Individual Love and the Spiritual Transformation

The question of human relationships, the action of love within the scope of those relationships, is one of the more difficult questions that confronts the spiritual seeker throughout history. There is an enormous risk noted and acknowledged when a seeker attempts to accept the role of love in human relationships while aspiring to achieve spiritual realisation. Most spiritual paths have therefore asked the seeker to refrain from expressions of love toward people and objects in the outer world, and to channel the force of love towards divine service, devotion and the soul’s adoration of the divine.

At the same time, we are able to recognize that there is a divine purpose in the manifestation, that in fact the entire manifestation is an expression of the divine, and there must, therefore, be some truth and reality to the human relationships and the bonding that occurs between people. And some paths take up the challenge actively to confront the force of human love and accept it as a path of realisation.

Normal human expressions of love have been distorted and tainted by the vital force of desire, which is particularly strong in matters of sexual relations in particular. The sexual attraction is easily activated when the heart bestows its love on someone, and thus, the opportunity for serious distractions and distortions arises.

Sri Aurobindo addresses the issue by indicating the necessity for a change of standpoint and the corresponding change in the quality and tenor of the relationships that take place in the worldly activities of the seeker:

“Although it is a divine love for the supreme and universal Divine that must be the rule of our spiritual existence, this does not exclude altogether all forms of individual love or the ties that draw soul to soul in manifested existence. A psychic change is demanded, a divestiture of the masks of the Ignorance, a purification of the egoistic, mental, vital and physical movements that prolong the old inferior consciousness; each movement of love, spiritualised, must depend no longer on mental preference, vital passion or physical craving, but on the recognition of soul by soul,-love restored to its fundamental spiritual and psychic essence with the mind, the vital, the physical manifesting instruments and elements of that greater oneness. In this change, the individual love also is converted by a natural heightening into a divine love for the Divine Inhabitant immanent in a mind and soul and body occupied by the One in all creatures.”

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. 148-149

The Power of Love in the Spiritual Quest

The traditional seekers of the Eternal have primarily focused on the force of Knowledge to act as the lever for achieving the wide, unlimited standpoint of the Eternal. The integral Yoga, which focuses on a complete transformation of all the powers and aspects of life, also harnesses the powers of love and works to provide a fullness to the consciousness that is missing for those who abandon life in order to achieve spiritual knowledge. The integral Yoga develops the power and centrality of the psychic being, the true soul in man, to guide, and then brings in all the powers to uplift and transform.

Sri Aurobindo describes the benefits derived from bringing the power of love to bear on the quest: “If the sacrifice of knowledge rightly done is easily the largest and purest offering we can bring to the Highest, the sacrifice of love is not less demanded of us for our spiritual perfection; it is even more intense and rich in its singleness and can be made not less vast and pure. This pure wideness is brought into the intensity of the sacrifice of love when into all our activities there is poured the spirit and power of a divine infinite joy and the whole atmosphere of our life is suffused with an engrossing adoration of the One who is the All and the Highest. For then does the sacrifice of love attain its utter perfection when, offered to the Divine All, it becomes integral, catholic and boundless and when, uplifted to the Supreme, it ceases to be the weak, superficial and transient movement men call love and becomes a pure and grand and deep unity Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo calls up on us to recognize the difference between this divine power of love and the ordinary human movement that parades under that name. This requires a purification of the energy and a clarity of purpose and focus that does not get misdirected, misled or misguided into transferring the energy solely to any outer object in the aspect of a separated and isolated individual form, and which does not get perverted by the force of desire confusing the mind with its subtle promptings.

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. 148

The Psychic Being and Divine Universal Love

The soul focuses on certain qualities that have a divine essential characteristic to them. Most central of all is the quality of Love. The process of culturing of consciousness, of uplifting the ordinary human motives and actions from their weak, or misplaced focus on external forms and egoistic fulfillment, to refine, and refocus the consciousness so that it responds to those forms, forces, energies and movements that, in their essence, prepare the being for higher, purer and truer relations, from the divine standpoint, is essentially a preparation process for the action of the psychic being and its ability to come forward and take charge of the mind, life and body. Once this occurs, there is a process of making the new standpoint deeper, stronger, more solid and tuning it entirely to focus on the Divine in all and beyond all.

Sri Aurobindo describes the process: “It is the divine Love that it seeks most, it is the love of the Divine that is its spur, its goal, its star of Truth shining over the luminous cave of the nascent or the still obscure cradle of the new-born godhead within us.”

“In the first long stage of its growth and immature existence it has leaned on earthly love, affection, tenderness, goodwill, compassion, benevolence, on all beauty and gentleness and fineness and light and strength and courage, on all that can help to refine and purify the grossness and commonnness of human nature; but it knows how mixed are these human movements at their best and at their worst how fallen and stamped with the mark of ego and self-deceptive sentimental falsehood and the lower self profiting by the imitation of a soul movement.”

The natural first reaction of the soul is to try to throw off all these purely human relations and focus only on the Godward emotions. But just the purification of the individual soul, while a strong and necessary movement, is not sufficient. There also comes the need to bring down the higher force of Divine Love and transform the life in the world through its action: “It opens to a universal Divine Love, a vast compassion, an intense and immense will for the good of all, for the embrace of the World-Mother enveloping or gathering to her her children, the divine Passion that has plunged into the night for the redemption of the world from the universal Ignorance.”

“All true truths of Love and of the works of Love the psychic being accepts in their place; but its flame mounts always upward and it is eager to push the ascent from lesser to higher degrees of Truth, since it knows that only by the ascent to a highest Truth and the descent of that highest Truth can Love be delivered from the cross and placed upon the throne; for the cross is the sign of the Divine Descent barred and marred by the transversal line of a cosmic deformation which turns life into a state of suffering and misfortune. Only by the ascent to the original Truth can the deformation be healed and all the works of love, as too all the works of knowledge and of life, be restored to a divine significance and become part of an integral spiritual existence.”

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. 146-147

The Characteristics of the Psychic Being

The outer focus of the being centered in mind, life and body means that we are constantly being pushed or pulled in one direction or another, buffeted by the forces of desire, misled by the limited and limiting logic-streams served up by the mind, or engrossed in the needs of the physical life. A good portion of the preparation for the seeker or aspirant of the integral Yoga is actually to rein in these parts of the being so that he can hear the voice of the soul and follow its guidance. Sri Aurobindo explains: “At a certain stage in the Yoga when the mind is sufficiently quieted and no longer supports itself at every step on the sufficiency of its mental certitudes, when the vital has been steadied and subdued and is no longer constant insistent on its own rash will, demand and desire, when the physical has been sufficiently altered not to bury altogether the inner flame under the mass of its outwardness, obscurity or inertia, an inmost being hidden within and felt only in its rare influences is able to come forward and illumine the rest and take up the lead of the Sadhana.”

At this point, we find that the soul’s action becomes more central to the life of the seeker, more directed and thus, more potent in its ability to direct, guide and lead the outer being, the ego-personality. “Its character is a one-pointed orientation towards the Divine or the Highest, one-pointed and yet plastic in action and movement; it does not create a rigidity of direction like the one-pointed intellect or a bigotry of the regnant idea or impulse like the one-pointed vital force; it is at every moment and with a supple sureness that it points the way to the Truth, automatically distinguishes the right step from the false, extricates the divine or Godward movement from the clinging mixture of the undivine. Its action is like a searchlight showing up all that has to be changed in the nature; it has in it a flame of will insistent on perfection, on an alchemic transmutation fo all the inner and outer existence. It sees the divine essence everywhere but rejects the mere mask and the disguising figure. It insists on Truth, on will and strength and mastery, on Joy and Love and Beauty, but on a Truth of abiding Knowledge that surpasses the mere practical momentary truth of the Ignorance, on an inward joy and not on mere vital pleasure,–for it prefers rather a purifying suffering and sorrow to degrading satisfactions,–on love winged upward and not tied to the stake of egoistic craving or with its feet sunk in the mire, on beauty restored to its priesthood of interpretation of the Eternal, on strength and will and mastery as instruments not of the ego but of the Spirit. Its will is for the divinisation of life, the expression through it of a higher Truth, its dedication to the Divine and the Eternal.”

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. 145-146

The Nature and Action of the Soul in Man

Sri Aurobindo describes the soul: “It is the very nature of the soul or the psychic being to turn towards the Divine Truth as the sunflower to the sun; it accepts and clings to all that is divine or progressing towards divinity and draws back from all that is a perversion or a denial of it, from all that is false and undivine.”

It remains then to understand how to identify the soul within oneself, and how to align one’s thoughts, feelings and actions with the promptings of the soul. “…for the most part it is veiled in its inner sanctum and to reveal itself it has to call on the mind, the life-force and the physical consciousness and persuade them, as best they can, to express it…”

The soul’s promptings are subtle and easily overpowered by the drives and impulsions of the vital being. It grows in strength each time its voice is heeded, and over time, it begins to form itself into a distinctive presence within, the psychic being. “This soul is obliged to accept the human mental, emotive, sensational life as it is, its relations, its activities, its cherished forms and figures; it has to labour to disengage and increase the divine element in all this relative truth mixed with continual falsifying error, this loved turned to the uses of the animal body or the satisfaction of the vital ego, this life of an average manhood shot with rare and pale glimpses of Godhead and the darker luridities of the demon and the brute.”

The soul is not misled by these deformations, weaknesses or failures of the outer nature. “Unerring in the essence of its will, it is obliged often under the pressure of its instruments to submit to mistakes of action, wrong placement of feeling, wrong choice of person, errors in the exact form of its will, in the circumstances of its expression of the infallible inner ideal. Yet is there a divination within it which makes it a surer guide than the reason or than even the highest desire, and through apparent errors and stumblings its voice can still lead better than the precise intellect and the considering mental judgment.”

Some consider what we call conscience to be the voice of the soul, but Sri Aurobindo distinguishes this. “…that is only a mental and often conventional erring substitute; it is a deeper and more seldom heard call; yet to follow it when heard is wisest: even, it is better to wander at the call of one’s soul than to go apparently straight with the reason and the outward moral mentor.”

In the end, the seeker’s path must eventually put the soul at the center of the aspiration: “But it is only when the life turns towards the Divine that the soul can truly come forward and impose its power on the outer members; for, itself a spark of the Divine, to grow in flame towards the Divine is its true life and its very reason of existence.”

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. 144-145

The Integral Yoga’s Threefold Process To Transform the Emotional and Vital Nature of Man

The usual solutions to dealing with the vital drives and the heart’s emotions include all the various options described as ethical, moral, and religio-ethical, including altruism, philanthropy and humanitarian service. All of these are founded and based in the mental consciousness and thus represent only partial solutions or compromises to try to control or upgrade the egoistic reactions. As a result, they cannot effectuate the complete transformation nor provide the uplifting force needed to totally spiritualise the action of the being from the divine standpoint. Sri Aurobindo explains the essential difficulty of trying to resolve these issues at the level of mind: “The mind is the sphere of the dualities and, just as it is impossible for it to achieve any absolute Truth but only truths relative or mixed with error, so it is impossible for it to achieve any absolute good; for moral good exists as a counterpart and corrective to evil and has evil always for its shadow, complement, almost its reason for existence. But the spiritual consciousness belongs to a higher than the mental plane and there the dualities cease; for there falsehood confronted with the truth by which it profited through a usurping falsification of it and evil faced by the good fo which it was a perversion or a lurid substitute, are obliged to perish for want of sustenance and to cease.”

Sri Aurobindo describes the process of the integral Yoga in addressing these issues: “The integral Yoga, refusing to rely upon the fragile stuff of mental and moral ideals, puts its whole emphasis in this field on three central dynamic processes–the development of the true soul or psychic being to take the place of the false soul of desire, the sublimation of human into divine love, the elevation of consciousness from its mental to its spiritual and supramental plane by whose power alone both the soul and the life-force can be utterly delivered from the veils and prevarications 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. 143-144

The Religio-Ethical Approach To Spiritual Action and Its Limitations

There have been, of course, other strategies for spiritual development which did not require total abandonment of any activities other than those specifically related to the devotional or religious practices of the path. One of these is what Sri Aurobindo defines as the “ethical” or the “religio-ethical” approach. In this approach, the seeker is provided a wider latitude of action than in the purely religious/devotional approach, because the definition of action is broadened to take into account any number of paths of action that school the ego and place the individual at the service of a wider ideal or community than just trying to satisfy the ego’s vital impulses, emotions and desires. The difference between the two is primarily that the “ethical” takes on a more secular character, while the “religio-ethical” incorporates the religious tenets and ideals into the application of the ethical sense.

Sri Aurobindo defines the ethical sense: “It is the works of altruism, philanthropy, compassion, benevolence, humanitarianism, service, labour for the well-being of man and all creatures that are to be our ideal; to shuffle off the coil of egoism and grow into a soul of self-abnegation that lives only or mainly for others or for humanity as a whole is the way of man’s inner evolution according to this doctrine.”

The religio-ethical brings in another aspect with the devotional side, including worship, love of God, and expressions of these emotions in concrete ways in action: “To the inner worship of the Divine or the Supreme by the devotion of the heart or to the pursuit of the Ineffable by the seeking of a highest knowledge can be added a worship through altruistic works or a preparation through acts of love, of benevolence, of service to mankind or to those around us. It is indeed by the religio-ethical sense that the law of universal goodwill or universal compassion or of love and service to the neighbor, the Vedantic, the Buddhistic, the Christian ideal, was created…”

The limitations of both of these types of approach are similar. They are a means to an end, the liberation of the soul from the world, and thus, cease when the goal is attained; or else, become satisfied with partial changes stemming from the mental framework without the total transformation of life and existence sought by the integral Yoga: “For in the religious system this law of works is a means that ceases when its object is accomplished or a side issue; it is a part of the cult by which one adores and seeks the Divinity or it is a penultimate step of the excision of self in the passage to Nirvana. In the secular ideal it is promoted into an object in itself; it becomes a sign of the moral perfection of the human being, or else it is a condition for a happier state of man upon earth, a better society, a more united life of the race. But none of these things satisfy the demand of the soul that is placed before us by the integral 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. 142-143