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

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