Equality Is the Essence of the Relation of the Divine to the Manifested World

Sri Aurobindo has successively recounted the primary signs or statuses by which the divine worker can be identified. These signs are not outward signs but inner psychological states of consciousness. It is equality however that is required for the interface between spirit and manifested creation. Equality is the lynch-pin that creates the relationship of a simultaneous status or poise of the divine, infinite, free consciousness and the carrying out of action in whatever manner one is called upon to do in the world.

“Self-knowledge, desirelessness, impersonality, bliss, freedom from the modes of Nature, when withdrawn into themselves, self-absorbed, inactive, have no need of equality; for they take no cognisance of the things in which the opposition of equality and inequality arises. But the moment the spirit takes cognisance of and deals with the multiplicities, personalities, differences, inequalities of the action of Nature, it has to effectuate these other signs of its free status by this one manifesting sign of equality.”

We commonly fall into the error of the extremes that tries to do away with the validity of the opposite term. The Vedantic maxim of “One Without a Second”, which would justify a complete abandonment of all the manifested world for the divine truth, is incomplete without the other dictum “All This Is the Brahman.” These two together ensure the unity of the unmanifest and the manifest. We then must be able to see and relate to all the various and unequal forms and manifestations in the world by both recognising their inherent Oneness, while concurrently acting upon them with due recognition of their differences. Equality is the status that allows us to hold both of these conditions concurrently in balance in our awareness.

Traigunatitya, transcendence of the Gunas, is the unperturbed spirit’s superiority to that flux of action of the modes of Nature which is in its constant character perturbed and unequal; if it has to enter into relations with the conflicting and unequal activities of Nature, if the free soul is to allow its nature any action at all, it must show its superiority by an impartial equality towards all activities, results or happenings.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pp. 179-180

Equality and Inequality

Equality is a fundamental characteristic of the Oneness of the divine consciousness. Inequality is a fundamental characteristic of the manifestation of names and forms in the world by the operation of the 3 gunas of Nature. The constant motion and interchange that occurs in Nature ensures that everything is in a constant state of flux or inequality. The unchanging, immutable nature of the Divine Consciousness ensures that everything is kept in balance and equality. The two states are not in opposition to one another but rather, the immutable calm of the equal consciousness permeates everything such that it is possible to experience outwardly the variances of the gunas, while maintaining an equal status of Oneness inwardly.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issues further: “Since knowledge, desirelessness, impersonality, equality, the inner self-existent peace and bliss, freedom from or at least superiority to the tangled interlocking of the three modes of Nature are the signs of the liberated soul, they must accompany it in all activities. They are the condition of that unalterable calm which this soul preserves in all the movement, all the shock, all the clash of forces which surround it in the world. That calm reflects the equable immutability of the Brahman in the midst of all mutations, and it belongs to the indivisible and impartial Oneness which is for ever immanent in all the multiplicities of the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 19, Equality, pg. 179

The Action of the Karmayogin

The individual immersed in the normal human state of consciousness believes he is the “actor” and has some control over his responses, but in reality he is reacting through the operation of the 3 gunas of Nature which, in their interplay, create the complex interactions we see in the world. This leads to an endless round of impulsions, first of desire, then of the rebound from the effects of the action done with desire, and then of some kind of moderation or mitigation until the next round starts up. For the most part, the natural individual does not “see” the workings of the gunas and attributes what happens to “free will” or “bad luck” or some other term for an operation he cannot see or understand.

The individual who has achieved Oneness with the Divine Consciousness recognizes the mechanical play of the gunas, can see them working in his own natural being, but he is able to separate from the impulsions of Nature; rather, he acts from the basis of the higher consciousness and sees himself, not as the actor, but as a conduit or channel for that action to play out in the world through his natural being.

Sri Aurobindo describes this state: “The Divine motives, inspires, determines the entire action; the human soul impersonal in the Brahman is the pure and silent channel of his power; that power in the Nature executes the divine movement. Such only are the works of the liberated soul, …for in nothing does he act from a personal inception; such are the actions of the accomplished Karmayogin. They rise from a free spirit and disappear without modifying it, like waves that rise and disappear on the surface of conscious immutable depths.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 177-178

Inner Renunciation, Outer Renunciation and the Divine Worker

One of the cornerstones of many traditional teachings of yoga, as well as a number of religious disciplines around the world is the renunciation of the fruits of works in the world, and even, in some instances, renunciation of those works themselves. In Sanskrit, this outer form of renunciation is called sannyasa and renunciates in the Hindu tradition are called sannyasins.

The Gita proposes a different solution. Rather than requiring outer renunciation, the Gita recommends “inner” renunciation, called tyaga, whereby the fruits of the works has been renounced inwardly even while action takes place in the world and carries out the action required for the maintenance and development of the world-manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s view of renunciation: ” ‘He should be known as the eternal Sannyasin who neither hates nor desires; free from the dualities he is happily and easily released from all bondage.’ The painful process of outward Sannyasa…is an unnecessary process. It is perfectly true that all actions, as well as the fruit of action, have to be given up, to be renounced, but inwardly, not outwardly, not into the inertia of Nature, but to the Lord in sacrifice, into the calm and joy of the Impersonal from whom all action proceeds without disturbing his peace. The true Sannyasa of action is the reposing of all works on the Brahman. ‘He who, having abandoned attachment, acts reposing (or founding) his works on the Brahman…is not stained by sin even as water clings not to the lotus-leaf.’ ”

The result of a true inward renunciation is a profound state of peace. “…he knows himself then to be the soul supreme above the instruments of Nature. Pure, infinite, inviolable, immutable, he is no longer affected; no longer does he imagine himself to be modified by her workings. By complete identification with the Impersonal he can, too, release himself from the necessity of returning by birth into her movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 175-177

Inner Joy In All Circumstances

The Taittiriya Upanishad has a remarkable passage sometimes referred to as the “calculus of bliss”. It sets forth an ascending series of ever-higher states of bliss, Ananda, the serene inner state of joy that is the sign of the spiritual divine consciousness. Each state of being is calculated to be “a hundred and a hundred times” the former state. The first stage is that of the human being “Let there be a young man, excellent and lovely in his youth, a great student; let him have fair manners and a most firm heart and great strength of body, and let all this wide earth be full of wealth for his enjoying.” Ten stages of bliss later, each “a hundred and hundred fold” more intense than the prior stage, is the “bliss of the Eternal Spirit.” What is interesting is that the Upanishad equates this incalculable sum of bliss to be equivalent to “the bliss of the Vedawise whose soul the blight of desire touches not.”

Human beings seek their joy in outer circumstances and are bound thereby by the force of desire. The divine soul looks inwardly, sees all things with the inner eye of the divine consciousness and takes joy in all forms and events as being the manifestation of the Divine in the world. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “What joy it takes in outward things is not for their sake, not for things which it seeks in them and can miss, but for the self in them, for their expression of the Divine, for that which is eternal in them and which it cannot miss.”

This inner state of bliss and peace “…is innate, it is the very stuff of the soul’s consciousness, it is the very nature of divine being.”

When we look for the sign of the divine worker, this is the essential distinction that sets the divine soul apart from those still engrossed in the human being’s attachments in the outer things of the world.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pg. 175

and Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads , Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 8, pp. 272-273

Seeing All Life From a Divine Standpoint

The true secret to the divine worker’s equality and peace in the face of all the obstacles, struggles and opposition, is the ability to see and experience the circumstances of life from what we may call the “divine standpoint”.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “for in all he sees two things, the Divine inhabiting every being equally, the varying manifestation unequal only in its temporary circumstances. In the animal and man, in the dog, the unclean outcast and the learned and virtuous Brahmin, in the saint and the sinner, in the indifferent and the friendly and the hostile, in those who love him and benefit and those who hate him and afflict, he sees himself, he sees God and has at heart for all the same equal kindliness, the same divine affection. Circumstances may determine the outward clasp or the outward conflict, but can never affect his equal eye, his open heart, his inner embrace of all. And in all his actions there will be the same principle of soul, a perfect equality, and the same principle of work, the will of the Divine in him active for the need of the race in its gradually developing advance towards the Godhead.”

From this viewpoint, there is no cause for disturbance at the large and complex play that concerts the various forms that the Divine Force has manifested in the world.

Ramana Maharshi, a revered Sage of South India, was known for asking “Who am I?” The meditation that ensued showed that I am not this body; I am not this mind; I am not this particular individual involved in this particular family or society; I am not male nor am I female. Eventually one comes to the consciousness of Oneness that shows that it is the Divine that manifests and informs and fills and empowers all forms.

The Taittiriya Upanishad advises that when one sees everywhere Oneness, there is no one and nothing to fear; but when one sees even the slightest difference, then one is filled with fear. From the Divine standpoint, fear, anger, hatred, love, all are a play of emotions that have no basis other than a temporary response to the outer forms; inwardly the divine worker maintains a knowing understanding and the deep peace and equality who sees and knows the true Oneness of all things.

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

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

Equality of Soul

It is easy for us to confuse desirelessness with lack of motivation; and similarly it is easy to mix up the psychological state of equality with an attitude of indifference. The status envisioned by the Gita is a positive status, not the negative status that the mind creates due to its “black or white” thinking methodology.

Sri Aurobindo describes the state of “equality of soul” which he declares to be the 4th sign of the divine worker: “He has, says the Gita, passed beyond the dualities;….. We have seen that he regards with equal eyes, without any disturbance of feeling, failure and success, victory and defeat; but not only these, all dualities are in him surpassed and reconciled. The outward distinctions by which men determine their psychological attitude towards the happenings of the world, have for him only a subordinate and instrumental meaning. He does not ignore them, but he is above them. Good happening and evil happening, so all-important to the human soul subject to desire, are to the desireless divine soul equally welcome since by their mingled strand are worked out the developing forms of the eternal good.”

While the divine worker may adopt a dharma and code of action for purposes of the work to be done, he is not bound by that code, but is “beyond good and evil”. This does not mean, as some suppose, that the liberated soul is therefore given a license to act without any regard for anyone or anything else; rather, it means that the strictures of human rules of the mind do not limit the action, which flows from a purity and wideness of consciousness that neither seeks gain nor avoids loss if that is what is required by the divine action.

We come here to one of the major issues confronting Arjuna, the protagonist of the enormous struggle taking place in his time, when he worries about conflicting standards that cannot be reconciled by any human mental guidelines.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 172-173

The Spiritual Impersonality of the Divine Worker

The Gita makes it clear that identifying the divine worker, the karmayogin, cannot be done by outer signs or by even determining the type of work that is being carried out. The true signs are of inward consciousness. The first two characteristics of the divine worker were acting from a status of liberating knowledge without personal egoism; freedom from desire and the consequent skill in works based on tranquil and informed insight not distorted by the force of desire, to the work to be done and the methods to be employed.

Sri Aurobindo goes further to describe the state of awareness held by the liberated divine worker: “This spiritual impersonality is a third sign of the divine worker. All human souls, indeed, who have attained to a certain greatness and largeness are conscious of an impersonal Force or Love or Will and Knowledge working through them, but they are not free from egoistic reactions, sometimes violent enough, of their human personality. But this freedom the liberated soul has attained; for he has cast his personality into the impersonal, where it is no longer his, but is taken up by the divine Person, the Purushottama, who uses all finite qualities infinitely and freely and is bound by none.”

“His heart and self are under perfect control; they are free from reaction and passion, they make no turbulent response to the touches of outward things.”

Such a person “…does not seize on things as his personal possessions; he receives what the divine Will brings him, covets nothing, is jealous of none: what comes to him he takes without repulsion and without attachment; what goes from him he allows to depart into the whirl of things without repining or grief or sense of loss.”

When we attempt to follow the path of karma yoga, we look to the Gita for guidance. The path involves an inner transformation of consciousness and a shifting of our standpoint of action. Each one of us can use these criteria to examine our own inner transformation.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 171-172

Yoga Is Skill In Works

The Gita confronts the various forms of confusion about action and liberation directly. First, we commonly accept the premise that liberation and action are somehow opposed to one another, which has led to the response of the renunciate who believes that by abandoning action, liberation can be attained. Second, we find that when the Gita asks us to overcome the impulsion of desire as the motive force of our action, that this means we should not take care or pay attention to the quality or perfection of our work.

The Gita not only denies these positions, but it goes a step further when it declares, as Sri Aurobindo reminds us, “Yoga, says the Gita elsewhere, is the true skill in works…” He explains further: “It does not follow that the work is not to be done perfectly, with success, with a right adaptation of means to ends: on the contrary, a perfect working is easier to action done tranquilly in Yoga than to action done in the blindness of hopes and fears, lamed by the judgments of the stumbling reason, running about amidst the eager trepidations of the hasty human will…”

The action undertaken as a divine worker, without desire, and with a calm and focused presence of the mind and heart, will be a powerful and effective action. It may not, however, necessarily yield “success” in terms that we would ordinarily judge it. The yogin does not get concerned about the limited human judgment however; it is simply to do the work given in the spirit of devotion and oneness with a higher divine purpose, come what may.

“The result may be success, as the ordinary mind understands it, or it may seem to that mind to be defeat and failure; but to him it is always the success intended, not by him, but by the all-wise manipulator of action and result, because he does not seek for victory, but only for the fulfilment of the divine will and wisdom which works out its ends through apparent failure as well as and often with greater force than through apparent triumph.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 18, The Divine Worker, pp. 170-171