24 Dec 2009

Intellectual Fundamentalism -- by Raman Reddy

Of late, the view that Sri Aurobindo has to be presented either intellectually or with faith and devotion, historically or hagiographically, is fast catching up among the admirers and devotees of Sri Aurobindo. The idea behind is that faith is per se anti-intellectual and intellectuality necessarily anti-faith. The extrapolation of this stupid view into the realm of nationalities will one day land us into deep trouble, for you can politicise this view to drive a wedge into the nascent world unity that is taking shape here in the Ashram and Auroville and, hopefully, in other spiritual centres across the world. The conclusion that could be drawn is that Indians are generally good for yoga, which can be hardly be done without faith, devotion and surrender, and Westerners are only good for intellectuality and practical work, which does not make them fit for yoga. Though this might be true in certain respects – nobody would deny that Westerners have a certain advantage of coming from an organised and mentally developed society or that the age-old spiritual civilisation of India enables Indians to take up Yoga as naturally as fish takes to water – but if you overstress these racial inclinations, I wonder how further progress would be possible. We all have to rise beyond personal and national barriers, learn from each other and not insist on each other’s deficiencies and definitely not make matters worse by aggressively pitting Western intellectuality against Indian devotion. The personalities of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are the best examples of a perfect blend of these two aspects and it is precisely because of this that they have touched the hearts as well as the minds of so many people all over the world. Let me however dig deeper into this artificial rift created by these two opposing camps of intellectuals and devotees.

Being myself an educated Indian from the Ashram, let me make my own position clear. I am surely not the type to shout from rooftops that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are the Avatars of this age, the ultimate statement that any devotee can make. But I confess, without feeling the least ashamed, that I believe the above statement to be true, though I would rather hold this precious faith in my heart and not try to convince others about it. Such an aggressive propaganda of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is often the most convenient way of forgetting their teachings. The matter is simple, they wanted us to do their yoga of transformation, they did not want us to start proselytising and found another religion. Having said this, let us find out what makes the intellectual shy away from devotion? The devotee, he says, speaks of unverifiable things of which he has no actual experience. Now this is plain nonsense and outdated materialism which believes only in the knowledge of the physical mind and senses. Once we have accepted the spiritual framework of the universe and we know from the testimony of our Gurus that there are layers and layers of consciousness above and below the present mental level, how can we revert back to the materialistic “Show me proof of God” kind of attitude? I call this intellectual fundamentalism which is perhaps as bad, if not worse, than the usual brand of religious fundamentalism. I feel that both these attitudes have to be carefully avoided in order to seek the Truth.
Coming back to the point of faith and verifiability, Sri Aurobindo says that faith is a precursor to knowledge. The Mother says that faith has to descend into the vital and physical and even to the very cells of the body. Now this introduces a complexity which the intellectual never envisaged, the intellectual who thought that faith is essentially dumb. The flaw in his arrogant attitude is that he thinks he can study spirituality with the same certainty he can study physical facts, which are easily verifiable. When the facts are not easily verifiable as in the realm of spirituality, he has the tendency to pooh pooh them in the name of rationality. But the suprarational can be as logically expounded as the physical universe and this is precisely what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have done for us. Their writings and talks have given a vast intellectual form to the suprarational, which satisfies every part of our being and all artificial oppositions between the mind and heart cease to exist. The intellect is basically a good barrister who will fight anybody’s case for a proper compensation. Its pretensions to knowledge are therefore biased and faulty. Now all this is familiar enough to any sadhak of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, but what beats me is when a senior colleague of mine, who is a long time practitioner of the Integral Yoga, does the same mistake of trumpeting this arrogant intellectual stance in the public arena, and that too, showing scant respect towards Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

I am reminded of the plight of Dilip Kumar Roy, one of the closest disciples of Sri Aurobindo and who received the maximum number of letters from the Master. The disciple never ceased baulking at faith all through his long years of sadhana at the Ashram in spite of having remarkable spiritual experiences. Sri Aurobindo had to finally say that no amount of writing letters would convince his doubting mind, because doubt exists for its own sake and it is the nature of the physical mind to doubt. On one occasion Sri Aurobindo wrote to him:

I ask you to have faith in the Divine, in the Divine Grace, in the truth of the sadhana, in the eventual triumph of the spirit over its mental and vital and physical difficulties, in the Path and the Guru, in the existence of things other than are written in the philosophy of Haeckel or Huxley or Bertrand Russell, because if these things are not true, there is no meaning in the Yoga. [1]

The Integral Yoga is obviously difficult and the physical mind, of all the parts of the being, the hardest to change, as is shown by the exit of several disciples who finally left the Ashram, including Dilip Roy himself. The revolt of very senior and respectable disciples is as yet an untold story. But the common thread that runs through all these sad chronicles is the loss of faith in their Gurus, without whose spiritual help the disciple is inviting inner desolation.

I end with a cynical but an absolutely true observation of a European friend of mine on the practice of Integral Yoga. You sometimes enter this difficult tunnel of inner exploration wanting to come out wise and enlightened, but often come out worse than what you were twenty years back.

Raman Reddy

September 2008

[1] SABCL, Volume 23, p 577

1 comment:

  1. Dear Raman so true !
    To me therefore Mother told me very clearly. Don't read anything else, read what we have written in original.