The Relation of the Kshara to the Akshara Purusha

The relation of the Kshara Purusha and the Akshara Purusha is described by Sri Aurobindo through a comparison with the elements of the natural world. The power of wind moves and pervades the element of ether. Similarly, the Kshara Purusha, manifest, mobile and active pervades the Akshara Purusha, unmanifest, unmoving and inactive. These are not two separate and independent beings, but two aspects of one being, with the motion taking place against the unmoving background that is always there but not always perceptible by us because our view is oriented outwards and distracted by the motion, action and forms of the manifested world.

“The Kshara spirit visible to us as all natural existence and the totality of all existences moves and acts pervadingly in the immobile and eternal Akshara. This mobile Power of Self acts in that fundamental stability of Self….”

The Akshara “…in its highest status… is an unmanifest beyond even the unmanifest principle of the original cosmic Prakriti, Avyakta, and, if the soul turns to this Immutable, the hold of cosmos and Nature falls away from it and it passes beyond birth to an unchanging eternal existence.”

“These two then are the two spirits we see in the world; one emerges in front in its action, the other remains behind it steadfast in that perpetual silence from which the action comes and in which all actions cease and disappear into timeless being, Nirvana.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 15, The Three Purushas, pg. 423

Transforming Personal Action Into Divine Action

In our normal human state of consciousness, in our daily lives, we see the force of desire as the motive spring of action. We find it virtually impossible from that standpoint to imagine acting without this impulsion. Desire acts both in the form of attraction and repulsion to the objects of senses and the fruits that come as a result of action. So the question inevitably comes up, when one is asked to give up desire as the motive force behind action, as to whether any action in the world remains possible or has any meaning. It is a key precept of those who practice the various disciplines of renunciation that interaction with and work in the world is to be minimized until the body falls away, with the total focus on the spiritual practice being undertaken. The Gita points out that action, in one form or another, still remains, and that the idea of renouncing action is neither a necessary or an appropriate response. Rather, the Gita holds that we can achieve a new standpoint, unified with the Divine consciousness, that acts out of the inherent and natural force of the divine in manifestation. Just as the sun gives forth its light and energy without desire, supporting the manifestation, so when one is unified with the Divine consciousness, action flows effortlessly as a natural consequence without reference to the ego-sense or the force of desire.

Sri Aurobindo describes the status: “…when the ego is lost and the Yogin becomes Brahman, when he lives in and is, even, a transcendent and universal consciousness, action comes spontaneously out of that, luminous knowledge higher than the mental thought comes out of that, a power other and mightier than the personal will comes out of that to do for him his works and bring its fruits: personal action has ceased, all has been taken up into the Brahman and assumed by the Divine….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 231-232

Step-by-Step Process of Stilling the Mind

When we undertake the practice being recommended by the Gita, as an aid to quieting the mind and withdrawing from the entanglement of the senses and their objects, we quickly find out that this is not as simple as it sounds. Once one begins to seriously attempt this, one recognizes that the mind tends to jump around from object to object, the external impressions force themselves on the senses and impact our inner awareness, and we are constantly moved to respond, reach out, interact with and otherwise maintain our involvement with the external world and its forms and forces. At any early stage many actually want to give up, claiming the impossibility of the task.

The process requires patience and persistent practice. Sri Aurobindo has summarized the basic steps or stages that can be noted: “First, all the desires born of the desire-will have to be wholly abandoned without any exception or residue and the senses have to be held in by the mind so that they shall not run out to all sides after their usual disorderly and restless habit; but next the mind itself has to be seized by the Buddhi and drawn inward. One should slowly cease from mental action by a Buddhi held in the grasp of fixity and having fixed the mind in the higher self one should not think of anything at all. Whenever the restless and unquiet mind goes forth, it should be controlled and brought into subjection in the Self. When the mind is thoroughly quieted, there there comes upon the Yogin, the highest stainless, passionless bliss of the soul that has become the Brahman. ‘Thus freed from the stain of passion and putting himself constantly into Yoga, the Yogin easily and happily enjoys the touch of the Brahman which is an exceeding bliss.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pg. 231

The Purushottama of the Gita

The Purushottama, the integrating standpoint that embraces and contains the individual and the universal, the manifested and the unmanifest, the silent, still existence and the changes of Nature, the impersonal and the personal, is the central conception that allows the Gita to unify and harmonize the various different paths and aims of life found in other teachings. This is the lynch-pin of the Gita’s grand synthesis, providing a basis and reality for the yoga of knowledge (in this case redirected from an other-worldly focus on renunciation), the yoga of works (redefined from being ritual works of sacrifice to embracing all action within its compass), and the yoga of devotion (redirected to embrace the Divine in all forms and beings in the universe, and expressing itself within the manifestation as a wide compassion and action for the benefit of all beings arising out of that compassion).

It is interesting to note that the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism resolve themselves into the action of the Bodhisattva, the enlightened being who chooses not to dissolve his consciousness into the vast, unmoving, silent Absolute, but rather, who remains active in the world through universal compassion until all beings have been able to achieve the consciousness of enlightenment. In practical effect, we come down to a similar result as taught by the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the Gita’s view of the Purushottama: “…the Divine who is there as the one self in our timeless immutable being, who is present too in the world, in all existences, in all activities, the master of the silence and the peace, the master of the power and the action, who is here incarnate as the divine charioteer of the stupendous conflict, the Transcendent, the Self, the All, the master of every individual being.”

“…he is the lord of all the worlds, manifested in Nature and in these beings, therefore shall the liberated man still do works for the right government and leading on of the peoples in these worlds,…; he is the friend of all existences, therefore is the sage who has found Nirvana within him and all around, still and always occupied with the good of all creatures….”

“Therefore too, even when he has found oneness with the Divine in his timeless and immutable self, is he still capable, since he embraces the relations also of the play of Nature, of divine love for man and of love for the Divine, of Bhakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pg. 228

Nirvana and a Divinised Life

The Gita clearly does not teach a doctrine of world-renunciation. The Gita does not accept a duality or some kind of irreconcilable gulf between the manifestation and the divine consciousness; rather it sees everything as one integrated whole, a divine Being that holds within itself both the manifest and the unmanifest in Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo describes the actual role of sages and yogis who achieve the state of nirvana: “Thus Nirvana is clearly compatible with world-consciousness and with action in the world. For the sages who ossess it are conscious of and in intimate relation by works with the Divine in the mutable universe; they are occupied with the good of all creatures….They have not renounced the experiences of the Kshara Purusha, they have divinised them; for the Kshara, the Gita tells us, is all existences…and the doing universal good to all is a divine action in the mutability of Nature. This action in the world is not inconsistent with living in Brahman, it is rather its inevitable condition and outward result because the Brahman in whom we find Nirvana, the spiritual consciousness in which we lose the separative ego-consciousness, is not only within us but within all these existences, exists not only above and apart from all these universal happenings, but pervades them, contains them and is extended in them.”

“Nirvana when we gain it, enter into it, is not only within us, but all around…because this is not only the Brahman-consciousness which lives secret within us, but the Brahman-consciousness in which we live. It is the Self which we are within, the supreme Self of our individual being but also the Self which we are without, the supreme Self of the universe, the self of all existences. By living in that self we live in all, and no longer in our egoistic being alone; by oneness with that self a steadfast oneness with all in the universe becomes the very nature of our being and the root status of our active consciousness and root motive of all our action.”

The essence then of Nirvana is the establishment of a new standpoint or status of consciousness that sees and acts from the basis of Oneness, not duality, and because of this Oneness, our entire life becomes divinised when we act with that awareness.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 226-227

Nirvana In Action

If one studies the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one finds that there is a very significant focus on the attainment of the state of Samadhi, an inward drawn consciousness, separated from any attention to the outer existence, the senses, the mind or the ego-sense. Therein is described several stages of Samadhi, each one successively deeper and more abstracted from the world. Yogis throughout the ages have focused on attaining this state of disassociation from the forces, forms and events of the world. There is a clear emphasis on renunciation being the path to liberation, moksha. And generally the concept of Nirvana has been equated with this separation and abstraction from the world.

The Gita, however, defines Nirvana quite differently and makes it clear that it can be achieved and experienced in the midst of the manifested world of action. Sri Aurobindo takes up the Gita’s position with the following translated verse: “Sages win Nirvana in the Brahman, they in whom the stains of sin are effaced and the knot of doubt is cut asunder, masters of their selves, who are occupied in doing good to all creatures….”

The Gita continues: “Yatis (those who practice self-mastery by Yoga and austerity) who are delivered from desire and wrath and have gained self-mastery, for them Nirvana in the Brahman exists all about them, encompasses them, they already live in it because they have knowledge of the Self.”

Sri Aurobindo goes on to summarize the Gita’s concept of Nirvana in action: “Freedom from all stain of the passions, the self-mastery of the equal mind on which that freedom is founded, equality to all beings…and beneficial love for all, final destruction of that doubt and obscurity of the ignorance which keeps us divided from the all-unifying Divine and the knowledge of the One Self within us and in all are evidently the conditions of Nirvana which are laid down in these verses of the Gita, go to constitute it and are its spiritual substance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23, Nirvana and Works in the World, pp. 225-226

The Basis For an Integrated Yoga of Knowledge, Works and Devotion

The Gita’s synthesis includes a reconciliation and affirmation of the paths of knowledge, works, and devotion. The Gita accomplishes this through a process of redefining the terms and reframing the context. In the traditional path of knowledge, the goal or end result would be the abandonment of works in the world as an illusion or a lesser goal. In order to justify the yoga of works and the yoga of devotion, the Gita clearly must be able to show us why and in what manner the manifestation is both real and meaningful.

The integration of both the Kshara Purusha and the Akshara Purusha in the wider frame of the Purushottama provides the gateway for the Gita to both recognize the reality of the manifestation and the reality of the non-manifest consciousness, and to develop the mutuality rather than opposition of these two standpoints.

The human mental framework thrives in dualities and opposites and black/white definitions. It takes a more wholistic consciousness to find the complementary aspects that resolve the apparently irreconcilable differences.

In an “omnipresent reality” as Sri Aurobindo defines it, there is a status, represented by the Akshara Purusha, that is separated and uninvolved in the action of the universe, while concurrently there is a status, equally real and valid, that participates in the manifestation and the creation, represented by the Kshara Purusha.

Similarly, the Gita finds the integration of these two terms in the Purushottama and thereby provides a foundational basis for not only the yoga of knowledge, but also for a yoga of works and a yoga of devotion. If the universal manifestation is unreal, there is no cause to focus on the value of works or devotion. They too would then be equally unreal in their essence.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes: “The union of the soul with the Purushottama by a Yoga of the whole being is the complete teaching of the Gita and not only the union with the immutable Self as in the narrower doctrine which follows the exclusive way of knowledge.”

“…it is the vision of the Divine in the world harmonised with a realisation of the Divine in the self which makes action and devotion possible to the liberated man, and not only possible but inevitable in the perfect mode of his being.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 23,Nirvana and Works in the World, pg. 223