Realising Three Essential Truths of Existence

What do we mean when we speak about a spiritualised human life and a spiritualised society?  Does it mean turning our society into a theocracy under control of a specific religion or set of beliefs?  Does it mean subordinating the individual to an external standard of conduct or coda?  Sri Aurobindo addresses this question by pointing out that there are three essential conditions of realisation that represent spirituality.

“… a spiritual human society would start from and try to realise three essential truths of existence which all Nature seems to be an attempt to hide by their opposites and which therefore are as yet for the mass of mankind only words and dreams, God, freedom, unity.  Three things which are one, for you cannot realise freedom and unity unless you realise God, you cannot possess freedom and unity unless you possess God, possess at once your highest Self and the Self of all creatures.  The freedom and unity which otherwise go by that name, are simply attempts of our subjection and our division to get away from themselves by shutting their eyes while they turn somersaults around their own centre.  When man is able to see God and to possess him, then he will know real freedom and arrive at real unity, never otherwise.  And God is only waiting to be known, while man seeks for him everywhere and creates images of the Divine, but all the while truly finds, effectively erects and worships images only of his own mind-ego and life-ego.  When this ego pivot is abandoned and this ego-hunt ceases, then man gets his first real chance of achieving spirituality in his inner and outer life.  It will not be enough, but it will be a commencement, a true gate and not a blind entrance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 254-255


Understanding the Present Age of Mankind in the Evolutionary Progression of the Race

We live in a time of constant, intense and radical change.  Technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, and it changes the way people interact with one another.  We have been rather suddenly thrust into a world of instantaneous, global information flow and interaction.  Speed has forced people to adapt and respond at a pace never seen before.  At the same time, we see a tremendous increase in awareness and mental development, as well as a vast broadening of mental action through universal educational programs around the world.  All of this implies that the intelligence is trying to gain ascendancy over the vital, infrarational stage of human development as it attempts to usher in an age of reason.  In addition, we find that along the way traditional ways of life, traditional social norms, traditional world-views are being challenged and disrupted, put to the test and in many cases, people are being left with no solid basis of understanding what their lives are about within all the flux and change they experience.  There is a tremendous clash of ideas and world-views which further increases the tensions of our modern day world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The present age of mankind may be characterised from this point of view of a graded psychological evolution of the race as a more and more rapidly accelerated attempt to discover and work out the right principle and secure foundations of a rational system of society.  It has been an age of progress; but progress is of two kinds, adaptive, with a secure basis in an unalterable social principle and constant change only in the circumstances and machinery of its application to suit fresh ideas and fresh needs, or else radical, with no long-secure basis, but instead a constant root questioning of the practical foundations and even the central principle of the established society.  The modern age has resolved itself into a constant series of radical progressions.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pg. 192

Steps in the Transformation of the Intellect

As part of the unfolding of the divine manifestation, the intellect has both its purpose and necessity in the process. Yogic methods that work to suppress the action of the intellect lead away from an active role in the life in the world. For those practicing the integral Yoga, the intellect must play its intended role, to the fullest, highest and widest extent. When we look at the current development of the intellect we can identify both its potentiality and its various limitations, and it is the role of the Yoga of self-perfection to systematically address these issues. The intellect can be transformed because, as Sri Aurobindo notes, “The subsequent transformation of the intellect is possible because all the action of the intellect derives secretly from the supermind, each thought and will contains some truth of it however limited and altered by the inferior action of the intelligence.”

Sri Aurobindo defines the process: “The transformation can be brought about by the removal of the limitation and the elimination of the distorting or perverting element. This however cannot be done by the heightening and greatening of the intellectual activity alone; for that must always be limited by the original inherent defects of the mental intelligence. An intervention of the supramental energy is needed that can light up and get rid of its deficiencies of thought and will and feeling. This intervention too cannot be completely effective unless the supramental plane is manifested and acts above the mind no longer from behind a lid or veil, however thin the veil may have grown, but more constantly in an open and luminous action till there is seen the full sun of Truth with no cloud to moderate its splendour. it is not necessary, either, to develop the intellect fully in its separateness before calling down this intervention or opening up by it the supramental levels. The intervention may come in earlier and at once develop the intellectual action and turn it, as it develops, into the higher intuitive form and substance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 20, The Intuitive Mind, pp. 776-777

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