Book Reviews

Maharshi Aurobindo’s The Life Divine

A Landmark Vision, A Metaphysical Text & Document of Supra Mind And Consciousness

A supreme work of a supreme mind, The Life Divine by Sri Auroibindo is a philosophical text and document; a prose treatise where the minds of the yogi and the sadhaka meet to entwine religion with spirituality, theology with metaphysics, cosmology with transcendental vision. The spiritual evolution of man, of consciousness in matter, the ascent towards the Supermind, the realization of the self, the position of man in the universe, etc. are the things which the philosopher takes to as for discussion.

What divine drink wouldst thou have,
my God, from this overflowing cup of my life?
My poet, is it thy delight to see thy
creation through my eyes and to stand
at the portals of my ears silently to listen
to thine own eternal harmony?
Thy world is weaving words in my
mind and thy joy is adding music to them.
Thou givest thyself to me in love and then
feelest thine own entire sweetness in me.

— Rabindranath Tagore
(Gitanjali, with an Introduction by W.B.Yeats, Macmillan India Ltd., 1983, p.44, Rs. 8/)

“Brahman the Reality is the self-existent Absolute and Maya is the Consciousness and Force of this self-existence; but with regard to the universe Brahman appears as the Self of all existence, Atman, the cosmic Self, but also as the Supreme Self transcendent of its own cosmicity and at the same time individual-universal in each being; Maya can then be seen as the self-power, Atma-Shakti, of the Atman.” — Maharshi Aurobindo in Chapter II Brahma, Purusha, Ishwara  – Maya, Prakriti, Shakti

(The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, p. 361)

The Life Divine as a testament of Indian philosophy, religion, spirituality; metaphysics, cosmology and theology is without any doubt one of a larger spectrum and dimension inculcating the things of a supra state of consciousness; picturesque of a mind in sadhna or yogic meditation, rising and rising, riding the steps of ascension, delving in the terminology of Mind, Matter, Consciousness, State, Purusha, Prakriti, Maya, Brahma and so on. Life is but a realization; a self-realization. What it is quintessential is Cosmic Delight; Divine Ananda. How to get it? God is but Sat, Chit, Ananda, Satchidananda. Published in 1939-40, the work went revisions and editions. The essays saw the light long before its publication in a serialized form in the Arya wherefrom these have been brought and added to. Life Mundane not, Life Celestial is the thing of his deliberation. The Mind in Matter and the Matter in Mind are the things of his discussion. The Soul, the Oversoul, the Mind, the Overmind, these continue to engage him and he goes on exploring the things of consciousness. The yogic states transcend the barriers to enrich and endow him otherwise. A yogi and a sadhaka, Aurobindo takes the yogic flights to dwell and delve upon the supra states of meditative realms and domains of the hidden speculation of the contemplative order. Whatever one says about it, it is Vedanto-Upanishadic in reality. Without doing sadhna, one cannot attain the heights envisaged and everything but is sadhna. Without striving to perfect or seeking to fulfill, one cannot accomplish a greater job and success lies it in one’s trial for attainment; struggle, sacrifice and suffering, which but the key to success in life. A book of Integral Yoga, it explains the things of the world, man, mind, matter and spirit as per consciousness felt within and experienced.

“We have seen that it was the aspiration of ancient India to live and move and have its joy in Brahma, the all-conscious and all-pervading Spirit, by extending its field of consciousness over all the world. But that, it may be urged, is an impossible task for man to achieve. If this extension of consciousness be outward process, then it is endless; it is like attempting to cross the ocean after ladling out its water. By beginning to try to realise all, one has to end by realising nothing.” 

— Rabindranath Tagore in the chapter Soul Consciousness
(Sadhna, Macmillan India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, First Edition 1913, Reprinted 1966, p.41)

“What is that spirit? The Upanishad says, The being who is in his essence the light and life of all, who is world-conscious, is Brahma. To feel all, to be conscious of everything, is his spirit. We are immersed in his consciousness body and soul. It is through his consciousness that the sun attracts the earth; it is through his consciousness that the light-waves are being transmitted from planet to planet.”

— Rabindranath Tagore in the chapter The Relation of the Individual to the Universe (Ibid, p.33)

“The affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence can have no base unless we recognize not only eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.”

— Aurobindo Ghose in Chapter II The Two Negations, 1 The Materialist Denial
(The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 2010, p.8)

The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo is such a text and document which trespasses many a trajectory and domain of human thought and its evolution, the mind rising in unison with the Force, Power Unknown and Unseen, transcendental and cataclysmic, undergoing the realms of sadhna to be resolved in terms of yoga and yogic reflections. A sadhaka, a yogi, a teacher and a preceptor, he tried to see life and the course of evolution in his own way, interpreting as per the yoga and its delving. It is not at all maya which he adheres to; it is but sadhna through yogic practices which but took him to the pedestal of thinking and thought and he took to his recourse in wit, intellect, logic and reason apart from different points of purview. The graph of thought and vision is the length of his narration; the curve and lining of it the horizon of his theory. A prophet and a seer, he has seen in this context, the range and purview of his delving, always taking him afar.

Human thought and its evolution and the creation of the universe as per the Superman and His Super Mind, he has tried to present them theologically, intellectually, after being into the steps of Milton and Shaw. Shavian and Miltonic, he is graphic and vast, encompassing and dimensional. As the case remains it with the universe and cosmology of Milton, so is his, but recounting the benefits of transcendental meditation. The things have been transcended to show them in a pure and crystal clear metaphysical light.

The range and vision, the spectrum and horizon, the plan and execution of his voluminous work The Life Divine is beyond any debate and discussion as it covers a broad space and span of annotation. In the beginning his essays used to appear in the Arya, an ashrama periodical, but later on he collected and edited them from time to time to produce a comprehensive work like this running to hundreds of pages. An ambitious work, The Life Divine contains in two Books, inclusive of so many chapters to take in the transcendental discussions inter-traversing and crisscrossing many a reflection, thought, idea and view-point logically and reasonably.

Only explanations lie in to take on the perspectives of life and the world beyond explanation. It is very difficult to say where we reach to finally. Some diversion is there of course; some deviation. The abstract things are beyond the comprehension of the common reader as it is a type of transcendence; a story in progression.

A huge work, a massive compendium of human knowledge and advancement, it is an amalgamation of knowledge and wisdom explained through yoga and yogic heights of reflection. A superman as the protagonist speaks in about the super mind at work. As George Bernard Shaw questions and explains similar is the style of the Maharshi; as Bertrand Russell talks about the impact of science on society, the compendium of knowledge and wisdom and the value of comprehensive vision similar is the scope of Aurobindo’s The Life Divine.

If to criticize and comment upon differently, Aurobindo’s The Life Divine is full of dull and dry facts, bringing in monotony and dreary readings in its chain of prosaic delineation or the trail of dull and dry facts often put as intellectual explanations. To turn over the pages is to be bored. A dull reading awaits us as and when we turn over the pages leading to nowhere. Had Aurobindo taken to mystically, he would have attained the heights otherwise, but never did he. There is nothing as that Aurobindo concludes, just the vague reflections abound in and he appears to be Machiavellian, pragmatic, pontifical and hypocritical rather mystical, mythical and poetic.

Instead of making it lyrical, Aurobindo like Shaw has turned it into a text of ideas, thesis and anti-thesis, his propaganda with regard to transcendental meditation, Integral Yoga and its propagation from Pondicherry. Aurobindo fails and falters miserably as and when we begin to talk poetically. The emotions and feelings of poetry are missing in The Life Divine; those of sadhna and its illumination. Had he told about the mystical experiences of sadhna, it would have been great, but he usually gets lost in the jungle of unnecessary classicism, making his statements terse, vague, ornate, artificial and debatable. What he says that can definitely be contradicted. The other thing is this that Aurobindo does not take the names of the great sadhus and sadhakas of India whose base is there in his The Life Divine and in the absence of whose works we can never think of any modality. Sometimes we feel it we are going somewhere to nowhere and nowhere to somewhere. One negative point of Aurobindo is this that he is very, very intellectual, logical, reasonable and factual and it is but intellect which but mars the poetic beauty of the text under our scrutiny and perusal. There is of course intellectual ananda of enjoying the text, but it is beyond the understanding of the common reader. There is no solution, but only deviation, digression and diversion which but none can ascertain and assure of. Instead of, the book gives knowledge, wisdom, light and joy.

A voluminous prose treatise, The Life Divine is the Savitri of Aurobindo in prose and Savitri the The Life Divine in poetry, if we like to entertain a change in statements swapping their positions to see it in a different context.

The two Books of The Life Divine just like divided in parts tell of different phases of ascension and meditational stepping. Book One is Omnipresent Reality and the Universe.

Chapter I The Human Aspiration, Chapter II The Two Negations: The Materialist Denial, Chapter III The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic, Chapter IV Reality Omnipresent, Chapter V The Destiny of the Individual, Chapter VI Man in the Universe, Chapter VII The Ego and The Dualities, Chapter VIII The Methods of Vedantic Knowledge, Chapter IX The Pure Existent, Chapter X Conscious Force, Chapter XI The Delight of Existence: The Problem, Chapter XII The Delight of Existence: The Solution, Chapter XIII The Divine Maya, Chapter XIV The Supermind as Creator, Chapter XV The Supreme Truth-Consciousness, Chapter XVI Triple Status of Supermind, Chapter XVII The Divine Soul, Chapter XVIII Mind & Supermind, Chapter XIX Life, XX Death, Desire and Incapacity, Chapter XXI The Ascent of Life, Chapter XXII The Problem of Life, Chapter XXIII The Double Soul of Man, Chapter XXIV Matter, Chapter XXV The Knot of Matter, Chapter XXVI The Ascending Series of Substance, Chapter XXVII The Sevenfold Chord of Being and Chapter XXVIII Supermind, Mind, and the Overmind Maya.

BOOK Two is The Knowledge and the Ignorance—The Spiritual Evolution and it is divided into two parts, namely, Part I as The Infinite Consciousness and the Ignorance and Part II as The Knowledge and the Spiritual Evolution.

Chapter I Indeterminates and Cosmic Determination, Chapter II Brahma, Purusha, Ishwara, Chapter III The Eternal and the Individual, Chapter IV The Divine and the Undivine, Chapter V The Cosmic Illusion; Mind, Dream and Hallucination, Chapter VI Reality and the Cosmic Illusion, Chapter VII The Knowledge and the Ignorance, Chapter VIII Memory Self-Consciousness and the Ignorance, Chapter IX Memory, Ego and Self-Experience, Chapter X Knowledge by Identity and Separative Knowledge, XI The Boundaries of the Ignorance, XII The Origins of the Ignorance, Chapter XIII Exclusive Concentration of Consciousness-Force and the Ignorance and Chapter XIV The Origins and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong, and Evil.

Part II The Knowledge and the Spiritual Evolution of Book Two consists of Chapter XV Reality and the Integral Knowledge, Chapter XVI The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence, XVII The Progress to Knowledge—God, Man and Nature, Chapter XVIII The Evolutionary Process-- Ascent and Integration, Chapter XIX Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance towards the Sevenfold Knowledge, Chapter XX The Philosophy of Rebirth, XXI The Order of the Worlds, XXII Rebirth and Other Worlds; Karma, the Soul and Immortality, XXIII Man and the Evolution, XXIV The Evolution of the Spiritual Man, XXV The Triple Transformation, XXVI The Ascent towards Supermind, XXVII The Gnostic Being and XXVIII The Divine Life.

The Divine Maya as a chapter tells about the shaping of things as per His Plan, but the thing is the same, nothing to eliminate it from the other. In Chapter II Brahma, Purusha, Ishwara, the writer discusses many an aspect crucial to the understanding of the text. God is Form as well as Formless Being. The Infinite is nameless, but a collage of names too as is envisaged in it all. In the chapter, The Divine and The Undivine, the Self, the Divine or Brahman is the talk continuing. In the chapter entitled Reality and The Cosmic Illusion, the writer discusses Maya and Reality. Maya is not at all illusory as because it too plays a role in shaping and re-shaping otherwise the Void cannot do it all.

“Maya’s creation is a presentation of beings, names, forms, happenings, things, impossible to accept as true, contradictory of the indeterminable purity of the One Existence. Maya then is not real, it is non-existent: Maya is itself an illusion, the parent of numberless illusions.”

— Aurobindo in Reality and The Cosmic Illusion
(Ibid, p.458)

This is not just that he has started abruptly, the continuity in tradition can be reverted back to Emerson, Thoreau and other American transcendentalists and Oriental thinkers that he borrows from and applies in after fusing in the Oriental and the Occidental thoughts and ideas. Had he not the Western classics, he could not have produced a book of such a length. Monumental and huge, it is a mammoth work of theology, cosmology and metaphysics; religion, philosophy and spirituality. We do not know what it is that Aurobindo has accomplished as the treatise is confusing and contradictory too instead of being full of illumination. Is happiness possible? As the poet W.H.Auden asks us satirically about the unknown citizen whether he is happy, whether he is free, similar is the thing with the protagonist of Arurobindo which is an unending discussion of the self and the Supreme Self in an abstract way. The myth and mystery is missing in Aurobindo and this is what he lacks in which could have added spectacular things to it. What is life? Where is God? Who can ever say it? But instead of it, the metaphysics of life and the world has taken in the space of it. A path lies it illumined under the light of The Life Divine; things yet to be realized. Brahman-consciousness is the thing of reckoning here in this mammoth work of transcendental vision, contemplative order and some meditative strain.

“An involution of the Divine Existence, the spiritual Reality, in the apparent, in conscience of Matter is the starting-point of the evolution. But that Reality is in its nature an eternal Existence, Consciousness, Delight of Existence, not at first in its essence or totality but in evolutionary forms that express or disguise it.”

— Aurobindo in The Progress to Knowledge—God, Man and Nature, (Ibid, p.710)

To rise from the egoistic level to the supramental consciousness, getting illumined by the light is the thing rather than those which obstruct it from getting closer and nearer to God, Light, Freedom and Immortality which are in reality elemental to our sense of realization. After overcoming the hurdles and hazards, one should keep in mind the ascension, the material not, but the spiritual ascension step by step. Mind and matter are not contradictory wholly as because they compliment each other and the presence of each in another can never be refuted. Materialist denial can never be done wholly though differences may be in between in coming to terms, grappling to know and realize it hard.

Aurobindo charters the course of sadhna in The Life Divine, following Western logic, reasoning, fact and fiction, analysis and interpretation, dispelling it what it is darkness and accepting what it is light and the illumination of it, but his is not a purely supernatural, nocturnal tantric view of the Divine Dispensation, but the yogic reflection culminated in this compendium of metaphysics, philosophy and spirituality. Sometimes pure logic appeals to us not, that too debate and discussion and the work falls short of becoming interesting rather than a dull, dry and dreary exercise. Cold reasoning it is in Aurobindo, but not the emotional element so much though somewhere in his latter-day poems as he has striven to achieve that in addition to Savitri. But he too has derived from Blake’s The Blake and there is something of revelation in him when he describes someone passing through unchecked. Had Aurobindo concentrated on the four forms of the Mother Divine, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Maheshwari in poetry too, it would have been great, but a yogi he has the reflections of own, transcendental and supramental. The things of consciousness too are like that and it is very difficult to describe them, what they are in essence.

The paths may be many, but they lead to ultimately the same. Similar is the thing felt by Rabindranath Tagore too in his works. One such may be from his address ‘Construction Versus Creation’ delivered at Gujerati Literary Conference , Ahmedabad in 1920, but collected in his published work named Lectures And Addresses:

Creation is the revelation of truth through the rhythm of forms. It has a dualism consisting of the expression and the material. Of these two wedded companions the material must keep in the background and continually offer itself as a sacrifice to its absolute loyalty to the expression. And this is true of all things, whether in our individual life or in our society.

When the material makes itself too aggressive and furiously multiplies itself into unmeaning voluminousness, then the harmony of creation is disturbed and truth is obscured. If the lamp takes a perverse pride in displaying its oil, then the light remains unrevealed. The material must know that it has no idea of completeness in itself, that it must not hold out temptations to decoy men under its destination away from their creative activities.

(Lectures and Addresses, Rabindranath Tagore, Selected by Anthony X Soares, Macmillan, Delhi, 1970, p.88)

One thing it is very clear to us is this that The Life Divine is Savitri in prose and Savitri is The Life Divine in poetry, but Milton’s ghost and pamphlets he has failed to discern them and his works seem to be another version of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Latin, Greek, German and French masters with their Western classics take the spirit away and we feel nowhere to go. Sometimes it appears that The Life Divine is not an Indian classic, but a Western classic as for its terse and tedious paragraphs, monotonous expressions, dealing in the best possible manner the abstract terms of cosmology and theology beyond the comprehension of the common reader.

Kabirdas says that Maya is a great cheat that I know, but instead of it, he continued on with his spinning handloom and weaving, family life and prayers which can be seen in Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore too, as they could not discern maya completely. For the Krishnites and Vaishnavites, the golden and black statues are enough as for a glance and without which they cannot live. Khushwant Singh too asks his readers of columns to explain the meaning of the Gayatri Mantra which also moved Tagore once upon a time. But Aurobindo’s is a yoga-sadhna; yoga expertise and it coming to him as the flashes of transcendental mediation and its discourses, not as mystical flashes of the Light Divine, Pure Milky Light, Ring-like and Illuminating. Adi Shankaracharya too moved at the inner call felt within to see his old and dying mother to fulfill his promise of seeing her for the last time and after her last breath did he do the cremation all but himself, bearing the burden all alone whereas society remained in aloof as a mute, deaf and dumb spectator of all that.

To conclude, let us begin with the opening stanza of his Savitri, the Vedic magnum opus in English:

It was the hour before the Gods awake.
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity,
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’s marge.
Almost one felt, opaque, impenetrable,
In the somber symbol of her eyeless muse
The abysm of the unbodied Infinite;
A fathomless zero occupied the world.
A power of fallen boundless self awake
Between the first and the last Nothingness,
Recalling the tenebrous womb from which it came,
Turned from the insoluble mystery of birth
And the tardy process of mortality
And longed to reach its end in vacant Nought.

(Savitri, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, Twentieth impression 2009, p.1)

To see it in the eyes of Jayanta Mahapatra, drawing from his essay, Mystery as Mantra.

Mystery has always fascinated me – a sense of the unknown, of things unexplainable, eve in those areas which appear so very familiar in our lives. And so it is with poetry. All poetry that touches, arousing a tremor in the heart, should have this element of the unknown in it: a manner of silence which suddenly stops the reader, as it were, expanding the horizon in which the reader finds himself. This is a type of poetry which does not appear to have attracted many readers in our country, although, judging from the traditionally built-in sense of mysticism an Indian has, such poetry should have a wide practice and readership here.

(Door of Paper Essays & Memoirs, Authorspress, Delhi, 2007, p.21)

The Life Divine is the one side of spirituality while on the other the yoga-yoginis and the attributes of it, the lingam-yoni motif, tantra and tantricism take the canvas.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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