Two Possible Attitudes Toward the World From the Viewpoint of the Seeker of the Yoga of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If we rest here, there are only two possible attitudes toward the world. Either we must remain as mere inactive witnesses of the world-play or act in it mechanically without any participation of the conscious self and by mere play of the organs of sense and motor-action.” The first one represents the attempt of the seeker to totally disassociate from the outer world and approach the abstraction and passivity of the silent Absolute. “We have stilled our mind and silenced the activity of the thought and the disturbances of the heart, we have arrived at an entire inner peace and indifference; we attempt now to still the mechanical action of the life and body, to reduce it to the most meagre minimum possible so that it may eventually cease entirely and for ever. This, the final aim of the ascetic Yoga which refuses life, is evidently not our aim.”

The second one participates in the life of the world, but only in a completely passive and detached manner. Sri Aurobindo points out that most people will object that such a completely passive attitude, absent a motivating thought and a conscious action of will, is not really feasible when engaging in the action of the outer world. “But, as a matter of fact, we see that a large part of our own action as well as the whole activity of inanimate and merely animate life is done by a mechanical impulse and movement in which these elements are not, openly at least, at work. It may be said that this is only possible of the purely physical and vital activity and not of those movements which ordinarily depend upon the functioning of the conceptual and volitional mind, such as speech, writing and all the intelligent action of human life. But this again is not true, as we find when we are able to go behind the habitual and normal process of our mental nature. It has been found by recent psychological experiment that all these operations can be effected without any conscious origination in the thought and will of the apparent actor; his organs of sense and action, including the speech, become passive instruments for a thought and will other than his.”

Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo describes his own experience when, after experiencing the total silencing of the mind, he had to deliver a speech to an assembly of political activists working toward the liberation of India from the British Empire. He thus speaks, not theoretically, but from an actual experiential basis that is also supported by the general principle that all action in the world is carried out mechanically by Nature acting through the three Gunas or qualities.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 14, The Passive and the Active Brahman, pp. 387-388

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