Living Words (2): Our Human Understanding

In an autobiographical poem “Seer deep-hearted”, Sri Aurobindo reveals the deeper truth behind his own writings:

Seer deep-hearted, divine king of the secrecies,
Occult fountain of love sprung from the heart of God,
Ways thou knewest no feet ever in Time had trod.
Words leaped flashing, the flame-billows of wisdom’s seas.
Vast thy soul was a tide washing the coasts of heaven.
Thoughts broke burning and bare crossing the human night,
White star-scripts of the gods born from the book of Light
Page by page to the dim children of earth were given.
            CWSA 1: 655

This very much applies to the words of Sri Aurobindo. They are mantric in nature and their action is not confined to the limits of our understanding. In fact our human understanding is a double-edged sword. It can clarify the inner sense of the word if the mind is quiet and receptive to the one who has released the word-power. Or it may, indeed very often in normal human life, obfuscate the understanding and even create confusion by sieving the words through the net of our preconceived ideas and opinions about things. This is a common problem that many encounter when they read Sri Aurobindo. When the mind is in a dull state because the mental faculties have not been adequately used, it tends to fall into a sleep. The idea-forces contained in these powerful words then sink into some subconscious terrains of our complex nature and then work their way upwards from there. There is an action but a slow and one and the reader, living in the surfaces of life may not be fully aware of the occult action of the words going on within. But something else within him knows and therefore returns again and again to the writings even though the mind is unable to comprehend what is being revealed through the words. The soul still hears and if it is sufficiently awake, responds.

Or the mind may be restless, disorganized, filled with all sorts of ideas and opinions gathered from here and there and everywhere thinking that by doing so it will grow in wisdom and knowledge. Little do we know that wisdom is as far from knowledge as knowledge is from information! Wisdom is the light that grows within the soul; in that Light, we see our self and the world anew. Knowledge, as it is used in the spiritual parlance (and not a scholarly knowledge which counts for little from the spiritual point of view) is the reflection of this growing Light in the inner being of man. This knowledge frees us from ignorance and bondage to fixed ideas and opinions and rigid dogmas and narrow views of existence. On the other hand Wisdom leads us to Oneness. As to Information, it is merely raw data, often an inadequate data that conceals more than it reveals (leaving apart the falsifying and distorting action of the limited and imperfect human instruments). It cannot lead us to knowledge. Rather when knowledge awakens and an inner sight leaps out of Wisdom’s eyes then alone we can make the right use of information, understand its true import and the distortion lent to it by our own sensory apparatus. That is why the wise have always insisted on first clearing the obstructions in our understanding, purifying the mental instruments, awakening to the Truth within rather than losing ourselves in the maze and haze of the first raw data that is presented to us through the inadequate senses and the mind.

But even when we have carefully overcome these two difficulties we may still be caught and trapped by an idealized mentality whose shadowy brilliance breaks the Sun into multiple rays adding which we cannot constitute the original plenitude of the Light contained in Sri Aurobindo’s words that are vehicles of the Supramental Truth. Of course still lower down the ladder of idealized Mind we have our own ideas of what this World and God and Spiritual thought is or should be. These ideas are most often not the product of any patient reflection but merely the gathering of flowers from the garden of Religious scriptures and musings of someone else plucked from the tree of Philosophical thought. These things, useful aids as they may be in their own domain and at a certain stage of our mental evolution, interfere with the deeper spiritual understanding.

Sri Aurobindo reveals the various kinds of impurity that arise in our instruments of understanding itself:

The first cause of impurity in the understanding is the intermiscence of desire in the thinking functions, and desire itself is an impurity of the Will involved in the vital and emotional parts of our being. When the vital and emotional desires interfere with the pure will-to-know, the thought-function becomes subservient to them, pursues ends other than those proper to itself and its perceptions are clogged and deranged. The understanding must lift itself beyond the siege of desire and emotion and, in order that it may have perfect immunity, it must get the vital parts and the emotions themselves purified….

The second cause of impurity in the understanding is the illusion of the senses and the intermiscence of the sense-mind in the thinking functions. No knowledge can be true knowledge which subjects itself to the senses or uses them otherwise than as first indices whose data have constantly to be corrected and overpassed. The beginning of Science is the examination of the truthsof the world-force that underlie its apparent workings such as our senses represent them to be; the beginning of philosophy is the examination of the principles of things which the senses mistranslate to us; the beginning of spiritual knowledge is the refusal to accept the limitations of the sense-life or to take the visible and sensible as anything more than phenomenon of the Reality….

A third cause of impurity has its source in the understanding itself and consists in an improper action of the will to know. That will is proper to the understanding, but here again choice and unequal reaching after knowledge clog and distort. They lead to a partiality and attachment which makes the intellect cling to certain ideas and opinions with a more or less obstinate will to ignore the truth in other ideas and opinions, cling to certain fragments of a truth and shy against the admission of other parts which are yet necessary to its fullness, cling to certain predilections of knowledge and repel all knowledge that does not agree with the personal temperament of thought which has been acquired by the past of the thinker. The remedy lies in a perfect equality of the mind, in the cultivation of an entire intellectual rectitude and in the perfection of mental disinterestedness.

[CWSA 23: 313 – 315]

That is why the Mother advises us to remain quiet and not try to understand the words but simply wait for the understanding to develop in a receptive state:

To read my books is not difficult because they are written in the simplest language, almost the spoken language. To draw profit from them, it is enough to read with attention and concentration and an attitude of inner goodwill with the desire to receive and to live what is taught.

To read what Sri Aurobindo writes is more difficult because the expression is highly intellectual and the language is much more literary and philosophic. The brain needs a preparation to be able truly to understand and generally a preparation takes time, unless one is specially gifted with an innate intuitive faculty.

In any case, I advise always to read a little at a time, keeping the mind as tranquil as one can, without making an effort to understand, but keeping the head as silent as possible, and letting the force contained in what one reads enter deep within. This force received in the calm and the silence will do its work of light and, if needed, will create in the brain the necessary cells

for the understanding. Thus, when one re-reads the same thing some months later, one perceives that the thought expressed has become much more clear and close, and even sometimes altogether familiar.

It is preferable to read regularly, a little every day, and at a fixed hour if possible; this facilitates the brain-receptivity.

               [CWM 12: 203]

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