Transcending the Limits of the Egoistic Consciousness Through the Divine Sacrifice

The principle of Oneness and interchange, the law of sacrifice, is something that occurs unconsciously and automatically for all creatures in the world. The development of self-aware beings provides the opportunity for this principle to become a fully conscious reality. In the first case, the limitations of the ego-sense and the fragmented individuality means that there can be considerable suffering and resistance, while in the truer, deeper sense, the sacrifice done with devotion and understanding can become a source of an ineffable joy in the being. This turns the human sacrifice into the divine sacrifice.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “Only when the heart, the will and the mind of knowledge associate themselves with the law and gladly follow it, can there come the deep joy and the happy fruitfulness of divine sacrifice. The mind’s knowledge of the law and the heart’s gladness in it culminate in the perception that it is to our own Self and Spirit and the one-Self and Spirit of all that we give.”

There is here a transitional phase as the being grows in its awareness and wideness. Every step beyond the limited ego toward a larger principle is a step along this path. “And this is true even when our self-offering is still to our fellow-creatures or to lesser Powers and Principles and not yet to the Supreme.”

“All true love and all sacrifice are in their essence Nature’s contradiction of the primary egoism and its separative error; it is her attempt to turn from a necessary first fragmentation towards a recovered oneness. All unity between creatures is in its essence a self-finding, a fusion with that from which we have separated and a discovery of one’s self in others.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pg. 99

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The Principle of the Divine Law of Sacrifice

It is a serious limitation of the language we use to express concepts that we use the term “sacrifice” to describe a basic and eternal law of the universal creation, while the word itself is loaded with limiting, negative connotations that tend to distort the actual intent dramatically. Sacrifice, particularly in the West, carries a connotation of giving up something and thereby suffering from that act.

Sri Aurobindo clarifies the meaning that he intends to convey through use of this term: “For this is the truth in Nature, that this ego which thinks itself a separate independent being and claims to live for itself, is not and cannot be independent nor separate, nor can it live to itself even if it would, but rather all are linked together by a secret Oneness. Each existence is continually giving out perforce from its stock; out of its mental receipts from Nature or its vital and physical assets and acquisitions and belongings a stream goes to all that is around it. And always again it receives something from its environment in return for its voluntary or involuntary tribute. For it is only by this giving and receiving that it can effect its own growth while at the same time it helps the sum of things.”

What Sri Aurobindo describes here, then is the truth of the Oneness of all creation, and the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all aspects of existence. There is one eco-sphere, one bio-sphere, one noosphere, within which all beings respond and share and support one another. A simple example is that plants take in the carbon dioxide that we exhale; meanwhile they exhale the oxygen we require to breathe. Each being obtains energy from some form of existence and in turn provides energy to other beings. Everything is part of a ‘closed loop” system and any impact we make through our actions affects the other beings that share that environment.

In its essence, this is the basic principle that the law of sacrifice is intended to convey, and it is the context within which we shall utilize the term as we proceed with the yogic implications of the application of the law of sacrifice for the evolution of our conscious being from the fragmented human consciousness, which fails to recognize this eternal truth of Oneness and relationship, to the divine consciousness, where we see, know and act from a state that lives within this Oneness.

“At length, though at first slowly and partially, we learn to make the conscious sacrifice; even, in the end, we take joy to give ourselves and what we envisage as belonging to us in a spirit of love and devotion to That which appears for the moment other than ourselves and is certainly other than our limited personalities. The sacrifice and the divine return for our sacrifice then becomes a gladly accepted means towards our last perfection; for it is recognised now as the road to the fulfilment in us of the eternal purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 98-99

The Third Great Secret of the Gita’s Way of Karma Yoga

There are several central issues that arise when we take up the yoga of works as a serious discipline. The first of these is the question of transitioning from our normal mode of action toward the Divine action contemplated by this Yoga. The second brings us to the ultimate question of whether and how the human being can act without the normal motive force of desire, in one form or another, driving that action.

Sri Aurobindo addresses the first of these by referencing the various intermediate “strategies” and showing that they have their place during the transitional phase: “At first we have to learn to bear the shocks of the world with the central part of our being untouched and silent, even when the surface mind, heart, life are strongly shaken; unmoved there on the bedrock of our life, we must separate the soul watching behind or immune deep within from these outer workings of nature. Afterwards, extending this calm and steadfastness of the detached soul to its instruments, it will become slowly possibly to radiate peace from the luminous centre to the darker peripheries.” The movements of stoicism, resignation, or aloof detachment can be partial or temporary aids along the way. “In the end we must either discard or transform them and arrive instead an an entire equality, a perfect self-existent peace within and even, if we can, a total unassailable, self-poised and spontaneous delight in all our members.”

Having begun this process of eliminating the desire for fruits, and gaining a complete equality in our reactive being, the question of the motive spring of action comes to the fore:

“For ordinarily, the human being acts because he has a desire or feels a mental, vital or physical want or need; he is driven by the necessities of the body, by the lust of riches, honours or fame, or by a craving for the personal satisfactions of the mind or the heart or a craving for power or pleasure. Or he is seized and pushed about by a moral need or, at least, the need or the desire of making his ideas or his ideals or his will or his party or his country or his gods prevail in the world.”

Once all this desire-based impetus is removed, what is left? “The Gita replies with its third great secret of the divine life. All action must be done in a more and more Godward and finally a God-possessed consciousness; our works must be a sacrifice to the Divine and in the end a surrender of all our being, mind, will, heart, sense, life and body to the One must make God-love and God-service our only motive. This transformation of the motive-force and very character of works is indeed its master idea; it is the foundation of its unique synthesis of works, love and knowledge. In the end not desire, but the consciously felt will of the Eternal remains as the sole driver of our action and the sole originator of its initiative.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 96-97

The Gita’s Test For the Abandonment of the Fruits of Works

Given the mind’s propensity to treat a mental acceptance as an actual accomplishment in the world, it is not only possible, but likely, that the seeker will adopt the “idea” of the abandonment of the fruit of works while the outer actions and reactions continue. Various justifications and excuses come before the mind to “distinguish” these reactions from any desire for the fruits of the work on some level. And thus, the transformation of the consciousness gets subtly blocked at the mental level and cannot work itself out throughout all the planes and parts of the being.

In order to provide the seeker with a way to work through this web of illusion on the mental plane, much of it suggested by the clever suggestions of the vital nature, the Gita sets up a clear “test” for how one can determine that the abandonment of the fruits of the work is true, complete and unwavering.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “The test it lays down is an absolute equality of the mind and the heart to all results, to all reactions, to all happenings. If good fortune and ill fortune, if respect and insult, if reputation and obloquy, if victory and defeat, if pleasant event and sorrowful event leave us not only unshaken but untouched, free in the emotions, free in the nervous reactions, free in the mental view, not responding with the least disturbance or vibration in any spot of the nature, then we have the absolute liberation to which the Gita points us, but not otherwise. The tiniest reaction is a proof that the discipline is imperfect and that some part of us accepts ignorance and bondage as its law and clings still to the old nature. Our self-conquest is only partially accomplished; it is still imperfect or unreal in some stretch or part or smallest spot of the ground of our nature. And that little pebble of imperfection may throw down the whole achievement of the Yoga!”

Sri Aurobindo goes on to point out that there are intermediate steps or “approximations” of equality that should not be confused with the state of consciousness that the Gita is describing. It is not a status that derives from disappointed expectation of desire, or pride or indifference, all of which are forms of ego driven by the modes of Nature, the three Gunas. “There is too, on a higher level, the equality of the stoic, the equality of a devout resignation or a sage detachment, the equality of a soul aloof from the world and indifferent to its doings. These too are insufficient; first approaches they can be, but they are at most early soul-phases only or imperfect mental preparations for our entry into the true and absolute self-existent wide equal oneness of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 95-96

Practical Steps For Realization in the Yoga of Works

Having determined the goal for the seeker in the practice of Karma Yoga, Sri Aurobindo now proceeds to outline the practical steps that will help to systematically achieve the goal. it is essential for the seeker to move his standpoint from the limited, fragmented consciousness of the human individual, to the Divine standpoint. “The elimination of all egoistic activity and of its foundation, the egoistic consciousness, is clearly the key to the consummation we desire.”

He thus sets the plan: “And since in the path of works action is the knot we have first to loosen, we must endeavour to loosen it where it is centrally tied, in desire and in ego; for otherwise we shall cut only stray strands and not the heart of our bondage.”

The issue revolves around how we move away from the motive force of desire and the centralizing reference of the ego. “And of these two desire has its native home in the emotions and sensations and instincts and from there affects thought and volition; ego-sense lives indeed in these movements, but it casts its deep roots also in the thinking mind and its will and it is there that it becomes fully self-conscious.”

“In the field of action desire takes many forms, but the most powerful of all is the vital self-s craving or seeking after the fruit of our works.” It should be understood that the fruit is not always a physical result, such as wealth, family, and material ease and comfort; rather there may also be internal or psychological “fruits” such as fame, praise and various forms of mental or emotional satisfaction. Whatever forms these fruits take, they bind us to the ego-sense when we seek after them. “Always these satisfactions delude us with the sense of mastery and the idea of freedom, while really we are harnessed and guided or ridden and whipped by some gross or subtle, some noble or ignoble, figure of the blind Desire that drives the world.”

The Gita has a prescriptive first step to address this: “Therefore, the first rule of action laid down by the Gita is to do the work that should be done without any desire for the fruit, niskama karma.

Of course, rooting out both the gross and subtle seeking after the fruits of works is “easier said than done”. There are many partial stages along the way, such as the erection of external principles of action, which we may call “the rule of law”, or “duty” or some kind of religious doctrine of resignation to the will of God, or stoicism. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that this is not the end-result for the Gita: “But it is not these things that the Gita intends, useful though they are in their place; it aims at something absolute, unmitigated, uncompromising, a turn, an attitude that will change the whole poise of the soul. Not the mind’s control of vital impulse is its rule, but the strong immobility of an immortal spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 94-95

Four Formulae For Describing the Ideals of the Yoga

Sri Aurobindo has distilled out four concepts or formulae that describe the ideal of the Integral Yoga.

First, “To live in God and not in the ego…” Second, “To be perfectly equal in all happenings and to all beings and to see and feel them as one with oneself and one with the Divine…” Third, “To act in God and not in the ego.” Fourth, “…to be exalted into an identity in knowledge, force, consciousness, act, joy of existence with the Divine Shakti…”

To live in God and not the ego requires a change in the basic standpoint from which we live and act. The limited and fragmented ego-consciousness must be abandoned and the soul then can live and act in the universal and the transcendent that establishes it as an individual cell of the unity of the entire manifesetation.

To be perfectly equal implies that we are not judging according to the terms of the dualistic consciousness that we use in our normal mental framework. We recognize that the entire manifestation is one unified whole, determined by God and manifesting God in all creatures, events and in the relation of one to all.

To act in God and not in the ego indicates that our own limited needs, desires, wants and viewpoints no longer govern the course of our actions; rather we see and act in reference to the larger universal manifestation and its goals and purposes. The reference point for action has thus been shifted from ego to universal. “…as soon as we are sufficiently founded in the spiritual consciousness, not to act any longer by our separate will or movement, but more and more to allow action to happen and develop under the impulsion and guidance of a divine Will that surpasses us.”

To be exalted into an identity with the Divine Shakti means “to feel a dynamic movement not dominated by mortal desire and vital instinct and impulse and illusive mental free will, but luminously conceived and evolved into an immortal self-delight and an infinite self-knowledge. For this is the action that comes by a conscious subjection and merging of the natural man into the divine Self and eternal Spirit; it is the Spirit that for ever transcends and guides this world-Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 93-94

The Soul’s Bondage and the Soul’s Liberation

Traditionally, the concept of the liberation of the soul was related to the abandonment of the life of the world, which is generally considered to be characterized by desire, attachment and ego. Sri Aurobindo points out that bondage and liberation are not defined by the outer actions of the individual, but rather, of the inner response to the action.

“The sign of the immersion of the embodied soul in Prakriti is the limitation of consciousness to the ego. The vivid stamp of this limited consciousness can be seen in a constant inequality of the mind and heart and a confused conflict and disharmony in their varied reactions to the touches of experience.”

Normally the ego is under the sway of the dualities, good and evil, pleasant and unpleasant, attraction and repulsion.

“It is only when, awaking from its immersion in Prakriti, it perceives its oneness with the One and its oneness with all existences that it can become free from these things and find its right relation to this executive world-Nature. Then it becomes indifferent to her inferior modes, equal-minded to her dualities, capable of mastery and freedom; it is seated above her as the high-throned knower and witness filled with the calm intense unalloyed delight of his own eternal existence.”

The Isha Upanishad states: “But he who sees everywhere the Self in all existences and all existences in the Self, shrinks not thereafter from aught. He in whom it is the Self-Being that has become all existences that are Becomings, for he has the perfect knowledge, how shall he be deluded, whence shall he have grief who sees everywhere oneness?” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad 6-7, pg. 21)

This state of consciousness does not require an abandonment of life and action: “The embodied spirit continues to express its powers in action, but it is no longer involved in ignorance, no longer bound by its works; its actions have no longer a consequence within it, but only a consequence outside in Prakriti. The whole movement of Nature becomes to its experience a rising and falling of waves on the surface that make no difference to its own unfathomable peace, its wide delight, its vast universal equality or its boundless God-existence.”

The Isha Upanishad concludes “Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is in thee and not otherwise than this; action cleaves not to a man.” (Isha Upanishad, 2, pg. 19)

The sign of the liberated soul is the inner equality and the experience of Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 3, Self-Surrender in Works–The Way of the Gita, pp. 92-93