Understanding the Concept of Divine Grace

The human mind likes to have a logical reason for events, and therefore we search for a causal relationship between an event and some precursor. We call this “cause and effect” or “causality” or “dependent origination” or “law of karma”, or “law of nature”. However we describe it, we are trying to make sense of the way things happen in the world and expect order and system to underlie what happens. When we cannot explain things because they fall outside our capacity of perception or outside our frame of reference, we rely on “God’s will” or else we simply abandon our search for meaning and call it “random chance”.

We frequently face situations where we question whether and to what extent the laws, as we understand them, apply, and what the meaning of any exceptions that fall outside our understanding of these laws is, if any. We also create a conflict between our desire for “justice” and the question of “grace” which applies a different standard than a strict reckoning based on our view of what justice is. In the New Testament, Jesus raised this with his statement about stoning a transgressor from the human moral code of the time, when he said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”. Demanding justice sets a standard to be applied to oneself, so he pointed out that we are so busy finding out the “mote in another’s eye” and overlooking the “beam in our own eye”. Which of us can withstand the scrutiny and pressure of justice as we demand it for others?

This opens up then the question of Divine Grace. Divine Grace may be an exception to the “law” as we understand it, or it may be a deeper view of the law. It may relate to progress in consciousness made by a soul over multiple lifetimes, the fruition of past karmic actions, or it may be that progress was being made within an individual consciousness that was not visible on the surface, and at a certain point in time, the progress opened a new pathway or direction and thus, overcame the “justice” of the moment with a still higher understanding of the operation of the law. Thus, the story of Valmiki, who was acting as a dacoit until he received a certain opening that transformed him into the enlightened sage who could write the story of the Ramayana.

The Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads both hold that realisation does not come about through individual effort, through acquisition of learning, through works in the world, through any individual accomplishment in the outer life, but through the “grace of the Divine”. This does not necessarily mean an exception to the law, but rather, a wider understanding of the divine process and its intentions as they play out in our individual lives. Through devotion we open ourselves and become receptive to the action of these higher principles, and thus, open the door to grace.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “For, as to this ‘Grace’, we describe it in that way because we feel in the infinite Spirit or Self-existence a Presence or a Being, a Consciousness that determines, — that is what we speak of as the Divine, — not a separate person, but the one Being of whom our individual self is a portion or a vessel. But it is not necessary for everybody to regard it in that way. Supposing it is the impersonal Self of all only, yet the Upanishad says of this Self and its realisation: ‘This understanding is not to be gained by reasoning nor by tapasya nor by much learning, but whom this Self chooses, to him it reveals its own body’. Well, that is the same thing as what we call the Divine Grace, — it is an action from above or from within independent of mental causes which decides its own movement. We can call it the Divine Grace; we can call it the Self within choosing its own hour and way to manifest to the mental instrument on the surface; we can call it the flowering of the inner being or inner nature into self-realisation and self-knowledge. As something in us approaches it or as it presents itself to us, so the mind sees it. But in reality it is the same thing and the same process of the being in Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 4 The Divine, The Gods and the Divine Force, The Diviine Grace, pp. 91-94

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