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

The Necessity of Self-Surrender to the Divine

An essential practice in achieving complete equality is the self-surrender of the individual ego-personality to the Divine, the Supreme, the Universal Being. It is only thus, by creating a method of sorting out the ego’s gross or subtle attachments and desires through a process of comparison with the wider, disinterested, free action of the Divine, that eventually the seeker can begin to disentangle himself from the bondage of that ego-personality. Sri Aurobindo describes the process: “The test that we have done this is the presence of an undisturbed calm in the mind and spirit. The Sadhaka must be on the watch as the witnessing and willing Purusha behind or, better, as soon as he can manage it, above the mind, and repel even the least indices or incidence of trouble, anxiety, grief, revolt, disturbance in his mind. If these things come, he must at once detect their source, the defect which they indicate, the fault of egoistic claim, vital desire, emotion or idea from which they start and this he must discourage by his will, his spiritualised intelligence, his soul unity with the Master of his being. On no account must he admit any excuse for them, however natural, righteous in seeming or plausible, or any inner or outer justification. If it is the Prana which is troubled and clamorous, he must separate himself from the troubled Prana, keep seated his higher nature in the Buddhi and by the Buddhi school and reject the claim of the desire-soul in him; and so too if it is the heart of emotion that makes the clamour and the disturbance. If, on the other hand, it is the will and intelligence itself that is at fault, then the trouble is more difficult to command, because then his chief aid and instrument becomes an accomplice of the revolt against the divine Will and the old sins of the lower members take advantage of this sanction to raise their diminished heads.”

The complexity and subtle difficulty of this process leads to the eventual recognition of the necessity of the self-surrender: “Therefore there must be a constant insistence on one main idea, the self-surrender to the Master of our being, God within us and in the world, the supreme Self, the universal Spirit. The Buddhi dwelling always in this master idea must discourage all its own lesser insistences and preferences and teach the whole being that the ego, whether it puts forth its claim through the reason, the personal will, the heart or the desire-soul in the Prana, has no just claim of any kind and all grief, revolt, impatience, trouble is a violence against the Master of the being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 694-695

Four Aspects of Equality

Sri Aurobindo’s methodology involves the individual seeker in undertaking a detailed review of his progress in the practice of Yoga, the sadhana. Since equality is such an essential and foundational aspect of Yoga, he has not only devoted considerable effort to understanding what it is, but has also broken it down into elements which must be developed continually to achieve perfection in the process.

“The first business of the Sadhaka is to see whether he has the perfect equality, how far he has gone in this direction or else where is the flaw, and to exercise steadily his will on his nature or invite the will of the Purusha to get rid of the defect and its causes.”

He then identifies four aspects of equality which represent its action on various different levels of his psychological makeup: “There are four things that he must have; first equality in the most concrete practical sense of the word, samata, freedom from mental, vital, physical preferences, an even acceptance of all God’s workings within and around him; secondly, a firm peace and absence of all disturbance and trouble, shanti; thirdly, a positive inner spiritual happiness and spiritual ease of the natural being which nothing can lessen, sukham; fourthly, a clear joy and laughter of the soul embracing life and existence.”

Equality is equated with Yoga in the Gita, as this psychological status can only be achieved fully when one has transcended the normal limited human reactions and the interplay of the Gunas: “To be equal is to be infinite and universal, not to limit oneself, not to bind oneself down to this or that form of the mind and life and its partial preferences and desires.”

Obviously the normal human condition does not meet this definition, and as long as we live in the body-life-mind, we cannot expect to achieve the complete equality Sri Aurobindo is describing. The human being lives in a state of attachment, desire and mental conceptions. “To accept them is at first inevitable, to go beyond them exceedingly difficult and not, perhaps, altogether possible so long as we are compelled to use the mind as the chief instrument of our action. The first necessity therefore is to take at least the sting out of them, to deprive them, even when they persist, of their greater insistence, their present egoism, their more violent claim on our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pp. 693-694

The Spiritual Way of Embracing and Mastering Life

Our attempts to achieve the status of equality through the mentality are limited by the ever-present action of the three Gunas of Nature. Thus, when we try to establish a calm and equal poise in relation to stimuli from the world, we do so by suppressing the force of desire and with this approach, generally wind up with a passive, inactive, quiescent status. This however does not represent the fullness of spiritual equality, as Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is not mere quiescence and indifference, not a withdrawal from experience, but a superiority to the present reactions of the mind and life. It is the spiritual way of replying to life or rather of embracing it and compelling it to become a perfect form of action of the self and spirit. it is the first secret of the soul’s mastery of existence. When we have it in perfection, we are admitted to the very ground of the divine spiritual nature.”

The process proceeds as follows: “The mental being in the body tries to compel and conquer life, but is at every turn compelled by it, because it submits to the desire reactions of the vital self. To be equal, not to be overborne by any stress of desire, is the first condition of real mastery, self-empire is its basis.” Due to the action of the Gunas, the mental being is unable to accomplish this step.

“It is only the spirit which is capable of sublime undisturbed rapidities of will as well as an illimitable patience, equally just in a slow and deliberate or a swift and violent, equally secure in a safely lined and limited or a vast and enormous action. It can accept the smallest work in the narrowest circle of cosmos, but it can work too upon the whirl of chaos with an understanding and creative force; and these things it can do because by its detached and yet intimate acceptance it carries into both an infinite calm, knowledge, will and power. It has that detachment because it is above all the happenings, forms, ideas and movements it embraces in its scope; and it has that intimate acceptance because it is yet one with all things. If we have not this free unity, …, we have not the full equality of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 13, The Action of Equality, pg. 693

Applying the Methods of Equality in the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo builds on his analysis of the methods of achieving equality and their limits by applying the results to the practice of the integral Yoga. “The integral Yoga will make use of both the passive and the active methods according to the needs of the nature and the guidance of the inner spirit, the Antaryamin. It will not limit itself by the passive way, for that would lead only to some individual quietistic salvation or negation of an active and universal spiritual being which would be inconsistent with the totality of its aim.”

Sri Aurobindo recognizes that each of the primary methods that have been developed in human spiritual practice around the world and through the years has specific potential benefits as well as limitations and he makes it clear that there may be a time and a place for the application of any of these methods for the integral seeker. The use of any method must be tailored to the specific individual in a specific situation, however, rather than applied “across the board” as a general rule.

“It will use the method of endurance, but not stop short with a detached strength and serenity, but move rather to a positive strength and mastery, in which endurance will no longer be needed, since the self will then be in a calm and powerful spontaneous possession of the universal energy and capable of determining easily and happily all its reactions in the oneness and the Ananda. It will use the method of impartial indifference, but not end in an aloof indifference to all things, but rather move towards a high-seated impartial acceptance of life strong to transform all experience into the greater values of the equal spirit. It will use too temporarily resignation and submission, but by the full surrender of its personal being to the Divine it will attain to the all-possessing Ananda in which there is no need of resignation, to the perfect harmony with the universal which is not merely an acquiescence, but an embracing oneness, to the perfect instrumentality and subjection of the natural self to the Divine by which the Divine also is possessed by the individual spirit.”

“It will use fully the positive method, but will go beyond any individual acceptance of things which would have the effect of turning existence into a field only of the perfected individual knowledge, power and Ananda. That it will have, but also it will have the oneness by which it can live in the existence of others for their sake and not only for its own and for their assistance and as one of their means, an associated and helping force in the movement towards the same perfection. It will live for the Divine, not shunning world-existence, not attached to the earth or the heavens, not attached either to a supracosmic liberation, but equally one with the Divine in all his planes and able to live in him equally in the Self and in the manifestation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 12, The Way of Equality, pp. 691-692