Overcoming the First Cause of Impurity For the Action of the Higher Understanding

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The first cause of impurity in the understanding is the intermiscence of desire in the thinking functions, and desire itself is an impurity of the Will involved in the vital and emotional parts of our being.” Many spiritual traditions have identified desire and attachment to objects of desire as being contrary to the attainment of true wisdom. The Bhagavad Gita also makes it clear that the first step in achieving spiritual ascendancy is to overcome the force of desire. The real issue comes in when the seeker hears the prescription “overcome desire”. Without guidance, this can lead to all kinds of attempts, some of which are more or less successful, while others can become not just failures, but disastrous attempts that lead the seeker into confusion and illusion. Sri Aurobindo has made careful and detailed observations which help in both the understanding of the issue and for the mastery of desire:

When the vital and emotional desires interfere with the pure Will-to-know, the thought-function becomes subservient to them, pursues ends other than those proper to itself and its perceptions are clogged and deranged. The understanding must lift itself beyond the siege of desire and emotion and, in order that it may have perfect immunity, it must get the vital parts and the emotions themselves purified.”

“The will to enjoy is proper to the vital being but not the choice or the reaching after the enjoyment which must be determined and acquired by higher functions; therefore the vital being must be trained to accept whatever gain or enjoyment comes to it in the right functioning of the life in obedience to the working of the divine Will and to rid itself of craving and attachment. Similarly the heart must be freed from subjection to the cravings of the life-principle and the senses and thus rid itself of the false emotions of fear, wrath, hatred, lust, etc. which constitute the chief impurity of the heart. The will to love is proper to the heart, but here also the choice and reaching after love have to be foregone or tranquilised and the heart taught to love with depth and intensity indeed, but with a calm depth and a settled and equal, not a troubled and disordered intensity. The tranquilisation and mastery of these members is a first condition for the immunity of the understanding from error, ignorance and perversion. This purification spells an entire equality of the nervous being and the heart; equality, therefore, even as it was the first word of the path of works, so also is the first word of the path of knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 3, The Purified Understanding, pg. 298-299