it is placed before the names of gods, saints, and scriptures. Sri (or Srijut or Sriman)...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 411-416)

    For a half-hour after Sri Aurobindo’s death, his attendants sat stunned around his bed. The Mother joined them and stood silently at his feet. Seeing Champaklal sobbing, she silenced him with a look. After a while she went out, and Sanyal, Nirodbaran, and others began to prepare the body for public viewing.¹

    At Sanyal’s suggestion, the Mother sent word to the ashram’s photographers. They came with their equipment at around three o’clock and spent an hour photographing the body. When they left, the members of the ashram were admitted. Then, at six o’clock, the doors of the ashram were thrown...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 417-462)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 463-476)
  15. Index
    (pp. 477-500)