The Essential Nature of the Yoga of Love

It is difficult for us to see or even visualize the creation as an expression of the power of Divine Love. We see the struggle, the conflict, the opposition, the pitting of each against all that has characterized virtually the entire human experience, and certainly that of the other living beings in our world. Concepts such as “survival of the fittest” clearly delineate the operative mindset of what it takes to survive and thrive in the world. Sri Aurobindo explains: “it does not so appear now because, even if a Divine Love is there in the world upholding all this evolution of creatures, yet the stuff of life and its action is made up of an egoistic formation, a division, a struggle of life and consciousness to exist and survive in an apparently indifferent, inclement or even hostile world of inanimate and inconscient Matter.”

The manifestation and expression of the Oneness of the entire creation, and its foundation in the power of Divine Love may be the actual intention of the universal creation toward which we are striving to gain an understanding. “it is to discover that at its supreme source, to bring it from within and to radiate it out up to the extreme confines of life that is turned the effort of the Yoga.”

To accomplish this, the seeker must begin to express and manifest the nature of that Divine Love in his inner being and in his outer actions: “All action, all creation must be turned into a form, a symbol of the cult, the adoration, the sacrifice; it must carry something that makes it bear in it the stamp of a dedication, a reception and translation of the Divine Consciousness, a service of the Beloved, a self-giving, a surrender. This has to be done wherever possible in the outward body and form of the act; it must be done always in its inward emotion and an intensity that shows it to be an outflow from the soul towards the Eternal.”

We can see that as the consciousness increases and there is a closer sense of the Divine in all things, the tendencies toward egoistic desire and aggressive “one against all” reactions gets mitigated or reversed. We can extrapolate from this the future evolutionary trend as the yoga of love transforms the spirit and the actions of more individuals and thereby provides a foundation for greater harmony, understanding, mutuality and support in the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 154

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The Meaning and Importance of the Symbol, Form and Outward Acts of Worship

There is a great temptation, given the inclination of the mental faculties to create hard and fast differentiations and dualities, to either decide that the outer form of worship, including the specific idols, symbols or rites, is all-important or alternatively, to determine that it has little relevance in terms of true spiritual development in relation to the inner spirit and meaning of the worship.

It is also quite true that heavy reliance on the outer forms of worship lead to, in most cases, the creation of an outer shell with very little inner substance, as people conduct the ceremony without focus on the significance of it. This has occurred in most religions, even when the origin of the symbol or specific ritual held substantial inner sense when it was originated.

Sri Aurobindo however looks deeper into the matter and finds that there is an important role for the outer form to play, as long as it is the expression of the deeper inner aspiration: “For if without a spiritual aspiration worship is meaningless and vain, yet the aspiration also without the act and the form is a disembodied and, for life, an incompletely effective power.” The outer act or form allows the inner spirit within the seeker or devotee to take a more concrete form and thus, have its impact on the outer levels of the being and in the world. “…but few can dispense with the support or outward symbols and even a certain divine element in human nature demands them always for the completeness of its spiritual satisfaction. Always the symbol is legitimate in so far as it is true, sincere, beautiful and delightful, and even one may say that a spiritual consciousness without any aesthetic or emotional content is not entirely or at any rate not integrally spiritual. In the spiritual life the basis of the act is a spiritual consciousness perennial and renovating, moved to express itself always in new forms or able to renew the truth of a form always by the flow of the spirit, and to so express itself and make every action a living symbol of some truth of the soul is the very nature of its creative vision and impulse. It is so that the spiritual seeker must deal with life and transmute its form and glorify it in its essence.”

Once again we see here the integrative and balanced approach that Sri Aurobindo has developed to neither deny the inner nor the outer aspect of the spiritual aspiration as expressed through worship.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 153-154

The Three Aspects of the Perfection of Devotion to the Divine

To turn the entire life and its acts into a process of devotion to the Divine, Sri Aurobindo has identified three parts or aspects: “a practical worship of the Divine in the act, a symbol of worship in the form of the act expressing some vision and seeking or some relation with the Divine, an inner adoration and longing for oneness or feeling of oneness in the heart and soul and spirit.”

A ritual outer form of worship is relatively ineffective if it is not accompanied by the inner spirit and intention of the act. At the same time, the ability to make the vision or intention solid through an expression in a material form, whether through physical manifestation of the being, or through some kind of material form of offering, is a benefit to to fix that devotion into the world.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the most essential point is the inner spirit and intention, as he quotes the Gita: “He who gives to me with a heart of adoration a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a cup of water, I take and enjoy that offering of his devotion;” He clarifies that it is not only these physical forms, but also the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can be offered as elements of the devotional activity.

“It is true that the especial act or form of action has its importance, even a great importance, but it is the spirit in the act that is the essential factor; the spirit of which it is the symbol or materialised expression gives it its whole value and justifying significance.”

The end result is the devotee using every action and movement of life as an act of adoration and devotion: “It is so that life can be changed into worship,–by putting behind it the spirit of a transcendent and universal love, the seeking of oneness, the sense of oneness; by making each act a symbol, an expression of Godward emotion or a relation with the Divine; by turning all we do into an act of worship, an act of the soul’s communion, the mind’s understanding, the life’s obedience, the heart’s surrender.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 152-153

The Nature of the Works of Love in the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo explores the question of the nature of the works of love for the spiritual seeker of the integral Yoga. Traditionally, there have been various responses to this question by the various paths based on devotion. There are those which treat only those devotional acts as directly related to the realisation of God, such as prayer, adoration or worship as being the only permitted acts in the spiritual path based on the power of love. Then again, there are those who recognize that there also is an interaction with the outer world of the manifestation, and thus, acts of philanthropy, goodwill, charity and compassion enter into the equation. “This is indeed the solution most commonly favoured by the religious mind of today and we see it confidently advanced on all sides as the proper field of action of the God-seeker or of the man whose life is founded on divine love and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo reminds us, however, that all life must eventually be taken up and transformed, and thus, either of these approaches, while positive steps forward in and of themselves in the spiritual development of humanity, cannot provide a complete solution for the seeker of the integral Yoga.

“All action must be made in it part of the God-life, our acts of knowledge, our acts of power and production and creation, our acts of joy and beauty and the soul’s pleasure, our acts of will and endeavour and strength and not our acts only of love and beneficent service. Its way to do these things will be not outward and mental, but inward and spiritual, and to that end it will bring into all activities, whatever they are, the spirit of divine love, the spirit of adoration and worship, the spirit of happiness in the Divine and in the beauty of the Divine so as to make all life a sacrifice of the works of the soul’s love to the Divine, its cult of the Master of its existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 151-152

Universal Love and Spiritual Development

All yogic practice involves the expansion of the individual self outside the limits of the egoistic personality grounded in mind, life and body. The process involves a culturing of consciousness to widen into the universal standpoint, first of all, and into the even higher divine standpoint eventually. The universal standpoint is a major advance for the seeker from the limits imposed by the ego and by the individual attachments formed by the ego, even when they are first steps or stages in the process of opening up. Sri Aurobindo comments: “As with individual, so with universal Love; all that widening of the self through sympathy, goodwill, universal benevolence and beneficence, love of mankind, love of creatures, the attraction of all forms and presences that surround us by which mentally and emotionally man escapes from the first limits of his ego, has to be taken up into a unifying divine love for the universal Divine.”

The power of the emotional opening brings a vibrancy and passion to the selflessness of the karma yogin, or the one-pointed dedication and concentration of the practitioner of the yoga of knowledge. The theoretical knowledge of Oneness blossoms out into a real and moving experience: “…we perceive behind every veil the Divine, spiritually embrace all forms the All-Beautiful. A universal delight in his endless manifestation flows through us, taking in its surge every form and movement, but not bound or stationary in any and always reaching out to a greater and more perfect expression. This universal love is liberative and dynamic for transformation; for the discord of forms and appearances ceases to affect the heart that has felt the one Truth behind them all and understood their perfect significance. The impartial equality of soul of the selfless worker and knower is transformed by the magic touch of divine Love into an all-embracing ecstasy and million-bodied beatitude. All things become bodies and all movements the playthings of the divine Beloved in his infinite house of pleasure. Even pain is changed and in their reaction and even in their essence things painful alter; the forms of pain fall away, there are created in their place the forms of Ananda.”

“This is in its essence the nature of the change of consciousness which turns existence itself into a gloried field of a Divine Love and Ananda. In its essence it begins for the seeker when he passes from the ordinary to the spiritual level and looks with a new heart of luminous vision and feeling on the world and self and others. It reaches its height when the spiritual becomes also the supramental level and there also it is possible not only to feel it in essence, but realise it dynamically as a Power for the transformation of the whole inner life and the whole outer existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 150-151

The Mystical Transmutation of Individual Love Into Love For the Immanent Divine

The devotion or adoration of the Eternal, the purity of spiritual love, disembodied and separated from attachment to any specific forms, is not the exclusive form that love takes in the spiritual path. For those who treat the entire world as an illusion, a distraction or an obstacle, the separation from the material forms is essential. For the seeker of the integral Yoga, however, who recognizes the omnipresence of the Divine, the love, adoration and devotion eventually have to encompass not just the Transcendent and Eternal, but also the Universal and the Individual forms. Thus, a total transformation of the relationship of the individual to the other existent forms and beings becomes necessary.

Sri Aurobindo explores this: “An ultimate inexpressible adoration offered by us to the Transcendent, to the Highest, to the Ineffable, is yet no complete worship if it is not offered to him wherever he manifests or wherever even he hides his godhead–in man and object and every creature.”

Behind all outer forms, behind all beings, behind all images lies the Divine, and it is this essence that becomes the secret object of worship of the spiritual seeker. “For there is concealed behind individual love, obscured by its ignorant human figure, a mystery which the mind cannot seize, the mystery of the body of the Divine, the secret of a mystic form of the Infinite which we can approach only through the ecstasy of the heart and the passion of the pure and sublimated sense, and its attraction which is the call of the divine Flute-player, the mastering compulsion of the All-Beautiful, can only be seized and seize us through an occult love and yearning which in the end makes one the Form and the Formless, and identifies Spirit and Matter. It is that which the spirit in Love is seeking here in the darkness of the Ignorance and it is that which it finds when individual human love is changed into the love of the Immanent Divine incarnate in the material universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 149-150

The Progressive Stages of Love In Spiritual Development

In order to achieve spiritual growth and realisation, the ego-centered individual at some point needs to open up to a larger reality, and develop a real relationship to that reality. On the emotional level, this process is what we call “love”. While it is true that the first steps of the individual toward this emotional opening are generally weak, or motivated by various vital desires or needs, or physical attractions and cravings, at some point, the very act of outreach represents what we might consider to be the first stage of a series of progressions that have their ultimate fulfillment and meaning in the pure, selfless and intense devotion or adoration that eventual results when we have recognized the true object of our devotion and turned our heart’s focus and intensity in that direction.

Along the way there are intermediate stages such as worship of a particular image, embodiment of God in a particular person, whether Avatar, Vibhuti, Guru, Prophet or Savior.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this subject in some depth: “All love, indeed, that is adoration has a spiritual force behind it; even when it is offered ignorantly and to a limited object, something of that splendour appears through the poverty of the rite and the smallness of its issues. For love that is worship is at once an aspiration and a preparation: it can bring even within its small limits in the Ignorance a glimpse of a still more or less blind and partial but surprising realisatino; for they are moments when it is not we but the One who loves and is loved in us, and even a human passion can be uplifted and glorified by a slight glimpse of this infinite Love and Lover. it is for this reason that the worship of the god, the worship of the idol, the human magnet or ideal are not to be despised; for these are steps through which the human race moves towards that blissful passion and ecstasy of the Infinite which, even in limiting it, they yet represent for our imperfect visino when we have still to use the inferior steps Nature has hewn for our feet and admit the stages of our progress.”

Each of the forms we worship also partake of that greater Truth; and when one recognises the Omnipresent Divinity, both beyond all forms and within and manifesting all forms, the worship can take on a more complete meaning. “Our knowledge is still imperfect in us, love incomplete if even when we know That which surpasses all forms and manifestations, we cannot still accept the Divine in creature and object, in man, in the kind, in the animal, in the tree, in the flower, in the work of our hands, in the Nature-Force which is then no longer to us the blind action of a material machinery but a face and power of the Universal Shakti: for in these things too is the presence of the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 149