Overcoming the Limitations of the Active Nature of Man

The first inclination of the human being, when seeking after some higher perfection, is to look for it in the active nature of the mind, life and body. We thus see an almost endless variety of attempts to perfect the body, perfect the moral and ethical sense, perfect the artistic nature, perfect the mind and the intellect, perfect (as an extension of the individual human being) the society we live in and the social framework we erect in order to live together. Each of these represents a line of action that speaks to the nature of the externally focused human being.

The Gita does not deny the validity of the human being seeking to perfect himself and the life he leads; rather, it acknowledges its value, while at the same time, pointing out the limitations and the insufficiencies of such an approach. Sri Aurobindo describes this issue: “Yes, there is a truth in that, replies the Gita; the fulfilment of God in man, the play of the Divine in life is part of the ideal perfection. But if you seek it only in the external, in life, in the principle of action, you will never find it; for you will then not only act according to your nature, which is in itself a rule of perfection, but you will be–and this is a rule of the imperfection–eternally subject to its modes, its dualities of liking and dislike, pain and pleasure and especially to the rajasic mode with its principle of desire and its snare of wrath and grief and longing,–the restless, all-devouring principle of desire, the insatiable fire which besieges your worldly action, the eternal enemy of knowledge by which it is covered over here in your nature as is a fire by smoke or a mirror by dust and which you must slay in order to live in the calm, clear, luminous truth of the spirit.”

In order to understand and operate upon a system, one must be able to “stand outside the system” as otherwise we are caught in the definitions and assumptions inherent in that system. Sri Aurobindo’s response: “The kinetic side of your nature must first seek to add to itself the quietistic; you must uplift yourself beyond this lower nature to that which is above the three Gunas, that which is founded in the highest principle, in the soul. Only when you have attained to peace of soul, can you become capable of a free and divine action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 14, The Principle of Divine Works, pp. 133-134