Widely regarded to be one of the greatest spiritual leaders in the twentieth century, Sri Aurobindo was a thinker having the alacrity of the West proportionately fused with the philosophical depth of the East. Shaking the slumber of inertia, he arrived in India in 1893 with a vision and mission in mind. He knew that the supreme mysteries of creation and of man's destiny are hidden in the magnificent heritage of mother India, and the supreme discoveries of the mysteries too must be possible here.
To Sri Aurobindo, mother India was not merely a piece of earth - she was a part of God's heaven. On arriving in India, her freedom became his first concern. He and his trusted followers were prepared to make any sacrifice for the solemn cause of India's independence. However, preparing the ground for a nationwide political upsurge was not the only thing which preoccupied him then. He was determined to achieve unity with God. Once in Kashmir, it came to him the experience of vacant infinite; experience after experience followed.
In the midst of political agitation during his captivity by the British, Sri Aurobindo remained focused on his inner world of divinity. He was having splendid spiritual experiences, realizing the existence of Brahma in every object, in every being. During this time, he underwent a transitional phase. After settling in the French colony of Pondicherry, he came to the realization that it was the time for him to dedicate himself to the uncharted horizon of man's destiny. Many of his admirers accompanied him for this adventure in consciousness.
People from all parts of the world gathered to experience transpiritualism in the idea of being, the attainment of life divine on this earth and in this earthly existence. Thus grew the Sri Aurobindo Ashram spontaneously in the course of years, with Sri Aurobindo himself and the mother at the helm of affairs. The idea of Deep Ecology is based on Sri Aurobindo's philosophy of learning from nature - lessons that are abundant in the small and the trivial, in the littlest forms of life; lessons that are manifestations of the greater harmony with the universe.
In other words, mankind does not need to go beyond its visible world to seek the imperceptible. His vision of transpiritualism was based not just on the social structure, but also on the psychic structure which involves projection of our own souls, our own beings in the profound cosmic scheme of things. The positive change he envisions must come from within. Sri Aurobindo's resurgent hope of liberating the nation from the oppressive clutches of the British was driven by an acute awareness of society and its people who did not have the chance to develop a deeper understanding of our earth and natural processes.
Due to this ignorance, many people find themselves in a comfort zone by manipulating natural resources to their own selfish interests. We human beings often fail to realize that our physical beings are nothing but smaller particles of the earth and our destructive actions unleashed on Mother Nature can only lead to the creation of an abysmal ecological void which might never be compensated. Issues such as global warming, loss of top soils, scarcity and poisoning of water, mounting of nuclear and radioactive wastes and so on surface time and again in our discussion of ecology.
Excessive human centeredness is believed to be a basic problem. It concerns the erroneous idea that human beings are at the center of everything. Now the science of ecology says that nothing is at the center. The world is not a pyramid with humans on the top. The world is like a web and humans are just a string that makes the web complete. So if we indiscriminately keep cutting the other strings, we are only contributing to our own downfall. This perception of the surrounding and human interrelation is called Deep Ecology. This discipline teaches us to identify ourselves with rest of the beings as a single entity, a singular life form.
In political terms, it is like explaining democracy as the democracy of all lives regardless of their forms and differences. This essay is going to elaborate on the idea of Deep Ecology with reference to Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma. In Rebirth and Karma, Sri Aurobindo presents a combination of theological schools of thought acquired from the West and the East. His unique foresight has made it possible to develop an understanding which neither concerns a preternatural God-consciousness nor the outer life and its powers.
Rather his teachings are based on envisaging divine life on earth. In Western philosophy, God is perceived as a limitless and supreme figure in terms of knowledge, extension and power. The otherworldly attributes of God are best manifested in the Western philosophical doctrine. In this sense, He is the creator and preserver of the universe. The macro elements in God constitute of immateriality, unity, simplicity, eternity, immutability and goodness. Greek philosopher Plato thought of God as the transcendent and the most perfect being embodied in eternal forms.
This notion of God denies the earthly preoccupancy of temporality. A monotheistic framework is distinctly observable in the understanding of God in the Western philosophy. On the other hand, the Eastern doctrines argue that God is not a singular, all-powerful form governing the universe. The interrelation between earthly beings and God also been viewed from different standpoints in two philosophies. The West typically detaches individuals from the greater cosmic scheme. So the being exists separately as an entity on its own.
The Eastern point of view, however, predicates that the being is an inseparable part of the whole. Sri Aurobindo’s effort in synthesizing these two contradictory viewpoints was influenced by his Indian roots and yoga. The theory of rebirth or reincarnation is typically indigenous to the Eastern philosophical doctrines. The historical trace of these two constructs can be found in the Vedanta. But these ideas have often come under harsh criticisms from the West on the grounds of unreasonableness and lack of scientific foundations.
Sri Aurobindo in his Rebirth and Karma has explicated the theories in terms of evolutionary progress in the universe. Earlier they were discarded as being fatalistic and illusive. Sri Aurobindo argued that reincarnation itself is a part of the unfolding process that will give a complete understanding of the universe in its absolute form. The Western concept of the universe as uncreated is challenged in his new doctrine. Human beings are an integral part of this progressive motion toward the divine realm of spiritualism. Karma and Rebirth are identified with growth of the soul and education.
So there is very little chance of any fatalistic element being associated with something which is entirely under control of beings. These groundbreaking affirmations made it possible to realize the full potential of the Indian ways of philosophizing with God and universe. (Neufeldt 16) The phenomenon of rebirth, as stated by Sri Aurobindo in Rebirth and Karma, is far from being well defined in the yardsticks of modern science. The association of soul in the concept of ‘again birth’ is the main stumbling block in its proven and assured understanding.
“Neither has it been disproved; for modern science knows nothing about a before-life or an after-life for the human soul, knows nothing indeed about a soul at all, nor can know; its province stops with the flesh and brain and nerve, the embryo and its formation and development. ” (Sri Aurobindo 3) As far as the idea of Deep Ecology and its profound attachment with the natural environment is concerned, rebirth has significant implications. The very question of who we are and what we are doing here is explicitly connected with the revelation of the self as a projection of the natural surroundings or outer environment.
Human being, or any being for that matter, is nothing but an inseparable part of the cosmos. The earth is the platform upon which we can observe the limitless universe and its progressive evolution. Thus, both the outer world and the world within are merged seamlessly in the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. Rebirth or continuity of our souls even after physical extinguishment of existence bears a tremendous amount of significance as far as our preexistence is concerned. As Aurobindo interprets, there must be a progressive significance behind the idea of repeated births for what we are now constitutes of what we were in our earlier lives.
Human memory, often presented as a counter argument against rebirth, is ephemeral and thus explains nothing of the power of soul. The physical memory is short-lived and it has been proved time and again that we fail to recollect events from the past. So memory cannot serve as a logical explanation for our disproval of before-life. Similarly, the overwhelming and psychical finality of death hinders our spiritual migration toward an after-life. Sri Aurobindo seeks to establish a doctrine unifies beings with the rest of the universe in a harmonic chord.
Contrary to the Western ideas that triumphantly announce mankind to be a detached part of the earth and the universe, he strongly denounces the ego-centric ‘I’. (Sri Aurobindo 49) It might be noted in the context of the thesis question that the human centeredness which is regarded to be the fundamental problem behind our dissociation from the earth and its natural resources resembles this ego-centric perception. The interpretation of Karma in Western philosophy has often been too vague or arbitrary. Notions of practical experience have been preferred to the spiritual bonding.
Ideas of fatality too have been incorporated frequently in the theory of Karma. In Rebirth and Karma, Sri Aurobindo stresses on the power of human will to illustrate the doctrine of Karma. Every single occurrence in the physical universe is inscrutably in sync with some divine pattern which is continuous in Time and Space. The soul just carries on its journey into the greater unknown of infinity. Modern scientific explorations of space have, to some extent, limited our imagination of the mysteries that are galore in the greater cosmos.
Being constantly fed with reasons and scientific logic, our mentality is designed to interpret Karma from a material point of view. Sri Aurobindo argues that in order to understand the transcendence of being, we need to approach the question of Karma by keeping our feet in a spiritual domain: “…we may find at last that it is from the other end of being, from its spiritual summit rather than its material support that we must look in order to catch its whole significance – and to fix also the limits of its significance. ” (Sri Aurobindo 69)
Karma has been interpreted as a process of ‘unbuilding’ in order to facilitate further building – all within a continuity of events initiated by human deeds and not by arbitrary influences. Each action results in another and is connected with innumerable links tying the past with the present and the present with the future. Here lies the idea of energy transformation: “…all our existence is a putting out of an energy which is in us and by which we are made and as is the nature of the energy which is put forth as cause, so shall be that of the energy which returns as effect”.
This theory justifies the dreadful result we are experiencing now because of our mindless destruction of the immense energy hidden in nature’s resources. Since energy cannot be destroyed, it is the destruction of its sources which is causing unfathomable damage to the cause of beings. Aurobindo’s theory of rebirth tells us that no being is set apart from the rest of animate as well as inanimate objects in the universe. Taking this viewpoint into account, the energy of a being is only a meager part of the collective energy of the universe in its entirety.
Questions of morality are also raised to prove the emotional side of individual souls. It might be noted that the energy of the soul is far more potent than that of the external being. In support of such emphatic declarations on positive energy, Sri Aurobindo casts aside chance factors that are presented as an excuse for our ignorance and lack of initiative. To give nature a unifying direction, and to allow our souls to embark on a progressive journey towards eternity, we must act upon decisively to control our own destiny.
If chance is to be considered as one of the primary governing elements, we must also accept the idea of inconsistency – something which does not augur well with the majestic precision of universal laws. Hence, Karma is a dynamic component of the interaction between being and the natural surrounding which they find themselves in. To sum it up in the light of the thesis question, Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma holds a complex viewpoint of processes that cannot be approached in a simplistic, clear-cut manner.
The fathom depth of interaction between humans and the natural world is a representation of the microscopic soul speaking out to the greater macro world. To establish a true ecological equilibrium, we must first of all understand the nature of our inner beings and its unity with the outer world. There is no need to venture into cosmic adventures to attain this goal, as shown by Sri Aurobindo. We just need to relate our ‘selves’ to the divine that exists around us on this very planet.