The Enigma of Human Life pp. 17-18

B1 C2 Movement 3 Passage-by-Passage Summary

Opening Remarks
What is described in the passages that follow is the predicament of human life caught in some dubious game of cosmic powers that keep us tied to the outposts of Ignorance. They hold us captive to the play of dualities while keeping concealed the deeper secrets that lie on the extreme margins of Nature. Sri Aurobindo compares this ordinary human life to the life of those who, as Savitri, have risen to a greater Supernature and become conscious of their Divine Origin.

Fabric of terrestrial make
Here was no fabric of terrestrial make
Fit for a day’s use by busy careless Powers.

Human beings, due to their ignorance, become subject to the cosmic forces that govern human life, the gods and the titans who each work in man and use his being as their instruments in different ways.

A chattel and a plaything of Time’s Lords
An image fluttering on the screen of Fate,
Half-animated for a passing show,
Or a castaway on the ocean of Desire
Flung to the eddies in a ruthless sport
And tossed along the gulfs of Circumstance,
A creature born to bend beneath the yoke,
A chattel and a plaything of Time’s lords,      (page 18 begins)
Or one more pawn who comes destined to be pushed
One slow move forward on a measureless board
In the chess-play of the earth-soul with Doom,—
Such is the human figure drawn by Time

Men are the cattle of the gods, as the Upanishad says. Such is human life as long as he has not discovered the Eternal and the immortal element within him. Until then, he is simply a plaything moved by forces of lower nature and tossed by them on the ocean of Desire from one circumstance to another, as a helpless creature, – ‘a cork upon the sea’, as the Mother says. This play takes place on a large scale of Time, in which one lifetime is very brief, like a passing moment, where we learn and grow and progress slowly, often through much pain and facing the challenges of adverse Fate,

A conscious frame, a self-born Force
A conscious frame was here, a self-born Force.

Savitri’s nature, even her very body was conscious. She herself was none else but the original Force of the Supreme, the Divine Shakti who had assumed a human form.

The enigma and the compromise
In this enigma of the dusk of God,
This slow and strange uneasy compromise
Of limiting Nature with a limitless Soul,
Where all must move between an ordered Chance
And an uncaring blind Necessity,
Too high the fire spiritual dare not blaze.

The soul in man is a world of battle between forces that help its emergence and those that oppose its advance. Yet a deep Wisdom works in Nature’s heart, which works out its incalculable Purpose through mutual opposition of forces and their resistance. This purpose is not to allow the soul its escape from earthly life but to carry Nature along with it towards the great fulfillment. This is man’s riddle, the enigma he is born to resolve and escape from.

The ‘seeming’ compromise between the soul with its God ward aspiration and nature in its present state creates a double unease – an unease of the soul seeking to liberate itself from the bondage to an ignorant nature, and a stress on nature to change itself in the image of the soul’s aspiration.

The intense Original Flame
If once it met the intense original Flame,
An answering touch might shatter all measures made
And earth sink down with the weight of the Infinite.

The intense original Flame is the Fire that burns upon the apex of the worlds. It is the Source of all things even as it burns deep within the very core of creation. It is the Divinity within us that puts out its Light and Force upon Nature to transform it. Nature is unable to follow; it progresses slowly through many steps and stages. A too swift an awakening to the Supreme Light may indeed be blinding. First the receptacles must be prepared to receive it and this is done by slowly baking the clay-mould of matter under the pressure of the divinity within. Were too much pressure to be applied, the moulds of nature would break down rather than be transformed. That is why the process of transformation is slow and protracted.

The world is a prison
A gaol is this immense material world:
Across each road stands armed a stone-eyed Law,
At every gate the huge dim sentinels pace.

Sri Aurobindo compares here the world to an immense prison that guards against our true spiritual freedom. The laws of Death and Ignorance block every road to true Freedom, the freedom of the soul. Besides, doubt, denial and despair keep watch as sentinels to prevent the soul’s release from Ignorance.

The dual tables and the Karmic norm
A grey tribunal of the Ignorance,
An Inquisition of the priests of Night
In judgment sit on the adventurer soul,
And the dual tables and the Karmic norm
Restrain the Titan in us and the God:
Pain with its lash, joy with its silver bribe
Guard the Wheel’s circling immobility.

Our life swings between ‘good and bad’, ‘virtue and vice’, each of which brings its own consequences to the soul advancing towards its freedom. The soul thereby remains tied to Ignorance, to the play of dualities, as in a see-saw game of pleasure and pain. This see-saw game of life keeps us tied within our human limits, preventing us from a collapse into dark nether states but also restraining our ascent into the Godhead. This is the wheel of manifestation that ties us to habit and norm of a species.

The bond upon the soul
A bond is put on the high-climbing mind,
A seal on the too large wide-open heart;
Death stays the journeying discoverer, Life.

Our mind and heart move only within certain limits, our life can expand only up to a certain point, after which the flesh tires out and cannot follow the evolutionary pressure. Hence the soul has no other option left but to change over the form and with it take a new body and a new personality to carry on its evolutionary journey.

The slow evolutionary emergence
Thus is the throne of the Inconscient safe
While the tardy coilings of the aeons pass
And the Animal browses in the sacred fence
And the gold Hawk can cross the skies no more.

Thus all becomes a slow and tardy process. The sacred fence is the field of nature, the individual personality that is meant to become an instrument of the soul and a conscious channel of the Spirit. Instead it becomes a slave of the animal parts that sill rule much of our nature. Our mind remains closed to the powers of a higher intuitive knowledge that descends to us from the Supramental heights. Our soul remains bound to the realms of Ignorance instead of soaring high in the spiritual skies.

Closing Remarks
We should not take these passages as Sri Aurobindo’s final verdict on the karmic Law. A much detailed and many sided exposition follows in Book Six.

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