A Psycho-spiritual Approach In the Light of Sri Aurobindo
(Shri A. B. Patel Endowment Lectures, Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar)
Mr. Vice Chancellor, Professors and Scholars of the University, Dear Students, Brothers and Sisters,
I feel honoured in being invited here to deliver Shri A. B. Patel Memorial Lectures at this university and I thank Dr. D. D. Jadeja for it. It is significantly interesting to observe that the ideals that inspired late Shri A. B. Patel who hailed from here are also the ideals that seem to reverberate the very atmosphere of this university where many individuals amongst the staff and the students are sincerely pursuing activities inspired by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo.
To remember Shri A. B. Patel is to remember not his biographical details, which of course carry their importance, but much more appropriately the ideal principles that inspired his life. He had the good fortune, culturally speaking, to be the son of an idealistic school teacher whose personal and family life of austerity and cultural discipline influenced his character and inspired him to strive towards great and high achievement by his personal endeavour. After his graduation, he moved to Africa, pursued his further studies there and made a career in legal practice as a barrister. A self-made man, Shri Patel looked forward to better and more meaningful public life and successfully participated in the political activities of the country, rising to high position as a Minister in Kenya. With his enthusiasm for a better life of the society there, he developed active association with many institutions and organisations of social, educational and cultural importance.
But there was in him a wider seeking, something like a profounder basis for happier and more sound organisation of the life of togetherness of mankind in the world. This, he could feel, was not possible through political means. He happened to come to Pondicherry in 1950 and observed there the perfection-oriented community life of self-dedication in Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The teachings of Sri Aurobindo, his vision of ideal human life based on spiritual foundations and the assuring promise of a new future on this earth caught the searching attention of Shri Patel with a strong conviction that here, in Sri Aurobindo, was the answer and the promise of fulfilment for humanity. In 1956, Shri Patel moved permanently to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry for spiritual sadhana, not as an escape from his public life but as an indispensable condition for realising the highest and the happiest goal of human life. The positive and life-affirming spirituality of Sri Aurobindo sustained his dream of a better and united human existence in the world.
He was greatly inspired by Sri Aurobindo’s teachings and almost caught by the third of the five ‘dream-like’ aims and ideals expressed in the unique and powerful and prophetic Message given by him on the 15th of August, 1947: the ideal of “greater, brighter and nobler life for mankind …international unification of the separate existence of the peoples into consummating oneness.” In association with other inspired individuals of the Ashram, Shri Patel organised the “World Union” as an international body for promoting unity and harmony in the world. His continued work as the General Secretary of the ‘World Union’ carried in it his faith and conviction in spiritual principles and the practical strength and vigour of life sustained his activities of which even his physical body was an able and faithful instrument up to his ripe age of 90 years.
In tune with his ideals and his spirit, the Endowment made for his memorial lectures rightly provides that the themes of these lectures ought to be related to world-peace, International co-operation, New World-order and Human Unity, all based on Spiritual Foundations. Thus to remember him is to faithfully remember those ideals which are inspired by his Master, his Guru, Sri Aurobindo and are sustained by his spiritual Vision of life and existence. Believing that Shri Patel is subtly present on this occasion, I feel he would relish most our turning to Sri Aurobindo as the source of all idealism we look forward to.
In this setting, the theme I have thought of for the two Memorial Lectures is “Human Quest for Unity and Harmony: A Psycho-spiritual Approach in the Light of Sri Aurobindo.” I propose dealing with this theme in two phases: First in its essential Principles and next in its spiritual Discipline, its practical Prospects, respectively in the first lecture and the second.
At the very outset, one might face something like a paradox as one observes at once two contrary trends in human life which apparently have become rather accentuated in our present day life, each presenting itself as important to be valued and pursued. They are: (1) A self-justifying non-compromising individualism of an acute type, tending to assert its preferential claims above all other consideration of collective life, leading to the natural consequence that the present life in the society is getting torn into divided interests at the cost of all concord of togetherness; (2) A clamorous type of collectivism with widely spreading ideology of humanity, unity and oneness of the human race without distinction of caste, colour and country, leading now to equally emphatic claims with slogans of internationalism, globalism, humanitarianism etc. to the natural result that there are today innumerable organisations, associations and societies with missions and movements to work for world unity, peace and harmony, brotherhood of mankind, so much so that if someone could collect and furnish a complete datum of them in respect of their names and historical account and agenda and reports of activities, he would easily earn a PhD degree of a university.
In the face of this paradox — an exclusive individualism indifferent to the value of togetherness in the name of personal freedom, and an overtone of global humanism overlooking individualistic uniqueness in the name of collective cohesiveness — one might pose the question: Is our quest for Unity and Harmony really valid? Is it psychologically and practically possible? For what we call “quest” is not merely an idea, a concept, to be merely spelt out or argued for or even examined, but to be properly comprehended and pursued in life as a Value by some effective self-culture. It would therefore be necessary and important to enter into the question and the relevant theme in its essential principles.
Irrespective of the eccentricities and accentuations of mutually opposed trends of individualism and collectivism, a factualistic approach to the question of Unity and Harmony may elicit a typical response an behalf of a self-confined realism, springing up with the observation that the element of individualistic self-seeking and personal self-satisfaction is a natural fact of human life in its present constitution and that a call for global collectivism is simply an idealistic wishfulness which may only last awhile before dying out by disillusionment. The paradox thus resolves itself into an inconsequent mixture of real-hard fact of individualistic struggle in self-interest in man’s earthly life with some soft and warm and airy dream of unity and harmony cherished by some who indulge in imagining of some heavenly things in their hours of escape from the otherwise uncancellable fact of division and struggle in life.
Another typical response may similarly emerge from the self-assuming existentialistic mentality which might look at the paradox as an inescapable enigma in which the fact of divisive individualism is anything but satisfying while the simultaneous truth stands that possibility of satisfaction in unity and harmony is too remote, too dream-like to be realised in life and there seems no way out. There is an element of truth in both, the realistic and the existentialistic response to the question of validity and practicality of the quest for unity and harmony. But does that cancel man’s seeking for it altogether?
Whatever the stress or the helplessness of the realistic and the existentialistic positions, Sri Aurobindo leads us to the truth of the insistent humanness of man’s seeking for his highest good in all its terms, including the terms of unity and harmony, as the Value of values that sustains and justifies all his aspirations, all his strivings. In his mantric words he says: “To fulfil God in life is man’s manhood.” In his penetrative way he distinguishes between the animal and human dimensions of life, referring to their characteristic features, bringing in the great importance of human seekings. He reveals to us something that is inevitably working in human life alone. He writes:
“The animal is satisfied with a modicum of necessity; gods are content with their splendours. But man cannot rest permanently until he reaches some highest good. He is the greatest of living beings because he is the most discontented, because he feels most the pressure of limitations. He alone, perhaps, is capable of being seized by the divine frenzy for a remote ideal.”
(The Life Divine, p. 46)
Sri Aurobindo’s mantric dictum that ‘man’s manhood lies in fulfilling God in life’ and his penetrative vision that ‘man alone is fit for being pushed forward towards the realisation of some remote divine ideal as his own highest good’ together bring a new dimension to the question of Unity and Harmony. One can see now that the ‘enigma’ opens itself into an invitation for a deep probe into the human nature and its possible destiny, a psycho-spiritual diving into the truth underlying the apparent facts of life on the surface.
The common and usual considerations related to questions of collectivism and individualism are mostly anthropocentric. The ideals of internationalism, globalism and world unity are humanistic, emphasising mostly organisational cohesiveness and mutuality. Likewise the contrary claim of individualism, clamouring for ‘living one’s own life’ is man-centred. Both carry their psychological roots and each calls for its peculiar justification, whether in exclusiveness or in mutual adjustment by some kind of bargain of interests.
A deep probe and a thorough-going approach to man’s quest for unity would demand two things: First, an intimate insight into human nature where human urge for personal importance and individual freedom and self-significance lies along with the equally impelling urge and tendency towards wider and wider expansion in togetherness, association and unity, perhaps seeking through both a fulfilment of some totality in which the seemingly contrary tendencies represent simply the double aspect of human personality in an integrality, each aspect being complementary to the other; second, a completer observation that man by his nature tends to seek and realise his affinity and togetherness not only in the gregorian sense like animals flocking together, even while the animal still persists in his kind, but in a larger sense, in a much wider field of existence than racial boundaries, though of course his ties with his family, his clan and his tribe are still more strong and of primary importance than his associations with the whole society, his country, entire humanity. His growing sense of closeness, togetherness, and his affinities and emotional ties and feelings of “my-own-ones” extend to many dimensions of life and existence, his home and environment, his fields and gardens, his lakes and rivers and forests, his country, his cattle and pets and so on and so forth. This certainly is not to refer to man’s sense of attachment with his property and possession, his commodities and economic assets, but to observe the dimensions in which his limited identity has already extended to a great truth of his relatedness and oneness with other existences, his limited personality has already entered into impersonalising commonness of all existence, a precious gift of evolutionary nature widening a limitless sense of belongingness to all.
The above two observations give a definitive turn to our attention towards such profundities of the human nature as call for deep psycho-spiritual insight in the light of Sri Aurobindo whose Vision of Life enlightens and effectively guides our quest for Unity and Harmony with an all-assuring promise of achievement. According to Sri Aurobindo, this quest of man is not accidental, not just a freak in Nature or merely a wishful fancy of man who has just come out of the grooves of animality. There is behind it the plan of Mother Nature working out the will of the Supreme Reality. There is a whole metaphysic underlying and supporting human seeking and a profound psychology of it showing that man by his inherent nature has evolved much ahead of animal and the intention of Nature has now become quite pronounced and manifest in his human system. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
“The animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious cooperation she wills to work out the superman, the god. Or shall we not say, rather, to manifest God? For if evolution is the progressive manifestation by Nature of that which slept or worked in her, involved, it is also the over realisation of that which she secretly is.”
(The Life Divine, pp. 3-4)
Human life in its present stage of evolution is not only mechanical, simply a result of environmental factors, totally determined by circumstances. It is a life of conscious choice and striving in which all the human aspirations find a deep meaning and significant justification, inviting attention to profound truths of man’s being underlying his apparent personality in a process of becoming. Hence the necessity of a thorough understanding and a multidimensional study of man’s life in its totality. There would be various approaches, each of which would carry its own relevance, yet all of them would deserve to be placed in a comprehensive wholeness, which we might conceive of as a fourfold perspective as follows:
- what human life apparently is at present, a factual perspective;
- what human life can possibly become in due course, a potential perspective;
- what hopefully this life cherishes and chooses to become, an ideal perspective;
- what ultimately and inevitably it is destined to become, the final perspective.
This fourfold perspective offers to us some frame in which we might receive truths of human life revealed by Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Vision. Accordingly it comes home that the present fact of man’s limitations and imperfections stands significantly related to his future potential of ideal and fulfilling dream of Perfection in life. Ignorant today, man aspires and looks forward to Knowledge in his life of tomorrow; imperfect and impotent now, he dreams of Perfection and Omnipotence in his future; miserable and mortal in his present status, he aspires to enter into Delight of Immortal Existence in the distant Future. One may enter into an elaborate and penetrative study of the human aspirations in the light of Sri Aurobindo and comprehend that all Realism stands reconciled with Idealism in a mutuality between the factual and the potential and the ideal brought in by the integralising truth of evolving life.
The apparent opposition between man’s factual life and his cherished ideals that seem like dreams does stand, posing a problem, no doubt. But an exploration of the potentials latent in him and a diving into the secrets of his persistent aspirations and a search into the inevitable destiny beyond all human calculus will lead our understanding to the comprehension that the reality of all life is hidden behind all its appearances and the realisation of that Reality is not only possible but also inevitable.
Reflecting on man’s seeking for Unity and Harmony, not only with his community and fellow humans but also with all existence, with the entire universe, the same truth obtains. The divisive life of man seems to stand against all his dream of oneness and unity. But the truth underlying all that is apparent is revealed to us by the penetrative Vision of Sri Aurobindo. He writes:
“There is a Reality, a truth of all existence which is greater and more abiding than all its formations and manifestations; to find that truth and Reality and live in it, achieve the most perfect manifestation and formation possible of it, must be the secret of perfection whether of individual or communal being. This Reality is within each thing and gives to each of its formations its power of being and value of being. The universe is a manifestation of the Reality and there is a truth of the universal existence, a Power of cosmic being, an all self of world-spirit. Humanity is a formation or manifestation of the Reality in the universe and there is a truth and a self of humanity, a human spirit, a destiny of human life. The community is a formation of the Reality, a manifestation of the spirit of man, and there is a truth, a self, a power of the collective being. The individual is a formation of the Reality, and there is a truth of the individual, an individual self, soul or spirit that expresses itself through the individual mind, life and body, something even that goes beyond humanity.”
(The Life Divine, pp. 1048-49)
The truth that all existences are expressions and manifestations of the same Reality at once means that there is an underlying spiritual unity of all existences. This unity is not only deduced from the spiritual and occult truth revealed by Sri Aurobindo, it is also the psychological implication of man’s inherent aspiration towards his wider and ever widening togetherness with all existences. Dissatisfied with his present limitations, dreaming of his ideals, impelled by his potentials, venturing towards greater and greater expansions, he is being drawn towards his unification with all. There is thus a close relation between the hidden, the yet unrealised, truth of this of his essential oneness with the all-embracing Reality and his innate seeking for unity and harmony with all life and existence.
There is yet another profound truth revealed by Sri Aurobindo intimately connected with man’s inherent seeking for unity and the essential oneness behind all manifestation. It is this that man himself is not just an ordinary creature, helplessly born and governed by mechanical workings of natural laws, a mere phenomenal being; he is a soul, a spiritual being descended here into the world play in space and time, as the entire cosmos is the manifestation of the Supreme Existence-Consciousness-Delight, Sat-Chid-Ananda. The whole creation is an act of the Supreme Reality finding itself out in all its self-creativity; the creation too is in a process of recovering its inherent oneness. Sri Aurobindo writes:
“A oneness finding itself out in the variations of its own duality is the whole play of the soul with Nature in its cosmic birth and becoming. One Sachchidananda everywhere, self-existent, illimitable, a unity indescribable by the utmost infinity of its own variations, is the original truth of being for which our knowledge seeks and to that our subjective existence finally arrives. From that all other truths arise, upon that they are based, by that they are at every moment made possible and in that they in the end can know themselves and each other, are reconciled, harmonised and justified. All relations in the world, even to its greatest and most shocking apparent discords, are relations of something eternal to itself in its own universal existence; they are not anywhere or at any time collisions of disconnected beings who meet fortuitously or by some mechanical necessity of cosmic existence. Therefore to get back to its enternal fact of oneness is our essential act of self-knowledge; to live in it must be the effective principle of our inner possession of our being and our right relation with the world.”
* * *
“But this unity works itself out everywhere and on every plane by an executive or practical truth of duality. The eternal is the one infinite conscious Existence, Purusha, and not something inconscient and mechanical; it exists eternally in its delight of the force of its own conscious being and founded in an equilibrium of unity; but it exists also in the no less eternal delight of its force of conscious being at play with various creative self-experience in the universe. Just as we ourselves are or can become aware of being always something timeless, nameless, perpetual which we call our self and which constitutes the unity of all that we are, and yet simultaneously we have the various experience of what we do, think, will, create, become, such too is the self-awareness of this Purusha in the world.”
(The Synthesis of Yoga, pp. 417-18)
It is an illuminative truth that our human seeking for unity and oneness is essentially founded in the metaphysical secret that our diversity and multiplicity is itself an act of the self- finding of the ONE in its own variations. If we are out to find our unity with all, it is because the eternal oneness is finding itself out in its self-variations, the eternal Being is expressing itself out in its multiple becomings. The very basis of all seeking in life is the fact of the self-expression of the essential unity in its multiple terms. It is the self-recovery of the eternal Self in its cosmic play, sought for by man in his endeavour to realise his oneness with all existence and experience cosmic unity.
Philosophically speaking, unity has been conceived in opposition to multiplicity by absolutistic mentality to the result that the two cannot stand together, each is contrary to the other and needs the cancellation of its opposite in order to establish its own validity. The truth of essential oneness can thus be realised only by negating all diversity and difference, actual or conceptual. This opposition has led to a dichotomy between Reality and appearance and it is maintained that Unity is the truth of Identity of the Spirit that transcends all life and negates all diversity of the phenomenal world.
Such an absolutistic attitude would mean that man’s quest for Unity cannot succeed since life itself belongs to diversity. His seeking is inconsequential unless he is able to completely negate his individuality. But his self-negation would render his quest null and meaningless, even suicidal, since sheer and utter oneness of featureless Identity there may be without his being present there to experience it. So too there would yet be another conceptual difficulty in the realisation of unity because of the individualistic constitution of human personality. Since man as man is an individual being and since every individual has a peculiar angularity by which primarily he lives, which he cannot lose without self-annulment — an impossible act for an individuality — he cannot enter into unity while yet retaining his individuality. He may at best relate himself with other individuals to the extent to which there is a possibility of mutual give and take. Furthermore, since there is a natural urge in the individual to grow and excel in his own way, there is the possibility that the more an individual develops the greater and more acute would be his angularity and therefore the less the chances of his homogeneity as perhaps a necessary mark of unity.
Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Vision of Life corrects all such extremistic positions and heals the gulf between life and Reality. The Eternal, the ever-identical Spirit, the Absolute is not an all-negating Being utterly intolerant of all self-variational becoming in its all-devouring absoluteness; It is the all-containing, all-supporting Supreme Reality expressing Itself through all becomings, the One playing Itself out in all its self-variations. Life itself is a play of the Spirit with all its creative possibilities.
Sri Aurobindo also reveals that the true individuality of a person is deep within his outer personality and that its uniqueness is a special expression of his real being which is essentially one with the All. The true growth and excellence of a person is in recovering his psychic and spiritual self in which alone lies latent his true individuality. The differences of the outer personality mark out at most the distinctive features of his total being which themselves speak of the richness of one’s true and spiritual self, from the self-creativity of which they all surge without missing the essential unity with the supreme Reality and the cosmic existence. Sri Aurobindo writes:
“All life, spiritual, mental or material, is the play of the soul with the possibilities of its nature; for without this play there can be no self-expression and no relative self-experience. Even then in our realisation of all as our larger self and in our oneness with God and other beings, this play can and must persist, unless we desire to cease from all self-expression and all but a tranced and absorbed self-experience. But then it is in the individual being that this trance or this liberated play is realised; the trance is this mental being’s immersion in the sole experience of unity, the liberated play is the taking up of his mind into the spiritual being for the free realisation and delight of oneness. For the nature of the divine existence is to possess always its unity, but to possess it also in an infinite experience, from many stand-points, on many planes, through many conscious powers or selves of itself, individualities — in our limited intellectual language — of one conscious being. Each one of us is one of these individualities. To stand away from God in limited ego, limited mind is to stand away from ourselves, to be unpossessed of our true individuality, to be the apparent and not the real individual; it is our power of ignorance. To be taken up into the divine Being and be aware of our spiritual, infinite and universal consciousness as that in which we now live, is to possess our supreme and integral self, our true individuality; it is our power of self-knowledge.”
(The Synthesis of Yoga, pp. 419-40)
Our theme, ‘Unity and Harmony’ vis-a-vis diversity and multiplicity, and the human seeking for the supreme Oneness through all differentiations, is and has ever been so very important to human thought and life. Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical, yogic and mystic writings are extra-ordinarily abundant, dealing with it thoroughly at every level, from spiritual to material. We have tried to enter into it primarily in terms of the underlying principles of Unity and Oneness. It would now be worth our while to turn to the practical prospects of it so that we have a guidance for the realisation of the truth of Unity in life and experience the much sought for Harmony as a fulfilling value. This we propose doing in the next phase.
These lectures were delivered by Dr H. Maheshwari at Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar on 25th And 26th November 1992