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Please explain Sri Aurobinodo's article "Is India Civilized."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Sri Aurobindo's work is one that seeks to offer an indigenous point of view towards the characterization of India.  At the time, many, mostly from the West, were offering their own opinion on the civilization of India.  They sought to define it in Western terms.  Sri Aurobindo's work challenges this, suggesting that India's greatest strength is that it can define its own "civilization" on terms that are related to both material and spiritual notions of the good.  Sri Aurobindo's article assesses that a truly advanced society can go ahead and define its own being in terms that are both spiritual and material.  It is argued that India draws from a background that offers its own spiritual notion of the good, able to define itself in terms that are not entirely understood by "the West:"

[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. 

In being able to suggest that India, itself, can define her own notion of civilization, Sri Aurobindo draws from India's own background to suggest that material progress and spiritual progress have to be linked.  The greatest advance of civilizations, Sri Aurobindo says, comes from societies that have understood both premises in their advancement:

Progress she admits, but this spiritual progress, not the externally self-unfolding process of an always more and more prosperous and efficient material civilisation. It is her founding of life upon this exalted conception and her urge towards the spiritual and the eternal that constitute the distinct value of her civilisation. And it is her fidelity, with whatever human shortcomings, to this highest ideal that has made her people a nation apart in the human world (p.2)

For Sri Aurobindo's article, the idea of spiritual advancement and material advancement is something intrinsic to the nature of India.  This is an element that he believes Westerners might not immediately see, thus proving the inherent need and purpose of his article.

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