Overcoming the Lure of an Exclusive Concentration on Individual Salvation

The power of an exclusive concentration cannot be underestimated.  The ability to block out distractions and devote the full attention to a particular subject or practice has brought about enormous progress in all fields of human life.  It is therefore not surprising that when it was necessary for humanity to focus on the Absolute, the use of an exclusive concentration would be recommended.  This is the underlying basis for the “refusal of the ascetic” which insists that the seeker must abandon the life of the world to achieve the truth of the Spirit.  It is also true, however, that every form of exclusive concentration must eventually be integrated into a larger wholistic development that takes the fruits of that effort and harmonises them with the more comprehensive view of human life and the other needs of human life.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It was necessary at one time to insist even exclusively on the idea of individual salvation so that the sense of a Beyond might be driven into man’s mentality…  But as the lures of earth have to be conquered, so also have the lures of heaven. … The lure of a release from birth and death and withdrawal from the cosmic labour must also be rejected, as it was rejected by Mahayanist Buddhism which held compassion and helpfulness to be greater than Nirvana.  As the virtues we practice must be done without demand of earthly or heavenly reward, so the salvation we seek must be purely internal and impersonal; it must be the release from egoism, the union with the Divine, the realisation of our universality as well as our transcendence, and no salvation should be valued which takes us away from the love of God in his manifestation and the help we can give to the world.  If need be, it must be taught for a time, ‘Better this hell with our other suffering selves than a solitary salvation.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 188-189