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August 2009


Questioning is not skepticism:
David Hutchinson



On the question of how a spiritual person relates to others, it is meaningless to ask whether bridges should be built. We exchange ideas, feelings, and our very substance with people every hour. What matters is David Hutchinsonwhether those bridges are made of the tensile steel of inner truth, or the tissue paper of superficial platitudes. Most conversations don't use trademarked yoga terminology, nor do they need to involve esoteric occult references; but if we have a connection to spiritual reality, our networks with others are suffused with yoga.

No two people are identical in their grasp of language, capacity for thought, or degree of inner realization. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother knew this, and their works varied depending on the audience. (For example, The Record is overflowing with obscure Sanskrit, but his major works are entirely in English.) The meaning of yoga is discussed in different terms with a three year old, a professor of philosophy, or a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Language is a tool; as with any art or profession, one uses the right tool in the right situation. Writing is a matter of voice. There is a voice for children's tales, one for poetry, one for devotion, and yet another for historical biography.

Limiting discussion of yoga to insiders means that we don't have the courage of our convictions, or flexibility in expression. Speaking of yoga is not the same as proselytizing; one can refer to Sri Aurobindo or Integral Yoga without naming either one. Discussing a topic in common terms requires real understanding. It is easy to fall asleep while intoning familiar terms such as supramental or cellular or gnosis . If you want a truly difficult task, try explaining yoga to a five-year-old!

When we interact with people, we are forced to come out of theological strongholds, into the fresh open air, and then must apply yoga to the details of our beautifully diverse world. We won't understand yoga unless we grapple with it in practice. How does a true yogin act in relation to flame wars, political maneuvering, authoritarianism? Until we apply yoga to the actual situations we encounter, we will settle for comfortable truisms, the hypocrisy of the pulpit, with its inert and impotent abstractions.

If you don't examine your own inclinations, your views will remain unconscious, inherited from culture and childhood. Then yoga becomes a matter of unexamined clichés. Questioning is not skepticism, as Sri Aurobindo himself knew; it is a matter of looking deeply, discriminating, and coming to one's own conclusions. Know yourself first; then you can know others.

A person engaged in a serious endeavor asks a hundred questions a day. Wrestling with Sri Aurobindo gives him the greatest respect, by taking his life, yoga, and ideas seriously. We respect him because he questioned accepted wisdom and found deeper meaning, not because he could quote the Vedas or the Gita . If one must blindly accept what Sri Aurobindo wrote, then Integral Yoga has become a religion, with the inevitable fixed doctrines. Shraddha, faith, is an active power that illuminates and transforms, not a passive acceptance of scripture. If you accept easy, obvious notions, nod your head with a solemn “Because he said so…” then you treat Integral Yoga as less important than knowing how to boil an egg.

Every person is a complex reality, and Sri Aurobindo represents an immeasurably greater and more multifaceted whole. Is he a teacher, husband, revolutionary, friend, yogi, Indian, Englishman, Avatar, writer, healer, principal, university professor, occultist, guru, polyglot, dramatist, philosopher, poet? Yes.

Understanding a life requires knowledge of details, as well as a grasp of the essence. Did Sri Aurobindo eat meat? How did he approach marriage? What kind of lecturer was he? Arjuna's question is as relevant as it was two thousand years ago: How do we recognize the enlightened person? What does that life look like? Understanding how Sri Aurobindo lived gives depth and meaning to his writings, and vice versa. Bande Mataram, Essays on the Gita , and even Savitri make more sense in context. Knowing his life helps to understand how his yoga changed, evolved, and grew over time.

Deep reverence for a transformative figure like Sri Aurobindo is fully compatible with knowing details of his life, just as deep love for a child is compatible with knowing that she likes oatmeal for breakfast. It is natural to want to know where Sri Aurobindo spent his childhood, when he learned languages, how he meditated. Did he make mistakes? What bothered him? Who were his friends and enemies? If the life of the Avatar is to have any meaning, it means the coming forth of the divine through an actual person, in all its messy complexity. The divine is emerging in each of us, not just the Avatar. If we worship the myth, we have Krishna in Brindavan, not Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry .

We also need to grapple with specific events in the unfolding of Integral Yoga – such as the current censorship of Sri Aurobindo's biography. None of this takes place in a vacuum: individuals, communities, and institutions have deep and often hidden roots. The sources of this discord include Indian nationalism, past efforts towards literalism in relation to editions of Savitri , and proposals for censorship on an email list. To imagine that a part is separate from the whole is the basic error in life.

It is quite possible for a sectarian faction of Integral Yoga to develop. If that happens, the rest of religion will soon follow, with mandatory household icons, fixed scriptures, and cultural rules. Astonishingly, we have already heard a call for burning books in the name of Sri Aurobindo. But in truth Sri Aurobindo embodies the wideness of consciousness, not the narrowness of religion. Doorways to Sri Aurobindo – the man and the Avatar – can be found in unexpected and non-traditional places, including a scholarly biography. The force of his yoga is at work everywhere, and can't be defined by petition, lawsuit, or decree.


David Hutchinson lives in Sacramento, California . He has hosted two AUM conferences (1998, 2008), moderated numerous online discussions, published articles on and summaries of Sri Aurobindo's major works, given talks, and edited the journal Collaboration. He has served as president of the Sri Aurobindo Association. For the last ten years he has administered thirty separate Aurobindo.org listserv. discussions, working directly with Integral Yoga organizations in the US , abroad and in Auroville. He has moderated weekly yoga discussion groups almost continuously since 1982. He is an organizer of the September 2009 San Francisco conference titled ‘Fundamentalism and the Future'.



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