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A Task Unaccomplished

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(A hundred years ago, India was like a raft in a rocky sea in the middle of a storm — a storm of change and resurgence. No one could say what was about to happen but everyone felt the current and many were the great soldiers who were responsible for it. Sri Aurobindo’s words have always carried a force and truth that is hard to ignore or not be affected by. His thoughts expressed in context to a particular situation often have a deeper insight which relates to the future. We are proud and happy to share with you a flashback from the past, written exactly a century ago, and relevant in some measure even today.)

There is no question so vital to the future of this nation as the spirit in which we are to set about the regeneration of our national life. Either India is rising again to fulfil the function for which her past national life and development seem to have prepared her, a leader of thought and faith, a defender of spiritual truth and experience destined to correct the conclusions of materialistic Science by the higher Science of which she has the secret and in that power to influence the world’s civilisation, or she is rising as a faithful pupil of Europe, a follower of methods and ideas borrowed from the West, a copyist of English politics and society. In the one case her aspiration must be great, her faith unshakable, her efforts and sacrifices such as to command the admiration of the world; in the other no such greatness of soul is needed or possible;—a cautious, slow and gradual progress involving no extraordinary effort and no unusual sacrifices is sufficient for an end so small. In the one case her destiny is to be a great nation remoulding and leading the civilisation of the world, in the other it is to be a subordinate part of the British Empire sharing in the social life, the political privileges, the intellectual ideals and attainments of the Anglo-Celtic race. These are the two ideals before us, and an ideal is not mere breath, it is a thing compelling which determines the spirit of our action and often fixes the method.

No policy can be successful which does not take into view the end to be attained and the amount and nature of the effort needed to effect it. The leader of industry who enters on a commercial enterprise, first looks at the magnitude of his field and intended output and equips himself with capital and plan accordingly, and even if he cannot commence at once on the scale of his ideal he holds it in view himself, puts it before the public in issuing his prospectus and estimating the capital necessary, and all the practical steps he takes are conceived in the light of his original aspiration and ordered towards its achievement. So it is with the political ventures of a nation. To place before himself a great object and then to shrink in the name of expediency from the expenditure and sacrifice called for in its pursuit is not prudence but ineptitude. If you will be prudent, be prudent from the beginning. Fix your object low and creep towards it.

But if you fix your object in the skies, it will not do to crawl on the ground and because your eyes are sometimes lifted towards the ideal imagine you are progressing while you murmur to those behind, “Yes, yes, our ideal is in the skies because that is the place for ideals, but we are on the ground and the ground is our proper place of motion. Let us creep, let us creep.” Such inconsistency will only dishearten the nation, unnerve its strength and confuse its intelligence. You must either bring down your ideal to the ground or find wings or aeroplane to lift you to the skies. There is no middle course. We believe that this nation is one which has developed itself in the past on spiritual lines under the inspiration of a destiny which is now coming to fulfilment.

The peculiar seclusion in which it was able to develop its individual temperament, knowledge and ideas;—the manner in which the streams of the world poured in upon and were absorbed by the calm ocean of Indian spiritual life, recalling the great image in the Gita,— even as the waters flow into the great tranquil and immeasurable ocean, and the ocean is not perturbed;—the persistence with which peculiar and original forms of society, religion and philosophical thought were protected from disintegration up till the destined moment;—the deferring of that disintegration until the whole world outside had arrived at the point when the great Indian ideal which these forms enshrined could embrace all that it yet needed for its perfect self-expression, and be itself embraced by an age starved by materialism and yearning for a higher knowledge;—the sudden return of India upon itself at a time when all that was peculiarly Indian seemed to wear upon it the irrevocable death-sentence passed on all things that in the human evolution are no longer needed;—the miraculous uprising and transformation of weakness into strength brought about by that return;—all this seems to us to be not fortuitous and accidental but inevitable and preordained in the decrees of an over-ruling Providence. The rationalist looks on such beliefs and aspirations as mysticism and jargon. When confronted with the truths of Hinduism, the experience of deep thinkers and the choice spirits of the race through thousands of years, he shouts “Mysticism, mysticism!” and thinks he has conquered. To him there is order, development, progress, evolution, enlightenment in the history of Europe, but the past of India is an unsightly mass of superstition and ignorance best torn out of the book of human life. These thousands of years of our thought and aspiration are a period of the least importance to us and the true history of our progress only begins with the advent of European education! The rest is a confused nightmare or a mere barren lapse of time preparing nothing and leading to nothing. This tone is still vocal in the organs of the now declining school of the nineteenth century some of which preserve their influence in the provinces where the balance in the struggle between the past and the future has not inclined decidedly in favour of the latter.

In Bengal it is still represented by an undercurrent of the old weakness and the old want of faith which struggles occasionally to establish itself by a false appearance of philosophical weight and wisdom. It cannot really believe that this is a movement with a divine force within and a mighty future before it. The only force it sees is the resentment against the Partition which in its view is enough to explain everything that has happened, the only future it envisages is reform and the reversal of the Partition. Recently, however, the gospel of Nationalism has made so much way that the organs of this school in Bengal have accepted many of its conclusions and their writings are coloured by its leading ideas. But the fundamental idea of the movement as a divine manifestation purposing to raise up the nation not only for its own fulfilment in India but for the work and service of the world and therefore sure of its fulfilment, therefore independent of individuals and superior to vicissitudes and difficulties, is one which they cannot yet grasp. It is a sentiment which has been growing upon us as the movement progressed, but it has not yet been sufficiently put forward by the organs of Nationalism itself, partly because the old idea of separating religion from politics lingered, partly because the human aspects of the Nationalist faith had to be established before we could rise to the divine. But that divine aspect has to be established if we are to have the faith and greatness of soul which can alone help us in the tremendous developments the signs of the time portend.

There is plenty of weakness still lingering in the land and we cannot allow it to take shelter under the cry of expediency and rationality and seek to kill the faith and force that has been born in the hearts of the young. The Karmayogin has taken its stand on the rock of religion and its first object will be to combat these reactionary tendencies and lead the nation forward into the fuller light for which the Bande Mataram and other organs of the new faith only prepared. The gospel of Nationalism has not yet been fully preached; its most inspiring tenets have yet to be established not only by the eloquence of the orator and inspiration of the prophet but by the arguments of the logician, the appeal to experience of the statesman and the harmonising generalisations of the scientist.

Sri Aurobindo
(July 1909)