Understanding the Need and Limitations for Rules and Guidelines in Social Interactions and Activity in the World

Finding and holding the right balance between the inner life and the outer action is one of the constant difficulties facing the seeker. In the ordinary human life, focus on the outer world and its demands takes precedence and there is little or no emphasis on an inner life. During this phase, there are several ways people address their existence. Some focus on trying to create an ordered life and harmony that pays attention to detail and tries to create an outer form of perfection. Others actually disregard this outer perfection and attempt to achieve enjoyment or some form of fulfillment, while treating the harmony and perfection of the intricate details as unimportant. Sometimes great emphasis is given to a specific form of development and other factors of life are simply set aside or disregarded. These extremes also play into the way that the spiritual seeker deals with the needs of life.

At certain stages as the yogic aspiration takes hold, the practitioner of yoga wants to abandon the outer life entirely in order to find spiritual realisation and liberation. For the practitioner of the integral yoga, which seeks to transform the outer life through the manifestation of a new level of consciousness, such an absolute renunciation of the world is not seen as the way. There must be a way to integrate the spiritual consciousness with the outer action. The nature of the supramental force implies a complete harmony and balance between all aspects, and an attention to detail that surpasses anything that the human mind can achieve.

Any action in the outer world also implies an interface with other individuals, some of whom share the same viewpoint and values, but many of whom have different ideas, visions and directions in mind. Setting of rules and guidelines for collective action becomes necessary to allow development to proceed. At the same time, the attempt to rigidly control others or enforce rules can lead to both resistance and the rising up of angry feelings which disturb the action of the Force. There must be a firm, yet flexible understanding of the subtle interactions and the stages of development of the outer work, so that the rules can both be applied and tempered with understanding and compassion from a higher perspective. Certainly the ego-consciousness of the individual cannot be the judge and enforcer of rules on others. Ideally guidelines and rules that are fair, balanced and meet the larger needs of cooperation will be promulgated and explained in such a way that they are generally adhered to by most, if not all, the members of the social body.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Rules are indispensable for the orderly management of work; for without order and arrangement nothing can be properly done, all becomes clash, confusion and disorder. … In all such dealings with others, you should see not only your own side of the question but the other side also. There should be no anger, vehement reproach or menace, for these things only raise anger and retort on the other side. I write this because you are trying to rise above yourself and dominate your vital and when one wants to do that, one cannot be too strict with oneself in these things. It is best even to be severe with one’s own mistakes and charitable to the mistakes of others.”

“A rule that can be varied by everyone at his pleasure is no rule. In all countries in which organised work is successfully done, (India is not one of them), rules exist and nobody thinks of breaking them, for it is realised that work (or life either) without discipline would soon become a confusion and an anarchic failure. It the great days of India everything was put under rule, even art and poetry, even yoga. Here in fact rules are much less rigid than in any European organisation. Personal discretion can even in a frame of rules have plenty of play — but discretion must be discreetly used, otherwise it becomes something arbitrary or chaotic.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Controlling the Ego in Ordinary Life and in Yoga

In the normal life of an individual in society, the ego is important, although it’s actions must be managed to permit people to find ways to work together and achieve results. Wherever we turn, we can see the benefits of keeping the ego in check and subordinating the individual’s role within a team or group dynamic. This is, however, not to say that the ego has no value or use in society. It is more a matter of degree and mode of expression that determines whether any collective effort will succeed or fail.

In the practice of the integral yoga, where the stated goal is to shift the standpoint from the normal human standpoint and the limited actions of mind-life-body, the ego stands as a stumbling block that restrains the progress and binds the individual to the lower nature. A shift from the ego-standpoint to the divine standpoint implies, not the ‘management’ of the ego, but its eventual elimination. This does not mean the elimination of the individual nexus of action, but the individual no longer considers himself separate and isolated from the rest of the creation, but simply one of an infinite number of individual viewpoints that together make up the totality of the action of consciousness in the universe. The individual is a power of expression for the Divine, not a separate entity and certainly not the point of reference for determining what action should be undertaken and in which manner.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “…even in ordinary life there must be a control over the vital and the ego — otherwise life would be impossible. Even many animals, those who live in groups, have their strict rules imposing a control on the play of the ego and those who disobey will have a bad time of it. The Europeans especially understand this and even though they are full of ego, yet when there is a question of team work or group life, they are adepts at keeping it in leash, even if it growls inside; it is the secret of their success. But in yoga life of course it is a question not of controlling ego but of getting rid of it and rising to a higher principle, so demand is much more strongly and insistently discouraged.”

“To be impersonal generally is not to be ego-centric, not to regard things from the point of view of how they affect oneself, but to see what things are in themselves, to judge impartially, to do what is demanded by the purpose of things or by the will of the Master of things, not by one’s own personal point of view or egoistic interest or ego-formed idea or feeling. In work it is to do what is best for the work, without regard to one’s own prestige or convenience, not to regard the work as one’s own but as the Mother’s, to do it according to rule, discipline, impersonal arrangement, even if conditions are not favourable to do the best according to the conditions, etc., etc. The impersonal worker his best capacity, zeal, industry into the work, but not his personal ambitions, vanity, passions. He has always something in view that is greater than his little personality and his devotion or obedience to that dictates his conduct.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

A Transitional Phase of Work in the Integral Yoga

For the practitioner of the integral yoga, any form of work represents an opportunity to discard the normal, habitual mode of action and replace it with the direct action of the Divine Force. This transition, however, is neither immediate nor completed all at once, so there is inevitably a phase where the mind, vital being and physical body continue to respond and act as they have been doing, and where incremental changes in the way they respond can aid in the change that is required.

Sri Aurobindo identifies the transitional steps by emphasizing the need to focus the energy and attention on the work at hand, not to waste time or energy rehashing the past work or anticipating potential future efforts.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Think of your work only when it is being done, not before and not after. Do not let your mind go back on a work that is finished. It belongs to the past and all re-handling of it is a waste of power. Do not let your mind labour in anticipation on a work that has to be done. The Power that acts in you will see to it at its own time. These two habits of the mind belong to a past functioning that the transforming Force is pressing to remove and the physical mind’s persistence in them is the cause of your strain and fatigue. If you can remember to let your mind work only when its action is needed, the strain will lessen and disappear. This is indeed the transitional movement before the supramental working takes possession of the physical mind and brings into it the spontaneous action of the Light.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Facing and Overcoming Self-Doubt and Internal Criticism

As the spiritual seeker develops the internal witness awareness, viewing the actions and reactions of the various parts of the being, it is frequently noted that the closeness of the view leads the aspirant to become overly critical of one’s own flaws, weaknesses, habits etc. This same type of perspective leads to the proverb in the outer life that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the street’. Distance provides more perspective and one does not fixate so intensely on the flaws.

Development of the witness consciousness does not imply, in and of itself, that the ego-standpoint has been reduced or minimized. As long as the standpoint remains fixed within the ego-consciousness, there can arise either a sense of puffed-up importance, or the sense of highly over-accentuated weakness or failure. When the consciousness shifts to the Divine standpoint, the evaluation of actions can take on a more balanced sense of perspective and there can be a reduction in the amount of self-doubt or inflated sense of importance that the ego brings to the review.

The more one concentrates on any specific movement, thought or action, the more power it tends to have over us, so the extreme focus on what are, after all, tiny details in a large process of transformation over time, simply increases the time needed and the strength of the opposition to be overcome eventually.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The difficulty you find results very much from your always worrying with your mind about things, thinking ‘This is wrong, that is wrong in me or my work’ and, as a result, ‘I am incompetent, I am bad, nothing can be done with me.’ Your embroidery work, your lampshades, etc. have always been very good, and yet you are always thinking, ‘this is bad work, that is wrong’ and by doing so, confuse yourself and get into a muddle. Naturally, you make a mistake now and then, but more when you worry like that than when you do things simply and confidently. “

“It is better whether with work or with sadhana to go on quietly, allowing the Force to act and doing your best to let it work rightly, but without this self-tormenting and constant restless questioning at every point. Whatever defects there are would go much sooner, if you did not harp on them too much; for by dwelling on them so much you lose confidence in yourself and in your power of openness to the Force — which is there all the same — and put unnecessary difficulties in the way of its working.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Success: Its Meaning, Measure and Ultimate Significance in the Supramental Transformation of Consciousness

We frequently identify success, as defined by our minds, as an indicator of divine Grace; yet this is driven in many cases by the ego, not by the larger viewpoint of the Divine. In a complex world that is undergoing evolutionary transformation driven by the manifestation of a new power of consciousness, the issue does not come down to immediate success of any particular line of action, but of how the total evolutionary process is taking up and addressing the obstacles, issues, concerns and needs that stand in the way of the manifestation. For the individual, this means giving up on the idea that personal success or failure is the criteria for viewing the development of the spiritual growth and progress.

In many instances, we find that there can be more progress in times of challenge. Facing and overcoming difficulties along the way brings the being to the peak of its capacity, and when faced with the overwhelming complexity of the supramental change, the only effective way to overcome the difficulties is through surrender of the individual ego to the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “For the sadhak outward struggles, troubles, calamities are only a means of surmounting ego and rajasic desire and attaining to complete surrender. So long as one insists on success, one is doing the work partly at least for the ego; difficulties and outward failures come to warn one that it is so and to bring complete equality. This does not mean that the power of victory is not to be acquired, but it is not success in the immediate work that is all-important; it is the power to receive and transmit a greater and greater correct vision and inner Force that has to be developed and this must be done quite coolly and patiently without being elated or disturbed by immediate victory or failure.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

How to Recognise and Respond to the Higher Guidance in Work

We are trained to think and act from the viewpoint of the ego-personality. When we take up the practice of integral yoga, however, we understand that the standpoint of action must shift so that we can become true instruments of the higher action of the divine force which is working to transform life on earth through the advent of a new consciousness and way of action. We then are confronted with the issue of how to receive this force and how to distinguish between the old way of thinking and acting, and the new direction that is in the process of manifesting.

Sri Aurobindo provides guidance on these questions:

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Openness in work means the same thing as openness in the consciousness. The same Force that works in your consciousness in meditation and clears away the cloud and confusion whenever you open to it, can also take up your action and not only make you aware of the defects in it but keep you conscious of what is to be done and guide your mind and hands to do it. If you open to it in your work, you will begin to feel this guidance more and more until behind all your activities you will be aware of the Force of the Mother.”

“If you want the consciousness for true actions very much and aspire for it, it may come in one of several ways: 1. You may get the habit or faculty of watching your movements in such a way that you see the impulse to action coming and can see too its nature. 2. A consciousness may come which feels uneasy whenever a wrong thought or impulse to action or feeling is there. 3. Something within you may warn and stop you when you are going to do the wrong action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Three Necessary Conditions to Receive and Act Under the Impulsion of the Divine Force

As long as we identify with the individual ego-personality, we remain bound to the limits of the body-life-mind complex. The action of the Divine Force under such conditions is necessarily diffused and diluted. The energy is mixed with the much more fragmentary and limited goals and objectives of the human individual and the result is thereby very much weakened.

The three conditions noted by Sri Aurobindo have the effect of minimizing the reactivity of the outer nature, focusing the attention on the higher force, and opening the receptivity to its action. As long as we are moved by the events of the outer life and shift our attention there, we are unable to break free of the framework that holds us captive to them. Quietude and equality are the foundations therefore to allow ourselves to move beyond this reactive state. Faith is required because we are necessarily giving up the “tried and true” methods and actions that accompany the normal human state of existence. Without faith, we will continuously fall back into the habitual and comfortable patterns that we have grown to rely on. The new mode and source of action is unproven to us, and thus, faith represents our willingness to trust that it will bring about the right result. Receptivity is the ability to open to the higher force and let it act through the nature.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To be able to receive the Divine Power and let it act through you in the things of the outward life, there are three necessary conditions: (i) Quietude, equality — not to be disturbed by anything that happens, to keep the mind still and firm, seeing the play of forces, but itself tranquil. (ii) Absolute faith — faith that what is for the best will happen, but also that if one can make oneself a true instrument, the fruit will be that which one’s will guided by the Divine Light sees as the thing to be done — kartavyam karma. (iii) Receptivity — the power to receive the Divine Force and to feel its presence and the presence of the Mother in it and allow it to work, guiding one’s sight and will and action. If this power and presence can be felt and this plasticity made the habit of the consciousness in action, — but plasticity to the Divine force alone without bringing in any foreign element, — the eventual result is sure.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Advanced Methods for Converting Work into Karma Yoga

Sri Aurobindo explores the methods of converting work into ‘karma yoga’ with several additional ways to approach this. The development of an inner ‘witness consciousness’, the purusha which is separate from the outer active nature, prakriti, is an intermediate stage beyond those which involve the individual remembering before and after the work takes place. Cultivation of this inner separation can aid both in developing a sense of constant peace as well as in being able to manage the reactions and responses of the outer nature eventually.

Another way is to move beyond the limits of the mind-life-body complex through the process of aspiration, focus and receptivity which reorients the motive force from within the normal human framework as a link is established for the higher divine Force to become active and undertake the work to be done from that standpoint.

Each method has its potential positive aspects, but in any case, time is needed for the needed changes in standpoint and reference center to occur and to become stable and solid as the modus of action of the individual nature.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “If you can’t as yet remember the Divine all the time you are wokring, it does not greatly matter. To remember and dedicate at the beginning and give thanks at the end ought to be enough for the present. Or at the most to remember too when there is a pause. Your method seems to me rather painful and difficult, — you seem to be trying to remember and work with one and the same part of the mind. I don’t know if that is possible. When people remember all the time during work (it can be done), it is usually with the back of their minds or else there is created gradually a faculty of double thought or else a double consciousness — one in front that works, and one within that witnesses and remembers. There is also another way which was mine for a long time — a condition in which the work takes place automatically and without intervention of personal thought or mental action, while the consciousness remains silent in the Divine. The thing, however, does not come so much by trying as by a very simple constant aspiration and will of consecration — or else by a movement of the consciousness separating the inner from the instrumental being. Aspiration and will of consecration calling down a greater Force to do the work is a method which brings great results, even if in some it takes a long time about it. That is a great secret of sadhana, to know how to get things done by the Power behind or above instead of doing all by the mind’s effort. I don’t mean to say that the mind’s effort is unnecessary or has no result — only if it tries to do everything by itself, that becomes a laborious effort for all except the spiritual athletes. Nor do I mean that the other method is the longed-for short cut; the result may, as I have said, take a long time. Patience and firm resolution are necessary in every method of sadhana. … Strength is all right for the strong — but aspiration and the Grace answering to it are not altogether myths; they are great realities of the spiritual life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Two Introductory Methods to Develop Remembrance in Work

Development of the inner attitude of dedication, and remembrance of the Divine in work is a progressive process. Initially, most people are unable to actively keep the focus and remembrance while concurrently concentrating on the work at hand. Sri Aurobindo introduces two methods to begin to integrate the aspiration and focus on the Divine into the daily work that one undertakes. These initial steps prepare for the deeper integration of work and consecration that come thereafter.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “All the difficulties you describe are quite natural things common to most people. It is easy for one, comparatively, to remember and be conscious when one sits quiet in meditation; it is difficult when one has to be busy with work. The remembrance and consciousness in work have to come by degrees, you must not expect to have it all at once; nobody can get it all at once. It comes in two ways, — first, if one practices remembering the Mother and offering the work to her each time one does something (not all the time one is doing, but at the beginning or whenever one can remember,) then that slowly becomes easy and habitual to the nature. Secondly, by the meditation an inner consciousness begins to develop which, after a time, not at once or suddenly, becomes more and more automatically permanent. One feels this as a separate consciousness from that outer which works. At first this separate consciousness is not felt when one is working, but as soon as the work stops one feels it was there all the time watching from behind; afterwards it begins to be felt during the work itself, as if there were two parts of oneself — one watching and supporting from behind and remembering the Mother and offering to her and the other doing the work. When this happens, then to work with the true consciousness becomes more and more easy.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

The Process of Turning Work into Yogic Practice

The Bhagavad Gita proclaims that ‘yoga is skill in works’. The type of focused concentrated effort that comes about through a yogic practice is an essential aspect of completing any task skillfully. It does not imply, however, that all ‘skill in works’ is necessarily yoga, unless by that one includes the secret yoga of nature that prepares the being for union with the Divine through the long, slow process of evolutionary development. We can easily recognise that there are people who are extraordinarily skillful in their work, but the work is purely for negative or retrogressive activities for self-aggrandisement and the expansion of the ego. For work to be transformed into conscious yoga, there must be a conscious intention to turn that work into yoga, with the consecration of the effort and the application of the entire being’s energies and focus on that effort.

There is no type of work that is ‘better’ than another in terms of making the work itself a yogic process. There is frequently a misidentification of certain types of service as being expressions of yoga, with other forms of work relegated to a need to earn one’s living or support one’s family and community. This is an artificial duality that actually detracts from the ability of the seeker to turn work into yoga. That is not meant to denigrate the value of works of service or support of humanity’s needs for food, clothing, health, comfort etc.; yet the activities that support such generally positive results are not necessarily done from the yogic perspective with the inner dedication and attitude that converts even the smallest action into an expression of dedication to the Divine Presence.

The determining factor is the inner relationship of the individual to the work and an inner connection to the consecration needed to stay in contact with and focused on the Divine at all times. This process is progressive. The more one does it, the easier it gets to hold the remembrance and focus and stay ‘tuned’ to the Divine at all times.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There should be not only a general attitude, but each work should be offered to the Mother so as to keep the attitude a living one all the time. There should be at the time of work no meditation, for that would withdraw the attention from the work, but there should be the constant memory of the One to whom you offer it. This is only a first process; for when you can have constantly the feeling of a calm being within concentrated in the sense of the Divine Presence while the surface mind does the work, or when you can begin to feel always that it is the Mother’s force that is doing the work and you are only a channel or an instrument, then in place of memory there will have begun the automatic constant realisation of Yoga, divine union, in works. … It is not at first easy to remember the presence in work; but if one revives the sense of the presence immediately after the work is over it is all right. In time the sense of the presence will become automatic even in work.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145