All Knowledge Is Within, Awaiting the Time and Circumstance to Manifest in Our External Being

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato described the method of teaching utilized by Socrates, known today as the “Socratic method”. Socrates understood that education was not the process of stuffing knowledge into an individual, but rather, as the root of the word ‘education’ implies, a drawing out of the knowledge already held within. He propounded a series of questions intended to provoke the person to express that knowledge and formalize it thereby in their external being.

We observe in the animal kingdom the precise knowledge to which we apply the term ‘instinct’. This is clearly a detailed knowledge that is ‘involved’ within the being and which expresses itself when the conditions for it are ripe. We also see that the seed contains the knowledge that grows into the being encoded in that seed, and in some cases, this encoding is extremely detailed, such as the formation and activities of the human being and all the complex chemical, electrical-nervous, and organ-system operations that make up the human being.

All of these things exemplify the fact that knowledge is embedded, or in Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, ‘involved’ within the being and needs only the right conditions and timing to express itself, or ‘evolve’. What we are, what we are meant to become, what our destiny as a species, and as individual representatives of the species, are all things which are hidden within awaiting the right time to overtly manifest and make themselves known to our external being.

The great sages of the world counsel ‘know thyself’ as the means to learning. The sages of the Upanishads remind us that “Thou art That” and counsel the seeker to find the deepest knowledge within.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Nothing can be taught to the mind which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfection of which the outer man is capable, is only a realising of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him. We know the Divine and become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 45-46


Guarding One’s Faith

Faith, as described by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, is not a dogmatic acceptance of a system of ideas or ‘articles of faith’; rather, it is a form of knowledge that arises from deeper within, from the soul and its connection with the universe, which provides a certainty that goes beyond the capacities of the mind and its analytical or organisational skill-set. This faith is subject to attack as the mind does not know how to relate to it, the vital may have objectives that are contrary to the guidance of the faith for the fulfillment of the life, and the body may wish to satisfy its comforts and enjoyments despite the urgings of that deeper knowing. There are also the influences of family and friends, of the society and its expectations and then there are the forces that actively oppose, for their own reasons related to getting and exercising power or domination, the promptings of the soul and its knowledge. Thus, faith is constantly being assailed by naysaying and denial, by temptations and offers of worldly success, and thereby, the connection can be cut or lost.

It is a principle of nature that the young are weaker and more subject to being destroyed by powerful forces. We protect the young tree by staking it so that the winds cannot destroy it prior to it setting down strong roots. We protect the baby and the young child as they have no way to protect themselves. In a similar way, it is necessary to guard and protect the young stirrings of faith from the doubts of the mind, the force of the vital and the influence of external powers and circumstances. Once the faith, the deeper knowledge of the soul, becomes more firmly established, it will wind up protecting and guiding the other elements of the being.

The Mother writes: “One must watch over one’s faith as one watches over the birth of something infinitely precious, and protect it very carefully from everything that can impair it. … In the ignorance and darkness of the beginning, faith is the most direct expression of the Divine Power which comes to fight and conquer.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 45

Overcoming Negative Suggestions Through Faith in One’s Spiritual Destiny

How many times in the course of an individual’s practice of yoga do thoughts of failure and lack of capacity or ability to succeed intervene and work to create doubt and despair? If allowed to dominate the being, the quest fails, at least for the time being, or for the rest of the current lifetime, as it requires the willing and persevering dedication of the individual to stay the course. What brings these thoughts and feelings into prominence? No individual is fully competent at the beginning, or even for a great while on the path, to perfectly represent the expected results of the yogic practice. This is a progressive development, taking time and thus, defeats along the way are both to be expected and overcome by renewed efforts. Each individual has multiple different aspects to his being, some of which enthusiastically support the focus and dedication needed, while other aspects hold onto cherished ideas, ideals, emotions and vital desires. These parts continually try to convince the seeker that the focus is misguided, that there are other potential goals and avenues for success in life, and that major chances are being thrown away by the yogic process. It is not, however, just these various parts of the being which set forth contradictory goals and ideals. There is also the impact of one’s social environment, family, friends, associates, who each work to encourage the seeker to give up the quest and follow the normal path laid out by the society within which he has been born and raised. But even this is not the end of the attempt to waylay the seeker along the path. There are also larger forces which are hostile and inimical to the eventual goal of the yoga, and these forces exert tremendous pressure on those who seek to progress.

All of these opposing forces take advantage of the weaknesses and failures to imply to the seeker that he is unfit, that he can never succeed, and that what is asked of him is too hard to achieve. These all push the ego personality into a state of despondency and despair, with the goal of having the seeker leave aside the yogic process and take up another direction where success is more in line with the normal expectations of the society. It is thus necessary for the seeker to arm himself against these negative suggestions, whether they arise internally or as a pressure from outside, and make the commitment, based on his inherent faith in the truth that his soul has recognised, to continue on, no matter what failures, no matter what difficulties, no matter what obstructions stand in the way.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “To be always observing faults and wrong movements brings depression and discourages the faith.” A disciple requests clarification from the Mother: “How does it discourage the faith?”

The Mother responds: “The faith spoken about is faith in the divine Grace and the final success of the undertaking. You have begun the yoga and have faith that you will go through to the end of your yoga. But if you spend all your time looking at all that prevents you from advancing, then finally you say, ‘Ah, I shall never succeed! It is not possible. If it goes on in this way, I shall never get there.’ So this is to lose one’s faith. One must always keep the faith that one is sure to succeed.”

“Many people begin, and then after some time come and tell you, ‘Oh, I shall never be able to go through. I have too many difficulties.’ So this means not having faith. If one has started, one begins with the faith that one will reach the goal. Well, this faith should be kept till the very end. Keeping one’s faith, one attains the end. But if in the middle of the road you turn back saying, ‘No, I can’t’, then, obviously you will not reach the end. Some people start on the way and then, after some time, they find it heavy-going, tiring, difficult, and also that they themselves, their legs, don’t walk well, their feet begin to ache, etc. You see, they say, ‘Oh, it is very hard to go forward.’ So instead of saying, ‘I have started, I shall go through’, which is the only thing to do, they stand there, stop there, lamenting and saying, ‘Oh, I shall never be able to succeed’, and then they leave the path. So obviously, if they leave the path, they will never succeed. This is to lose one’s faith.”

“To keep one’s faith is to say, ‘Good, I have difficulties but I am going on.’ Despair — that’s what cuts off your legs, stops you, leaves you like this: ‘It is over, I can’t go on any longer.’ It is indeed finished, and that’s something which should not be allowed.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 44-45

An Unshakable Faith

No matter how strongly we hold an idea, or an emotional attachment, or even a vital desire, we find that over time, any of these can be shaken, disrupted or even converted into its opposite. The various parts of the human instrument, the body, the life-force and the mind are all inconstant and variable, are subject to pressure, to changes of circumstances or even just the maturation process of the individual as he grows, learns and expands his horizons. The question then arises as to how one can achieve an unshakable faith if that faith depends on the stability of these instruments. Dogmas or principles held by the mind tend to be brittle and thus, either become fanatical in nature, and thus, not subject to receptivity and growth, or else, can be shattered when the right pressure is applied. We all are aware of situations where love has turned into hatred, or where friends have turned into enemies, based on perceptions, or circumstances that challenge our faith on the objects of our love or friendship.

The Dhammapada addresses the issue of faith. The aphorism below refers to Mara, who is the embodiment of illusion. Illusion adheres to the external life and our instruments of interacting with that life. The Mother’s commentary on this aphorism makes it clear that unshakable faith is not based in the mind or the emotions or even a particular teaching. The faith that is unshakable is that which originates with the soul, the psychic being, which holds the true purpose and potentiality of the individual.

Just as the strong wind has no hold upon a mighty rock, so Mara has no hold upon a man… who is endowed with unshakable faith and who wastes not his energies.” — The Dhammapada

The Mother notes: “What the Dhammapada means when it speaks of faith is not at all the belief in a dogma or a religion, it is not even faith in the teaching of the Master; it is faith in one’s own possibilities, the certitude that whatever the difficulties, whatever the obstacles, whatever the imperfections, even the negations in the being, one is born for realisation and one will realise.”

“The will must never falter, the effort must be persevering and the faith unshakable. Then instead of spending years to realise what one has to realise, one can do it in a few months, sometimes even in a few days and, if there is sufficient intensity, in a few hours. That is to say, you can take a position within yourself and no bad will that attacks the realisation will have any more power over you than the storm has over a rock.”

“After that, the way is no longer difficult; it becomes extraordinarily interesting.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 43-44

The Meaning of Faith

The mind is not an instrument of knowledge. It is an analytical and organising tool, but is unable, on its own, to establish truth or certainty. It also maintains a certain arrogance in its own powers, and thus, when confronted with something beyond its own capabilities, it doubts the veracity and asks for proof. Some things, however, cannot be proven to the satisfaction of the intellect; however, that does not disprove those things. The Kena Upanishad tells the tale of how the powers of the body, the life energy and the mind thought they were each powerful and masters of the existence of the earth. But at some point, their powers were nullified by something which they could not understand or define. The mental power exceeded itself and came to know that there was a greater power, the Eternal, which created and maintained all the lesser powers of the creation.

This does not imply that there cannot be some instrument of knowledge, but it is not contained within the powers of body, life and mind; rather, it is the psychic being, the soul, which is a spark of the Divine in the individual being, and thus, through its oneness, is able to know what these other powers cannot. The knowledge of the soul cannot be proven with the tools of the intellect, but are expressed through the inner certainty that we call faith.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “… faith in the spiritual sense is not a mental belief which can waver and change. It can wear that form in the mind, but that belief is not the faith itself, it is only its external form. Just as the body, the external form, can change but the spirit remains the same, so it is here. Faith is a certitude in the soul which does not depend on reasoning, on this or that mental idea, on circumstances, on this or that passing condition of the mind or the vital or the body. It may be hidden, eclipsed, may even seem to be quenched, but it reappears again after the storm or the eclipse; it is seen burning still in the soul when one has thought that it was extinguished for ever. The mind may be a shifting sea of doubts and yet that faith may be there within and, if so, it will keep even the doubt-racked mind in the way so that it goes on in spite of itself towards its destined goal. Faith is a spiritual certitude of the spiritual, the divine, the soul’s ideal, something that clings to that even when it is not fulfilled in life, even when the immediate facts or the persistent circumstances seem to deny it. This is a common experience in the life of the human being; if it were not so, man would be the plaything of a changing mind or a sport of circumstances.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 42-43

The Nature of Faith

What is faith? Faith has generally been associated with belief in a religion and its specific tenets, or ‘articles of faith’. We are educated within our religion of choice about the basic beliefs that underlie that religion and we are asked to accept them ‘on faith’. In some cases, these ‘articles of faith’ are due to negotiated agreements among church elders at some time in the distant past, and in some cases, these beliefs are fully contradicted by knowledge that has subsequently come to light as humanity grows and advances in its understanding. It is for this reason, primarily, that science has rejected the common idea of faith.

Faith, however, is not the affirmation of beliefs, tenets or dogmas associated with a specific religious background. In its deepest and truest sense, faith represents a form of non-mental ‘knowing’ that nevertheless is felt as true and self-evident. For those who are immersed in the mental consciousness, the idea that there can be a form of knowledge that is not directly available to the mind, or that relies on an instrument of knowing other than the mind, is inconceivable. Yet, if we examine closely, we can see that the range of mental understanding is limited within a specific upper and lower field. Below the mental level of understanding, knowing takes the form of a subconscious or even unconscious habit which we call ‘instinct’. Instinct does not rely on the mind and is evident throughout the animal kingdom. In some cases, this instinct is very precise and detailed in its working. Just as there is a form of knowing below the mental field, there are also forms of knowing above the mental field. The evolution of consciousness is not completed and man therefore is what Sri Aurobindo calls a “transitional being”.

Faith, then, from this standpoint is not a dogmatic belief in a system of ideas, but rather, the confirmation of a knowledge obtained through a different instrument of knowing than the mind. The ‘rightness’ and ‘truth’ of the faith is something more akin to intuition than to mental logic. Faith gives the individual the courage to continue even when faced with the contradictory view of the mind or the vital being.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Faith does not depend upon experience; it is something that is there before experience. When one starts the yoga, it is not usually on the strength of experience, but on the strength of faith. It is so not only in yoga and the spiritual life, but in ordinary life also. All men of action, discoverers, inventors, creators of knowledge proceed by faith and, until the proof is made or the thing done, they go on in spite of disappointment, failure, disproof, denial because of something in them that tells them that this is the truth, the thing that must be followed and done. Ramakrishna even went so far as to say, when asked whether blind faith was not wrong, that blind faith was the only kind to have, for faith is either blind or it is not faith but something else — reasoned inference, proved conviction or ascertained knowledge.”

“Faith is the soul’s witness to something not yet manifested, achieved or realised, but which yet the Knower within us, even in the absence of all indications, feels to be true or supremely worth following or achieving. This thing within us can last even when there is no fixed belief in the mind, even when the vital struggles and revolts and refuses. Who is there that practices the yoga and has not his periods, long periods of disappointment and failure and disbelief and darkness? But there is something that sustains him and even goes on in spite of himself, because it feels that what it followed after was yet true and it more than feels, it knows. The fundamental faith in yoga is this, inherent in the soul, that the Divine exists and the Divine is the one thing to be followed after — nothing else in life is worth having in comparison with that. So long as a man has that faith, he is marked for the spiritual life and I will say that, even if his nature is full of obstacles and crammed with denials and difficulties, and even if he has many years of struggle, he is marked out for success in the spiritual life.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 41-42

The Meaning of True and Complete Sincerity in the Spiritual Path

Just about every individual, including those practicing a spiritual discipline of some sort, creates an image of himself that he then projects out into the world. This image is something of a stylized and idealized version of himself that attempts to present the highest and best of his aspiration, whether it be mental development, expressions of faith, compassion, goodwill, purity, and an abstemious nature not given to over-indulgence. To a certain degree, if someone has been called to the spiritual path, there is a truth to this presentation; at the same time, the complex elements of human nature and the different parts of the being are not generally unified around this ‘highest and best’ self, and thus, there are moments when the other elements assert themselves and cloud over the aspiration, the faith, the devotion, the compassionate nature. In many instances, the individual does not recognise the chinks in the image, and remains quite ignorant of his own weaknesses and failings, or else, if he is aware of them, he may try to justify their existence on some basis. This is especially the case where the vital nature convinces the mind to justify some expression of desire. This leads to the question of what is sincerity and how it can be achieved by the spiritual seeker.

A disciple inquires: “What does ‘sincerity’ mean, exactly?”

The Mother notes: “There are several degrees of sincerity. … The most elementary degree is not to say one thing and think another, claim one thing and want another. For example, what happens quite often: to say, ‘I want to make progress, and I want to get rid of my defects’ and, at the same time, to cherish one’s defects in the consciousness and take great care to hide them so that nobody intervenes and sends them off. This is indeed a very common phenomenon. This is already the second degree. The first degree, you see, is when someone claims, for example, to have a very great aspiration and to want the spiritual life and, at the same time, does completely… how to put it?… shamelessly, things which are most contradictory to the spiritual life. This is indeed a degree of sincerity, rather of insincerity, which is most obvious.”

“But there is a second degree which I have just described to you, which is like this: there is one part of the being which has an aspiration and says, even thinks, even feels that it would very much like to get rid of defects, imperfections; and then, at the same time, other parts which hide these defects and imperfections very carefully so as not to be compelled to expose them and get over them. This is very common.”

“And finally, if we go far enough, if we push the description far enough, so long as there is a part of the being which contradicts the central aspiration for the Divine, one is not perfectly sincere. That is to say, a perfect sincerity is something extremely rare. And most commonly, very very frequently, when there are things in one’s nature which one does not like, one takes the greatest care to hide them from oneself, one finds favourable explanations or simply makes a little movement, like this (gesture). You have noticed that when things move like this you can’t see them clearly. Well, where the defect is seated, there is a kind of vibration which does this, and so your sight is not clear, you no longer see your defects. And this is automatic. Well, all these are insincerities.”

“And perfect sincerity comes when at the centre of the being there is the consciousness of the divine Presence, the consciousness of the divine Will, and when the entire being, like a luminous, clear, transparent whole, expresses this in all its details. This is indeed true sincerity. … When, at any moment, whatever may happen, the being has given itself to the Divine and wants only the divine Will, when, no matter what is going on in the being, at any moment whatever, always, the whole being in perfect unanimity can say to the Divine and feels for the Divine, ‘Let Thy Will be done’, when it is spontaneous, total, integral then you are sincere. But until this is established, it is a mixed sincerity, more or less mixed, right up to the point where one is not at all sincere.”

“One must never pretend that one is: one must be, spontaneously. … This is sincerity.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 39-41

The Complexity and Difficulty of Achieving Complete Sincerity in the Spiritual Path

Sincerity is not as simple as believing in and meaning what we say to others. This is what we ordinarily consider to be sincerity. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have a much more far-reaching idea of sincerity relating to the practice of yoga in the furtherance of spiritual growth. Sincerity represents the coherence of the entire being around the central focus of the spiritual practice, such that our thoughts, emotions, vital impulses and physical responses all adhere to and support this focus.

This becomes complicated because the human being is made up of different parts which each have their own function, their own habits and their own long-standing genetic and race-memory to contend with. Thus, physical wants and needs, vital desires, the heart’s emotional responses, the mind’s processes all try to achieve their own ends, and they do not always agree with one another. The mind and the heart may agree on a spiritual sadhana, but this does not mean that the vital desires will suddenly agree to give way and support the process.

Further, even if the mind generally agrees or the heart generally supports the spiritual sadhana, this does not mean that it always and in all situations responds the same way. What further complicates this is the role of the vital and its desires. The vital is able to manipulate the mind into supporting just about anything and coming up with plausible rationales for why one does what one does, even if it, at bottom, contradicts the true spiritual aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Men are always mixed and there are qualities and defects mingled together almost inextricably in their nature. What a man wants to be or wants others to see in him or what he is sometimes on one side of his nature or in some relations can be very different from what he is in the actual fact or in other relations or on another side of his nature. To be absolutely sincere, straightforward, open, is not an easy achievement for human nature. It is only by spiritual endeavour that one can realise it — and to do it needs a severity of introspective self-vision, an unsparing scrutiny of self-observation of which many sadhaks and yogis even are not capable….”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 39

Sincerity Is the Only Protection in the Development of the Spiritual Life

If we consider what the most important quality is for progress in spiritual growth, we generally come up with a number of different ideas, including devotion, strong mind or will, faith, dedication, aspiration. We rarely name ‘sincerity’ as the quality most required. Yet, the Mother stresses the importance of this generally under-rated quality. Without sincerity, all the other qualities tend to fail at some point.

A disciple asks: “What is the fundamental virtue to be cultivated in order to prepare for the spiritual life?”

The Mother writes: “I have said this many times, but this is an opportunity to repeat it: it is sincerity. … A sincerity which must become total and absolute, for sincerity alone is your protection on the spiritual path. If you are not sincere, at the very next step you are sure to fall and break your head. All kinds of forces, wills, influences, entities are there, on the look-out for the least little rift in this sincerity and they immediately rush in through that rift and begin to throw you into confusion. … Therefore, before doing anything, beginning anything, trying anything, be sure first of all that you are not only as sincere as you can be, but have the intention of becoming still more so. … For that is your only protection.”

Sri Aurobindo clarifies what sincerity is: “Sincere is simply an adjective meaning that the will must be a true will. If you simply think ‘I aspire’ and do things inconsistent with the aspiration, or follow your desires or open yourself to contrary influences, then it is not a sincere will.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 38

The Complementary Aspects of Aspiration and Prayer

Just as there is a debate between science and religion, there is a corollary argument that encompasses aspiration versus prayer. Aspiration for growth, development, knowledge, progress, expansion is acceptable to those in the “science” camp. Prayer is relegated by these individuals to the “religion” camp. Similarly, those who believe ardently in the power of prayer do not fully believe in the efficacy of an inner aspiration alone. The relation of these two powers, however, is not so simply delineated, nor can either one be dismissed out of hand. They can, indeed, complement one another.

For those who do not believe in any greater Being in the universe, of course, prayer does not factor into the equation. For those already accepting such a greater Being, Creator or God, prayer is central. For the vast majority of people however, who are somewhere between these two extremes, another viewpoint can harmonize them. Aspiration can be seen as the directing force and impetus for the growth and development of the individual’s powers and the expansion of the individual’s basis of knowledge. Prayer can be seen as the outer body providing concrete form in the external existence to what the aspiration is developing inwardly.

The artist, the writer, the composer all develop their concepts inwardly, but express them in the world, to impact others and have their influence in the world, through the outer form they give to these concepts. Similarly, prayer provides such an outer framework to embody the aspiration and bring it to life in the world.

The Mother notes: “So the more intellectual people admit aspiration and say that prayer is something inferior. The mystics tell you that aspiration is all very well but if you want to be really heard and want the Divine to listen to you, you must pray, and pray with the simplicity of a child, a perfect candour, that is, a perfect trust: ‘I need this or that (whether it be a moral need or a physical or material need), well, I ask You for it, give it to me.’ … To aspire it is not necessary to direct the aspiration to someone, towards someone. One has an aspiration for a certain state of being, for knowledge, for a realisation, a state of consciousness; one aspires for something, but it is not necessarily a prayer; prayer is something additional.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 37-38