Comment on "Is India Civilized?" by Sri Aurobindo.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Aurobindo's essay is a strong example of how he articulates that both a political and spiritual transformation can converge within one another.  His primary target is the Western perception that India is lawless, a collection of savage barbarians that require subjugation.  He says this is the perception of the India from the West in the opening paragraph:  "[English commentators] assailed the whole life and culture of India and even lumped together all her greatest achievements, philosophy, religion, poetry, painting, sculpture, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana in one wholesale condemnation as a repulsive mass of unspeakable barbarism."  This helps to establish his Sri Aurobindo's fundamental premise that that political liberation and spiritual liberation will be the natural result of an India without British influence.  Throughout the article, the notion of progress is defined as a lively and dynamic quality, one that cannot be contained by the Western conception of progress, but rather one that has to be seen in both spiritual and political lights.  Sri Aurobindo argues that Indian progress will never be seen in the same light as Western progress, therefore always being condemned to the label of barbarism and lawlessness:

...India if she adheres to her own civilisation,
if she cherishes its spiritual motive, if she clings to its spiritual  principle of formation, will stand out as a living denial, a hideous “blot” upon this fair, luminous, rationalistic world.  Either she must Europeanise, rationalise, materialise her whole being and deserve liberty by the change or else she must be kept in subjection and administered by her cultural superiors: her people of three hundred million religious savages must be held down firmly, taught and civilised by her noble and enlightened Christian-atheistic European warders and tutors. A grotesque statement in form, but in substance it has in it the root of the matter.

This is a fairly powerful position not merely in its assertion, but in its belief that declaring and achieving independence are two different realities.  For Sri Aurobindo, the call of Congress leaders who want Independence is one that is "blind" in that it is not addressing the spiritual dimension of how to actually manage the thorny issue of independence and consciousness.  Both spiritual and political conceptions must be embraced in this process.  In this light, the article reflects a different position of Indian independence as a movement that is as much spiritual for this is intrnsic to Indian consciousness as it is political.

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