The Eternal Principle of the Multiplicity

The method of cutting the knot of desire and entering into a silent, immobile awareness to escape the bondage of the manifestation does not represent the complete picture. If it had done so, then the approach recommended by the renunciates who abandon all action in the world would be the preferred and direct method of liberation. The Gita, however, while admitting the validity of this line of approach, does not accept it as the sole, or even the most preferable method. The reason is that it does not take into account the reality and purpose of the manifested creation; treating it rather as something of an illusion or a lesser reality.

The Gita recognizes that there is a Truth, and not a lesser Truth, in the manifested universe, the world of the multiplicity. Sri Aurobindo explains the Gita’s view: “And what then is this soul in Nature? This spirit, too, this Kshara, this enjoyer of our mutable existence is the Purushottama; it is he in his eternal multiplicity, that is the Gita’s answer.” “It is an eternal portion of Me that becomes the Jiva in a world of Jivas.”

“…it means that each soul, each being in its spiritual reality is the very Divine, however partial its actual manifestation of him in Nature. And it means too, if words have any sense, that each manifesting spirit, each of the many, is an eternal individual, an eternal unborn undying power of the one Existence. We call this manifesting spirit the Jiva, because it appears here as if a living creature in a world of living creatures, and we speak of this spirit in man as the human soul and think of it in the terms of humanity only. But in truth it is something greater than its present appearance and not bound to its humanity: it was a lesser manifestation than the human in its past, it can become something much greater than mental man in its future.”

“The individual spirit exists and ever existed beyond in the Eternal, for it is itself everlasting….”

“…this much is clear that there is an eternal, a real and not only an illusive principle of multiplicity in the spiritual being of the one divine Existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 15, The Three Purushas, pp. 430-431

The Eternal Ashwattha Tree and the Status of the Purushottama

The image of the Ashwattha tree is one which frequently recurs in the spiritual tradition of India, including the Bhagavad Gita. The physical Ashwattha, also known as the Banyan tree by some translators (or the Peepul Tree by others–both trees of the family Ficus), has a unique growing habit that makes it an excellent metaphor for the manifestation of the universe. The tree has deep roots, lush and ever-expanding branches and foliage, and sends down aerial roots from the branches as the tree expands its scope.

The expanding universe is pictured in this image as the eternal Ashwattha tree. Sri Aurobindo describes the eternal Ashwattha tree: “This tree of cosmic existence has no beginning and no end…, in space or in time; for it is eternal and imperishable…. The real form of it cannot be perceived by us in this material world of man’s embodiment, nor has it any apparent lasting foundation here; it is an infinite movement and its foundation is above in the supreme of the Infinite. Its principle is the ancient sempiternal urge to action, pravritti, which for ever proceeds without beginning or end from the original Soul of all existence…. Therefore its original source is above, beyond Time in the Eternal, but its branches stretch down below and it extends and plunges its other roots, well-fixed and clinging roots of attachment and desire with their consequences of more and more desire and an endlessly developing action, plunges them downward here into the world of men.” “The branches of this cosmic tree extend both below and above, below in the material, above in the supraphysical planes; they grow by the Gunas of Nature…. Man…so long as he enjoys the play of the Gunas and is attached to desire, is held in the coils of Pravritti, in the movement of birth and action, turns about constantly between the earth and the middle planes and the heavens and is unable to get back to his supreme spiritual infinitudes.”

The sages, the seekers of liberation, found a path to liberation by undertaking to break the rhythm of the urge to action, through cessation of the force of desire. “But for this purpose it is necessary to cut these long-fixed roots of desire by the strong sword of detachment and then to seek for that highest goal whence, once having reached it, there is no compulsion of return to mortal life. To be free from the bewilderment of this lower Maya, without egoism, the great fault of attachment conquered, all desires stilled, the duality of joy and grief cast away, always to be fixed in a pure spiritual consciousness, these are the steps of the way to that supreme Infinite.” “that is the highest status of the Purushottama, his supracosmic existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 15, The Three Purushas, pp. 429-430

The Single and Perfect Way To the Supreme Perfection

The Gita, in trying to deal with complex subjects and numerous questions raised by the mind of man when confronted with the meaning of life and the role of man in the world, has necessarily had to delve into a number of topics and look at things from a number of different angles. We can however, on the subject of how to achieve the perfect realisation and state of existence that the Gita sets as its goal, simplify matters quite a bit.

We all start from the human perspective and thus, with involvement in the standpoint of the Kshara Purusha dealing with the manifested world and the action of the Gunas of Nature. The Gita essentially tells us that we need to find a point of separation from our bondage or involvement in Nature so that we can gain some perspective and thereby move beyond subjection to the Gunas. Thus, the Gita proposes a methodology that should bring us to the realisation of the Akshara Purusha, uninvolved, silent and separate. The next step is to re-integrate the two standpoints in the higher synthesis provided by the Purushottama. This is done through the subsequent realisation that the manifestation is One with the Lord of the Creation, that there is also a personal aspect to balance the impersonal, and that devotion and the path of love therefore need to be combined with the equality and impersonality achieved in the first step to truly resolve the apparent conflict and bring about the supreme state of Oneness that can hold both the personal and the impersonal together at one time as one existence.

Sri Aurobindo describes the two steps: “To ascend into the divine nature…one must first fix oneself in a perfect spiritual equality and rise above the lower nature of the three Gunas. Thus transcending the lower Prakriti we fix ourselves in the impersonality, the imperturbable superiority to all action, the purity from all definition and limitation by quality which is one side of the manifested nature of the Purushottama.”

The Infinite has an eternal power, an unbeginning and unending action of his divine Nature, and in that action the miracle of soul personality emerges from a play of apparently impersonal forces…. This is possible because personality too is a character of the Divine and finds in the Infinite its highest spiritual truth and meaning. But the Person in the Infinite is not the egoistic, separative, oblivious personality of the lower Prakriti; it is something exalted, universal and transcendent, immortal and divine. That mystery of the supreme Person is the secret of love and devotion….The completeness of knowledge finds itself in this self-offering, this uplifting of our personal nature by love and adoration to the ineffable Master of our personality and its acts….”

“And having so stated this double requisite, equality in the one self , adoration of the one Lord, …the Gita proceeds now to unite the personal and the impersonal in the Purushottama and to define their relations. For the object of the Gita is to get rid of exclusions and separative exaggerations and fuse these two sides of knowledge and spiritual experience into a single and perfect way to the supreme perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 15, The Three Purushas, pp. 427-429

The Purushottama Reconciles the Akshara and the Kshara Purusha Aspects

The Gita applies the paradigm of thesis–antithesis–synthesis in addressing the apparent contradictions between the status of the Akshara Purusha, silent, immobile, unaffected by life in the world, and that of the Kshara Purusha, involved in the activities of Nature, and apparently bound by desire and the action o the Gunas and suffering as a result. The Gita proposes another status, called the Purushottama, which incorporates both that of the Akshara and the Kshara, and finds in that new status the reconciling principle that allows them to be seen as complementary aspects, not contradictory and irreconcilable opposites.

As long as the soul is totally immersed in and involved in the actions of the Gunas of Nature, it cannot attain to the status of the Purushottama which would liberate it from its bondage to nature. Those who recognize this have tended in the past to focus on attainment of the status of the Akshara Purusha through abandonment of an active life and the fulfillment of desires. This method has the advantage of at least providing the soul some amount of distance from the day to day activities and thus, the potential to achieve a higher status. But attainment of the Akshara status does not address the other side of the manifestation, the world, the actions and forces and forms and the status of mastery within the world, which the Purushottama aspect adds to that of the Akshara.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue: “But yet is he more even than a highest unmanifest Akshara, more than any negative Absolute, neti, neti, because he is to be known also as the supreme Purusha who extends this whole universe in his own existence. He is a supreme mysterious All, an ineffable positive Absolute of all things here. He is the Lord in the Kshara, Purushottama not only there, but here in the heart of every creature, Ishwara….It is by knowing him at once in the Akshara and the Kshara, it is by knowing him as the Unborn who partially manifests himself in birth and even himself descends as the constant Avatar, it is by knowing him in his entirety…that the soul is easily released from the appearances of the lower Nature and returns by a vast sudden growth and broad immeasurable ascension into the divine being and supreme Nature. For the truth of the Kshara too is a truth of the Purushottama. The Purushottama is in the heart of every creature and is manifested in his countless Vibhutis; the Purushottama is the cosmic spirit in Time and it is he that gives the command to the divine action of the liberated human spirit. He is both Akshara and Kshara, and yet he is other because he is more and greater than either of these opposites.”

“But other than these two is the highest spirit called the supreme Self, who enters the three worlds and upbears them, the imperishable Lord.” “This verse is the keyword of the Gita’s reconciliation of these two apparently opposite aspects of our existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 15, The Three Purushas, pp. 426-427

The Three Statuses of the Purusha In the Gita’s Synthesis

It remains still unresolved as to how the Gita is able to account for the apparent multiplicity of beings and the observed fact that the liberation of one does not immediately lead to the liberation of all. The Gita deviates from Sankhya on this point, and the solution it provides is to posit a 3-fold status of the Purusha, taking up a concept proposed in the Upanishads. In doing so, the Gita also wants to bridge the gap caused by the emphasis on duality we find in Sankhya.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “Thus there are three, the Kshara, the Akshara, the Uttama. Kshara, the mobile, the mutable is Nature, svabhava, it is the various becoming of the soul; the Purusha here is the multiplicity of the divine Being; it is the Purusha multiple not apart from, but in Prakriti. Akshara, the immobile, the immutable, is the silent and inactive self, it is the unity of the divine Being, Witness of Nature, but not involved in its movement; it is the inactive Purusha free from Prakriti and her works. The Uttama is the Lord, the supreme Brahman, the supreme Self, who possesses both the immutable unity and the mobile multiplicity. It is by a large mobility and action of His nature, His energy, His will and power, that He manifests Himself in the world and by a greater stillness and immobility of His being thatHe is aloof from it; yet is He as Purushottama above both the aloofness from Nature and the attachment to Nature. This idea of the Purushottama, though continually implied in the Upanishads, is disengaged and definitely brought out by the Gita and has exercised a powerful influence on the later developments of the Indian religious consciousness.”

Ultimately, the entire creation is then a unified field, with a poise of consciousness that is involved in and manifesting itself through the works of Prakriti, Nature; another poise that is separate from and an immobile Witness of the manifestation of Nature, and a higher, integrating consciousness that can hold both the movement and the immobility together in a state of unification without conflict.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 8, Sankhya and Yoga, pp. 72-73,