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

The Gita’s Message to the Mind Seeking Intellectual Fulfillment

Just as there are those who seek fulfillment through physical and vital satisfactions, we also find individuals whose primary focus is on what we may call “mental” fulfillments of various sorts, whether purely intellectual, or ethical, aesthetic or social. These individuals base their life-direction on developing standards and rules of conduct in the various fields, or creating philosophical systems around which they organize their understanding of the world and their action in it. The Gita is very positive and sympathetic about this stage of human development, and recognizes that the adoption and following of various dharmas is essential as the human being grows beyond total enslavement to the drives of physical satisfaction and the fulfillment of desires; however, the Gita points out that this is not the final stage of human development.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The soul of man has to go beyond to some more absolute Dharma of man’s spiritual and immortal nature. And this can only be done if we repress and get rid of the ignorant formulations of the lower mental elements and the falsehood of egoistic personality, impersonalise the action of the intelligence and will, live in the identity of the one self in all, break out of all ego-moulds into the impersonal spirit.”

The Gita reminds us that so long as we remain bound within the framework of nature, whether physical, vital or mental, we remain tied to the action of the three Gunas and the impulsion of the ego-personality. “…but the destiny of the soul is a divine perfection and liberation and that can only be based in the freedom of our highest self, can only be found by passing through its vast impersonality and universality beyond mind into the integral light of the immeasurable Godhead and supreme Infinite who is beyond all Dharmas.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pg. 550

The Message Of the Gita For Those Following Spiritual Path of Renunciation

The Gita acknowledges the validity of the path of renunciation as a way to reach the Supreme, and recognises at the same time the difficulty of this path, which abandons all consideration for the manifestation of the world to try to attain a total identity with the silent, ineffable, Infinite.

At the same time, the Gita reminds the seeker following this path that while there is a truth in it, it is not the highest truth, as it denies the validity of the manifestation and what we may call the “positive side” of the Supreme. For the Supreme is not simply a “negative” devoid of all qualities, but also the ultimate “positive” containing all manifested existence. The Upanishads remind us that the Brahman is “One without a second” and “not this, not that”, but also “All this is the Brahman.”

Sri Aurobindo expands on this theme: “The Supreme, the all-conscious Self, the Godhead, the Infinite is not solely a spiritual existence remote and ineffable; he is here in the universe at once hidden and expressed through man and the gods and through all beings and in all that is. And it is by finding him not only in some immutable silence but in the world and its beings and in all self and in all Nature, it is by raising to an integral as well as to a highest union with him all the activities of the intelligence, the heart, the will, the life that man can solve at once his inner riddle of Self and God and the outer problem of his active human existence.”

The Gita asks the seeker to indeed realise the Divine, but not only in silence and in abandonment of the world, but in the world so as to raise up and transfigure life with a highest form of divine action.

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

The Gita’s Message To the Mind Seeking Vital and Physical Fulfillment

The Gita recognises that there are differing drives that lead individuals to follow one or another of the available paths of fulfillment open to them in the world. The Gita then provides for each of these a line of understanding to help uplift and refine the efforts of those individuals, and prepare them thereby for the next stage in their evolution.

The first of these drives is obviously the fulfillment of the life of desire of the vital and physical being. Sri Aurobindo expresses the Gita’s response to those who follow this path exclusively or primarily: “The Gita’s message to the mind that follows after the vital and material life is that all life is indeed a manifestation of the universal Power in the individual, a derivation from the Self, a ray from the Divine, but actually it figures the Self and the Divine veiled in a disguising Maya, and to pursue the lower life for its own sake is to persist in a stumbling path and to enthrone our nature’s obscure ignorance and not at all to find the true truth and complete law of existence. A gospel of the will to live, the will to power, of the satisfaction of desire, of the glorification of mere force and strength, of the worship of the ego and its vehement acquisitive self-will and tireless self-regarding intellect is the gospel of the Asura and it can lead only to some gigantic ruin and perdition. The vital and material man must accept for his government a religious and social and ideal Dharma by which, while satisfying desire and interest under right restrictions, he can train and subdue his lower personality and scrupulously attune it to a higher law both of the personal and the communal life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pp. 549-550

The Solution Provided By the Gita and Its Limitations For Today’s World

The Gita occupies an important position in the spiritual development of humanity and helps bridge the gap between the ancient Vedic and Upanishadic views of existence, and the needs of the social order that had developed as of the time within which the Gita takes place. Numerous different approaches to the significance of human life had by that time arisen and taken hold of the mind of humanity and, as is usual with mental formations, they tended to be opposed or in conflict with one another. What was missing was the unifying key that tied all the approaches together within a larger framework. The Gita provided that key.

The various paths of the time included one of renunciation of the outer life, sannyasa, to focus solely on an individual spiritual attainment; a path of ritual and disciplined practice intent on achieving fulfillment within the framework of the life in the world; and a path that emphasized duties based on one’s birth and position in life, and the ethical-moral order that arose from those duties. The Gita acknowledged each of these paths as legitimate expressions for those individuals drawn to each one, but at the same time, recognized that there was another path for the individual who was ready to tread it–a path of integration of the spiritual and the material, that strove for the spiritual realisation while concurrently accepting that the world was real, and that the life in the world should be transformed, not abandoned, by the spiritual realisation.

The Gita holds an important message for seekers today as well. The basic divergent paths that existed then still hold great sway today. We can add to that a purely materialistic viewpoint that denies any spiritual reality whatsoever and asks us to accept that material enjoyment and fulfillment is the most for which we can hope. Clearly the Gita’s message helps us find a way through this confused mass of conflicting philosophies.

At the same time, the Gita did not attempt to take up the transformation of the social order or civilisation as a whole, and in this area at least, it does not meet the aspiration of modern humanity.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The solution offered by the Gita does not disentangle all the problem as it offers itself to modern mankind; as stated here to a more ancient mentality, it does not meet the insistent pressure of the present mind of man for a collective advance, does not respond to its cry for a collective life that will at last embody a greater rational and ethical and, if possible, even a dynamic spiritual ideal. Its call is to the individual who has become capable of a complete spiritual existence; but for the rest of the race it prescribes only a gradual advance, to be wisely effected by following out faithfully with more and more of intelligence and moral purpose and with a final turn to spirituality the law of their nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pg. 549