V. 1938-1940: Talks (2nd series)
(In the night of November 23-24, 1938, Sri Aurobindo fell down while walking in concentration and broke his right leg. In the years that followed, a small group of disciples, mostly attendants and physicians, met him every day. Two of them recorded the informal talks that ensued, which often touched on the Indian political scene, the rising threat of Nazism, and then World War II which Sri Aurobindo followed closely.
A few excerpts from these talks are presented here.)
December 23, 1938
������� Every time the Light has tried to descend it has met with resistance and opposition. Christ was crucified.... Buddha was denied; sons of Light come, the earth denies them, rejects them, and afterwards accepts them in name to reject them in substance.
December 25, 1938
������� I have no faith in government controls, because I believe in a certain amount of freedom�freedom to find out things for oneself in one's own way, even freedom to commit blunders. Nature leads us through various errors and mistakes; when Nature created the human being with all his possibilities for good and ill she knew very well what she was about. Freedom for experiment in human life is a great thing. Without the freedom to take risks and commit mistakes there can be no progress....
������� [But] everything is moving towards mechanization in Europe. The totalitarian States do not believe in any individual variation and even non-totalitarian States are obliged to follow them; they do it for the sake of efficiency�but whose efficiency? It is the efficiency of the State as an organized machine, not that of the individual. The individual has no freedom, he doesn't grow. Organize by all means, but there must be scope for freedom and plasticity.
������� Do you think that the average man of today is better than a Greek of 2500 hundred years ago, or than an Indian of those times? Look at the condition of Germany today [under Hitler]�you can't say that it is progressing.
������� I have come in contact with the Indian masses and found them better than the Europeans of the same class. They are superior to the European working classes. The latter may be more efficient, but that is due to external reasons.... The Irish doctor who was in our jail [at Alipore] could not think how the young men who were so gentle and attractive could be revolutionaries. I found even the ordinary criminal quite human and better than his counterpart in Europe.
������� It is curious how a thing gets spoiled when it gets recognition. Democracy was something better when it was not called democracy. When the name is given the truth of it seems to go out....
(A disciple:) Communism began with a high ideal and it is certainly better than Fascism or Nazism.
������� In which way better? Formerly people were unconscious slaves, now under Communism they are conscious slaves.... They are bound to the State, the dictator and the party. They can't even choose the dictator. And whoever differs from them is mercilessly suppressed.... The whole thing�whatever its name�is a fraud. It is impossible to change humanity by political machinery�it can't be done.
December 27, 1938
������� The old Indian system grew out of life, it had room for everything and every interest. There were monarchy, aristocracy, democracy; every interest was represented in the government. While in Europe the Western system grew out of the mind: they are led by reason and want to make everything cut and dried without any chance of freedom or variation. If it is democracy, then democracy only�no room for anything else. They cannot be plastic.
������� India is now trying to imitate the West. Parliamentary government is not suited to India. But we always take up what the West has thrown off....
(A disciple:) What is your idea of an ideal government for India?
������� My idea is like what Tagore once wrote. There may be one Rashtrapati at the top with considerable powers so as to secure a continuity of policy, and an assembly representative of the nation. The provinces will combine into a federation united at the top, leaving ample scope to local bodies to make laws according to their local problems.
������� The Congress at the present stage�what is it but a Fascist organization? Gandhi is the dictator like Stalin, I won't say like Hitler: what Gandhi says they accept and even the Working Committee follows him; then it goes to the All-India Congress Committee which adopts it, and then the Congress. There is no opportunity for any difference of opinion, except for Socialists who are allowed to differ provided they don't seriously differ. Whatever resolutions they pass are obligatory on all the provinces whether the resolutions suit the provinces or not; there is no room for any other independent opinion. Everything is fixed up before and the people are only allowed to talk over it�like Stalin's Parliament. When we started the [Nationalist] movement we began with the idea of throwing out the Congress oligarchy and open the whole organization to the general mass.
Srinivas Iyengar retired from Congress because of his differences with Gandhi....
������� He made Charkha a religious article of faith and excluded all people from Congress membership who could not spin. How many even among his own followers believe in his gospel of Charkha? Such a tremendous waste of energy just for the sake of a few annas is most unreasonable.
������� Give [people] education, technical training and give them the fundamental organic principles of organization, not on political but on business lines. But Gandhi does not want such industrial organization, he is for going back to the old system of civilization, and so he comes in with his magical formula �Spin, spin, spin.� C. R. Das and a few others could act as a counterbalance. It is all a fetish.
December 30, 1938
������� The Japanese have a wonderful power of self-control. They don't lose their temper or quarrel with you, but if their honour is violated they may kill you. They can be bitter enemies.... The Japanese also have a high sense of chivalry.... But these things perhaps belong to the past. It is a great pity that people who have carried such ideals into practice are losing them through contact with European civilization. That is a great harm that European vulgarizing has done to Japan. Now you find most people mercantile in their outlook and they will do anything for the sake of money.....
(A disciple:) Has European civilization nothing good in it?
������� It has lowered the moral tone of humanity.... The ancients tried to keep to their ideals and made an effort to raise them higher, while Europe lost all her ideals after the [first World] War. People have become cynical, selfish, etc.... I suppose it is all due to commercialism.
January 6, 1939
������� Are not all governments robbers? Some do the robbing with legislation, some without.
January 8, 1939
(A disciple:) Gandhi writes that non-violence tried by some people in Germany has failed because it has not been so strong as to generate sufficient heat to melt Hitler's heart.
������� I am afraid it would require quite a furnace!... The trouble with Gandhi is that he had to deal only with Englishmen, and the English want to have their conscience at ease. Besides, the Englishman wants to satisfy his self-esteem and wants world-esteem. But if Gandhi had had to deal with the Russians or the German Nazis, they would have long ago put him out of their way.
January 15, 1939
������� It is easy to see that the process of evolution is universal and human evolution cannot be bound down to a set of philosophical ideas or rules of practice. No epoch, no individual, no group has the monopoly of truth. It is the same with religion�Christian, Mohammedan, etc.
������� The Greeks had the sense of beauty; their life was beautiful. The one thing that modern Europe has not taken from the Greeks is beauty. You can't say modern Europe is beautiful�in fact, it is ugly.
������� What can be said of ancient Greece can be said also of ancient India. She had beauty, much of which she has since lost. The Japanese are the only race that can be said to have preserved beauty in their life. But now even they are fast losing it under European influence.
������� The setback to the human mind in Europe is amazing.... We had thought during the last years of the nineteenth century that the human mind had attained a certain level of intelligence and that it would have to be satisfied before any new idea could find acceptance. But it seems one can't rely on common sense to stand the strain. We find Nazi ideas being accepted; fifty years back it would have been impossible to predict their acceptance. Then, again, the ease with which the best intellectuals accept psychoanalysis and Freud's ideas is surprising.
������� Throughout the course of history a small minority has been carrying the torch to save humanity in spite of itself.
January 16, 1939
(A disciple:) Nana Saheb Sinde of Baroda has spoken to a youth conference emphasizing the need of military training for the defence of the country. His speech was against the current vogue of non-violence.
������� It is good that someone raises his voice like that when efforts are being made to make non-violence the method of solving all problems.... This non-violent resistance I have never been able to fathom.... To change the opponent's heart by passive resistance is something I don't understand....
������� I am afraid Gandhi has been trying to apply to ordinary life what belongs to spirituality. Non-violence or ahimsa as a spiritual attitude and its practice is perfectly understandable and has a standing of its own. You may not accept it in toto but it has a basis in reality. You can live it in spiritual life, but to apply it to all life is absurd.... It is a principle which can be applied with success if practised on a mass scale, specially by unarmed people like the Indians, because you are left with no other choice. But even when it succeeds it is not that you have changed the heart of the enemy, but that you have made it impossible for him to rule....
������� What a tremendous generalizer Gandhi is! Passive resistance, charkha and celibacy for all! One can't be a member of the Congress without oneself spinning!
January 18, 1939
������� There is a spiritual solution which I propose; but it aims at changing the whole basis of human nature. It is not a question of carrying on a movement, nor is it a question of a few years: there can be no real solution unless you establish spirituality as the basis of life.
������� It is clear that Mind has not been able to change human nature radically. You can go on changing human institutions infinitely and yet the imperfection will break through all your institutions.
January 21, 1939
������� She [Nivedita] took up politics as a part of Vivekananda's work.... Vivekananda himself had ideas about political work and spells of revolutionary fervour.... It is curious how many Sannyasins at that time thought of India's freedom.
January 24, 1939
(A disciple:) There are so many difficulties [in finding out the cause of poverty], political, economic, etc.
������� I don't think it is so insoluble a problem as all that. If you give the people education�by education I mean proper education, not the modern type�then the problem can be solved. People in England or France don't have the kind of poverty we have in India. That is because of their education�they are not so helpless.
������� Modern artists are putting an end to art. Vulgarization everywhere!... When this craze for utility comes, beauty goes to the dogs. This is the modern tendency.
January 26, 1939
(A disciple:) [In India] the forests are being depleted of animals.
������� The forests have to be preserved and also the wildlife. China destroyed all her forests and the result is that there is flood every year.
������� In Socialism you have the State which intervenes at every step with its officials who rob money.... It is the State bureaucracy that dictates the policy irrespective of the good of the commune. In Communism they hold the land as the common property of the whole unit, and each one is entitled to labour and to have his share from the produce.
������� In India we had a kind of communism in the villages. The whole village was like a big family and the lowest had his right as a member of the family. The washerman, the carpenter, the blacksmith, the barber, all got what they needed. That is the only communism that is practicable. Each such commune can be independent and many such units can be scattered all over the country and they can combine or coordinate their activities for a common purpose.
January 29, 1939
������� You know what [C. R.] Das said about criminals? He said, �In my whole legal career I have not met worse types of criminals than in politics.�
������� It is better not to destroy the capitalist class as the Socialists want to: they are the source of national wealth. They should be encouraged to spend for the nation. Taxing is all right, but you must increase production, start new industries, and also raise the standard of living; without that if you increase the taxes there will be a state of depression.
February 2, 1939
������� Nowadays people want the modern type of democracy�the parliamentary form of government. The parliamentary system is doomed. It has brought Europe to its present sorry pass....
������� [In India] one should begin with the old Panchayat system in the villages and then work up to the top. The Panchayat system and the guilds are more representative and they have a living contact with people; they are part of the people's ideas. On the contrary, the parliamentary system with local bodies�the municipal councils�is not workable: these councils have no living contact with the people; the councillors make only platform speeches and nobody knows what they do for three or four years; at the end they reshuffle and rearrange the whole thing, making their own pile during their period of power.
November 28, 1939
(A disciple:) X was lamenting over the plight of Bengali Hindus. He says there is a cultural conquest taking place.
������� How? Hindus are becoming Muslims?
No, not religious conquest but cultural, Hindu culture being replaced by Muslim. At schools and colleges, books on Muslim culture are being forced on the students.
������� Why don't the Hindus react?
(Another disciple:) Instead of lamenting they should also organize something.
������� Quite so.
December 30, 1939
(A disciple:) There are some people who object to �Vande Mataram� as a national song. And some Congressmen support the removal of some parts of the song.
������� In that case the Hindus should give up their culture.
The argument is that the song speaks of Hindu gods, like Durga, and that is offensive to the Muslims.
������� But it is not a religious song: it is a national song and the Durga spoken of is India as the Mother. Why should not the Muslims accept it? It is an image used in poetry. In the Indian conception of nationality, the Hindu view would naturally be there. If it cannot find a place there, the Hindus may as well be asked to give up their culture. The Hindus don't object to �Allah-ho-Akbar�....
������� Why should not the Hindu worship his god? Otherwise, the Hindus must either accept Mohammedanism or the European culture or become atheists....
������� I told C. R. Das [in 1923] that this Hindu-Muslim question must be solved before the Britishers go, otherwise there was a danger of civil war. He also agreed and wanted to solve it....
������� Instead of doing what was necessary the Congress is trying to flirt with Jinnah, and Jinnah simply thinks that he has to obstinately stick to his terms to get them. The more they try, the more Jinnah becomes intransigent.
January 3, 1940
(A disciple:) X who is an I.C.S. is said to be brilliant.
������� Then why did he go in for the I.C.S. to waste himself?... In that official routine work all the brilliant qualities are lost. There is no scope for them.
February 5, 1940
(A disciple:) Dominion status Subhas Bose calls a compromise; he wants independence.
������� It is a compromise on the surface, but it is practically independence; you get all you want without any unnecessary struggle. When you can secede at your will from the British connection, it is practically independence. Independence is all right if you are prepared for a revolution, but is the country ready for it?
April 2, 1940
������� (Smiling) Have you seen the report of the All India Sweepers' Conference at Lahore under Sardul Singh's presidentship? They have protested against Jinnah's Muslim India scheme and said that if India was going to be divided they must also have a separate India. I was not quite wrong when I said that barbers also would now start an agitation for an India of their own?...
May 5, 1940
������� Now they [the Muslim League] say that they are the sole representatives of the Muslims, and the Government strongly supports them. The Congress is also half-hearted against [the scheme of] Pakistan....
������� The Congress and other people are shouting old slogans in changed conditions. At one time the Independence cry was all right, but now Dominion status is almost equivalent to that and in time you can be virtually independent. Besides, it is the best chance under the present conditions in opposition to charkha and non-violence....
(A disciple:) If Hitler invades India, Gandhi will declare we are all non-violent.
������� Hitler will be delighted at it.
Yes, he will sweep off everybody with machine guns. Gandhi believes he can be converted.
������� It is a beautiful idea, but not credible. Does anybody really believe in his non-violence?... Will he face an army with his charkha?
May 17, 1940
������� It seems it is not five or six of our people [the Ashram's disciples] but more than half that are in sympathy with Hitler and want him to win.
(A disciple, laughing:) Half?
������� No, it is not a matter to laugh at. It is a very serious matter. ... If these people want that the Ashram should be dissolved, they can come and tell me and I will dissolve it instead of the police doing it. They have no idea about the world and talk like children. Hitlerism is the greatest menace that the world has ever met�if Hitler wins, do they think India has any chance of being free? It is a well-known fact that Hitler has an eye on India. He is openly talking of world-empire....
������� I hear K. [a disciple] says that Russia can come now and conquer India. It is this kind of slave mentality that keeps India in bondage. He pretends to spirituality; doesn't he know that the first thing that Stalin will do is to wipe out spirituality from India?...
May 18, 1940
(A disciple:) D. was being jeered at [by other �disciples�] for being pro-Ally. When he said he was sad at Holland's defeat, they remarked, �You are pro-Ally?�
������� They are glad that Holland was occupied? Very strange, and yet they want freedom for India? That is one thing I can't swallow. How can they have sympathy with Hitler who is destroying other nations, taking away their liberty? It is not only pro-Ally sympathy but sympathy for humanity that they are jeering at.
May 21, 1940
(A disciple:) Gandhi writes in the Harijan that there is not much to choose between Imperialism and Fascism. He finds very little difference.
������� There is a big difference. Under Fascism he wouldn't be able to write such things or say anything against the State. He would be shot.
And he still believes that by non-violence we can defend our country.
������� Non-violence can't defend. One can only die by it.
He believes that by such a death a change of heart can take place in the enemy.
������� If it does, it will be after two or three centuries.
May 28, 1940
������� Have you read what Gandhi has said in answer to a correspondent? He says that if eight crores of Muslims demand a separate State, what else are the twenty-five crores of Hindus to do but surrender? Otherwise there will be civil war.
(A disciple:) I hope that is not the type of conciliation he is thinking of.
������� Not thinking of it, you say? He has actually said that and almost yielded. If you yield to the opposite party beforehand, naturally they will stick strongly to their claims. It means that the minority will rule and the majority must submit. The minority is allowed its say, �We shall be the ruler and you our servants. Our harf [word] will be law; you will have to obey.� This shows a peculiar mind. I think this kind of people are a little cracked.
June 17, 1940
(The German troops entered Paris a few days earlier; on the 17th P�tain proposed an armistice.)
(A disciple:) I think everybody realizes the danger if Hitler occupies France.
������� Does India realize it? Everybody seems to be busy with his own interest and none considers anything in the light of the world situation. The Congress Committee is now in session; will it realize the danger?
(Another disciple:) I think it will.
������� Let us hope so. Nehru seems to shut his eyes and calls all these fears a bogey of foreign invasion.
June 18, 1940
(A disciple:) Some people in India defend France's peace offer. They say, �What can the French do? Their army was being annihilated....�
������� That is the typical Indian mentality. That is why India is under subjection. Just because an army has been defeated, must it surrender? Then, will a subject nation always be a subject nation? Won't it fight for freedom?... The greatness lies in not giving up the struggle and refusing to accept the defeat as final.
June 21, 1940
������� In Kashmir, the Hindus had all the monopoly. Now if the Muslim demands are acceded to, the Hindus will be wiped out.
June 25, 1940
������� The greatest preoccupation of modern man seems to be to find out means of destruction as well as means of escaping destruction....
(A disciple:) Have you read what Jawaharlal says?
������� Yes, that he doesn't think there is the slightest likelihood of a major invasion of India. Only a minor invasion from Afghanistan and such places perhaps?...
If Nehru says like that, how can we blame [others]? Nehru who is supposed to have international politics at his fingertips?
������� All the knowledge most Indian politicians have of the international situation is some illusions about extreme political ideas, which have been shattered everywhere.
July 4, 1940
(A disciple:) Gandhi has offered his help through the Viceroy to the British government and asked the British to lay down their arms and practise non-violence.
������� He must be a little cracked.
While asking them to lay down their arms, he wants them to keep up their spirit.
������� And be subjected in practice!
July 7, 1940
������� With [Subhas] Bose on one side and Gandhi on the other, future unity will be difficult. If Hindus and Muslims had now made a united demand the Government would have had to submit.
October 7, 1940
(A disciple:) It is because of the British divide-and-rule policy that we can't unite.
������� Nonsense! Was there unity in India before the British rule?
But now since our national consciousness is more developed there is more chance of unity if the British don't bolster up Jinnah and his Muslim claims.
������� Does Jinnah want unity?... What he wants is independence for Muslims and if possible rule over India. That is the old spirit.... But why is it expected that Muslims will be so accommodating? Everywhere minorities are claiming their rights. Of course, there may be some Muslims who are different, more nationalistic in outlook: even [Maulana] Azad has his own terms, only he sees Indian unity first and will settle those terms afterwards.
October 12, 1940
(A disciple:) But how long can Hitler keep these races [in the countries he invaded] in subjection? They will rise in revolt one day./
������� What about Poland and Czechoslovakia? They are two of the most heroic nations in the world and yet what can they do?...
The trouble about India is that the British government has not kept a single promise so far. So nobody trusts it.
������� The fact is that the British don't trust India to help them if she is given Dominion status. Otherwise they would have given it.
I don't think India will refuse to help if we get something.
������� You think so? I am not sure. What do you think of the left-wingers, Communists, Subhas Bose, for instance? And it is not true that they [the British] have given nothing.... They gave provincial autonomy and didn't exercise any veto power. It is the Congress that spoiled everything by resigning. If without resigning they had put pressure at the Centre they would have got by now what they want. It is for two reasons I support the British in this war: first in India's own interest and secondly for humanity's sake, and the reasons I have given are external reasons, there are spiritual reasons too.
November 28, 1940
(After hearing the text of Gandhi�s recent �political will�.)
������� Something in him takes delight in suffering for its own sake. Even the prospect of suffering seems to please him.... It is the Christian idea that has taken hold of him.
������� Besides, he seems to think that after him his theory and creed of non-violence will continue. I don�t think so. A few people will be there, but anything like a wide-scale influence like that of his personality does not seem possible....
������� Fast and satyagraha changing the heart of the opponent is absurd. What they can do is exert pressure and secure some concession.
������� The English are not quite wrong when they say that the Indians must settle their own differences. The Lucknow Pact has become a big political blunder. The Mahomedans, they want to rule India.
It is noteworthy that one of the very first attempts to overthrow British rule was made in eastern India in the last decades of the eighteenth century by organized groups of Sannyasins.
Even today, the verses of Vande Mataram mentioning Durga as the personification of Mother India are omitted from most official recitations.
In 1942, Sri Aurobindo publicly supported the Cripps proposal to grant India Dominion status (see note 1, part VI).
A sympathy shared by many in India at the time, which stemmed from a justified anti-British feeling but veiled the reality of what was at stake.
Not a �peace offer� but P�tain's capitulation to Hitler.
This is exactly what happened in the decades following Independence: Hindus were either slaughtered or driven out of Kashmir. Even today, thousands of them have to live in refugee camps farther south.
This refers to an open letter which Gandhi addressed to the British a few days earlier: �I appeal for cessation of hostilities ... because war is bad in essence. You want to kill Nazism. Your soldiers are doing the same work of destruction as the Germans. The only difference is that perhaps yours are not as thorough as the Germans ... I venture to present you with a nobler and a braver way, worthy of the bravest soldiers. I want you to fight Nazism without arms or ... with non-violent arms. I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity.... Invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but not your souls nor your minds....� (Amrita Bazar Patrika, July 4, 1940, �Method of Non-violence�Mahatma Gandhi's appeal to every Briton.�)
To submit to granting independence to a united India, as Britain needed India's cooperation during the War.
By resigning from all the provincial ministries in October-November 1939, as the Congress declared itself unable to lend support to Britain in the war.
A few days earlier, Sri Aurobindo issued a public declaration in support of the Allies.
See note 5, part IV.