7 Jun 2015

Did Sri Aurobindo Reject Hinduism? – Certainly not!

It is to Dara [1] that Sri Aurobindo wrote the following letter in the thirties, dissociating his Ashram from Hinduism:

The Ashram has nothing to do with Hindu religion or culture or any religion or nationality. The Truth of the Divine which is the spiritual reality behind all religions and the descent of the supramental which is not known to any religion are the sole things which will be the foundation of the work of the future.

(Bulletin, Feb 2001, p 72)

On another occasion, Sri Aurobindo even went to the extent of writing:

If this Ashram were here only to serve Hinduism I would not be in it and the Mother who was never a Hindu would not be in it.

17 November 1932 (Bulletin, Aug 2000, p 70)

The above two quotations have been pulled out of their context and quoted with great enthusiasm by Peter Heehs, as if to score a point over the Hindu disciples of Sri Aurobindo. But these letters were written in the context of the “rigid orthodoxy” of past religions “whether Hindu, Mahomedan or Christian” and not in regard to the essential truth contained in any of them. Hinduism has been particularly referred to because the subject was raised by Dara (the Muslim disciple), who was missing his own culture in the predominantly external Hindu environment of the Ashram in the thirties. It was in this bad mood and on that very day that Dara wrote to Sri Aurobindo about most of the Ashram disciples wearing a dhoti and not a pyjama. He was mixing up two different issues, the external dress with the inward attitude, or rather the cultural issue with the spiritual issue. The same mistake has been committed by Heehs in a more sophisticated and supercilious manner.

Otherwise, how do you explain the following letter of Sri Aurobindo, which was written on the same day as the above letter of 17 November, 1932:

What is kept of Hinduism is Vedanta and Yoga in which Hinduism is one with Sufism of Islam and with the Christian mystics. But even here it is not Vedanta and Yoga in their traditional limits (their past), but widened and rid of many ideas that are peculiar to the Hindus. If I have used Sanskrit terms and figures, it is because I know them and do not know Persian and Arabic. I have not the slightest objection to anyone here drawing inspiration from Islamic sources if they agree with the Truth as Sufism agrees with it. On the other hand I have not the slightest objection to Hinduism being broken to pieces and disappearing from the face of the earth, if that is Divine Will. I have no attachment to past forms; what is Truth will always remain; the Truth alone matters.

17 November 1932 (Bulletin, Aug 2000, p 74)

In the above letter Sri Aurobindo clarifies as to what kind of Hinduism was kept and allowed to continue in his Ashram. So if he encouraged the Mother’s daily pranam and blessings, it was because the disciples could spiritually benefit from it and not because he wanted to start a Hindu ritual. Even if the pranam was only a Hindu ritual, what about the soup ceremony of the Mother in the early days of the Ashram, which has been compared by Amal Kiran to ancient Egyptian or Greek rituals? And what about the groundnut distribution of the Mother in the Playground – to which religion does that belong? What about the Christmas celebration later on? Does the last mean that Christian rituals were instituted in the Ashram? The significance of these activities does not come from their similarity to existing religious practices (which were never demeaned), but from the way they were conducted and were a means for the Mother to communicate her spiritual power to the disciples. The fact that these activities became sometimes mechanical was neither Sri Aurobindo’s fault nor the Mother’s. It was precisely when they were taken mechanically by the disciples and drew heavily on the Mother’s energies that they were discontinued only to be replaced by a new routine, which enabled a fresh mode of contact between her and the disciples. Thus to say that these collective activities were mere rituals and that too Hindu rituals, displays not only sheer ignorance of sadhana but also of the facts of Ashram history.

(Extract from “Sri Aurobindo on Hinduism” by Peter Heehs – reviewed by Raman Reddy, read full article on the thelivesofsriaurobindo.com.


[1] Aga Syed Ibrahim, a Muslim aristocrat from Hyderabad, was renamed as Dara by Sri Aurobindo.

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