The tradition of dialogue to discuss and elucidate important issues dates as far back as to ancient civilizations. The Greek philosophers would walk with their students in the academy and, through questions and answer, formulate their ideas on philosophical, social, political, ethical, literary and scientific matters. These peripatetic teachers have left behind them perennial systems of thought and wisdom that are as fresh and living as they were in their own great times. Symposia belong to the same classical spirit of thought and wisdom that are as fresh and living as they were in their own great times. Symposia belong to the same classical spirit of active interaction between several propunders and thinkers. The Greek drama itself is an excellent example of multi-ranging and wide simultaneous thinking, at once taking care of many conflicting viewpoints in the statement and resolution of issues.
In India of yore there was the teacher-disciple or Guru-Shishya relationship for imparting esoteric knowledge to the chosen and fit ones. In the Upanishads we have any number of such instances, Thus was the young Bhrigu taught about the fivefold Brahman by his father Varuna; the boy Nachiketas learnt about death from Yama himself; Rishi Pippalada gave the Knowledge of the supreme Spirit to the seekers who had approached him with due reverence and preparation. Similarly, the whole of Bhagavadgita with all its luminous spirituo-metaphysical contents is in the nature of a dialogue between the divine Teacher and the human disciple standing on the battlefield of life, Krishnarjuna samvada. In fact, Vyasa adopted the technique of such discussions to narrate the entire Mahabharata itself. The merit of the technique is always to bring into focus the fundamental issues of concern and give to them nor any scope for parenthetical statements that otherwise tend to distract the attention.
In our own times we have professional seminars, workshops, colloquia, panel discussions, rendezvous, conferences and similar such modes of meeting and exchange of ideas. We are reminded here of a well-document interview between the famous historian Arnold Toynbee and his son Philip Toynbee, himself a literary and creative writer, they spanning two generations of upbringing and thinking, and talking about the present-day civilization, about earlier cultures, religion, the arts, and the newer sciences. The technique of introducing a great contemporary or presenting his works through a dialogue is a modern innovation and has the advantage of putting forward a brief and pointed argument rather than labouring through full-length biographies or treatises on difficult and abstruse topics. Thus in Comparing Notes: a dialogue across a generation there is a passage as follows:
Philip Toynbee: if you try to believe in a God who is both good and omnipotent, the problem of absolutely superfluous suffering, gratuitous suffering, is a real one, isn’t if ?
Arnold Toynbee: oh, it is. I have thought quite a lot about it and I admire Indian religion and philosophy for grasping that nettle. I think Christianity has always tried to evade the problem. It has made the Devil responsible – saving God’s omnipotence by saying He created the Devil, and yet that He isn’t responsible for the thing He created. Now the Indians say that God is evil as well as good because He is omnipotent and He includes everything. In the Bhagavadgita there’s that terrifying vision of Krishna as a sort of trampling monster, grinding everything to bits with his gnashing teeth.
On this point of omnipotence and goodness, the comprehensiveness, the catholicity, of Indian religion have made a great impression on me, and I feel very much in sympathy with it. I feel that this is the kind of religion that is needed for our times.
The informality of a discussion avoids all ponderous considerations of scholarship and forthwith puts us in touch with the truth perceived and realized by the speaker.
The present work of Daniel Albuquerque is a kind of a tete-a-tete between the one who is standing in our time and the timeless other who unfailingly is ever there in our midst. The author regrets that he has come to this world rather late and that he did not have direct contract with Sri Aurobindo; he would have liked to have corresponded with him in person and posed to him questions, questions about the true nature of freedom and about the prospects the future holds for the world. But he has already realized the great truth that Sri Aurobindo is indeed very much here and that “his words are alive in his works and one can read and listen to his voice, if one cares to do so. One cannot avoid his presence while reading his writing.” It is this strong feeling of his presence that inspired him to write this dialogue and he is justifiably happy to have succeeded in it.
How does the author engage himself in the endeavour? Not that he would read selected passages from Sri Aurobindo’s works and model, apropos of these, suitable questions, That would be quite an easy manufacture, but then it would have the inevitable danger of making the whole exercise dull and jerkily deliberate, and hence also perhaps irrelevant. Nor is it a compilation of another king, a long session of quotations. Instead, what we have here is the ever-living voice of the eternal Yogi and Rishi whose concern has always been to lead humanity in the ways of the spirit, as much as to infuse it with its dynamism.
No wonder therefore that, what Sir Aurobindo wrote some seventy-five years ago has the excellence of remaining pertinent even today. That makes the dialogue quite meaningful to the present context as well. His answers are valid now also and are quite applicable to our sociological, economic and cultural problems, - if only we know how to read them and profit from them, get light from them. Of course, the author is fully aware of the fact that no cut-and-paste method can be employed in the case of Sri Aurobindo; he appreciates that his writing invariably have several shades and overall textual development. It may also appear at times that this particular dialogue-mode has the defect of tending to become somewhat stiff and unyielding, but there is inspiration behind it and the breath of the living spirit vigorously blows over it, making it profitable as well as enjoyable.
In this imaginary dialogue, in six session with Sri Aurobindo, Albuquerque has restricted himself essentially to socio-political rather than literary, philosophical, poetic, scriptural, occult, yogic or spiritual aspects. The thematic contents of these discussions are generally in the context of India’s problem, though at times they also touch upon much wider issues. While the first session gives an overview of Sri Aurobindo’s life before his coming to Pondicherry, the other five deal with political freedom, economic liberation, prospects of science, the foundations of a new society to build the future order of the world, and religion and spiritual democracy.
To just illustrate the method adopted by Albuquerque in conducting the dialogue with Sri Aurobindo, we may pick up an example: the question of the Individual versus the state. It is an age-old problem, the Sophoclean problem of Antigone, of freedom visa-vis the functioning of a democratic government. While theoretically it is easy to postulate the complementary and harmonious working of the two, in practice there is the discordance and antagonism of an unreconciliatory character. Liberty in a country is possible only when also go hand in hand with it rights and duties, that in order to be free one must obey law. The individual has certain duties towards the state. The State is there to take care of him by assuring him welfare and protection. But then it becomes a contentious issue also.
DAN: It is a paradoxical situation: man, who is born free, surrenders a part of his freedom to form an aggregate of his fellow men – the State – to achieve some common good. There comes a stage when the state puts curbs on the individual freedom or imposes its will on the individual. The State becomes supreme and the individual secondary….
SRI AUROBINDO: The State tends always to uniformity, because uniformity is easy to it and natural variation is impossible to its essentially mechanical nature; but uniformity is death, not life. A national Culture, a national religion, a national education may still be useful things provided they do not interfere with the growth of human solidarity on the one side and individual freedom of thought and conscience and development on the other; for they give form to the communal soul and help it to add its quota to the sum of sum of human advancement; but a State education, a State religion, a State culture are unnatural violences. And the same rule holds good in different ways and to a different extent in other directions of our communal life and its activities.
Contrast this statement of Sri Aurobindo with, for instance, what Daniel Webster wrote a little more than 150 years ago: “Nothing will ruin the country if the people themselves undertake its safety; and nothing can save it if they leave that safety in any hands but their own. “The statements is quite pithy and epigrammatic, with the sure mark of a politically mature and well-accomplished mind behind it. We may easily read in it the formation of a communal soul and the enlightened promotion of communal life and its activities but, then, nowhere do we get the confidence of a free and revelatory psychology with the luminous modus operandi to achieve it. Sri Aurobindo further points out that.
Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government march steadily towards such an organised annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems. . . there is a deprivation of liberty which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading. The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar phrase….
In a similar manner he recommends the swift and assertive resplendent dynamism of life itself, it fulfilling itself in the richness and plenty of the world:
The acceptance of poverty is noble and beneficial in a class or an individual, but it becomes fatal and pauperises life of its richness and expansion it is perversely organized into a general or national ideal.
…a narrow religious spirit often oppresses and impoverishes the joy and beauty of life, either from an intolerant asceticism or, as the Puritans attempted it, because they could not see that religious austerity is not the whole of religion, thought it may be an important side of it, is not the sole ethico-religious approach to God, since love, charity, gentleness, tolerance, kindliness are also and even more divine, and they forgot or never knew that God is love and beauty as well as purity.
The truth of capital importance is that, the dismissal of the spirit from the world is as lopsided as of the world form the spirit, a fact that was never recognized by mediaeval thought and religion. In a certain sense we may therefore say that Sri Aurobindo is actually re-infusing the resplendent and robust life-dynamism of the ancient Aryan and Greek founders and builders of society; he wants us to receive the gifts of the spirit in the wholesomeness of the individual and of the spirit in the wholesomeness of the individual and of the organized collectivity. That indeed is the entire thrust in the thesis of freedom and future.
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