Aspects of the Personal Relationship of the Seeker with the Divine

The relationship between the individual and the Divine is not limited to one particular form in the Yoga of love and devotion. There are a number of relations, any of which may be predominant at one time or another. They all enter into the complex and rich tapestry of love and intimacy which the human individual has with the Divine Personality. These aspects represent the deepening and widening of the Yoga of love and devotion.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “He is the friend, the adviser, helper, saviour in trouble and distress, the defender from enemies, the hero who fights our battles for us or under whose shield we fight, the charioteer, the pilot of our ways. And here we come at once to a closer intimacy; he is the comrade and eternal companion, the playmate of the game of living. But still there is so far a certain division, however pleasant, and friendship is too much limited by the appearance of beneficence. The lover can wound, abandon, be wroth with us, seem to betray, yet our love endures and even grows by these oppositions; they increase the joy of reunion and the joy of possession; through them the lover remains the friend, and all that he does, we find in the end, has been done by the lover and helper of our being for our soul’s perfection as well as for his joy in us. These contradictions lead to a greater intimacy. He is the father and mother too of our being, its source and protector and its indulgent cherisher and giver of our desires. He is the child born to our desire whom we cherish and rear. All these things the lover takes up; his love in its intimacy and oneness keeps in it the paternal and maternal care and lends itself to our demands upon it. All is unified in that deepest many-sided relation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 577-578

Devotion and Works

The underlying principle of the traditional Yoga of works is obedience to the Divine Will in works. This approach may, however, be one of long-suffering carrying of a burden if it is not modified by the spirit of love and devotion. It may also emphasize a difference between the Master and the servant which accentuates the apparent separation and division between the human being as instrument of divine action and the Divine Master who appoints the practitioner to the chosen effort.

Sri Aurobindo describes the modified relationship that can eventuate when the seeker approaches the way of works from the side of devotion: “He is the Master; but in this way of approach all distance and separation, all awe and fear and mere obedience disappear, because we become too close and united with him for these things to endure and it is the lover of our being who takes it up and occupies and uses and does with it whatever he wills. Obedience is the sign of the servant, but that is the lowest stage of this relation, dasya. Afterwards we do not obey, but move to his will as the string replies to the finger of the musician. To be the instrument is this higher stage of self-surrender and submission. But this is the living and loving instrument and it ends in the whole nature of our being becoming the slave of God, rejoicing in his possession and its own blissful subjection to the divine grasp and mastery. With a passionate delight it does all he wills it to do without questioning and bears all he would have it bear, because what it bears is the burden of the beloved being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pg. 577

Devotion and Knowledge

Traditionally, the Yoga of devotion has been seen as separate from the Yoga of knowledge, and as leading to a different resolution of the spiritual quest. The integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo acknowledges that each traditional path of Yoga has its own starting point based in different aspects of the human being, but at a certain point in the process, each path can merge into a more comprehensive approach and bring forth the fruits of the other paths.

Sri Aurobindo describes the development of knowledge from a starting point of devotion: “That which in the end contains, takes up or unifies them all, is the relation of lover and beloved, because that is the most intense and blissful of all and carries up all the rest into its heights and yet exceeds them. He is the teacher and guide and leads us to knowledge; at every step of the developing inner light and vision, we feel his touch like that of the artist moulding our clay of mind, his voice revealing the truth and its word, the thought he gives us to which we respond, the flashing of his spears of lightning which chase the darkness of our ignorance. Especially, in proportion as the partial lights of our mind become transformed into lights of gnosis, in whatever slighter or greater degree that may happen, we feel it as a transformation of our mentality into his and more and more he becomes the thinker and seer in us. We cease to think and see for ourselves, but think only what he wills to think for us and see only what he sees for us. And then the teacher is fulfilled in the lover; he lays hands on all our mental being to embrace and possess, to enjoy and use it.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 576-577

Developing a Constant Inner Communion Is Key to Transforming the Life

Because the integral Yoga takes up all of life, the seeker cannot rest content with a sense of union, adoration or joy that comes through abandonment or renunciation of the outer life of action in the world. Sri Aurobindo describes “a constant inner communion” as the leverage to begin to transform all one’s thoughts, feelings and actions into an expression of the Divine.

“All our thoughts, impulses, feelings, actions have to be referred to him for his sanction or disallowance, or if we cannot yet reach this point, to be offered to him in our sacrifice of aspiration, so that he may more and more descend into us and be present in them all and pervade them with all his will and power, his light and knowledge, his love and delight. In the end all our thoughts, feelings, impulses, actions will begin to proceed from him and change into some divine seed and form of themselves; in our whole inner living we shall have grown conscious of ourselves as a part of his being till between the existence of the Divine whom we adore and our own lives there is no longer any division. So too in all happenings we have to come to see the dealings with us of the divine Lover and take such pleasure in them that even grief and suffering and physical pain become his gifts and turn to delight and disappear finally into delight, slain by the sense of the divine contact, because the touch of his hands is the alchemist of a miraculous transformation. Some reject life because it is tainted with grief and pain, but to the God-lover grief and pain become means of meeting with him, imprints of his pressure and finally cease as soon as our union with his nature becomes too complete for these masks of the universal delight at all to conceal it. They change into the Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pg. 576

The Way of Devotion in the Integral Yoga

The integral Yoga accepts the reality of the world and our individual existence as a manifestation of the Divine. There is no ultimate break between the “reality” of the Divine and the “illusion” of the world. In a traditional practice of devotional Yoga, concentration is placed on the specific form of the Godhead, and a relationship of adoration is established between the practitioner and the Divine form. In the integral Yoga, however, the devotion must break through all the limitations and see, experience, relate to and adore God in oneself, in the universal manifestation and in the Transcendent which exceeds all the specific names and forms of the manifestation while still encompassing them.

Sri Aurobindo explains further: “The way of the integral Yoga of Bhakti will be to universalise this conception of the Deity, to personalise him intimately by a multiple and an all-embracing relation, to make him constantly present to all the being and to devote, give up, surrender the whole being to him, so that he shall dwell near to us and in us and we with him and in him…..a constant thinking of him in all things and seeing of him always and everywhere is essential to this way of devotion. When we look on the things of physical Nature, in them we have to see the divine object of our love; when we look upon men and beings, we have to see him in them and in our relation with them to see that we are entering into relations with forms of him; when breaking beyond the limitation of the material world we know or have relations with the beings of other planes, still the same thought and vision has to be made real to our minds.”

In our normal everyday view of things, we see each individual and each physical form or object as something separate and distinct, and we do not ordinarily see and recognize the divinity that is expressed there. We then treat the Divine as someone or something abstract or at least different from the forms and forces and personalities we see in the world. The integral seeker corrects this misperception with the higher insight that the Upanishads relate “All this is the Brahman.”

“In all godheads we have to see this one God whom we worship with our heart and all our being; they are forms of his divinity. So enlarging our spiritual embrace we reach a point at which all is he and the delight of this consciousness becomes to us our normal uninterrupted way of looking at the world. That brings us the outward or objective universality of our union with him.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 575-576

Approaching God Through Our Limited Human Nature

For the practitioner of the Integral Yoga, an all-encompassing devotion is the eventual result. Each person, however, takes up their spiritual practice and focus based on the pre-existing conditions and development of their individual nature within the context of their society, education and background. For the most part, this leads to a more narrow focus initially on a particular aspect, attribute or form of the Divinity. Even in the normal life, not focused on Yoga, there are specific developed qualities and experiences which, over time, are intended to broaden and open the individual to a wider understanding and basis, which represents a preparation for the development of a spiritual life.

Sri Aurobindo observes, with regard to the comprehensive approach needed for the integral Yoga: “in fact, it is only possible if the intelligence, the temperament, the emotional mind have already been developed into largeness and fineness by the trend of our previous living. That is what the experience of the normal life is meant to lead to by its widening culture of the intellect, the aesthetic and emotional mind and of our parts too of will and active experience. it widens and refines the normal being so that it may open easily to all the truth of That which was preparing it for the temple of its self-manifestation. Ordinarily, man is limited in all these parts of his being and he can grasp at first only so much of the divine truth as has large correspondence to his own nature and its past development and associations. Therefore God meets us first in different limited affirmations of his divine qualities and nature; he presents himself to the seeker as an absolute of the things he can understand and to which his will and heart can respond; he discloses some name and aspect of his Godhead. This is what is called in Yoga the ista-devata, the name and form elected by our nature for its worship.”

This leads naturally to the many forms of God that are worshipped by people all over the world. “These are those forms of Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Kali, Durga, Christ, Buddha, which the mind of man seizes on for adoration. Even the monotheist who worships a formless Godhead, yet gives to him some form of quality, some mental form or form of Nature by which he envisages and approaches him. But to be able to see a living form, a mental body, as it were, of the Divine gives to the approach a greater closeness and sweetness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 574-575

The Integral Devotion: Transcendent, Universal and Individual

The practitioners of the Yoga of knowledge, even in their seeking of the Absolute, may find that they are brought face to face with the Divine Personality, since there is no real separation that divides the Impersonal from the Personal aspect of the Divine. The Impersonal maintains the characteristics of Sat (Existence), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Bliss) and thus, while not being limited by the names and forms in the universal creation, the Impersonal certainly contains, embodies and encompasses them.

Sri Aurobindo comments: “The Divine is a Being and not an abstract existence or a status of pure timeless infinity; the original and universal existence is He, but that existence is inseparable from consciousness and bliss of being, and an existence conscious of its own being and its own bliss is what we may well call a divine infinite Person,–Purusha. Moreover all consciousness implies power, Shakti; where there is infinite consciousness of being, there is infinite power of being, and by that power all exists in the universe. All beings exist in this Being; all things are the faces of God; all thought and action and feeling and love proceed from him and return to him, all their results have him for source and support and secret goal.”

With this understanding, we may then understand the nature of the devotion of the seeker in the integral Yoga: “It is to this Godhead, this Being that the Bhakti of an integral Yoga will be poured out and uplifted. Transcendent, it will seek him in the ecstasy of an absolute union; universal, it will seek him in infinite quality and every aspect and in all beings with a universal delight and love; individual, it will enter into all human relations with him that love creates between person and person.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 573-574