(In these years, Sri Aurobindo used to have daily talks with a few disciples on a wide variety of subjects, from his yoga to the prevailing national or international situation. The following excerpts from these talks, noted down from memory by some of the disciples present, provide glimpses of Sri Aurobindo's views on India's political, social, cultural systems and her spiritual possibilities.)
April 9, 1923
The ancients [in India] based their society on the structure of religion—I do not mean narrow religion but the highest law of our being. The whole social fabric was built up to fulfil that purpose. There was no talk in those days of individual liberty in the present sense of the term, but there was absolute communal liberty. Every community was completely free to develop its own religion,—the law of its being. Even the selection of the line was a matter of free choice for the individual.... In ancient times each community had its own Dharma and within itself it was independent; every village, every city had its own organization quite free from all political control and within that every individual was free—free to change and take up another line for his development. But all this was not put into a definite political unit. There were, of course, attempts at that kind of expression of life but they were only partially successful. The whole community in India was a very big one and the community culture based on Dharma was not thrown into a kind of [political or national] organization which would resist external aggression.
April 18, 1923
(The short-lived display of Hindu-Muslim unity that followed the launch of the Khilafat agitation in 1920 soon gave way to renewed distrust and acrimony, which seized on issues such as Hindu processions playing music before mosques, killing of cows in public during Id, etc.; early in 1923 clashes broke out in Amritsar and Multan, now in Pakistan, and were going to recur with increasing frequency till the Partition—and after.)
(A disciple:) Did you read [Pandit Madan Mohan] Malaviya's speech about the Multan riots and also what C. Rajagopalachari has said?
(Sri Aurobindo:) I am sorry they are making a fetish of this Hindu-Muslim unity. It is no use ignoring facts; some day the Hindus may have to fight the Muslims and they must prepare for it. Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of the Hindus. Every time the mildness of the Hindu has given way. The best solution would be to allow the Hindus to organize themselves and the Hindu-Muslim unity would take care of itself, it would automatically solve the problem. Otherwise, we are lulled into a false sense of satisfaction that we have solved a difficult problem, when in fact we have only shelved it.
July 23, 1923
(A disciple:) The Mahatma believes that non-violence purifies the man who practises it.
I believe Gandhi does not know what actually happens to the man's nature when he takes to Satyagraha or non-violence. He thinks that men get purified by it. But when men suffer, or subject themselves to voluntary suffering, what happens is that their vital being gets strengthened. These movements affect the vital being only and not any other part. Now, when you cannot oppose the force that oppresses, you say that you will suffer. That suffering is vital and it gives strength. When the man who has thus suffered gets power he becomes a worse oppressor....
What one can do is to transform the spirit of violence. But in this practice of Satyagraha it is not transformed. When you insist on such a one-sided principle, what happens is that cant, hypocrisy and dishonesty get in and there is no purification at all. Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence, as I said. In that respect the old system in India was much better: the man who had the fighting spirit became the Kshatriya and then the fighting spirit was raised above the ordinary vital influence. The attempt was to spiritualize it. It succeeded in doing what passive resistance cannot and will not achieve. The Kshatriya was the man who would not allow any oppression, who would fight it out and he was the man who would not oppress anybody. That was the ideal....
There is also the question of Hindu-Muslim unity which the non-violence school is trying to solve on the basis of their theory.
You can live amicably with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live peacefully with a religion whose principle is “I will not tolerate you”? How are you going to have unity with these people? Certainly, Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be arrived at on the basis that the Muslims will go on converting Hindus while the Hindus shall not convert any Mahomedan. You can’t build unity on such a basis. Perhaps the only way of making the Mahomedans harmless is to make them lose their fanatic faith in their religion....
The Mahomedan religion was born under such circumstances that the followers never forgot the origin.
That was the result of the passive resistance which they practised. They went on suffering till they got strong enough and, when they got power, they began to persecute others with a vengeance....
Gandhi's position is that he does not care to remove violence from others; he wants to observe non-violence himself.
That is one of the violences of the Satyagrahi that he does not care for the presssure which he brings on others. It is not non-violence—it is not “Ahimsa.” True Ahimsa is a state of mind and does not consist in physical or external action or in avoidance of action. Any pressure in the inner being is a breach of Ahimsa.
For instance, when Gandhi fasted in the Ahmedabad mill-hands' strike to settle the question between mill-owners and workers, there was a kind of violence towards others. The mill-owners did not want to be responsible for his death and so they gave way, without, of course, being convinced of his position. It is a kind of violence on them. But as soon as they found the situation normal they reverted to their old ideas. The same thing happened in South Africa. He got some concessions there by passive resistance and when he came back to India it became worse than before.
September 12, 1923
The Mahomedan or Islamic culture hardly gave anything to the world which may be said to be of fundamental importance and typically its own; Islamic culture was mainly borrowed from others. Their mathematics and astronomy and other subjects were derived from India and Greece. It is true they gave some of these things a new turn, but they have not created much. Their philosophy and their religion are very simple and what they call Sufism is largely the result of gnostics who lived in Persia and it is the logical outcome of that school of thought largely touched by Vedanta.
I have, however, mentioned [in The Foundations of Indian Culture] that Islamic culture contributed the Indo-Saracenic architecture to Indian culture. I do not think it has done anything more in India of cultural value. It gave some new forms to art and poetry. Its political institutions were always semi-barbaric.
February 28, 1924
... That is the history of every religion, sect or religious institution: it begins with religion and ends in commerce. Everywhere you find the same thing.
March 7, 1924
(A disciple:) The Khilafat is steam-rollered.
It is quite right that it should be gone; the new [Turkish] republic seems thorough and solid in its working....
There are tendencies among the Muslims showing that fanaticism may disintegrate.
That is not sufficient because it would not change their whole outlook. What is wanted is some new religious movement among the Mahomedans which would remodel their religion and change the stamp of their temperament. For instance, Bahaism in Persia which has given quite a different stamp to their temperament.
June 2, 1924
Gandhi is wonderstruck that his interpretation of the Gita is seriously questioned by a Shastri. I am rather wonderstruck at his claim to an infallible interpretation of the Gita.
(A disciple:) He has criticized the Arya Samaj also.
Yes, he has criticized Dayananda Saraswati who has, according to him, abolished image-worship and set up the idolatry of the Vedas. He forgets, I am afraid, that he is doing the same in economics by his Charkha and Khaddar, and, if one may add, by his idolatry of non-violence in religion and philosophy.
In that way every one has established idol-worship. He has criticized the Arya Samaj but why not criticize Mahomedanism? His statement is adulatory of the Koran and of Christianity which is idolatry of the Bible, Christ and the Cross. Man is hardly able to do without externals and only a few will go to the kernel.
August 17, 1924
(A few months earlier, Gandhi had sent his son Devadas to Pondicherry to see Sri Aurobindo.)
He asked my views about non-violence. I told him, “Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence?” That is all I remember. I do not think he put me any other question.
January 21, 1925
If the Truth which the yoga [of Sri Aurobindo] wants to achieve is attained and if India accepts it, then it will give quite a new turn to Indian politics—different from European politics. It would be a profound change.
December 4, 1925
So long as you need to be virtuous you have not attained the pure spiritual height where you have not to think whether the action is moral or not. People hastily conclude that when you ask them to rise above morality, you are asking them to sink below good and evil. That is not at all the case.... By morality you become more human, but you do not go beyond humanity. Morality has done much good to man, maybe; it has also done much harm.
(A disciple:) But people always confuse morality with spirituality.
Like the Christians to whom there is no difference between morality and spirituality. For instance, take this fast now announced [by Gandhi]. It is a Christian idea of atonement for sin. All those other reasons which are given make it rather ridiculous.
Indian culture knew the value of morality, and also its limitations. The Upanishads and the Gita are loud with and full of the idea of going beyond morality.
April 7, 1926
It is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best. [In ancient India] we had great communal liberty and the communities were the centre of power and of national life. The king could not infringe the right of the commune.... If these rights were interfered with the people at once made themselves felt. That was the form which the genius of the race had evolved....
I don't understand why everything should be centralized as in the parliamentary constitution. We must have different, numerous centres of culture and power, full of national life spread all over the country and they must have political freedom to develop themselves.
(A disciple:) Village organization can also help in the creation of such centres.
Yes. But it is not by lectures and sermonizing to the village people, as we are trying to do now.... If you want to work in the village, you must take to a natural profession, go and settle down among the village people and be one of them. When they see that you are a practical man they will begin to trust you. If you go there and work hard for ten or fifteen years you will gain your status and you will be able to do something because they will be prepared to listen to you.
The parliamentary form would be hardly suitable for our people. Of course, it is not necessary that you should have today the same old forms [as in ancient India]. But you can take the line of evolution and follow the bent of the genius of the race.
May 18, 1926
Life has no “isms” in it, Supermind also has no “isms”. It is the mind that introduces all “isms” and creates confusion. That is the difference between a man who lives and a thinker who can't: a leader who thinks too much and is busy with ideas, trying all the time to fit the realities of life to his ideas, hardly succeeds, while the leader who is destined to succeed does not bother his head about ideas. He sees the forces at work and knows by intuition those that make for success. He also knows the right combination of forces and the right moment when he should act....
Look at Indian politicians: all ideas, ideas—they are busy with ideas. Take the Hindu-Muslim problem: I don't know why our politicians accepted Gandhi's Khilafat agitation. With the mentality of the ordinary Mahomedan it was bound to produce the reaction it has produced: you fed the force, it gathered power and began to make demands which the Hindu mentality had to rise up and reject. That does not require Supermind to find out, it requires common sense. Then, the Mahomedan reality and the Hindu reality began to break heads at Calcutta. The leaders are busy trying to square the realities with their mental ideas instead of facing them straight....
At one time it was thought that the mind could grasp the whole Truth and solve all the problems that face humanity. The mind had its full play and we find that it is not able to solve the problems. Now, we find that it is possible to go beyond mind and there is the Supermind which is the organization of the Infinite Consciousness. There you find the truth of all that is in mind and life.
For instance, you find that Democracy, Socialism and Communism have each some truth behind it, but it is not the whole Truth. What you have to do is to find out the forces that are at work and understand what it is of which all these mental ideas and “isms” are a mere indication. You have to know the mistakes which people commit in dealing with the truth of these forces and the truth that is behind the mistakes also. I am, at present, speaking against democracy; that does not mean that there is no truth behind it. I know the truth [behind democracy], but I speak against democracy because that mentality is at present against the Truth that is trying to come down.
June 1, 1926
(A disciple:) These newspapers print anything they like. Can they print the talk that takes place in one's house?
If you expect manners from modern newspapers you will be sorely disappointed in these democratic days. It is one of the blessings of modern democracy? If you were in America and did not give any interview, even then they would invent one? The press is a public institution; formerly, it was something dignified, but now the newspapers are the correct measure of the futility of human life.... It is the same with all other modern things—the press, the theatre, the radio; they drag down everything to the level of the crowd.... They succeed only if they can pamper the common man's tastes....
It is the same old question of the mass being pulled up by something higher. But, as it always happens, instead of being pulled up it is the mass that pulls everything down to its level....
Are things worse or becoming better?
To me the condition of Europe, after the war especially, seems almost to be the same as that at the break-up and disintegration of the Roman Empire. There is the same tendency to plunge the world into barbarism again.
June 22, 1926
(A disciple:) Are Indians more spiritual than other people?
No, it is not so. No nation is entirely spiritual. Indians are not more spiritual than other people. But behind the Indian race there lives the past spiritual influence.
Some prominent national workers in India seem to me to be incarnations of some European force here.
They may not be incarnations, but they may be strongly influenced by European thought. For instance, Gandhi is a European—truly, a Russian Christian in an Indian body. And there are some Indians in European bodies?
Gandhi a European?
Yes. When the Europeans say that he is more Christian than many Christians (some even say that he is “Christ of the modern times”) they are perfectly right. All his preaching is derived from Christianity, and though the garb is Indian the essential spirit is Christian. He may not be Christ, but at any rate he comes in continuation of the same impulsion. He is largely influenced by Tolstoy, the Bible, and has a strong Jain tinge in his teachings; at any rate more than by the Indian scriptures—the Upanishads or the Gita which he interprets in the light of his own ideas.
Many educated Indians consider him a spiritual man.
Yes, because the Europeans call him spiritual. But what he preaches is not Indian spirituality but something derived from Russian Christianity, non-violence, suffering, etc. ...
The Russians are a queer mixture of strength and weakness. They have got a passion in their intellect, say, a passionate intellect. They have a distracted and restless emotional being, but there is something behind it which is very fine and psychic, though their soul is not very healthy. And therefore I am not right in saying that Gandhi is a Russian Christian, because he is so very dry. He has got the intellectual passion and a great moral will-force, but he is more dry than the Russians. The gospel of suffering that he is preaching has its root in Russia as nowhere else in Europe—other Christian nations don't believe in it. At the most they have it in the mind, but the Russians have got it in their very blood. They commit a mistake in preaching the gospel of suffering, but we also commit in India a mistake in preaching the idea of vairagya [disgust with the world].
June 23, 1926
When Gandhi's movement was started, I said that this movement would lead either to a fiasco or to a great confusion. And I see no reason to change my opinion. Only I would like to add that it has led to both.
June 29, 1926
In India we had nothing of the mental ideal in politics. We had a spontaneous and a free growth of communities developing on their own lines. It was not so much a mental idea as an inner impulse or feeling, to express life in a particular form. Each such communal form of life—the village, the town, etc., which formed the unit of national life, was left free in its own internal management. The central authority never interfered with it.
There was not the idea of “interest” in India as in Europe, i.e., each community was not fighting for its own interest; but there was the idea of Dharma, the function which the individual and the community has to fulfil in the larger national life. There were caste organizations not based upon a religio-social basis as we find nowadays; they were more or less guilds, groups organized for a communal life. There were also religious communities like the Buddhists, the Jains, etc. Each followed its own law—Swadharma—unhampered by the State. The State recognized the necessity of allowing such various forms of life to develop freely in order to give to the national spirit a richer expression.
Then over the two there was the central authority, whose function was not so much to legislate as to harmonize and see that everything was going on all right. It was generally administered by a Raja; in cases it was also an elected head of the clan, as in the instance of Gautama Buddha's father. Each ruled over either a small State or a group of small States or republics. The king was not a law-maker and he was not at the head to put his hand over all organizations and keep them down. If he interfered with them he was deposed because each of these organizations had its own laws which had been established for long ages.
The machinery of the State also was not so mechanical as in the West—it was plastic and elastic.
This organization we find in history perfected in the reign of Chandragupta and the Maurya dynasty. The period preceding this must have been a period of great political development in India. Every department of national life, we can see, was in the charge of a board or a committee with a minister at the head, and each board looked after what we now would call its own department and was left free from undue interference of the central authority. The change of kings left these boards untouched and unaffected in their work. An organization similar to that was found in every town and village and it was this organization that was taken up by the Mahomedans when they came to India. It is that which the English also have taken up. The idea of the King as the absolute monarch was never an Indian idea. It was brought from Central Asia by the Mahomedans.
The English in accepting this system have disfigured it considerably. They have found ways to put their hand on and grasp all the old organizations, using them merely as channels to establish more thoroughly the authority of the central power. They discouraged every free organization and every attempt at the manifestation of the free life of the community. Now attempts are being made to have the cooperative societies in villages, there is an effort at reviving the Panchayats. But these organizations cannot be revived once they have been crushed; and even if they revived they would not be the same.
If the old organization had lasted it would have been a successful rival of the modern form of government.
Is it possible to come back to old forms in modern times?
You need not come back to the old forms, but you can retain the spirit which might create its own new forms....
It has been a special feature of India that she has to contain in her life all the most diverse elements and assimilate them. This renders her problem most intricate.
If it is India's destiny to assimilate all the conflicting elements, is it possible to assimilate the Mahomedan element also?
Why not? India has assimilated elements from the Greeks, the Persians and other nations. But she assimilates only when her central truth is recognized by the other party, and even while assimilating she does it in such a way that the elements absorbed are no longer recognizable as foreign but become part of herself. For instance, we took from the Greek architecture, from the Persian painting, etc.
The assimilation of the Mahomedan culture also was done in the mind to a great extent and it would have perhaps gone further. But in order that the process may be complete it is necessary that a change in the Mahomedan mentality should come. The conflict is in the outer life and unless the Mahomedans learn tolerance I do not think the assimilation is possible.
The Hindu is ready to tolerate. He is open to new ideas and his culture has got a wonderful capacity for assimilation, but always provided that India's central truth is recognized.
Did India have the national idea in the modern sense?
The “nation idea” India never had. By that I mean the political idea of the nation. It is a modern growth. But we had in India the cultural and spiritual idea of the nation....
Present-day Indians have got nothing to boast of from their past. Indian culture today is in the most abject condition, like the fort of Gingee—one pillar standing here, another ceiling there and some hall out of recognition somewhere?
July 1, 1926
(A disciple:) Didn't the non-cooperation movement give life to the country?
Do you call that life? It was based on a falsehood. How could you expect it to create anything? Swaraj was sought to be established by spinning—could anything come from such a false ideal? Some life was given to the country during the Swadeshi days in Bengal. You ought to have seen what Bengal was before the Swadeshi movement to understand what it accomplished. At that time we gave forms and ideals which have since degenerated. Those forms have now been taken up and distorted. Mahatma Gandhi has a sort of force—by exerting it he advances to a certain extent but in reaction he goes back much farther....
The Satyagraha movement is only meant for Mahatma Gandhi and a few men like him—it ought not to be thrust upon a whole people.
People talk of village organization—let them first bring life to the villages and they will organize themselves.
In India the students generally have great capacities but the system of education represses and destroys these capacities. Look at the method of the classroom—the students must sit there for so many hours and pore over their books: all this is very injurious. What is needed is an atmosphere—a pervasive atmosphere of learning. The students should imbibe that, find out their own aptitudes and develop along those lines.... Under the proper system of education both the needs—the need of the individual and the need of the nation—can be reconciled.... That is the future education of the race if it is to make any real progress.
July 26, 1926
Generally woman can be said to be more efficient on the physical plane, because she follows her intuitions. She is more able to arrange matter generally, goes straight to the thing to be done, while man wanders forth into ideas and mental constructions. It can be seen in politics; women would succeed better. Man is able to put more mental power, while the woman acts more psychically. Man is more intellectual and woman more intuitive. She is also very active on the vital plane.
(A disciple:) But while woman has often been the source of inspiration to man, she has not produced any great creative work.
Because she was not given any opportunity by social bondages. Whenever women have been given opportunity they have shown their capacity.... We have to wait a few generations in order to see them at work.
August 1, 1926
The attempt to placate the Mahomedans was a false diplomacy. Instead of trying to achieve Hindu-Muslim unity directly, if the Hindus had devoted themselves to national work, the Mahomedans would have gradually come of themselves.... This attempt to patch up a unity has given too much importance to the Muslims and it has been the root of all these troubles.
August 3, 1926
Religion is as much useful and in the same manner as any other form of culture, e.g., art, science, ethics, etc. All these help the development of man; they prepare the materials which will enrich his higher spiritual life.... But as the other departments of culture—aesthetics, morals, science—can be abused, so religion also can be abused and in fact is very often abused. And as it is said, when the best thing degenerates it becomes the worst corruption—so it is with religion; when its great possibilities are abused it leads to the worst evils.
August 4, 1926
(A disciple:) Religion is too complex a phenomenon to be defined. The Bengali equivalent of religion—dharma—is still more complex.
Dharma is not religion though it has become customary to translate “religion” by “dharma”. Dharma is law—it includes the social and moral laws; also the law of one's own being, one's own nature is said to be dharma—svadharma.
August 7, 1926
(A disciple:) What are the characteristics of Indian politicians?
They never do a thing at the right time and whatever they do, they do badly (laughter). They have no touch with reality—they see what the English people are doing in England and try to apply that to this country, though it may be quite unsuitable here. They take all political cants and catch phrases and they adopt them in their talk, not in work. They have too much mental activity—have all sorts of ideas and forms in their brains, which have very little practical value.
Why is this so?
That is all due to Mayavada [the doctrine of Illusion]—our men have become too subtle in their minds and all our politicians are drawn from that class. Then the system of education is greatly responsible for this state of things.
Is the system in England different from that introduced in India?
Yes, [in India] they want only clerks and the education is intended for nothing else.
August 8, 1926
The Greeks had more light than the Christians who converted them; at that time there was gnosticism in Greece, and they were developing agnosticism and so forth. The Christians brought darkness rather than light.
That has always been the case with aggressive religions—they tend to overrun the earth. Hinduism on the other hand is passive and therein lies its danger....
(A disciple:) There is a marked difference between the national workers of the Swadeshi period and those at the present time. The former workers drew their inspiration from the Gita; the present workers have discarded the Gita, they laugh at spirituality, they draw their inspiration from the Bolshevists or similar other European movements.
That is the reason why they have degenerated and cannot do anything. They only take the forms adopted in the previous movement without realizing the changed circumstances and fresh requirements of the time.
Most of our workers and leaders at the present time are without any spiritual life.
I cannot say anything about individuals. But the central thing in Hinduism is spirituality and there cannot be any big movement without any spirituality behind it.
Early August, 1926
(A disciple:) If this work of bringing down the Truth does not succeed in India, do you think India will lose the chance for ever?
India has the greatest chance because of her past and because the spiritual force is accumulated here....
But if India remains indifferent and sticks to old worn-out forms and refuses to move forward or listen to the call of her soul, then the Truth may recede and try somewhere else. The Truth is not confined to India, it is not India's property. But there is very little chance of its succeeding elsewhere if it fails in India. It may make an unsuccessful or partially successful effort somewhere else, as Christianity did, and then retire.
August 21, 1926
I find it always difficult to work [innerly] in Indian politics. The difficulty is that the vessels don't hold the Power, they are so weak. If the amount of force that is spent on India were spent on a European nation you would find it full of creative activities of various kinds. But here, in India, it is like sending a current of electricity through a sleeping man: he suddenly starts up, begins jerking and throwing his arms and feet about and then drops down again; he is not fully awake.
(A disciple:) What is it due to?
Due to tremendous tamas. Don't you feel it all around, that tamas? It is that which frustrates all efforts.
What has brought it about?
It is the result of various causes. It was already settling—I mean, the forces of disintegration and inertia—before the British came. And after their coming the whole tamas has settled like a solid block. There must be some awakening before something substantial can be done. Otherwise, India has got very good men; you had Tilak, Das, Vivekananda—none of them an ordinary man, and yet you see the tamas there.
August 29, 1926
(Sri Aurobindo refuted a criticism of birth control in an article.)
Scientists and medical men have devised methods by which birth control may be made effective without any injury. The objects are twofold: first, the prevention of too many children; secondly, keeping the woman in good health, so that the few children she gives birth to may be healthy.
Of course inner control is better. But can that be expected of the man?...
(A disciple:) Gandhi has quoted all the doctors who oppose this method.
But he has not quoted those who support it.
One objection is that it will increase licence.
That again is the moralist idea. There are the two extremes: one extreme is inner control, the other is free indulgence; mid-between comes the system of birth control.
September 6, 1926
All the energy that I have I owe to yoga. I was very incapable before. Even the energy that I put forth in politics came from yoga.
 Mustapha Kemal, whose Nationalist forces deposed the Sultan in November, 1922, and who proclaimed Turkey a republic a year later, finally abolished the office of the Caliph early March, 1924. The Khilafat movement in India soon died a natural death, after however having succeeded in strengthening the Indian Muslims' sense of separateness.
 Unfortunately, this tendency was reversed and Bahaism proscribed in many Muslim countries; in Iran, Bahaism is still today the object of severe persecution and the official policy is “to block the Bahais' progress and development.”
 Sri Aurobindo called “Supermind” or “Supramental” the region of full Truth-Consciousness which will be the normal state of consciousness of the next stage of evolution, just as the mind is the normal consciousness of our human stage.
 From the outset Gandhi made it clear that the Khilafat question was in his view more important and urgent than that of Swaraj. He wrote: “To the Musalmans, Swaraj means, as it must, India's ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question.... It is impossible not to sympathise with this attitude.... I would gladly ask for postponement of Swaraj activity if thereby we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.”91
 A reference to serious riots in Calcutta the previous month.
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