Understanding the Need and Limitations for Rules and Guidelines in Social Interactions and Activity in the World

Finding and holding the right balance between the inner life and the outer action is one of the constant difficulties facing the seeker. In the ordinary human life, focus on the outer world and its demands takes precedence and there is little or no emphasis on an inner life. During this phase, there are several ways people address their existence. Some focus on trying to create an ordered life and harmony that pays attention to detail and tries to create an outer form of perfection. Others actually disregard this outer perfection and attempt to achieve enjoyment or some form of fulfillment, while treating the harmony and perfection of the intricate details as unimportant. Sometimes great emphasis is given to a specific form of development and other factors of life are simply set aside or disregarded. These extremes also play into the way that the spiritual seeker deals with the needs of life.

At certain stages as the yogic aspiration takes hold, the practitioner of yoga wants to abandon the outer life entirely in order to find spiritual realisation and liberation. For the practitioner of the integral yoga, which seeks to transform the outer life through the manifestation of a new level of consciousness, such an absolute renunciation of the world is not seen as the way. There must be a way to integrate the spiritual consciousness with the outer action. The nature of the supramental force implies a complete harmony and balance between all aspects, and an attention to detail that surpasses anything that the human mind can achieve.

Any action in the outer world also implies an interface with other individuals, some of whom share the same viewpoint and values, but many of whom have different ideas, visions and directions in mind. Setting of rules and guidelines for collective action becomes necessary to allow development to proceed. At the same time, the attempt to rigidly control others or enforce rules can lead to both resistance and the rising up of angry feelings which disturb the action of the Force. There must be a firm, yet flexible understanding of the subtle interactions and the stages of development of the outer work, so that the rules can both be applied and tempered with understanding and compassion from a higher perspective. Certainly the ego-consciousness of the individual cannot be the judge and enforcer of rules on others. Ideally guidelines and rules that are fair, balanced and meet the larger needs of cooperation will be promulgated and explained in such a way that they are generally adhered to by most, if not all, the members of the social body.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Rules are indispensable for the orderly management of work; for without order and arrangement nothing can be properly done, all becomes clash, confusion and disorder. … In all such dealings with others, you should see not only your own side of the question but the other side also. There should be no anger, vehement reproach or menace, for these things only raise anger and retort on the other side. I write this because you are trying to rise above yourself and dominate your vital and when one wants to do that, one cannot be too strict with oneself in these things. It is best even to be severe with one’s own mistakes and charitable to the mistakes of others.”

“A rule that can be varied by everyone at his pleasure is no rule. In all countries in which organised work is successfully done, (India is not one of them), rules exist and nobody thinks of breaking them, for it is realised that work (or life either) without discipline would soon become a confusion and an anarchic failure. It the great days of India everything was put under rule, even art and poetry, even yoga. Here in fact rules are much less rigid than in any European organisation. Personal discretion can even in a frame of rules have plenty of play — but discretion must be discreetly used, otherwise it becomes something arbitrary or chaotic.”

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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