Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma

The entire question of rebirth, sometimes called reincarnation, is shrouded in religious dogma, philosophical argument and rampant popular superstition. It is therefore extremely difficult to understand what in fact the situation is–is there some form of rebirth? If so, what is the functioning, mechanism and purpose of rebirth? How do we ascertain the facts relating to the operation of the process of rebirth? Is there any way to verify, one way or the other, the reality of rebirth?

Whether or not rebirth is a reality, there is the separate, although potentially related, question of karma. Here again, there is a mix of philosophy, religion and popular superstition associated with the concept of karma, essentially, “cause and effect”. There remain questions about why good people suffer, or why some are born into circumstances that are filled with luxury and ease, while others have to struggle and suffer under terrible burdens. Buddhism has perhaps had the most to say on the law of karma, the chain of consequences, and there are clearly many things to be learned from their insights.

Rebirth and the law of karma have occupied humanity for many millenia all around the world. It is a subject that requires observation, reflection, insight and inner experience to come to any solid understanding.

In Rebirth and Karma Sri Aurobindo takes up these subjects in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

Sri Aurobindo,

Conclusions and Summary of Sri Aurobindo’s The Mother

We have completed our review of the six chapters of The Mother by Sri Aurobindo. This compact book has a tremendous power of transformative energy. While The Life Divine delves into issues in an expansive and comprehensive way, this book has concentrated on the essentials of how the seeker can align himself with the evolutionary change that is taking place.

Whether a seeker is following the path of knowledge, love and devotion, or works primarily, this text provides the understanding and psychological standpoint needed to achieve the desired result.

We are planning to take up the text Rebirth and Karma next–an interesting and controversial subject that nonetheless has profound interest for many people.

Sri Aurobindo,

The Mother’s Power Alone Can Transform Human Life

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes the process of “involution and evolution” whereby the supreme powers of existence have become involved in Matter, and then undertake an evolution, a series of steps of self-finding and expansion to integrate Matter with Spirit.

This implies that the development to the next level of consciousness is essentially inevitable in the earth evolution. It becomes then a matter of time and process. Sri Aurobindo describes this at the end of the book The Mother as follows:

“The supramental change is a thing decreed and inevitable in the evolution of the earth-consciousness; for its upward ascent is not ended and mind is not its last summit.”

We can participate and cooperate in this change through a psychological process of aspiration and receptivity from our side and a corresponding response from the consciousness operating on the higher planes. “But that the change may arrive, take form and endure, there is needed the call from below with a will to recognise and not deny the Light when it comes, and there is needed the sanction of the Supreme from above.”

It is the power of the Divine Shakti that provides the impetus for this change. Without the Mother’s Force in action, human effort cannot achieve the result on its own. “The power that mediates between the sanction and the call is the presence and power of the Divine Mother. The Mother’s power and not any human endeavor and tapasya can alone rend the lid and tear the covering and shape the vessel and bring down into this world of obscurity and falsehood and death and suffering Truth and Light and Life divine and the immortal’s Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Don’t Expect Miracles!

It is tempting to the human mind to believe that the Divine Shakti’s action must be extraordinary and miraculous and outside the normal methodology and mechanisms of the world’s functioning. We expect to see divinity in terms of miraculous cures, walking on water, or instantaneous psychological transformations that simply do away with our difficulties.

Sri Aurobindo rebuts this presumption: “Avoid also the error of the ignorant mind’s demand on the Divine Power to act always according to our crude surface notions of omniscience and omnipotence. For our mind clamours to be impressed at every turn by miraculous power and easy success and dazzling splendour; otherwise it cannot believe that here is the Divine. The Mother is dealing with the Ignorance in the fields of the Ignorance; she has descended there and is not all above. Partly she veils and partly she unveils her knowledge and her power, often holds them back from her instruments and personalities and follows that she may transform them the way of the seeking mind, the way of the aspiring psychic, the way of the battling vital, the way of the imprisoned and suffering physical nature.”

The transformational effort needs to be an organic action of natural growth and development. “…the human in us has to be led and prepared to transcend its limits and is too weak and obscure to be lifted up suddenly to a form far beyond it. The Divine Consciousness and Force are there and do at each moment the thing that is needed in the conditions of the labour, take always the step that is decreed and shape in the midst of imperfection the perfection that is to come.”

There is a stage where things can move much more swiftly and effectively, as we overcome the limitations of the mind and the supramental force can begin to act directly on the nature: “But only when the supermind has descended in you can she deal directly as the supramental Shakti with supramental natures.”

It is therefore essential to not be misled by appearances or the limited reasoning and flawed judgments rendered by the mind: “If you follow your mind, it will not recognise the Mother even when she is manifest before you. Follow your soul and not your mind, your soul that answers to the Truth, not your mind that leaps at appearances; trust the Divine Power and she will free the god-like elements in you and shape all into an expression of Divine Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo,

The Mind Cannot Judge or Understand the Supreme Divine Shakti

As mental beings, we try to understand and judge what we see and experience by the power of the mind. For many purposes, of course, this seems to work just fine, particularly when we are looking at practical arrangements in the material world. However, it is not possible to adequately grasp nor judge the powers that operate above the mind by mental parameters. We try to set rules and fixed ways of seeing things, while the spiritual force far exceeds and has far more complexity than it is possible for the mind to comprehend.

We find this whenever the mind tries to grapple with complexity such as the functioning of the human body or the balance of the entire eco-sphere of the planet, or even the subatomic forces of the material plane. When we try to act from the limited mental understanding we invariably find that there are numerous “unintended consequences” that arise, representing the level intelligence of the universal manifestation going beyond the mind’s framework.

Sri Aurobindo makes this same point in relation to the action of the Divine Shakti. “But be on your guard and do not try to understand and judge the Divine Mother by your little earthly mind that loves to subject even the things that are beyond it to its own norms and standards, its narrow reasonings and erring impressions, its bottomless aggressive ignorance and its petty self-confident knowledge. The human mind shut in the prison of its half-lit obscurity cannot follow the many-sided freedom of the steps of the Divine Shakti. The rapidity and complexity of her vision and action outrun its stumbling comprehension; the measures of her movement are not its measures. Bewildered by the swift alteration of her many different personalities, her making of rhythms and her breaking of rhythms, her accelerations of speed and her retardations, her varied ways of dealing with the problem of one and of another, her taking up and dropping now of this line and now of that one and her gathering of them together, it will not recognise the way of the Supreme Power when it is circling and sweeping upwards through the maze of the Ignorance to a supernal Light.”

It is through the soul’s receptivity, the psychic being’s openness, that one can feel and experience the inner Truth of the method and action of the Divine Shakti.

Sri Aurobindo,

Three Conditions For the Transformation of the Seeker By the Divine Mahashakti

Sri Aurobindo outlines three conditions or psychological states that the seeker must adopt to carry out the transformation of the Divine Mahashakti. These conditions are consciousness, plasticity and unreserved surrender. He describes the characteristics of each of them as follows:

Consciousness: “For you must be conscious in your mind and soul and heart and life and the very cells of your body, aware of the Mother and her Powers and their working; for although she can and does work in you even in your obscurity and your unconscious parts and moments, it is not the same thing as when you are in an awakened and living communion with her.”

Plasticity: “All your nature must be plastic to her touch,–not questioning as the self-sufficient ignorant mind questions and doubts and disputes and is the enemy of its enlightenment and change; not insisting on its own movements as the vital in man insists and persistently opposes its refractory desires and ill-will to every divine influence; not obstructing and entrenched in incapacity, inertia and tamas as man’s physical consciousness obstructs and clinging to its pleasure in smallness and darkness cries out against each touch that disturbs its soul-less routine or its dull sloth or its torpid slumber.”

Surrender: “The unreserved surrender of your inner and outer being will bring this plasticity into all the parts of your nature; consciousness will awaken everywhere in you by constant openness to the Wisdom and Light, the Force, the Harmony and Beauty, the Perfection that come flowing down from above. Even the body will awake and unite at last its consciousness subliminal no longer to the supramental superconscious Force, feel all her powers permeating from above and below and around it and thrill to a supreme Love and Ananda.”

It is especially important not to let the limited human mind, emotions. life and body restrict, obstruct or prevent the operation of the Divine Shakti in the nature. Since they cannot judge something so much larger than their capabilities, it is essential to adopt an attitude of receptivity as outlined by Sri Aurobindo here.

In another sense, we can see this as moving beyond the limitations of the three qualities, “gunas”, sattva, rajas and tamas, to respond to the action of the Divine Forces of the Mother.

Sri Aurobindo,

The Manifestation of the Divine Supramental Mahashakti

The four great powers of the Mother are not the only powers that She manifests or that play a role in the evolutionary development. They are the primary forces at work and they carry out the bulk of the transforming effort. Once they have become well established and integrated into the earth nature, and work together in a unity of purpose, it is then possible and essential that additional powers of the Mother should manifest to provide completeness to the transformation that unites the heights of the Spirit with the depths of Matter.

“There are among them Presences indispensable for the supramental realisatino,–most of all one who is her Personality of that mysterious and powerful ecstasy and Ananda which flows from a supreme divine Love, the Ananda that alone can heal the gulf between the highest heights of the supramental spirit and the lowest abysses of Matter, the Ananda that holds the key of a wonderful divinest Life and even now supports from its secrecies the work of all the other Powers of the universe.”

The limitations of the human personality make it difficult for these more rarified and refined powers to come to the front and act openly. Sri Aurobindo sets forth the conditions: “Only when the Four have founded their harmony and freedom of movement in the transformed mind and life and body, can those other rarer Powers manifest in the earth movement and the supramental action become possible.”

The result of this transformation is the ultimate goal of the evolutionary effort: “Then can human nature change into dynamic divine nature because all the elemental lines of the supramental Truth-consciousness and Truth-force are strung together and the harp of life is fitted for the rhythms of the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mother, Chapter Six, pp. 55-57