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Master's English

                                                                                                  June 20, 1992

   The only thing good about England is that Sri Aurobindo went there for His education, says The Mother. She found the English dead wood and prophesied in the beginning of this century that England would go under water. HE chose to save the world from the World War by sending His Force to the Allies through Winston Churchill, an Englishman. His reason was he would not be able to be effective if His force was to be sent through the French leaders because they had no character. England excelled in individual character and that is enough reason to go under the sea, not being able to be flexible.

   Sri Aurobindo was a born poet.  All his life He wrote and became the foremost writer of this century by contributing an original vision of the cosmos. He extended that vision to social evolution, human evolution, poetry and art. By definition His Vision can be extended by way of an applied theory to any field of human activity or any branch of human knowledge. In truth, the initiation, construction, composition and completion of any single act can be completely explained by the application of HIS vision.  His was a vision of the Process of Creation and the character of that Process is the character of the original Absolute, the Brahman. One of its characteristics is Infinity or Infinity is one of the powers in which the Brahman manifests Itself. The past being equal to the whole is one character of the Infinity. It is true that each part of the Process is governed by all the Laws of the Full Process, revealing its character of Infinity and Integrality.

   Sri Aurobindo's Force aims at evolving the Supramental being out of the transformed human being. The essence of this Force, is therefore, to raise any human faculty or activity to the level of supramental creativity. In simple terms, any human instrument, when touched by this Force, raises itself beyond the human proportions and reveals in the process capacities inconceivable to human comprehension. HE wrote in English His Original thoughts and the direct result was English has become the world language today, an opportunity it had not had at the time of His writing. If it existed, it was there for the Spanish and the French, not English.

   This does not seem to be a special blessings He gave English but seems to be a general power of His Force, rather an inevitable character of His Touch or its unintended extension.

   The very first thing in which He interested Himself on returning to India was the freedom struggle. His Touch gave two new aspects to the struggle. He raised the goal of the struggle to complete Independence in 1904, a goal the Indian National Congress took another quarter of a century to accept officially. Secondly He made the conquerors lay down arms on their own and practise self-abnegation in the process of granting freedom to India. The history of the world had not, till then, conceived of a possibility of voluntary relinquishing the rights of a conqueror thus making the freedom fight an exercise of oration on the platform. Even that gift of His to His country spilled over from India to innumerable nations in more than one continent. It is clearly seen that the character of The Force is, besides being universal and creative, creative of new higher possibilities unknown to human experience.

   His next theatre of action was yoga. Yoga was practised to liberate the soul  from the cycle of births, but HE imparted several new dimensions to this field.  His yoga was to deny moksha, the goal of all yogas, accept life which all yogas shun. His new dimension was to hasten the evolution to evolve the next species and for that purpose HE postulated the theory of spiritual evolution never conceived of before by any human mind.

   He is the one poet who tried his hand at all types of poetry and wrote in meters hitherto untried. No wonder HIS employing the English language reveals similar characteristics. The most striking fact is English becoming a world language today. Apparently he could not write in any other language as English was almost His mother tongue.

   His theme was the relation between the Omnipresent Reality and the Universe, a theme on which no one till then or even after that has ventured to write. The dozen theories of creation the world possesses are childish, Mother says. His was no hypothesis, but an experience in the spiritual plane explained to the intellect. Outside the Hindu civilization the Reality of creation remains undiscovered to this day. The Vedic Rishis have known the Reality, but have not discovered the process by which that Reality turns into the universe. He has written a detailed description of that Process in a rational language intellect could comprehend. English, in the circumstances, served as the linguistic vehicle for that exposition.

   His subject was Mysticism. His audience was the rational European intellect. He never contemplated writing on this scale. It was in 1914 that Mother urged Him to share His knowledge with the world through writing. From the beginning He cast His life into the mould of total surrender to the Divine Mother and was acting accordingly. As it was The Mother who now made the request, He at once embarked on the project. SHE, among other things, represented the finest intellect of Europe. His books were, in reality, addressed to Her and that is why SHE is the only one who understood it.

   The world has not heard of another intellectual attempt where mysticism is explained rationally. He made the attempt with a rich success and rationally established that mysticism could be comprehended. As a grand finale to that endeavour, HE says the intellect could reach the absolute and sense it too.

   The truths of the spirit belong to the higher hemisphere of creation. Human language exists in the region of divided mind. No language can ever express the spirit without disturbing it. HE and SHE say that the pregnant massiveness of Sanskrit and its penetrating tonality can in brief moments rise to the heights that express the fullness of the mystic spirit. Rishis expressed those truths in short, powerful mantras or mantra-looking slokas and communicated to the aspiring soul by a powerful hint. Beyond that, even that language cannot offer its services.

   All His writings carry mantric power and are capable of communication only by mantras or slokas in Sanskrit. Neither the prose of the philosopher nor the imaged verses of the poet can do duty to mantras or mysticism. He resorted to the English prose to outline his basic yogic ideas in The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga.  

   English is not a classical language like Latin or Greek. Nor is it a language of the spirit. It is not even capable of the clarity French is known for. In classical languages, the particles of the word roots are well-formed and are according to a pattern that could be systemised in a grammar. Non-classical languages do not possess this organised systematic clarity of definition that is dense and rich. True to the historical character of languages that are shaped by the presence of the ruling powers, English has enjoyed the privilege of being fashioned in the courts of the Normans, the Spanish, the French, the Germans and for a very brief while by the Dutch. In this process she has acquired the character of not being able to retain any particular character. Sure, it is the tongue of Shakespeare and Milton. Their emergence notwithstanding, English could not lay any claim to classicalism or clarity of purpose that can deliver massiveness of thought.

   Being global traders, they have imported into their language words from almost all languages in the world. Their prose grew, as does all prose, during the expanding period of their society which was a period of commercial conquest. The language of commerce is a language of compromise, not clarity. Again it is England who gave birth to democracy and remained the democratic leader for over centuries. While the language of the monarchy is authoritarian, that of democracy is an all-embracing comprehensiveness which means impreciseness. He was to write the lofty truths of the spirit to the audience of rational intellect in a non-classical language fashioned in the courts of 4 nations, growing to its present dimensions by the impetus of commerce and political democracy. By definition it is a defective instrument. The Master craftsman has now to make up for the deficiency of his tool too, in addition to having an inconceivable task of mysticism in rationality

   Prose explains thoughts and ideas while higher thoughts are expressed by poetry through the poetic metaphor. He was to express mystic truths of mantric power in the medium of prose, a prose evolved by the English language. This He accomplishes by elevating that prose in expressiveness through mind-transcending ideas he has evolved out of the Spiritual Truths.

   Prose functions by expressing facts. The most elementary fact is the description of material objects. Sensations like anger, love, liking become facts in the hands of prose so that it can handle them. Higher above are conceptual facts of the mind. Ideas, agreement, theory are like rationalisation facts of the concept. While poetry lives in the realm of images, metaphor, figure, emotion, meter, prose, however high it rises, confines to the rule of facts. Sri Aurobindo, in an endeavour to elevate prose to do duty for mantra whose instrument is the power of sound, enlarges the amplitude of the conceptual fact to express the inexpressible. Facts by definition describe the one aspect of contradiction. HE raises the level of prose by raising the level of facts to include both aspects of contradiction, thereby touching the realm above the mind where mysticism resides. Phrases like, 'logic of the Infinite', 'comprehensive preciseness', and  'ignorance is a higher knowledge', enable the conceptual fact to express the inconceivable. Prose is the instrument of rationality, poetry the vehicle of emotions and mantras the medium of the mystical truths. Sri Aurobindo, by raising the level of facts made prose express the mystic truths, thus making mysticism available to rationality.

   Time was when prose expressed only material facts like stone, tree, man etc. and the emotions like love, attraction, anger remained unexpressed by human speech. In the process of its growth, language has come to give names to emotions, linguistically shape them as facts and express them. This is as great a stride in the growth of language as it extended from words to phrases and then to sentences. What HE did to prose, not merely English prose, is as great a leap in its original evolutionary growth, comparable to its birth on earth.

   For this revolution to take place at the level of prose, it was necessary  for corresponding great changes to take place at the level of thought, idea, and concept. Conceptualisation he takes to the zone of the spirit and coins the phrase spiritual concept, an oxymoron. Spirit is that which is beyond concept, and HE speaks of spiritual concept, a process meant to be subjective to the spirit. He makes the concept spiritual concept, linking the idea to the Real-Idea. Thus thought becomes richer, acquiring a further dimension. English is a poor language at its origin and has made no efforts to overcome its poverty. Hence, at each stage of this transformation the words by their bareness defied His effort. It is a study of linguistic evolution to observe the fashion in which HE imparts this higher significance to these otherwise empty words.

   'Faith' in English is to believe without asking for proof, used in religious writings. To Him, faith is the knowledge of the soul reflected in the mind. In Sanskrit, Sraddha emerges as the fourth stage of action preceded by deiva prakriti, viryam and sakti. Ordinarily, man acts by his physical energy, sakti. In an effort to raise the quality of his sakti, he raises the physical energy to the energy of temperament. To raise it further he invokes the Divine in him to change his temperament thus raising it to deiva prakriti. At the final stage he does not rely even on the deiva prakriti but only on his soul thus letting the Divine act, not through the prakriti in him, but through the soul of prakriti. This last stage is FAITH. Every word HE tries to employ in his endeavour to address rationality about mysticism, undergoes such a change. By writing in English HE made PROSE evolve from being a vehicle of rationality to being an instrument of MYSTICISM.

   It is a common experience of readers that to read His books at a stretch as we read other books on philosophy is not possible. Reading absorbs mental energy. When it sags, it quickly reestablishes itself when the reading can be resumed. Reading His books absorbs spiritual energy which is available in us in such small measures. For that to regain the original level takes a long time. The ratio or distance between the physical, vital, mental, spiritual, psychic energies in a way resembles the distance between the digits. 10 is 9 stages away from 1 while 100 is 89 away from 10. Thousand is still further away from 100 while a lakh is a world away from 1000.

   Man is endowed with spirit but not spiritual energy. Energy issues out of exercising a faculty. Spirit is not a faculty we ever exercise. To read His books spiritual energy is needed. Initially those who buy His books and read a few pages put it away to come back to it months later or years later, because that is the time needed for recouping the energy spent on reading a few pages. Academically trained minds can take His books and read through, but that will yield a different experience. Reading His books is like conducting a wedding every month. No household can afford it but attending several weddings in one month is possible for anyone. His writings present the argument and explanation. That is on the surface. Academic minds will certainly be able to read and know it while those with high academic degrees and little academic mental training will find the reading forbidding. This is due to lack of a mental faculty, not due to the power of writing. HE says to read His writings one should have acute original thinking. Our education systems do not give us any particular mental training. What we acquire is by the general academic atmosphere of the college, not by specific training. In the West they take care that the student understands what he reads and is benefited by it. The western educational system does not aim at training the student to think. It aims at giving a clarity, an understanding, a comprehension. With that one can read His books and understand the arguments and most of the explanations. That way he will not get anything, like the boy who wants to marry a girl being given vital statistics without his seeing her, meeting her, trying to know her as a bride or more so as a person.

   Without exception every Westerner in the beginning understood by the word 'peace' absence of war, while peace here is the shanti of the soul. Silence is not merely the absence of noise which is the ONLY meaning it has, but it is the mauna, absence of thought which meaning is imposed on that word when it is used in Indian spiritual writings. Limiting Silence to absence of thought will help the reader miss what He says in those passages where He uses it in the sense of absence of activity.

   To read Life Divine and to know at the end how He has constructed the book is not given to all. But the fact is that without knowing His construction of the book even these academic minds will ask at the end of their reading what it is all about. A professor of philosophy and literature helped a devotee with his thesis on consciousness approach to Shakespeare. In the course of it he corrected about 40 places in each page, discussed the material for 7 hours, appreciated everything said in the thesis. At the end he asked the student what he meant by the word consciousness. While in the language the word consciousness means that which makes us conscious, in spirituality consciousness is to be conscious of the soul. His double Ph.D. from Canada and USA and his professorship could not give him the sense in which the word is used.

   It is important to know how the book is constructed. One who has learnt the construction after finishing the book finds in the second reading that it was not the book he read earlier. Arguments and explanations issue from the original framework of construction and after knowing the construction they reveal more. Those who fully comprehend the arguments will be like a machine mechanic in designing the machine for production. You may know all the parts without knowing anything at all about the whole.

   The parts of Infinity are infinite. In life the sum of the parts explain the whole. In all that is of the Infinite, the parts explain the whole. Each individual part explains the full essence of the whole. The spirit being Infinite, every part of it must be able to explain it. In His books, we find any chapter is a whole by itself and can give us the whole import of His yoga. It is not academic training that helps us see this facet of His writings. Can we say one who misses this aspect of His writings has got any of the essential features of his yoga or writing?

   All through His writings He adopts one rule. Any result can be reached  by several methods and what He offers is one of them; the Reality can be explained in more than one way; evolution can proceed in more than one method; He has not fixed the limit to Reality, evolution or method. He bases Himself on limitlessness and acts in a limited way. It is possible to construe this as the humility of the writer as against the authoritarian tradition of India where pronouncements are categorical. To commit this mistake is to mistake the form that is not there for the content that is emerging. Great opportunities directly held out more than once, are always mistaken for their unreality because to the recipient's psychology, they are unreal.

   It is true He was writing; it is equally true that through the writings it was He who was acting. His was a life-transcending Personality. The rules of life are fixed; their character is one of limitation. Life is accompanied by death; giving balances taking; each act is the cause of an effect; the strong alone prevails; life is not ethical but practical --these are some of the rules of life. His Personality or Consciousness transcended limitation; giving need not balance taking, but can grow by giving; death of the body (or the life of any act that dies) is not inevitable; the weak can prevail over the strong and if we choose life can be ethical. He was able to conceive that conquerors could voluntarily withdraw; thought can explain spirit; death could be abolished; humanity could be given everything in return of nothing; new life could be infused into any organisation, dying or dead, if necessary. His yoga made the Britishers relinquish power, He could discover the Process of creation that eluded the half-blind seer of the Upanishadic period and could explain those secrets to the European intellect through English prose and bring down the Golden Light into a human body.

   His writing not only gives the understanding of the spirit but gives the spiritual opening needed to receive it. It is like a pair of spectacles that not only improves your sight but, at least for a short while, gives the ability to read to the illiterate! He practised in writing the descent He spoke of.

   He always gives in the beginning what we expect at the end without our discerning it till we reach the end and discover that it was how He started. His is not a thought that has a beginning, a middle and an end, though He gives that appearance also. For Him the end is the beginning, the beginning is the end. One can begin anywhere in His writings and may not feel the loss of the previous parts. Beginning and end, He explains, explain Infinity.

   The universe comes to us through values, says HE. It is through physical, vital and mental values that the universe comes to us, He explains.

   Matter reaches us through physical sensations while emotions touch us through feelings. Knowledge enters us through thought. Values are the medium through which the spirit takes hold of us. He who has only sensations of the physical will confine his awareness to matter only. It is thought that enlarges our universe and includes the vital and the physical domain. Sri Aurobindo extends this sphere of human awareness by raising the human perception to values. As thought enlarges our perception to that of the mind, values further expand it to the dimensions of the spirit. One who focuses on his values will expand his individual dimension to universal dimension and will have the vision of the universe. This is an attempt of HIS to expand the mind-dominated body to the spirit-centered soul.

   The word 'extension' means the extra expansion of the existent; a town has an extension outside it meaning the life in the town finds wider existence. Milk changes into curd and butter is extracted out of it. We call this a change, not extension. He extends the meaning of the word extension when He says the world is a self-extension of Brahman, space is an extension of Being. Often He is original, often He is  creative. Here He is originally creative. At least in one place He speaks of creative evolution while evolution is itself creative.

   He says the intellect can reach the Absolute, touch it, sense it. It goes against the basic assumption that they are opposites. At this point, he widens the basic conception so as to make this statement. If all are made of the Absolute, the intellect too is of the Absolute. At its origin the intellect is the Absolute. On the surface it is intellect, behind it is Infinity where it becomes consciousness that is existence emerging from the Absolute. In theory one can reach in the intellect its origin of the Absolute. Purna Yoga requires the realisation of the Absolute at the physical for the physical to be transformed. Hence realising the Absolute in one's intellect is possible, it being an earlier stage. As thought belongs to the mind, sensation belongs to the physical. Realising the Absolute in the mind, one can think of it and let the intellect touch it; realising It in the physical, one can sense it.

   A Symposium or a Hamlet is not just the product of the mind of the genius. It is the mental expression of his whole being. The intense richness of the resultant work demands that the creative energies of the entire being is there concentrated behind the effort. In the lives of great literary genius we have witnessed such creation. It was the effort of a whole lifetime expressed in one magnum opus. The world has not often witnessed one genius producing more than one such work. In such rare cases, the literary effort lies in separate periods well-separated from each other. Sri Aurobindo began five of them, serialised them in a monthly journal and completed them all in 6 years, a feat for which there is no parallel in the history of world literature.

   A great writer is often the tip of an iceberg the society is. Individually his whole life, rather generations of his family, concentrate on one literary effort to consummate it. Because of this character, divided concentration does not culminate in a great work. Experience matures into life whose essence collects as thought. The fragmentary thought ripens into the totality of the Idea which finds expressions when it reaches its peak of richness. Thus the writer rises from below to an intellectual peak. Sri Aurobindo whose spiritual experiences endowed Him with this knowledge, had to come down from the heights to the plane of thought for the purposes of writing. This enabled Him to work on 5 fronts simultaneously. Mother says Intuition was pouring down on Him in these writings.

   His Avatar, like all the things He did, has a special significance to the Avatarhood. All the avatars so far came to earth to reveal, but HE and SHE came not only to reveal but to work that revelation into reality, a function the avatarhood assumed on itself this time. Not only that, this aspect has wider implications in the life of the world. For instance, till the beginning of this century, governments were there to rule, to defend the frontiers, maintain law and order. And their responsibilities ended there. The individuals endeavoured to grow on their own accord, on their own initiative and resources. In this century we witness the phenomenon of the governments trying to develop the economy, the individual, protect his health, employment, his minimum education, thus doing the work of the population themselves. It is no wonder to us that the world is undergoing this phenomenon as we understand HIS life as the life of the world. This is in accordance with the axiom that the more developed a species, the greater is its responsibilities to its offspring. The theory can be extended to a certain extent to the individual citizen who is more accountable today to the collective society and to several other aspects of life.

   In his handling of the English language, He made an unfit tool evolve into a higher tool. All yogas avoid the body as an impediment. He accepted it; not only that, HE upgraded that abominable part of our being to the level of the most perfect whole of our being through transformation.

   In trying to express spiritual mystic thoughts, HE resorts to coining phrases that express ideas which presently transcend thought. The logic of the infinite, boundless finite, Timeless-Eternity, Time-Eternity, are some such phrases. Also HE creates concepts that transcend Mind. Absolute that is relative, ignorance that is knowledge, pain that is pleasure serve that new, non-existent, high purpose.

   By extending the physical meaning of words like Peace and Silence to express spiritual facts, by creating phrases that combine the opposites, by introducing concepts that escape mental cognition, HE made prose a fit vehicle to deliver what poetry with its images presently cannot. It is a service HE rendered to Prose, not merely to English Prose. The method HE uses is unknown to writing in the history of literature. HE has created this creative method to accomplish the impossible.

story | by Dr. Radut