Sri Aurobindo is known in the West as a philosopher, yogi and spiritual teacher. In India he is also widely known as one of the leaders of the movement for independence from the British rule. His works are numerous and voluminous; in fact he created a whole new system of philosophy called Integral Yoga.
Sri Aurobindo was born in a bengali family, but was brought up speaking English. His father was an admirer of british culture, and wanted his sons to enter prestigious organization of Indian Civil Service. For that they had to study in England, so the whole family moved there. Aurobindo studies a wide range of subjects necessary to enter a good school. In his childhood he already learned Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian. After years of demanding classical school education, Aurobindo entered a college. He easily passed the examination for the civil service, but by that time he had no interest in the prestigeous career, and didn’t come for the last test. Through friends he arranged a place in the common state service in India, and came back there at the age of 20. In a few years he started teaching French in the university, and eventually became a vice-principal. At this time he learned Sanskrit and Bengali. He started taking an active interest in the struggle against British rule, writing materials, giving speeches and establishing resistance groups in different states of India. Eventually he moved to Bengal, which was the heart of the independence movement, and became fully involved in this activity. In 1908 he was arrested and spent 1 year in a solitary cell, but eventually was acquitted. During the time in jail he had deep spiritual experiences and his views radically changed – from the political liberation to the spiritual reformation. Before his imprisonment he knew almost nothing about yoga, though he already practiced some on his own. After the imprisonment he withdrew himself from political activity, but the british authorities continued prosecuting him, so he moved to Pondicherry, which was a french colony at the time. There Aurobindo dedicated himself to spirituality, and after 4 years of secluded yoga practice, he started publishing a philosophical magazine. By and by the amount of his followers grew, and in 1926 he formed Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and added to his name a title Sri, which means holy or respectable. He lived in seclusion, and for years until his death he was teaching, mostly in written form.
Sri Aurobindo was continuously writing for more than 3 decades. His works cover a wide range of subjects from spirituality and yoga to culture and social science. He was also known as a poet, his main epic poem Savitri has about 24000 lines. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature and later for Nobel Peace Prize. According to Aurobindo yoga is a methodized effort towards self-perfection. The man has not yet reached his full potential, he is an intermediate stage in the evolution of being. The whole universe is not an illusion, but a manifestation of the divine consciousness, and is on its way to the unfolding of the spirit, which manifests itself in matter as well. Man is seeking for truth, but in fact the divine knowledge is already manifesting itself harmoniously in all forms. The highest perfection of humanity will be achieved by the descend of the divine consciousness, which will transform even the matter. When this higher force will descend, the human mind and body will be evolved to a new level, the molecular structure of the body will change, and the body may even become immortal or at least live much longer. The aim of the Integral Yoga is to realize of possibility of this descend. Aurobindo doesn’t suggest physical practices like the traditional yogis, but focuses on mental understanding and psychological work.
To put it simple, one doesn’t really need to do any effort on his own, because the divine consciousness anyway is going to descend and evolve everybody. The idea sounds attractive, of course… but many questions rise up. What have all the seekers of the past been doing trying to ascend to the divine? And strangely, why didn’t the descend happen before? And when will it happen? Of course he must have had explanations, like that the humanity is not ready yet, and it has to be prepared. The preparation may take forever, though, and one can always say “you are still not ready”. And who is going to do this work now, since Aurobindo died in 1950?