Five Principles of the Divine Manifestation in the Cosmos

While it is an eminently practical teaching, the Gita occasionally needs to elucidate principles in order to help our mind’s organize information in a suitable and useful way. Sri Aurobindo points out that while the Gita tries to avoid needless philosophical statements, it does provide the necessary information as a basis for the practical application that it requests of the seeker. The Gita also always has an eye on the prevalent philosophical positions that were current in its day, and it has taken pains to address each of these and put them into the context of its wide and embracing understanding of the truth of existence. At this point the Gita needs to integrate the ultimate reality, known in the Upanishads as the Brahman, with the creation of the universe and its manifested forms. It does this by successively revealing five principles.

Sri Aurobindo itemizes these five principles (with their Sanskrit terms) as follows: “First there is that Brahman, tad brahma; adhyatma, second, the principle of the self in Nature; adhibhuta and adhidaiva next, the objective phenomenon and subjective phenomenon of being; adhiyajna last, the secret of the cosmic principles of works and sacrifice.”

These terms are further clarified as follows: “By that Brahman, a phrase which in the Upanishads is more than once used for the self-existent as opposed to the phenomenal being, the Gita intends, it appears, the immutable self-existence which is the highest self-expression of the Divine and on whose unalterable eternity all the rest, all that moves and evolves, is founded….By adhyatma it means svabhava, the spiritual way and law of being of the soul in the supreme Nature. Karma, it says, is the name given to the creative impulse and energy…which looses out things from this first essential self-becoming, this Swabhava, and effects, creates, works out under its influence the cosmic becoming of existences in Prakriti. By adhibhuta is to be understand all the result of mutable becoming…. By adhidaiva is intended the Purusha, the soul in Nature, the subjective being who observes and enjoys as the object of his consciousness all that is this mutable becoming of his essential existence worked out here by Karma in Nature. By adhiyajna, the Lord of works and sacrifice, I mean, says Krishna, myself, the Divine, the Godhead, the Purushottama here secret in the body of all these embodied existences. All that is, therefore, falls within this formula.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 3, The Supreme Divine, pp. 277-278


Knowledge of the Purushottama Is Knowledge of the Brahman

The Gita integrates knowledge, works and devotion as a supreme path toward realisation and fulfilment. Rather than abandoning the life in the world, it transfigures it through knowledge of its divine reality. The traditional yoga of knowledge led away from existence into a status that was liberated from the necessity of rebirth and involvement in the workings of karma. The Gita claims that without abandoning works or devotion, the knowledge achieved through the triple path it presents is not a lesser path, and that the soul who achieves this highest knowledge is liberated as well.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The knowledge of the Purushottama, it says in effect, is the perfect knowledge of the Brahman. Those who have resort to Me as their refuge…, their divine light, their deliverer, receiver and harbourer of their souls,–those who turn to Me in their spiritual effort towards release from age and death, from the mortal being and its limitations, says Krishna, come to know that Brahman and all the integrality of the spiritual nature and the entirety of Karma. And because they know Me and know at the same time the material and the divine nature of being and the truth of the Master of sacrifice, they keep knowledge of Me also in the critical moment of their departure from physical existence and have at that moment their whole consciousness in union with Me. Therefore they attain to Me. No longer bound to the mortal existence, they reach the very highest status of the Divine quite as effectively as those who lose their separate personality in the impersonal and immutable Brahman.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 3, The Supreme Divine, pp. 276-277

Three Key Elements To Achieve Our True Self of Oneness

The Gita sees a living Being in the universe, not some kind of purely mechanical system of atoms, molecules and energy. While we are trapped in the ego-consciousness, we see everything from that viewpoint, through that framework, and we thus fail to see this wider, embracing Being that manifests itself as all that is. As we implement our practice of yoga, and gain some distance from the standpoint of the go, we first experience the wide, vast, calm, immutable existence that seems to permeate everything and which overwhelms our ego-consciousness and our sense of the reality of the forms of the world. But as we go further, we can experience the universe in the much more vibrant and alive character that the Gita presents, as Sri Aurobindo describes it “…a living Infinite, a divine immeasurable Being from whom all that we are proceeds and to which all that we are belongs, self and nature, world and spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo outlines three movements, based on the three primary parts of our being, which help us to achieve Oneness and Unity with this divine Being: “…an integral self-finding through works founded in his and our spiritual nature, an integral self-becoming through knowledge of the Divine Being in whom all exists and who is all, and–most sovereign and decisive movement of all–an integral self-giving through love and devotion of our whole being to this All and this Supreme, attracted to the Master of our works, to the Inhabitant of our hearts, to the continent of all our conscious existence.”

The result: “Our persistent consecration turns into knowledge of him all our knowing and into light of his power all our action. The passion of love in our self-giving carries us up to him and opens the mystery of his deepest heart of being. Love completes the triple cord of the sacrifice, perfects the triune key of the highest secret….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 3, The Supreme Divine, pp. 275-276

Two Foundational Concepts Supporting a Spiritual Fulfilment Of Existence

The Gita denies the necessity of abandonment of cosmic existence as a pre-condition for the attainment of spiritual realisation. The Gita holds that it is possible to move from the limited and fragmented consciousness of the mental-vital-physical existence to a wider, higher and supreme consciousness that is able to reconcile the inner spiritual truth with life in the world. The vision provided by the Gita is founded on two concepts that should be appreciated.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes them as follows: “The first idea on which this possibility is founded, is the conception of the individual soul in man as in its eternal essence and its original power a ray of the supreme Soul and Godhead and here a veiled manifestation of him, a being of his being, a consciousness of his consciousness, a nature of his nature, but in the obscurity of this mental and physical existence self-forgetful of its source, its reality, its true character.”

“The second idea is that of the double nature of the Soul in manifestation,–the original nature in which it is one with its own true spiritual being, and the derived in which it is subject to the confusions of egoism and ignorance. The latter has to be cast away and the spiritual has to be inwardly recovered, fulfilled, made dynamic and active. Through an inner self-fulfilment, the opening of a new status, our birth into a new power, we return to the nature of the Spirit and re-become a portion of the Godhead from whom we have descended into this mortal figure of being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 3, The Supreme Divine, pg. 275

The God-Lover Who Has the Knowledge

The fourth type of Bhakta, devotee, is one who has integrated knowledge, devotion and works into one seamless whole. For this devotee there is no separation, because there is no “other”. All is one Divine Being, the Transcendent, the Universal and the Individual are all one. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes the knowledge of this Oneness: “The Spirit who is here in a man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun, it is one Spirit and there is no other.” (Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 8)

Sri Aurobindo describes the status of such a devotee: “The Jiva comes to delight in the one Godhead,–in the Divine known as all being and consciousness and delight and as all things and beings and happenings, known in Nature, known in the self, known for that which exceeds self and Nature. He is ever in constant union with him…; his whole life and being are an eternal Yoga with the Transcendent than whom there is nothing higher, with the Universal besides whom there is none else and nothing else. On him is concentrated all his Bhakti…not on any partial godhead, rule or cult. This single devotion is his whole law of living and he has gone beyond all creeds of religious belief, rules of conduct, personal aims of life. He has no griefs to be healed, for he is in possession of the All-blissful. He has no desires to hunger after, for he possesses the highest and the All and is close to the All-Power that brings all fulfilment. He has no doubts or baffled seekings left, for all knowledge streams upon him from the Light in which he lives. He loves perfectly the Divine and is his beloved; for as he takes joy in the Divine, so too the Divine takes joy in him. This is the God-love who has the knowledge….”

Rare are those seekers in this world who abandon all narrow paths of philosophy or religion to love and adore the One; without at the same time creating a division through any type of judgmental attitude about the actions or paths of others. These seekers see “everywhere Oneness” and recognize that the fragmented view, the divisions, the disharmonies, the oppositions and the pride, hatred, arrogance that come with such a view are simply the workings of Maya in the mental consciousness; the true Oneness sees God everywhere, in all things, in all ways of being, as a unified whole.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pg. 274


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pg. 273

The Divine Accepts Devotion In Whatever Form Offered

As noted, there are various impulsions and forms of devotion possible, most of which are based in the consciousness of the ego and its own limited view of self-interest, whether to avoid or escape suffering, or to obtain the fruits of enjoyment and pleasure. The Gita makes it clear that even these very limited forms are accepted and responded to according to the measure of the devotion and the focus of its seeking.

From the human perspective we like to make distinctions of this sort, and then judge based on them; yet, from a different standpoint, it is clear that the immensity, complexity and variety of forms of the Divine Being necessitate that seekers start where they are, take their first steps, and grow into a wider understanding along the way. Even if the first steps are entirely ego-based, they nevertheless point the seeker in the right direction, provide some measure of relationship to the higher Being, and provide a platform or foundation for further steps.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “These forms are after all a certain kind of manifestation through which the imperfect human intelligence can touch him, these desires are the first means by which our souls turn towards him: nor is any devotion worthless or ineffective, whatever its limitations. It has the one grand necessity, faith. ‘Whatever form of Me any devotee with faith desires to worship, I make that faith of his firm and undeviating.’ By the force of that faith in his cult and worship he gets his desire and the spiritual realisation for which he is at the moment fitted. By seeking all his good from the Divine, he shall come in the end to seek in the Divine all his good. By depending for his joys on the Divine, he shall learn to fix in the Divine all his joy. By knowing the Divine in his forms and qualities, he shall come to know him as the All and the Transcendent who is the source of all things. (There is a place also for the three lesser seekings even after the highest attainment, but transformed, not narrowly personal,–for there can still be a passion for the removal of sorrow and evil and ignorance and for the increasing evolution and integral manifestation of the supreme good, power, joy and knowledge in this phenomenal Nature.)”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pp. 273-274

The Limitations of the Lower Forms of Devotion

When we look closely at the various forms of devotion, bhakti, it becomes clear that several of them resemble not so much pure, disinterested devotion, but something of a “bargain” with the god being worshipped. Some worship to be released or protected from suffering in various forms. Some worship to obtain benefits, the fruits of their desire, to be provided by their chosen god in return for the worship. Clearly these are not the pure, high flames of a total consecration, but are forms of desire, developed through the play of the Gunas in the lower Nature. The Gita does not consider these forms to be the highest, but nevertheless, accepts them as stages or steps along the way. While our normal mental consciousness wants to seek out absolutes of “black and white” even in such matters, and thereby chooses that “my god is right–yours is wrong” or some other formulation of this equation, the higher view sees all of these as preliminary seekings that prepare the being for further advancement until finally, after a long and difficult journey, one reaches the ultimate forms of devotion which are ready to love without bargain or recompense, out of sheer devotion and adoration.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue: “Men are led away by various outer desires which take from them the working of the inner knowledge…. Ignorant, they resort to other godheads, imperfect forms of the deity which correspond to their desire…. Limited, they set up this or that rule and cult…which satisfies the need of their nature. And in all this it is a compelling personal determination, it is this narrow need of their own nature that they follow and take for the highest truth,–incapable yet of the infinite and its largeness. The Godhead in these forms gives them their desires if their faith is whole, but these fruits and gratifications are temporary and it is a petty intelligence and unformed reason which makes the pursuit of them its principle of religion and life. And so far as there is a spiritual attainment by this way, it is only to the gods; it is only the Divine in formations of mutable nature and as the giver of her results that they realise. But those who adore the transcendent and integral Godhead embrace all this and transform it all, exalt the gods to their highest, Nature to her summits, and go beyond them to the very Godhead, realise and attain to the Transcendent.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pp. 272-273

Four Types of Bhaktas

First some definitions. Bhakti is devotion. Bhakta is the person who carries out the devotional practice.

The Gita looks closely at the practice of Bhakti, and identifies four basic types of devotee. Each of the four is grounded in a different basic principle, starting point and goal being sought. It is only the fourth one that represents the highest form of Bhakti in the Gita’s view.

Sri Aurobindo describes them: “There are those who turn to him as a refuge from sorrow and suffering in the world, arta. There are those who seek him as the giver of good in the world, artharthi. There are those who come to him in the desire for knowledge, jijnasu. And lastly there are those who adore him with knowledge, jnani.”

Sri Aurobindo next relates these four to the various motive forces of action in our being: “We may say that these forms are successively the Bhakti of the vital-emotional and affective nature, (The later bhakti of ecstatic love is at its roots psychic in nature; it is vital-emotional only in its inferior forms or in some of its more outward manifestations), that of the practical and dynamic nature, that of the reasoning intellectual nature, and that of the highest intuitive being which takes up all the rest of the nature into unity with the Divine.”

While each of these forms has its times, and its benefits in the spiritual development, the devotion with knowledge is considered by the Gita to be the best and highest: “For the Gita itself here says that it is only at the end of many existences that one can, after possession of the integral knowledge and after working that out in oneself through many lives, attain at the long last to the Transcendent. For the knowledge of the Divine as all things that are is difficult to attain and rare on earth is the great soul, mahatma, who is capable of fully so seeing him and of entering into him with his whole being, in every way of his nature, by the wide power of this all-embracing knowledge….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pp. 271-272

The Philosophical Underpinning of the Yoga of Devotion

Traditional practitioners of the yoga of knowledge have tended to treat the path of devotion as a secondary, lesser path, based on the illusion of personality and therefore, something to eventually be overpassed to achieve the higher Truth of the immutable, uninvolved Reality of peace, and inaction.

The Gita has made it clear that it does not accept this line of understanding; rather, it sees both the active and the inactive consciousness as two aspects of the higher reality which incorporates them both and overcomes their apparent contradictions, the Purushottama. As a result, the Gita accepts both a truth of Impersonality and a truth of Personality. Each of these aspects can and must be accepted and validated, without excluding the other. It is consistent, then, with the Gita’s view, that it would develop a line of understanding and practice that would bring out the truth of Personality even as it accepts the truth of Impersonality. This brings us then, to the yoga of devotion, as a validation of this truth of Personality.

Sri Aurobindo describes the integration formulated by the Gita: “But by combining the tranquil impersonality of the one self with the stress of the works of Nature done as a sacrifice to the Lord, we by this double key escape from the lower egoistic personality and grow into the purity of our true spiritual person. Then are we no longer the bound and ignorant ego in the lower, but the free Jiva in the supreme Nature. Then we no longer live in the knowledge of the one immutable and impersonal self and this mutable multiple Nature as two opposite entities, but rise to the very embrace of the Purushottama discovered simultaneously through both of these powers of our being. All three are the spirit, and the two which are apparent opposites prove to be only confronting faces of the third which is the highest.”

The Gita declaims: “I am this Purushottama who am beyond the mutable and am greater and higher even than the immutable. he who has knowledge of Me as the Purushottama, adores Me (has Bhakti for Me…), with all-knowledge and in every way of his natural being.”

“And it is this Bhakti of an integral knowledge and integral self-giving which the Gita now begins to develop.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pp. 270-271

Three Interdependent Steps For Spiritual Growth

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the general methodology for spiritual liberation and growth into three steps. First, one must be able to overcome the driving force of passion and desire which binds one to the objects of the senses and the illusion of the play of the dualities. “That is the ignorance, the egosim which fails to see and lay hold on the Divine everywhere, because it sees only the dualities of Nature and is constantly occupied with its own separate personality and its seekings and shrinkings. For escape fro this circle the first necessity in our works is to get clear of the sin of the vigal ego, the fire of passion, the tumult of desire of the rajasic nature, and this has to be done by the steadying sattwic impulse of the ethical being.”

The second step, from the foundation achieved by development of the first release from the control of the desire-soul, is to expand the quiet, detached consciousness. “…it is necessary to rise above the dualities and to become impersonal, equal, one self with the Immutable, one self with all existences. This process of growing into the spirit completes our purification.”

The third step is to associate with the first two phases, a spirit of devotion is to be cultivated: “…a supreme Bhakti, an all-embracing devotion to the Divine, becomes the whole and the sole law of the being. All other law of conduct merges into that surrender…. The soul then becomes firm in this Bhakti and in the vow of self-consecration of all its being, knowledge, works; for it has now for its sure base, its absolute foundation of existence and action the perfect, the interal, the unifying knowledge of the all-originating Godhead….”

We see here the subtle interweaving of the yoga of works, the yoga of knowledge and the yoga of devotion.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 2, The Synthesis of Devotion and Knowledge, pp. 269-270