Third Stage of Self-Surrender and Self-Mastery Through Active Nature

The third stage of this realisation in the active Nature is accomplished through the unification of the individual standpoint with the divine standpoint, so that not only does the seeker experience the action as that of the divine Shakti, but he also sees and experiences the entire manifestation, including all action and energy of which he partakes, from the standpoint of the Divine carrying out his fulfilment through forms individual and universal. The individual form is no longer seen as separate, but as a specific action of the Divine without separation in consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “A third stage comes by the increasing manifestation of the Divine, the Ishwara in all our being and action. This is when we are constantly and uninterruptedly aware of him. He is felt in us as the possessor of our being and above us as the ruler of all its workings and they become to us nothing but a manifestation of him in the existence of the Jiva. All our consciousness is his consciousness, all our knowledge is his knowledge, all our thought is his thought, all our will is his will, all our feeling is his Ananda and form of his delight in being, all our action is his action.”

“…all the world and Nature is seen to be only that, but here it has become fully conscious, the Maya of the ego removed, and the Jiva is there only as an eternal portion of his being…put forth to support a divine individualisation and living now fulfilled in the complete presence and power of the Divine, the complete joy of the Spirit manifested in the being. This is the highest realisation of the perfection and delight of the active oneness; for beyond it there could be only the consciousness of the Avatara, the Ishwara himself assuming a human name and form for action in the Lila.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 741-742

Second Stage of Self-Surrender and Self-Mastery Through Active Nature

In the transition from perceiving the ego-personality as the doer of works, the first stage was characterized by an awareness of the Divine Shakti carrying out the work, albeit through the individual ego-consciousness. Thus, there remains a sense of the individual as the doer of works, even if not the original cause or initiator of the work. The second stage sees a relaxation of the ego-centric focus, as the individual more and more recognizes that the universal divine Shakti is in fact doing all and the individual is simply a nexus or occasion for differentiated action to take place in the divine manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Sadhaka does not think, will, act, feel, but thought, will, feeling, action happen in his system. The individual on the side of action has disappeared into oneness with universal Prakriti, has become an individualised form and action of the divine Shakti. He is still aware of his personal existence, but it is as the Purusha supporting and observing the whole action, conscious of it in his self-knowledge and enabling by his participation the divine Shakti to do in him the works and the will of the Ishwara.”

The conscious awareness of the seeker encompasses three terms at this stage: “Here too there are three things present to the consciousness, the Shakti carrying on all the knowledge, thought, will, feeling, action for the Ishwara in an instrumental human form, the Ishwara, the Master of existence governing and compelling all her action, and ourself as the soul, the Purusha of her individual action enjoying all the relations with him which are created by her workings. There is another form of this realisation in which the Jiva disappears into and becomes one with the Shakti and there is then only the play of the Shakti with the Ishwara, Mahadeva and Kali, Krishna and Radha, the Deva and the Devi. This is the intensest possible form of the Jiva’s realisation of himself as a manifestation of Nature, a power of the being of the Divine….”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 740-741

First Stage of Self-Surrender and Self-Mastery Through Active Nature

Attaining self-mastery and self-surrender in the terms outlined by Sri Aurobindo is usually undertaken through emphasis on the silent witness consciousness and unity with the Divine through what may be considered the “passive” route. It is also possible to achieve this status through the active nature, or prakriti. Sri Aurobindo has outlined three stages in this progressive process of unification with the Divine in manifestation. This is a progression from the original status of the ego-personality believing it is the actor and in charge of its own decisions, to the eventual result of recognising that the individual action is an expression of the Divine manifestation through the action of the divine Shakti. The intervening transitional stages are different psychological standpoints that represent the move from the one viewpoint to the other.

“In the first the Jiva is aware of the supreme Shakti, receives the power into himself and uses it under her direction, with a certain sense of being the subordinate doer, a sense of minor responsibility in the action,–even at first, it may be, a responsibility for the result; but that disappears for the result is seen to be determined by the higher Power, and only the action is felt to be partly his own. The Sadhaka then feels that it is he who is thinking, willing, doing, but feels too the divine Shakti or Prakriti behind driving and shaping all his thought, will, feeling and action: the individual energy belongs in a way to him, but is still only a form and an instrument of the universal divine Energy. The Master of the Power may be hidden from him for a time by the action of the Shakti, or he may be aware of the Ishwara sometimes or continually manifest to him. In the latter case there are three things present to his consciousness, himself as the servant of the Ishwara, the Shakti behind as a great Power supplying the energy, shaping the action, formulating the results, the Ishwara above determining by his will the whole action.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pg. 740

Self-Surrender to the Divine and Spiritual Self-Mastery of the Individual Nature

In the Yoga of knowledge, one of the steps is to identify with the self-aware internal witness consciousness, and thereby to observe the working of the nature of mind-life-body from a separate, uninvolved standpoint. This stage is important to liberate the consciousness from total submission to the desires and limitations of the outer nature. For the seeker of self-perfection, this obviously is not the final goal but a transitional stage. When the witness awareness is established firmly, it becomes necessary to begin to exercise the power of sanction over the actions of the outer nature, and from there, the power of mastery.

Sri Aurobindo explores the relation between the need for self-surrender to the Divine with the development of spiritual self-mastery: “At first it may not be apparent how this ideal of active self-mastery can be reconciled with the apparently opposite ideal of self-surrender and of becoming the assenting instrument of the divine Shakti. But in fact on the spiritual plane there is no difficulty. The Jiva cannot really become master except in proportion as he arrives at oneness with the Divine who is his supreme Self. And in that oneness and in his unity with the universe he is one too in the universal self with the will that directs all the operations of Nature. But more directly, less transcendentally, in his individual action too, he is a portion of the Divine and participates in the mastery over his nature of that to which he has surrendered himself. Even as instrument, he is not a mechanical but a conscious instrument. On the Purusha side of him he is one with the Divine and participates in the divine mastery of the Ishwara. On the nature side of him he is in his universality one with the power of the Divine, while in his individual natural being he is an instrument of the universal divine Shakti, because the individualised power is there to fulfil the purpose of the universal Power. The Jiva, as has been seen, is the meeting-place of the play of the dual aspect of the Divine, Prakriti and Purusha, and in the higher spiritual consciousness he becomes simultaneously one with both these aspects, and there he takes up and combines all the divine relations created by their interaction. This it is that makes possible the dual attitude.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 739-740

Addressing the Danger of the Ego Appropriating the Divine Energy For Its Own Aggrandisement

Practitioners of Yoga have recognized the danger of having the higher force descend and begin to act within an individual who has not undertaken the preliminary purification and self-surrender steps sufficiently to avoid the risk of appropriation for the ego’s fulfilment rather than to simply carry out the divine purpose. There are numerous stories illustrating these dangers, whether used for individual satisfaction of desires for power, wealth or sex, or when combined with a sense of being called to a larger work, the use of these powers to gain ascendancy and try to impose one set of ideas on others, with whatever cost or harm may be involved in the attempt.

Patanjali specifies the need for various restraints to be practiced, called Yamas and Niyamas, which essentially try to protect the seeker from misusing the influx of new energy and power that comes with the disciplines of Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “And equally when we first become aware of the infinite Shakti above us or around or in us, the impulse of the egoistic sense in us is to lay hold on it and use this increased might for our egoistic purpose. This is a most dangerous thing, for it brings with it a sense and some increased reality of a great, sometimes a titanic power, and the rajasic ego, delighting in this sense of new enormous strength, may instead of waiting for it to be purified and transformed throw itself out in a violent and impure action and even turn us for a time or partially into the selfish and arrogant Asura using the strength given him for his own and not for the divine purpose: but on that way lies, in the end, if it is persisted in, spiritual perdition and material ruin.”

Sri Aurobindo advises that simply taking the approach that one is the instrument of the Divine still allows the ego to distort things. The true solution is to effectuate the true and complete self-surrender to the Divine. There has to be an increasing sense of the Shakti carrying out its purpose, and during the transition, there must be a vigilant witness awareness of the mental Purusha to protect against misuse. The goal can only be fully “…carried out when we become insistently aware of the highest spiritual presence and form of the divine Shakti. This surrender too of the whole action of the individual self to the Shakti is in fact a form of real self-surrender to the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 738-739

The Relation Between God, Nature and the Individual Soul

When we start from the awareness of the individual self or soul, we eventually come to understand three elements or poises that interact in our relationship to our lives. There is God, whom we may see as an external creator, or power of consciousness outside the actions of Nature. There is Nature, which seems to carry on its complex operations in an incredibly detailed manner, but which does not immediately to us display any form of self-conscious awareness. And there is the individual soul, which sees itself as a separate ego-individual trying to interact with others within the framework of Nature, and trying to achieve a realisation or relationship, as the case may be, with God in some form or manner.

When we begin to experience the spiritual vision, the definitions change somewhat, as Sri Aurobindo has described: “In the spiritual experience, we see God as the supreme Self or Spirit, or as the Being from whom we come and in whom we live and move. We see Nature as his Power or God as Power, Spirit in Power acting in ourselves and the world. The Jiva is then himself this Self, Spirit, Divine, so’ham, because he is one with him in essence of his being and consciousness, but as the individual he is only a portion of the Divine, a self of the Spirit, and in his natural being a form of the Shakti, a power of God in movement and action, para prakrtir jivabhuta.”

The persistence of the ego-consciousness complicates the relationship, as it continues to insert and insist upon fulfillment of the ego’s desires and demands. “The ego in us makes claims on the Divine other than the spiritual claim, and these claims are in a sense legitimate, but so long as and in proportion as they take the egoistic form, they are open to much grossness and great perversions, burdened with an element of falsehood, undesirable reaction and consequent evil, and the relation can only be wholly right, happy and perfect when these claims become part of the spiritual claim and lose their egoistic character.”

The solution is the ever-increasing identification with the Divine, in consciousness and in power of action, so that we see a progressive dissolution of the hold of the ego as the standpoint shifts to the Divine standpoint. “This is the sense of the self-surrender of the individual self to the Divine…. It does not exclude a will for the delight of oneness, for participation in the divine consciousness, wisdom, knowledge, light, power, perfection, for the satisfaction of the divine fulfilment in us, but the will, the aspiration is ours because it is his will in us. At first, while there is still insistence on our own personality, it only reflects that, but becomes more and more indistinguishable from it, less personal and eventually it loses all shade of separateness, because the will in us has grown identical with the divine Tapas, the action of the divine Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 737-738

The Experience of the Supramental Shakti

The practice of Yoga is not an intellectual exercise, nor a philosophical or religious conception, nor even a devotional rite or ritual. The practice of Yoga is grounded in experience and thus, effectuates real changes to the mental poise, emotional response, vital reactions and physical being of the seeker. The preliminary stages represent preparatory efforts so that the being can both come into direct contact with the higher spiritual powers, respond to them, and integrate them harmoniously into all the parts of the being. In order to be able to receive, hold and utilize these higher forms of energy, there must be a strong and solid peace and equality in the entire being, as well as a receptiveness and a preparatory turning of the mind and heart toward the divine.

Sri Aurobindo describes the various ways the divine Shakti may manifest within the consciousness of the seeker: “This supramental Shakti may form itself as a spiritualised intuitive light and power in the mind itself, and that is a great but still a mentally limited spiritual action. Or it may transform altogether the mind and raise the whole being to the supramental level. In any case this is the first necessity of this part of the Yoga, to lose the ego of the doer, the ego-idea and the sense of one’s own power of action and initiation of action and control of the result of action and merge it in the sense and vision of the universal Shakti originating, shaping, turning to its ends the action of ourselves and others and of all the persons and forces of the world. And this realisation can become absolute and complete in all the parts of our being only if we can have that sense and vision of it in all its forms, on all the levels of our being and the world being, as the material, vital, mental and supramental energy of the Divine, but all these, all the powers of all the planes must be seen and known as self-formulations of the one spiritual Shakti, infinite in being, consciousness and Ananda. It is not the invariable rule that this power should first manifest itself on the lower levels in the lower forms of energy and then reveal its higher spiritual nature. And if it does so come, first in its mental, vital or physical universalism, we must be careful not to rest content there. It may come instead at once in its higher reality, in the might of the spiritual splendour. The difficulty then will be to bear and hold the Power until it has laid powerful hands on and transformed the energies of the lower levels of the being.”

In whichever way the divine Shakti touches the seeker’s being, there should be a progressive surrender of the ego-consciousness to the Divine, in all ways and forms of action and being; otherwise, the touch of a higher power, if it awakens and enlarges the ego, can lead to an increased egoistic action, with arrogance and self-righteousness as signs of that deformation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 736-737

The Transformation of Nature Through the Link Between Mind and the Supramental Shakti

Spiritual aspirants throughout history have experienced a division between the awareness that is based in the complex of mind-life-body and is infused with the ego-sense, and the unified experience of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda) of the abstract spiritual realisations that occur from time to time through the trance state of Samadhi, primarily. There are other forms or ways that these spiritual realisations can come about, of course, but for purposes of this discussion, it is sufficient to reference the access to this state through Samadhi. The bifurcation between these two opposed types of experience have led spiritual seekers to treat the ordinary human status as something that is an illusion or a lesser reality, and to thereby propose to achieve spiritual Oneness through abandonment of the daily activities and focuses of life. The integral Yoga however insists on the need for a true integration between the two, through a process that eventually brings about direct control of the energies expressed through mind-life-body by the spiritual powers of Sat-Chit-Ananda. This process occurs through development of a link through higher levels of awareness that can simultaneously hold the truth of Oneness while manifesting a universal creation that expresses practically infinite diversity in a harmonised interplay of this multiplicity within the framework of unity.

Sri Aurobindo explores the transitional issues: “The mental, vital and physical energy in us and the universe is felt to be a derivation from the supreme Shakti, but at the same time an inferior, separated and in some sense another working. The real spiritual force may send down its messages or the light and power of its presence above us to the lower levels or may descend occasionally and even for a time possess, but it is then mixed with the inferior workings and partially transforms and spiritualises them, but is itself diminished and altered in the process. There is an intermittent higher action or a dual working of the nature. Or we find that the Shakti for a time raises the being to a higher spiritual plane and then lowers it back into the inferior levels. These alternations must be regarded as the natural vicissitudes of a process of transformation from the normal to the spiritual being. The transformation, the perfection cannot for the integral Yoga be complete until the link between the mental and the spiritual action is formed and a higher knowledge applied to all the activities of our existence. That link is the supramental or gnostic energy in which the incalculable infinite power of the supreme being, consciousness, delight formulates itself as an ordering divine will and wisdom, a light and power in the being which shapes all the thought, will, feeling, action and replaces the corresponding individual movements.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 735-736

The Divine Shakti As the Active Presence of the Divine

As can be expected in a wholesale transformation of the standpoint of consciousness and action, there are intermediate stages between the full immersion in the ego-consciousness and the complete sense of Oneness with the Divine and the action of the Divine in the manifestation. Up to this point, even as the individual begins to sense the Divine Shakti acting and thereby reduces the sense of ego as the owner and driver of the action, there remains still at least a subtle sense of difference that continues to reinforce the ego-sense.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The sattwic, rajasic and tamasic ego is diminished but not eliminated; or if it seems to disappear, it has only sunk in our parts of action into the universal operation of the gunas, remains involved in them and is still working in a covert, subconscient fashion and may force itself to the front at any time.”

The poise of the seeker in the yogic process, at this stage, should be to continually remind himself of the Oneness and the manifestation of all by the Divine through His Shakti. “He must be aware behind Prakriti of the one Supreme and universal Purusha. He must see and feel not only that all is the self-shaping of the one Force, Prakriti or Nature, but that all her actions are those of the Divine in all, the one Godhead in all, however veiled, altered and as it were perverted–for perversion comes by a conversion into lower forms–by transmission through the ego and the gunas. This will farther diminish the open or covert insistence of the ego and, if thoroughly realised, it will make it difficult or impossible for it to assert itself in such a way as to disturb or hamper the farther progress. The ego-sense will become, so far as it interferes at all, a foreign intrusive element and only a fringe of the mist of the old ignorance hanging on to the outskirts of the consciousness and its action. And, secondly, the universal Shakti must be realised, must be seen and felt and borne in the potent purity of its higher action, its supramental and spiritual workings. This greater vision of the Shakti will enable us to escape from the control of the gunas, to convert them into their divine equivalents and dwell in a consciousness in which the Purusha and Prakriti are one and not separated or hidden in or behind each other. There the Shakti will be in its every movement evident to us and naturally, spontaneously, irresistibly felt as nothing else but the active presence of the Divine, the shape of power of the supreme Self and Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pg. 735

The Divine Shakti Carries Out All Actions in the Universe

The ego-conception has its value in terms of a specific type of organization and action in the mental-vital-physical world. For those who are immersed in the ego-personality, there is a sense of complete individuality and separation from other forms and beings, and a consequent sense of opposition and competition. In an ultimate sense, however, there is no separate reality of each ego-personality–we are all constituted by and our actions carried out by the universal divine Power of the Supreme, the Divine Shakti.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “This is the nature of the divine Shakti that it is the timeless power of the Divine which manifests itself in time as a universal force creating, constituting, maintaining and directing all the movements and workings of the universe. This universal Power is apparent to us first on the lower levels of existence as a mental, vital and material cosmic energy of which all our mental, vital and physical activities are the operations.”

This is an essential recognition for the seeker to establish within his awareness in order to loosen the grip of the ego and allow the process of universalizing the awareness to take hold. “To see that we are not the originators of action but that it is rather this Power that acts in ourselves and in all others, not I and others the doers, but the one Prakriti, which is the rule of the Karmayoga, is also the right rule here.” Eventually the ego-sense has to be eliminated and replaced by this new standpoint from the universal view. “To see our actions as not our own but those of the divine Shakti working in the form of the lower Prakriti on the inferior levels of the conscious being, helps powerfully towards this change. And if we can do this, then the separation of our mental, vital and physical consciousness from that of other beings thins and lessens; the limitations of its workings remain indeed, but they are broadened and taken up into a large sense and vision of the universal working; the specialising and individualising differentiations of Nature abide for their own proper purpose, but are no longer a prison. The individual feels his mind, life and physical existence to be one with that of others amid all differences and one wit the total power of the spirit in Nature.”

At a certain level, this Oneness of all existence can be relatively easily seen and grasped. For instance if we reflect on the life of a tree, we can quickly recognize that it is not separate from and cannot exist absent sunlight, water, earth, nutrition and air. Take away any part of the universal creation and we do not have a tree! The unique form assumed by the tree is brought about as part of a larger manifestation and thus, it is also tied into the life cycle of insects, birds, fungi, and eventually animals and human beings. Similarly we can see in the animal kingdom the symbiotic relationships that develop between various animals who cannot exist or thrive without one another and all of them cannot exist without the framework of the biosphere, ecosphere, noosphere, that universal Nature has created for this manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 734-735