Developing the Proper Attitude of Yogic Equality in Relation to Present Reality and Future Development

We tend to view everything from our individual ego-standpoint, and as a result, we take difficulties as being our own, as well as any obstacles, setbacks or delays being directly tied to ourselves. We tend to believe that we are either bound by some karmic destiny, or by the astrological pattern of the stars to determine the birth we have taken, the situations we have to endure and the obstacles we have to face, as well as the eventual end result. In many cases, when we do not visibly see progress in something we are aspiring for, we look at this as our personal failure and become despondent, or upset with circumstances.

While the karmic circumstance, the personal makeup of our individual mind-life-body, the societal framework or the stars may have some amount of influence, the aspiration aligned with the Divine Will in manifestation has the power to eventually overcome these influences, which represent the static standpoint of “what is” rather than the dynamic standpoint of “what shall be”. Once we shift to the divine-standpoint and see the evolutionary process through that lens, we begin to understand both the reality and necessity of the current situation, and the process by which things can and will change over time. This provides the necessary perspective to take things calmly and work tirelessly for the change that must come in the universal developmental cycle.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “A wise impersonality, a quiescent equality, a universality which sees all things as the manifestations of the Divine, the one Existence, is not angry, troubled, impatient with the way of things or on the other hand excited, over-eager and precipitate, but sees that the law must be obeyed and the pace of time respected, observes and understands with sympathy the actuality of things and beings, but looks also behind the present appearance to their inner significances and forward to the unrolling of their divine possibilities…”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Equality, pp. 27-29

Yogic Equality Does Not Imply Fatalistic Acceptance

Attaining the proper poise of equality is an essential step for the yogic practitioner. It is quite easy to fall into a fatalistic view that basically says “what happened was what had to happen”, without further consideration about the process through time and the direction, momentum and amplitude of the energy of change that is in place. Without appreciating these dynamic elements, the seeker may find himself overwhelmed by the present circumstances and, then, the equality becomes a form of tamasic depression or a giving up of the effort.

At any point in time, the seeker is confronted by physical pain and suffering, nervous or emotional disturbance, or mental pressure that represents the current phase of his relationship to the world within which he lives. It is essential to be able to deal with the present reality without breaking down, thus, the call for yogic equality. It is equally essential to recognise that the current situation is temporary, not permanent, and thereby to follow the aspiration to change, grow and develop, with patience and persistence.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… it is necessary to keep equality under pain and suffering — and that means to endure firmly and calmly, not to be restless or troubled or depressed or despondent, to go on with a steady faith in the Divine Will. But equality does not include inert acceptance. If, for instance, there is temporary failure of some endeavour in the sadhana, one has to keep equality, not to be troubled or despondent, but one has not to accept the failure as an indication of the Divine Will and give up the endeavour. You ought rather to find out the reason and meaning of the failure and go forward in faith towards victory. So with illness — you have not to be troubled, shaken or restless, but you have not to accept illness as the Divine Will, but rather look upon it as an imperfection of the body to be got rid of as you try to get rid of vital imperfections or mental errors.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Equality, pp. 27-29

The Test of Yogic Equality

The setting of Sri Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, symbolizing the ‘battle of life’ is an essential message to all who seek to progress in their spiritual growth and development. We do not normally associate a battlefield as the place to learn about our spiritual existence and destiny; however, the need for a solid spiritual basis for life is underlined and accentuated when one is involved in all the activities and pressures of living in the world, whether facing the day to day struggles and issues that arise, or, as with Arjuna, facing a cataclysmic battle with injury, death, mayhem and concern for beloved family, friends and elders in the balance.

Many seekers work to achieve spiritual realisations by withdrawing, for a time, from the life of the world, through retreats or vision quests or other opportunities to leave behind the activities that demand attention and pressure the individual on all levels. Still others seek a lifetime of renunciation whether in a monastery or cloister, or an ashram or as a renunciate in the forest or the caves or the desert.

When we look closely at these methods, however, we recognise that the peace achieved is oftentimes short-lived when the individual later returns to the outer world and its activities, or if suddenly confronted with pressures from that world. There are, for instance, numerous cases of individuals erupting with anger or lust when suddenly faced with the temptations of the vital existence that they had thought to be long mastered and under control.

While it may be a useful strategy, initially, to step back from the world in order to establish a basis of peace and separation in the consciousness, eventually there should be a way to bring that standpoint to bear upon the entire life in all its forms and circumstances.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Whatever the unpleasantness of circumstances, however disagreeable the conduct of others, you must learn to receive them with a perfect calm and without any disturbing reaction. These things are the test of equality. It is easy to be calm and equal when things go well and people and circumstances are pleasant; it is when they are the opposite that the completeness of the calm, peace, equality can be tested, reinforced, made perfect.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Equality, pp. 27-29

The Nature of Equality in Yogic Psychology

The term ‘equality’ in general use relates to inter-personal relationships within the society, but that is not how the term is utilized in yogic psychology. Equality in that sense means the ability to accept all touches from the universe, perceptions, feelings, thoughts, emotions, powers and pressures, with a steady, calm state that is non-reactive. Sri Aurobindo provides an extensive and detailed understanding of the use of the term:

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Equality is to remain unmoved within in all conditions. … Equality is not the same as forebearance, — though undoubtedly a settled equality immensely extends, even illimitably, a man’s power of endurance and forebearance. … Equality means a quiet and unmoved mind and vital, it means not to be touched or disturbed by things that happen or things said or done to you, but to look at them with a straight look, free from the distortions created by personal feeling, and to try to understand what is behind them, why they happen, what is to be learnt from them, what is it in oneself which they are cast against and what inner profit or progress one can make out of them; it means self-mastery over the vital movements, — anger and sensitiveness and pride as well as desire and the rest, — not to let them get hold of the emotional being and disturb the inner peace, not to speak and act in the rush and impulsion of these things, always to act and speak out of a calm inner poise of the spirit. It is not easy to have this equality in any full perfect measure, but one should always try more and more to make it the basis of one’s inner state and outer movements.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Equality, pp. 27-29

Equality Changes Our Reactions to People and Their Viewpoints

With the development of the spiritual equality in the being, comes not only a change in reaction to events, but also to people and their ideas, views, and lines of action. We can see here a real difference between the sectarian religious viewpoint which takes the position that only that one way is right and all other ways are wrong, and the wider universal and spiritual standpoint that deepens as the equality takes hold, to encompass understanding and good will, an active compassion and love for all others regardless of their varying ideas, doctrines or beliefs.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The first result of the equal mind and spirit is to bring about an increasing charity and inner toleration of all persons, ideas, views, actions, because it is seen that God is in all beings and each acts according to his nature, his svabhava, and its present formulations. When there is the positive equal Ananda, this deepens to a sympathetic understanding and in the end an equal universal love.”

Due to the nature of the dividing and fragmenting human mentality, it is easy to go from the one extreme of denial and hatred of others with different ideas, to the idea that all other ways need to be accepted in a form of surrender. This would imply an unfettered action and a lack of resistance to forces that oppress or set back the forward movement of the evolutionary process, and this certainly is not intended by Sri Aurobindo. He resolves this concern by pointing out that while the inner attitude should be one of equal toleration and universal love, the outer action still needs to proceed along the lines dictated by the divine Will in its progressive manifestation. This brings the seeker to the understanding that one can act with the full force of opposition, if so required, while maintaining the inner balance, understanding and equality. This is opposition without hatred or any form of action that would belittle or denigrate others who happen to be carrying out actions that needs must be opposed.

“None of these things need prevent various relations or different formulations of the inner attitude according to the need of life as determined by the spiritual will, or firm furtherings of this idea, view, action against that other for the same need and purpose by the same determination, or a strong outward or inward resistance, opposition and action against the forces that are impelled to stand in the way of the decreed movement….But the essence of the equal inmost attitude is not altered or diminished by these more superficial formulations. The spirit, the fundamental soul remain the same, even while the Shakti of knowledge, will, action, love does its work and assumes the various forms needed for its work. And in the end all becomes a form of a luminous spiritual unity with all persons, energies, things in the being of God and in the luminous, spiritual, one and universal force, in which one’s own action becomes an inseparable part of the action of all, is not divided from it, but feels perfectly every relation as a relation with God in all in the complex terms of his universal oneness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 699-700

Transforming the Value Placed on Events and Activities Based on a Shift of Standpoint from the Ego to the Divine

It is normal for people to interpret events and actions based on their own perspective. It is as if they are at the center of the universe and are able to judge every action by its impact on the individual. Of course, this is a defective stance, as we know that while each individual has a viewpoint and an interpretation of things, the whole world and its manifestation do not revolve solely or primarily around that one person! A example will suffice. An individual may consider himself successful, from his viewpoint, if he earns a lot of money in business. Yet, if that business is based on poisoning the air, water or land of the planet and causing an environmental disaster long-term for the entire eco-sphere and the other beings living on the planet, such an action, from the larger, universal standpoint should be deemed a failure. By shifting the standpoint to the divine standpoint, therefore, all things take on a new perspective and meaning and must be totally reinterpreted for the larger, truer significance to be understood.

Sri Aurobindo explores these issues in depth: “The perfected action of equality transforms all the values of things on the basis of the divine anandamaya power. The outward action may remain what it was or may change, that must be as the Spirit directs and according to the need of the work to be done for the world,–but the whole inner action is of another kind. The Shakti in its different powers of knowledge, action, enjoyment, creation, formulation, will direct itself to the different aims of existence, but in another spirit; they will be the aims, the fruits, the lines of working laid down by the Divine from his light above, not anything claimed by the ego for its own separate sake.”

“Here both success and failure lose their present meanings. There can be no failure; for whatever happens is the intention of the Master of the worlds, not final, but a step on his way, and if it appears as an opposition, a defeat, a denial, even for the moment a total denial of the aim set before the instrumental being, it is so only in appearance and afterwards it will appear in its right place in the economy of his action,–a fuller supramental vision may even see at once or beforehand its necessity and its true relation to the eventual result to which it seems so contrary and even perhaps its definite prohibition. Or, if–while the light is deficient,–there has been a misinterpretation whether with regard to the aim or the course of the action and the steps of the result, the failure comes as a rectification and is calmly accepted without bringing discouragement or a fluctuation of the will. In the end it is found that there is no such thing as failure and the soul takes an equal passive or active delight in all happenings as the steps and formulations of the divine Will. The same evolution takes place with regard to good fortune and ill fortune, the pleasant and the unpleasant in every form….”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 698-699

The Joy of the Spirit

There are different stages of the development of calm and equality in the being. Early stages are in many instances “negative equality” but these do not adequately embody the eventual unification with the Divine Spirit that manifests the universe. This Divine Spirit is founded in the principles of Sat-Chit-Ananda, and thereby encompass the bliss that exists behind and inherent in all that manifests in the universe. In the Taittiriya Upanishad the bliss of the Eternal Spirit is equated to the experience of “the vedawise whose soul the blight of desire not toucheth.” As Sri Aurobindo has explained, the overcoming of desire and ego leads to unity with the Divine Spirit, and with that unity comes the experience of the highest forms of bliss, Ananda.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “As the equality becomes more intense, it takes on a fuller substance of positive happiness and spiritual ease. This is the joy of the spirit in itself, dependent on nothing external for its absolute existence,…, an exceeding inner happiness, …. Nothing can disturb it, and it extends itself to the soul’s view of outward things, imposes on them too the law of this quiet spiritual joy. For the base of it is still calm, it is an even and tranquil neutral joy,… . And as the supramental light grows, a greater Ananda comes, the base of the abundant ecstasy of the spirit in all it is, becomes, sees, experiences and of the laughter of the Shakti doing luminously the work of the Divine and taking his Ananda in all the worlds.”

The Katha Upanishad declares: “The calm soul having comprehended the great Lord, the omnipresent Self by whom one beholds both to the end of dram and to the end of waking, ceases from grieving.” Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Katha Upanishads, 2nd Cycle: 1st Ch., v. 4, pg. 230)

“One calm and controlling Spirit within all creatures that makes one form into many fashions: the calm and strong who see Him in their self as in a mirror, theirs is eternal felicity and ’tis not for others.” (Katha Upanishad, 2nd cycle: 2nd Ch. v. 12, pg. 236)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 697-698

The Transition From Ego-Based Action to Divine Action

There is a danger, which we can see in the historical track taken by many religious practitioners around the world, for one to substitute one’s own personal ideologies and preferences for the actual will of God, and to thereby justify to oneself actions taken to use one’s own particular belief system as a type of “club” to beat up other belief systems and try to enforce one’s own beliefs on everyone else. In the extreme, this type of action leads to forced conversions or religious discrimination or even slaughter or “crusades”. There is a difference here from the equal wide manifestation of the Divine and the disinterested implementation of the Will of the Divine in one’s own life. This difference is due to the continued promptings of the ego to achieve its desired aim or results from its own limited viewpoint. This comes about because equality has not been fully established in the being, and the ego-personality remains active. The process of moving from the ego-based to the divine action is one that comes incrementally over time through the persistent and patient focus of the Sadhaka of the Yoga, as explained by Sri Aurobindo:

“Vital acceptance or rejection, the greater readiness to welcome this rather than that happening, the mental acceptance or rejection, the preference of this more congenial to that other less congenial idea or truth, the dwelling upon the will to this rather than to that other result, become a formal mechanism still necessary as an index of the direction in which the Shakti is meant to turn or for the present is made to incline by the Master of our being. But it loses its disturbing aspect of strong egoistic will, intolerant desire, obstinate liking. These appearances may remain for a while in a diminished form, but as the calm of equality increases, deepens, becomes more essential and compact, …, they disappear, cease to colour the mental and vital substance or occur only as touches on the most external physical mind, are unable to penetrate within, and at last even that recurrence, that appearance at the outer gates of mind ceases.”

As the seeker begins to recognize the action of the Divine Shakti in the world and through his own actions, this bondage of the ego and its insistent desires begins to loosen, but there remains a residual core of the ego in the sense that the individual still attributes action to himself, although now under the impulsion of the Shakti. “We have then to et beyond this stage even. For the perfect action and experience is not to be determined by any kind of mental or vital preference, but by the revealing and inspiring spiritual will which is the Shakti in her direct and real initiation. When I say that as I am appointed, I work, I still bring in a limited personal element and mental reaction. But it is the Master who will do his own work through myself as his instrument, and there must be no mental or other preference in me to limit, to interfere, to be a source of imperfect working. The mind must become a silent luminous channel for the revelations of the supramental Truth and of the Will involved in its seeing. Then shall the action be the action of that highest Being and Truth and not a qualified translation or mistranslation in the mind.”

“The thought and will become then an action from a luminous Infinite, a formulation not excluding other formulations, but rather putting them into their just place in relation to itself, englobing or transforming them even and proceeding to larger formations of the divine knowledge and action.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 696-697

The Need For Absolute Calm of the Being in All Circumstances

There are apocryphal stories in the yogic traditions about ascetics who spent long years meditating in a cave and developing a palpable force of calm and silence around them; however, when they later went out into the world, they experienced anger, desire, frustration and all the other physical, vital, emotional and mental disturbances that are standard and habitual responses for the human being confronted with the overpowering force of stimuli from the world. This is not meant to deny the power of the meditation and the calm they were able to develop, but to point out that for the complex human being, establishment of calm, peace and equality is something that must be done throughout all the levels and aspects of the being and in all circumstances.

Sri Aurobindo stresses the importance of this absolute calm of the being as the foundation of yogic development: “The calm established in the whole being must remain the same whatever happens, in health and disease, in pleasure and in pain, even in the strongest physical pain, in good fortune and misfortune, our own or that of those we love, in success and failure, honour and insult, praise and blame, justice done to us or injustice, everything that ordinarily affects the mind.”

He provides several methods to help develop this status: “If we see unity everywhere, if we recognise that all comes by the divine will, see God in all, in our enemies or rather our opponents in the game of life as well as our friends, in the powers that oppose and resist us as well as the powers that favour and assist, in all energies and forces and happenings, and if besides we can feel that all is undivided from our self, all the world one with us within our universal being, then this attitude becomes much easier to the heart and mind. But even before we can attain or are firmly seated in that universal vision, we have by all the means in our power to insist on this receptive and active equality and calm.”

The importance cannot be over-emphasized: “Even something of it,…, is a great step towards perfection; a first firmness in it is the beginning of liberated perfection; its completeness is the perfect assurance of a rapid progress in all the other members of perfection. For without it we can have no solid basis; and by the pronounced lack of it we shall be constantly falling back to the lower status of desire, ego, duality, ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pg. 696

Addressing Trouble and Difficulties in the Establishment of Complete Active Equality

The process of a complete self-surrender to the Divine, and the consequent establishment of a complete active equality, is necessarily long and complicated, given the complex nature of the human life, dealing with the limitations of body, vital life energy and mental constitution. Since the process begins with the intelligent will attempting to gain control over the responses and reactions to the stimuli of the outer world, while addressing the formations of the ego-personality and the continual play of the Gunas to creating a shifting and ever-changing landscape of action-reaction, there are clearly limitations to how effectively this can be implemented. This brings about periods of difficulty and disturbance along the way. The rise of Rajas brings about an uprush of desire and violent efforts to succeed, the rise of Tamas brings periods of obscurity and obstinacy and dullness. Sattwa brings with it periods of fixed and limited accomodations and even a form of sattwic pride that narrows the range of the action and prevents the more complete integration of the spiritual will of the Divine. By focusing on an active rather than a passive equality, the problems cannot be solved through a form of inaction or avoidance; rather they must be faced directly in the world and in the flow of energies and actions that provoke the habitual responses.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The persistence of trouble, ashanti, the length of time taken for this purification and perfection, itself must not be allowed to become a reason for discouragement and impatience. It comes because there is still something in the nature which responds to it, and the recurrence of trouble serves to bring out the presence of the defect, put the Sadhaka upon his guard and bring about a more enlightened and consistent action of the will to get rid of it. When the trouble is too strong to be kept out, it must be allowed to pass and its return discouraged by a greater vigilance and insistence of the spiritualised Buddhi. Thus persisting. it will be found that these things lose their force more and more, become more and more external and brief in their recurrence, until finally calm becomes the law of the being. This rule persists so long as the mental Buddhi is the chief instrument; but when the supramental light takes possession of mind and heart, then there can be no trouble, grief or disturbance; for that brings with it a spiritual nature of illumined strength in which these things can have no place. There the only vibrations and emotions are those which belong to the anandamaya nature of divine unity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 695-696