A True Spiritual Means of Regenerating the Vital Being of Man

The unregenerate vital nature is the cause of much pain and suffering, both for the individual and for the society.  The society tries to gain control over this vital nature by erecting a set of rules, norms, laws, creeds, and regulations and then enforcing these through the use of force and control such as incarceration, or through creation of an enormous societal peer pressure that leads to ostracism when the norms are not followed.  For the spiritual seeker, it is axiomatic that progress must come through control and mastery of the vital impulses.  Raja Yoga sets as preliminary practices what are known as yamas and niyamas, which are a series of controls or restraints placed on the vital nature in order to prepare the being for higher realisation.  All religious traditions, virtually without exception, include various practices to control the vital being, up to and including asceticism or isolation and suppression of vital impulses in a variety of ways.  Some even go to the extent of prescribing physical punishment, such as flagellation, to master the unregenerated vital nature.  The Tantra, recognising the need for a different approach than traditional suppression, and which grapples with the vital forces through practice, requires the practitioner to gain an inner mastery and exercise a discipline upon the vital impulses.  It may be true that humanity must pass through a period of discipline and restraint of the vital nature in order to gain a foothold in a higher life and expression, yet eventually the true solution, as Sri Aurobindo points out, comes through the voluntary adherence of the vital nature to the higher principles and realisation, a result that requires freedom to grow, experience, and fail, for the vital being.

“Even with the lower nature of man, though here we are naturally led to suppose that compulsion is the only remedy, the spiritual aim will seek for a free self-rule and development from within rather than a repression of his dynamic and vital being from without.  All experience shows that man must be given a certain freedom to stumble in action as well as to err in knowledge so long as he does not get from within himself his freedom from wrong movement and error, otherwise he cannot grow.  Society for its own sake has to coerce the dynamic and vital man, but coercion only chains up the devil and alters at best his form of action into more mitigated and civilised movements; it does not and cannot eliminate him.  The real virtue of the dynamic and vital being, the Life Purusha, can only come by his finding a higher law and spirit for his activity within himself; to give him that, to illuminate and transform and not to destroy his impulse is the true spiritual means of regeneration.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pg. 230


The Aesthetic Element in Man Expresses Spirituality as a Result of its Growth Through Freedom

As in every other field of human activity, art has been subject through the ages, to an attempt to channel its expression through accepted religious, political or societal dogmas, creeds or directions.  The artistic temperament historically balks at such controls, and such attempts, though painful in the short-term as they are taking place, eventually have been failures.  Every aspect or part of the human being has its own unique role and power, and must be given a way to express itself freely in order to reach the ultimate capability of which that aspect is capable.  The aesthetic sense is, in this regard, no different and should be permitted to grow, learn and experience its deeper truths.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The highest aim of the aesthetic being is to find the Divine through beauty; the highest Art is that which by an inspired use of significant and interpretive form unseals the doors of the spirit.  But in order that it may come to do this greatest thing largely and sincerely, it must first endeavour to see and depict man and Nature and life for their own sake, in their own characteristic truth and beauty; for behind these first characters lies always the beauty of the Divine in life and man and Nature and it is through their just transformation that what was at first veiled by them has to be revealed.  The dogma that Art must be religious or not be at all, is a false dogma, just as is the claim that it must be subservient to ethics or utility or scientific truth or philosophic ideas.  Art may make use of these things as elements, but it has its own svadharma, essential law, and it will rise to the widest spirituality by following out its own natural lines with no other yoke than the intimate law of its own being.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 229-230

Spirituality Provides Freedom Even to Deny God on the Path to Realisation

A mistake religions or philosophies tend to make is that they try in many, or even most, cases, to deny freedom of thought and experimentation on the part of individuals, as they seek to control and manage the religious life of the society.  Not only is such suppression counter-productive in terms of real spiritual growth, but eventually it leads to a reaction, such as we may see in today’s world, where there is a rise in abandonment of traditional religion, and an increase in atheistic thought.  The long-fought battle between science and religion only occurred because religion tried to prevent science from exploring the universe and announcing what had been discovered.  Facts have their own momentum and weight, and thus, science has been able to show the weaknesses of religions that try to disregard facts in the attempt to hold onto dogmas and creeds that appear to have little relevance in the modern world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The spiritual aim will recognise that man as he grows in his being must have as much free space as possible for all its members to grow in their own strength, to find out themselves and their potentialities.  In their freedom they will err, because experience comes through many errors, but each has in itself a divine principle and they will find it out, disengage its presence, significance and law aas their experience of themselves deepens and increases.  Thus true spirituality will not lay a yoke upon science and philosophy or compel them to square their conclusions with any statement of dogmatic religious or even of assured spiritual truth, as some of the old religions attempted, vainly, ignorantly, with an unspiritual obstinacy and arrogance.   … Science and philosophy are not bound to square their observations and conclusions with any current ideas of religious dogma or ethical rule or aesthetic prejudice.  In the end, if left free in their action, they will find the unity of Truth with Good and Beauty and God and give these a greater meaning than any dogmatic religion or any formal ethics or any narrower aesthetic idea can give us.  But meanwhile they must be left free even to deny God and good and beauty if they will, if their sincere observation of things so points them.  For all these rejections must come round in the end of their circling and return to a larger truth of the things they refuse.  Often we find atheism both in individual and society a necessary passage to deeper religious and spiritual truth: one has sometimes to deny God in order to find him; the finding is inevitable at the end of all earnest scepticism and denial.”

We see this occurring today.  Science began by focusing on the laws of Matter.  It eventually concluded that Matter is Energy and is convertible into Energy.  Now leading scientists are describing Energy as Consciousness.  Quantum mechanics is exploring the inner workings of intelligence in the universe, and leading philosophers talk about the unity of all existence.  Science is quickly moving to uncover the truths of the spirit from the side of matter.


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 228-229

Freedom, Not Compulsion, Is the Basis of True Spiritual Growth

When we look at the horrific and bloody history of religious persecution and religious warfare around the world, it becomes clear that humanity has tried to enforce spiritual belief onto people through violence and coercion.  Even inside various traditions, the peer pressure and expectation of conformity ensures that the vast majority of people are coerced into a fixed set of beliefs.  Coercion, however, stifles growth and development and prevents the highest possible developments of the spiritual principles.  Spirituality develops most effectively when people are left free to adopt it based on the positive rather than as a forced conversion or adoption.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But it will not seek to enforce even this one uplifting dogma by any external compulsion upon the lower members of man’s natural being; for that is nigraha, a repressive contraction of the nature which may lead to an apparent suppression of the evil, but not to a real and healthy growth of the good; it will rather hold up this creed and ideal as a light and inspiration to all his members to grow into the godhead from within themselves, to become freely divine.  Neither in the individual nor in the society will it seek to imprison, wall in, repress, impoverish, but to let in the widest air and the highest light.  A large liberty will be the law of a spiritual society and the increase of freedom a sign of the growth of human society towards the possibility of true spiritualisation.  To spiritualise in this sense a society of slaves, slaves of power, slaves of authority, slaves of custom, slaves of dogma, slaves of all sorts of imposed laws which they live under rather than live by them, slaves internally of their own weakness, ignorance and passions from whose worst effect they seek or need to be protected by another and external slavery, can never be a successful endeavour.  They must shake off their fetters first in order to be fit for a higher freedom.  Not that man has not to wear many a yoke in his progress upward; but only the yoke which he accepts because it represents, the more perfectly the better, the highest inner law of his nature and its aspiration, will be entirely helpful to him.  The rest buy their good results at a heavy cost and may retard as much as or even more than they accelerate his progress.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pg. 228

A Spiritual View of Human Existence

The mental consciousness tries to analyze and separate everything into distinct and separate elements, and therefore, when we rely on that consciousness we try to distinguish the spiritual from the temporal, the life in the world from the life ‘hereafter’.  We treat the physical body, the vital drives and the mental propensities as something foreign to the spiritual principle and we must then choose between ‘being spiritual’ or ‘living a life in the world’.  This has been the pattern for most of human existence.  Sri Aurobindo takes a different view of the relation of spirit to matter, and of spiritual life to worldly life.  He does not reject the capacities of body, life and mind as contrary to the spirit, but rather, integrates them into a holistic approach to spirituality.

“The true and full spiritual aim in society will regard man not as a mind, a life and a body, but as a soul incarnated for a divine fulfilment upon earth, not only in heavens beyond, which after all it need not have left if it had no divine business here in the world of physical, vital and mental nature.  It will therefore regard the life, mind and body neither as ends in themselves, sufficient for their own satisfaction, nor as mortal members full of disease which have only to be dropped off for the rescued spirit to flee away into its own pure regions, but as first instruments of the soul, the yet imperfect instruments of an unseized divine purpose.  It will believe in their destiny and help them to believe in themselves, but for that very reason in their highest and not only in their lowest or lower possibilities.  Their destiny will be, in its view, to spiritualise themselves so as to grow into visible members of the spirit, lucid means of its manifestation, themselves spiritual, illumined, more and more conscious and perfect.  For, accepting the truth of man’s soul as a thing entirely divine in its essence, it will accept also the possibility of his whole being becoming divine in spite of Nature’s first patent contradictions of this possibility, her darkened denials of this ultimate certitude, and even with these as a necessary earthly starting-point.  And as it will regard man the individual, it will regard too man the collectivity as a soul-form of the Infinite, a collective soul myriadly embodied upon earth for a fuller divine fulfilment in its manifold relations and its multitudinous activities.  Therefore it will hold sacred all the different parts of man’s life which correspond to the parts of his being, all his physical, vital, dynamic, emotional, aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, psychic evolution, and see in them instruments for a growth towards a diviner living.  It will regard every human society, nation, people or other organic aggregate from the same standpoint, sub-souls, as it were, means of a complex manifestation and self-fulfilment of the Spirit, the divine Reality, the conscious Infinite in man upon earth.  The possible godhead of man because he is inwardly of one being with God will be its one solitary creed and dogma.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 227-228

Signs and Consequences of the Failure of Religion to Focus on Spiritual Development

The wellspring and essence of religion is the spiritual experience, the opening of the inner life of the individual to the deeper significance and meaning of life.  One can see, when we look to the origins of the various religions around the world, that a strong spiritual insight and experience was the seed from which that religion grew.  At some point however, when they have tried to turn towards the needs of society, religions become fossilised and fixated more on outer forms, rituals, conventions and creeds, and the fire of inner aspiration and individual experience fades under the mass of convention and rules that take its place.  Religion in this form can be narrow, stifling and harmful to spiritual growth.  New experience and new directions of thought and action are suppressed, treated as heresy and extirpated under social pressure or even torture and death.  Wars are fought to establish the dominance of one religion over the others.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “History has exhibited more than once the coincidence of the greatest religious fervour and piety with darkest ignorance, with an obscure squalor and long vegetative stagnancy of the mass of human life, with the unquestioned reign of cruelty, injustice and oppression, or with an organisation of the most ordinary, unaspiring and unraised existence hardly relieved by some touches of intellectual or half-spiritual light on the surface, — the end of all this a widespread revolt that turned first of all against the established religion as the key-stone of a regnant falsehood, evil and ignorance.  It is another sign when the too scrupulously exact observation of a socio-religious system and its rites and forms, which by the very fact of this misplaced importance begin to lose their sense and true religious value, becomes the law and most prominent aim of religion rather than any spiritual growth of the individual and the race.  And a great sign too of this failure is when the individual is obliged to flee from society in order to find room for his spiritual growth; when, finding human life given over to the unregenerated mind, life and body and the place of spiritual freedom occupied by the bonds of form, by Church and Shastra, by some law of the Ignorance, he is obliged to break away from all these to seek for growth into the spirit in the monastery, on the mountain-top, in the cavern, in the desert and the forest.  When there is that division between life and the spirit, sentence of condemnation is passed upon human life.  Either it is left to circle in its routine or it is decried as worthless and unreal, a vanity of vanities, and loses that confidence in itself and inner faith in the value of its terrestrial aims, sraddha, without which it cannot come to anything.”

“… unless the race, the society, the nation is moved towards the spiritualisation of life or moves forward led by the light of an ideal, the end must be littleness, weakness and stagnation.  Or the race has to turn to the intellect for rescue, for some hope or new ideal, and arrive by a circle through an age of rationalism at a fresh effort towards the restatement of spiritual truth and a new attempt to spiritualise human life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 225-227

The Primary Failure of Religion to Regenerate Mankind

In many parts of the world today we see a backlash against organized religion due to its perceived failures or limitations.  Religion supposedly is the field of human activity that takes into account the spiritual principle and tries to guide us into a higher life.  In actuality, however, religion has been primarily focused on individual salvation on the one hand, and maintaining a societal institution and control of numerous individuals through development of creeds, dogmas and rituals and the development of churches and priesthoods to manage our relationship with the spiritual principle of life.  Religion has acted to many cases to divide people from one another rather than unite them.  It has been the cause of countless suffering in the history of humanity, whether through external wars between religions, or through attempts within a religion to create a unified dogma through suppression, torture and excommunication.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “If we look at the old religions in their social as apart from their individual aspect, we see that the use society made of them was only of their most unspiritual or at any rate of their less spiritual parts.  It made use of them to give an august, awful and would-be eternal sanction to its mass of customs and institutions; it made of them a veil of mystery against human questioning and a shield of darkness against the innovator.  So far as it saw in religion a means of human salvation and perfection, it laid hands upon it at once to mechanise it, to catch the human soul and bind it on the wheels of a socio-religious machinery, to impose on it in the place of spiritual freedom an imperious yoke and an iron prison.  It saddled upon the religious life of man a Church, a priesthood and a mass of ceremonies and set over it a pack of watchdogs under the name of creeds and dogmas, dogmas which one had to accept and obey under pain of condemnation to eternal hell by an eternal judge beyond, just as one had to accept and to obey the laws of society on pain of condemnation to temporal imprisonment or death by a mortal judge below.  This false socialisation of religion has been always the chief cause of its failure to regenerate mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pg. 225

The Ultimate Failure of Human Society Is the Neglect of the Spiritual Principle and Aim of Life

Humanity has sought for some meaning to life.  The idea that we are here to “eat, drink and be merry” has been mooted as one way of approaching life, but it can easily be seen for its shallowness and ultimate meaninglessness.  Why do we exist?  Is there some ultimate aim, purpose or direction?  These questions have haunted humanity down through the ages.  We develop a strong physical culture, we develop a vibrant vital life, we create emotional satisfactions, mental practice and culture and an aesthetic and artistic sense, but in the end, all of these things are simply accouterments of a life that revolves around the ego and has no further outlet.  Ancient sages and rishis concluded that there is a further development possible and that it is within this further development that a true meaning for life takes shape.  This is the spiritual development, the province of the soul of man, not the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Modern society has discovered a new principle of survival, progress, but the aim of that progress it has never discovered, — unless the aim is always more knowledge, more equipment, convenience and comfort, more enjoyment, a greater and still greater complexity of the social economy, a more and more cumbrously opulent life.  But these things must lead in the end where the old led, for they are only the same thing on a larger scale; they lead in a circle, that is to say, nowhere: they do not escape from the cycle of birth, growth, decay and death, they do not really find the secret of self-prolongation by constant self-renewal which is the principle of immortality, but only seem for a moment to find it by the illusion of a series of experiments each of which ends in disappointment.  That so far has been the nature of modern progress.  Only inits new turn inwards, towards a greater subjectivity now only beginning, is there a better hope; for by that turning it may discover that the real truth of man is to be found in his soul.  It is not indeed certain that a subjective age will lead us there, but it gives us the possibility, can turn in that direction, if used rightly, the more inward movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 223-225

The Basic Failures of Human Society

An observer of human society, regardless of the specific cultural form it takes, will eventually come to conclude that the development from the simple tribal forms of society to the more complex forms we see in today’s world, with all the rules and regulations, all of the industry, science and artificiality, with all of the artificially manipulated desires and the products and activities we use to try to satisfy these desires, is a disaster.  Charles Dickens took up this issue in Hard Times, where he showed, on the one hand, the industrial civilisation of England and its emphasis on facts and figures and the resultant view of life, and, on the other hand, the failures based on an absence of true human understanding and values in the one-sided focus on material development.  One of the proposed solutions to this result is the idea of abandoning the trappings of culture and going “back to nature”.  In his Brave New World, the ‘savage’ abandons the high-tech, drug-supported culture to try to return to a simpler life of solitude and reflection after being inserted into that society from a ‘reservation’ that had not participated in that societal development in the first place.  We see issues both with the society of the reservation and that of the modern high-tech society along the way.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Our civilised development of life ends in an exhaustion of vitality and a refusal of Nature to lend her support any further to a continued advance upon these lines; our civilised mentality, after disturbing the balance of the human system to its own greater profit, finally discovers that it has exhausted and destroyed that which fed it and loses its power of healthy action and productiveness.  It is found that civilisation has created many more problems than it can solve, has multiplied excessive needs and desires the satisfaction of which it has not sufficient vital force to sustain, has developed a jungle of claims and artificial instincts in the midst of which life loses its way and has no longer any sight of its aim.  The more advanced minds begin to declare civilisation a failure and society begins to feel that they are right.  But the remedy proposed is either a halt or even a retrogression, which means in the end more confusion, stagnation and decay, or a reversion to “Nature” which is impossible or can only come about by a cataclysm and disintegration of society; or even a cure is aimed at by carrying artificial remedies to their acme, by more and more Science, more and more mechanical devices, a more scientific organisation of life, which means that the engine shall replace life, the arbitrary logical reason substitute itself for complex Nature and man be saved by machinery.  As well say that to carry a disease to its height is the best way to its cure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pg. 223

Limits and Defects of the Normal Human Society for Human Development

Society generally tries to develop a systematic approach to address physical, vital and mental needs and development.  Whether it is the approach of ancient Greece with the prescription of a “sound mind in a sound body” or it is any number of other similar prescriptions that work to create a proper channel and outlet for the mental, vital and physical powers of mankind, there is generally a recognition of real needs and concerns to be addressed on all three of these levels.  We find, however, that societies tend to weaken and decline over time as their inherent defects and limitations make themselves felt.  These limitations occur because of the inherent limitations of our mental, vital and physical approach to organising society and the failure to take into account principles of evolutionary growth that fall outside the framework of these three powers.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The normal society treats man essentially as a physical, vital and mental being.  For the life, the mind, the body are the three terms of existence with which it has some competence to deal.  It develops a system of mental growth and efficiency, an intellectual, aesthetic and moral culture.  It evolves the vital side of human life and creates an ever-growing system of economic efficiency and vital enjoyment, and this system becomes more and more rich, cumbrous and complex as civilisation develops.  Depressing by its mental and vital overgrowth the natural vigour of the physical and animal man, it tries to set the balance right by systems of physical culture, a cumbrous science of habits and remedies intended to cure the ills it has created and as much amelioration as it can manage of the artificial forms of living that are necessary to its social system.  In the end, however, experience shows that society tends to die by its own development, a sure sign that there is some radical defect in its system, a certain proof that its idea of man and its method of development do not correspond to all the reality of the human being and to the aim of life which that reality imposes.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pp. 222-223