Issues in the Establishment of Equanimity and Peace in the Being

We have long-established instincts that harken back to the animal kingdom, in what we may call the “fight or flight” response. This instinct is deeply embedded and lies at the root of one of the biggest obstacles to achieving calm and peace in the being. Every impulse we receive from outside triggers a reaction and if it appears at all threatening, it triggers this virtually automatic process. There are other reactive triggers, such as the built in neuro-chemical transmitters that are evoked when something is pleasurable or unpleasurable. The experience of these neuro-chemicals can lead to a cycle of desire, attempting to recreate the feeling in the being. Then we add learned responses that we gain from parents, siblings, friends, the societal framework around us, such that certain types of impulses provoke a response, such as patriotism, racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, etc. Many of these are deeply embedded in the psychology so that they take place virtually without conscious awareness of the being.

When the seeker takes up spiritual practices, one of the first things that needs to be accomplished is developing at least an initial platform of calm and peace, and from there, systematically rooting out the reactive nature of the desire-soul and the ego-personality. This process is not simple when one realises that just suppressing the outer reaction does not solve the problem. A much deeper psychological purification and tuning process winds up being required. It is something that occurs over time with constant effort. Instead of being upset about the lapses as they occur, the seeker should recognise the time and effort required and exercise patience, starting with a first basic establishment of equanimity wherever possible, and then reviewing disturbances, as they arise, to understand causes and potential solutions.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “To be calm, undisturbed and quiet is not the first condition for sadhana but for siddhi. It is only a few people (very few, one, two, three, four in a hundred sadhaks) who can get it from the first. Most have to go through a long preparation before they can get anywhere near it. Even afterwards when they begin to feel the peace and calm, it takes time to establish it — they swing between peace and disturbance for a fairly long time until all parts of the nature have accepted the truth and the peace.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 72


Understanding Human Nature

At some point in life, virtually every individual has an experience which is extremely disappointing and painful, due to a perceived betrayal or undue negative reaction from another person. A great part of human interaction is driven by reactions of jealousy, envy, lust, greed, fear, anger or, potentially, a cowardly reaction that shifts responsibility and blame onto an innocent individual to escape the consequences. Those who are more sensitive feel deeply hurt or wounded by these interactions. They tend to try to judge appropriate actions of others based on their own internal standards, and when they find a different response, they fail to understand how or why this can occur.

This situation causes emotional distress for the individual who suffers it, as long as they are taking ‘personally’ what is in essence a common characteristic or trait of human nature subject to the ego-personality. When one looks at the situation from a wider perspective, it is possible to understand the general nature of the reactions one experiences in social interaction, and thus, to limit the emotional distress.

It is the nature of the mental-vital-physical forces that make up the human life as presently constituted that must be understood in order to eventually be subject to change. Sri Aurobindo points out that as individuals grow inwardly through the influence and action of the psychic being, they naturally begin to modify their response to one of appreciation, gratitude and understanding. This is a sign that even these deeply embedded habits of nature can be modified and overcome through the process of the evolution of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Your surprise at X’s behaviour shows that you do not yet know what kind of thing is the average human nature. Did you never hear of the answer of Vidyasagar when he was told that a certain man was abusing him, — ‘Why does he abuse me? I never did him a good turn (upakara).’ The unregenerate vital is not grateful for a benefit, it resents being under an obligation. So long as the benefit continues, it is effusive and says sweet things, as soon as it expects nothing more it turns round and bites the hand that fed it. Sometimes it does that even before, when it thinks it can do it without the benefactor knowing the origin of the slander, fault-finding or abuse. In all these dealings of yours there is nothing unusual, nothing, as you think, peculiar to you. Most have this kind of experience, few escape it altogether. Of course, people with a developed psychic element are by nature grateful and do not behave in this way.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Sensitiveness, pp. 65-68

Overcoming the Inherent Bias of the Ego-Personality

Psychological tests and experiments have shown that each individual sees external events from their own perspective and thereby bring their personal biases, albeit unintentionally, to what they observe and how they understand situations. What the senses perceive is enhanced and filled in by the mind, using our store of experience, expectations, etc. to create a ‘picture’ of the event that we then interpret from our unique perspective. Even something as apparently simple as reporting on a traffic accident shows up with various descriptions based on how each individual saw it and what they ‘believe’ happened.

In order to get past this ego-centric bias, an individual has to achieve several changes in standpoint. A first stage is to cultivate an attitude of equality, whereby one does not allow anything to be taken personally and one abstracts oneself from the impact of anything that happens. This comes about through attaining the witness consciousness of the Purusha. A second stage is a shift of standpoint to the universal, the divine standpoint. This brings a wideness of vision and understanding that sees a bigger picture, can piece together a more complete sense of the meaning of anything that happens. Eventually, with the advent of the supramental consciousness, there can potentially come a viewpoint that can assume any position in the nexus of observation and thus, see things from multiple individual viewpoints, as well as the universal viewpoint simultaneously.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Equality means another thing — to have an equal view of men and their nature and acts and the forces that move them; it helps one to see the truth about them by pushing away from the mind all personal feeling in one’s seeing and judgment and even all the mental bias. Personal feeling always distorts and makes one see in men’s actions, not only the actions themselves, but things behind them which, more often than not, are not there. Misunderstanding, misjudgment which could have been avoided are the result; things of small consequence assume larger proportions. I have seen that more than half of the untoward happenings of this kind in life are due to this cause. But in ordinary life personal feeling and sensitiveness are a constant part of human nature and may be needed there for self-defence, although, I think, even there, a strong, large and equal attitude towards men and things would be a much better line of defence.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Sensitiveness, pp. 65-68

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