The Light and the Shadow in Each Individual Being

It is easy to see the failings of others, while overlooking the issues within oneself. Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount, recounted in the New Testament of the Bible, exhorted his followers to not judge others but to look within, and noted ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’

For the spiritual practitioner, there is a recognition that changing human nature takes place within oneself, not by controlling or overpower others, but by effectuating change in the thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions and responses one has to energies and events and relations that impact one’s own life.

This is a constant, ongoing matter of review and change, as there are numerous aspects to the being, and they do not all agree with one another, and sometimes vary from moment to moment themselves. Thus a constant observation and vigilance is required.

The more one does this inner review, and the more one recognises the issues that lie within oneself, the less apt one is to judge others harshly or condemn others for their actions.

The Mother writes: “One can see, when one studies oneself very attentively…. For example, if you observe yourself, you see that one day you are very generous … generous in your feelings, generous in your sensations, generous in your thoughts and even in material things; that is, you understand the faults of others, their intentions, weaknesses, even nasty movements. You see all this, and you are full of good feelings, of generosity. You tell yourself, ‘Well… everyone does the best he can!’ — like that.”

“Another day — or perhaps the very next minute — you will notice in yourself a kind of dryness, fixity, something that is bitter, that judges severely, that goes as far as bearing a grudge, has rancour, would like the evil-doer punished, that almost has feelings of vengeance; just the very opposite of the former! One day someone harms you and you say, ‘Doesn’t matter! He did not know’ … or ‘He couldn’t do otherwise’ … or ‘That’s his nature’ … or ‘He could not understand!’ The next day — or perhaps an hour later — you say, ”He must be punished! He must pay for it! He must be made to feel that he has done wrong!’ — with a kind of rage; and you want to take things, you want to keep them for yourself, you have all the feelings of jealousy, envy, narrowness, you see, just the very opposite of the other feeling.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143


The Gods and the Demons in Our Inner Psychology

We find in the ancient Indian epic, Ramayana, an interesting sub-plot which changes the very complexion of what appears to be a battle between ‘good’ personified by Rama and his family, and ‘evil’ as personified by Ravana and his kin. As we delve deeper into the tale, we find that Ravana was himself a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Yet the story goes even deeper. It turns out that Ravana in a past lifetime was a doorkeeper for Lord Vishnu, attending closely and with great devotion in Vishnu’s heavenly abode, along with his brother Kumbakarna. One day some Rishis demanded entry and were delayed, and therefore cursed them to take 3 human births before they could return to heaven. They took birth as Asuric beings and carried out untold destruction and imposed suffering on innumerable beings, so as to obtain the attention of Lord Vishnu and have their human life ended at the hands of the God they adored. Vishnu took birth as Lord Rama to carry out the wishes of his devotee and return Ravana to his rightful place in heaven.

There was obviously both tremendous darkness and tremendous light within the being that incarnated as Ravana, and the curse of the Rishi gave an opportunity for this darkness to be exposed and to get it resolved rather than simply suppressed.

We many times in today’s world try to assign the labels ‘good’ or ‘evil’ to various individuals, particularly brutal dictators or those who purposely cause enormous suffering for others for their own self-aggrandisement. While they may not all be Vishnu’s devotees who have been cursed, it is quite likely that at some point in time, their tremendous vital force and (in some cases) mental powers will turn from selfish pursuits to those that recognise the oneness of all existence and work to support the creation in a positive manner, and when that time comes, their abilities and the force they have accumulated within their being will turn the greatest darkness into the greatest light. This does not, of course, imply that we should accept or condone such actions in any particular circumstances. Even Sri Rama had to undertake a battle to defeat Ravana, not just allow his then current lifetime depredations to endure forever. Nor does it imply that we should justify to ourselves internally the idea that we can act like demons in order to become enlightened!

The Mother notes: “Once you have understood this, many worries come to an end and you are very happy, very happy. If one finds one has very black holes, one says, ‘This shows I can rise very high’, if the abyss is very deep, ‘I can climb very high.’ It is the same from the universal point of view; to use the Hindu terminology so familiar to you, it is the greatest Asuras who are the greatest beings of Light. And the day these Asuras are converted, they will be the supreme beings of the creation. This is not to encourage you to be asuric, you know, but it is like that — this will widen your minds a little and help you to free yourself from those ideas of opposing good and evil, for if you abide in that category, there is no hope.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143

The Darkness and the Light Within Each Individual

Ancient Chinese philosophy enunciated the concept of yin and yang, which represent the opposites that together form a whole, and which are constantly interacting with one another dynamically. The classical image shows a black spot in a white background and a white spot in a black background, bound together in a circle and dynamically moving within that space.

It is a common idea that light and dark are inextricably related to one another and cannot exist without each other. Our minds easily extrapolate to this viewpoint from our perception of physical day and night.

The English author Charles Dickens recognised this principle and in several of his works he wove together the darkness and the light. His famous novel A Tale of Two Cities begins with this evocative imagery: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens applied this conception to the struggle between the dark and the light within an individual. The protagonist, Scrooge, is seen as a miserly, bitter businessman, misogynistic and cruel in his dealings with others as he sought for wealth, power and what passed for success in his mind. At a certain point, however, the deeper soul force within him brought before his awareness, in the shape of lucid dreams, the aspiration of the soul towards harmony, goodwill, compassion and showed him the error of his, at that time, present mode of life. He awoke from the darkness within him and became a soul of light and goodwill, spreading cheer and support to those around him.

Scrooge, in one form or another, represents each human individual who has certain characteristics that are dark and retrogressive and at the same time the aspiration to overcome those negative traits through a growth and evolutionary process. Sri Aurobindo points out that it is a process of Nature to oppose extreme contradictions in order to distil out the needed progress. Thus, when one identifies a strong aspiration within oneself, it provides a clue to the dark side that lies within and needs to be dealt with; and similarly, when one is feeling overwhelmed by the negative traits that seem to overpower the nature, that these are signs of the opportunity and the ‘mission’ of the soul in this life to solve these particular issues and make progress, both for oneself, and for humanity as a whole.

The Mother observes: “If you look at yourself carefully, you will see that one always carries in oneself the opposite of the virtue one has to realise (I use ‘virtue’ in its widest and highest sense). You have a special aim, a special mission, a special realisation which is your very own, each one individually, and you carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realisation perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal: you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realise the other.”

“This is a fact very little spoken about, but one of capital importance. And if you observe carefully you will see that it is always thus with everyone. This leads us to statements which are paradoxical but absolutely true; for instance, that the greatest thief can be the most honest man (this is not to encourage you to steal of course!) and the greatest liar can be the most truthful person. So, do not despair if you find in yourself the greatest weakness, for perhaps it is the sign of the greatest divine strength. Do not say, ‘I am like that, I can’t be otherwise.’ It is not true. You are ‘like that’ because, precisely, you ought to be the opposite. And all your difficulties are there just that you may learn to transform them into the truth they are hiding.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143

The Power of Peace

As human beings, we are enamored of dynamic power. We want “action” and the powers of the body, the life energy and the mind are prized when they can accomplish visible results. We have proverbs such as “might makes right” which make it seem like strength in action is the most positive attribute. We carry this viewpoint into everyday interactions. If we feel challenged, we tend to respond with an aggressive, active response. The Old Testament of the Bible sets forth the idea of “an eye for an eye” as a way to respond to actions of others. In the modern world, we take affront at some action of others, whether an insult or a driving action with an immediate come-back. We demonstrate our national strength through parades of armies and weapons of destruction, the blare of trumpets, the beating of drums. We take this kind of aggressive stance as an indicator of strength. Those who do not act this way are berated as weak, and looked upon as failures.

There is, however, another kind of strength, a foundational strength, a strength that is quiet, solid and secure within itself, which needs not show off or demonstrate its prowess through the beating of a drum. This is a power of peace, not simply the “negative peace” we define as the absence of conflict, but a “positive peace” which is a palpable force within oneself and surrounding one, which provides the individual a solid basis so that the pressures and attacks do not affect one’s poise. This is not a matter of suppression of reaction, which still implies the inner reaction occurs, but a true, deep and immovable power of peace that does not trouble over the attacks at all, but moves forward, secure in its own truth and its own direction.

There are legends of Rishis who maintained Ashrams wherein wild beasts would tamely lie down next to animals upon which they would ordinarily prey. Many individuals have experienced the deep sense of peace and calm when they visit various locations, and they report that this peace permeates and remains active within them when they go outside, at least for some period of time, during which they simply are not responsive to provocations.

The Mother writes: “Well, there is a static power. How to explain it to you? Look, there is the same difference between static power and dynamic power as between a game of defence and a game of attack; you understand? It is the same thing. Static power is something which can withstand everything, nothing can act upon it, nothing can touch it, nothing can shake it — it is immobile, but it is invincible. Dynamic power is something in action, which at times goes forth and may at times receive blows. That is to say, if you want your dynamic power to be always victorious, it must be supported by a considerable static power, an unshakable base.”

“I know what you want to say… that a human being becomes aware of power only when it is dynamic; a human being doesn’t consider it a power except when it acts; if it doesn’t act he does not even notice it, he does not realise the tremendous force which is behind this inaction — at times, even frequently, a force more formidable than the power which acts. But you may try it out in yourself, you will see, it is much more difficult to remain calm, immobile, unshakable before something very unpleasant — whether it be words or acts levelled against you — infinitely more difficult than to answer with the same violence. Suppose someone insults you; if in the face of these insults you can remain immobile (not only outwardly, I mean integrally), without being shaken or touched in any way: you are there like a force against which one can do nothing and you do not reply, you do not make a gesture, you do not say a word, all the insults thrown at you leave you absolutely untouched, within and without; you can keep your heart-beats absolutely quiet, you can keep the thoughts in your head quite immobile and calm without their being in the least disturbed, that is, your head does not answer immediately by similar vibrations and your nerves don’t feel clenched with the need to return a few blows to relieve themselves; if you can be like that, you have a static power, and it is infinitely more powerful than if you had that kind of force which makes you answer insult by insult, blow by blow and agitation by agitation.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Exercising Static Power pp. 138-139

Two Steps to Spiritual Experience

Spiritual experience takes ‘knowing about’ something to ‘knowing’ it. What we learn from books, what we learn in school, the facts we memorize, the procedures we learn about, are all based in the intellect and while they may open the mind to new things, do not represent actual experience. The famous proverb that one can read all the books on swimming, but will not actually know how to swim until one gets in the water and puts the theory into practice, is an appropriate one to keep in mind. The practice of skills or methods used by the surface being to maneuver through the external world is relatively well-known.

When it comes to spiritual experience, we find it difficult to even understand how to proceed. Some people say that it is entirely a matter of Grace, and of course, that is a primary characteristic of how people gain spiritual experience. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna as much in the Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna asks to see the universal form of the deity. There is however a preparatory period as the individual turns his attention toward the spiritual basis of existence, away from the exclusive focus on external things. The Mother provides two practices that can aid in this preparation. For those who are sincere in their aspiration, spiritual experience will come. As Sri Aurobindo has noted elsewhere, “He who chooses the Infinite, has been chosen by the Infinite.” Thus, the very fact of the aspiration implies that Grace is already operative, whether recognised overtly or not.

The Mother notes: “We read, we try to understand, we explain, we try to know. But a single minute of true experience teaches us more than millions of words and hundreds of explanations.”

“So the first question is: ‘How to have the experience?’ … To go within yourself, that is the first step. … And then, once you have succeeded in going within yourself deeply enough to feel the reality of that which is within, to widen yourself progressively, systematically, to become as vast as the universe and lose the sense of limitation. …These are the first two preparatory movements.”

“And these two things must be done in the greatest possible calm, peace and tranquility. This peace, this tranquility bring about silence in the mind and stillness in the vital. … This effort, this attempt must be renewed very regularly, persistently. And after a certain lapse of time, which may be longer or shorter, you begin to perceive a reality that is different from the reality perceived in the ordinary, external consciousness. … Naturally, by the action of Grace, the veil may suddenly be rent from within, and at once you can enter the true truth; but even when that happens, in order to obtain the full value and full effect of the experience, you must maintain yourself in a state of inner receptivity, and to do that, it is indispensable for you to go within each day.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Awakening the Inner Consciousness, pp. 134-138

Bringing Harmony Between the Inner Psychic Being and the External Nature

For Sri Aurobindo, truth of the spirit is to be lived, not attained by abandonment of life in the world. He looks at the evolution of body, life and mind as steps along the evolutionary process, and each one of them represents an important stage in an ongoing development. The action of these instruments is to be uplifted and perfected as new evolutionary powers enter into the world. The developed human being can participate consciously in this process, and thereby aid in bringing forth these new powers and transforming the nature and thereby the life in the world.

Sri Aurobindo recounts two primary mechanisms whereby the individual aligns himself with this development. The safest and easiest is the linking of the being with the inner psychic entity, the soul, deep within behind the heart. This brings a sense of devotion, compassion, good will and aspiration that helps to overcome all doubts, fears and uncertainties along the way. For some individuals, however, the path of development and linkage lies primarily through the mental centre. This path involves the shifting of the standpoint to one of the witness of the nature, and then exerting from there the pressure to break through the habitual patterns of the external being. Eventually, either way, there must result a harmony between the inner being, the aspiring soul, and the outer nature and actions so that the outer reflects the sense of the inner.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The other side of discipline is with regard to the activities of the nature, of the mind, of the life-self or vital, of the physical being. Here the principle is to accord the nature with the inner realisation so that one may not be divided into two discordant parts. There are here several disciplines or processes possible. One is to offer all the activities to the Divine and call for the inner guidance and the taking up of one’s nature by a Higher Power. If there is the inward soul-opening, if the psychic being comes forward, then there is no great difficulty — there comes with it a psychic discrimination, a constant intimation, finally a governance which discloses and quietly and patiently removes all imperfections, brings the right mental and vital movements and reshapes the physical consciousness also. Another method is to stand back detached from the movements of the mind, life, physical being, to regard their activities as only a habitual formation of general Nature in the individual imposed on us by past workings, not as any part of our real being; in proportion as one succeeds in this, becomes detached, sees mind and its activities as not oneself, life and its activities as not oneself, the body and its activities as not oneself, one becomes aware of an inner Being within us — inner mental, inner vital, inner physical — silent, calm, unbound, unattached which reflects the true Self above and can be its direct representative; from this inner silent Being proceeds a rejection of all that is to be rejected, an acceptance only of what can be kept and transformed, an inmost Will to perfection or a call to the Divine Power to do at each step what is necessary for the change of the Nature. It can also open mind, life and body to the inmost psychic entity and its guiding influence or its direct guidance. In most cases these two methods emerge and work together and finally fuse into one. But one can begin with either, the one that one feels most natural and easy to follow.”

“Finally, in all difficulties where personal effort is hampered, the help of the Teacher can intervene and bring about what is needed for the realisation or for the immediate step that is necessary.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Awakening the Inner Consciousness, pp. 134-138

Concentration in the Mental Centre Is the Second Major Method to Achieve Liberation

Some people, especially those with a naturally devotional nature, will gravitate toward concentration that is centred in the region of the heart. Others, who have a more intellectual turn, will find it easier in most instances to experience the concentration in the mental centre. This approach actually can itself take several different forms. Classically, the seeker is instructed to concentrate on the area between the eyebrows, the ajna chakra, also termed the ‘third eye’ by many. This is a centre of concentration and mental will. It is also possible, however to shift the concentration upwards to the top of the head region, at the point where the mental consciousness reaches its higher levels, and through which higher forces sometimes descend into the mind. Many who have experienced what is called the “Mother’s Force” while meditating at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram have reported a pressure, or a dripping of force of consciousness, or a powerful descent through this higher mental centre.

The Isha Upanishad points out ‘the face of Truth is covered by a brilliant golden lid”. It is possible for the seeker to experience what seems to be such a ‘lid’ at the higher reaches of the mental level. At some point, when this lid is breached upwards, or through descent of the Force downwards, it can open up the seeker to yet higher realms of mind, those in which intuition, illumination, etc. become active and overtake the plodding action of the mental centre in its native state.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “That other way is the concentration in the head, in the mental centre. This, if it brings about the silence of the surface mind, opens up an inner, larger, deeper mind within which is more capable of receiving spiritual experience and spiritual knowledge. But once concentrated here one must open the silent mental consciousness upward to all that is above mind. After a time one feels the consciousness rising upward and in the end it rises beyond the lid which has so long kept it tied in the body and finds a centre above the head where it is liberated into the Infinite. There it begins to come into contact with the universal Self, the Divine Peace, Light, Power, Knowledge, Bliss, to enter into that and become that, to feel the descent of these things into the nature. To concentrate in the head with the aspiration for quietude in the mind and the realisation of the Self and Divine above is the second way of concentration. It is important, however, to remember that the concentration of the consciousness in the head is only a preparation for its rising to the centre above; otherwise, one may get shut up in one’s own mind and its experiences or at best attain only to a reflection of the Truth above instead of rising into the spiritual transcendence to live there. For some the mental concentration is easier, for some the concentration in the heart centre; some are capable of doing both alternately — but to begin with the heart centre, if one can do it, is the more desirable.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Awakening the Inner Consciousness, pp. 134-138

Spiritual Realisation Through Concentration in the Heart Centre

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes between a “mental seeking” and a “living spiritual experience”. While those who are intellectually-minded frequently confuse ‘knowing’ with “KNOWING”, there is actually a clear distinction between the ability to read, hear, memorize and repeat back a teaching, which occurs in the mind. There is a famous proverb that one can read all the books about swimming and ‘know’ how to swim intellectually, but that does not mean one will actually be able to swim when thrown into the water.

A story from the Mahabharata illustrates this clearly. When the famous teacher Dronacharya was educating the princes of the kingdom, he one day stated that the lesson of the day was ‘not to become angry’. The first 104 princes (100 Kauravas and 4 of the Pandavas) said they understood the lesson, but the eldest, the future king/emperor Yudhisthira demurred and said he had not yet understood. This went on for several days until final a frustrated Dronacharya struck Yudhishthira. Note that striking the future king was considered to be punished by death! At that moment, however, Yudhisthira indicated he had now understood the lesson! For him it was not just an intellectual exercise. He needed the opportunity to put the lesson into practice and make it a living spiritual experience active in his being.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “You have asked what is the discipline to be followed in order to convert the mental seeking into a living spiritual experience. The first necessity is the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself. The ordinary human mind has an activity on the surface which veils the real Self. But there is another, a hidden consciousness within behind the surface one in which we can become aware of the real Self and of a larger deeper truth of nature, can realise the Self and liberate and transform the nature. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration. Of this true consciousness other than the superficial there are two main centres, one in the heart (not the physical heart, but the cardiac centre in the middle of the chest), one in the head. The concentration in the heart opens within and by following this inward opening and going deep one becomes aware of the soul or psychic being, the divine element in the individual. This being unveiled begins to come forward, to govern the nature, to turn it and all its movements towards the Truth, towards the Divine, and to call down into it all that is above. It brings the consciousness of the Presence, the dedication of the being to the Highest and invites the descent into our nature of a greater Force and Consciousness which is waiting above us. To concentrate in the heart centre with the offering of oneself to the Divine and the aspiration for this inward opening and for the Presence in the heart is the first way and, if it can be done, the natural beginning; for its result once obtained makes the spiritual path far more easy and safe than if one begins the other way.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Awakening the Inner Consciousness, pp. 134-138

Occult Experience of Visualization Applied to Contacting the Soul

Many people have reported the experience of visualizing, either in deep meditation, or in what may be called a dream state, or a lucid dream state, a house, or building, or even in some cases a cave, and when one enters into that space, there are numerous passages or doors, and if one follows it up, all kinds of information and awareness is revealed. C.G. Jung explored what he called the “collective unconscious” and others report visualizing a massive repository of scrolls or books that each open up a branch of knowledge about oneself, about the past, the future or about some other time, place or event. These represent occult or mystical experiences of realms of consciousness transcribed to our external mental faculty as moving through and exploring rooms and tapping into the knowledge contained therein. These are in fact symbolic experiences of actual events in consciousness for the person undergoing the experience.

The Mother builds on this to show how one can contact the soul through conscious process of deep meditation and the use of visualization techniques to explore and open the door, behind which the soul-consciousness, the psychic being deep within the being, awaits.

The Mother observes: “When I ask you to go deep down within yourselves, some of you will concentrate on a sensation, but others may just as well have the impression of going down into a deep well, and they clearly see the picture of steps going down into a dark and deep well, and they go down farther and farther, deeper and deeper, and sometimes reach precisely a door; they sit down before the door with the will to enter, and sometimes the door opens, and then they go in and see a kind of hall or a room or a cave or something, and from there, if they go on they may come to another door and again stop, and with an effort the door opens and they go farther. And if this is done with enough persistence and one can continue the experience, there comes a time when one finds oneself in front of a door which has… a special kind of solidity or solemnity, and with a great effort of concentration the door opens and one suddenly enters a hall of clarity, of light; and then, one has the experience, you see, of contact with one’s soul….”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Visualization for Discovering One’s Being, pp. 131-134

Visualization as an Aid for Entering into Contact with One’s Psychic Being

For those who have the power of visualisation and who are ready and willing to concentrate in this way, there can be tremendous progress in developing the relation to the psychic being. The mind transcribes the energetic relationships of the various parts of the being into different rooms and forms of energy and action, and thus, using the power of visualisation, the seeker can enter into a specific part of the being and relate to its action by moving through the visualisation process into the appropriate room or space involved.

The Mother describes one such palpable experience that results from such a visualisation process to come into contact with the psychic being.

The Mother writes: “To sit in meditation before a closed door, as though it were a heavy door of bronze — and one sits in front of it with the will that it may open — and to pass to the other side; and so the whole concentration, the whole aspiration is gathered into a beam and pushes, pushes, pushes against this door, and pushes more and more with an increasing energy until all of a sudden it bursts open, and one enters. It makes a very powerful impression. And so one is as though plunged into the light and then one has the full enjoyment of a sudden and radical change of consciousness, with an illumination that captures one entirely, and the feeling that one is becoming another person. And this is a very concrete and very powerful way of entering into contact with one’s psychic being.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Visualization for Discovering One’s Being, pp. 131-134