Talk on Indian Culture at Sri Aurobindo Action, WB Chapter Study Camp

On December 28, 2018, Dr. Beloo Mehra, Research Associate, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC) presented a talk on “Sri Aurobindo and Indian Culture” to a group of about 20 visitors from West Bengal who were attending a study camp organized by Sri Aurobindo Action, West Bengal chapter.

The natural and serene ambience of the open-air, under-the-tree setting at Udavi School, Auroville provided the relaxed backdrop for an almost 3-hour-long session, divided into two smaller sessions with a tea break in between. Beloo organized her presentation in an interactive format with a brief introduction of the topic as she interpreted it, and then encouraging the participants to share their thoughts and insights on some of the questions she raised for discussion.

Beloo began by listing five key questions as a way to narrow down and address the rather broad and general topic. The participants were highly interactive and shared several insightful points based on their personal observations and reflections as well as prior reading of Sri Aurobindo’s works and that of other prominent writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and Swami Vivekananda.

Beloo emphasized the following key ideas as she brought together and synthesized several of the points brought up by the participants:  

1. What is India? What is the soul or essence of India?

  • India as a grand old laboratory chosen by the Divine for a certain kind of evolutionary experiment. This helps us understand several outwardly contradicting aspects of India.
  • India as a goddess, Bhārata Shakti – the motherland – Mother’s Land
  • What is unique about India? – Truth has manifested in many places in the world, but India is the only place where the memory of the Truth has been preserved for millennia in the consciousness of the place, in the mind of its race, in the memory of its people, in the very cells of its physical being.
  • Inner evolutionary march of India – from Vedas to Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga
  • Cultural and political unity of India from ancient times to the present; significance of spiritual map of India

2. Sri Aurobindo’s Work for India

  • His work for the rise of India – political, cultural, spiritual
  • His written works – on Indian culture, her spiritual genius, scriptures, literature, politics, education
  • His vision for India – India’s role in the world’s and humanity’s future
  • His spiritual work – is it only for India or for the entire humanity?

3. Sri Aurobindo’s Definition of Culture 

  • The culture of a people as the expression of a consciousness of life which formulates itself in three aspects:
    • a side of thought, of ideal, of upward will and the soul’s aspiration . . .
    • a side of creative self-expression and appreciative aesthesis, intelligence and imagination . . .
    • a side of practical and outward formulation

(Relevant examples were given for each of these three aspects. The point about inculcating a love for India and her culture as reflected in these three aspects was also highlighted.)

4. Indian Culture in the 21st Century – how can Sri Aurobindo guide us today?

  • Western Influence – is it the best of West that we have taken or is it only a mindless hodgepodge, or even worse, merely a blind aping?
  • Commercialism, consumerism
  • Political and social chaos
  • Religious conflicts

(Some vigorous discussions took place when this question was brought up as some contemporary situations facing Indian polity and society were discussed as examples. The point about how as a nation we have ignored the insights from Sri Aurobindo’s deep social-political thought was highlighted. Also, the necessity to encourage a diversity of viewpoints and at the same time the need to integrate or synthesise the diversity in a deeper unity was emphasized if we are to seriously address the complex problems we face in contemporary India).

5. What should be my work as an Indian?

The following points about the significance of individual effort and sincerity were emphasized:

  •  “It is by being sincere, courageous, enduring and honest that you can best serve your country, make it one and great in the world.” (The Mother)
  • “Our first necessity, if India is to survive and do her appointed work in the world, is that the youth of India should learn to think, – to think on all subjects, to think independently, fruitfully, going to the heart of things, not stopped by their surface, free of prejudgments, shearing sophism and prejudice asunder as with a sharp sword, smiting down obscurantism of all kinds as with the mace of Bhima.”
    (Sri Aurobindo)

Overall, the talk was very well received, and particularly the interactive nature of the session was much appreciated by the participants.