Robert McDermott is president emeritus of the California Institute of Integral Studies. His interests include wisdom philosophy, Hindu and Buddhist spiritualities, inclusive and esoteric Christianity, higher education, and Anthroposophy. We had a wonderful day-long conversation on February 7th at Commonweal.
McDermott’s long interest in and studies of Sri Aurobindo and Rudolf Steiner have led to great contributions as writer and teacher. The introductory essay in his New Essential Steiner: An Introduction to Rudolf Steiner for the 21st Century is without equal. His Six Pillars: Introductions to the Works of Sri Aurobindo interprets this great Indian teacher.
Steiner and Aurobindo were master wisdom teachers synthesizing approaches to spirit East and West. Steiner gave us the Waldorf Schools, the Camphill centers for the developmentally disabled, biodynamic horticulutre, Anthroposophical medicine, and more.
Aurobindo was a leader in the fight for independence against the British. He left politics for the French colony of Pondicherry to study yoga in seclusion in 1910. There he was joined by Mira Richards, born in Paris to a Turkish Jewish father and an Egyptian Jewish mother. Richards visited Pondicherry in 1914 and settled there in 1920, where Aurobindo recognized her as The Mother. She co-founded the Aurobindo Ashram with him in 1926.
Both Aurobindo and Steiner believed in the unlimited potential of the human spirit. While Steiner’s vast esoteric cosmology was Christ-centered, Aurobindo saw his Integral Yoga as a spiritual path beyond religions for the 20th and 21st century. Both believed in the essential importance of work in this world. Both emphasized the integral work of the head, the heart, and the hands.
Aurobindo’s essays on the Gita are an historic contribution. He critiques the monistic scholar Shankara, who argued that jnana yoga, the yoga of wisdom, was the ultimate path to final release. He also opposes Ramanuja’s view that bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, is the ultimate path to final release. His view is that the harmony of the three great yogas of head, heart, and hands is the true teaching of the Gita (although the greatest secret of all is that “Spirit and Godhead Are an Infinite Free from all Dharmas.”)
To share Robert McDermott’s journey is to participate in the living history of the human spirit in our time. Find the podcasts of this conversation on our website.