The First Step Towards Liberation and Self-Knowledge

Sages and seers throughout human history have recognised that the human condition of intense involvement in the desires, passions and pursuits placed before us in the world is a form of bondage and that a true understanding of the meaning and nature of existence can realistically only come when we disassociate ourselves from that bondage. The life-story of the Buddha illustrates this situation. The Prince Gautama was living the life of a royal prince, with wealth, beauty and luxury surrounding him, and was himself being prepared to take on ruling a kingdom. He was however unable to satisfy his need to understand the deeper meaning of life, and when he was confronted with disease, suffering, old age and death, he saw that there was something else besides the luxurious life he had experienced and he abandoned his power, prestige and wealth to live in the forest and seek for the deeper meaning. Eventually he became the “awakened” one and was therefore called the Buddha.

This abandonment of the life of the world in order to seek the real meaning of existence is actually quite the normal path that humanity has taken, as individuals sought for the deeper significance they knew must be there. It is the need to separate oneself from the life of desire, the action of the Gunas, and the bondage of Nature in the outer world that has provided the primary justification for the path Sri Aurobindo elsewhere calls “the refusal of the ascetic”.

“The first requisite is to shake the wings of the soul free from desire and passion and troubling emotion and all this perturbed and distorting atmosphere of human mind into an ether of dispassionate equality, a heaven of impersonal calm, an egoless feeling and vision of things….Behind this little personality which is a helpless instrument, a passive or vainly resistant puppet of Nature and a form figured in her creations, there is an impersonal self one in all which sees and knows all things; there is an equal, impartial, universal presence and support of creation, a witnessing consciousness that suffers Nature to work out the becomings of things in their own type, svabhava, but does not involve or lose itself in the action she initiates. To draw back from the ego and the troubled personality into this calm, equal, eternal, universal, impersonal Self is the first step towards a seeing action in Yoga done in conscious union with the divine Being and the infallible Will that, however obscure now to us, manifests itself in the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 16, The Fullness of Spiritual Action, pg. 438