Brute force has often been employed by aspirants seeking to overcome the ‘desires of the flesh’ and the obstructions of the physical consciousness to their spiritual focus and seeking. Extreme fasting, wearing of the cilice or sackcloth, arduous penances in the desert, self-flagellation, austerities of an extreme nature, and other acts of physical mortification of the flesh have been tried throughout the world at various times and in a wide variety of religious traditions. Brute force is often employed when the seeker becomes frustrated at how slow or how difficult it is to effectuate real and permanent change in the physical nature. On a less extreme level, the philosophical perspective of stoicism has led to people undertaking various acts with the idea of developing the power of non-reaction to increasingly painful or difficult situations. Brute force tends not to work, but rather breaks down the mind, vital and physical and harms the readiness of the instrument for carrying out its tasks in life.
If brute force does not work, the question is whether and how change of the physical and vital nature can actually occur. Sri Aurobindo weighs in on this subject.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “It [the use of violence for the change of the physical] was done by some people, but I don’t believe in its usefulness. No doubt the physical is an obstinate obstacle, but it must be enlightened, persuaded, pressed even to change, but not oppressed or violently driven. People use violence with the mind, vital, body because they are in a hurry, but my own observation has always been that it leads to more reactions and hindrances and not to a genuinely sound advance.”
“It is only by a more constant dynamic force descending into an unalterable equality and peace that the physical nature’s normal tendency can be eradicated.”
“The normal tendency of the physical nature is to be inert and in its inertia to respond only to the ordinary vital forces, not to the higher forces. If one has a perfect equality and peace then one can be unaffected by the spreading of the inertia and bring down into it gradually or quickly the same peace with a force of the higher consciousness which can alter it. When that is there there can be no longer the difficulty and fluctuations with a preponderance of inertia such as now you are having.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Physical, pp. 259-262