Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Is there a spiritual way to enhance creativity?

The Hindu, August 10, 2004
I have read news about companies that have been driven to bankruptcy. Newspapers tell us about countries that are unable to pull themselves out of financial mess. And in people's lives, things sound even worse. This is really an issue that comes to me when I start thinking about what is the real velocity of change and what should we do about it. Because on the one hand we all acknowledge that "change" is overtaking us. On the other hand, we are dealing with these environmental and psychological changes in the same manner as we did a hundred years ago. Let me give you an example: Almost exactly a hundred years ago, the first car was on the assembly line. This car was basically a metal chassis with 4 wheels, a steering wheel, a clutch system, internal combustion and it took 4 people in it and could do 27 km an hour. A hundred years later and 26 billion dollars in pure research, we have still a metal chassis with 4 wheels, a steering wheel, a clutch system, a carburettor, a piston and takes 4 people and the average speed is 25 km an hour in any crowded city of the world.

It is only now that some experiments have been attempted to move cars sideways for parking convenience. Was it easier to put a man on the moon? And the answer is `yes.' And why so? Because the people who are in the business of cars went through school and university and studied carbutettors, pistons, etc.; to them the car goes forward and backward. While the technology to land on the moon did not fall into any previous pattern. It was a path to new discovery. The trouble is, once the business is in place, it is organised and crystallised. And what they are doing is basically living in the past. Dr. C. K. Prahlad, the management guru, gives another example. When the first Microsoft `windows' came out, it was absolutely phenomenal. Some five people were involved in its creation. Thereafter, you buy one after another and the changes are very marginal. Now they have 2500 Ph.D.s who have not created anything different. The same argument surfaces: once things are in place they are organised and crystallised!

Have you ever questioned why children need two and a half months in summer? I went out searching for an answer. The answer is indeed very simple. Some 150 years ago, all the children were needed at harvest time because farming was a family business. Today, there is absolutely no reason why this system should continue. Still it continues. And yet, thinking is considered to be the ultimate human resource. The problem lies in the fact that very quickly industry wide emulation sets in. And so the industry becomes very similar. And when you start doing the things that are very similar to the other people, it is very difficult to break free. You are caught in a system that is constantly emulating itself.

This phenomenon applies to every single country, industry and individual. Take the airline industry. Nobody makes money; the passengers are crowded like sardines; the food is just awful; some of the time, the planes run late and everybody is unhappy. Most people believe that there is nothing left of that industry. Kasparov, the chess world champion, was made to play against IBM machine over many years. He won 8 out of 10 times. What does he have the machine does not? There is only one answer: Intuition. The human mind is not meant to be creative. The mind is a pattern making system. The information system of the mind acts to create patterns and to recognise them. It tends to reject any new idea that does not fall into its pattern of recognition on experience. Education reinforces this aspect by teaching us to be logical. There seems to be an urgent need to break through the moulds limiting our minds and to explore new paths for real and meaningful solutions rather than band-aid solutions.

Intuition: I belive the answer lies in what Sri Aurobindo has written in his magnificent book, The Life Divine. He states that we need to go beyond the mind and reason. For, if we examine carefully, he says, we shall find that intuition is our first teacher. Intuition brings to man those brilliant messages from the unknown, which are the beginning of his higher knowledge. "Reason only comes in afterwards to see what profit it can have of the shining harvest," writes Sri Aurobindo.

Intuition gives us that idea of something behind and beyond all that we know. The path towards creativity is to enlarge the mind and let it grow and encompass the higher layers and spheres above the mind. In fact, this is the start to a spiritual seeking. The journey is long and tough. It will need a great deal of sincerity, tenacity and relentless pursuit; to keep the mind silent and passive. One will need to curb one's ego and to acknowledge that what we know is far less than what we can know. One needs to leave behind all that one knows; the courage to travel towards the unknown by breaking all the shackles. Sri Aurobindo's Life Divine shows the way. It is quite an extraordinary book, which offers every seeker a path of self-discovery and true creativity. You will get out of this book what you wish to take out of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sri Aurobindo's Sense of the West

M.S. Ramesh
The Call Beyond, 3-2005

It is difficult for us to visualize a time when things were completely different a hundred years ago, that is, when everyone believed in the greatness of the Western Civilization, its enlightenment, its science and its marvels. Even if anyone had been perceptive enough to see what exactly was lying under the veil of supreme magnificence, it would have required enormous courage on his part to say as much. Herein lies the immeasurable superiority of Sri Aurobindo over others; he was not only penetratingly perceptive but also undauntingly bold - bold in the face of a complete hostile atmosphere which hardly allowed others to see the point of his criticism of the West....
When a great majority of the people could not even vaguely sense the truth about the West- how could they, when they were dazzled by the brilliance of its achievements in the field of science and technology, by the rapid strides it was making in the economic and social fields - Sri Aurobindo clearly felt the drift of the Western Civilization, foresaw the turn it would take, and warned us about the dangers of its free competition, individualism, expansion and all other 'progressive' ideas.... His criticism of the West has a fine, delicate balance - so delicate a balance, it merits serious attention even from the Westerners.... His criticism itself speaks for his mastery of the West and for his unbiased attitude.... He does not make a wholesale condemnation of the Western Civilization, as some Western writers do against the Indian Civilization.
The point to be noticed here is that Sri Aurobindo could speak so very authoritatively on Europe and our slavish admiration of it not beacause he was a nationalist, but because he was a man who had mastered the European conditions - who had known the ins and outs of the whole European Civilization. It is for this reason that Sri Aurobindo's sense of the West is much more important to us than any other Indian. We could find in other Indians either a deep hatred for the West or a foolish love for it; we could find in some an intense patriotism, and in some others a complete denationalization; again, we could find in them either a sentimental pride in the past, or a total aversion for it. None of them had an intelligent understanding of the West - a thorough mastery of the new conditions and new knowledge imposed on India by her recent contact with it - a mastery that would lead to successful assimilation.
Here lies the extraordinary superiority of Sri Aurobindo over other Indian writers, leaders and thinkers. He is one of the very few Indians who speak and write with a sound understanding of the West, and of its impact on India, and offers us a most intelligent account of it.... It's really high time we scrutinized our ideas of the progressive West. It is high time we stripped ourselves of the crude image that we have of it, and thereby saved ourselves from the disastrous consequences that would follow our idolatory of it. No other Indian thinker or writer could help us as much as Sri Aurobindo could in this regard.

Monday, July 04, 2005

In love and war

Indian Express: May 13, 1998

The ancient epic of Vasavadatta, written by Mahakavi Bhasa and translated in English by Sri Aurobindo, is been staged by Janak Toprani. A massive production, this costume drama is the story of an egoistic king who captures theneighbouring country's ruler, played by model-turned-actor Bikram Saluja, as a slave for his beautiful daughter, played by Vekeana Dhillon. The slave, after all, is a king and it doesn't take him much time to seduce the princess over to his side. Toprani has roped in some of the biggest names for his production team: The music is by Nandu Bende, the sets and lights are by M S Sathyu, costumes by Neeta Lulla, dance by Farha Khan and the fight choreography has been done by Sensei Parvez Mistry.

At the Tata Theatre, NCPA on May 16, 1998. Time: 7.00 pm.

A spiritual threshold

Atul Chaturvedi
Indian Express: Saturday, June 12, 1999

One of the most remarkable aspects of the life and thought of Sri Aurobindo was his conviction that the way for a traditional society such as India to modernise itself was not through the rejection of its rich past and the adoption of new and alien ways. The way, for Aurobindo, lay in the systematic synthesising and modernisation of ancient practices, discarding that which was no longer appropriate. In this, Aurobindo trod the same path as Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

This is the basis for the synthesis of Yoga which is the foundation of all of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy. However, in Sri Aurobindo's case, the need for synthesis arose from his vision of the essential uniformity of the Spirit and Nature worldwide. But this uniformity is not static, it is dynamic, constantly evolving. In Sri Aurobindo's vivid words: ``All things are being cast, shredded into pieces, experimented on, combined and recombined either to perish or survive and provide the scattered materials of new forms or to emerge rejuvenated and changed for a fresh term of existence.''

For Sri Aurobindo, this ferment was rooted in his apocalyptic vision of the future of man. Sri Aurobindo was firmly convinced that during the 20th and 21st centuries, the second phase of cosmological history would begin -- the first being the moment when the transition was made from animal to man -- and man would cross the threshold into a new world. For this to take place, the dynamic elements prevailing in the world today would have to unify. Sri Aurobindo boldly asserted that the ancient Yoga of India was one of the dynamic elements which would be employed in bringing about this new world. But, he added, under the existing circumstances, it was doubtful that existing forms of Yoga would be effective. For Yoga to be effective, its true power and aim must be rediscovered, and reappropriated, keeping in view a worldview encompassing ancient and modern, East and West.

In his letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo observed: ``I have never said that my yogawas something brand new in all its elements. I have called it the integral yoga and that means that it takes up the essence and many processes of the old yoga -- its newness lies in its aim, standpoint and the totality of its methods.'' The aim was the ultimate perfection of man. The standpoint was a major departure in that Sri Aurobindo insisted that what the traditional systems took to be their end, that is, the realisation of the absolute, was only the beginning for Integral Yoga. Again, Sri Aurobindo insisted that it was not necessary to abandon the world and live the life of a sanyasin in order to achieve the end of Integral Yoga. Thirdly, Sri Aurobindo insisted that Integral Yoga was meant not only for individual salvation, but for achieving the breakthrough into the new era for all humankind. Sri Aurobindo challenges us: ``Our yoga is not a retreading of old paths but a spiritual adventure.''

Thus, Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga is the totality of the existing forms of yoga. Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga,Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga are its constituent parts. The individual has to follow and practice all of these systems. For Sri Aurobindo, each system of yoga was not a means and an end in itself. One leads to the other, building upon the strength of its predecessor -- and integrated, and not a fragmented yoga. There is no better way to convey the ultimate goal of the synthesis of yoga than in Sri Aurobindo's own words: ``To conquer the lures of egoistic existence in this world is our first victory over ourselves; to conquer the lure of individual happiness in heavens beyond is our second victory; to conquer the highest lure of escape from life and a self-absorbed bliss in the impersonal infinite is the last and greatest victory.''

Sri Aurobindo’s Opposition

Why the Indian establishment resisted him MANGESH V. NADKARNI
The Indian Express Thursday, March 21, 2002
Sri Aurobindo, the world-renowned yogi, poet, philosopher, patriot and lover of humanity, devoted most of his life to the quest of the Supermind, which, he thought, was the only power that could bring perfection to human life on earth. The Indian intelligentsia of the last half a century had many problems with Sri Aurobindo because he often raised inconvenient questions and forced them to review the intellectual paradigms by which they lived and so they conspired to marginalise him.
Sri Aurobindo was not a religious leader; he was a great spiritual figure, probably the greatest in human history, who discovered the truth of the Supramental consciousness, of which no religion had any idea, and who developed a yoga for those who had an inner call for it to grow into it. The international city of Auroville as well as Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry are the two laboratories started by him and his collaborator, the Mother, for his experiment of ushering in a new man, a united new world and a spiritual civilisation.

Our intelligentsia proudly quotes Darwin, Freud and Karl Marx because these have been the three thinkers who have influenced our age the most. Sri Aurobindo dealt mainly with the same issues as these three thinkers and in the light of his writings we are able to appreciate them better because he presents the complete truth these thinkers distorted in their own ways. The fact that Sri Aurobindo did not receive a favourable reception in India intellectual circles during the last half a century has been very unfortunate but not very surprising, because he was in his views and in his vision so radical and so much ahead of his times, that he effectively alienated four of the strongest intellectual establishments in the country, namely,
  • the traditional Hindu religious establishment,
  • the Gandhian establishment,
  • the politically non-committed but eurocentric university intellectuals who are the products of Macaulay’s educational system, and also
  • the leftist, communist/socialist establishment.

The Hindu religious establishment did not take kindly to Sri Aurobindo because he emphatically denied world-negation as the central thrust of Indian culture. Many of our countrymen still take great pride in the Shankarite and Buddhist legacy of regarding the world as a delusion, and therefore as of no value. His insistence on worldly progress being a quintessential part of the Indian spiritual tradition alienated Sri Aurobindo from the Hindu establishment, strangely enough. The Gandhian establishment was not entirely happy with Sri Aurobindo because of his insistence that India must cultivate the kshatriya spirit, not merely Bhakti and Jnana.

The reason why the academic establishment in India was opposed to Sri Aurobindo is that he rejected the colonial-missionary model of history, which regarded the Aryan invasion theory as its crown-jewel. Sri Aurobindo was probably the first to issue a warning against the invasion theory in his book On the Vedas, written nearly 80 years ago. Nor was Sri Aurobindo an uncritical admirer of the Western liberal-humanistic tradition. The reasons for the neglect Sri Aurobindo suffered among leftist intelligentsia in India was that he was cold to the promises of communists and the dreams of socialists, and because of his strong spiritual orientation. But it must be pointed out that Sri Aurobindo was not opposed to communist ideology per se as can be seen from the following statements of his:

‘‘If communism ever re-establishes itself successfully upon earth, it must be on a foundation of soul’s brotherhood and the death of egoism. A forced association and a mechanical comradeship would end in a world-wide fiasco.’’

September 25, 1914

O DIVINE and adorable Mother, with Thy help what is there that is impossible? The hour of realisations is near and Thou hast assured us of Thy aid that we may perform integrally the supreme Will. Thou hast accepted us as fit intermediaries between the unthinkable realities and the relativities of the physical world, and Thy constant presence in our midst is a token of Thy active collaboration. The Lord has willed and Thou dost execute: A new light shall break upon the earth. A new world shall be born, And the things that were promised shall be fulfilled.
The Mother
(Translation by Sri Aurobindo)
in CWM, volume 1, "Prayers and Meditations" (page 249)
SABDA, Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Pondicherry.