The Highest Perfection of Faith in the Ishwara as the Universal Existent

The divine Shakti is the instrumental force cast forth into the universe to carry out the divine will of the Ishwara, the universal Lord and Existent. When the seeker begins the process of Yoga, he begins from the human standpoint of a separated individual, treating the world as if it is other, separate and distinct from his own existence, and setting up a form of opposition or conflict to survive and thrive against these “others”. The sadhana, as it progresses, begins to bring forward the knowledge of the active nature of the divine Shakti which in fact is the actor in the universe. The ultimate sense comes when the seeker shifts to the divine standpoint and can see with the eyes of the Ishwara that all is His Will, His action, His knowledge and His result.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “And behind her is the Ishwara and faith in him is the most central thing in the sraddha of the integral Yoga. This faith we must have and develop to perfection that all things are the workings under the universal conditions of a supreme self-knowledge and wisdom, that nothing done in us or around us is in vain or without its appointed place and just significance, that all things are possible when the Ishwara as our supreme Self and Spirit takes up the action and that all that has been done before and all that he will do hereafter was and will be part of his infallible and foreseeing guidance and intended towards the fruition of our Yoga and our perfection and our life work.”

As long as the ego remains active, such a faith remains obviously imperfect. As the practice of the Yoga continues, however, and the conscious awareness begins its shift toward the universal divine standpoint, it becomes patent and obvious that the Divine orders all the manifestation of the universe. “Then we shall see beyond the possibility of doubt that all happens within the working of the one Will and that that will was also wisdom because it develops always the true workings in life of the self and nature. The highest state of the assent, the sraddha of the being will be when we feel the presence of the Ishwara and feel all our existence and consciousness and thought and will and action in his hand and consent in all things and with every part of our self and nature to the direct and immanent and occupying will of the Spirit. And that highest perfection of the sraddha will also be the opportunity and perfect foundation of a divine strength; it will base, when complete, the development and manifestation and the works of the luminous supramental Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pg. 753

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The Perfection of Faith in the Divine Shakti

As the seeker works to deepen his faith, and it is made flexible and insightful, there comes an ever-deepening realisation that it is not the individual who acts, but the divine Shakti who manifests the will of the Divine through all the individual forms and formations, forces and powers that exist in the universe. The faith should not be based on the ego-standpoint nor attached to a specific mental, emotional, vital or physical aspect of reality, as these are all partial and limited, and will therefore at some point be found incomplete and wanting. The faith therefore must be in the Divine Shakti to inspire, guide, direct and manage the transformational processes within us and around us in a perfectly developed manner.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There is nothing that is impossible to her who is the conscious Power and universal Goddess all-creative from eternity and armed with the Spirit’s omnipotence. All knowledge, all strengths, all triumph and victory, all skill and works are in her hands and they are full of the treasures of the Spirit and of all perfections and siddhis.”

The Divine Shakti manifests the qualities of divine knowledge, force, love and delight and skill and service in work. “She is Maheshwari, goddess of the supreme knowledge…; she is Mahakali, goddess of the supreme strength…; she is Mahalakshmi, the goddess of the supreme love and delight…; she is Mahasaraswati, the goddess of divine skill and of the works of the Spirit and hers is the Yoga that is skill in works…, and the utilities of divine knowledge and the self-application of the spirit to life and the happiness of its harmonies. And in all her powers and forms she carries with her the supreme sense of the masteries of the eternal Ishwari, a rapid and divine capacity for all kinds of action that may be demanded from the instrument, oneness, a participating sympathy, a free identity, with all energies in all beings and therefore a spontaneous and fruitful harmony with all the divine will in the universe. The intimate feeling of her presence and her powers and the satisfied assent of all our being to her workings in and around it is the last perfection of faith in the Shakti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 752-753

Faith in the Soul’s Spiritual Destiny and Transformation Through the Action of the Divine Shakti

In the course of our daily lives, we meet many people who feel broken down or victimized, and who focus themselves on their inherent weakness and the failures they experience in their lives. As a matter of course, every human being has times and moments when he is assailed by doubt and loses faith in his own destiny, capacities or eventual success in his endeavors. Great Rishis and Yogis have all experienced the “dark night of the soul” when all spiritual support is seemingly withdrawn and one is left with the overwhelming weaknesses and limitations of the unenlightened parts of the being.

Ultimately, there must come a realisation and recognition that it is the Divine carrying out His manifestation through the action of the Shakti which guides, influences and transforms the individual, who is a nexus of the activity rather than the originator of it. In the interim, however, there must be the ability to sustain the faith in the Divine and His Shakti even when the awareness is blocked or limited by the screen of the ego-personality in the mind-life-body.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The faith in the Shakti, as long as we are not aware of and filled with her presence, must necessarily be preceded or at least accompanied by a firm and virile faith in our own spiritual will and energy and our power to move successfully towards unity and freedom and perfection. Man is given faith in himself, his ideas and his powers that he may work and create and rise to greater things and in the end bring his strength as a worthy offering to the altar of the Spirit. This spirit, says the Scripture, is not to be won by the weak…. All paralysing self-distrust has to be discouraged, all doubt of our strength to accomplish, for that is a false assent to impotence, an imagination of weakness and a denial of the omnipotence of the spirit. A present incapacity, however heavy may seem its pressure, is only a trial of faith and a temporary difficulty and to yield to the sense of inability is for the seeker of the integral Yoga a non-sense, for his object is a development of a perfection that is already there, latent in the being, because man carries the seed of the divine life in himself, in his own spirit, the possibility of success is involved and implied in the effort and victory is assured because behind is the call and guidance of an omnipotent power.”

It is important, however, in having this faith in oneself and one’s capacity to achieve, that this not become an arrogant or egoistic faith. “The Sadhaka should keep as much as possible in his mind the idea that his strength is not his own in the egoistic sense but that of the divine universal Shakti and whatever is egoistic in his use of it must be a cause of limitation and in the end an obstacle.”

“The power of the divine universal Shakti which is behind our aspiration is illimitable, and when it is rightly called upon it cannot fail to pour itself into us and to remove whatever incapacity and obstacle, now or later; for the times and durations of our struggle while they depend at first, instrumentally and in part, on the strength of our faith and our endeavour, are yet eventually in the hands of the wisely determining secret Spirit, alone the Master of the Yoga, the Ishwara.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 751-752

Developing a Working Faith of the Soul With Spiritual Experience

When the practitioner takes up Yoga, there are times and circumstances when various forms of what are generally called “spiritual experiences” take place. There also can occur various experiences which are new to the outer mind and life, and which are considered “occult” or “esoteric” or “psychic” experiences. All of these experiences, when they begin to appear, bring with them their own self-evident reality. In some cases the experiences are so overwhelming that they virtually demand full acceptance and adherence from the seeker. These experiences tend to reinforce faith generally, but they also have their risks and limitations. As opening to subtler aspects of reality, whether inner realms or higher spiritual realms of consciousness, begin to occur, there is always the danger of misinterpretation, since it is generally the mental framework that tries to sort through these experiences, or the danger of undue fixation on them as may occur with emotional or vital attachment to them. Spiritual and psychic experiences will naturally come, and have their role, but Sri Aurobindo cautions about the need to find a balanced and equal understanding of them and their role so as to avoid the dangers of the limitations or diversions that can occur.

“Here too the faith in us must be unattached, a faith that waits upon Truths and is prepared to change and enlarge its understanding of spiritual experiences, to correct mistaken or half true ideas about them and receive more enlightening interpretations, to replace insufficient by more sufficient intuitions, and to merge experiences that seemed at the time to be final and satisfying in more satisfying combinations with new experience and greater largenesses and transcendences. And especially in the psychical and other middle domains there is a very large room for the possibility of misleading and often captivating error, and here even a certain amount of positive scepticism has its use and at all events a great caution and scrupulous intellectual rectitude, but not the scepticism of the ordinary mind which amounts to a disabling denial. In the integral Yoga psychical experience, especially of the kind associated with what is often called occultism and savours of the miraculous, should be altogether subordinated to spiritual truth and wait upon that for its own interpretation, illumination and sanction. But even in the purely spiritual domain, there are experiences which are partial and, however attractive, only receive their full validit, significance or right application when we can advance to a fuller experience. And there are others which are in themselves quite valid and full and absolute, but if we confine ourselves to them, will prevent other sides of the spiritual truth from manifestation and mutilate the integrality of the Yoga.”

This brings us then to the quality or nature of the faith required in the soul for this endeavour: “Here too our faith must be an assent that receives all spiritual experience, but with a wide openness and readiness for always more light and truth, an absence of limiting attachment and no such clinging to forms as would interfere with the forward movement of the Shakti towards the integrality of the spiritual being, consciousness, knowledge, power, action and the wholeness of the one and the multiple Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 750-751

Developing a Working Faith in the Emotional and Vital Being

A faith based on mental ideas is brittle and subject to be shaken when those ideas are challenged, or overrun by the emotions or the impulsion of desire. The transformation of the being envisioned by the integral Yoga cannot rely solely on mental faith. In particular, the emotional being and the vital being need to also accept the faith in the spiritual path and the ultimate spiritual destiny, and thereby unify the major parts of the being around the common undertaking. It is also here not sufficient to accept a rigid and fixed faith that either leads to fanaticism or is unwilling and unable to change as the steps of the yogic process unfold and call one to adapt and grow under the spiritual impulsion.

Sri Aurobindo describes the limitations of an imperfect faith in the emotional being: “The heart too when it is troubled in its attachments and its certitudes, perplexed by throw-backs and failures and convictions of error or involved in the wrestlings which attend a call to move forward from its assured positions, has its draggings, wearinesses, sorrowings, revolts, reluctances which hamper the progress.”

The solution Sri Aurobindo recommends for the heart: “It must learn a larger and surer faith giving in the place of the mental reactions a calm or a moved spiritual acceptance to the ways and the steps of the Shakti which is in its nature the assent of a deepening Ananda to all necessary movements and a readiness to leave old moorings and move always forwards towards the delight of a greater perfection.”

Similarly, the vital being must find its proper faith as well: “The life mind must give its assent to the successive motives, impulsions, activities of the life imposed on it by the guiding power as aids or fields of the development of the nature and to the successions also of the inner Yoga, but it must not be attached or call a halt anywhere, but must always be prepared to abandon old urgency and accept with the same completeness of assent new higher movements and activities, and it must learn to replace desire by a wide and bright Ananda in all experience and action. The faith of the heart and the life mind, like that of the intelligence, must be capable of a constant correction, enlarging and transformation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 749-750

Developing a Working Faith of the Intellect

It is the nature of the intellect to try to establish certainties and be able to rely on them as solid realities that can be counted on. In mathematics, this is known as the development of an axiom, a core or basic tenet of understanding that is always true and which then becomes the foundation for extrapolation and development. This same tendency also permeates the action of the intellect in other fields of endeavour. Thus, the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, so obvious to the sensory perception, was accepted as axiomatic truth until just a few hundred years ago in most parts of the world. Similarly, the idea that the earth is flat not spheroid was a fixed dogma until those who had a new insight, and the faith to follow that insight into action, were able to establish that the world is a globe, not a flat plane. The errors that the mind latches on to are part of the systematic developmental process of growth, and are necessary stages, as we see in the development of young children who believe certain things to be true at one age, but abandon those for new certainties as they grow and learn. The progress is from “darkness to light”, and then from “light to greater light”. This insight affects the relation of faith to the yogic process.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The motions of the mind in its progress must necessarily be mixed with a greater or lesser proportion of error, and we should not allow our faith to be disconcerted by the discovery of its errors or imagine that because the beliefs of the intellect which aided us were too hasty and positive, therefore the fundamental faith in the soul was invalid. The human intellect is too much afraid of error precisely because it is too much attached to a premature sense of certitude and a too hasty eagerness for positive finality in what it seems to seize of knowledge. As our self-experience increases, we shall find that our errors even were necessary movements, brought with them and left their element or suggestion of truth and helped towards discovery or supported a necessary effort and that the certitudes we have now to abandon had yet their temporary validity in the progress of our knowledge. The intellect cannot be a sufficient guide in the search for spiritual truth and realisation and yet it has to be utilised in the integral movement of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes therefore a doubt which questions everything and leads to paralysis and an open questioning intelligence which can avoid dogmatic adherence to limited concepts, ideas or beliefs which need to be expanded or left behind. “…the seeking intelligence has to be trained to admit a certain large questioning, an intellectual rectitude not satisfied with half-truths, mixtures of error or approximations and, most positive and helpful, a perfect readiness always to move forward from truths already held and accepted to the greater corrective, completing or transcending truths which at first it was unable or, it may be, disinclined to envisage. A working faith of the intellect is indispensable, not a superstitious, dogmatic or limiting credence attached to every temporary support or formula, but a large assent to the successive suggestions and steps of the Shakti, a faith fixed on realities, moving from the lesser to the completer realities and ready to throw down all scaffolding and keep only the large and growing structure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 748-749

The Working Faith Needed in the Daily Life of the Practitioner of the Yoga

The development of the yogic process in the seeker is a long, arduous and complex series of insights, experiences, emotional responses, vital reactions, and the setbacks that inevitably take place during the journey. There must therefore be, not just the larger, comprehensive form of faith in the eventual result and the divine Shakti’s action, but a more detailed faith in the steps along the way and their necessity, the working of the divine force in this daily process, and the step by step progress, even if the seeker cannot see it at a particular moment or in a specific circumstance of his life and activity. While this kind of detailed faith in the process is necessary, Sri Aurobindo also cautions that it should not lead to attachment to any one particular method, experience or realisation along the way, as invariably these are stepping-stones, not a final resting place for the spiritual seeker.

What is required is “…a day to day working faith in the power in us to achieve, in the steps we have taken on the way, in the spiritual experiences that come to us, in the intuitions, the guiding movements of will and impulsion, the moved intensities of the heart and aspirations and fulfilments of the life that are the aids, the circumstances and the stages of the enlarging of the nature and the stimuli or the steps of the soul’s evolution.”

The caution arises in that none of these things are final and thus, the seeker must be able to let go of them and shift his working faith into the next phase of the soul’s growth and development: “There is not only much that will be strongly raised in us in order to be cast out and rejected, a battle between the powers of ignorance and the lower nature and the higher powers that have to replace them, but experiences, states of thought and feeling, forms of realisation that are helpful and have to be accepted on the way and may seem to us for the time to be spiritual finalities, are found afterwards to be steps of transition, have to be exceeded and the working faith that supported them withdrawn in favour of other and greater things or of more full and comprehensive realisations and experiences, which replace them or into which they are taken up in a completing transformation.”

“That which will support him through these changes, struggles, transformations which might otherwise dishearten and baffle,–for the intellect and life and emotion always grasp too much at things, fasten on premature certitudes and are apt to be afflicted and unwilling when forced to abandon that on which they rested,–is a firm faith in the Shakti that is at work and reliance on the guidance of the Master of the Yoga whose wisdom is not in haste and whose steps through all the perplexities of the mind are assured and just and sound, because they are founded on a perfectly comprehending transaction with the necessities of our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 18, Faith and Shakti, pp. 747-748