Overcoming the Limitations of the Ascetic Tendencies in Man

Just as the externalizing tendencies that draw us out into the world of action must be reined in, so as to allow a focus on the inner and higher nature, so also the internalizing tendencies of the ascetic or quietistic strains need to recognize that they too are not complete and all sufficient for the Divine manifestation. The usual position is one that claims that the outer world is either an illusion, or else, it represents subjection to the impulsions of desire and the law of cause and effect, and that liberation can only come about by rejecting this outer play entirely.

Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that this position is itself somewhat one-sided and limited: “The Akshara alone is not the whole key of their fulfilment, not the very highest secret. The double fulfilment, the reconciliation is to be sought in the Purushottama represented here by Krishna, at once supreme Being, Lord of the worlds and Avatar. The divinised man entering into his divine nature will act even as he acts; he will not give himself up to inaction. The Divine is at work in man in the ignorance and at work in man in the knowledge. To know Him is our soul’s highest welfare and the condition of its perfection, but to know and realise Him as a transcendent peace and silence is not all; the secret that has to be learned is at once the secret of the eternal and unborn Divine and the secret of the divine birth and works….”

Liberation from the snare of desire and works comes about, not by abandoning them, but by doing them even as the Divine does them. The true escape is not some form of outer ascetism, but rather, a liberation even in the midst of doing any and all works. “Through the knowledge and possession of the divine birth he comes to the unborn and imperishable Divine who is the self of all beings….; through the knowledge and execution of divine works to the Master of works, the lord of all beings…. He lives in that unborn being; his works are those of that universal Mastery.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 14, The Principle of Divine Works, pp. 135-136