Aurobindo Ghose

views updated May 18 2018


AUROBINDO GHOSE (18721950), yogin, nationalist, poet, critic, thinker, spiritual leader of India. Born in Calcutta (August 15, 1872), Aurobindo Ghose was educated in England from the age of seven to age twenty-one at the insistence of his father, Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose, who had been one of the first Indians educated in England. Having grown up ignorant of Indian culture and religion, Aurobindo neither discovered nor appreciated Indian languages, literature, or history until he returned to India after college, in 1893. He served for a time as a teacher of French and English and as vice principal and acting principal of Baroda College. In 1906 Aurobindo joined the political movement of Indian resistance to British colonial rule and became a prominent voice of the Nationalist party, arguing for complete independence from Britain. Through his articles in periodicals such as Bande Mataram, Aurobindo nourished a revolutionary consciousness among Indians by addressing the issues of swarāj and swadeśi (both centered on self-rule) and boycott. He was open to the use of armed revolt as well as nonviolent means for achieving independence. In this he was flexible and pragmatic: the means of social change were selected on the basis of circumstances, not adherence to an absolute ethical principle.

In 1908 Aurobindo was arrested in connection with an unsuccessful bombing episode against a British district judge. Although he was ultimately acquitted, he spent a year in the Alipore jail during the investigation and trial. During this imprisonment his interest in yoga deepened. In 1910, following "a sudden command from above," Aurobindo moved to French India. He spent the next forty years of his life in Pondicherry, formulating his vision of spiritual evolution and integral Yoga, and refusing to pursue direct involvement in political events.

"Spiritual evolution," or the evolution of consciousness, is the central framework for understanding Aurobindo's thought. Consciousness is a rich and complex term for Aurobindo. Consciousness is inherent in all things, in seemingly inert matter as well as plant, animal, human, and suprahuman life. It participates in the various levels of being in various ways. Sachchidānanda, literally the highest level of "being, consciousness, and bliss," is also known as the Absolute. The Supermind mediates sachchidānanda to the multiplicity of the world. The Overmind serves as delegate of the Supermind. Intuitive Mind is a kind of consciousness of the heart that discerns the truth in momentary flashes rather than in a comprehensive grasp. Illumined Mind communicates consciousness by vision, Higher Mind through conceptual thought. Mind generally integrates reality through cognitive, intellectual, and mental perceptions rather than through direct vision, yet mind is also open to the higher levels of consciousness, for it is basically oriented to Supermind, in which it participates in a derivative way. The Psyche is the conscious form of the soul that makes possible the evolution from ignorance to light. Life is cosmic energy through which the divine is received and made manifest. Matter, the lowest level in Aurobindo's hierarchy of consciousness manifestation, is not reducible to mere material substance, but is an expression of sachchidānanda in diminished form.

The hierarchical view of consciousness or spirit must also be seen in a process perspective in which the supreme is seen as continuously being and becoming manifest in these many levels of being. Consciousness liberates itself through an inner law that directs evolution. Spiritual evolution is also seen as a series of ascents from material, physical existence up to supramental existence, in which we are able to reach or true being and fulfillment.

Yoga is a means by which this evolutionary thrust can be consciously assisted. Whereas evolution proceeds slowly and indirectly, yoga functions more quickly and directly. Evolution seeks the divine through nature, while yoga reaches out for the divine as transcendent to nature.

Aurobindo's Integral Yoga is so named because it seeks to incorporate the essence and processes of the old yogas, blending their methods and fruits into one system. It is integral also insofar as it seeks an integral and total change of consciousness and nature, not for the individual alone but for all of humanity and the entire cosmos. Unlike some yogas of the past, Integral Yoga does not seek release from the cycle of birth and death but seeks a transformation of life and existence, by, for, and through the divine. In most yogas, ascent to the divine is emphasized. In Integral Yoga, ascent to the divine is but the first step; the real goal is descent of the new consciousness that has been attained by the ascent.

Disciples, admirers, and advocates of Aurobindo's vision of spiritual evolution and system of Integral Yoga gather in communities throughout the world. Best known are those who have begun construction of Auroville, a city near Pondicherry designed to embody Aurobindo's ideal for a transformed humanity, and the ashram at Pondicherry where Aurobindo himelf lived for forty years.


The complete works of Aurobindo are available in the "Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library," 30 vols. (Pondicherry, 19721976). A useful overview of Aurobindo's major works can be found in Six Pillars: An Introduction to the Major Works of Sri Aurobindo, edited by Robert A. McDermott (Chambersburg, Pa., 1974). Kees W. Bolle relates Aurobindo's thought, which evidences both Western and Eastern influences, to the Tantric tradition, in The Persistence of Religion: An Essay on Tantrism and Sri Aurobindo's Philosophy (Leiden, 1965). A lucid analysis of Aurobindo's philosophy of the world is found in Beatrice Bruteau's Worthy Is the World: The Hindu Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo (Rutherford, N.J., 1976). My The Quest for Political and Spiritual Liberation: A Study in the Thought of Sri Aurobindo Ghose (Cranbury, N.J., 1976) addresses the relationship between Aurobindo's political (19051910) and spiritual (19101950) commitments and writings.

New Sources

Heehs, Peter. Sri Aurobindo, A Brief Biography. Delhi; New York, 1989.

Kluback, William. Sri Aurobindo Ghose: The Dweller in the Lands of Silence. New York, 2001.

Madhusudan Reddy, V. Seven Studies in Sri Aurobindo. Hyderabad, India, 1989.

McLaughlin, Michael T. Knowledge, Consciousness and Religious Conversion in Lonergan and Aurobindo. Rome, 2003.

Nandakumar, Prema. Sri Aurobindo, A Critical Untroduction. New Delhi, 1988.

Umar, M. G. Sri Aurobindo, Thinker and the Yogi of the Future. Pondicherry, 2001.

Van Vrekhem, Georges. Patterns of the Present: From the Perspective of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. New Delhi, 2002.

Vrinte, Joseph. The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul: An Inquiry into the Relevance of Sri Aurobindo's Metaphysical Yoga Psychology in the Context of Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology. Delhi, 2002.

June O'Connor (1987)

Revised Bibliography

Aurobindo, Sri

views updated May 21 2018


AUROBINDO, SRI (1872–1950), Indian poet and philosopher Sri Aurobindo was born Aurobindo Ghose. The change in name reflected a profound transformation in the person: from a poet of patriotism, committed to India's freedom, to a philosopher-visionary of the New Age, heralding the ultimate stage of human evolution.

Ghose was born on 15 August 1872 in Kolkata to K. D. Ghose, a physician, and Swarnalata Bose, the eldest daughter of Rajnaryan Bose, a nationalist pioneer. Dr. Ghose was an Anglophile: he loved everything Western. When Aurobindo was seven years old, Dr. Ghose took his wife and three sons to England. Aurobindo was educated at St. Paul's School in London, and graduated from Cambridge University with a first in Classics Tripos, winning all the top prizes the university offered in his field. While attending high school, he developed a passionate interest in the Classical world and its languages, Greek and Latin. Later, he not only mastered these two classical languages, but also learned French, German, Italian, and Spanish in order to read Johann Goethe, Dante Alighieri, and Pedro Calderón in the original texts.

He sat for and passed the Indian Civil Service examination. But he decided not to work for the British government in India. Instead, he accepted an appointment in the Baroda (a princely state, semiautonomous under the Raj) state service in 1893. He spent thirteen years in Baroda and rose to the post of principal of the Baroda State College (later University). These were years of preparation for the work to be done in the near future. He learned Sanskrit and read the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the epics; he learned Marathi, Gujarati, and brushed up on his native language, Bengali. He married Mrinalini Basu in 1901 according to strict Hindu rites.

The partition of Bengal in 1905 brought Ghose into the public limelight. He went to Kolkata and accepted the post of principal of the newly established National College, later Jadavpur University. He started the Bengali daily Yugantar and joined the English daily Bande Mataram, edited by Bipin Chandra Pal. He published in the pages of Bande Mataram his doctrine of passive resistance and the methods of swadeshi (the first major phase of a militant nationalist movement protesting against the British authorities' decision in 1905 to divide the province of Bengal in two parts—one with a Muslim majority, the other Hindu) and boycott. In the 1906 Indian National Congress session held in Kolkata, he declared "complete autonomy free from British control" to be the nationalist agenda, with Bal Gangadhar Tilak as the leader. Ghose was arrested in 1907 for publishing inflammatory articles in Bande Mataram. His bold and dignified self-defense prompted Rabindranath Tagore to pen one of his most famous congratulatory poems, which begins, "Aurobindo! Accept the salutations of Rabindra."

Ghose was arrested again in 1908 and he spent a year as an under-trial prisoner. The experience totally transformed him. Nationalism seemed to acquire a deeper, more integral meaning to him. In the English weekly Karmayogin and the Bengali weekly Dharma, he wrote articles on the transcendental significance of Indian nationalism. In 1910 at the office of the Karmayogin, he received word that he would be arrested for sedition. He made a quick decision, took a boat to Chandernagore, a French concession outside Kolkata, and from there to Pondicherry, the French concession in South India, on a French boat under an assumed name. The British attempted to get him out of Pondicherry but failed.

In Pondicherry, Ghose withdrew from political activity altogether. Instead, he devoted himself to yoga, meditation, and intensive study of the sacred texts. His patrons were a French couple, Paul Richard and his wife Mirra Alfassa Richard (later the Mother of the Pondicherry Ashram). With assistance from his French friends, Ghose started to publish the monthly journal Anya, in which he articulated his basic philosophical positions: the divine destiny of humankind, unification of the human race, and the spirit and significance of Indian civilization and culture. Later, these articles appeared in Ghose's magnum opus The Life Divine. Soon after, Aurobindo wrote his supreme epic poem Savitri in 23,813 lines of blank verse, the longest poem in the English language. It prompted Sir Herbert Read to call the epic poem "great by any standard."

In 1926 Aurobindo retired to complete seclusion. He broke his isolation a few times. In 1928 he met the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who saw Aurobindo's face radiant with inner light. Many others followed Tagore to seek his counsel or urge his intervention in nationalist politics. Aurobindo turned down all requests, pleading that few in the popular platform would understand his ideals and ideas.

Aurobindo in his complex and extensive body of writings privileged consciousness from within over material, economic, and political spheres. His system of yoga empowers the individual to transform life, mind, and body. It is a dynamic of integral cultural consciousness that helps bring about the transformation, and the only power that can transform is the supreme one, above the mind, which he calls "supermind." It will manifest itself in a class of "supermen," the truth-conscious beings. Following Charles Darwin's trajectory to its deterministic future, Aurobindo predicts this to be evolution's ultimate destination for humankind.

Aurobindo had a five-part vision. He wished to see a free and independent India, which he witnessed on his birthday on 15 August 1947. His second vision was the resurgence of Asia, the third a "world union," the fourth the spiritual gift of India to the world, the fifth "a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness."

On 5 December 1950, Aurobindo left this world. His work was continued by the Mother, and after her death by her successors at the Pondicherry Ashram. Auroville, an international community established on the outskirts of Pondicherry, to this day celebrates Aurobindo's revolutionary utopian vision. His collected works, written in an elegant inimitable prose and verse, have inspired authors and scholars to probe their metaphysical and philosophical wealth. One such scholar, the late Haridas Chaudhuri, founded the Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in 1971. It is now a full-scale accredited graduate school with a curriculum modeled on Sri Aurobindo's cultural and East/West integral philosophy.

Dilip K. Basu

See alsoTagore, Rabindranath ; Tilak, Bal Gangadhar


Haridas, Chaudhuri. The Philosophy of Integration. Pondicherry: Sri Aurbindo Ashram, 1967.

Iyengar, K. R. Srivastava. Sri Aurobindo: A Biography and a History. Pondicherry: International Centre, 1985.

Mitra, Sisir Kumar. Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: Orient Paperback, 1976.

Aurobindo Ghose

views updated May 17 2018

Aurobindo Ghose

The Indian nationalist extremist leader, poet, and philosopher Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) abandoned his radical political activities to develop a religious teaching for the spiritual benefit of all men.

Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta, the third of six children. His father—of high-caste background—was a distinguished physician in the employ of the civil service, thoroughly Anglicized and a persuaded atheist. In 1879 Aurobindo was sent to England with his brothers for higher education to prepare for the Indian civil service. Though forced to live in near poverty, he excelled in his academic studies, especially in the classics, English literature, and European languages.

At King's College, Cambridge, Ghose joined an association of fellow Indians, expressing a deep interest in Indian nationalism. In 1893 he returned to India and resolved to strive for Indian independence. He served the maharaja of Baroda from 1893 to 1907, becoming successively professor of English, vice-principal at Baroda College, and finally principal of the National College of Calcutta.

During this period Ghose began to associate with radical Indian nationalists and revolutionaries, openly criticizing the Indian National Congress for its moderation, and founding a revolutionary newspaper so skillfully written that no pretext could be found for his arrest. However, in 1908 after a series of bombings he was arrested along with other suspects. Though he was acquitted soon after, it was during this short period that he became increasingly preoccupied with the spiritual dimensions of Indian cultural and corporate life.

Ghose experimented with Yoga, read extensively, and meditated on the Veda and Bhagavad Gita. In 1910 he openly abandoned active politics and went to the French settlement at Pondicherry, where he established the Aurobindo Ashram (retreat) to develop and promote his teaching, though he did not give up his interest in the political affairs of India. He was joined by his wife and a number of his friends—including several suspected revolutionaries—and remained continually under the surveillance of the English secret service. In 1914 he founded the magazine Arya, designed to promote his philosophical and religious teachings.

Ghose's basic spiritual goal was "to make the truth dynamic in the soul of man." For this he proposed an "integral Yoga" designed not for spiritual withdrawal from the world but for the purpose of transforming earthly human life "here in the individual and the community." Man must be opened to a supramental divine consciousness which can create a spiritual "superman" and a new order of life in the world, transforming moribund human institutions into "free forms" of strength, love, and justice. The emphasis of his teaching was on the spiritualization of the phenomenal world and all human activity through the emergence of a disciplined religious elite, extending widely to touch all mankind.

Among Ghose's writings published in English are The Yoga and Its Objects and Love and Death (both 1921), The Life Divine (1949), Essays on the Gita (1950), and The Message and Mission of Indian Culture and The Mind of Light (both 1953).

Further Reading

Studies of Ghose include George Langley, Sri Aurobindo: Indian Poet, Philosopher and Mystic (1949); A. B. Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo (1958; 3d ed. 1964) and Sri Aurobindo: Some Aspects of His Vision (1966); and Vishwanath P. Varma, The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo (1960).

Additional Sources

Feys, Jan, The life of a yogi, Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1976.

Ghose, Aurobindo, Tales of prison life, Calcutta: Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir, 1974.

Heehs, Peter, Sri Aurobindo, a brief biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Joshi, Kireet, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: glimpses of their experiments, experiences, and realisations, New Delhi: Mother's Institute of Research in association with Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1989.

Purani, Ambalal Balkrishna, The life of Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978.

Rishabhchand, Sri Aurobindo, his life unique, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1981.

Roshan, Sri Aurobindo in Baroda, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1993.

Satprem, Sri Aurobindo, or, The adventure of consciousness, New York: Institute for Evolutionary Research, 1984.

Srinivasa Iyengar, K. R., Sri Aurobindo: a biography and a history, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, 1985. □

Ghose, Aurobindo

views updated May 18 2018


Indian philosopher and poet who wrote in English, best known under his title, Sri Aurobindo; b. Calcutta, Aug. 15, 1872; d. Pondicherry, Dec. 5, 1950. He was the third son of Dr. Krishnadhan Ghose and was educated at the Loretto Convent School, Darjeeling, and at St. Paul's School, London; he then went on to King's College, Cambridge, England, where he took firstclass honors in classics. After returning to India (1893), he taught French and English at Baroda College, and while engaging in literary and political journalism he published two volumes of poetry, Songs to Myrtilla (1895) and Urvasie (1896). He married Mrinalini in 1901. He entered active politics in 1906 in order to combat English efforts to partition Bengal, but his opposition led to his arrest. His practice of yoga enabled him to achieve an inner peace, which sustained him during his arrest, trial, and acquittal (190809). He thereafter withdrew from politics and retired to Pondicherry (then in French India), where he remained until his death. He edited Arya, a philosophical journal (191421), and published serially The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Ideal of Human Unity, and other works. He established an ashram (a retreat for spiritual aspirants) in 1922 and in his last years was mainly engaged on Savitri, an immense symbolic epic based on the ancient story of Savitri and Satyavan as related in the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata.

Ghose was a poet, a mystic, and a philosopher whose ideas bear some resemblance to those of St. thomas aquinas and Pierre teilhard de chardin. In The Life Divine Ghose tried to synthesize all knowledge into an integrated whole; and as Teilhard posited the "omega point," Ghose envisioned the "supermind"arduous spiritual striving inevitably shaping the New Man in whom the divine is radiantly revealed. Ghose's English prose is rich and sweeping; his poetry includes translations, blank verse dramas (Perseus the Deliverer, Vāsavadutta, Rodogune, Eric ), philosophical poems (e.g., Ahana ), lyrics (e.g., Thought the Paraclete ), the unfinished Ilion, a sequel to the Iliad, and the 24,000-line Savitri. In this last work the heroine symbolizes the divine force that frees the light of truth from the darkness of death. It contains (in Canto 2 of "The Book of Fate") a significant reference to Christ's drinking the bitter cup and signing salvation's testament with His blood.

Bibliography: a. ghose, The Life Divine (Pondicherry 1955); Collected Poems and Plays, 2 v. (Pondicherry 1942); Savitri (Pondicherry 1954). k. r. srinivasa iyengar, Sri Aurobindo (2d ed. Calcutta 1950). p. nandakumar, A Study of "Savitri" (Pondicherry 1962). d. a. cappadona, "Poetry as Yoga: The Spiritual Ascent of Sri Aurobindo," Horizons 7 (Fall 1980) 265284. r. a. mcdermott, ed., Six Pillars: Introductions to the Major Works of Sri Aurobindo (Chambersburg, PA 1974). r. n. minor, "Sri Aurobindo's Integral View of Other Religions," Religious Studies 15 (1979) 365377. s. h. phillips, Aurobindo's Philosophy of Brahman (Leiden, 1986). k. r. srinivasa iyengar, Sri Aurobindo: A Centenary Tribute (Pondicherry, India, 1974). f. thompson, A New Look at Aurobindo (Delhi, 1990).

[k. r. srinivasa iyengar]

Aurobindo, Sri (1872-1950)

views updated May 21 2018

Aurobindo, Sri (1872-1950)

Famous Hindu mystic, philosopher, and poet. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh ("Sri" is an honorific pronounced "Shree") was born Arvinda Ackroyd Ghose in Calcutta, India, on August 15, 1872, and educated in Britain, where he spent nearly 15 years. He studied in London and Cambridge, where he mastered Greek and Latin literature as well as the French, German, and Italian languages. He returned to India and worked as a teacher in Baroda, becoming a scholar in Sanskrit and other Indian languages.

After the partition of Bengal, Aurobindo became a leader of a newly formed National party with the goal of home rule. When violence broke out in Bengal, he was arrested for sedition but was acquitted. He was again arrested and acquitted, but a third prosecution commenced while he was detained in prison. During his imprisonment he underwent profound spiritual experiences, which turned him from politics to mysticism. He developed his own system of synthesized yoga, which he called "integral yoga." He retired from public life in 1910 and established an ashram at Pondicherry, where he lived until his death in 1950.

After his death the ashram continued under the guidance of Mira Richards (1878-1973), the wife of a French diplomat who had met Aurobindo in 1914 and embraced his philosophy. Richards became known as "the Mother." The Mother conceived of the idea of Auroville as an ideal international urban center.

Aurobindo taught that the material world should be transformed by making one's own life divine, and claimed that he had realized the "Overmind" in 1926 and was thus able to bring divine consciousness to the task of human evolution. He had retired into seclusion and from that time forward had spoken to his disciples only through the Mother. During his lifetime he wrote 30 volumes relating to the theme of The Life Divine, including a 23,000 line poem, Savitri dealing with the struggle to unite divine consciousness with historical processes.

With the approval of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the ashram at Pondicherry inaugurated many "Sri Aurobindo Action" centers throughout India, and Aurobindo centers were also established in most major European cities and throughout the U.S. For information on Sri Aurobindo publications and organizations, contact the Sri Aurobindo Association at PO Box 163237, Sacramento, CA 95816. They also have a website:


Aurobindo, Sri. Sri Aurobindo Centenary Library. 50 vols. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Library Press, 1970-72.

Donnelly, Morwinna. Founding the Life Divine. Lower Lake, Calif.: Dawn Horse Press, 1976.

McDermott, Robert, ed. The Essential Aurobindo. New York: Schrocken Books, 1973.

. Six Pillars. Chambersburg, Pa.: Wilson Books, 1974. Sri Aurobindo Association. April 25, 2000.

Aurobindo, Śri

views updated May 14 2018

Aurobindo, Śri (1872–1950). Born Aurobindo Ghose in Calcutta, he became a widely known Hindu teacher. Committed to prison for a year for his work against British rule, he there had his first spiritual experiences. On his release, he turned to the practice of yoga, but he came to regard the classical ways of yoga as too one-sided: they aim to raise the yogi towards a goal, whereas in his view, the true technique should be to integrate the goal into life. Hence his system became known as Pūrna-Yoga, or Integral Yoga.

Threatened with further arrest, he took refuge in 1910, in the French enclave of Pondicherry, and remained there until his death. He met there Mira Richard (Alfassa) who became his constant support and companion. She established the Aurobindo-ashram (āśrama) and, after his death, a town, Auroville, to embody his teaching. She is known as ‘the Mother’.

The chief works (among many) of Śri Aurobindo are The Life Divine, a commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā, and The Synthesis of Yoga.

Ghose, Aurobindo

views updated May 23 2018

Ghose, Aurobindo (1872–1950) ( Sri Aurobindo) Indian mystic philosopher and nationalist leader. In 1908, he was imprisoned for agitating against British rule in Bengal. After his release, Ghose devoted himself to Hindu philosophy. His works include The Synthesis of Yoga (1948).

Ghose, Aurobindo

views updated May 21 2018

Ghose, Aurobindo (Hindu philosopher and teacher): see AUROBINDO.