The Human Seeking for the Dynamic, Evolving, True Law of Living

It is a limitation of the human mental awareness that we tend to look at things primarily from a static sense and thus, tend to treat them as “fixed” and “unchanging” even though everything is in fact dynamic and subject to change. The same thing occurs with respect to our view of the various teachings, Shastras, laws of life, that we tend to adopt. As humanity evolves and matures, the teachings by which we orient our lives also tend to grow, evolve and modify. Since this does not occur all at once, simultaneously, we then see a number of different “competing” principles holding their ground in a dynamic evolutionary process.

As a result of the maturation process, we find that eventually a teaching or law of life loses the support and focus it heretofore had. Individuals begin to challenge the tenets, or they simply find that their current concerns and issues are not being fully addressed. New requirements, brought about in some cases through changes in the social order, pressures of the environment or individual personal growth, bring about a need for new guidance and direction.

Sometimes a particular religion or philosophy simply becomes rigid over time and becomes institutionalized, rather than remaining a living, breathing, evolving guideline. In such cases, we find reformers coming forward to try to tap into the inner spirit of the teaching and revivify it, making it relevant for the time.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the options: “…a new truth, a more perfect law of living has become imperative. If that does not exist, it has to be discovered by the effort of the race or by some great and illumined individual mind who embodies the desire and seeking of the race.”

The dynamic aspect implies “…that there is an ideal, an eternal Dharma which religion, philosophy, ethics and all other powers in man that strive after truth and perfection are constantly endeavoring to embody in new statements of the science and art of the inner and outer life, a new Shastra.”

“And the human search does not stop there, but leaves these formulations too, goes back to some past truth it had rejected or breaks forward to some new truth and power, but is always in search of the same thing, the law of its perfection, its rule of right living, its complete, highest and essential self and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 462-463

Developing a Sattwic Standard To Overcome Enslavement To the Life of Desire

The Gita proposes that life lived according to the normal impulsion of desire and personal gratification has no opportunity to break out of the fixed results of the bondage to the action of the Gunas, primarily, in this case Rajas and Tamas. It is a virtually universal experience of humanity that those who become aware of some larger meaning or purpose to life tend to develop and follow a series of precepts or guidelines that have, as one of the basic tenets, the submergence of the ego and its desires to a larger, higher or wider aim. To this end, we have seen a large array of religions, philosophies, creeds and beliefs, all of which set forth some definition or set of ethical concepts to be followed to allow the individual to free himself from the enslavement to the life of desire. These paths all share, not only this common aspiration, but also a basis in attempting to uplift and govern the raw force of Rajas or the darkness of Tamas with a principle that is founded on the application of the Guna of Sattwa.

The Gita suggests that the individual totally enslaved to passions, desires, or even simple pleasures satisfying to the ego, does not have a platform with which to lift himself into a new diviner sphere. The application of a more or less disinterested, wider rule or principle, representing the influence of Sattwa into the process, is the first step toward achieving the liberation being sought.

Sri Aurobindo describes the situation: “This greater rule the individual finds usually outside himself in some more or less fixed outcome of the experience and wisdom of the race, which he accepts, to which his mind and the leading parts of his being give their assent or sanction and which he tries to make his own by living it in his mind, will and action.”

It is this standard which the Gita calls the faith held by the individual. Faith is not solely limited to a religious context. Whether it is a religion, a philosophy, an ethical standard, a moral law, or simply a developed belief, “…in proportion as I have a sincerity and completeness of faith in it and an intensity of will to live according to that faith, I can become what it proposes to me, I can shape myself into an image of that right or an exemplar of that perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 18, The Gunas, Faith and Works, pp. 461-462

Escaping From Bondage to Rajasic and Tamasic Domination

For those individuals who seek to understand the meaning of their lives and find a positive solution, it is relatively easy to observe the results of various types of life strategies and focus for the powers of mind, life and body that have been given to us. The Asuric temperament represents an extreme formulation of the principle of action of the quality of Rajas, and if we study the results of Rajas taken to the extreme, we can understand where such a line of approach takes the individual who chooses to follow that path. Sri Aurobindo describes this very clearly: “The Asuric Prakriti is the rajasic at its height; it leads to the slavery of the soul in Nature, to desire, wrath and greed, the three powers of the rajasic ego, and these are the threefold doors of Hell, the Hell into which the natural being falls when it indulges the impurity and evil and error of its lower or perverted instincts. These three are again the doors of a great darkness, they fold back into Tamas, the characteristic power of the original Ignorance; for the unbridled force of the rajasic nature, when exhausted, falls back into the weakness, collapse, darkness, incapacity of the worst tamasic soul-status.”

The escape from this pattern requires the application of the principle of Sattwa. “To follow the law of desire is not the true rule of our nature; there is a higher and juster standard of its works.”

Development of Sattwa in the nature moves the spring of action from personal desire or pleasure to an independent standard of conduct, sometimes called a code of ethics, sometimes a religious doctrine, sometimes a “dharma”, embodied in a “shastra”, essentially a codified set of principles that embody truth, right relation and right action. “Shastra is the knowledge and teaching laid down by intuition, experience and wisdom, the science and art and ethic of life, the best standards available to the race.”

Once the individual has made this sattwic approach the foundation for his life and action, he readies himself for the eventual step of moving beyond all specific shastras or dharmas, as these are means to the end, not the end itself. “The supreme end is the freedom of the spirit when abandoning all Dharmas the soul turns to God for its sole law of action, acts straight from the divine will and lives in the freedom of the divine nature, not in the Law but in the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 459-460

Even the Greatest Sinner Can Achieve Salvation

There is an apocryphal story about the sage Valmiki, author of the great epic story of Sri Rama, the Ramayana. He was said to be a dacoit, translated loosely as a highway robber, violent and focused on obtaining his personal satisfaction without regard for others or the conventions of society. At a certain point he had a life experience that opened his eyes about the meaning of his life. Along the way, he experienced real inner experiences of enlightenment, giving up his former evil lifestyle and became the sage who has been revered and admired ever since.

The story illustrates that once one changes the direction of one’s life, even those who have taken on the extreme rajasic tendencies of an asuric nature can achieve redemption and liberation. The basic tendencies of the nature play out and create one’s karma, action, and this can create a downward spiral for those who are controlled by the nature of the asura; however, at some point when the force of that karma has been spent, and the rajasic extreme has been exhausted, there is an opportunity for the rise of sattwa, and with it, knowledge, light and a new focus for the life.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that there is no “absolute” soul of good or of evil. “All souls are eternal portions of the Divine, the Asura as well as the Deva, all can come to salvation: even the greatest sinner can turn to the Divine. But the evolution of the soul in Nature is an adventure of which Swabhava and the Karma governed by the Swabhava are ever the chief powers…”

Following the propensities of a nature dominated by Rajas, “…the man, if he does not stop short and abandon his way of error, has eventually the Asura full-born in him, and once he has taken that enormous turn away from the Light and Truth, he can no more reverse the fatal speed of his course because of the very immensity of the misused divine power in him until he has plumbed the depths to which it falls, found bottom and seen where the way has led him, the power exhausted and misspent, himself down in the lowest state of the soul nature, which is Hell. Only when he understands and turns to the Light, does that other truth of the Gita come in, that even the greatest sinner, the most impure and violent evil-doer is saved the moment he turns to adore and follow after the Godhead within him. Then, simply by that turn, he gets very soon into the sattwic way which leads to perfection and freedom.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 458-459

The Asura Nature

The type of the asuric nature shows power of action, intelligence and drive, but these, instead of being devoted to increasing harmony, light and well-being for all, in a universal good will and compassion, are focused rather on the fulfilment of desire and the raising up and aggrandizement of the ego. The Asura does not care for balance, but rather seeks to dominate, control, and master everyone and everything in his path. Blinded by ambition, greed and power-lust, and drunken with the fruits of acquisition, the Asura lets nothing stop him in his path of domination. Such individuals become blinded to any kind of harmonious balance and are willing to sacrifice other lives, and cause enormous pain, and destroy the harmony of the world if they believe it furthers their ambition.

Sri Aurobindo comments on the nature of the Asura: “They see naturally in the world nothing but a huge play of the satisfaction of self; theirs is a world with Desire for its cause and seed and governing force and law, a world of Chance, a world devoid of just relation and linked Karma, a world without God, not true, not founded in Truth.”

“The Asuric man becomes the centre or instrument of a fierce, Titanic, violent action, a power of destruction in the world, a fount of injury and evil. Arrogant, full of self-esteem and the drunkenness of their pride, these misguided souls delude themselves, persist in false and obstinate aims and pursue the fixed impure resolution of their longings.”

“In the egoism of their strength and power, in the violence of their wrath and arrogance they hate, despise and belittle the God hidden in themselves and the God in man. And because they have this proud hatred and contempt of good and of God, because they are cruel and evil, the Divine casts them down continually into more and more Asuric births. Not seeking him, they find him not, and at last, losing the way to him altogether, sink down into the lowest status of soul-nature….”

The pain and suffering that surround the Asuric birth are not just limited to those impacted in the world, but redound upon the soul driven by this unceasing force of desire that eats away at the inward substance of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 456-458

The Deva Nature

It is the tendency of the human mind to try to apply distinctions universally. Therefore, we tend to want to classify people according to whether they are of the deva or the asura nature. Sri Aurobindo cautions us to recognise, however, that for most people, these distinctions are not at all relevant. “The distinction between the Deva and the Asura is not comprehensive of all humanity, not rigidly applicable to all its individuals, neither is it sharp and definite in all stages of the moral or spiritual history of the race or in all phases of the individual evolution. The tamasic man who makes so large a part of the whole, falls into neither category as it is here described, though he may have both elements in him in a low degree and for the most part serves tepidly the lower qualities. The normal man is ordinarily a mixture; but one or the other tendency is more pronounced, tends to make him predominantly rajaso-tamasic or sattwo-rajasic and can be said to be preparing him for either culmination, for the divine clarity or the titanic turbulence.”

The distinction can be applied to the individual of highly developed capacity, and depends on the turning of the focus and the action of the nature either toward the Divine or toward the fulfillment and aggrandisement of the ego. “The Deva nature is distinguished by an acme of the sattwic habits and qualities; self-control, sacrifice, the religious habit, cleanness and purity, candour and straightforwardness, truth, calm and self-denial, compassion to all beings, modesty, gentleness, forgivingness, patience, steadfastness, a deep sweet and serious freedom from all restlessness, levity and inconstancy are its native attributes.” This is not to say that the sattwic soul is weak. “…it has energy and soul-force, strong resolution, the fearlessness of the soul that lives in the right and according to the truth as well as its harmlessness…. The whole being, the whole temperament is integrally pure; there is a seeking for knowledge and a calm and fixed abiding in knowledge. This is the wealth, the plenitude of the man born into the Deva nature.”

Arjuna actually represents the type of the Deva nature at the acme of human development. Even his paralysis at the inception of the battle of Kurukshetra has a sense of wideness, compassion and harmlessness in it. Sri Krishna makes it clear to Arjuna that fighting this battle for higher principles of right is not the same as the action of an Asuric man bent on inflicting suffering and pain in order to achieve egoistic domination over others; and therefore, Arjuna need not worry: he is of the Deva nature.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 455-456

Deva and Asura

Through the characteristic action and balance of the Gunas in any individual, we find that there are those who maintain a predominant action of Sattwa in the balance, while there are others who tend to create a balance of Rajas and/or Tamas with a much less evident action of Sattwa. For instance, looking at the basic life-orientation, there are those who diligently try to achieve relationships of harmony, balance and understanding, who focus on the creation of beauty and who try to apply the light of intelligence in their lives and relations to people, forces and objects. There are others who exercise the power of ambition or a need for acquiring and controlling, and these obviously focus their time, attention and energies differently than the first. Then again, there are those immersed purely in the physical drives and cravings, who seek, first and foremost, food, physical enjoyment, sex and other types of physical pleasures. This last type clearly does not come into the issue here. While everyone has their times and moments for satisfying the different intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual needs, the discussion here centers around the major focus and direction of an individual’s life.

Inasmuch as the Gita is now concentrating its attention on the transition from a life of bondage to the Gunas to one based in the spiritual consciousness, Sri Krishna first takes up the primary aims of life to organize the discussion and help Arjuna recognize that without a certain high sattwic preparation and culture, the transition really cannot be effectively prepared. Sri Krishna also distinguishes here those who seek after light, harmony and balance as cultivating the “daivic” Nature (that is, the nature of a Deva, or divine power/being/god through the Sattwic balance), versus those who emphasize an “asuric” Nature (that is, the nature of a Titan bent on control, domination and infliction of pain, through the Rajasic/Tamasic balance).

Sri Aurobindo comments: “These are the human representatives of the Devas and Danavas or Asuras, the Gods and the Titans. This distinction is a very ancient one in Indian religious symbolism. The fundamental idea of the Rig Veda is a struggle between the Gods and their dark opponents, between the Masters of Light, sons of infinity, and the children of Division and Night, a battle in which man takes part and which is reflected in all his inner life and action.”

The battle of Kurukshetra is in the end, a conflict between those who act upon the high and noble principles and ideals of the Devas confronting those who accumulate power for the service of their own egoistic satisfaction, the Titans or Asuras. Arjuna is the representative of the Deva and his role is to help humanity progress to a stage where the noble, the ethical, the harmonious balance rules society.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 17, Deva and Asura, pp. 454-455