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Sunday, February 26, 2012

We have never been open

I had no urge toward spirituality in me, I developed spirituality. I was incapable of understanding metaphysics, I developed into a philosopher. I had no eye for painting — I developed it by Yoga. I transformed my nature from what it was to what it was not. I did it by a special manner, not by a miracle and I did it to show what could be done and how it could be done. I did not do it out of any personal necessity of my own or by a miracle without any process. I say that if it is not so, then my Yoga is useless and my life was a mistake — a mere absurd freak of Nature without meaning or consequence. You all seem to think it a great compliment to me to say that what I have done has no meaning for anybody except myself — it is the most damaging criticism on my work that could be made. I also did not do it by myself, if you mean by myself the Aurobindo that was. He did it by the help of Krishna and the Divine Shakti. I had help from human sources also. — Sri Aurobindo

Peter Heehs, a historian and student of Sri Aurobindo, who works in the Archives section at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, has published an excellent biography of Sri Aurobindo entitled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Published by the Columbia University Press, this biography is written in a totally detached, academic manner. In other words, it is not a hagiography, and people who are not devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother will also enjoy it.
The great strength of Peter’s book — which I’m currently in the middle of — is that he mostly describes Sri Aurobindo’s human personality for us. And what his book shows is that prior to Sri Aurobindo’s major spiritual realizations, he was as human as any of us are. In other words, all this hagiographic mythology that we often see surrounding Sri Aurobindo — that he was born enlightened, or that he had no problems whatsoever during his life or his yoga — is gratefully put to rest by Peter’s biography. Sri Aurobindo’s life was full of harsh troubles, and it was by confronting them that he managed to attain what he did. The fact that so many people seemed to think that only Sri Aurobindo could have accomplished what he did must have been the greatest source of frustration for him.
Some devotees of Sri Aurobindo might be put off by Peter’s academic tone in this biography. After all, he never calls Sri Aurobindo an “avatar” or anything like that in it. Indeed, Peter paints Sri Aurobindo as humanly as he possibly can in this biography (which was partly because he wanted a university publisher in order to reach a wider audience, and partly because that’s his style — to be measured and detached). But personally, I find that Peter’s writing style has increased my faith in the integral yoga. And it is also helping me ground the yoga. Lest we forget, this is an embodied yoga. What we are called to do, in effect, is to perfect that embodiment, be more integrally embodied, in short, to incarnate fully.
So, to sum up, what does all of this mean? It means that even an idiot like myself, who started off as a lowly computer programmer, can gradually teach herself to appreciate philosophy, poetry, painting and metaphor by becoming more open to what Sri Aurobindo calls the “logic of the Infinite”. By enduring and transcending pain, in my experience, we learn the fine art of honing our perception and seeing things that we never saw before. Through self-sacrifice we learn to receive gifts from the Divine Grace that we can then put to the service of humanity.
It means there is hope for all of us. What a gift Peter Heehs has given us.

It’s been said that medieval mystics were more intuitive and less rational than modern and postmodern humans are. This allowed them easier access to higher realities, but it also meant that their mental or rational formulations of those realities were often mythical. What I’m suggesting is that a truly scientific occultism — and again I refer to Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga as having set the bar in this area — will have to wait until we are ready for suprarational mysticism. I see plenty of infrarational elements in medieval mysticism, which is why many secular people reject it because it contains formulations that don’t make sense in the light of modern-day findings.

Jung and the Integral Yoga by ned Jul 13, 2008
I’m reading Jungian theory these days. I think Jung got extremely close to the spiritual vision, though he never quite understood that the ego has to be foregone completely. I believe Jung’s concept of individuation is really a watered-down and distorted version of Sri Aurobindo’s psychicisation. The psychic being is the highest individuality — it is the most unique, most authentic expression of who each of us is — but it is in harmony with the environment and every other individual. 

I also gave a short talk yesterday at the EWCC regarding coming to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother from an Islamic background, and tossed up some ideas for a reconciliation between Islam and Hinduism (I brought up Ustadh Mahmoud Mohamed Taha’s somewhat heretical notion of the second message of Islam which I mentioned in a previous post, as well as Ibn al-Arabi and Rumi), and between India and Pakistan (I brought up the Pakistani historian Hamza Alavi’s excellent essay Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity and Ideology, which I highly recommend). I didn’t have time to bring up other things, which I wanted to, such as Frithjof Schuon’s brilliant essay Mahashakti from his book Roots of the Human Condition, which includes a section on the role of the Shakti in Islam, as well as a book by M. Rafique from Lahore comparing Allama Muhammad Iqbal (the architect of the idea of Pakistan) and Sri Aurobindo (Iqbal, for all his errors, was actually trying to synthesize evolution with Islam in a panentheistic cosmology, inspired by Nietzsche, Bergson and Whitehead — there is certainly a dialogue to be had here).

rereading Latour from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek (Graham Harman) I don’t mean revising my interpretation, I mean that I’m literally rereading We Have Never Been Modern, and enjoying it now as ever. I always find new things on each rereading; it is extremely rich despite being concise. This isn’t the usual view, I know, but it gets my vote for the most important work of philosophy since the 1960′s, and one that hasn’t been topped since its appearance in 1991.
To be perfectly blunt, I think it’s more important than anything ever written by Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Badiou, etc. If you haven’t read it, you could be costing yourself 10-15 years of needless spinning of wheels on certain topics. Come out the other end of this book, and the entire modern world looks different, as does the future in whatever lies beyond the modern world. Ironically, Latour himself is no longer especially fond of the book.

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