A Synopsis of Sri Aurobindo’s Major Works-M.S. Srinivasan

Sri Aurobindo is a versatile spiritual genius, who is not only a Master-Yogi with profound spiritual realizations, but also a great scholar and thinker who wrote extensively on various topics ranging from politics to yoga.  His writings shine with a penetrating spiritual insight which brings out the deeper, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the human, terrestrial and cosmic life.  In this article, we present a brief and synoptic overview of the contents of Sri Aurobindo’s major works.

 1.      Life Divine

  • The philosophical testament of Sri Aurobindo.  But it is not philosophy as it is understood in the West.  It is an intellectual formulation of the inner spiritual experiences and realisation of Sri Aurobindo, expressed in a logical and conceptual format.  As the Mother points out, in Life Divine, expression is intellectual but the inspiration is spiritual.
  • The first parts of the book deals with the major problems and issues of modern, ancient and Indian philosophy and religion like the theories and aims of life or existence, individual and the universe, knowledge and ignorance, the vedanthic view of knowledge, realism, idealism and illusionism, problems of evil, suffering and pain, karma and rebirth, concept of evolution, nature of consciousness, life, matter and mind, metaphysics of life and death, structure of the cosmos and its creative source.
  • After presenting the theories and views of various schools of philosophy lucidly as if it was his own, Sri Aurobindo elucidates his own integral view, which brings out the truth as well as the error in each school of philosophy and reconciles them all in a comprehensive vision.
  • Sri Aurobindo’s analysis of the problem of evil and suffering is one of the unique feature of the metaphysical portions of the Life Divine.  The problem of evil is one of the toughest problems of philosophy.  It was said that the worth of a philosopher can be measured by how he deals with the problem of evil.  In religious thought, the question how can there be so much pain, evil and suffering in a world created by a God who is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and all-merciful had troubled the thinking mind of the believer as well as the unbeliever.  In Life Divine Sri Aurobindo examines the origin of evil, pain and suffering with a penetrating spiritual vision and offers an explanation and a solution, which is unique in the history of philosophy.
  • The other original contribution of Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine to Indian philosophy is a new interpretation of the theory of Karma.  The concept of Karma and Rebirth is a central idea of Indian and Eastern philosophy.  But most of the ancient and modern interpretations of karma view it as a Moral Law upholding moral justice through a system of punishment and rewards for sin and virtue.  In Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo takes a critical look at this rather simplistic view of karma theory and presents a deeper and broader vision of the law of karma as a mechanism for the spiritual evolution of the human soul.
  • The key concepts in Sri Aurobindo’s synthesis is the concept of supermind and the concept of spiritual evolution or the evolution of consciousness.
  • Sri Aurobindo provides a spiritual alternative to the Darwinian theory of evolution.  According to Sri Aurobindo, the source and essence of terrestrial evolution is Consciousness.  The theme-song of terrestrial evolution is Evolution of Consciousness and not the evolution of Forms.  Consciousness as it evolves and manifests more and more of its potentialities, assumes a form appropriate to the stage of evolution or suitable to its self-expression.  Consciousness of the spirit has evolved Matter out of a pre-material state of existence — which Sri Aurobindo calls as the Inconscient — and assumed the form of Matter and the material universal.  The same Consciousness, progressing further, had evolved vibrant life of the plant and the sensational mind of the animal, and from the animal mind, the self-conscious thinking mind of Man.  The Consciousness is moving further on to evolve a supramental consciousness out of the mental being of man.
  • In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy Supermind is the creative consciousness of the Supreme Divine and the guiding power behind the human and terrestrial evolution.  In the evolution of earth the supramental consciousness is the next and the future step in the march of Nature after the advent of Mind which gave birth to Man, the mental being.   Just like a mental consciousness and a race of mental being emerged out of the animal world, and replaced or superceded the animal species, so also a supramental consciousness and a race of supramental beings will emerge out of mental humanity, and become the leaders of terrestrial evolution.  So according to Sri Aurobindo, Man, the mental being, is not the highest step in evolution.  Man is only a transitional being.  His destiny is to raise beyond Mind and become the Superman.
  • Until the advent of Mind, the pre-human terrestrial evolution was effected by Nature subconsciently, without the conscious participation from the outer forms of creation.  But with the advent of self-conscious mind in Man, we, who belong to the race of mental beings, are given the chance and the faculties to participate consciously in the evolutionary process of Nature and take the next step consciously towards our supermanhood.  This is at once a privilege and a responsibility.  If we consent to the change we as a human race will be transformed and raise beyond our mortal limitations and imperfections of a mental humanity to the immortal bliss, perfection and harmony of the supramental consciousness.  But if we refuse to change, clinging obstinately to the imperfections of our mortal humanity, we will be rejected as evolutionary failures and Nature will move on further to create the supramental race by other occult or spiritual means.  So how much of and to what extent the present humanity will be transformed depends on its receptivity to the evolutionary force.
  • While the first parts of the book spell out the metaphysical aspects of Life Divine, the last parts describe the mystical, yogic, spiritual and the prophetic dimensions of the divine life on earth.  In this last portion of the book, Sri Aurobindo first describes the nature and process of the spiritual evolution in humanity and the methods by which Nature has steered this higher evolution in man.  He then, goes on to describe the path and nature of the triple transformation which can be realised through integral yoga and the various levels, layers, faculties of spiritual consciousness which lie hidden in human consciousness, but realised only by a few great yogis, saints and sages.  In the last two chapters, Sri Aurobindo describes in detail the nature of the Life Divine, or in other words, nature of the spiritual destiny waiting to be realised in man and earth at the end of this cycle of evolution, if our human race consents to it.

 2.      Synthesis of Yoga

  • The yogic testament of Sri Aurobindo and the Shasthra of Integral Yoga.
  • This book, which begins with a cryptic and profound aphorism “All Life is Yoga”, spells out the basic principles of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo.
  • The first parts of the books presents an evolutionary vision of Yoga.  It explains the significance of Yoga for human evolution, some of the fundamental and universal psychological principles of yoga; the meaning of the central theme of the book “All Life is Yoga”; the principles of the various paths, and systems of Indian Yoga, like Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Triune path of Knowledge, Works and Devotion, and the synthesis of the Tantra; and finally comes the fundamental principles of Sri Aurobindo’s synthesis of the Integral Yoga.  The next three parts on the Yoga of Works, Knowledge and Devotion explains the role and nature of this triune path in Integral Yoga.  The last part of the book on yoga of self-perfection describes the principles of a path which leads to an integral spiritual perfection, which includes not only the liberation of soul, which is the aim of traditional yoga, but also spiritual transformation of nature made of body, life and mind and the perfection of all the faculties of Soul and Nature.

 3.      Human Cycle

  •  The social manifesto of Sri Aurobindo
  • Initially titled as “Psychology of Social Development”, this book presents the social philosophy of Sri Aurobindo.  It throws a deep insight into the psychological and spiritual dimensions of human history and the collective evolution of humanity.  It traces the psychological evolution of the human being through history from the symbolic and infra-rational age of the earliest phases, typal and conventional civilisations of the later ages, rational and individualistic age of the modern era, culminating in a prophetic vision of the subjective and spiritual age of the future.  In the last part of the book, Sri Aurobindo gives a broad outline of the aims, principles and values of a spiritualized society of the future.
  • This book examines many important topics related to history, sociology and culture like for example the difference between barbarism and civilisation, meaning of culture, ethical and aesthetic cultures, role of reason, religion and art in the evolution human society and the deeper evolutionary significance of some of the great civilisations like Greece, Rome, India.

4.      Human Unity

  •  Sri Aurobindo’s Vision of a unified humanity
  • In this book, Sri Aurobindo examines the problem of human unity in various perspectives and the methods adopted by Man and Nature in arriving at Unity …….. like the economic, social, political, administrative, militaristic, formations of Nations and Expires, and the modern ideals and trends like UN, humanism, internationalism.  After a critical examinations of all these methods and their limitations, Sri Aurobindo concludes that though all these outer methods may be helpful in creating an external environment favourable to unity, the true path to a lasting and stable unity lies in an inner realisation of the spiritual unity of mankind.  And finally Sri Aurobindo proposes a spiritual religion of humanity as the path towards this inner unity.

 5.      Foundations of Indian Culture and Renaissance in India

  •  Sri Aurobindo’s Vision of India
  • The first book “Foundations of Indian Culture” was written as an answer to a harsh critic of Indian culture.  This book reveals with a deep and profound insight, the spiritual foundations of Indian culture and the inward-focussed spiritual genius of India.  It bring out with a luminous clarity the central vision of Indian culture and the fundamental principles and values of the religion and spirituality, philosophy and literature, art and architecture, society and politics of ancient Indian civilisation and culture.  The other important theme of this book is an emphasis on rediscovering the essential and universal values of Indian culture and rebuilding the Indian nation with the intrinsic spiritual genius, swadharma, of the Soul of India.
  • In the second book, Renaissance in India, Sri Aurobindo provides a blue print for the spiritual and cultural regeneration of India on the foundations of her own unique swadharma.

 6.      Essays on the Gita

  • Sri Aurobindo’s Interpretation of Bhagavat Gita
  • One of the most inspired works of Sri Aurobindo, this book explains in a lucid and soul-stirring language the philosophical and spiritual synthesis of Bhagavat Gita.
  • The book begins with a luminous exposition of the role of scriptures like Gita in the spiritual evolution of humanity and goes on to explain the philosophy and yoga of the Gita.
  • In this book, Sri Aurobindo points out the limitations of some of the ancient and modern interpretations of Bhagavat Gita and reveals the deeper spiritual message of Gita and its everlasting relevance for the spiritual development of the individual.  A unique feature of Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation of Gita is that the true message of the Gita is brought out without trying to force the personal philosophy of the interpreter into it.
  • The philosophical innovations of Gita like the triple Purusha and the double Prakriti and some of the important concept of ancient Indian thought which occurs in Gita like the concept of sacrifice, Purusha and Prakrithi, Triple Gunas, fourfold social order and the Kshathriya tradition were explained by Sri Aurobindo with great clarity and depth of insight, bringing out their deeper significance.
  • But the most important part of the book is Sri Aurobindo’s luminous exposition of the yogic synthesis of the Gita, the triune path of Love, Knowledge and Works and its Gospel of Surrender.  Sri Aurobindo brings out the balanced approach of Gita to the triune path, making knowledge and works the foundation of love and devotion to God, Bhakthi.
  • The other unique feature of the book is a lucid exposition of the Indian concept of Avatharhood.  The concept of Avatharhood is a divine mystery which can perhaps be understood fully only by spiritual intuition and faith.  However, Sri Aurobindo, even while emphasising on the suprarational mystery of Avatharhood, argues and explains how the concept becomes a perfectly rational possibility when it is understood in the framework of Indian Vedanthic philosophy.

7. Letters of Yoga (In Three Volumes)

  • Sri Aurobindo’s letter to disciples on Yoga and related topics
  • This is an indispensable book for seekers in the path of Integral yoga.  They are letters of guidance, instructions and clarifications given by a great spiritual master to his disciples.  This book deals with a variety of topics related to principles and practice of yoga in general and integral yoga in particular and also many related topics.
  • Some of the main themes discussed in this book are:
  1. Basic requisites of the Path of Yoga like calm, equality
  2. Principles and methods of practice of various paths of yoga like the Yoga of Meditation, Knowledge, Works, Devotion
  3. How to tackle the problems and difficulties which arise in the path of yoga like ego, desire, sex, depression
  4. Clarifications on the concepts of yogic psychology like planes and parts of the being, consciousness, subconscious, tapas
  5. Guidance on the spiritual transformation of the physical, vital and mental being
  6. Other related themes like the difference between integral yoga and the traditional yogic paths, process of karma and rebirth, spiritual evolution, concept of avatharhood.

 8. Savitri

  •  A major poetic work of Sri Aurobindo
  • Described by Sri Aurobindo as ‘A Legend and a Symbol’ Savitri is a recreation and a creative transformation of the story of Satyavan and Savitri in Mahabharatha
  • The central theme of Satyavan-Savitri in Mahabharatha story is the heroic and successful attempt of Savitri to rescue her husband from the clutch of death.  But in Sri Aurobindo’s epic it becomes a symbol of the deliverance of soul of man from his mortal limitations.  Satyavan is the soul of humanity.  Savitri is the Avatar of the Divine Mother who descends to earth to deliver the soul of humanity from the clutch of Death.  The God of Death in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is not the traditional yama of Indian mythology, but a symbol of all that constitutes the mortal life of man like ignorance, sorrow, suffering, ego, desire, bondage, evil and death.
  • But more important than the story, legend and symbol of Savitri is its pure spiritual ambience made of Sri Aurobindo’s own spiritual experiences.  Savitri contains direct descriptions of Sri Aurobindo’s vast, varied, many sided and comprehensive spiritual realizations.  As the Mother points out “Savitri is an exact description – not literature, not poetry (although the form is poetical) an exact description, step by step, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, as I read, I relived it all.  The realism of it is astounding.”  So Savitri is not merely poetry or literary creation.  It contains an exact description of what Sri Aurobindo saw, felt, experienced and realized in various levels of the cosmic and transcendent consciousness of the spirit, from the lowest levels of subtle matter, worlds of life and mind, various levels of the subliminal and spiritual mind ascending upto what Sri Aurobindo calls the overmind which is the house of the great cosmic gods who rule the world and finally the supramental consciousness of the Spirit, in which, eternal truth is unveiled in its self-existent and self-luminous light.  In Savitri Sri Aurobindo describes every possible spiritual experiences of various spiritual traditions like the Vedanthic, Buddhistic and Tantric and of various aspects of the Divine like impersonal, personal and the super personal, static and the dynamic, transcendent, cosmic and the individual, various aspects of the Divine Mother and many more.
  • In the last Canto of Savitri, Sri Aurobindo presents a breath-taking vision of the future destiny of man, of a perfected humanity, delivered from death, sorrow, ignorance and suffering, transformed and fulfilled in the light of the spirit.

9. Future Poetry

  • Sri Aurobindo’s vision of the future poetry
  • In this book, after a detailed examination of the psychological evolution of English poetry, Sri Aurobindo presents his own vision of the future poetry based on the Indian concept of the Mantra.  According to Sri Aurobindo, future poetry will be a “Mantra of the Real”, which means it will be an intuitive and inspired expression of a vision, experience or realization of the deeper and inner realities of the soul and spirit in Man, Life or Nature.
  • The other important feature of the book is that it contains Sri Aurobindo’s critical appreciation of some of the greatest poets in English literature like Shakespeare, Shelly, Wordsworth, Milton, Byron, Yeats, Walt Whitman.

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