Accepting and Embracing the Manifested Universe Through Active Participation

Eventually, the standpoint that an individual takes governs his action. Those who believe in the illusory nature of the world will take steps to separate themselves from it and achieve the standpoint of the impersonal, immutable Self that is uninvolved in the action of the world. Those who believe, on the contrary, that there is no reality other than the manifested world of forms, forces and actions, will concentrate on achieving success, however they may define it, within that sphere of activity.

The Gita points the seeker in the direction of an integration that can accept the reality of both aspects, and thus, there must come a way of living that balances these two in some appropriate manner. The spiritual quest then gets transformed from a path of renunciation to a path that seeks and integrates the impersonal spirit while simultaneously accepting action in the world.

Sri Aurobindo describes the path: “But God in the world and you in the world are realities; the world and you are true and actual powers and manifestations of the Supreme. Therefore accept life and action and do not reject them. One with God in your impersonal self and essence, an eternal portion of the Godhead turned to him by the love and adoration of your spiritual personality for its own Infinite, make of your natural being what it is intended to be, an instrument of works, a channel, a power of the Divine. That it always is in its truth, but now unconsciously and imperfectly, through the lower nature, doomed to a disfigurement of the Godhead by your ego. Make it consciously and perfectly and without any distortion by ego a power of the Divine in his supreme spiritual nature and a vehicle of his will and his works. In this way you will live in the integral truth of your own being and you will possess the integral God-union, the whole and flawless Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 558


The Integral Reality

Some claim that there is no divine reality, and that those who seek it are following an illusion; similarly, there are those who claim that the world manifestation is an illusion and only the divine reality is truly real. Sri Aurobindo points out that these each represent an aspect of reality, and that in fact, both aspects are real. The spiritual truth is not to be gained by argument or debate, but through experience of integration.

The Upanishads point the way with their insistence that “All this is the Brahman” as well as “One without a second.” These two statements are intended to complement, not contradict one another.

“It is not by insisting on this or that side only of the truth that you can practice this Yoga. The Divine whom you have to seek, the Self whom you have to discover, the supreme Soul of whom your soul is an eternal portion, is simultaneously all these things; you have to know them simultaneously in a supreme oneness, enter into all of them at once and in all states and all things see Him alone. If he were solely the Spirit mutable in Nature, there would be only an eternal and universal becoming. If you limit your faith and knowledge to that one aspect, you will never go beyond your personality and its constant changeful figures; on such a foundation you would be bound altogether in the revolutions of Nature. But you are not merely a succession of soul moments in Time. There is an impersonal self in you which supports the stream of your personality and is one with God’s vast and impersonal spirit. And incalculable beyond this impersonality and personality, dominating these two constant poles of what you are here, you are eternal and transcendent in the Eternal Transcendence.”

The integral reality then includes the personal side, changing and mutable in the manifestation of forms and forces in Time; the impersonal side, aloof and immutable, separated from the changing manifestation, and a transcendent Eternal which incorporates both of these aspects while not being bound within the framework of either of them, or even of both of them.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 557-558

The Knowledge of the Spiritual Reality

Our normal human way of seeing and knowing involves interacting with the world from the standpoint of an ego-personality, forever separated, isolated and fragmented from the rest of the creation. This viewpoint sets up a conflict between “myself” and “others” as we try to survive and thrive in a world of competition where one party wins at the expense of someone or something else. We do not normally go much beyond this way of seeing and acting. Even when we recognise that the environment is shared between all the beings and creatures, we treat this as a fact for the purpose of developing some kind of compromise between the competing beings in order to “share” the resources, without going to the next step of recognising our inherent Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo contrasts this normal standpoint with the knowledge of Reality founded in spiritual Oneness: “It is the knowledge of the supreme Soul and Spirit in its oneness and its wholeness. It is the knowledge of One who is for ever, beyond Time and Space and name and form and world, high beyond his own personal and impersonal levels and yet from whom all this proceeds. One whom all manifests in manifold Nature and her multitude of figures. It is the knowledge of him as an impersonal eternal immutable Spirit, the calm and limitless thing we call Self, infinite, equal and always the same, unaffected and unmodified and unchanged amid all this constant changing and all this multitude of individual personalities and soul powers and Nature powers and the forms and forces and eventualities of this transitory and apparent existence. It is the knowledge of him at the same time as the Spirit and Power who seems ever mutable in Nature, the Inhabitant who shapes himself to every form and modifies himself to every grade and degree and activity of his power, the Spirit who, becoming all that is even while he is for every infinitely more than all that is, dwells in man and animal and thing, subject and object, soul and mind and life and matter, every existence and every force and every creature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 557

The Conditions Of the Transformation Of Consciousness

When we reflect for a moment on what the Gita is asking us to do, it becomes clear that the complete reversal of consciousness, the shifting of the standpoint from the human to the divine, and the alterations this brings about in the way of seeing and acting, is not something that can be achieved without a complete and, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, an “integral” approach. Sri Aurobindo’s teaching in fact takes up this theme and has been called “purna yoga” and “integral yoga” for this reason. It is not sufficient to change ones ideas, opinions or object of devotion. In order to accomplish a transformation of how one sees and responds to the world, virtually everything must be taken up and adjusted from the new viewpoint. No longer acting from the ego-personality, we must respond to all forms, forces and events as the Divine responds!

Sri Aurobindo discusses the conditions of this transformation: “There will be needed a complete consecration of your self and your nature and your life to the Highest and to nothing else but the Highest; for all must be held only for the sake of the Highest, nothing accepted except as it is in
God and a form of God and for the sake of the Divine.”

This impacts the intellect and mental activities: “There will be needed an admission of new truth, an entire turn and giving of your mind to a new knowledge of self and others and world and God and soul and Nature, a knowledge of oneness, a knowledge of universal Divinity, which will be at first an acceptance by the understanding but must become in the end a vision, a consciousness, a permanent state of the soul and frame of its movements.”

It must also transform our active nature through the will, the heart, the vital and physical elements of our being: “There will be needed a will that shall make this new knowledge, vision, consciousness a motive of action and the sole motive….There will be needed an uplifting of the heart in a single aspiration to the Highest, a single love of the Divine Being, a single God-adoration. And there must be a widening too of the calmed and enlightened heart to embrace God in all beings. There will be needed a change of the habitual and normal nature of man as he is now to a supreme and divine spiritual nature.”

“There will be needed in a word a Yoga which shall be at once a Yoga of integral knowledge, a Yoga of the integral will and its works, a Yoga of integral love, adoration and devotion and a Yoga of an integral spiritual perfection of the whole being and of all its parts and states and powers and motions.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 556-557

Transformation of Consciousness From Human To Divine

While the Gita spends quite a bit of time addressing the concerns of the physical, vital and mental being of man, the essential “highest secret” involves finding a way to shift the standpoint from the human egoistic to the divine universal poise of consciousness. All paths of spiritual development, all forms of evolutionary growth are considered to be steps along the way from the human to the divine, or aids in achievement of this eventual result. For those who can do it, a complete surrender of all one is and all one does is the direct route to this transformation, a method that is not dependent on any particular dharma, any particular philosophical or religious ideal or practice, or any particular yogic methodology.

Identifying with the true inner being, the soul, the Divine Person within is a challenge primarily because of our fixation with the outer world and our identification with the ego-personality. This is the key difficulty that must eventually be worked out. Sri Aurobindo describes this process: “But if the active soul of man can once draw back from this identification with its natural instruments, if it can see and live in the entire faith of its inner reality, then all is changed to it, life and existence take on another appearance, action a different meaning and character. Our being then becomes no longer this little egoistic creation of Nature, but the largeness of a divine, immortal and spiritual Power. Our consciousness becomes no longer that of this limited and struggling mental and vital creature, but an infinite, divine and spiritual consciousness. And our will and action too are no longer that of this bounded personality and its ego, but a divine and spiritual will and action, the will and power of the Universal, the Supreme, the All-Self and Spirit acting freely through the human figure.”

“It is difficult indeed to accept for the human intellect attached always to its own cloud-forms and half-lights of ignorance and to the yet obscurer habits of man’s mental, nervous and physical parts; but once received it is a great and sure and saving way, because it is identical with the true truth of man’s being and it is the authentic movement of his inmost and supreme nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 555-556

The Inner Reality of the Spirit, the True Inner Self

The material world, which seems so “real” and which impinges so deeply on our mind and senses, does not, in and of itself, explain the potential existence of the Soul or of any Divine Existence. We see and experience the machinery, but not that which created or set this machinery in motion. At a certain point in the growth of consciousness, as we move from purely material reaction, to vital response, and then to mental awareness, we also experience a growing sense, what many call an “intuition”, that there is something more, something other, something not defined by the material existence. This leads to the search or seeking for the soul, or in more general terms, for God. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo calls this “the human aspiration” and it has preoccupied an awakened humanity as the capacity of independent reflection has grown.

At a certain point, the seeker begins to experience another state of awareness, a state which is distinct and totally different than the fixation on the outer world that occupies us virtually all the time. The “intuition” begins to strengthen as it is confirmed through an experience of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue: “There is, however, something in man’s consciousness which does not fall in with the rigidity of this formula; he has a faith, which grows greater as his soul develops, in another and an inner reality of existence. In this inner reality the truth of existence is no longer Nature but Soul and Spirit, Purusha rather than Prakriti. Nature herself is only a power of Spirit, Prakriti the force of the Purusha. A Spirit, a Self, a being one in all is the master of this world which is only his partial manifestation. That Spirit is the upholder of Nature and her action and the giver of the sanction by which alone her law becomes imperative and her force and its ways operative. That Spirit within her is the Knower who illuminates her and makes her conscient in us; his is the immanent and superconscient Will that inspires and motives her workings. The soul in man, a portio of this Divinity, shares his nature. Our nature is our soul’s manifestation, operates by its sanction and embodies its secret self-knowledge and self-consciousness and its will of being in her motions and forms and changes.”

This experience is the opposite of our fragmented and isolated ego-standpoint; when it comes it is so overwhelming that it expresses its validity without question. It also provides a solution to the “first cause” and “meaning” questions that the viewpoint based in the mechanical Nature cannot answer. We then recognize that with greater conscious awareness we have a higher capacity to perceive and experience the real truth of our existence, and that the first formulation of a soul-less machinery is clearly not the total sense of the manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 555

A Creature of Nature

Our vision is fixated normally on the outer world because it presents itself as intensely “real”. The material world presents us with “facts” and impinges on our senses and captures our attention completely. If we look carefully at the outer world and its forms, forces and events, we cannot apprehend a soul. We become self-conscious in what we call our mind and have the power of self-reflection and abstraction, which gives us the sense of independence, self-sufficiency and free will. Upon closer examination, however, we find that the mind, too, is a manifestation of the action of Nature, and thus, is part of the very machinery that we are observing, not a truly independent actor.

Sri Aurobindo describes this viewpoint: “In its outer appearance the truth of existence is solely what we call Nature or Prakriti, a Force that operates as the whole law and mechanism of being, creates the world which is the object of our mind and senses and creates too the mind and senses as a means of relation between the creature and the objective world in which he lives. In this outer appearance man in his soul, his mind, his life, his body seems to be a creature of Nature differentiated from othes by a separation of his body, life and mind and especially by his ego-sense–that subtle mechanism constructed for him that he may confirm and centralise his consciousness of all this strong separateness and difference.”

Because the ego-sense is a construct of Nature, it is clear that it is not, of itself, exercising any true free-will. “His ego is itself a product of her workings, and as is the nature of his ego, so will be the nature of its will and according to that he must act and he can no other.”

“This then is man’s ordinary consciousness of himself, this his faith in his own being, that he is a creature of Nature, a separate ego establishing whatever relations with others and with the world, making whatever development of himself, satisfying whatever will, desire, idea of his mind may be permissible in her circle and consonant with her intention or law in his existence.”

It is no wonder then that many people look at this machinery and either declare the whole thing an illusion or else, hold out with the idea the there is no independent existence of God or Soul; that in fact, all this is purely a mechanical action of Nature with nothing else beyond or outside its working. This is a powerful viewpoint based on this initial view of the mechanism of Prakriti. The Gita obviously does not accept this, however, as the final word, any more than the teacher in the Taittiriya Upanishad accepted the first formulation of the student “Food is the Eternal” as the sum total of all meaning. We may, like the disciple Bhrigu, start here, but through deep reflection and insight, we will eventually find that there is more to existence than the dead mechanism of Matter with which we start our observations.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 554-555

Ignorance and Knowledge

There is a basic and widely held view that there is a status of ignorance characterized by focus on the outer forms and forces in the world, as well as a status of knowledge that arises when we turn our attention inward and upward to the spiritual truth behind our existence. This paradigm has been the underlying principle that led to the paths of renunciation of the outer life by those who sought to exchange what they recognized as ignorance for a new standpoint of knowledge based on the actual truth of existence. The Gita takes up this line of understanding, both to find areas of agreement with it, and to then go about modifying it to provide a more nuanced view that recognizes that there is an essential reality, and therefore truth, to the outer world and the outer life, albeit, not what most people consider it to be.

Sri Aurobindo explains the significance of this: “All action is determined by the effective state of our being, and the effective state of our being is determined by the state of our constant self-seeing will and active consciousness and by its basis of kinetic movement. It is what we see and believe with our whole active nature ourselves to be and our relations with the world to mean, it is our faith, our sraddha, that makes us what we are.”

The issue is thus: “But the consciousness of man is of a double kind and corresponds to a double truth of existence; for there is a truth of the inner reality and a truth of the outer appearance.”

In order to make this transition, the seeker must turn his gaze from its preoccupation with the outer appearances of the world and refocus on the inner spiritual truth and the finding of his true self. “This finding of the true self, this knowledge of the Godhead within us and all is not an easy thing; nor is it an easy thing either to turn this knowledge, even though seen by the mind, into the stuff our our consciousness and the whole condition of our action.”

“According as he lives in one or the other, he will be a mind dwelling in human ignorance or a soul founded in divine knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 554

The Gita’s Solution–The Secret of Action

In this final chapter of the Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo provides us a systematic summary and recap of the primary concepts presented in the Bhagavad Gita.

The fundamental point from which the Gita starts is to emphasize that our normal human standpoint does not fully comprehend the significance or meaning of life, and thus, our interpretation about what needs to be done, and why, is necessarily incomplete and inaccurate.

Sri Aurobindo takes up the basic points: “Existence is not merely a machinery of Nature, a wheel of law in which the soul is entangled for a moment or for ages; it is a constant manifestation of the Spirit. Life is not for the sake of life alone, but for God, and the living soul of man is an eternal portion of the Godhead.”

With this understanding, our action in the world can no longer be seen as solely a satisfaction of desires or material gratifications of a separate individual fragmented and separated from the rest of creation. The individual has a true role, not in opposition to the rest of existence, but as a nexus and part of that larger creation. The individual finds his true fulfilment when he takes on the divine standpoint and recognizes that the “self” is not this ego-personality with which we normal tend to identify ourselves. “Action is for self-finding, for self-fulfilment, for self-realisation and not only for its own external and apparent fruits of the moment or the future.”

While we evolve through a series of steps of increasing self-awareness and a widening of our standpoint, accompanying a successive abandonment of material and vital aims and goals in favor of a recognition of our position in the wider Divine manifestation, eventually we find our ultimate fulfilment through leaving behind all the human-developed customs, traditions, rules, laws, dharmas and social contracts to embrace our divine existence fully, completely and without reservation.

“It is only by discovering your true self and living according to its true truth, its real reality that the problem can be finally solved, the difficulty and struggle overpassed and your doings perfected in the security of the discovered self and spirit turn into a divinely authentic action. Know then your self; know your true self to be God and one with the self of all others; know your soul to be a portion of God. Live in what you know; live in the self, live in your supreme spiritual nature, be united with God and Godlike.”

Doing so, action takes on the form of total offering of all one is and does to the Supreme, transcendent, universal and individual at once. Then the Supreme takes up and performs the action through the nexus of the individual form.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 553-554

The Living Message Of the Gita For All Humanity

The Gita encourages those who are able to take the path of dharmic action as well as those who can follow the austere spiritual discipline of renunciation, in its embrace of all evolutionary development of consciousness from the ultimate fragmentation of the material consciousness and the binding limitation of the ego-sense to the unlimited, universal, infinite silent divine Being that constitutes and manifests all that exists.

At the same time, the Gita makes it clear that liberation or salvation, however it is phrased, is not limited to just those who can undertake arduous disciplines of mind or spiritual one-pointed endeavor; rather, the Gita points out that these are types of focus, but the true benefit comes from the turning of the nature, to an ever-greater extent, to a total love, dedication and surrender to the Divine. The more comprehensively we can accomplish this, the faster and more complete the identification and the liberation.

Sri Aurobindo amplifies this: “…the Gita declares that all can if they will, even to the lowest and sinfullest among men, enter into the path of this Yoga. And if there is a true self-surrender and an absolute unegoistic faith in the indwelling Divinity, success is certain in this path. The decisive turn is needed; there must be an abiding belief in the Spirit, a sincere and insistent will to live in the Divine, to be in self one with him and in Nature–where too we are an eternal portion of his being–one with his greater spiritual Nature, God-possessed in all our members and Godlike.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pp. 551-552