The Role of the Body in Human Destiny

Spiritual traditions around the world have for the most part treated the body as an impediment, an obstacle to be subordinated, controlled and in some cases, physically tortured in order to prevent it from derailing the spiritual quest of the seeker. Even those who have accepted the body as a basis for spiritual realisation have held that once realisation comes the body has fulfilled its purpose and can be discarded. Few if any have treated the body as an integral part of a spiritual transformation of life in the world. This is one area where Sri Aurobindo has taken a decidedly different view.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “This destiny of the body has rarely in the past been envisaged or elese not for the body here upon earth; such forms would rather be imagined or visioned as the privilege of celestial beings and not possible as the physical residence of a soul still bound to terrestrial nature. The Vaishnavas have spoken of a spiritualised conscious body, chinmaya deha; there has been the conception of a radiant or luminous body, which might be the vedic jyotirmaya deha. A light has been seen by some radiating from the bodies of highly developed spiritual persons, even extending to the emission of an enveloping aura and there has been recorded an initial phenomenon of this kind in the life of so great a spiritual personality as Ramakrishna. But these things have been either conceptual only or rare and occasional and for the most part the body has not been regarded as possessed of spiritual possibility or capable of transformation. It has been spoken of as the means of effectuation of the dharma and dharma here includes all high purposes, achievements and ideals of life not excluding the spiritual change: but it is an instrument that must be dropped when its work is done and though there may be and must be spiritual realisation while yet in the body, it can only come to its full fruition after the abandonment of the physical frame. More ordinarily in the spiritual tradition the body has been regarded as an obstacle, incapable of spiritualisation or transmutation and a heavy weight holding the soul to earthly nature and preventing its ascent either to spiritual fulfillment in the Supreme or to the dissolution of its individual being in the Supreme. But while this conception of the role of the body in our destiny is suitable enough for a sadhana that sees earth only as a field of the ignorance and earth-life as a preparation for a saving withdrawal from life which is the indispensable condition for spiritual liberation, it is insufficient for a sadhana which conceives of a divine life upon earth and liberation of earth-nature itself as part of a total purpose of the embodiment of the spirit here. If a total transformation of the being is our aim, a transformation of the body must be an indispensable part of it; without that no full divine life on earth is possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Divine Body, pp. 46-47

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