The Significance of the word Arya- Sri Aurobindo

“Arya”—Its Significance
What is the significance of the name, “Arya”?
The question has been put from more than one point of view.
To most European readers the name figuring on our cover1 is
likely to be a hieroglyph which attracts or repels according to
the temperament. Indians know the word, but it has lost for
them the significance which it bore to their forefathers. Western
Philology has converted it into a racial term, an unknown ethnological
quantity on which different speculations fix different
values. Now, even among the philologists, some are beginning
to recognise that the word in its original use expressed not a
difference of race, but a difference of culture. For in the Veda
the Aryan peoples are those who had accepted a particular type
of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of
aspiration. The Aryan gods were the supraphysical powers who
assisted the mortal in his struggle towards the nature of the
godhead. All the highest aspirations of the early human race, its
noblest religious temper, its most idealistic velleities of thought
are summed up in this single vocable.
In later times, the word Arya expressed a particular ethical
and social ideal, an ideal ofwell-governed life, candour, courtesy,
nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity,
compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of
social duty, eagerness for knowledge, respect for the wise and
learned, the social accomplishments. It was the combined ideal
of the Brahmana and the Kshatriya. Everything that departed
from this ideal, everything that tended towards the ignoble,
mean, obscure, rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan. There
is no word in human speech that has a nobler history.
1 aAy —the word “¯arya” printed in Devanagari script on the cover of the review.
See page 97.—Ed.
442 The Question of the Month
In the early days of comparative Philology, when the scholars
sought in the history of words for the prehistoric history of
peoples, it was supposed that the word Arya came from the root
ar, to plough, and that the Vedic Aryans were so called when
they separated from their kin in the north-west who despised
the pursuits of agriculture and remained shepherds and hunters.
This ingenious speculation has little or nothing to support it.
But in a sense we may accept the derivation. Whoever cultivates
the field that the Supreme Spirit has made for him, his earth of
plenty within and without, does not leave it barren or allow it
to run to seed, but labours to exact from it its full yield, is by
that effort an Aryan.
If Arya were a purely racial term, a more probable derivation
would be ar, meaning strength or valour, from ar, to fight,
whence we have the name of the Greek war-god Ares, areios,
brave or warlike, perhaps even aret¯e, virtue, signifying, like the
Latin virtus, first, physical strength and courage and then moral
force and elevation. This sense of the word also we may accept.
“We fight to win sublime Wisdom, therefore men call us warriors.”
For Wisdom implies the choice as well as the knowledge
of that which is best, noblest, most luminous, most divine. Certainly,
it means also the knowledge of all things and charity and
reverence for all things, even the most apparently mean, ugly or
dark, for the sake of the universal Deity who chooses to dwell
equally in all. But, also, the law of right action is a choice, the
preference of that which expresses the godhead to that which
conceals it. And the choice entails a battle, a struggle. It is not
easily made, it is not easily enforced.
Whoever makes that choice, whoever seeks to climb from
level to level up the hill of the divine, fearing nothing, deterred
by no retardation or defeat, shrinking from no vastness because
it is too vast for his intelligence, no height because it is too high
for his spirit, no greatness because it is too great for his force
and courage, he is the Aryan, the divine fighter and victor, the
noble man, aristos, best, the ´sres.t.
ha of the Gita.
Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an
effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who
“Arya”—Its Significance 443
strives and overcomes all outside him and within him that stands
opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law
of his nature. He overcomes earth and the body and does not
consent like ordinary men to their dullness, inertia, dead routine
and tamasic limitations. He overcomes life and its energies
and refuses to be dominated by their hungers and cravings or
enslaved by their rajasic passions. He overcomes the mind and
its habits, he does not live in a shell of ignorance, inherited
prejudices, customary ideas, pleasant opinions, but knows how
to seek and choose, to be large and flexible in intelligence even
as he is firm and strong in his will. For in everything he seeks
truth, in everything right, in everything height and freedom.
Self-perfection is the aim of his self-conquest. Therefore
what he conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils.
He knows that the body, life and mind are given him in
order to attain to something higher than they; therefore they
must be transcended and overcome, their limitations denied,
the absorption of their gratifications rejected. But he knows
also that the Highest is something which is no nullity in the
world, but increasingly expresses itself here,—a divine Will,
Consciousness, Love, Beatitude which pours itself out, when
found, through the terms of the lower life on the finder and on
all in his environment that is capable of receiving it. Of that he
is the servant, lover and seeker. When it is attained, he pours
it forth in work, love, joy and knowledge upon mankind. For
always the Aryan is a worker and warrior. He spares himself no
labour of mind or body whether to seek the Highest or to serve
it. He avoids no difficulty, he accepts no cessation from fatigue.
Always he fights for the coming of that kingdom within himself
and in the world.
The Aryan perfected is the Arhat. There is a transcendent
Consciousness which surpasses the universe and of which all
these worlds are only a side-issue and a by-play. To that consciousness
he aspires and attains. There is a Consciousness
which, being transcendent, is yet the universe and all that the
universe contains. Into that consciousness he enlarges his limited
ego; he becomes one with all beings and all inanimate objects
444 The Question of the Month
in a single self-awareness, love, delight, all-embracing energy.
There is a consciousness which, being both transcendental and
universal, yet accepts the apparent limitations of individuality
for work, for various standpoints of knowledge, for the play
of the Lord with His creations; for the ego is there that it may
finally convert itself into a free centre of the divine work and
the divine play. That consciousness too he has sufficient love,
joy and knowledge to accept; he is puissant enough to effect
that conversion. To embrace individuality after transcending it
is the last and divine sacrifice. The perfect Arhat is he who is
able to live simultaneously in all these three apparent states of
existence, elevate the lower into the higher, receive the higher
into the lower, so that he may represent perfectly in the symbols
of the world that with which he is identified in all parts of his triple and triune Brahman.

CWSA Vol 13 p 340-344


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