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as Sri Aurobindo see the Aryan Spirit ( past and future)

Mar 02, 2006 12:00 PM
by christinaleestemaker

Home Page | Workings | Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library | Vol.2  



Vol.I.  SATURDAY 25th SEPTEMBER 1909  No.14  
The Past and the Future 
OUR CONTEMPORARY, the Statesman, notices in an unusually self-
restrained article the recent brochure republished by Dr. A. K. 
Coomaraswamy from the Modern Review under the title, "The Message of 
the East". We have not the work before us but, from our memory of the 
articles and our knowledge of our distinguished countryman's views, 
we do not think the Statesman has quite caught the spirit of the 
writer. Dr. Coomaraswamy is above all a lover of art and beauty and 
the ancient thought and greatness of India, but he is also, and as a 
result of this deep love and appreciation, an ardent Nationalist. 
Writing as an artist, he calls attention to the debased aesthetic 
ideas and tastes which the ugly and sordid commercialism of the West 
has introduced into the mind of a nation once distinguished for its 
superior beauty and grandeur of conception and for the extent to 
which it suffused the whole of life with the forces of the intellect 
and the spirit. He laments the persistence of a servile imitation of 
English ideas, English methods, English machinery and production even 
in the new Nationalism. And he reminds his readers that nations 
cannot be made by politics and economics alone, but that art also has 
a great and still unrecognised claim. The main drift of his writing 
is to censure the low imitative un-Indian and bourgeois ideals of our 
national activity in the nineteenth century and to recall our minds 
to the cardinal fact that, if India is to arise and be great as a 
nation, it is not by imitating the methods and institutions of 
English politics and commerce, but by carrying her own civilisation, 
purified of the weaknesses that have overtaken it, to a much higher 
and mightier fulfilment than any that it has reached in the past. Our 
mission is to outdistance, lead and instruct Europe, not merely to 
imitate and learn from her. Dr. Coomaraswamy speaks of art, but it is 
certain that a man of his wide culture would not exclude, and we know 
he does not exclude, thought, literature and religion from the forces 
that must uplift our nation and are necessary to its future. To 
recover Indian thought, Indian character, Indian perceptions, Indian 
energy, Indian greatness, and to solve the problems that perplex the 
world in an Indian spirit and from the Indian standpoint, this, in 
our view, is the mission of Nationalism. We agree with Dr. 
Coomaraswamy that an exclusive preoccupation with politics and 
economics is likely to dwarf our growth and prevent the flowering of 
originality and energy. We have to return to the fountainheads of our 
ancient religion, philosophy, art and literature and pour the 
revivifying influences of our immemorial Aryan spirit and ideals into 
our political and economic development. This is the ideal the 
Karmayogin holds before it, and our outlook and Dr. Coomaraswamy's do 
not substantially differ. But in judging our present activities we 
cannot look, as he does, from a purely artistic and idealistic 
standpoint, but must act and write in the spirit of a practical 

The debasement of our mind, character and tastes by a grossly 
commercial, materialistic and insufficient European education is a 
fact on which the young Nationalism has always insisted. The 
practical destruction of our artistic perceptions and the plastic 
skill and fineness of eye and hand which once gave our productions 
pre-eminence, distinction and mastery of the European markets, is 
also a thing accomplished. Most vital of all, the spiritual and 
intellectual divorce from the past which the present schools and 
universities have effected, has beggared the nation of the 
originality, high aspiration and forceful energy which can alone make 
a nation free and great. To reverse the process and recover what we 
have lost, is undoubtedly the first object to which we ought to 
devote ourselves. And as the loss of originality, aspiration and 
energy was the most vital of all these losses, so their recovery 
should be our first and most important objective. The primary aim of 
the prophets of Nationalism was to rid the nation of the idea that 
the future was limited by the circumstances of the present, that 
because temporary causes had brought us low and made us weak, low 
therefore must be our aims and weak our methods. They pointed the 
mind of the people to a great and splendid destiny, not in some 
distant millennium but in the comparatively near future, and fired 
the hearts of the young men with a burning desire to realise the 
apocalyptic vision. As a justification of what might otherwise have 
seemed a dream and as an inexhaustible source of energy and 
inspiration, they pointed persistently to the great achievements and 
grandiose civilisation of our forefathers and called on the rising 
generation to recover their lost spiritual and intellectual heritage. 
It cannot be denied that this double effort to realise the past and 
the future has been the distinguishing temperament and the chief 
uplifting force in the movement, and it cannot be denied that it is 
bringing back to our young men originality, aspiration and energy. By 
this force the character, temper and action of the Bengali has been 
altered beyond recognition in a few years. To raise the mind, 
character and tastes of the people, to recover the ancient nobility 
of temper, the strong Aryan character and the high Aryan outlook, the 
perceptions which made earthly life beautiful and wonderful, and the 
magnificent spiritual experiences, realisations and aspirations which 
made us the deepest-hearted, deepest-thoughted and most delicately 
profound in life of all the peoples of the earth, is the task next in 
importance and urgency. We had hoped by means of National Education 
to effect this great object as well as to restore to our youth the 
intellectual heritage of the nation and build up on that basis a yet 
greater culture in the future. We must admit that the instrument 
which we cherished and for which such sacrifices were made, has 
proved insufficient and threatens, in unfit hands, to lose its 
promise of fulfilment and be diverted to lower ends. But the movement 
is greater than its instruments. We must strive to prevent the 
destruction of that which we have created and, in the meanwhile, 
build up a centre of culture, freer and more perfect, which will 
either permeate the other with itself or replace it if destroyed. 
Finally, the artistic awakening has been commenced by that young, 
living and energetic school which has gathered round the Master and 
originator, Sj. Abanindranath Tagore. The impulse which this school 
is giving, its inspired artistic recovery of the past, its intuitive 
anticipations of the future, have to be popularised and made a 
national possession. 

Dr. Coomaraswamy complains of the survivals of the past in the 
preparations for the future. But no movement, however vigorous, can 
throw off in a few years the effects of a whole century. We must 
remember also why the degradation and denationalisation, "the mighty 
evil in our souls" of which the writer complains, came into being. A 
painful but necessary work had to be done, and because the English 
nation were the fittest instrument for His purpose, God led them all 
over those thousands of miles of alien Ocean, gave strength to their 
hearts and subtlety to their brains, and set them up in India to do 
His work, which they have been doing faithfully, if blindly, ever 
since and are doing at the present moment. The spirit and ideals of 
India had come to be confined in a mould which, however beautiful, 
was too narrow and slender to bear the mighty burden of our future. 
When that happens, the mould has to be broken and even the ideal lost 
for a while, in order to be recovered free of constraint and 
limitation. We have to recover the Aryan spirit and ideal and keep it 
intact but enshrined in new forms and more expansive institutions. We 
have to treasure jealously everything in our social structure, 
manners, institutions, which is of permanent value, essential to our 
spirit or helpful to the future; but we must not cabin the expanding 
and aggressive spirit of India in temporary forms which are the 
creation of the last few hundred years. That would be a vain and 
disastrous endeavour. The mould is broken; we must remould in larger 
outlines and with a richer content. For the work of destruction 
England was best fitted by her stubborn individuality and by that 
very commercialism and materialism which made her the antitype in 
temper and culture of the race she governed. She was chosen too for 
the unrivalled efficiency and skill with which she has organised an 
individualistic and materialistic democracy. We had to come to close 
quarters with that democratic organisation, draw it into ourselves 
and absorb the democratic spirit and methods so that we might rise 
beyond them. Our half-aristocratic half-theocratic feudalism had to 
be broken, in order that the democratic spirit of the Vedanta might 
be released and, by absorbing all that is needed of the aristocratic 
and theocratic culture, create for the Indian race a new and powerful 
political and social organisation. We have to learn and use the 
democratic principle and methods of Europe, in order that hereafter 
we may build up something more suited to our past and to the future 
of humanity. We have to throw away the individualism and materialism 
and keep the democracy. We have to solve for the human race the 
problem of harmonising and spiritualising its impulses towards 
liberty, equality and fraternity. In order that we may fulfil our 
mission we must be masters in our own home. It is out of no hostility 
to the English people, no race hatred that we seek absolute autonomy, 
but because it is the first condition of our developing our national 
self and realising our destiny. It is for this reason that the 
engrossing political preoccupation came upon us; and we cannot give 
up or tone down our political movement until the lesson of democratic 
self-government is learned and the first condition of national self-
fulfilment realised. For another reason also England was chosen, 
because she had organised the competitive system of commerce, with 
its bitter and murderous struggle for existence, in the most skilful, 
discreet and successful fashion. We had to feel the full weight of 
that system and learn the literal meaning of this industrial 
realisation of Darwinism. It has been written large for us in ghastly 
letters of famine, chronic starvation and misery and a decreasing 
population. We have risen at last, entered into the battle and with 
the Boycott for a weapon, are striking at the throat of British 
commerce even as it struck at ours, first by protection and then by 
free trade. Again it is not out of hatred that we strike, but out of 
self-preservation. We must conquer in that battle if we are to live. 
We cannot arrest our development of industry and commerce while 
waiting for a new commercial system to develop or for beauty and art 
to reconquer the world. As in politics so in commerce, we must learn 
and master the European methods in order that we may eventually rise 
above them. The crude commercial Swadeshi, which Dr. Coomaraswamy 
finds so distasteful and disappointing, is as integral a part of the 
national awakening as the movement towards Swaraj or as the new 
School of Art. If this crude Swadeshi were to collapse and the 
national movement towards autonomy come to nothing, the artistic 
renascence he has praised so highly, would wither and sink with the 
drying up of the soil in which it was planted. A nation need not be 
luxuriously wealthy in order to be profoundly artistic, but it must 
have a certain amount of well-being, a national culture and, above 
all, hope and ardour, if it is to maintain a national art based on a 
widespread development of artistic perception and faculty. Moreover, 
aesthetic arts and crafts cannot live against the onrush of cheap and 
vulgar manufactures under the conditions of the modern social 
structure. Industry can only become again beautiful if poverty and 
the struggle for life are eliminated from society and the co-
operative State and commune organised as the fruit of a great moral 
and spiritual uplifting of humanity. We hold such an uplifting and 
reorganisation as part of India's mission. But to do her work she 
must live. Therefore the economical preoccupation has been added to 
the political. We perceive the salvation of the country not in 
parting with either of these, but in adding to them a religious and 
moral preoccupation. On the basis of that religious and moral 
awakening the preoccupation of art and fine culture will be added and 
firmly based. There are many who perceive the necessity of the 
religious and moral regeneration, who are inclined to turn from the 
prosaic details of politics and commerce and regret that any guide 
and teacher of the nation should stoop to mingle in them. That is a 
grievous error. The men who would lead India must be catholic and 
many-sided. When the Avatar comes, we like to believe that he will be 
not only the religious guide, but the political leader, the great 
educationist, the regenerator of society, the captain of cooperative 
industry, with the soul of the poet, scholar and artist. He will be 
in short the summary and grand type of the future Indian nation which 
is rising to reshape and lead the world.

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