Detachment from and Mastery of the Surface Nature

When we are first confronted with the concept of detachment from our external nature, we tend to approach it from a mental standpoint and thus, try to shut down our emotions and mental reactions with various types of response such as forms of stoicism, renunciation, or a show of non-caring, or some kind of overpowering of reactions including the use of self-torture to train the body-life-mind complex not to react. This is however, not a methodology that can succeed over the long term, and leads to abandonment or submission of the external being, rather than true mastery. What generally occurs is that a mental formation decides that certain things are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’ and begins to pick ‘winners and losers’ in terms of reactions of the nature in the external world and in its own inner response to the events and pressures of the world. It is thus that various moral and ethical codes try to impose themselves on the nature.

What Sri Aurobindo’s approach implies is a shifting of the standpoint from the mental-vital-physical external being to one that is centered in the psychic being, the inner self and soul that utilizes mind, life and body as the instruments of its experience and action in the world. The psychic being is unified with the divine intention in the manifestation and can thus act without the bias presented by the ego-personality in its various attempts at self-aggrandisement without regard to the larger intentions of the cosmic creation.

While the first step is cultivation of detachment from the actions of the external being, and development of the standpoint of the witness of the nature, eventually the psychic being begins to control and direct the actions of the outer nature, and thus, develops the mastery over the nature.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Detachment means that one stands back from them [the imperfections and weaknesses of the nature], does not identify oneself with them or get upset or troubled because they are there, but rather looks on them as something foreign to one’s true consciousness and true self, [and] rejects them… The firm will of rejection must be there, the pressure to get rid of them, but not any wrestling or struggle.”

“Detachment is the beginning of mastery, but for complete mastery there should be no reactions at all. When there is something within undisturbed by the reactions that means the inner being is free and master of itself, but it is not yet master of the whole nature. When it is master, it allows no wrong reactions — if any come they are at once repelled and shaken off, and finally none come at all.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

Gaining the Standpoint of the Observer of the Nature

An important step in the practice of yoga is to attain true detachment from the surface nature through the shifting of the standpoint from the surface to the ‘witness consciousness’, the Purusha. The separation of Purusha from Prakriti, the active nature, is needed in order to effectuate change in the external nature, as otherwise, we remain involved in that nature and are limited within the frame that it sets for us.

Many people wonder about the awareness that occurs with this separation. Until the actual experience occurs, we can only surmise based on the hints that Sri Aurobindo provides. We may, however, use the example of viewing a motion picture as a means of deepening our insight.

When people observe a motion picture, they sometimes get so involved with the story or the setting that they react with tears, or laughter, emotional reactions, or in some cases, mental analysis of what they are seeing. They are fully engaged and involved in the events taking place on the screen, and experience the sensations, emotions and thoughts that are being portrayed. When the motion picture is presented as a 3D screen, sometimes the experience intensifies and people react suddenly with, for instance, a fear reaction when they see a wild animal racing towards them in their immediate space! The separation of the ‘witness consciousness’ only would occur if the observer is able to watch the motion picture, and the surface reactions of his nature with complete dispassion, not getting involved in the activity no matter how uplifting, depressing, fear-inducing, or emotional it might be. This is not a recipe for uncaring dullness of senses; on the contrary, the witness should be able to observe carefully and precisely, even to the point of watching the nature react to the event, without closing off the observation, turning away or simply closing one’s eyes to it all.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “As to the change of nature, the first step is to become conscious and separate from the old surface nature. For, this rajasic vital nature is a surface creation of Prakriti, it is not the true being; however persistent it seems, it is only a temporary combination of vital movements. Behind is the true mental and vital being supported by the psychic.”

“The true being is calm, wide, peaceful. By drawing back and becoming separate one creates the possibility of living in the peace of this inner Purusha and no longer identified with the surface Prakriti. Afterwards it will be much easier to change by the force of the psychic perception and the Peace and Power and Light from above the surface being.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27