How shall we introduce Sri Aurobindo to a wider audience? There is a dividing line between persuasion and proselytization. I take it that it is the former we have in mind when we think of building bridges with the ‘outside' world. I would say that our approach to the question would depend on our mental, emotional and spiritual make up, our upbringing and our Samskara, and finally, our location in a given community or communities.
For nearly three decades, I have functioned in the academic world. In the Indian University system where I work, I find myself constantly assailed by the ‘secular' position. Some call it ‘secular fundamentalism'. It finds allusions to the ‘spiritual' anathema. The alternative that informs our main stream social life is religiosity. Could there be an approach to Sri Aurobindo that would convince the ‘secular' camp on its own terms?
In my book Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, I have explored such a ‘secular' possibility. The conceptual frame work, the selection of the texts of Sri Aurobindo, my own introduction to the book as well as the prologues to the various sections, consciously eschewed references to the occult or the mystical while speaking of the contemporary relevance of Sri Aurobindo.
I may have had a measure of success. I do not know. But was I aware of my blind spots and the limitation? It was only when I saw the reviews of my book including the one in Auroville Today that I realized that my ‘secular' reading of Sri Aurobindo was weaker by not having a section dealing with the occult and mystical writings of Sri Aurobindo.
Each writer brings to bear on his/her work a set of contextual factors and ‘baggage'. I had brought mine. I was educated in the (Sri Aurobindo) Ashram school for over nine years. I have enjoyed the trust of the Ashram authorities and the elders. For my book I was given copyright permission in 2007. It was trust, plain and simple!
How would I respond to such a trust? The generosity truly humbled me. Consequently, I chose and weighed each of my words, each expression that I used in my book with care. I meditated over all that Sri Aurobindo had said of His life and that of The Mother. I knew I could not be a biographer of Sri Aurobindo in the conventional sense of the term. I realized that the enigma of Avatarhood and the mystery of the divine Grace were frankly beyond me. I had found no ‘intellectual' framework to judge the ‘mystical' or ‘spiritual' experience that Sri Aurobindo spoke of, no anchor to fathom these depths. I must approach such concepts, I thought, with care and caution when I attempt to explicate them in intellectual terms. Where I do not understand, I must remain silent, hoping to learn in future.
I do not think my critical approach to Sri Aurobindo is incompatible with reverence for the Master. In fact, the two go hand in hand. I believe the best of ‘intellectual' approaches are born out of a deep meditative state. I believe such an approach ought to be based on a basic modesty, and the realization that intellectual formulations are limited, by definition.
Are there limits, a Laxman Rekha that I should not cross in my expositions? I believe there are! Such self-imposed restrictions arise on account of my understanding ing of the Indian spiritual tradition which reveres the realized Being and does not discuss the intimate aspects of His/Her life in the public domain. Is this an ‘Indian' approach? I do not know. Despite the advent of ‘modernity' in India , we seem to remain firm in our attitude towards our parents, for instance. I do not know if this is an East-West divide. I should imagine this is how things are seen in our country. Every writer, while being original, shows sensitivity to a culture and its life values, especially those that have sustained him/her.
I am aware that a dominant trend in the publishing industry today is to debunk received wisdom for market considerations. For every view point, there has to be a counter view to make the issue look ‘balanced' and ‘complicated'. There may be nothing objectionable in this methodology.
I too have adhered to the academic format. But only up to a point! And I have had no regrets! This is a subjective decision every exponent of Sri Aurobindo has to make. I have made mine. I am clear, however, that I shall not push myself beyond a point in order to find acceptance to a certain forum or audience.
I realized that although not an Ashramite, I was still an ‘insider' and therefore had greater responsibilies as an author. Before publication, I welcomed feedback from readers and critics and incorporated all the changes carefully.
I had earlier edited three books dealing with the vision of Sri Aurobindo. These volumes were structured around the lives and works of three sadhaks: Kishor Gandhi, Madhusudhan Reddy and Amal Kiran. In a sense, these books were less challenging. The volumes were primarily meant for devotees. The present volume is for an academic,' secular' audience in the outside world.
I think I have moved on. I do not know how far I have succeeded in my efforts. But I am happy I chose a middle path, the path of moderation.
(Sachidananda Mohanty is Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Hyderabad . Winner of several awards, national and international, he has published widely in English and in Oriya. His latest publication is: Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, New Delhi : Routledge India , 2008; reprint.2009)