Two Human Seekings
There is an ancient prayer commonly known in India and often recited on various occasions. It is a prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where the sage aspires to move from Non-being towards the True being, from Darkness towards the Light, from Death to Immortality. Wonderful as this aspiration is, timeless in its appeal and valid for all types of humanity right up to our age, it still limits creation, dividing it into two zones as it were, – a zone of falsehood, darkness and death in which we dwell and another zone of Truth, Light and Immortality that exists beyond our present state. By aspiration, by meditation, by various other means man can ascend to this higher state. But this ascension is an individual one and in his inner being so to say. By this ascension we experience and begin to live in a state of inner peace and light, our thoughts and mind begin to receive intuitions from the beyond and we become conscious of the immortality of our soul. This is no easy gain and by progressively dwelling more and more in this wonderful state, a state of inner freedom, we eventually escape from bondage to earthly life at the time of our departure. The body is shed like a worn-out dress and those parts of our inner being that have been organized around the immortal element in us go to the higher worlds. There the soul may linger for a while until it is ready for the final plunge. Since one has become conscious of the inner being, one can make then a final choice, to exit out of the cycle of birth and death, out of the whole labour and turmoil of creation into a static Peace annulling the separate soul into the Peace of Brahman, losing the finite into the oneness of the Infinite.
So far so good but it leaves two questions or rather two equally valid seekings of man unanswered. Since it is an individual escape, it leaves the collective side of our existence just as it is. We as an individual soul escape but the creation and the world continue in their fiery labour! Thus it becomes, in the last analysis, a selfish act. More so because during our journey of this life and many others we have been nourished and nurtured by the entire creation in many ways. Our very body which is the base for sadhana, (for yoga is done in the body), for the efflorescence of the soul until it reaches full maturity, is left imperfect, incomplete. It is like a leader who arrives at a point of giant leap to the Promised land, leaves all those who helped him until now and simply cares for his own individual salvation beyond this point. At most he shouts to others too to join him in this great leap. But since most are not ready, they simply watch with awe and amazement and lifting worshiping hands of prayer wait for his second coming or else return to their routine life with his message. The message sans the messenger becomes weak over a period of time, and most followers pay lip-service to it rather than actually put it into practice. This is so because reading and understanding a message is a mental activity and mental will alone has not the power to change life and its movements, leave alone the physical world. Still others care not even for the understanding but simply turn it into a formal practice enforced by a common code crystallised around a belief system, giving birth to a Religion, a Cult or a Creed. The other question it leaves unanswered is the why and the wherefore of creation itself.
Sri Aurobindo reveals both these issues powerfully in Savitri:
Hard is it to persuade earth-nature’s change;
Mortality bears ill the eternal’s touch:
It fears the pure divine intolerance
Of that assault of ether and of fire;
It murmurs at its sorrowless happiness,
Almost with hate repels the light it brings;
It trembles at its naked power of Truth
And the might and sweetness of its absolute Voice.
Inflicting on the heights the abysm’s law,
It sullies with its mire heaven’s messengers:
Its thorns of fallen nature are the defence
It turns against the saviour hands of Grace;
It meets the sons of God with death and pain.
A glory of lightnings traversing the earth-scene,
Their sun-thoughts fading, darkened by ignorant minds,
Their work betrayed, their good to evil turned,
The cross their payment for the crown they gave,
Only they leave behind a splendid Name.
Why is it all and wherefore are we here?
If to some being of eternal bliss
It is our spirit’s destiny to return
Or some still impersonal height of endless calm,
Since That we are and out of That we came,
Whence rose the strange and sterile interlude
Lasting in vain through interminable Time?
Who willed to form or feign a universe
In the cold and endless emptiness of Space?
Or if these beings must be and their brief lives,
What need had the soul of ignorance and tears?
Whence rose the call for sorrow and for pain?
Or all came helplessly without a cause?
What power forced the immortal spirit to birth?
….Or if no being watches the works of Time,
What hard impersonal Necessity
Compels the vain toil of brief living things?
A great Illusion then has built the stars.
But where then is the soul’s security,
Its poise in this circling of unreal suns?
Or else it is a wanderer from its home
Who strayed into a blind alley of Time and chance
And finds no issue from a meaningless world.
Or where begins and ends Illusion’s reign?
Perhaps the soul we feel is only a dream,
Eternal self a fiction sensed in trance.”
[Savitri: 441 – 442]
This is the big hiatus in all paths, great though they are in their own field, that turn away from life declaring it as an illusion or a temporary sojourn where the soul has accidentally or willfully landed up or worse still sent in exile for a punishment! This is not to say that this aspiration for mukti, salvation or nirvana has no sense in it. It has a great practical sense and it is simply this that now that we find ourselves in this ‘mess’ called the world, the first thing needed is to find a way to get out of it. It is no point understanding its why and wherefore. It is enough to know what holds us back and ties us down to our earthly state and then discover the sharp sword that can shore this chord away. This sharp sword is the sword of discernment that must be used to remind ourselves our one true goal of escape from worldly life and to cut away all that ties us to it through detachment and even ascetic renunciation of life itself. Perhaps it was needed in its own time when man was still too crude and had to be freed from the sting and noose of desires that whip-lashed his life. This aspiration has also kept alive in man the seeking towards the Beyond. It has nourished man’s faith in the possibility of ascension of the soul out of this mortal state and this field of ignorance which is no small thing. Most of all, in a few who are ready it has ignited the fire of aspiration whose warmth has nurtured the soul yet in the womb of material existence, awakened it to its true Home which it had forgotten due to an identification with the mortal state of earthly ignorance. It has empowered man and set his feet firmly on the path that turns towards the Eternal.
And yet it leaves something incomplete, something not yet done which also seeks freedom and bliss and Light and Immortality. It is the body and earth itself that have given the stage for this this grand adventure. It is in answer to this parallel seeking, not just of an individual emancipation but a collective good, even of a terrestrial perfection, a beautiful and harmonious earthly life so to say, that there has been another line of spiritual endeavor that has been going on upon Earth. It is that which carries the march of humanity forward, together, towards an earthly realization of all that man has so far achieved in his inner being, – Freedom, Light, Bliss, Immortality. It is the path of sacrifice, yajna, the path of inner renunciation, tyaga, more than of outer renunciation and detachment.
The first line of spiritual pursuit is epitomized in the great Masters who have helped man’s ascension and spiritual emancipation. The other line consists of a wider range of humanity from scientists and artists and leaders and hero-warriors to the rare spiritual seeker who would rather delay his individual emancipation until the rest of humanity also wakes up to the call of the Infinite. So does the story go that Buddha hesitated at the gates of Nirvana and filled with Compassion turned his face towards the Earth. Refusing the Peace that comes by excluding the rest of mankind he becomes an embodiment of love, Maitreya Amitabha, who continues to help and pull mankind towards the True and the Permanent. So is it also said that Krishna comes down into the cycle of birth and death amidst struggling humanity to carry it forward in the great march. So is it said that Christ would come down again in a second coming and this time establish the Kingdom of Heaven not only within but also outside, abolishing evil and raising the good in man towards its divine consummation. After all this must be the real purpose of the Divine Descent in our humanity. The popular notion of punishing the guilty and rewarding the believers is surely a gross, even a crude and vulgar misconception of this profound truth. For what else is creation but an extension of Himself? Is it not He who has set the first stir into motion? Is it not He who lit up the universe with His Light so that the creation plunged in darkness awakens with renewed hope?
The Mystery of the Divine Descent
Thus we see in the very first few pages of Savitri, this mystery of the Divine descent, the descent of Light so to say that comes to illumine our clay. But this first descent, this first awakening is repeated in every Age, from Age to Age, yuge yuge, as the Gita puts it. Savitri in fact starts with a revelation of this first Divine descent, the first Avatara so to say:
Once more a tread perturbed the vacant Vasts;
Infinity’s centre, a Face of rapturous calm
Parted the eternal lids that open heaven;
A Form from far beatitudes seemed to near.
Ambassadress twixt eternity and change,
The omniscient Goddess leaned across the breadths
That wrap the fated journeyings of the stars
And saw the spaces ready for her feet.
Once she half looked behind for her veiled sun,
Then, thoughtful, went to her immortal work.
It is in this context and with this background that we need to see Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s coming. He is not a Master like other Masters in the sense that he does not come to show us yet another way to Self-Realisation or to catapult us with the power of his tapasya into Nirvana. Nor does he promise us a seat in heaven, an other-worldly salvation. Of course he can grant all these as any Avatara could do, but his focus is mainly on terrestrial realization, an earthly perfection of the human race, a collective emancipation of mankind in its march towards a greater Light of Truth, dharma. He does not belong to the lineage of Masters who come to release us from the cycle of birth and death but to the lineage of Divine descents that comes to liberate mankind by giving it a greater Law of Truth, a new dharma for living, a fresh and new evolutionary impetus. He comes to take up man’s burden and his struggle and wrestle with fate directly by standing in the forefront of the battle-zone of life. He does not come to point a way towards the Beyond or help some souls to pass beyond the weaving of the stars. He is the Beyond and summarises in his bodily life the gate, the path and the goal. Because it is hard for man to forever climb without failing and falling, to ascend without fainting and losing his breath, he takes upon himself the burden of the flesh and paying man’s tax of the night brings for him Light of Heavens and the Love Supreme as gifts.
He who would save the race must share its pain:
This he shall know who obeys that grandiose urge.
The Great who came to save this suffering world
And rescue out of Time’s shadow and the Law,
Must pass beneath the yoke of grief and pain;
They are caught by the Wheel that they had hoped to break,
On their shoulders they must bear man’s load of fate.
Heaven’s riches they bring, their sufferings count the price
Or they pay the gift of knowledge with their lives.
The Son of God born as the Son of man
Has drunk the bitter cup, owned Godhead’s debt,
The debt the Eternal owes to the fallen kind
His will has bound to death and struggling life
That yearns in vain for rest and endless peace….
The Eternal suffers in a human form,
He has signed salvation’s testament with his blood:
He has opened the doors of his undying peace.
The Deity compensates the creature’s claim,
The Creator bears the law of pain and death;
A retribution smites the incarnate God.
His love has paved the mortal’s road to Heaven:
He has given his life and light to balance here
The dark account of mortal ignorance.
It is finished, the dread mysterious sacrifice,
Offered by God’s martyred body for the world;
Gethsemane and Calvary are his lot,
He carries the cross on which man’s soul is nailed;
His escort is the curses of the crowd;
Insult and jeer are his right’s acknowledgment;
Two thieves slain with him mock his mighty death.
He has trod with bleeding brow the Saviour’s way.
He who has found his identity with God
Pays with the body’s death his soul’s vast light.
His knowledge immortal triumphs by his death.
This passage with an obvious reference to Christ in a way refers to all those who have the urge to pull creation out of its inertia and falsehood. We have to only cast a look at the life of all the Avataras and Vibhutis and we shall see how each had to grapple with the enigma of the Night in their own way:
But when God’s messenger comes to help the world
And lead the soul of earth to higher things,
He too must carry the yoke he came to unloose;
He too must bear the pang that he would heal:
Exempt and unafflicted by earth’s fate,
How shall he cure the ills he never felt?
He covers the world’s agony with his calm;
But though to the outward eye no sign appears
And peace is given to our torn human hearts,
The struggle is there and paid the unseen price;
The fire, the strife, the wrestle are within.
He carries the suffering world in his own breast;
Its sins weigh on his thoughts, its grief is his:
Earth’s ancient load lies heavy on his soul;
Night and its powers beleaguer his tardy steps,
The Titan adversary’s clutch he bears;
His march is a battle and a pilgrimage.
Life’s evil smites, he is stricken with the world’s pain:
A million wounds gape in his secret heart.
He journeys sleepless through an unending night;
Antagonist forces crowd across his path;
A siege, a combat is his inner life.
Even worse may be the cost, direr the pain:
His large identity and all-harbouring love
Shall bring the cosmic anguish into his depths,
The sorrow of all living things shall come
And knock at his doors and live within his house;
A dreadful cord of sympathy can tie
All suffering into his single grief and make
All agony in all the worlds his own.
Sri Aurobindo and the Previous Avataras
In this sense we see a certain parallel between Sri Aurobindo and at least three of the immediate previous Avataras, that is, Krishna, Buddha and Christ. The comparison or rather the identity between Sri Aurobindo and Sri Krishna is rather well-known. But there is in Sri Aurobindo also a summarization of the other two Avataras as well. What we mean by this is that we can find in Sri Aurobindo something in common, even something essential and fundamentally similar to the aspiration embodied in Christ and Buddha. Of course we need to make a distinction here between Christ and Christianity or Buddha and Buddhism, for that matter between Krishna and the many cults that have sprung around his Divine Personality. All the four Avataras mentioned above sought a way to liberate mankind. Krishna embodied the Delight of the Divine and came to teach mankind how to be in a state of freedom and joy by simply abandoning all to the Lord. But mankind was not ready. It returned his gift with the great War and the bloodshed that coloured the ancient land of dharma, Bharat. Buddha embodying Compassion showed the way to an inner liberation from Ignorance. Not all could abandon themselves to the Divine with faith and devotion but still they could recognize that there is a problem, that this is a world of suffering and pain. To them Buddha showed a mighty way, a path that could be taken by oneself without help from anyone. Of course hidden behind the practice there always was implicit the Love and Compassion of the Buddha eternally waiting at the gates of nirvana to help those struggling with Ignorance. Christ embodying Love went one step further asking simply for faith which was enough to free oneself from this world of pain and suffering. Indeed he took upon himself the suffering of humanity to pave the way. As a grand culmination to this line of Divine Advent we see the coming of Sri Aurobindo. Like Sri He declared that it is indeed Delight that has brought this creation out of the Unknown and it is Delight that is its base and support and it is again Delight that impels it even in our ignorance and it is Delight towards which all is moving. Like Christ he took upon himself the poison fumes of earth and humanity that emerged during the two great Wars so that it does not stain or delay the promised realization. Like Buddha he refused the realization in his own body so that the collective realization can be hastened. Embodying the Delight, the Love and the Compassion of the Divine he engaged in an arduous and exacting tapasya not for himself but to redeem creation, to divinize matter itself so that earth itself is freed from the state of darkness and ensuing suffering and being born here is no more a matter of suffering but a matter of rejoicing. It meant a change in the very atmosphere of the earth and the constitution of the human body which makes us so prone to suffering and pain.
Perhaps this is the second coming promised by the previous Avataras, the return of the Divine armed with the power of Truth so that this time the Light can be permanently established here and man be made ready and the earth prepared for the delight for which it has waited so long. As envisaged in the parable of the ten Avataras, hopefully this is the last act of the great divine drama unfolding upon earth. Hopefully, this time the Light will definitively conquer and chase away darkness from every corner of the earth. Hopefully this time the human civilization will no more need to be plunged into a catastrophic destruction. Hopefully this time the deed is done:
One day, and all the half-dead is done,
One day, and all the unborn begun;
A little path and the great goal,
A touch that brings the divine whole.
Hill after hill was climbed and now,
Behold, the last tremendous brow
And the great rock that none has trod:
A step, and all is sky and God.
[Sri Aurobindo: Collected Poems. One Day (The Little More)]
It is here that we can note the difference. The Divine descents in humanity so far have carried the evolutionary march one step further, a step and yet another step towards the great Goal. Each of them have also given us a far-off glimpse of an ideal earthly state, thereby keeping this aspiration for terrestrial perfection shimmering and alive. Mankind has hence aspired and attempted, however imperfectly, to create here a state of Rama Rajya (an ideal human ethics as established by Rama, an earlier Avatara), or the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ envisaged, a society governed by dharma towards which Sri Krishna labored resulting in the great Indian War, the Mahabharata, a state of Permanence and Perfection for which Buddha waits on the threshold of nirvana, inspiring many by his own example. But all these efforts have not been lasting. And even where humanity has taken some kind of a forward step, however awkwardly, it has been at best an approximation. The final leap, the last step forward is as if yet to come. Perhaps recognizing this, Krishna and Buddha and Christ all spoke of another coming.
The Return of the Light, or The Final Leap
In Sri Aurobindo we can see this return of Light, the divinely herculean effort towards the last leap, the promise and work for the final consummation and not just a far-off glimpse. It is this definitive crossing over of humanity as a race beyond the line of Ignorance while in the body is the great last act of the divine descents. Of course there are steps and stages of which we can already see the first manifestations. There is increasingly a pressure and an awakening amidst humanity, at least in a sizable group to recreate our world not just by physical and scientific means but by psychological, inner and spiritual means. There is a breaking down of the boundaries of ignorance in every sphere leading from a separative understanding of self and universe towards a holistic, unified and an integral understanding. Of course there is much more to come and also it does not mean that all of humanity will suddenly find themselves beyond the last frontiers. That cannot be due to the many evolutionary layers and also because of different degrees of development amongst human beings depending upon the time spent upon earth and the cumulative experience gathered through the cycle of rebirths. Perhaps it is a critical mass that is being prepared, a tipping point so to say, whence at least a sufficient number of persons would be ready for the final transition. It means that these individuals who have a sufficiently changed inner consciousness will be able to find the ways and means for creating a new earthly body not subject to decay or deterioration, a divine body, and while passing away simply step into or switch over to the New Body. They would not then come back upon earth through the process of birth which itself creates many difficulties, right from heredity to the extreme dependence on this gross matter. But they would remain in active contact with the earth atmosphere to mould its play and guide its forces towards what was always intended by the Divine Will when it plunged into the dance of Creation. Aligning their steps with the rhythm of the Divine Dancer who has woven the steps of creation by His movements, they would increase the pressure upon earth to align itself more and more with the harmonies of the Divine. But what about their body, – will it be a subtle body in contact with the earth or a divine body that is sufficiently material enough to be perceived by others, who still labour in this obscure mortal cloak? We can turn to this question later but for the moment, even as we step into the New Year, it will be good to remember that this Light that we take for granted, this Light that comes to us sweeping through the gates of Night and touches our body and heart and mind and soul, has been prepared by those who kept a vigil while we slept peacefully in our comfort zones. Even as we welcome it, let us also raise a hymn of gratitude, since
Now is the debt paid, wiped off the original score.