The Indian nationalist extremist leader, poet, and philosopher Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) abandoned his radical political activities to develop a religious teaching for the spiritual benefit of all men.
Aurobindo Ghose was born in Calcutta, the third of six children. His father—of high-caste background—was a distinguished physician in the employ of the civil service, thoroughly Anglicized and a persuaded atheist. In 1879 Aurobindo was sent to England with his brothers for higher education to prepare for the Indian civil service. Though forced to live in near poverty, he excelled in his academic studies, especially in the classics, English literature, and European languages.
At King's College, Cambridge, Ghose joined an association of fellow Indians, expressing a deep interest in Indian nationalism. In 1893 he returned to India and resolved to strive for Indian independence. He served the maharaja of Baroda from 1893 to 1907, becoming successively professor of English, vice-principal at Baroda College, and finally principal of the National College of Calcutta.
During this period Ghose began to associate with radical Indian nationalists and revolutionaries, openly criticizing the Indian National Congress for its moderation, and founding a revolutionary newspaper so skillfully written that no pretext could be found for his arrest. However, in 1908 after a series of bombings he was arrested along with other suspects. Though he was acquitted soon after, it was during this short period that he became increasingly preoccupied with the spiritual dimensions of Indian cultural and corporate life.
Ghose experimented with Yoga, read extensively, and meditated on the Veda and Bhagavad Gita. In 1910 he openly abandoned active politics and went to the French settlement at Pondicherry, where he established the Aurobindo Ashram (retreat) to develop and promote his teaching, though he did not give up his interest in the political affairs of India. He was joined by his wife and a number of his friends—including several suspected revolutionaries—and remained continually under the surveillance of the English secret service. In 1914 he founded the magazine Arya, designed to promote his philosophical and religious teachings.
Ghose's basic spiritual goal was "to make the truth dynamic in the soul of man." For this he proposed an "integral Yoga" designed not for spiritual withdrawal from the world but for the purpose of transforming earthly human life "here in the individual and the community." Man must be opened to a supramental divine consciousness which can create a spiritual "superman" and a new order of life in the world, transforming moribund human institutions into "free forms" of strength, love, and justice. The emphasis of his teaching was on the spiritualization of the phenomenal world and all human activity through the emergence of a disciplined religious elite, extending widely to touch all mankind.
Among Ghose's writings published in English are The Yoga and Its Objects and Love and Death (both 1921), The Life Divine (1949), Essays on the Gita (1950), and The Message and Mission of Indian Culture and The Mind of Light (both 1953).
Further Reading on Aurobindo Ghose
Studies of Ghose include George Langley, Sri Aurobindo: Indian Poet, Philosopher and Mystic (1949); A. B. Purani, The Life of Sri Aurobindo (1958; 3d ed. 1964) and Sri Aurobindo: Some Aspects of His Vision (1966); and Vishwanath P. Varma, The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo (1960).
Additional Biography Sources
Feys, Jan, The life of a yogi, Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1976.
Ghose, Aurobindo, Tales of prison life, Calcutta: Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir, 1974.
Heehs, Peter, Sri Aurobindo, a brief biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Joshi, Kireet, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: glimpses of their experiments, experiences, and realisations, New Delhi: Mother's Institute of Research in association with Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1989.
Purani, Ambalal Balkrishna, The life of Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1978.
Rishabhchand, Sri Aurobindo, his life unique, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1981.
Roshan, Sri Aurobindo in Baroda, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1993.
Satprem, Sri Aurobindo, or, The adventure of consciousness, New York: Institute for Evolutionary Research, 1984.
Srinivasa Iyengar, K. R., Sri Aurobindo: a biography and a history, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, 1985.