Integrating the Three Steps of Nature in Our Spiritual Development

One can understand and appreciate the exclusive concentration that followers of the ascetic traditions undertake in their spiritual seeking. Certainly even a brief glimpse or slightest taste of the spiritual reality, the luminous knowledge, the transcendent peace or the unutterable bliss is enough to captivate the attention and focus of the individual experiencing it. This in fact is the underlying rationale behind the “refusal of the ascetic” as Sri Aurobindo describes it, in The Life Divine. Who would give a thought to the world of mental constructions or physical objects when once they have experienced the spiritual heights? It is easy to see why they might consider the world and its objects of desire as illusory, secondary and fit to be abandoned in the all-encompassing spiritual focus.

This tendency toward an exclusive focus and abandonment of all else is actually one of the limitations of our mental consciousness, which sets up ideas, forces and principles in opposition to one another and then forces us to choose between them. While the power of exclusive concentration can provide some very real benefits, especially for achievement of specific aims, it must be tempered eventually with the ability to integrate and harmonise apparently conflicting viewpoints.

Sri Aurobindo makes the case for why Mind, Life and Body should not be abandoned entirely: “The ultimate knowledge is that which perceives and accepts God in the universe as well as beyond the universe and the integral Yoga is that which, having found the Transcendent, can return upon the universe and possess it, retaining the power freely to descend as well as ascend the great stair of existence. For if the eternal Wisdom exists at all, the faculty of Mind also must have some high use and destiny. That use must depend on its place in the ascent and in the return and that destiny must be a fulfilment and transfiguration, not a rooting out or an annulling.”

His ultimate conclusion then is that we must achieve the spiritual realisation and integrate it with the mind, life and body in the world action: “We perceive, then, these three steps in Nature, a bodily life which is the basis of our existence here in the material world, a mental life into which we emerge and by which we raise the bodily to higher uses and enlarge it into a greater completeness, and a divine existence which is at once the goal of the other two and returns upon them to liberate them into their highest possibilities. Regarding none of them as either beyond our reach or below our nature and the destruction of none of them as essential to the ultimate attainment, we accept this liberation and fulfilment as part at least and a large and important part of the aim of Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 2, The Three Steps of Nature, pg. 14