Solving the Riddle of Spiritual Action

We struggle to find an appropriate solution to the issue of action in the world. Those who believe the world is illusory, a distraction, a bondage or some kind of soulless machinery take the approach that we need to find a way to escape the binding force of action in the world, focus on the Eternal and take our leave as soon as possible from this confusing play of forces and forms. Then again, there are those who believe that this world and action in it are real in and for themselves and we have no further purpose but to enjoy, or fulfill various ideas, ambitions, desires or material satisfactions that present themselves. Still others take the view that this world is some kind of “test” and if we act properly we will go on to some state of grace or blessedness elsewhere (or in some cases, if we fail, then we either come back here for more testing, or go to a place that entails endless torment and suffering).

The Gita sets out to solve the riddle thus entailed and integrate the essence of the two opposing positions into a satisfying (and practical) solution. The concept of the Purushottama, embodying both the personal and the impersonal, Nature and Self, while at the same time transcending and exceeding all forms and aspects of the manifestation, rids us of the impossible position of upholding a duality made up of a “perfect and infinite” Divine Creator, and an “imperfect and limited” manifestation. If the Divine is indeed infinite, eternal and all-knowing, where and how can there be anything “other than” the Divine? Where does it come from? How does it get there? How would it exist without impinging upon or limiting the infinity and eternity of the Divine Presence?

Sri Aurobindo describes the implications of the Gita’s solution: “Nature itself is now no inexplicable illusion, no separated and opposite phenomenon, but a movement of the Eternal, all her stir and activity and multiplicity founded and supported on the detached and observing tranquility of an immutable self and spirit. The Lord of Nature remains that immutable self even while he is at the same time the one and multiple soul of the universe and becomes in a partial manifestation all these forces, powers, consciousnesses, gods, animals, things, men.”

“But the Lord is there, not only in that Self, but in Nature. He is in the heart of every creature and guides by his presence the turnings of this great natural mechanism. He is present in all, all lives in him, all is himself because all is a becoming of his being, a portion or a figure of his existence.”

“The seeker of Godhead has to get back to the reality of his immutable and eternal impersonal self and at the same time he has to see everywhere the Divine from whom he proceeds, to see him as all, to see him in the whole of this mutable Nature and in every part and result of her and in all her workings and there too to make himself one with God, there too to live in him, to enter there too into the divine oneness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 16, The Fullness of Spiritual Action, pp. 441-442