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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga

Sri AurobindoIf we look at the earth from a cosmic standpoint, it will look like a small dot in infinity. And if we look at man from that point, he may be like a little ant or even less than that. Yet there is something special about this man. That’s the first thing Sri Aurobindo tells us.

The interesting part is that even from the purely scientific point of view earth is the only planet on which all the elements of the universe are found. On every other planet something or the other is missing but on earth everything is found. It’s like a representative symbol of everything that is there in the universe. There is nothing in the universe, which in one way or the other, is not found on earth. But there is something on earth which may not be there in other parts of the universe. So it’s a concentration and a condensation of the entire universe, which means all the possibilities of the universe and all the difficulties of the universe. And as the Mother and Sri Aurobindo have told us, just as earth is a concentration of all the possibilities and difficulties, so is the Ashram here in Pondicherry.

You know when you do an experiment you have to concentrate everything in a small place.

The nuttiest problems, the craziest aspirations you will find concentrated in a certain section of humanity. Strangely you’ll find this section of humanity has turned to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It is very interesting, it’s an experiment and we should not look at it in any other way because it has reached its culminating point, its zenith. Something needs to burst as the Mother says, so it has become focused, more and more concentrated. If it can be solved here it can be solved for the earth.

So in a sense, all of us who are here have a very great inner responsibility. What is worked out within us will be worked out within large sections of humanity. It is not just a work of individual sadhana. What is worked out within us as a group can become a solution for other groups. All the problems of human nature, the clashes, the quarrels, the difficulties, the ugliness, the reconciliation of divergent view points, all these if they can be worked out in us as a collectivity, it can be worked out anywhere. This is the great privilege and the great burden that each disciple of Sri Aurobindo bears upon himself. He takes not only his own cross but in a sense the cross of the earth. He carries within himself the aspiration and the anguish.

Now in ancient Yogas they also realised that yes, the human being is a complex of problems but for the first time we have in Sri Aurobindo the real meaning and significance of the problems. Human nature is like a dog’s tail – put it straight and it curls back. We all know how much habits can overpower us, even the best of us. So in traditional times man took two approaches to solve the problem called man, not the problems of man. What is our problem: ignorance. What is our problem: we are very weak and incapable yet we want everything. What is our problem: we seek delight but we are ridden with grief, we want harmony but we are full of conflicts. These are our problems, we want freedom but we are constantly tied to a thousand bonds and worst of all, as in Savitri we have the queen saying to Narada, this human creature is his own worst foe, he walks into hell’s trap of his own choice. This is the enigma of man.

So in the ancient Yogas the solution was moved in two directions. One was outward, let’s expand knowledge and power, let’s expand possibilities of enjoyment, let’s find peace but by outer means built through science and technology. The problem of that is you find everything is dependent on something else. You are very happy when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong, your whole happiness crashes.

The second approach was inner. The inner approach was to cut through all the problems and conflicts and difficulties to find the narrowest path through which one can come out of this zone of struggle and conflict. We can take an example, we are all seated here, it’s a beautiful room, Sri Aurobindo’s painting, the Mother’s picture, everybody so harmonious but if you go to the bazaar things are very different. How nice if you could live here though. Its one kind of solution, inwardly, so to say, to find a little room within our many-chambered, many-tiered mansion of life where we could find peace, joy, serenity and wisdom and love. This is one type of solution human beings have tried inwardly.

The point is all of us have within ourselves a many-layered consciousness, but suffice it to say that through all this and beyond all this and behind all this there is one reality, there is a sacred space where all is beauty, harmony, truth and bliss. The Rishis found it and declared it to the world. This is one kind of approach, beyond it is void and silence, we don’t know. Similarly, within we reach a point where there is truth and light and bliss and happiness forever and when the Rishis found it and declared it to the world and more and more there was a rush, like the gold rush, and everybody wants to rush to that space, but its not easy to get there. So there were great masters, paths, methods, just like in technology. Eventually you may find that space, maybe in the course of a couple of lives, few lives. And having found that space you could live more and more there and eventually when you shed your mortal coils you can just vanish either into that space or through that space or through that space into the infinite. This was the traditional Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo for the first time, in the spiritual history of mankind, takes up the question, whose responsibility is that part which we leave behind, this nature, this complex of struggling forces and energy, clashing forces, conflicting ideas, whose fear is that and what can be done about it? With that point in view, with that aspiration, with that seeking, we came to do this work and Mother says, “What Sri Aurobindo represents in the world’s history is not a teaching, not even a revelation; it is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.” Let’s set this house in order, why should you escape? This is the radical solution; if we resolve everything here, we don’t need to find that space deep inside or somewhere up in the Himalayas.

I would like to read some letters from Sri Aurobindo directly showing how this Yoga is different from other Yogas and what is meant when Sri Aurobindo says something because nowadays these words are being picked up and misused.

For instance, the word integral is being used in several places; there is even a patenting of an ‘Integral Yoga’ brand which has nothing to do with the word integral, and which is all about ultimate release from this world. Similarly the word transformation, everybody uses it very loosely. Sri Aurobindo has not used these terms in such a way so let’s see what he means by transformation. He says in one of his letters, ‘it is new as compared with the old Yogas’. When he says new, there is a background, it’s a long letter, where he says that it takes up the essence of all the Yogas, in the sense it starts from the basic premise or the experience, that there is one fundamental reality whose very nature is truth, consciousness and bliss – satchitananda. This is an indisputable fact, it’s a Vedantic truth.

There is that reality accessible to experience and realisation. So this is the fundamental of the old Yogas and Sri Aurobindo says, yes, you have to get in touch with that reality if one has to proceed further in this Yoga. So in a way his Yoga begins where other Yogas end. Other Yogas end after you got in touch with that reality and you want to live in that state more and more, so gradually you started withdrawing from the world because even the greatest sanyasi has found that when he walks into this world, the ego comes back. It is beautifully typified in one of the stories of none else but the great Buddha whose realisation is like a mighty conquest. After he attained enlightenment he walks into the city and people flock around him to get initiated but he has made a rule that he will initiate adults but for children there is a special consideration, only if the parents say okay, will the child be admitted into the order of the bhikus. You can’t accept children just like that for children are impressionable and parents may be a problem. So the Buddha goes to his home and his son comes and says I want to be initiated. Buddha says okay. That’s the time his wife challenges him. She says, ‘you have got free from all attachments, how is it that he is still your son, how could you permit that he may be initiated? It is I who can permit whether he can be initiated or not because he is still young, he is still a child.’ So this is a little example.

In Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, to contact that reality, to get in touch with that inner space is really relatively easy for it’s really Mother’s grace that makes it very, very simple. But the other side of the Yoga is extremely difficult. As this process begins to enter into other parts of our nature, in our mind, heart, these are still receptive but the lower vital, the physical, the subconscient, the darkest energies of patal, they spring up and that becomes more and more difficult. Second, we are constantly invaded by all the forces which are around us because of the very fact that we are in the world. So as I have said, it is a collective Yoga, so each one of us here does work for everyone else.

This is the other part of it, that whatever is my victory, even if it’s a small victory, it helps others, makes it easier for others to arrive at that victory. It is a different Yoga because it aims not at a departure out of the world and life into heaven or nirvana. The aim of this Yoga is not mukti, moksha, nirvana etc. These are real things, powerful things but that is not the aim of this Yoga, but a change of life and existence, not something subordinate or incidental but its distinct and central object. Some change is required even in other Yogas. You cannot do any Yoga if one is vehemently rajasic or like a sloth, tamasic. One cannot meditate. A tamasic man believes he meditates but he sleeps actually, a rajasic man believes he is doing Divine work but he is all the time pushed by his ego.

The Yoga of the Gita is doing karma for the sake of the Divine and Divine alone. So the thing is, it is not meant for just entering into an exceptional state of consciousness, either of nirvana or trance etc. We enter into exceptional states and feel very nice but this is a radical change. To enter into exceptional states we need to have some change, that’s why in the old Yoga we have things like yama and niyama. We have something which is called a sattva samshuddhi. By sattvic nature man becomes ready to enter into meditation. So there are some rules of nature enjoined. Transformation is not about such change, it is not about becoming saintly, becoming ethically right, morally correct, legally accurate. There are preliminaries to enter into those states of any Yoga, but here the change is a central change, a radical change and that is the central object. In other Yogas this change is to enter into that exceptional state and be done with it. But here that is the central object.

Second he says, if there is a descent in other Yogas it is only an incident on the way or resulting from the ascent – the ascent is the real thing. We have already spoken about ascent, human consciousness, ascending out of this zone of sorrow – anityam asukham lokam – into that zone of light and bliss. Second, because the object sought after is not an individual achievement of Divine realisation, it makes it even more complex and fascinating. Whatever our attitudes and approaches we take towards solving life problems becomes like a stamp and seal upon earth which has its repercussions. We have schools, how do we run the schools, the routine way or a different way, we have business corners, how do we run these business corners, the routine way or the new way, with a new consciousness, a new attitude? So its not an individual Yoga meant only for ourselves but for the sake of a change of earth nature.

And third, the essence of this Yoga is that it is not only when we close our eyes that we do Yoga, it is also when we open our eyes that we do Yoga; it is not only when I’m focused on the Divine essence that I’m doing Yoga, it is also when I’m into the difficult situations and the happy moments of life that I have to remember what should be my attitude, what should be my approach, how would the Divine presence respond to the situation. All these things, through the smallest activity. The Mother puts it very beautifully. She says, for Integral Yoga it is not enough that you sit for meditation for five minutes. When Sri Aurobindo says ‘all life is Yoga’, it does not mean accepting life as it is, to do things as we have been accustomed to doing them and pass it off as the needed. Ordinary people use ordinary defences, spiritual people use spiritual defences. Mother is doing everything, so I need not do anything, this is another kind of complacency.

Sri Aurobindo says it’s all yoga. We must be very careful about this. He has said all life is yoga either in a subconscious way or in a conscious way. Subconsciously everything is striving ultimately towards that, every creature on earth, every element is seeking for unity, for happiness, power or whatever you may say. Every element of universe is instinct with intelligence, it is instinct with enormous power, so in that sense it is subconscious Yoga but in another sense in human beings it must become a conscious Yoga. That means to lead life consciously. To begin with that’s a minimum preparation. Mother says, first you must answer this one question, what do you want the Yoga for, to gain power, to become a Yogi, or to help humanity – none of these motives are sufficient for Yoga, so what is required? Do you want the Divine for the sake of the Divine?

When one begins to walk on this path, it is alright to do some charity but we should not confuse charity and philanthropy with Yoga. The change in humanity, in earth is a consequence of Yoga. But always inwardly one should know that it is being done for the sake of the Divine. So Mother says, the first question is, has the Divine become the raison d’être of your life? On this path, throughout life, one has to live with that consciousness, that it is for the sake of the Divine, to manifest the Divine, to find the Divine, to express the Divine, through whatever activity we may be doing.

And then Sri Aurobindo gives several examples. He says for instance, if we are in the field of science we can try to find how the Divine works through this fascinating process in the universe. We can find the Divine in that. In the field of economics, in art to express the beautiful, in human relationships… So at times, we will meet the Divine in so many ways, so many forms, so many appearances and through all this we have to remember one central secret, that the reason of all the activities I’m doing is to find and express the Divine. The question every time you have to ask is: this that I’m doing, why am I doing it? How will it help me and the group to find or to express the Divine? In which way can I change it, modify it, so that it can bring me closer and closer to the Divine and express him better and better in life? This is the kind of constant awareness required. When this question was asked, the Mother said the first thing necessary is aspiration for the Divine. Yoga begins with that. In this Yoga that is the initiation – aspiration for the Divine and then She says to become conscious of the motives of your actions, impulses and the origin of our thoughts, why we do whatever we do. We must see whether it is being impelled by the ego, whether it is impelled by desire, or suggestions from the universal thought currents, whether it is welling up from the depths of our psychic, whether it is descending as a river of inspiration from above. So all these things you have to become conscious of, the entire gamut of the play of forces, and try to go through them, go behind appearances, to the Divine.

And finally, what are the aids of this Yoga? Many of us would have read ‘The Four Aids’ chapter in the Synthesis of Yoga. Sri Aurobindo speaks of four things, which if they meet together, makes the Yoga wonderful. Even otherwise Yoga can be done but these four aids are kind of, one can almost say, indispensable. These four aids are he says, sastra, utsaha, guru and kala– knowledge, joy and enthusiasm, guide, time. The real sastra of the Yoga is inner. Sri Aurobindo says in one of his letters, how can I write about the most perfect technique of a Yoga which involves every aspect of life? So true sastra is inside but that should not become an excuse for not reading the outer sastras. So I suppose anybody who wants to walk this path should spend few minutes, preferably a few hours, to read the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to get the base line clear and ready. Reading is a wonderful preparation for a mind, it is a power that helps the rest of our nature to get ready and have a good understanding and it is always best to go back to the originals, always. So read Sri Aurobindo in the original – even whatever I am speaking, it gives a certain slant which comes from my own nature whereas when you read the original it’s a cosmic thing which we receive directly from the source.

Second is utsaha of the disciple. Yoga cannot be done with a morose and despondent heart. Oh my god, why did we get into this problem at all, life was going smoothly and happily, why has this whole Yoga business started, now I’m in conflict every second day, should I do this, should I not do this, how beautiful life was… If that is the case, go back to life, enjoy it, find what it contains. If there is such a strong pull, it is better to get back, get our bearings straight, get on to the main road. But if the pull is not so strong, the aspiration is mounting, then we should tend that fire and it should be with the utsaha, the joy. The zeal for my lord has eaten me up; nothing else is more important and interesting than our appointment with the lord – that’s utsaha.

Third is the guru. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are the gurus in this Yoga. Sri Aurobindo has said that if you turn only towards me you get little bit, if you turn to the Mother you get everything, she is the Mother. He has said all who have turned to the Mother are doing this Yoga. Why the turning comes, how it comes is not an intellectual process, let’s not mentalise it; if it happens, it happens and if it happens you are initiated on the path. Now the rest She will unfold, of Her own. No disciple, however high, great, erudite, however experienced, realised, has to come between us and the Mother. All others are friends and co-travellers, they are not guides of this Yoga; the only guide is the Mother. It is much better to blunder, relying upon Her, than to do everything right, relying on some outer human personality. This is about the guide and the guru.

Kal means why things happen when they happen – many forces have to be adjusted, have to come into play, between the aspiration and its fusion. So there is an intervening period of time. We aspire for the Divine; the moment we aspire, all our nature begins to come under a new impulse and it begins to react in its own way. Some parts collaborate, some parts conflict, other parts resist and as a result the world forces begin to conflict and resist. There are things from our past nature which have to be worked through, therefore we have to give the Divine time. Our attitude towards time should be one of patience and trust.

These are the ‘four aids’ and those who have them will arrive at their goal.

Author: Dr. Alok Pandey has been working in the field of psychiatry with a spiritual approach for more than 15 years. He has developed a working concept of integral health and integral psychology which he is using in his life and practice. He is one of the founders of SAIIIHR.

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