The Worlds and Liberation from the Worlds

We reside in the material world and perceive things from that perspective.  The essential characteristic of this world, or of any other, is not, however, its material existence, but rather its relationship to the status of consciousness which we inhabit.  Those who have experienced out of body events report experiencing and interacting with other worlds where the principles of action are different than in the material world, where vital forces are at play and have a fluidity and power of motion not present in the world encumbered by materiality.  Spiritual seekers frequently have reported being met and taught by teachers while in the dream-state, and experiencing coherent, coordinated relationships not bound by meeting on the material plane.  If we understand the worlds from the psychological perspective, rather than from a limited material viewpoint, we find that they are representative of states of consciousness more than specific physical locations.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The worlds of which the Upanishad speaks are essentially soul-conditions and not geographical divisions of the cosmos.  This material universe is itself only existence as we see it when the soul dwells on the plane of material movement and experience in which the spirit involves itself in form, and therefore all the framework of things in which it moves by the life and which it embraces by the consciousness is determined by the principle of infinite division and aggregation proper to Matter, to substance of form.  This becomes then its world or vision of things.  And to whatever soul-condition it climbs, its vision of things will change from the material vision and correspond to that other condition, and in that other framework it will move in its living and embrace it in its consciousness.  These are the worlds of the ancient tradition.”

“But the soul that has entirely realised immortality passes beyond all worlds and is free from frameworks.  It enters into the being of the Lord; like this supreme superconscient Self and Brahman, it is not subdued to life and death.  It is no longer subject to the necessity of entering into the cycle of rebirth, of travelling continually between the imprisoning dualities of death and birth, affirmation and negation; for it has transcended name and form.  This victory, this supreme immortality it must achieve here as an embodied soul in the mortal framework of things.  Afterwards, like the Brahman, it transcends and yet embraces the cosmic existence without being subject to it.  Personal freedom, personal fulfilment is then achieved by the liberation of the soul from imprisonment in the form of this changing personality and by its ascent to the One that is the All.  If afterwards there is any assumption of the figure of mortality, it is an assumption and not a subjection, a help brought to the world and not a help to be derived from it, a descent of the ensouled superconscient existence not from any personal necessity, but from the universal need of the cosmic labour for those yet unfree and unfulfilled to be helped and strengthened by the force that has already described the path up to the goal in its experience and achieved under the same conditions the Work and the Sacrifice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 161-164

Mortal Life and the Pursuit of Immortality, Part 2

Spiritual practitioners through the ages have recognized that the world of dualities within which we live and act is not the entire existence, and the process of birth, growth, decline and death does not encompass the entire universal process.  This has led many to attempt to distance themselves entirely from the world and focus exclusively on achieving oneness with the Absolute.  Sri Aurobindo notes that the Upanishad insists on a fulfillment “here itself” within the world.  This leads to the examination of what constitutes such a fulfillment “here itself” and how to go about achieving it.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The wise, therefore, the souls seated and accomplished in luminous thought-power put away from them the dualities of our mind, life and senses and go forward from this world; they go beyond to the unity and the immortality.  The word used for going forward is that which expresses the passage of death; it is also that which the Upanishad uses for the forward movement of the Life-force yoked to the car of embodied mind and sense on the paths of life.  And in this coincidence we can find a double and most pregnant suggestion.”

“It is not by abandoning life on earth in order to pursue immortality on other more favourable planes of existence that the great achievement becomes possible.  It is here, ihaiva, in this mortal life and body that immortality must be won, here in this lower Brahman and by this embodied soul that the Higher must be known and possessed.  ‘If here one finds it not, great is the perdition.’  This Life-force in us is led forward by the attraction of the supreme Life on its path of constant acquisition through types of the Brahman until it reaches a point where it has to go entirely forward, to go across out of the mortal life, the mortal vision of things to some Beyond.  So long as death is not entirely conquered, this going beyond is represented in the terms of death and by a passing into other worlds where death is not present, where a type of immortality is tasted corresponding to that which we have found here in our soul-experience; but the attraction of death and limitation is not overpassed because they still conceal something of immortality and infinity which we have not yet achieved; therefore there is a necessity of return, an insistent utility of farther life in the mortal body which we do not overcome until we have passed beyond all types to the very being of the Infinite, One and Immortal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 161-164

The Gita’s View on Immortality

Liberation, as the Gita proposes it, was not meant to be an utter abandonment of life, existence, action and enjoyment. Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s sense: “…the distinction between the embodied soul subjected to the action of Nature by its enjoyment of her Gunas, qualities or modes and the Supreme Soul which dwells enjoying the Gunas, but not subject because it is itself beyond them, are the basis on which the Gita rests its whole idea of the liberated being made one in the conscious law of its existence with the Divine. That liberation, that oneness, that putting on of the divine nature, sadharmya, it declares to be the very essence of spiritual freedom and the whole significance of immortality.”

The Gita makes a distinction between the soul that takes and uses a physical form, and the form itself. Forms are ever in flux and undergoing change. Just as we change clothes when they are worn out, dirty or no longer serve the purpose for the proposed action, so the soul changes its physical form through the process of rebirth and takes up its evolutionary development of consciousness, until it eventually reaches the state where it has attained liberation through conscious oneness with the divine nature.

“…the soul bearing the body comes to a Pralaya”, to a disintegration of that form of matter with which its ignorance identified its being and which now dissolves into the natural elements. (Pralaya means dissolution, or disintegration, usually used in the sense of the universe undergoing a cessation or hiatus before re-emerging, but also used by the Gita to describe the individual soul’s putting off of bodies before taking on new ones.)

“But the soul persists and after an interval resumes in a new body formed from those elements its round of births in the cycle, just as after the interval of pause and cessation the universal Being resumes his endless round of the cyclic aeons. This immortality in the rounds of Time is common to all embodied spirits.”

This is however, not the ultimate sense that the Gita portrays, but rather a sort of successive recurrence. Immortality is not of the body, but of the soul, and it only truly comes about when the soul has achieved that state of awareness that identifies itself with the supreme status of the Spirit. “Liberation, immortality is to live in this unchangeably conscious eternal being of the Purushottama.”

“The divine Purshottama, who is the supreme Lord and supreme Brahman, possesses for ever this immortal eternity and is not affected by his taking up a body or by his continuous assumption of cosmic forms and powers because he exists always in this self-knowledge. His very nature is to be unchangeably conscious of his own eternity; he is self-aware without end or beginning.”

“But to arrive here at this greater spiritual immortality the embodied soul must cease to live according to the law of the lower nature; it must put on the law of the Divine’s supreme way of existence which is in fact the real law of its own eternal essence. In the spiritual evolution of its becoming, no less than in its secret original being, it must grow into the likeness of the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 407-408

The Aryan Path to Immortality

There is a lot of confusion, and many misconceptions, surrounding the concept of “immortality”. The popular conception involves expecting some kind of mysterious process to allow us to “live forever” in the current body. This of course, has no realistic meaning behind it. Many people have explored the variations on this theme over the years and determined that such a persistence would be meaningless and would in fact lead, not to upward progress, but to stagnation. The aspiration to overcome the power of Death is what drives this concept in its various forms.

The Bhagavad Gita, as would be expected from a deep and subtle teaching, takes a different approach to the question of immortality. Sri Aurobindo introduces the Gita’s conception of immortality: “The man who rises above the conception of himself as a life and a body, who does not accept the material and sensational touches of the world at their own value or at the value which the physical man attaches to them, who knows himself and all as souls, learns himself to live in his soul and not in his body and deals with others too as souls and not as mere physical beings. For by immortality is meant not the survival of death,–that is already given to every creature born with a mind,–but the transcendence of life and death.”

This brings us to Arjuna’s situation within the context of the teaching Sri Krishna is providing to him: “Whoever is subject to grief and sorrow, a slave to the sensations and emotions, occupied by the touches of things transient cannot become fit for immortality….To be disturbed by sorrow and horror as Arjuna has been disturbed, to be deflected by them from the path that has to be travelled, to be overcome by self-pity and intolerance of sorrow and recoil from the unavoidable and trivial circumstance of the death of the body, this is un-Aryan ignorance. It is not the way of the Aryan climbing in calm strength towards the immortal life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 7, The Creed of the Aryan Fighter, pp. 56-57,