Humanity has struggled with the apparent contradiction between the life of the spirit and the life of the world for millenia. The attempt to change human nature within the framework of worldly action has been looked at and for the most part dismissed as being either too difficult or even impossible. Most religious and spiritual traditions have eventually concluded that the only route to success is to recognize the illusion or unreality of the goals, desires and achievements of the world and to focus, with an exclusive concentration, on the spiritual life. This has led to a separation between those who build up and carry out the functions of the world and those who follow the life of spiritual development, whether as sannyasis, monks, anchorites, or other similar examples of the individual dedicated to the Spirit. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo calls this path “the refusal of the ascetic” and it has a strong hold on the psyche of humanity as the only real and achievable path to the spirit.
Sri Aurobindo describes this approach at some length: “The powers of this world and their actual activities, it is felt, either do not belong to God at all or are for some obscure and puzzling cause, Maya or another, a dark contradiction of the divine Truth…. we feel the opposition of our crawling earthly birth and life to an exalted spiritual God-consciousness; we become readily convinced of the incompatibility of life’s subjection to Maya with the soul’s concentration in pure Brahman existence.”
This leads to the conclusion about spiritual focus that has arisen over time: “The easiest way is to turn away from all that belongs to the one and to retreat by a naked and precipitous ascent into the other. Thus arises the attraction and, it would seem, the necessity of the principle of exclusive concentration which plays so prominent a part in the specialised schools of Yoga; for by that concentration we can arrive through an uncompromising renunciation of the world at an entire self-consecration to the One on whom we concentrate. It is no longer incumbent on us to compel all the lower activities to the difficult recognition of a new and higher spiritualised life and train them to be its agents or executive powers. It is enough to kill or quiet them and keep at most the few energies necessary, on one side, for the maintenance of the body and, on the other, for communion with the Divine.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 2, Self Consecration, pg. 67