Harmonizing Oneness With Differentiation With Equality of Soul

One of the propensities of the human mind is to see things as “either-or”, “black and white”. Thus, when we are called upon to recognize the Oneness of all creation, we immediately tend to jump to a standpoint where we fail to recognize and appreciate the differences. There is, however, an underlying rationale and truth to the differentiation we see in the manifested universe and it is thus necessary to find a way to establish our equality of soul, which is based on Oneness, while at the same time recognizing, appreciating and rejoicing in the diversity and differentiation we see in all the forms and beings around us in the world.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “Equality does not mean a fresh ignorance or blindness; it does not call for and need not initiate a greyness of vision and a blotting out of all hues. Difference is there, variation of expression is there and this variation we shall appreciate,–far more justly than we could when the eye was clouded by a partial and erring love and hate, admiration and scorn, sympathy and antipathy, attraction and repulsion.”

All outer forms and beings, however, partake of the Oneness and thus, we must achieve the emotional and mental balance to both see and appreciate the differences while understanding and responding to the Oneness. We then begin to reorient our thoughts and reactions as we learn to appreciate that even things which we consider with our minds or emotions or vital reactions to be ugly, deformed, or hostile represent some potentiality and stage of the manifestation and they have their own purpose in the larger scheme of things.

“And so too we shall have the same equality of mind and soul towards all happenings, painful or pleasurable, defeat and success, honour and disgrace, good repute and ill-repute, good fortune and evil fortune.”

The larger view makes it clear: “All things move towards a divine event; each experience, suffering and want no less than joy and satisfaction is a necessary link in the carrying out of a universal movement which it is our business to understand and second.”

Sri Aurobindo then gives us the qualities of the mature soul that has struck this balance: “The ripened soul does not condemn but seeks to understand and master, does not cry out but accepts or toils to improve and perfect, does not revolt inwardly but labours to obey and fulfil and transfigure. Therefore we shall receive all things with an equal soul from the hands of the Master. Failure we shall admit as a passage as calmly as success until the hour of the divine victory arrives. Our souls and minds and bodies will remain unshaken by acutest sorrow and suffering and pain if in the divine dispensation they come to us, unoverpowered by intensest joy and pleasure. Thus supremely balanced we shall continue steadily on our way meeting all things with an equal calm until we are ready for a more exalted status and can enter into the supreme and universal Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pp.212-213

Equality of Soul Towards All

Sri Aurobindo provides the basis for the requirement of equality of soul: “And since all things are the one Self in its manifestation, we shall have equality of soul towards the ugly and the beautiful, the maimed and the perfect, the noble and the vulgar, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the good and the evil.”

The human standpoint, based on the mental predilection for division, separation and fragmentation, tends to emphasize the differences rather than the commonality of all things. Thus we divide humanity into ever-increasing fragmented groups, distinguishing people by their size or shape, skin color, economic status, religious persuasion, country of origin, etc. Once we have divided humanity we then proceed to use these distinctions to create disharmony, separation and difference, forgetting about the common basis and common environment that we all share, and which represents a far greater core of Oneness than of difference!

The process of the Yoga requires us to abandon this flawed human standpoint and to recognise and adopt the divine standpoint, which starts from the basis of Oneness and then finds the ultimate reason for the differences we can see in the needs of the divine manifestation and evolutionary process: “For we shall know that all things express or disguise, develop or distort, as best they can or with whatever defect they must, under the circumstances intended for them, in the way possible to the immediate status or function or evolution of their nature, some truth or fact, some energy or potential of the Divine necessary by its presence in the progressive manifestation both to the whole of the present sum of things and for the perfection of the ultimate result. That truth is what we must seek and discvoer behind the transitory expression; undeterred by appearances, by the deficiencies or the disfigurements of the expression, we can then worship the Divine for ever unsullied, pure, beautiful and perfect behind his masks.”

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that this does not mean that we have to ultimately accept the deformations or weaknesses we observe as permanent. “All indeed has to be changed, not ugliness accepted but divine beauty, not imperfection taken as our resting-place but perfection striven after, the supreme good made the universal aim and not evil. But what we do has to be done with a spiritual understanding and knowledge, and it is a divine good, beauty, perfection, pleasure that has to be followed after, not the human standards of these things.”

The basis of this understanding in its completeness and purity is equality of soul to all. “If we have not equality, it is a sign that we are still pursued by the Ignorance, we shall truly understand nothing and it is more than likely that we shall destroy the old imperfection only to create another: for we are substituting the appreciations of our human mind and desire-soul for the divine values.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pp.211-212

Equality of Soul Is a Recognition of the Divine Oneness

The normal circumstance of human life is based on the separation and division we experience in the mental consciousness. We classify and categorize everyone and everything around us, label them, and then act upon them with various forms of emotional and vital response. Love and hatred, like and dislike, attraction and repulsion. We act in a constant state of imbalance and we react based on these preferences. Sri Aurobindo points out that such reactions are both natural and necessary as we grow into consciousness of our individuality, and they shape the larger plan or effort of the Divine in the universal manifestation. At a certain stage, however, when the individual consciously takes up the practice of Yoga for the purpose of achieving Oneness with the Divine consciousness, these automatic distinctions and reactions must eventually be replaced in order for the yogic action to be perfected.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “For the worship of the Master of works demands a clear recognition and glad acknowledgement of him in ourselves, in all things and in all happenings. Equality is the sign of this adoration; it is the soul’s ground on which true sacrifice and worship can be done. The Lord is there equally in all beings, we have to make no essential distinctions between ourselves and others, the wise and the ignorant, friend and enemy, man and animal, the saint and the sinner. We must hate none, despise none, be repelled by none; for in all we have to see the One disguised or manifested at his pleasure. He is a little revealed in one or more revealed in another or concealed and wholly distorted in others according to his will and his knowledge of what is best for that which he intends to become in form in them and to do in works in their nature. All is our self, one self that has taken many shapes. Hatred and dislike and scorn and repulsion, clinging and attachment and preference are natural, necessary, inevitable at a certain stage: they attend upon or they help to make and maintain Nature’s choice in us. But to the Karmayogin they are a survival, a stumbling-block, a process of the Ignorance and, as he progresses, they fall away from his nature. The child-soul needs them for its growth; but they drop from an adult in the divine culture. In the God-nature to which we have to rise there can be an adamantine, even a destructive severity but not hatred, a divine irony but not scorn, a calm, clear-seeing and forceful rejection but not repulsion and dislike. Even what we have to destroy, we must not abhor or fail to recognise as a disguised and temporary movement of the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pg.211

Overcoming the Enemy of the Yoga

Sri Aurobindo identifies what the seeker must overcome in order to achieve the results anticipated through the yogic practice: “At this stage of the Yoga and even throughout the Yoga this form of desire, this figure of the ego is the enemy against whom we have to be always on our guard with an unsleeping vigilance. We need not be discouraged when we find him lurking within us and assuming all sorts of disguises, but we should be vigilant to detect him in all his masks and inexorable in expelling his influence.”

The Bhagavad Gita directly addresses this issue with a series of steps or stages to systematically address the problem of desire and ego. The first step is to recognize that one should act without attachment to the fruit of the action. “To action thou hast a right but never under any circumstances to its fruit.” The fruit, the results, of any action are to be recognized as dedicated to the Lord, the Divine, with the action constituting the sacrifice and developing from the self-consecration of the being for the Divine purpose in the world.

As we thereby loosen the hold of ego and desire, there comes a stage where the seeker must recognize that even the action itself does not truly belong to the individual, but rather, we must act according to the Divine direction or guidance. “…at any moment we must be prepared to change one work, one course or one field of action for another or abandon all works if that is the clear command of the Master. Otherwise we do the act not for his sake but for our satisfaction and pleasure in the work, for the kinetic nature’s need of action or for the fulfilment of our propensities; but these are all stations and refuges of the ego.” The motive of the work will be to fulfill the Divine Will in a free and unattached manner, yet with full devotion and consecration in the act.

“In the end, as the attachment to the fruit of the work and to the work itself has been excised from the heart, so also the last clinging attachment to the idea and sense of ourselves as the doer has to be relinquished; the Divine Shakti must be known and felt above and within us as the true and sole worker.”

Through these three successive stages, the seeker leaves behind the binding and attachment to the ego-personality and becomes the desireless instrument of the universal action through the individual nexus that he represents.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pp.210-211

Self-Consecration In Works Is the First Necessity For the Surrender of the Ego

Having provided an overview of the steps required for the spiritual transformation from the human standpoint to the divine standpoint in both knowledge and action, Sri Aurobindo now takes up each step systematically and provides the methodology and the results to be achieved by its practice. The first step he calls “self-consecration in works”. The Yoga is not seen necessarily in outward forms, but in the inward turn of the nature towards the higher truth, and the psychological transformation that occurs through the inner change. “The first necessity is an entire spirit of self-consecration in our works; it must become first the constant will, then the ingrained need in all the being, finally its automatic but living and conscious habit, the self-existent turn to do all action as a sacrifice to the Supreme and to the veiled Power present in us and in all beings and in all the workings of the universe. Life is the altar of this sacrifice, works are our offerings; a transcendent and universal Power and Presence as yet rather felt or glimpsed than known or seen by us is the Deity to whom they are offered. This sacrifice, this self-consecration has two sides to it; there is the work itself and there is the spirit in which it is done, the spirit of worship to the Master of Works in all that we see, think and experience.”

The nature of the work itself is contingent on each individual’s character and should be the highest and best that the individual soul can conceive. There are many different ways that this determination comes about, based on the evolutionary stage of the individual soul. Some may be moved by a sense of duty, some by compassion or altruism, some by a sense of unity with all of humanity or of the world and all its beings as a whole. Some may respond based on a respect or love for a revered guide or teacher or an ideal that moves the soul. Whatever the actual form of the action, the inner essence must be one of true surrender to that higher motive or ideal without attachment or personal desire for specific benefit or result. “For so long as we work with attachment to the result, the sacrifice is offered not to the Divine, but to our ego. We may think otherwise, but we are deceiving ourselves; we are making our idea of the Divine, our sense of duty, our feeling for our fellow-creatures, our idea of what is good for the world or others, even our obedience to the Master a mask for our egoistic satisfactions and preferences and a specious shield against the demand made on us to root all desire out of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 9, Equality and Annihilation of Ego, pp.209-210

Three Stages of a Developing Spiritual Action

Just as there are steps or stages in the transition from the mental to the spiritual consciousness, so also there are stages in the transition from action based on the normal human ego-personality to action that is fully an expression of the spiritual Truth of existence. Sri Aurobindo identifies three major stages in this transition. Clearly there must be a way to bridge the wide gulf between egoistic and spiritual action, and these stages provide that bridge:

“…first, the personal will is occasionally or frequently enlightened or moved by a supreme Will or conscious Force beyond it, then constantly replaced and, last identified and merged in that divine Power-action. The first is the stage when we are still governed by the intellect, heart and senses; these have to seek or wait for the divine inspiration and guidance and do not always find or receive it. The second is the stage when human intelligence is more and more replaced by a high illumined or intuitive spiritualised mind, the external human heart by the inner psychic heart, the senses by a purified and selfless vital force. The third is the stage when we rise even above spiritualised mind to the supramental levels.”

“In all three stages the fundamental character of the liberated action is the same, a spontaneous working of Prakriti no longer through or for the ego but at the will and for the enjoyment of the supreme Purusha. At a higher level this becomes the Truth of the absolute and universal Supreme expressed through the individual soul and worked out consciously through the nature.–no longer through a half-perception and a diminished or distorted effectuation by the stumbling, ignorant and all-deforming energy of lower nature in us but by the all-wise transcendent and universal Mother.”

A struggle occurs where the intuition, the illumination, the inspiration appear and shed a brilliant light on the work to be done; and then the seeker returns to the habitual patterns, left with the vivid memory of the experience, and striving to have it return and repeat itself. “Our human effort at perfection fails, or progresses very incompletely, owing to the force of Nature’s past actions in us, her past formations, her long-rooted associations; it turns towards a true and high-climbing success only when a greater Knowledge or Power than our own breaks through the lid of our ignorance and guides or takes up our personal will….The period of slow emergence out of this lower working into a higher light and purer force is the valley of the shadow of death for the striver after perfection; it is a dreadful passage full of trials, sufferings, sorrows, obscurations, stumblings, errors, pitfalls. To abridge and alleviate this ordeal or to penetrate it with the divine delight faith is necessary, an increasing surrender of the mind to the knowledge that imposes itself from within and, above all, a true aspiration and a right and unfaltering and sincere practice.”

As the practice proceeds, the periods of illumination increase and the stages are traversed to arrive at a point where it is the divine Will acting through the individual as an occasion or a nexus of the action, rather than the weak and ignorant will of the egoistic individual personality.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 8, The Supreme Will, pp.207-208

The Individual Soul and the Spontaneous Action of Nature Through Oneness

From our human standpoint, knowledge is something that needs to be built up, acquired with effort and involves the accumulation of sense impressions (facts), the organization of those sense impressions and then the application of logical tools of the mind to make sense out of them, eventually creating therefrom a symbolic set (language, symbols or imagery) that stores the sense that we have derived and which then allows us to communicate and share that information with others. All of this represents what Sri Aurobindo terms “separative knowledge”. Because of the limitations of this way of knowing, we always have a fragmentary and derived knowledge rather than a complete and unified knowledge.

Similarly, our will to action is based on the fragmented and separated knowledge base we have acquired and we thus have limited and weak ability to put our knowledge into action.

There is, however, another kind of knowing, which Sri Aurobindo terms “knowledge by identity”. This type of knowing does not rely on logic-sets or symbols, nor does it need to build up its base of knowledge; rather it is a self-evident, self-contained, complete form of knowledge. Starting from the human basis, it is essentially impossible for us to even remotely understand or imagine this type of knowledge, or the effective Will that puts this level of knowledge into action in the universe.

Intuition or inspiration represent flashes of brilliance that move us beyond the strict limits of the logical building of knowledge-sets within which we normally operate. While they do not reach the fullness of the illumination that is represented by knowledge by identity, they at least indicate to us that greater and more potent forms of knowledge are available when we even slightly exceed the normal mental limitations, with the corresponding impact on action.

Sri Aurobindo describes the knowledge-will of the Infinite, to the extent possible: “The Lord sees in his omniscience the thing that has to be done. This seeing is his Will, it is a form of creative Power, and that which he sees the all-conscious Mother, one with him, takes into her dynamic self and embodies, and executive Nature-Force carries it out as the mechanism of their omnipotent omniscience. But this vision of what is to be and therefore of what is to be done arises out of the very being, pours directly out of the consciousness and delight of existence of the Lord, spontaneously, like light from the sun. It is not our mortal attempt to see, our difficult arrival at truth of action and motive or just demand of Nature.”

The spiritual Oneness unifies the individual soul with the universal and transcendent: “When the individual soul is entirely at one in its being and knowledge with the Lord and directly in touch with the original Shakti, the transcendent Mother, the supreme Will can then arise in us too in the high divine manner as a thing that must be and is achieved by the spontaneous action of Nature. There is then no desire, no responsibility, no reaction; all takes place in the peace, calm, light, power of the supporting and enveloping and inhabiting Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 8, The Supreme Will, pp.206-207