Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Mahatma Gandhi

Dear Friends,

Not many people are aware of the fact Mahatma Gandhi had visited Pondicherry on 17 February 1934. Ever since his return to India from South Africa in 1915, he was desirous to meet Sri Aurobindo. For the purpose of arranging a meeting with Sri Aurobindo, the Mahatma had written to Govindbhai Patel, a follower of Sri Aurobindo who was initially associated with him. But when the permission for an interview was refused by Sri Aurobindo, the Mahatma wrote directly to Sri Aurobindo on 2 January 1934.

Today we take the opportunity of sharing with you a portion of the letter Mahatma Gandhi had written to Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo’s reply to him dated 7 January 1934.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Chairman,

Overman Foundation.

                                                        *

                     Mahatma Gandhi’s letter to Sri Aurobindo

 

…Perhaps you know that ever since my return to India I have been anxious to meet you face to face. Not being able to do that, I sent my son to you. Now that it is almost certain that I am to be in Pondicherry, will you spare me a few minutes & see me! I know how reluctant you are to see anybody. But if you are under no positive vow of abstinence, I hope you will give me a few minutes of your time…

                           Sri Aurobindo’s reply to Mahatma Gandhi

Dear Mahatmaji,

   It is true that I have made no vow, for I never make one, but my retirement is not less binding on me so long as it—and the reason for it—lasts. I think you will understand that it is not a personal or mental choice but something impersonal from a deeper source for the inner necessity of work and sadhana. It prevents me from receiving you but I cannot do otherwise than keep to the rule I have adhered to for some years past.

                                                                              Sri Aurobindo

 

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18 Comments

  1. Mahesh Chauhan said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:30 am

    You have published just a portion of the letter Gandhiji wrote to Sri Aurobindo. Could you publish the full?

  2. T.ch.Venkateswara Rao said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Since Lord Krishna descended in to Sri Aurobindo we have to consider that the reply of SriAurobindo is the reply of Lord Krishna in His Avatar as Sri Aurobindo. It is not possible to get interview of Lord Krishna unless one realises the divinity within.

  3. Prithwindra Mukherjee said,

    March 10, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for this very precious and timely document. Would it not have been worth reproducing the fac-simile ?
    Prithwindra Mukherjee

  4. Srinivas Mulugu said,

    March 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

    This exchange reflects the humility of Mahatma Gandhi and also points to the seriousness of the sadhana in which Sri Aurobindo was engaged. When we hear of Sri Aurobindo staying in a room for 26 years, we kind of tell ourselves, “Oh that’s how he lived”, quite casually. Its not just the way he lived. Every single day, every hour of it was serious sadhana, the purpose of which probably we can not even fully understand.

  5. Sandeep said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Sri Aurobindo: It is true that I have made no vow, for I never make one

    He never made vows. This reminds me of the following interaction between Tagore and Gandhi discussed in Amartya Sen’s essay “Tagore and his India”
    online at http://www.countercurrents.org/culture-sen281003.htm

    Tagore’s deep aversion to any commitment to the past that could not be modified by contemporary reason extended even to the alleged virtue of invariably keeping past promises. On one occasion when Mahatma Gandhi visited Tagore’s school at Santiniketan, a young woman got him to sign her autograph book. Gandhi wrote: “Never make a promise in haste. Having once made it fulfill it at the cost of your life.” When he saw this entry, Tagore became agitated. He wrote in the same book a short poem in Bengali to the effect that no one can be made “a prisoner forever with a chain of clay.” He went on to conclude in English, possibly so that Gandhi could read it too, “Fling away your promise if it is found to be wrong.”

  6. uma said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Anurag ji, your service is great.

  7. Raman Reddy said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:42 am

    I would think that one of the the reasons why Sri Aurobindo declined to meet Gandhi is political. At this point, after coming to Pondicherry, he abstained from politics. The meeting with Gandhi would have been viewed by the British with political overtones. We must remember that India was not free then (in 1934) and Pondicherry was under the French. By saying this, I don’t curtail the spiritual reasons, which are beyond our speculation. What I would tend to think though is that the political reason was linked with the spiritual reason, in the sense that he needed the time and circumstances to concentrate on his greater work for humanity — finding the way to the Supermind.

  8. Rajiv Rattan said,

    March 11, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Dear Anurag dada,

    So Sri Aurobindo never did meet him. Right?

    Very interesting. I was not aware of this correspondence.

    Warm Regards,

    Rajiv Rattan

  9. Nirmalya Mukherjee said,

    March 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Dear Mr Banerjee,

    I believe this an old piece and if I am not wrong six such attempts were made in private and public by the Mahatma to meet SA and each time it was refused. In personal I feel that SA did not meet him as he wouldn’t have liked to come out of the work pleasure that he was already in experimenting with yoga and supermind. He might have also wanted to avoid a possible call from Gandhi to join the freedom movement then at its peak which would then become very controversial as he was not in a position to oblige him at that point of time leaving his experiments towards his endeavor for a search of an undefined non physical. His refusals to Gandhi would have only shown him in poor light had he refused the to be Father of the Nation. Earlier he had refused calls from Tagore, C R Das and many other national personalities. But nationally Gandhi was too sensitive for him. He did the right thing for a bigger cause….But then why did he not meet , Somerset Maugham who left his card at the gates of Pondicherry some time in the late 30s while Maugham was crossing India from China as part of his work on his famous book ‘Razor’s Edge’. But he did allow permission to Cartier Bresson to take photographs and also met Sylan Levi and Tagore. Bresson however did not gift the photographs and only sold it to the Ashram. How mean for one of world’s tallest photographers. Though SA would say that professionally he was right. In fact, SA was always right in judging people given his sparkling intellectual prowess and insights into human mind.

    Best,
    Nirmalya Mukherjee

    • January 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      But, if i recall correctly, Sri Aurobindo did meet Lala Lajpatrai in private one-on-one meeting in Pondichery…

  10. March 11, 2011 at 9:14 am

    It is not possible to divine any ‘reasons’ other than the ones mentioned by the Master- since ‘his life was not lived in the outer for others to write about’ as He himself put the impossibility of trying to fathom actions that spring from a realm not ordinary.

    That apart, one can always note that He out of his infinite mercy and compassion to reluctant stagglers upon the path like Dilip and KM Munshi did infact break his own rule of granting exceptional personal audience even right till the end.

    M K Gandhi also had this habit of claiming the very opposite of what the other stands for- such as his own queer ahimsa message of Geetha, something Tilak took strong excpetions to.

    Infact Gandhiji was the last person with whom Tilak a comrade of Sri Aurobindo had evening talks with.

    The unquoted rest of letter has something like ‘one’s own way’ of approach regarding Independence, and inspiration, and how inspite of the Lord’s disagreements it did have the divine guidance.

    Sri Aurobindo did meet Gandhi’s son where we have this humourous side
    that stands out-

    “You say you are aYogi and you are attcahed to smoking?”

    The Lord with a flash bounced it back with the retort-

    “and you are attched to non-smoking?”

    Also the futilty of the meet also comes out here-

    After a long and stubborn shibolith of Ahimsa was eulogised, Sri Aurobindo put this question to Gandhi’s son-

    “what would you do if the Afghan King decides to invade India? meet it with your charkas?”

    He himself tells later- he had no answer for that one, and we see the refractory mind of this fanatic saint cultists in shaking the head and quipping-
    after that I saw no point in talking to him!

    Well. Truth is God but incovenient Truth an inconvenient God this Sri Aurobindo?

    The best of our Master’s compassion comes when after he was shot by a misguided Hindu- when he calls him Mahatma as well as tells bluntly that it was an un-Hindu act.

    This is even after He was rebuffed during Cripp’s proposal that he asked Gandhi to accept to avoid the Disaster imminent-

    ” Why is that old man interfering in politics, he had after all retired!”

    The Mother used to reflect painfully on this years later, and how Pakistan was never a divine intention but the result of shortsightedness and stupidity of the leaders.

    Someone refer to our Master as SA! Another tells us of Gandhi’s humilty!!

    Just see for yourself who was really humble. The Mother, how right She was in saying ” I have seen perfect humilty in only Sri Aurobindo”.

    Gandhi also ran the movement like defacto dictator, with moral violence.

    Just check the treatment of Subash Bose’s repeat election.

    No consideration was given to democratic will or consensus.

    Subash later named 2 regiments of Azad Hind Army after Gandhi and Nehru!

    Truly Bengal then gave us giants of men with largest hearts?

    If you wrote to him short hand Pranams to ‘SA’, probably He would have joked about it when we are pained.

    ” SA, for a minute I thought you meant South Africa!”

    In one of the libertarian letters from sadhaks we find Him brush away lightly even irreverent references…’the fool being myself…” he carries on replying to his own disciple.

    I think you will find that in Dilip’s correspondence arguing against Supramental advent.

    • Hans Raj Mishra said,

      January 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Great Write up. I shall preserve this as a treasure. Sri Aurobindo is next to impossible for common mortals to gauge and understand. In his words : A slander River! only a spark is visible – light source is simply beyond our imagination. Yes, I agree with you- Bengal gave the true Giants with Largest Hearts. We just can’t compare Bengali Stalwatrs with others in India. It will take many centuries for common Indians to understand what Seers like Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramkrishna , Swami Vivekananda (and many less known )conceptualized.

  11. Khitish chandra Udgata said,

    March 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Dear Sri Mukherjee, Mahatmaji”s letter to Sri Aurobindo reflects the inner personality of a great leader committed to his goal.At the same time people of I ndia will know Sri Aurbindo about whom History has failed to record political contribution of a great soul.The people of India as well of the world will realise in the future the spiritual dimension of struggle for freedom movement in India. It is a precious publication.thanks

  12. nirmalya mukherjee said,

    March 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Dear Writers

    I am very happy with your comments and obviously approve of what has been communicated to me on my obsevations about SA but of course with reservations. But I believe my questions have not been answered. I understand one cannot afford to be a fanatic in dealing with AG ( Aurobindo also liked in being called in that way before his self exile from 24th Nov 1926 the claimed day for the descent of the overmind according to AG and that too six yrs later ! He told Mira Richard it was the descent of the overmind.)

    What is sent are only emotional outbursts without any cognitive thoughts. I would prefer to ignore them. The story of Devdas Gandhi and AG about smoking is apocryphal like many other stories floating about the occult powers of Mira Richard ( as she learnt under Max and Alma Theon in Algiers but could not somehow convince Paul with it, who also claimed that he was a great occultist ) and some supraphysical acts of AG. As Devdas never approved of the story so also did AG never talk about it. I am really sorry to say these are only handiworks of certain Aurobindo eccentrics and is grossly un / non Aurobindonian. Please do not bring damage to this great talent and intellect of India as a genuine creative author that A.G was.

    Best,
    Nirmalya

    • March 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

      The story of Devdas Gandhi and AG about smoking is apocryphal…
      How so and on what basis?
      Apocryphal in dictionary states this-
      Apocryphal-adjective-
      ‘Believed by people, but probably not true.
      “Probably not true but believed by people.’
      Where does any question at all arise about a Conversation recorded by Purani his long time confident and since revolutionary days?
      And why should one doubt that?
      X said to Y, and since Y had recorded innumerable such conversations as soon as he retired to his room after such talks, and Y being a long time Companion.
      Besides all records were heard and corrected to the Comma and sent to press.
      And no where we have reason to doubt that such a conversations were all baseless, and not factual reports- and here comes this historian telling us we better he get wise by dismissing it altogether as conjecture and hallucinatory?
      What for?
      So this genius can proceed to dismiss many such facts as all so many ‘Apocryphal anecdotes’ and not historical records.
      So we are to understand that the Descent also was another ‘apocryphal’ invention despite all Sri Aurobindo had to pen regarding this event-showing ignorance of vocabulary.
      Next we are to understand that Savitri was Plagiarised from some Greek original and that Life Divine was taken from NeoPlatonian sources.
      The whole divine life is extreme Fanaticism and we are auro-talibanis!
      Since he needlessly accused me of being a Talibani let us see if he would go into their Forum uninvited, pompously declare –
      “Since I am here to confer a left handed compliment on M, the M-eccentrics and M-fanatics are better informed that all of the Hadith and Koran are apocryphal”.
      Oh!
      There our Genius Mainstream will display utter Parkinson tremor, and care that he doesn’t even step inadvertently upon a raw nerve.
      There won’t be any mono-syllables like M.
      And by mistake he does that in his dream, our Banerji knows the consequence.
      He will make sure that happened only in his dream, for he knows what fanatics they are.
      Our Prophet is addressed as M? And he drags in the mother of muslims Aysha as simply Aysha Abu bakr?

      Nothing like this he would dare to pen again like here if an M-Taliban protests-

      ‘Like many other stories floating about the occult powers of Mira Richard ( as she learnt under Max and Alma Theon in Algiers but could not somehow convince Paul with it, who also claimed that he was a great occultist ) and some supraphysical acts of AG”
      Let us rephrase to see whether it was appropriate in an Islamic Forum, having gone there addressed M as M, since he believes M likes to be insulted so, and so the M-eccentrics musnt mind since he is there to confer a grand title of “genuine Creative Author’ and “Great talent and intellect of India”.
      Then he drags in as a retort to add insult to injury A- A being?
      Would he dare do that there? Any other fresh line of meaningless innuendos in defense of socio-path bravado but that.
      Because he knows they wouldn’t hurt, and he knows fanatics as they come in that color and shade- the eccentric and mainstream aurobindonians are soft targets.

      Maybe its ‘un-aurobindonian’ to moan hearing His name profaned in slight- AG.
      But Iam sure of this?
      This is from another gatherer of Apochryphal deciever Nirodbaran-who made us wrongly believe that Savitri was dictated by Him-
      ‘Someone’s daughter was hearing a family slander the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.
      When they crossed a limit, then the girl stood up and shouted-
      “Enough. One more word and you wont know what I will do!’
      Sri Aurobindo heard this from the Mother and when She narrated this He was really pleased.”
      Enough?
      You can take back your Honarary title as He doesnt seem to mind missing that and encourages eccentrics like us to emulate such sensitivity when it comes to our divine Mother?
      Now to the fanatic Taliban-
      One may not share the belief system of a Christian but its absolute display of misdemeanor if one were to address him at a Christian Forum- condescendingly, as
      -“JC would be done great injustice by such Christo- fanatics, from being conferred the honour of being admitted “JC the Spiritual Genius”
      ’unless he bends down meekly at such plentiful profanation, suggestive slanders along with this left handed compliment (with which he perhaps dines as well and hence such easily forthcoming trash)-
      This honour not just conditional upon the Forum tolerating his JC, but MM and MG which JC also had somehow mystically put into his head which are however not “handiworks’ and ‘eccentric’?, that in fact he loves to such irreverence for He eagerly awaits upon being conferred the honorariums of such titles.
      MM= Mother Mary, MG= Mary Magdalene…and the squirming Christians who visit such sites with some trace of respect and adoration which are natural must indeed look ‘eccentric’!
      But our Mainstream genius wouldn’t try such tricks of trade at Christian Forums, and by chance he does this Investigative Revisionism he wouldnt even dare or draem it at say, Islam man Foundation, even if armed with such absolute innovations and twists regarding M.
      M being the Prophet, in the vocabulary of such mainstream Liberal Normals, and this sort of behavior and its tail doesn’t wag there.
      The Genius knows the conesquences, for true fanatics would have been showcasing his head for addressing M and A, and then spin a yarn with an aim to unsettle the believer with pure unsubstantiated canards and gibberish.
      M being you know who and A again.
      Or are we to believe he would dare to?
      No sir, not by the longest shot.
      Such wanton spiritual vandals will automatically show respect, and will skip around the issue and talk anything else but not provide a direct answer.
      Is it a Yes or No.
      I have with me a number of Forums run by my esteemed Muslim friends as well as Christians.
      Are we to believe this same kind of post with his brandishing his real full name so he can be traced can be expected?
      Anything but that. More verbose baloney, calptrap, more drivel,curses and what not- but not the fact that such worms and cowards will dare not do this to other faith systems.

      Which proves what sir?
      That we Aurobindo-eccentrics are fanatics?
      Or that such gentlemen are Rational Bravehearts?
      Or does it prove we arent and no matter what nonsense you utter about their revered Personalities, you risk no harm?
      Otherwise why is that these gentlemen yet to pen such inanities and insults there?
      No sir, they are not only incapable but also absolutely tremulous when suggested that this behavior be tried elsewhere.
      And exactly for this reason I inform him that its high time we turn real fanatics and eccentrics.
      He can take his grandiose and lunatic Title conferment to the Pope. Our Master doesnt need that.
      One more such insult and Banerjee is informed he runs a serious risk of whatever he can expect elsewhere.
      Its better to be eccentric than be “wise ‘ and “enlightened’ with such selective abusers and needless insulters of what we adore in our hearts more than our own parents.
      You idiot go and try this some where else.
      We will not tolerate any disrespect at our Forums to our mater nor the Divine Mother.
      If anything had to be discussed it must maintain the decorum of a public forum and grant respect to the sensibilities of the practitioners of the faith, however much it is false and unwarranted as it strikes your genius mind.
      What exactly are the handiworks is not stated in quotes from sources.
      How they at once at the cursing of this “Genius of Irreverence” to Spiritual Masters at their own Forums in terms such as-
      Aurobondo-Eccentrics –
      While mainstream as well ‘eccentric’ Spiritual seekers, besides in general the public of Pondicherry to the media in general address the divine Mother as The Mother-
      This genius of irreverance, insolence and block headedness-
      surely a tribe that hopes by repetition of its stupidity, insensitivity and crudity of social demeanor by the sheer feat of joining together non-sequitiors, personal fallacies, spiritual ignorance, calumny, pseudo-rationality, lack of objectivity, and an endless other peculiarities, oddities, symptoms of spiritual ignorance which are beyond the scope of normal psychology to fathom nor fix, for it requires the repair of genius hands that work in that field of psychiatry with similar cases of advanced premature dementia and sociopathy, minds that truly delight in hurting others and cherishing its own delusions of grandeur-of conferring Titles on Sri Aurbindo as a ‘Creative author’!
      -a tribe of bent minds with putridly investigative noxious and empty thoughts,
      One may not share the belief system of a Christian but its absolute display of misdemeanor if one were to address him at a Christian Forum- condescendingly, as
      -“JC would be done great injustice by such Christian fanatics, from being conferred the honors of being admitted “JC the Creative author’ of the Bible.”
      ’unless he bends down meekly at such plentiful profanation, suggestive slanders along with this left handed compliment (with which he perhaps dines as well and hence such easily forthcoming trash)-
      This honour not just conditional upon the Forum tolerating his JC, but MM and MG which JC also had somehow mystically put into his head which are however not “handiworks’ and ‘eccentric’?, that in fact he loves to such irreverence for He eagerly awaits upon being conferred the honorariums of such titles.
      MM= Mother Mary, MG= Mary Magdalene…and the squirming Christians who visit such sites with some trace of respect and adoration which are natural must indeed look ‘eccentric’!
      But our Mainstream genius wouldn’t try such tricks of trade at Christian Forums, and by chance he does this Investigative Revisionism he wouldn’t even dare or dream it at say, Islamman Foundation, even if armed with such absolute innovations and twists regarding M.
      M being the Prophet, in the vocabulary of such mainstream Liberal Normals, and this sort of behavior and its tail doesnt wag there.
      This is not to at once jump at and catch straws that it proves misunderstanding Sri Aurobindo as a founder of Religion.
      We know that.
      Since you do not grant any genuine Spiritual basis to His being viewed at except on grounds of our own subjective experience and faith- what is at least granted to such faith systems and what is proper and improper at forums run for the believers and practioners be at least respected.
      I have seen that such infected and corrosive minds are never good at logic but only more fresh curses and tangential flights in logical fallacies and keep on arguing, and that it is exactly these elements most unregenerate and inveterate haters of spiritual truths that will bear the shock of the advent-
      Mother puts it-One feels a punch in the nose when given a blow doesn’t he?
      We will see.

  13. Sandeep said,

    March 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    > But I believe my questions have not been answered.

    About SA refusing to see Somerset Maugham? Well, the Guru acts based on inner consent and vision. He sees only those who have spiritual potential. Why waste time on curiosity seekers?

    > The story of Devdas Gandhi and AG about smoking is apocryphal

    Actually, it is mentioned in Nirodbaran’s Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo (p 12) and Nirod should know since he was around when the conversation occurred(primary source?). You can’t expect Sri Aurobindo to dictate notes after every conversation to some secretary for the sake of posterity, since he wasn’t interested in the verdict of history. Whatever survives is the faithful work his disciples. Surely, you aren’t suggesting that Nirod was exaggerating?

    > apocryphal… occult powers of Mira Richard…and some supraphysical acts of AG

    I hope you would agree that these judgements that you make out of intellectual skepticism are just as invalid as the judgements that some devotees make out of blind faith.

    It requires a few spiritual experiences to open oneself to the possibility that maybe Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were not exaggerating.

  14. March 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

    The diffculty is that of Newtonian late bloomers unable to get the hang of Reality, in the post-Quantum era.

    Scepticism of ‘other worlds’ is as unscientific as human mind’s ability to know them besides Theoretical mathematical speculations.

    At least it should be conceded that what the Particle physcist admits to exist and be within the grasp of his probing mind must hold good for the tread of an ‘occult-mystic’?

    It is another blunder to think the divine Mother learnt occultism form Theon- we have Her own narratives as well as a beautiful Painting of Her Out of the bodt Experience as young as 5 years, and the ‘something’ that hovered over Her head as a Power and Light since childhood that traditional tantra was unable to explain-
    Which is what gave us the Mother- as She swent in search of someone who would explain these phenomenon, as traditional Eastern Mysticism had no records of it save as hints in the Vedas.

    Also Mother tried a work with Theon along certain lines and the full explanations are in the Mother’s own log-Agenda.

    The Occult sort as next evolute after mental man, She found was not addressing the basic issue-which is that of Immoratlity -again not to be confused with physical immortality.

    It is as She and Pundit later explains-Consciousness of Immortality IN the body.

    More on that later.

  15. Aryadeep S. Acharya said,

    April 15, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Following may be of interest to the readers in context of the topic discussed here.

    “Towards the close of 1939, Surendra Mohan Ghose – a former revolutionary and the President of the Bengal Congress Committee at the time – was in Pondicherry, and when he suggested that Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo should meet and discuss things, the latter agreed: “He can come now; whatever political difference there was is no more. He can see me. You may convey this to him.” This was done, but before he could arrange the meeting as requested by Gandhiji, Surendra Mohan had to offer “individual satyagraha”, and was jailed again; and the interview between Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo did not, after all, take place.”

    from ‘On Sri Aurobindo’ by K R Srinivas Iyengar, pp. 701-702


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