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August 15: Its World-Significance

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(This article by Amal Kiran was published on August 15th 1950 in the monthly journal Mother India. The sub-title read: “Pointers in Modern History“)

August 15, India’s Independence Day, has in modem history associations both spectacular and profound. We may say that this date marks the very birth of the power by which international politics was gigantically rocked into the manifold commotion that gave shape to our modern world. For, though it is the French Revolution that brought modern history into being, the forces  that exploded in 1789 could never have found a firm organised life if there had not arisen the military colossus we call Napoleon Bonaparte, gathering up the new France into a scourge of God and lashing out at the Europe united to crush her, and shattering the entire balance of the old world to the sound of the mighty mantra plucked from the heart of the Revolution – La Marseillaise. Through the personality of Napoleon revolutionary France let loose the spirit of modern times-Napoleon who was born on August 15 in 1769.

It is a far cry from this great Corsican to Hitler. But though Hitler cannot compare with him in stature and though he differs also in being an instrument of the dark forces of racialism and totalitarian tyranny rather than a medium, however flawed and self-willed, of liberty, equality and fraternity, he too precipitated a continent­-wide clash of arms and was intensely influenced by the Napoleonic fury. Not only did he start in 1941 his campaign against Russia in the name of Napoleon and on the very day Napoleon had marched against Tsar Alex­ander I; he also fixed in 1940 the 15th of August as the day on which he would complete his conquest of Western Europe by broadcasting from Buckingham Palace the collapse of Britain. The fall of Britain would have signed the death-warrant of the whole world outside America. August 15 was meant to be the end of World War II, with a decisive victory of the forces intent on putting the clock back and establishing on earth the reign of the Asura, the Titan, over the evolving God in humanity. But instead of a resounding triumph, August 15 found Britain still full of fight and on that day the largest toll so­ far was taken of the Luftwaffe – I80 German planes shot down in British skies! We might indeed designate it the turning-point in the Battle for Britain.

August 15 can also be considered the beginning of peace after World War II, though not the peace Hitler had intended to initiate on that day; for Japan surrendered on August 14, I945. And, seeing that peace once more broken by North Korea’s invasion of the South and what was in appearance a civil war but really the first violent stroke by Communism in its plan of world-conquest, burst on us and America undaunted by terrible dis­advantages rushed into the carnage in order to save civilisation, we are led to ask whether again this date has a meaning. To get the answer we do not have to search long. The hostilities were preluded in early June­ by a propaganda campaign by the North Korean radio, relayed by Moscow, demanding the unification of Korea­ on the Communists’ terms. The word “peaceful” was thrown about, but the suggestion was everywhere that peace hung on unconditional kowtowing by the Southern Government to the dictat of Communism. On June 21 the same radio station spoke further of unification, osten­sibly peaceful yet proceeding according to such a plan that within a certain fixed period the goal would inevitably be attained. There was an ominous ring here – and four days later the Communists were on the march across the 38th Parallel. As usual, Communism had talked peace while intending war. But what attaches a peculiarly sig­nificant interest to the talk is the time limit announced for the disappearance of the America-sponsored South Korean regime which, for all its imperfection, was yet ­democratic in essence. The exact words of the broadcast were: “All measures connected with the peaceful uni­fication of our country shall be completely carried out by August 15 of this year.” Yes, once more the day expected to be the beginning of the end of the democratic spirit on earth by armed might was August 15!

The Democratic Ideals and Our Independence Day  

Surely a date of momentous implications for the values of civilization has been chosen by India to celebrate her­ independence. Why did she select this particular date? There seems to have been no conscious assessment of whatever import it bore by the year 1947 in which the last British soldier left Indian soil. But behind the conscious thought of individuals there is the working of that invisible yet potent being which is the national Soul or genius. Every country has such a soul and every true patriot feels directly or indirectly its presence. In terms of the wide yet demarcated body of land in which one takes birth and grows and dies, in terms of the large mass of people who are bound together by geo­graphical limits, in terms of a long history behind that mass, in terms of a culture subtly single in the midst of all variety of province and language – in diverse terms separate or combined is felt the national soul. And always a personification is made of it, a great presiding spirit is envisaged, a Mother-being that is the true secret life of the country’s collectivity as well as phy­sical expanse. No matter how rationalistic we may be, the moment we are patriots the heart in us intuits this Mother-being and with the dream of its more-than ­human loveliness and on the supporting breath of its super-animation we move to the exertions and the heroisms that ordinarily lie far beyond our powers. When a country’s collectivity is disposed to occult insight the national soul is most clearly grasped by the patriot heart; thus in Ireland and in India we find the intensest res­ponse to the superhuman presence constituting the nation. Especially in India with her endless history of rishi and yogi and bhakta and avatar, patriotism is at its roots a religious fervour, and the most creative of its many forms has been the one with which it started on its career of revolt against British rule – the one which found its most puissant expression in the upsurge of Bengal during the partition of this province by Lord Cur­zon and which went to its fiery work with that open ac­knowledgment of the national soul, the worshipping cry of Bande Maataram, “I bow to you, O Mother.” This cry rang throughout the many decades of the country’s toil for freedom and even now when super­ficial purposes have sought officially to replace Bankim Chandra’s inspired anthem, replete with the very essence of Indianness, by the more deliberate, more cosmopolitan composition, Jana Gana Mana, the out leaping apos­trophe to the Goddess that is India has not lost its appeal – still in a myriad bosoms the flame of occult recogni­tion burns – through the officially secular mind itself of those in charge of the government the Mother, though often obstructed, works secretly her will. In the instance of a country like India the outwardly unconscious choice of a date like August 15 for the Independence Day must be traced to no fortuitous concourse of atoms in the brains of her Ministers but to the deep design of her national soul.

How shall we state this design? On the data already mentioned, we should say that India is meant to be the arch-representative of the ideals with which the modern age broke on the world. Liberty, equality, fraternity –­ these are intended to be embodied most vividly by India. They have never been materialised in the full sense because either their true order has not quite been understood or else, if it has been understood, the ulti­mate connotation of them has been elusive. The French Revolution and its Napoleonic consolidation laid the stress on liberty. Indeed this was not unnatural, for it was liberty that was most denied in the days before the taking of the Bastille. The fall of the Bastille, the throwing open of the doors of the State prison symbolised the animating principle of the whole terrific movement which swept away the “divine right” of kings and the shackles of feudalism. That is why up to now the Revolution is celebrated on July 14. But, in the sphere of social life, liberty, though precious and indispensable, does not always make for either equality or fraternity. The only equality and fraternity it automatically goes with are a common status in the eyes of the law – at least in general. For the rest, it may bring in an immense latitude for competition and a chance for the best-placed, the strongest, the most skilful, the least scrupulous to get the upper hand. The remedy sought for this latitude is economic equality, and democracy which is government based on the individual’s freedom of action as well as of thought has been opposed by collectivism which is government founded on equal association in labour and a common profit-sharing. Collectivism may not be altogether reprehensible in theory but in practice it becomes a rule by force, an iron levelling-down, a rigid regimentation: liberty suffers enormously and a dicta­torship is created steam-rolling both social and in­tellectual life. Fraternity suffers too, for where liberty is not guaranteed there is always the Secret Police and no man can trust his neighbour and all live in fear and suspicion. If a choice is to be made between the dangers of democracy and those of collectivism, the former are far preferable since the mind is left free by them and the mind’s freedom is a greater progressive force than the artificially secured welfare of the body. Besides, as we observe strikingly in America, such welfare is not im­possible to democracy, what is needed is planned economy and not necessarily collectivism. Also, a degree of fraternity can be and often is brought about, for the principle of liberty is not in itself averse to but, if pro­perly developed, consonant with the principle of “live and let live” – tolerance, kindliness, mutual respect, diversified harmony. Again, by its allowing the mind of man to go unfettered, it gives Lebensraum not only to the cult of altruistic humanism and to idealistic art and philosophy but also to the religious, the spiritual, the mystical drive towards realising a single Selfhood of the cosmos or a single Fatherhood of the world and, as a result, a spontaneous compassion that takes all universe into its embrace and establishes a natural link of love, as if the entire creation were one family of brothers. It is because democracy is not exclusive, as a collectivist dictatorship is, of such possibilities of inner and outer growth that the formula of the French Revolution, for all its shortcomings, is a valuable step in human history and those countries that have erected their political and social order on some form or other of its teachings are the true friends of India and, despite their remnants of colonialism, their fight today against Communist tyranny is her fight as well. Her hitting upon August 15 as her Independence Day is a sign from beyond the outer surface of her life, a pointer from her national soul, that her place is in the vanguard of democracy and that her mission is to fulfil what the democratic peoples of the West are still fumbling after.

Our Independence and Sri Aurobindo  

The way to fulfilment is by stressing neither liberty nor equality but fraternity. Given genuine fraternity, liberty and equality follow. More than any other country India is equipped for building the democratic order on a fraternal basis. For, above all countries it is she who has lived for the only fraternal basis which can last and carry a superstructure of authentic freedom and justice: God-realisation. And as soon as we speak of God-reali­sation being India’s master quest no less than being the one means of fulfilling the ideals of democracy we come to be on the look-out for a yet profounder reason for our national soul’s predilection for August 15. What we expect to find is the identity of this date with some occasion closely linked to not only our own struggle for independence and for the triumph of the democratic ideals but also the sense of a presiding Goddess with which our nationalism is so powerfully charged and the direct concrete experience of the one yet multiple Divine Reality that has been the lodestar of the Indian conscious­ness down the centuries. If we could discover the identity we should know with redoubled certitude that the date of our Independence Day was due to no accident nor dictated by mere convenience but decided by the national soul. And by exploring the precise historical circum­stances of the identity we should be able to learn where to seek correct guidance for the future and how to rise to the height of our destiny.

There is no traditional festival from the past on this date. With none of our political leaders in the forefront at present is it particularly connected. But on August 15 falls the birthday of Sri Aurobindo. Our Cabinet had not noticed it at all when they fixed the Day of Inde­pendence. Though to celebrate it people in their hundreds from all parts of India had been gathering together in Pondicherry for several years before the end of British rule, there was no thought in the minds of our Ministers to give it importance by making the Inde­pendence Day coincide with it. This is sad proof of the imbalance of values in contemporary India, the dearth of vision in our leaders. All the more remarkable, therefore, is their striking upon just this date for the happiest and most meaningful political event for us in modem times. And all the more clinching as well as heartening is the evidence that the national soul, the great Mother with whose dear and majestic name we launched the struggle for freedom, was not slumbering but from the forgotten depths of our being was still pointing a luminous finger. For Sri Aurobindo answers to all the expectations we have enumerated: his life singles him out for association with the coming into its own by a country like India.

It was as a leader of Nationalism that Sri Aurobindo first caught the public eye. Although educated in England and bringing a rich assimilation of all European culture, he stood out as an incarnation of the true Indian genius. In him the culture of this hoary land sprang vibrantly to life and when he plunged into the political arena at the time of Bengal’s partition by Lord Curzon and took up the leadership of the fight against foreign rule, he brought something more than patriotic vehe­mence, something more than democratic idealism. He came burning with the consciousness of India as the mighty Mother – the occult insight into the superhuman being that is the national soul was like a fire in his breast and every word he spoke carried the same incandescence home to his hearers. The old milk-and-water psychology of prayer, protest and petition he transformed almost overnight into the dynamic of a will intoxicated with the vast wine of the national soul’s super-vitality. A Presence greater than human individuals was felt by all who followed Sri Aurobindo in those dangerous days. And it was because this Presence was made a reality in the land that the Swaraj movement took on the aspect of Fate: the Shakti who had sustained Indian culture through millenniums and endowed it with a living conti­nuity from a past beyond that of Egypt or Greece or Rome to a present in which Memphis is but a wonderful memory, Periclean Athens no more than a mass of magni­ficent ruins and the Rome of the Caesars only the wind­swept and grass-covered Coliseum – the perpetual Shakti tore the veil between the inner and the outer and with her fiat gave the struggle for independence an inevitability of success. Under Her inspiration Sri Aurobindo, in eight effective years, laid down the broad lines of the whole future of Swarajism, lines from which, in spite of all changes of personnel and programme, India never essentially deviated.

Nor is this all that Sri Aurobindo the politician did. Through the quick-shifting drama of his political career the countless constructive ventures in journalism, the innumerable practical acts of patriotic policy, the agita­tions, the arrests, the house-searchings, the legal attacks and counter-attacks, the sensational climax in the year­long detention as under-trial prisoner in Alipore Jail and the subsequent court-scenes with Eardley Norton, the most brilliant criminal lawyer in India as Crown Prosecutor, Chittaranjan Das shielding Sri Aurobindo by a case for defence worked out through feverish months at the cost of his own health and the loss of a lucrative practice, Mr. Beachcroft sitting in judgment over a man who had been with him at Cambridge and had beaten him there to second place in Greek and Latin – through all the dramatic vicissitudes of those eight years ran not only the occult insight of genuine patriotism but also the mystical vision of the aspiring Yogi. Sri Aurobindo brought to his work the full reality of the Being hailed by Bankim Chandra in Bande Maataram. The national soul felt by historical India is not merely the presiding genius of the human collectivity in the land bounded by the Himalayas and by rivers and seas. The distinguishing mark of the Indian consciousness is the realisation, from age to age, of the Eternal, the Infinite, the Absolute. Essential India is the long procession of seers and saints from Vedic antiquity up to our own day. Hence the national soul, the Mother of these myriad knowers arid lovers of God, must be herself a face and form of the Divine and wrapped in the atmos­phere of the Supreme Being must she be envisaged and invoked. That was the message of Bankim Chandra’s song and of Sri Aurobindo the politician, that was the core of the Aurobindonian Nationalism which made this song the throbbing life-blood of Bengal and, through Bengal, the entire sub-continent.

None, in the political field, before or after Sri Aurobindo can be put on a par with him in fusion of spiritual energy with patriotic fervour. Is it not, therefore, in the fitness of things that the Independence Day of a country whose chief glory has been God-realisation should coincide, in spite of all the predominantly political character of this day, with the occasion of Sri Aurobindo’s birth? And would it not be purblind on our part to miss a signal so pregnant with meaning and fail to see our future bound up with his presence in our midst – our future of true self-growth political as well as cultural and of leadership among the nations on the path of human evolution towards Godhead?

We cannot yet declare that the scales have been shed from our eyes. But increasingly the darkness thins and more and more there are openings and through them the country is yearning to come into contact with the Wisdom and Power round which an Ashram of spiritual aspirants has grown to many-sided creative activity in Pondicherry. Every year many hundreds from all quarters of India and even from abroad join the eight hundred residents of the Ashram to celebrate the birth-anniversary of Sri Aurobindo. The name of their Master is on the lips of seekers in Europe and America no less than India and the time is not far off when the whole modern mind will gravitate to the Aurobindonian philosophy of Supermanhood.

Sri Aurobindo and the Modern Mind

All the more eagerly will the gravitation occur because of three factors. Sri Aurobindo brings a philosophy not in the sterile intellectual manner that has been traditional in the West heretofore. His philosophy is not an abstract logic-spinning from a few principles of thought mixed with a few data of ordinary observation. It is only the intellectual elucidation and systematisation of concrete and direct experience of realities lying beyond the mere mind: it is but a mental picture of what is realised by the inmost consciousness in its Yogic penetration of the subliminal and the supraliminal. Modern man is rather impatient with the old purposes and methods of philo­sophising: when he wants to go further than physical science he is more a psychologist than a metaphysician and this turn – enlightened increasingly by research in what is termed extra-sensory perception – is likely to be attracted by a metaphysics based totally on Yoga which is after all a super-psychology seeking to grip funda­mental truth by breaking out from our present narrow limits of consciousness and widening forth to be one with the inmost stuff of existence. Of course, there are many obstructions in the modern mind, especially the incubus of nineteenth-century scientific materialism which, though theoretically neutralised by the new physics, could still be in actual life a haunting influence opposed to Yogic philosophy. But the general trend of the present age, as it develops further, will approach such philosophy more and more gratefully.

Parallel to the line towards super-psychology is the drive initiated in the last century by Nietzsche with the formula: “Man is something to be surpassed. Lo, I teach you the Superman!” Nietzsche’s idea of the Super­man was much coloured by the science of his day and it was at best a titanic heroism aggrandising man’s physical nature by means of an iron will laughing at natural obstacles and subduing both the ordinary self and the common world in order to intensify the life-gusto and fit it for extraordinary exertions. Now that the general climate of thought has changed considerably and we have beheld with startled gaze the Nietzschean dream come almost true in the Herrenvolk of Hitler and are facing another version of it in the aggressive challenge of Sta­linist totalitarianism, the idea of the Superman cast deep into the modern mind by Nietzsche is showing signs of becoming subtler and purer and less egoistic, more in­clined to values like “sublimation” and “integration of personality”. In short, it is getting orientated, how­ever slowly and stumblingly, in the direction of the Aurobindonian Weltanschauung.

The Superman, for Sri Aurobindo, is man surpassing himself by a triple change of consciousness. The human being has to discover his own true soul. Usually we take the life-force to be the genuine psyche or else we discern the mind-energy as master of both life-force and body and label it as soul. Sri Aurobindo says that even what we know as body, life-force and mind are not all that works physically, vitally and mentally as the individual. There are occult realms of physicality, vitality and menta­lity through which the individual can put himself into contact with universal reality. Our hidden statuses in these realms are more deserving of the name “soul” if by that name we mean nothing beyond the mind-life­ body combination. But in fact there is in the profundities of our being a distinct psychic individual, a spark of divinity whose ordinary manifestations in us are disinterested search for truth, selfless leaping of ethical idealism, pure desire to create beauty and whose clearest expression is the aspiration towards the Eternal, the Deific. This Immortal within the mortal, this inmost Initiate of God-communion, whose channels are mind and life-force and body and who passes from birth to birth in an evolving universe, has to be realised in full constant experience. The second change of conscious­ness is the realisation of the single Spirit of all existence, the one Being who has become all things – an infinite Self that is everlasting peace, an infinite Nature that is everlasting power. And this Spirit is to be experienced not only as a cosmic splendour but also as a supra-cosmic trinity of Existence, Consciousness and Delight. The third change of consciousness is what Sri Aurobindo defines as the realisation of the Superrmind. The Super­mind is the Spirit in its creative poise, the Spirit massing together its inexhaustible reality of oneness and many­ness into a harmony of archetypes, as it were, and project­ing from that harmony a gradation of world on world and relating itself to these emanations as their Lord and Lover. It is when the Supermind, which holds the divine original of the world not only in essence but also in formulation, is realised, with the transcendental Existence, Consciousness and Delight as its base, the Universal Self and Nature as its one instru­ment and the inmost soul as its other medium, that man reaches a Supermanhood most dynamic for world-uses.

And because Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga puts so much em­phasis on such dynamism, modern man in quest of his soul will be drawn the quicker towards the Aurobindo­nian Weltanschauung. Whatever we may outgrow of Nietzsche’s gospel, whatever Titanism of it we may reject, the note he struck of energy, of the Will to Power is in its root-significance an inalienable part of modern­ism’s this-worldly formula of “Here and Now”. In this connection the last of the factors making for gravitation of the modern mind to Sri Aurobindo comes most aptly for comment. The quest for the soul today, via the con­cept of the Superman, is not out of rapport with important elements of the Christian or any other religious ideal of the past, but it is yet a cry for some new perfection. In the first place, that ideal split existence into two irre­concilable or at least disparate orders – the natural and the supernatural – and world-life was seen as only a transition from the one to the other: world-life had no justification in its own rights and the more the super-natural was admitted into it the more was the natural relinquished and effaced. Secondly, man was regarded as a fixed being, a creature set forever in form and function, with horrible lower reaches and splendid higher ranges between which he could move but beyond which he could never go to an entirely new pattern of world-life. There was, in the old religious ideal, no sense of evolution. With the advent of the evolutionary con­cept into science the supernatural, if believed in, pro­mises to be deemed no contradiction of the natural but rather its concealed reality, a perfection to be grown into­ and flowered forth, a greatness which need not demand the effacement of our present smallness but should or­ganically adapt it. And a possibility is grasped of evolving a new species as much other than man as man is other than the animal, a different and better poise of the whole organic entity with an intenser level of general conscious­ness. A half-serious half-fantastic play on the notion of this possibility is the neo-vitalism of Bernard Shaw, the development of the Nietzschean nisus into the hopes and dreams of what Shaw has termed Creative Evolution. The evolutionary concept also underlines the value of the outer instrument of the inner vitality: if the natural is not to be effaced by the supernatural and if a new species may be evolved, then surely the external basis and vehicle of the greater and intenser consciousness calls for extreme attention, since without its keeping pace with the inner progress there will be no secure establishment of the fruits of that progress and a decline will sooner or later set in.

All these ideas floating in the mind of modern man are rarely quite definite and are often ineffective or mis­directed. But when the light of Sri Aurobindo’s Yogic philosophy will fall upon them, they will get definition and quicken to their true objectives. They will reveal themselves as vague approximations to what Sri Aurobindo brings and offers. We might even say that to a considerable extent they are the responses created by the Aurobindonian vision itself – faint echoes of his inspi­ration in the mental spaces of the contemporary world. On the whole they and this inspiration are both the pre­sence of the Divine Word of the Zeitgeist – the former the tenuous peripheral vibration, the latter the dense central note of the mantra of the Godhead ascending from His concealment below in the darkness and descending ­from His mystery above in Eternity’s gold and Infinity’s blue. In a luminously positive and comprehensive form, with a flexible yet undeviating technique of integral development, Sri Aurobindo’s Yogic philosophy catches up the truth of evolution. His Yoga is not just a soar into the Spirit’s sky, with a connecting line kept between that amplitude and the individual existence here until the hour of the body’s death. He declares that evolution lacks its total sense if there is not a descent of the higher consciousness together with an ascent of the lower. Those evolutionary terms, mind and life-force and matter  ­- what is their fulfilment if the Divine Being from whom they have emanated carries only a sojourning soul through them and never grants them through that soul a deific destiny of their own – a mind not fumbling for knowledge but seizing it with a lightning flash, a life ­force not enslaved by petty desire and incapable of coping with the challenge of circumstance but large and blissful and sovereign in its steps, a body not subject to disease and age and accident but full of radiant health, possessed of automatic immunity? This question has never been answered in the past. Perhaps it was never even pre­cisely put. But there has been a dream of some elixir vitae, a cry for the kingdom of heaven on earth, a vision of the perfect human form pre-existing as a karana sharira or causal body in the empyrean of the Supreme Consciousness. What has not been there is the intuition that if all has come from the Divine into an evolutionary universe all must have an inevitable divine consumma­tion and that in the Supermind, where the original truths and archetypes glow for ever, dwell both the plan and the power of transforming integrally the whole being and nature of man. In world-work the Supermind is Sri Aurobindo’s speciality: possessing it in full, bringing it down for embodiment, organising its multi-creative energy on earth, he has laboured at the beginnings of a completely new pattern of world-life, a new species with no more the mind in charge, no more the mind permeating what is below it, but with the Supermind as the head and front and converting into its own terms of truth-consciousness the entire rhythm of man’s existence. The karana sharira, the causal body whose stuff is God’s infallible and incorruptible light, is sought to be made one with the sukshma sharira, the subtle body of our psychological activity, and finally with the sthula sharira, the gross body that is our physical life. This oneness is the authentic next step of evolution fulfilling the urge towards perfection which is the distinguishing sign of man who is “something to be surpassed”, the urge so long broken up by his ignorance into conflicting ideals, so long foiled of earthly satisfaction and therefore diverted to losing its visionary acuteness in some ineffable Beyond.

By the oneness here and now of the three instrumental formulations of the Spirit Sri Aurobindo promises a different earth inhabited by a growing number of men made both inwardly and outwardly perfect and effecting ever-novel discoveries of the infinite Divine in art, phi­losophy, science, politics, society-structure and industry.

When the procession of disciples and pilgrims offers garlands to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on August 15, it is to the vision and power of supramental creation at work amidst us that the offering is done and in that gesture lies the seed of man’s birth into integral Godhead. Hence the birthday of Sri Aurobindo is the supreme festival of progressive humanity, the portent which the Asura dreads most and would strive most to nullify. It gives to the occasion of India’s celebration of her Independence and to the strange occurrence of this date at more than one critical juncture of modern history their ultimate world-significance.

K.D. Sethna

[Amal Kiran (K.D.Sethna)]

Amal Kiran (K.D.Sethna)

(K.D.Sethna (Amal Kiran) was a well-known poet and the editor of the monthly journal Mother India. He has written a large number of books and articles on a wide range of topics. He came to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram when he was 23 and passed away in 2011 at the age of 106.)