Dr. Karan Singh is one of the foremost thinkers of modern India and represents a synthesis of the traditions of the past and the scientific outlook of the present. When I approached him for an interview, he readily agreed.
Q. How did you get inspired to read Sri Aurobindo’s writings, particularly his political philosophy, for your doctorate?
A. At the age of 19 or so I read a book by Dilip Kumar Roy called ‘Among the Great’, wherein he recorded in depth his impressions of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, Sri Aurobindo and Bertrand Russell. After reading that book I wrote to Dilip to know more about Sri Aurobindo. He was kind enough to send me a copy of another book ‘Sri Aurobindo Came to Me’. Since then my interest in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy deepened, but by then Sri Aurobindo had passed away in 1950. I wrote a thesis on ‘Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (1893-1910)’ for Delhi University, which was later published as ‘Prophet of Indian Nationalism’. I studied the political thought of ancient and modern India – from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Mahatma Gandhi. This also gave me some insight into Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. The choice of Sri Aurobindo’s thought was made because he was active both in politics and in philosophy.
Q. Did you have an opportunity to read Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus’ and 'Life Divine' and ‘Savitri’?
A. No, I must admit that I did not make an in-depth study of those books, but I went through his other works like ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’ and ‘Essays on the Gita’. … … But it is undeniably true that he has been a great influence on my life. I also had a few opportunities to see the Mother in Pondicherry. She had a very great spiritual and occult power. She was very affectionate to me whenever I visited Her.
The next person for whom I had a lot of reverence was Nolinida. Two or three years ago when I met him he remarked, “Whenever I see you, I remember Savitri”. I do not understand what exactly he meant by that – probably it had some symbolic meaning.
(When I put forth my suggestion that perhaps his presence reminded him of the new supramental race, he humbly said that he always accepted it as Nolinida’s blessings.)
Q. Karma yoga is the foundation of Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga. Could you interpret it in the light of your own realization?
A. First of all, let me say that I do not have any ‘realization’ at all. His yoga is not based absolutely on Karma but is an integration of Jnana, Bhakti, Rajayoga, and of course Karma Yoga. In recent spiritual history of India we find Sri Aurobindo a Raja Yogi or Integral Raja Yogi; Sri Ramakrishna a bhakta par excellence, completely devoted to Mother Kali; Ramana Maharshi a Gyani sitting in Arunachala Hills; and Swami Vivekananda a Karma Yogi. We find in them all these four great yogas coming alive in this age.
Q. The concept of vasudhaiva kutumbakam is a noble idea. How and when this noble idea could be made a reality?
A. The most important aspect of it is the emergence of a global consciousness. Before supramentalisation, what we need is a globalisation of consciousness. As long as our consciousness is split up into many groups, national fronts, self-centredness, there cannot be any major breakthrough.
The development of this new consciousness will involve a creative interpretation of old concepts. Vasudhaiva kutumbakam is one of such concepts, being the key to global consciousness. Both movements are going on side by side – on the one hand globalisation and on the other the forces of disintegration taking different shapes and forms to slow down the victory of the Truth. Sri Aurobindoindicated that these negative forces come into play whenever some positive move is made. We are at a very crucial stage in our history. So those of us who are on the path should throw our inner weight, as it were, in favour of the forces of harmony and globalisation. I wish to add another point, where I slightly differ with Sri Aurobindo, and that is the inevitability of terrestrial victory for the forces of harmony. It may be otherwise also. It will not do to sit idle and wait for the supramental descent. This kind of thing may prove costly. As Sri Aurobindo says, there should be aspiration from below and then only the answering response from above will come.
Q. Arnold Toynbee talks about salvation of mankind through the Indian way – what is that way?
A. The Indian way, as I see it, is the Vedantic way based upon: Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (The world is a family) Ishwara sarvabhutaanam (The Divine is in all human beings) Aatmani mokshaarthaaya jagat hitaaya cha (Work for inner realization and welfare of all) Bahujan hitaaya bahujan sukhaaya cha (Work for the welfare and happiness of many) and such other universal concepts of Vedanta. I think that is what Arnold Toynbee had in mind while speaking about the Indian way. But for the last several years we have not been going along this way ourselves.
Q. Taking into consideration the present scenario, do you feel optimistic about India’s future? If not, why not? What are the causes of her present state of affairs?
A. Basically, I am optimistic. I have a certain faith in India’s destiny and in the strength of the teachings she has nurtured in her breast for so many centuries. However, the immediate prospect is a negative one. But in spite of the present situation we should be optimistic and then we can perhaps succeed, because if we do not have that then there is no question of success at all.
Q. What role can the present generation play?
A. They have to prepare and equip themselves physically, academically, intellectually, morally, aesthetically, and above all, spiritually to play a vital role and to build a new India. We are living in a very exciting times; this is a period full of possibility and potential.
Excerpted from The Call Beyond, Vol. 16, No. 4, p 37-42.1991.