To Be a Human Centre of the Divine Manifestation on Earth

In his major work The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo starts from an understanding that the basic aspirations that arise in the human soul from time immemorial, the seeking for “God, Light, Freedom, Immortality” represent a secret motive force that impels our evolution and action in this world.  His conclusion there was that the future of humanity holds out the promise of a divine life on earth, based on the manifestation of the next level of consciousness that can solve the contradictions that arise from the limits of the mental consciousness and its attempt to control and direct the vital and physical aspects of life.

If we follow the guidance provided by the Isha and Kena Upanishads, and do not abandon earthly life in pursuit of the Absolute, but accept it and work to integrate the awareness of the Supreme with the perceptions and actions that accompany daily life, then we accept that the manifestation has a significance and a purpose that is not opposed to the supreme Brahman, but rather, is part of the Existence that is the Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “To assist in the lesser victories of the gods which must prepare the supreme victory of the Brahman may well be and must be in some way or other a part of our task; but the greatest helpfulness of all is this, to be a human centre of the Light, the Glory, the Bliss, the Strength, the Knowledge of the Divine Existence, one through whom it shall communicate itself lavishly to other men and attract by its magnet of delight their souls to that which is the Highest.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 189-190


The Seeker’s Commitment to the External Manifestation

The Buddhist conception of the Bodhisattva, the enlightened soul who refuses to enter into the dissolution of Nirvana “until all other beings attain enlightenment” sets forth a high ideal for the spiritual seeker which acknowledges the Absolute, while at the same time, recognizing the need for the realized soul to remain active in the world of manifestation “for the good of all creatures”.  The idea of individual salvation represents in its deepest sense a “duality”, a separation between the Eternal and the created universe; but the ultimate Oneness implies that the Eternal Absolute and the world of forms, forces and actions, are unified and thus, there is a purpose or significance to this world that all those that abide in it have a role to carry out.  The attainment of Oneness with Brahman, therefore, does not either imply nor necessitate a withdrawal entirely from the actions of the world; rather it implies the opposite, the need to remain engaged and act for the “good of all creatures”.

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “Fortunately, there is no need to go to such lengths and deny one side of the truth in order to establish another.  The Upanishad itself suggests the door of escape from any over-emphasis in its own statement of the truth.  For the man who knows and possesses the supreme Brahman as the transcendent Beatitude becomes a centre of that delight to which all his fellows shall come, a well from which they can draw the divine waters.  Here is the clue that we need.  The connection with the universe is preserved for the one reason which supremely justifies that connection; it must subsist not from the desire of personal earthly joy, as with those who are still bound, but for help to all creatures.  Two then are the objects of the high-reaching soul, to attain the Supreme and to be for ever for the good of all the world, — even as Brahman Himself; whether here or elsewhere, does not essentially matter.  Still where the struggle is thickest, there should be the hero of the spirit, that is surely the highest choice of the son of Immortality; the earth calls most, because it has most need of him, to the sol that has become one with the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 189

Overcoming the Lure of an Exclusive Concentration on Individual Salvation

The power of an exclusive concentration cannot be underestimated.  The ability to block out distractions and devote the full attention to a particular subject or practice has brought about enormous progress in all fields of human life.  It is therefore not surprising that when it was necessary for humanity to focus on the Absolute, the use of an exclusive concentration would be recommended.  This is the underlying basis for the “refusal of the ascetic” which insists that the seeker must abandon the life of the world to achieve the truth of the Spirit.  It is also true, however, that every form of exclusive concentration must eventually be integrated into a larger wholistic development that takes the fruits of that effort and harmonises them with the more comprehensive view of human life and the other needs of human life.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It was necessary at one time to insist even exclusively on the idea of individual salvation so that the sense of a Beyond might be driven into man’s mentality…  But as the lures of earth have to be conquered, so also have the lures of heaven. … The lure of a release from birth and death and withdrawal from the cosmic labour must also be rejected, as it was rejected by Mahayanist Buddhism which held compassion and helpfulness to be greater than Nirvana.  As the virtues we practice must be done without demand of earthly or heavenly reward, so the salvation we seek must be purely internal and impersonal; it must be the release from egoism, the union with the Divine, the realisation of our universality as well as our transcendence, and no salvation should be valued which takes us away from the love of God in his manifestation and the help we can give to the world.  If need be, it must be taught for a time, ‘Better this hell with our other suffering selves than a solitary salvation.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 188-189

The Need of Fulfillment for the Individual and for the Human Race

The path of renunciation of the world to achieve spiritual fulfillment for the individual has adherents throughout the world.  This path represents a “one pointed” concentration on achieving the goal of oneness with the silent, unmoving Brahman.  Few are those capable of treading this path, which leaves the rest of humanity without a meaningful path for actual fulfillment.  Either they have to simply immerse themselves in the life of the world and its pleasures and rewards, or they accept at some level the need for renunciation and thus live a conflicted life or enter into a form of depression due to inability to achieve any real goal in a world of illusion.

There is a long history in various traditions of a “kingdom of heaven on earth” or some similar concept, which represents the transformation of human life into something which truly reflects the spiritual evolutionary process and enhances the harmony.  Some call it the Golden Age, some call it the Age of Truth, some the City of God, but whatever it is called, it implies a transformation in the life of the race and of the society.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Vedic gospel of a supreme victory in heaven and on earth for the divine in man, the Christian gospel of a kingdom of God and divine city upon earth, the Puranic idea of progressing Avataras ending in the kingdom of the perfect and the restoration of the Golden Age, not only contain behind their forms a profound truth, but they are necessary to the religious sense in mankind.  Without it the teaching of the vanity of human life and of a passionate fleeing and renunciation can only be powerful in passing epochs or else on the few strong souls in each eage that are really capable of these things.  The rest of humanity will either reject the creed which makes that its foundation or ignore it in practice while professing it in precept or else must sink under the weight of its own impotence and the sense of the illusion of life or of the curse of God upon the world as mediaeval Christendom sank into ignorance and obscurantism or later India into stagnant torpor and the pettiness of a life of aimless egoism.  The promise for the individual is well, but the promise for the race is also needed.  Our father Heaven must remain bright with the hope of deliverance, but also our mother Earth must not feel herself for ever accursed.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 188

The Piece of the Puzzle Missing in the Later Upanishads

The human tendency to exclusive concentration had an influence on the development of the later Upanishads.  Having discovered and explicated the transcendent Absolute, the Brahman, the Upanishads began to focus exclusively on this realisation and left behind the offsetting and balancing impact of the equally important realisation that “all this is the Brahman.”  This led more and more to an exclusive concentration on individual salvation through renunciation of the life of the world and the rise of Mayavada.  The Veda and the earlier Upanishads recognised the universal creation and its importance, and treated the individual realisation as a step along the path of a divine victory for the universal.  Sri Aurobindo reminds us of the need to circle back to this more balanced approach:

“Now certainly there is an emphasis in the Upanishads increasing steadily as time goes on into an over-emphasis, on the salvation of the individual, on his rejection of the lower cosmic life.  This note increases in them as they become later in date, it swells afterwards into the rejection of all cosmic life whatever and that becomes finally in later Hinduism almost the one dominant and all-challenging cry.  It does not exist in the earlier Vedic revelation where individual salvation is regarded as a means towards a great cosmic victory, the eventual conquest of heaven and earth by the supeconscient Truth and Bliss and those who have achieved the victory in the past are the conscious helpers of their yet battling posterity. … The Upanishad alone of extant scriptures gives us without veil or stinting, with plenitude and a noble catholicity the truth of the Brahman; its aid to humanity is therefore indispensable.  Only, where anything essential is missing, we must go beyond the Upanishads to seek it, — as for instance when we add to its emphasis on divine knowledge the indispensable ardent emphasis of the later teachings upon divine love and the high emphasis of the Veda upon divine works.”

In his major work on yoga, The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo takes up the challenge he sets forth here by systematically reviewing and integrating the Yoga of Works, the Yoga of Knowledge, the Yoga of Divine Love and the Yoga of Self-Perfection.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 187-188

Renunciation of the World Is Not the Answer to the Riddle of Our Existence

The gospel of renunciation, the refusal of the ascetic, is grounded in the idea of individual salvation.  The fate of the universal creation is irrelevant for someone whose sole goal is to escape from that creation and unite with the silent, unmoving Absolute.  This leaves us, however, with the issue of whether there is a purpose to this universal creation.  Why should the Divine Consciousness go to all the trouble of creating this complex, massive universe simply to set up a goal of escape from it?  The Vedantic tradition eventually embraced the concept of “mayavada”, the illusionary status of the world of action and desire.  But we see in a number of the earlier Upanishads, those closer to the Vedic source, such as the Isha, the Kena and the Taittiriya Upanishads, that there is no final sole focus on the path of the renunciate; on the contrary, they appear to take the view that “this too is the Brahman”, and thus, we are called on to participate in the action of the world.  We see a similar approach arise in the Bhagavad Gita when Sri Krishna encourages Arjuna to carry out his role in the world as an action sanctioned by and actively supported by the Supreme Self, the Purushottama.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Well then may we ask, we the modern humanity more and more conscious of the inner warning of that which created us, be it Nature or God, that there is a work for the race, a divine purpose in its creation which exceeds the salvation of the individual soul, because the universal is as real or even more real than the individual, we who feel more and more, in the language of the Koran, that the Lord did not create heaven and earth in a jest, that Brahman did not begin dreaming this world-dream in a moment of aberration and delirium, — well may we ask whether this gospel of individual salvation is all the message even of this purer, earlier, more catholic Vedanta.  If so, then Vedanta at its best is a gospel for the saint, the ascetic, the monk, the solitary, but it has not a message which the widening consciousness of the world can joyfully accept as the word for which it was waiting.  For there is evidently something vital that has escaped it, a profound word of the riddle of existence from which it has turned its eyes or which it was unable or thought it not worth while to solve.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 186-187

The Realisation of the One Self in All Existences

The Upanishads declare a number of truths that, on their surface, appear to be somewhat contradictory, but viewed from another standpoint, make absolute sense.  On the one hand, the Absolute Brahman is viewed as unknowable, beyond anything that the limited mind and senses of a human being can possibly comprehend, and the solution to gaining some form of knowledge is usually a recommendation to abandon the life in the world, do away with all forms of desire,and fix the consciousness on the silent, infinite, Absolute.  On the other hand, the Upanishads declare “all this is the Brahman” and thus, imply that the world we live in, the experiences we have, the perceptions we receive, the thoughts we think, are all Brahman.  Eventually the sages concluded with the phrase “So ‘ham” and “Aham Brahm’ Asmi”, one generally translated as “He am I” and the other as “I am Brahman”.  These conclusions are the inevitable result of a recognition that the entire universal creation is one with the Transcendent Brahman, and thus, at the level of particularity, I also am That.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But this will not necessarily mean the immersion into an all-oblivious Being eternally absorbed in His own inactive self-existence.  For the mind, sense, life going beyond their individual formations find that they are only one centre of the sole Mind, Life, Form of things and therefore they find Brahman in that also and not only in an individual transcendence; they bring down the vision of the superconscient into that also and not only into their own individual workings. The mind of the individual escapes from its limits and becomes the one universal mind, his life the one universal life, his bodily sense the sense of the whole universe and even more as his own indivisible Brahman-body.  He perceives the universe in himself and he perceives also his self in all existences and knows it to be the one, the omnipresent, the single-multiple all-inhabiting Lord and Reality.  Without this realisation he has not fulfilled the condition of immortality.  Therefore it is said that what the sages seek is to distinguish and see the Brahman in all existences; by that discovery, realisation and possession of Him everywhere and in all they attain to their immortal existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 186

The Essential Need for the Transfiguration of the Self

While it is an essential condition of the change that the powers of mind, life and the senses undergo a transformation to identify with and act from the basis of the corresponding higher universal powers of the creation, there is still more to do.  The nexus of the individual awareness, the self, must also undergo a change that will reflect and identify with the supreme Self that transcends the powers of manifestation.  This implies the shifting of the standpoint from the ego-individuality to reflect the divine standpoint beyond the universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Besides the gods, there is our self, the spirit within who supports all this action of the gods.  Our spirit too must turn from its absorption in its figure of itself as it sees it involved in the movement of individual life, mind, body and subject to it and must direct its gaze upward to its own supreme Self who is beyond all this movement and master of it all.  Therefore the mind must indeed become passive to the divine Mind, the sense to the divine Sense, the life to the divine Life and by receptivity to constant touches and visitings of the highest be transfigured into a reflection of these transcendences; but also the individual self must through the mind’s aspiration upwards, through upliftings of itself beyond, through constant memory of the supreme Reality in which during these divine moments it has lived, ascend finally into that Bliss and Power and Light.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pp. 185-186

Shifting the Focus from Fixation on the Dualities to the Unity Behind Them

It is easy to understand and appreciate the idea of renunciation of the world and its forms and activities, when the object is to achieve the transcendent standpoint.  After all, focus on all the changing forms of life and action may distract from the ultimate purpose.  The exclusive concentration on the Transcendent simplifies the process and steps along the way.  Yet, in so doing, we are denying the purpose and the ultimate unity that supports, creates and infuses through all the forms, forces, activities and events in that world of change.  If everything is part of a unified field, created and supported by that unified reality, then even the world of forms we are abandoning partakes of that reality.  By “cutting the knot” we are in fact denying the purpose and significance of the universal manifestation.  The true solution then is to find the transcendent right here while living in the world of forms, through overcoming the force of egoistic fulfillment of desire..

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This must be done by abandonment of our attachment to the figure of things in the mortal world.  We must put from us its death and dualities if we would compass the unity and immortality.  Therefore it follows that we must cease to make the goods of this world or even its right, light and beauty our object of pursuit; we must go beyond these to a supreme Good, a transcendent Truth, Light and Beauty in which the opposite figures of what we call evil disappear.  But still, being in this world, it is only through something in this world itself that we can transcend it; it is through its figures that we must find the absolute.  Therefore, we scrutinise them and perceive that there are first these forms of mind, life, speech and sense, all of them figures and imperfect suggestions, and then behind them the cosmic principles through which the One acts.  It is to these cosmic principles that we must proceed and turn them from their ordinary aim and movement in the world to find their own supreme aim and absolute movement in their own one Godhead, the Lord, the Brahman; they must be drawn to leave the workings of ordinary mind and find the superconscient Mind, to leave the workings of ordinary speech and sense and find the supramental Sense and original Word, to leave the apparent workings of mundane Life and find the transcendent Life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 185