The Inner Struggle and the Outer Struggle

There are concurrently two levels of development taking place that interact and influence one another. The first is the individual growth and development, with an internal process of increasing understanding, widening of perspective and the struggle to master and gain control of the impulses that govern the unrefined vital nature, based on the impulsions of desire; and a second which represents the play of forces in the world which is made up of the combined actions and influences of all the individuals who interact and together create the complex web of actions and events that we call society and the collective evolution of mankind. The “outer world” influences the “inner world” and thus, any force that is active in the outer world has some amount of power to influence the actions, reactions, progress or retrogression of the individual, in principle. Similarly, as an individual progresses in the inner struggle with the forces of desire, the impulsions of division, hatred and anger, and other retrogressive movements that hold back or moderate the evolutionary development to a higher level of consciousness, that individual’s actions and responses become part of the totality of the outer world. The overall outward progress is thus something of a reflex action to the inner development of the individual and its outward expression.

Sri Aurobindo describes this interplay: “The Gita lays stress upon the struggle of which the world is the theatre, in its two aspects, the inner struggle and the outer battle. In the inner struggle the enemies are within, in the individual, and the slaying of desire, ignorance, egoism is the victory. But there is an outer struggle between the powers of the Dharma and the Adharma in the human collectivity.”

The Divine powers, represented in the ultimate sense by the action of the Avatar, work toward the upliftment of the individual and concurrently aids in the defeat of the external forces that represent darkness, aggressive and violent egoistic impulses, domination and the control of desire in all its forms. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that this struggle has been recognized all over the world, whether as a fight between the Devas and the Asuras and Rakshasas, as in the Indian tradition, or the Gods and the Titans from the ancient Greek, or the forces of Light versus the forces of Darkness in the Zoroastrian tradition, or God and the Devil in the Christian teachings.

“This outer struggle too the Avatar comes to aid, directly or indirectly, to destroy the reign of the Asuras, the evil-doers, and in them depress the power they represent and to restore the oppressed ideals of the Dharma. He comes to bring nearer the kingdom of heaven on earth in the collectivity as well as to build the kingdom of heaven within in the individual human soul.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pp. 165-166

The Vedantic Meaning of Dharma, Sangha and Avatar

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the Gita follows the basic framework of the Vedanta, and thus, all concepts, including those of dharma, sangha and avatar need to be seen in that light. The foundations of Vedanta are the two statements “One without a second” and “All this is the Brahman.” When these statements are applied to the mission of the Avatar to advance the development of the Dharma, we may see the wide reach of the Gita’s teaching. The Dharma widens to become the entire evolutionary development of consciousnessness and oneness of all beings; the sangha is seen as all of humanity, and the Avatar is no longer restricted to one specific manifestation, but the entire line of Avatar’s, regardless of specific religious tradition, that advance this movement.

Sri Aurobindo clarifies this further: “The Dharma is therefore the taking up of all human relations into a higher divine meaning; starting from the established ethical, social and religious rule which binds together the whole community in which the God-seeker lives, it lifts it up by informing it with the Brahmic consciousness; the law it gives is the law of oneness, of equality, of liberated, desireless, God-governed action, of God-knowledge and self-knowledge enlightening and drawing to itself all the nature and all the action, drawing it towards divine being and divine consciousness, and of God-love as the supreme power and crown of the knowledge and the action.

Regarding the sangha: “…but the real sangha of this teaching is all humanity. The whole world is moving towards this Dharma, each man according to his capacity,–‘it is My path that men follow in every way,’–and the God-seeker, making himself one with all, making their joy and sorrow and all their life his own, the liberated made already one self with all beings, lives in the life of humanity, lives for the one Self in humanity, for God in all beings,….for the maintaining of all in their dharma and the Dharma, for the maintenance of their growth in all its stages and in all its paths towards the Divine.”

And the Avatar: “For the Avatar here, though he is manifest in the name and form of Krishna, lays no exclusive stress on this one form of his human birth, but on that which it represents, the Divine, the Purushottama, of whom all Avatars are the human births, of whom all forms and names of the Godhead worshipped by men are the figures….For the Divine takes up into his universality all Avatars and all teachings and all dharmas.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pp. 164-165

The Way, the Fellowship and the Role of the Avatar

The major religious and spiritual traditions tend to form around a somewhat common pattern as the elements required to achieve the result are similar regardless of the specific tradition involved. There is first of all a Dharma, a rule of life, a teaching, a form of guidance for living that is brought forth as a model for people to use to realize and embody the inspiration that has to manifest at the point in time that brings it forth. There is the group of people called to take up the teaching and make it real in their lives, whether this is called a fellowship, a congregation or a sangha. And there is a teacher or guide, someone who embodies the teaching, who shows the way, who guides and inspires, a Buddha or a Christ or a Krishna.

These are the general conditions for the manifestation of a new power of consciousness and way of life. The Avatar’s role is, as Sri Aurobindo explains: “The Avatar represents the third element, the divine personality, nature and being, who is the soul of Dharma and the sangha, informs them with himself, keeps them living and draws men towards the felicity and the liberation.”

The special role of the Avatar is to ensure that people are inspired by the force of the new teaching and the power of consciousness represented by it, that they see that it is possible to live and act under the impulsion of this force, and that it can and must remain a living force not constrained by custom or form, but able to respond to circumstances, adapt itself to life and provide a meaningful guidance and direction for life from a new standpoint with a real power of effectuation. Thus the Avatar is something of a catalyst for the descent and integration of a new power of consciousness in life.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pg. 164

The Struggle Between Dharma and Adharma

The concept of Dharma is often considered to be one that is universal, eternal and unchanging. This idea incorporates the sense that we can identify an idealized form of dharma that can be used, at all times, as a “pole star” to guide our actions. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that in the ideal sense, this is true; but in the world of manifestation, the concept of Dharma necessarily must evolve and grow as our capabilities to understand and embody Dharma grow. The process of the growth of Dharma in the manifested world over time involves concurrently the recognition that there are powers and movements within the world that resist, oppose and try to prevent or at least slow down the development of dharma.

Various religions have recognized this process of progressive and retrogressive movements. The Vedic seers spoke of the powers of darkness covering up and opposing the light. Buddha had to face down the temptations of Mara in order to achieve his enlightenment. The Zoroastrian religion posited two opposing principles, that of Light and that of Darkness that ever strived to overcome one another. Christianity sets up a similar opposition of God and Satan. Clearly the understanding of the dynamic between powers that are attempting to bring greater illumination to our lives and those that oppose the changes that come about when new powers of knowledge or action arise, is one that has been recognized throughout the world over a great span of time.

The development of Dharma is a progressive process, as Sri Aurobindo explains “…because man does not already possess the ideal or live in it, but aspires more or less perfectly towards it, is growing towards its knowledge and practice. And in this growth Dharma is all that helps us to grow into the divine purity, largeness, light, freedom, power, strength, joy, love, good, unity, beauty, and against it stands its shadow and denial, all that resists its growth and has not undergone its law, all that has not yielded up and does not will to yield up its secret of divine values, but presents a front of perversion and contradiction, of impurity, narrowness, bondage, darkness, weakness, vileness, discord and suffering and division, and the hideous and the crude, all that man has to leave behind in his progress. This is the adharma, not-Dharma, which strives with and seeks to overcome the Dharma, to draw backward and downward, the reactionary force which makes for evil, ignorance and darkness.”

The role of the Avatar involves aiding the development of Dharma and overcoming the power of the reactionary forces of resistance.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pg. 163

The Deeper Sense of the Concept of Dharma

The term “Dharma” is so complex, and has so many aspects embedded in it, that there is no one word in English that can capture its complete sense and meaning. Even when the word is utilized however, most focus on one or two aspects and do not take the others into serious account. This has led to traditional translations such as “ethics” , “justice”, “right conduct”, “morality”, “appropriate mode of life” or “religious principles” that each do not do properly define the term.

Sri Aurobindo, in order to aid us in understanding the deeper sense of the Avatar’s mission, has taken pains to describe the concept of Dharma at some length: “in its fullest, deepest and largest conception, as the inner and the outer law by which the divine Will and Wisdom work out the spiritual evolution of mankind and its circumstances and results in the life of the race.” And further, “In its primary sense it means a fundamental law of our nature which secretly conditions all our activities, and in this sense each being, type, species, individual, group has its own Dharma. Secondly, there is the divine nature which has to develop and manifest in us, and in this sense Dharma is the law of the inner workings by which that rows in our being. Thirdly, there is the law by which we govern our outgoing thought and action and our relations with each other so as to help best both our own growth and that of the human race towards the divine ideal.”

“…it is the whole government of all the relations of man with other beings, with Nature, with God, considered from the point of view of a divine principle working itself out in forms and laws of action, forms of the inner and the outer life, orderings of relations of every kind in the world. Dharma is both that which we hold to and that which holds together our inner and outer activities.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 17, The Divine Birth and Divine Works, pp. 162-163

The Foundations For Development of Morality and Ethics as Powers In Life

As the mental power works to gain control over the vital energy, there has to be a shift from the instinctive action of the vital to a more free exercise of the will. This provides both more scope for development and more need of discipline and restraint in order to direct and manage the energy effectively. The mental power includes morality and ethics as one of its lines, but these are not sole and fully determinative as there are actually a number of factors involved in achieving result in the world of action, and the moral force is just one of them.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “The moral is not the sole element: it is not entirely true that the moral right always prevails or that where there is the dharma, on that side is the victory. The immediate success often goes to other powers, even an ultimate conquest of the Right comes usually by an association with some form of Might.”

The concept of morality does play a part, especially in the interactions in society where we need the cooperation and good will of others, and the support of the framework of organisation of the nation and machinery of government in order to succeed. In this instance, any willful disregard of the moral aspect can lead to opposition and cross-currents that would inevitably weaken, or even defeat the goal of the effort. As a result there are automatically checks that make it difficult for someone to use the mental power to gain control over the vital and physical life to an extreme degree.

“Moreover, man in the use of his energies has to take into account of his fellows and the aid and opposition of their energies, and his relations with them impose on him checks, demands and conditions which have or evolve a moral significance. There is laid on him almost from the first a number of obligations even in the pursuit of vital success and satisfaction which become a first empirical basis of an ethical order.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 133-134,

The Current Notions of the Law of Karma

As the mental force begins to make itself felt and tries to develop a law or rule of life, it starts out with the demands, needs, desires and fears of the dynamic life force as the primary controlling factor with which it has to grapple. Rather than being able to impose, therefore, a reasoned moral and ethical code, it resorts to attempts to modify and upgrade the vital impetus through offering a system of rewards and punishments, a “carrot and a stick”, for following the basic lines set forth in the moral doctrines. On close examination it can be seen that even the goals set forth at this point are mostly driven by the vital drive for success, achievement and prosperity and the fear of loss, suffering and pain.

It is thus at this point that the most common ideas about the law of Karma appear and take center stage. The moral principle, the ethical ideal is tied to the concept that the “good” will achieve worldly success; or if not worldly success, then at least a success in a life hereafter. The influence of the vital power is clearly seen in the fact that “right” has to be tied to “success” in order to be something to be attempted.

Sri Aurobindo describes this situation as follows: “It is these notions, this idea of the moral law, of righteousness and justice as a thing in itself imperative, but still needing to be enforced by bribe and menace on our human nature,–which would seem to show that at least for that nature they are not altogether imperative,–this insistence on reward and punishment because morality struggling with our first unregenerate being has to figure very largely as a mass of restraints and prohibitions and these cannot be enforced without some fact or appearance of a compelling or inducing outward sanction, this diplomatic compromise or effort at equivalence between the impersonal ethical and the personal egoistic demand, this marriage of convenience between right and vital utility, virtue and desire,–it is these accommodations that are embodied in the current notions of the law of Karma.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 131-132,

The Development of the Concept of Moral and Ethical Law

As the human mind develops beyond its first focus on purely vital success and fulfillment, we see the next stage as the attempt to abstract out of the life experience some basic principles or rules which get framed into the concept of “right”, which became in the ancient Indian philosophy, the concept known as “Dharma”. We see here a more characteristically mental framework developing an independence from the needs for vital success in life, and a corresponding attempt to control life based on these abstract principles.

Sri Aurobindo describes the evolutionary position of the concept of Dharma: “The idea of Dharma is on the contrary predominantly moral in its essence. Dharma on its heights holds up the moral law in its own right and for its own sake to human acceptance and observance. The larger idea of Dharma is indeed a conception of the true law of all energies and includes a conscience, a rectitude in all things, a right law of thought and knowledge, of aesthesis, of all other human activities and not only of our ethical action. But yet in the notion of Dharma the ethical element has tended always to predominate and even to monopolise the concept of Right which man creates,–because ethics is concerned with action of life and his dealing with his vital being and with his fellow men and that is always his first preoccupation and his most tangible difficulty, and because here first and most pressingly the desires, interests, instincts of the vital being find themselves cast into a sharp and very successful conflict with the ideal of Right and the demand of the higher law. Right ethical action comes therefore to seem to man at his stage the one thing binding upon him among the many standards raised by the mind, the moral claim the one categorical imperative, the moral law the whole of his Dharma.”

We see here a real transition from the non-moral law of the vital world, and the first mental developments focused on supporting and achieving success in the world of life and action, to a more purely mental framework that seeks to modify life, and impose itself regardless of the vital desires and fulfillments. Of course, this starts out as a mixed action still highly colored by the desires, demands and needs of the vital being of man, and thus, the ideals and goals set in this initial stage are very much vital goals.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pp. 130-131,