Cultivating a Spiritual Aspiration, Vision and Interpreting Experience

In the integral Yoga, it is the role of the seeker to expand his seeking for knowledge, not only in the classical sense of the spiritual traditions, the Absolute, but also in terms of the practical understanding of the manifestation that the Divine is unfolding and how to support and act with insight and power in helping to bring it about. Further, the seeker may expand his ability to understand and interpret the experience with knowledge of the various interpretive arts, such as poetry, painting, sculpture, music etc. Art and Science therefore are important aspects of the spiritual seeker’s quest for knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “The Yogin’s aim in the sciences that make for knowledge should be to discover and understand the workings of the Divine Consciousness-Puissance in man and creatures and things and forces, her creative significances, her execution of the mysteries, the symbols in which she arranges the manifestation.”

“The Yogin’s aim in the practical sciences, whether mental and physical or occult and psychic, should be to enter into the ways of the Divine and his processes, to know the materials and means for the work given to us so that we may use that knowledge for a conscious and faultless expression of the spirit’s mastery, joy and self-fulfilment.”

“The Yogin’s aim in the Arts should not be a mere aesthetic, mental or vital gratification, but, seeing the Divine everywhere, worshipping it with a revelation of the meaning of its works, to express that One Divine in gods and men and creatures and objects.”

“The Yogin’s distinction from other men is this that he lives in a higher and vaster spiritual consciousness; all his work of knowledge or creation must then spring from there: it must not be made in the mind,–for it is a greater truth and vision than mental man’s that he has to express or rather that presses to express itself through him and mould his works, not for his personal satisfaction, but for a divine purpose.”

This requires a wideness of vision, and an aspiration that sees the Divine in all things, and all things in the Divine, with this representing the motive force behind all knowledge, will and action.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 133-134

Embracing All Activities of Life as Dedicated Action of Yoga

The integral Yoga does not just give “lip-service” to non-duality; rather it takes up this concept and implements it by refusing to accept a lesser reality, or any kind of “unreality” to the manifested universe. The solution to the riddle of life is not to abandon life, but to fulfill it to its highest significance and greatest potential, as the intentional rolling out of the Will of the Supreme in its self-manifestation through the evolutionary process. The key idea is “reality omnipresent” and the implementation is carried out through the conversion of all thoughts, emotions, and actions as a dedicated action of Yoga.

To accomplish this, a total change of standpoint is required, so that the seeker is able to live in the Knowledge, based on this ultimate Oneness, rather than the Ignorance which fixates on the artificial division and fragmentation that we see through our human mental understanding.

“But its first condition for this liberality is that our works in the world too must be part of the sacrifice offered to the Highest and to none else, to the Divine Shakti and to no other Power, in the right spirit and with the right knowledge, by the free soul and not by the hypnotised bondslave of material Nature.”

“…all activities of knowledge that seek after or express Truth are in themselves rightful materials for a complete offering; none ought necessarily to be excluded from the wide framework of the divine line. The mental and physical sciences which examine into the laws and forms and processes of things, those which concern the life of men and animals, the social, political, linguistic and historical and those which seek to know and control the labours and activities by which man subdues and utilises his world and environment, and the noble and beautiful Arts which are at once work and knowledge,–for every well-made and significant poem, picture, statue or building is an act of creative knowledge, a living discovery of the consciousness, a figure of Truth, a dynamic form of mental and vital self-expression or world-expression,–all that seeks, all that finds, all that voices or figures is a realisation of something of the play of the Infinite and to that extent can be made a means of God-realisation or of divine formation. But the Yogin has to see that it is no longer done as part of an ignorant mental life; it can be accepted by him only if by the feeling, the remembrance, the dedication within it, it is turned into a movement of the spiritual consciousness and becomes a part of its vast grasp of comprehensive illuminating knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 132-133

The Rationale For an Integration of the Higher and the Lower Pursuits of Knowledge

We see throughout human history the separation of the human endeavor into two somewhat distinct spheres. There is the seeking of the ultimate Knowledge, the pursuit of the Infinite, the attempt to know the Unknowable. And then there is the knowledge which seeks to aid us in our life in the world, practical, inventive and insightful knowledge which works toward the perfection or enhancement of life.

Philosophy generally focused its attention on the former, with religion seeking the Highest from a basis starting in the world of life; while science and art have been generally the province of the latter.

Sri Aurobindo describes the role of these various forms of seeking: “Philosophy, sometimes spiritual or at least intuitive, sometimes abstract and intellectual, sometimes intellectualising spiritual experience or supporting with a logical apparatus the discoveries of the spirit, has claimed always to take the fixation of the ultimate Truth as its province.”

“Religion did not attempt, like Philosophy, to live alone on the heights; its aim was rather to take hold of man’s parts of life even more than his parts of mind and draw them Godwards; it professed to build a bridge between spiritual Truth and the vital and material existence; it strove to subordinate and reconcile the lower to the higher, make life serviceable to God, Earth obedient to Heaven.”

“On the other side, Science and Art and the knowledge of life, although at first they served or lived in the shadow of Religion, ended by emancipating themselves, became estranged or hostile, or have even recoiled with indifference, contempt or scepticism from what seem to them the cold, barren and distant or unsubstantial and illusory heights of unreality to which metaphysical Philosophy and Religion aspire.”

Each of these activities has shown, over time, its limitations and down-sides for the human development. And eventually the seeker can recognize that these two hemispheres are aspects of one unified existence, and that both of them have their place, their rationale and their significance in the fulfillment of the aim of human life. “Yet even in the earthward life a higher knowledge is indeed the one thing that is throughout needful, and without it the lower sciences and pursuits, however fruitful, however rich, free, miraculous in the abundance of their results, become easily a sacrifice offered without due order and to false gods; corrupting, hardening in the end the heart of man, limiting his mind’s horizons, they confine in a stony material imprisonment or lead to a final baffling incertitude and disillusionment. A sterile agnosticism awaits us above the brilliant phosphorescence of a half-knowledge that is still the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 130-132

The Necessity for Opening of the Inmost Soul or Psychic Being

Mental rules or solutions cannot accomplish the conversion of consciousness, inward and outward, that leads to a total transformation of both the inner and the outer life. All of the various transitional strategies, such as the attempt to abandon the outer life, or the attempt to hedge it with ethical or moral strictures or limit it to specific types of work that are considered more pure, basically break down and do not reach the ultimate goal of the spiritualisation of life. The descent and integration of a higher consciousness into the individual turns out to be the required action, but achieving this, starting from the human mental limited standpoint is not simple, to a great degree because human beings are easily led astray by their desires, and by the limitations of their knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the inherent problems of this transformation: “In sum, it may be safely affirmed that no solution offered can be anything but provisional until a supramental Truth-Consciousness is reached by which the appearances of things are put in their place and their essence revealed and that in them which derives straight from the spiritual essence. In the meanwhile our only safety is to find a guiding law of spiritual experience–or else to liberate a light within that can lead us on the way until that greater direct Truth-Consciousness is reached above us or born within us.”

“The guiding law of spiritual experience can only come by an opening of human consciousness to the Divine Consciousness; there must be the power to receive in us the working and command and dynamic presence of the Divine Shakti and surrender ourselves to her control; it is that surrender and that control which bring the guidance.”

The question then is what formation is there within us that can actually relate to, accept and respond to this Divine Consciousness. The human ego, the vital desire-soul and the human mind are easily misled and carried away. “This danger can only be countered by the opening of a now nine-tenths concealed inmost soul or psychic being that is already there but not commonly active within us. That is the inner light we must liberate; for the light of this inmost soul is our one sure illumination so long as we walk still amidst the siege of the Ignorance and the Truth-Consciousness has not taken up the entire control of our Godward endeavor.”

There are various stages that can occur as this process becomes ever more comprehensive and integral within us: “In the transition there may well be a period in which we take up all life and action and offer them to the Divine for purification, change and deliverance of the truth within them, another period in which we draw back and build a spiritual wall around us admitting through its gates only such activities as consent to undergo the law of the spiritual transformation, a third in which a free and all-embracing action, but with new forms fit for the utter truth of the Spirit, can again be made possible. These things, however, will be decided by no mental rule but in the light of the soul within us and by the ordaining force and progressive guidance of the Divine Power that secretly or overtly first impels, then begins clearly to control and order and finally takes up the whole burden of the Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 128-130

Further Considerations For Transitioning to a Spiritualised Life

There have been many strategies for those following a spiritual path to find an accommodation or methodology for relating to the life of the world. Many of them may have relevance as transitional strategies, but eventually the complete spiritualisation of the outer life remains the goal of the integral Yoga, and this step comes about through integration of a fully spiritualised consciousness into all the levels of the being. The transitional strategies, whether they rely on a leading role of the mind, the emotions or the vital force, all have their limitations and eventually have to give way for something greater and more comprehensive, as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out:

One of these strategies involves creating an ethical or moral regime by which to guide the outer actions. “…for an ethical rule merely puts a bit in the mouth of the wild horses of Nature and exercises over them a difficult and partial control, but it has no power to transform Nature so that she may move in a secure freedom fulfilling the intuitions that proceed from a divine self-knowledge. At best its method is to lay down limits, to coerce the devil, to put the wall of a relative and very doubtful safety around us. This or some similar device of self-protection may be necessary for a time whether in ordinary life or in Yoga; but in Yoga it can only be the mark of a transition. A fundamental transformation and a pure wideness of spiritual life are the aim before us and, if we are to reach it, we must find a deeper solution, a surer supra-ethical dynamic principle. To be spiritual within, ethical in the outer life, this is the ordinary religious solution but it is a compromise; the spiritualisation of both the inward being and the outward life and not a compromise between life and the spirit is the goal of which we are the seekers.”

“It is equally impossible to accept the gospel that makes life the one aim, takes its elements fundamentally as they are and only calls in a half-spiritual or pseudo-spiritual light to flush and embellish it.”

“Inadequate too is the very frequent attempt at a misalliance between the vital and the spiritual, a mystic experience within with an aestheticised intellectual and sensuous Paganism or exalted hedonism outside leaning upon it and satisfying itself in the glow of a spiritual sanction; for this too is a precarious and never successful compromise and it is as far from the divine Truth and its integrality as the puritanic opposite.”

“These are all stumbling solutions of the fallible human mind groping for a transaction between the high spiritual summits and the lower pitch of the ordinary mind-motives and life-motives. Whatever partial truth may be hidden behind them, that truth can only be accepted when it has been raised to the spiritual level, tested in the supreme Truth-consciousness and extricated from the soil and error of the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 127-128

Beginning the Transition From Human Works to Divine Works in the Integral Yoga

Having laid aside the prescriptions to abandon all works whatsoever, or to only focus on works that could be considered part of a focus of the human endeavor on the divine, such as divine sacrifice, prayer, etc., the seeker in the integral Yoga must find a new footing for the work to be done in the world.

The beginning starts, obviously, from the normal human standpoint and all activities of life are generally carried out from the focus of the ego-personality, viewing himself as a separate entity and trying to find a way to survive and thrive in a world that provides both opportunities and oppositions to his egoistic fulfillment.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue of this transition: “An integral Yoga must lean rather to the catholic injunction of the Gita that even the liberated soul, living in the Truth, should still do all the works of life so that the plan of the universal evolution under a secret divine leading may not languish or suffer. But if all works are to be done with the same forms and on the same lines as they are now done in the Ignorance, our gain is only inward and our life in danger of becoming the dubious and ambiguous formula of an inner Light doing the works of an outer Twilight, the perfect Spirit expressing itself in a mould of imperfection foreign to its own divine nature. If no better can be done for a time,–and during a long period of transition something like this does inevitably happen,–then so it must remain till things are ready and the spirit within is powerful enough to impose its own forms on the life of the body and the world outside; but this can be accepted only as a transitional stage and not as our soul’s ideal or the ultimate goal of the passage.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 126-127

Dealing With Life In the World As a Spiritual Seeker

When an individual takes up the call to the spiritual life, he is confronted with a number of issues with regard to his relationship to the “life in the world”. Many traditions have counseled the seeker to simplify, to abandon attachment to the world, and thereby to focus all the powers of his life on the spiritual quest. The anchorite in the desert, the yogi in the cave, the monk in the monastery cell, the ash-smeared sadhus all have answered the call in this manner, what Sri Aurobindo calls in The Life Divine, “the refusal of the ascetic”. Regardless of the path, the goal is to simplify and reduce the focus and the attraction of worldly comforts and worldly results, not to transform that outer life. Nevertheless, each individual still needs to hold commerce with the world, even if it is with a begging bowl! The idea behind this is to essentially cut the knot of attachment and refocus all the energies on the spiritual achievement, attaining the goal through the most direct method.

For the seeker of the integral Yoga, where the goal involves not simply an abandonment of the life and the body, but a total transformation of that life, and a realisation of the spiritual intention in all existence, the matter becomes much more complex.

Sri Aurobindo describes the question: “What then becomes of the present activities of our being, activities of the mind turned towards knowledge and the expression of knowledge, activities of our emotional and sensational parts, activities of outward conduct, creation, production, the will turned towards mastery over men, things, life, the world, the forces of Nature? Are they to be abandoned and to be replaced by some other way of living in which a spiritualised consciousness can find its true expression and figure. Are they to be maintained as they are in their outward appearance, but transformed by an inner spirit in the act or enlarged in scope and liberated into new forms by a reversal of consciousness such as was seen on earth when man took up the vital activities of the animal to mentalise and extend and transfigure them by the infusion of reason, thinking will, refined emotions, an organised intelligence? Or is there to be an abandonment in part, a preservation only of such of them as can bear a spiritual change and, for the rest, the creation of a new life expressive, in its form no less than in its inspiration and motive-force, of the unity, wideness, peace, joy and harmony of the liberated spirit? It is this problem most of all that has exercised most the minds of those who have tried to trace the paths that lead from the human to the Divine in the long journey of the Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 125-126

The Integration of the Goals of Vedanta and Veda

The Yoga of works, as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo in the integral Yoga, is not some kind of ritual sacrifice, nor done without knowledge or devotion. In his view, works, knowledge and devotion all complement and support one another; the process of starting from any one of them will inevitably entail growing into all three over time.

Sri Aurobindo introduces this point as follows: “For even when we speak of the sacrifice of works by itself, we do not mean the offering only of our outward acts, but of all that is active and dynamic in us; our internal movements no less than our external doings are to be consecrated on the one altar. The inner heart of all work that is made into a sacrifice is a labour of self-discipline and self-perfection by which we can hope to become conscious and luminous with a Light from above poured into all our movements of mind, heart, will, sense, life and body.”

This brings about a unification between the goals of the ancient sages of the Vedanta, who focused on the knowledge aspect, and the still more ancient mystical sense of the Vedas, which involved an inner transformation that made the practitioner into a vessel of the deeper spiritual Force in all his life and acts.

“An increasing light of divine consciousness will make us close in soul and one by identity in our inmost being and spiritual substance with the Master of the world-sacrifice–the supreme object of existence proposed by the ancient Vedanta; but also it will tend to make us one in our becoming by resemblance to the Divine in our nature, the mystic sense of the symbol of sacrifice in the sealed speech of the seers of the Veda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pg. 125

The Two Signs Of the Process of Transformation Of the Consciousness

The process of transformation of consciousness is one that is long, slow and laborious, due to the requirement to address each aspect, level, force and movement of consciousness and bring it into alignment with the change in standpoint and the corresponding modification to outer action and reaction. Add to this the continual pressure from the universal manifestation to reinstate these untransformed thoughts, feelings and movements, and one can see the rationale for the struggle that is involved.

Sri Aurobindo describes the issue: “Even when centrally fitted, prepared, open already, it will still be long before all our movements of mind, life and body, all the multiple and conflicting members and elements of our personality consent or, consenting, are able to bear the difficult and exacting process of the transformation. And hardest of all, even if all in us is willing, is the struggle we shall have to carry through against the universal forces attached to the present unstable creation when we seek to make the final supramental conversion and reversal of consciousness by which the Divine Truth must be established in us in its plenitude and not merely what they would more readily permit, an illumined Ignorance.”

It is this process and this difficulty that sets the requirement for the complete surrender, the totality of the sacrifice, the absolute giving up of the human in order to achieve the divine standpoint. “It is for this that a surrender and submission to That which is beyond us enabling the full and free working of its Power is indispensable. As that self-giving progresses, the work of the sacrifice becomes easier and more powerful and the prevention of the opposing Forces loses much of its strength, impulsion and substance.”

There are two signs identified by Sri Aurobindo that show the process at work: “There takes place a coming to the front of some secret inmost soul within which was veiled by the restless activity of the mind, by the turbulence of our vital impulses and by the obscurity of the physical consciousness, the three powers which in their confused combination we now call our self. There will come about as a result a less impeded growth of a Divine Presence at the centre with its liberating Light and effective Force and an irradiation of it into all the conscious and subconscious ranges of our nature. These are the two signs, one marking our completed conversion and consecration to the great Quest, the other the final acceptance by the Divine of our sacrifice.”

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. 124

The Transformation of Our Being Through the Yogic Process

We normally see the world and respond to it from the viewpoint of a human individual, separated, fragmented, and limited facing an immensely complex and enormously large universal manifestation consisting of endless numbers of forms and forces, carrying out actions that go beyond the ability of any individual to truly understand and effectively respond to. This is called the “human standpoint”. The process of the integral Yoga involves the total shifting of our standpoint to the “divine standpoint”. From this view we are no longer separate or isolated individuals, but witnesses and participants in the larger being and consciousness that both transcends and encompasses all those forms, forces and beings that we formerly considered to be separate and outside of us. Our actions also are transformed to be those, not of a separated individual ego-personality, but to be the outflowing of the divine Force in its development of the intention of its manifestation.

In order for this to occur, Sri Aurobindo describes a dual process of ascent and descent: “There must be an ascension of the whole being, an ascension of spirit chained here and trammelled by its instruments and its environment to sheer Spirit free above, an ascension of soul towards some blissful Super-soul, an ascension of mind towards some luminous Supermind, an ascension of life towards some vast Super-life, an ascension of our very physicality to join its origin in some pure and plastic spirit-substance.”

“At the same time there must be a descent too to affirm below what we have gained above: on each height we conquer we have to turn to bring down its power and its illumination into the lower mortal movement; the discovery of the Light forever radiant on high must correspond with the release of the same Light secret below in every part down to the deepest caves of subconscient Nature.”

The process to shift from the human to the divine standpoint, with all that is implied, can take on the aspects of a strenuous effort or a battle of conflicting impulses, thoughts, desires and reactions. “For all our old obscure and ignorant nature will contend repeatedly and obstinately with the transforming Influence, supported in its lagging unwillingness or its stark resistance by mot of the established forces of environing universal Nature; the powers and principalities and the ruling beings of the Ignorance will not easily give up their empire.”

Because we are not the totally separate individuals, walled off from the rest of the creation, which we consider ourselves to be, the transformation process itself cannot proceed without setbacks and struggles. Even if we have gained some ground within the individual standpoint, the same forces and impulses still exist and work to regain their influence and undermine the progress from outside. Until all is transformed, nothing is completely transformed. The yogic process entails dedicating oneself to this continuous and continual effort, while opening up to and responding to the descent of the divine consciousness and force as it answers from above.

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. 123-124