Our Subjective Perception of Soul Seeking Free Will and the Apparent Mechanism of Nature

In opposition to the external perception of a set machinery of Nature, we have our inner subjective experience of being an individual with “free will” and the power, whether real or not, to override the mechanism in various ways in furtherance of that free will. It is of course true that even this sense of free will has its limitations and only addresses relatively small parts of our daily lives, the rest being fulled governed by the natural systems that operate the human body and the environment within which it lives and acts. It is, however, a sign that there is some aspect of consciousness that does not accept the “mechanistic” view of life entirely.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “We may believe intellectually in a purely mechanical view even of our subjective existence, but we cannot act upon it or make it quite real to our self-experience. For we are conscious of an I which does not seem identical with our nature, but capable of a standing back from it, of a detached observation and criticism and creative use of it, and of a will which we naturally think of as a free will; and even if this be a delusion, we are still obliged in practice to act as if we were responsible mental beings capable of a free choice of our actions, able to use or misuse and to turn to higher or lower ends our nature.”

We work to improve, to grow, to learn, to gain mastery over life and the environment and this effort demonstrates that something in us, which we may call the soul, does not accept the fully deterministic, mechanistic view of existence. “There seems to be a dual being in us; Soul and Nature, Purusha and Prakriti, seem to be half in agreement, half at odds, Nature laying its mechanical control on the soul, the soul attempting to change and master nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pg. 725

The Basis and Efficacy of Prayer

Prayer is frequently invoked as a means of putting our personal needs or desires before God, so that God can personally respond and answer those prayers. This is in fact a major basis of the religious viewpoint on prayer. This basis is often ridiculed by those who do not accept the idea that there is a personal Judge or Creator God, sitting on a throne in the sky, who listens to and responds individually to prayer.

As long as we look at the situation from the perspective of the human mind, we try to understand prayer from a dualistic viewpoint. Thus, prayer goes up from a separated individual to a separate God who then responds (or not) to the individual putting up the prayer.

Sri Aurobindo takes a somewhat different view of the matter in his explanation as to the basis and true efficacy of prayer. His explanation is based on the inherent unity of all creation and the oneness of the individual soul with the Divine: “It is true that the universal will executes always its aim and cannot be deflected by egoistic propitiation and entreaty, it is true of the Transcendent who expresses himself in the universal order that, being omniscient, his larger knowledge must foresee the thing to be done and it does not need direction or stimulation by human thought and that the individual’s desires are not and cannot be in any world-order the true determining factor. But neither is that order or the execution of the universal will altogether effected by mechanical Law, but by powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important. Prayer is only a particular form given to that will, aspiration and faith. Its forms are very often crude and not only childlike, which is in itself no defect, but childish; but still it has a real power and significance. Its power and sense is to put the will, aspiration and faith of man into touch with the divine Will as that of a conscious Being with whom we can enter into conscious and living relations. For our will and aspiration can act either by our own strength and endeavour, which can no doubt be made a thing great and effective whether for lower or higher purposes,…, or it can act in dependence upon and with subordination to the divine or the universal Will. And this latter way, again, may either look upon that Will as responsive indeed to our aspiration, but almost mechanically, by a sort of law of energy, or at any rate quite impersonally, or else it may look upon it as responding consciously to the divine aspiration and faith of the human soul and consciously bringing to it the help, the guidance, the protection and fruition demanded….”

Prayer seen in this light represents the action of the Divine Will unfolding itself in the universal manifestation and expressing itself through the individual soul as an expression of that Will.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 3, The Godward Emotions, pp. 542-543

The Underlying Basis for the Yoga Of Devotion

For most people the idea of worship is associated with a religious tradition which treats the individual as separate and the object of worship (some form of Divinity) as superior, distant and nevertheless “relateable”. The idea is that worship establishes a communication link between the human being and the Divine, and, on the one side, the human being undertakes to worship, and on the other, God rains down his blessings and takes personal interest in the welfare of the worshipping individuals.

For the practitioner of the Yoga of devotion, worship may start out as something akin to the religious concept, but as the practice deepens, the individual finds that the merging of consciousness into Oneness with the original object of devotion begins to occur, and at some point, the separation and difference actually disappears.

Sri Aurobindo clarifies this: “Yoga in its culmination abolishes the gulf; for Yoga is union. We arrive at union with it through knowledge; for as our first obscure conceptions of it clarify, enlarge, deepen, we come to recognise it as our own highest self, the origin and sustainer of our being and that towards which it tends. We arrive at union with it through works; for from simply obeying we come to identify our will with its Will, since only in proportion as it is identified with this Power that is its source and ideal, can our will become perfect and divine. We arrive at union with it also by worship; for the thought and act of a distant worship develops into the necessity of close adoration and this into the intimacy of love, and the consummation of love is union with the Beloved. it is from this development of worship that the Yoga of devotion starts and it is by this union with the Beloved that it finds its highest point and consummation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 2, The Motives of Devotion, pg. 528