Creeds, Religions, Philosophies, Dogmas and Ideologies

Human history, including modern history, is filled with the ongoing, and sometimes extremely violent, clash of beliefs. For most of our history, the battles were actually about physical control of resources or issues of protection or domination. Very little of belief or ideology entered into these battles, other than perhaps as a “window dressing” to make them appear to be something other than a play of the vital forces of greed, fear, power, domination and survival instincts.

As the mental principle has gained strength through the evolutionary process, however, we have seen an increasing tendency to battle over ideas, religious beliefs and ideologies, supported of course, or even secretly driven by the vital impulses of control and domination and extension. Sri Aurobindo addresses this issue: “The world abounds with Scriptures sacred and profane, with revelations and half-revelations, with religions and philosophies, sects and schools and systems. To these the many minds of a half-ripe knowledge or no knowledge at all attach themselves with exclusiveness and passion and will have it that this or the other book is alone the eternal Word of God and all others are either impostures or at best imperfectly inspired, that this or that philosophy is the last word of the reasoning intellect and other systems are either errors or saved only by such partial truth in them as links them to the one true philosophical cult. Even the discoveries of physical Science have been elevated into a creed and in its name religion and spirituality banned as ignorance and superstition, philosophy as frippery and moonshine.”

On this basis, whichever teaching or position we accept, we tend to treat the scriptures or teachings of that belief system as being the exclusive repository of Truth, and quoting from that source takes on the veneer of establishing a “fact” from which there can be no debate.

As the mind of man matures, we do find evidence of a more ecumenical acceptance, an ability to recognise that others have their own viewpoint, and a basis of valid understanding, and we can, on this basis, begin to bridge the differences through widening our viewpoint rather than through defeating the others in a conflict. The proverb that “the paths are many, but the goal is one” stands us in good stead as we proceed to sort out some way forward together, appreciating the differences that stem from our varying backgrounds and viewpoints, while finding the common thread that binds all of us together as one.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 1, Our Demand and Need from the Gita, pp. 1-2,

Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita

The Bhagavad Gita occupies a unique position in the spiritual literature of the world, as it is one of the most revered scriptures, while at the same time being an outstanding poetical expression, a philosophical masterwork, a visionary experience and a profound psychological text outlining key concepts in the practice of yoga as a methodology for the development of consciousness.

One of the things that makes the Bhagavad Gita unique is the setting. It is a teaching provided on a battlefield, at a time where the evolutionary progress of humanity was meeting substantial opposition and hostility. The questions that arise within this context are universal questions that every human being eventually has to face, questions of life and death, morality and religious faith, and questions of relationships, honor, justice and of war and peace.

In order to truly grow and evolve, the individual must eventually come out from behind the wall of traditional creeds, dogmas, rigid doctrines, narrow viewpoints and religious ideologies and begin to apply a deeper, spiritual insight to the resolution of these issues.

The Gita does much more than propound a teaching. It provides perhaps the most insightful review of the psychological framework that governs our actions, and a methodology for applying practical psychology to our response to life’s circumstances, of any text of yoga or psychology one could hope to find. In particular the extensive review of the three gunas, or qualities, and their interaction, is an essential teaching.

Sri Aurobindo spent considerable time and effort in his review of the Bhagavad Gita and his Essays on the Gita stands as one of the most lucid and widely acclaimed commentaries on this important text.

Sri Aurobindo goes beyond any dry academic appraisal of the text: “Our object, then, in studying the Gita will not be a scholastic or academical scrutiny of its thought, nor to place its philosophy in the history of metaphysical speculation, nor shall we deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician. We approach it for help and light and our aim must be to distinguish its essential and living message, that in it on which humanity has to seize for its perfection and its highest spiritual welfare.” **

It is our goal to take up the systematic review of Essays on the Gita in the following pages. All page number citations in this review are based on the U.S. edition of Essays on the Gita published by Lotus Press, EAN: 978-0-9149-5518-4 **Essays on the Gita, pg. 8,

Conclusions Regarding Rebirth and Karma

We have completed our review of Rebirth and Karma by Sri Aurobindo.

The customary view of rebirth clearly leaves much to be desired. It is based, generally, on the idea that a specific personality will be reborn, and join up with the friends and family experienced in the current birth in another lifetime. It misses the inner rationale behind the entire process of rebirth, the growth, manifestation and evolution of the soul as a spark and “representative” of the Spirit involved in Matter for the expression of ever-greater forces of consciousness.

Similarly, the customary view of karma is also clearly flawed. The idea of either a machinery that metes out precise responses to an individual’s actions, or some high tribunal measuring actions and meting out justice, across this life and future lives, clearly is a distortion of the process that is truly taking place.

What we eventually see is that there is a vast intertwined movement of different forms of energies, physical, vital, mental and spiritual, each having their own characteristic power and action, but also impacting one another and creating a new result that represents the force of each line of action, but also takes into account the effect of the interaction. A cause and effect relationship exists within this framework, but not in the mechanically simplistic manner that we have tended to ascribe to it.

This process takes place, not solely on an individual basis, but also for the characteristic action of each species of being, and for the interaction between all life forms and the environment within which they live and act, and the movement of Time in the process of manifestation. We see, not a precise machinery, but a living, breathing Being manifesting through the Oneness of the universal life.

Rebirth is seen as part of a process of soul evolution. Karma as the cause and effect relationship between an output of energy and its result and the return it provides. The individual soul, as it grows and develops, through various forms and lives, is able to gain a deeper insight and understanding of the action of Karma, and thereby adjust its action to achieve the evolutionary goal of consciously integrating the spiritual consciousness into the world of mind, life and matter.

The benefit of understanding this deeper and more complex reality is that it points the way toward the spiritual evolution that is the true sense and meaning of our lives, and provides us a way to escape the artificial and limited perspectives of physical, vital and mental impulsions that hamper our growth. This viewpoint also helps us to understand and reconcile the apparently incongruous results that tend to mystify us, answering the questions of why do those doing evil prosper, or why do the good suffer, by providing the context and meaning that is secretly hidden in the entire universal life.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma,

Clarifications Regarding Purusha and Prakriti In the Understanding of Karma


There is a passage in the Upanishads, relevant to the discussion of rebirth and karma, which raised a question in the mind of one of the students of Sri Aurobindo’s text Rebirth and Karma. The Upanishad refers to “mind, leader of the life and body”. The student wonders how the mental being can take on this central role when it is part of the manifested lower nature of body, life and mind.

Sri Aurobindo clarified that the Upanishad referred to the “manomaya purusha” and not mind in the sense of the instrumentation of nature we commonly consider to be “mind”. There is a distinction of the concepts of “purusha” and “prakriti“. The first is the witness consciousness, not acting but providing support and sanction. The second is nature, which acts. In this case, the Upanishad is referring to the purusha. It specifically is referring to human beings as essentially being led by their characteristic as mental beings; while animals, for instance, would be led by their characteristic as life beings, in Upanishadic terms “pranamaya purusha“.

The Taittiriya Upanishad in the Brahmananda Valli goes through an extensive review of the issue, as it successively refers to a series of ever more subtle inner selves that inform and control the more external forms. There is a self of matter, which is then informed by a self of vital energy. This in turn is informed by a self of mind. The sequence continues beyond that inner self of mind. The issue here, however is not related to the matter, life energy or mind that makes up the instrumental being in nature, but an essential inner self that provides the basic “way of being” or characteristic of the being controlled by that “self”.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “It is described as manomaya by the Upanishads because the psychic being is behind the veil and man being the mental being in the life and body lives in his mind and not in his psychic, so to him the manomaya purusha is the leader of the life and body,–of the psychic behind supporting the whole he is not aware or dimly aware in his best moments.”

He goes on to explain that the manomaya purusha guides the human nature (prakriti) consisting of the instrumental mind, life and body. Similarly in the animal world, it would be the pranamaya purusha (the essential consciousness of the vital life energy) that would be the leader or guide for the animal nature consisting of instrumental life and body.

It is this level of subtlety and detail that has made a complete understanding of the processes and significance of Karma so mysterious and difficult to follow throughout mankind’s attempts to get an overview of it.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Appendix 2, Question and Answer: A Clarification, pp. 160-161, <a href=”; title=”Rebirth and Karma”></a&gt;

The Supramental Consciousness Is Key To Transcending the Limitations of Mind, Life and Matter

The mental, vital and physical levels of consciousness are fundamentally limited by their basis in division and fragmentation. They see and categorize their understanding in a way that emphasizes the separateness of the forces at work and the consequences. This makes it impossible to understand the action of Karma in any comprehensive way, as such an understanding requires an integrating vision that can both see the parts and the whole of which they are elements.

Sri Aurobindo elucidates this point: “The secret reason of man’s failure to rise truly beyond himself is a fundamental incapacity in the mind, the life and the body to organise the highest integral truth and power of the spirit. And this incapacity exists because mind and life and matter are in their nature depressed and imperfect powers of the Infinite that need to be transformed into something greater than themselves before they can escape from their depression and imperfection; in their very nature they are a system of partial and separated values and cannot adequately express or embody the integral and the one, a movement of many divergent and mutually non-understanding or misunderstanding lines they cannot arrive of themselves at any but a provisional limited and imperfect harmony and order.”

To the extent that we can develop any kind of harmony of interaction, it is based on the action of the secret influence of the higher supramental consciousness which holds the whole in its vision while simultaneously recognising the role and place for each of the disparate parts. “That force and knowledge is the self-possessed supramental power and will and the perfect and untrammelled supramental gnosis of the Infinite. It is that which has fixed the precise measures of Matter, regulates the motive instincts and impulsions of Life, holds together the myriad seekings of Mind; but none of these things are that power and gnosis and nothing therefore mental, vital or physical is final or can even find its own integral truth and harmony nor all these together their reconciliation until they are taken up and transformed in a supramental manifestation. For this supermind or gnosis is the entire organising will and knowledge of the spiritual, it is the Truth Consciousness, the Truth Force, the organic instrumentation of divine Law, the all-seeing eye of the divine Vision, the freely selecting and generating harmony of the eternal Ananda.”

And it is from this standpoint that the entire process of rebirth, and the action of Karma can finally be integrated and understood, both in the individual lines of action of each level of consciousness and in the complex interaction that provides the framework for the evolutionary journey of the soul through time, space and circumstance in the manifestation of the secret meaning of existence.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Appendix 1, The Tangle of Karma, pp. 158-159,

Interaction of the Physical, Vital, Mental and Spiritual Lines of Energy

It is not possible to fully understand the action of Karma solely by looking at the specific lines of energy of the physical, vital, mental and supramental levels. In the world we inhabit, these are always inextricably intertwined. While specific individuals may take their stand primarily within the framework of one or another of these levels, it is nevertheless obvious that they still must take into account the impact of the others. Focusing on the mental principles, for instance, does not absolve anyone from the demands and realities of the physical body or the vital impulsions.

It is therefore important to recognize the effects of this interaction and realize that we cannot truly understand Karma by analytical abstraction. The difficulties of the attempt to integrate the higher levels of consciousness into the world dominated by the physical and the vital forces has led the spiritual seeker to attempt to cut off or abandon that outer life of action. Sri Aurobindo describes the predicament: “The moment he tries to get at the absolute of the spirit, he feels himself obliged to reject body, to silence mind, and to draw back from life. It is that urgent necessity, that inability of mind and life and body to hold and answer to the spirit that is the secret of asceticism, the philosophical justification of the illusionist, the compulsion that moves the eremite and the recluse.”

The alternative is based on attempting to bring the higher forces of mind and spirit into life: “If on the other hand he tries to spiritualise mind and life and the body he finds in the end that he has only brought down the spirit to a lower formulation that cannot give all its truth and purity and power.”

This has led to the degradation of these higher energies, as the lower powers clearly water down the effect of the higher in action. “He has never yet spiritualised the body, at most he has minimised the physical by a spiritual refusal and abstinence or brought down some mental and vital powers mistaken for spiritual into his physical force and physical frame.”

Thus, we see the lines of Karma interwoven into a complex web of impacts that are not a straight, unbroken and direct line that can be teased out through mental process. The predominant lines must be seen, the intensity of the movement of that energy must be gauged, and the interaction with other parts of our being must be calculated to get at a more precise view of karmic action. These again must be taken in context of the larger movements of these energies across the entire world movements of energy.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Appendix 1, Chapter 17, The Tangle of Karma, pp. 156-158,

A New Understanding of the Action of Karma

The basic tendency and characteristic of the mind is to divide, analyze and classify. We use this power to great advantage in our attempt to harness powers of Nature, but we must also recognize that this power has its disadvantages, particularly when we try to address the meaning of life and our own spiritual development, things which require a unifying rather than a dividing intelligence.

We have used our fragmenting and characterizing capabilities to try to understand the working of the law of Karma, but we have now had to recognize that this has led to over-simplification and, at last, to a failure to appreciate the vast, manifold and flexible movement that actually is the basis for what we call Karma.

Sri Aurobindo sets about to re-set our understanding, and thereby move us beyond the limits of the mechanical view we have had of Karma to a much more dynamic view: “Let us then call Karma no longer a Law, but rather the many-sided dynamic truth of action and life, the organic movement here of the Infinite.”

“Action of Karma follows and takes up into its flexible sweep and surge many potential lines of the Spirit; it is the processus of the creative Infinite; it is the long and many-sided way of the progression of the individual and the cosmic soul in Nature. Its complexities cannot be unravelled by our physical mind ever bound up in the superficial appearance, nor by our vital mind of desire stumbling forward in the cloud of its own longings and instincts and rash determinations through the maze of the myriad favoring and opposing forces of the visible and the invisible worlds. Nor can it be perfectly classified, accounted for, tied up in bundles by the precisions of our logical intelligence in its inveterate search for clear-cut formulas.”

A true understanding of Karma can only come about when we are able to see with the vision of the integrating intelligence which Sri Aurobindo has called the supramental consciousness. This consciousness holds together all the apparently opposing and disparate parts in a complex, interacting, complete Oneness while simultaneously recognising the individual strands and streams of action and manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Appendix 1, Chapter 17, The Tangle of Karma, pp. 155-156,