Dr. Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (30 December 1887—8 February 1971) was a famous politician, educationist and author. In 1938 he established Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He was the Minister for Agriculture and Food in independent India and also served as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh from 1952 to 1957.
The text of a speech titled “Sri Aurobindo” which Dr. K. M. Munshi had delivered at Sri Aurobindo Niketan Meeting at the Constitution Club (New Delhi) on 16 August 1951 has been uploaded in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
K. M. Munshi
The life and work of Sri Aurobindo are encyclopaedic; his personality and achievements have different facets; at least five different facets: the man, the man of action, the man of letters, the seer and the Yogi.
Gifted with a vast intellect, great and noble emotions and unbounded aspirations, his ambition was to measure the immeasurable. Unflinching in his devotion to duty on the threshold of life, he made a plan of life and pursued it steadfastly. Later, the sense of duty grew and he embraced man, in all his aspects, with a parent’s ceaseless solicitude.
He was an artist of life. As a professor, as I knew him, perfect; as a patriot, he was a passionate devotee of the Motherland in 1907 quivering with passionate longing for her freedom and greatness. On 9th July 1950, when I last saw him, he was a thing of living beauty in his voice, manner and dress. His personality had assumed a beauty far surpassing that which we associate with human beings.
Was Aurobindo a man of action? It is a superficial view which identifies a man of action necessarily with restless hours, ceaseless jostling with men, with public meetings, and newspaper headlines. If action implies power to move men, Aurobindo was a great Karmayogi. He left the coveted career of a Civil Servant to work for the country. As an obscure professor, he, in his “New Lamps for Old” first raised the unequivocal battle-cry of “Freedom”. During the Partition of Bengal days he actually joined the National Movement, gave up service and prospects, started ‘Bandemataram’, established a Technological Institute, made men dance to the tune of his powerful pen and voice driving them to action. He moved thousands to take to boycotting British goods, singing the Vande Mataram. He went to jail, and in view of his connection—distant though not intimate with the first terrorist movement—he risked his life.
Then he retired. ‘Retired’ is not the proper word, for, by his sudden withdrawal from direct contact, he made his pen and personality the media of galvanising men’s mind and action. Did Aurobindo inspire men to action? His personality became integrated; the spark of action was communicated not by physical contact, but by words, by the imponderable power of an integrated personality, a medium of action more powerful than word or pen or social contact. In distant parts of the world, his words echoed in devoted hearts impelling them to make experiments with life itself.
As a man of letters, Sri Aurobindo was one of the greatest literary men of any time. He has written on almost all subjects of intellectual and emotional interest. His poems have a boldness of imagination almost unequalled in modern literature. Imbued with the best traditions of Greek and Sanskrit literature, he was the master of the living phrase of beauty. Few now know the scathing sarcasm, the passionate denunciation, the biting incisiveness of the leaders of the Bande Mataram when he slashed the Moderate Politicians of India in 1905 and 1907. In those days, his words were power-winged shafts, with envenomed tips. In his letter to his disciples later, we find a rare affection, a light touch, an endearing solicitude. In some of his early speeches like that of Uttarpara, the heart-going directness and simplicity overwhelms the soul with the inspiring, far-visioned compelling power of a Master; he often spoke and wrote, as was said of Jesus, ‘with authority’.
For the ordinary reader, his philosophic works are too difficult. Even a student of philosophy finds Aurobindo’s thoughts moving in a sphere of distinctive ideas and it becomes difficult to follow their line unless one is familiar with the world in which he lived and had his being.
As a Seer, he was one of the greatest in the world. He tried to sense the beautiful in word and phrase and life and personality. He was the first in India to squarely see the conflict between India and Britain. He was again the first to envisage a vast struggle to drive out the British. After the Russo-Japanese War, he first gave us the slogan—“Asia for Asiatics”. During the Partition of Bengal Movement, he made of the drawing room nationalism of the day, a militant and powerful all-embracing emotion. He invested the boycott of British goods with a new political significance. With vivid passion he made ‘Vande Mataram’ a ‘Mantra’ of undying martyrdom to secure the freedom and glory of India. He was the first again to emphasise that Indian freedom can only come by non-violent action, though in principle, at appropriate places, he declined to abjure violence. He prophesied that after him will come someone who will achieve which he could not. 
He brought the whole range of Indian culture under his transvaluing gaze. He found a new meaning in our art, our poetry, our classics, our religious and social movements. He has been the Prophet of Indian Renaissance.
More, he drank deep at the fountain source of Indian thought and religion and helped in the secularisation of the Hindu religious sentiment. In the Motherland, he found the deity of his heart. In being ready to invite martyrdom for Her freedom and glory, he discovered Karma Yoga; and when in the Uttarpara speech, he said ‘Nationalism is Sanatana Dharma and Sanatana Dharma is Nationalism’, he restored to India the universal creed for the uplift of man for which she had lived during the ages. Sanatana Dharma to him was not the castes, the creeds, the temples and the rituals. It was the one and the universal law embracing humanity in one elevating and sweeping movement of the Spirit.
He gave a new value to the Vedas. He saw beyond the philosophies of all ages and produced a system more comprehensive than what had been formulated by Shankar or Kant or Spencer. And like a true Prophet, he replanted philosophy in the realities of life, and uplifted the reality of crude existence into a continuum of matter and life and mind seeking to evolve Over-mind and ready to bring forth a new race of beings working to realise the Super-Mind to replace the present inferior race.
He saw into the hearts of things. In July, 1950, for over twenty minutes he spoke to me on contemporary affairs with a thorough grasp of what was happening in the world. His perception of the political situation in India was always unerring. When the World War came in 1939 and when the whole country wanted to maintain neutrality, it was he of the unerring eye who said that the triumph of England and France was the triumph of the divine forces over the demonic forces. We were very angry, but it was a fact. If the Allies had not won, the darkness of Fascism would have descended upon mankind.
He spoke again when Sir Stafford Cripps came with his first proposal. He said: ‘India should accept it’. We rejected the advice. We who rejected it had some reasons for it, but today we realise that if the first proposal had been accepted, there would have been no partition, no refugees and no Kashmir problem.
Last year he expressed himself in favour of supporting the United Nations in the Korean War. He was again right. In the United Nation’s action in Korea, the civilised world, for the first time, combined to fight an unjustified aggression. For the first time, a composite world action became a reality and, but for United Nation’s action, it would have been a different world today.
Last year he talked to me of India and Pakistan. In a prophetic vein he said ‘they will be united’. I respectfully demurred. He added ‘Pakistan must be brought within the ambit’. Yes, of cooperation and allied strength. But when?
I come to the last facet of Sri Aurobindo—that of a Yogi. I saw from 1904 to 1906, how the Europeanised Professor took to Yoga. We took to finding out what Yoga was, because our professor, under whose influence we were, had taken to Yoga. Few can speak of a Yogi, without having studied and practised in Yoga. But I knew the gentleman under whom he began to study; and he was an adept. At the first effort, 45 years ago, Sri Aurobindo attained a stage higher than most students in Yoga. In 1909 he communed with God and that led him to change in life. For 40 years he ceaselessly reached towards progressive realisation. His letters to his pupils are the only practical hints on Yoga in our voluminous literature on Yoga, showing a mastery over the whole range of transformation both of the mind and the spirit into Divine Consciousness. All his writings indicate that complete universality of outlook, that active movement of the spirit, that freedom from fear, wrath and attachment—which are the high privilege of the Emancipated. The descent of the Divine Consciousness which he teaches is itself the result of an experience achieved in a bold endeavour to reach unexplored regions of the Spirit. A Yogi is the one who attempts an ascent to Divine Consciousness. An Avatar is the one who is born in Divine Consciousness. Perhaps Aurobindo is the only Yogi who individually achieved an ascent to Divine Consciousness and attempted to bring it down for collective good. Heir to Ramakrishna he has given to Indian culture a fresh vigour and a new validity, and, to the world, a message of hope.
And here we are in a region where the ordinary faculties of man stand dumb-founded, in all humility.
 A Note: What Sri Aurobindo actually said was that he “was compelled to recognise that the nation was not yet sufficiently trained to carry out his policy and programme… he saw that the hour of these movements had not come and that he himself was not their destined leader.”