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Building an Intuitive Mentality: The NeoVedantic Knowledge Project of Sri Aurobindo

Post-Enlightenment philosophy, which is largely creative of and dominates the modern consciousness, has defined humanism in terms of rationality and its control over the irrational. This has led to our technological age but has also spawned counter philosophies critiquing the limits of reason and the epistemic possibilities of experience and intuition. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) was an Indian thinker who was schooled in England and arrived at a cosmopolitan grasp of modernity, including the ideals of the Enlightenment and its limitations. Looking to the discursive and experiential traditions of India, particularly those of the Upanishads (Vedanta) he sought for hermeneutic keys to address the human possibilities of knowledge. In his reading of the Upanishads, he saw a fundamental division between Knowledge (Vidya) and Ignorance (Avidya) and a practical tradition (yoga) which negotiated this division by rejecting worldly or relative knowledge (Avidya) for a Knowledge-by-identity (Vidya). Whereas such a transcendentalism had been idealized even within the counter-movements of the Enlightenment as "the Eastern Enlightenment," Sri Aurobindo sought traces of an intuitive mediating consciousness which would enable a new kind of worldly knowledge based in Truth-Seeing (darshan) and Hearing (sruti). He has referred to this knowledge project as "building an intuitive mentality," a transformative process based on Vedantic knowledge and leading more to an integral consciousness than what we would call a mentality. Looking for the operations of absolute Knowledge in the Vidya that translate to operations of relative knowledge in the Avidya, he located four forms of intuition that could be cultivated and normalized towards the end of preparing such an intuitive consciousness and leading ultimately to an integral consciousness foundational to a divine collective life on earth. In this paper, I will outline these operations of knowledge and discuss the processes by which Sri Aurobindo sought to bridge our human "rational ignorance" (Avidya) to the integral knowledge (Vidya) spoken of in the Upanishads.


Debashish Banerji

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