UNITED STATES. Daytona, Florida. In a collection of essays released in July 2020, international scholars and practitioners offer commentary on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, an influential Indian thinker in the early and mid-twentieth century. A philosopher, poet, and pro-independence figure, Aurobindo left a legacy of teachings that have been applied to current social challenges within this collection.
Western values based in competition at odds with Aurobindo’s teachings. Our modern era has become largely defined by competition, individualism, and mechanization. These values, some argue, have led to many of the problems in the new millennium: a climate crisis as a result of disconnection to the land; world economies that leave vast swaths of people in poverty; and a pervasive sense of ennui, depression, and anxiety.
In a chapter entitled: “Mapping Sri Aurobindo’s Metaphysics of Consciousness onto Western Philosophies of Mind,” Dr. Rich Grego explains how Aurobindo’s view of consciousness offers a direct challenge to current reductionist philosophies of mind.
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Grego summarized his ideas. “The ethos of individualism gets in the way of humans recognizing our place within a unified consciousness.” He shared that “being human is being an organism with infinite potential within a vast cosmic consciousness.” Further, “There is a process of involution and evolution. The cosmic consciousness is within us, and our evolution is as physical beings returning to this source.”
Challenging western philosophies of mind. Although there is a marked shift in recent decades from a dominance of western philosophies in the academy, Grego’s thesis challenges these, in his view, reductionist paradigms and connects them to structural damage throughout society. “Materialism dominates and the consequences are self-evident. Think about Adam Smith,” he explains. “The very notion of self-reliance and self-interest is the cornerstone of American economics. Public policy is drafted with these values in mind. Competition is encouraged in every system: education, healthcare, employment.”
The result of this individualist thrust is not only seen in the demolition of social supports but in the degradation of mental health as well. Grego asserts that “western materialism is often at the root of anxiety and isolation.” Material success becomes the dominant measure of a person’s worth; therefore, if an individual is not materially successful, they have failed, and the responsibility is squarely situated on their shoulders.
A fascinating application of this idea can be viewed through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement. Within the framework of materialism, (often adopted by more conservative and far-right political ideologues), African American disenfranchisement is rooted in individual lack of responsibility, rather than systems of oppression. Central to the philosophy of Aurobindo, poverty and marginalization are the result of systems that don’t honor the inherent dignity and interdependence of all people and that fail to provide the necessary foundations to support human potential. It is this thinking that led Aurobindo to become one of the most ardent advocates of Indian independence from the British. He lived to see this liberation just prior to his death in 1950
Alignment with humanistic values. Within a neo-Vedantic framework, we are individual organisms with infinite potential, and as such, society should be aligned to humanistic values that promote human evolution and actualization.
These values are evident within political ideologies like democratic socialism and there is an clear throughline from Gandhian paradigms of social justice and Indian independence.
The provenance of Aurobindo’s thinking can be traced to The Upanishads with a focus on self-knowledge rather than a slavish subservience to ritual or the “other” for knowledge of/engagement with cosmic consciousness. This collection focuses on what is known as the fifth stage of his thinking: “A step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society” (ipi.org).
According to Grego, “Western philosophy might therefore benefit from a serious examination of Sri Aurobindos Advaita Vedanta-based hierarchy of consciousness, which provides an inclusive paradigm within which to understand western concepts of consciousness in a more expansive way.”
Contributors to the collection, The Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, “discuss his vision of unity in diversity, shed light on his poetry and offer a comprehensive view of his concept of ethics as well as his metaphysics of consciousness. By presenting the first sustained discourse between Sri Aurobindo and the contemporary world, this collection addresses the relevance of his philosophy for everyday life and highlights the lasting work of this important 20th-century Indian thinker” (Google Books).
The reporter was a student of Dr. Grego’s nearly 30 years ago.