Distinguishing the Outer Life from the Inner Life of the Soul

Sri Aurobindo translates Katha Upanishad, Second Cycle: First Chapter, Verses 1-2: “Yama speaks: ‘The Self-born has set the doors of the body to face outwards, therefore the soul of man gazes outward and not at the Self within: hardly a wise man here and there, desiring immortality, turns his eyes inward and sees the Self within him.  The rest childishly follow after desire and pleasure and walk into the snare of Death that gapes wide for them.  But calm souls having learned of immortality seek not for permanence in the things of this world that pass and are not.”

From the moment a child is born, he is subjected to sensory impressions from the outer world.  As he grows and develops, socialization within the family, the school, the community and the religious institutions encourages him to focus on achieving results in the outer world, fulfilling desires and ambitions, and living a life of outward success.  Very little focus is provided, other perhaps than through religious instruction, on any significance to his life that varies from the markers of outer success.  And while religious instruction may counsel tempering the fulfillment of desires with prudence, accepted norms of action and the potential impact of cause and effect on the results of this lifetime and potential future existence, it does not necessarily involve any real introspection or examination of any deeper purpose or significance to life.  It can get to the point where many will accept the “materialist denial” and say that there is no deeper significance to life, and that we should “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

None of this, however, addresses any deeper significance of purpose for our existence and once in a while, an individual wakes up to this fact, and begins to turn his gaze inward, responding to promptings that let him know that fulfillment of desires and ambition, and focus solely on the objects perceived by the senses, are not the entire meaning of life.  Then the individual goes on a vision quest, seeks out sages, practices inner contemplation and meditation, takes up religious practices of various sorts in order to gain an understanding of both his own inner psychological being and the greater meaning of the universal creation.  Sometimes, like the Buddha, they abandon their worldly wealth and life to take up a life of contemplation and recognize that life as ordinarily lived is tied to birth, disease, old age and death, all of them inclusive of suffering.  The Upanishads show us, similarly, that there is another level of awareness available to the seeker, one that transcends the worldly life of desire and sense-perception, and that provides real meaning and significance to life.

The Upanishads remind us that “day” for the ordinary existence is “night” for the seeker of the Truth of existence.  The seeker sees and acts from a different standpoint and reaches the spiritual truth that creates, upholds and transcends the world, and that exists eternally in a silence, awareness and bliss that is not subject to the suffering of worldly life.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishad, pp. 213-241, and Kapali Sastry, Lights on the Upanishads, pp.  104-129

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