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August 2002


The influence of Sri Aurobindo has to permeate more

- from an interview by Alan and Abha


Dr. Kireet Joshi, Chairman of the Governing Board and International Advisory Council, was in Auroville again recently. He met many individuals and work groups and addressed the Residents Assembly. Towards the end of his stay he agreed to an interview with Auroville Today. Unlike previous interviews we have conducted with him, the focus this time was upon issues confronting India as a whole.

AVT: What do you think are the major problems facing India today?

Kireet: There are many. India is fragmented-when India became free, the Hindu-Muslim problem was already there. Then there are the problems of casteism, superstition, poverty, the relativism of ethics, and a pervasive incapacity at all levels-physical, vital, mental, spiritual.

Once I asked the Mother, "What is the most important problem of India?" Mother said, "The constitution of India". It was a revelation to me! Mother told me India should so change its constitution that only the people who are capable and honest come to power. This does not happen anywhere in the world at present! But in India we have to arrive at a new situation more quickly than anywhere else in the world because we have taken over from the British a parliamentary system totally unsuited to our nation. This problem pervades all other spheres of life, so I fully see why Mother said this is the most important problem.

Compounding all these problems, when India became independent we had a very great lack of vision for the future. Our leaders were mainly socialists, the rest were religious. Even today there is no other vision.

You mentioned that Mother told you to go out and make people aware of Sri Aurobindo's solutions to the predicaments of India. What are those solutions?

When Mother told me this in 1971 I began to study Sri Aurobindo from a new angle. The inner solution to the panorama of problems facing India lies, to my mind, in three sentences which he wrote indicating what India has to do if she is to be able to help herself and be of service to the world. The first task is the recovery, in amplitude and fullness, of the ancient spiritual knowledge which India has accumulated. The second task is to allow this ancient fund of spiritual knowledge to percolate and irrigate various streams of inquiry in the humanities, philosophy, science, technology, art and crafts, so as to give a new vibration and fresh impetus to these disciplines, while developing the critical knowledge to deal with contemporary problems with originality. Thirdly, a synthesis of all fields of inquiry should be developed and, particularly, a synthetic base for a spiritualised society.

How do you communicate this to people with no background in Sri Aurobindo?

For those who have no background at all I often analyse certain problems for their consideration. For example, one of the most important problems facing India is that of poverty. I've made some study of the many suggestions proposed to solve this and my conclusion is that these studies leave out a very important element. There is no perception that unless there is a tremendous drive in the world towards world unity you cannot resolve economic problems; that it is only when the world becomes one that the real economic problems of India and the world can be resolved. I don't deny the value of programmes of development, of progress in science, technology and education which benefit the poor, but these will be accelerated and, ultimately, only bear fruit in the context of the driving forces which are trying to bring about the unity of mankind. Now this dimension is clearly available in Sri Aurobindo. The reason he did not write any book on the economic development of India is that he saw that economic problems rest upon the more fundamental problem of human unity.

Do the present very pressing problems in Kashmir and Gujarat spring from the same root cause?

The present situation in Kashmir and Gujarat is basically a problem of Hindu/Muslim unity. This is a very difficult problem to solve. It involves a very deep study of Hinduism and Islam, and the ways by which the two can be harmonized. Unfortunately, such a study has not been made. Instead certain clichés have been developed which do not engage with the fundamental issues.

Then there is a historical aspect of the Hindu-Muslim problem in India which is very often put under the carpet because it is feared there may be major conflagrations if certain facts are brought out. There is a danger that if these facts are brought out in an unintelligent manner it may create lots of prejudices. Yet the psyche of India continues to be greatly shaken by some of the things that happened from 10th century onwards when Islam entered the subcontinent, and scholars and thinkers have to come together in a serious manner and squarely confront the deeper problems which are not allowing a real union of its people.

Kashmir has been a constant problem for so many decades now, but we have not confronted the problem squarely. In Kashmir the problem is connected with Partition. Unfortunately, the same argument which was applied to justify Partition continues to be applied today--the idea that religion is the basis of nationalism. This is the basis of the whole conflict. Yet from early times there have been many religions in India. When Buddhism came, India was not divided on the basis of Buddhism and Hinduism, when Jainism came there was no such division. If religion is the basis of nationalism, every country should be divided. Therefore the whole theory is false.

Do we not need to move away from a society based upon religious differences towards a spiritualised society in which such differences are transcended?

That's true, that's very true. But for many people such a solution seems too abstract, whereas if you speak to them about nationalism it is understandable. In what, then, consists nationalism? This is the basic question which India, even after becoming free, has not been able to answer. Sri Aurobindo pointed out that nationalism is defined by certain elements. A nation has recognizable geographic boundaries, a common history and, as a result of this common history, a common aspiration, drive, which is shared by its people. This aspiration is based upon the highest ideals, ideals which are cherished, formulated and progressively reformulated, so bringing about cohesiveness in the whole population because they enable people to transcend their narrow personal interests. These are the things which to be emphasized if the national spirit is to be nurtured. However in India at present no national spirit is being nurtured, which is a very pitiful situation. Today if you look at any textbook on India you will find it very difficult to find a real national history of India based on this large view.

What is it, then, that has unified India throughout the ages? Sri Aurobindo revealed that it is its cultural not its political history. If you read the history of India, political divisions persisted, yet a cultural unity of India was achieved long ago. All religions participated in this. All amalgamated into one unity which is the cultural unity of India expressed through dance, music, art, architecture, literature-the fundamental rhythm of the literature of India whether it be Tamil or Hindi or Sanskrit or Bengali. It is this fact which has to be brought out very forcefully today.

How successful have you been in communicating Sri Aurobindo's ideas in India?

It's been a painful experience for me. Sri Aurobindo wrote a very small article entitled "The Brain of India". In it he said that what India needs most urgently is brain, brain-power. Unfortunately for the last 100 years if there is one thing which has not been developed to the required degree in this country it is brain-power. The robust intellectuality which was a very important characteristic of India has not been allowed to manifest because the scheme of education introduced by Macaulay in the last century has denationalized the nation. (Baron Macaulay was instrumental in advocating the spread of Western knowledge through the medium of English in Indian educational establishments eds.) Our lack of intellectuality can also be ascribed to the influence of some of the leaders of India who chose to influence and awake the masses through mass media and mass language, and to a mindset which questions the usefulness of any study which does not contribute directly to economic development. The result? If you speak to Indians today on any difficult subject at a deeper level, most of the audience will begin to yawn. If you talk superficially, you'll be applauded. This is why the influence of Sri Aurobindo has not permeated more, because to read Sri Aurobindo requires tremendous brain power.

How can this situation be changed?

First of all we need to create at least a hundred expert exponents of Sri Aurobindo who can expound him in the true light. Not in the religious, dogmatic kind of way which many disciples and devotees adopt, but as a thought movement. This requires some preparation. Mother once told me, at a time when I was teaching Sri Aurobindo in the Ashram school, that a teacher should not be an intermediary between the student and Sri Aurobindo. Rather, Mother said, a student should be given the entire background to an issue, the problems should be pointed out and then the student should be encouraged to find out the answers to those problems in Sri Aurobindo's writings. I think the hundred experts, in addition to being able to communicate with different audiences in different ways, should have this capacity--to take their students or audiences to deeper and deeper levels, and then give them one or two lines from Sri Aurobindo as a key. Afterwards those who are interested will study on their own.

Secondly, we need to prepare new educational materials which will assist people to get to grips with the essential problems. Thirdly, those who have a good understanding of Sri Aurobindo should participate fully in the development of science, philosophy, and all areas of critical knowledge in India so that Sri Aurobindo's influence can percolate into these movements of thought.

Fourthly, our own experimentation in the Ashram and Auroville has to be exemplary. It's not merely that India needs successful models to emulate. It's also because people who have passed through great difficulties and arrive at solutions are the vehicles through which great forces of thought are released. Unfortunately this is not happening at present. We often tend to say in Auroville 'Oh this is not possible, we've not reached that level, it will happen in due course'. This is entirely inadmissible. Our path is a steep path, but Mother will not propose something which is not implementable. It requires a higher level of consciousness, but that can be developed. We have extraordinary conditions here. No other group in the world has the possibility of experimentation that we have got here.

The connection between Auroville and India is very intimate. If we don't take up the work Mother calls us to do, the imperfections will invade us. Even the provisions of the Foundation Act will not save us from the various forces in India and the West which are bound to invade, and which have begun to invade, this little place. Therefore we are at a critical juncture, and we have to succeed. If India is to move forward, it can only move forward only on the basis of the example which Auroville can provide.

How optimistic do you feel about a new movement, a new consciousness prevailing, both in Auroville and India as a whole? Will we have to go through many difficulties before it is established?

I'm guided by what Mother told me in 1973. When the Dalai Lama visited, I had the privilege of going with him to the Mother. He put a question: according to him, the ideal would be if communism could be combined with Buddhistic compassion. Could this happy dream be realised? It will be done, she said, but if all goes on as it is going now, it will take hundreds of years. However, if the supramental manifests it will happen much more quickly.

Then I interjected, 'But the supramental force is now working very powerfully'. Mother said yes, but then she reminded me of a message she had given me a few days before:

Before dying, falsehood rises in full swing. Still people understand only the lesson of catastrophe. Will it have to come before they open their eyes to the truth? I ask an effort from all so that it has not to be. It is only the Truth that can save us; truth in words, truth in action, truth in will, truth in feelings. It is a choice between serving the Truth or being destroyed.

This message has become my guiding force. I simply say to myself, the supramental force is working very powerfully, therefore a new turning point has been achieved in world history. If falsehood is rising in full swing it means now the time has come for it to die. From that time onwards I've observed falsehood after falsehood first rising then dying. And this has been my reading of the whole history of India, of Auroville, the Ashram, and of my personal life.

So my answer is I have great optimism: in the inner condition of my life I feel very happy because I have no doubt that the supermind is at work.

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