Aspects of the Religious Ideal of Self-Perfection

The mundane or secular ideals of self-perfection are not the only direction that humanity has taken in its development. There is also the religious ideal which seeks to change or “perfect” the human nature, but from a total different motive and with a totally different line of action. The goal of the religious ideal is to achieve some kind of religious or spiritual salvation, a liberation from the outer world and the limitations of the lower nature of mind, life and body.

Some of the religious ideals include addressing the outer nature, but for the most part, this is a means to the end and not meant to represent an acceptance of the permanent value and importance of the universal manifestation. The idea is to suppress or modify the outer actions in such a way as to prepare for a reward in heaven or in some other plane of existence. This may be through an ascetic denial combined with spiritual zeal either in the form of the pursuit of knowledge, or through deep devotional focus of the emotional force of the being. Works done in the world in many cases are used either to express the faith, deepen the devotion, or modify the vital character to become suited for religious salvation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: The religious ideal looks, not only beyond this earth, but away from it to a heaven or even beyond all heavens to some kind of Nirvana. Its ideal of perfection is limited to whatever kind of inner or outer mutation will eventually serve the turning away of the soul from the human life to the beyond. Its ordinary idea of perfection is a religio-ethical change, a drastic purification of the active and the emotional being, often with an ascetic abrogation and rejection of the vital impulses as its completest reaching of excellence, and in any case a supraterrestrial motive and reward or result of a life of piety and right conduct. In so far as it admits a change of knowledge, will, aesthesis , it is in the sense of the turning of them to another object than the aims of human life and eventually brings a rejection of all earthly objects of aesthesis, will and knowledge.”

Thus, the religious ideal of self-perfection is not truly concerned with the development and perfection of the powers of mind, life and body, so much as developing methodologies to eventually do away with them in pursuit of a higher ideal.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 2, The Integral Perfection, pp. 594-595