The Sailor on the Flow of Time pp. 69-71

Opening remarks
Sri Aurobindo in a sublime mix of modern image with ancient Vedic symbol compares the human soul to a sailor who sails through many lives and in the course of this journey discovers itself and the world. The world experiences are not just a means for the soul to discover itself but also a means for its self-fulfillment in the conditions of material existence.

A voyager upon eternity’s sea
This is the sailor on the flow of Time,
This is World-Matter’s slow discoverer,
Who, launched into this small corporeal birth,
Has learned his craft in tiny bays of self,
But dares at last unplumbed infinitudes,
A voyager upon eternity’s seas.

Man’s soul is the sailor on the ocean of Nature. His body is the ship on which he travels. Each life is a stage, a port or a station through which the voyager passes until he is ready to dare new routes and uncharted domains.

The world-adventure’s crude initial start
In his world-adventure’s crude initial start
Behold him ignorant of his godhead’s force,
Timid initiate of its vast design.

In the beginning the soul is just a little spark and our human consciousness rather crude, closer to the animal kind from which humanity slowly emerges. We know not the powers that lie within us or the great goal of our journey.

An expert captain of a fragile craft
An expert captain of a fragile craft,
A trafficker in small impermanent wares,
At first he hugs the shore and shuns the breadths,
Dares not to affront the far-off perilous main.

Though the soul potentially has all the knowledge and power ‘it needs’ to undertake this vast and perilous adventure, the human body breaks down too soon and cannot carry us through all the fields of the soul’s vast and grand adventure. The first few human lives as they emerge from the animal state are spent in merely testing and sounding the physical world and the immediate environment. The subtler and higher worlds appear too remote and distant, perilous and frightful to be explored.

Content with an unchanging course
He in a petty coastal traffic plies,
His pay doled out from port to neighbour port,
Content with his safe round’s unchanging course,
He hazards not the new and the unseen.

The true life of man is the psychic life. But in the beginning the psychic element is very small and buried in a mass of obscure movements of vital-physical Nature. There are hardly a few psychic moments that are carried on further to other lives. In this initial stage of our human evolution, man is hardly aware of anything beyond this material world. He is the physical man so to say, the tamasic humanity, content and comfortable dealing with the laws of things as they concern him immediately to serve his immediate practical needs. This little and obscure understanding of his environment he believes to be fixed laws of nature. He does not dare to challenge or change them. Though, in fact, what he calls as fixed laws are simply patterns and habits.

The sound of larger seas
But now he hears the sound of larger seas.

But slowly, out of the physical man concerned mainly with his immediate physical environment, the vital man begins to evolve. His center of action is in the vital whose very nature is expansion and exploration. Therefore he begins to explore larger fields for his growth and self-experience.

The unvisited shores
A widening world calls him to distant scenes
And journeyings in a larger vision’s arc
And peoples unknown and still unvisited shores.

The vital man ventures beyond his immediate physical environment to distant lands driven by the intrinsic urge of life to grow and expand. He becomes the explorer and the adventurer. Thus is born, out of the physical man, the vital, kinetic and dynamic humanity driven by the second mode of nature, the rajasic prakriti.

Entering the larger world-commerce
On a commissioned keel his merchant hull
Serves the world’s commerce in the riches of Time
Severing the foam of a great land-locked sea
To reach unknown harbour lights in distant climes
And open markets for life’s opulent arts,
Rich bales, carved statuettes, hued canvases,
And jewelled toys brought for an infant’s play
And perishable products of hard toil
And transient splendours won and lost by the days.

The dynamic man driven by rajas is an entrepreneur. He marks the next stage of the soul’s evolution. Large production and circulation of riches that lure and attract us is his work. He awakens man to opulence and beauty and splendour that material richness can provide. Even though whatever he amasses are transient riches that are won and lost by the days, yet he too is needed as a stage in the soul’s upward evolution.

Travels to unfamiliar coasts
Or passing through a gate of pillar-rocks,
Venturing not yet to cross oceans unnamed
And journey into a dream of distances
He travels close to unfamiliar coasts
And finds new haven in storm-troubled isles,
Or, guided by a sure compass in his thought,
He plunges through a bright haze that hides the stars,
Steering on the trade-routes of Ignorance.

The adventurer soul travels further as it evolves. It becomes a conqueror and a thinker. The Khatriya and the Brahmin evolve out of the Vaisya. The former ventures into new lands and civilizations unknown; the latter uses his thought to guide him through the haze and mist of Ignorance that surrounds our human life.

Undiscovered coasts
His prow pushes towards undiscovered shores,
He chances on unimagined continents:
A seeker of the islands of the Blest,
He leaves the last lands, crosses the ultimate seas,
He turns to eternal things his symbol quest;
Life changes for him its time-constructed scenes,
Its images veiling infinity.

The explorer and the adventurer evolves into a seeker. He is now ready for the ultimate adventure that man has ever undertaken, – the journey within himself. He seeks for a principle of Truth, a law of life, an ideal state that exists somewhere but is not yet found on earth. He is the sage who tries to find a deeper meaning in life, an inner sense in outer design and appearances of Nature.

Beyond the limits of earth
Earth’s borders recede and the terrestrial air
Hangs round him no longer its translucent veil.

Slowly the limits of our humanity begin to recede and new horizons of knowledge and wisdom open before the evolving soul of man.

The plunge into eternity
He has crossed the limit of mortal thought and hope,
He has reached the world’s end and stares beyond;
The eyes of mortal body plunge their gaze
Into Eyes that look upon eternity.

With this a whole line of evolution of the natural man comes to a close. But this close is in fact a new beginning. Going beyond humanity man must discover the superhumanity of tomorrow that man is destined to become. He must now explore inner domains and spiritual states and discover the powers that lie beyond the limits of his embodied mind. The resident of a transient, perishable body now becomes a candidate for eternity.

Closing remarks
This is the first stage of human evolution. Though we believe that all human beings are the same, but an intrinsic inner hierarchy exists created by layers of evolution within man as his soul ascends to higher and higher possibilities. It is true that physiologically or biologically so to say, our fundamental body structures is built upon the same plan; it is also true that deep within our soul is same in essence, a portion of the Divine spark, but there is a whole range of evolution possible within the same human body. As our soul evolves towards its own possibilities, our humanity also evolves towards a greater and greater degree of self-expression.

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