The Psychology of Yoga

Yoga is not a modern invention of the human mind, but our

ancient and prehistoric possession. The Veda is our oldest extant

human document and the Veda, from one point of view, is a great

compilation of practical hints about Yoga. All religion is a flower

of which Yoga is the root; all philosophy, poetry & the works

of genius use it, consciously or unconsciously, as an instrument.

We believe that God created the world by Yoga and by Yoga

He will draw it into Himself again. Yogah prabhavapyayau,

Yoga is the birth and passing away of things. When Srikrishna

reveals to Arjuna the greatness of His creation and the manner

in which He has built it out of His being by a reconciliation

of logical opposites, he says “Pasya me yogam aishwaram”,

Behold my divine Yoga. We usually attach a more limited sense

to the word; when we use or hear it, we think of the details of

Patanjali’s system, of rhythmic breathing, of peculiar ways of

sitting, of concentration of mind, of the trance of the adept. But

these are merely details of particular systems. The systems are

not the thing itself, any more than the water of an irrigation

canal is the river Ganges. Yoga may be done without the least

thought for the breathing, in any posture or no posture, without

any insistence on concentration, in the full waking condition,

while walking, working, eating, drinking, talking with others, in

any occupation, in sleep, in dream, in states of unconsciousness,

semiconsciousness, double-consciousness. It is no nostrum or

system or fixed practice, but an eternal fact of process based on

the very nature of the Universe.

Nevertheless in practice the name may be limited to certain

applications of this general process for specific and definite ends.

Yoga stands essentially on the fact that in this world we are

everywhere one, yet divided; one yet divided in our being, one

with yet divided from our fellow creatures of all kinds, one with

The Psychology of Yoga 19

yet divided from the infinite existence which we call God, Nature

or Brahman. Yoga, generally, is the power which the soul in one

body has of entering into effective relation with other souls,

with parts of itself which are behind the waking consciousness,

with forces of Nature and objects in Nature, with the Supreme

Intelligence, Power & Bliss which governs the world either for

the sake of that union in itself or for the purpose of increasing

or modifying our manifest being, knowledge, faculty, force or

delight. Any system which organises our inner being&our outer

frame for these ends may be called a system of Yoga

VOLUME 12

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO P18-19

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How to see Indian Art

 

A seeing in the self accordingly becomes the characteristic

method of the Indian artist and it is directly enjoined on him by

the canon. He has to see first in his spiritual being the truth of

the thing he must express and to create its form in his intuitive

mind; he is not bound to look out first on outward life and

Nature for his model, his authority, his rule, his teacher or his

fountain of suggestions. Why should he when it is something

quite inward he has to bring out into expression? It is not an

idea in the intellect, a mental imagination, an outward emotion

on which he has to depend for his stimulants, but an idea, image,

emotion of the spirit, and the mental equivalents are subordinate

things for help in the transmission and give only a part of the

colouring and the shape. A material form, colour, line and design

are his physical means of the expression, but in using them he

is not bound to an imitation of Nature, but has to make the

form and all else significant of his vision, and if that can only

be done or can best be done by some modification, some pose,

some touch or symbolic variation which is not found in physical

Nature, he is at perfect liberty to use it, since truth to his vision,

the unity of the thing he is seeing and expressing is his only

business. The line, colour and the rest are not his first, but his

Indian Art – 1 269

last preoccupation, because they have to carry on them a world

of things which have already taken spiritual form in his mind.

He has not for instance to re-create for us the human face and

body of the Buddha or some one passion or incident of his life,

but to reveal the calm of Nirvana through a figure of the Buddha,

and every detail and accessory must be turned into a means or

an aid of his purpose. And even when it is some human passion

or incident he has to portray, it is not usually that alone, but

also or more something else in the soul to which it points or

from which it starts or some power behind the action that has

to enter into the spirit of his design and is often really the main

thing. And through the eye that looks on his work he has to

appeal not merely to an excitement of the outward soul, but

to the inner self, antar¯atman. One may well say that beyond

the ordinary cultivation of the aesthetic instinct necessary to all

artistic appreciation there is a spiritual insight or culture needed

if we are to enter into the whole meaning of Indian artistic

creation, otherwise we get only at the surface external things or

at the most at things only just below the surface. It is an intuitive

and spiritual art and must be seen with the intuitive and spiritual

eye.

This is the distinctive character of Indian art and to ignore

it is to fall into total incomprehension or into much misunderstanding.

Indian architecture, painting, sculpture are not only

intimately one in inspiration with the central things in Indian

philosophy, religion, Yoga, culture, but a specially intense expression

of their significance. There is much in the literature

which can be well enough appreciated without any very deep

entry into these things, but it is comparatively a very small

part of what is left of the other arts, Hindu or Buddhistic, of

which this can be said. They have been very largely a hieratic

aesthetic script of India’s spiritual, contemplative and religious

experience.

 

VOLUME 20

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO P 268-269

 

 

 

The real greatness of the Indian system of the four varnas

 

For the real greatness of the Indian system of the four varnas

did not lie in its well-ordered division of economic function;

its true originality and permanent value was in the ethical and

spiritual content which the thinkers and builders of the society

poured into these forms. This inner content started with the

idea that the intellectual, ethical and spiritual growth of the

individual is the central need of the race. Society itself is only the

necessary framework for this growth; it is a system of relations

which provides it with its needed medium, field and conditions

and with a nexus of helpful influences. A secure place had to

be found in the community for the individual man from which

he could at once serve these relations, helping to maintain the

society and pay it his debt of duty and assistance, and proceed

to his own self-development with the best possible aid from the

communal life. Birth was accepted in practice as the first gross

and natural indicator; for heredity to the Indian mind has always

ranked as a factor of the highest importance: it was even taken

in later thought as a sign of the nature and as an index to the

surroundings which the individual had prepared for himself by

his past soul-development in former existences. But birth is not

and cannot be the sole test of Varna. The intellectual capacity

A Rationalistic Critic on Indian Culture – 6 173

of the man, the turn of his temperament, his ethical nature,

his spiritual stature, these are the important factors. There was

erected therefore a rule of family living, a system of individual

observance and self-training, a force of upbringing and education

which would bring out and formulate these essential things.

The individual man was carefully trained in the capacities, habits

and attainments, and habituated to the sense of honour and duty

necessary for the discharge of his allotted function in life.He was

scrupulously equipped with the science of the thing he had to

do, the best way to succeed in it as an interest, artha, and to

attain to the highest rule, canon and recognised perfection of its

activities, economic, political, sacerdotal, literary, scholastic or

whatever else theymight be. Even the most despised pursuits had

their education, their law and canon, their ambition of success,

their sense of honour in the discharge and scruple of well-doing,

their dignity of a fixed standard of perfection, and it was because

they had these things that even the lowest and least attractive

could be in a certain degree a means of self-finding and ordered

self-satisfaction. In addition to this special function and training

there were the general accomplishments, sciences, arts, graces of

life, those which satisfy the intellectual, aesthetic and hedonistic

powers of human nature. These in ancient India were many

and various, were taught with minuteness, thoroughness and

subtlety and were available to all men of culture.

 

VOLUME 20

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO P 172-173

India of the ages is not dead

 

Afterwards came the night and a temporary end of all political

initiative and creation. The lifeless attempt of the last

generation to imitate and reproduce with a servile fidelity the

ideals and forms of the West has been no true indication of

the political mind and genius of the Indian people. But again

amid all the mist of confusion there is still the possibility of a

new twilight, not of an evening but a morning Yuga-sandhya.

India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative

word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and

the human peoples. And that which must seek now to awake is

not an anglicised oriental people, docile pupil of the West and

doomed to repeat the cycle of the Occident’s success and failure,

but still the ancient immemorable Shakti recovering her deepest

self, lifting her head higher towards the supreme source of light

and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and

a vaster form of her Dharma.

VOLUME 20

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO P 444

Indian Democracy (Part 2)

In Part 1, we made a preliminary foray into the study of Parliamentary Democracy in the Indian context. In this article, we make a brief survey of the political principle in Ancient Greece and India. These are the principle themes in this series :

1. A brief foray into parliamentary democracy in India

2. Observations from Ancient Democracies

3. Characteristics of Indian Polity (continued)

4. Psychological roots of the Modern Democratic system

5.  The Parliamentary system in India

 6.  The Indian Parliament – in Practice

7.  The Problem of the Party System

Democracy in the ancient Athens

We start with a story from Plato’s Republic. Although it is a simple story, it has profound political and philosophical implications. Plato wrote it as a thought-experiment, and he seeked to determine if humans naturally take the path of justice or injustice. The story in full is available here, but the key event is that a shepherd accidentally discovers a ring of invisibility. One may recall here the famous movie Lord of the Rings, based on Tolkien’s book – this in turn draws from Plato’s tale. In The Republic, one of the questions Plato sets forth to ask is – Does it pay to be Just? What is Justice? How would a man behave should he possess the power of invisibility that such a ring gives? How would two such men behave?

“Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.
:
If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.” 1

Invisibility gives secrecy, and secrecy is a form of invisibility. Any individual or group that is bestowed power with even a hint of this secrecy will, ‘naturally’, as Plato suggests, misuse it. With greater secrecy comes greater abuse of power. The ring of invisibility is allegorical, but in practice the abuse of (political) power are clearly felt by people of almost all nations. We may understand, or at the least – appreciate What the ‘Right to Information‘ Bill represents in our fledgling democracy – it seeks to reduce the invisibility, and increase transparency –  and is seen as so great a threat to the ring-holders, that it is met with violent opposition and hostility.

The Athenian Council

Another interesting feature of Athenian democracy was the composition of the Council and the method of selection. The Council consisted of 500 members who were neither selected nor elected; they were chosen by lottery. They functioned for one year only with the provision that any individual could be a member of the Council only twice. In this way, the number of participants over the years in the Assembly was large. What were the reasons behind this mode of selection? It was based on two assumptions. Firstly, the greater the number of participants in governance, the more it helped in creating a democratic society. Secondly a legislator who has assumed responsibility during his one year tenure, would be more understanding and careful in his criticism and demands – in other words more responsible. The Athenians were clear that a democratic society demands a sense of responsibility from its citizens. It is evident that the Athenians had a sound and fine understanding of democratic principles.

 

Democracy in ancient India

Similarly regarding the practice of Democracy in the ancient Indian polity, we shall note some of the striking features. The evolution of the ancient political system in India started from the unit of the village in Vedic times and moved later to the large kingdoms; in this process, it threw up certain very striking peculiarities which owing to the unique mentality of the race fixed themselves and became prominent and permanent characteristics and gave a different and unique stamp to the political, economic and social factors of Indian civilisation. It is important that we identify those characteristics for they can be signposts when we set out in search for a new political system for India.

The first characteristic

The religious and spiritual inclination has been predominant from the earliest times of Indian civilisation and has been one of the striking characteristics of the Indian people. Sri Aurobindo commented that this

brought about at the top of the social system the growth of the Brahmin order, priests, scholars, legists, and repositories of the sacred lore of the Vedas. 2

This development was not unique to India but it was given an unequalled permanence and supreme importance in India. And in fact, along these lines:

In other countries with a less complex mentality this predominance might have resulted in a theocracy: but the Brahmins in spite of their ever-increasing and predominant authority did not and could not usurp in India the political power. As sacrosanct priests and legists and spiritual preceptors of the monarch and the people there is no doubt that they exercised a very considerable influence, but the real or active political power remained with the king, the Kshatriya aristocracy and the commons. 3

In other words, despite the strong religious leaning of the Indian people, a theocracy and theocratic rule is completely foreign to the Indian mentality. There has never been, and will likely never be a theocracy in India.

The second characteristic

Given this  religio-spiritual inclination it was natural that the greatest reverence was reserved for the spiritual man. In ancient India he was known as the Rishi; he was the man of a higher spiritual experience and knowledge. But what did the Rishi have anything at all to do with people, politics or policy? Sri Aurobindo comments

A peculiar figure for some time was the Rishi, the man of a higher spiritual experience and knowledge, born in any of the classes, but exercising an authority by his spiritual personality over all, revered and consulted by the king of whom he was sometimes the religious preceptor and in the then fluid state of social evolution able alone to exercise an important role in evolving new basic ideas and effecting direct and immediate changes of the socio-religious ideas and customs of the people. It was a marked feature of the Indian mind that it sought to attach a spiritual meaning and a religious sanction to all, even to the most external social and political circumstances of its life, imposing on all classes and functions an ideal, not except incidentally of rights and powers, but of duties, a rule of their action and an ideal way and temperament, character, spirit in the action, a dharma with a spiritual significance. It was the work of the Rishito put this stamp enduringly on the national mind, to prolong and perpetuate it, to discover and interpret the ideal lawand its practical meaning, to cast the life of the people into the well-shaped ideals and significant forms of a civilisation founded on the spiritual and religious sense. 4

And even in later days, right till the modern times, this original character is still exercising its influence.

The third characteristic

Like in most other countries of the ancient world, the king was at the head of political power. But there were substantial differences, as Sri Aurobindo reveals,

“Indian monarchy was not, in spite of a certain sanctity and great authority conceded to the regal position and the personality of the king as the representative of the divine Power and the guardian of the Dharma, in any way a personal despotism or an absolutist autocracy: it had no resemblance to the ancient Persian monarchy or the monarchies of western and central Asia or the Roman imperial government or later European autocracies: it was of an altogether different type from the system of the Pathan or the Mogul emperors. The Indian king exercised supreme administrative and judicial power, was in possession of all the military forces of the kingdom and with his Council alone responsible for peace and war and he had too a general supervision and control over the good order and welfare of the life of the community, but his power was not personal and it was besides hedged in by safeguards against abuse and encroachment and limited by the liberties and powers of other public authorities and interests who were, so to speak, lesser co-partners with him in the exercise of sovereignty and administrative legislation and control. He was in fact a limited or constitutional monarch, although the machinery by which the constitution was maintained and the limitation effected differed from the kind familiar in European history; and even the continuance of his rule was far more dependentthan that of mediaeval European kings on the continued will and assent of the people.” 5

 

We have seen three defining characteristics of Indian Polity, but it is as yet an incomplete picture. For we may still ask – who, or what was greater than the King? We will turn to this question in Part 3 of this series.

Prof. Kittu Reddy

Other articles in this series

Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4   |   Part 5   |   Part 6   |   Part 7

“All political ideals must have relation to the temperament and past history of the race.“  –   Sri Aurobindo

 

Notes & References

  1. Book 2 of The Republic, by Plato 
  2. from Sri Aurobindo’s The Foundations of Indian Culture, Indian Polity – 1 
  3. ibid 
  4. ibid 
  5. ibid 

Indian democracy Part 1

 

How functional is our parliamentary system? A former Speaker of our Lok Sabha, someone who was..

 

 

How functional is our parliamentary system? A former Speaker of our Lok Sabha, someone who was recognised for his work asked this very question, on the suitability of our present system to India. So much has been written, thought and done in the name of reform, and so much is still being done, but few voices have asked, so clearly – if we need to question, as in a truly Original sense – Everything.

Is our form of governance even compatible with our ethos? What could be a more appropriate form of governance? What form did democracy take in ancient India, in Greece? What principles were they founded upon? How did these evolve over time? And finally, how can we apply these learnings to our present environment? Kittu Reddy- a teacher, author, friend & advisor to our previous Chief of Army Staff undertakes a study in this multi-part series which ideally, imho, should have been a part of our formal education and enquiry. Oh well! – it is never too late…

Indian Democracy – Part I

By Kittu Reddy
 

In the following articles, we are presenting Sri Aurobindo’s views on some aspects of the Indian political system; it is not an exhaustive presentation, but in the present churning that is taking place in India, it will be useful to comprehend the deeper vision of Sri Aurobindo in politics. This view might help us to steer the national political mind in a new direction.

Soon after attaining independence, India gave herself a constitution and became a democratic Republic on 26 January 1950 and has since been governed by this Constitution. This was indeed a commendable achievement, more particularly when one looks at some of the countries in our neighbourhood and even around the world. For it established a system of governance, a sound legal system and a fairly sound basis for a democratic socialistic society where elections were held regularly and the popular mandate was respected.

We may thus say that the democratic system has been established and accepted as an indispensable part of Indian political life; yet we have to recognise that in practice, there have been serious shortcomings and these will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

As a matter of fact, right from the beginning there were voices which raised doubts about the efficacy of this system and its suitability to the Indian nation. These voices increased with time and have now reached a crescendo in the last few months. Here is an extract from a speech 1  made by a former Speaker of our Lok Sabha (2004-2009), Somnath Chatterjee in August 2012:

After more than six decades of our Independence, we have come to a stage, when questions are being asked about the workability of our democratic set up based on the Parliamentary system and about the utility and relevance of our vital democratic institutions.

The question that arises is: how much of the fault lies in the system itself and how much in the misapplication that arises due to human frailty? If the fault lies in the system, we should take a close look at it and suggest changes more suited to the Indian temperament. Regarding the aspect of human weakness which is undoubtedly an important factor we shall not discuss it in this article for it will demand a deeper psychological approach. In this article, I shall try to present Sri Aurobindo’s views on Democracy and more particularly Parliamentary Democracy. We shall follow it up by making some suggestions for evolving a better democratic system more in tune with the Indian genius and temperament.

Sri Aurobindo was in active politics during the years 1906-1910. During that period in a comment he wrote:

Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development. To realise those conditions is also the aim of Hindu civilisation and the original intention of caste. The fulfilment of Hinduism is the fulfilment of the highest tendencies of human civilisation and it must include in its sweep the most vital impulses of modern life. It will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end. 2

Sri Aurobindo withdrew from active politics in 1910; but he continued taking active interest in politics and even wrote extensively on political thought in the Arya, a philosophical journal in Pondicherry.

In 1911, Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter on Parliamentary Democracy. We are quoting a portion of that letter:

Be very careful to follow my instructions in avoiding the old kind of politics. Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatana Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajñanam [ignorance]. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong samskaras and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force….. It is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions. 3

In another context, Sri Aurobindo remarked 4

It is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best.

[….]

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.

All these statements were made long before India attained its independence; yet we see how prophetic they are.

In the following article, we shall first see that Democracy is not a modern phenomenon; it was practised with some measure of success in ancient Athens and in ancient India; also they laid down some of the fundamental principles of a democratic society which will be very relevant to us even in modern times. While we will not go a detailed study of these systems, we will point out some striking features that show how well they grasped the true meaning of Democracy. Some of those features are worth understanding  and taking into consideration if we are to devise a new political system for India.

Prof. Kittu Reddy

Other articles in this series

Part I   |   Part II   |   Part III   |   Part IV

_______________________________________________________

 

Conversation with Sri Aurobindo

The above remark of Sri Aurobindo’s on parliamentary democracy is an excerpt of a conversation he had with his disciples in 1926, and appears in A.B.Puranii’s book Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo. For interested readers, we are excerpting here a larger portion of this conversation below. At the very onset of this book, Purani-ji inserted this note below which is worthwhile reproducing here as a conversation is being quoted.

The reader is requested to note that Sri Aurobindo is not responsible for these records as he had no opportunity to see them. So, it is not as if Sri Aurobindo said exactly these things but that I remember him to have said them. All I can say is that I have tried to be as faithful in recording them as I was humanly capable. That does not minimize my personal responsibility which I fully accept.

_______________________________________________________

Sri Aurobindo: I do not mean that the Indian States must adopt parliamentary institutions, or even that India must copy them from Europe. You think that the opposition between the State and the popular party must always be there. That is the European idea. It is not necessary to have that kind of opposition at all.

Disciple: Was there no such thing in ancient India?

Sri Aurobindo: There was; you need not have the same thing to-day. In India the communal freedom was very great. The communities had great powers and the State had no autocratic authority. The State was a kind of general supervising agency of all the communities. What these modern princes can do is to create great centres of life amongst their subjects, so that they may be the seats of real power and life of the nation. The princes need not take part as leaders; but they can help the growth of the nation.

Disciple: In olden times, had the villages also such great powers?

Sri Aurobindo: Yes, they had; it is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best. We had great communal liberty and the communities were the centres of power and of national life. The king could not infringe the right of the commune.

Disciple: The communities must be strong and living enough not to allow their rights to be snatched away.

Sri Aurobindo: It was so; the king had a continuity of policy from father to son and he could not infringe the rights of the communes; and 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. You think that this parliamentary government is the best form of government. In fact, that form has been a success nowhere except in England. In France, it is worse, in America, in spite of their being an Anglo-Saxon race, it has not succeeded.

Disciple: In Japan, is it the European form?

Sri Aurobindo: I don’t think so; in Italy and in South Europe the parliamentary form is there but they all copied the German constitution and there is no reality behind the form.

I don’t understand why everything should be centralised 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.

Disciple: Village organisation can also help in the creation of such centres.

Sri Aurobindo: Yes. But it is not by lectures and sermonising to the village people, as we are trying to do now.

Disciple: I have letters from a friend informing me that the organisation of co-operative societies has succeeded in Gujarat.

Sri Aurobindo: 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. But you can take the line of evolution and follow the bent of the genius of the race.

_______________________________________________________

Notes and References

 

  1. Chatterjee’s remark while addressing a seminar on August 13, 2012. See original piece on Yahoo news – Credibility of parliamentary system getting questioned – Somnath 
  2. Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, 21st Sep 1907, Caste & Democracy 
  3. Extract from a letter of Sri Aurobindo to Parthasarathi Aiyangar, 13 July 1911 
  4. From the conversation on 7-4-1926, as recorded by A.B.Purani in his book Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo 
 

“… a larger self that lives within us, by ourselves unseen “

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How functional is our parliamentary system? A former Speaker of our Lok Sabha, someone who was..

 

 

How functional is our parliamentary system? A former Speaker of our Lok Sabha, someone who was recognised for his work asked this very question, on the suitability of our present system to India. So much has been written, thought and done in the name of reform, and so much is still being done, but few voices have asked, so clearly – if we need to question, as in a truly Original sense – Everything.

Is our form of governance even compatible with our ethos? What could be a more appropriate form of governance? What form did democracy take in ancient India, in Greece? What principles were they founded upon? How did these evolve over time? And finally, how can we apply these learnings to our present environment? Kittu Reddy- a teacher, author, friend & advisor to our previous Chief of Army Staff undertakes a study in this multi-part series which ideally, imho, should have been a part of our formal education and enquiry. Oh well! – it is never too late…

Indian Democracy – Part I

By Kittu Reddy
 

In the following articles, we are presenting Sri Aurobindo’s views on some aspects of the Indian political system; it is not an exhaustive presentation, but in the present churning that is taking place in India, it will be useful to comprehend the deeper vision of Sri Aurobindo in politics. This view might help us to steer the national political mind in a new direction.

Soon after attaining independence, India gave herself a constitution and became a democratic Republic on 26 January 1950 and has since been governed by this Constitution. This was indeed a commendable achievement, more particularly when one looks at some of the countries in our neighbourhood and even around the world. For it established a system of governance, a sound legal system and a fairly sound basis for a democratic socialistic society where elections were held regularly and the popular mandate was respected.

We may thus say that the democratic system has been established and accepted as an indispensable part of Indian political life; yet we have to recognise that in practice, there have been serious shortcomings and these will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

As a matter of fact, right from the beginning there were voices which raised doubts about the efficacy of this system and its suitability to the Indian nation. These voices increased with time and have now reached a crescendo in the last few months. Here is an extract from a speech 1  made by a former Speaker of our Lok Sabha (2004-2009), Somnath Chatterjee in August 2012:

After more than six decades of our Independence, we have come to a stage, when questions are being asked about the workability of our democratic set up based on the Parliamentary system and about the utility and relevance of our vital democratic institutions.

The question that arises is: how much of the fault lies in the system itself and how much in the misapplication that arises due to human frailty? If the fault lies in the system, we should take a close look at it and suggest changes more suited to the Indian temperament. Regarding the aspect of human weakness which is undoubtedly an important factor we shall not discuss it in this article for it will demand a deeper psychological approach. In this article, I shall try to present Sri Aurobindo’s views on Democracy and more particularly Parliamentary Democracy. We shall follow it up by making some suggestions for evolving a better democratic system more in tune with the Indian genius and temperament.

Sri Aurobindo was in active politics during the years 1906-1910. During that period in a comment he wrote:

Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development. To realise those conditions is also the aim of Hindu civilisation and the original intention of caste. The fulfilment of Hinduism is the fulfilment of the highest tendencies of human civilisation and it must include in its sweep the most vital impulses of modern life. It will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end. 2

Sri Aurobindo withdrew from active politics in 1910; but he continued taking active interest in politics and even wrote extensively on political thought in the Arya, a philosophical journal in Pondicherry.

In 1911, Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter on Parliamentary Democracy. We are quoting a portion of that letter:

Be very careful to follow my instructions in avoiding the old kind of politics. Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatana Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajñanam [ignorance]. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong samskaras and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force….. It is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions. 3

In another context, Sri Aurobindo remarked 4

It is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best.

[….]

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.

All these statements were made long before India attained its independence; yet we see how prophetic they are.

In the following article, we shall first see that Democracy is not a modern phenomenon; it was practised with some measure of success in ancient Athens and in ancient India; also they laid down some of the fundamental principles of a democratic society which will be very relevant to us even in modern times. While we will not go a detailed study of these systems, we will point out some striking features that show how well they grasped the true meaning of Democracy. Some of those features are worth understanding  and taking into consideration if we are to devise a new political system for India.

Prof. Kittu Reddy

Other articles in this series

Part I   |   Part II   |   Part III   |   Part IV

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Conversation with Sri Aurobindo

The above remark of Sri Aurobindo’s on parliamentary democracy is an excerpt of a conversation he had with his disciples in 1926, and appears in A.B.Puranii’s book Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo. For interested readers, we are excerpting here a larger portion of this conversation below. At the very onset of this book, Purani-ji inserted this note below which is worthwhile reproducing here as a conversation is being quoted.

The reader is requested to note that Sri Aurobindo is not responsible for these records as he had no opportunity to see them. So, it is not as if Sri Aurobindo said exactly these things but that I remember him to have said them. All I can say is that I have tried to be as faithful in recording them as I was humanly capable. That does not minimize my personal responsibility which I fully accept.

_______________________________________________________

Sri Aurobindo: I do not mean that the Indian States must adopt parliamentary institutions, or even that India must copy them from Europe. You think that the opposition between the State and the popular party must always be there. That is the European idea. It is not necessary to have that kind of opposition at all.

Disciple: Was there no such thing in ancient India?

Sri Aurobindo: There was; you need not have the same thing to-day. In India the communal freedom was very great. The communities had great powers and the State had no autocratic authority. The State was a kind of general supervising agency of all the communities. What these modern princes can do is to create great centres of life amongst their subjects, so that they may be the seats of real power and life of the nation. The princes need not take part as leaders; but they can help the growth of the nation.

Disciple: In olden times, had the villages also such great powers?

Sri Aurobindo: Yes, they had; it is the European idea that makes you think that the parliamentary form or constitution is the best. We had great communal liberty and the communities were the centres of power and of national life. The king could not infringe the right of the commune.

Disciple: The communities must be strong and living enough not to allow their rights to be snatched away.

Sri Aurobindo: It was so; the king had a continuity of policy from father to son and he could not infringe the rights of the communes; and 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. You think that this parliamentary government is the best form of government. In fact, that form has been a success nowhere except in England. In France, it is worse, in America, in spite of their being an Anglo-Saxon race, it has not succeeded.

Disciple: In Japan, is it the European form?

Sri Aurobindo: I don’t think so; in Italy and in South Europe the parliamentary form is there but they all copied the German constitution and there is no reality behind the form.

I don’t understand why everything should be centralised 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.

Disciple: Village organisation can also help in the creation of such centres.

Sri Aurobindo: Yes. But it is not by lectures and sermonising to the village people, as we are trying to do now.

Disciple: I have letters from a friend informing me that the organisation of co-operative societies has succeeded in Gujarat.

Sri Aurobindo: 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. But you can take the line of evolution and follow the bent of the genius of the race.

_______________________________________________________

Notes and References

 

  1. Chatterjee’s remark while addressing a seminar on August 13, 2012. See original piece on Yahoo news – Credibility of parliamentary system getting questioned – Somnath 
  2. Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, 21st Sep 1907, Caste & Democracy 
  3. Extract from a letter of Sri Aurobindo to Parthasarathi Aiyangar, 13 July 1911 
  4. From the conversation on 7-4-1926, as recorded by A.B.Purani in his book Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo 
 

“… a larger self that lives within us, by ourselves unseen “

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