Spirituality Means Living a Divine Life

There is a vast difference between mental acceptance and adherence to an ideal, and actually transforming one’s life and actions to match that ideal.  This can be seen throughout history where a high ideal captured the imagination of a sizable segment of humanity, but left people virtually unchanged, satisfied that in their mental agreement they had accomplished their goal and could rest satisfied.  In today’s world we see people expressing adherence to religions of peace leading the calls for war against non-believers or simply those who stand in the way of some economic benefit or resource.  We can observe people who nominally accept a religion that started with the idea of helping those suffering and less fortunate, working to actively increase the suffering of the unfortunate and disenfranchised!

Sri Aurobindo clarifies that simply holding an ideal, but not implementing it, is “not enough”:  “For the way that humanity deals with an ideal is to be satisfied with it as an aspiration which is for the most part left only as an aspiration, accepted only as a partial influence.  The ideal is not allowed to mould the whole life, but only more or less to colour it; it is often used even as a cover and a plea for things that are diametrically opposed to its real spirit.  Institutions are created which are supposed, but too lightly supposed to embody that spirit and the fact that the ideal is held, the fact that men live under its institutions is treated as sufficient.  The holding of an ideal becomes almost an excuse for not living according to the ideal; the existence of its institutions is sufficient to abrogate the need of insisting on the spirit that made the institutions.  But spirituality is in its very nature a thing subjective and not mechanical; it is nothing if it is not lived inwardly and if the outward life does not flow out of this inward living.  Symbols, types, conventions, ideas are not sufficient.  A spiritual symbol is only a meaningless ticket, unless the thing symbolised is realised in the spirit.  A spiritual convention may lose or expel its spirit and become a falsehood.   … A spiritual idea is a power, but only when it is both inwardly and outwardly creative.  Here we have to enlarge and to deepen the pragmatic principle that truth is what we create, and in this sense first, that it is what we create within us, in other words, what we become.  Undoubtedly, spiritual truths exist eternally beyond independent of us in the heavens of the spirit; but it is of no avail for humanity here, it does not become truth of earth, truth of life until it is lived.  The divine perfection is always there above us; but for man to become divine in consciousness and act and to live inwardly and outwardly the divine life is what is meant by spirituality; all lesser meanings given to the word are inadequate fumblings or impostures.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 24, The Advent and Progress of the Spiritual Age, pp. 262-263

It Is Not Enough …

When we observe the state of humanity and the world, it becomes clear that some substantial change needs to take place as we face what appears to be a  serious  existential crisis.  Recent reporting shows that as many as a million species are facing extinction as changes in climate, habitat and human interaction with the natural world are wreaking havoc on balances of Nature.  Climate change is exacerbating pressures caused by rapid population growth and the pressure that it places on fresh water, food and the ability of the planet to sustain that growth.  Warfare and mass migration are the result of these imbalances and the historical divisions among human groupings.  Add to this the pressure caused by the attempt to fulfill desires stirred up and created through media manipulation solely for corporate profits.  Looking at this, a change in human focus and motivation toward a spiritual direction seems like it would be a welcome relief.  And there is no doubt that such a change would represent real progress.  But Sri Aurobindo shows us why this is simply “not enough”:

“If a subjective age, the last sector of a social cycle, is to find its outlet and fruition in a spiritualised society and the emergence of mankind on a higher evolutionary level, it is not enough that certain ideas favourable to that turn of human life should take hold of the general mind of the race, permeate the ordinary motives of its thought, art, ethics, political ideals, social effort, or even get well into its inner way of thinking and feeling.  It is not enough even that the idea of the kingdom of God on earth, a reign of spirituality, freedom and unity, a real and inner equality and harmony — and not merely an outward and mechanical equalisation and association — should become definitely an ideal of life; it is not enough that this ideal should be actively held as possible, desirable, to be sought and striven after, it is not enough even that it should come forward as a governing preoccupation of the human mind.  That would evidently be a very great step forward, — considering what the ideals of mankind now are, an enormous step.  It would be the necessary beginning, the indispensable mental environment for a living renovation of human society in a higher type.  But by itself it might only bring about a half-hearted or else a strong but only partially and temporarily successful attempt to bring something of the manifest spirit into human life and its institutions.  That is all that mankind has ever attempted on this line in the past.  It has never attempted to work out thoroughly even that little, except in the limits of a religious order or a peculiar community, and even there with such serious defects and under such drastic limitations as to make the experiment nugatory and without any bearing on human life.  If we do not get beyond the mere holding of the ideal and its general influence in human life, this little is all that mankind will attempt in the future.  More is needed; a general spiritual awakening and aspiration in mankind is indeed the large necessary motive-power, but the effective power must be something greater.  There must be a dynamic re-creating of individual manhood in the spiritual type.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 24, The Advent and Progress of the Spiritual Age, pp. 261-262

Looking for Signs of Readiness for the Development of a Spiritual Age of Humanity

How shall we know when humanity is ready to move toward a spiritual age that focuses on individual growth in freedom, combined with a sense of universality and oneness with all of creation?  We can look for signs in the way the mass of humanity begins to look at and consider its purpose and direction.  To date we find a vast preoccupation with fulfillment of desire, individual and collective egoism, and separation and conflict.  There are signs among certain leading individuals around the world of a turn towards this new spiritual perspective and direction, and the rise of certain collectivities to try to embody this perspective.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The spiritual age will be ready to set in when the common mind of man begins to be alive to these truths and to be moved or desire to be moved by this triple or triune Spirit.  That will mean the turning of the cycle of social development which we have been considering out of its incomplete repetitions on a new upward line towards its goal.  For having set out, according to our supposition, with a symbolic age, an age in which man felt a great Reality behind all life which he sought through symbols, it will reach an age in which it will begin to live in that Reality, not through the symbol, not by the power of the type or of the convention or of the individual reason and intellectual will, but in our own highest nature which will be the nature of that Reality fulfilled in the conditions — not necessarily the same as now — of terrestrial existence.  This is what the religions have seen with a more or less adequate intuition, but most often as in a glass darkly, that which they called the kingdom of God on earth, — his kingdom within in man’s spirit and therefore, for the one is the material result of the effectivity of the other, his kingdom without in the life of the peoples.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 260

Freedom and Unity in a Spiritualised Society

When the mind reflects on the concept of freedom, the normal reaction, based on the ego-consciousness, is to separate the individual from everyone else and focus on the satisfaction of the person’s own drives, needs, desires or aspirations.  Freedom, then, represents the individual essentially at odds with everyone and everything else.  This fantasy of the ego denies the inter-relationship of all nature and tries to achieve some type of predominance over the opposition of others.  In the universal creation, however, if we step back, we see the absolute interdependence of all existence.  Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, which makes them fully interdependent with human beings.  Looking at the intricate detailed relationships in Nature, we can easily see how the entire web of life is fitted together as a unified whole.  Thus, we must find a solution to the apparently conflicting drives for freedom, and for unity.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The spiritual life is the flower not of a featureless but a conscious and diversified oneness.  Each man has to grow into the Divine Reality within himself through his own individual being, therefore is a certain growing measure of freedom a necessity of the being as it develops and perfect freedom the sign and the condition of the perfect life.  But also, the Divine whom he thus sees in himself, he sees equally in all others and as the same Spirit in all.  Therefore too is a growing inner unity with others a necessity of his being and perfect unity the sign and condition of the perfect life.  Not only to see and find the Divine in oneself, but to see and find the Divine in all, not only to seek one’s own individual liberation or perfection, but to seek the liberation and perfection of others is the complete law of the spiritual being.  If the divinity sought were a separate godhead within oneself and not the one Divine, or if one sought God for oneself alone, then indeed the result might be a grandiose egoism … or it might be the isolated self-knowledge or asceticism of the ivory tower … .  But he who sees God in all, will serve freely God in all with the service of love.  He will, that is to say, seek not only his own freedom, but the freedom of all, not only his own perfection, but the perfection of all.  He will not feel his individuality perfect except in the largest universality, nor his own life to be full life except as it is one with the universal life.  He will not live either for himself or for the State and society, for the individual ego or the collective ego, but for something much greater, for God in himself and for the Divine in the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 259-260

Freedom in the Society in a Spiritual Age of Mankind

When we look at the current state of humanity and try to envision a society that does not function through the compulsion of laws, regulations, rules, codas, creeds or customs, all policed and enforced by an external compulsion, whether by police, armed forces, or the weight of a penal system whether civil or religious, it seems that it would be next to impossible for such a society to function effectively.  The argument is made that we require all this regulation and enforcement due to the havoc that would reign in its absence by a humanity out of control and doing “whatever it likes” on the impulse of the moment.

At the same time, it must be noted that in an evolving humanity, a time may come when the inner direction and impulsion grows to such an extent that people are acting, not on the ego-impulse, but on the guidance of the divine spirit within.  In such an instance, outer compulsion and laws will not advance humanity, but interfere with the progress.

Sri Aurobindo advises:  “[A spiritual age of manikind] … will not try to make man perfect by machinery or keep him straight by tying up all his limbs.  It will not present to the member of the society his higher self in the person of the policeman, the official and the corporal, nor, let us say, in the form of a socialistic bureaucracy or a Labour Soviet.  Its aim will be to diminish as soon and as far as possible the need of the element of external compulsion in human life by awakening the inner divine compulsion of the spirit within and all the preliminary means it will use will have that for its aim.  In the end it will employ chiefly if not solely the spiritual compulsion which even the spiritual individual can exercise on those around him, … that which awakens within us in spite of all inner resistance and outer denial the compulsion of the Light, the desire and the power to grow through one’s own nature into the Divine.  For the perfectly spiritualised society will be one in which, as is dreamed by the spiritual anarchist, all men will be deeply free, and it will be so because the preliminary condition will have been satisfied.  In that state each man will be not a law to himself, but the law, the divine Law, because he will be a soul living in the Divine Reality and not an ego living mainly if not entirely for its own interest and purpose.  His life will be led by the law of his own divine nature liberated from the ego.”

When Sri Aurobindo discusses the influence of the “spiritual compulsion” it should be noted that this is not some kind of external force, but the gentling influence on the atmosphere that surrounds the spiritual individual.  There are tales of the lion and the lamb laying down together in the presence of a spiritual personality because the atmosphere of peace is so strong that any aggressive energy is simply not possible in that presence.  The energy in the presence of someone who embodies spiritual realisation is palpable and influential for an inner opening without a need for external compulsion of any sort.

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 258-259

Freedom and Spiritual Growth

When we reflect on personal freedom, we tend to make it about the right to exercise our desires, impose our ideas or concepts, or those of the various groupings to which we adhere, upon the world.  We hear people frequently voice the sentiment “it’s a free country, i can do what i like”.  This type of freedom, when we examine it closely, turns out to be not true freedom, but a deeper form of bondage, a bondage to ideas, customs, desires, needs, societal expectations and norms, and the creed of our country or our religion.  To the extent that we try to push our freedom into the society whereby it infringes of the freedom of others, we also find that the society must necessarily create various controls to ensure a civil society can function, so our inner bondage turns also into an outer form of constraint.  We thus see a proliferation of rules, regulations, laws, and doctrines that limit the freedom that we felt we had.  We contrast this with the idea that when a practitioner takes up the practice of yoga, he abandons all attachment to society, laws, conventions, and thereby is “free”.  We see also a potential fallacy here to the extent that this is an attempt to achieve freedom through outer renunciation of the society and action, if it does not resolve the status of the individual who remains bound by all that has been rejected, still dictating his actions and reactions.  The Taittiriya Upanishad provides a definition of freedom:  “…who knoweth the Bliss of the Eternal?  He feareth not for aught in this world or elsewhere.  Verily to him cometh not remorse and her torment saying, ‘Why have i left undone the good and why have I don that which was evil?’   For he knoweth the Eternal, knoweth these that they are alike, and delivereth from them his Spirit; yea, he knoweth both evil and good for what they are and delivereth his Spirit, who knoweth the Eternal.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Brahmanandavalli, ch. 9, pg. 274)

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “For it is into the Divine within them that men and mankind have to grow; it is not an external idea or rule that has to be imposed on them from without.  Therefore the law of a growing inner freedom is that which will be most honoured in the spiritual age of mankind.  True it is that so long as man has not come within measurable distance of self-knowledge and has not set his face towards it, he cannot escape from the law of external compulsion and all his efforts to do so must be vain.  He is and always must be, so long as that lasts, the slave of others, the slave of his family, his caste, his clan, his Church, his society, his nation; and he cannot but be that and they too cannot help throwing their crude and mechanical compulsion on him, because he and they are the slaves of their own ego, of their own lower nature.”

“… as soon as man comes to know his spiritual self, he does by that discovery, often even by the very seeking for it, as ancient thought and religion saw, escape from the outer law and enter into the law of freedom.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 257-258

Characteristics of a Spiritualised Society

The psychology that arose through the industrial revolution led to the dominance of a world-view that looked at individuals as interchangeable parts in the machinery of society.  The society could organise, direct and dispose of the individual as met its larger needs with the view that the needs of the whole superseded the needs of the parts.  Very little, if any, thought was given to the idea that a society should be nurturing and supportive of the growth of the individuals who constitute it.  Lip service was paid to the idea, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies, of the rights of the individuals to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  In actuality, the larger drive of the mechanised world-view led to statistical analysis of economic well-being independent of the position of the individual members of the society, and to the development of the mass market, the mass armies, and the devaluing of the individual and his needs and role.  This however is a world-view that must change in a spiritualised society.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “A spiritualised society would treat in its sociology the individual, from the saint to the criminal, not as units of a social problem to be passed through some skilfully devised machinery and either flattened into the social mould or crushed out of it, but as souls suffering and entangled in a net and to be rescued, souls growing and to be encouraged to grow, souls grown and from whom help and power can be drawn by the lesser spirits who are not yet adult.  The aim of its economics would be not to create a huge engine of production, whether of the competitive or the cooperative kind, but to give to men — not only to some but to all men each in his highest possible measure — the joy of work according to their nature and free leisure to grow inwardly, as well as a simply rich and beautiful life for all.  In its politics it would not regard the nations within the scope of their own internal life as enormous State machines regulated and armoured with man living for the sake of the machine and worshipping it as his God and his larger self, content at the first call to kill others upon its altar and to bleed there himself so that the machine may remain intact and powerful and be made ever larger, more complex, more cumbrous, more mechanically efficient and entire.  Neither would it be content to maintain these nations or States in their mutual relations as noxious engines meant to discharge poisonous gas upon each other in peace and to rush in times of clash upon each other’s armed hosts and unarmed millions, full of belching shot and men missioned to murder like war-planes or hostile tanks in a modern battlefield.  It would regard the peoples as group-souls, the Divinity concealed and to be self-discovered in its human collectivities, group-souls meant like the individual to grow according to their own nature and by that growth to help each other, to help the whole race in the one common work of humanity.  And that work would be to find the divine Self in the individual and the collectivity and to realise spiritually, mentally, vitally, materially its greatest, largest, richest and deepest possibilities in the inner life of all and their outer action and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 257