Courtesy and Copyright Mira Aditi Centre
A dear email friend of mine Pramod Kumar sent me this book by Sri Aurobindo. After reading it, I could only admire Aurobindo’s understanding of Bharat – the West. Remarkable were his comments on Gandhi & Ahimsa. The book is a compilation of extracts from Aurobindo’s words starting 1893 to 1950. These are arranged date wise in the book. Against each comment made on a particular date I have given the Topic so it is easy to read. At the beginning of a period there is Background note given so that you know the circumstances during which the words were said. After reading them you might find some of them eternally relevant. My comments are in brackets. I have retained spellings as they exist in the book, could be different from how they are spelt today.
Let me start with Sri Aurobindo’s words at the beginning of the book “I write, not for the orthodox, nor for those who have discovered a new orthodoxy Samaj or Panth, nor for the unbeliever. I write for those who acknowledge reason but do not identify reason with Western materialism, who are skeptics but not unbelievers, who, admitting the claims of modern thought, still believe in India, her mission, her gospel, her immortal life and her eternal rebirth”. 1911
This essay is dedicated to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Sardar Patel. The former was a close associate of Aurobindo while the latter was admired by him. The essay has the following chapters –
1. Revolutionary Writings 1893 to 1910. – Includes Congress, education, partition of Bengal, caste, dharma vs. democracy, emulating Europe, Hindu – Muslim unity.
2. Essays, Letters and Articles 1910 to 1922 – includes decline of India, Veda, hunger – strike, Europe and cause of India’s weakness.
3. Talks (1st series) –includes community Dharma, Hindu Muslim unity, Gandhi Ahimsa, Gandhi is a European.
4. Letters 1929 to 1938 – includes Hindu Muslim problem, Gandhi’s style of decision-making – Christian view, Gita says on fighting.
5. Talks (2nd series) 1938 to 1940 – includes belief in freedom, Gandhi’s non-violence, Hitler, singing of Vande Mataram, Gandhi’s attitude to Muslims.
6. Letters and Messages 1940 to 1950 – includes on Independence, me a meek Pacifists!
Oh Bhagwan please forgive me if I have made any errors. I have improved my understanding of India by reading this book, would suggest you read it too.
Revolutionary Writings 1893 to 1910
Background - After thirteen years in England Aurobindo returned to India in 1893 at the age of twenty. Bande Mataram, the hymn to the motherland had been published 11 years earlier. Swami Vivekananda was preparing to sail for the U.S. But it would take 12 years for their call to countrymen to find expression in the political field. For now it was left to the eight year old Congress, whose members were drawn from the Anglicized upper classes of society, had full faith in British fair mindedness and the providential character of British rule in India, and year after year swore its unswerving allegiance to the British crown. Aurobindo was 21 years old when he wrote a series of nine articles “New Lamps of Old” in the Indu Prakash, a Marathi – English Bombay daily. A few extracts -
August 21, 1893
Our actual enemy is not any force exterior to ourselves, but our own crying weaknesses, our cowardice, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, our purblind sentimentalism.
August 28, 1893 Congress
I say of the Congress, then, this-that its aims are mistaken, that the spirit in which it proceeds towards their accomplishment is not a spirit of sincerity and whole-heartedness, and that the methods it has chosen are not the right methods, and the leaders in whom it trusts, not the right sort of men to be leaders; - in brief, that we are at present the blind led, if not by the blind, at any rate by the one-eyed.
Early 1900s (?) Wrong with Educational system
It is a fundamental and deplorable error by which we in this country have confused education with the acquisition of knowledge… Amount of knowledge is in itself not of first importance, but to make the best use of what we know. The easy assumption of our educationists that we have only to supply the mind with a smattering of facts in each department of knowledge and the mind can be trusted to develop itself and take its own suitable road is contrary to science, contrary to human experience… Much as we have lost as a nation, we have always preserved our intellectual alertness, quickness and originality; but even this last gift is threatened by our University system, and if it goes, it will be the beginning of irretrievable degradation and final extinction.
The very first step in reform must therefore be to revolutionize the whole aim and method of our education. Indian scholarship … must clearly have one advantage [over the European], an intimate feeling of the language, sensitiveness…. Which the European cannot hope to possess unless he sacrifices his sense of racial superiority…. For to the European Sanskrit words are no more than dead counters which he can play with and throw likes into places the most unnatural or combinations the most monstrous; to the Hindu they are living things the very soul of whose temperament he understands and whose possibilities he can judge to a hair.
That with these advantages Indian scholars have not been able to form themselves into a great and independent school of learning is due to two causes, the miserable scantiness of the mastery in Sanskrit provided by our universities, crippling to all but born scholars, and their lack of a sturdy independence which makes us over-ready to defer to European authority.
Background - Starting 1900 Aurobindo began contacting revolutionary groups in Maharashtra and Bengal. Their aim was the establishment of centres in numerous towns and villages where young men were given intellectual, moral, physical training and encouraged to work for India’s liberation. Excerpts from Bhawani Mandir written around that time.
1905 Importance of Strength
Is it knowledge that is wanting? We Indians, born and bred in a country where Jnana has been stored and accumulated since the race began, bear about in us the inherited gains of many thousands of years…. But it is a dead knowledge, a burden under which we are bowed, a poison which is corroding us, rather than as it should be a staff to support our feet and a weapon in our hands; for this is the nature of all great things that when they are not used or are ill used, they turn upon the bearer and destroy him …..
Is it love, enthusiasm, Bhakti that is wanting? These are ingrained in the Indian nature, but in the absence of Shakti we cannot concentrate, we cannot direct, we cannot even preserve it. Bhakti is the leaping flame, Shakti is the fuel. If the fuel is scanty how long can the fire endure?……
The deeper we look, the more we shall be convinced that the one thing wanting, which we must strive to acquire before all others, is strength-strength physical, strength mental, strength moral, but above all strength spiritual which is the one inexhaustible and imperishable source of all the others. If we have strength everything else will be added to us easily and naturally. In the absence of strength we are like men in a dream who have hands but cannot seize or strike, who have feet but cannot run
Background – Partition of Bengal, Alarmed by the rising force of Bengali feeling against Brit rule and wanting to use the Muslim dominated East Bengal to divide the Hindus and Muslims -a policy that that was to culminate in the partition of Bharat 40 years later, Lord Curzon decided to divide Bengal in 1905. Aurobindo wrote for an English daily Bande Mataram to breathe inspiration, force into the nascent Nationalist Movement in the face of strong opposition from the Brits, the self-righteous Anglo-Indian press and most of the Congress moderates. He was the first politician to ask for Swaraj or complete independence. The whole movement created a new spirit in the country. Excerpts from Bande Mataram.
September 4, 1906 Partition Bengal
The idea that by encouraging Muslim rowdyism, the present agitation may be put down, is preposterous and those who cherish this notion forget that the bully is neither the strongest nor the bravest of men, and that because the self-restraint of Hindus, miscalled cowardice, has been a prominent feature of his national character, he is absolutely incapable of striking straight and striking hard when any sacred situation demands this. Not has it been proved recently, that the mild Hindu is so absolutely helpless and incapable of defending his rights and liberties as he is painted by his foreign enemies.
September 13, 1906 Congress
Ever since the birth of the Congress, those who have been in the leadership of this great National Movement have persistently denied the general public in the country the right of determining what shall and what shall not be said or done on their behalf and in their name. The delegates have been gathered from all parts of the country, not to deliberate upon public matters, but simply to lend their support to the decisions that had already been arrived at by secret conclaves of half a dozen men.
April 5, 1907
Politics is the work of the Kshatriya and it is the virtues of the Kshatriya we must develop if we are to be morally fit for freedom.
April 8, 1907 Kshatriya dharam
We reiterate with all the emphasis we can command that the Kshatriya of old must again take his rightful position in our social polity to discharge the first and foremost duty of defending its interests. The brain is impotent without the right arm of strength.
April 13, 1907 Excessive good nature
We should be absolutely unsparing in our attack on whatever obstructs the growth of the nation, and never be afraid to call a spade a spade. Excessive good nature, chakshu lajja [the desire to be always pleasant and polite], will never do in serious politics. Respect of persons must always give place to truth and conscience; and the demand that we should be silent because of the age or past services of our opponents, is politically immoral and unsound. Open attack, unsparing criticism, the severest satire, the most wounding irony, are all methods perfectly justifiable and indispensable in politics. We have strong things to say; let us say them strongly; we have stern things to do; let us do them sternly. But there is always a danger of strength degenerating into violence and sternness into ferocity, and that should be avoided so far as it is humanly possible.
May 28, 1907 Nationalism
We have to fill the minds of our boys from childhood with the idea of the country, and present them with that idea at every turn and make their whole young life a lesson in the practice of the virtues, which afterwards go to make the patriot and the citizen. If we do not attempt this, we may as well give up our desire to create an Indian nation altogether; for without such discipline nationalism, patriotism, regeneration are mere words and ideas which can never become a part of the very soul of the nation and never therefore a great realized fact. Mere academicals teaching of patriotism is of no avail.
June 22, 1907
He [a leader in Bengal] has not the qualities of politician robustness, backbone, the ability to will a certain course of action and the courage to carry it out..... No man who shrinks from struggle or is appalled by the thought of aggression can hope to seize and lead the wild forces that are rising to the surface in twentieth-century India.
Background – Aurobindo was appointed as principal of the Bengal National College in 1906, a true experiment in the search for a true national education. Alarmed by the impact of the Bande Mataram he was arrested but released due to the Brits inability to prove their charges. Later he resigned as principal. Excerpts from his speech to students and teachers who had collected to express their sympathy.
September 22, 1907 Caste
Caste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions in society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which the distribution was based in India was peculiar to this country..… A Brahmin was a Brahmin not by mere birth, but because he discharged the duty of preserving the spiritual and intellectual elevation of the race, and he had to cultivate the spiritual temperament and acquire the spiritual training, which could alone, qualify him for the task. The Kshatriya was a Kshatriya not merely because he was the son of warriors and princes, but because he discharged the duty of protecting the country and preserving the high courage and manhood of the nation, and he had to cultivate the princely temperament and acquire the strong and lofty Samurai training which alone fitted him for his duties. So it was with the Vaishya whose function was to amass wealth for the race and the Sudra who discharged the humbler duties of service without which the other castes could not perform their share of labor for the common good…… Essentially there was, between the devout Brahmin and the devout Sudra, no inequality in the single virat purusa [Cosmic Spirit] of which each was a necessary part. Chokha Mela, the Maratha Pariah, became the Guru of Brahmins proud of their caste purity; the Chandala taught Shankaracharya: for the Brahman was revealed in the body of the Pariah and in the Chandala there was the utter presence of Shiva the Almighty……
Caste therefore was not only an institution which ought to be immune from the cheap second-hand denunciations so long in fashion, but a supreme necessity without which Hindu civilization could not have developed its distinctive character or worked out its unique mission.
But to recognize this is not to debar ourselves from pointing out its later perversions and desiring its transformation. It is the nature of human institutions to degenerate, to lose their vitality, and decay, and the first sign of decay is the loss of flexibility and oblivion of the essential spirit in which they were conceived. The spirit is permanent, the body changes; and a body which refuses to change must die. The spirit expresses itself in many ways while itself remaining essentially the same but the body must change to suit its changing environments if it wishes to live. There is no doubt that the institution of caste degenerated. It ceased to be determined by spiritual qualifications, which, once essential, have now come to be subordinate and even immaterial and is determined by the purely material tests of occupation and birth. By this change it has set itself against the fundamental tendency of Hinduism which is to insist on the spiritual and subordinate the material and thus lost most of its meaning. The spirit of caste arrogance, exclusiveness and superiority came to dominate it instead of the spirit of duty, and the change weakened the nation and helped to reduce us to our present conditions.
October 23, 1907 Unity
There is a cant phrase, which is always on our lips in season and out of season, and it is the cry for unity. We call it a cant phrase because those who use it have not the slightest conception of what they mean when they use it, but simply employ it as an effective formula to discourage independence in thought and progressiveness in action. It is not the reality of united thought and action, which they desire; it is merely the appearance of unity…. It is a habit of mind born of the spirit of dependence and weakness. It is a fosterer of falsehood and encourages cowardice and insincerity. “Be your views what they may, suppress them, for they will spoil our unity; swallow your principles, they will spoil our unity; do not battle for what you think to be the right, it will spoil our unity; leaves necessary things undone, for the attempt to do them will spoil our unity;” this is the city. The prevalence of a dead and lifeless unity is the true index of national degradation, quite as much as the prevalence of a living unity is the index of national greatness.
Background – On 27/12/1907, the Nationalist Party with Aurobindo presiding over its conference broke away from the Congress moderates at the Surat session over the latter’s refusal to reaffirm the demands of Swaraj, Swadeshi and National Education which had been adopted at the previous Calcutta session under the Presidentship of D. Naoroji.
February 20, 1908
Truth is the rock on which the world is built. Satyena tisthate jagat. Falsehood can never be the true source of strength. When falsehood is at the root of a movement, that movement is doomed to failure. Diplomacy can only help a movement if the movement proceeds upon truth. To make diplomacy the root-principle is to contravene the laws of existence.
February 24, 1908 National Education
National education cannot be defined briefly in one or two sentences, but we may describe it tentatively as the education, which starting with the past and making full use of the present builds up a great nation. Whoever wishes to cut off the nation from its past is no friend of our national growth. Whoever fails to take advantage of the present is losing us the battle of life. We must therefore save for India all that she has stored up of knowledge, character and noble thought in her immemorial past. We must acquire for her the best knowledge that Europe can give her and assimilate it to her own peculiar type of national temperament. We must introduce the best methods of teaching humanity has developed, whether modern or ancient. And all these we must harmonize into a system, which will be impregnated with the spirit of self-reliance so as to build up men and not machines……
March 16, 1908 Dharma vs Democracy
It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world, which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognize, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe.
March 31, 1908 Poverty of masses
The increasing poverty of the masses has been the subject of innumerable pamphlets, speeches etc. We have been accustomed to deal with the economical side of this poverty, but there is the moral side that is even more important. The Indian peasantry has always been distinguished from the less civilized masses of Europe by their superior gentleness, piety, sobriety and native intelligence. They are now being brutalized by unexampled oppression, attracted to liquor shops that a benevolent govt liberally supplies, bestialized by an example of increasingly immoral aristocracy and gradually driven to the same habits of looseness and brutality that disgrace the European proletariats. This degeneration is proceeding with an alarming rapidity. (Aurobindo is not only referring to the extractions of the zamindars but also to the British planter’s cruel treatment of the peasantry and the ruthless imposition of high taxes that greatly impoverished it, often resulting in devastating famines. To read more go to section Issues and Insights and read Why India is a Poor Country.)
April 14, 1908 Emulating Europe
Distrust is the atmosphere of modern politics, mutual suspicion and hatred the secret spring of action. Under the fair outside of its material civilization, a deep-seated moral disease is at work eating into the vitals of European society of which a thousand symptoms strike the eye…. If India follows in the footsteps of Europe, accepts her political ideals, social system, economic principles, she will be overcome with the same maladies. Such a consummation is neither for the good of India nor for the good of Europe. If India becomes an intellectual province of Europe, she will never attain to her natural greatness or fulfil the possibilities within her: Paradharmah bhayavahah, to accept the dharma of another is perilous; it deprives the man or the nation of its secret of life and vitality and substitutes an unnatural and stunted growth for the free, large and organic development of Nature. Whenever a nation has given up the purpose of its existence, it has been at the cost of its growth. India must remain India if she is to fulfil her destiny. Nor will Europe profit by grafting her civilization on India, for if India, who is the distinct physician of Europe’s maladies, herself falls into the clutches of the disease, the disease will remain uncured and incurable and European civilization will perish as it perished when Rome declined, first by dry rot within itself and last by irruption from without.
April (?), 1908 Aggressiveness
A certain class of minds shrinks from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful. “Heal hate by love, drive out injustice by justice, slay sin by righteousness” is their cry. Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love… The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality.
It is a barren philosophy, which applies a mechanical rule to all actions, or takes a word and tries to fit all human life into it. The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfillment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. Therefore, says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharat, God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.
Background – In 1908 Aurobindo was arrested in the Alipore Bomb case. During the one year that he spent in jail he had crucial experiences and revelations. When he was acquitted on 6/5/1909 he found the nationalistic movement at low ebb and started new English weekly called Karmayogin. Excerpts –
May 30, 1909 What is the Hindu religion?
The first message said, “I have given you a work and it is to help to uplift this nation. Before long the time will come when you will have to go out of jail; for it is not my will that this time either you should be convicted or that you should pass the time, as others have to do, in suffering for their country. I have called you to work, and that is the Adesh for which you have asked. I give you the Adesh to go forth and do my work.” The second message came and it said, “Something has been shown to you in this year of seclusion, something about which you had your doubts and it is the truth of the Hindu religion. It is this religion that I am raising up before the world; it is this that I have perfected and developed through the Rishis, saints and Avatars, and now it is going forth to do my work among the nations. I am raising up this nation to send forth my word….. When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists….
But what is the Hindu religion? What is this religion, which we call Sanatan, eternal? It is the Hindu religion only because the Hindu nation has kept it, because in this Peninsula it grew up in the seclusion of the sea and the Himalayas, because in this sacred and ancient land it was given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages. But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country, it does not belong peculiarly and for ever to a bounded part of the world. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion, which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal. A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can live only for a limited time and a limited purpose. This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations of philosophy. It is the one religion, which impresses on mankind the closeness of God to us and embraces in its compass all the possible means by which man can approach God. It is the one religion which insists every moment on the truth which all religions acknowledge that He is in all men and all things and that in Him we move and have our being. It is the one religion, which enables us not only to understand and believe this truth but to realize it with every part of our being. It is the one religion, which shows the world what the world is, that it is the Lila of Vasudeva. It is the one religion which shows us how we can best play our part in that Lila, its subtlest laws and its noblest rules. It is the one religion, which does not separate life in any smallest detail from religion, which knows what immortality is and has utterly removed from us the reality of death…
I said [last year] that this movement is not a political movement and that nationalism is not politics but a religion, a creed, a faith. I say it again today, but I put it in another way. I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma, which for us is nationalism… The Sanatan Dharma that is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you.
June 19, 1909 Indian vs European & Hindu Muslim
It is an error, we repeat, to think that spirituality is a thing divorced from life…. It is an error to think that the heights of religion are above the struggles of this world. The recurrent cry of Sri Krishna to Arjuna insists on the struggle; “Fight and overthrow thy opponents”, “Remember me and fight” Give up all thy works to me with a heart full of spirituality, and free from craving, free from selfish claims, fight! Let the fever of thy soul pass from thee.”
There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the sanatana dharma…..
The European sets great store by machinery. He seeks to renovate humanity by schemes of society and systems of government; he hopes to bring about the millennium by an act of Parliament. Machinery is of great importance, but only as a working means for the spirit within, the force behind. The nineteenth century in India aspired to political emancipation social renovation, religious vision and rebirth, but it failed because it adopted Western motives and methods, ignored the spirit, history and destiny of our race and thought that by taking over European education, European machinery, European organization and equipment we should reproduce in ourselves European prosperity, energy and progress. We of the twentieth century reject the aims, ideals and methods of the anglicized nineteenth, precisely because we accept its experience. We refuse to make an idol of the present; we look before and after, backward to the mighty history of our race, forward to the grandiose history for which that destiny has prepared it….
We say to the nation: “It is God’s will that we should be ourselves and not Europe. We have sought to regain life by following the law of another being than our own. We must return and seek the sources of life and strength within ourselves. We must know our past and recover it for the purpose of our future. Our business is to realize ourselves first and to mould everything to the law of India’s eternal life and nature….”
We say to the individual and especially to the young who are now arising to do India’s work, the world’s work, God’s work: “You cannot cherish these ideals, still less can you fulfill them if you subject your minds to European ideas or look at life from the material standpoint. Materially you are nothing, spiritually you are everything. It is only the Indian who can believe everything, dare everything, sacrifice everything. First, therefore, become Indians. Recover the patrimony of your forefathers. Recover the Aryan thought, the Aryan discipline, the Aryan character, the Aryan life. Recover the Vedanta, the Gita, and the Yoga. Recover them not only in intellect or sentiment but it in your lives…. Difficulty and impossibility will vanish from your vocabularies. For it is in the spirit that strength is eternal and you must win back the kingdom of yourselves, the inner Swaraj, before you can win back your outer empire…..
We do not fear Mohammedan opposition; so long as it is the honest Swadeshi article and not manufactured in Shillong or Simla, we welcome it as a sign of life and aspiration. We do not shun, we desire the awakening of Islam in India even if its first crude efforts are misdirected against ourselves; for all strength, all energy, all action is grist to the mill of the nation builder. In that faith we are ready, when the time comes for us to meet in the political field, to exchange with the Musulman, just as he chooses, the firm clasp of the brother or the resolute grip of the wrestler……
Of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Mahomedan unity cannot be affected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down, in the heart and in the mind, for where the causes of disunion are; there the remedies must be sought. We shall do well in trying to solve the problem to remember that misunderstanding is the most fruitful causes of our differences, that love compels love and that strength conciliates the strong. We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Musulman brother, remembering always that in him too Narayana dwells and to him too our Mother has given a permanent place in her bosom; but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter out of a selfish weakness and cowardice. We believe this to be the only practical way of dealing with the difficulty. As a political question the Hindu Mahomedan problem does not interest us at all, as a national problem it is of supreme importance.
June 25, 1909 Kshatriya Dharam
The virtue of the Brahmin is a great virtue. You shall not kill. This is what Ahimsa means. If the virtue of Ahimsa comes to the Kshatriya, if you say I will not kill, there is no one to protect the country. The happiness of the people will be broken down. Injustice and lawlessness will reign. The virtue becomes a source of misery, and you become instrumental in bringing misery and conflict to the people.
July 3, 1909 Progress after European education!
When confronted with the truths of Hinduism, the experience of deep thinkers and the choice spirits of the race through thousands of years, [the rationalist] shouts “Mysticism, mysticism!” and thinks he has conquered. To him there is order, development, progress, evolution, enlightenment in the history of Europe, but the past of India is an unsightly mass of superstition and ignorance best torn out of the book of human life. These thousands of years of our thought and aspiration are a period of the least importance to us and the true history of our progress only begins with the advent of European education !
August 28, 1909
Strength attracts strength; firm and clear-minded courage commands success and respect; strong and straight dealing can dispense with the methods of dissimulation and intrigue. All these are signs of character and it is only character that can give freedom and greatness to nations.
September 4, 1909 Muslim problem
Every action for instance which may be objectionable to a number of Mahomedans is now liable to be forbidden because it is likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and one is dimly beginning to wonder whether the day may not come when worship in Hindu temples may be forbidden on that valid ground.
September 11, 1909
Action solves the difficulties which action creates. Inaction can only paralyze and slay… The errors of life and progress are more exuberant and striking but less fatal than the errors of decay and reaction.
November 6, 1909 Separate Electorates for Muslims
The Mahomedans base their separateness and their refusal to regard themselves as Indians first and Mahomedans afterwards on the existence of great Mahomedan nations to which they fell themselves more akin, in spite of our common birth and blood, than to us, Hindus have no such resource. For good or evil, they are bound to the soil and to the soil alone. They cannot deny their Mother, neither can they mutilate her. Our ideal therefore is an Indian Nationalism, largely Hindu in its spirit and traditions, because the Hindu made the land and the people and persist, by the greatness of his past, his civilization and his culture and his invincible virility, in holding it, but wide enough also to include the Moslem and his culture and traditions and absorb them into itself.
November 27, 1909 Education
A purely scientific education tends to make thought keen and clear-sighted within certain limits, but narrow, hard and cold…. Man intellectually developed, mighty in scientific knowledge and the mastery of the gross and subtle nature, using the elements as his servants and the world as his foot- stool, but underdeveloped in heart and spirit, becomes only an inferior kind of asura the powers of a demigod to satisfy the nature of an animal.
December 11, 1909 Role of Fine Arts
Between them music, art poetry are a perfect education for the soul; they make and keep its movements purified, self-controlled, deep and harmonious. These therefore, are agents, which cannot profitably be neglected by humanity on its onward march or degraded to the mere satisfaction of sensuous pleasure, which will disintegrate rather than build the character. They are, when properly used, great educating, edifying and civilizing forces.
Early 1910 Religion in Europe & Bharat
There is no word so plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word is religion. The word is European…. The average Christian believes that the Bible is God’s book, but ordinarily he does not consider anything in God’s book binding on him in practice except to believe in God and go to Church once a week, the rest is meant only for the exceptionally pious. To believe in God is to believe that he wrote a book; only one in all those ages, and to go to Church is the minimum of religion in Europe.
Religion is India is a still more plastic term and may mean anything from the heights of Yoga to strangling your fellow man and relieving him of the worldly goods he may happen to be carrying with him. It would be too long to enumerate everything that can be included in Indian religion. Briefly however, it is Dharma or living religiously, whole life being governed by religion. It means in ordinary practice living according to authority. The authority generally accepted in the Shastra. When one studies the Shastra we realize that Indian life and it have little in common, the Indian governs his life by the custom and opinion of the nearest Brahman. In practice this resolves itself into following certain customs and observances of which he neither understands the spiritual meaning nor the practicality. For e.g. to venerate the scriptures without knowing them, to keep Hindu holidays, to worship all Brahmans without knowing whether they are venerable or not. This in India is the minimum of religion glorified as Sanathan Dharam. If a man has emotional or ecstatic piety, he is a Bhakta, if he can talk fluently about the Veda, Upanishads etc he is a Jnani. If he puts on a yellow robe and does nothing he is a tyagi or sannyasin.
The average Hindu is right in his conception of religion as dharma, to live according to holy rule, but the holy rule is not a mass of fugitive customs, but to live for God in oneself and others and not for oneself only, to make the whole life a sadhana the object of which is to realize the Divine in the world by work, love and knowledge.
Background – excerpts from the last few issues of Karmayogin before he left for Pondicherry i.e. to avoid being arrested by the Brits.
March 5, 1910 Education
A very remarkable feature of modern training, which has been subjected in India to a reduction ad absurdum, is the practice or teaching by snippets. A subject is taught a little at a time, in conjunction with a host of others, with the result that what might be well learnt in a single year is badly learned in seven and the boy goes out ill-equipped, served with imperfect parcels of knowledge, master of none of the great departments of human knowledge…
The old system was to teach one or two subjects well and thoroughly and then proceed to others, and certainly it was a more rational system than the modern. If it did not impart so much varied information, it built up a deeper, nobler and more real culture. Much of the shallowness, discursive lightness and fickle mutability of the average modern mind is due to the vicious principle of teaching by snippets. The one defect that can be alleged against the old system was that the subject earliest learned might fade from the mind of the student while he was mastering his later studies But the excellent training given to the memory by the ancients obviated the incidence of this defect. In the future education we need not bind ourselves either by the ancient or the modern system, but select only the most perfect and rapid means of mastering knowledge.
In defense of the modern system it is alleged that the attention of children is easily tired and cannot be subjected to the strain of long application to a single subject. The frequent change of subject gives rest to the mind. The question naturally arises: are the children of modern times then so different from the ancients, and if so, have we not made them so by discouraging prolonged concentration? …… A child of seven or eight, and that is the earliest permissible age for the commencement of any regular kind of study, is capable of a good deal of concentration if he is interested. Interest is, after all, the basis of concentration. We make his lessons supremely uninteresting and repellent to the child, a harsh compulsion the basis of teaching and then complain of his restless inattention! The substitution of a natural self-education by the child for the present unnatural system will remove this objection of inability. A child, like a man, if he is interested, much prefers to get to the end of his subject rather than leave it unfinished. To lead him on step-by-step, interesting and absorbing him in each as it comes, until he has mastered his subject is the true art of teaching.
The mother tongue is the proper medium of education and therefore the first energies of the child should be directed to the thorough mastering of the medium. Almost every child has an imagination, an instinct for words, a dramatic faculty, a wealth of idea and fancy. These should be interested in the literature and history of the nation. Instead of stupid and dry spelling and reading books, looked on as a dreary and ungrateful task, he should be introduced by rapidly progressive stages to the most interesting parts of his own literature and the life around him and behind him, and they should be put before him in such a way as to attract and appeal to the qualities of which I have spoken. All other study at this period should be devoted to the perfection of the mental functions and the moral character. A foundation should be laid at this time for the study of history, science, philosophy, art, but not in an obtrusive and formal manner. Every child is a lover of interesting narrative, a hero-worshipper and a patriot. Appeal to these qualities in him and through them let him master without knowing it the living and human parts of his nation’s history. Every child is an inquirer, an investigator, analyzer, and a merciless anatomist. Appeal to those qualities in him and let him acquire without knowing it the right temper and the necessary fundamental knowledge of the scientist. Every child has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and turn for metaphysical enquiry. Use it to draw him on slowly to an under-standing of the world and himself. Every child has the gift of imitation and a touch of imaginative power. Use it to give him the groundwork of the faculty of the artist…Teaching by snippets must be relegated to the lumber-room of dead sorrows.