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When it was also understood in the East that the Great Chain [or ontological hierarchy of Being, manifesting through causal, astral and physical realms] did indeed unfold or evolve over time, the great Aurobindo expounded the notion with an unequalled genius (Wilber, 2000a; italics added).

In “Sidebar A” of his Boomeritis novel—originally written as a non-fiction work—Ken Wilber (2002), the “Einstein of consciousness research,” has one of that book’s characters refer to Aurobindo (1872 – 1950) as “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” Even in his much earlier (1980) Atman Project, he already had Aurobindo designated as “India’s greatest modern sage.” And, more recently, in his foreword to A. S. Dalal’s (2000) A Greater Psychology, he has again averred that “Sri Aurobindo Ghose was India’s greatest modern philosopher-sage.” Likewise, in his own (2000) Integral Psychology, he has Aurobindo appointed as India’s “greatest modern philosopher-sage.”

So, if there’s one thing we can safely conclude....

The yogic scholar Georg Feuerstein, among others, fully shares Wilber’s complimentary evaluation of Aurobindo. Agehananda Bharati (1976), however, offered a somewhat different perspective:

I do not agree with much of what he said; and I believe his Life Divine ... could be condensed to about one-fifth of its size without any substantial loss of content and message.... [Q]uite tedious reading for all those who have done mystical and religious reading all their lives, but fascinating and full of proselytizing vigor for those who haven’t, who want something of the spirit, and who are impressionable.

Bharati himself was both a scholar and a swami of the Ramakrishna Order.

Aurobindo, in any case, whether a “great philosopher” or not, could well be viewed as having wobbled mightily about the center, if one were to consider his purported contributions to the Allied World War II effort:

Sri Aurobindo put all his [e.g., astral] Force behind the Allies and especially Churchill. One particular event in which he had a hand was the successful evacuation from Dunkirk. As some history books note, the German forces refrained “for inexplicable reasons” from a quick advance which would have been fatal for the Allies (Huchzermeyer, 1998).

Other admirers of Aurobindo (e.g., GuruNet, 2003) regard that Allied escape as being aided by a fog which the yogi explicitly helped, through his powers of consciousness, to roll in over the water, concealing the retreating forces.

Aurobindo’s spiritual partner, “the Mother,” is likewise believed to have advanced the wartime labor via metaphysical means:

Due to her occult faculties the Mother was able to look deep into Hitler’s being and she saw that he was in contact with an asura [astral demon] who is at the origin of wars and makes every possible effort to prevent the advent of world unity (Huchzermeyer, 1998).
When Hitler was gaining success after success and Mother was trying in the opposite direction, she said the shining being who was guiding Hitler used to come to the ashram from time to time to see what was happening. Things changed from bad to worse. Mother decided on a fresh strategy. She took on the appearance of that shining being, appeared before Hitler and advised him to attack Russia. On her way back to the ashram, she met that being. The being was intrigued by Mother having stolen a march over him. Hitler’s attack on Russia ensured his downfall....
Mother saw in her meditation some Chinese people had reached Calcutta and recognized the danger of that warning. Using her occult divine power, she removed the danger from the subtle realms. Much later when the Chinese army was edging closer to India’s border, a shocked India did not know which way to turn. The Chinese decided on their own to withdraw, much to the world’s surprise. Mother had prevented them from advancing against India by canceling their power in the subtle realms (MSS, 2003).

Nor were those successful attempts at saving the world from the clutches of evil even the most impressive of the Mother’s claimed subtle activities:

She had live contacts with several gods. Durga used to come to Mother’s meditations regularly. Particularly during the Durga Puja when Mother gave darshan, Durga used to come a day in advance. On one occasion, Mother explained to Durga the significance of surrender to the Supreme. Durga said because she herself was a goddess, it never struck her that she should surrender to a higher power. Mother showed Durga the progress she could make by surrendering to the Supreme. Durga was agreeable and offered her surrender to the Divine (MSS, 2003).

The Mother further believed herself to have been, in past lives, Queen Elizabeth of England—the sixteenth-century daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Also, Catherine of Russia (wife of Peter the Great), an Egyptian Queen, the mother of Moses, and Joan of Arc.

Her diary entries reveal that even during her illness she continued through her sadhana to exert an occult influence on men and events (Nirodbaran, 1990).
[The Mother] is the Divine Mother [i.e., as an incarnation or avatar] who has consented to put on her the cloak of obscurity and suffering and ignorance so that she can effectively lead us—human beings—to Knowledge and Bliss and Ananda and to the Supreme Lord (in Aurobindo, 1953).
In the person of [the Mother], Aurobindo thus saw the descent of the Supermind. He believed she was its avatara or descent into the Earth plane. As the incarnate Supermind she was changing the consciousness on which the Earth found itself, and as such her work was infallible.... She does not merely embody the Divine, he instructed one follower, but is in reality the Divine appearing to be human (Minor, 1999; italics added).

India’s independence from British rule followed soon after the end of WWII. Aurobindo himself marked the occasion in public speech:

August 15th, 1947 is the birthday of free India. It marks for her the end of an old era, the beginning of a new age....
August 15th is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition (in Nirodbaran, 1990).

This, then, on top of his believed Allied war efforts, was the grandiose state of mind of “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” Note further that this, like the Mother’s diary entries, was Aurobindo’s own documented claim, not merely a possible exaggeration made on his behalf by his followers. For all of the private hubris and narcissism of our world’s guru-figures, it is rare for any of them to so brazenly exhibit the same publicly, as in the above inflations.

And, as always, there are ways of ensuring loyalty to the guru and his Mother, as Aurobindo (1953; italics added) himself noted:

[A student] had been progressing extremely well because he opened himself to the Mother; but if he allows stupidities like [an unspecified, uncomplimentary remark made by another devotee about the Mother] to enter his mind, it may influence him, close him to the Mother and stop his progress.
As for [the disciple who made the “imbecilic” remark], if he said and thought a thing like that (about the Mother) it explains why he has been suffering in health so much lately. If one makes oneself a mouthpiece of the hostile forces and lends oneself to their falsehoods, it is not surprising that something in him should get out of order.

To a follower who later asked, “What is the best means for the sadhaks [disciples] to avoid suffering due to the action of the hostile forces?” Aurobindo (1953; italics added) replied: “Faith in the Mother and complete surrender.”

[Physical nearness to the Mother, e.g., via living in the ashram] is indispensable for the fullness of the sadhana on the physical plane. Transformation of the physical and external being is not possible otherwise [italics added] (Aurobindo, 1953).

Such teachings, of course, provide a comparable reason to stay in the ashram as would the fear of being pursued by negative forces such as Trungpa’s “furies” upon leaving. In all such cases, whatever the original motivations of the leaders in emphasizing such constraints may have been, there is an obvious effect in practice. That is, an effect of making their disciples afraid to leave their communities, or even to question the “infallibility” of the “enlightened” leaders in question.

As with other important spiritual action figures, of course, the exalted philosopher-sage known as Aurobindo did not evolve to that point without having achieved greatness in previous lives:

Sri Aurobindo was known in his ashram as the rebirth of Napoleon. Napoleon’s birthday was also August 15th.... In his previous births, it was believed he was Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Krishna and many other persons too. Someone asked Sri Aurobindo whether he had been Shakespeare as well, but could not elicit an answer (GuruNet, 2003).

Being an incarnation of Krishna would, of course, have made Aurobindo an avatar, as he himself indeed explicitly claimed (1953) to be regardless. As we will see more of later, however, there is competition among other spiritual paths for many of those same reincarnational honors.

Further, da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519, while Michelangelo walked this Earth from 1475 to 1564. Given the chronological overlap between those two lives, this reincarnation, if taken as true, could thus only have been “one soul incarnating/emanating in two bodies.” That is, it could not have been da Vinci himself reincarnating as Michelangelo. Thus, the latter’s skills could not have been based on the “past life” work of the former.

Or perhaps no one ever bothered to simply look up the relevant dates, before making and publicizing those extravagant claims.

At any rate, the purported da Vinci connection does not end there:

[E]arly in 1940, [a disciple of Aurobindo’s] came in and showed the Mother a print of the celebrated “Mona Lisa,” and the following brief conversation ensued:

Mother: Sri Aurobindo was the artist.

Champaklal: Leonardo da Vinci?

Mother smiled sweetly and said: yes.

Champaklal: Mother, it seems this [painting] is yours?

Mother: Yes, do you not see the resemblance? (Light, 2003).

Evidently, then, not only was Aurobindo allegedly the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, but his spiritual partner, the Mother, claimed to be the subject of the Mona Lisa portrait.

“Since the beginning of earthly history,” the Mother explained, “Sri Aurobindo has always presided over the great earthly transformations, under one form or another, under one name or another” (Paine, 1998).

For my own part, however, statements such as that—not to mention conjectures as to which individual is the “greatest living Realizer,” etc.—remind me of nothing so much as my own growing up with a hyperactive cousin who could not stop arguing about which was the “strongest dinosaur.” My own attitude to such conversations is simply: “Please, stop. Please.”

In any case, even such “great earthly transformers” as Aurobindo still evidently stand “on the shoulders of other spiritual giants”:

It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail [in 1908] in my solitary mediation and felt his presence (Aurobindo, 1953).

Aurobindo and his Mother again claimed to have single-handedly turned the tide of WWII, and asserted that the former sage has “presided over the great earthly transformations” for time immemorial. If one believes that, the impressiveness of the spirit of Vivekananda allegedly visiting him in prison would pale by comparison. The same would be true for the idea of Aurobindo being “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage.” For, the yogi made far more grandiose claims himself, and indeed could therefore have easily taken such contemporary recognition of his greatness as being little more than “damning with faint praise.”

But then, that only goes to show the importance of differentiating between the “greatest Exaggerator” of all time—where Vivekananda himself, “a true master of hyperbole” (Kripal, 1995), merits consideration—and the “greatest living Exaggerator.”

At any rate, short of believing that Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s vital roles in WWII were exactly what they themselves claimed those to be, there are only two possible conclusions. That is, that both he and she were wildly deluded, and unable to distinguish fact from fiction or reality from their own fantasies; or that they were both outright fabricating their own life-myths.

So: Do you believe that one “world’s greatest philosopher-sage” and his “infallible” spiritual partner—who herself “had live contacts with several gods,” teaching them in the process—in southern India radically changed the course of human history in unparalleled ways, simply via their use of metaphysical Force and other occult faculties?

I, personally, do not.

There is, of course, competition for the title of “India’s greatest modern sage.” For example, in his foreword to Inner Directions’ recent (2000) reissue of Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Wilber himself had given comparably high praise to Ramana:

“Talks” is the living voice of the greatest sage [italics added] of the twentieth century.

That feting comes, predictably, in spite of Wilber’s having never sat with, or even met, Maharshi, knowing him only through his extant, edited writings.

One may well be impressed by Maharshi’s “unadorned, bottom-line” mysticism of simply inquiring, of himself, “Who am I?”—in the attempt to “slip into the witnessing Self.” Likewise, his claim that “Love is not different from the Self ... the Self is love” (Walsh, 1999) is sure to make one feel warm and fuzzy inside. Nevertheless, the man was not without his eccentricities:

[T]he Indian sage Ramana Maharshi once told Paul Brunton that he had visions of cities beneath the sacred mountain of Arunachala where he resided all his adult life (Feuerstein, 1998).

Indeed, in Talk 143 from Volume 1 of the infamous Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (2000)—the very text upon which Wilber has above commented—we find:

In visions I have seen caves, cities with streets, etc., and a whole world in it.... All the siddhas [“perfected beings”] are reputed to be there.

Were such subterranean cities to be taken as existing on the physical level, however, they could not so exist now or in the past without previous, historic “Golden Ages” and their respective civilizations, with those civilizations being more advanced than our own. That idea, however, is generally explicitly taken as being the product only of magical/mythical thinking and the like:

[T]he romantic transcendentalists ... usually confuse average-mode consciousness and growing-tip consciousness, or average lower and truly advanced, [and] use that confusion to claim that the past epochs were some sort of Golden Age which we have subsequently destroyed. They confuse magic and psychic, myth and subtle archetype (Wilber, 1983a).

The question then becomes: Do you believe that “all the siddhas” are living in (even astral) cities and caves, beneath one particular mountain in India? (Mountains are actually regarded as holy in cultures throughout the world, and as being symbols of the astral spine. To take their holiness and “natural abode of souls” nature literally, however, is highly unusual.) If not, was the “greatest sage of the century” hallucinating? If so....

Or, even if not:

All the food [in Maharshi’s ashram] was prepared by brahmins so that it should remain uncontaminated by contact with lower castes and foreigners....
“Bhagavan always insisted on caste observances in the ashram here, though he was not rigidly orthodox” [said Miss Merston, a long-time devotee of Maharshi] (Marshall, 1963).
[Maharshi] allowed himself to be worshiped like a Buddha (Daniélou, 1987).

“Greatest sage”—for whom “the Self is love,” but lower castes and foreigners evidently aren’t, in spite of his supposed impartial witnessing of all things equally, and in spite of the fact that he was not otherwise “rigidly orthodox” or bent on following religious proscriptions.

Sadly, as we shall see, that sort of brutal inconsistency should be no less than expected from the “great spiritual personages” of our world.

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