Living Words (4): A Word of Caution

Herein comes the third and most important major difficulty when we turn to the word of any scripture. It is this that very often we bind ourselves to the letter and not the spirit, the outer sense rather than the deeper inner meaning, the mental understanding rather than the truth being revealed to us. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo repeatedly caution us not to turn their luminous writings meant to awaken and inspire rather than instruct and systematize, into fixed systems of thought or rigid dogmas of life. Worse still to use them as means to justify our own weaknesses (given the vastness of their writings) while pointing figures at others. Such a misuse of their words would be the proverbial ‘devil quoting the scriptures’. The word is a means of ascension but not the final culmination of yoga. If born out of the yogagni of tapasya as indeed all words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are, it can purify us, uplift us, refine us but the final act of entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord is effected by the free surrender of all that we are and do and understand. The powerful Word can carry us to the abode of the Lord on wings of fire like the Garuda, but to enter the shrine of Truth where sleeps the Great Being in the heart of Time and its infinite unfolding afloat the great ocean of infinite Knowledge, we must step out of the vehicle and step inside the house of the Lord bare feet and humble with faith as the only lamp of Light. There the Word ceases and understanding fails, a holy darkness wraps us in its sacred shroud and passing through the mystical gates of the Unknown we step into Light and Freedom and Bliss and Truth. What is of greater importance than mere reading and intellectualizing is to meditate on the living truths contained in the words with a will to live it.

A concentration which culminates in a living realisation and the constant sense of the presence of the One in ourselves and in all of which we are aware, is what we mean in Yoga by knowledge and the effort after knowledge. It is not enough to devote ourselves by the reading of Scriptures or by the stress of philosophic reasoning to an intellectual understanding of the Divine; for at the end of our long mental labour we might know all that has been said of the Eternal, possess all that can be thought about the Infinite and yet we might not know him at all. This intellectual preparation can indeed be the first stage in a powerful Yoga, but it is not indispensable: it is not a step which all need or can be called upon to take. Yoga would be impossible, except for a very few, if the intellectual figure of knowledge arrived at by the speculative or meditative Reason were its indispensable condition or a binding preliminary. All that the Light from above asks of us that it may begin its work is a call from the soul and a sufficient point of support in the mind. [CWSA 23: 55 – 56]

It means that we should be careful of limiting the Divine by our own understanding of His too luminous Words! Both the Mother and Sri Aurobindo have often cautioned us about this tendency to quote their words and worse still think that our own understanding is the one true understanding of it. The Mother clearly reminds us:

‘Men find a book or a teaching very wonderful and often you hear them say, “That is exactly what I myself feel and know, but I could not bring it out or express it as well as it is expressed here.” When men come across a book of true knowledge, each finds himself there, and at every new reading he discovers things that he did not see in it at first; it opens to him each time a new field of knowledge that had till then escaped him in it. But that is because it reaches layers of knowledge that were waiting for expression in the subconscious in him; the expression has now been given by somebody else and much better than he could himself have done it. But, once expressed, he immediately recognises it and feels that it is the truth. The knowledge that seems to come to you from outside is only an occasion for bringing out the knowledge that is within you. The experience of misrepresentation of something we have said is a very common one and it has a similar source. We say something that is quite clear, but the way in which it is understood is stupefying! Each sees in it something else than what was intended or even puts into it something that is quite the contrary of its sense. If you want to understand truly and avoid this kind of error, you must go behind the sound and movement of the words and learn to listen in silence. If you listen in silence, you will hear rightly and understand rightly; but so long as there is something moving about and making a noise in your head, you will understand only what is moving in your head and not what is told you.’ [CWM 3: 51 – 52]

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