Monday, December 6, 2010

Sri Aurobindo: Hinduism and Modernity

Indian scholars during the days of the British empire’s Indian occupation were faced with many philosophical dilemmas. The root of these dilemmas was a reexamination of the role of philosophy and religion in growing modernity. Indian thinkers, who had long been at the forefront of inner expertise, were now faced with growing outer, social and political, upheaval. Most aspects of daily life were rapidly changing and thus the significance of the outer life in relation to spiritual pursuits was also rapidly changing and growing. A number of innovators responded to the cultural upheaval with new approaches to the thoughtful life. These approaches incorporated much of ancient wisdom, tailoring it to fit a new era. The prominent philosophy of Sri Aurobindo was especially responsive to the new intersection of old and new, East and West. His clear vision of the role of the spiritual scholar emerged from a synthesis of this massive cultural transformation. His ideas provide a distinct guideline for the role of the scholar in unfolding modernity and post modernity. As many ideas and systems became submerged in the growing tide of Western expansion Sri Aurobindo focused on Spirit as the unifying evolutionary force that could harmonize the cultural transformation.
The movement of Europe and subsequently America into the sphere of traditional cultures fascinated Aurobindo. In this he saw an evolutionary emergence of higher spiritual realities that could become manifest in tangible social and cultural realms. While some saw the need to overcome the hindrance of outdated systems, others felt compelled to protect tradition in isolation. Aurobindo, on the other hand, transcended the dualism to seek to establish a synthesis of the old with the new, the inner with the outer, East with West. He oriented his philosophical practice toward fusing the pursuit of spiritual experience with the pursuit of material advancement, ‘progress’. In this sense ‘scientific evolution’ became a ‘social-spiritual evolution’. Aurobindo focused on infusing the Life into the Western mode of growth, while simultaneously inspiring movement into the analysis of material growth, change, evolution in the Eastern models of spiritual, religious devotion. In this sense he was an Ambassador to both the traditional spiritual East as well as the materialistic scientific West.

To better act as Ambassador, Aurobindo accepted ideas such as linear, progressive time that had previously been quite rare in traditional Indian thought. Many traditional cultures perceived time in cycles; cycles of sunrise and sunset, summer and winter, full and new moon, birth and death. However, Aurobindo has become a modern exemplar of the inclusive values inherent in Hinduism by allowing linear, progressive time to co-exist with cyclical time. The concept that two ‘mutually exclusive ideas’, in Modern terms, can both be equally and harmoniously true is a signature of Hindu thought. For example, that there are many ‘one and only Gods’ poses no problem for traditional Hindu thought. Aurobindo can at once look at the world as cyclical, waxing and waning, as well as linear, evolutionary. It is obvious to anyone with eyes that time is cyclical. We see the sun rise and set, the seasons and moon wax and wane. It is also obvious to anyone who is born, grows into adolescence and decays with age that time is linear. It is equally obvious that trees, plants and animals also are born grow and die. The ancients emphasized the cyclical nature of reality because they were very closely related to the intricacies of natural, cyclical time. They intuited that memory, to the spiritual adept often feels like an illusory dream. Modern man emphasizes linear time because he is closely related to acquisition, growth, ‘progress’, and development of materials...more to come on this subject...check back in the coming days...

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