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

Transformation of the Emotional Nature

Contrary to the popular belief that achieving equality in the emotional nature requires suppression or elimination of all emotions, Sri Aurobindo makes the point that what he envisions is a transformation rather than a destruction of the emotional being of man. “In this perfection too there is no question of a severe ascetic insensibility, an aloof spiritual indifference or a strained rugged austerity of self-suppression. This is not a killing of the emotional nature but a transformation. All that presents itself here in our outward nature in perverse or imperfect forms has a significance and utility which come out when we get back to the greater truth of divine being.”

The focus, then, in the integral Yoga, is to gain an understanding of the actual intention and role of each aspect of human nature, in this case, the emotional being, and adjust the distorted actions that come about through the rise of the illusion of separateness and isolation that comes with the ego-sense, so that the actual intention can be realised from the standpoint of the divine nature carrying out the divine intention in the manifested world. “Love will not be destroyed, but perfected, enlarged to its widest capacity, deepened to its spiritual rapture, the love of God, the love of man, the love of all things as ourselves and as beings and powers of the Divine; a large, universal love, not at all incapable of various relation, will replace the claimant, egoistic, self-regarding love of little joys and griefs and insistent demands afflicted with all the chequered pattern of angers and jealousies and satisfactions, rushings to unity and movements of fatigue, divorce and separation on which we now place so high a value. Grief will cease to exist, but a universal, an equal love and sympathy will take its place, not a suffering sympathy, but a power which, itself delivered, is strong to sustain, to help, to liberate. To the free spirit wrath and hatred are impossible, but not the strong Rudra energy of the Divine which can battle without hatred and destroy without wrath, because all the time aware of the things it destroys as part of itself, its own manifestations and unaltered therefore in its sympathy and understanding of those in whom are embodied these manifestations. All our emotional nature will undergo this high liberating transformation; but in order that it may do so, a perfect equality is the effective condition.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 677-678

Equality of the Emotional Being in the Heart

Most people cannot even remotely imagine the idea that a human being can live a complete life in this world without the play of the emotions and passions of the heart. Love and hatred, fear and bravery, and the other dualities of emotion are the tapetry that weaves the human individual life into something that provides the meaning to their existence. To suggest, therefore, that these emotional swings should be brought to equality and that someone can transcend the emotions without giving up the central meaning of their lives, is a difficult concept for most.

Those who recognize a higher spiritual calling can accept the idea, but generally this has led to either a form of stoic acceptance or an ascetic suppression of the emotional attachments and responses, a dulling of the sensitivity and responsiveness of the heart, as a method of overcoming the bondage of the emotional life.

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes the normal view of emotions and a deeper understanding based on yogic psychology: “…the assailing touch of grief, wrath, hatred, fear, inequality of love, trouble of joy, pain of sorrow fall away from the equal heart, and leave it a thing large, calm, equal, luminous, divine. These things are not incumbent on the essential nature of our being, but the creations of the present make of our outward active mental and vital nature and its transactions with its surroundings. The ego-sense which induces us to act as separate beings who make their isolated claim and experience the test of the values of the universe, is responsible for these aberrations. When we live in unity with the Divine in ourselves and the spirit of the universe, these imperfections fall away from us and disappear in the calm and equal strength and delight of the inner spiritual existence.”

What is sought is a new poise of the emotional being that centers itself on the Divine presence: “Always that is within us and transforms the outward touches before they reach it by a passage through a subliminal psychic soul in us which is the hidden instrument of its delight of being. By equality of the heart we get away from the troubled desire-soul on the surface, open the gates of this profounder being, bring out its responses and impose their true divine values on all that solicits our emotional being. A free, happy, equal and all-embracing heart of spiritual feeling is the outcome of this perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 676-677

Equality in the Vital Being: Purification of the Vital Prana

It is the Prana active in the vital and emotional levels of our being that is subject to the most intense disturbance through the action of desire and passion, in both a positive sense of attraction and the negative sense of repulsion. The vital cravings or oppositions, the emotional ties and aversions are the center of the knot of attachment that everyone faces in their lives, whether they are conscious seekers of spiritual realisation or not.

Sri Aurobindo describes the process and means for bringing equality to the vital Prana: “The equality of these parts of our nature comes by purification and freedom….To be free from the domination of the urge of vital desire and the stormy mastery of the soul by the passions is to ahve a calm and equal heart and a life-principle governed by the large and even view of a universal spirit. Desire is the impurity of the Prana, the life-principle, and its chain of bondage. A free Prana means a content and satisfied life-soul which fronts the contact of outward things without desire and receives them with an equal response; delivered, uplifted above the servile duality of liking and disliking, indifferent to the urgings of pleasure and pain, not excited by the pleasant, not troubled and overpowered by the unpleasant, not clinging with attachment to the touches it prefers or violent repelling those for which it has an aversion, it will be opened to a greater system of values of experience. All that comes to it from the world with menace or with solicitation, it will refer to the higher principles, to a reason and heart in touch with or changed by the light and calm joy of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo cautions that this process is not one of going to the extreme of asceticism or even an active stoicism. The vital principle must remain dynamic and active, but changed in its nature of response and focus of direction. “The function of the Prana is enjoyment, but the real enjoyment of existence is an inward spiritual Ananda, not partial and troubled like that of our vital, emotional or mental pleasure, degraded as they are now by the predominance of the physical mind, but universal, profound, a massed concentration of spiritual bliss possessed in a cal ecstasy of self and all existence. Possession is its function, by possession comes the soul’s enjoyment of things, but this is the real possession, a thing large and inward, not dependent on the outward seizing which makes us subject to what we seize.”

“The egoistic possession, the making things our own in the sense of the ego’s claim on God and beings and the world,…, must be renounced in order that this greater thing, this large, universal and perfect life, may come….by renouncing the egoistic sense of desire and possession, the soul enjoys divinely its self and the universe.”

The Isha Upanishad summarizes nicely: “By that renounced thou shouldst enjoy; lust not after any man’s possession.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, v. 1, pg. 19)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 675-676

Equality and Human Perfection

For those not specifically seeking spiritual self-perfection, but who attempt to develop perfection of the human instrument and existence, equality is still a necessary foundation. Sri Aurobindo defines what is meant by human perfection: “The aim of a human perfection must include, if it is to deserve the name, two things, self-mastery and a mastery of the surroundings; it must seek for them in the greatest degree of these powers which is at all attainable by our human nature.” If we examine these two aspects of perfection, we find that self-mastery necessarily involves a high degree of detachment from the push and pull of the forces of desire and the bonds of attachment, although not to the same degree, necessarily as a complete spiritual self-perfection would involve. Sri Aurobindo advises: “But to be self-ruler is not possible for him if he is subject to the attack of the lower nature, to the turbulence of grief and joy, to the violent touches of pleasure and pain, to the tumult of his emotions and passions, to the bondage of his personal likings and dislikings, to the strong chains of desire and attachment, to the narrowness of a personal and emotionally preferential judgment and opinion, to all the hundred touches of his egoism and its pursuing stamp on his thought, feeling and action.”

This is where the power of equality must come in, so that the individual can gain independence from and mastery over these types of reactions in the nature, allowing thereby a more focused, powerful and perfected action to result. It is vain to discuss “self-mastery” if one is constantly being enmeshed in cravings, desires or biased opinions caused by preference or aversion.

In order to gain mastery over one’s surroundings, the first pre-condition is self-mastery. “The knowledge, the will, the harmony which is necessary for this outward mastery, can come only as a crown of the inward conquest. it belongs to the self-possessing soul and mind which follows with a disinterested equality the Truth, the Right, the universal Largeness to which alone this mastery is possible,–following always the great ideal they present to our imperfection, while it understands and makes a full allowance too for all that seems to conflict with them and stand in the way of their manifestation.”

The practitioner of the integral Yoga has a yet greater ideal before him, namely, to not just rest satisfied with human self-mastery and mastery of his surroundings, but to shift the entire standpoint to the divine standpoint, and thereby to embody spiritual perfection. “There it gets its full power, opens to the diviner degrees of the spirit; for it is by oneness with the Infinite, by a spiritual power acting upon finite things, that some highest integral perfection of our being and nature finds its own native foundation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 11, The Perfection of Equality, pp. 674-675