A Divine Play?

If we are unwilling to accept the idea that we are trapped in an unchanging circumstance based on some kind of original sin, a sin in fact which is outside our control and unable to be amended, a sin that we simply needs must suffer, there is another line of understanding that can be looked at to help explain the undivine aspects, as we see it, of the world we live in.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “In that case, the only reasonable explanation of such a paradoxical manifestation or creation is that it is a cosmic game, a Lila, a play, an amusement of the Divine Being. It may be he pretends to be undivine, wears that appearance like the mask or make-up of an actor for the sole pleasure of the pretense or the drama. Or else he has created the undivine, created ignorance, sin and suffering just for the joy of a manifold creation. Or perhaps, as some religions curiously suppose, he has done this so that there may be inferior creatures who will praise and glorify Him for his eternal goodness, wisdom, bliss and omnipotence and try feebly to come an inch nearer to the goodness in order to share the bliss, on pain of punishment,–by some supposed eternal,–if, as the vast majority must by their very imperfection, they fail in their endeavor.”

Of course, we are left with the paradoxical situation of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-blissful Creator God who somehow condones and potentially even enjoys the suffering of his creatures based on imperfections and faults that he created them to have. We rightfully object to such a conclusion, which would offend our sense of Right, Justice and Morality.

There are however, ways to resolve this dilemma, which we will discuss in the next session.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 408-409


Original Sin?

As we explore the rationale behind why there is imperfection, suffering and pain, we have also concluded that there is a reason and purpose behind this manifestation and that treating all of this as in illusion to be dismissed and denied is not the ultimate intent. While in a sense these things can indeed be called unreal or illusory because they represent the manifestation but do not embody the entire All-Knowledge of the Eternal, they still must be accepted as real and a true representation of the evolutionary process chosen by the All-Knowledge to sequentially evolve through Time.

If we accept the meaning of this imperfection and suffering, we then have to determine if it is a fixed and unalterable state inextricably tied to our human existence, or whether it is subject to change and transformation through our activity. If we are inextricably tied to suffering in human life, then the only escape is to leave the world and human existence behind, whether we call this Heaven, or, as Sri Aurobindo describes it, “the pure ineffability of the Absolute.” The refusal of the ascetic in fact is based on the idea that there is no solution within human existence, and the only choice is to abandon this life for a pure, silent, ineffable Absolute; and this refusal is echoed in a similar way by those who believe there is a heaven of salvation beyond, and that this life is solely a life of sin, suffering and torment.

This viewpoint condemns human life to being an “undivine manifestation in the Divine Existence. The soul by taking on manhood, perhaps by the very fact of birth itself, has fallen from the Divine, has committed an original sin or error which it must be man’s spiritual aim, as soon as he is enlightened, thoroughly to cancel, unflinchingly to eliminate.”

While Sri Aurobindo does not accept such a premise, it is clear that in one form or another, this philosophy guides large numbers of people in their spiritual and religious beliefs. We shall continue this discussion in the next post.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 407-408

Suffering Spurs Us to Transformative Action

There is an inner drive within humanity to strive towards greater perfection, greater achievement, and reach out for harmony, love, knowledge, power and longer life. This drive is directly related to our experience of incapacity, limitation, suffering and defeat. In fact we see that individuals surfeited with pleasure or enjoyment tend not to strive for greater perfections. It thus becomes clear that somehow the mystery of suffering is tied into our evolutionary purpose and that the suffering itself is one of the keys to our evolutionary action.

Sri Aurobindo points out that when we achieve a deeper and wider consciousness, from which we can understand more completely, “we find then that there is a cosmic and individual utility in what presents itself to us as adverse and evil. For without experience of pain we would not get all the infinite value of the divine delight of which pain is in travail, all ignorance is a penumbra which environs an orb of knowledge, every error is significant of the possibility and the effort of a discovery of truth; every weakness and failure is a first sounding of gulfs of power and potentiality; all division is intended to enrich by an experience of various sweetness of unification the joy of realised unity. All this imperfection is to us evil, but all evil is in travail of the eternal good; for all is an imperfection which is the first condition,–in the law of life evolving out of Inconscience,–of a greater perfection in the manifesting of the hidden divinity.”

It is insufficient to achieve a personal deliverance from this suffering by attaining a state of ultimate Peace and Equality…Sri Aurobindo reminds us “But even if our personal deliverance is complete, still there is the suffering of others, the world travail, which the great of soul cannot regard with indifference. There is a unity with all beings which something within us feels and the deliverance of others must be felt as intimate to its own deliverance.”

Sri Aurobindo’s statement here reminds us of the vow of the Bodhisattva in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, that the Bodhisattwa pledges to not abandon any other sentient being to the suffering of the world, and who thereby renounces a personal salvation that is not preceded by every other sentient being achieving enlightenment.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 405-406

The Secret of Delight in the Experience of Suffering

If we now accept the concept that the entire world of Ignorance and Nescience is a power of the All-Knowledge and is able to work out the secret intention of the All-Knowledge, we return once again to the question of the role of suffering. The Rishis of the Upanishads concluded after very deep reflection and spiritual experience that the entire world is constituted and of the nature of delight, or bliss. Sri Aurobindo’s translation of the Taittirya Upanishad describes it thus: “When he has got him this delight, then it is that this creation becomes a thing of bliss; for who could labour to draw in the breath or who could have strength to breathe it out, if there were not that Bliss in the heaven of his heart, the ether within his being?”

The Upanishad continues: “He knew Bliss for the Eternal. For from Bliss alone, it appears, are these creatures born and being born they live by bliss an to Bliss they go hence and return.”

This brings us to the true nature of suffering as Sri Aurobindo explains in The Life Divine: “As to the suffering, which is so great a stumbling-block to our understanding of the universe, it is evidently a consequence of the limitation of consciousness, the restriction of force which prevents us from mastering or assimilating the touch of what is to us other-force: the result of this incapacity and disharmony is that the delight of the touch cannot be seized and it affects our sense with a reaction of discomfort or pain, a defect or excess, a discord resultant in inner or outer injury, born of division between our power of being and the power of being that meets us.”

“…for pain and suffering are a perverse and contrary term of the delight of existence and they can turn into their opposite, even into the original All-Delight, Ananda.”

Seekers throughout time in every part of the world have attempted to fathom the secret link between suffering and delight, to break through to the place where they are unified in the secret delight. It is beyond the scope of this discussion to trace these attempts to overcome suffering and replace it with a truer experience. As we gain access to the consciousness of the Eternal in our own experience, the consistent and ever-present Bliss of existence becomes real to us. So speak the Upanishadic sages who have experienced the Eternal.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 404-405 and Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pp. 271, 278

Ignorance Works out the Will of the All-Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo reminds us of the miraculous fact that innumerable forms, in various stages of inconscience or ignorance, together create this vast canvas of life and everything seems to work out according to some vast, but well-ordered plan. “In the universe we see this supreme self-possessing Knowledge work thorugh a multitude of ignorances, each striving to act according to its own blindness, yet through them all it constructs and executes its universal harmonies. More, the miracle of its omniscience appears most strikingly of all in what seems to us the action of an Inconscient, when through the complete or the partial nescience,–more thick than our ignorance,–of the electron, atom, cell, plant, insect, the lowest forms of animal life, it arranges perfectly its order of things and guides the instinctive impulse or the inconscient impetus to an end possessed by the All-Knowledge but held behind a veil, not known by the instrumental form of existence, yet perfectly operative within the instinct or the impetus.”

When we contemplate the wonders of Nature, the precise and effective interaction and symbiosis of all forms in Nature, the precisely engineered symmetry of crystals and atomic structures, the incredibly complex sequencing of genes and chromosomes to create infinite variety of forms that nevertheless both have an intricate pattern behind them and a precise interaction to make the entire universal Nature function effectively, we can see that there is a greater Knowledge and Power that guides, manages, and creates this outflowering of Nature.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pg. 403

Sri Aurobindo’s Writings Now On Amazon Kindle

Many of the major writings are now available on the amazon kindle e-book reader, including The Life Divine (subject of the current study), The Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita, Upanishads, Secret of the Veda, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Mother, Bases of Yoga, Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, and more…..

There are also various compilations such as The Future Evolution of Man and some such as The Psychic Being that are compilations from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

More titles are being added regularly and we understand that Savitri should be available soon.

If you are interested in having these books available for your Kindle Reader go to amazon.com, go to the “kindle store” and in the search box for the Kindle Store type in “aurobindo” and the selection will come up. If you do not own a kindle, you can download the kindle software from amazon at no charge for your PC, or your iPhone.

Ignorance Is a Focused and Limited Power of Knowledge

While we may recognize the Oneness of Being, we nevertheless have a day-to-day experience of a limited action of consciousness that is centered in the ego-self. Sri Aurobindo indicates: “For we identify ourselves mentally, vitally, physically with this superficial ego-consciousness which is our first insistent self-experience; this does impose on us, not a fundamentally real, but a practical division with all the untoward consequences of that separateness from the Reality.”

The Ignorance that focuses us on the awareness and action of the ego-self is an exclusive concentration that keeps hidden and untapped the deeper knowledge based in the Oneness. As a corrollary, when we have some project in mind, we frequently find that we narrow our attention and focus all our knowledge and power of concentration on that specific project, putting all other issues, ideas, or situations aside. This type of “exclusive concentration” is one of the great powers of action and achievement in the world we live in, and it illustrates for us at a certain level what the ego-consciousness represents in relation to the larger Oneness. An exclusive concentration on the ego-self does not, however, destroy or obviate the reality of the larger Knowledge and Consciousness based in the One Omnipresent Reality, just as a focus for a particular time and project does not destroy or deny the larger awareness we may have at other times and in other circumstances.

Sri Aurobindo explains it thus: “This frontal power of Ignorance is a pwoer of concentration in a limited working, much like that power in our human mentality by which we absorb ourselves in a particular object and in a particular work and seem to use only so much knowledge, only such ideas as are necessary for it,–the rest, which are alien to it or would interfere with it, are put back for the moment: yet, in reality, all the time it is the indivisible consciousness which we are that has done the work to be done, seen the thing that has to be seen,–that and not any fragment of consciousness or any exclusive ignorance in us is the silent knower and worker: so is it too with this frontal power of concentration of the All-Consciousness within us.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 402-403

The Ego is A Power of Infinity

Addressing the issue of the place and significance of ignorance, and “evil” in the world, Sri Aurobindo takes up the question based on the Omnipresent Reality and the Divine Governance that we have established as principles: “…first we must realise that the existence of ignorance, error, limitation, suffering, division and discord in the world need not by itself, as we too hastily imagine, be a denial or a disproof of the divine being, consciousness, power, knowledge, will, delight in the universe.”

He points out that “a part broken off from the whole may be imperfect, ugly, incomprehensible; but when we see it in the whole, it recovers its place in the harmony, it has a meaning and a use.”

The issue comes down to a matter of our perspective on things. The ego, and the limitations that we experience as a result of it, sees everywhere imperfection and limitations because it looks at the universe through the lens of the ego. It sets itself up as a “self-standing” unit when in fact it is not, and never has been, independent and self-standing.

In the truest sense, the ego and the fragmented forms we see in the world, are “a face of the universal being”. Sri Aurobindo concludes: “Thus our ego, which seems to be a limitation of existence, is really a power of infinity; the boundless multiplicity of beings in the world is a result and signal evidence, not of limitation or finiteness, but of that illimitable Infinity.”

Thus, “this fundamental world-fact of ego and apparent division and their separative workings in the world existence is no denial of the Divine Nature of unity and indivisible being; they are the surface results of an infinite multiplicity which is a power of the infinite Oneness.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 401-402

The Divine Governance of the Universe

As a consequence and corrollary of the understanding that there is an Omnipresent Divine Reality, it becomes necessary to accept a Divine governance, as clearly the system and order of the universe is attributable this Sole Existent.

The next conclusion is then developed by Sri Aurobindo: “Once we admit a divine government of the universe, we must conclude that the power to govern is complete and absolute; for otherwise we are obliged to suppose that a being and consciousness infinite and absolute has a knowledge and will limited in their control of things or hampered in their power of working.”

Sri Aurobindo does point out that this governance may be “delegated” in some fashion to “something that has come into being in his perfection but is itself imperfect and the cause of imperfection, to an ignorant or inconscient Nature, to the action of the human mind and will, even to a conscious Power or Forces of darkness and evil that take their stand upn the reign of a basic Inconscience.”

He does point out that none of these of course are independent of that Divine governance and thus, all actions are both relative and delegated. These forms, forces and actions are part and parcel of the divine Oneness and not something other than or separate from it. “It may be conceded that forces set in motino are allowed to work themselves out according to the law of their movement; but what divine Omniscience and Omnipotence has allowed to arise and act in Its omnipresence, Its all-existence, we must consider It to have originated and decreed, since without the fiat of the Being they could not have been, could not remain in existence.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, pp. 400-401

One Without A Second

As we explore the relationship between God and the World, we find that once we have accepted an Omnipresent Divinity, we have to then acknowledge the proposition that This Omnipresent Divinity has ordered and created the universe in a way that is consistent with His Infinite Knowledge and Power. Sri Aurobindo describes the apparent difficulty that arises in our human view of the matter: “on the other hand, the actual process of things, the actual relations which we see are, as presented to our human consciousness, relations of imperfection, of limitation; there appears a disharmony, even a perversion, something that is the contrary of our conception of the Divine Existence, a very apparent denial or at least a disfigurement or disguise of the Divine Presence.”

This brings us to a third affirmation that finds that God and the World are therefore “different” and that to reach one, the other must be left behind or abandoned. How else to resolve the apparent contradiction between the Divine perfection, and the life we see in the world with all its disharmonies and imperfections?

There are different formulations of this separation, such as a Divine Creator separate and different from His creation, or a silent Witness Consciousness, observing but not interfering with the works of Nature. Or two forms of Godhead, a witness and an active creator God. Whichever formulation we choose, however, we find that we are simply creating a world of duality which in fact cannot possibly be the solution to the matter. Sri Aurobindo explains “for there can be no independent power, no Nature not derived from the original and eternal Self-Existence.” The Upanishadic statement “one without a second”, along with “all this is the Brahman” captures the essence.

While there is a truth of spiritual experience that we can attain a status of silence and peace of the Infinite, this is not an ultimate statement of Reality, but a status that is one experience in the long process of unfoldment and evolution into the awareness of the omnipresent Reality.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 4, The Divine and the Undivine, 398-400