The Basis For an Integrated Yoga of Knowledge, Works and Devotion

The Gita’s synthesis includes a reconciliation and affirmation of the paths of knowledge, works, and devotion. The Gita accomplishes this through a process of redefining the terms and reframing the context. In the traditional path of knowledge, the goal or end result would be the abandonment of works in the world as an illusion or a lesser goal. In order to justify the yoga of works and the yoga of devotion, the Gita clearly must be able to show us why and in what manner the manifestation is both real and meaningful.

The integration of both the Kshara Purusha and the Akshara Purusha in the wider frame of the Purushottama provides the gateway for the Gita to both recognize the reality of the manifestation and the reality of the non-manifest consciousness, and to develop the mutuality rather than opposition of these two standpoints.

The human mental framework thrives in dualities and opposites and black/white definitions. It takes a more wholistic consciousness to find the complementary aspects that resolve the apparently irreconcilable differences.

In an “omnipresent reality” as Sri Aurobindo defines it, there is a status, represented by the Akshara Purusha, that is separated and uninvolved in the action of the universe, while concurrently there is a status, equally real and valid, that participates in the manifestation and the creation, represented by the Kshara Purusha.

Similarly, the Gita finds the integration of these two terms in the Purushottama and thereby provides a foundational basis for not only the yoga of knowledge, but also for a yoga of works and a yoga of devotion. If the universal manifestation is unreal, there is no cause to focus on the value of works or devotion. They too would then be equally unreal in their essence.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes: “The union of the soul with the Purushottama by a Yoga of the whole being is the complete teaching of the Gita and not only the union with the immutable Self as in the narrower doctrine which follows the exclusive way of knowledge.”

“…it is the vision of the Divine in the world harmonised with a realisation of the Divine in the self which makes action and devotion possible to the liberated man, and not only possible but inevitable in the perfect mode of his being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23,Nirvana and Works in the World, pg. 223

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Resolving the Ultimate Spiritual Dialectic

In his magnum opus, The Life Divine Sri Aurobindo sets forth the opposing viewpoints in chapters titled “The Materialist Denial and The Refusal of the Ascetic. Each of these two viewpoints has compelling arguments in its favor, and each can marshall facts to support the conclusions drawn. The first one, the “materialist denial” essentially identifies with the Kshara Purusha involved in the action of Prakriti through the three Gunas of Nature. The second, the refusal of the ascetic identifies with the Akshara Purusha that has abandoned involvement in and attachment to the life of the world. He does not, however, stop with the identification of these two opposed viewpoints, but in the subsequent chapter “Reality Omnipresent he outlines the solution that integrates both viewpoints into one complete and complementary relationship to one another.

The traditional dialectic method is to pose a thesis, evaluate and present its antithesis and then find the common term that resolves both of these into a new synthesis. Sri Aurobindo has done that in the Life Divine, and the Bhagavad Gita has done that as well with its resolution that identifies the Purushottama as the status of existence which can simultaneously hold both the status of the Kshara Purusha and that of the Akshara Purusha together.

Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s position: “Brahman in the Kshara supports wholly the action of Prakriti, Brahman in the Akshara, even while supporting, dissociates itself from the action, preserves its freedom; the individual soul, unified with the Brahman in the Akshara, is free and dissociated, yet, unified with the Brahman in the Kshara, supports but is not affected. This it can do best when it sees that both are aspects of the one Purushottama. The Purushottama, inhabiting all existences as the secret Ishwara, controls the Nature and by his will, now no longer distorted and disfigured by the ego-sense, the Nature works out the actions by the Svabhava; the individual soul makes the divinised natural being an instrument of the divine Will….”

“This change (unifying the whole being in the Purushottama) is the final evolution of the nature and the consummation of the divine birth…. When it is accomplished, the soul is aware of itself as the master of its nature and, grown a light of the divine Light and will of the divine Will, is able to change its natural workings into a divine action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 22, Beyond the Modes of Nature, pg. 222