Harmonising the Principles of Freedom and Order

The mental consciousness finds a conflict, a variance between “freedom” and “order”. In an attempt to exert its freedom, the mind and will of man will deny the right of law, principle or standard to restrict its action; or in the attempt to bring about some harmony of the individual within the framework of society, a series of rules and standards will be developed that restrict the individual’s freedom.

The gnostic being, however, incorporates both principles together on the basis of knowledge. “In him Knowledge and Will become one and cannot be in conflict; Truth of spirit and life become one and cannot be at variance: in the self-effectuation of his being there can be no strife or disparity or divergence between the spirit and the members.”

“this is so because both [freedom and order] are inseparable aspects of the inner spiritual truth and therefore their determinations are one; they are inherent in each other, for they arise from an identity and therefore in action coincide in their natural identity. The gnostic being does not in any way or degree feel his liberty infringed by the imperative order of his thoughts or actions, because that order is intrinsic and spontaneous; he feels both his liberty and the order of his liberty to be one truth of his being.”

The gnostic being, not subject to the limitations of the mental consciousness, which after all has its foundation in the Ignorance, does not need to cast around through trial and error nor subject itself to a divergence between his knowledge and his action. “His liberty of action is not a license to act upon wrong will or the impulsions of the Ignorance….”

The gnostic being incorporates the Oneness of the individual with the universal development and thus can harmonise the principle of freedom, which is a force for systematic unfolding and development, with the equally essential principle of order, which is a force for stablising and solidifying the development.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

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From Automatic Action of Nature to Free Self-Expression of Spirit

If we look at the evolving universe and the manifestation of consciousness within it, we see the expression of consciousness take on different forms. In the depths of material existence, in the very processes of Matter and Energy, we see an intensely controlled, automatic process of action that nevertheless exhibits a precise and highly organised Intelligence. The construction of the atoms and of Matter, the processes of Energy all show us a pattern that is detailed and which is carried out systematically.

With the advent of mental consciousness, we see modifications of the “rules” that govern material nature through increasing adaptation; but nevertheless still based on the development of what we may now see as standards of conduct, rules of action, ethics, morality, law, process of relation.

Eventually, with the manifestation of the gnostic being, with its inherent self-knowledge and universal knowledge, we see the liberation from the mental rule structure to allow the being to freely express the greater rules of spiritual Oneness in manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process of development: “In the passage to the spiritual life the supreme ideal held up is, …, not law, but liberty in the Spirit; the Spirit breaks through all formulas to find its self and, if it has still to be concerned with expression, it must arrive at the liberty of a free and true instead of an artificial expression, a true and spontaneous spiritual order. “Abandon all dharmas, all standards and rules of being and action, and take refuge in Me alone”, is the summit rule of the highest existence held up by the Divine Being to the seeker.”

The development of this free self-expression of the spirit is and can be progressive as the evolving individual takes on more and more the consciousness of the gnostic being. “But the supramental gnostic being stands in a consciousness in which knowledge is self-existent and manifests itself according to the order self-determined by the Will of the Infinite in the Supernature. This self-determination according to a self-existent knowledge replaces the automatism of Nature and the standards of Mind by the spontaneity of a Truth self-aware and self-active in the very grain of the existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Harmonising the Individual, the Cosmic and the Transcendent

The mind always tries to divide and create opposition, so that it places the individual in conflict with the universal, and both of them opposed to the transcendent. Thus, we tend to either act so that we focus on one or another of these to the exclusion of the other two principles. Sri Aurobindo, however, does not see it this way. He points out that all three are aspects of One Reality and thus, they may represent a different focus, but not an opposed principle. In his view, the individual is part and parcel of the universal; and in all cases, they also have a transcendent aspect which contains and exceeds the individual and universal forms.

“In the consciousness of the Infinite individuality does not brak up nor circumscribe cosmicity, cosmicity does not contradict transcendence. The gnostic being living in the consciousness of the Infinite will create his own self-manifestation as an individual, but he will do so as a centre of a larger universality and yet at the same time a centre of the transcendence. A universal individual, all his action would be in harmony with the cosmic action, but, owing to his transcendence, it would not be limited by a temporary inferior formulation or at the mercy of any or every cosmic force.”

This standpoint naturally results in the individual highest self being at one with the being of the Ishwara (the Lord of Creation), and his self-expression would take on the character of being a manifestation of the Will of the self-expression of that universal and transcendent Being who is the evolving universe. “The individual nature would be nothing separate, it would be a current of the Supernature. All antinomy of the Purusha and the Prakriti, that curious division and unbalance of the Soul and Nature which afflicts the Ignorance, would be entirely removed; for the nature would be the outflowing of the self-force of the Person and the Person would be the outflowing of the supreme Nature, the supramental power of being of the Ishwara. It is this supreme truth of his being, an infinitely harmonic principle, that would create the order of his spiritual freedom, an authentic, automatic and plastic order.”

We shall take up the form and action of this harmonising principle in manifestation in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

The Free Self-Determination of the Spiritual Being

As mental beings, humans are bound to the limitations of the mental consciousness, which sets up rules, principles, standards, ethical frameworks, laws & rigid social definitions within which it then organises the life of the individual and the society. Virtually every relationship is bound and fixed within this framework. Eventually we also organise the cosmic framework by defining a law of karma which governs the response that comes back to any output of energy.

While these rules are needed for the evolution out of the impulsive desire-based energy of the life-force, the evolution beyond the mind into the gnostic consciousness overcomes this rigid and fixed mental framework. Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue as follows: “In the supramental gnostic nature there will therefore be no need of the mental rigid way and hard style of order, a limiting standardisation, an imposition of a fixed set of principles, the compulsion of life into one system or pattern which is alone valid because it is envisaged by mind as the one right truth of being and conduct. For such a standard cannot include and such a structure cannot take up into itself the whole of life, nor can it adapt itself freely to the pressure of the All-life or to the needs of the evolutionary Force; it has to escape from itself or to escape from its self-constructed limits by its own death, by disintegration or by an intense conflict and revolutionary disturbance.”

Sri Aurobindo continues: “The knowledge and action of the gnostic being would have the wideness and plasticity of an infinite freedom.” “The entire activity also would be unbound by an obligation of unelastic rule or by the obligation of a past state or action or by its compelling consequence, Karma; it would have the sequent but self-guided and self-evolving plasticity of the Infinite acting directly upon its own finites. This movement will not create a flux or chaos, but a liberated and harmonic Truth-expression; there would be a free self-determination of the spiritual being in a plastic entirely conscious nature.”

This is not a prescription for wilful disregard of the established order by an individual wishing to throw off the yoke of all laws and rules. It is a recognition of the higher established order of universal Oneness by the spiritual individual which acts at all times in harmony with the larger universal movement and evolutinoary direction.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Symphonic Action of the Gnostic Consciousness

When we live in the limited, separated human mentality, we see others and the forces they manifest as existing in opposition to our own action, in a world of conflict and struggle for supremacy. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “A world full of conflict, a conflict in ourselves, a conflict of the individual with the world around him are normal and inevitable features of the separatiave consciousness of the Ignorance and our ill-harmonised existence.”

Sri Aurobindo contrasts this state of affairs with the gnostic consciousness which expresses the Truth of the individual, not in conflict with others or the cosmic All, but in supreme harmony as each uniquely expresses and carries out his role in the totality, while recognising and supporting the action of the gnostic consciousness as it manifests in each and in all. “The freedom of the gnostic individual is the freedom of his spirit to fulfil dynamically the truth of his being and the power of his energies in life; but this is synonymous with an entire obedience of his nature to the truth of Self manifested in his existence and to the will of the Divine in him and all. This All-Will is one in each gnostic individual and in many gnostic individuals and in the conscious All which holds and contains them in itself; it is conscious of itself in each gnostic being and is there one with his own will, and at the same time he is conscious of the same Will, the same Self and Energy variously active in all.”

One may find the concept easier to understand if one looks at the principle of a symphony orchestra. Each individual plays his part and his own instrument under the harmony of an entire programme that blends together the individual instruments, sounds and notes to create a whole that expresses a larger truth.

In the gnostic consciousness and manifestation therefore the conflict cannot exist. “In the gnostic life, therefore, there is an entire accord between the free self-expression of the being and his automatic obedience to the inherent law of the supreme and universal Truth of things. These are to him interconnected sides of the one Truth; it is his own supreme truth of being which works itself out in the whole united truth of himself and things in one Supernature. There is also an entire accord between all the many and different powers of the being and their action; for even those that are contradictory in their apparent motion and seem in our mental experience of them to enter into conflict, fit themselves and their action naturally into each other, because each has its self-truth and its truth of relation to the others and this is self-found and self-formed in the gnostic Supernature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Character of Dynamic Action of the Gnostic Supernature

Human life, based in ignorance and limitation, takes on the character of an “ignorant self-divided existence which seeks for its own truth and tries to construct its findings into laws and construct its life according to a pattern so made.”, as Sri Aurobindo describes it. This leads to a confused action that is characterised by division, conflict and separation.

The gnostic evolution has a different character, inasmuch as it implicitly starts from a knowledge of its unified wholeness and its intended result. Sri Aurobindo describes the action of the gnostic supernature when he indicates it to be “an integral fully conscious being in full possession of its own truth of existence and working out that truth in its own freedom, free from all constructed laws, while yet is life is a fulfilment of all true laws of becoming in their essence of meaning…”

A true law of being is the “right motion and process of a reality, an energy or power of being in action fulfilling its own inherent movement self-implied in its own truth of existence.” This can take on the form of Nature, which, while it appears to be mechanical and inconscient, clearly has a precisely organised and active intelligence within it; or it can be the true law of the Spirit, “a conscious energy, freely determined in its action by the consciousness in the being aware of its own imperative of truth, aware of its plastic possibilities of self-expression of that truth, aware, always in the whole and at each moment in the detail, of the actualities it has to realise.”

“An entire freedom of the Spirit, an entire self-existent order self-creating, self-effectuating, self-secure in its own natural and inevitable movement, is the character of this dynamis of the gnostic Supernature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”

Beyond Standards of Conduct–Spiritual Nature

We live in a world of conflicting principles and ideas, a world of “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong”, “moral” and “immoral”. These are essentially standards developed by the mental organisation of life which have their important role in the development of the individual and the growth of consciousness through Life and Mind.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the implications of the development of the gnostic being in terms of these standards: “There could be in it no separate problem of an ethical or any similar content, any conflict of good and evil. There could indeed be no problem at all, for problems are the creations of mental ignorance seeking for knowledge and they cannot exist in a consciousness in which knowledge arises self-born and the act is self-born out of the knowledge, out of a pre-existent truth of being conscious and self-aware.”

All questions of ethics, virtue, morality eventually are based on a consciousness of separation, fragmentation and division; they disappear in the consciousness of Oneness, unity and universality, which has an automatic knowledge of the needed action and response because it is One with all.

“Ethical mind declares a law of love, a law of justice, a law of truth, laws without number, difficult to observe, difficult to reconcile. But if oneness with others, oneness with truth is already the essence of the realised spiritual nature, there is no need of a law of truth or of love,–the law, the standard has to be imposed on us now because there is in our natural being an opposite force of separateness, a possibility of antagonism, a force of discord, ill-will, strife.”

“But where all is self-determined by truth of consciousness and truth of being, there can be no standard, no struggle to observe it, no virtue or merit, no sin or demerit of the nature. The power of love, of truth, of right will be there, not as a law mentally constructed but as the very substance and constitution of the nature and, by the integration of the being, necessarily also the very stuff and constituting nature of the action. To grow into this nature of our true being, a nature of spiritual truth and oneness, is the liberation attained by an evolution of the spiritual being: the gnostic evolution gives us the complete dynamism of that return to ourselves. Once that is done, the need of standards of virtue, dharmas, disappears; there is the law and self-order of the liberty of the Spirit, there can be no imposed or constructed law of conduct, dharma. All becomes a self-flow of spiritual self-nature, Swadharma of Swabhava.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 27, “The Gnostic Being”