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Debashish on Sun 30 Nov 2008:


Thanks for the wonderful interpretive introduction to Ilion, showing the aspirant concern with "the ideal of human unity" at work in Sri Aurobindo's reconstructions of pre-modern civilizations. Thanks also for the penetrating quote from "Is India Civilized?" which is uncannily prescient of Juergensmeyer's analysis of contemporary globalization and its fallouts.

It's interesting that even in a much earlier poem (belonging to the pre-Pondicherry — and perhaps even pre-Calcutta — period), Sri Aurobindo introduces a similar "threesome." There he names them Science, Religion and —

... a third behind them came,
Veiled, vague, remote, and had as yet no right
Upon the world, but lived in her own light.

I'm thinking of course of [Sri Aurobindo's poem] "A Vision of Science." Interestingly, during the ascendence of the First Angel, Reason, Religion takes a back seat. But when the regime of Reason reaches its highest levels of self-confidence, it makes a brief appearance:

Heaven was scaled at last
And the loud seas subdued. Distance, resigned
Its strong obstructions to the mastering mind.
So moved that spirit trampling; then it laid
Its hand at last upon itself, how this was made
Wondering, and sought to class and sought to trace
Mind by its forms, the wearer by the dress.
Then the other arose and met that spirit robust,
Who laboured; she now grew a shade who must
Fade wholly away, ...

Religion, characterized earlier as

Flame in her heart but round her brows the night,

doesn't exactly make a bid for the earth in this poem, but issues a warning of doom, which Reason entirely ignores. Again, the consequences are not quite spelled out, but when the reign of Reason seems most established, the Third Angel touches the poet's eyes and we hear a shift of tone, as the voice lifts with the inspiration which we are so familiar with from Savitri, the voice of the seer and the prophet:

I saw the mornings of the future rise,
I heard the voices of an age unborn
That comes behind us and our pallid morn,
And from the heart of an approaching light
One said to man, “Know thyself infinite,
Who shalt do mightier miracles than these,
Infinite, moving mid infinities.”
Then from our hills the ancient answer pealed,
“For Thou, O Splendour, art myself concealed,
And the grey cell contains me not, the star
I outmeasure and am older than the elements are.
Whether on earth or far beyond the sun,
I, stumbling, clouded, am the Eternal One.”

So what is this Third Angel? Clearly, it is not Religion, "who must pass." The Angel brings a light and message from the future, but in response, "From our hills, the ancient answer pealed." I am assuming "our hills" here is India and "the ancient answer" is the clarion-call of the Vedanta — srinvantu viswe amritasya putrah.

This is the call to a global age of spiritual culture and exploration. In Juegensmeyer's article, in fact, he hints at such a possibility — it seems always just under the surface — but he doesn't propose it as a reconciling possibility. It remains the vision of a world torn by Jihad vs. McWorld, as Rich portrayed it in another posting, borrowing the term from Benjamin Barber's book.

That a "post-secular" acceptance of human possibilities exceeding the limits of rationality need not be "irrational" (a sub-mental recourse to superstitions, unexamined intuitions, spirit possessions or dubious oracular authorities) is a tenet that made its appeal to the modern mind from at least the mid or late 19th c., in works of figures like William James, the American Trascendentalists, Aldous Huxley, and a variety of European creative thinkers who may be said to have ushered in what Sri Aurobindo calls "the Subjective Age" in modern culture. But the fullness of this knowledge — not merely knowledge of content but the knowledge of method — did peal out from the ancient hills of India, in the voices of two major figures — Vivekananda and succeeding him, Sr Aurobindo. However, it is perhaps only today, when the problems that beset humankind, have reached an impasse as shown here for example by Juergensmeyer, that we are in a position to appreciate these contributions and seek to reawaken a more integrated sense of this world endeavor. And it is just at this time, when the light of Sri Aurobindo is most needed and an attempt has been made to introduce this light to the modern world mind, that ironically "our hills" have been able to respond with only the warped echo of the dark religions of the most obscure kind.

I completely agree with you that this is in fact in alignment with what Juergensmeyer is talking about — a refusal of neo-liberal globalization by seeking shelter in isolationist dogmas. The results of wrong collective choices at such a time could be disastrous. I can only hope that good sense will assert itself from some quarter soon and find the strength and support to prevail.