Mastering the Lower Nature

After evaluating the distinction between the true essential nature and what Sri Aurobindo calls the “accidental” aspects of action, the seeker is faced with the need to address the workings of desire and gain control over the deviations caused by desire in the lower nature. Sri Aurobindo clarifies that there is “…a distinction implied too between coercion and suppression…and control with right use and right guidance, samyama.

The Gita takes issue with those who would perpetrate violent austerities or suffering on the nature in order to try to “discipline” the lower Nature. It points out that this type of extreme action tends not to succeed, but rather brings about a reaction that is retrogressive. “The former (coercion/suppression) is a violence done to the nature by the will, which in the end depresses the natural powers of the being…; the latter (right use and right guidance) is the control of the lower nature by the higher self, which successfully gives to those powers their right action and their maximum efficiency,–yogaha karmasu kausalam (“yoga is skill in works”).”

The Gita asks us to relate to the lower nature in a way that elicits its “cooperation” rather than “opposition” to the change in action being sought. “To the man is his self a friend in whom the (lower) self has been conquered by the (higher) self, but to him who is not in possession of his (higher) self, the (lower) self is as if an enemy and it acts as an enemy.”

The result is described: “When one has conquered one’s self and attained to the calm of a perfect self-mastery and self-possession, then is the supreme self in a man founded and poised even in his outwardly conscious human being….In other words, to master the lower self by the higher, the natural self by the spiritual is the way of man’s perfection and liberation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 21, The Determinism of Nature, pg. 208