This book is a record of Sri Aurobindo’s talks with disciples during two periods, 1923-1926 and 1938-1943. These talks were informal, open-ended, and wide-ranging. Many of them dealt with the practice of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, but various other topics came up as well. Among them were:
Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga and other spiritual paths
The Eastern and Western views of life
Art, poetry, beauty, culture, education
Science, medicine, psychology, occultism, religion
India’s struggle for independence
The Second World War
The recorder of these talks, A.B. Purani, lived in Pondicherry with Sri Aurobindo from 1923. His record of the early talks is the most complete account available; his record of the later ones is less extensive, but invaluable. This talk brings out Sri Aurobindo’s personality as well as his profound knowledge in many spheres of life.
Evening Talks is a record of Sri Aurobindo’s talks with disciples during two periods, 1923-1926 and 1938-1943. The recorder, A.B. Purani, made detailed notes on each talk immediately after it — took place and later expanded them into readable conversations. The talks were first published in a series of three books in 1959, 1961 and 1966; they were brought out in a single volume in 1982. The present edition is a revised version of the 1982 edition.
Purani’s record of these talks was never seen by Sri Aurobindo for verification or revision. The reader should bear in mind that it represents an approximation of Sri Aurobindo’s words, not his ma words, and contains only part of what was said at the time.
The reader is requested to note that Sri Aurobindo is not responsible for these records as he had no opportunity to see them. So, it is not as if Sri Aurobindo said exactly these things but that I remember him to have said them. All I can say is that I have tried to be as faithful in recording them as I was humanly capable. That does not minimize my personal responsibility which I fully accept.
The question which Arjuna asks Sri Krishna in the Gita (second chapter) occurs pertinently to many about all spiritual personalities: “What is the language of one whose understanding is poised? How does he speak, how sit, how walk? “Men want to know the outer signs of the inner attainment, — the way in which a spiritual person differs our worldly from other men. But4all the tests which the Gita enumerates are inner and therefore invisible to the outer view. It is true also that the inner or the spiritual is the essential and the outer derives its value and form from the inner. But the transformation about which Sri Aurobindo writes in his books has to take place in nature, because according to him the divine Reality has to manifest itself in nature. So, all the parts of nature — including the physical and the external — are to be transformed. In his own case the very physical became the transparent mould of the Spirit as a result of his intense Sadhana. This is borne out by the impression created on the minds of sensitive outsiders like Sj. K. M. Munshi who was deeply impressed by his radiating presence when he met him after nearly forty years.
The Evening Talks collected here may afford to the outside world a glimpse of his external personality and give the seeker some idea of its richness, its many-sidedness, its uniqueness. One can also form some notion of Sri Aurobindo’s personality from the books in which the height, the universal sweep and clear vision of his integral ideal and thought can be seen. His writings are, in a sense, the best representative of his mental personality. The versatile nature of his genius, the penetrating power of his intellect, his extraordinary power of expression, his intense sincerity, his utter singleness of purpose — all these can be easily felt by any earnest student of his works. He may discover even in the realm of mind stat Sri Aurobindo brings the unlimited into the limited. Another of his dynamic personality is represented by the Ashram as an institution. But the outer, if one may use the phrase, the human side of his personality, is unknown to the outside world because from 1910 to 1950— a span of forty years he led a life of outer retirement. No doubt, many knew about his staying at Pondicherry and practising some kind of very special Yoga to the mystery of which they had no access. To some, perhaps, he was living a life of enviable solitude enjoying the luxury of a spiritual endeavour. Many regretted his retirement as a great loss to the world because they could not see any external activity on his part which could be regarded as ‘public’, ‘altruistic’ or ‘beneficial’. Even some of his admirers thought that he was after some kind of personal salvation which would have very little significance for mankind in general. His outward non-participation in public life was construed by many as lack of love for humanity.
But those who knew him during the days of the national awakening — from 1900 to 1910— could not have these doubts. And even these initial misunderstandings and false notions of others began to evaporate with the growth of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram from 1927 onwards. The large number of books published by the Ashram also tended to remove the idea of the other-worldliness of his Yoga and the absence of any good by it to mankind.
This period of outer retirement was one of intense Sadhana and of intellectual activity — it was also one during which he acted on external events, — though he was not dedicated outwardly to a public cause. About his own retirement he writes: “But this did not mean, as most people supposed, that he (Sri Aurobindo) had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any father interest in the world or in the fate of India. It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning. In his retirement Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened, whenever necessary; but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action; for it is part of the experience of those who have advanced in yoga that besides the ordinary forces and activities of the mind and life and body in Matter, there are other forces and powers that can and do act from behind and from above; there is also a spiritual dynamic power which can be Possessed by those who are advanced in spiritual consciousness, though all do nor care to possess or, possessing, to use it and this power is greater than any other and more effective. It was this force which, as soon as he attained to it, he used at first only in a limited field of personal work, but afterwards in a constant action upon the world forces.”
Twice he found it necessary to go out of his way to make
public pronouncements on important world-issues, which shows distinctly that renunciation of life is not a part of his Yoga. “The first was in relation to the Second World War. At the beginning lie did not actively concern himself with it, but when it appeared n if Hitler would crush all the forces opposed to him and Nazism dominate the world, he began to intervene.
The second was with regard to Sir Stafford Cripps’ proposal for the transfer of power to India.
Over and above Sadhana writing work and rendering spiritual help to the world during his apparent retirement there were plenty of other activities of which the outside world has Ph) knowledge. Many prominent as well as less known persons sought and obtained interviews with him during these years.
Thus, among well-known persons may be mentioned C.R Das, I ala Lajpat Rai, Sarala Devi, Dr. Munje, Khasirao Jadhav, Tagore, Sylvain Levy The great national poet of Tamil Nadu, S. Subramanya Bharati, was in contact with Sri Aurobindo for some years during his stay at Pondicherry; so was V.V.S. Aiyar. The famous V. Ramaswamy Aiyangar – Va Ra of Tamil literature – stayed with Sri Aurobindo for nearly three years and was influenced by him. Some of these facts have been already mentioned in The Life of Sri Aurobindo.
Jung has admitted that there is an element of mystery, some thing that baffles the reason, in human personality. One finds that the greater the personality the greater is the complexity. And this is especially so with regard to spiritual personalities — whom the Gita calls Vibhutis and Avatars.
Sri Aurobindo has explained the mystery of personality in some of his writings. Ordinarily by personality we mean something which can be described as “a pattern of being marked out by a settled combination of fixed qualities, a determined character.... In one view personality is regarded as a fixed structure of recognizable qualities expressing a power of being”; another idea regards “personality as a flux of self-expressive or sensitive and responsive being.... But flux of nature and fixity of nature” — which some call character — “are two aspects of being neither of which, nor indeed both together, can be a definition of personality:... But besides this flux and this fixity there is also a third and occult element, the Person behind of whom the personality is a self- expression; the Person puts forward the personality as his role, character, persona, in the present act of his long drama of manifested existence. But the Person is larger than his personality, and it may happen that this inner largeness overflows into the surface formation; the result is a self-expression of being which can no longer be described by fixed qualities, normalities of mood, exact lineaments, or marked out by structural limits.”
The gospel of the Supermind which Sri Aurobindo brought to man envisages a new level of consciousness beyond Mind. When this level is attained it imposes a complete and radical reintegration of the human personality. Sri Aurobindo was not merely the exponent but the embodiment of the new, dynamic truth of the Supermind. While exploring and sounding the tremendous possibilities of human personality in his intense spiritual Sadhana, he has shown us that practically there are no limits to its expansion and ascent. It can reach in its growth what appears to man at present as a ‘divine’ status. It goes without saying that this attainment is not an easy task; there are conditions to be fulfilled for the .transformation from the human to the divine.
The Gita in its chapters on the Vibhuti and the Avatar takes in general the same position. It shows that the present formula of our nature, and therefore the mental personality of man, is not final. A Vibhuti embodies in a human manifestation a certain divine quality and thus demonstrates the possibility of overcoming the limits of ordinary human personality. The Vibhuti — the embodiment of a divine quality or power, and the Avatar — the divine incarnation, are not to be looked upon as supraphysical miracles thrown at humanity without regard to the process of evolution; they are, in fact, indications of human possibility, a
sign that points to the goal of evolution.
In his Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo says about the Avatar: “He may, on the other hand, descend as an incarnation of divine life, the divine personality and power in its characteristic action, for a mission ostensibly social, ethical and political, as is represented in the story of Rama or Krishna; but always then this descent becomes in the soul of the race a permanent power for the mater living and the spiritual rebirth.”
“He comes as the divine power and love which calls men to itself, so that they may take refuge in that and no longer in the insufficiency of their human wills and the strife of their human ‘flat, wrath and passion, and liberated from all this unquiet and suffering may live in the calm and bliss of the Divine.”2
“The Avatar comes to reveal the divine nature in man above this lower nature and to show what are the divine work, free, unegoistic, disinterested, impersonal, universal, full of the divine light, the divine power and the divine love. He comes as the divine personality which shall fill the consciousness of the human being and replace the limited egoistic personality, so that it shall lie liberated out of ego into infinity and universality, out of birth him into immortality,.”
It is clear that Sri Aurobindo interpreted the traditional idea of the Vibhuti and the Avatar in terms of the evolutionary possibilities of nun. Hut more directly he has worked out the idea of the lit individual’ in his masterpiece The Life Divine. He says: “A supramental gnostic individual will be a spiritual Person, but not a personality in the sense of a pattern of being marked out by a settled combination of fixed qualities, a determined character; he cannot be that since he is a conscious expression of the universal and the transcendent.” Describing the gnostic individual he says:
“We feel ourselves in the presence of a light of consciousness, a potency, a sea of energy, can distinguish and describe its free waves of action and quality, but not fix itself; and yet there is an impression of personality, the presence of a powerful being, a strong high or beautiful recognisable Someone, a Person, not a limited creature of Nature but a Self or Soul, a Purusha.”
One feels that he was describing the feeling of some of us, his disciples, with regard to him in his inimitable way.
This transformation of the human personality into the Divine— perhaps even the mere connection of the human with the Divine — is probably regarded as a chimera by the modern mind. To the modern mind it would appear as the apotheosis of a human personality which is against its idea of equality of men. Its difficulty is partly due to the notion that the Divine is unlimited and illimitable while a ‘personality’, however high and grand, seems to demand imposition, or assumption, of limitation. In this connection Sri Aurobindo said during an evening talk that no human manifestation can be illimitable and unlimited, but the manifestation in the limited should reflect the unlimited, the Transcendent Beyond.
This possibility of the human touching and manifesting the Divine has been realised during the course of human history whenever a great spiritual Light has appeared on earth. One of the purposes of this book is to show how Sri Aurobindo himself reflected the unlimited Beyond in his own self.
Greatness is magnetic and in a sense contagious. ‘Wherever manifested, greatness is claimed by humanity as something that reveals the possibility of the race. The highest utility of greatness is not merely to attract us but to inspire us to follow it and rise to our own highest spiritual stature. To the majority of men Truth remains abstract, impersonal and far unless it is seen and felt concretely in a human personality. A man never knows a truth actively except through a person and by embodying it in his own personality. Some glimpse of the Truth-Consciousness which Sri Aurobindo embodied may be caught in these Evening Talks.
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