The Universal Divine Conscious Being: The Purushottama

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna declares: “Since I am beyond the mutable and am greater and higher even than the immutable, in the world and the Veda I am proclaimed as the Purushottama (the supreme Self). (Sri Aurobindo, Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, Chapter 15, v. 18)

Due to the natural tendency of the mind, we like to create abstractions and symbols to define for ourselves the nature of the divine reality. Thus, we attach to our conception of the Divine, various abstract principles. Sri Aurobindo observes: “We may think, feel and say that God is Truth, Justice, Righteousness, Power, Love, Delight, Beauty; we may see him as a universal force or as a universal consciousness.”

At the same time, we recognize within ourselves something other than a collection of abstract principles, something we identify as personality. “…so is the Divine a Person, a conscious Being who thus expresses his nature to us.”

With such a vision, we must be prepared to see both those qualities that we identify positively, and those that we identify negative. The Divine manifests in all his complexity, in ways that our limited human understanding cannot fully fathom. “He is Vishnu, Krishna, Kali; he reveals himself to us in humanity as the Christ personality or the Buddha personality. When we look beyond our first exclusively concentrated vision, we see behind Vishnu all the personality of Shiva and behind Shiva all the personality of Vishnu. He is the Ananta-guna, infinite quality and the infinite divine Personality which manifests itself through it. Again he seems to withdraw into a pure spiritual impersonality or beyond all idea even of impersonal Self and to justify a spiritualised atheism or agnosticism; he becomes to the mind of man an indefinable…. But out of this unknowable the conscious Being, the divine Person, who has manifested himself here, still speaks, ‘This too is I; even here beyond the view of mind, I am He, the Purushottama.’ ”

In conclusion: “For, beyond the divisions and contradictions of the intellect there is another light and there the vision of a truth reveals itself which we may thus try to express to ourselves intellectually. There all is one truth of all these truths; for there each is present and justified in all the rest. In that light our spiritual experience becomes united and integralised; no least hair’s breadth of real division is left, no shade of superiority and inferiority remains between the seeking of the Impersonal and the adoration of the divine Personality, between the way of knowledge and the way of devotion.”

The Upanishadic dicta remind us “One without a second”, while at the same time “All this is the Brahman.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 560-561

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Forms of the Divine Personality

When the cells that comprise the foot reflect on their existence, it is likely that they wonder whether there is an divine Being or Personality of which they are a portion, or if they are all alone in the universe, having to interact with other cells in their neighborhood and somehow learning to get along with one another while carrying out their purpose of existence, in whatever way they conceive that purpose. They may come to conclude that there is a larger unified whole and some controlling force of their existence, although they may decide, particularly when the toe gets stubbed, or the foot steps on a sharp rock, that perhaps there is no higher conscious existence, or if there is, that the suffering is there for some purpose. Or they may determine that such suffering is some kind of karmic retribution for mistakes it made in the past.

Seriously, however, putting aside the question of the foot as a portion of a larger conscious being, we are faced with a quite similar situation when we try to interact with the forms of the divine Personality. There are frames of awareness where the conscious being seems to disappear and the universe takes on the appearance of some “timeless pure existence.” It can go even further, as Sri Aurobindo explains: “And again even this pure self of our being seems at a certain pitch to deny its own reality, or to be a projection from a selfless baseless unknowable, which we may conceive of either as a nameless somewhat, or as a Nihil.” For the seeker who fixates his attention on this aspect, the idea of divine Personality becomes impossible to conceive: “It is when we would fix upon this exclusively and forget all that it has withdrawn into itself that we speak of pure impersonality or the void Nihil as the highest truth.”

The seeker of the integral Yoga, however, focuses on the synthesis of the Impersonal and the Personal aspect and recognizes that even this impersonal standpoint is but an aspect of the divine conscious Being who creates and sustains the entire universal creation in all its forms, forces, and actions. “And if we carry up our heart as well as our reasoning mind to the Highest, we shall find that we can reach it through the absolute Person as well as through an absolute impersonality.”

“But all this self-knowledge is only the type within ourselves of the corresponding truth of the Divine in his universality. There too we meet him in various forms of divine personality; in formulations of quality which variously express him to us in his nature; in infinite quality, the Anantaguna; in the divine Person who expresses himself through infinite quality; in absolute impersonality, an absolute existence or an absolute non-existence, which is yet all the time the unexpressed Absolute of this divine Person, this conscious Being who manifests himself through us and through the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 559-560

Spiritual Experience and the Divine Personality

It would be a mistake to allow the logical intellect of the mind to act as the sole judge and jury of the truth of any particular view of existence. Despite its arrogant insistence on its scientific, fact-based, approach, this mental power is only able to perceive and act within a certain limited range or experience and has, as its fundamental method, a method that seeks out differences and points of separation rather than finds the underlying unity and the established Oneness. To the extent this intellect begins to recognize the inherent Unity of all existence, with concepts such as biosphere, ecosphere, noosphere, it begins also to recognize that there are aspects of existence far outside its own boundaries of action and thus, it needs to cede its judgment to other forms of knowing. Spiritual experience and spiritual intuition are a different type of knwoing, one that bases its knowledge on a sense of identify.

The mind, when confronted with the concept of a divine Personality, simply is unable to comprehend, and tends to treat this as Sri Aurobindo describes, as “…fictions of the imagination or to psychological symbols, in any case, the responses of our sensitive personality to something which is not this at all, but is purely impersonal. We may say that That is in reality the very opposite of our humanity and our personality and therefore in order to enter into relations with it we are impelled to set up these human fictions and these personal symbols so as to make it nearer to us.”

“But we have to judge by spiritual experience, and in a total spiritual experience we shall find that these things are not fictions and symbols, but truths of divine being in their essence, however imperfect may have been our representations of them….Greater self-knowledge shows us that we are not fundamentally the particular formulation of form, powers, properties, qualities with a conscious I identifying itself with them, which we at first appear to be. That is only a temporary fact, though still a fact, of our partial being on the surface of our active consciousness. We find within an infinite being with the potentiality of all qualities, of infinite quality, anantaguna, which can be combined in any number of possible ways, and each combination is a revelation of our being. For all this personality is the self-manifestation of a Person, that is to say, of a being who is conscious of his manifestation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pg. 559

Monotheism, Polytheism and the Divine Personality

The original anthropomorphic concepts of the Divine have been subjected to intense intellectual scrutiny by the analytical mind. In fact, much of the modern day debate between science and religion stems from the debunking of some of the more juvenile conceptions that arose in the development of the idea of a personal God. Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is not surprising that the philosophical and sceptical mind should have found little difficulty in destroying it all intellectually, whether in the direction of the denial of a personal God and the assertion of an impersonal Force or Becoming or in that of an impersonal Being or an ineffable denial of existence with all the rest as only symbols of Maya or phenomenal truths of the Time-consciousness. But these are only the personifications of monotheism.” The very idea of one supreme God, sitting on some heavenly throne, and dispensing out judgments on each individual being for acts that were more or less pre-determined by that selfsame God, is difficult for the modern mind to accept.

There are, however, also various polytheistic religions. They may accept the idea of some supreme form or conscious existence, but they also see the divinity in all things, and in most cases, personify the consciousness of each thing as a divinity. “…but where the inner sense of spiritual things became clearer, the various godheads assumed the appearance of personalities of the one Divine,–that is the declared point of view of the ancient Veda. This Divine might be a supreme Being who manifests himself in various divine personalities or an impersonal existence which meets the human mind in these forms; or both views might be held simultaneously without any intellectual attempt to reconcile them, since both were felt to be true to spiritual experience.”

Obviously the modern mind of science has an equally hard time accepting the concepts of polytheism; however, the polytheists have a spiritual sense of the Oneness of all existence, and the divine nature of Reality which carries the weight of truth once the doors of spiritual experience have begun to open and the seeker sees with the spiritual intuition or the Divine sight.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 558-559

Conceptions About the Divine Personality

When the individual considers the idea of “personality”, even a Divine Personality, he begins by relating it to what is already known to him. Therefore, the first conceptions of Divine Personality take on characteristics similar to those of the human personality. Sri Aurobindo observes: “Our personality is to us at first a separate creature, a limited mind, body, character which we conceive of as the person we are, a fixed quantity; for although in reality it is always changing, yet there is a sufficient element of stability to give a kind of practical justification to this notion of fixedness. We conceive of God as such a person, only without body, a separate person different from all others with a mind and character limited by certain qualities.”

Our limited experience of personality then attributes the same kind of characteristics as we see within ourselves to our personal idea of God. In some cases, God is seen as vindictive and vengeful; in others, lustful and jealous, and yet in others, subject to flattery and propitiation. And of course God also takes on characteristics of benign affection, goodwill and helpfulness at times.

As the human mind progresses in its conceptualisation of God, it begins to attribute unlimited qualities to God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, and all-loving, all-seeing goodwill. A problem then arises when we compare this conception with what we experience in the world. When we see evil, or suffering, we find it impossible to reconcile these things with our all-knowing, all-compassionate Divine Personality. It is at this point that we begin to propose alternatives such as the devil to be the embodiment of evil and the opposite or antagonist to God. Or we may try to distinguish between all-good in the form of God, versus an independent Nature that allows of weakness, limitation and suffering.

“At a higher pitch the attribution of mind and character to God becomes less anthropomorphic and we regard him as an infinite Spirit, but still a separate person, a spirit with certain fixed divine qualities as his attributes. So are conceived the ideas of the divine Personality, the personal God which vary so much in various religions.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 557-558

Two Parallel Lines Meeting In Infinity

The human individual has the capability to view his existence from a variety of standpoints. If he starts from the Impersonal, he can look up the thoughts of the mind, the will and action of the vital force and the emotions of the heart as some kind of created fiction, an illusion, not a reality. In this instance, he focuses on the Impersonal Existence, the Impersonal Consciousness and the Impersonal Bliss as the sole reality and works to overcome the illusory distractions of the outer world.

It is also possible, however, for the human individual to take his standpoint in the Personal. In this instance, it is the individual’s thoughts, actions, emotions which are real, and the Impersonal can be seen as the illusion.

The seeker of the integral Yoga recognizes that each of these divergent standpoints has its own truth, but that neither one, on its own, represents the entire truth; rather, they are complementary truths that must be fused together in order for a comprehensive truth to manifest for the seeker.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Both views are true, except that the idea of fiction, which is borrowed from our own intellectual processes, has to be exiled and each must be given its proper validity. The integral seeker has to see in this light that he can reach one and the same Reality on both lines, either successively or simultaneously, as if on two connected wheels travelling on parallel lines, but parallel lines which in defiance of intellectual logic but in obedience to their own inner truth of unity do meet in infinity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pp. 556-557

Spiritual Intuition and the One Reality

The faculty of spiritual intuition possesses a certainty and insight which are missing from the mind, heart and vital sense. Everyone is familiar with various forms of intuition and have experienced from time to time a certainty that something was going to occur, or that something was wrong. Some people describe this as some kind of physical sensation in their midsection, what they might call a “gut instinct”. Sometimes, if it is in the mind, it is recognized as a flash of awareness that does not follow the plodding steps of the rational intellect, yet one knows and feels the “rightness” of the insight. The unique quality of spiritual intuition is that it exceeds both the mental and the vital-physical forms of knowledge and is able to do what neither of them can do: grasp the unity and complementary nature of the rigid determinations of either the mind on one side, or the heart and life on the other.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The spiritual intuition lays hold always upon the reality; it is the luminous harbinger of spiritual realisation or else its illuminative light; it sees that which the other powers of our being are labouring to explore; it gets at the firm truth of the abstract representations of the intellect and the phenomenal representations of the heart and life, a truth which is itself neither remotely abstract nor outwardly concrete, but something else for which these are only two sides of its psychological manifestation to us. What the intuition of our integral being perceives, when its members no longer dispute among themselves but are illumined from above, is that the whole of our being aims at the one reality. The impersonal is a truth, the personal too is a truth; they are the same truth seen from two sides of our psychological activity; neither by itself gives the total account of the Reality and yet by either we can approach it.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 5, The Divine Personality, pg. 556