Aurobindo Ghose (1872 – 1950) was a prolific writer on Indian metaphysics, religion, occultism, yoga, literature, art, and politics. He was also a composer of poems and plays. He is reputed to be one of the foremost mystics of twentieth century India. In fact, he is also regarded as some sort of an “Avatar” or incarnation of divinity by most of his followers and inmates of the Ashram he founded in Puducherry (formerly the French colony of Pondicherry), in the province of Tamilnadu, India. This is not surprising since superstitious religious believers in India typically tend to elevate human religious figures, e.g., Sai Baba, Ramakrishna, etc., to the status of deities or demi-gods exempt from and capable of manipulating the laws of nature to fulfill the prayers of their disciples.
Aurobindo made a number of extraordinary and supernatural claims in his writings, letters, and conversations with his largely credulous disciples. You will find claims on “occult worlds”, “hostile forces”, alleged Blackmagic and his efforts to counteract it, alleged poltergeist phenomena in his ashram, healing or cure of even chronic diseases by “yogic force”, the possibility of conquering death by harnessing the “supramental force”, his avowed role in using his “yogic force” to turn the tide of World War II in favor of the Allied forces, and so on. In this series of pieces, I intend to examine and uncover the baloney in these claims.
Let’s start with his claim that during his stay in the Alipore jail (May 1908- 1909) he heard the voice of Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) giving him information on “higher planes of consciousness”, particularly the so-called “intuitive mentality”. Since Vivekananda died in 1902, this alleged event happened six years or so after Vivekananda’s death. Obviously, Aurobindo is claiming that Vivekananda visited him in the Alipore jail in the form of a “spirit” or disembodied presence and spoke to him.
“It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence [.] The voice spoke only on a special and limited but very important field of spiritual experience and it ceased as soon as it had finished saying all that it had to say on that subject.” (Aurobindo, On Himself)
How did he recognize the voice of Vivekananda? Although Aurobindo was thirty years old when Vivekananda died suddenly at age thirty-nine in 1902, he had never met Vivekananda. Nor had he heard any recording of Vivekananda’s voice at that time. In fact, contrary to rumors, no such recording of Vivekananda’s voice has been found. So, Aurobindo could not possibly have heard any recording of Vivekananda’s voice. Indeed, Aurobindo never stated that he heard any such recording ever in his life. Therefore, there is no doubt that Aurobindo never had any knowledge of Vivekananda’s voice prior to his incarceration in the Alipore jail.
One can only recognize something if one has had knowledge of it in the past. I cannot recognize a face as the face of my mother if I have never seen my mother’s face. I cannot recognize the voice of a person I have never heard.
So, how did Aurobindo know that it was Vivekananda’s voice, particularly since the experience did not involve any vision of Vivekananda?
There are only two possibilities: a) he imagined that he had heard Vivekananda’s voice, or b) the voice introduced itself as Vivekananda, e.g., “Namaste, Aurobindo, this is Vivekananda speaking to you.”!
If he had imagined that he had heard the voice of Vivekananda, this obviously implies, at least, that he could not be sure or certain that it was the voice of Vivekananda. But this also implies something more. He had a delusive experience! Hence, his claim that it was the voice of Vivekananda has no basis in reality.
On the other hand, if the voice introduced itself as Vivekananda, and Aurobindo trusted it, how can he or anyone be sure or certain that it was trustworthy, that it was really Vivekananda’s voice? The fact that Aurobindo trusted or believed the voice does not imply or support the claim that it was indeed Vivekananda’s voice. He could have been deceived by any of the very “hostile forces”, i.e., the demons or “evil spirits” of religious lore, he claims really exist and afflict human beings.
In fact, Aurobindo’s account of the experience does not mention anything about whether the voice identified itself. Thus, all we have is Aurobindo’s mere belief, but conflated by him with certain knowledge, that it was the voice of Vivekananda speaking to him.
Further, in which language did the voice communicate? The native language of Aurobindo and Vivekananda was Bengali and both were also extremely fluent in English. So, did “Vivekananda’s voice” use Bengali or English as its medium of communication?
Aurobindo remained mysteriously silent on this issue. He never disclosed the language employed by the “voice of Vivekananda”. But how likely is it that a person who claims to hear a voice giving him “information” on “higher planes of consciousness” can forget the language in which such information was communicated? It’s virtually impossible.
What exactly did the voice communicate?
Aurobindo is vague on this issue. He is reported to have said years later that the voice gave him critical information on the “higher plane” of “intuitive mentality” but he never explained the nature of this information. In later years, in one of his letters to a disciple, he wrote, again vaguely, that the voice gave him information on a “very important field of spiritual experience” , but he did not provide any explanation of which “field of spiritual experience” this was and the nature of the information on it.
Aurobindo had probably read by this time, or even prior to his incarceration in the Alipore jail, Vivekananda’s remarks on “intuition” in his well-known work on “Raja Yoga”. If so, what rules out the explanation that he was hallucinating and projecting his existing knowledge of Vivekananda’s ideas on intuition, gleaned from his writings, onto the voice?
What a pity that Vivekananda did not choose this one-time opportunity (he never again communicated with Aurobindo!) to communicate information as to his (Vivekananda’s) whereabouts in the beyond, or how, contrary to Shakespeare’s description of the beyond as “that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns“, he had managed to return ? And why did he fail to explain the means by which a “spirit” can still “speak” intelligibly using an earthly language? This would have been a precious contribution to knowledge!
One can also think of any number of critical issues facing India or Aurobindo on that day and on which Vivekananda could have given valuable “information”, accessible from the vantage point of an elite denizen of the beyond, to Aurobindo. How odd that he didn’t!
Isn’t it also very strange that he never again communicated with Aurobindo even after the latter allegedly scaled the “higher planes consciousness” including the “plane of intuitive mentality” and explored many important “fields of spiritual experience”?
One would have expected that Vivekananda would have done a “follow-up” voice communication from the beyond in later years at least to congratulate Aurobindo on his accomplishments in the “very important field of spiritual experience” he had divagated about in the Alipore jail. But Aurobindo’s accounts of his spiritual experiences in later years never once mention any further communication from Vivekananda.
So, I ask: Which is the plausible explanation of Aurobindo’s experience of “hearing the voice of Vivekananda” in the Alipore jail? (A) That he had a delusive auditory experience, akin to hypnagogic and hypnopompic auditory hallucinations everyone has, which also involved a projection of his existing knowledge of the writings of Vivekananda on intuition, yoga, etc., or (B) that Vivekananda who had died six or more years ago really spoke to Aurobindo, once and only once in the latter’s entire lifetime allegedly encompassing several levels of “spiritual attainment”, in an unspecified language, and gave vague “information” on an equally obscure “intuitive mentality” and “field of spiritual experience”?
The baloney compass clearly points to (A) as the best explanation.