Independent Free Will?

We frequently hear the refrain, particularly in cultures such as the United States, that “I am free and can do whatever I like” in response to dealing with concerns or regulations imposed by society or government. This popular notion of “free will”, that one is able to act as an independent actor without reference to any other person, power, or consideration is an extreme manifestation of the egoism that characterises the development of the individual as he forms a personality and mental character. It must be noted, however, that “free will” is never, and can never be, entirely independent of any relation to the rest of the universe and the trannscendent consciousness beyond the manifested universe.

The human being, no matter how highly developed, remains a product of the universal creation and lives and dies in dependence on that creation. Free will that does not take this relationship into account winds up rebounding on the person who tries to exercise it in contradiction to the needs of the larger framework, whether you are dealing with society, environment, or manifested universe.

It is this attempt to impose “free will” that in fact leads to destruction of the very conditions of maintaining and developing life when taken to its extreme in terms of impact on the environment. We see around us today, all over the world, the effect of the denial of responsibility for the eco-sphere because of our alleged “free will”.

“Our notion of free will is apt to be tainted with the excessive individualism of the human ego and to assume the figure of an independent will acting on its own isolated account, in a complete liberty without any determination other than its own choice and single unrelated movement. This idea ignores the fact that our natural being is a part of cosmic Nature and our spiritual being exists only by the supreme Transcendence.”

It is only by recognition that the sense of an independent free will is properly related to a growth and widening of the power and awareness of the individual that comes about as a result of the spiritual growth that breaks down the barrier between individual and cosmos, and between individual and transcendent, that we can put the concept of free will in its proper perspective, and the individual be seen as a nexus or locus of the action of the cosmic force. Free will in its true sense is an increasing freedom from the limitations imposed by physical Nature, due to the “submission to a greater conscious Power or an acquiescent unity of the individual being with its intention and movement in his own and in the world’s existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”


Spiritual Collectivities

In honor of the birthday of Sri M.P. Pandit, we present a transcription of a talk by Sri M.P. Pandit of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, recorded on February 26, 1989 in Pondicherry, India. While the topic is spiritual collectivities, it should be noted that the issues raised are of use in dealing with the world at large. As our world is confronted with polarized extreme positions that create conflict everywhere, we may find that some of the prescriptions set forth here are useful in resolving these conflicts. Certainly for spiritual communities there is no question of the relevance of what Panditji has to say.


I have been receiving now and then literature from a number of meditation groups, spiritual centers, in different countries, and I usually give a rapid glance to the contents of these bulletins. I was struck by a passage, which must be nearly 100 years old, regarding spiritual work on a group basis. The idea of spiritual discipline on an individual basis has been there all along, but as on a group basis the movement has gathered force in this century because the spiritual effort demanded of humanity is more of a collective nature than individual.

Sri Aurobindo raises the question in a whole chapter on “The Gnostic Being” in the Life Divine, where he discusses how there has to be a gnostic society consisting of gnostic individuals. Speaking of the features of such a community, a spiritual collectivity dedicated to the ideal and the practice of a life of the Supramental Consciousness, he lists three requirements before such a society can come into being, can work as a force for the intended work of establishing the higher consciousness on earth. The first principle is Unity. No matter how many are there, but there has to be a unity of purpose. A number of people living together, each pursuing his own avocations, but living in one geographical area, do not constitute a spiritual society. There has to be one ideal. Different groups may have different ideals. There is the ideal of sannyasa, there is the ideal of Mahayana, and there is the ideal of integral perfection. Whatever the ideal, all who form the members of that collectivity must accept that as the one goal of life. If there is one thing that brings together and holds together all of them, it must be this truth, this ideal for which they have gathered. So you have unity, unity of ideal, unity of aim, unity of purpose. Whatever our individual differences, individual variations of nature, at the level of the objective there has to be oneness, one ideal. We cannot say, you can pursue the ideal of perfection, I will pursue the ideal of rejection of life. It will not do. Let us assume that reasonably there is one ideal that forms the basis of unity of the community.

Next when a number of individuals are there, not each one living an isolated existence as in a monastery or in a Vihara, but where they have to live together, meet each other, interact with each other, work with each other, there has to be some Mutuality. Mutuality is the spirit of give and take, accepting the bona fides of each other. You may not agree with what a person says but you respect the person’s sincerity in holding to what he says. Maybe I am not ready to accept or understand what he says or does but I have no right to interfere, I should not attribute motives to that person. Mutuality is a mutual respect, consideration, an interchange without reservations. You accept each individual as individual. When you do not agree, take it that you don’t understand but you cannot judge. That is what Mother repeatedly emphasizes, do not ever judge people. To judge means you raise yourself on a superior pedestal whereas, as a matter of fact, you are all functioning on the same level of ignorance. There are mutual relations, in day-to-day dealings, you rub shoulders with others, you talk to others, you work with others, you help others, you are helped by others. In other words, a mutual acceptance.

The third requirement is as a result of the common ideal, common unity of objective, happy inter-relations, there is harmony, a continuous and flowing harmony in collective life. There are no clashes, there are no uneven ups and downs in life because there is no competition. There is collaboration. Each one sees in what way one can contribute and one can serve, one can participate usefully in the collective life. Each one has to subordinate his individual’s stress, in the interests of the collective life. So, if each one has the right attitude, there is very little scope for disequilibrium , disharmony, clash or for the play of egos. Sri Aurobindo emphasizes again and again that for a spiritual community, Unity, Mutuality, and Harmony are indispensable. Each spiritual community or collectivity wanting to be a spiritual center must keep these requirements as prerequisites before it can function as a spiritual community.

All these thoughts came in my mind when I happened to read as I said a paragraph in a very old writing which has been quoted in a bulletin of Mount Meditation from California. There they speak, “This group unity, which will have its roots in united group meditation or in the contemplative life wherein the Soul knows itself to be one with all Souls, must work out in some form of group activity.” That is, the group unity, the group ideal has to stabilize itself, establish itself through some group activity. Only meditation, only study, only prayer will not do. There has to be a collective pouring of energies on all levels.

This question of group work is of vital importance and much is hoped from it these days. If in any organization of the physical plane the teachers can get “a nucleus of even 3 people who mutually interact,” it is a capital gain. Mother has always held that if there are 3 people who accept this ideal and who want to aspire together, work together, they are eligible to start a center. Three. Three must be an occult number because the authors of this writing are from a totally different path. They say “a nucleus of even three people who mutually interact”, that is, there must be a minimum at least of three who have no reservations about each other, who freely interact with each other, who don’t question, who don’t doubt, who accept wholly each other and interact without reservations and who disinterestedly follow the path of service.

Now, service is important because many people come with many motives, not all come to such collectivities for spiritual ends. Or even if many come for spiritual objectives to begin with, there is a certain dilution of their aspirations and other motives take their place. It may be seeking for power, seeking for domination, seeking for name-aggrandizement, whatever name you may call it; instead of that, the stress must be for service. And service means, there is no selfish motive. A self-less giving, doing something useful in the society, can produce more definite results in a shorter space of time than is possible in a large and active body of people who may be sincere and earnest, but do not know the meaning of trust. They will not trust, there is a cynical suspicion. So when you can’t trust a human being who is before you, are you really going to trust God who is not physically visible? No. All good things start here. Unless you cultivate the capacity of trusting in things around you, in Nature, in goodness of colleagues, you are not going to have trust in Divine. Collaboration, as Mother would say, cooperation as they put it commonly; that is you mutually cohere, support each other, second each other, not go at cross purposes, not undermine what others are doing, not sabotage what somebody else is doing. If I cannot physically contribute, if I cannot physically add to the work somebody else is doing well I should have at least a supportive attitude. That is cooperation, not emanating contrary vibrations all the while, spreading poison in the air, introducing negative currents, critical. Critics are out of place.

And further: “The small group can do more than a body of people who may be large but guard not the gate of speech. This is an extremely important condition that whatever your merits, whatever your strong points, the community must guard the gate of speech, that is, they must take care not to speak ill of others, not to question the honesty of others, not to spread scandals, not to indulge in gossip, not to indulge in character assassination; these are great dangers to the health of a spiritual collectivity. That is why the Mother used to repeatedly warn against gossip. One day she even wrote in big letters NO GOSSIP and had it put up at the Ashram entrance. Then somebody who was indulging in gossip represented to Mother that if the board was there, every visitor who came would have a poor opinion of us. So, he requested that the notice be kept inside and not outside. It was shifted.

What struck me was that even about 100 years ago, the perception of what is essential for a spiritual community was almost the same as what Mother and Sri Aurobindo have been saying today. The expression “guarding the gate of speech” is important. Gate, because it is through speech that our consciousness, our energies spill out, go out and impact on others. So speech is very important. To gain control over speech was very much insisted upon in the ancient disciplines. Only later as deterioration set in, control of speech was taken to mean absence of speech. Absence of speech, suppression of speech, total prevention of speech, is not what is meant in spiritual context. As Mother says, you speak when you must, you do not speak when you do not need to. You have to have this discrimination. Not to speak at all may be an extreme step in certain situations but that does not serve a spiritual purpose. Both Sri Aurobindo and Mother want temperate speech, that is you think before you talk, ‘Is it necessary for me to speak?’ If it is going to play a positive role, yes. Otherwise, withhold. That is why Mother wrote in another Notice, “If you do not have a good word to say of another, keep quiet.” Do not waste your energies in speaking ill. If you speak it should be positive, it should be elevating, it should be in the direction of spiritual atmosphere, otherwise, do not.

Sri M.P. Pandit,

Intuition and Mentality

When Intuition begins to interact with the world of matter, life and mind, it becomes attenuated, limited and modified by those other powers. “For an intuitive mentality intervening in a mixed mental, vital physical consciousness would normally be forced to undergo a mixture with the inferior stuff of consciousness alerady evolved; in order to act on it, it would have to enter into it and, entering into it, would get entangled in it, penetrated by it, affected by the separative and partial character of our mind’s action and the limitation and restricted force of the Ignorance. The action of intuitive intelligence is keen and luminous enough to penetrate and modify, but not large and whole enough to swallow up into itself and abolish the mass of the Ignorance and Inconscience; it could not effect an entire transformation of the whole consciousness into its own stuff and power.” While the higher powers of intelligence, starting with the working of a truer force of Intuition will obviously have a positive influence and far-reaching effect on the mentality that operates in the outer world and from the surface nature, this will not initially be anywhere near complete or conclusive in its action.

In the evolution towards Supernature, this initial power of conscious participation in the universal working would enlarge in the individual into a more and more intimate and extended vision of her workings in himself, a sensitive perception of the course she was taking, a growing understanding or intuitive idea of the methods that had to be followed for a more rapid and more conscious self-evolution. As his inner psychic or occult inner mental being came more to the front, there would be a strengthened power of choice, of sanction, a beginning of authentic free will which would grow more and more effective.”

The result of this intermediate influence and influx of a higher form of consciousness into the outer being’s action would be an expanded participation of conscious effort in the development process and an expanded (although still within certain limits imposed by the lower nature) action leading to progressively more power of action of the higher levels of consciousness in the nature.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

From Nature….to Supernature

While we recognise the current limitations of the mental consciousness to move toward a more fluid, intuitive, direct insight to things, we also can extrapolate from our experience to recognise that such an intuitive knowledge would be possible under the right conditions. “A greater and more intimate intuition must be possible which would enter into the heart of things, be in luminous identity with the movements of Nature, assure to the being a clear control of his life or at least a harmony with his universe.” In order for this to be accomplished, there would necessarily be a freedom for the fixed habits of the mental consciousness we currently experience. “It is only a free and entire intuitive consciousness which would be able to see and to grasp things by direct contact and penetrating vision or a spontaneous truth-sense born of an underlying unity or identity and arrange an action of Nature according to the truth of Nature. This would be a real participation by the individual in the working of the universal Consciousness-Force; the individual Purusha would become the master of his own executive energy and at the same time a conscious partner, agent, instrument of the cosmic Spirit in the working of the universal Energy: the universal Energy would work through him but he also would work through her and the harmony of the intuitive truth would make this double working a single action. A growing conscious participation of this higher and more intimate kind must be one accompaniment of the transition from our present state of being to a state of Supernature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

First Transitional Steps in Moving Beyond the Mental Man

The supramental force, when fully involved in material nature takes on the aspect of a mechanical action that is clearly well-organised and detailed, but which does not have a conscious actor aware of carrying out this action. The whirl of the suns and stars in the universe, the action of the atoms and the very creation of matter, life and mind, depends on this universal force at work in its own perfect way. As we reach the stage of mental outflowering evidenced in the human mentality we begin to see a more conscious awareness arise with regard to the action being undertaken. The evolved mental being has the ability not simply to act with the powers of analysis and detailed perception, but to also step back and actual observe and reflect on the action being undertaken, and in the most evolved formations, the mental man can actively collaborate in the work of this mechanical nature with conscious support and effort, through conscious choice and rejection.

Sri Aurobindo addresses the first steps that are required for the evolved mental being to move to the next level: “It is a first condition of this change that the mental Man we now are should become inwardly aware and in possession of his own deeper law of being and its processes; he must become the psychic and inner mental being master of his energies, no longer a slave of the movements of the lower Prakriti, in control of it, seated securely in a free harmony with a higher law of Nature.”

The limitations of the mental structure mean that while there can be a certain amount of self-knowledge and control of the lower nature, it is always limited until the higher consciousness can fully come into play. “There is not as yet a luminous seeing which knows things by a direct grasp and arranges them with a spontaneous precision according to the seeing, according to the scheme of the inherent truth; although there is a certain element of instinct and intuition and insight which has some beginning of this power, the normal character of human intelligence is an inquiring reason or reflective thought which observes, supposes, infers, concludes, arrives by labour at a constructed truth, a constructed scheme of knowledge, a deliberately arranged action of its own making. Or rather this is what it strives to be and partly is; for its knowledge and will are constantly invaded, darkened or frustrated by forces of the being which are half-blind instruments of the mechanisms of Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

Speeding the Transformation of Consciousness to the Supramental Action

Sri Aurobindo next addresses the different scenarios that could lead to varying speeds of accomplishing the transformation of consciousness from the mental through the overmental to an eventual supramental basis of action, with all of the impact such a transformation would have on mind, life and body and life in the material world. He points out that it would be a long, slow and difficult process if there were no direct descent, or intervention, of the supramental force into material nature; and if all we had, then, was a pressure from above working to evolve the supramental action out of its involvement in the Inconscient here. Such a process would be limited by having to work through the mind, life and body and their restrictions, habits, impediments and differing principles of action. The end result would also be limited by virtue of the fact that mind, life and body have these differing principles of action and cannot be expected to totally transform themselves if they remain the basis and foundation of the evolved consciousness.

The faster and more effective solution would be for the supramental consciousness to actually descend and work directly in this world, putting in place a foundation and action of its own native and characteristic line of action and results.

“For a real transformation there must be a direct and unveiled intervention from above; there would be necessary too a total submission and surrender of the lower consciousness, a cessation of its insistence, a will in it for its separate law of action to be completely annulled by transformation and lose all rights over our being. If these two conditions can be achieved even now by a conscious call and will in the spirit and a participation of our whole manifested and inner being in its change and elevation, the evolution, the transformation can take place by a comparatively swift conscious change; the supramental Consciousness-Force from above and the evolving Consciousness-Force from behind the veil acting on the awakened awareness and will of the mental human abeing would accomplish by their united power the momentous transition. There would be no farther need of a slow evolution counting many milleniums for each step, the halting and difficult evolution operated by Nature in the past in the unconscious creatures of the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

The Transition from Nature into Supernature

As we have seen in earlier reviews of the evolution of consciousness, nothing can evolve out of material nature if it has not previously been involved in material nature, hidden, inconscient to our perceptions, but nevertheless there. We have seen Life and Mind successively evolve and organise their principles of action within material nature, and we have further recognised that the evolutionary process continues. Further steps in this progression are in fact occurring and signs can be seen of this emergence; implying naturally, that the overmental and supramental stages of consciousness are already involved in Nature.

Sri Aurobindo points out that it is not by any power or action of the lower nature, mind, life and body, that these higher levels of consciousness can be achieved. Each one of these has specific circumscribed limits within which it operates and each one is organised around its own characteristic principle of action.

“our unaided personal aspiration and endeavour cannot reach it: our effort belongs to the inferior power of Nature; a power of the Ignorance cannot achieve by its own strength or characteristic or available methods what is beyond its own domain of Nature. All the previous ascensions have been effectuated by a secret Consciousness-Force operating first in Inconscience and then in the Ignorance: it has worked by an emergence of its involved powers to the surface, powers concealed behind the veil and superior to the past formulations of Nature, but even so there is needed a pressure of the same superior powers already formulated in their full natural force on their own planes; these superior planes create their own foundation in our subliminal parts and from there are able to influence the evolutionary process on the surface.”

The next stages, the overmental and supramental must undertake a similar process of evolution and external pressure to develop and flesh out their not yet organised foundation for action in the material nature. “In order that the involved principles of Overmind and Supermind should emerge from their veiled secrecy, the being and powers of the Superconscience must descend into us and uplift us and formulate themselves in our being and powers; this descent is a sine qua non of the transition and transformation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

Inadequacy of Mental Ability to Conceive the Nature of the Supermind

When the sages of the Upanishads tried to express the nature of the Infinite and Eternal which they experienced, they eventually concluded with the saying “Neti, Neti” meaning, “Not this, not that”. The implication was made more clear in the Taittirya Upanishad when they described “The delight of the Eternal from which words turn away without attaining and the mind also returns baffled…” By its very nature, the experience of states of consciousness beyond the mind is impossible of accurate depiction by the mind and the powers of speech. Sri Aurobindo points out that the same difficulty occurs when we try to describe the supramental consciousness using human conceptualisation and language.

“…the supramental change in its process carries us into less explored regions; it initiates a vision of heights of consciousness which have indeed been glimpsed and visited, but have yet to be discovered and mapped in their completeness. The highest of these peaks or elevated plateaus of consciousness, the supramental, lies far beyond the possiblity of any satisfying mental scheme or map of it or any grasp of mental seeing and description. It would be difficult for the normal unillumined or untransformed mental conception to express or enter into something that is based on so different a consciousness with a radically different awareness of things; even if they were seen or conceived by some enlightenment or opening of vision, another languate than the poor abstract counters used by our mind would be needed to translate them into terms by which their reality could become at all seizable by us. As the summits of human mind are beyond animal perception, so the movements of Supermind are beyond the ordinary human mental conception: it is only when we have already had experience of a higher intermediate consciousness that any terms attempting to describe supramental being could convey a true meaning to our intelligence; for then, having experienced something akin to what is described, we could translate an inadequate language into a figure of what we knew. If the mind cannot enter into the nature of Supermind, it can look towards it through these high and luminous approaches and catch some reflected impression of the Truth, the Right, the Vast which is the native kingdom of the free Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

Introduction to the Ascent Towards Supermind

The third and final transformation of consciousness, as we have seen in the prior post, is the supramental transformation, the decisive movement of the consciousness from the mental realm, through the overmental planes, to eventually station itself in the supramental, unifying level, and the corresponding descent of the effective unifying knowledge and action of the supramental into the lower mind, life and body, with the power to transform their action. The next chapter, The Ascent Towards Supermind, therefore takes up the theme of the process and steps and indications of the progressive movement of the consciousness toward this supramental fulfillment.

As has abeen our practice, we first review the citations that Sri Aurobindo has provided from the ancient texts to understand the continuity of the spiritual seeking from the time of the Vedic sages to the present.

“Possessed of a vast inspired wisdom, creators of the Light, conscious all-knowers, growing in the Truth.” Rig Veda, X.66.1

“Beholding the higher Light beyond the darkness we came to the divine Sun in the Godhead, to the highest Light of all.” Rig Veda, I.50.10

“Masters of the Truth-Light who make the Truth grow by the Truth.” Rig Veda, I.23.5

The supramental realm is a realm of unifying Knowledge and Power which holds both the constructive, synthetic vision and knowledge of the whole, while simultaneously ordering the individual parts in their own action in fulfillment of the one Reality. It holds both unity and multiplicity in its vision. This may be understood and recognised as the “Truth-Light” of the Veda. This level of consciousness has the knowledge and the effective power to transform the lower nature of Ignorance.

Most of human spiritual seeking has been focused on the first two of the three major transformations, the psychic and the spiritual transformations. The operation and functioning of the supramental consciousness is an area not widely explored until now.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 26, “The Ascent Towards Supermind”

The Third Transformation: The Supramental Transformation

The principle of the mental action is to divide, to analyse, to segment and measure. This characteristic remains active up through the overmental ranges of consciousness until the Supermind has been reached, according to Sri Aurobindo. The Supermind is the level that fits all the segmented parts together into a unified whole, and which can see both the divisions and the unity in one view. The mental action, due to its inherent divided nature and its limitations of both scope and power, tends to seek after one line of solution at the expense of others. When the overmental consciousness begins to descend and act, it is able to link together these varying mental solutions in a more embracing harmony, but it is restricted and limited by the necessity of acting within the framework of mind, life and body.

Sri Aurobindo points out that this necessitates the third transformation to complete the two prior ones: “As the psychic change has to call in the spiritual to complete it, so the first spiritual change has to call in the supramental transformation to complete it. For all these steps forward are, like those before them, transition; the whole radical change in the evolution from a basis of Ignorance to a basis of Knowledge can only come by the intervention of the supramental Power and its direct action in earth-existence.”

He makes it clear that it is the supramental consciousness that completes the transformative action: “Only the Supermind can thus descend without losing its full power of action; for its action is always intrinsic and automatic, its will and knowledge identical and the result commensurate: its nature is a self-achieving Truth-Consciousness and, if it limits itself or its working, it is by choice and intention, not by compulsion; in the limits it chooses its action and the results of its action are harmonious and inevitable.”

Sri Aurobindo concludes: “This then must be the nature of the third and final transformation which finishes the passage of the soul through the Ignorance and bases its consciousness, its life, its power and form of manifestation on a complete and completely effective self-knowledge. The Truth-Consciousness, finding evolutionary Nature ready, has to descend into her and enable her to liberate the supramental principle within her; so must be created the supramental and spiritual being as the first unveiled manifestation of the truth of the Self and Spirit in the material universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 25, “The Triple Transformation”