The Method of the Soul’s Emergence Through the Field of Action in the World

Emergence of the soul in the individual’s life and actions in the world requires more than just the mental experiences or even the heart’s devotion: the effectuating will in action must be harnessed to the truth that the seeker sees and feels inwardly.  This may begin with a feeling of consecration of action, but eventually, the ego-sense and the motivation of the force of desire must be replaced by the sense that the work comes from the divine, is guided and directed by the divine, and carries out the divine purpose in the world.  Those who practice this harnessing of the vital force in life practice what is commonly known as Karma Yoga, the Yoga of works.

This consecration is not strictly limited to actions of the mind or the heart’s devotional turn; rather it encompasses eventually all actions that an individual can take up in the world.  There is no distinction to be made, in the inner attitude, between sacred activities and secular activities:  in this process all activities eventually are fulfillment of the divine Will in the world and thus, aligned with divine purpose.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “This larger change can be partly attained by adding to the experiences of the heart a consecration of the pragmatic will which must succeed in carrying with it — for otherwise it cannot be effective, — the adhesion of the dynamic vital part which supports the mental dynamis and is our first instrument of outer action.  This consecration of the will in works proceeds by a gradual elimination of the ego-will and its motive-power of desire; the ego subjects itself to some higher law and finally effaces itself, seems not to exist or exists only to serve a higher Power or a higher Truth or to offer its will and acts to the Divine Being as an instrument.  The law of being and action or the light of Truth which then guides the seeker, may be a clarity or power or principle which he perceives on the highest height of which his mind is capable; or it may be a truth of the divine Will which he feels present and working within him or guiding him by a Light or a Voice or a Force or a Divine Person or Presence.  In the end by this way one arrives at a consciousness in which one feels the Force or Presence acting within and moving or governing all the actions and the personal will is entirely surrendered or identified with that greater Truth-Will, Truth-Power or Truth-Presence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pg. 69

Intermediate Realisations and Levels of Consciousness Are Not the Supramental Manifestation

Sri Aurobindo undertook detailed and precise review of the various experiences, planes of consciousness and realisations that arise in the course of the practice of the Yoga. He is therefore careful to distinguish between one or another level or aspect of the spiritual growth of the seeker and the ultimate realisation of the supramental consciousness, which, as previously noted, is an “ultimate” not an “immediate” aim or goal. He raises this issue at some length to help avoid the leap, so rewarding to the egoistic consciousness and mind of man, that any escape from the framework of body-life-mind into something higher or deeper represents some kind of experience or expression of this higher realisation.

“To reach supermind it is not enough to go above the ordinary movements of the human mind; it is not enough to receive a greater light, a greater power, a greater joy or to develop capacities of knowledge, sight, effective will that surpass the normal range of the human being. All light is not the light of the spirit, still less is all light the light of the supermind; the mind, the vital, the physical itself have lights of their own, as yet hidden, which can be very inspiring, exalting, informative, powerfully executive. A breaking out into the cosmic consciousness may also bring in an immense enlargement of the consciousness and power. An opening into the inner mind, inner vital, inner physical, any range of the subliminal consciousness, can liberate an activity of abnormal or supernormal powers of knowledge, action or experience which the uninstructed mind can easily mistake for spiritual revelations, inspirations, intuitions. An opening upward into the greater ranges of the higher mental being can bring down much light and force creating an intense activity of the intuitivised mind and life-power or an ascent into these ranges can bring a true but still incomplete light easily exposed to mixture, a light which is spiritual in its source, though it does not always remain spiritual in its active character when it comes down into the lower nature. But none of these things is the supramental light, the supramental power; that can only be seen and grasped when we have reached the summits of mental being, entered into overmind and stand on the borders of an upper, a greater hemisphere of spiritual existence.”

“To imagine that we have reached such a condition when we are still moving in the dynamics of the Ignorance, though it may be an enlightened or illumined Ignorance, is to lay ourselves open either to a disastrous misleading or to an arrest of the evolution of the being. For if it is some inferior state that we thus mistake for the supermind, it lays us open to all the dangers we have seen to attend a presumptuous egoistic haste in our demand for achievement.”

“Even the achievement of a complete inner liberation and a high spiritual consciousness is not that supreme transformation; for we may have that achievement, a status perfect in itself, in essence, and still our dynamic parts may in their instrumentation belong to an enlightened spiritualised mind and may be in consequence, like all mind, defective even in its greater power and knowledge, still subject to a partial or local obscuration or a limitation by the original circumscribing nescience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 269-270

Attainment of the Supramental Consciousness Is Not the Immediate Goal of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It must also be kept in mind that the supramental change is difficult, distant, an ultimate stage; it must be regarded as the end of a far-off vista; it cannot be and must not be turned into a first aim, a constantly envisaged goal or an immediate objective. For it can only come into the view of possibility after much arduous self-conquest and self-exceeding, at the end of many long and trying stages of a difficult self-evolution of the nature.”

If the seeker reflects on the actual operation of his body-life-mind and ego-personality, he will see the many present issues, concerns, limitations and difficulties that need to be systematically worked on and overcome in order to move the consciousness beyond the level at which human beings tend to operate. “One must first acquire an inner Yogic consciousness and replace by it our ordinary view of things, natural movements, motives of life; one must revolutionise the whole present build of our being.”

This transformation must continually proceed to the deepest levels of the being and the well-spring of unconscious and subconscious habitual actions and motives that drive most of the life-action. Sri Aurobindo calls for the psychic transformation that opens up all the inner motive-forces of the life and turns them toward the Divine. Thereafter comes the descent and action of the higher Light and Force to spiritualise and refine the action by removing the boundaries set by the ego-consciousness. “Then only the passage into the supramental consciousness begins to become possible, and even then there is a difficult ascent to make each stage of which is a separate arduous achievement.”

All of this takes time, and even the concentrated effort of a life dedicated to yogic practice does not eliminate this time requirement: “Yoga is a rapid and concentrated conscious evolution of the being, but however rapid, even though it may effect in a single life what in an instrumental Nature might take centuries and milleniums or many hundreds of lives, still all evolution must move by stages; even the greatest rapidity and concentration of the movement cannot swallow up all the stages or reverse natural process and bring the end near to the beginning.”

Sri Aurobindo cautions strongly against the attempt to “storm the gates”, so to speak. This could lead to “…a fatal self-inflation into an unnatural unhuman and undivine bigness of magnified ego. If the being is small, the nature weak and incapable, there is not this large-scale disaster; but a loss of balance, a mental unhinging and fall into unreason or a vital unhinging and consequent moral aberration or a deviation into some kind of morbid abnormality of the nature may be the untoward consequence. This is not a Yoga in which abnormality of any kind, even if it be an exalted abnormality, can be admitted as a way to self-fulfilment or spiritual realisation. Even when one enters into supernormal and suprarational experience, there should be no disturbance of the poise which must be kept firm from the summit of the consciousness to its base; the experiencing consciousness must preserve a calm balance, an unfailing clarity and order in its observation, a sort of sublimated commonsense, an unfailing power of self-criticism, right discrimination, co-ordination and firm vision of things; a sane grasp on facts and a high spiritualised positivism must always be there. it is not by becoming irrational or infrarational that one can go beyond ordinary nature into supernature; it should be done by passing through reason to a greater light of superreason. This superreason descends into reason and takes it up into higher levels even while breaking its limitations; reason is not lost but changes and becomes its own true unlimited self, a coordinating power of the supernature.”

These warnings underline the need for patience, balance and steady effort and the understanding of the enormous changes required and the time needed to carry them out in the nature. That is why Sri Aurobindo indicates that the seeker should not fixate on achieving the supermind as the immediate focus or goal.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 267-269

Attaining the Supermind Is Not the Object of the Integral Yoga

There is a danger which arises when the vital ego of man tries to associate itself with any great ideal or progress, as is represented by the ascent to the supramental level of consciousness. This danger can lead to pride, arrogance and the feeling of superiority that can look down on others and other paths, and which may lead to complacency in the effort. As we see from the history of humanity, the appeal of attaining new and greater powers, new and greater knowledge, some form of “supermanhood” is something that is quite attractive to the ego-personality. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the attainment of the supermind is not the goal but a means towards a divine realisation and action.

“It is a mistake to think, as many are apt to think, that the object of a supramental Yoga is to arrive at a mighty magnificence of a supermanhood, a divine power and greatness, the self-fulfilment of a magnified individual personality. This is a false and disastrous conception,–disastrous because it is likely to raise the pride, vanity and ambition of the rajasic vital mind in us and that, if not overpassed and overcome, must lead to spiritual downfall, false because it is an egoistic conception and the first condition of the supramental change is to get rid of ego. it is most dangerous for the active and dynamic nature of the man of will and works which can easily be led away by the pursuit of power.”

It is therefore essential to remain focused on the true goal of the yoga, for which the ascent to the supramental level is a means, not the end itself: “The sole aim is a spiritual perfection, a finding of the true self and a union with the Divine by putting on the divine consciousness and nature. All the rest is constituent detail and attendant circumstance. Ego-centric impulses, ambition, desire of power and greatness, motives of self-assertion are foreign to this greater consciousness and would be an insuperable bar against any possibility of even a distant approach towards the supramental change. One must lose one’s little lower self to find the greater self. Union with the Divine must be the master motive; even the discovery of the truth of one’s own being and of all being, life in that truth and its greater consciousness, perfection of the nature are only natural results of that movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 266-267

The Key Role of the Supramental Consciousness In the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo has identified a status of consciousness that mediates between the upper hemisphere of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, and the lower hemisphere of Body-Life-Mind. The characteristics of the upper hemisphere are pure existence, absolute knowledge and power, and unadulterated bliss. It is absolute, eternal, and infinite. The characteristics of the lower hemisphere are fragmentation and limitation, division and the consequent ignorance, weakness and suffering. The upper is the ultimate cause and substance from which the lower is created. Between the two there is the level of consciousness which Sri Aurobindo terms the “supramental” consciousness. While maintaining the characteristics of a Truth-Consciousness, this mediating level is able to take the “undivided” and parcel it out into individual forms, beings and powers. It acts something like a step-down transformer which takes the energy generated from a major electricity generator and cuts it back to a level that the individual transmitting wires and the receiving stations can handle and utilize without burning up from the pure, unadulterated energy.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “For the supermind is a Truth-Consciousness in which the Divine Reality, fully manifested, no longer works with the instrumentation of the Ignorance; a truth of status of being which is absolute becomes dynamic in a truth of energy and activity of the being which is self-existent and perfect. Every movement there is a movement of the self-aware truth of Divine Being and every part is in entire harmony with the whole. Even the most limited and finite action is in the Truth-Consciousness a movement of the Eternal and Infinite.”

Whatever specific steps a yogic process takes in the seeker, whether through the path of knowledge, devotion or works, the initial goal is to make a conscious connection with the Divine. In the integral Yoga there is the additional aspect of both accepting the manifestation as the omnipresent reality of the Divine and becoming an instrument of its evolutionary transformation from a state of ignorance, fragmentation and limitation to a state of knowledge, power and Oneness. “But the path, whatever its point of starting, must debouch into a vaster dominion; it must proceed in the end through a totality of integrated knowledge, emotion, will of dynamic action, perfection of the being and the entire nature. In the supramental consciousness, on the level of the supramental existence this integration becomes consummate; there knowledge, will, emotion, the perfection of the self and the dynamic nature rise each to its absolute of itself and all to their perfect harmony and fusion with each other, to a divine integrality, a divine perfection.”

It is the attainment of this level of consciousness that represents the key to the integral Yoga: “An ascent into the supramental Truth not only raises our spiritual and essential consciousness to that height but brings about a descent of this Light and Truth into all our being and all our parts of nature. All then becomes part of the Divine Truth, an element and means of the supreme union and oneness; this ascent and descent must be therefore an ultimate aim of this Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 265-266

The Paths Of Knowledge, Devotion and Works Join In the Integral Yoga

Historically, individual seekers have been drawn to one or another of the paths of yoga, primarily based on their own inner predilections, readiness and openness, which brought about an introduction to and opportunity to take up the practice of one of the paths. Each of the paths had its own focus, practices, and end results for the sincere seeker.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the three paths as follows: “In the Way of Knowledge we may arrive at a point where we can leap out of personality and universe, escape from all thought and will and works and all way of Nature and, absorbed and taken up into Eternity, plunge into the Transcendence; that, though not obligatory on the God-knower, may be the soul’s decision, the term pursued by the self within us.”

“In the Way of Devotion we may reach through an intensity of adoration and joy union with the supreme All-Beloved and remain eternally in the ecstasy of his presence, absorbed in him alone, intimately in one world of bliss with him; that then may be our being’s impulsion, its spiritual choice.”

“But in the Way of Works another prospect opens; for travelling on that path, we can enter into liberation and perfection by becoming of one law and power of nature with the Eternal; we are identified with him in our will and dynamic self as much as in our spiritual status; a divine way of works is the natural outcome of this union; a divine living in a spiritual freedom the body of its self-expression.”

“In the Integral Yoga these three lines of approach give up their exclusions, meet and coalesce or spring out of each other; liberated from the mind’s veil over the self, we live in the Transcendence, enter by the adoration of the heart into the oneness of a supreme love and bliss, and all our forces of being uplifted into the one Force, our will and works surrendered into the one Will and Power, assume the dynamic perfection of the divine Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 263-264

The Ultimate Status Of the Integral Yoga of Works

The almost universally accepted purpose of spiritual practices has been stated as the liberation of the individual soul. There have been variations in the exact terminology and sense of that liberation. Some hold that it is to dissolve the individual’s bondage to the chain of cause and effect in the outer world; some use the practice to develop powers and benefits within the world itself; some hold that it is to free oneself from the illusory nature of the external world; some say it is to become one with the Absolute in an unchanging status of Oneness; some hold it is to escape this world of growing and testing to transition into higher spheres or worlds or states of consciousness and leave this world behind. There are many other variations on this theme.

Sri Aurobindo, however, does not accept any of these as the true purpose of spiritual practice. “The truest reason why we must seek liberation is not to be delivered, individually, from the sorrow of the world, though that deliverance too will be given to us, but that we may be one with the Divine, the Supreme, the Eternal. The truest reason why we must seek perfection, a supreme status, purity, knowledge, strength, love, capacity, is not that personally we may enjoy the divine Nature or be even as the gods, though that enjoyment too will be ours, but because this liberation and perfection are the divine Will in us, the highest truth of our self in Nature, the always intended goal of a progressive manifestation in the universe. The divine Nature, free and perfect and blissful, must be manifested in the individual in order that it may manifest in the world. Even in the Ignorance the individual lives really in the universal and for the universal Purpose, for in the very act of pursuing the purposes and desires of his ego, he is forced by Nature to contribute by his egoistic action to her work and purpose in the worlds…”

Sri Aurobindo looks at this entire spiritual action from the standpoint of the Divine to see its truer, deeper and wider purposes, which the individual standpoint can scarcely be expected to comprehend. “To escape from ego and be united with the Divine is at once the liberation and the consummation of his individuality; so liberated, purified, perfected, the individual–the divine soul–lives consciously and entirely, as was from the first intended, in and for the cosmic and transcendent Divine and for his Will in the universe.”

“A divine action arising spontaneously, freely, infallibly from the light and force of our spiritual self in union with the Divine is the last state of this integral Yoga of Works.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 262-263

The Fulfilment Of God In the World

The individual entirely immersed in the ego and the external world will find it virtually impossible to recognize and follow the inner promptings of the soul in man. Sri Aurobindo observes: “We cannot, however, easily distinguish this true inner law of our being; it is kept screened from us so long as the heart and intellect remain unpurified from egoism: till then we follow superficial and impermanent ideas, impulses, desires, suggestions and impositions of all kinds from our environment or work out formations of our temporary mental, vital, physical personality–that passing experimental and structural self which has been made for us by an interaction between our being and the pressure of a lower cosmic Nature.”

As the process develops and the seeker begins to loosen the bond of ego and the force of desire, it becomes possible to distinguish this inner signal from the noise of the external being. “…our will is less entangled in suggestions from outside or shut up in our own superficial mental constructions.”

The further the seeker proceeds in eliminating the force of egoism, the more strongly can the inner soul assert itself. “…action will come from the soul’s dictates, from the depths or the heights of the spirit, or it will be openly governed by the Lord who was all the time seated secretly within our hearts.”

It is at this stage that the Gita’s ultimate dictum becomes operative and the seeker is no longer to be bound by mental rules, social customs and expectations, or habitual patterns of action. The seeker responds to the Divine alone. “Free from desire and attachment, one with all beings, living in the infinite Truth and Purity and acting out of the profoundest deeps of his inner consciousness, governed by his immortal, divine and highest Self, all his works will be directed by the Power within through that essential spirit and nature in us which, knowing, warring, working, loving, serving, is always divine, towards the fulfilment of God in the world, an expression of the Eternal in Time.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pg. 262

The Deeper Sense of the Gita’s Teaching on the Law of Works

Sri Aurobindo observes that the Gita is commonly interpreted to fix an individual’s works by the caste he is born into, his position in society, or other external factors, but that this does not represent the deeper sense that the Gita is trying to convey. The Gita expressly points out that all the external factors cannot be determinative, and that one must abandon all these external laws or Dharmas and adhere to the spiritual truth of the being, the inner soul-reality, to find the work to be done.

Taking up this theme, Sri Aurobindo states: “It is this deeper sense in which we must accept the dictum of the Gita that action determined and governed by the nature must be our law of works. it is not, certainly, the superficial temperament or the character or habitual impulses that are meant, but in the literal sense of the Sanskrit word our “own being”, our essential nature, the divine stuff of our souls. Whatever springs from this root or flows from these sources is profound, essential, right; the rest–opinions, impulses, habits, desires–may be merely surface formations or casual vagaries of the being or impositions from outside. They shift and change but this remains constant. it is not the executive forms taken by Nature in us that are ourselves or the abidingly constant and expressive shape of ourselves, it is the spiritual being in us–and this includes the soul-becoming of it–that persists through time in the universe.”

The rigidity of the external forms that have developed over the centuries is not the deeper sense of the Gita’s teaching on the law of works. When the Gita asks the seeker to give up attachment to the outer forms, laws, codes and standards and adhere to the inner spiritual truth of the being that is One with the Divine being in manifestation, it moves us immediately away from all these external interpretations. There may be various key developed talents and temperaments that the individual puts into practice, but these do not define the soul, nor limit the soul in its growth and evolutionary potential. They may be utilized for a time and then abandoned when the next stage of the development is prepared and ready to manifest. Rigid distinctions based on race, gender, birth, caste, religious background all must give way to the deeper inner truth of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 261-262

The Action Of the Liberated Soul Spontaneously Fulfills the Spiritual Truth Of Our Being

We live in a world of rules, codes and standards of conduct. As long as we are still working within the physical-vital-mental framework of the ordinary outer life, these standards are essential to help both the individual to mature and the society to survive and thrive. When an individual reaches the point where he is prepared to go beyond the mental limitations and external rules, because he has embarked on a spiritual journey and quest, these outer rules can no longer be determinative for his action. The ideas of “duty” and “morality” and “societal expectation” are all relative terms based in the outer life, and do not take into account the higher spiritual impetus that occurs when the soul becomes liberated.

Sri Aurobindo takes up the discussion: “It is altogether from within that must come the knowledge of the work that has to be done. There is no particular work, no law or form or outwardly fixed or invariable way of works which can be said to be that of the liberated being. The phrase used in the Gita to express this work that has to be done has indeed been interpreted in the sense that we must do our duty without regard to the fruit. But this is a conception born of European culture which is ethical rather than spiritual and external rather than inwardly profound in its concepts. No such general thing as duty exists; we have only duties, often in conflict with each other, and these are determined by our environment, our social relations, our external status in life. They are of great value in training the immature moral nature and setting up a standard which discourages the action of selfish desire. It has already been said that as long as the seeker has no inner light, he must overn himself by the best light he has, and duty, a principle, a cause are among the standards he may temporarily erect and observe. But for all that, duties are external things, not stuff of the soul and cannot be the ultimate standard of action in this path.”

This is in fact the dilemma that Arjuna faced when he found all the principles, duties and expectations of his position in society coming into conflict and he could not determine the right direction based on his ethical, moral or social sense of duty. It was at this point that Sri Krishna asked him to “abandon all Dharmas” and act from the spontaneous inner sense that arose from complete surrender and identification with the higher spiritual truth of the Purushottama, the Divine Being manifesting the evolutionary development of the world.

“On the other hand, to love or have compassion, to obey the highest truth of our being, to follow the command of the Divine are not duties; these things are a law of the nature as it rises towards the Divine, an outflowing of action from a soul-state, a high reality of the spirit. The action of the liberated doer of works must be even such an outflowing from the soul; it must come to him or out of him as a natural result of his spiritual union with the Divine and not be formed by an edifying construction of the mental thought and will, the practical reason or the social sense.”

“But in the last state of the soul’s infinity and freedom all outward standards are replaced or laid aside and there is left only a spontaneous and integral obedience to the Divine with whom we are in union and an action spontaneously fulfilling the integral spiritual truth of our being and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 260-261