A Yoga of Positive and Active Equality

The three primary methodologies used to establish equality in the response to the stimuli of the world are all based on the passive ability to either withstand or withdraw response to those stimuli. For a Yoga that seeks to achieve realisation through abandonment of the world and its evolutionary manifestation, these methods may be sufficient; for the integral Yoga, which embraces all of life as the field of the divine manifestation, something further is required–a positive and active form of equality that maintains the calm, balanced response while the being is carrying out the action it is called upon to undertake in the world.

Sri Aurobindo describes the methodology for this to take place: “This requires, first, a new knowledge which is the knowledge of unity,–to see all things as oneself and to see all things in God and God in all things. There is then a will of equal acceptance of all phenomena, all events, all happenings, all persons and forces as masks of the Self, movements of the one energy, results of the one power in action, ruled by the one divine wisdom; and on the foundation of this will of greater knowledge there grows a strength to meet everything with an untroubled soul and mind. There must be an identification of myself with the self of the universe, a vision and a feeling of oneness with all creatures, a perception of all forces and energies and results as the movement of this energy of my self and therefore intimately my own; not, obviously, of my ego-self which must be silenced, eliminated, cast away,–otherwise this perfection cannot come,–but of a greater impersonal or universal self with which I am now one. For my personality is now only one centre of action of that universal self, but a centre intimately in relation and unison with all other personalities and also with all those other things which are to us only impersonal objects and forces: but in fact they also are powers of the one impersonal Person (Purusha), God, Self and Spirit.”

This involves universalizing our awareness as well as spiritualising it, which brings the Ananda or joy of the universe as the manifestation of Sat-Chit-Ananda–Existence, Consciousness and Bliss of the Spirit that is and becomes the universal creation. “For to the equal knowledge of the universe and equal will of acceptance of the universe will be added an equal delight in all the cosmic manifestation of the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 686-687


Possessing the World As the Divine Possesses It

The three primary methods of gaining equality to the events and forces that impinge upon the individual from the world at large, while starting from the various aspects of the Yoga of knowledge, Yoga of works and Yoga of love and devotion, all lead to the accomplishment of two major types of result. Sri Aurobindo notes: “These three ways coincide in spite of their separate starting-points, first, by their inhibition of the normal reactions of the mind to the touches of outward things,…, secondly, by their separation of the self or spirit from the outward action of Nature.” These results however only take us to the upper limit of the capacity of the human instruments, and do not, of themselves, bring about the complete fullness of equality. That only comes with the shift to the divine standpoint from the human standpoint. They are primarily negative or passive forms of equality, rather than positive, active forms.

“But it is evident that our perfection will be greater and more embracingly complete, if we can have a more active equality which will enable us not only to draw back from or confront the world in a detached and separate calm, but to return upon it and possess it in the power of the calm and equal Spirit. This is possible because the world, Nature, action are not in fact a quite separate thing, but a manifestation of the Self, the All-Soul, the Divine.”

The human viewpoint tends to limit or fragment the awareness to create an illusion of difference and separateness. The divine standpoint integrates everything into its natural state of Oneness and completeness. “Once we return to the full consciousness of Self, of God, we can then put a true divine value on things and receive and act on them with the calm, joy, knowledge, seeing will of the Spirit. When we begin to do that, then the soul begins to have an equal joy in the universe, an equal will dealing with all energies, an equal knowledge which takes possession of the spiritual truth behind all the phenomena of this divine manifestation. It possesses the world as the Divine possesses it, in a fullness of the infinite light, power and Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pg. 686

Addressing Inequality of Reaction Through the Force of Submission

While the method of stoic acceptance relies on the power of the will, and the method of indifference relies on the power of knowledge, the method of submission or surrender has its roots in the way of devotion. All three represent paths toward achievement of equality in the nature to prepare for and begin to take on the spiritual consciousness of the Divine in the being of the seeker.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The third way is that of submission, which may be the Christian resignation founded on submission to the will of God, or an unegoistic acceptance of things and happenings as a manifestation of the universal Will in time, or a complete surrender of the person to the Divine, to the supreme Purusha. … If it is pushed to the end, it arrives at the same result of a perfect equality. For the knot of the ego is loosened and the personal claim begins to disappear, we find that we are no longer bound to joy in things pleasant or sorrow over the unpleasant; we bear them without either eager acceptance or troubled rejection, refer them to the Master of our being, concern ourselves less and less with their personal result to us and hold only one thing of importance, to approach God, or to be in touch and tune with the universal and infinite Existence, or to be united with the Divine, his channel, instrument, servant, lover, rejoicing in him and in our relation with him and having no other object or cause of joy or sorrow.”

As with the other paths, there are obstacles along the way: “Here too thre may be for some time a division between the lower mind of habitual emotions and the higher psychical mind of love and self-giving, but eventually the former yields, changes, transforms itself, is swallowed up in the love, joy, delight of the Divine and has no other interests or attractions. Then all within is the equal peace and bliss of that union, the one silent bliss that passes understanding, the peace that abides untouched by the solicitation of lower things in the depths of our spiritual existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 685-686

Addressing Inequality of Reaction Through the Force of Indifference

Particularly in the traditional Yoga of knowledge, but certainly not limited to that path, there is a prominent methodology of bringing calm, peace and focus to the being, applying the understanding that the outer world is illusory in its objects of desire and the play of the dualities. The seeker who follows this method focuses his attention on the wide, immobile, peace-filled Brahman, the Absolute, and treats the world as a matter of indifference, something to be disregarded and abandoned in the higher quest. While the seeker still resides in the world, all events and stimuli are treated as unimportant and are either wholly disregarded, or relegated to a matter of indifference as to what they do and how they turn out. The great Yogi of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition, Milarepa, was known to be so focused on his meditation that he cared not for specific food, nor clothing as he practiced his meditation. Naga sadhus also pay no attention to where they sleep, how they are clothed or what they eat. In the Christian tradition, anchorites would historically go into the desert with no source of food, clothing or shelter to “find God”. The bodily comforts and concern for the events of the worldly life hold no attraction for such seekers–they treat these things with indifference. The story of the Buddha renouncing a life as a prince in a wealthy kingdom, giving up family, riches, power and influence to be able to carry out his spiritual quest unimpeded by any outer concerns, is legendary.

Sri Aurobindo notes regarding this method: “It puts away desire from the mind, discards the ego which attributes these dual values to things, and replaces desire by an impartial and indifferent peace and ego by the pure self which is not troubled, excited or unhinged by the impacts of the world. … This way too develops three results or powers by which it ascends to peace.”

“First, it is found that the mind is voluntarily bound by the petty joys and troubles of life and that in reality these can have no inner hold on it, if the soul simply chooses to cast off its habit of helpless determination by external and transient things. Secondly, it is found that here too a division can be made, a psychological partition between the lower or outward mind still subservient to the old habitual touches and the higher reason and will which stand back to live in the indifferent calm of the spirit. There grows on us, in other words, an inner separate calm which watches the commotion of the lower members without taking part in it or giving it any sanction. At first the higher reason and will may be often clouded, invaded, the mind carried away by the incitation of the lower members, but eventually this calm becomes inexpugnable, permanent, not to be shaken by the most violent touches…. And, finally, the outer mind too accepts by degrees this calm and indifferent serenity; it ceases to be attracted by the things that attracted it or troubled by the griefs and pains to which it had the habit of attaching an unreal importance. Thus the third power comes, an all-pervading power of wide tranquility and peace, a bliss of release from the siege of our imposed fantastic self-torturing nature, the deep undisturbed exceeding happiness of the touch of the eternal and infinite replacing by its permanence the strife and turmoil of impermanent things…. [The soul] … observes the world only as the spectator of a play or action in which it is no longer compelled to participate.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 684-685

Addressing Inequality of Reaction Through the Force of Endurance

Sri Aurobindo identifies three primary methods that are used to try to overcome the inequality caused by the dualities, the play of the Gunas and the limitations of the lower Nature as the seeker attempts to transition to the divine standpoint. These involve endurance, indifference and submission.

The power of endurance has been identified most closely with the stoic philosophical tradition, although it has been used universally within the framework of many spiritual, religious or philosophical traditions. This can be a very useful methodology for the evolving soul and, as Sri Aurobindo describes, it can have meritable results:

“Instead of seeking to protect itself from or to shun and escape the unpleasant impacts it may confront them and teach itself to suffer and to bear them with perseverance, with fortitude, an increasing equanimity or an austere or calm acceptance. This attitude, this discipline brings out three results, three powers of the soul in relation to things. First, it is found that what was before unbearable, becomes easy to endure; the scale of the power that meets the impact rises in degree; it needs a greater and greater force of it or of its protracted incidence to cause trouble, pain, grief, aversion or any other of the notes in the gamut of the unpleasant reactions. Secondly, it is found that the conscious nature divides itself into two parts, one of the normal mental and emotional nature in which the customary reactions continue to take place, another of the higher will and reason which observes and is not troubled or affected by the passion of this lower nature, does not accept it as its own, does not approve, sanction or participate. Then the lower nature begins to lose the force and power of its reactions, to submit to the suggestions of calm and strength from the higher reason and will, and gradually that calm and strength take possession of the mental and emotional, even of the sensational, vital and physical being. This brings the third power and result, the power by this endurance and mastery, this separation and rejection of the lower nature, to get rid of the normal reactions and even, if we will, to remould all our modes of experience by the strength of the spirit. This method is applied not only to the unpleasant, but also to the pleasant reactions; the soul refuses to give itself up to or be carried away by them; it endures with calm the impacts which bring joy and pleasure, refuses to be excited by them and replaces the joy and eager seeking of the mind after pleasant things by the calm of the spirit. It can be applied too to the thought-mind in a calm reception of knowledge and of limitations of knowledge which refuses to be carried away by the fascination of this attractive or repelled by dislike for that unaccustomed or unpalatable thought-suggestion and waits on the Truth with a detached observation which allows it to grow on the strong, disinterested, mastering will and reason. Thus the soul becomes gradually equal to all things, master of itself, adequate to meet the world with a strong front in the mind and an undisturbed serenity of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 683-684

Passive Equality and Active Equality

When we reflect on the poise of equality, most people will acknowledge it as a passive status that accepts all that comes to the individual without reacting according to the play of the dualities. We have seen, throughout the world and through time, that many spiritual disciplines have adopted a program that is intended to bring about a status of calm that can be seen as an approach toward equality. Some call it cultivating peace, others stoic acceptance, some a cultivated indifference or ascetic abnegation, and yet others surrender to the will of God. The development of the passive form of equality is essential, but for the integral Yoga not complete. What is required is also a form of “active” equality, as described by Sri Aurobindo, who describes two successive stages in the development of complete equality:

“One will liberate us from the action of the lower nature and admit us to the calm peace of the divine being; the other will liberate us into the full being and power of the higher nature and admit us to the equal poise and universality of a divine and infinite knowledge, will of action, Ananda. The first may be described as a passive or negative equality, an equality of reception which fronts impassively the impacts and phenomena of existence and negates the dualities of the appearances and reactions which they impose on us. The second is an active, a positive equality which accepts the phenomena of existence, but only as the manifestation of the one divine being and with an equal response to them which comes from the divine nature in us and transforms them into its hidden values. The first lives in the peace of the one Brahman and puts away from it the nature of the active Ignorance. The second lives in that peace, but also in the Ananda of the Divine and imposes on the life of the soul in nature the signs of the divine knowledge, power and bliss of being. It is this double orientation united by the common principle which will determine the movement of equality in the integral Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pg. 681

The Ultimate Meaning of Equality in the Integral Yoga

All of the disciplines and methods to achieve equality of the physical, vital, emotional and mental levels of an individual are founded and based initially on the divided and fragmented consciousness of the lower nature. This means they are subject to the play of the Gunas, the push and pull of the dualities and the reactions of the ego-consciousness, to a greater or lesser degree, at all times, and remain necessarily imperfect and unstable. The steps taken are beneficial as they prepare and open the nature to the higher action of equality that comes with the shift of standpoint to the divine standpoint.

The ultimate meaning of equality is to take on the essential nature of the spiritual consciousness: “That equality is the eternal equality of Sachchidananda. It is an equality of the infinite being which is self-existent, an equality of the eternal spirit, but it will mould into its own mould the mind, heart, will, life, physical being. It is an equality of the infinite spiritual consciousness which will contain and base the blissful flowing and satisfied waves of a divine knowledge. It is an equality of the divine Tapas which will initiate a luminous action of the divine will in all the nature. It is an equality of the divine Ananda which will found the play of a divine universal delight, universal love and illimitable aesthesis of universal beauty. The ideal equal peace and calm of the Infinite will be the wide ether of our perfected being, but the ideal, equal and perfect action of the Infinite through the nature working on the relations of the universe will be the untroubled outpouring of its power in our being. This is the meaning of equality in the terms of the integral Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pg. 680

The Human Being’s Three Forms of Reaction to Stimuli, Forces and Events

The human individual meets the objects, forces and stimuli of the outer world with any one of three possible lines of reaction, namely, attraction or acceptance, with the responses of happiness, joy, pleasure, and other positive forms of response; repulsion or rejection, with the responses of dissatisfaction, sorrow, grief, hatred, and other negative forms of response; and indifference with neither a positive nor a negative form of response. None of these are fixed attitudes, so that based on changing circumstances as well as mental, emotional or vital attitude of the moment, something that causes joy in one instance may provoke sorrow or indifference in another. Each of these represents the ability, or lack thereof, of the individual constitution to meet and address the forces impinging upon it.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The principle of endurance relies on the strength of the spirit within us to bear all the contacts, impacts, suggestions of this phenomenal Nature that besieges us on every side without being overborne by them and compelled to bear their emotional, sensational, dynamic, intellectual reactions. The outer mind in the lower nature has not this strength. Its strength is that of a limited force of consciousness which has to do the best it can with all that comes in upon it or besieges it from the greater whirl of consciousness and energy which environs it on this plane of existence. That it can maintain itself at all and affirm its individual being in the universe, is due indeed to the strength of the spirit within it, but it cannot bring forward the whole of that strength or the infinity of that force to meet the attacks of life; if it could, it would be at once the equal and master of its world. In fact, it has to manage as it can. It meets certain impacts and is able to assimilate, equate or master them partially or completely, for a time or wholly, and then it has in that degree the emotional and sensational reactions of joy, pleasure, satisfaction, liking, love, etc., or the intellectual and mental reactions of acceptance, approval, understanding, knowledge, preference, and on these its will seizes with attraction, desire, the attempt to prolong, to repeat, to create, to possess, to make them the pleasurable habit of life. Other impacts it meets, but finds them too strong for it or too dissimilar and discordant or too weak to give it satisfaction; these are things which it cannot bear or cannot equate with itself or cannot assimilate, and it is obliged to ive to them reactions of grief, pain, discomfort, dissatisfaction, disliking, disapproval, rejection, inability to understand or know, refusal of admission. Against them it seeks to protect itself, to escape from them, to avoid or minimise their recurrence; it has with regard to them movements of fear, anger, shrinking, horror, aversion, disgust, shame, would gladly be delivered from them, but it cannot get away from them, for it is bound to and even invites their causes and therefore the results; for these impacts are part of life, tangled up with the things we desire, and the inability to deal with them is part of the imperfection of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 681-683

Equality of the Thinking Mind

It is not just the emotions, vital impulses, desires and cravings which need to be brought to a state of equality. The various levels and aspects of the mental process require the same consideration. For those who have a strong mental development, the ideas, opinions, logic and reasoning structures, predilections, and inherent observational and interpretational bias that comes with a specific mind-set can be an extraordinary impediment to the achievement of spiritual realisation. The mental being must be able to observe and understand without the deformations of knowledge caused by a mind that is not balanced, equal and receptive to the truth as it unfolds itself without coloring or overlay based on preconceived notions or viewpoints.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Our present attractive self-justifying attachment to our intellectual preferences, our judgments, opinions, imaginations, limiting associations of memory which makes the basis of our mentality, to the current repetitions of our habitual mind, to the insistences of our pragmatic mind, to the limitations even of our intellectual truth-mind, must go the way of other attachments and yield to the impartiality of an equal vision. The equal thought-mind will look on knowledge and ignorance and on truth and error, those dualities created by our limited nature of consciousness and the partiality of our intellect and its little stock of reasonings and intuitions, accept them both without being bound to either twine of the skein and await a luminous transcendence. In ignorance it will see a knowledge which is imprisoned and seeks or waits for delivery, in error a truth at work which has lost itself or got thrown by the groping mind into misleading forms. On the other side, it will not hold itself bound and limited by its knowledge or forbidden by it to proceed to fresh illumination, nor lay too fierce a grasp on truth, even when using it to the full, or tyrannously chain it to its present formulations. This perfect equality of the thinking mind is indispensable because the objective of this progress is the greater light which belongs to a higher plane of spiritual cognizance. This equality is the most delicate and difficult of all, the least practiced by the human mind; its perfection is impossible so long as the supramental light does not fully fall on the unward looking mentality.”

The intellect and reason of man has a purpose, and it is an important part of the evolutionary transition from the consciousness of the vital animal to that of the fully realised spiritual individual. Yet eventually, the mind has to be prepared to fall silent and become receptive to a higher light from a more powerful and encompassing plane of understanding. “A stilling of the mental thought may be part of the discipline, when the object is to free the mind from its own partial workings, in order that it may become an equal channel of a higher light and knowledge; but there must also be a transformation of the mental substance; otherwise the higher light cannot assume full possession and a compelling shape for the ordered works of the divine consciousness in the human being. The silence of the Ineffable is a truth of divine being, but the Word which proceeds from that silence is also a truth, and it is this Word which has to be given a body in the conscious form of the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 679-680

Addressing the Confused Action of the Various Parts of the Being

Anyone who has tried to consciously manage and develop his responses to life according to spiritual precepts, religious principles or philosophical concepts has come up against the complexity and difficulty of effecting a complete change in human nature. Trying to change human nature leads to a lot of struggle and suffering as the seeker finds that his highest ideals do not necessarily prevent the emergence and action of impulses of a various and, in many cases, an unwanted nature. We find mixed in the same person in these cases, high ideals and seemingly inexplicable actions of carrying out vital cravings, impulses that do not mesh with the dictates of reason or conscience. When we find these things within ourselves we struggle with feelings of guilt, failure and remorse. When we find them in others, we frequently call them out for “hypocrisy”. In both cases, we have a failure to examine the confused interplay of the different aspects that make up the human being and his action in the world.

Sri Aurobindo explains how and why these things occur: “Our whole dynamic being is acting under the influence of unequal impulses, the manifestations of the lower ignorant nature. These urgings we obey or partially control or place on them the changing and modifying influence of our reason, our refining aesthetic sense and mind and regulating ethical notions. A tangled strain of right and wrong, of useful and harmful, harmonious or disordered activity is the mixed result of our endeavour, a shifting standard of human reason and unreason, virtue and vice, honour and dishonour, the noble and the ignoble, things approved and things disapproved of men, much trouble of self-approbation and disapprobation or of self-righteousness and disgust, remorse, shame and moral depression.”

In the evolutionary growth that moves humanity away from the purely animal reactions of the vital nature, the mental nature of reason, intelligence and refined aesthetic and emotional sense, the struggle between the varying impulses is bound to occur, and, as Sri Aurobindo notes, may be essential to the developmental process. For the spiritual seeker, who has worked to develop the higher faculties and modify the lower ones in line with the higher light he sees and seeks, there must be a methodology that can aid in accomplishing this transition of the nature:

“But the seeker of a greater perfection will draw back from all these dualities, regard them with an equal eye and arrive through equality at an impartial and universal action of the dynamic Tapas, spiritual force, in which his own force and will are turned into pure and just instruments of a greater calm secret of divine working….The eye of his will must look beyond to a purity of divine being, a motive of divine will-power guided by divine knowledge of which his perfected nature will be the engin, yantra. That must remain impossible in entirety as long as the dynamic ego with its subservience to the emotional and vital impulses and the preferences of the personal judgment interferes in his action. A perfect equality of the will is the power which dissolves these knots of the lower impulsion to works. This equality will not respond to the lower impulses, but watch for a greater seeing impulsion from the Light above the mind, and will not judge and govern with the intellectual judgment, but wait for enlightenment and direction from a superior plane of vision.”

The switch to this higher vision and will is obviously a passage fraught with difficulties of its own, misapplication or misunderstanding during the transition being just several of the potential obstacles. “The promise of the Divine Being in the Gita will be the anchor of its resolution, ‘Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone; I will deliver thee from all sin and evil; do not grieve.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 678-679