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At the Feet of The Mother

Rituals and Festivals (2) The Spirit and the Form

After all, if we accept the ancient Indian formula of life, the form, the body is an ever-changing and temporal reality. It is important no doubt but only as a vehicle of the soul within. So, when the vehicle becomes old and rigid and countless limitations creep into it, nature sheds and discards it while taking care to keep the spirit alive that must return into a new and young and fresh body.

Some may of course argue that what is the importance of giving it a new body. It is important for two reasons. First is this that the form and the body express what is formless in its essence. The whole universe is there to justify it. All creation is a simultaneous play of the formless and the form. For a seeker after liberation from creation, the forms may not be of much value beyond using these formulas to help find his own wicket gate to liberation. But for the seeker after the perfection of earthly life the form carries its own significance and importance for it is only through the form that the Creator pours in His heart of love and light and beauty and truth and thereby expresses Himself or Herself.  Secondly, the form is needed for the completeness of the union and communion with the Spirit, the Divine essence in things so that everything in us, our very body and even our outermost parts must be engaged in the totality of our experience, even the divine experience of life.

Yet the body must be suited to the evolving spirit of man. It is here that we have lagged behind in our rush towards nirvana. We have completely ignored and neglected the outer aspects leading to poverty of outer life while we were busy gathering the inner riches. The result has been a certain division and disconnect between yoga and life. The yogin turned away from these outer aspects often leaving an unbridgeable gulf between the religious impulse and the spiritual life of man. At most, it was his intellect that to an extent participated in the spiritual pursuit while the vital and physical aspects remained untouched by the fire of the spirit thereby leaving an entire mass of humanity to remain sunk in the darkness of ignorance and the blind inertia that gives rise to all kinds of superstitions.

All religions and festivals and rituals may start with a spiritual experience in its founder but sooner or later have a tendency to become mechanical. The outer shell remains and the throne is usurped by the forces of darkness forcing the adherents and followers to adhere to the external rituals while the spirit has passed away. In such a case the ritual even becomes an excuse and a means to justify even things that are opposed to the very spirit thereby creating an opposition between the spirit that gave it birth and the forces that have usurped it and use it for their devious purposes. Of all the dangers of a blind and mechanical adherence, this is surely the worst. This is what has happened to most religions and if the Hindu religion has escaped it, it is only because of the living tradition of Masters who have always given a new meaning and a new form to these outer things. But the masses continue to follow the ritual rather blindly by habit while continuing to do everything that is opposed to its truth. Or else the truth is lost or buried deep within the pomp and the passion from while the truth has receded in the secrecy of its silence. This is perhaps one form of dharmasya glani, the decline of dharma, mentioned in the Gita. In our haste, we try to restore the old tradition just as we see in the story of transplanting the goat’s head onto Daksha Prajapati. What is however needed is that the spirit of Sati returns as the tapaswini Parvati. Sri Aurobindo cautions about the possible misuse of religious symbols and institutionalizing the spirit and thereby imprisoning it in petrified formulas of the past:

“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 realised 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 fossilises 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. The collective soul is there only as a great half-subconscient source of the individual existence; if it is to take on a definite psychological form or a new kind of collective life, that can only come by the shaping growth of its individuals.”

[CWSA 25: 262 – 263]

This connection between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the religious, especially giving a new body to what we continue to follow as blind rituals, is a part of the complex work that needs to be taken up. It is in this regard that we can look at some of these festivals.

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It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.