The greatness of Aurobindo

Aurobindo was not just a sage but also a very fine political commentator. Aurobindo was a revolutionary who eventually became a Sanyasi. India eventually attained freedom on his birthday. Throughout his life as Sanyasi Aurobindo wrote letters and essays which show his thoughts on Indian society, Hinduism and politics. Unlike many babas we see today he was extremely sharp in his analysis. I would say he was well ahead of his time.

That reformist spirit in Hinduism now a days has become rare. Aurobindo was very clear in the criticism of Hinduism for its acquired inability to assimilate and master the knowledge that came from west.  He writes about the orthodox: [Note that this essay was written in 1911]

One is astonished at the position of the orthodox. They labour to deify everything that exists. Hindu society has certain arrangements and habits which are merely customary. There is no proof that they existed in ancient times nor any reason why they should last into the future…. Neither antiquity nor modernity can be the test of truth or the test of usefulness. All the Rishis do not belong to the past; the Avatars still come; revelation still continues…. To recreate Manu entire in modern society is to ask Ganges to flow back to the Himalayas. Manu is no doubt national, but so is the animal sacrifice and the burnt offering. Because a thing is national of the past, it need not follow that it must be national of the future. It is stupid not to recognise altered conditions…. To all things there is a date and a limit. All long-continued customs have been sovereignly useful in their time, even totemism and polyandry. We must not ignore the usefulness of the past, but we seek in preference a present and a future utility.

He highlights that reforms does not merely mean changing the existing customs but requires much deeper thoughts.

Almost every point that the social reformers raise could be settled one way or the other without effecting the permanent good of society. It is pitiful to see men labouring the point of marriage between subcastes and triumphing over an isolated instance. Whether the spirit as well as the body of caste should remain, is the modern question. Let Hindus remember that caste as it stands is merely jat, the trade guild sanctified but no longer working, it is not the eternal religion, it is not caturvarnya. I do not care whether widows marry or remain single; but it is of infinite importance to consider how woman shall be legally and socially related to man, as his inferior, equal or superior; for even the relation of superiority is no more impossible in the future than it was in the far-distant past. And the most important question of all is whether society shall be competitive or cooperative, individualistic or communistic. That we should talk so little about these things and be stormy over insignificant details, shows painfully the impoverishment of the average Indian intellect. If these greater things are decided, as they must be, the smaller will arrange themselves….

You can read the entire collection here:


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