We hear them, O Mother!
Soft, soft, through the ages
Touching earth here and there,
And the lotuses left on Thy footprints
Are cities historic,
Ancient scriptures and poems and temples,
Noble strivings, stern struggles for Right.
Where lead they, O Mother!
O grant us to drink of their meaning!
Grant us the vision that blindeth
The thought that for man is too high.
Where lead they, O Mother!
Approach Thou, O Mother, Deliverer!
Thy children, Thy nurslings are we!
On our hearts be the place for Thy stepping,
Thine own, Bhumyâ Devi, are we.
Where lead they, O Mother!
(Sister Nivedita, Footfalls of Indian History)
History is commonly understood as “the study of man’s dealings with other men and the adjustments of working relations between human groups”1. It may also be viewed as “the discipline that studies the chronological record of events (as affecting a nation or people), based on a critical examination of source materials and usually presenting an explanation of their causes”.2 Can we really confine the meaning of history to such narrow definitions or is there another broader and deeper way of looking at it? Yes, history can be viewed in a much deeper and broader way than as a set of straight narrations of events which occurred during a course of time. The modern as well as the traditional historians dwell mostly on the outer happenings and neglect almost completely the psychological elements – the base on which the history of a nation should be built and studied. The outer events and facts have their own place in history, but they should not be taken as all important and sufficient in themselves or even as the most important. This is the great mistake that most historians invariably make. They focus mainly on the outer facts and ignore or just give a secondary importance to the psychological element. This is because, as Sri Aurobindo says, “Modern Science, obsessed with the greatness of its physical discoveries and the idea of the sole existence of Matter, has long attempted to base upon physical data even its study of Soul and Mind and of those workings of Nature in man and animal in which a knowledge of psychology is as important as any of the physical sciences. Its very psychology founded itself upon physiology and the scrutiny of the brain and nervous system. It is not surprising therefore that in history and sociology attention should have been concentrated on the external data, laws, institutions, rites, customs, economic factors and developments, while the deeper psychological elements so important in the activities of a mental, emotional, ideative being like man have been very much neglected. This kind of science would explain history and social development as much as possible by economic necessity or motive, – by economy understood in its widest sense. There are even historians who deny or put aside as of a very subsidiary importance the working of the idea and the influence of the thinker in the development of human institutions. The French Revolution, it is thought, would have happened just as it did and when it did, by economic necessity, even if Rousseau and Voltaire had never written and the eighteenth-century philosophic movement in the world of thought had never worked out its bold and radical speculations.”3
Such a tendency of materialistic historians to simplify and reduce the problem to simple material formulas is also due to the fact that “The Surfaces of life are easy to understand; their laws, characteristic movements, practical utilities are ready to our hand and we can seize on them and turn them to account with a sufficient facility and rapidity. But they do not carry us very far. They suffice for an active superficial life from day to day, but they do not solve the great problems of existence. On the other hand, the knowledge of life’s profundities, its potent secrets, its great, hidden, all-determining laws is exceedingly difficult to us. We have found no plummet that can fathom these depths; they seem to us a vague, indeterminate movement, a profound obscurity from which the mind recoils willingly to play with the fret and foam and facile radiances of the surface. Yet it is these depths and their unseen forces that we ought to know if we would understand existence; on the surface we get only Nature’s secondary rules and practical bye-laws which help us to tide over the difficulties of the moment and to organise empirically without understanding them her continual transitions.
Nothing is more obscure to humanity or less seized by its understanding, whether in the power that moves it or the sense of the aim towards which it moves, than its own communal and collective life. Sociology does not help us, for it only gives us the general story of the past and the external conditions under which communities have survived. History teaches us nothing; it is a confused torrent of events and personalities or a kaleidoscope of changing institutions. We do not seize the real sense of all this change and this continual streaming forward of human life in the channels of Time. What we do seize are current or recurrent phenomena, facile generalisations, partial ideas. We talk of democracy, aristocracy and autocracy, collectivism and individualism, imperialism and nationalism, the State and the commune, capitalism and labour; we advance hasty generalisations and make absolute systems which are positively announced today only to be abandoned perforce tomorrow; we espouse causes and ardent enthusiasms whose triumph turns to an early disillusionment and then forsake them for others, perhaps for those that we have taken so much trouble to destroy. For a whole century mankind thirsts and battles after liberty and earns it with a bitter expense of toil, tears and blood; the century that enjoys without having fought for it turns away as from a puerile illusion and is ready to renounce the depreciated gain as the price of some new good. And all this happens because our whole thought and action with regard to our collective life is shallow and empirical; it does not seek for, it does not base itself on a firm, profound and complete knowledge. The moral is not the vanity of human life, of its ardours and enthusiasms and of the ideals it pursues, but the necessity of a wiser, larger, more patient search after its true law and aim.”4
We approach the history of the Age of Ramayana and Mahabharata for a profounder understanding of the true law and aim of the individual and the collective existence. In fact, these epics and the Puranas seek to provide just this by attempting to express and bring home the profound truths of the Veda – not just exclusively in the language of the intuitive mentality as is done in the Upanishads which when approached by the intellect unaided by intuition leads to (and have led to) the breaking up of the highest spiritual and philosophic truths into the narrow formulas opposed to each other and often leading to sterile disputatious and debates but by synthesizing them by a fusion, relation or grouping in the way most congenial to the Indian mind and spirit. This has been done sometimes expressly and explicitly with an unparalleled mastery as in the Bhagavad Gita, but most often in a form which may carry it even to the popular imagination and feeling by freely making use of history, myth, legend, tale, symbol, apologue, miracle and parable. In this respect, the Puranas – though not devoid of history (as popularly understood) – are essentially a true religious poetry, an art of aesthetic presentation of religious truth. “The Puranas construct a system of physical images and observances each with its psychical significance. Thus the sacredness of the confluence of the three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, is a figure of an inner confluence and points to a crucial experience in a psycho-physical process of Yoga and it has too other significances, as is common in the economy of this kind of symbolism. The so-called fantastic geography of the Puranas, as we are expressly told in the Puranas themselves, is a rich poetic figure, a symbolic geography of the inner psychical universe. The cosmogony expressed sometimes in terms proper to the physical universe has, as in the Veda, a spiritual and psychological meaning and basis. It is easy to see how in the increasing ignorance of later times the more technical parts of the Puranic symbology inevitably lent themselves to much superstition and to crude physical ideas about spiritual and psychic things.”5
Unlike the Vedas, the Puranas started not with conceptions drawn from the physical universe but supplied entirely from the psychic universe within us. “The Vedic gods and goddesses conceal from the profane by their physical aspect their psychic and spiritual significance. The Puranic trinity and the forms of its female energies have on the contrary no meaning to the physical mind or imagination, but are philosophic and psychic conceptions and embodiments of the unity and multiplicity of the all-manifesting Godhead. The Puranic cults have been characterised as a degradation of the Vedic religion, but they might conceivably be described, not in the essence, for that remains always the same, but in the outward movement, as an extension and advance. Image worship and temple cult and profuse ceremony, to whatever superstition or externalism their misuse may lead, are not necessarily a degradation. The Vedic religion had no need of images, for the physical signs of its godheads were the forms of physical Nature and the outward universe was their visible house. The Puranic religion worshipped the psychical forms of the Godhead within us and had to express it outwardly in symbolic figures and house it in temples that were an architectural sign of cosmic significances. And the very inwardness it intended necessitated a profusion of outward symbol to embody the complexity of these inward things to the physical imagination and vision. The religious aesthesis has changed, but the meaning of the religion has been altered only in temperament and fashion, not in essence. The real difference is this that the early religion was made by men of the highest mystic and spiritual experience living among a mass still impressed mostly by the life of the physical universe: the Upanishads casting off the physical veil created a free transcendent and cosmic vision and experience and this was expressed by a later age to the mass in images containing a large philosophical and intellectual meaning of which the Trinity and the Shaktis of Vishnu and Shiva are the central figures: the Puranas carried forward this appeal to the intellect and imagination and made it living to the psychic experience, the emotions, the aesthetic feeling and the senses. A constant attempt to make the spiritual truths discovered by the Yogin and the Rishi integrally expressive, appealing, effective to the whole nature of man and to provide outward means by which the ordinary mind, the mind of a whole people might be drawn to a first approach to them is the sense of the religio-philosophic evolution of Indian culture.”6
In the light of the above it must be obvious how hopeless and futile it is to approach the creations of Indian Rishis with the surface intellect unaided by deeper psychological experience which alone may possibly enable one to penetrate behind their symbolism and separate the historical element in these from the other elements all of which have been used to give expression to the master impulse of the Indian mind which is to reduce all its experience of life to the corresponding spiritual term and factor. It is this turn of the Indian mind which has made it possible for it to transfigure even the most external things of life into a basis for new spiritual experience. In the Bhagawat Purana – considered the greatest among all the Puranas – the emotional, the sensuous and even the sensual motions of being, before they could draw the soul farther outward leading to ethical degeneracy or licence, have been taken and transmuted into a psychological form and, so changed, become the elements of the mystic capture of the Divine through the heart and the senses and a religion of the joy of God’s love, delight and beauty.
Thus, in an integral view of man, the history of man must be the record of the outer expressions by – whatever means – of the inner urges, needs, motives and aspirations of his four-fold being: Body, Life, Mind and Soul. Under such a view of things history will not shrink from giving due importance to the records of the spiritual intuitions and intimations of mystics, sages and saints of the world which are probably the highest and noblest part of the collective wisdom of humanity, revealing the deepest and innermost and, therefore, the truest sources of our being and life. So, when viewed in this light, the popular “secular” and “scientific” school of history by denying the deeper dimensions of human life impoverishes itself and its clients by shutting itself to the insights of some of the wisest minds, hearts and souls of the world and to a source of illumination deeper and greater than reason – the one thing that enables him to transcend the limitations of his mental being.
If one looks at things in this way, it becomes obvious that, the absence of purely historical writings for which India is unjustly reproached by the occidental mentality is of no great importance. In the inspiring words of Sri Aurobindo, “Let us suppose that all historical documents, archives, records were destroyed or disappeared in the process of Time and the catastrophes of civilisation, and only the pure literature survived. Of how many nations should we have the very life, heart & mind, the whole picture of its life & civilisation and the story of its development adequately revealed in its best writing? Three European nations would survive immortally before the eyes of posterity, the ancient Greeks, the modern English and French, and two Asiatic nations, the Chinese & the Hindus, – no others.
Of all these the Hindus have revealed themselves the most perfectly, continuously and on the most colossal scale, precisely because they have been the most indomitably original in the form & matter of their literature. The Vedas, Upanishads & Puranas are unique in their kind; the great Epics in their form and type of art stand apart in the epic literature of the world, the old Sanscrit drama has its affinities with a dramatic species which developed itself in Europe more than a thousand years later, and the literary epic follows laws of form and canons of art which are purely indigenous. And this immense body of firstrate work has left us so intimate & complete a revelation of national life & history, that the absence of pure historical writings becomes a subject of merely conventional regret.”7
A. The Official Version of Human History
“Strange! the Germans have disproved the existence of Christ; yet his crucifixion remains still a greater historic fact than the death of Caesar.
- Sometimes one is led to think that only those things really matter which have never happened; for beside them most historic achievements seem almost pale and ineffective.
- There are four very great events in history, the siege of Troy, the life and crucifixion of Christ, the exile of Krishna in Brindavun and the colloquy with Arjuna on the field of Kurukshetra. The siege of Troy created Hellas, the exile in Brindavun created devotional religion, (for before there was only meditation and worship,) Christ from his cross humanised Europe, the colloquy at Kurukshetra will yet liberate humanity. Yet it is said that none of these four events ever happened.
- They say that the Gospels are forgeries and Krishna a creation of the poets. Thank God then for the forgeries and bow down before the creators.”8
“Sri Aurobindo, who had made a thorough study of history, knew how uncertain are the data which have been used to write it. Most often the accuracy of the documents is doubtful, and the information they supply is poor, incomplete, trivial and frequently distorted. As a whole, the official version of human history is nothing but a long, almost unbroken record of violent aggressions: wars, revolutions, murders or colonisations. True, some of these aggressions and massacres have been adorned with flattering terms and epithets; they have been called religious wars, holy wars, civilising campaigns; but they nonetheless remain acts of greed or vengeance.
Rarely in history do we find the description of a cultural, artistic or philosophical outflowering.
That is why, as Sri Aurobindo says, all this makes a rather dismal picture without any deep significance. On the other hand, in the legendary accounts of things which may never have existed on earth, of events which have not been declared authentic by ‘official’ knowledge, of wonderful individuals whose existence is doubted by the scholars in their dried-up wisdom, we find the crystallisation of all the hopes and aspirations of man, his love of the marvellous, the heroic and the sublime, the description of everything he would like to be and strives to become.”9
The Mother, when once asked if Brindavan also existed anywhere else than on earth, said, “The whole earth and everything it contains is a kind of concentration, a condensation of something which exists in other worlds invisible to the material eye. Each thing manifested here has its principle, idea or essence somewhere in the subtler regions. This is an indispensable condition for the manifestation. And the importance of the manifestation will always depend on the origin of the thing manifested.
In the world of the gods there is an ideal and harmonious Brindavan of which the earthly Brindavan is but a deformation and a caricature.
Those who are developed inwardly, either in their senses or in their minds, perceive these realities which are invisible (to the ordinary man) and receive their inspiration from them.
So the writer or writers of the Bhagavat were certainly in contact with a whole inner world that is well and truly real and existent, where they saw and experienced everything they have described or revealed.
Whether Krishna existed or not in a human form, living on earth, is only of very secondary importance (except perhaps from an exclusively historical point of view), for Krishna is a real, living and active being; and his influence has been one of the great factors in the progress and transformation of the earth.”10
Sri Aurobindo asserted the same thing when he wrote, “Some say Krishna never lived, he is a myth. They mean on earth; for if Brindavun existed nowhere, the Bhagwat could not have been written.”11
The traditional historical accounts tend to exclude or at least play down the importance of the most important characters in the evolving drama of the human life on this globe because it doubts not only the actuality of their physical existence but also the authenticity of the most abnormal and fantastic powers and acts – still reverberating in the hearts and souls of innumerable on this globe – attributed to such characters. This it has to do because it lacks the key of profound mystic experience which alone can enable one to interpret these in terms of concepts and forms intelligible to a receptive human intelligence. To a deeper view of things – which alone is suitable for approaching the Epics and Puranas – the persistent reality and the enormous influence of these legendary characters on human life which has been affirmed by the testimony of countless mystics and sages down the ages cannot reasonably be doubted by anyone with some mystic experience.
Discussing the question of the historicity and occult reality of Sri Krishna, Sri Aurobindo, in one of his letters to D.K. Roy wrote, “I have always regarded the incarnation as a fact and accepted the historicity of Krishna as I accept the historicity of Christ.
The story of Brindavan is another matter; it does not enter into the main story of the Mahabharata and has a Puranic origin and it could be maintained that it was intended all along to have a symbolic character. At one time I accepted that explanation, but I had to abandon it afterwards; there is nothing in the Puranas that betrays any such intention. It seems to me that it is related as something that actually occurred or occurs somewhere; the Gopis are to them realities and not symbols. It was for them at the least an occult truth, and occult and symbolic are not the same thing; the symbol may be only a significant mental construction or only a fanciful invention, but the occult is a reality which is actual somewhere, behind the material scene as it were and can have its truth for the terrestrial life and its influence upon it, may even embody itself there. The lila of the Gopis seems to be conceived as something which is always going on in a divine Gokul and which projected itself in an earthly Brindavan and can always be realised and its meaning made actual in the soul. It is to be presumed that the writers of the Puranas took it as having been actually projected on earth in the life of the incarnate Krishna and it has always been so accepted by the religious mind of India.”12
B. The Critical Importance of the Knowledge of the Greater and Vaster Planes (Above, Behind and Below the Level of Our Surface Consciousness) and Their Interaction with the Terrestrial Life in Studying the Various Kinds of Scenes and Accounts Found in the Epics and Puranas
These planes whose action – because they are superconscient, inner and subconscient to our surface consciousness – we are not normally conscious of, may be looked upon as the occult sources of all that we think, feel and do. In the common order of things, the balance in a man’s being is an overwhelming dependence on and domination by his physical being* (largely sub-conscient) for whose satisfaction man is automatically impelled to utilise the two higher parts – the life and the mind. Man’s surface perception of the world depends largely on his organ of reception called manas – the sense mind – which uses the sense organs and its own direct and independent faculty of perception to form what are called “percepts” – the things perceived – and “concepts” – the things conceived or thought of. These two together make what is called “understanding” which colours all that we think, feel and do.
It is of utmost importance to understand that the quality of a person’s understanding – the thing on which his whole life depends – is determined by the balance of the action of the occult planes in his being. An increased or more pronounced action of the two greater planes – the inner and the superconscient – leads the nature towards joyous clarity, wideness and harmony. The action of the lower – subconscient and inconscient – planes leads to just the opposite – to confusion, narrowness and disharmony leading to pain and suffering. All the spiritual or yogic practices may be looked upon as concentrated (and consecrated) attempts to favourably alter the balance of the action of the occult planes in one’s being by progressively replacing the action of the lower planes by that of the higher. Ordinarily a person is almost entirely dominated by the action of the lower planes which are the home of what are termed Dasyus (Panis, Vritras, Nidah, Namuchis, etc.) in the Veda and Asuras, Rakshasas and Pisachas – the denizens respectively of the largely subconscient mental-vital, vital and physical-vital planes – in the Puranas and the Epics. The gods or the Devas belong to the higher planes and what are termed Yakshas, Gandharvas, Apsaras, Kinnaras, etc. have their stations somewhere in-between. Besides these beings which are exhaustively described in Sanskrit literature, there are other greater Beings, Powers and Presences pertaining to the sublimer ranges of the greater planes. These tend to be universal in their nature with a wider and more powerful but less easily perceptible action. Only a very tiny fraction of the denizens of these planes is interested in materially expressing itself on our plane. Still, even this little is too much for the small material plane to accommodate which is not even so much as a drop compared to the ocean of these planes or – to use a more apt and revealing Puranic symbol – is like a mustard seed on one of the thousand hoods of Seshanaga – the Ananta. The result is that the parts (or fraction of the beings) of these planes that seek expression here have to battle for it. Each of these strive to express themselves – as completely as they may – through the thoughts, feelings and actions of human beings.
The Epics and the Puranas are full of the descriptions of battles between these occult presences, especially between the Devas and the Asuras. Most of these beings and their battles belong predominantly to subtler psychological planes. A great confusion, bewilderment and disbelief is unnecessarily created when one takes these, as a materialistic mind is apt to take, as belonging to the physical plane. Often the Epics and the Puranas concern themselves solely with the description and narration of the scenes, places and beings of these planes and their implicit action or influence – something very very difficult to unravel even by one with some mystic experience – on human beings which they try to convey by resorting to the use of – the only means that can be effective in this task – symbols, myths, legends, etc. A mind without any understanding of the action of these planes is likely to find these scriptures full of unintelligible and senseless stuff which, in his view, must have its origin in the tendency of the primitive singers to indulge in an uncontrolled poetic imagination and fantasy.
When a Power or Being of the occult planes consciously takes birth in a human body or comes to possess, almost entirely, an already existing human being then, depending on the nature of the Being, there is a birth or a culmination of either a Deva or an Asura in the human being. In the Mahabharata, the story of the Devic background of the Pandavas and their strifes and battles with the Kauravas of Asuric origin is really a story of battle between the Devas and the Asuras.
The people who are born with or develop an opening to a substantial action of the inner planes tend to grow into poets, artists, musicians, devotees and saints. The action of the superconscient produces great sages, seers and prophets. The great Asuras and Titans are the products of an unimpeded action of the nether subconscient planes.
Behind all the apparent battles, actions and strivings of all these planes, there stands the Supreme Divine Will which – because of the enormity and complexity of the task of progressively unveiling and manifesting the Truth of the Absolute – brings up and uses all these and countless other planes and existences in and beyond Time and Space going into the Eternal and the Infinite and even beyond these to serve its end. To a deeper and higher view of things all these existences, planes, powers, beings, etc. – inspite of the appearances to the contrary – only conspire to carry out and fulfill the Will of the Supreme Absolute who – according to the Veda and the Vedanta – is identical with our Real Self.
C. The Unsuitability of the Traditional Approach for the Study of the History of the Age of Ramayana and Mahabharata
The traditional approach confines itself to the apparent physical world and is able to take account of the action of the hidden occult ranges of our being only to the extent they visibly impinge and produce an effect upon the physical appearances of things. Such an approach is hopelessly inadequate when one is interested in penetrating – as far as may be possible for one – into the secrets of the Epics and the Puranas composed by the ancient seer-poets – the Rishis – who used symbol, myth, history, legend, tale, miracle, etc., to bring home and give expression to the Truths of the supreme Reality, not just through the mind but through all the various parts – even the most external – of a human being. Thus, these writings – when properly approached – can be of great help to us for understanding better the true law and aim of our individual and collective existence.
To the ancient Indian mentality the deeper and higher planes or worlds were as important – even more important – as the apparent drab physical world because the divine Truth finds a less mixed and freer expression on these planes which lie behind everything that finds expression on the physical plane which is only akin to a shadow of these in some respects. The expression of the divine Truth is very marred and mixed – often turning it to almost the opposite – on this outermost plane. A vivid and high experience of the apparently mixed and unreal character of this plane is behind the “Mayavada” of Shankara and others. According to Sri Aurobindo, to a deeper and more integral experience, this apparent world is not fundamentally unreal – something is there behind it – only its appearance to us is very defective. Even on the subtle physical plane – just next to our own – what appears ugly here is beautiful there and what is beautiful here is there divine. These occult planes are capable of being entered into by one with developed occult faculties and even further explored if one resorts to yogic practices and the strict discipline necessary for it. As pointed out above, these planes are, in a way, precursors of the physical plane and provide a far greater access and penetration into the secrets of why and how of things. A person conscious on these planes and able to act there – as our ancient mystics and seers were able to – can produce effects on the physical plane which would appear to be miraculous – although they are not really so because still subject to a higher and more plastic determinism of these planes – to all those who live in the ordinary physical consciousness and have no capacity of subtle sight. In the Epics and the Puranas an unsparing use has been made of what would seem miraculous and bizarre to an occidental mentality which tends to discount and discard the accounts of such phenomena as vain and senseless exaggerations. But to do this, according to Sri Aurobindo, is to emasculate these legends and tales of the most characteristic part of their strength.
A.D. Pusalker in his book “Studies in the Epics and Puranas” has provided a succinct summary of almost all the noteworthy attempts by the academic scholars, both Indian and Occidental, to make something of these scriptures. As expected, all these attempts, with an unavoidable inherent element of the pride of the intellect and the sense of superiority (to the ancients) accompanying them, have not been able to enter into the secret of these scriptures and rarely got beyond facile observations on the date of origin, construction, later accretions and other salient features of the outer body. For example, Pusalker in his eulogy of the critical edition of the Mahabharata prepared by the Bhandarkar Institute of Poona mentions the enormous amount of highly credible and conscientious work – appreciated even by foreign savants – done by the editor Sukthankar. This edition, according to Pusalker, has omitted – after applying high standards of critical assessment and much judicious deliberation – certain portions from the popular traditional text of the Mahabharata. According to him, “Among the notable omissions may be mentioned (1) the celebrated prayer of Draupadn to KrIKa (B.II 68. 41-46) when DuUQDsana was stripping off her garments…”13 Now, this most celebrated prayer of Draupadi is, besides certain portions of the Bhagavad Gita in the Bhishma Parva, the most important and popular part of the Mahabharata and has been at the core of the thousands of devotional songs composed by saints and devotees to give vent to their deepest feelings about the interventions of the divine Grace in their lives. These songs have deeply inspired and given solace to millions and millions of devotees across the land for millenniums. Such things can be done only when one’s heart and soul are covered up by the limited materialistic sense of the real which blinds one to the deeper realities and erects false standards for judging them. Here too, Pusalker reports that, “According to the Editor, from the artistic standpoint, the text seems to gain rather than lose by the exclusion of these.”14
Thus, with such a dry materialistic mentality which prides itself on its intellectual capacities, one cannot be expected to penetrate into the secrets of these great Indian literary spiritual creations. To manipulate or to examine such important parts of our national creations in the light of one’s narrow mental measures is to further deprive these of the most characteristic parts of their strength.
One of the suggestions implicit behind the above exclusion may be that, perhaps, these six Slokas are a later addition by some zealous devotee of Krishna who wanted to aggrandise his “ista devata”. Even if this were true, it does not in the least detract from – in fact enormously adds to – the enormous value of these Slokas except for those who, suffering from what Sri Aurobindo termed “the secular refrigeration” of their deeper parts are able to explain away such vistas of the savior Grace of the Divine which fortunately, at least in India has always been a reality for innumerable devotees who have repeatedly witnessed its intervention at the critical moments of their lives to “save the day” for them. It is easy for such people to have an abiding trust in the concrete reality of the Divine’s promise when he says in Sloka 9.31 of the Gita, “Know it for certain, O Kaunteya, that my devotee never perishes.” It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that the most precious thing in the whole creation – the jewel of devotion to the Divine – has been cast on a dung-hill by the abstraction loving philosophers.
There is another class of intellectuals who are openly “believers” and readily admit the reality of a Presence and a controlling Power behind the appearances of things and have often even risen above the widespread tendency of mistaking morality and ethical nature for spirituality but lack actual experience of things spiritual. In the spiritual field the efforts and writings of such people tend – even when entirely well-intentioned – to put false colours and thus debase the truths of the spirit. Their efforts, besides misdirecting those who come to be impressed by their show of eloquence and objectivity, are tantamount to helping the “bad coin” to drive the “good coin” out of circulation. Such people also cannot at all be expected to penetrate into the secret of these scriptures and do anything fruitful on this front. Speaking on such well intentioned efforts of the moderns, Yogi Sri Krishnaprem, with his usual eloquence, had this to remark, “These moderns, when they do believe in religious experience, can think of it only in terms of a sort of vague Wordsworthian ‘Spirit divine which rolls through all things,’ or ‘something far more deeply interfused’ – or some words to that effect – I am forgetting all these things. They think that these vague poetic intuitions are the same thing as the living experience of the mystics. They pride themselves on their ‘undogmatic,’ ‘synthetic’ eclecticism in support of which they invoke the names of the great teachers of the past, quite forgetting that these said great teachers were neither ‘synthetic,’ nor ‘eclectic.’ Look at Buddha, Shankara or Chaitanya. None of them were at all eclectic but on the other hand all strongly urged a single view with a one-pointed shraddha (faith) and nishtha (assiduity). But the ‘undogmatic’ modern vogue is to look upon shraddha or nishtha with something akin to commiseration, if not contempt. A learned article I read the other day in the Orient described Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as ‘plunging into the ocean maddened to ecstasy by its beauty.’ Hai! Hai! (alas!) and I suppose it was the beauty of the muddy puddle of rain-water on the site where now stands Radhakunda that led Sri Chaitanya Deva to do the same there? The majesty of the ocean may be a great thing, but it was not that which had intoxicated Sri Gauranga, but the infinitely more maddening sense-destroying beauty of Sri Krishna whom he saw standing in front of him.
Gone were the ocean-waves, and in their place he saw only the blue rippling waters of the Jumna surrounding the blue smiling figure of his Lord and it was that sight that annihilated his senses and made him plunge madly in, careless of all but of reaching his Beloved. But I suppose that is all effete superstition?
For myself I am glad I have turned my back on all the synthetic modern pseudo-universalism. Every year that passes it slips farther and farther away.”15
Commenting on the work of the famous modern psychologists like Jung, Sri Aurobindo in an important letter to Dilip Kumar Roy expressed himself in a similar vein when he wrote, “No doubt, they are very remarkable men in their own field, but this new psychology looks to me very much like children learning some summary and not very adequate alphabet, exulting in putting their a-b-c-d of the subconscient and the mysterious underground super-ego together and imagining that their first book of obscure beginnings (c-a-t = cat, t-r-e-e = tree) is the foundation of all knowledge. They look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of things is above and not below, upari budhna eØÀm [their foundation is above]. The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analysing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above. The self-chosen field of these psychologists is besides poor and dark and limited; you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the province of the greater psychology awaiting its hour before which these poor gropings will disappear and come to nothing.”16
What is true of the efforts of the modern psychologists and apparent believers in religious experience is even more true of the efforts of modern historians when, devoid of any real sympathy and understanding of the genius of India and its past spiritual culture and tradition and filled with pride in their intellectual prowess, they try, using the little plummet of their mind, to probe and fathom the depths of the ocean of spiritual truth which has found expression in our sacred scriptures like the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Epics and the Puranas. The upshot of all the above is that if one’s aim in approaching the history of ancient India is to arrive at a profounder understanding of the true law and aim of our individual and collective existence, the official or traditional way of approach to history will not be adequate for anything but a colourful display of our fancies, ideas and crude notions based on the extremely limited orb of our psychological existence. The loss of Hindu intellectual faith in the totality of the spiritual aspects of our religion is at the base of this kind of tendency which has – contrary to all expectation – spread even more during the 5-6 decades after Independence under the garb of an application of the sane and objective reason by a pseudo-secular mentality to the study of our past. The results of this tendency, especially in the field of history, have been most injurious to the survival of our spiritual culture and tradition – the soul of the nation. Perhaps Swami Vivekananda had an inkling of this kind of thing when he said, “… if you give up that spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the result will be that in three generations you will be an extinct race; because the backbone of the nation will be broken, the foundation upon which the national edifice has been built will be undermined, and the result will be annihilation all round.”17
Or again, in the words of Sri Krishnaprem, “When the traditions of a nation die then that nation is dead and even if it persists as a great Power in the world, yet it is nothing but an aggregate of meaningless individuals determinedly pursuing their contemptible aims… History is a symbol, and what that symbol signifies is something infinitely more precious than a mere peddling adherence to a sequence of so-called ‘facts.’ There is only one root fact anywhere, and that is the Eternal One. Whatever helps to reveal Him is a fact, and whatever to hide Him is a lie even if all the fools in the world affirm it.”18
- The Vedic Age, Majumdar, R.C. (ed) : Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, 1996; page 37
- Britannica vol. 5 (15th ed., Micropedia, Ready Reference; page 949)
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 25, page 5, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Ibid, pages 279-80
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 20, page 374, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Ibid, pages 373-74
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 01, page 147, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 12, pages 427-28, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 10, page 62, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Ibid, pages 60-61
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 12, page 427, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 28, pages 483-84, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
- Studies in the Epics and Puranas, A.D. Pusalker : Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, 1955; page 97
- Yogi Sri Krishnaprem, Dilip Kumar Roy, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, 1975, pages 145-46
- Sri Aurobindo to Dilip, Vol.1, 2003, p.189, Hari Krishna Mandir Trust, Pune, and Mira Aditi, Mysore
- Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda,Vol.3, p.151, Mayawati Memorial Edition
- Yogi Sri Krishnaprem, Dilip Kumar Roy, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Mumbai, 1975, page 134