The Wrong Notion that Sri Aurobindo Rejected Hinduism – Raman Reddy
... the Integral Yoga that was propounded by Sri Aurobindo in his latter days and practised by his disciples under the guidance of the Mother in the Ashram contained many of the deeper and higher elements of Hinduism.
It is primarily those customs in the Ashram which express bhakti, adoration of and surrender to one’s Guru (so common in India) that have put off some Westerners such as Peter Heehs who concludes that Sri Aurobindo conceded to Hindu practices and customs for the sake of his Hindu disciples, despite distancing himself from them in his writings. Ironically, he blames the Mother for it, though she was a French lady coming from a highly cultured European background! Sri Aurobindo nevertheless considered her his spiritual equal and handed over the spiritual and material charge of the Ashram when he retired in November 1926. In the late twenties and thirties when he was corresponding with his disciples from his room, the Mother personally supervised the various departments of the Ashram (such as the Building Construction, the Dining Room, and the Dispensary to name only a few) and conducted the daily meditation and Pranam for the disciples. In this period of joint administration, with the Mother in front and Sri Aurobindo supporting her from behind, all the activities of the Ashram were centred round the Mother with the full approval of Sri Aurobindo. So there cannot be any question of the Mother having introduced Hindu customs such as the Pranam and Prasad distribution against the wishes of Sri Aurobindo! As a matter of fact, the Mother was the best exponent and guide of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga to say the least, and it is difficult to understand or even practise it without taking her into account.
What however can be said is that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did start from a clean slate, as it were, of spiritual practices without being encumbered by past forms of Hinduism or any religion whatsoever. They were at the same time not overly fussy of avoiding any of the existing forms, if they proved to be useful means of inner communion with their disciples. Apart from the three (or later four) major Darshans they gave to their disciples and devotees every year, the Mother conducted daily meditations followed by her Pranam to the disciples in the early period of the Ashram. There was a soup distribution by the Mother in the evening (prior to October 1931) in order to impart her spiritual force to the disciples. Flowers acquired symbolic significances and became a very important means of spiritual communication. In the forties and fifties the Mother distributed special blessings on the four Puja days of the Hindu calendar. With the coming of the children to the Ashram and the founding of the Ashram School, Christmas with its spiritual significance was introduced in the Ashram. During this period sports and physical education became a very important part of Ashram life, and for some time meditation and Pranam receded into the background, and some disciples such as Dilip Kumar Roy expressed their alarm and consternation at this secular transformation of the Ashram. Meditation was again reintroduced, and concentration at the Playground in front of the spiritual map of India became a daily feature in the fifties. A groundnut distribution by the Mother also took place in the Playground, ostensibly for the extra nourishment of the School children, but which was obviously a part of her larger action of infusing her spiritual force in all the activities of the Ashram.
What do you make of these various programmes of the Mother? Were they Hindu ceremonies? Yes, the Puja Darshans could be named as such, though they ceased after some time. Celebrating Christmas should then be considered a Christian custom, though the Mother said that Christmas was celebrated as a festival of light long before the birth of Jesus Christ. What about the soup ceremony? Amal Kiran compares it with the sacred rituals of ancient Greece and Egypt. Pranam and collective meditation under the auspices of a spiritual guide or Guru would figure, I suppose, in most religious communities, be they Buddhist or Jain or Hindu or Sufi. But what about the groundnut distribution? Did Mother start here a brand new ceremony or mode of spiritual communion? Our difficulty to label the Mother’s collective activities only shows the rigidity of our mind, by which we would like to make easy classifications for our own convenience than to understand the plasticity and spontaneity with which the Mother acted in the Ashram. Even religion, which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother themselves condemned outright, has to be taken with due qualifications especially with regard to them and the Integral Yoga they have developed for the spiritual future of man. Otherwise we tend to reject spirituality itself in the very process of doing away with religion, and disconnecting ourselves from the very source and fountain of our inspiration in our over enthusiasm to get rid of old forms.
17 February 2017
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