The dualities, or pairs of opposites, are recognised throughout the world as a condition of life. Night and day, positive and negative, and all other dualities, can be seen in material nature, as well as in our vital and emotional existence and in our minds. Electricity flows between positive and negative poles. The pairs of opposites are seemingly inescapable in our world.
When people hear about escaping the dualities, therefore, they try to imagine endless light without darkness, happiness without sadness, pleasure without pain. They either conclude that this is an impossible task, or they try to create conditions to achieve these ends, without, however, reaching any final conclusion.
So what do the spiritual texts mean when they say we can escape the dualities? They are not describing the actuality of these opposites, but the manner in which we respond or react to them. Human nature reacts strongly to these opposites and we thus move from gladness to sadness, from joy to sorrow, from exhilaration to depression in an endless cycle. As the spiritual seeker develops and matures in his dealing with his life and nature, he begins to recognise that the solution lies not in changing the nature of the world itself with respect to these dualities, but in the response one provides to their existence. The seeker then develops a variety of strategies to determine how to experience the changes caused by the dualities, but not be overcome by them; rather, to be steady and accept them with calm, peace and equality.
Achieving a constant and steady state of equanimity, however, is not the work of a day. Spiritual practitioners may spend many years working through the various reactions and still find that something upsets them when they least expect it, perhaps the death of a loved one, or some failure in the life-arrangements they have made, and on which they were counting.
As the evolved consciousness develops and takes firm hold, these disruptions tend to occur much less frequently and with less intensity. An example from an event at Sri Aurobindo Ashram illustrates this quite well. A seeker reported that he had been living and working at the Ashram and received a birthday blessing and message from the Mother on November 17, 1973 in the morning. The message stated ‘live within, be not shaken by outward happenings.” It so happened that the seeker went into an internal state of deep abstraction that day and overnight he reported dreams that showed a tremendous darkness covering the earth, followed by a flash of blinding light. He awoke and went to his position in the Ashram early in the morning, and when he approached, he saw the entire facility lit up even though it was still dark outside, an unusual occurrence which he had never experienced before. People were everywhere. He inquired and was advised that the Mother had left her body on the evening of November 17. Somehow, the message of the prior day and the impact of the dream led him to not react. Meanwhile people began to arrive from all over the world, in tears. As they entered the Ashram to pay their respects to the Mother, they entered through a line of children from the school, holding hands to create a pathway through the Ashram. The older sadhaks were all sitting in deep meditation around the samadhi generating a force of peace. A miraculous thing occurred, that all those who came in with tears, after passing the line of children (who were radiant), came out with peace in their hearts and without further tears. Their reaction to the event was changed from that of a normal human reaction to the death of not only a loved one, but a guide, guru and mother, to that of the spiritual consciousness that pervaded the Ashram at that moment.
Dr. Dalal notes: “(f) Because of the identification with its instrumental nature, the ordinary consciousness is afflicted by the ‘pairs of contraries’ — heat and cold, pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion, etc. — which are an inherent characteristic of physical, vital and mental nature. Ordinarily, therefore, consciousness is in a more or less constant state of disturbance and disequilibrium. Contrastingly, the higher consciousness is unmoved, fixed or steady — Sthira, to use another term of the Gita. Associated with this quality is Samata — equanimity born of an equal response to the pairs of contraries.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. viii-ix