Human Motives and Divine Motives in Action

There is a difference between action undertaken with the usual motives in the normal course of human life, and actions undertaken by the spiritual seeker attempting to achieve spiritual growth and realisation of the Divine. The outer form of action, in and of itself, does not make an action ‘spiritual’ in nature. The true test of spiritual action is the inner driving force and motive. At a certain point, the seeker also recognises that the egoistic motives can remain active even undertaking socially valuable, altruistic efforts. As the insight becomes more subtle, the wiles of the vital ego are exposed to reveal ego-gratification even in self-sacrifice — ‘martyr syndrome’ — or in a form of bargaining or expectation of returned benefits later in life or in a future existence, turning the ‘selfless action’ into a type of business transaction, storing up karmic benefits to be cashed in later. The progress is progressive and becomes more powerful as the reference for the action moves inward to the psychic, soul-motives and away from the vital desire-soul on the surface of the being. Eventually, it becomes complete only with the shift from the ego-standpoint to the divine standpoint.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Men usually work and carry on their affairs from the ordinary motives of the vital being, need, desire of wealth or success or position or power or fame or the push to activity and the pleasure of manifesting their capacities, and they succeed or fail according to their capability, power of work and the good or bad fortune which is the result of their nature and their Karma. When one takes up the yoga and wishes to consecrate one’s life to the Divine, these ordinary motives of the vital being have no longer their full and free play; they have to be replaced by another, a mainly psychic and spiritual motive, which will enable the sadhak to work with the same force as before, no longer for himself, but for the Divine.”

“The only work that spiritually purifies is that which is done without personal motives, without desire for fame or public recognition or worldly greatness, without insistence on one’s own mental motives or vital lusts and demands or physical preferences, without vanity or crude self-assertion or claim for position or prestige, done for the sake of the Divine alone and at the command of the Divine. All work done in an egoistic spirit, however good for people in the world of the Ignorance, is of no avail to the seeker of the yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145


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