Living In Our Spiritual Being Is the Meaning of Yoga

The Gita, having denied the possibility of solving the contradictions of human existence at the normal mental level, bound within the action of the lower nature and the play of the Gunas, presents another solution. This solution is in line with modern philosophical understanding as well, which states that one cannot fully understand and “see” the elements of one’s situation so long as one is fully involved in a particular frame of action; rather, we must find a way to step outside or above that frame to be able to truly observe it and act upon it without distortion. The Gita’s proposal in this regard is that the practice of yoga should be done to experience and eventually shift one’s standpoint of action to the spiritual divine consciousness above and outside the mental framework of the lower nature, and from that place one can observe, act and master that lower nature.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process in more detail: “The Gita’s solution is to rise above our natural being and normal mind, above our intellectual and ethical perplexities into another consciousness with another law of being and therefore another standpoint for our action; where personal desire and personal emotions no longer govern it; where the dualities fall away; where the action is no longer our own and where therefore the sense of personal virtue and personal sin is exceeded; where the universal, the impersonal, the divine spirit works out through us its purpose in the world; where we are ourselves by a new and divine birth changed into being of that Being, consciousness of that Consciousness, power of that Power, bliss of that Bliss, and, living no longer in our lower nature, have no works to do of our own, no personal aim to pursue of our own, but if we do works at all,–and that is the one real problem and difficulty left,–do only the divine works, those of which our outward nature is only a passive instrument and no longer the cause, no longer provides the motive; for the motive-power is above us in the will of the Master of our works.”

This is not to be realized by an intellectual exercise: “We can only know this greater truth by living it, that is to say, by passing beyond the mental into the spiritual experience, by Yoga. For the living out of spiritual experience until we cease to be mind and become spirit, until, liberated from the imperfections of our present nature, we are able to live entirely in our true and divine being is what in the end we mean by Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 24, The Gist of the Karmayoga, pp. 238-239

The Ultimate Limitations of Mental Solutions to Human Problems

Throughout the history of human civilization, humanity has grappled with basic and essential questions of how to apply principles, whether moral or ethical, to the situations that arise both in one’s individual life and in one’s relation to society and social norms and expectations. For the most part, our solutions proceed from the normal human standpoint and represent some accommodation between various conflicting duties or principles as defined by the society within which we live and act.

The Gita goes through the ethical and practical considerations with Arjuna when he declares that what he is about to do is a sin, and concludes with “I will not fight.” Arjuna responds to each of these values with a conflicting value, and thus, reaches a stage of paralysis of action where he feels trapped in a wrong decision regardless of what he decides to do. He is illustrating the ultimate stage of the mental consciousness where it recognizes that both sides of a logical statement may be valid in certain circumstances. He finds it a sin to fight and kill his relatives on the opposing side; and it is also a sin to let the forces of injustice and oppression triumph and kill all those fighting on his side!

Each of the mental arguments reaches this point of balance where there is and can be no solution within that framework. This is the sign of the need to migrate outside the mental framework to a new standpoint and level of consciousness that provides the solution which can reconcile both of the opposing viewpoints in a higher and more comprehensive understanding. It is this toward which the Divine Teacher is pointing, and from Arjuna’s questions it becomes clear that he is ready to make this leap.

Sri Aurobindo points out that there is no final solution in the intellectual approach toward problem solving at this level: “And this is so because it proceeds from the normal mind which is always a tangle of various tendencies of our being and can only arrive at a choice or an accommodation between them, between our reason, our ethical being, our dynamic needs, our life-instincts, our emotional being and those rarer movements which we may perhaps call soul-instincts or psychical preferences. The Gita recognises that from this standpoint there can be no absolute, only an immediate practical solution and, after offering to Arjuna from the highest ideals of his age just such a practical solution, which he is in no mood to accept and indeed is evidently not intended to accept, it proceeds to quite a different standpoint and to quite another answer.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 24, The Gist of the Karmayoga, pp. 237-238

Overview Summary of the Gita’s Teaching

Sri Aurobindo pauses here to review the Gita’s teaching through the first six of the eighteen chapters that comprise the entire work. He points out that these first six chapters represent in outline form, the major elements of the teaching, but they leave a lot of details to be explained, worked out and understood in the later chapters. In any teaching as broad-based and with the complexity of the Gita, it is important to recognize that there is a process involved in the understanding and implementation. The initial “top line” overview we have received provides us a general guideline for the major principles, issues and goals of the teaching. It then becomes necessary to take up each of these and work them out in detail, in the light of practical experience and through the modality of time, to achieve the actual result.

Sri Aurobindo points out some of the many questions that remain unresolved at this stage in the mind of Arjuna: “…you have also spoken of rising above the Gunas, while yet one remains in action, and you have not told me how the Gunas work, and unless I know that, it will be difficult for me to detect and rise above them. Besides, you have spoken of Bhakti as the greatest element in Yoga, yet you have talked much of works and knowledge, but very little or nothing of Bhakti. And to whom is Bhakti, this greatest thing, to be offered?….Tell me, then, what you are, who, as Bhakti is greater even than this self-knowledge, are greater than the immutable Self, which is yet itself greater than mutable Nature and the world of action, even as knowledge is greater than works. What is the relation between these three things? between works and knowledge and divine love? between the soul in Nature and the immutable Self and that which is at once the changeless Self of all and the Master of knowledge and love and works, the supreme Divinity who is here with me in this great battle and massacre, my charioteer in the chariot of this fierce and terrible action?”

These and other questions remain to be taken up in the balance of the Gita, with a sufficient grounding in both concept and practice so that an actual sadhana can take place and lead to realisation and fulfilment over time.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 24, The Gist of the Karmayoga, pp. 236-237

The Supreme Yogin

The Gita defines “renunciation” as an inner act, not an outer form. Thus, the Gita does not call on the yogin to give up acting in the world; rather, he is to continue to act for the benefit of the entire creation, but from a standpoint that is free and above, not weighted down by attachment to the objects of the senses or the action of the 3 Gunas of Nature.

Sri Aurobindo provides an outstanding recap of the ideal attitude and standpoint of the supreme yogin, starting with a citation from the Gita itself: “He, O Arjuna, who sees with equality everything in the image of the Self, whether it be grief or it be happiness, him I hold to be the supreme Yogin.” Sri Aurobindo explains: “And by this it is not meant at all that he himself shall fall from the griefless spiritual bliss and feel again worldly unhappiness, even in the sorrow of others, but seeing in others the play of the dualities which he himself has left and surmounted, he shall still see all as himself, his self in all, God in all and, not disturbed or bewildered by the appearances of these things, moved only by them to help and heal, to occupy himself with the good of all beings, to lead men to the spiritual bliss, to work for the progress of the world Godwards, he shall live the divine life, so long as days upon earth are his portion. The God-lover who can do this, can thus embrace all things in God, can look calmly on the lower nature and the works of the Maya of the three Gunas and act in them and upon them without perturbation or fall or disturbance from the height and power of the spiritual oneness, free in the largeness of the God-vision, sweet and great and luminous in the strength of the God-nature, may well be declared to be the supreme Yogin.”

The yoga of works and the yoga of knowledge here take on an aspect of the yoga of devotion, as they all join together in the ideal attitude of the yogin: “Of all Yogins he who with all his inner self given up to Me, for Me has love and faith…him I hold to be the most united with Me in Yoga.” The “Me” referred to here is the Purushottama who holds united the impersonal and the personal, the unmanifest and the manifest, the unmoving, detached witness, and the soul partaking of the action of Nature.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 234-235

Acting From Oneness of the Divine Consciousness

Even if it is acknowledged by those following the path of renunciation, that some form of action must take place prior to achievement of Nirvana, Realisation, Enlightenment or Liberation (however you want to call it), they still raise the issue as to what, if any, action is essential or required once the status has been attained. Those who consider the world to be an illusion of Maya, or Samsara, may consider all action to be finished once realisation has been achieved. The Gita makes it clear that the realised soul need not follow any pre-determined rule of conduct. Action, and inaction, both are possible depending on the intention of the Divine in the Manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo explores the question: “…his freedom is an absolute and not a contingent freedom, self-existent and not dependent any longer on any rule of conduct, law of life or limitation of any kind. He has no longer any need of a process of Yoga, because he is now perpetually in Yoga. ‘The Yogin who has taken his stand upon oneness and loves Me in all beings, however and in all ways he lives and acts, lives and acts in Me.’ The love of the world spiritualised, changed from a sense experience to a soul-experience, is founded on the love of God and in that love there is no peril and no shortcoming.”

“But to see God in the world is to fear nothing, it is to embrace all in the being of God; to see all as the Divine is to hate and loathe nothing, but love God in the world and the world in God.”

This approach opens up the entire range of existence to continued action “for the benefit of all beings and upholding the creation.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 233-234

Universal Oneness

The yogic texts have a consistent theme that indicates the total reversal of consciousness that takes place when one achieves the unified standpoint that is the fruit of the practice, compared to our normal state of consciousness. Human beings, because of the structure and function of the mental consciousness, are essentially programmed to see the separate forms and forces as distinct and different from one another. We see the individuation, the fragmentation, the isolation of one form from another. Differences are more obvious and more important to us, and we distinguish ourselves from one another based on, in some cases, extremely minute differences. We proliferate creeds, sects, religions, philosophies, and cults by highlighting their differences rather than focusing on their unifying principle.

Contrast this with the description provided by Sri Aurobindo of the consciousness of the Yogin who has attained to Nirvana in the Brahman as described by the Gita: “The man whose self is in Yoga, sees the self in all beings and all beings in the self, he sees all with an equal vision.”

“All that he sees is to him the Self, all is his self, all is the Divine.”

Once having attained this status, whatever one does, whatever one sees or experiences is seen from this standpoint of unity, and one does not become distracted or deluded by the separate forms and their distinctions: “He who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, to him I do not get lost, nor does he get lost to Me.”

Sri Aurobindo explains: “For this peace of Nirvana, though it is gained through the Akshara, is founded upon the being of the Purushottama…and that is extended, the Divine, the Brahman is extended too in the world of beings and, though transcendent of it, not imprisoned in its own transcendence. One has to see all things as He and live and act wholly in that vision; that is the perfect fruit of the Yoga.”

The Taittiriya Upanishad describes it thus: “…for when the Spirit that is within us findeth his refuge and firm foundation in the Invisible, Bodiless, Undefinable and Unhoused Eternal, then he hath passed beyond the reach of Fear. But when the Spirit that is within us maketh for himself even a little difference in the Eternal, then he hath fear, yea, the Eternal himself becometh a terror to such a knower who thinketh not.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 232-233


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pg. 271, Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmananda Valli, Chapter 7

Transforming Personal Action Into Divine Action

In our normal human state of consciousness, in our daily lives, we see the force of desire as the motive spring of action. We find it virtually impossible from that standpoint to imagine acting without this impulsion. Desire acts both in the form of attraction and repulsion to the objects of senses and the fruits that come as a result of action. So the question inevitably comes up, when one is asked to give up desire as the motive force behind action, as to whether any action in the world remains possible or has any meaning. It is a key precept of those who practice the various disciplines of renunciation that interaction with and work in the world is to be minimized until the body falls away, with the total focus on the spiritual practice being undertaken. The Gita points out that action, in one form or another, still remains, and that the idea of renouncing action is neither a necessary or an appropriate response. Rather, the Gita holds that we can achieve a new standpoint, unified with the Divine consciousness, that acts out of the inherent and natural force of the divine in manifestation. Just as the sun gives forth its light and energy without desire, supporting the manifestation, so when one is unified with the Divine consciousness, action flows effortlessly as a natural consequence without reference to the ego-sense or the force of desire.

Sri Aurobindo describes the status: “…when the ego is lost and the Yogin becomes Brahman, when he lives in and is, even, a transcendent and universal consciousness, action comes spontaneously out of that, luminous knowledge higher than the mental thought comes out of that, a power other and mightier than the personal will comes out of that to do for him his works and bring its fruits: personal action has ceased, all has been taken up into the Brahman and assumed by the Divine….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 231-232