Karmic Consequence of the Soul’s Seeking For Knowledge

Every energy in the universe has its “cause and effect” aspect, and thus, we can expect that there is a karmic consequence to the impulse that turns the seeking for knowledge, light, truth, God, into an imperative of the soul. As we have seen in other instances, the karmic impact of each energy is primarily focused on the plane and to the type of energy that is involved, even if there are tangential or secondary effects that take place across other types of energy.

Sri Aurobindo focuses on this issue: “But the result that it brings on this higher plane of the seeking in mind is simply and purely the upward growth of the soul in light and truth; that and whatever happiness it brings is the one supreme reward demanded by the soul of knowledge and the darkening of the light within, the pain of the fall from truth, the pain of the imperfection of not living only by its law and wholly in the light is its one penalty of suffering. The outward rewards and the sufferings of life are small things to the higher soul of knowledge in man: even his high mind of knowledge will often face all that the world can do to afflict it, just as it is ready to make all manner of sacrifices in the pursuit and the affirmation of the truth it knows and lives for.”

One cannot expect that the intense drive that motivates an individual to place the pursuit of knowledge as the highest goal and aspiration is going to yield rewards of physical comfort, vital satisfaction or some kind of success in the world as its ordinary result. This illustrates the basic principle that Sri Aurobindo has described that untangles the normal view of karma to show that specific types of energy do not tend to provide clear results of another and different type. Just as the focus on vital success in life, the accumulation of wealth and material comfort is not tied, one way or the other, to moral or ethical focus in the being, so the “rewards and punishments” that are attendant on the seeking for pure knowledge must necessarily be primarily related to the mental and spiritual energies being put forth in that seeking.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 153-154, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

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The Scientist, the Philosopher and the Sage

There comes a stage when the mental being no longer focuses its efforts on achieving success or results on the vital plane in the physical world; rather, it is focused on a seeking for Truth, for Knowledge, for some higher Absolute that answers to its deepest inner calling, regardless of the result that may be achieved by the actual application or utility of the knowledge obtained.

We can see this type develop and take various forms. The pure scientist, with an inner drive to understand the workings of the universe is one such type. The pure thinker or philosopher represents another manifestation of this same higher seeking. The tradition of the yogin, the seer, the sage, abandoning material wealth and prosperity for a higher seeking of what is “beyond” represents yet another.

In his magnum opus, The Life Divine , Sri Aurobindo sets forth in the very first chapter the “human aspiration” for “God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.” This ultimate aspiration is a manifestation of the pure expression of the inner drive to obtain Knowledge.

The relevance to the question of Karma is that the return obtained by such a seeker has clearly nothing to do with reward or punishment in this life or hereafter, but with a return of greater knowledge and an experience of Oneness that results. “The lure of an external utility ceases to be at all needed as an incentive towards knowledge, just as the lure of a vital reward offered now or hereafter ceases on the same high level of our ascent to be needed as an incentive to virtue, and to attach importance to it under whatever specious colour is even felt to be a degradation of the disinterestedness, a fall from the high purity of the soul motive.”

There are various stages of this higher seeking, such as the scientist’s cold intellectual endeavor, or the inner drive or passion for an ultimate Truth. The common thread between them however is their lack of concern for the ordinary view of Karma and consequence. We see here the working of a higher order of the law of Karma, focusing on providing a return on the energy put out without an attempt at tying it to moral or ethical result or relevance.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 152-153, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

The Evolution of Consciousness Involved In Life

Sri Aurobindo places the seeking for knowledge as a central aspect of the deeper intention of the universal manifestation: “The pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is the true, the intrinsic dharma of the intellect and not for the sake primarily or even necessarily at all for the securing or the enlargement of the means of life and success in action.”

For most people, still rooted primarily in the vital striving for growth, expansion, aggrandizement and increase of scope and power of the life energy, this seeking of the intellect is both somewhat foreign and more or less secondary. Any action of intellect that does not seem to have a “practical” purpose may be acknowledged and accepted, but it is treated as an ornament by these individuals, not as a central purpose of life.

There is however a deeper and more essential movement of consciousness at work here: “Nature sees and stirs from the first to a larger and more inward Will and is moved with a greater purpose, and all seeking for knowledge springs from a necessity of the mind, a necessity of its nature, and that means a necessity of the soul that is here in nature.”

Even when we are focused on and even preoccupied with the use of the intellect for purposes of life-aggrandizement, this deeper movement of nature continues to develop and grow. “….for if her first dynamic word is life, her greater revealing word is consciousness and the evolution of life and action only the means of the evolution of consciousness involved in life, the imprisoned soul, the Jiva. Action is a means, but knowledge is the sign and the growth of the conscious soul is the purpose.”

It is the seeking for knowledge that distinguishes mankind from the other beings in the evolution of life. “Man’s use of the intelligence for the pursuit of knowledge is therefore that which distinguishes him most from other beings and gives him his high peculiar place in the scale of existence. His passion for knowledge, first world-knowledge, but afterwards self-knowledge and that in which both meet and find their common secret, God-knowledge, is the central drift of his ideal mind and a greater imperative of his being than that of action, though later in laying its complete hold on him, greater in the wideness of its reach and greater too in its effectiveness upon action, in the returns of the world energy to his power of the truth within him.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 151-152, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

The Development of the Power of Knowledge

The integration of the mental energy into the world of life follows a similar model to the integration of the life energy into matter. There is an initial stirring of the mental force, a reaching out, an inquisitive seeking, an attempt to understand the framework within which it is enclosed and the way its power can be exercised successfully. Subsequently, we see the mental energy engaging with the world of life and matter, gaining a deeper understanding of their functioning and beginning to exercise an increasing measure of influence or even control in that field. It is at this stage that the mental energy begins to provide serious returns in the form of more precise and powerful action, and, to the extent the life energy and physical matter have been properly understood, at least to some degree, a more successful result.

It is after the mental energy has engaged in this way that it begins to create for itself a uniquely mental space in which it can organize and express itself without concerning itself directly with the affairs of the world, and it is at this point that we see the functioning of the truly mental force in its native power and energetic action.

All along the way we see the basic principle at work that the greater the mental energy, the more knowledge is applied to the life efforts and the world repays this with results. In fact, the power of applied knowledge shows a much greater and more direct payback than other mental forces such as the moral or ethical energy that also stems from the mental realm.

Sri Aurobindo draws the following conclusions on this point: “In this material world it is at least doubtful how far moral good is repaid by vital good and moral evil punished by a recoil, but it is certain that we do pay very usually for our errors, for stupidity, for ignorance of the right way of action, for any ignoring or misapplication of the laws that govern our psychical, vital and physical being; it is certain that knowledge is a power for life efficiency and success. Intelligence pays its way in the material world, guards itself against vital and physical suffering, secures its vital rewards more surely than moral right and ethical purpose.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 150-151, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

An Inner and Absolute Divine Imperative

The development of a moral principle in life comes about as the mental energy begins to manifest and interact with the vital energy, which in and of itself, does not have any kind of moral imperative. This concept, however, is limited by the fact that the vital fulfillment remains the pre-eminent need and goal of the vital manifestation, and the influence of this mental principle is circumscribed within limits that allow the vital achievements to proceed. As a result, the application of morality or ethics begins with ways of training, guiding or directing the vital energy rather than with the more advanced ideal conceptualization that the higher mind would like to adopt.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the limitations of the resultant compromises: “What the natural egoistic man obeys most rigorously is the collective or social rule of conduct impressed on his mind by law and tradition, jus, mores, and outside its conventional circle he allows himself an easy latitude. The reason generalizes the idea of a moral law carrying with it an obligation man should heed and obey but may disregard at this outer or that inner peril, and it insists first and most on a moral law, an obligation of self-control, justice, righteousness, conduct, rather than a law of truth, beauty and harmony, love, mastery, because the regulation of his desires and instincts and his outward vital action is his first necessary preoccupation and he has to find his poise here and a settled and sanctioned order before he commences securely to go deeper and develop more in the direction of his inner being.”

As the higher mind gains more control and manifests itself more securely, we see a shifting of the focus towards the more ideal principles and a subsequent reduction in the focus on achievement of success in vital or materialistic terms. At this level, however, it is not solely a moral or ethical ideal that is called forth, as there are other aspects of the higher mentality that also need to be realized, such as “truth, beauty, love, strength and power are after all as necessary for the true growth of mind and of life and even for the fullness of the action as righteousness, purity and justice. Arriving on the high ideal plane these too become, no less than the ethical motive, no longer a seeking and necessity of this relative nature and importance, but a law and call to spiritual perfection, an inner and absolute divine imperative.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 149-150, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

The Highest Law of Our Nature

It is a quite natural tendency of human nature to fixate on one issue to the exclusion of others. The mind, as a dividing and analyzing instrument, tends toward exclusive concentration. So it is easy to understand that when we once focus on the ethical principle, that it may be viewed as the “categorical imperative” of our human nature.

Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the role of the ethical principle, but he also puts it in context with other aspects of our nature that equally call for fulfillment. There are the seeking for knowledge, the seeking for beauty and harmony, the seeking for Oneness which also represent aspects of our nature.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this question: “The Indian thinkers had a wiser sight who while conceding right ethical being and conduct as a first need, still considered knowledge to be the greater ultimate demand, the indispensable condition, and much nearer to a full seeing came that larger experience of theirs that either through an urge towards absolute knowledge or a pure impersonality of the will or an ecstasy of divine love and absolute delight,–and even through an absorbing concentration of the psychical and the vital and physical being,–the soul turns towards the Supreme and that on each part of our self and nature and consciousness there can come a call and irresistible attraction of the Divine. Indeed, an uplift of all these, an imperative of the Divine upon all the ways of our being, is the impetus of self-enlargement to a complete, an integralising possession of God, freedom and immortality, and that therefore is the highest law of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 148-149, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117

Karma Is a Law of Spiritual Evolution

As we have seen the inadequacy of any concept of Karma that reduces it to some kind of reward and punishment system based on the expectations and desires of the vital life energy, it becomes relevant to ask what, then, is the law of Karma, and how does it relate to the higher energies of mental nature and beyond.

Sri Aurobindo’s response: “Meanwhile we get the clue to the higher law of Karma, of the output and returns of energy, and see it immediately and directly to be, what all law of Karma, really and ultimately, if at first covertly, is for man, a law of his spiritual evolution.”

He continues: “The true return to the act of virtue, to the ethically right output of his energy–his reward, if you will, and the sole recompense on which he has a right to insist,–is its return upon him in a growth of the moral strength within him, an upbuilding of his ethical being, a flowering of the soul of right, justice, love, compassion, purity, truth, strength, courage, self-giving that he seeks to be. The true return to the act of evil, to the ethically wrong output of energy–his punishment, if you will, and the sole penalty he has any need or right to fear,–is its return upon him in a retardation of the growth, a demolition of the upbuilding, an obscuration, tarnishing, impoverishing of the soul, of the pure, strong and luminous being that he is striving to be.”

Once we move our awareness and effort to the planes of mental energy, the rewards and punishments of worldly success and failure lose their attraction. Each output of energy calls forth a precise response in kind. Our focus on vital success and failure leads to results in the field of life. Our focus on the higher principles of the mental world yield results on their native plane. Influence and interchange between the different orders of energy can and do occur, and we thus can see that the strengthening of the impulses of the higher mental energies will inevitably have some impact on the world of life and action; however, the true karmic response still occurs at the level of the native energy. This explains to us why we see situations where the good are suffering in the world while the evil appear to be prospering. The inner spiritual evolution provides us the solution for why a soul, focused on increasing the principles of ethics, love, compassion, knowledge or justice may wind up accepting limitations in life for the sake of the higher principle.

“What to this high seeker of Right can mean the vital law of Karma or what can its gods do to him that he can fear or long for? The ethical-vitalistic explanation of the world and its meaning and measures has for such a soul, for man at this height of his evolution no significance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pg. 148, http://www.lotuspress.com/item.php?item=990117