9 Jun 2009

The Shadow and After -- by Alok Pandey

A shadow and a storm has just passed over the collectivity that is loosely grouped around the Ideal of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Loosely, because it is constituted of a wide range of humanity in different ranges and stages of its inner development and outer conditioning. There are many who are drawn to Sri Aurobindo for his idea of evolutionary transformation. There are others who are attracted to his philosophy, still others to his poetry, especially Savitri. Some others are attached to him because he represents in his personality, the very best that the East and West could offer, a unique synthesis of the two. Then there are those Indians who specifically feel proud of being born in a country where he took birth and the Mother chose as Her home. They can identify in Sri Aurobindo a much awaited return of the Avatar and his promise of a Vedic age of Truth and feel in His words the voice of Krishna on the great battlefield of life and the song of the ancient Rishis of the Upanishadas. The Westerners find in him their own appeal especially where he speaks of going beyond religions and social conventions and his stress upon freedom and individuality. Even the communists and the atheists find something in Sri Aurobindo that attracts them despite themselves. All kinds of humanity, the Devas and Asuras, the straight and simple village folks and the complicated and confused city dwellers, the traditionalists and the modernists, each finds in Him something that represents to them their own highest point. And yet each sees in him his limited ego’s reflection as in a glass, missing out his vastness and his infinity. Still others are impressed by his writings, his luminous thoughts on contemporary issues of education, psychology, health, politics, and so on and so forth. Some are simply awed by his sheer creative genius even if they understand nothing, some are inspired by his writings, others attracted to his personality, some admire him because of his intellectual prowess, others by the countless stories of his deep compassion for the human race and for this troubled earth. Still others love him and know not why. Finally, there are those few to whom the very name of Sri Aurobindo evokes the sense of the Supreme Divine. To serve him in any way is their delight. Given this wide range of humanity that is drawn to him, it is only natural that their responses to the Truth that Sri Aurobindo has brought will be varied and different, even conflicting with each other’s vision.

Quite naturally, those who love him and feel and see him with the psychic sense as the Divine Incarnate or even as the Master of Integral Yoga, accept all that he has said unquestioningly, even if they are not able to always live by that truth. Yet they do not doubt what he has spoken. They live by faith and the certitude that the Divine Presence gives to the devotee and the God-lover. On the other hand, those for whom he is a mere mortal, even though a great one, have a different approach. They accept a few things and not others. Most of all, they do not wish to surrender their individuality to 'another human being', however great he may be in others’ eyes. To this group, Sri Aurobindo is an object of respect and admiration, even perhaps inspiration, but nothing more. They do not take him to be the Master of their yoga, if at all they are engaged in any yoga. For yoga is not mere intellectual speculation or some experiences other than the ordinary. There have been books on Sri Aurobindo's life, books such as 'The Adventure of Consciousness' that appealed to all these varied groups and each group could find what it wanted or looked for, without in any way offending the other group's sensibility. Each felt inspired or attracted; in short these books served a divine purpose by strengthening each one's faith according to his capacity and readiness and psychic openness and stage of development. There have been other books that have been written for specific audiences, for academia, for philosophers, for poets and lovers of literature, for educationists and psychologists, for yogis and seekers of yoga, for those who simply love him. The authors of these books have taken care to stay focussed on their subject and again not lace them with unwanted opinions, especially those that would arouse ambivalent feelings. When dealing with the academic world, they have taken care to avoid touching upon subjects that do not concern the academia. Especially, these authors have been careful enough to avoid any personal references to Sri Aurobindo's life that are irrelevant to the discussion.

But this book TLOSA is a strange cross that neither satisfies what the academia would want (notwithstanding some praise) nor what a seeker of yoga may like to know. Nor does it do justice to Sri Aurobindo the poet and the philosopher (you have to only look at the chapter on Major Works to see that), the revolutionary or the educationist (The book says he was almost a failure and hardly highlights his role in the field of education. As a revolutionary it holds him somewhat responsible for the Hindu-Muslim problem). But when it comes to dealing with his yogic side and his role as a Master, it not only begins to blunder but to actually flounder. But the worst comes when the book speaks about his personal side in a vein that would offend any devotee who loves him. Knowing fully well that the life of any person is of utmost value mainly, if not only to those who respect, admire and love him, rather than to the sterile academia who would be more interested in his ideas than his life, he shows the scantest respect for the feelings of those who not only revere him but also regard him as the Lord and Master of yoga. And all this from a man who is here in the same Ashram and for decades. Naturally, not everybody will understand this. The casual academia would not even bother; those interested only in the ideas and thoughts are least concerned about the personal side. But those, to whom Sri Aurobindo is the Master and their life revolves around Him and his name, are going to be the most disturbed by this kind of portrayal, for the author has been most insensitive to them. Normally a biography, especially of someone such as Sri Aurobindo should serve as an inspiration, bringing out the very best and highest in Him, so that all can see what is hidden behind the human figure. The human being and its surface details are like the husk that hide the grain of gold inside. The purpose of a biographer, like an artist or a scientist is to go below the surface and to bring out that which it conceals. Alas, the book serves only to strengthen the shadow and the husk, making the vision of the Beauty within even more clouded and confounding. Not so much because there is shadow in the personality of Sri Aurobindo but because, in conformity with the general law that we see in the Divine our own ego’s mirror image, he sees in Sri Aurobindo what he wants to see projecting his own shadows upon him as a cloud passes before the sun obstructing its Light, even if for a moment. Being the projection of the author's shadow, it has touched the shadow in everyone, well, almost everyone. For there are always some who like to see the shadows as it justifies their own. We feel the same correspondence between us and the Divine sparing us thereby the effort and the labour. Instead of trying to rise upto his stature, we prefer to bring him down to our level. Already the Divine does that, for how else can he reach out to us? But we want him to stoop still lower, or else we cannot love him. It is as if we do not wish to love the Divine but our own reflection in him. Some prefer to see it and love it that way, for as we are within, so we enjoin and enjoy the outside.

Therefore each has viewed the event from his or her own unique standpoint and perspective, his interest and degree and type of engagement with Sri Aurobindo. There are some, if I may say so, to whom the author is more important than the subject itself, who are friendly to him and love him just as the devotee loves Sri Aurobindo. There are others to whom Sri Aurobindo is just an idea or rather a philosopher and they cannot understand why the devotee is hurt. There are others still who cherish human values and have been drawn to Sri Aurobindo not so much as a Master as to the Ideals he has set forth before the human race. They would prefer human ideals, of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech over everything else, even if it means misrepresenting Sri Aurobindo. They are least concerned about that. Little do they understand that all that Sri Aurobindo has said and done derives its power and lasting force from the strength of the yoga he had been engaged in. His truth has a lasting value only if something in him was identified with the everlasting Eternal. Otherwise it is yet another idea in a pool of ideas to be surpassed by other ideas. And that Something cannot be known by any analysis but only with the psychic sense in us. It is a disclosure or a revelation, not an inference or a reasoned argument. But Sri Aurobindo not only gave an idea or an ideal but a way and a path. If he is not Divine, then all he said and did is only of temporary importance at the most. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we be extremely careful in dealing with his life. We need not say that he is divine but we need not question that as well. It may be best left untouched, to say the least, for, after all, who or what can prove the Divine. One either sees him or one does not. And just as those who see him have no right to impose him upon others, so also those who do not, have no right to question the faith of others.

Unfortunately there has been a tendency to question any faith as mere dogmatism of a religion and to regard intellectual analysis as the sole arbiter of truth. There can be no greater error than that, for all said and done, a rational religion drying up the heart is worse than a blind faith. Though both may have their blind spots, the latter can recover from it by a deep psychic contact. But what moves in the mind is always a divided thing and the clash of ideas and ideologies has done more harm to this world than the religious wars. No doubt both must go, and that is what Sri Aurobindo represents, and so both must be represented in any reasonable biography. But it is not by dismissing one by the power of the other that it can happen but by ennobling both science and religion, so that each rediscovers its own hidden truth. For, there is a truth in everything, at its core, even in atheism. But this truth is not found in the surface movements which only conceal or distort it but in the deep grain of gold that lies concealed behind the superficial movements in man. That must be extracted and not thrown away, - the spirit from the now old and worn out form it inhabits. The spirit of the past must be preserved and given a new body more suited to our age and for a wider and greater and an integral scope. The revolt against religion, so very necessary in our age because it had become encrusted in formulas and rituals and externally imposed doctrines, must not turn out into a revolt against spiritual laws and certain fundamental truths of existence that are as necessary to spiritual life as to religion. To overemphasize on the one and undermine the other is a great disservice, to say the least. And the book tries to do precisely that in a most casual and superficial manner, lacking both in depth and subtlety needed for such a work. Not all who paint a picture can paint a god’s image. It needs a special skill and vision; mere technique is not enough. But all that is now old story.

Nonetheless the types of humanity drawn towards Sri Aurobindo can be broadly grouped into two kinds. Those who have complete faith in the Divine and move with the help of this trust, and those who are lacking in this central faith and yet, and that is the mystery, are still attracted to the higher possibility, the possibility of a being with greater knowledge and power and capacities. The former surrender all they are and do, the latter keep for themselves the pride of the intellect and their ego-individuality. These are the two original types, and they are found everywhere and in all cultures, notwithstanding the relative numbers. The rest is a question of details and further differentiation. In other words, what it means is that I accept in principle the idea of evolution, but for that I do not need to bring in the Divine and the Avatar, faith and surrender, etc. That can be left aside as part of a dogmatic religion. The idea taken, one can work it out in any way, even if it be the method of science analysis or an analytical process of knowledge. The cardinal question to ask here is whether the spiritual consciousness is something lesser or greater than the mind. If not, then it is not worth pursuing. For, at the end, it leaves us where we are, or perhaps even worse, a being with more mental capacities and power but crushed in the heart and supported at the base by a gigantic ego with superhuman capacities. And if the spiritual is something greater than the mind, can any mental process really find it for us? Take the case of the animal. Would any amount of jumping about and screaming make it understand the mental man? It is only by growing into the nature of the mind, by coming into contact with it, by dwelling in closeness with the human consciousness that the animal can learn or know, and vaguely understand what man is. So too with the human mind. If it has to understand the Divine and the Spiritual, it cannot understand it by any amount of reasoning and analysis, for the spirit is beyond the boundaries of the human mind, beyond the grasp of the senses. This is the first indispensable basis of all yoga and to insist that intellectual analysis is a path to yoga is to simply deceive oneself. Even the path of jnana (knowledge) is not through intellectual analysis, but by a progressive movement of the mind from one layer of appearances to another by insisting upon finding the sole Truth underlying all things. But science is just the opposite, it is mostly a 'science of appearances', as the Mother has so succinctly put it, something that every scientist knows in his heart but does not spell it out. He uses science only for some practical utility, never to find the fundamental truths of life. To feign to be able to do that is to betray both Science and Spirituality. Each has its own field and works best there. But if at all there has to be an emphasis, it must necessarily be on the spiritual, for that is the original parent cause. Therefore the very approach that insists on using scientific objectivity to study and understand a spiritual Master would serve no other purpose than to further cloud our vision with the dust of materialism as it is practised today. And to proclaim it as the only authentic way to study history is not only to exaggerate and err but to blunder and bluff, by claiming what lies beyond its scope. If one is so keen to mix and match science and spirituality, the right way would be to take a general phenomenon and show how the two approaches work and intersect. But to take up someone’s personal life is a totally insensitive way to go about it.

This is not to say that the intellect has no place in yoga. Like any other part of nature, the vital or the physical, it has its own role. It can be used to organise all that lies below it -- in our outer physical life to a certain extent, or to bring in a more rational governance of life in the absence of spiritual light. But if it has to be an instrument of the Spirit, it must first learn to abdicate itself to 'That' which so much exceeds it. This abdication is not a blindness but actually a call for greater Light. Therefore aspiration and surrender, faith and humility, an openness to a greater Light (not an openness to every idea born in the Ignorance) is the method given. That is why all spiritual disciplines, including the Integral Yoga speaks so much of quietening the mind and opening it to the higher consciousness to receive the Light and understand by that new vision. Many of the practices and injunctions of yoga are actually symbolic movements of this deep truth which we fail to see, or see it only with the blinded and limited vision of the mind asserting its own way to follow, a way which eventually moves in an endless circle of half-truth and half-error. That is why love for the Master, obedience to the Guru, even an unquestioning trust in him, a closeness to him in the heart, a fundamental humility before him is a sine qua non of all yoga, including the Integral Yoga. This surrender and faith, this humility and obedience, this acceptance of the Guru's word as absolute truth, even though the mind does not understand it for the moment, is a necessary requirement of the spiritual life. It cannot be otherwise, that is, if one has a guru and one has accepted him as a Master; truly speaking, it is he who accepts the disciple. If one has a Master, then the whole method changes. The Master comes to make the task much easier for us. He does not impose anything upon anybody, but it is understood that if one wants to take his help, one must open to it with faith and aspiration, receive it with humility and gratitude and not through criticism and analysis. If one is not satisfied with that or with the Master, one is always free to walk on one's own way. It is better and safer for one's growth to do that, if one feels inclined to do so and believes oneself to be capable enough (!) rather than be critical of the one who comes to show the Way. The reason is this that the Guru or the Master is the representative of the Divine upon earth. He has been given the mandate by the Supreme to guide and speak in His Name and on His behalf.

Therefore when we criticise the Guru and belittle Him we are actually closing our doors upon the Truth that he brings and the Consciousness that he represents. Faith, even a blind faith in the Master, is far better and safer than the belief that our reason and intellect are capable of knowing the truth and differentiating it from falsehood. If our faith is erroneous, by our constant contact through love, remembrance and trust in the Master, we begin to get enlightened and what was narrow and ignorant, erroneous and faulty begins to shine and get illumined. The Master or the Divine within him works it out for us. For that is what he is here for. Also this distinction between the outer Master and the inner one is an unnecessary one drawn by the human mind. The inner Divine and the outer Master are the same except that in His love the inner Master has chosen to assume this painful ignorant cloak of mortality and all its attendant complications for our sake. That is why, in a sense, the outer Master is greater, as the famous saint Kabir has sung, for without Him it would be near impossible for the human-animal to even conceive of a path. Sri Aurobindo goes further cautioning a disciple in one of his letters about a hostile maya creating in our mind a division between the inner Mother and the outer. These are among the many truths of inner life which no amount of intellectual analysis can give to us, simply because the necessary data is missing, and because our senses labour under the heavy drowse of matter. Or, if we like, a Master is the authorised channel. He has the mandate with him and the Supreme pours Himself through his personality upon the human being and earth. To open to Him is to open to the Supreme, to surrender to Him is to surrender to the Supreme, to have faith in Him is to have faith in the Supreme, to love Him with all one's heart and serve Him with all one's will is to love and serve the Supreme. To feel gratitude towards the Master and be humble before His vastness is to be grateful and humble before the Supreme. And it makes it even easier and delightful by adding a deep and intimate human touch to the yoga. This is the law of spiritual life, a law not so difficult to see unless our mind refuses to come out of its arrogance and insists that even the Divine must act according to our all too fallible human standards and conform to its ideas and opinions. These are fundamental truths of yoga and not any religion. To think it otherwise is to simply deceive oneself. These are simple facts of spiritual life, facts that are consistent with both reason and common sense and one can ill afford to ignore them.

Still it is finally up to oneself to choose or not to choose to take the help. If one accepts to take the help, then one kind of process applies. If one does not want to accept help and follow one's own way, then another kind of process applies, which, incidentally demands far greater austerity and inner discipline than most of us can even imagine. One cannot do a cake-walk into the Infinite with all kinds of attractions and preferences, biases and opinions crowding in our heads, with all the tumult of the senses, the storms of emotions, the whispers of the unseen cosmic forces, and their illusory maya difficult to discern even for the wise and the strong. Whether we like it or not, recognise and acknowledge them or not, these cosmic forces are there and we can ill-afford to overlook their role in yoga. Or else we may be easily sliding down the drain while merrily thinking it to be some kind of a special road to the heavens! It is one thing to say that I am doing yoga and my psychic being is guiding me or my inner Divine is leading me and quite another to have the true contact, leave alone transforming one's nature. Nevertheless, if one wants it that way, then so be it. There is no question of any imposition. But then it does not do good to step into two boats. For if, on the one side, we wish to approach Him all by ourself but continue to criticise and ridicule or belittle His representative, then what are we really doing? We are trying to open the door with one hand and close it tightly with another. It is better in that case to move out of the field of the Avatar or the Guru and walk our own way. That is sincerity. Besides, when we do that, we avoid the onslaught of certain divine forces that are always at play around the Avatar, because when they see that someone or some force is trying to belittle Him, they react and respond. They cannot sit quietly and say it is none of their business. For, it is their business if the person or the force that he represents crosses their path and tries to obstruct it by throwing confusion and shadows and clouds over the sacred Fire. One is free to walk whichever way one wishes, but it is better and safer not to mix up things. In fact, the Mother has cautioned that we must be careful not to speak casually of any Guru, for it has deep inner repercussions. This is not superstition, but again, facts of spiritual life. And just as ignorance of human law does not spare us the law, so also our ignorance of the divine laws do not spare us their effects and consequences. In Their deep love the Mother and Sri Aurobindo have given these laws to us as truths, so that we, as human beings, may be spared the struggle. But if we do not quite believe in it and want to take up only a few things that suit as and leave out the rest as unnecessary, then we are free to walk our way. There is no need to feign being a disciple or a practitioner of yoga.

We must also understand that each place and collectivity has its own law of progression. The place called the Ashram has been created in a way to immensely facilitate our journey but on condition that one is able to surrender and open to the Mother and Her Grace. All other anomalies are okay, but this one is serious, for it contradicts the very central principle of this yoga, at least the way it has developed here at the Ashram. For the rest, if one wants to do it oneself, there are the Collected Works to help and the world out there as the field. Or if we do not even want that and think that 'the Synthesis does not give any methods' and Savitri is nothing much and faith is just a religious dogma, then, I suppose, one should have the courage to walk alone with the secret Presence as one's Guide and help. But better not to throw the smoke of one's shadow on the collective mind and pollute the place meant for purposes other than an intellectual criticism of Sri Aurobindo. That would not only be foolhardy but would naturally be considered as a betrayal. In fact, if one goes through Their writings, it is clear that they wrote for three kinds of humanity. One, those who have goodwill and wish well for the human race but are not yet ready and strong to surrender and take the plunge of yoga. These may take up one or two ideas, take help from their writings to improve their human condition. Two, those who are ready for yoga but unable to surrender and want to do it their own way. And a third type who are not only ready for the yoga but have recognised the Avatar and are ready to sacrifice all and follow the way unquestioningly with surrender and faith. Quite naturally, and for obvious reasons, these different types were given different spaces to work and each type had his own process. It is good to know where we belong and to respect the distinction.

For eventually, the root of the controversy is this: whether this critical attitude and this pushing of a personal intellectual standpoint (or bias) aggressively through a book and by any means, even if it implies a twisting of facts, is acceptable in an institution that is completely consecrated in its Ideal to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and regards Them not just as intellectual figures of history or philosophers but as the Divine Incarnate. The disciples surely have a right to their faith and their way. Who are we to call it a religion? And if we take it that way, then everything is a religion, including Communism, with only a change of god and the holy book. Even the scientist follows his own religion, the religion of science with the senses and reason as his tools and the founders of science and their theories as his Bible. But this place called the Ashram is not a scientific institute, nor is it a place for historical research. It breathes Their living Presence. The body of the Ashram and the body of Sri Aurobindo are one and the same. This is one place that is completely dedicated to the Divine Incarnate, and if one does not believe in all that, one is never compelled to stay here. Nobody is asked to come here. Everyone who is here is of his own choice and is secretly aided by his soul within. But if one no longer feels any inner affinity with it anymore or feels it is merely a place of dead rituals, then no one is compelled to stay here. Why not then find the right place for oneself, an institution that encourages intellectual freedom and believes that Truth or Divine or the Higher Consciousness or whatever else, can be found by an intellectual analysis or meta analysis, or the Divinity can be proved or disproved by the objective evaluation of observable history. To believe such a thing to be possible is a laughable absurdity, to say the least. But if one wants to undertake such an absurdity, then there are appropriate forums and places.

For, at the end, it all comes down to this. Individually, one has to choose one way or the other, one cannot keep hesitating for long on the shores of nowhere. And depending upon the individual's choice, one must find the right place for oneself. Therein lies the root of the problem. The Ashram is not the place for indulging in criticism and denigration of Sri Aurobindo and that too publicly and with the authority of being a member of this place. One can find other places to do that. For it is true that there is no essential evil except in terms of time and place. May be the same work as the author of TLOSA has done will be appreciated and even lauded at some other place that believes in this approach. It is fine and there is no problem with that. In this world there are all kinds of people and each appreciates the kind of approach he has. But that approach should not be imposed upon another group. In the Ashram, the same thing becomes deplorable, for those who come here have made a conscious choice. They are neither idiots nor stupid sentimentalists or ritualistic or religionist. They have chosen to be here freely, for after weighing all the possibilities or else impelled by a deep faith within them, they feel that this is the best place. They place their entire trust in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and are so much identified with Them that they do not like to see someone openly and publicly criticising them. And don't we all have our point of emotional identification which we do not like to be touched, even if that point be our small family or national identity or a limited mental ideology such as the ideal of intellectual freedom. Decency demands, if nothing else, that we respect each one's space, especially if it is a space that is sacred to someone. And if we do not have this decency, then we should not expect this decency from others when we are hit. If I transgress a certain boundary and try to annex it by surprise, I must be prepared to meet at its borders an answering force to foil my plans and to thwart my purpose. This is again plain common-sense, so to say.

The solution was and is very simple. All that is necessary is that the author moves out of the field of the collectivity called the Ashram and finds the place most suited for him to exercise the kind of intellectual freedom and scientific objectivity that he is fond of. He should be politely told that this is not the place for his explorations into the shadows of the Master if any, or to subject him to scientific analysis or objective analysis or psychoanalysis or any such analysis as the mind of man is accustomed to do with everything, by pitching it on its rickety bench of cold and rational analysis, scanning it under the microscopes of ignorance, and declaring its finds to the world as sole objective truths. He can do it elsewhere. But this didn't happen, the straight and direct response of the soul was missing or wanting. Therefore the whole matter has gone to the courts of the cosmic forces and the thing has become so much complicated, because that is what happens when we subject things to the mind which can see from so many angles that it can never comprehend the Truth. That at least is the premise on which all yoga stands, a premise testified with repeated experience. The only way to know the truth is either to plunge into one's soul and feel it there or else to rise much higher than the thinking and reasoning mind and see and know from there. The psychic, of course, is the easier and closer alternative. For who can say that his mind is free from all the biases and opinions and preferences? It is just that one is only blind to one's own blinders. That is why it is difficult to take these so-called intellectuals seriously, for most of them borrow ideas from here and there and simply repeat clichés, whether it be the cliché of religion and spirituality, or that of faith and rationality, or the cliché of fundamentalism and devotion. What is rather surprising is that while they can easily trust a stray opinion, they find it so difficult to place an entire trust in the one whom they proclaim to be their Master! Even stranger and self-contradictory is their behaviour when they speak of another fashionable cliché, the cliché of right wing fundamentalism and Hindutva forces, since this too is yet another term coined out of certain vested interests. This is an old game that has been played and overplayed by a certain political spectrum to further its own aggressive agenda of demolishing all that is Indian, whether to proselytize or to promote an alternative world-view. No doubt, it is never good to attack or try to demolish anyone's faith or to convert another to one's own preferred point of view. But that is a universal truth and we must always respect that. It does not matter with whom we have our affiliations, but any attack on another person's faith is fundamentally not the right approach, whether it be for a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu or even a Communist or Scientific Historian. Faith is faith and must be treated with respect simply because it is the only staff left in our ignorance, that even the blind can hold and walk the way. And while it is certainly fundamentalist behavior to attack other people's faith, even if it be in the acceptable garb of Science, it is perfectly justified to safeguard one's sacred space. There is even a necessity to do so in a world where deception still rules and falsehood comes laughing with the eyes of truth.

That is why the Ashram collectivity has been right in rejecting this approach. For by rejecting the book and its author, they were symbolically rejecting a certain approach towards the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The author and the book is only a visible and concrete representation of something deeper and occult that we cannot yet see. Our own blindness of the occult and spiritual forces that move man does not make their existence unreal. And in the Integral Yoga, where one has to deal with a whole world of cosmic forces and their unseen commerce, one can ill afford to remain entirely ignorant of their play under the plea that one does not see it, and so it is better not to mention it. It is not a question of all types of humanity being accommodated in the Ashram. It is a question of something central and fundamental that is required ff one who has to stay here. True that the basic approaches and difficulties are different for different people and one carries inherent biases, but then are we not supposed to overcome them? Is it enough to say that this is a Western approach? Is there a different yoga for the Westerner and are they spared the need of faith and surrender? Just as an Indian has to come out of his orthodoxy, the Westerner too has to come out of his so-called modernity. Both science and religion are obstacles, blindness of the mind and blindness of the heart. Both need to be illumined, not one by the other but both by the greater Light and Love. Though yoga allows a variety of approaches, even as many as there are men, it does not mean that all do yoga automatically. If I have doubts to tackle with, well, they are my difficulties but not my path of yoga. But, yes, we may not want the yoga proper but only some illumination of the mind, some play of ideas in the head, and some hope for the heart. But there is difference between that and doing yoga. The context of the Ashram from which the book has emerged and is unfortunately linked with, even if indirectly (for here it is not a legal linkage that matters, the cosmic forces care two hoots for our legal jargon with which we are so preoccupied these days), is a yoga-bhumi, the space meant primarily for yoga and one must respect that. That is why the Mother created different institutions for different kinds of humanity. And also a path for the 'lone wayfarer' who wants to walk alone. But there is no Ashram without faith in the Divine Incarnate, which is no doubt represented by the personalities of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. If an onlooker calls it religion, it does not matter. To each his own opinion, and his way.

But where do we go from here? There is a call for harmony and, no doubt, harmony is greater than discord and conflict. But it must be a higher harmony and not a mere compromise of sort. And unless the collectivity is ready for that, it is better to let things fundamentally different remain in different places. When all of us have risen to the Gnostic consciousness and not merely use it as a euphemism, then we shall naturally unite, effortlessly, and the true harmony will prevail because there will be no more divisions within us anymore, because all shadows, whether of science or of religion will be absorbed in the One Supernal Light. The essential harmony is there, of course, because deep inside we are all same, whether we call it the divine essence or the avowed materialist calls it the human essence. But it does make a difference if we prefer, in our actual dealings, values that are human over and above the divine values or vice versa. It would be a mistake to think that the two are just the same, a mistake similar in nature to the one who thinks that the spiritual is only an enlarged edition of the book of mind and one of its unread chapters. So long as we have different central ideals and different underlying faiths (faith in Science or spirituality, faith in human reason or the Divine), there is little possibility of harmonising them under one roof. It may not even be advisable to do; given our present state, it may only add up to the confusion. The divergences can be accepted only so far as the central meeting point is the same. That central point, for the Ashram at least, is faith in the divinity of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and a complete trust in Their word, even if one is unable to follow it perfectly. That, I presume, should also be the central moving force behind all the institutions that bear his name. Otherwise, it would end in only doing lip service to them and living a life of hypocrisy, or worse, using this ecleticism as a cover for diabolical purposes.

One last point, we must differentiate between rules, laws and Divine Will when they relate to human life. Rules of living are external, whether self-adopted or socially imposed. They have only a relative utility and are there largely to train a very unruly outer nature. But they often lead to deceit and hypocrisy. Therefore in the Ashram there are hardly any outer rules or collective conventions enforced upon its members. It is these that are generally referred to as religion, the outer codes and rituals. There is real freedom in the Ashram, from that point of view. But that does not mean that there are no inner laws, subtle and unseen, through which the spiritual life must move. In fact, they are far from stringent and exacting than in any religion. Obedience to the Master, surrender to him are not outer rules but inner laws. Even a thing like prayer, so often associated with religion, is essentially an inner spiritual movement as long as it is not mechanical. To lose this subtle but clear distinction between the two is to create confusion.

Finally, even above the spiritual laws, are the Divine Will and the Grace. Only they can afford to ignore the spiritual laws who have gone beyond them and live by the Divine Will, or else some rare exceptional souls on whom there is a special Grace bestowed for its own incalculable reasons. But such souls are rare and cannot be quoted as an example. And even if one were to find a subtle law in it, it is the law of deep devotion, bhakti. It is only to the Bhakta that everything is permissible and all rules and laws and ifs and buts do not apply. For the Divine takes delight in him, even when he quarrels and throws up the platter. But, here too, there is possibly a limit, for if he keeps violating it through persistent revolt and hostility, then he may fall from the Grace and go back to the net of laws till his nature is pure and ready for playing with the Lord.

To sum up, we may say that so long as we live in our surface nature and are crude in our outer parts, we need rules, which, by the very nature of life will be applied by the society to the individual to avoid collective chaos. Yet there is a difference between religious and social rules and spiritual ones. The religious rules are applied thoughtlessly and imposed from outside, that we are asked to accept simply because we are born in a certain set of circumstances. But spiritual rules or those in a spiritual organisation (actually in any organisation, though with different purposes and yardsticks) are chosen freely by the individual by the very fact that he enters into its premises and chooses to lead his life in a certain way. It is only and in proportion as we begin to be free in our inner being from the grip of the outer nature, that we become free from rules, though not necessarily from spiritual laws or subtle laws of life. The only way to be free from these laws as well is to be completely aligned to the Divine Will or else be completely offered to the Grace. This is the real freedom, and not the freedom to do anything we like, for such a freedom will only strengthen our crude egoistic nature and its propensities. In the Ashram, there are few rules because it is expected that the inmates are mature enough to know how to lead an inner life and open themselves to the Divine Influence. The ways to ‘open’ are many and vary with individuals, but surely ‘criticism’ of the Master and sitting in judgment over him, under any pretext, cannot be ‘one of the ways’, for that is a complete roadblock. And if someone does that persistently and publicly, then he should not to be encouraged but asked to either live by certain ‘rules’ or else to walk away and find his own place. He is not yet ready for the kind of freedom and maturity that inner life demands, whatever his value may be in the eyes of ignorant humanity. For the Ashram is, above all, a spiritual institution and has its own spiritual yardsticks.

Of course, everything is the Divine and all are moving wily-nilly towards that great fulfilment. All are being led by the Divine according to their nature, though very few are truly aware of their swadharma. In the widest connotation, even our errors are steps towards the Divine. This is an essential truth that must always remain in the background. But we must equally remember that, in its application, this essential truth must be completed by the truth of nature in its progressive manifestation. The scorpion is as much divine as the little cat Kiki, which was bitten by it. The thief who ran away with the secret treasures and sold them for a heavy price is as much divine as the gullible buyer who bought them from him. Why even Qasab the terrorist is divine and so is the odd rickshaw man who charges you extra bucks to make a living. Yet, in our actual dealings, we have to deal with different people differently! Why? Because the truth of the inside is not necessarily the truth of the outside. This again is plain common sense. In practice, action implies choices and the only way to choose is what, in this world of relativities, is truer, nobler, more beautiful, what is more likely to lead us towards the Light that we seek and the love that our souls aspire for. In practice, we have also to make a distinction between what is true and what is not. And when we look at things that way, our whole world view begins to change. We see that sometimes destruction is also an act of compassion, even a superior compassion than a kindness born out of pity for 'our human kind'. In our present ignorant condition, to even imagine that we can act in that state where all is one, is to simply make fools of ourselves, like the neophyte disciple tried to apply (or rather misapply) the great truth of Oneness without any real experience and was consequently thrown aside by the elephant. It is not enough that an individual lives in the highest consciousness; so long as the human collectivity in which he lives is in a state of ignorance, one has to act and choose according to certain standards of perfection. These standards in a spiritual institution like the Ashram have to be based upon spiritual values, upon values given to man by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to follow the path of their yoga. The Ashram cannot be conducted according to human standards of justice, rights and responsibilities, but on quite another law and standard whose real significance begins to appear to us only when we have drunk deep of the divine nectar and traversed the path in real earnest. The human values are only vague shadows and hints of something much higher that completely eludes us, and these are necessary for humanity in its present state but are neither absolute nor necessarily binding upon the spiritual. The mind often reads them and forms its own impression of these values and tries to apply them in its own ignorant way, often by holding one standard as absolute while ignoring the others. Freedom, Unity, Love, Harmony, Compassion, Equality are no doubt divine qualities, but so is Strength, Courage, Fearlessness and Truthfulness, and we cannot afford to neglect either. But in our actual application we end up playing with shadows. For with freedom, we imagine the freedom to do anything and everything, anywhere and everywhere. So also with love and harmony and everything else. Harmony, yes, but not at the cost of sacrificing the central truths, for falsehood will find no better way to enter and spoil everything that was being built. A background of oneness, of peace and love, does not necessarily preclude sometimes an action that may demand a difficult choice. How does one choose at such a moment between one and the other, between one point of view and another, between two aspects of the Divine in his manifold manifestation? One of them must be rejected, because it is retrogressive and harmful to human progress, the other has to remain because it can help us. Besides, all that is not religious is not necessarily spiritual. It may be worse, a ‘secular refrigeration’ for instance. One has to go beyond both, conservative orthodoxy and modern secularism born out of the limited mental light that in its arrogance mocks at everything it does not understand. Religion, at least, admits of humility before God, but with intellectual dogmatism, man and his little ego and ignorant sense-driven mind reign supreme.

Well, what has happened has happened and it cannot be undone. But we can learn from our lessons, each one of us. But what about the author himself? Surely, he too must be growing in his own way and at his own pace. If only his friends had given him the right advice! And the right advice, when someone is going through this, is to learn humility and surrender to the Grace. There can be no better advice.

And, yes, perhaps if he chooses to move out of the Ashram and stay in Auroville, where he has a number of admirers, or to some other place where he can follow the yoga in his own way, then, perhaps the court cases might be dropped.

Or if we wishes to stay on, he must step out of the Archives and work elsewhere as Prof Marathe suggested, provided as a goodwill gesture he withdraws the book himself, as it is no doubt a projection of the consciousness of doubt and falsehood based upon false premises to start with, -- the premises that the mind can judge spiritual things, that scientific objectivity is the best way to study the life of someone like Sri Aurobindo, that his biography is the most authentic, that matters of faith are essentially dogmas, that criticism of the Master in his own Ashram is a valid way to approach him, that Integral Yoga means anything and everything, that it is irrelevant whether Sri Aurobindo is Divine or not.... One could go on, but already much has been written about it.

There is, of course, a fourth and a very neutral way. A general assembly of learned Ashram inmates can be called, perhaps twelve of them, those whom everyone respects for their knowledge and sincerity, their dedication to the Work and clarity of understanding, known for selflessness and those known to have no particular preference except concern for the Ashram and its good. Let the book be read out before them and each present his views, a couple from each representative group, and let them decide after a quiet patient hearing of both sides. Their verdict may be final, whatever it may be.

Finally, harmony is very much needed, but can it come about so long as we are ego-bound? Are we even ready for it? Do we even feel the need of harmony within our nature or is it just a moment’s passing sentiment, a fancy word or a cliché that the mind has taken up? Can it come by any external means? People live together in the same house and fight, even when they belong to the same path and have the same goal and the same way, and even the same tastes and tendencies. Mutuality cannot come about from one side. By its very nature, it must come from all sides, or else one group will overtake another by giving the plea of mutuality and harmony to the other. The true solution is so well given in Their own words. And that is why it is absolutely essential that till man grows capable and strong enough to start walking the great climb, the Name and Work of Sri Aurobindo is preserved and kept alive and not tarnished by his own people. We come together because we all believe that Sri Aurobindo is the hope of the future. But how will we fare if we ourselves begin to belittle him publicly and criticise him, throwing doubt into the collective mental atmosphere? As it is, there is enough doubt in the human mind and so little of faith, faith in the Divine, faith in the human possibility, faith in the perfectibility of the race. The book precisely does that or rather tries to do that, even though tacitly, to snatch away the little faith that human hearts still have to follow the tread of the Incarnate. Therefore, whatever its outer merits, it is for the soul a most corroding poison, one that needs to be discarded with the right psychic discrimination.

These are some of my suggestions based upon my own limited understanding and concern for the Ashram. I can neither decide nor choose for anyone. But I am floating these ideas into the general pool of ideas as part of the collective yagna. But in the last analysis, it is not our will but the Divine Will that will prevail eventually, whether by quiet and glad collaboration or by the power of crashing circumstances. I close with these words to reflect and ponder upon them without hastily drawing any conclusions or meanings.

Dr Alok Pandey

8 June 2009

Quotation from Sri Aurobindo:

“All would change if man could once consent to be spiritualised; but his nature, mental and vital and physical, is rebellious to the higher law. He loves his imperfection.

“The Spirit is the truth of our being; mind and life and body in their imperfection are its masks, but in their perfection should be its moulds. To be spiritual only is not enough; that prepares a number of souls for heaven, but leaves the earth very much where it was. Neither is a compromise the way of salvation.

“The world knows three kinds of revolution. The material has strong results, the moral and intellectual are infinitely larger in their scope and richer in their fruits, but the spiritual are the great sowings.

“If the triple change could coincide in a perfect correspondence, a faultless work would be done; but the mind and body of mankind cannot hold perfectly a strong spiritual inrush: most is spilt, much of the rest is corrupted. Many intellectual and physical upturnings of our soil are needed to work out a little result from a large spiritual sowing.

“Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of divine love and charity; Buddhism has shown him a noble way to be wiser, gentler, purer; Judaism and Islam how to be religiously faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities. A great thing would be done if all these God-visions could embrace and cast themselves into each other; but intellectual dogma and cult-egoism stand in the way.

“All religions have saved a number of souls, but none yet has been able to spiritualise mankind. For that there is needed not cult and creed, but a sustained and all-comprehending effort at spiritual self-evolution.

“The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral, physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual revolution waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and there. Until it comes the sense of the others cannot be understood and till then all interpretations of present happening and forecast of man’s future are vain things. For its nature, power, event are that which will determine the next cycle of our humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo: Thoughts and Glimpses, SABCL, Vol. 16, pp. 393 – 94

Quotation from the Mother's Talks:

Mother, here Sri Aurobindo writes: “A great thing would be done if all these God-visions could embrace and cast themselves into each other; but intellectual dogma and cult-egoism stand in the way.” How is it possible to fuse into one all these views?

It is not in the mental consciousness that these things can be harmonised and synthesised. For this it is necessary to rise above and find the idea behind the thought. Sri Aurobindo shows here, for example, what each of these religions represents in human effort, aspiration and realisation. Instead of taking these religions in their outward forms which are precisely dogmas and intellectual conceptions, if we take them in their spirit, in the principle they represent, there is no difficulty in unifying them.

They are simply different aspects of human progress which complete each other perfectly well and should be united with many others yet to form a more total and more complete progress, a more perfect understanding of life, a more integral approach to the Divine. And even this unification which already demands a return to the Spirit behind things, is not enough; there must be added to it a vision of the future, the goal towards which humanity is moving, the future realisation of the world, that last “spiritual revolution” Sri Aurobindo speaks about, which will open a new age, that is, the supramental revolution. In the supramental consciousness all these things are no longer contradictory or exclusive. They all become complementary. It is only the mental form which divides. What this mental form represents should be united to what all the other mental forms represent in order to make a harmonious whole. And that is the essential difference between a religion and the true spiritual life.

Religion exists almost exclusively in its forms, its cults, in a certain set of ideas, and it becomes great only through the spirituality of a few exceptional individuals, whereas true spiritual life, and above all what the supramental realisation will be, is independent of every precise, intellectual form, every limited form of life. It embraces all possibilities and manifestations and makes them the expression, the vehicle of a higher and more universal truth.

A new religion would not only be useless but very harmful.

It is a new life which must be created; it is a new consciousness which must be expressed. This is something beyond intellectual limits and mental formulae. It is a living truth which must manifest.

Everything in its essence and its truth should be included in this realisation. This realisation must be an expression as total, as complete, as universal as possible of the divine reality. Only that can save humanity and the world. That is the great spiritual revolution of which Sri Aurobindo speaks. And this is what he wanted us to realise.

“All would change if man could once consent to be spiritualised; but his nature, mental and vital and physical, is rebellious to the higher law. He loves his imperfection.”

I would like us to take this as the subject of our meditation.


The Mother: MCW: 9, pp. 77 - 79

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