Unity, Mutuality and Harmony: The Principles of Gnostic Society

The mental consciousness, when it tries to create a society that is functional and harmonious, works to standarise, regiment and control the individual members through rules, laws, or common forms of thought, action and expression. In its extreme it can lead to fundamentalism that becomes intolerant of viewpoints or expressions of others, either members of the group or society, or else, of those outside. The result is a stifling of individual creative expression and attempts to purge or suppress anyone that does not follow the doctrine so developed.

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that such a structured formation based on the mental rule-making tendency is not the way that the gnostic society would develop or work. On the contrary, there would be considerable diversity, variance and differences of expression, both by individuals within the community, and between one gnostic community and another, in keeping with the wideness and variability of expression found in the creation.

What holds the gnostic society together is actually the inner gnostic consciousness which would have the ability to harmonise and create out of this diversity the unity of an inner consciousness that recognises the role that each expression plays in the complete manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “But this free diversity would not be a chaos or create any discord; for a diversity of one Truth of knowledge and one Truth of life would be a correlation and not an opposition. In a gnostic consciousness there would be no ego-insistence on personal idea and no push or clamour of personal will and interest: there would be instead the unifying sense of a common Truth in many forms, a common self in many consciousnesses and bodies; there would be a universality and plasticity which saw and expressed the One in many figures of itself and worked out onenessin all diversities as the inherent law of the Truth-Consciousness and its truth of nature. A single Consciousness-Force, of which all would be aware and see themselves as its instruments, would act through all and harmonise their action together.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

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Developing the Principles of a Gnostic Society

When we look at the organisation of human society today, based on the physical, vital and mental formations that bring people together based on commonality of physical need, vital relationship and mental ideas, we see either that there is a close common bond that ties people together; or else, in a pluralistic society, we see the attempt to develop a working social order based on mutuality and compromise (when the society is succeeding to some degree in its efforts to accomodate different views–some societies become failed communities due to their inability to find a working accomodation).

It is insufficient, in Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint, to simply effectuate the perfection of the spiritual individual, both within himself and in relation to the world around him. The third desired result is the transformation of society to a new basis…”a new world, a change in the total life of humanity or, at the least, a new perfected collective life in the earth-nature.”

Such a perfected society would take on the characteristics of a unified, organic oneness with an automatic harmony based on an intimate unity of all its constituent parts, as Sri Aurobindo describes it “a common consciousness consolidating a common life.”

“All will be united by the evolution of the Truth-Consciousness in them; in the changed way of being which this consciousness would bring about in them, they will feel themselves to be embodiments of a single self, souls of a single Reality; illumined and motived by a fundamental unity of knowledge, actuated by a fundamental united will and feeling, a life expressing the spiritual Truth would find through them its own natural forms of becoming. An order there would be, for truth of oneness creates its own order: a law or laws of living there might be, but these would be self-determined; they would be an expression of the turth of a spiritually united being and the truth of a spiritually united life. The whole formation of the common existence would be a self-building of the spiritual forces that must work themselves out spontaneously in such a life: these forces would be received inwardly by the inner being and expressed or self-expressed in a native harmony of idea and action and purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Universality in Action: The Law of Divine Living

When we act in the world, we generally start from the viewpoint of the egoistic individual. As we grow and evolve we begin to try to expand our action to include family and various groupings of people, whether team, tribe, nation, or affinity groupings including religious organisations. In each such expansion, we consciously try to incorporate the needs and values of a larger formation. However, it should be noted, that the methodology we generally employ leads to an expansion of the ego and widening of its action. In order to achieve this action, we rely on idea, emotion & vital sympathy to act as the force of implementation.

Sri Aurobindo points out that for the gnostic being, this mode of action will no longer be operative. Rather, the gnostic being and life involves “a close and complete consciousness of the self of others, a consciousness of their mind, life, physical being which are felt as if they were one’s own.”

“The gnostic being will act, not out of a surface sentiment of love and sympathy or any similar feeling, but out of this close mutual consciousness, this intimate oneness. All his action in the world will be enlightened by a truth of vision of what has to be done, a sense of the will of the Divine Reality in him which is also the Divine Reality in others, and it will be done for the Divine in others and the Divine in all, for the effectuation of the truth of purpose of the All as seen in the light of the highest Consciousness and in the way and by the steps through which it must be effectuated in the power of the Supernature.”

The gnostic individual is not fixated on his own personal success or aggrandisement, but rather, on the implementation of the divine purpose in all of the creation. “He sees a divine working everywhere; what goes out from him into the sum of that divine working, from the inner Light, Will, Force that works in him, is his action.”

The individual action becomes a nexus of manifestation of the Universal and Transcendent. “As he does not live for a separate ego, so too he does not live for the purpose of any collective ego; he lives in and for the Divine in himself, in and for the Divine in the collectivity, in and for the Divine in all beings. This universality in action, organised by the all-seeing Will in the sense of the realised oneness of all, is the law of his divine living.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

The Realisation of Spiritual Oneness and Universality

While we tend to look upon an inward turn of the consciousness as a narrowing or focus on the individual’s personal being, in fact, getting in contact with the inner spiritual entity, the soul, allows one to break free of the bond of the personality and universalise oneself. Sri Aurobindo explains: “For this inner living can extend itself and embrace the universal life, it can contact, penetrate, englobe the life of all with a much greater reality and dynamic force than is in our surface consciousness at all possible. Our utmost universalisation on the surface is a poor and limping endeavor,–it is a construction, a make-believe and not the real thing: for in our surface consciousness we are bound to separation of consciousness from others and wear the fetters of the ego.”

The idea that we can outwardly bridge gaps of separation to embrace universality and oneness is in reality somewhat delusional, and it tends to enhance the ego that believes itself to be altruistic or selfless. Even the best attempts have severe limitations based on the fragmentation and separation that we experience in our surface life.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the true source of oneness and universality is in the spiritual consciousness: “The spiritual consciousness, the spiritual life reverses this principle of building; it bases its action in the collective life upon an inner experience and inclusino of others in our own being, an inner sense and reality of oneness. The spiritual individual acts out of that sense of oneness which gives him immediate and direct perception of the demand of self on other self, the need of the life, the good, the work of love and sympathy that can truly be done. A realisation of spiritual unity, a dynamisation of the intimate consciousness of one-being, of one self in all beings, can alone found and govern by its truth the action of the divine life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Turning the Vision Inward

The surface person is normally categorised by modern psychology as either an extrovert or an introvert. Some people confuse the introvert with the concept of living within that is the first necessity of the spiritual transformation. However, whether one lives externally as the extrovert, or internally as the introvert, both of them are focused on and deal with the surface nature, the constructed ego, not the deep spiritual movement of the soul within.

For those who are destined to follow a spiritual path the first experience is frequently one of a vast silence, a darkness, an undifferentiated wideness. This zone of silence and darkness is interpreted by the surface consciousness as a danger to its existence and fear frequently arises when one first confronts this seeming void.

Sri Aurobindo sees the movement inward quite differently: “But to those into whose composition there has entered the power of a more inner living, the movement of going within and living within brings not a darkness or dull emptiness but an enlargement, a rush of new experience, a greater vision, a larger capacity, an extended life infinitely more real and various than the first pettiness of the life constructed for itself by our normal physical humanity, a joy of being which is larger and richer than any delight in existence that the outer vital man or the surface mental man can gain by their dynamic vital force and activity or subtlety and expansin of the mental existence. A silence, an entry into a wide or even immense or infinite emptiness is part of the inner spiritual experience; of this silence and void the physical mind has a certain fear, the small superficially active thinking or vital mind a shrinking from it or dislike,–for it confuses the silence with mental and vital incapacity and the void with cessation or non-existence: but this silence is the silence of the Spirit which is the condition of a greater knowledge, power and bliss, and this emptiness is the emptying of the cup of our natural being, a liberation of it from its turbid contents so that it may be filled with the wine of God; it is the passage not into non-existence but to a greater existence. Even when the being turns towards cessation, it is a cessation not in non-existence but into some vast ineffable of spiritual being or the plunge into the incommunicable superconscience of the Absolute.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Living Within

Most of us live our lives in what Sri Aurobindo calls our surface being or surface consciousness. Our gaze is focused outward, and we spend our time dealing with outward facts and circumstances, such as the details of our lives and actions, family, friends, events, jobs, entertainment and the rest of the myriad forces and facts of the world we live in, including political, religious, scientific, philosophical or other forms of engagement with the world’s “reality”.

The type of spiritual transformation described by Sri Aurobindo is “impossible without an inward living.”

“…they cannot be reached by remaining in an external consciousness turned always outwards, active only on and from the surface. The individual being has to find himself, his true existence; he can only do this by going inward, by living within and from within: for the external or outer consciousness or life separated from the inner Spirit is the field of the Ignorance; it can only exceed itself and exceed the Ignorance by opening into the largeness of an inner self and life.”

“…on the surface there is only an ephemeral being of nature, made by limit and circumstance. If there is a self in us capable of largeness and universality, able to enter into a cosmic consciousness, that too must be within our inner being: the outer consciousness is a physical consciousness bound to its individual limits by the triple cord of mind, life and body: any external attempt at universality can only result either in an aggrandisement of the ego or an effacement of the personality by its extinction in the mass or subjugation to the mass. It is only by an inner growth, movement, action that the individual can freely and effectively universalise and transcendentalise his being.”

“In men, says the Upanishad, the Self-Existent has cut the doors of consciousness outward, but a few turn the eye inward and it is these who see and know the Spirit and develop the spiritual being. Thus to look into ourselves and see and enter into ourselves and live within is the first necessity for transformation of nature and for the divine life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Transcendental Being and Consciousness

A complete and conprehensive integrated consciousness must also incorporate the Transcendent. Sri Aurobindo explains: “The spiritual fullness of the being is eternity; if one has not the consciousness of timeless eternal being, if one is dependent on body or embodied mind or embodied life, or dependent on this world or that world or on this condition of being or that condition of being, that is not the reality of self, not the fullness of our spiritual existence.”

The true spiritual freedom is not bound by limitations of the body, the life or the mind. “To live only as a self of body or be only by the body is to be an ephemeral creature, subject to death and desire and pain and suffering and decay and decadence. To transcend, to exceed consciousness of body, not to be held in the body or by the body, to hold the body only as an instrument, a minor outward formation of self, is a first condition of divine living.”

A second condition of divine living is to have a similar relationship to the mind, thereby able to transcend mind and live free of its limitations. A third condition of divine living is to be able to transcend life, just as one transcends body and mind.

It is not sufficient to transcend just the individual formulation. “But one must transcend not only the individual formula but the formula of the universe, for only so can either the individual or the universal existence find its own true being and a perfect harmonisation; both are in their outer formulation incompelte terms of the Transcendence, but they are that in their essence, and it is only by becoming conscious of that essence, that individual consciousness or universal consciousness can come to its own fullness and freedom of reality. Otherwise the individual may remain subject to the cosmic movement and its reactions and limitations and miss his entire spiritual freedom. He must enter into the supreme divine Reality, feel his oneness with it, live in it, be its self-creation: all his mind, life physicality must be converted into terms of its Supernature; all his thoughts, feelings, actions must be determined by it and be it, its self-formation. All this can become complete in him only when he has evolved out of the Ignorance into the Knowledge and its dynamis and supreme delight of existence; but some essentiality of these things and their sufficient instrumentation can come with the first spiritual change and culminate in the life of the gnostic Supernature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”