Sarkar's system of spiritual practice has been described as a practical synthesis of Vedic and Tantric philosophies. He denounced materialism and capitalism, and described the universe as a result of macropsychic conation – the entire universe exists within the cosmic mind, which itself is the first expression of consciousness coming under the bondage of its own nature.
Sarkar was a prolific author and produced an extensive body of works that includes theories aimed at increasing human welfare such as the Law of Social Cycle, the Progressive Utilization Theory, the Theory of Microvitum, as well as the philosophy of Neohumanism.
Sarkar was born during the full moon of the Indian month of Vaeshakh (Buddha Purnima), on 21 May 1921 (at 6:07 in the morning) to Lakshmi Narayan Sarkar, a homoeopathic doctor of considerable renown. His family hailed from Bamunpara (Brahmanpara), Burdwan District in West Bengal. Sarkar was known as an exceptionally bright child in his youth, practising meditation by himself at an early age and displaying great knowledge of various languages and various topics; knowledge which was reportedly not gained in school, reading books, nor listening to teachers or any other outer source.
In 1939 Sarkar left Jamalpur for Kolkata to attend Vidyasagar College of the University of Calcutta. Sarkar had to quit his studies to support his family after the death of his father, and from 1944 until the early 1950s, Sarkar worked as an accountant at the Indian railways headquarters in Jamalpur, Bihar. He taught the techniques of ancient Tantra meditation to a select number of his colleagues and gradually more and more people were drawn to the spiritual practices he taught.
In 1955, Sarkar founded Ananda Marga (the Path of Bliss), a socio-spiritual movement with a two-part mission that Sarkar stated as "self-realization and service to all". His system of spiritual practice has been described as a practical synthesis of Vedic and Tantric philosophies. Sarkar's ideas are collected in the series of books called "Subháśita Samgraha", which form part of the philosophical scriptures of Ananda Marga ideology. Sarkar's ideas are steeped in the ancient spiritual tradition of humanity, considerably developed in India, yet revitalised by him with new meaning and universal approach.
During the latter part of his life his main residence was in Lake Gardens in Kolkata, West Bengal. He also spent much time, especially early on, in the all-round development community he founded based on his PROUT theory at Anandanagar. Ananda Marga opened regional offices in various countries, including the USA in 1969, and by 1973 had established approximately 100 local centres teaching yogic and social philosophies, with several thousand members, some living communally in the ashrams.
In 1971, Sarkar was imprisoned in India for the alleged murder of Ananda Marga sect members. In February 1973, Sarkar was poisoned in prison, allegedly by the jail doctor on orders from the higher echelons of government. On 1 April, after recovering his health, Sarkar began fasting in support of a demand for an inquest into his poisoning. That demand was never met. So he continued his fast for the next five years, four months, and two days, until 2 August 1978 when he was released from jail after having been acquitted of all charges.
In 1979, Sarkar took two world tours to meet disciples in various countries around the world, including Switzerland, Germany, France, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Jamaica and Venezuela. He was barred from entering the USA by the State Department, so instead he met his American disciples in Jamaica in 1979. Just before he died on 21 October 1990, he founded Ananda Marga Gurukula on 7 September 1990, an educational network to preserve and develop his legacy through research, teaching and service.
Sarkar's teachings on spiritual philosophy are based on a rational and universalistic approach that has been described as an innovative and practical synthesis of Vedic and Tantric philosophies. He considered himself to be "an incorrigible optimist" in his thinking.
Sarkar describes the universe as a result of macropsychic conation – the entire universe exists within the cosmic mind, which itself is the first expression of consciousness coming under the bondage of its own nature. With the evolution of unit beings, individual life, the extroversial projection of the "Cosmic Mind" starts the return journey in an always unique and colourful fashion. No two entities of this universe are the same, and yet all have the same goal to merge once more with their source, the infinite Cosmic consciousness. As such, the cosmological flow is from limitless consciousness to limited consciousness and back to limitless consciousness, attained by meditation.
According to Sarkar's philosophy the individual mind is composed of five layers called Kosas:
- Kamamaya Kosa ("layer of desire") or "Crude Mind": is the layer that controls the body. It operates on instinct or passion. This layer is sometimes conscious and sometimes subconscious.
- Manomaya Kosa ("layer of thinking") or "Subtle Mind": is the layer of thought and memory. This Kosa gives experience of pleasure and pain and is developed naturally through physical clash, and in Ananda Marga sadhana by pranayama with cosmic ideation.
- Atimanasa Kosa or "Supramental Mind": is the intuitive layer. This Kosa gives the capacity of intuitive dreams, clairvoyance, telepathy and creative insight. It is developed naturally through psychic clash, and in Ananda Marga sadhana by methods of pratyahara (withdrawal) such as shuddhis and Guru Puja.
- Vijinanamaya Kosa ("layer of the special knowledge") or "Subliminal Mind": is the layer of conscience or discrimination (viveka) and vaeragya (non-attachment). This Kosa is developed naturally through psychic clash, and its development is accelerated by the process of dharana.
- Hiranyamaya Kosa ("golden level") or "Subtle Causal Mind": is the subtlest layer. Here the awareness of mind is very close to the direct experience of "Supreme Consciousness". Here there is only the separation of a thin veil of ignorance. This Kosa is developed naturally through the attraction for the Great, and dhyana accelerates this process for sadhakas (spirituals aspirants).
Sarkar's "Biopsycology" explains how the traditional tantric science of chakras ("wheels") with their subtle energies are related with the body through nerve plexi as physiologic counterparts, influencing the associated endocrine glands with the neuroendocrine system and the psychic part of the body. The philosophy of Ananda Marga consider the human body as composed of the same five fundamental factors as the rest of the universe as explained in P.R. Sarkar's theory of Brahmachakra. Every factor is distributed throughout the body, but is controlled by a controlling nucleus, or Chakra, substations of the mind, each controlling their own assigned area. And just as the mind functions directly through the brain, the Chakras function through their own physical counterparts – the endocrine glands. The biopsychology of Ananda Marga expands with further explanations the concept of the seven basic chakras and in general, mainly considers:
- The Muladhara Chakra: at the tip of the spine (controls the solid factor).
- The Svadhisthana Chakra: at the level of the genitals (controls the liquid factor and is associated with the reproductive glands).
- The Manipura Chakra: at the level of the navel (controls the luminous factor and is associated with Pancreas).
- The Anahata Chakra: at the center of the chest (controls the aerial factor and is associated with Thymus).
- The Vishuddha Chakra: at the throat (controls the ethereal factor and is associated with the Thyroid gland).
- The Ajina Chakra: between the eyebrows (associated with the Pituitary gland).
- The Sahasrara Chakra: at the crown of the head (associated with the Pineal gland). Mind's propensities (vrttis) associated with each Chakra affect the glands and the hormones secreted from those glands (hence the emotions, physical behaviour and functioning of the various body systems). But the glands and the hormones they secrete may also affect the mind in a chain of feedbacks.
"Microvita" is plural for "Microvitum" and literally means "possessing or with micro-life". The Microvita theory was first introduced by Sarkar on 1986 through a series of lectures. According to this intuitional theory microvita are entities which come within the realms both of physicality and psychic expression. They are smaller and subtler than physical atoms and subatomic particles, and in the psychic realm they may be subtler than mind–stuff, and contribute to "pure consciousness". Sarkar predicted that they will soon be recognised by conventional science. In Sarkar's microvita theory microvita seems to be the first expressions of life. However, this concept, still in its infancy, conceives of various types of microvita, both positive and negative, at varying degrees of evolutionary existence.
A central point in Sarkar's philosophy is the concept of Sadhana. He describes Sadhana as a practice for "the transformation of fearful love into fearless love". Sadhana is concretised in particular with the practice of meditation for complete merger and unification. Sarkar recommends to his disciples the daily practice of individual meditation and the weekly practice of collective meditation. These meetings called Dharma Chakras are preceded by the collective singing of a few Prabhat Samgiita (or "Songs of the New Dawn", composed by P. R. Sarkar himself) followed by Baba Nam Kevalam kiirtan, then the mantra called Samgacchadvam. The mantra Nityam Shuddham marks the end of the collective meditation, then the spiritual gathering will end with the Guru Puja mantra.
The concept of Varna describes four main socio-psychological types, whereby human psychological and physical endowment and social motivations are expressed: the Vipra (intellectual), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (acquisitor) and Shudra (labourer). Varna, in Sarkar's perspective, however is more than just a psychological trait but rather an archetype, approximately to Michel Foucault's notion of epistemes, which are broader frameworks of knowledge defining what is true and real.
Sarkar's "Law of Social Cycle" applies these traits in a theory of historical evolution, where ages rise and fall in terms of ruling elites representing one of the above-mentioned traits. This "law" possibly connects to the earlier cyclical historical ideas of Sri Aurobindo, with a focus on the psychology of human development, as well as Ibn Khaldun, among other macrohistorians ideas about cycles. However, along with a cyclical dimension — the rise and fall of ages — Sarkar's theory exhibits a correspondent linear dimension, in that economic and technological "progress" are considered critical in terms of meeting the changing material conditions of life. Ultimately, for Sarkar, true progress has to prioritise development in the spiritual dimension.
Spirituality for Sarkar is defined as the individual realising the "true self". In addition to yogic meditational practices and purity of thought and deed, Sarkar attached great importance to selfless social service as a means of liberation. Sarkar considered it necessary for the social arrangements to support the inner development of human beings and rejected both capitalism and communism as appropriate social structures for humanity to move forward to the golden age of a balanced way of life sustaining all-round progress. A serious problem with capitalism was according to Sarkar the concentration of wealth in a few hands and stoppages in the rolling of money which he considered root causes of recessions, even depressions. A spiritual way of life, however, would in no way be divorced from creating structures that help meet the basic, though ever changing, needs — food, housing, clothing, health and education.
Sarkar claims to have developed both Ánanda Márga and the Progressive Utilization Theory as practical means to encourage harmony and co-operation to help society escape this proposed cycle. Sarkar argues that once the social cycle is understood and sadvipras evolved, then the periods of exploitation can be largely reduced, if not eliminated. With leadership that is representative of all aspects of the varnas — that is, the leader engaged in service, who is courageous, who uses the intellect for the benefits of others, and who has innovative/entrepreneurial skills — the cycle can become an upward spiral. Sarkar's concept of karma samnyasa refers to the principle that a yogi becomes a person with all-round development and a balanced mind, that he called a sadvipra; and that this is accomplished by someone who remains fixed on the "supreme" consciousness through transformative personal practices and engaging in the politics of social liberation as a form of service work.
The Progressive Utilization Theory is a socio-economic theory first mentioned in 1959 by Sarkar To popularise and implement PROUT, Shrii Sarkar established the organisation Proutist Universal, which primarily consists of five federations (students, intellectuals, farmers, labour, and youth). The proutist economy as described by Sarkar is a form of cooperatively and decentralised economy that looks more at the collective welfare rather than to profit, without neglecting the promotion of the individual merits of each. "Progressive utilization" refers to the optimisation and maximum utilisation of natural, industrial and human resources on a sustainable basis for the entire ecosystem. This theory, that claims to overcome the limitations of both capitalism and communism with his Law of Social Cycle founded on Sarkar's "Social Cycle Theory", is not concerned solely with economics. In 1968, Sarkar founded the organisation "Proutist Block of India" (PBI), to further the ideals of his theory through political and social action. The PBI was soon superseded by "Proutist Universal" (PU). According to its proponents PROUT encompasses the whole of individual and collective existence – physical, educational, social, political, mental, cultural and spiritual – not just for human beings but for all beings.
In 1982, Sarkar extended his writings on the subject of human society with the introduction of his new theory of "Neohumanism". If humanism tends to contemplate only humans in a human-centric view, Neohumanism, according to Sarkar's theory, is instead the elevation of humanism to universalism. Sarkar said "When the underlying spirit of humanism is extended to everything, animate and inanimate, in this universe – I have designated this as "Neohumanism". This Neohumanism will elevate humanism to universalism, the cult of love for all created beings of this universe." Neohumanism is said to prefer to existential value over utility value for all living beings. Sarkar's Neohumanism places great emphasis on rationality and encourages what he calls a protospiritual mentality, a process of continually recognising each object with which we come in contact, externally or internally, as a manifestation of the Supreme Consciousness (Brahma). According to Sarkar, rationality helps to give rise to devotion, which he consider to be the "highest and most valuable treasure of humanity". In Sarkar's view, Neohumanism leads to the liberation of human intellect from the constraints of imposed dogma and psychic complexes helping to bridge the gap between the inner and outer worlds.
In his series of discourses Talks on Prout, given in Ranchi in July 1961, Sarkar makes a distinction between the terms "culture" and "customs". According to Sarkar "culture... is the collective name for different expressions of life..." but "...all of society has the same culture. There are local variations in the mode or state of cultural expression, but the expression is universal... These local variations are called customs... Thus local modes of expression bearing local or group specialities are customs, but the expression itself is culture. Therefore it is a mistake to readjust boundaries on the basis of language and culture. Indian culture and the culture of the world are one and the same." The philosophy of Sarkar reinterprets the general concept of culture by inserting it into a new universalistic outlook. As described by Antonello Maggipinto:
...If the term "culture" is usually referred to the original meaning of this word (i.e. from the Greek "paidéia" to the Latin "humanitas", that is to human beings capable of distinguishably mastering the arts, rhetoric, and philosophy), then Sarkar offers a new point of view, with a large universalistic explanation: "the culture of the whole human race is one, but marked by different local manifestations... it is the same, but varying in expression." (Sarkar, P.R., 1987)...
The vast linguistic work of Sarkar has been published in several volumes including: Varna Vijinana (Science of Letters), Sarkar's English Grammar and Composition, Varna Vicitra (Various Uses of Letters) (8 volumes), and the encyclopaedic Shabda Cayanika (A Collection of Words) (26 volumes) in Bengali.
In Varna Vijinana (The Science of Letters), he presents the eight criteria which define a language. In his book Talks on Prout (July 1961, Ranchi) Sarkar considers languages as a part of natural diversity and calls for the adoption of a global language and script, to enable better global communication and understanding. "We should love all these languages, hate none, and adopt one of these languages as the world language. As all languages are our common property, we should not oppose the existence of other languages. We should not brand any language as foreign or national.".
The Ánanda Márga organization uses a transliteration style which differs from the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration, as herein charted:
Prabhāt Rañjan Sarkār = Prabhát Rainjan Sarkár
Ānanda Mārga Pracāraka Saṁgha = Ánanda Márga Pracáraka Saḿgha
Śrī Śrī Ānandamūrtijī = Shrii Shrii Ánandamúrtijii
Parampitā Bābā = Parampitá Bábá
According to Sarkar, "Education is for Liberation." He defines education as the simultaneous development in the physical, mental and spiritual realms of human existence, by which, dormant human potentialities would be awakened and put to proper use. Sarkar firmly believed that real education leads to a pervasive sense of love and compassion for all creation. In Ananda Marga education system, special emphasis is given to moral education and the inculcation of idealism together with a proper psycho-pedagogical approach and a happy blending of occidental extroversial science and oriental introversial philosophy.He founded Ananda Marga Gurukula (University) with its headquarters at Anandanagar (India) just forty four days prior to His physical departure and gave it the mandate to "Serve humanity with neohumanist spirit and acquire knowledge for that purpose". He also introduced the faculty of Neohumanist Education in Gurukula.
Although Sarkar spent only seventeen years of his life working full-time for his organisations (1966–1971 & 1978–1990), he left behind a vast legacy, including over 250 books written on a wide variety of topics. Many of this books are compilations or collections of speeches given by him during spiritual or social meetings. He is primarily known as the spiritual teacher behind Ananda Marga, but Sarkar wrote over 1500 pages on his socio-politico-economic Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), with several thousand more pages dedicated to linguistics and the study of languages; Sarkar's writings on linguistics included, among other works, Shabda Cayanika ("A Collection of Words"), an unfinished, twenty-six volume dictated encyclopaedia on the Bengali language. Beyond this, he wrote books on sociology, agriculture, history, literature, education, medicine, cosmology, and philosophy, also notably founding the philosophy of Neohumanism in 1982 and the Theory of Microvita in 1986. In his Theory of Microvita, Sarkar "believed that the atoms and the subatomic particles throughout the boundless universe are imbued with life."
In 1982 Sarkar started composing songs. In eight years, until the date of his death, He completed the composition of 5018 songs in multiple languages. This vast collection of songs is called Prabhat Samgiita ("Songs of the New Dawn").