The Play of the Gunas and the Difficulty of Effecting True Change in Human Nature

We do not generally recognise that it is virtually impossible to hold one thought, one idea, one form of concentration, one energetic status for long periods of time. As time goes on, the balance of the Gunas changes and we lose the intensity, shift our focus to something else, and we find that the fear, the anger, the desire, the despair, or the concentration or aspiration we held earlier has attenuated or disappeared for the time being.

The theory that indulgence in a particular movement or reaction will eventually lead to its demise has been unfortunately proven to be incorrect. While it is true that after indulgence a period of distaste may occur (rajas giving way to tamas), when the energy recovers, the individual finds that the indulgence has actually strengthened the propensity by smoothing out the energetic and neural pathways for that particular action or reaction to occur. This same mechanism is operative when we study a subject, or undertake physical training of any sort, and through repetition, we increase the ease of understanding the subject and create what is called “muscle memory” that makes it easier to repeat. We thus cannot rely on indulgence which is the mechanism of learning and training, to magically remove the unwanted reaction.

On the other extreme is the attempt to suppress the undesired action. If the suppression is done with intensity of force, it is under the impulsion of Rajas. When the rajasic energy recedes, the individual usually has an uprising of Tamas, which is the perfect opportunity for the energy to re-emerge. In fact, suppression tends, as with the compression of a spring, to actually store the energy in a more concentrated form, so that once the pressure is released, a more energetic result will tend to emerge.

The Mother writes: “You aspire for a change, perhaps for a specific change; but the answer to your aspiration will not come immediately and in the meantime your nature will resist. Things happen like this: at a given moment the nature seems to have yielded and you think you have got the desired result. Your aspiration diminishes in intensity because you think you have the desired result. But the other fellow, who is very cunning and is waiting quietly in his corner, when you are off your guard, he springs up like a jack-in-the-box, and then you must begin all over again.”

A disciple asks: “But if one can tear out completely the root of the thing?”

The Mother continues: “Ah! one must not be so sure of that. I have known people who wanted to save the world by reducing it so much that there was no longer a world left! This is the ascetic way — you want to do away with the problem by doing away with the possibility of the problem. But this will never change anything.”

“No, there is a method — a sure one — but your method must be very clear-sighted and you must have a wide-awake consciousness of your person and of what goes on there and the way in which things happen. Let us take the instance of a person subject to outbursts of rage and violence. According to one method he would be told: ‘Get as angry as you like, you will suffer the consequences of your anger and this will cure you.’ This could be discussed. According to another method he would be told: ‘Sit upon your anger and it will disappear.’ This too could be discussed. In any case, you will have to sit upon it all the time, for if ever you should get up for a minute you will see immediately, what happens! Then, what is to be done?”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 114-115


The Intense Opposition of Basic Human Nature to Any Attempt to Change or Grow into a New Status and the Need to Persevere

Until an individual takes up the issue of inner growth and development, whether this is for spiritual progress, mental development, emotional growth, vital discipline or some kind of physical control, he tends to take very little notice of any inner conflict or struggle. He just acts ‘naturally’ according to his own idea of what his life is about. This all changes when an individual attempts to undertake any manner of change in some part of his being. This may be a very physical activity, such as an attempt to lose weight, to carry out a resolution to exercise, to overcome an addiction such as to drugs, alcohol or caffeine, or it may be on the vital level, for instance, to resolve to overcome a tendency to anger, or restrain impulses of desire in some form; or at may be an attempt to remain calm under provocation or restrain impulsive thinking or behavior. The individual immediate begins to recognise the difficulty as the old habits try to assert themselves, or the reactive nature simply responds contrary to the will. The dieter will find himself binging and a struggle to restrain the impulse to eat ensures. Addictions create psychological dependency as well as physical dependency and thus, there is an intense internal conflict from any attempt to stop the addiction.

For the spiritual seeker, the situation becomes more acute as he begins to actively witness these actions from a viewpoint that rejects them and desires to embody a new consciousness that seems to run counter to the basic embedded instincts and habits of human nature. Thus, the spiritual seeker finds himself in a constant struggle as each element of basic human nature, so freely accepted as part of the human situation, comes up for review and change within the context of the evolution of consciousness and the shifting of the basic standpoint from which human behavior derives.

The constant and overwhelming nature of this multifarious opposition to the spiritual growth makes the seeker believe, in many cases, that he is destined to fail, when in actuality what is taking place is that he has a more precise view and insight into the human condition and has taken on a challenge that goes far beyond any individual aspect addressed in the course of ordinary life. The need to observe, deny support of the will, and shift the focus to the spiritual aim are the method to be employed. While the struggle may be continuous and involve all the elements of human life, it is only taken up by those who are called to this path, and they are individuals who inherently have the inner fortitude and the support of the Divine Grace to succeed, as long as they do not give in to the despair or depression and simply persevere.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… the experience which so alarms you, of states of consciousness in which you say and do things contrary to your true will, is not a reason for despair. It is a common experience in one form or another of all who try to rise above their ordinary nature. Not only those who practice yoga, but religious men and even those who seek only a moral control and self-improvement are confronted with this difficulty. And here again it is not the yoga or the effort after perfection that creates this condition, — there are contradictory elements in human nature and in every human being through which he is made to act in a way which his better mind disapproves. This happens to everybody, to the most ordinary men in the most ordinary life. It only becomes marked and obvious to our minds when we try to rise above our ordinary external selves, because then we can see that it is the lower elements which are being made to revolt consciously against the higher will. There then seems to be for a time a division in the nature, because the true being and all that supports it stand back and separate from these lower elements. At one time the true being occupies the field of the nature, at another the lower nature used by some contrary Force pushes it back and seizes the ground…. If there is the firm will to progress, this division is overpassed and in the unified nature, unified around that will, there may be other difficulties, but this kind of discord and struggle will disappear.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 113-114

How to Change Human Nature

Many people are skeptical about the possibility of true change to human nature. This skepticism is supported by the long experience humanity has had in trying various ways of changing and overcoming habits, atavisms and what are considered to be the ‘natural’ forms of expression and action of the body, the life-force and the mind. Humanity has tried suppression, self-torture, extreme pressure exerted from outside or inwardly, as well as attempts at isolation and abandonment of active involvement in the external life. Humanity has tried development of moral codes, religious doctrines, education, socialization and many other forms of developing a ‘civilizing’ effect on the individual’s nature and relationship to the world. All of these attempts have provided some amount of insight into the difficulty of the task, but at some point, each of them has failed to effectuate radical change, although some of the mechanisms or processes developed may wind up having a positive, even necessary, role in farther reaching attempts at human development. Some have wound up disguising the deeper instinctual actions with a veneer of civilization, through a process that psychologists call ‘sublimation’. Suppression of the natural urges and pathways of expression lead to either various forms of internal breakdown or imbalance, or in some cases, explosive release that overwhelms the inner control mechanisms. Some deny it is even possible and recommend ‘eat, drink and be merry’ as the purpose of life.

There are several common themes that can be gleaned from these past attempts and their noted results. Changing human nature is not something that occurs overnight. Countless millennia were needed to develop the evolution of life, and eventually the evolution of mind into the physical world. During this time-span, instincts, habits and automatic reactions were developed which underpin life today, even for those who are most highly advanced in the mental evolution.

The first step is to become the witness of the nature, so that one can observe and separate oneself from those actions and reactions that need to be changed as part of the development to the next evolutionary stage of consciousness beyond the mind. The next step is to recognise that everything moves based on attention and energy, and thus, one should begin to shift the focus away from the obsessions, goals and desires of the external being and refocus the attention on the soul’s aspiration and the higher evolutionary principles. The more one is able to refocus and not support those older aims and objectives, the weaker they become. It is not a matter of violently suppressing or actively fighting with these drives, but more a matter of growing out of them by shifting the attention, just as a child grows out of playing with certain toys and takes up new interests as he grows and develops.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The difficulty is that in everyone there are two people (to say the least) — one in the outer vital and physical clinging to the past self and trying to get or retain the consent of the mind and the inner being, the other which is the soul asking for a new birth. That which has spoken in you and made the prayer is the psychic being expressing itself through the aid of the mind and the higher vital, and it is this which should always arise in you through prayer and through turning to the Mother and give you the right idea and the right impulse.”

“It is true that if you refuse always the action suggested by the old Adam, it will be a great step forward. the struggle is then transferred to the psychological plane, where it will be much easier to fight the matter out. I do not deny that there will be difficulty for some time; but if there is the control of the action, the control of thought and feeling is bound to come. If there is yielding, on the contrary, a fresh lease is given to the old self.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 112-113

Risks and Difficulties Attendant on the Practice of a Yoga of Transformation

People tend to underestimate the risks and difficulties attendant on the practice of yoga, with a focus on the growth of consciousness and transformation of human nature. Once the seeker begins to try to make changes in long-standing habits of action and reaction, mental predilections, vital responses and physical expectations, all kinds of imbalances can arise and long-stable situations can suddenly erupt in new and unexpected ways, and in some cases, with enormous force, taking the seeker by surprise if there has not been sufficient preparation, purification and separation of the witness consciousness to avoid being sucked in and overwhelmed.

A case that has not been widely mooted illustrates one of the extreme reactions that can occur. A seeker studies and does intensive sadhana and develops certain powers and insights which he then determines will make him a teacher or guru. He goes to the West from India, and with his developed powers he begins to attract young people to join his Ashram. He has not, however, done the purifications needed, the necessary yamas and niyamas and begins to believe in his own superiority and the confluence of his own superior status and the teaching he is putting forward leads him to believe that anything he does in furtherance of the end result of disseminating the teaching is acceptable. He begins to entice young women into his bed, and then, after he has gained psychological control over them, he deploys them to entice and control young men to work hard and bring money and carry out his orders. He cheats suppliers to the organisation on the basis that he is doing noble work, and they would just waste the money if it was in their hands; and he cuts off family and friends from the seekers in order to create further controls. He sends people from one country to his locations in other countries and then takes control of their passports and money, effectively enslaving them. He engages in rape of certain women who were not willing to consent. Eventually he enters into sexual abuse of young children, sometimes in the presence of the child’s mother who is asked to encourage and support it. At a certain point, his misdeeds come to the notice of the authorities and he is charged and convicted of the crimes of sexually assaulting children, is imprisoned in Germany for some years before being forcibly returned to India, the country of his birth.

This individual may very well have been a sincere seeker in his youth and undertaken very serious sadhana, yet when the pressures and temptations arose as the powers unleashed by the yogic practices increased, he was unable to withstand them and had what may be considered to be a major fall.

Sri Aurobindo provides the solution and antidote. Everyone has to face difficulties, everyone will make mistakes, everyone will fall occasionally. With the right protections, the right devotion and focus, these can be overcome.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “I have never said that yoga or that this yoga is a safe and easy path. what I say is that anyone who has the will to go through, can go through. For the rest, if you aim high there is always the danger of a steep fall if you misconduct your aeroplane. But the danger is for those who allow themselves to entertain a double being, aiming high but also indulging their lower outlook and hankerings. What else can you expect when people do that? You must become single-minded, then the difficulties of the mind and vital will be overcome. Otherwise, those who oscillate between their heights and their abysses will always be in danger till they have become single-minded. That applies to the ‘advanced’ as well as the beginner. These are facts of nature; I can’t pretend for anybody’s comfort that they are otherwise. But there is the fact also that nobody need keep himself in this danger. One-mindedness, surrender to the Divine, faith, true love for the Divine, complete sincerity in the will, spiritual humility (real, not formal) — there are so many things that can be a safeguard against any chance of eventual downfall. Slips, stumbles, difficulties, upsettings everyone has; one can’t be assured against these things, but if one has the safeguards, they are transitory, help the nature to learn and are followed by a better progress.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 111-112

Understanding Difficulties and Obstacles That Arise During the Yogic Process

Sri Aurobindo is able to illustrate the different ways that seekers wind up facing and dealing with difficulties or obstacles that arise during the yogic process. This is not a “one size fits all” process due to the differing backgrounds, starting points, capacities and social environment governing each separate individual. No matter how advanced a particular sadhak or practitioner may be, the difficulties are there, whether overt on the surface of the being, or hidden within and constituting an inner struggle.

We learn of difficulties faced by great spiritual leaders of the past to show us the universality of this truth. Jesus struggled with the devil, Buddha was confronted by Mara, each of them had to live with extreme hardships, having abandoned either for a time, or completely, direct involvement in the social and economic life of the society, in some cases living in the desert with privations, or in the forest with privations. Milarepa was tasked with hard physical labor by his Guru for an extended period of time, during which he was not allowed to participate in any teachings or meditation practices; and thereafter, he lived a life of extreme austerity, meditating in caves, naked, with nettles for sustenance. Sri Aurobindo himself spent time in the Alipore jail as a guest of the British Raj, under extreme circumstances, until he was exonerated at trial. Yet in these, notably extreme cases, the spiritual process continued and yielded results that resonate even today from those examples as illustrations of the difficulties that attend spiritual practice.

What we are not fully seeing here are the intense inner struggles as sincere seekers grapple with the weaknesses, difficulties and limitations of the human instrument, the physical, vital, emotional and mental elements and the impacts on these that come from external sources, all while trying to overcome habits, develop new directions and powers of action, and refine and redirect the focus and action of the individual under the guidance of the psychic being.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Yoga has always its difficulties, whatever yoga it be. Moreover, it acts in a different way on different seekers. Some have to overcome the difficulties of their nature first before they get any experiences to speak of, others get a splendid beginning and all the difficulties afterwards, others go on for a long time having alternate risings to the top of the wave and then a descent into the gulfs and so on till the difficulty is worked out, others have a smooth path which does not mean that they have no difficulties — they have plenty, but they do not care a straw for them, because they feel that the Divine will help them to the goal or that he is with them even when they do not feel him — their faith makes them imperturbable.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pg. 111

The Three Gunas, Their Role in the Difficulties and Obstacles in the Yogic Development, and the Certainty of Success When the Divine Call is Present

The importance of the rule of the 3 Gunas, the qualities of Nature, cannot be over-emphasized. Each of these qualities has both its positive aspects and its downsides, and they are functional in all life. They are continually in fluctuation and intermix with one another to create the events and circumstances that play out in our lives. This remains true even for those who take up the spiritual life. The focus, quality and process of the spiritual practice are all conditioned by the Gunas and their action.

There seems to be considerable misunderstanding about the action of the Gunas as people indicate that they are becoming ‘sattwic”, with the idea that the qualities of light, harmony and calm understanding that accompany this Guna are the total requirement. What is overlooked here is that even sattwa has its difficulties and can pose obstacles to spiritual progress at a certain stage; as well as the fact that Rajas is needed to provide the energy in the life action, and that Tamas has its role in providing a stable foundational platform. What is required is a detailed insight to the actions of the 3 Gunas, the application of their positive benefits for the spiritual practice, and the need to overcome the obstacles each one puts in the way of the progress.

Another issue is the frequently held idea that once one takes up spiritual practice, the action of the Gunas is no longer to be regarded, and that somehow the Divine operates through some miraculous mechanism that overturns and overrides the Gunas. This creates a duality of the Divine creation being built upon the basis of the Gunas, and the seeker somehow being extracted from this foundation and basis of the entire creation. The Divine appears to favor the evolutionary and systematic growth and development within the overarching framework that has been set up.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The spiritual change which yoga demands from human nature and individual character is, therefore, full of difficulties, one may almost say that it is the most difficult of all human aspirations and efforts. In so far as it can get the sattwic and the rajasic (kinetic) elements to assist it, its path is made easier but even the sattwic element can resist by attachment to old ideas, to preconceived notions, to mental preferences and partial judgments, to opinions and reasonings which come in the way of higher truth and to which it is attached: the kinetic element resists by its egoism, its passions, desires and strong attachments, its vanity and self-esteem, its constant habit of demand and many other obstacles. The resistance of the vital has a more violent character than the others and it brings to the aid of the others its own violence and passion and that is a source of all the acute difficulty, revolt, upheavals and disorders which mar the course of the yoga. The Divine is there, but He does not ignore the conditions, the laws, the circumstances of Nature; it is under these conditions that He does all His work, His work in the world and in man and consequently also in the sadhak, the aspirant, even in the God-knower and God-lover; even the saint and the sage continue to have difficulties and to be limited by their human nature. A complete liberation and a complete perfection or the complete possession of the Divine and possession by the Divine is possible, but it does not usually happen by an easy miracle or a series of miracles. The miracle can and does happen but only when there is the full call and complete self-giving of the soul and the entire widest opening of the nature.”

“Still, if the call of the soul is there, although not yet full, however great and obstinate the difficulties, there can be no final and irretrievable failure; even when the thread is broken, it is taken up again and reunited and carried to its end. There is a working in the nature itself in response to the inner need which, however slowly, brings about the result.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 110-111

The Formation of Human Nature and the Character of the Individual and the Basis of the Resistance to Change

A yogic practice focused on transformation of human nature must necessarily address issues differently than one that has ‘liberation’ as its sole goal. This brings in the need for an understanding of the human instrument, the various elements of the being, the development of those elements through time, and the manner in which past stages form a basis for the current stage, with both its capacities and its limitations.

Sri Aurobindo provides a detailed background to the residual issues that arise due to the nature and characteristics of these past stages of development and the influence of the three Gunas on these respective elements.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Human nature and the character of the individual are a formation that has arisen in and out of the inconscience of the material world and can never get entirely free from the pressure of that Inconscience. As consciousness grows in the being born into this material world, it takes the form of an Ignorance slowly admitting or striving with difficulty after knowledge and human nature is made of that Ignorance and the character of the individual is made from the elements of the Ignorance. It is largely mechanistic like everything else in material Nature and there is almost invariably a resistance and, more often than not, a strong and stubborn resistance to any change demanded from it. The character is made up of habits and it clings to them, is disposed to think them the very law of its being and it is a hard job to get it to change at all except under a strong pressure of circumstances. Especially in the physical parts, the body, the physical mind, the physical life movements, there is this resistance; the tamasic element in Nature is powerful there, what the Gita describes as aprakasa, absence of light, and apravrtti, a tendency to inertia, inactivity, unwillingness to make an effort and, as a result, even when the effort is made, a constant readiness to doubt, to despond and despair, to give up, renounce the aim and the endeavour, collapse. Fortunately, there is also in human nature a sattwic element which turns towards light and a rajasic or kinetic element which desires and needs to act and can be made to desire not only change but constant progress. But these too, owing to the limitations of human ignorance and the obstructions of the fundamental inconscience, suffer from pettiness and division and can resist as well as assist the spiritual endeavour.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 109-110

The Divine Grace By Any Other Name…

It is human nature to want to categorize and pigeon-hole what happens and make developments fit into definitions of our choosing. This same thing occurs when we look at openings of the spiritual nature and the development of or transformation of consciousness. Not only do we want to define and categorize, but we want to overlay our own preferred view and methods onto other people and use that template to try to understand and judge others, their spiritual practice and their inner development.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that each individual has his own way to the realisation and we cannot thereby either judge that individual’s progress, nor force them to accept our definitions. Endless disputes can thus be avoided! Sri Aurobindo provides the example of how we understand “Divine Grace”. Those who do not accept intellectually any form of personal divinity will not accept the concept of ‘divine grace’. Looked at from their viewpoint, however, Sri Aurobindo finds a way to reconcile the viewpoint of those who accept a personal form of the Divine and those who do not. The important thing here is not the label, the definition, the framework of understanding, but the reality of an opening and a transformation of consciousness. However it occurs, through whatever method attained, the change is welcomed and recognised as part of the evolutionary development within which all are involved.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Each mind can have its own way of approaching the supreme Truth and there is an entrance for each as well as a thousand ways for the journey to it. It is not necessary to believe in the Grace or to recognise a Godhead different from one’s highest Self — there are ways of yoga that do not accept these things. Also, for many no form of yoga is necessary — they arrive at some realisation by a sort of pressure of the mind or the heart or the will breaking the screen between it and what is at once beyond it and its own source. What happens after the breaking of the screen depends on the play of the Truth on the consciousness and the turn of the nature. There is no reason, therefore, why X’s realisation of his being should not come in its own way by growth from within, not by the Divine Grace, if his mind objects to that description, but, let us say, by the spontaneous movement of the Self within him.”

“For, as to this ‘Grace’, we describe it in that way because we feel in the infinite Spirit or Self-existence a Presence or a being, a Consciousness that determines, — that is what we speak of as the Divine, — not a separate person, but the one Being of whom our individual self is a portion or a vessel. But it is not necessary for everybody to regard it that way. Supposing it is the impersonal Self of all only, yet the Upanishad says of this Self and its realisation: ‘This understanding is not to be gained by reasoning nor by tapasya nor by much learning, but whom this Self chooses, to him it reveals its own body’. Well, that is the same thing as what we call the Divine Grace; we can call it the Self within choosing its own hour and way to manifest to the mental instrument on the surface; we can call it the flowering of the inner being or inner nature into self-realisation and self-knowledge. As something in us approaches it or as it presents itself to us, so the mind sees it. But in reality it is the same thing and the same process of the being in Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 105-106

The Individual Seeker and the Best Path Forward in the Practice of the Yoga

As each individual tries to understand his life and purpose, he begins a process of observation, review, and experimentation. At this stage, many seekers have little clue about the path that is best suited for them, and they may try out different approaches. Once a path has been identified, they believe in many cases this is the “best” path and they begin to recommend it to others. It is, however, frequently the case, that what suits one individual will not suit the next one. Either there is a temperamental difference, a developmental difference, or a different starting point or life circumstance that requires each to find his own unique way forward and follow his own path to realisation and transformation of the nature. Thus, there is no one absolute way forward, and each path has its own obstacles and difficulties along the way, and relies on different aspects of the being to progress along the way. The common theme is the need to overcome the basic limitations of the human individual as presently constituted, with the drag of the physical limitations, the workings of desire in the vital nature, and the limits of the mentality and its narrow and very limited view as well as its openness to the influence of the desire-soul to bias the decisions it makes or supports.

The Mother writes: “Everyone must follow his path in accordance with his own nature, and there is always a preference for one way rather than another… for one who follows the path of action, it is much more difficult to feel that the human personality does not exist and that only the divine Force works. For one who follows the path of knowledge it is relatively very easy, it is something one discovers almost immediately. For one who follows the path of love it is elementary, since it is by giving himself that he progresses. But for one who follows the path of action it is much more difficult, and consequently for him the first step is to do what is said here in the passage of The Synthesis of Yoga which we have just read*: to create in himself this complete detachment from the fruit of action, to act because this is what must be done, to do it in the best possible way, and not to be anxious about the consequences, to leave the consequences to a Will higher than his own.”

*”It is then by a transformation of life in its very principle, not by an external manipulation of its phenomena, that the integral Yoga proposes to change it from a troubled and ignorant into a luminous and harmonious movement of Nature. There are three conditions which are indispensable for the achievement of this central inner revolution and a new formation; none of them is altogether sufficient in itself, but by their united threefold power the uplifting can be done, the conversion made and completely made. For, first, life as it is is a movement of desire and it has built in us as its centre a desire-soul which refers to itself all the motions of life and puts in them its own troubled hue and pain of an ignorant, half-lit, baffled endeavour: for a divine living, desire must be abolished and replaced by a purer and firmer motive-power, the tormented soul of desire dissolved and in its stead there must emerge the calm, strength, happiness of a true vital being now concealed within us. Next, life as it is is driven or led partly by the impulse of the life-force, partly by a mind which is mostly a servant and abettor of the ignorant life-impulse, but in part also its uneasy and not too luminous or competent guide and mentor; for a divine life the mind and the life-impulse must cease to be anything but instruments and the inmost psychic being must take their place as the leader on the path and the indicator of a divine guidance. Last, life as it is is turned towards the satisfaction of the separative ego; ego must disappear and be replaced by the true spiritual person, the central being, and life itself must be turned towards the fulfillment of the Divine in terrestrial existence; it must feel a Divine Force awaking within it and become an obedient instrumentation of its purpose.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga pg. 166)

“The Mother continues: “One can’t make a general rule for the order of importance of the paths, it is an exclusively personal affair. And there is a time when one understands very well, it is apparent, that no two paths are alike, no two paths can be alike, and that every man follows his own path and that this is the truth of his being. One can, if one looks from a sufficient height, see a difference in the speed of advance, but it does not always conform to the external signs; and one could say a little humorously, that it is not always the wisest who goes fastest!”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 103-105

Understanding the Path of Devotion, Bhakti Yoga

Devotion is not something measured externally by how an individual sings, dances, prays or manifests various signs such as ‘speaking in tongues’, although any one of these activities may indeed be expressions of a deep inner devotion. The measure of devotion is one that reflects the internal state of the seeker. It may be expressive and effusive, or it may be totally indrawn and bring the seeker into a state of ecstatic contemplation. Devotion is an outflowering of the soul, not an expression of vital enthusiasm.

We can find examples of devotion in virtually all the spiritual and religious traditions of the world. Notable examples include Anandamayi Ma and Hildegard of Bingen, although many more could be cited. If we review their lives and their own expressions about their relation to the Divine, we can find the thread that leads us to the experience, and eventually the status of divine love, Bhakti, which is the fulfillment of spiritual surrender to the Divine by the individual.

For those individuals who naturally follow the path of devotion, the process involves coming in contact with the psychic being in the mystic heart centre, and allowing it to come forward and express the attitudes of aspiration, adoration, gratitude, compassion, love and self-giving which are natural to the psychic being.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The very object of yoga is a change of consciousness — it is by getting a new consciousness or by unveiling the hidden consciousness of the true being within and progressively manifesting and perfecting it that one gets first the contact and then the union with the Divine. Ananda and Bhakti are part of that deeper consciousness, and it is only when one lives in it and grows in it that Ananda and Bhakti can be permanent. Till then, one can only get experiences of Ananda and Bhakti, but not the constant and permanent state. But the state of Bhakti and constantly growing surrender does not come to all at an early stage of the sadhana; many, most indeed, have a long journey of purification and Tapasya to go through before it opens, and experiences of this kind, at first rare and interspersed, afterwards frequent, are the landmarks of their progress. It depends on certain conditions, which have nothing to do with superior or inferior yoga-capacity, but rather with a predisposition in the heart to open, as you say, to the Sun of the Divine Influence.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pg. 103