Sri Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry on 4 April 1910 marks the culmination of a long and tortuous preparation that was necessary in his outer life before he could settle down with the mission of his life. Sri Aurobindo was dispatched to England at the tender age of seven, so that he could continue there his studies which had begun in India at a school run by Irish nuns. He spent fourteen years in England, during which he gave evidence of his remarkable intellect. He acquired a thorough mastery over the English language and assimilated the Western culture. When he returned to India in 1893, he hardly knew his mother tongue. But interestingly, he had a romantic fascination for the Indian culture, and he was determined to work for the freedom of the country rather than reap the material benefits of his British education by serving a government that had enslaved his motherland. In 1893 began another 14-year period in his life, during which he taught English and French in a college in Baroda. But more importantly, during these 14 years, Sri Aurobindo educated himself in the Indian culture. He learnt Bangla and Sanskrit, read the ancient Indian scriptures in their original form in Sanskrit, and adopted a guru to learn yoga, ostensibly to acquire special powers that would help him gain freedom for the country. He astounded his guru by reaching within three days a state of eternal silence, which ordinary mortals find it impossible to attain in a lifetime. With fourteen years in the West, and fourteen years in the East, both spent in intensive study, discipline and introspection by one who had the intellectual capacity of a genius and the spiritual capacity of an avatar, Sri Aurobindo was poised for a leap. The leap was precipitated by the decision of the British government to partition Bengal. He quit Baroda and went to Bengal, and jumped full-time in the freedom struggle. Within a short time, he took the nation by storm, galvanized an army of young patriotic Indians, and shook the British empire. The British started looked for an excuse to arrest him. And, they found an excuse soon enough. In 1908, a bomb blast in Muzzafarpur killed two innocent British ladies. Following that, anybody who could be even remotely connected with the blast was rounded up. Among the forty-four persons arrested, one was Sri Aurobindo. Then began the one-year trial. Throughout the trial, Sri Aurobindo was in Alipur jail, sometimes in solitary confinement, sometimes with the other ordinary inmates, and sometimes with the others arrested in the bomb blast case. Based on some details revealed by Sri Aurobindo in his famous Uttarpara speech, in retrospect it is easy to see the Divine working out a plan during his one year in prison. During the first phase of solitary confinement, he realised that the imprisonment was meant to force him to give up his attachment to the freedom struggle. Secondly, during the same phase, the message of the Gita was revealed to him as was the universal presence of the Divine as Krishna. This removed all his doubts, and made him a devotee in the same way as seeing the viraat roopa of Krishna had made Arjuna a devotee. During the next phase, when he was kept with other inmates of the prison, he saw sparks of divinity even in these disfigured manifestations of the Divine. He saw the spiritual core of the nation soul of India, and discovered the identity of the people for whom he had to work. During the phase when he was kept with the others who had been accused in the bomb blast case, he realised that many young people, gifted with exceptional qualities of the head and heart, were available for participation in the freedom struggle. Hence he concluded that he was not indispensable for the country to get political freedom, and that his own mission possibly lay elsewhere. During the final phase of solitary confinement, he could once again go within, and seek from the Divine clear instructions about what was expected of him. The dialogue with the Divine made it clear to him that freedom of the country was a foregone conclusion, and could be achieved even without his participation. However, political freedom of India was only a milestone in a process of far-reaching implications for humanity. India was rising, and political freedom was a part of the rising. India was rising so that it could share with the world its spiritual heritage, which was acquiring greater significance as the limitations of science and technology in solving human problems and enhancing happiness were becoming more and more clear. An instrument of the Divine was needed to provide this message to the world, particularly the West, which was affected the most by the material prosperity and spiritual poverty generated by the industrial revolution. And, who could be better than Sri Aurobindo as that instrument – an intellectual giant who had 14 years of intelligent engagement with the West, and 14 years of self-study in the East, along with spiritual siddhis of the highest order. This rare instrument was too precious to be battered and bruised by the batons and bullets of the British police. Hence the divine intervention that forcibly pulled him out of the freedom struggle. What seemed to Sri Aurobindo initially an unwarranted interruption in his work concerned with the freedom struggle was the Divine’s way of revealing to him his true mission. Once the mission was revealed to him, the trial was over, and he was acquitted. How could anybody keep Sri Aurobindo in jail a day longer than was necessary for him to know what the Divine expected of him.
Now that Sri Aurobindo knew what the Divine expected of him, things moved fast. Although Sri Aurobindo’s mission had changed, he wielded enourmous influence on the youth of India, and to the government, he was a “marked” man. Sister Nivedita informed him about his imminent arrest and deportation. While many of Sri Aurobindo’s followers discussed what was the best way to protect him, as on a few previous crucial occasions, Sri Aurobindo received an inner command about what to do. The command this time was “Go to Chandernagore”, which was a French colony. He spent most of his time in Chandernagore in solitude. He reduced his contacts with the world to a bare minimum. He spent long periods in deep silent meditation. It was quite clear that he was making a rapid transition from outer conquests to inner masteries. His friends started making further plans for his safety because Chandernagore was dangerously close to Calcutta. One of the plans being actively considered was to send him to France. However, once again the decision was taken for him by an inner command, which told him to go to Pondicherry. His journey from Chandernagore to Pondicherry was planned carefully in meticulous detail. But the plan had some loopholes, which were either overlooked, or were unavoidable, and had the plan worked, he could have fallen in the traps laid by the British intelligence agents. It collapsed at many points due to human errors. What replaced the human plan at those points was obviously the divine plan, which is always successful. The net result was that Sri Aurobindo, and Bejoy Nag, arrived safely in Pondicherry on 4 April 1910. It was virtually a new version of the guards being put to sleep so that Krishna could be safely transported to Vrindavan.
With the arrival of Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1910 began a new chapter, the longest chapter, of his life. He was a highly accomplished instrument of the Divine, almost ready to embark on the task for which he had been chosen. But probably some finishing touches were still necessary, and these touches took four years of intense sadhana in solitude. Not much is known about the siddhis he attained during these four years. But it is obvious from the events that followed that by 1914, he was bursting at the seams with the word that he had to transmit to the world. The medium he adopted was the monthly journal Arya. Words powered out in a torrent, and flooded the Arya with gems on a variety of subjects – the Gita, the Vedas, the Upanishads, Yoga, spiritual philosophy, and a unique view of the past and an amazingly refreshing view of the future. Month after month, he wrote one article on each of these subjects in a prose that read like poetry. On one hand each article could stand on its own; on the other there was remarkable continuity in articles on a given subject from month to month. The result is that when, later on, articles were sorted out subject-wise and arranged in the same sequence as in the Arya, they read like a book. Most of Sri Aurobindo’s major works –The Secret of the Veda, The Upanishads, Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Life Divine, Foundations of Indian Culture, The Human Cycle, the Ideal of Human Unity, The Future Poetry, etc. – were written originally as articles in the Arya. These works, along with the three volumes of Letters on Yoga, and the epic poem Savitri, which he wrote later, remain unsurpassed to this day, in both quantity and quality, in the category of spiritual literature based on ancient Indian wisdom, the original of which was written in the English language. What Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Arya in seven years is itself more than what an average person can read in a lifetime, leave aside understand and realise. From 1926 through 1950, Sri Aurobindo was busy working towards the realisation of a goal which no spiritual master before him had set up – the goal of bringing down the Supramental Consciousness on earth. Sri Aurobindo carried this cross for 24 years, and finally chose to leave his body in order to facilitate his mission. He had told the Mother well in advance that for the Supramental descent, one of them had to go. When she replied that she was ready to go, he had insisted that he would go because her body was more suitable for enduring the ordeal of transformation. Sri Aurobindo left the body on 5 December 1950 at the age of seventy-eight. But he continued working towards the fulfillment of his mission. And, on 29 February 1956, soon after the Mother’s seventy-eighth birthday, during the collective meditation in the Ashram playground, the Mother heard Sri Aurobindo’s voice in English, “The time has come”. She shattered to pieces the golden door blocking the Supramental manifestation on earth, and “the Supramental Light and Force and Consciousness rushed down upon earth in an uninterrupted flow.” While the Mother’s observation was a major milestone in the evolution of consciousness on earth, there are miles to go. The human race is not fully prepared to receive the Supramental that has manifested in the earth atmosphere more than fifty years ago. Till we, as a race, are prepared to receive the Supramental, a select few will continue to aspire for and succeed in manifesting the Supramental Consciousness. When their number exceeds a critical mass, we can hope for a new race that will be to man what man is to an animal. These are exciting ideas that transport us to a new plane altogether, but coming back to the world we are familiar with, it is enough to aspire sincerely, reject ruthlessly, and surrender completely. The rest may be left to the Divine with relief and pleasure.
[Excerpts from an article first published in The Call Beyond (A periodical published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch) April 2010]