The Attempt at Subjugation of the Life-Power

The spiritual, the religious, the intellectual, the aesthetic ideals are confronted with the issues of what to do about the unenlightened life-power.  Where they would focus on seeking for God, or for a high and pure intellectual attainment, or some form of idealized beauty, they find that the demands, drives and needs of the life-energy pull them away and work to debase the higher motives with egoistic self-satisfaction in the action.  When these higher powers determine they cannot transform the life energy easily and turn it to their proposed fulfillment, they try to suppress or subjugate it, which has led to the numerous attempts to treat the life of the world as an illusion, as something to be avoided or suppressed, and has raised the ideal of the renunciate, the anchorite, the monk in seclusion, the sannyasin or the yogin meditating in the Himalayan cave.  Some sects even go so far as to treat the life force as arising from the devil and they work to mortify the flesh that is subject to the life-energy.  Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue at length in the opening chapters of The Life Divine, when he describes the ‘materialist denial’ and the ‘refusal of the ascetic’.

Sri Aurobindo observes here:  “We often find that ethics and religion especially, when they find themselves in a constant conflict with the vital instincts, the dynamic life-power in man, proceed to an attitude of almost complete hostility and seek to damn them in idea and repress them in fact.  To the vital instinct for wealth and well-being they oppose the ideal of a chill and austere poverty; to the vital instinct for pleasure the ideal not only of self-denial, but of absolute mortification; to the vital instinct for health and ease the ascetic’s contempt, disgust and neglect of the body; to the vital instinct for incessant action and creation the ideal of calm and inaction, passivity, contemplation; to the vital instinct for power, expansion, domination, rule, conquest the ideal of humility, self-abasement, submission, meek harmlessness, docility in suffering; to the vital instinct of sex on which depends the continuance of the species, the ideal of an unreproductive chastity and celibacy; to the social and family instinct the anti-social idea of the ascetic, the monk, the solitary, the world-shunning saint.  Commencing with discipline and subordination they proceed to complete mortification, which means when translated the putting to death of the vital instincts, and declare that life itself is an illusion to be shed from the soul or a kingdom of the flesh, the world and the devil, — accepting thus the claim of the unenlightened and undisciplined life itself that it is not, was never meant to be, can never become the kingdom of God, a high manifestation of the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 162-163