The Divine Force in Manifestation and the Transcendent Divine

Yoga can be understand, in one sense, as applied psychology. The responses of the mind, vital and physical parts of the being, and the attempt to both detach from them and eventually modify them, are one of the key features of the yogic process. Thus, when Sri Aurobindo describes the differences that occur when the Divine Force is active, versus the normal action of the lower nature, this is a description of an actual psychological activity not just an abstract philosophical statement.

Sri Aurobindo’s description of the divine force is vivid and detailed: He describes “…a Force greater than body, mind and life which takes hold of our limited instruments and drive all their motions. There is no longer the sense of ourselves moving, thinking or feeling but of that moving, feeling and thinking in us. This force that we feel is the universal Force of the Divine, which, veiled or unveiled, acting directly or permitting the use of its powers by beings in the cosmos, is the one Energy that alone exists and alone makes universal or individual action possible. For this force is the Divine itself in the body of its power; all is that power of act, power of thought and knowledge, power of mastery and enjoyment, power of love. Conscious always and in everything, in ourselves and in others, of the Master of Works possessing, inhabiting, enjoying through this Force that is himself, becoming through it all existences and happenings, we shall have arrived at the divine union through works and achieved by that fulfilment in works all that others have gained through absolute devotion or through pure knowledge.”

At the same time, Sri Aurobindo makes clear that this experience, this identification with the divine Force in the manifestation is not the entirety of the divine consciousness. There is also the transcendent aspect of the Divine, which is not limited nor bound by all the vast universal manifestation, but both encompasses it and surpasses it. This is Sri Aurobindo’s response to the more narrow “pantheism” that equates the world with God–while that defines the world, it does not define the Divine which transcends all that is. “The world is an emanation; it depends on something that manifests in it but is not limited by it: the Divine is not here alone; there is a Beyond, an eternal Transcendence. The individual being also in its spiritual part is not a formation in the cosmic existence–our ego, our mind, our life, our body are that; but the immutable spirit, the imperishable soul in us has come out of the Transcendence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pp. 241-242

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Illumined Action and Transformed Action

When we reflect on the stages of spiritual development, we can recognise that for the most part the spiritual paths have emphasised liberation from the life of desire and the ego. This has mainly been interpreted to reflect an abandonment of the life of the world and development of detachment and concentration on the spiritual Oneness. The integral Yoga also seeks the perfection of action, and in this realm there are several stages possible. As we gain something of detachment, we are able to observe the “machinery” of Nature acting within us, we see the play of the three Gunas, and recognise that we are moved and directed by that machinery. At this stage, action in the world may go on, but it is not binding on the soul’s consciousness. Sri Aurobindo describes a further stage that represents not just an illumined understanding of the action of the Divine Shakti through the human instrument, but a poise of consciousness that represents a unity and Oneness with the Divine Master of existence, such that the work being carried out is not simply done with an awareness of the mechanics of the outer nature, but carried out as a conscious portion of the Divine with full knowledge and unified consciousness of the larger purpose and intent of the Divine action.

Sri Aurobindo describes these two modes of action: “But still this action may be of two very different kinds, one only illumined, the other transformed and uplifted into a greater supernature. For we may keep on in the way of action upheld and followed by our nature when by her and her illusion of egoism we were ‘turned as if mounted on a machine,’ but now with a perfect understanding of the mechanism and its utilisation for his world purposes by the Master of works whom we feel behind it. This is indeed as far as even many great Yogis have reached on the levels of spiritualised mind; but it need not be so always, for there is a greater supramental possibility. It is possible to rise beyond spiritualised mind and to act spontaneously in the living presence of the original divine Truth-Force of the Supreme Mother. Our motion one with her motion and merged in it, our will one with her will, our energy absolved in her energy, we shall feel her working through us as the Divine manifest in a supreme Wisdom-Power, and we shall be aware of the transformed mind, life and body only as the channels of a supreme Light and Force beyond them, infallible in its steps because transcendent and total in its knowledge. Of this Light and Force we shall not only be the recipients, channels, instruments, but become a part of it in a supreme uplifted abiding experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pp. 240-241

Liberation and Perfection Are the Dual Aims of the Integral Yoga

The process of the surrender and elimination of the ego-consciousness leads to a status of liberation from the lower nature, through identification of the consciousness with the Divine. This still leaves the lower nature of mind-life-body unreformed and imperfect in its action. Yogic disciplines have generally taken the approach that the goal is liberation alone, and thus, the transformation of the lower nature never entered into the equation. Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the goal of the integral Yoga also requires the uplifting of the action in the world, and the perfection of the action of the lower instruments through opening to the Divine Shakti in Her complete power of knowledge, will, and effective implementation. “It is only when we open to the Divine Shakti in the truth of her force which transcends this lower Prakriti that we can be perfect instruments of her power and knowledge.”

“Not only liberation but perfection must be the aim of the Karmayoga. The Divine works through our nature and according to our nature; if our nature is imperfect, the work also will be imperfect, mixed, inadequate….If ours were not an integral Yoga, if we sought only the liberation of the self within us or the motionless existence of Purusha separated from Prakriti, this dynamic imperfection might not matter….But in an integral realisation this can only be a step on the way, not our last resting place. For we aim at the divine realisation not only in the immobility of the Spirit, but also in the movement of Nature. And this cannot be altogether until we can feel the presence and power of the Divine in every step, motion, figure of our activities, in every turn of our will, in every thought, feeling and impulse….Ours is a greater demand, that our nature shall be a power of the Divine in the Truth of the Divine, in the Light, in the force of the eternal self-conscient Will, in the wideness of the sempiternal Knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pp. 239-240

Achieving Action Without Egoism

Sri Aurobindo indicates: “Our nature must house the cosmic Force but not in its lower aspect or in its rajasic or sattwic movement; it must serve the universal Will, but in the light of a greater liberating knowledge. There must be no egoism of any kind in the attitude of the instrument, even when we are fully conscious of the greatness of the Force within us.”

All universal action is done by the Divine Shakti, and the individual is the occasion, not the cause of that action. Despite our normal egoistic attachment either to the sense of being the doer, or the sense of being the instrument of the Divine, the reality is that the Divine Force is at work in all beings and forms, either with their conscious understanding or without it.

The focus in Karmayoga is to develop the standpoint that removes the egoism from the awareness. “The attitude of our mind must not be ‘This is my strength’ or ‘Behold God’s power in me’, but rather ‘A Divine Power works in this mind and body and it is the same that works in all men and in the animal, in the plant and in the metal, in conscious and living things and in things appearing to be inconscient and inanimate.’ This large view of the One working in all and of the whole world as the equal instrument of a divine action and gradual self-expression, if it becomes our entire experience, will help to eliminate all rajasic egoism out of us and even the sattwic ego-sense will begin to pass away from our nature.”

Once we no longer hold any special sense in our minds, hearts or vital being that we are separate, different, unique and divinely inspired or guided in a way that attempts to set us apart and acts as a source of pride or arrogance, we can become express the divine Force in a way that does not distort it. “If this ego disappears, then we can truly become, not only pure instruments consciously consenting to every turn of the divine Hand that moves us, but aware of our true nature, conscious portions of the one Eternal and Infinite put out in herself for her works by the supreme Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pp. 237-239

An Instrument of a Greater Force In the Development of Humanity

At a certain point in the evolution of consciousness, the individual begins to open to the higher Force that exceeds the normal physical-vital-mental action of the human instrument as we normally conceive of it. Even here there are stages. An early stage consists of being impelled or moved by that force; while a more developed stage will include conscious openness and participation in the action of that Force.

For the individual moved by that Force, there is a recognition that it is more powerful and other than what has been ordinarily possible for his human capacities and action. We then see emerge founders and leaders of great movements–religious movements, political movements, economic movements, and even military movements. Great deeds can be set in motion and unleashed for ends that the Force of impulsion wants to accomplish.

As the ego has generally not been fully eliminated at this point, there arises the increased possibility of an enlarged ego of the instrument, and this can take on the characteristic of the predominant Guna, whether Rajas with its vital impulsion, or Sattwa, if there is a clarity and vision associated with it. They still feel that they are men of destiny, as Sri Aurobindo explains: “The most they see of the Divinity is a Fate or a cosmic Force or else they give his name to a limited Godhead or, worse, to a titanic or demoniac Power that veils him. Even certain religious founders have erected the image of the God of a sect or a national God or a Power of terror and punishment or a Numen of sattwic love and mercy and virtue and seem not to have seen the One and Eternal.”

“An exalted rajasic or sattwic ego still holds them and stands between them and the integral Truth. Even this is something, a beginning, although far from the true and perfect experience.”

“A much worse thing may befall those who break something of the human bonds but have not purity and have not the knowledge, for they may become instruments, but not of the Divine; too often, using his name, they serve unconsciously his masks and black Contraries, the Powers of Darkness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pg. 237

Overcoming the Ego of the Worker and the Dangers of the Egoism of the Instrument

As the transition from the standpoint of the ego-personality to the divine standpoint is a process and takes time, there are several stages along the way. We start with the egoism of being the “doer”, the worker, deciding and acting upon our decisions. Sri Aurobindo addresses the antidote to this state of awareness: “The first attitude to be taken is to cease to regard ourselves as the worker and firmly to realise that we are only one instrument of the cosmic Force. At first it is not the one Force but many cosmic forces that seem to move us; but these may be turned into feeders of the ego and this vision liberates the mind but not the rest of the nature.”

We become the witness and observe that forces larger than ourselves drive us one way and then another, influence our patterns of thought and action. We differentiate these different forces and see them battling for supremacy and control of our actions and reactions. This standpoint however can free us from the belief in ourselves as the worker or doer of the action.

“Even when we become aware of all as the working of one cosmic Force and of the Divine behind it, that too need not liberate. If the egoism of the worker disappears, the egoism of the instrument may replace it or else prolong it in a disguise.” There is of course a danger here in that the individual who feels that he is the instrument of divine action may actually react with a greatly inflated egoism. “A man becomes a leader of men or eminent in a large or lesser circle and feels himself full of a power that he knows to be beyond his own ego-Force; he may be aware of a Fate acting through him or a Will mysterious and unfathomable or a Light within of great brilliance. There are extraordinary results of his thoughts, his actions or his creative genius. He effects some tremendous destruction that clears the path for humanity or some great construction that becomes its momentary resting-place….Men who have this destiny and these powers come easily to believe and declare themselves to be mere instruments in the hand of God or of Fate: but even in the declaration we can see that there can intrude or take refuge an intenser and more exaggerated egoism than ordinary men have the courage to assert or the strength to house within them. And often if men speak of God, it is to erect an image of him which is really nothing but a huge shadow of themselves or their own nature, a sustaining Deific Essence of their own type of will and thought and quality and force. This magnified image of their ego is the Master whom they serve.”

Thus, even while freeing oneself from the egoism of the worker, the true liberation is not yet fully realised. The seeker must still face and overcome the egoism of the instrument. “An intellectual perception or vital sense of a Force greater than ours and of ourselves as moved by it is not sufficient to liberate from the ego.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pp. 236-237

Steps Toward Elimination of the Ego-Sense of the Individual As the Doer of Works

The difficulty we are faced with is that the Yoga calls for the elimination of the ego-sense, while at the same time, individual personality and the nexus of the individual interplay in the world should remain. Some spiritual paths try to resolve the issue of the ego by suppressing it ruthlessly and moving the seeker into a quiescent, passive state, or having the seeker step back from life in the world to one of divine contemplation. Whatever benefits these methods provide, they do not solve the essential difficulty of what is effectively a transition from ego-centred to divine-centred action within the framework of the manifested world. This transition is complicated because the seeker is framed within the ego-sense and thus, subject to the subtle (or not so subtle) manipulation that the ego provides to the action. it is an axiom of Western psychology that as long as one is locked into a framework, one cannot see that framework nor respond from outside the frame. Thus, some power of action that already resides outside the individual ego-consciousness must be active to effectuate the transition that is required, with aspiration, support and receptivity of the individual as the required qualities to aid this action.

Sri Aurobindo explains this: “Only the Divine Wisdom and Power can do this for us and it will do all if we yield to it in an entire faith and follow and assent to its workings with a constant courage and patience.”

He then sets forth the steps in this process: “The first step on this long path is to consecrate all our works as a sacrifice to the Divine in us and in the world; this is an attitude of the mind and heart, not too difficult to initiate, but very difficult to make absolutely sincere and all-pervasive. The second step is to renounce attachment to the fruit of our works; for the only true, inevitable and utterly desirable fruit of sacrifice–the one thing needful–is the Divine Presence and the Divine Consciousness and Power in us, and if that is gained, all else will be added. This is a transformation of the egoistic will in our vital being, our desire-soul and desire-nature, and it is far more difficult than the other. The third step is to get rid of the central egoism and even the ego-sense of the worker. That is the most difficult transformation of all and cannot be perfectly done if the first two steps have not been taken; but these first steps too cannot be completed unless the third comes in to crown the movement and, by the extinction of egoism, eradicates the very origin of desire. Only when the small ego-sense is rooted out from the nature can the seeker know his true person that stands above as a portion and power of the Divine and renounce all motive-force other than the will of the Divine Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 11, The Master of the Work, pg. 235