"What the soul sees and has experienced, that it knows; the rest is appearance, prejudice and opinion."
What the World Knows
Aurobindo Ghose was a multifaceted person. He was a freedom fighter, poet, scholar, and yogi. He propounded a philosophy of divine life on earth and founded an ashram in Puducherry.
Brilliant scholar, revolutionary, and spiritual visionary — Sri Aurobindo’s worldview gives each individual a meaningful place in a progressive cosmic unfolding and casts our understanding of human endeavor in a new and purposeful perspective.
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“The old headmaster of the school observed, Of all the boys who passed thorough my hands during the last 25 or 30 years, Aurobindo was by far the most richly endowed with intellectual capacity.”
Early Life and Education
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1872. When he was born, his name was kept Aurobindo Akroyd Ghose. Aurobindo’s education began in a Christian convent school in Darjeeling. He was given an entirely Western education by their Anglophile father. At the age of 7, he was sent to England to complete his studies.
He joined St. Paul’s public school in West London and later went on to Cambridge University. There Sri Aurobindo was a brilliant scholar, winning record marks in the Classical Tripos examination. Meanwhile, he also became proficient in two classical and several modern European languages.
He passed the Indian Civil Service examination. However, he had already been touched by a will for the Independence of India and did not wish to become an official of the colonial administration – the position his father and his education had marked him out for.
He managed to disqualify himself by failing to take the mandatory riding test, and instead returned to India in 1893 in the service of the Indian princely state of Baroda, where he remained until 1906.
The Aurobindo Ashram, also known as Arvind Ashram or Auro Nivas, is the ashram that was the dwelling place of Aurobindo Ghosh during his stay in Baroda in the years 1894 to 1906.
The Roots of Nationalism
Sri Aurobindo spent thirteen years, from 1893 to 1906, in the Baroda Service, first in the Revenue Department and in secretariat work for the Maharaja, afterwards as Professor of English and, finally, Vice-Principal in the Baroda College.
In England he had received, according to his father’s express instructions, an entirely occidental education without any contact with the culture of India and the East. At Baroda he made up for the deficiency, he drank deep from the fountains of Sanskrit and Bengali literature, philosophy and political science. The outbreak of the agitation against the partition of Bengal in 1905 gave him the opportunity to give up the Baroda Service and join openly in the political movement. He left Baroda in 1906 and went to Calcutta as Principal of the newly-founded Bengal National College.
Front End Political Entry
“It is the common habit established governments and especially those which are themselves, opressors, to brand all violent methods in subject people and communities as criminal and wicked,” wrote Aurobindo in an article in the Bande Mataram in 1907.
Presidency Jail Cell (Old Alipore Jail) where Sri Aurobindo was kept in solitary confinement
A Prisoned Spiritual Realization
Sri Aurobindo was arrested on 2nd May 1908 under the charge of ‘Conspiracy’. He spent one full year in Alipore jail while the British Government, in a protracted court-trial (Alipore Bomb Case) tried to implicate him in various revolutionary activities. He was also kept in solitary confinement for certain periods.
It was during this time his view of life was radically changed; he had taken up Yoga with the original idea of acquiring spiritual force and energy and divine guidance for his work in life.
To learn more about Aurobindo’s cosmic consciousness in jail, click here.
After Sri Aurobindo was acquitted and released, this spiritual awareness led him to take refuge from continuing pursuit by the British authorities in Pondicherry, then part of French India. He reached Pondicherry on April 4, 1910. He was then 38 years old. There he dedicated himself to his spiritual and philosophical pursuits. Supported by his spiritual collaborator, The Mother, and using his new-found spiritual capacities, he continued to work tirelessly for the upliftment of India and the world.
A Vision for a Better Tomorrow
In 1926, he established Sri Aurobindo Ashram that has witnessed tremendous growth over the years. That time, there were 124 disciples and today more than 1200 members are there.
Sri Aurobindo held that the human race was by no means the final product of evolution. Rather, man today is an intermediate creature, half way between the animal and the divine consciousness. The evolutionary thrust would push forward inexorably with the difference that with the advent of the human race a species has emerged which is self-conscious and can therefore cooperate actively in the process of evolution. This cooperation involves what he called the integral yoga, which sought to bring together the various streams of the traditional Hindu yogas and add to them a major evolutionary thrust.
To read about the Collected work of Sri Aurobindo, click here.