Meeting the Battle of Life With Equality and Understanding

One of the issues we all have to face, whether or not we are consciously trying to practice yoga, is how to deal with the obstacles, issues, and challenges that come upon us as we live our lives in the world. Spiritual seekers in fact have used the method of “avoidance” in order to focus on their spiritual practice while minimizing and limiting the impact of the world on their time, attention and psychological standpoint. As we have seen, however, this approach is extremely limited and does not address the wider questions of the purpose of the manifestation that the Gita forces us to acknowledge with its unflinching recognition of the need to live “in” the world while not being “of” the world in the sense of maintaining a poise of peace, equanimity, and desireless equality, without at the same time taking a haphazard or lackadaisical approach to action in the world.

Arjuna represents all of us as he confronts the conflicting standards that drive him into a paralyzed state of action as he surveys the field of action, the battlefield of life. Sri Aurobindo describes the conflict between two conflicting but equally compelling standards of conduct: “Arjuna…may feel in his heart the call of right and justice and may argue in his mind that abstention from battle would be a sin entailing responsibility for all the suffering that injustice and oppression and the evil Karma of the triumph of wrong bring upon men and nations, or he may feel in his heart the recoil from violence and slaughter and argue in his mind that all shedding of blood is a sin which nothing can justify.” There are of course other motives that push the mind and heart one way or the other in this debate as well.

“The liberated soul looks beyond these conflicting standards; he sees simply what the supreme Self demands from him as needful for the maintenance or for the bringing forward of the evolving Dharma. He has no personal ends to serve, no personal loves and hatreds to satisfy, no rigidly fixed standard of action which opposes its rockline to the flexible advancing march of the progress of the human race or stands up defiant against the call of the Infinite.”

Without the motive will to fight or injure, he may still be called upon to fight. “He will not hasten to slaughter and strife, but if war comes in the wave of the Dharma, he will accept it with a large equality and a perfect understanding and sympathy for those whose power and pleasure of domination he has to break and whose joy of triumphant life he has to destroy.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 173-174