The Need to Overcome the Refusal of the Ascetic As the Final Law of Life

Not only has religion frequently been at odds with the intellect, but it has also consistently been at odds with the vital life energy.  Religious traditions generally look to a salvation or liberation that comes at the expense of participation in the affairs of life.  Religions honor the anchorite, the ascetic, the sannyasin, the renunciate, the celibate monk, as people who have put their spiritual seeking first and who have renounced family, fame, comfort and wealth in order to pursue spiritual truth.  Seekers have been regularly counseled to avoid entanglement in social relationships or matters of life as requirements for their spiritual realization.  This raises the questions as to the importance and relevancy of the vital life of humanity, societal progress and perfection of the various capacities of the human being.  Can it be true that all these powers and drives of life were created simply to be suppressed, obliterated and overcome in order to achieve the true purpose of life?

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “If that be the true sense of religion, then obviously religion has no positive message for human society in the proper field of social effort, hope and aspiration or for the individual in any of the lower members of his being.  For each principle of our nature seeks naturally for perfection in its own sphere and, if it is to obey a higher power, it must be because that power gives it a greater perfection and a fuller satisfaction even in its own field.  But if perfectibility is denied to it and therefore the aspiration to perfection taken away by the spiritual urge, then it must either lose faith in itself and the power to pursue the natural expansion of its energies and activities or it must reject the call of the spirit in order to follow its own bend and law, dharma.  This quarrel between earth and heaven, between spirit and its members becomes still more sterilising if spirituality takes the form of a religion of sorrow and suffering and austere mortification and the gospel of the vanity of things; in its exaggeration it leads to such nightmares of the soul as that terrible gloom and hopelessness of the Middle Ages in their worst moment when the one hope of mankind seemed to be in the approaching and expected end of the world, an inevitable and desirable Pralaya.  But even in less pronounced and intolerant forms of this pessimistic attitude with regard to the world, it becomes a force for the discouragement of life and cannot, therefore, be a true law an guide for life.  All pessimism is to that extent a denial of the Spirit, of its fullness and power, an impatience with the ways of God in the world, an insufficient faith in the divine Wisdom and Will that created the world and for ever guide it.  It admits a wrong notion about that supreme Wisdom and Power and therefore cannot itself be the supreme wisdom and power of the spirit to which the world can look for guidance and for the uplifting of its whole life towards the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 17, Religion as the Law of Life, pp. 178-179