As human beings, we act starting from a state of consciousness which treats the individual as the center of the universe. The thoughts, ideas, impulsions and actions we undertake we treat as originating with us, and we call them “our own”. Thus, in the first stage of the integral Yoga, when “personal effort” is called for, we are essentially starting from this standpoint and continuing to appropriate the efforts to ourselves.
Sri Aurobindo clarifies that this “personal effort” is a product of the illusion thus created by the status of the ego-consciousness. “Always indeed it is the higher Power that acts. Our sense of personal effort and aspiration comes from the attempt of the egoistic mind to identify itself in a wrong and imperfect way with the workings of the divine Force. It persists in applying to experience on a supernormal plane the ordinary terms of mentality which it applies to its normal experiences in the world.”
At a certain stage as the awareness grows and the transition to a divine standpoint takes hold, we recognize this truth: “Enlightenment brings to us the knowledge that the ego is only an instrument; we begin to perceive and feel that these things are our own in the sense that they belong to our supreme and integral Self, one with the Transcendent, not to the instrumental ego. Our limitations and distortions are our contribution to the working; the true power in it is the Divine’s.”
The second stage, in which we see the action of the Divine undertaking the Yoga comes through this recognition: “When the human ego realises that its will is a tool, its wisdom ignorance and childishness, its power an infant’s groping, its virtue a pretentious impurity, and learns to trust itself to that which transcends it, that is its salvation.”
The assertion of our independence and free will is also an illusion of the ego-consciousness: “The apparent freedom and self-assertion of our personal being to which we are so profoundly attached, conceal a most pitiable subjection to a thousand suggestions, impulsions, forces which we have made extraneous to our little person. Our ego, boasting of freedom, is at every moment the slave, toy and puppet of countless beings, powers, forces, influences in universal Nature.”
True freedom comes about when the ego surrenders its hold and we assume the Divine standpoint and allow that greater consciousness and will to act through us as an occasion or nexus of the universal action it has undertaken.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pg. 53