Archives and Research
a biannual journal
Volume I; No 1
The Revision of The Life Divine
Sri Aurobindo's Life Divine as we know it today, with its fifty-six chapters in two books and three parts, differs considerably from the original version of the work which appeared in the monthly review Arya between 1914 and 1921. The Life Divine is, in fact, the most thoroughly and systematically revised of all Sri Aurobindo's prose works. Moreover, this revision, done mainly during 1939 and 1940, comprises the largest single body of prose material written by Sri Aurobindo after 1921, the last year of the Arya's publication. This paper is an attempt to trace the details of the revision and enlargement of The Life Divine, showing in particular how the present text differs from the original Arya version. It is based on an examination and comparison of the author's manuscripts.
An outline of the development of The Life Divine and a survey of the manuscripts.
The first instalment of The Life Divine appeared in the Arya's first issue on 15 August 1914. There is no evidence in Sri Aurobindo's manuscripts of the period that he had done any work on, or even conceived a large philosophical work before this time. Indeed, the bulk of Sri Aurobindo's writings of the period before 1914 are political and literary. "And philosophy!" he once wrote, somewhat jocularly, to a disciple, "Let me tell you in confidence that I never, never, never was a philosopher — although I have written philosophy which is another story altogether. I knew precious little about philosophy before I did the Yoga and came to Pondicherry — I was a poet and a politician, not a philosopher. How I managed to do it and why? First, because X proposed to me to co-operate in a philosophical review — and as my theory was that a Yogi ought to be able to turn his hand to anything, I could not very well refuse; and then he had to go to the war and left me in the lurch with sixty-four pages a month of philosophy all to write by my lonely self." Continuing in a more serious vein, Sri Aurobindo stated that in writing The Life Divine and the other works that appeared in the Arya, "I had only to write down in the terms of the intellect all that I had observed and come to know in practising Yoga daily and the philosophy was there automatically. But that is not being a philosopher!"1
Still The Life Divine is not altogether without antecedents. From around 1912 up to 1914 Sri Aurobindo was occupied with a work of Upanishadic exegesis entitled The Life Divine: A Commentary on the Isha Upanishad. There are indications that this commentary developed ("overflowed" would perhaps be a better word) into the later independent treatise; for it was in the ancient verses of the Isha that Sri Aurobindo found confirmatory expression of the secret of divine life.2 Nevertheless, it can be positively stated that Sri Aurobindo did no work on The Life Divine itself before June 1914, when it was decided to publish the Arya.
Scarcely any of the press copy for the Arya version of The Life Divine has survived. The few pages that have been preserved are unruled letter-size sheets neatly written and touched up by hand. Most other surviving Arya copy is typewritten, with slight revisions added in ink. It is said that the typing was done by Sri Aurobindo himself, and that, in fact, the greater part of the Arya was written by him directly on the typewriter. It is also reported that Sri Aurobindo saw as many as seven proofs for each issue of the review. Monthly instalments of The Life Divine appeared uninterruptedly in the Arya until the series was concluded in the fifty-fourth issue of the journal in January 1919.
The only evidence of any work done by Sri Aurobindo on The Life Divine between 1919 and 1939 is an incomplete revision of many of the first twenty-seven Arya chapters done at different times, marginally and between the lines of pages torn out from the Arya. This revision, sometimes considerable, sometimes scanty, was not used by Sri Aurobindo when, after his accident of November 1938, he took up The Life Divine with a mind to bringing it out in a completely revised book form.
The revision of the two books (originally called "volumes") of this new edition will be considered separately.
Outline of the Revision of Book 1
Book I of The Life Divine. "The Omnipresent Reality and the Universe", was published as "Volume I" by the Arya Publishing House, Calcutta, in November 1939. In the Arya also we find a "Book I", entitled "The Affirmations of Vedanta"; however the series runs on to its conclusion, Chapter LIII,3 without the appearance of a second book. Book I of the revised version contains the first twenty-seven chapters from the Arya, in the same order and with the same titles under which they originally appeared. To these twenty-seven is added a newly written twenty-eighth, "Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya", to complete the book.
The revision and enlargement of Book I can best be described with reference to four sets of manuscripts which seem to contain the complete history of the work. The first is a typed copy of the Arya text, the first twenty-seven chapters of which have received some revision — interestingly enough, less than the unused revised Arya pages referred to above. This revision on the typed sheets may also have been done before 1939. As will be shown below, it has been incorporated in the final text.
The second set of manuscripts is the handwritten and typewritten drafts of the new chapter (Chapter XXVIII) and of substantial additions to Chapter XIX, "Life", and Chapter XXIII, "The Double Soul in Man". The addition to Chapter XIX is a passage which runs from page 184 to page 186 of the Centenary Library text. The other new matter has replaced the Arya text of the last part of Chapter XXIII. These additions, as also the new chapter, were originally handwritten on loose sheets, and subsequently typed by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and revised by Sri Aurobindo before being included with the rest of the text.
Practically all the revision of Book I is done directly on the galley proofs, which form the third set of manuscripts. Most of the chapters were composed by the press from the original unrevised text of the Arya, the only exceptions being Chapters XXVI, XXVII and, of course, the new passages and chapter. The revision from the bound typed sheets of the Arya text (the first set of manuscripts referred to above) were transferred to the galley proofs by a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and further revisions were added subsequently by Sri Aurobindo in his own hand.
Nature of the Revision of Book I
The revision of Chapters I to XII consists of no more than a few words or marks of punctuation changed or added here and there. Chapter IX has slightly more of this type of revision than the other eleven chapters. A larger number of changes and additions of the same type appear in Chapters XIII to XVIII. Chapter XIX, besides having added to it the new passage already mentioned, has more verbal changes than the rest of the chapters of Book I. The parts of Chapter XXIII which have not been completely rewritten are only slightly revised. The remaining chapters, while they have more words and phrases added and changed than the earlier ones, may yet be considered on the whole only lightly revised.
In 1943 a second edition of the first "volume" of The Life Divine was brought out. This edition, which incorporated a few minor changes of the author, has been the text for all subsequent editions of Book I, including the Centenary Edition.
With the exceptions noted above the chapters of the revised first book of The Life Divine have remained substantially the same as they were when originally published. Even the most revised parts of the Arya chapters forming Book I are less changed than the least revised parts of those which, recast, make up Book II. This recasting will be described in the sequel.
1 On Himself. Centenary Volume 26, p.374.
2 Cf. The Life Divine (Book II. Chapter XV). Centenary Volume 19. p.636
3 There are actually only fifty-two chapters (in fifty-four issues); the number LIU is due to a printing error.