Art and Intellectual Development Are Not Essentially Spiritual Pursuits

We tend to confuse artistic and various intellectual pursuits as somehow being spiritual accomplishments. These are, however, developments of the higher emotional and mental spheres to a great degree, except when they are channeling energies of the lower vital levels of our being, which, in today’s world, represents a major source of such artistic creations. Putting aside the lower vital influences and focusing on the higher productions of our finer emotions and mental development as it is expressed in art, there is a tendency to confuse refined mental development with spirituality. This is particularly true in a time period where there are strong openings towards the next evolutionary phase which is ushering in a new spiritual age of being.

Spirituality is not intellectuality nor emotional refinement, however. It is the experience of a higher reality and the transformation of our lives in the mould of that higher reality. For art to take on the colour of a spiritual activity, it must be able to contact and channel into its expression the higher spiritual energy through a direct contact rather than filtered through the mind or the heart.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Art, poetry, music are not yoga, not in themselves things spiritual any more than philosophy is a thing spiritual or Science. There lurks here another curious incapacity of the modern intellect — its inability to distinguish between mind and spirit, its readiness to mistake mental, moral and aesthetic idealisms for spirituality and their inferior degrees for spiritual values. It is mere truth that the mental intuitions of the metaphysician or the poet for the most part fall far short of a concrete spiritual experience; they are distant flashes, shadowy reflections, not rays from the centre of Light. It is not less true that, looked at from the peaks, there is not much difference between the high mental eminences and the lower climbings of this external existence. All the energies of the Lila are equal in the sight from above, all are disguises of the Divine. But one has to add that all can be turned into a first means towards the realisation of the Divine. … All things in the Lila can turn into windows that open on the hidden Reality. Still so long as one is satisfied with looking through windows, the gain is only initial; one day one will have to take up the pilgrim’s staff and start out to journey there where the Reality is for ever manifest and present. Still less can it be spiritually satisfying to remain with shadowy reflections, a search imposes itself for the Light which they strive to figure. But since this Reality and this Light are in ourselves no less than in some high region above the mortal plane, we can in the seeking for it use many of the figures and activities of life; as one offers a flower, a prayer, an act to the Divine, one can offer too a created form of beauty, a song, a poem, an image, a strain of music, and gain through it a contact, a response or an experience. And when that divine consciousness has been entered or when it grows within, then too its expression in life through these things is not excluded from yoga; these creative activities can still have their place, though not intrinsically a greater place than any other that can be put to divine use and service. Art, poetry, music, as they are in their ordinary functioning, create mental and vital, not spiritual values; but they can be turned to a higher end, and then, like all things that are capable of linking our consciousness to the Divine, they are transmuted and become spiritual and can be admitted as part of a life of yoga. All takes new values not from itself, but from the consciousness that uses it; for there is only one thing essential, needful, indispensable, to grow conscious of the Divine Reality and live in it and live it always.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Art, Poetry, Music, Literature, pp. 356-361

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