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,

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,

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,

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,

The Higher Principles of Truth, Justice, Love and Compassion

We have a few legendary stories of individuals who followed a moral code, not as part of a compromise with the life principle or as a seeking for a higher reward, but for its own sake as an independent standard that needed to be carried out, for its own sake. This is an indication of the higher mental development striving to manifest in the world. When we hear the legends, we may reflect on how far distant and unattached to the values of daily living, the striving for survival, for success, for achievement, for recognition, such an ideal response actually is. Sri Aurobindo reminds us of some of these legendary individuals: “Harischandra sacrificing self and wife and child and kingdom and subjects in an unswerving fidelity to the truth of the spoken word, Shivi giving his flesh to the hawk rather than fall from his kingly duty of protection to the fugitive, the Bodhisattwa laying his body before the famished tiger, images in which sacred or epic legend has consecrated this greater kind of virtue, illuminate an elevation of the ethical will and a law of moral energy that asks for no return from man or living thing or from the gods of Karma, lays down no conditions, makes no calculation of consequence, of less or more or of the greatest good of the greatest number, admits neither hedonistic nor the utilitarian measure, but does simply the act as the thing to be done because it is right and virtue and therefore the very law of being of the ethical man, the categorical imperative of his nature.”

Such an approach, if it is based on an external moral code, can become narrow and judgmental, as we have seen through time in events such as the Holy Inquisition, where the pure ethical sense is turned into an unswerving creed used to dominate and control others, in what then becomes a fanatic and one-sided view of life. Even this approach shows the underlying striving for something pure and true, however.

Sri Aurobindo advises us of the need for a true and living response based on our inner being: “No rule imposed on him from outside, whether in the name of a supposed mechanical or impersonal law or of God or prophet, can be, as such, true or right or binding on man: it becomes that only when it answers to some demand or aids some evolution of his inner being. And when that inner being is revealed, evolved, at each moment naturally active, simply and spontaneously imperative, then we get the true, the inner and intuitive Law in its light of self-knowledge, its beauty of self-fulfilment, its intimate life significance. An act of justice, truth, love, compassion, purity, sacrifice becomes then the faultless expression, the natural outflowering of our soul of justice, our soul of truth, our soul of love and compassion, our soul of purity or sacrifice.”

This connects us to the higher realms of the Infinite.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 146-147,

Mind Nature and the Moral Principle

It is at the level of mental energy that we can recognize the moral principle in its true and pure sense, not watered-down by the type of compromises that arise under the banner of morality in the world of life action. This moral principle is not based on the seeking for or achievement of rewards in life, or on the avoidance of pain and suffering in life. Rather, it is something that is sought solely on its own behalf, as something that is right and true and which fulfills the “categorical imperative” that the principle holds on the mental plane.

The karmic return achieved by following this principle is not any longer the achievements of wealth, physical well-being, or social status and respect; rather, it is the growth of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo elucidates this further: “Mounting here the ethical mind no longer follows good for a reward now on earth or in another existence, but for the sake of good, and no longer shuns evil for fear of punishment on earth later on in this life or else in another life or in hell, but because to follow evil is a degradation and affliction of its being and a fall from its innate and imperative endeavor. This is to it a necessity of its moral nature, a truly categorical imperative, a call that in the total more complex nature of man may be dulled or suppressed or excluded by the claim of its other parts and their needs, but to the ethical mind is binding and absolute.”

Traditional morality, relying on reward and punishment, is a low-burning flame that is subject to being smothered by the demands of life situations and can even be seen as an obstacle to the establishment of a true morality based on the principle, not on some temporary accommodation. “Whatever its practical utility or service as a step of the transition, the mental habit of confusion and vitalistic compromise it fosters and the more questionable confusions and compromises that habit favours, have made conventional morality one of the chief of the forces that hold back human life from progressing to a true ethical order. If humanity has made any lasting and true advance, it has been not through the virtue created by reward and punishment or any of the sanctions powerful on the little vital ego, but by an insistence from the higher mind on the lower, an insistence on right for its own sake, on imperative moral values, on an absolute law and truth of ethical being and ethical conduct that must be obeyed whatever the recalcitrances of the lower mind, whatever the pains of the vital problem, whatever the external result, the inferior issue.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 145-146,

Discovering Our Hidden Secret Link To the Infinite

When mind-nature separates itself from the physical and vital preoccupations, it can begin to focus on and develop itself along the lines of the mental force in its native, pure form. This does not, in and of itself, overcome the natural tendencies of the physical and the vital levels of being. There can result several lines of action. One of these develops more or less pure forms of mental activity essentially divorced from life, action and the needs of the physical nature. Another attempts to bring about modifications to the life of the world through what is essentially a process of compromise, whereby mental principles are adapted and watered down such that they can have an influence and positive effect on the energies of life in the material world, while life processes are uplifted and transformed by this new, higher influence.

Sri Aurobindo recognizes the need to bring the mental influence into the world, “…for it is by that effort that he is man and not the animal and without it he cannot find his true satisfaction in living.”

At the same time, he also recognizes that mental nature, in order to fulfill its higher goals and aspirations, needs to begin to follow the principles inherent in mental nature for their own sake, and not solely for the impact they can have on a worldly life. “In other words he passes from the practical pursuit of a serviceable knowledge, morality, aesthesis, force of emotion and will-power,–serviceable for his vital aims, for life as it first is,–to an ideal pursuit of these things and the transformation of life into the image of his ideal.”

Eventually as this pursuit continues, and the higher principles become more clear and defined in their form, their native form and power are unveiled, and it becomes possible to recognize what Sri Aurobindo calls the secret of human life. “There is so a chance of his discovering that as the beauty and irrefragable order of life and matter are due to the joy of the Infinite in life and in matter and the fidelity of the Force here at work to the hidden knowledge and will and idea of the Self and Spirit in them, so there is within his hidden self, his own vast and covert spirit a secret of the Infinite’s self-knowledge, will, joy, love and delight, mastery, right and truth of joy and action by which his own greater life rising above the vital and mental limitations can discover an infinite perfection and beauty and delight in itself and spontaneous irrefragable order.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 144-145,

The Mental Being’s Adventure of Consciousness In Life

Humanity represents the development of a mental being active in the vital functions of life in the physical world. The first expressions of mentality are primarily focused on enhancing the experience of life, on achieving goals of success and rewards for mastering the physical and vital energies. However, this does not represent the essential nature of the mental being.

Sri Aurobindo describes the characteristics of mental nature: “The innate demand of the mental being is for mental experience, for the mind’s manifold strengths, its capacities, joys, growth, perfections, and for these things for their own sake because of the inevitable satisfaction they give to his nature,–the demand of the intellect for truth and knowledge, the demand of the ethical mind for right and good, the demand of the aesthetic mind for beauty and delight of beauty, the demand of the emotional mind for love and the joy of relation with our fellow-beings, the demand of the will for self-mastery and mastery of things and the world and our existence. And the values which the mental being holds for supreme and effective are the values of truth and knowledge, of right and good, of beauty and aesthetic delight, of love and emotional joy, of mastery and inner lordship. It is these things that he seeks to know and follow, to possess, discover, enjoy, increase. It is for this great adventure that he came into the world, to walk hardily through the endless fields they offer to him, to experiment, to dare, to test the utmost limit of each capacity and follow each possibility and its clue to the end as well as to observe in each its at present discovered law and measure.”

The foundation, basis and purpose of the mental being takes place outside the needs and demands of the physical being and the vital life of desire in the world. The mental sphere is the first one that can separate itself from the business of life and thus, is the first one that admits a true principle of morality or ethics not based on the negotiation implicit in the “reward and punishment” model. And thus, in terms of our review of the law of Karma, we may expect to see karmic consequence and returns on the mental plane that do not necessarily involve success or failure in terms of vital life rewards or physical well-being.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 143-144,

The Foundations of a Moral Order in Life

The idea that moral good is linked to achievement of success in the vital world of the life energy is one that has limited applicability, and that primarily through an indirect influence based on one type of energy interacting with another. Sri Aurobindo explains: “…because good and evil are moral and not vital values and have a clear right only to a moral and not a vital return, because reward and punishment put forward as the conditions of good doing and evil doing do not constitute and cannot create a really moral order, the principle itself, whatever temporary end it serves, being fundamentally immoral from the highest point of view of a true and pure ethics, and because there are other forces that count and have their right,–knowledge, power and many others. The correspondence of moral and vital good is a demand of the human ego and like many others of its demands answers to certain tendencies in the world mind, but is not its whole law or highest purpose.”

This is not to say that there is no basis at all for morality or ethics. It is simply to help us avoid confusion between two different orders of consciousness and energy that it is important to keep a clear-sighted view of the differences between the action of energy on the vital life plane versus the energies of planes of mental energy where morality is one of the (but not the sole) principles that govern action at that level and which get their return in their own native sphere primarily.

To bring the moral order into our life and action, it is necessary to first understand this distinction, and then to exercise the influence that the moral principle can have as we enter into the field of vital expression. “A moral order there can be, but it is in ourselves and for its own sake that we have to create it and, only when we have so created it and found its right relation to other powers of life, can we hope to make it count at its full value in the right ordering of man’s vital existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 139-140,

Life Energy Is Not Governed By a Moral Code

Many of us accept the idea that “like begets like” on the field of action. While this dictum may be true on the purely physical level of the reproduction of species, it clearly does not stand up to scrutiny when it comes to the results we see in the vital world of life. There are limited circumstances we can point to where this concept works to a certain degree, but eventually it breaks down and does not yield an overarching law or moral code that governs the universe.

Sri Aurobindo examines this question: “In the terms of a moral return or rather repayment to moral energies this would mean that by putting forth love we get a return of love and by putting forth hatred a return of hatred, that if we are merciful or just to others, others also will be to us just or merciful and that generally good done by us to our fellow-men will return in a recompense of good done by them in kind and posted back to our address duly registered in the moral post office of the administrative government of the universe.”

Certainly from the individual viewpoint trying to find out a rule of life, there is a certain amount of value in such a concept, to the extent that when we put out positive, warm, loving, supportive energies, we tend to create positive responses in many cases, just as when we put out angry, hateful energies, we tend to elicit angry and hateful replies. The problem with this approach is that it is clearly not universal and thus, we can just as easily point to circumstances where evil repaid good, or where being compassionate did not lead to a return in kind. How else can we explain the crucifixion of Jesus, or the Nazi holocaust? We see the strong and powerful prosper, without regard for moral right or wrong. If they calibrate their action to avoid the most extreme responses in kind, they can maintain their position for long periods of time. “If something in the world and in man returns good for good and evil for evil, it as often returns evil for good and, with or without a conscious moral intention, good for evil.” “Attila and Jenghiz on the throne to the end, Christ on the cross and Socrates drinking his portion of hemlock are no very clear evidence for any optimistic notion of a law of moral return in the world of human nature.”

The limitation here is that the vital world of life is not strictly organised on “moral” or “ethical” principles and thus, we cannot really expect that these principles will govern life action in its entirety.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 137-139,