There are two basic approaches towards the practice of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Yoga. One is to gather all the scattered energies of ours that are currently engaged in various activities of life in the world as it is and then to focus them towards the Divine Personality of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The other approach is to read about the philosophy and the practice of yoga and then depending upon one’s unique angle of vision take up a certain line of practice indicated in the vast and catholic writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Of course the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. To love Them and center one’s life around Them would naturally, at some point, impel one to read and put into practice all that They have revealed. After all when we love someone we want to know all about the person and serve him in every way. We want to be with him and follow him all the time since such is the natural need of love. Everything written or spoken by the one whom we love, in fact everything even touched by him becomes then a sacred and priceless treasure. We begin to love whom he has loved and thereby ending up loving all since such is the nature of Divine Love. We want to give ourselves more and more, in thoughts and in feelings, through service and remembrance, through obedience in our actions until, eventually, by the sheer power and force of love we begin to grow into the likeness of the One whom we love. This is even the easier and more delightful path, the preferred one. At least Sri Aurobindo and His Divine double, Sri Krishna of the Gita most certainly seem to suggest this self-giving and surrender as the very highest movements of a developing yoga.
However bhakti is a rare gift of Grace and not all are ready for it. So we have, on the other hand, the path where the sadhaka relies on personal effort and for this he primarily takes the help of the spoken or the written word or both. He follows the instructions as faithfully and meticulously as he can or is presently capable of. This too is a form of love, a trust in the Word of the Divine which is a beautiful thing. But what it lacks is the plasticity that is needed in the practice of something as subtle as yoga.
Yoga is a real adventure and it unfolds itself differently in different individuals. No book or even all the books can cover all the subtle intricacies and unforeseen difficulties and unique challenges that may arise in the long and difficult journey. Books are useful up to a certain point. They can help us with the larger landscapes but cannot map out each and every detail. At the same time there is always the problem arising out of the limited human minds’ doubtful interpretation and even more, the right application of the Word. This is especially so when we dip into the vast writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that have covered every subject related to life and yoga from different angles. The sadhaka may see things from one angle or else read one side of the practice while missing out the balancing other. The Mother cautioned about this tendency of a one-sided interpretation and advised that we must read all that Sri Aurobindo has said on a given subject to have the clear vision of what is being shown to us. But that needs an effort that few are ready for.
Most have a tendency to read and quote few passages from here and there and turn it into a dogma. This is how religions are formed. Contrary to modern understanding that often shies away from surrender and devotion, as irrational elements that give rise to religion, the real birth place of religion is in the dividing mind and its dubious interpretation of great truths. The heart in fact unifies. Someone who loves God ends up loving all creatures, maître karuna eva ca, as the Gita says. If his love is true and sincere then his very fidelity to the object of his love will lead him beyond the personality to the core of the object which is the Divine Presence who dwells in all beings and every object.
Nevertheless those who prefer to follow the book and rely on personal effort also end up at the Divine Feet. If one faithfully follows the scripture one is bound to realize sooner rather than later that it is not the actual practice but something else, a hidden Unseen Hand of Grace that is actually supporting his efforts and secretly determining the fruits of sadhana which far exceed the tapasya one has put in. One also realizes that after all that is said and done, even if one has tried to put in a very sincere effort as per the written word, human effort is very limited. He has then no choice but to increasingly rely on the Grace that was always secretly leading and helping him.
When we turn to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother we see this strikingly. In Sri Aurobindo we find a vast Impersonality always inspiring and inviting us to heights beyond heights. On the one hand He has come down much down to our level with His supreme Compassion so that we may hold Him near us. On the other hand and at the same time something of Him appears far, very far as if beyond the horizons of all that we can see, know or perceive. It is through His luminous words that He comes closer and closer to us as if these words have been turned into a descending staircase from the highest worlds of Swar to our very own mortal sphere of speech and understanding. His words reveal hidden truths bringing them so close as if the truths they contain is near and within our grasp. Of course certain preparation is no doubt needed or a special Grace to dwell in their spirit. Or else, simply a faith that lights up the understanding and illumines the dark passages of the brain. The Words enter our brain as if drops and seeds of Light were entering us from Above creating numerous pinions to hold the Light within our brain through the medium of His words. These seeds remain thereby doing their work of transformation. In addition we find the path laid down, the written shastra as it were, with all the possible approaches, all possible experiences, all possible challenges and difficulties to steer us through the hard and difficult journey.
Yet if one were to ask what is the most fundamental word of yoga that Sri Aurobindo reveals to us, the answer would be very much to simply open to the Mother. He reveals the central secret of His yoga in these illuminating words:
By remaining psychically open to the Mother, all that is necessary for work or sadhana develops progressively, that is one of the chief secrets, the central secret of the sadhana. [CWSA 32: 154]
With the Mother it is not words and intellect that comes into play but love and surrender. With Her it is as if the Divine Presence we seek within had stepped out in the forefront shedding Its mask of secrecy. She simply starts centering us around the Divine within us by putting the silent occult pressure of Love. It is as if we were being pulled by an unseen Hand or irresistibly drawn by a Magnet. Once we open to Her then we are as if lifted and carried by Her Breath towards where we should be. What we do and how we do becomes relatively of secondary importance. The mere fact of opening to Her is enough. Of course like Sri Aurobindo, She too has given us profound truths and methods of practice, in fact, in even simpler though equally luminous words. But the stress is however on one single practice if we may so call it, to center and organize our life around the Divine.
This is what we find strikingly embedded in the culture of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where life was primarily organized around the embodied Divine, the Divine Personality of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. From morning Balcony Darshan through a number of activities right up to the last Darshan at night we see that the sadhaks life revolved around the Mother. Of course everyone knew that Sri Aurobindo is there behind Her secretly supporting all, in fact the two are one indeed, and by approaching and loving Her we also come close to and love Sri Aurobindo. Casual onlookers and spiritual fence-sitters who simply see the surfaces without entering into the core and depth of the Ashram life may well feel lost wondering about the practice of yoga done here. They may even mistake it for some cult or religion that is centered around the Personality of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. But the eye of faith sees what the mind with all its preconceived notions and value-judgments cannot. To the heart is revealed the sublime secret that our mind refuses to see. It is the mystery of the Divine Incarnation that redeems matter. The Mother reveals to us this supreme sublime secret, the deepest of all secret of the Gita, the most secret thing of all, guhyatamam, in Her own way:
If there is one fundamental necessity, it is humility. To be humble. Not humble as it is normally understood, such as merely saying, ‘I am so small, I’m nothing at all’ – no, something else …
Because the pitfalls are innumerable, and the further you progress in yoga, the more subtle they become, and the more the ego masks itself behind marvelous and saintly appearances. So when somebody says, ‘I no longer want to rely on anything but Him. I want to close my eyes and rest in Him alone,’ this comfortable ‘Him,’ which is exactly what you want him to be, is the ego – or a formidable Asura, or a Titan (depending on each one’s capacity). They’re all over the earth, the earth is their domain. So the first thing to do is to pocket your ego – not preserve it, but get rid of it as soon as possible!
You can be sure that the God you’ve created is a God of the ego whenever something within you insists, ‘This is what I feel, this is what I think, this is what I see; it’s my way, my very own – it’s my way of being, my way of understanding, my relationship with the Divine, etc.’
And then they say, ‘I want to close my eyes and see nothing but Him I want nothing more of the outer world.’ And they forget there’s Love! That is the great Secret, that which is behind the Existent and the Non-Existent, the Personal and the Impersonal – Love. Not a love between two things, two beings … A love containing everything.
[Conversations with a disciple: May 16, 1960]
In its essence, in its origin, love is like a flame, a white flame which overcomes all resistances. You can experience this yourself: whatever the difficulty in your being, whatever the burden of accumulated error, ignorance, incapacity and bad will, a single second of this pure, essential, supreme love dissolves it as in an all-powerful flame; a single moment and a whole past can disappear; a single instant in which you touch it in its essence and a whole burden is consumed.
And it is very easy to explain how a person who has this experience can spread it, can act on others; because to have the experience you must touch the one, supreme Essence of the whole manifestation, the Origin and the Essence, the Source and the Reality of all that is; and at once you enter the realm of Unity —there is no longer any separation of individuals, there is only one single vibration that can be repeated indefinitely in external form.
If you rise high enough, you find yourself at the heart of all things. And what is manifest in this heart can manifest in all things. That is the great secret, the secret of the divine incarnation in an individual form, because in the normal course of things what manifests at the centre is realised in the external form only with the awakening and the response of the will in the individual form. Whereas if the central Will is represented constantly and permanently in an individual being, this individual being can serve as an intermediary between this Will and all beings, and will for them. Everything this individual being perceives and offers in his consciousness to the supreme Will is answered as if it came from each individual being. And if for any reason the individual elements have a more or less conscious and voluntary relation with that representative being, their relation increases the efficacy, the effectiveness of the representative individual; and thus the supreme Action can act in Matter in a much more concrete and permanent manner. That is the reason for these descents of consciousness—which we may describe as “polarised”, for they always come to earth with a definite purpose and for a special realisation, with a mission— a mission which is decided upon, determined before the incarnation.
These are the great stages of the supreme incarnations on earth. And when the day comes for the manifestation of supreme love, for the crystallised, concentrated descent of supreme love, that will truly be the hour of transformation. For nothing will be able to resist That.
But since it is all-powerful, some receptivity must be prepared on earth so that the effects are not shattering. Sri Aurobindo has explained this in one of his letters. Someone asked him, “Why does it not come immediately?” He answered something like this: if divine love were to manifest in its essence upon earth, it would be like a bombshell; because the earth is neither supple nor receptive enough to be able to widen itself to the dimensions of this love. It not only needs to open, but to widen itself and to become more supple—Matter is still too rigid. And even the substance of the physical consciousness— not only the most material Matter, but the substance of the physical consciousness—is too rigid.
[CWM 10: 72 – 74]
This is the basic difference between the action of the Two who are One. Though one in essence, Sri Aurobindo is the eternal Witness who supports and sustains all things from within and Above. Yet out of His infinite Compassion He leans down towards our earth-bound humanity and steps out in the forefront of the human quest. The Mother is the Knowledge and Power of the Divine that enters into each and every movement of ours, in fact, becomes one with us since thus alone creation could be lifted out of its present state. She embodies the Grace and Love that are ever laboring in the depths of creation, which are secretly present in the heart of every atom to carry each element on its journey towards its own Truth. He is the Divine Being, the Lord, the Iswara, She is the Divine Becoming, the Shakti, the Aiswraya of the Iswara, or simply the Divine Mother who is our Mother through countless lives and will be so until all has been transformed into the Divine Image. Then we shall truly recognize Her and play with Her in the fields of life and creation consciously and eternally as Her eternal portions and immortal children who have chosen to play with Her in the fields of Space and Time.
The last stage of this perfection will come when you are completely identified with the Divine Mother and feel yourself to be no longer another and separate being, instrument, servant or worker but truly a child and eternal portion of her consciousness and force. Always she will be in you and you in her; it will be your constant, simple and natural experience that all your thought and seeing and action, your very breathing and moving come from her and are hers. You will know and see and feel that you are a person and power formed by her out of herself, put out from her for the play and yet always safe in her, being of her being, consciousness of her consciousness, force of her force, ananda of her Ananda. When this condition is entire and her supramental energies can freely move you, then you will be perfect in divine works; knowledge, will, action will become sure, simple, luminous, spontaneous, flawless, an outflow from the Supreme, a divine movement of the Eternal.
[Sri Aurobindo: The Mother; CWSA 32: 13]