We have completed our review of the second series of Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita. The Bhagavad Gita, although brief in compass, is vast in scope. It addresses the human condition in a very real and direct manner, starting from the conflicting answers provided by our philosophical, ethical, moral, social and personal values to the very complex and tangled situations we face while trying to survive in the world.

Arjuna is the representative of the leading values of human existence. He has been educated in the highest principles of his time and he combines the ability to focus with utmost concentration and discipline with a sensitivity to the moral and ethical values that have formed the core of his judgments about how to respond to life.

The Gita has placed this individual in a situation where none of his past guidelines or rules of action are any longer of value. By carrying out one line of action, he supports the values of that direction while concurrently destroying other values. To protect the social order he has been asked to take action that will wrench that very fibres of that social order! He clearly needs and craves new guidance, and thus, the Gita is able to address him by providing a new approach which avoids the trenchant oppositions of the mental framework that demands “either/or” solutions, by showing him that these opposites are actually part of a larger unified whole and a greater harmony. In order to act from this new standpoint, he must move beyond the limitations of his background, education, training and mental framework. Thus, the yoga of the Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita remains relevant today because it addresses issues and conflicts we face every day in our lives. We are also asked to sort out conflicting values and make judgment calls that are less than satisfying. We are asked to live our lives in a world that seemingly has stripped a lot of significance out of it, reducing life into some kind of mechanical existence, a fight for survival or a field of enjoyment, without recognizing the deeper significance and the greater opportunities available to us if we try to become the best and highest we can be, using the utmost of our born human capabilities and then finding a way to exceed even these best and highest manifestations of human endeavor.

The Gita however is much more than a philosophical treatise; it delves into the details of how action occurs and dissects for us in a very precise way the operation of the modes or Gunas of Nature. This is essential information for anyone trying to make sense of action in the world and searching for a way to respond more effectively to challenges.

The knowledge provided by the Gita takes on its ultimate value when we actually begin to try to see, observe and practice this teaching through transference of our viewpoint, our very standpoint of living, from the human to the divine standpoint. This is the ultimate secret communicated by the Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita translates for a more modern humanity the ancient teachings found in the Vedas and especially in the Upanishads. Those ancient texts, revered as repositories of wisdom, have been very much closed books to us because their cryptic and symbolic language had been lost to our modern mind and methods of understanding. The Gita helps us bridge that gap.

Sri Aurobindo has done an outstanding service to us here by systematically and in detail taking up the entire step by step progression of the Gita’s exposition, showing us both the “big picture” and the fine details along the way, while keeping us focused on the essentials that the Gita is trying to communicate. He found that the Gita is not solely a text for any particular path of yoga, but was rather a synthetic attempt to take up, reshape and reformulate each of the various paths and methodologies, to organize and put them in their right place in the scheme of things, and thereby harmonize and uplift them rather than place them in opposition with one another.

The Gita’s method is in fact an illustration of its central teaching; that is, to move from the limited, fragmented, “black and white” approach of the linear mental consciousness, to an embracing, global and holistic approach of the divine consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita

The Deepest Truth of the Real, Spiritual Existence

The image of the eternal Ashwattha Tree, with its roots above, and branches and leaves down below, is symbolic of the truth of the spiritual nature. While the human consciousness ordinarily experiences and sees the world from the viewpoint of a limited being rooted in the material and vital realm, with little or no experience of or connection to the spiritual consciousness, the reality is quite other. When we finally transition our conscious awareness to the spiritual existence, and begin to see and act from that standpoint, the significance of our lives and actions is completely transformed.

Sri Aurobindo describes the results of this transformation: “The cycles of incarnation and the fear of mortality will not distress you; for here in life you will have accomplished the expression of the Godhead, and your soul, even though it has descended into mind and body, will already be living in the vast eternity of the Spirit.”

The transformation is brought about by “this complete surrender of your whole self and nature, this abandonment of all Dharmas to the Divine who is your highest Self, this absolute aspiration of all your members to the supreme spiritual nature.”

When this occurs, the individual is no longer separate, isolated, fragmented and limited. He becomes one with the Supreme. “A supreme Presence within you will take up your Yoga and carry it swiftly along the lines of your Swabhava to its consummate completion. And afterwards whatever your way of life and mode of action, you will be consciously living, acting and moving in him and the Divine Power will act through you in your every inner and outer motion. This is the supreme way because it is the highest secret and mystery and yet an inner movement progressively realisable by all. This is the deepest and most intimate truth of your real, your spiritual existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 574-575

Relinquishing Responsibility For Works To the Divine

The idea of surrendering responsibility and control of one’s works from the ego-personality to the Divine is one that can only be truly implemented once a certain separation of the consciousness from the ego-personality and the play of the Gunas has actually occurred. That is why the Gita sets forth a series of steps rather than simply prescribing this initially. Abandonment of the fruits helps the seeker to prepare himself for abandoning the sense of being the “doer”. The action of the three Gunas is still primary as long as one remains even slightly attached to the ego-consciousness, and thus, there can be a form of tamasic surrender which simply gives up any attempt whatsoever to manage or discipline the actions of the being, and thus, the excuse of the divine being responsible for all works, in such a case, is a cover for tamasic ego-fulfilment. Similarly, there can be a rajasic surrender whereby the being takes on any form of fulfillment of desires and ambitions with the excuse that it is the divine working through the instrument. And a sattwic form whereby one can arrogate from a form of sattwic pride, the actions, the successes and the developments to the divine as a way of enhancing one’s personal feeling of achievement!

Sri Aurobindo points out the importance of achieving the foundational basis: “And when you are once able to do that sincerely, that will be the moment to renounce the initiation of your acts without exception into the hands of the supreme Godhead within you.”

The nature of this eventual change is to shift all initiation, all action, all responsibility and all results to the divine, working through the individual instrument as a nexus or opportunity of action. At this point, the entire issue of “sin and virtue” becomes essentially irrelevant. “The Divine Power and Presence within you will free you from sin and evil and lift you far above human standards of virtue. For you will live and act in the absolute and spontaneous right and purity of the spiritual being and the divine nature. The Divine and not you will enact his own will and works through you, not for your lower personal pleasure and desire, but for the world-purpose and for your divine good and the manifest or secret good of all.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 574

Swabhava and Swadharma As the True Basis of Action

When we understand the mechanism of the outer Nature and the impact of the Gunas on the action that we are steered or driven to undertake, it becomes quite clear that we have not yet discovered the true basis of action. Sri Aurobindo points out that it is necessary to identify with the inner being: “The real truth of all this action of Prakriti is, however, less outwardly mental and more inwardly subjective. It is this that man is an embodied soul involved in material and mental nature and he follows in it a progressive law of his development determined by an inner law of his being; his cast of spirit makes out his cast of mind and life, his Swabhava. Each man has a Swadharma, a law of his inner being which he must observe, find out and follow. The action determined by his inner nature, that is his real Dharma. To follow it is the true law of his development; to deviate from it is to bring in confusion, retardation and error.”

We see here, then, that we can discover our true nature of being and acting by focusing on and identifying our Swabhava and Swadharma, and then acting in accordance with them, regardless of what our mind and vital reaction to the outer forms, forces and actions may be.

There is a period of time when we have come to identify in consciousness with our true inner self, that the outer nature still acts based on its habitual patterns and remains thus linked to the action of the three Gunas; however, this is something that we observe and treat it as the sacrifice to the Master as Sri Aurobindo has described: “It is true that even when you have found yourself and live in your self, your nature will still continue on its old lines and act for a time according to its inferior modes. But now you can follow that actino with a perfect self-knowledge and can make of it a sacrifice to the Master of your existence.”

The difference that arises is we no longer identify with these things from the point of view of the ego-personality. “Reject all motive of egoism, all initiation by self-will, all rule of desire, until you can make the complete surrender of all the ways of your being to the Supreme.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 573-574

The Three Gunas and Action In the World

The Gita spends a considerable amount of time describing and explaining the operation of the three Gunas of Nature. This is so because it is extremely useful for the seeker to understand how the “machinery” of Nature works and drives the choices and results of what the ego-personality tends to consider to be the action of “free will”. True free will does not operate until the soul is identified with the Supreme Person, the Purushottama.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the role of each of the Gunas in the action of the individual: “Man in his natural being is a sattwic, rajasic and tamasic creature of Nature. According as one or other of her qualities predominates in him, he makes and follows this or that law of his life and action.”

“His tamasic, material, sensational mind subject to inertia and fear and ignorance either obeys partly the compulsion of its environment and partly the spasmodic impulses of its desires or finds a protection in the routine following of a dully customary intelligence.”

“The rajasic mind of desire struggles with the world in which it lives and tries to possess always new things, to command, battle, conquer, create, destroy, accumulate. Always it goes forward tossed between success and failure, joy and sorrow, exultation or despair. But in all, whatever law it may seem to admit, it follows really only the law of the lower self and ego, the restless, untired, self-devouring and all-devouring mind of the Asuric and Rakshasic nature.”

“The sattwic intelligence surmounts partly this state, sees that a better law than that of desire and ego must be followed and erects and imposes on itself a social, an ethical, a religious rule, a Dharma, a Shastra. This is as high as the ordinary mind of man can go, to erect an ideal or practical rule for the guidance of the mind and will and as faithfully as possible observe it in life and conduct.”

As the human individual evolves, eventually the highest sattwic level gets to the point where the individual attempts to act from a fully disinterested viewpoint for the greater good, and the being is prepared for the transition to the new divine standpoint, beyond the limits of the Gunas entirely.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 572-573

The Solution to the Problem of Human Action

The problem of human action has troubled humanity for thousands of years. On the one side, we have what we call our animal nature, with our desires, as well as instincts, that drive action toward the attainment of various fruits of our efforts. In addition, however, we have an internal sense that there must be a greater meaning to our lives, and that we are other and different than the grasping, desire-filled ego-personality trying to achieve satisfaction through acquisition of material or vital results for our lives. We then experience a sense that our aspirations and dreams reflect one reality, while in the outer world we remain limited, bound and filled with suffering and struggle. The disconnect between our outer sense of bondage to the limitations of the world and our desires and the inner sense of independence and freedom, even mastery over the life we are living, leads to the search for a deeper meaning and a seeking for Truth, for God, for the Soul, for freedom and mastery.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the yoga recommended by the Gita actually provides the radical solution to this problem: “This high consummation of the Yoga will at once solve or rather it will wholly remove and destroy at its roots the problem of action.”

“His imperfections can cease only when he knows himself, knows the real nature of the world in which he lives and, most of all, knows the Eternal from whom he comes and in whom and by whom he exists. When he has once achieved a true consciousness and knowledge, there is no longer any problem; for then he acts freely out of himself and lives spontaneously in accordance with the truth of his spirit and his highest nature. At its fullest, at the highest height of this knowledge it is not he who acts but the Divine, the One eternal and infinite who acts in him and through him in his liberated wisdom and power and perfection.”

The radical solution, then, is to move the standpoint of the consciousness away from the human mental being and the ego-personality, to the divine standpoint that participates in the world manifestation as the immanent Divine.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 572

Rising Into the Supreme Spiritual Nature

Through the combination of the yogas of knowledge, works and love, the seeker increases the focus on the spiritual consciousness and moves his center away from the ego-based mental consciousness. As a result, over time, the entire viewpoint shifts until one lives and acts from the divine standpoint. Sri Aurobindo describes the result: “This triune way is the means by which you can rise entirely out of your lower into your supreme spiritual nature. That is the hidden superconscient nature in which the Jiva, a portion of the high Infinite and Divine and intimately one in law of being with him, dwells in his Truth and not any longer in an externalised Maya.” This status is currently not part of our daily experience as it is based in a realm of consciousness above (superconscient) the mental consciousness. Just as there are realms of consciousness below the mental consciousness (subconscient or inconscient), so there are realms above as well.

The yoga of knowledge provides the seeker with the opportunity to experience and live in this standpoint, but in a more abstract, passive relationship to the activities of the outer nature and the world. Sri Aurobindo points out: “This perfection, this unity can be enjoyed in its own native status, aloof in a supreme supracosmic existence: but here also you may and should realise it, here in the human body and physical world.” This is what the Gita provides as its solution and why it systematically works out a unification of the 3 yogic paths, to bring about this result.

“It is not enough for this end to be calm, inactive and free from the Gunas in the inner self and to watch and allow indifferently their mechanical action in the outer members. For the active nature as well as the self has to be given to the Divine and to become divine.”

This is what leads to the supreme secret of the Gita, which calls for a complete giving up of the personal ego-action into the supreme Purushottama: “All that you are must grow into one law of being with the Purushottama…; all must be changed into My conscious spiritual becoming, madbhava. A completest surrender must be there. Take refuge with Me in all the many ways and along all the living lines of your nature; for that alone will bring about this great change and perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pg. 571