The Objective of Spiritual Effort Is a Change of Consciousness, Not a Large Following

We generally try to measure the importance of a particular religion or path by the number of adherents it boasts. Hundreds of millions of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and many tens of millions in other major religious denominations, are impressive numbers for our external mental awareness that measures and analyzes. Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that the mass quantity of nominal adherents means little, if anything, when it comes to the question of the evolutionary development of consciousness on the planet.

As a corollary to this, he makes it clear that advertising, creating a movement, developing some kind of major following through artificial enticement is not the way to effectuate real change on the planet.

A careful balance must be maintained to not let the vital ego and its rajasic tendencies take control of the effort. A true change of consciousness will have its impact, secretly or openly as the case may be, and help build the capacity of humanity to adopt the change and thereby effectuate a new way of seeing and acting. In today’s world, care must be taken to not over-hype the path, as it is not for everyone to tread; rather, making clear and honest information available, and then letting people find what they need, is a more solid direction for bringing about the kind of change that is needed to solve the evolutionary crisis of humanity that we face today.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Nothing depends on the numbers. The numbers of Buddhism or Christianity were so great because the majority professed it as a creed without its making the least difference to their external life. If the new consciousness were satisfied with that, it could also and much more easily command homage and acceptance by the whole earth. It is because it is a greater consciousness, the Truth-Consciousness, that it will insist on a real change.”

“Well-known or unknown has absolutely no importance from the spiritual point of view. It is simply the propagandist spirit. We are not a party or a church or religion seeking adherents or proselytes. One man who earnestly pursues the yoga is of more value than a thousand well-known men.”

“As for propaganda I have seen that it is perfectly useless for us — if there is any effect, it is a very trifling and paltry effect not worth the trouble. If the Truth has to spread itself, it will do it of its own motion; these things are unnecessary.”

“Then, again, I don’t believe in advertisement except for books etc., and in propaganda except for politics and patent medicines. But for serious work it is a poison. It means either a stunt or a boom — and stunts and booms exhaust the thing they carry on their crest and leave it lifeless and broken high and dry on the shores of nowhere — or it means a movement. A movement in the case of a work like mine means the founding of a school or a sect or some other damned nonsense. It means that hundreds or thousands of useless people join in and corrupt the work or reduce it to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence. It is what has happened to the ‘religions’ and is the reason of their failure. If I tolerate a little writing about myself, it is only to have a sufficient counter-weight in that amorphous chaos, the public mind, to balance the hostility that is always aroused by the presence of a new dynamic Truth in this world of ignorance. But the utility ends there and too much advertisement would defeat that object. I am perfectly ‘rational’, I assure you, in my methods and I do not proceed merely on any personal dislike of fame. If and so far as publicity services the Truth, I am quite ready to tolerate it; but I do not find publicity for its own sake desirable.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Religion, pp. 352-355


Spirituality Transcends All Religions

Many people confuse spirituality and religion and then try to associate various spiritual paths with specific religious traditions. Spirituality, however, is not based in the beliefs, practices, or customary folkways of any religion. Spirituality seeks for direct experience of the greater reality of existence, independent of the mind’s ideas or beliefs, independent of any particular philosophical direction, independent of any emotional or vital relationships. While people are born into a particular religious background, which provides the context for the social life and moral code of their community, they have the opportunity to transcend religion when they take up the spiritual quest. Religion, in its purest and highest forms, certainly includes an element of spirituality, which is one reason for the confusion between the two.

For the spiritual path that seeks to hasten the advent and action of the next evolutionary stage, the evolutionary development of consciousness beyond the mind, supramental, there is no benefit to following a specific religious tradition. In fact, people are not obligated to give up their religion to take up the spiritual path, as long as they eventually understand that there can be no attachment to specific religious observances or practices if they get in the way of the spiritual development.

Even Hinduism, which has a long history of encouraging and codifying numerous spiritual practices, has its limitations and cannot be made a requirement for following the path of the supramental yoga.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “I do not take the same view of the Hindu religion as J. Religion is always imperfect because it is a mixture of man’s spirituality with his endeavours that come in in trying to sublimate ignorantly his lower nature. Hindu religion appears to me as a cathedral-temple, half in ruins, noble in the mass, often fantastic in detail but always fantastic with a significance — crumbling or badly outworn in places, but a cathedral-temple in which service is still done to the Unseen and its real presence can be felt by those who enter with the right spirit. The outer social structure which it built for its approach is another matter.”

“The Ashram has nothing to do with Hindu religion or culture or any religion or nationality. The Truth of the Divine which is the spiritual reality behind all religions and the descent of the supramental which is not known to any religion are the sole things which will be the foundation of the work of the future.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Religion, pp. 352-355

Religion, Fanaticism and Divine Truth

Adherents of virtually all religious traditions want to believe that their own religion is the one “true” religion, and all others are false, mistaken or imperfect. This belief reinforces their own faith and thus, enhances the satisfaction of the vital ego. In some cases, however, this belief goes far beyond an inner feeling and becomes an outer expression of fanatic belief that tries to enforce the position of the religion against that of everyone who is not a believer in that particular creed. This has bred tremendous suffering through societal pressure, forced conversion, and even outright warfare, where unbelievers were put to death if they did not accept the “one true religion”. It is said that religion has been the cause of more death and suffering and warfare than any other cause. Looking at history, one can well believe this to be the case.

Religious sects have engaged in missionary activity to control and convert other cultures. Entire societal ways of life have been attacked, condemned and suppressed in the name of the “true religion”.

All of this activity bespeaks a narrow point of view that distorts the truth, and at a certain point, even breeds skepticism about the religion. Any religion that relies on overt suppression and heavy-handed “conversion at the point of a sword”, or that requires adherence to a narrow doctrine that denies any truth to experiences or religious beliefs of others is clearly missing the truth of existence that embraces a vast and varied expression of life and understanding in line with the vast and varied differences between people, their stage of spiritual development and the cultural backgrounds that lead to their specific spiritual and religious practices and beliefs. It is one thing to immerse oneself in a specific belief system or set of practices, and gain the benefit of that focus and concentration; it is quite another to treat this as universal for all people, or to try to force one’s own beliefs upon others.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Divine Truth is greater than any religion or creed or scripture or idea or philosophy — so you must not tie yourself to any of these things.”

“… you say that you ask only for the Truth and yet you speak like a narrow and ignorant fanatic who refuses to believe in anything but the religion in which he was born. All fanaticism is false, because it is a contradiction of the very nature of God and of Truth. Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite and cannot be the sole property of the Mussulmans or of the Semitic religions only, — those that happened to be in a line from the Bible and to have Jewish or Arabian prophets for their founders. Hindus and Confucians and Taoists and all others have as much right to enter into relation with God and find the Truth in their own way. All religions have some truth in them, but none has the whole truth; all are created in time and finally decline and perish. Mahomed himself never pretended that the Koran was the last message of God and there would be no other. God and Truth outlast these religions and manifest themselves anew in whatever way or form the Divine Wisdom chooses. You cannot shut up God in the limitations of your own narrow brain or dictate to the Divine Power and Consciousness how or where or through whom it shall manifest; you cannot put up your puny barriers against the divine Omnipotence. These again are simple truths which are now being recognised all over the world; only the childish in mind or those who vegetate in some formula of the past deny them.”

“There is nothing noble besides in fanaticism — there is no nobility of motive, though there may be a fierce enthusiasm of motive. Religious fanaticism is something psychologically low-born and ignorant — and usually in its action fierce, cruel and base. Religious ardour like that of the martyr who sacrifices himself only is a different thing.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Religion, pp. 352-355

Religion in the Search for the Meaning and Significance of Our Lives

Religion in today’s world has taken on a number of tasks, and diverse meanings for people, which confuses the primary and essential role of religion in human development.  Religion today has become first and foremost an enormous business model, a massing of human energy for doing battle, and a soporific for those who are oppressed and disenfranchised.  The poet-philosopher Novalis, in 1798, stated:  “Their so-called religion works simply as an opiate—stimulating; numbing; quelling pain by means of weakness.”  Such sentiments were repeated many times in the years following this statement.  In the modern world, organised religion has seen something of a decline as the weaknesses of the formalized structures and dogmas became evident to more people.

There is however an important role and function that religion has historically played, and which remains the core rationale for religion as a developmental aid for humanity.  Religion in its essence is the search for meaning.  Why do we exist?  How do we exist?  Is there a purpose or significance to life?  Is there some greater being, a Creator, who has brought the universe into manifestation and who imparts focus and meaning to our own existence and actions?

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “He must know also the hidden Power or Powers that control the world: if there is a Cosmic Self or Spirit or a Creator, he must be able to enter into relation with It or Him and be able to remain in whatever contact or communion is possible, get into some kind of tune with the master Beings of the universe or with the universal Being and its universal will or a supreme Being and His supreme will, follow the law It gives him and the assigned or revealed aim of his life and conduct, raise himself towards the highest height that It demands of him in his life now or in his existence hereafter; if there is no such universal or supreme Spirit or Being, he must know what there is and how to lift himself to it out of his present imperfection and impotence.”

“This approach is the aim of religion: its purpose is to link the human with the Divine and in so doing sublimate the thought and life and flesh so that they may admit the rule of the soul and spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 55-56

A Comprehensive Yoga of Knowledge

Yoga focuses on the esoteric truths that underlie the religious teachings. Yoga is a science of the Spirit, every bit as rigorous as material science in its investigation of natural laws of the physical world.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Behind every exoteric religion there is an esoteric Yoga, an intuitive knowledge to which its faith is the first step, inexpressible realities of which its symbols are the figured expression, a deeper sense for its scattered truths, mysteries of the higher planes of existence of which even its dogmas and superstitions are crude hints and indications. What Science does for our knowledge of the material world, replacing first appearances and uses by the hidden truths and as yet occult powers of its great natural forces and in our own minds beliefs and opinions by verified experience and a profounder understanding, Yoga does for the higher planes and worlds and possibilities of our being which are aimed at by the religions. Therefore all this mass of graded experience existing behind closed doors to which the consciousness of man may find, if it wills, the key, falls within the province of a comprehensive Yoga of knowledge, which need not be confined to the seeking after the Absolute alone or the knowledge of the Divine in itself or of the Divine only in its isolated relations with the individual human soul.”

The realisation of the Absolute is an essential part of the total realisation, which must turn back and embrace the Divine manifestation from that standpoint. “To rise to the pure Self-being steadfastly held to as the summit of our subjective self-uplifting, we may from that height possess our lower selves even to the physical and the workings of Nature which belong to them.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pg. 441

The Role of Traditional Religions in Spiritual Evolution

Religion develops as man gets in touch with the deeper aspirations of his Nature. The human being, becoming conscious of himself and his own existence, begins to reflect at a certain stage on how and why he exists, and what purpose his existence may have. He feels a need to attribute meaning to his life, and it is a general characteristic of religion to begin to address what are essentially subjective and intuitive yearnings.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Religion is the first attempt of man to get beyond himself and beyond the obvious and material facts of his existence. Its first essential work is to confirm and make real to him his subjective sense of an Infinite on which his material and mental being depends and the aspiration of his soul to come into its presence and live in contact with it. Its function is to assure him too of that possibility of which he has always dreamed, but of which his ordinary life gives him no assurance, the possibility of transcending himself and growing out of bodily life and mortality into the joy of immortal life and spiritual existence. It also confirms in him the sense that there are worlds or planes of existence other than that in which his lot is now cast, worlds in which this mortality and this subjection to evil and suffering are not the natural state, but rather bliss of immortality is the eternal condition.” Of course, religion also has functioned to provide a moral framework for interaction within the society and to set up guidelines for action.

While the basic role of religion is relatively common across the various forms it takes, each religion comes to the ultimate metaphysical and existential understandings from a different angle, and this is what brings about the differences we tend to dwell upon when we look at the various religions of the world. Some will treat this world as the sole world of action, with a process of evolution taking place through rebirth. Others will treat this as a testing or proving ground for the growth of the soul which eventually transcends this world and goes into other spheres or planes when the lessons have been learned. Some posit an external Creator who is outside the creation, while others assert that the Creator and the creation are One. “Religion in fact is not knowledge, but a faith and aspiration; it is justified indeed both by an imprecise intuitive knowledge of large spiritual truths and by the subjective experience of souls that have risen beyond the ordinary life, but in itself it only gives us the hope and faith by which we may be induced to aspire to the intimate possession of the hidden tracts and larger realities of the Spirit. That we turn always the few distinct truths and the symbols or the particular discipline of a religion into hard and fast dogmas, is a sign that as yet we are only infants in the spiritual knowledge and are yet far from the science of the Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 20, The Lower Triple Purusha, pp. 439-441