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Op-Ed: Rishi who foresaw the future

July 1, 2010

Claude Arpi
The Pioneer (India)
June 29, 2010

Described by India’s British rulers as the ‘most
dangerous man’, Sri Aurobindo arrived in
Pondicherry a hundred years ago with nothing more
than a grand vision for humankind. Long after his
death, the vision remains intact. And perhaps
offers the best solution to the conflict between nations we see today

A hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo landed in
Pondicherry, the former French establishment. Who
still remembers this momentous event?

Of course on the Centenary Day (April 4),
politicians, eminent personalities and scholars
garlanded statues of the master and gave pompous
speeches; they recalled what Viceroy Lord Minto
had said about the first proponent of Purna
Swaraj: “I can only repeat that he is the most
dangerous man we have to reckon with”; and the
curtain fell on the grand function. I presume
that is the fate of all functions.

But let us go back 100 years. On the afternoon of
April 4, 1910, the Pondicherry pier witnessed a
scene which will remain forever etched in
history: A strict orthodox Tamil Brahmin,
Srinivasachari, and Suresh Chakravarti, a
18-year-old Bengali revolutionary, shared a small
boat to reach Le Dupleix, a steamer which had
just arrived from Calcutta, carrying the “most dangerous man” onboard.

Perhaps due to old habits inherited during his
British years, the revolutionary would not leave
before having a cup of tea in his cabin. By the
time the trio disembarked and boarded the rowboat
waiting to take the famous passenger to French India, it was 4 pm.

Sri Aurobindo already ‘knew’ for certain that on
a higher plane, India had already got its
independence; it was only a question of time
before it would ‘materialise’. It is one of the
reasons why as he set foot on the French
territory he could consecrate his energies to
help humanity take a new step in its spiritual
evolution — a decision that many politicians in India never forgave him for.

Sri Aurobindo had come to Pondicherry to change
the human nature. During the four following
decades, his mantra would be: “All life is yoga”;
everything, including matter has to be transformed and made divine.

Around 1914, he foresaw, "At present mankind is
undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is
concealed a choice of its destiny... Man has
created a system of civilisation which has become
too big for his limited mental capacity and
understanding and his still more limited
spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and
manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites.”

He believed that "the burden which is being laid
on mankind is too great for the present
littleness of the human personality and its petty
mind and small life-instincts” and, therefore,
“it cannot operate the needed change” without a
change in consciousness. It is doubtful if the
garlanders had this in mind when they paid homage
to the ‘great leader’, but there is no harm in thinking positively.

For several months, Sri Aurobindo and his
companions stayed on the second floor of a house
belonging to Shankar Chetty; Swami Vivekananda
had stayed there when he had visited Pondicherry a few years earlier.

During the first three months, the young men
remained inside the house day and night, it was
too dangerous to roam the streets of the ‘White
Town’; British CID agents were watching!

Life continued thus during the following years,
though rules gradually became less strict for the
disciples who were even allowed to play football!
Bengalis are known for their great love of soccer.

August 15, 1947, the day India obtained
independence coincided with Sri Aurobindo’s 75th
birthday. It was a ‘justice of history’ for
someone who had tirelessly worked for this momentous event.

The previous day, Sri Aurobindo had been
requested by All-India Radio to give a message to
the nation. He spoke about his Five Dreams.

The first was that India be united again. Will
the present division disappear one day and at
what cost? Nobody can answer this question.

The second dream was to see the "resurgence and
liberation of the peoples of Asia." It is certainly happening fast.

Sri Aurobindo’s third dream was of a "world-union
forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and
nobler life for all mankind”. Many groupings such
the European Union, ASEAN or, more recently, BRIC, are slowly taking shape.

The fourth dream was a "spiritual gift of India
to the world." One only has to go to a bookshop
in the West or look at the number of works on
yoga, dharma, etc, to see that something of this has already been achieved.

The final dream was a new "step in evolution
which would raise man to a higher and larger
consciousness and begin the solution of the
problems which have perplexed and vexed him since
he first began to think and to dream of
individual perfection and a perfect society."

But life was not always easy. On the evening of
August 15, 1947, goons belonging to a local
political party turned violent and attacked some
inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Mulshankar, a
personal attendant of Sri Aurobindo, who had gone
home for a shower, was attacked and killed.
Nirodbaran, a close confidant of the master,
wrote: “Sri Aurobindo listened quietly (to the
news) and his face bore a grave and serious
expression that we had not seen before.” India
was free, but the goonda raj had begun.

It was probably the first act of terrorism in
free India. A few days later, Sri Aurobindo
explained to the editor of a national daily:
“There are three sections of the people here who
are violently opposed to the existence of the
ashram, the advocates of Dravidistan, extreme
Indian Catholics and the Communists.”

For these small sections of the local community,
Sri Aurobindo had probably become the ‘most
dangerous man’, just because he believed in a
future humanity rising above ideologies, castes,
creeds or religions. He was indeed the prophet of
a new humanism. A hundred years after his arrival
in Pondicherry, one should not forget his
message. Sri Aurobindo had described this quest
as “the adventure of consciousness and joy”. It
seems to be the most urgent task at hand for humanity.

If enough individuals would aspire for this
higher consciousness, undoubtedly the process
could be hastened and the world around us would
begin to change. It is perhaps the only relevant adventure in the world today.

But there is the other side of the coin:
Terrorism, corruption, discrimination,
inequality, selfishness, opportunism, etc, that seem to prevail everywhere.

A hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo saw that
mankind was confronted with this "critical
choice" if the human race were to survive.

Will humanity make this choice?
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