Sri Aurobindo’s Rare Interview published in “The Hindu” in 1915

Dear Friends,

Not many are aware of the fact that Sri Aurobindo had granted an interview to a correspondent of The Hindu in early 1915. This interview was quoted in full by Lala Lajpat Rai in his book Young India along with an introduction titled Arabinda Ghosh—Vedantist and Swarajist.

The text of the interview has been uploaded in the online forum of Overman Foundation along with Lala Lajpat Rai’s introduction.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

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Arabinda Ghosh—Vedantist and Swarajist

It is difficult to say to which of these classes, if to either at all, Arabinda Ghosh belonged to or still belongs. At one time it was believed that he belonged to the first class, to which most of the other Bengalee extremists belonged, but whether that belief was right and whether he still thinks on the same lines, it is difficult to say. One thing is certain, that he was and is quite unlike Har Dayal in his line of thought. In intellectual acumen and in scholastic accomplishments he is perhaps superior to Har Dayal, but above all he is deeply religious and spiritual. He is a worshipper of Krishna and is a high-souled Vedantist. Even simpler and more ascetic in his life and habits than Har Dayal, he is for an all-round development of Indian Nationalism. His notions of life and morality are pre-eminently Hindu and he believes in the spiritual mission of his people. His views may better be gathered from an interview, which he recently gave to a correspondent of The Hindu, of Madras. We quote the interview almost bodily and in the words of the interviewer.

“But what do you think of the 1914 Congress and Conferences?” I insisted.

He spoke almost with reluctance but in clear and firm accents. “I do not find the proceedings of the Christmas Conferences very interesting and inspiring. They seem to me to be mere repetitions of the petty and lifeless formulas of the past and hardly show any sense of the great breath of the future that is blowing upon us. I make an exception of the speech of the Congress President which struck me as far above the ordinary level. Some people, apparently, found it visionary and unpractical. It seems to me to be the one practical and vital thing that has been said in India for some time past.

“The old, petty forms and little narrow, make-believe activities are getting out of date. The world is changing rapidly around us and preparing for more colossal changes in the future. We must rise to the greatness of thought and action which it will demand upon the nations who hope to live. No, it is not in any of the old formal activities, but deeper down that I find signs of progress and hope. The last few years have been a period of silence and compression in which the awakened Virya [1] and Tejas of the nation have been concentrating for a great outburst of a better direct energy in the future.

“We are a nation of three hundred millions inhabiting a great country in which many civilisations have met, full of rich material and unused capacities. We must cease to think and act like the inhabitants of an obscure and petty village.”

“If you don’t like our political methods, what would you advise us to do for the realisation of our destiny?” was the next question.

He quickly replied: “Only by a general intellectual and spiritual awakening can this nation fulfil its destiny. Our limited information, our second-hand intellectual activities, our bounded interests, our narrow life of little family aims and small money-getting have prevented us from entering into the broad life of the world. Fortunately, there are ever-increasing signs of a widened outlook, a richer intellectual output and numerous sparks of liberal genius which show that the necessary change is coming. No nation in modern times can grow great by politics alone. A rich and varied life, energetic in all its parts, is the condition of a sound, vigorous national existence. From this point of view, also the last five years have been a great benefit to the country.”

I then asked what he thought of the vastly improved relations that now exist between the Briton and the Indian in our own country and elsewhere.

“It is a very good thing”, he said and he explained himself in the following manner: “The realisation of our nationhood separate from the rest of humanity was the governing idea of our activities from 1905 to 1910. That movement has served its purpose. It has laid a good foundation for the future. Whatever excesses and errors of speech and action were then disclosed came because our energy, though admirably inspired, lacked practical experience and knowledge.

“The idea of Indian nationhood is now not only rooted in the public mind, as all recent utterances go to show, but accepted in Europe and acknowledged by the Government and the governing race. The new idea that should now lead us is the realisation of our nationhood not separate from, but in the future scheme of humanity. When it has realised its own national life and unity, India will still have a part to play in helping to bring about the unity of the nations.”

I naturally put in a remark about the Under-Secretary’s ‘Angle of Vision.’

“It is well indeed,” observed Ghosh, “that British statesmen should be thinking of India’s proper place in the Councils of the Empire, and it is obviously a thought which, if put into effect must automatically alter the attitude of even the greatest extremists towards the Government and change for the better all existing political reasons.

“But it is equally necessary that we Indians should begin to think seriously what part Indian thought, Indian intellect, Indian nationhood, Indian spirituality, Indian culture have to fulfil in the general life of humanity. The humanity is bound to grow increasingly on. We must necessarily be in it and of it. Not a spirit of aloofness or of jealous self-defence, but of generous emulation and brotherhood with all men and all nations, justified by a sense of conscious strength, a great destiny, a large place in the human future—this should be the Indian spirit.”

The oneness of humanity is a topic dear to the heart of Babu Arabinda Ghosh and when I (i.e., the interviewer) suggested to him that Vedantic ideas would be a good basis for unity, his reply was full of enthusiasm:

“Oh, yes”, he said, “I am convinced and have long been convinced that a spiritual awakening, a re-awakening of the true self of the nation is the most important condition of our national greatness. The supreme Indian idea of the oneness of all men in God and its realisation inwardly and outwardly, increasingly even in social relations and the structure of society is destined, I believe, to govern the progress of the human race. India, if it chooses, can guide the world.”

And here I said something about our “four thousand” castes, our differences in dress and in “caste marks”, our vulgar sectarian antipathies and so on.

“Not so hard, if you please,” said Mr. Ghosh with a smile. “I quite agree with you that our social fabric will have to be considerably altered before long. We shall have, of course, to enlarge our family and social life, not in the petty spirit of present-day Social Reform, hammering at small details and belittling our immediate past, but with a large idea and more generous impulses. Our past with all its faults and defects should be sacred to us. But the claims of our future with its immediate possibilities should be still more sacred.”

His concluding words were spoken in a very solemn mood:

“It is more important that the thought of India should come out of the philosophical school and renew its contact with life, and the spiritual life of India issue out of the cave and the temple and, adapting itself to new forms, lay its hand upon the world. I believe also that humanity is about to enlarge its scope by new knowledge, new powers and capacities, which will create as great a revolution in human life as the physical science of the nineteenth century. Here, too, India holds in her past, a little rusted and put out of use, the key of humanity’s future.

“It is in these directions that I have been for some time impelled to turn my energies rather than to the petty political activities which are alone open to us at the present moment. This is the reason of my continued retirement and detachment from action. I believe in the necessity at such times and for such great objects, of Tapasya [2], in silence for self-training, for self-knowledge and storage of spiritual force. Our forefathers used that means, though in different forms. And it is the best means for becoming an efficient worker in the great days of the world.”

[1] Force, energy and vitality.
[2] Life of meditation and self-denial.

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12 Comments

  1. Anurag Banerjee said,

    May 10, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Lala Lajpat Rai on Sri Aurobindo:

    Recollections of the Surat Congress [December 1907]

    In a reminiscent mood Lalaji often recalled the Surat happenings. His memory’s picture of the plenary pandal was dominated (as we have seen) by Tilak’s standing unperturbed in a hostile gathering when tumult raged all around him. Of his visits to the Extremist camp on his mission of peace he used particularly to recall how he pleaded with Aurobindo that as a teacher his role was above party strife. Sri Aurobindo’s reply to this was: “You cannot fill the cup till you have first emptied it” and Lalaji would add that with appropriate gesture Aurobindo’s hands matched the words of his reply. And, whenever Lalaji recalled that moment he too with his hands like Sri Aurobindo emptied the cup before filling it.

    (Feroz Chand, Lajpat Rai: Life and Work, Builders of Modern India; Publications Divisions, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 210-211).

  2. Anurag Banerjee said,

    May 10, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Lala Lajpat Rai on Sri Aurobindo:

    The Allahabad Conference

    The Convention Committee met in Allahabad on April 18 and 19, 1908 and discussed the draft of a new creed for the Congress. Lajpat Rai was opposed to the creed because it left no place for those who believed in complete independence of the country. Lajpat Rai later said: “I thought that none of us had the right to exclude from the deliberations of the Congress anybody who pitched his ideal so high as the complete independence of his mother country.” He went on to say:

    One chief point for consideration before me was that no assembly in India could be called national which precluded by virtue of his creed a man of purity and of the absolute disinterestedness and high patriotism of the nation as Aurobindo Ghose… However, at that time the public opinion of the country was not in favour of going so far and therefore the creed was passed and adopted.

    [Purushottam Nagar, Lala Lajpat Rai—The Man and His Ideas, Manohar, 1977, p. 63]

  3. Anurag Banerjee said,

    May 10, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Lala Lajpat Rai on Sri Aurobindo:

    From a speech of 1920:

    “… Most of you who have studied the history of the Indian National Congress know how the split at Surat took place in 1907. I took part in the proceedings of that Congress and I was one of the unfortunate causes that were at that time relied upon, at least superficially, at the bottom of that split and therefore I know somewhat how that split came about. One of the fundamental differences at that time between the two parties since then called the Moderates and Extremists was that a few of the so-called Extremists, not all of them but a few of the so-called Extremists believed that it would only work for the complete independence of India and was not for its retention within the British Empire. That was one of the fears that underlay the proceedings that led to that split. After the Convention was created at Surat we met at Allahabad sometime early in 1908 to consider the draft of this creed and to pass the constitution. I was present at that time and I am prepared to tell you that even at that time I was opposed to the creed and to the requirement of its being signed before anybody could attend a meeting of the Indian National Congress. My reason for that opposition was this: Not that I believed at that time that we had either the means or the will to work for complete independence or for taking out India from the British Empire, but I thought that none of us had the right to exclude from the deliberations of this Congress anybody who pitched his ideal so high as the complete independence of his mother country (hear, hear) and I tell you that one chief point for consideration before me was that no assembly in India could be called “national” which precluded by virtue of this creed a man of the purity and of the ability and of the absolute disinterestedness and high patriotism of the nation was Aurobindo Ghose (hear, hear). That was my reason because I knew there were some friends at that time who were not prepared to sign that creed. However, at that time the public opinion of the country was not in favour of getting so far and therefore the creed was passed and adopted.

    [Lala Lajpat Rai, India’s Will to Freedom (Writings and Speeches on the present situation), published by Ganesh & Co., Madras, 1921, pp. 118-120]

  4. Anurag Banerjee said,

    May 10, 2015 at 8:20 am

    From A. B. Purani’s Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 54—56, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, 2007.

    5-1-1925

    Lala Lajpat Rai came with Dr. Nihalchand, Krishna Das, and Purushottamdas Tandon to meet Sri Aurobindo. Lajpat Rai and Sri Aurobindo met privately for about forty-five minutes; the rest of the company waited outside. From their faces when they came out it seemed both of them had agreed on many points.

    Sri Aurobindo then met the other members of party. He turned to Purushottamadas Tandon.

    Sri Aurobindo : How are things getting on at Allahabad ?

    P. T. : We are trying to carry out Mahatmaji’s programme.

    Lajpat Rai : Are you really trying to carry it out ? (Turning to Sri Aurobindo) they are trying to capture local bodies.

    P. T. : I am not in favour of that programme, because it will lead in the end to lust for power and then personal differences and jealousies would also creep in. We cannot, in that case, justify the high hopes which people have about our work.

    Lajpat Rai : They expect you to usher in the golden age.

    Sri Aurobindo : But why do you give them such high hopes ?

    Lajpat Rai : In the democratic age you have to.

    Sri Aurobindo : Why ?

    Lajpat Rai : If you want to get into the governing bodies you must make big promises; that is the nature of democracy !

    Sri Aurobindo : Then, why democracy at all ? The lust for power will always be there. You can’t get over it by shutting out all positions of power; our workers must get accustomed to it. They must learn to hold the positions for the nation. This difficulty would be infinitely greater when you get Swaraj. These things are there even in Europe. The Europeans are just the same as we are. Only, they have got discipline – which we lack – and a keen sense of national honour which we have not got.

    P.T. : The Europeans are superior to us in this respect.

    Sri Aurobindo : You can’t prevent such weaknesses. What you have to do is to bring about that discipline and that sense of national honour in our people. By the way, how do you like the Charkha programme ?

    P. T. : I like it very much and I am trying to carry it out in U.P.

    Sri Aurobindo : I don’t understand how it is going to bring Swaraj.

    P. T. : In the absence of a better programme, it disciplines the people and makes them do something for the nation. It brings to the front the idea of common action for a definite end.

    Sri Aurobindo : The Charkha has its own importance, but it cannot bring Swaraj.

    P. T. : It may if one realises the Bhava – the feeling – that is behind spinning.

    Sri Aurobindo : I am afraid, you can’t get that Bhava from me.
    You can only get the work of Charkha with a sentry over me ! (Laughter)

    Disciple : But why only Charkha? Why not the oil-mill? It is also common action.

    P. T. : Yes, I know that India lost her independence even when there was the Charkha, the spinning-wheel. But as there is no other programme we are following it.

    Sri Aurobindo : What we require is not an outward action merely – like spinning – but discipline and a sense of national honour.

    Lajpat Rai : Yes, what we lack is the sense of a common interest in the midst of conflicting interests.

    Sri Aurobindo : Quite so.

  5. beni said,

    May 10, 2015 at 11:44 am

    thanks again Anurag…for exposing the hollowness of the congress of those days…most except afew remember the Surat congress and its importance …split was inevitable…blackedout in congress history…

  6. Purnendu Ghosh said,

    May 11, 2015 at 3:21 am

    Thank you Anurag for the above information. I praise you for this noble service. Very much interesting and still relevance, see the vision of Sri Aurobindo. We should read again and again. – Purnenduda

  7. Prasenjit Sen said,

    May 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Thanks Anurag for you untiring effort to bring out such a valuable page from history. I wonder whom P T was referring in his reply to Sri Aurobindo as Mahatma ji . Though Gandhiji later acquired the sobriquet “Mahatma” but he appeared in the Indian scene much later than Surat Congress. Can someone throw some light on this ?
    –Prasenjit

  8. Arup Basu said,

    May 12, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Anurag,

    Excellent rare material! A treasure indeed! Much appreciated.

    Arupda

  9. Devdutt said,

    June 12, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Excellent material for all who wish to have a peep into the mind of our great master. Even in those days Sri Aurobindo was crystal clear about the destiny of India.Thanks indeed.

  10. June 22, 2015 at 7:12 am

    India’s ideal man , Sri Aurobindo , who found the supra intellectual and supra mental spiritual Truth ,only with his knowledge can can the world be guided humanly as God guides it divinely .

  11. Sudeb Kumar Bose said,

    May 11, 2016 at 9:01 am

    Thank you Anurag for sharing such a treasure..

  12. May 13, 2016 at 5:33 am

    What a treasure of the Indian history. I wish our children were taught about these times in their history classes to know the real freedom fighters of the country! Wonderful work!


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