Yoga of the Body Part 20: The Power of the Instrument (HH 061)


This talk is about the different ways of looking at the human body particularly in its relation with the Soul and the Spirit.


Words of Sri Aurobindo

Each cell out of which the body is built has a life of its own and  therefore tendencies of its own. These tendencies are largely, if not entirely determined by heredity. The spirit too comes into the womb with an individuality already determined, a future development already built up; and its struggle is to impose the law of that individuality and that development on the plasm of matter in which it has to encase itself. It is naturally attracted to birth in a race & a family where the previous dispositions are favourable to the production of a suitable body; and in the case of great minds this is oftenest where attempts at genius have occurred before, attempts which being unsuccessful have not unfrequently led to madness & physical or moral disease resulting from the refusal of the body to bear the strain of the spirit. Even from the womb it struggles to impose itself on the embryonic plasm, to build up the cells of the brain to its liking and stamp its individuality on every part of the body. Throughout childhood and youth the struggle proceeds; the spirit not so much developing itself, as developing the body into an image of itself, accustoming the body to express it & respond to its impulses as a musical instrument responds to the finger of the performer. And therefore it is that the Upanishad speaks of the body as the harp of the spirit. Hence natural gifts are much more valuable and work with much more freedom and power than acquired; for when we acquire, we are preparing fresh material for our individuality in another existence; when we follow our gifts, we are using what we have already prepared for this. In the first case we are painful & blundering learners, in the second to the extent we have prepared ourselves, masters. This process of subjecting the personality of the body to the personality of the spirit, of finding one’s self, lasts for various periods with various men. But it is seldom really over before the age of 30 in men of a rich and varied genius, and even afterwards they never cease sounding themselves still farther, finding fresh possibilities, developing mightier masteries, until the encasing plasm wears away with the strain of life. The harp grows old & shabby, the strings are worn and frayed, the music deteriorates or ceases, and finally the spirit breaks & throws away its instrument and departs to assimilate its experiences and acquirements for a fresh  existence. But that the man of genius may successfully find himself, he must have fit opportunities, surroundings, influences, training. If he is not favoured with these, the genius will remain but it will be at the mercy of its body; it will express its body and not its self. The most famous ballads, those which never perish, have been written by such thwarted geniuses. Although the influence of romanticism has made it a literary fashion to couple these ballads with Homer, yet in truth ballad writing is the lowest form of the poetical art; its method is entirely sensational. The impact of outward facts on the body is carried through the vital principle, the sensational element in man, to the mind, and mind obediently answers the knocking outside, photographs the impression with force & definiteness. But there has been no exercise of the higher faculty of understanding, considering, choosing, moulding what it receives. Hence the bare force & realism which so powerfully attracts in the best ballads; but this force is very different from the high strength and this involuntary realism very different from the artistic imaginative & self-chosen realism of great poetry. There is the same difference as separates brilliant melodrama from great tragedy. Another sign of the undeveloped self is uncertainty of work. There are some poets who live by a single poem. In some moment of exaltation, of rapt excitement the spirit throws off for a moment the bonds of the flesh and compels the body to obey it. This is what is vulgarly termed inspiration. Everyone who has felt this state of mind, can recall its main features. There is a sudden exaltation, a glow, an excitement and a fiery and rapid activity of all the faculties; every cell of the body & of the brain feeling a commotion and working in excited unison under the law of something which is not themselves; the mind itself becomes illuminated as with a rush of light and grows like a crowded and surging thoroughfare in some brilliantly lighted city, thought treading on the heels of thought faster than the tongue can express or the hand write or the memory record them. And yet while the organs of sense remain overpowered and inactive, the main organs of action may be working with abnormal rapidity, not only the speech and the hand but sometimes even the feet, so that often the writer cannot  remain still, but has to walk up and down swiftly or if he sits down, is subject to an involuntary mechanical movement of the limbs. When this state reaches beyond bounds, when the spirit attempts to impose on the mind & body work for which they are not fitted, the result is, in the lower human organisms insanity, in the higher epilepsy. In this state of inspiration every thought wears an extraordinary brilliance and even commonplace ideas strike one as God-given inspirations. But at any rate the expression they take whether perfect or not is superior to what the same man could compass in his ordinary condition. Ideas & imaginations throng on the mind which one is not aware of having formerly entertained or even prepared for; some even seem quite foreign to our habit of mind. The impression we get is that thoughts are being breathed into us, expressions dictated, the whole poured in from outside; the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc, the daemon of Socrates, Tasso’s familiar, the Angel Gabriel dictating the Koran to Mahomet are only exaggerated developments of this impression due to an epileptic, maniac or excited state of the mind; and this, as I have already suggested, is itself due to the premature attempts of the Spirit to force the highest work on the body. 1 Mahomet’s idea that in his epileptic fits he went up into the seventh heaven & took the Koran from the lips of God, is extremely significant; 2 if Caesar & Richelieu had been Oriental prophets instead of practical & sceptical Latin statesmen they might well have recorded kindred impressions. In any case such an impression is purely sensational. It is always the man’s own spirit that is speaking, but the sensational part of him feeling that it is working blindly in obedience to some irresistible power which is not itself, conveys to the mind an erroneous impression that the power comes from outside, that it is an inspiration and not an inner process; for it is as naturally the impulse of the body as of the mind to consider itself the self of the organism and all impressions & impulses not of its own sphere as exterior to the organism. If the understanding happens to be firm and sane, it refuses to encourage the mind in its error, but if the understanding is overexcited or is not sufficiently master of its instruments, it easily allows itself to be deluded. Now when the spirit is no longer struggling with the body, but has become its master and lord, this state of inspiration ceases to be fortuitous and occasional, and becomes more and more within the will of the man and, subject to the necessarily long intervals of repose & recreation, almost a habitually recurring state. At the same time it loses its violent & abnormal character and the outward symptoms of it disappear; the outer man remains placid and the mind works with great power and illumination indeed, but without disturbance or loss of equilibrium. In the earlier stages the poet swears & tears his hair if a fly happens to be buzzing about the room; once he has found himself, he can rise from his poem, have a chat with his wife or look over & even pay his bills and then resume his inspiration as if nothing had happened. He needs no stimulant except healthy exercise and can no longer be classed with the genus irritabile vatum; nor does he square any better with the popular idea that melancholy, eccentricity and disease are necessary concomitants of genius. Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Goethe, the really great poets, were men of high sanity except perhaps in the eyes of those to whom originality & strong character are in themselves madness.

But to arrive at this harmony requires time and effort and meanwhile the work will surely be unequal, often halting, varying between inspiration and failure. Especially will this be the case with a rich, many-sided and flexible genius like Kalidasa’s.

The Poetry of Appendix: Alternative and Unused Passages and Fragments

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All working of mind or spirit has its vibration in the physical consciousness, records itself there in a kind of subordinate corporeal notation and communicates itself to the material world partly at least through the physical machine. But the body of man has natural limitations in this capacity which it imposes on the play of the higher parts of his being. And, secondly, it has a subconscient consciousness of its own in which it keeps with an obstinate fidelity the past habits and past nature of the mental and vital being and which automatically opposes and obstructs any very great upward change or at least prevents it from becoming a radical transformation of the whole nature. It is evident that if we are to have a free divine or spiritual and supramental action conducted by the force and fulfilling the character of a diviner energy, some fairly complete transformation must be effected in this outward character of the bodily nature. The physical being of man has always been felt by the seekers of perfection to be a great impediment and it has been the habit to turn from it with contempt, denial or aversion and a desire to suppress altogether or as far as may be the body and the physical life. But this cannot be the right method for the integral Yoga. The body is given us as one instrument necessary to the totality of our works and it is to be used, not neglected, hurt, suppressed or abolished. If it is imperfect, recalcitrant, obstinate, so are also the other members, the vital being, heart and mind and reason. It has like them to be changed and perfected and to undergo a transformation. As we must get ourselves a new life, new heart, new mind, so we have in a certain sense to build for ourselves a new body.

The first thing the will has to do with the body is to impose on it progressively a new habit of all its being, consciousness, force and outward and inward action. It must be taught an entire passivity in the hands first of the higher instruments, but eventually in the hands of the spirit and its controlling and informing Shakti. It must be accustomed not to impose its own limits on the nobler members, but to shape its action and its response to their demands, to develop, one might say, a higher notation, a higher scale of responses. At present the notation of the body and the physical consciousness has a very large determining power on the music made by this human harp of God; the notes we get from the spirit, from the psychic soul, from the greater life behind our physical life cannot come in freely, cannot develop their high, powerful and proper strain. This condition must be reversed; the body and the physical consciousness must develop the habit of admitting and shaping themselves to these higher strains and not they, but the nobler parts of the nature must determine the music of our life and being.

The control of the body and life by the mind and its thought and will is the first step towards this change. All Yoga implies the carrying of that control to a very high pitch. But afterwards the mind must itself give place to the spirit, to the spiritual force, the supermind and the supramental force. And finally the body must develop a perfect power to hold whatever force is brought into it by the spirit and to contain its action without spilling and wasting it or itself getting cracked. It must be capable of being filled and powerfully used by whatever intensity of spiritual or higher mind or life force without any part of the mechanical instrument being agitated, upset, broken or damaged by the inrush or pressure, as the brain, vital health or moral nature are often injured in those who unwisely attempt Yogic practice without preparation or by undue means or rashly invite a power they are intellectually, vitally, morally unfit to bear, and, thus filled, it must have the capacity to work normally, automatically, rightly according to the will of that spiritual or other now unusual agent without distorting, diminishing or mistranslating its intention and stress. This faculty of holding, dharana-sakti, in the physical consciousness, energy and machinery is the most important siddhi or perfection of the body. The result of these changes will be to make the body a perfect instrument of the spirit. The spiritual force will be able to do what it wills and as it wills in and through the body. It will be able to conduct an unlimited action of the mind or at a higher stage of the supermind without the body betraying the action by fatigue, incapacity, inaptitude or falsification. It will be able too to pour a full tide of the life-force into the body and conduct a large action and joy of the perfected vital being without that quarrel and disparity which is the relation of the normal life instincts and life-impulses to the insufficient physical instrument they are obliged to use. And it will also be able to conduct a full action of the spiritualised psychic being not falsified, degraded or in any way marred by the lower instincts of the body and to use physical action and expression as a free notation of the higher psychical life. And in the body itself there will be a presence of a greatness of sustaining force, an abounding strength, energy and puissance of outgoing and managing force, a lightness, swiftness and adaptability of the nervous and physical being, a holding and responsive power in the whole physical machine and its driving springs1 of which it is now even at its strongest and best incapable.

This energy will not be in its essence an outward, physical or muscular strength, but will be of the nature, first, of an unbounded life-power or pranic force, secondly, sustaining and using this pranic energy, a superior or supreme will-power acting in the body. The play of the pranic shakti in the body or form is the condition of all action, even of the most apparently inanimate physical action. It is the universal Prana, as the ancients knew, which in various forms sustains or drives material energy in all physical things from the electron and atom and gas up through the metal, plant, animal, physical man. To get this pranic shakti to act more freely and forcibly in the body is knowingly or unknowingly the attempt of all who strive for a greater perfection of or in the body. The ordinary man tries to command it mechanically by physical exercises and other corporeal means, the Hathayogin more greatly and flexibly, but still mechanically by Asana and Pranayama; but for our purpose it can be commanded by more subtle, essential and pliable means; first, by a will in the mind widely opening itself to and potently calling in the universal pranic shakti on which we draw and fixing its stronger presence and more powerful working in the body; secondly, by the will in the mind opening itself rather to the spirit and its power and calling in a higher pranic energy from above, a supramental pranic force; thirdly, the last step, by the highest supramental will of the spirit entering and taking up directly the task of the perfection of the body. In fact, it is always really a will within which drives and makes effective the pranic instrument even when it uses what seem to be purely physical means; but at first it is dependent on the inferior action. When we go higher, the relation is gradually reversed; it is then able to act in its own power or handle the rest only as a subordinate instrumentation.

1) mahattvabalalaghutadharana-samarthya.

 The Synthesis of Yoga: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, p. 730

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