Stages of the Development of Peace in the Being

With all the complexity surrounding the reactions we have to impressions and pressures we receive from the world, it is important to both understand the seed causes of our reactions and find a way to systematically gain control over these reactions. One of the techniques recommended by Sri Aurobindo is to develop the standpoint of the witness observing the nature. The witness can then work to view what takes place in the surface nature as if it is happening outside oneself. This helps to attain objectivity and thereby insight into what is taking place in the nature, as well as makes it easier to separate oneself from the action in a way that can eventually bring about peace. This does not happen overnight, and we can see various stages in the progression, which Sri Aurobindo proceeds to outline.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Quietness is when the mind or vital is not troubled, restless, drawn about by or crowded with thoughts and feelings. Especially when either is detached and looks at these as a surface movement, we say that the mind or vital is quiet.”

“Calmness is a more positive condition, not merely an absence of restlessness, over-activity or trouble. When there is a clear or great or strong tranquility which nothing troubles or can trouble, then we say that calm is established.”

“It is quite usual to feel an established peace in the inner being even if there is disturbance on the surface. In fact that is the usual condition of the yogi before he has attained the absolute samata in all the being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 73

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

Equality: the State of Inner Peace in the Face of Provocation

How do we typically respond to the situations that we meet in the world? We want to fulfill our desires, have our wishes and ideas carried out, and have a modicum of control in our lives. When things do not go as we wish, we become frustrated, angry, resentful or otherwise upset. On the other side, when we get what we are seeking, we experience happiness, joy and enthusiastic participation. Many have pointed out that neither joy nor sorrow, positive or negative events or circumstances, are always present, but that they tend to ebb and flow and interchange with one another, so that every life meets with its “ups” and its “downs” in the course of life. In a world of uncertainty, our comfortable lives can be easily upset by war, storms, economic disruptions, or hostile acts perpetrated upon us or those with whom we are connected. To borrow from the author Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ The same holds true for the yogic practitioner, who sometimes has outstanding experiences and at other times, meets with intense opposition and conflict.

There is such a high level of violence in the world because humanity has not learned how to deal with the issues that confront us every day. Domestic violence, road rage, temper tantrums and angry outbursts, are all part of the daily life for many people and hardly given a second thought. When things we perceive as positive happen, ecstatic outbursts of joy can occur. Philosophers throughout history have raised the issue and some, such as the stoics, have counseled maintaining an even temper in all circumstances. Others tell us to hold back our outbursts and restrain our desires and our anger. Those who attempt this approach frequently find that they are not solving the reaction, but bottling it up, suppressing it, with sometimes negative impacts on their health and well-being including high blood pressure, ulcers, etc.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother counsel that the needed poise for the yogin is to maintain a state of inner peace and equality to all the touches, positive and negative, that one experiences in life. This is not an outward suppression of reactions that are then allowed to boil inwardly, but a true solving of the reactive nature such that there is neither an external outburst nor an inner seething that builds up. Anyone who has attempted this will easily recognise the difficulty involved in this accomplishment. It is a first foundation for yogic growth and development and requires substantial inner awareness to maintain calm. People generally tend to see strength in the use of brute force both physically and psychologically, yet in many cases, this comes as a result of the inner weakness. True strength lies in the ability to not let the touches of life negatively impact the psychological balance of the nature nor distract from the focus of the life.

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

First Foundations for the Practitioner of the Integral Yoga

Patanjali’s Raja Yoga outlines a series of steps or stages in the development of that particular path. The first two are Yama and Niyama, which outline certain purification actions to prepare the practitioner for the later activities and experiences in the yogic practice. These two ‘limbs’, together, represent a solidifying of peace, the removal of obstacles that can disturb the mind, the emotions, the nervous sheath and the body. The result is a peaceful and harmonious energy and a solid strength to avoid being distracted or disturbed, with a calming of the basic ‘mind-stuff’ (chitta) as a preliminary basis for the practice of raja yoga. This also helps maintain the balance needed to avoid mental, emotional or nervous breakdowns as the higher forces begin to act and manifest openly in the being as the yogic process progresses. The subsequent two ‘limbs’ are asana and pranayama. Asana provides the solid ‘seat’ upon which the yogic experience rests. It does not refer only to the physical posture, but to the ‘seat’ of consciousness in the being, to ensure stability and solidity as the forces acting in the being increase and intensify. Pranayama involves balancing the breathing process to bring a state of harmony and equanimity to the being and to gain control over the mental and emotional processes which are intimately linked to the flow of the prana in the being.

All four of these steps in Raja Yoga represent purificatory and preparatory stages to allow the further four steps to bear fruit without harming or destroying the body, the life-energy or the mind of the practitioner, although it could be said that the advanced forms of pranayama are not simply preparatory, but are actually an implementation stage in the yogic process.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Rajayogis are right in putting purification in front of everything — as I was also right in putting it in front along with concentration in The Synthesis of Yoga. You have only to look about you to see that experiences and even realisations cannot bring one to the goal if this is not done — at any moment they can fall owing to the vital still being impure and full of ego.”

“Equanimity and peace in all conditions, in all parts of the being is the first foundation of the yogic status…. Peace is the first condition without which nothing else can be stable.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 62