The Need For An External Form Of the Divine

The spiritual quest eventually brings the seeker to recognise the Divinity within. This is, however, not usually the first step. Our entire psychology is oriented outwards to the world at large. Our senses deliver the world’s impacts in a way that is virtually impossible to shut out. Our entire growth and development involves interaction with others and the outer environment. The inner reality is also somewhat amorphous and “less real” to begin with than the outer “reality” we experience in our interactions with the world. The spiritual quest begins from the starting point of the human individual living in the world, and thus, for most of us, we need to be able to begin our interaction with the Divine in some form or relationship that we meet with externally.

Sri Aurobindo raises this issue: “But while it is difficult for man to believe in something unseen within himself, it is easy for him to believe in something which he can image as extraneous to himself. The spiritual progress of most human beings demands an extraneous support, an object of faith outside us. It needs an external image of God; or it needs a human representative,–Incarnation, Prophet or Guru; or it demands both and receives them.”

The psychological need also enhances the necessity of some outer form. How shall we relate to some distant Absolute, unmoving, silent and beyond all our human conceptions? “God is the All and more than the All. But that which is more than the All, how shall man conceive? And even the All is at first too hard for him; for he himself in his active consciousness is a limited and selective formation and can open himself only to that which is in harmony with his limited nature. There are things in the All which are too hard for his comprehension or seem too terrible to his sensitive emotions and cowering sensations. Or, simply, he cannot conceive as the Divine, cannot approach or cannot recognise something that is too much out of the circle of his ignorant or partial conceptions. it is necessary for him to conceive God in his own image or in some form that is beyond himself but consonant with his highest tendencies and seizable by his feelings or his intelligence. Otherwise it would be difficult for him to come into contact and communion with the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 58-59