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At the Feet of The Mother

Darshan (3): Form and Formless

It is this innate sense of spiritual things, this instinct of divinity due to which there never was any antagonism in India between the religious life and the spiritual one, between rituals and the real. One was seen as a step towards the other. In fact even when the spiritual predominated, the seeming ritual continued to complete the self-giving. Sri Aurobindo reveals to us the deeper significance of worship of the form:

All love, indeed, that is adoration has a spiritual force behind it, and even when it is offered ignorantly and to a limited object, something of that splendour appears through the poverty of the rite and the smallness of its issues. For love that is worship is at once an aspiration and a preparation: it can bring even within its small limits in the Ignorance a glimpse of a still more or less blind and partial but surprising realisation; for there are moments when it is not we but the One who loves and is loved in us, and even a human passion can be uplifted and glorified by a slight glimpse of this infinite Love and Lover. It is for this reason that the worship of the god, the worship of the idol, the human magnet or ideal are not to be despised; for these are steps through which the human race moves towards that blissful passion and ecstasy of the Infinite which, even in limiting it, they yet represent for our imperfect vision when we have still to use the inferior steps Nature has hewn for our feet and admit the stages of our progress. Certain idolatries are indispensable for the development of our emotional being, nor will the man who knows be hasty at any time to shatter the image unless he can replace it in the heart of the worshipper by the Reality it figures. Moreover, they have this power because there is always something in them that is greater than their forms and, even when we reach the supreme worship, that abides and becomes a prolongation of it or a part of its catholic wholeness. Our knowledge is still imperfect in us, love incomplete if even when we know That which surpasses all forms and manifestations, we cannot still accept the Divine in creature and object, in man, in the kind, in the animal, in the tree, in the flower, in the work of our hands, in the Nature-Force which is then no longer to us the blind action of a material machinery but a face and power of the universal Shakti: for in these things too is the presence of the Eternal.

An ultimate inexpressible adoration offered by us to the Transcendent, to the Highest, to the Ineffable, is yet no complete worship if it is not offered to him wherever he manifests or wherever even he hides his godhead—in man and object and every creature. An Ignorance is there no doubt which imprisons the heart, distorts its feelings, obscures the significance of its offering; all partial worship, all religion which erects a mental or a physical idol is tempted to veil and protect the truth in it by a certain cloak of ignorance and easily loses the truth in its image. But the pride of exclusive knowledge is also a limitation and a barrier. For there is, concealed behind individual love, obscured by its ignorant human figure, a mystery which the mind cannot seize, the mystery of the body of the Divine, the secret of a mystic form of the Infinite which we can approach only through the ecstasy of the heart and the passion of the pure and sublimated sense, and its attraction which is the call of the divine Flute-player, the mastering compulsion of the All-Beautiful, can only be seized and seize us through an occult love and yearning which in the end makes one the Form and the Formless, and identifies Spirit and Matter. It is that which the spirit in Love is seeking here in the darkness of the Ignorance and it is that which it finds when individual human love is changed into the love of the Immanent Divine incarnate in the material universe.

Sri Aurobindo: CWSA 23: 159 – 160

However it cannot be denied that there is a tendency in man to fix his gaze too much on the external, even almost exclusively upon it while missing out on the inner truth that inspired it. This happens since over a period of time the deeper spiritual and occult sense that inspired an event and even its symbolic significance tends to recede into the background. In the physical absence of the Master there is indeed a tendency in man to turn back to his usual mechanical routine and ordinary ways of thinking. He may continue engaging with the activities initiated by the Master for years and even centuries but without being conscious of their inner significance. Over a long passage of time the whole thing may become a meaningless convention from which the truth recedes into the secrecy of its silence leaving behind a glowing outer shell for the satisfaction of the believer and the worshipper. Sri Aurobindo cautions us about this too:

For the way that humanity deals with an ideal is to be satisfied with it as an aspiration which is for the most part left only as an aspiration, accepted only as a partial influence. The ideal is not allowed to mould the whole life, but only more or less to colour it; it is often used even as a cover and a plea for things that are diametrically opposed to its real spirit. Institutions are created which are supposed, but too lightly supposed to embody that spirit and the fact that the ideal is held, the fact that men live under its institutions is treated as sufficient. The holding of an ideal becomes almost an excuse for not living according to the ideal; the existence of its institutions is sufficient to abrogate the need of insisting on the spirit that made the institutions. But spirituality is in its very nature a thing subjective and not mechanical; it is nothing if it is not lived inwardly and if the outward life does not flow out of this inward living. Symbols, types, conventions, ideas are not sufficient. A spiritual symbol is only a meaningless ticket, unless the thing symbolised is realized in the spirit. A spiritual convention may lose or expel its spirit and become a falsehood. A spiritual type may be a temporary mould into which spiritual living may flow, but it is also a limitation and may become a prison in which it fossilizes and perishes. A spiritual idea is a power, but only when it is both inwardly and outwardly creative. Here we have to enlarge and to deepen the pragmatic principle that truth is what we create, and in this sense first, that it is what we create within us, in other words, what we become. Undoubtedly, spiritual truth exists eternally beyond independent of us in the heavens of the spirit; but it is of no avail for humanity here, it does not become truth of earth, truth of life until it is lived. The divine perfection is always there above us; but for man to become divine in consciousness and act and to live inwardly and outwardly the divine life is what is meant by spirituality; all lesser meanings given to the word are inadequate fumblings or impostures.

This, as the subjective religions recognise, can only be brought about by an individual change in each human life.

Sri Aurobindo: CWSA 25: 262 – 263

Yet a service is done even through these conventions and rituals since it preserves some tremendous occult truth, some profound spiritual mystery, some deep symbolic significance which continues to inspire the rare seeker for whom the ritual act becomes a trysting ground for his rendezvous with God. For one who carries the fire of aspiration within him a seemingly meaningless ritual can become an occasion for a great disclosure of the Divine within. In fact the Divine can use anything, however trivial, any occasion, however seemingly insignificant to reveal Himself to the soul in man. What the vainly intellectual shuns in his pride of ignorant knowledge, the wise behold as a gate of entry for Truth to slip into the lives of our common humanity.

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To be spontaneous means not to think, organise, decide and make an effort to realise with the personal will.