Sri Aurobindo on Buddha and His Teachings

Buddha, according to Sri Aurobindo is an “incarnation” [like Christ], a Avatar as they call in India: the Divine taking a human form to help and guide the spiritual evolution of humanity; to establish in the human and terrestrial consciousness a new spiritual possibility which has not existed before.  The purpose of Buddha’s incarnation is to establish a new spiritual path based entirely on a moral and psychological discipline, free from the external formalism of the earlier religions, like rituals, dogmas, priests, churches, temples, idols, rigid hierarchical structures, metaphysical speculation, belief-systems etc.

The Buddha’s teaching regarding the individual soul and the world is that “Individual has no existence since what does exists in the world is a stream of impermanent consciousness from moment to moment and the individual person is fictitiously constituted by a bundle of samskaras and can be dissolved by dissolving the bundle.”(1)  This view of Buddha, according to Sri Aurobindo “is in conformity with the vedanthic monistic view that there is no separate individual.”(2) The aim of human existence is to break-away from or dissolve this bundle of samskara which constitute this transient, sorrowful, ego-centric and desire-driven human existence into the absolute freedom of a transcendent Reality.  Regarding Buddha’s conception of Nirvana, Sri Aurobindo says, “The Buddha himself, it may be remarked, seem to have conceived of Nirvana as a status of absolute Bliss of freedom, a negation of karmic existence in some incognisable absolute, which he refused steadfastly to describe or define by any positive or any negative terms.”(3)

The way and approach of Buddha to Nirvana is entirely psychological and pragmatic and not metaphysical, religious or theological.  As Sri Aurobindo points out “His explanation of things was psychological and not metaphysical and his methods were all psychological, the breaking of the false association of consciousness which causes the continuance of desire and suffering, so getting rid of the stream of birth and death in a purely phenomenal [not real] world; the psychological method, the eight fold path developing right understanding and right action.  His objects was pragmatic and severely practical and so were his methods; metaphysical speculations would only draw the mind away from the one thing needful.”(4)

But according to Sri Aurobindo, Buddhist Nirvana as a spiritual experience is not a negative something; it is a powerful spiritual experience, which has a positive transforming effect on the consciousness of the individual.  Buddha himself is a living example of what Nirvana can do to an individual.  Sri Aurobindo, in a  glowing tribute to Buddha, gives an indication of the nature of transformation which Nirvana can bring to an individual.  “Thus was it possible for the Buddha to attain the state of Nirvana and yet act puissantly in the world, impersonal in his inner consciousness, in his action the most powerful personality that we know of as having lived and produced results.”(5)

This possibility of an entire motionless impersonality and void calm within doing outwardly the works of the eternal verities of Love, Truth, Righteousness, was perhaps the real gist of Buddha’s teachings.”(6)

So an absolute inner peace and freedom which comes from the extinction of ego and desire and a vast impersonality, flowing our in life and action in the works of universal love and compassion, these are the results of Nirvana.

Thus, according to Sri Aurobindo, Nirvana does not mean extinction of the personality; rather Nirvanic consciousness, by its inner peace, freedom and impersonality enhances many folds the power and effectiveness of the personality.


1,2     *  SABCL, vol.22, pp. 402

3,           SABCL, vol.16, p.136

4,            ibid  1,2

5             SABCL, vol.18, p.30

6             ibid p.29

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