Resolving the Divided Consciousness: Steps on the Way

Having come to the conclusion that the divided consciousness must be eventually overcome in order to achieve the true spiritual oneness that is the foundation of a true way of seeing, acting and living; and thereby to provide a solution to the issues of falsehood, error and evil, Sri Aurobindo now evaluates the different mechanisms available to us to begin this process. “To develop the sattwic part of our nature, a nature of light, understanding, balance, harmony, sympathy, good-will, kindness, fellow-feeling, self-control, rightly ordered and harmonised action, is the best we can do in the limits of the mental formation, but it is a stage and not the goal of our growth of being. These are solutions by the way, palliatives, necessary means for a partial dealing with this root difficulty, provisional standards and devices given us as a temporary help and guidance because the true and total solution is beyond our present capacity and can only come when we have sufficiently evolved to see it and make it our main endeavor.”

“The true solution can intervene only when by our spiritual growth we can become one self with all beings, know them as part of our self, deal with them as if they were our other selves; for then the division is healed, the law of separate self-affirmation leading by itself to affirmation against or at the expense of others is enlarged and liberated by adding to it the law of our self-affirmation for others and our self-finding in their self-finding and self-realisation.”

This solution is not the same as the much more limited ethical, moral or religious precepts such as “love thy neighbor as thyself” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These precepts fall into the realm of the palliative measures that start us in the right direction, but they do not go far enough.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

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Healing the Divided Consciousness of Our Being: the Limitations To Be Overcome

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the type of approaches humankind has taken historically, with altruistic efforts, sympathy, good-will, compassion, harmony as guiding principles is a reasonable first step toward development and expression of a sattwic mode of life. Sattwa, the principle of light and harmony, can aid us in eventually developing into a true spiritual consciousness, but on its own, it too is limited and binds the consciousness. In fact, the sattwic ego that can arise from doing “good works” can be very difficult to see and overcome when the time comes to take on this aspect of the work.

Sri Aurobindo discusses these issues further as follows: “The modicum of imperfect sympathy, knowledge and good-will that the law, need and habit of association engender, is a poor quantum of what is required for a true action. A larger mind, a larger heart, a more ample and generous life-force can do something to help us or help others and avoid the worst offences, but this too is insufficient and will not prevent a mass of troubles and harms and collissions of our preferred good with the good of others. By the very nature of our ego and ignorance we affirm ourselves egoistically even when we most pride ourselves on selflessness and ignorantly even when we most pride ourselves on understanding and knowledge. Altruism taken as a rule of life does not deliver us; it is a potent instrument for self-enlargement and for correction of the narrower ego, but it does not abolish it nor transform it into the true self one with all; the ego of the altruist is as powerful and absorbing as the ego of the selfish and it is often more powerful and insistent because it is a self-righteous and magnified ego.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Healing the Divided Consciousness of Our Being: The Issue

Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that it takes a complete change of consciousness to effect the evolutionary leap required to overcome the limitations of error, falsehood, and evil. He explores the issue of how to actually undertake this step: “But since the root of the difficulty is a split, limited and separative existence, this change must consist in an integration, a healing of the divided consciousness of our being, and since that division is complex and many-sided, no partial change on one side of the being can be passed off as a sufficient substitute for the integral transformation. Our first division is that created by our ego and mainly, most forcefully, most vividly by our life-ego, which divides us from all other beings as not-self and ties us to our ego-centricity and the law of an egoistic self-affirmation. It is in the errors of this self-affirmation that wrong and evil first arise: wrong consciousness engenders wrong will in the members, in the thinking mind, in the heart, in the life-mind and the sensational being, in the very body-consciousness; wrong will engenders wrong action of all these instruments, a multiple error and many-branching crookedness of thought and will and sense and feeling.”

This division however is not limited to the experience within an individual’s own (apparently separate) existence, but between one being and another, as we treat everyone outside our limited ego as “other” and therefore face the division both internally and externally with all the consequences of wrong thought, wrong will and wrong action interweaving all actions and interactions.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Sri Aurobindo Twitter Post Update

we completed our review of the Life Divine on twitter, and we are now beginning our review of Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga at http://www.twitter.com/santoshk1 we do one twitter post per day on the subject.

The Synthesis of Yoga is Sri Aurobindo’s primary comprehensive work on yoga. The U.S. edition is published by Lotus Press at http://www.lotuspress.com It is now also available on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good And Evil

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that we must both confront the issue of good and evil directly, as well as understand the manner and method of transcending these dualities. “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil with its sweet and bitter fruits is secretly rooted in the very nature of the Inconscience from which our being has emerged and on which it still stands as a nether soil and basis of our physical existence; it has grown visibly on the surface in the manifold branchings of the Ignorance which is still the main bulk and condition of our consciousness in its difficult evolution torwars a supreme consciousness and an integral awareness. As long as there is this soil with the unfound roots in it and this nourishing air and climate of Ignorance, the tree will grow and flourish and put forth its dual blossoms and its fruit of mixed nature.”

The conditions of the evolution of consciousness out of the Nescience and through the Inconscience implies that as long as we remain within the framework of that structure, we must accept the dualities, the limitations and the suffering that accompanies them. “It is because the Inconscience imposes its original obscurity on our awareness of self and things and because the Ignorance bases it on an imperfect and divided consciousness and because we live in that obscurity and division that wrong knowledge and wrong will are possible: without wrong knowledge there could be no error or falsehood, without error or falsehood in our dynamic parts there could be no wrong will in our members; without wrong will there could be no wrong-doing or evil: while these causes endure, the effects also will persist in our action and in our nature. A mental control can only be a control, not a cure; a mental teaching, rule, standard can only impose an artificial groove in which our action revolves mechanically or with difficulty and which imposes a curbed and limited formation on the course of our nature. A total change of consciousness, a radical change of nature is the one remedy and the sole issue.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Beyond Ethical and Moral Ideals

Sri Aurobindo recognizes the long human history of striving to achieve an upliftment of life and nature as embodied in the religious, ethical and moral ideals and codes that humanity has, in one form or another, tried to impose upon our life and actions. He does not deny the value of this striving to help us evolve beyond the force of the ego, the promptings of desire and the motive of self-aggrandisement that the ego represents. At the same time, he recognizes that this is not the actual true and perfect solution and that at some point the being has to achieve a standpoint and realisation that goes beyond the rigid, mechanical and fixed ideas and ideals toward a free and fluid expression of the greater Good and greater Truth of the Spirit.

“The true call upon us is the call of the Infinite and the Supreme; the self-affirmation and self-abnegation imposed on us by Nature are both movements towards that, and it is the right way of self-affirmation and self-negation taken together in place of the wrong, because ignorant, way of the ego and in place of the conflict between the yes and the no of Nature that we have to discover. If we do not discover that, either the push of life will be too strong for our narrow ideal of perfection, its instrumentation will break and it will fail to consummate and perpetuate itself, or at best a half result will be all that we shall obtain, or else the push away from life will present itself as the only remedy, the one way out of the otherwise invincible grasp of the Ignorance.”

“In ancient Indian spiritual thought there was a clearer perception of the difficulty; the practice of truth, virtue, right will and right doing was regarded as a necessity of the approach to spiritual realisation, but in the realisation itself the being arises to the grater consciousness of the Infinite and Eternal and shakes away from itself the burden of sin and virtue, for that belongs to the relativity and the Ignorance.”

It is necessary to transcend the mental frameworks erected by religious, moral and ethical ideals, not with a laxity that says that everything is permitted, but with a greater free adherence to the Truth beyond the duality of truth and falsehood, and the Good beyond the duality of good and evil.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Limits of Mental Rules & Standards For Evolutionary Growth

Sri Aurobindo follows up on his review of the purposes served by the sense of good and evil, and the evolutionary goal of moving beyond them to an eternal Good. The next question is a practical one: how will Nature carry out this evolutionary intention and what mechanisms are at work to bring this about?

“The method adopted by the mind of man through the ages has been always a principle of selection and rejection, and this has taken the forms of a religious sanction, a social or moral rule of life or an ethical ideal.”

There are several problems with this approach in the end however. First, it is more or less an attempt to treat “symptoms” rather than getting at root causes. Second, throughout history and across different cultures, the definition of “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong”, has varied to the point that we cannot use this as a yardstick for measuring the true progress of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo concludes thereby that: “A mental control over our vital and physical desires and instincts, over our personal and social action, over our dealings with others is indispensable to us as human beings, and morality creates a standard by which we can guide ourselves and establish a customary control; but the control is always imperfect and it is an expedient, not a solution: man remains always what he is and has ever been, a mixture of good and evil, sin and virtue, a mental ego with an imperfect command over his mental, vital and physical nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil