Philosophy of Spiritual Education - II
A philosophical study of Spiritual Education needs to delve in to the field of the spirituality at a deeper level, so that we can propose a programme of Spiritual Education as a programme of the discovery and realization of the Spirit with as much pedagogical rigor as he employ in the realm of the discovery and realization of the natures and power of Matter, Life and Mind. We have also to show the relevance of Spiritual Education to the programme of enrichment and fulfillment of life and consequent fulfillment of the various activities of Matter, Life and Mind, which are at presence pursued in School Education.
Spirituality and Yoga
In the history of human quest, the field of direct spiritual experience has come to be cultivated, both intensively and extensively. This cultivation has come to be explored and practiced systematically in various cultures of the world, and in India, this systematic exploration and practice have been recognized as Yoga, and it has come to be clearly distinguished from religion, occultism and philosophy.
Yoga[i] is a systematic and methodized pursuit of spirituality and direct spiritual experience. Spirituality, in its distinctiveness, aims at the knowledge and possession of the Spirit, as distinguished from Mind, Life and Matter; it pursues Spirit as an object of
[i] Vide., Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, SABCL, 1971, Pondicherry, Vol. 20, p. 2.
knowledge and not merely as an object to be merely believed in by an act of faith or under the pressure of the claims of dogma. Spirituality is distinguishable from a high intellectuality; it is not identified merely with idealism or with an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity; nor is it religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervor; nor is it even a compound of these excellent things. Spiritual experience transcends mental belief, creed or faith, emotional aspiration, and regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula. All these things are of value to spirituality, but only as preparatory movements. They still belong to the movement of evolution which remains within the boundaries of the mind. These things are far from what can truly be described as spiritual experience or spiritual realization or as spiritual change, which is itself a starting-point of great and radical processes of what can be called processes of psychic transformation, spiritual transformation and supramental transformation.
If we wish to define spirituality in its distinctive character,[i] it can be said that it is, in its essence and in its initial stages, an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a Spirit, Self, Soul which is other than our Mind, Life and Body. This awakening is further nurtured by an inner aspiration to know, to feel and to be that spirit, self and soul. Spirituality is a radical and persistent effort to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion and union with It. Spirituality is not merely a turning and orientation towards that greater Reality;
[i] Vide., Ibid., The Life Divine, Vol. 19, p. 857.
spirituality aims at conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, and the union. Spirituality is a process of growth or a process of waking and developing into a new becoming, a new being, a new self, a new nature.
There are several tentative beginnings, and they are followed by slow processes of growth and evolution at the high levels of which there emerge ranges of spiritual experience and realization. At earlier stages, a certain kind of religiosity may become predominant; this kind of religiosity is marked by the nature of mind or life seeking and finding in itself a spiritual support or factor. In this stage, one is mostly preoccupied with the utilization of such contact as one can get or construct with something transcendental that can help or serve mental ideas or moral ideals or vital or physical interests. Morality too can become a starting-point and one can even arrive at a stage of consciousness which can be judged to be a state of justice in the light of certain ethical principles or criteria. Philosophical or scientific thought can also be a stage of the beginning, and this thought may arrive at increasing levels of wisdom or at many high points of mental manhood. One can develop states of consciousness appropriate to those of the priest and the sage, or to the man of piety or to the man of courage and heroism or charity and justice or to the man of wide vision, intimate understanding and intellectual love of Reality or ripeness of synthetic thought and of action proceeding from discoveries of secret perceptions and conceptions. At a later stage, there occurs a preparatory influence or influx of the spiritual light, and there develops a spiritualized turn of thought with
uplifting illuminations, or a spiritualized turn of the emotional or the aesthetic being, a spiritualized ethical formation in the character, a spiritualized urge in some life-action or other dynamic vital movement of the nature, increasing awareness of inner light, of a guidance or a communion, of a greater Control than the mind and will to which one learns to obey. At still higher stages, intuitions and illuminations grow in insistence and canalize themselves and begin to govern the whole life. One can expect at that stage the emergence of types of character which can be described in terms of saintliness, sagehood, seerhood; it is here that the true mystic, the rishi, the yogi or the prophet begin to flower; it is here that one can meet the servant of God, the soldier of the spirit. The sage and the seer live in a plane higher than the plane of mind; they live in the spiritual mind, since their thought or their vision is governed and moulded by an inner or a greater divine light of knowledge. The saint is moved by the awakened psychic being in the inner heart, and he has grown powerful to govern the emotional and vital being. The saint is also marked by devotion that lives in the spiritual aspiration of the heart, its self-offering and its seeking. The soldier of the spirit, the hero of God’s battle and the gentle and puissant servant of God stand in the vital kinetic nature driven by a higher spiritual energy and turned by it towards an inspired action, a God-given work or mission, the service of some Divine power, idea or ideal.
These higher degrees of spirituality are attained by constant aspiration and heroic efforts to break the boundaries of the mind so that the light of the spirit, the will-force and love and joy and compassion of the
spirit that lie above the mind can pour into activities of conception; emotion and action can impart to them stability of increasing calm, silence and peace even while dynamism of the spiritual will manifests more and more puissantly. The distinction between the mind and the Spirit lies in the fact that while the mind, even at its highest levels, is over-weighed with multiplicity as its object and with division as its instrument of action, spirituality, even at its lowest levels is overweighed with the sense of unity and increasing synthesis in its instruments of action. Mind, even at its highest levels, tends to veil the integral Reality and to bind human nature to the imperatives of the laws of the body, life and mental operations, while the spirit is self-luminous and its increasing light reveals luminously various facets of Reality and opens up the gates, even the flood-gates, of the vision of the integral Reality, and it liberates human nature progressively and more and more fully from the imperatives of the laws of the body, life and mind.
In the higher or highest stages of spirituality, we find the emergence of the liberated man who has realized the Self and Spirit within him. The liberated man enters into the cosmic consciousness and passes into union with the Eternal and, so far as he still accepts life and action, acts by the light and energy of the Power within him working through his human instruments of Nature. There are still higher stages of the spiritual change and of liberation; liberation of the soul or of the Self from the laws of the body, life and mind can be followed by the liberation of the mind, life and body from the yoke of their own respective laws; liberation of the spirit is followed by the liberation of nature, and there are achievements of total liberation
of soul, mind, heart and action, a casting of them all into the sense of the Cosmic Self and the Divine Reality.
The history of spiritual evolution has witnessed even the higher ranges of Himalayan eminences and peaks of highest nature. And beyond these heights, the paths have been built towards the supramental ascent or the incommunicable Transcendence. The recent developments of the spiritual evolution have opened up the paths of the supramental descent and supramental manifestation on the earth so as to bring about largest synthesis of the Spirit and Matter, the boundaries of which, it is claimed, are constantly breaking so as to bring about on the earth a new species, the very nature of which will have inherent powers of the supramental consciousness, just as the human species is imbued with spontaneous powers of the development of the mind and various ranges of mental consciousness.
Spirituality and Knowledge
Spirituality and direct spiritual experiences carry with them noetic quality,[i] and they claim certainty of knowledge and the certainty of the truth of the object or the objects of knowledge. In this respect, spirituality has been distinctly contrasted with religion and morality. Morality is admittedly a part of the ordinary life that seeks satisfaction and the development of the body, life and mind without any reference to their original source or self. Again, morality is that part of ordinary life which seeks to regulate and guide the various aspects of the physical and vital life or of
[i] Vide., William, James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (1902); Barnes and Nobel Classics, 2004, New York, Chs., 16 & 17, pp. 328-71.
mental or rational thought in the light of standards of conduct erected by moral or normative conscientiousness, - hedonistic, altruistic, or utilitarian or else in the light of standards of universal principles formulated under the light of the categorical imperative. But these standards of conduct are not found to be based on any claims of the certainty of knowledge. Moreover, these standards of conduct, in their application by a bewildered and an imperfect humanity, come easily to be conflicting principles. Justice often demands what love abhors, and in fact man’s absolute justice easily turns out to be in practice a sovereign injustice. Morality is thus riddled with a state of uncertainty and disequilibrium.
Religion is an endeavor of man to turn away from the earth towards the Divine, even though it strives to relate man with God or gods or with the divine consciousness and to build bridges between heaven and earth and earth and heaven. It claims to be based on revelation or intuition, and it also claims veracity of the process and content of revelation or intuition, but it largely appeals to dogma and belief that does not and cannot question. It erects systems of rituals and ceremonies and provides codes of conduct or of prescribed acts, the ultimate justification of which is sought to be rooted in the revealed truth. It also erects or creates systems of institutions and modes of collective life designed to sub-serve the revealed truth. But religion is still governed by mental consciousness; it often revolves in a round of rites, ceremonies and practices of set prescriptions and forms. Religion does promise eventual arrival at spiritual experience, but often, it is claimed that spiritual experience is beyond the normal limitations of humanity, even though the
founders of religions, it is acknowledged, were blessed with the rare ability of divine seeing and divine hearing. The claims of one religion are often in conflict with those of other religions, and the issue of the conflict remains as yet an unresolved issue.
It is the limitations of morality and religion[i] that have compelled the quest of direct spiritual experience. But even in the realm of direct spiritual experience the issue of the justification of the claim in regard to knowledge, certainty and truth is not easy to resolve.
Spirituality, Science and Criteria of Validity of Knowledge
Science demands physical valid proof of facts for building up justified or justifiable beliefs regarding them. But this demand in respect of phenomena of consciousness that are supra-physical and spiritual is often regarded as untenable.[ii] Consciousness is intrinsically supra-physical, and spirituality is the domain of higher and highest levels of consciousness and of supra-physical facts. Even though a supra-physical fact may impinge on the physical world and produce physical results, the action of the supra-physical on the physical and its effect on our senses cannot be its invariable action and most normal character or process. Ordinarily, the supra-physical produces a direct effect or a tangible impression on our mind and our life-being, and can only indirectly and through them, if at all, influence the physical world and physical life. If it objectivises itself, it does so to subtler senses in us and only derivatively to the
outward physical sense. In examples of the faculty of second sight and also of those of psychic faculties, this is what happens. It is through those subtle faculties that one can gain various kinds of evidence of the existence of other planes of beings and communication with them. It is then that one becomes aware that our physical mind and our physical senses are not the whole of us or the best or greatest part of us; and one begins to realize that reality cannot be restricted to a sole field of narrowness of the physical world.
It is, however, argued that the supra-physical experience is essentially subjective,[i] and that subjective experiences or subtle-sense images can easily be deceptive, since we have no recognized method or standard of verification. But the counter-argument is that error is not the prerogative of the inner subjective experience alone; it is also a part of the knowledge that can be gained by physical senses, and even of the objective methods and standards. And just as in the physical domain, methods of scrutinizing physical experiences have been worked out, and valid means of clarifications have been greatly standardized so that barren scepticism is no more defensible in regard to physical experiences, even so, in the occult sciences or in the yogic sciences, true standards and valid means of verification have been developed. Supra-physical experiences, when rightly interrogated and tested by their own characteristic appropriate standards of verification, are found to be valid, and the testimony of these experiences is confirmed again and again even in the physical and objective filed. But it should be admitted that there is a too great a
[i] Vide., Ibid., The Life Divine, Vol. 19, pp. 773-4.
tendency to admit the extraordinary and miraculous or supernatural at its face value, and there is, therefore, a reason to be more scrupulous and stringent in applying appropriate valid means of verification.
There is in science insistence on the definition of knowledge, which includes one indispensable element, viz., its public character. It is true that it is much easier to satisfy the criterion of public character, where the data of our physical world are concerned, since most of the human beings can verify them through the physical organism, the operations of which are quite commonly and readily obtained. In regard to supra-physical experiences and supra-physical realities, where supra-physical senses or faculties are required for purposes of testing and for public shareability, the situation is more difficult. But if a serious study is made, and if it is admitted that all truth, supra-physical or physical, must be founded not on mental beliefs alone, but on experience, and that in each case experience must be of the kind, physical, subliminal or spiritual, which is appropriate to the order of the truths into which we are empowered to enter, and further, if their validity and significance must be scrutinized according to their own laws and by a consciousness which can enter into them and not according to the laws of another domain or by a consciousness which is capable only of truths of another order, then, we find in the yogic sciences sure grounds for enlarging our sphere of knowledge and even of satisfying the criterion of public shareability, provided we mean by public that public which has at its command those senses and faculties which are appropriate for the knowledge of the supra-physical.
Yoga as Science and Validity of Spiritual Knowledge
Indeed, if spiritual experiences were a matter of sporadic occurrence or of a sudden momentary flash, - then, considering the variety of spiritual experiences and considering the conflicts in regard to the truth-claims of various spiritual experiences, one would have hesitated to assign much value to the realm of spiritual experiences. But the dismissal of the claims of spiritual experiences on the ground that they are occasional or extremely rare or riddled with conflicts turns out to be untenable in the light of the systematic body of knowledge with regard to spiritual experiences that has been developed over millennia by a large number of seekers in different parts of the world. Methods of spiritual seeking have been developed, and their assured results have come to be verified, repeated, reiterated and even expanded. In India, these systems have come to be grouped under the word Yoga, the connotation of which includes: methodized efforts
According to Yoga, spiritual experiences, even if they occur sporadically to some or many, are in themselves not hazardous or accidental. There is always a psychological base for these experiences. Certain intensity in the being is a precondition; that intensity may pertain to the operations of thought or
emotions or will, or even to some bodily condition or even to some subtlety of sense experience. Even if they seem to occur suddenly or without any conscious or willed psychological preparation, they are always connected with some secret processes of preparation of which the conscious mind may not be aware. Yoga goes farther and points out that spiritual experiences can be made to occur, even at will, by a conscious application of certain specific methods on a regular and sustained basis. During the long history of Yoga,[i] methods have been developed, tested repeatedly, and the resultant spiritual experiences or supra-physical experiences have been tested; thus, as in science, so in Yoga these methods are formed upon a knowledge developed and confirmed by regular experiment, practical analysis and constant result. In India, Yoga has been recognized, and on account of millennia of experimentation, it has come to be regarded as shastra or science, which consists of the systematic body of the knowledge of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the spiritual experiences and spiritual realizations. This shastra has been built upon the perception and experience that our inner elements,
[i] All developed religions have been accompanied by systems of methods by which spiritual experiences can be realized by an aspirant, and thus the history of yoga, in order to be comprehensive, must take into account the yogic systems that religions have developed; however, systems of yoga have also developed independent of religions, and there are a number of varieties of expositions of the systems of yoga; in India, there is a wide and profuse literature, and some books like the Gita have come to be regarded as the books of Yogashastra, science of yoga. There is a need to develop a comprehensive exposition which would include not only the yogic systems which have developed in India but also in various parts of the world.
functions, forces can be separated or resolved or they can be new – combined and set to novel and formerly impossible workings or can be transformed and resolved into a new general synthesis by fixed internal processes. Yoga is an attempt to realize psychological and physical perfection for our being by devising self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity and by ever increasing expression of inner potentialities in a persistent and guided effort to unite our being with the divine reality and divine nature.
Just as in science, we first observe the natural force of electricity or of steam and its normal occurrences or normal operations, and then we handle these operations scientifically by means of experimentation and willed arrangements, so that we can generate electricity or steam at will and in the measure of requirements, even so Yoga observes and deals scientifically with the ranges of the psychical and spiritual being, and it arrives at the discovery and utilization of greater secrets of physical, psycho-physical and other higher realities.[i] As in all true science, the object is an assured method of personal discovery or living repetition and possession of past discovery and a working out in full details of all the things found. As in science, so in Yoga, there is a high intention to hold the truth, the light found in our inner power of being and turn it to our power of being, our psychic self, our spirit, our self of knowledge and will, our self of love and joy, our self of life and action.
[i] Vide, Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, SABCL, Pondicherry, 1971, Vol. 20, p.3.
Problem of Conflicting claims of Religions and Spiritual Experiences
The question of determination of true knowledge, certainty of knowledge and even comprehensive knowledge needs to be explored in a greater detail, particularly with reference to the data of the claims of each major spiritual experience that it delivers the most comprehensive knowledge of the ultimate reality and the universe as also with reference to the data of plurality of religions and the claims of each religion that the spiritual experience which is the foundation and which is also the culminating point of its practices delivers the highest knowledge and the most comprehensive knowledge, and, in any case, possesses some kind of superiority over similar claims made by other religions.
Cottingham’s Analysis of the Problem
A recent book, authored by Cottingham, which discusses this question with great insight and penetrating analysis, may be referred to in this connection. The book, “The Spiritual Dimension”, makes a distinction between religion and spirituality, and points out that whereas in regard to religious beliefs, there are very polarized responses but with regard to spirituality, one is not connected with beliefs and theories or their claims. Cottingham defines spirituality as something which is to be understood as being more concerned with activities rather than theories, with ways of living rather than doctrines subscribed to, with praxis rather than belief. And he
 Vide, Sri Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, SABCL, Pondicherry, 1971, Vol. 20, p.3.
argues that spiritual practice is temporally, heuristically, psychologically and morally prior to theoretical or metaphysical understanding of religious questions. But even then, he points out that gates to spiritual experiences are many, and one is called upon to answer the question as to which of the various gates of spiritual experiences one should take. In presenting this question, he refers not only to the problem of pluralism of religions but also to the problem of pluralism of spiritual experiences.
Possible Solution of the Problem
The problem becomes acute when it is seen that the statements which express religious beliefs do not harmonize among themselves and they seem to be often colliding among themselves sharply. Confronted with this conflict, Cottingham is led to enquire as to on what basis one can take a decision to commit oneself to one religion or to the other. He refers to a solution, according to which, the choice among different religions can be made on the basis of a personal decision or a personal preference. Those who accept this solution argue that all religions share a number of core ethical values, and as long as these core values are practiced, it does not matter whether one belongs to Christianity or to Judaism or to Hinduism or to Buddhism. This solution tends to regard pluralism of religions to be comparable to the pluralism of the methods of cooking or to the pluralism of the forms of sport. It is, however, realized that the differences among religions are not so simple, that even in regard to the core ethical values, differences are sharp, and that the most important aspect of each religion is related to the perception of Truth. The difficulty of the pluralism of religions lies not merely in the plurality but in the conflicts among
religions in regard to their perceptions of the truth and to the claim of each one that truth cannot be plural.
Cottingham refers also to the solution suggested by John Hick. According to him, the truth or reality in itself is unapproachable, since the human apparatus of consciousness is never free to apprehend or comprehend reality as it is in itself, considering that human beings are always conditioned by the cultural backgrounds in which they are born and brought up. It will be seen that Hick’s suggestion is basically Kantian. According to Kant, human beings are so conditioned in their epistemological apparatus that they can never experience the noumenal truth behind the phenomenal reality, and that they can experience only the phenomena which are inevitably framed within the categories which are inherent in human consciousness. According to Hick, various specific forms of religious awareness are formed by the presence of the divine Reality but this presence comes to given consciousness in terms of the different sets of religious concepts and structures, and of religious meanings that operate within the different religious traditions of the world.
It is true that this approach is attractive and it appears suitable for the more global culture in which humanity is obliged to operate more and more imperatively. But the difficulty lies in the fact that the object in each religion is claimed to have been revealed, not in the Kantian manner, but in a more realistic manner. As a result, different and conflicting religious statements cannot be reduced merely to differing religious traditions or differing cultural traditions. Cottingham rightly points out that the problem is more
fundamental. Comparing Buddhism and Islam, he points out that while according to Islam, and for that matter according to Judaism also, the ultimate reality is absolutely and unqualifiedly One Personal being, according to Buddhism, ultimate reality is not personal at all, and it even negates any appellation of oneness or plurality by which the Nihil is experienced as a resting place of the state of liberation. He also points out that according to Christianity, the ultimate reality is triune. Cottingham thus acknowledges that the differing and conflicting claims of religion pose a serious problem to the indifferentist approach to the phenomenon of pluralism of religions.
Cottingham refers also to the apophatic tradition. According to this tradition, the test of religious belief lies in the experience on which the religious belief is based, and this experience is mystic, indiscernible and ineffable. This tradition is opposed to cataphatic tradition, according to which the object of spiritual experience is describable. On behalf of the apophatic tradition, it is argued that the ineffability of the spiritual experience which lies at the basis of religions prevents any philosophical argument or discussion, and that therefore philosophical disputations amongst religious doctrines can be dissolved by pointing out that the varying or conflicting statements of religions are only so many ways of expressing the inexpressible reality. According to this argument, what is important and what is common among all religions is the ineffable experience of Reality, and different formulations of that experience are of secondary importance and therefore, conflicts among them can be dismissed by stating that all of them are imperfect, and therefore they should
not be insisted upon.
At one level, this argument leads us back to the solution that John Hick has proposed. For, it may be argued that the incompatibilities of different statements simply dissolve away as the mind climbs upward on the path of unknowing or on the path of ineffability. It may be argued that the object of all religions, however differently described, ― even if they appear to be conflicting among themselves, ― is an inexpressible mystery, ― a mystery which is caught and the wonder of which is deepened but which does not present itself as a problem. But against this position, Cottingham refers to an argument according to which the mystics who maintain the incomprehensibility of the Object of mystical experience do not seem to differ from skeptics or atheists, who assert that the first cause of all is unknown and unintelligible. Indeed, as Cottingham points out, this argument may be answered by stating that the mystic gets caught by the mystery of the Object of mystical experience, while sceptics or atheists do not get so caught.
Is Spiritual Experience Unavoidably Ineffable?
But the deeper question is as to whether mystical or spiritual experiences on which different religions are based are utterly ineffable or whether these experiences are capable of being expressed, if not fully, at least partially or symbolically, and, if so, whether the conflicts among religions are rooted in the actual differences that are conveyed through expressions and symbolisms. Cottingham, at this point of the argument, admits a fresh impasse. For he argues that even if we
grant the mystics their apophatic root, there must, if theism is to retain any distinctive character whatsoever, be some road back and some way for religious faith to return from the darkness of unknowing and locate itself within the domain of a workable human language.
Cottingham refers to the Christian reader and points out that the central concept of the Incarnation makes visible to him, in the person of one human being, the icon of the invisible God. He argues that if the Transcendence of God is not to be lost in silence, we need a transition, a way of understanding God in human terms. At this stage, Cottingham proposes that liturgy provides a transition from the transcendent to the human dimensions. He contends that symbolic thinking that is implied in liturgy is exactly what might be expected to be the most fruitful way of approaching the deepest layers of meaning within our lives, as also the most likely avenue of glimpsing the ineffable source of such meaning. The question is whether this position is an adequate answer to the problem of the conflict among religious and spiritual experiences. For liturgy ceremonies in different religions differ, and symbolisms seem to point to objects that are not merely results of cultural diversity. We are thus led back to those assertions in which exclusivism of religions is rooted. Cottingham, however, argues that exclusivism is not necessarily entailed, ― it need not and certainly should not. It is true, he contends, that religions have gone on the path of exclusivism, and that Christianity has often fought under exclusivistic banners such as under no name but that of Christ can we be saved, and outside the Church of Christ there is no salvation. But at this
stage, he advances a fresh argument and points out that anyone who subscribes to the authentic moral precepts inherent in Christianity can hardly support that a surpassingly benevolent and loving Creator could attach his favor to adherence purely in virtue of the doctrinal choices. He points out that there is something deeper which binds one human being with another and it is a revelation of the common witness in which the realness of equality and fraternity is revealed. It is at this deeper level that one finds an unknown marvel, a fundamental basis of existence, more important than all the differences and inequalities super-imposed upon it. According to Cottingham, exclusivism of religions can be transcended when we realize that, as in the case of Christian theology, so in all other conflicting theologies, our life and soul demand intrinsically the imperative need for awareness of our common humanity and the need to reach out to others. This is, indeed, a climactic point of the argument of “The Spiritual Dimension”. One reaches here the integral connections between religious, theological and moral thought. And towards the end of the book, we are presented with images of integration.
Cottingham argues that the problem of pluralism of religions can be resolved not by comparing and contrasting and attempting to reconcile various propositions of religious beliefs; he suggests that one should always be open to religious beliefs which are not rooted in one’s own culture. Since we are all culture bound, the religion which is related to our cultural roots will appeal to us and we shall naturally adhere ourselves to it. But this should not mean that we
develop dogmatism and that we denounce others and that we should convert people of different religious beliefs to our own religious beliefs. What is important is not the proposition of our religion; we should not believe that salvation lies in carrying with us the label of the name of a religion which is rooted in our culture, but in praxis of religions; and Cottingham points out that the praxis of religions consists of the deepening of our inner awareness in the arrival of integration of our being, such as we find advocated in the Aristotelian doctrine of virtue which avoids excesses of self-aggrandizement and self-abasement, and arrives at the golden mean. He also refers to the kind of integration that is advocated by the psychoanalytic system of Jung. But beyond the limits of the framework of the doctrines of Aristotle and Jung, Cottingham underlines the concept of integration by referring to the process by which different parts of being are harmonized in our wholeness. He speaks of integration that lies in the practice of morality and the practice of spirituality, which leads to the perception of oneness with all, in spite of distances that we find among ourselves and in spite of our maintaining those distances and differences. According to Cottingham, it is in that practice of integration, ― not in insisting on distinctions and divisions of religious beliefs and practices, but in that spiritual dimension which enables us to arrive at our own integration and in looking upon others and being with others in the experience of integration.
Cottingham’s Solution and Indian Solution of Conflict of Religions
Cottingham has brought out, with penetrating insight, several aspects of the problem of pluralism of
religions, which is central to the contemporary world. In presenting the problem and its solution, Cottingham seems to come very close to the problem and solution of pluralism of religions that we find in the Indian experience of religion and spirituality. If we study the development of pluralism in Indian religion and spirituality, we find that to the Indian mind the least important part of religion is its dogma, and what has been most important in India has been the religious spirit rather than the theological credo. A rigid stand on a fixed intellectual belief hampers the processes of tolerance and harmonization. It is clear that it is when religions insist on their formulated beliefs that each one of them tends to claim itself as a true religion and others as false religions, according as they agree or do not agree with the credo of the critics. A critical examination of the formulated beliefs of religions shows that it is an error and even a falsehood to suppose that intellectual truth is the highest verity and, even, that there is no other. The Indian religious thinkers came to admit that the deepest core of religion transcends the intellectual formulations, rituals, ceremonies, prescribed acts and notions on which social and cultural institutions are built up; they acknowledge that the highest eternal verities are truths of the spirit and that the supreme truths are neither the rigid conclusions of logical reasoning nor the affirmations of credal statements, but fruits of the soul’s inner experience. They acknowledge that intellectual truth is only one of the doors to the outer aspects of the religion. They also came to recognize that since intellectual truth turned towards the infinite must be in its very nature many-sided and not narrowly one, the most varying intellectual beliefs can be equally true because they
mirror different facets of the Infinite. The Indian religious thinkers tended to maintain that however religions may come to be separated by intellectual distance, they still form so many side entrances which admit the mind to some faint ray from a Supreme Light. An important aspect that came to dominate in the process of reconciliation among religions was the spirit that declared that there are no true and false religions but rather that all religions are true in their own way and degree. As Swami Vivekananda declared with great emphasis, each religion is one of the thousand paths to the One Eternal.
All religions aim at relating human life or humanity to the highest possible truths or truths and realities that are discovered in spiritual experience or through special revelations. The very word religion connotes its emphasis on this process of relationship. In the process of establishing this relationship between man and God or between human consciousness and the highest possible state of being of consciousness, religions have tended to place or recognize four necessities. In the first place, religions have tended to impose upon the mind a belief in a highest consciousness or state of existence universal and transcendent of the universe, from which all comes, in which all lives and moves without knowing it and of which all must one day grow aware, returning towards that which is perfect, eternal and infinite. Secondly, they tended to lay upon the individual life the need of self-preparation by development and experience till one is ready for an effort to grow consciously into the truth of this greater existence. Thirdly, they tended to provide in the framework a well-founded, well-explored, many-branching and always enlarging way of
knowledge and spiritual or religious discipline. Lastly, they were led to provide, for those not yet ready for the higher steps, an organization of the individual and collective life, a framework of personal and social discipline and conduct, of mental and moral and vital development by which they could move each in his or her own limits and according to his or her own nature in such a way as to become eventually ready for the greater existence.
A speciality of religion in India attached to the last a great importance. It left out no part of life as foreign to the religious and spiritual life. Still the Indian religious tradition is not merely the form of a religio-social system. However greatly a given form of a religio-social system may count at the moment of a social life, however stubbornly the conservative religious mind may oppose all pronounced or drastic change, still the core of Indian religion is a spiritual, not social discipline. Religions like Sikhism counted in the Vedic family although they broke down the old social tradition and invented a novel form. It is true that in all the four elements that constitute Indian religion, there are major and minor differences between adherents of various sects, schools, communities and races; nevertheless, there is also a general unity of spirit, of fundamental type and form and of spiritual temperament which creates in this vast fluidity an immense force of cohesion and a strong principle of oneness. In all forms of this religion, there is one common recognition of the supreme truth of all that is or of an existence beyond the mental and physical appearances we contact here. They admit that beyond mind, life and body, there is a Spirit and Self containing all that is finite and infinite, surpassing all that is relative, a supreme Absolute, originating and supporting all that is
transient, a one Eternal. They all admit that there is one transcendent, universal, original and sempiternal divinity or divine Essence, Consciousness, Force and Bliss and that this Divinity is the fount and continent and inhabitant of things. But this Truth of being was not seized only as a philosophical speculation, a theological dogma, an abstraction contemplated by the intelligence. Indian religion did not consider the idea of this Truth to be indulged by the thinker in his study, but otherwise void of praxis. It was put forth as a living spiritual Truth, an Entity, a Power, a Presence that could be sought by all according to their degree of capacity and seized in a thousand ways through life and beyond life. The recognition and pursuit of something or someone Supreme behind all forms is a one universal statement of all Indian religions and developed and interacted among themselves through long centuries and millennia, and if it has taken a hundred shapes, it was precisely because of its emphasis on praxis. It encouraged the pursuit of spiritual praxis, and did not consider intellectual or theological conceptions to be the one thing of central importance. It allowed the development of varieties of conceptions and varieties of forms and emphasized the attainment of spiritual consciousnesses by inner experience. As a result, we find in the Indian religion, varieties of schools or sects developing and living side by side under a general consensus that spiritual realizations and spiritual praxis is the one thing needful. To open to the inner Spirit, to live in the Infinite, to seek after and discover the Eternity or the Eternal, to be in union with God, ― that is the common idea and aim of religion, that is
the sense of spiritual salvation, that is the living Truth that fulfills and releases. According to one school or sect, the real self of man is indivisibly one with the universal Self or the supreme Spirit. According to another school or sect, the individual is one with the Divine in essence but different from him in Nature. According to a third school or sect, God, Nature, and the individual soul in man are three eternally different powers of being. The Advaitin, the Vishishta-advaitin and the Dualist, however they may differ from each other, they all agree in underlining the importance of the discovery of the inner spirit or self in man, the divine soul in him, and some kind of living and uniting contact or absolute unity of the soul in man with God or Supreme Self or Eternal Brahman. The Indian religion allowed the freedom to conceive an experience of the Divine as an impersonal Absolute and Infinite or to approach and feel Him as a transcendent and universal sempiternal Person, or even to conceive and have the experience of the highest spiritual reality as Non-Being. Differences of credal belief came to be perceived by the Indian religion as nothing more than various ways of seeing the one Self and Godhead in all. What came to unite the plurality of religions was the emphasis on the dynamic praxis of the highest spiritual truth and the highest spiritual aim.
Yet the Problem of Religious Conflict Persists
Indian religion is not a religion, it is a banyan tree which has continually given rise to new religions, and yet some organic bond provided for plurality that would avoid any violent or sharp conflict. This does not mean that there were no conflicts among religions which branched out of the original trunk of the tree;
there were conflicts, even sharp conflicts; there also developed exclusivism for a short or long period, and the tendency towards exclusivism is not entirely absent even today. But on account of the fact that praxis counted more than doctrine, there has been a continuous stress towards accommodation and even synthesis. When Jainism and Buddhism developed as anti-Vedic religions, the conflicts between Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism manifested sharply; but even then these three religions absorbed each other, and by this absorption, they were enriched and even in the days of sharpest conflicts, the emphasis on praxis in all the three religions was equally shared by all these religions. Within Hinduism itself, the conflict between Vaishnavism and Shaivism was quite sharp for centuries, but here, again, on account of the emphasis on praxis, the conflict among the doctrines has been comparatively moderate, and for the general masses both Vaishnavism and Shaivism have come to be regarded as alternative ways of approach to the Supreme or even as complementary methods or a synthetic pursuit.
One important element, which is central to all religions, and which can open up a wide gate for the solution of the conflict among religions, is their common admission that they all look upon spirituality and spiritual experience as a final point of culmination of human effort. But this element has not really sufficiently been utilized for arriving at the solution of the problem of the plurality of religions and conflict in religions. Faced with plurality, an impartial seeker asks inevitably: which is the way? This inevitably leads to comparison of doctrines, and this comparison has not yielded any satisfying answer.
Another Line of Inquiry: Verifiability of Spiritual Experiences
One very helpful idea, which has been suggested, is that, in order to determine as to which among various religions lies the right way, is not to compare doctrines but to compare spiritual experiences which lie at the roots of religions. In the history of Indian religion, the effort to compare the nature and contents of underlying spiritual experiences has been very prominent.
There are, however, religions which, although founded on spiritual experiences consisting of visions, voices, intuitions, revelations or inspirations of the founders or some rare individuals, explicitly or implicitly state that verification of such experiences is not feasible, and that the only way by which one can enter into the truths and contents of the spiritual experiences is to take recourse to verbal or intellectual formulations in which the doctrines of religions are made available to humanity. To these doctrines the many minds of a half-ripe knowledge or no knowledge at all attach themselves with exclusiveness and passion and hold that this or the other doctrine or this or the other revelation or book of revelations is alone the eternal Word of God and all others are either imposters or less imperfectly inspired, that this or that doctrine or philosophical or theological reasoning is the last word of the reasoning intellect and other systems are either errors or saved only by such partial truth in them as leaves them to the one true philosophical cult.
Humanity is, however, inclined today to grow a little modester and wiser; our fellows are no longer being slain, except by acts of terrorism, in the name of
God’s truth or because their minds have been differently framed or differently constituted from ours. We are less ready to curse and revile our neighbor because he is presumptuous enough to differ from us in opinion. Movements like theosophy and interfaith dialogue have created a climate in which increasing number of adherents of different religions are getting ready to admit that Truth is everywhere and cannot be a sole monopoly of one group of religious adherence. More tolerant, more receptive and more impartial studies are being initiated and developed to study religions and philosophies for the discovery of the truth and the help they contain and no longer merely in order to damn them as erroneous or false. Nonetheless, overwhelming number of adherents of each religion are still apt to declare that the truth declared in their religion gives the supreme knowledge which other religions or philosophies have missed or only imperfectly grasped so that they deal with subsidiary and inferior aspects of the truth of things or can merely prepare less evolved minds for the heights which have still not been scaled by other religions. Religious adherents are still prone to force upon themselves or others their sacred messages of the books or gospels that they admire; there is still overwhelming insistence that their preferred book of reverence shall be accepted as the eternally valid truth and no iota shall be denied its part of the plenary inspiration. We are still in the midst of sharpness of conflict of religions.
Dialogue among Religions for Conflict – Resolution: Exclusivism Persists
But in the healthier climate of mutual understanding, dialogue and interchange, three
alternative attitudes have come to be formulated. According to one view, all religions are sacred and equally sacred, and therefore they all deserve to be equally respected. According to another view, all religions give the same message of universal brotherhood, of peace and harmony, and of the superiority of moral and spiritual praxis over verbal or intellectual formulations in which their doctrines have been set or declared. In works such as Bhagwan Das’ “Essential unity of religions”, detailed comparisons among conflicting religions have been carried out in order to show how all religions are essentially one or united in their essential beliefs, or at least in the moral prescriptions which are provided in their message to humanity. According to the third view, each religion will stand to profit if all religions agree to learn from each other, ― since each religion needs to be supplemented by the truths or doctrines or moral or spiritual emphasis which can be found in other religions. All these three views can be supported by reference to various aspects of data which can be discerned by comparative studies of religions.
There is no doubt about the fact that the sense of the Holy permeates all religions; in the symbols, in the temples or churches or mosques, or in the recitations of sacred words of religions or in the various acts prescribed in the performance of various religions in the practice of pilgrimages and fasting and prayers and austerities aiming at purification, and even in the lives of the adherents of different religions, one can perceive, feel and experience genuine presence of holiness and sacredness. On this ground alone, the message of equal respect to all religions can be sustained. But the problem of the conflict of religions
goes deeper. If equality of religions were to be advocated on the ground of the common sense of sacredness or holiness, the matter would have been much simpler, although there would still be a ground for claiming superiority of the one and inferiority of the other on the basis of the contention that one’s own preferred religion evokes a higher degree of sacredness or holiness than that evoked by other religions.
The view that all religions are essentially one and that their spiritual or ethical prescription are essentially identical or similar can greatly be substantiated. All religions maintain that physical reality is a subordinate reality and that the higher or superior or ultimate reality or realities are supra-physical in character; all religions promise to open the gates for dwelling in higher planes or heavens for joy and harmony, the quality of which transcends the limitations of pains and pleasures of the physical world; and all religions advocate kindness, compassion and pursuit of ethical goodness and spiritual sacredness. But differences and conflicts among religions lie at deeper roots, and no comfort of the balm of some common elements among religions can soothe or heal the conflicts among religions. Some religions hold belief in God, some do not share their belief in God; even those who believe in God have different and conflicting views of the nature of God: some hold dualistic belief, others atheistic belief, and still others pantheistic beliefs; some believe in the existence of only one God, some believe in the existence of only one Absolute; some believe in one God but with inherent trinity and some believe in one God but also in many gods, too. And if we examine the beliefs of various cults and sects, we shall find hundreds of variations and subtle
differences which seem too difficult to be reconciled with each other. There are also varieties of beliefs and doctrines pertaining to the nature of the soul, the nature of the soul’s life on the earth and the destiny of the soul during its sojourn on the earth and after the completion of the sojourn. The theory of rebirth is held in common mostly in religions which had their origin in India, but this theory is not held in common by all religions. Even where the theory of rebirth is acknowledged, the nature of the soul is not shared in common. Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism share the belief in rebirth; but in the multi-sided Hinduism itself there is no common belief in regard to the nature and the reality of the soul. The law of karma as understood in various religions is understood differently in different religions, and the significance of human action, even in those religions which do not believe in rebirth, is viewed differently. In the presence of these and many otherdifferences among religions, the problem of conflict of religions seems to be impossible of solution. Religions, therefore, tend to be exclusive and to look forward to their exclusive conquest of the entire human race as the one real and permanent solution which can bestow universal peace on the earth.
It is clear that the claims of one dogma cannot overcome the claims of another dogma; in any process of argument, the claims of a dogma remain, by their very nature, unquestionable and beyond argument. If, therefore, there is no way in the field of argument by which the claims of a dogma can be examined or verified, the only alternative for an unbiased seeker is to come back to inquire whether the claims of spiritual experiences, which lie at the root of dogmas, can be
examined and whether an impartial conclusion can be arrived at.
Exclusion of Exclusivism As a Solution
In the meantime, as a result of the growing climate of mutual understanding among religions, a new way of solution is being proposed. For a comparative study of religions shows not only several common points but also some specific and unique points that seem to characterize each religion. In this context, a question is being raised whether these unique points should necessarily be counted as factors of opposition and division and conflict among religions? Cannot these unique points be seen as special contributions to the total fund of the richness? And can these points not be shared by all religions? An assembly of religions in which religions can give up their exclusiveness by sharing the uniqueness of each religion could prove to be a real breakthrough for a genuine solution.
One of the major developments that has taken place in India during the last part of the 19th century can be regarded as a very propitious development towards the coming together of religions; this development is related to the colossal experiment carried out by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836 -1886). This experiment was an experiment in yoga, and the methods that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa followed in this experiment were yogic. He practiced in a quick succession methods after methods, and taking recourse to the yogic methods contained in every major religion, including Christianity and Islam, he verified that each of these religions had at its roots a valid yogic experience and realization and that therefore all
of them can be united by admitting the truths of all religions in the light of the yogic experiences by which their truths can be verified. Happily, Swami Vivekananda, the great and heroic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, became a potent vehicle of the message of the unity of religions. This message, when uttered publicly in the first Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, was so refreshing and electrifying that it evoked among the representatives of all religions a warm welcome. That message was brief but packed with power, and it stated: “As the different streams having their sources in different places mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”
Sri Aurobindo, recognizing special contributions that different religions have made, stated the following:
“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; 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 catholic recognition of each religion may lead to a pursuit of a synthesis in which individuals, instead of confining themselves to any particular religion, may adopt an attitude and practice where exclusivism of religions is excluded. In doing so, dogmatism, ritualism and the temporal aspect of religions can come to be subordinated and even transcended. Increasing
emphasis may fall on ethical perfection and psychological integration of the total being, - somewhat in the direction suggested by Cottingham. A major difficulty in the pursuit of this direction, however, lies in the fact that there are many concepts of ethical perfection, and they collide with each other so acutely that one may wonder as to how that conflict could be resolved. Even in regard to the question of integration of the total being, there are varying notions and conflicting notions, the resolution of which would necessitate a long and detailed pursuit of various psychological disciplines that have been developed and which are still being developed in various systems of yoga and in their synthesis.
Ethics, Religion and Yoga
As we ponder over these difficult problems, we are led to discover that the moral nature of the human being is not the last and the highest component. Neither religious doctrines nor formulations of ethical ideals correspond to the highest demands that human beings are capable of. There is, it will be found, a divine being in us that can be directly contacted by the pursuit of spirituality and by the methods that are neither religious nor ethical, but yogic, ― methods which demand rigorous practices of purification, of renunciation and austerity. At the highest borders, there is a demand for further transcendence where the divine reality is directly contacted and possessed and where the divine will begins to operate at a supra-mental level. In that spiritual and supra-mental component of our complex nature, it is claimed, is the integrating power; in it the truths of the individual
and the collectivity coalesce; there, we discover that the individual and the collectivity are not what they appear to be in the lower or infra-rational parts of our being. Individual is not, it is discovered, fundamentally egoistic in nature; ego is only at a temporary formation, but behind it there is the un-egoistic centre of universality, such that the individual finds its fullness in universality and universality finds its concentrated centre in the unegoistic individual.
It is claimed that beyond ethics and religion is a realm of the Spirit, and even though religions and ethics may lead us to the borders of that realm, a secure possession of that realm can be attained when the methods and practices of yoga are undertaken. It may even be said that the dilemmas that are inherent in the plurality of religions and plurality of ethical doctrines can be properly confronted and resolved when adherents of religious and ethical doctrines consent to transcend exclusivism and admit the possibilities of an entry into the realm of direct experiences of the Spirit and of attainment of illumined knowledge of the realm of the Spirit.
Does Yoga Promise Solution?
But does this realm of yogic endeavour lead to the knowledge that is true, objective and comprehensive? And does it provide, it may further be asked, the inspiration, guidance and attainment of perfection, ― Yogic perfection, – that exceeds the boundaries of ordinary ethical or religious perfection? It may still be asked, will this endeavour ensure the highest possible integration of the being, ― including the integration of the spiritual and the physical? And, finally, will this endeavour promote the highest welfare of humanity?
Solution in a New Synthesis of Yoga
The answer to these questions promises to be in the affirmative, if we undertake to pursue, study and practise the vast and integral path of a new Synthesis of Yoga that has been hewn during the last century by the colossal research in yoga that was initiated and conducted by Sri Aurobindo (1872 -1950), and which was developed to its fullness in collaboration with the Mother (1878 – 1973), who, in turn, accomplished the tasks of the yogic research to their highest required degree, leaving for the future, a vast field of further research, verification, confirmation and ever-progressive enlargement and realization.
Exclusivism, which is clearly seen among religions, can also be discerned in the realm of Yoga. It is for this reason that exclusivism of religions cannot be transcended merely by entrance into the field of yoga and pursuits of any exclusive method of yoga. But where ― as in the field of religion, the claim that it makes in regard to the truth that it advocates, ― its objectivity, its comprehensiveness and its power of imparting perfection, ― rests on dogmatism and the necessity of faith, in the field of yoga, a given system of yoga can prove the veracity of the truths that it claims by referring to its processes and methods as also the results to which they arrive at, and thus by the process of repeatability, and verifiability. Again, in the process of yoga, the element of faith, that is indispensable in any process of knowledge, scientific, philosophical or yogic, is admitted as a dynamic element and not as an element, in which one is required to rest for ever. In yoga, faith is admitted, but it is constantly sought to be turned into knowledge, the results of which can be
verified in terms that are suitable and appropriate to yoga. But the element of exclusivism in the field of yoga has proved to be a stumbling block, and it has also been the cause of the battles of rival claims. The Vedic systems of yoga have been combated by the Buddhist system of yoga, and both of them have been combated by the Jain system of yoga. The Vedic systems of yoga have also come to be combated by the Tantric systems of yoga. Advocates of Jnana yoga have rejected the claims of Karma yoga or Bhakti yoga, and vice versa. The advocates of Bhakti yoga maintain that the supreme status of liberation is a state of love for the divine and they regard the process of Jnana yoga and Karma yoga as subordinate to the process of Bhakti yoga. The exclusive path of Jnana yoga maintains that action may prepare one for liberation but action can never be itself the instrument of liberation. The exclusive path of Karma yoga tends to assign supreme importance to divine action rather than to divine knowledge or divine love. These conflicts became prominent in India soon after the period of the original and esoteric system of the Vedic synthesis of yoga and they have continued to fuel controversies right up to the present day. It is true that the ancient Vedic synthesis of yoga has aided a great deal in securing, during the long history of yoga, the attitude of larger understanding, tolerance, accommodation and even the spirit of synthesis, but there has still been a great weakness and some kind of sense of failure. One of the great tasks that has been accomplished by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that the real cause of the rise of exclusive systems of yoga and their continuous conflicts has been diagnosed and that cause has now been removed in the new synthesis of yoga which they have put forward.
This new synthesis of Yoga is unprecedented; it is neither the combination nor the culmination of the earlier paths of religions or of yoga. The earlier paths of yoga or the paths of yoga that lay behind various great religions were found by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to be all valid in their own degrees of their realizations and culminating points, but none of them were found to be as comprehensive as the demands of knowledge require, nor did they prove to be as integral as full integrality that can be demanded in terms of the unity and integrity of Spirit and Matter. As a matter of fact, it was found that religions and paths of yoga that lie behind religions aimed at the attainment of Reality or Heaven beyond the earth, and even when there was occasionally a vision of City of God or of the heaven on the earth or even of the heaven and earth being one, no evidence could be found of any durable effort made to actualize or accomplish that vision. In the same way, none of the earlier yogic systems had envisaged the aim of the complete manifestation of Spirit in Matter or that of the total transformation of the life in Matter into the divine life on the earth. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were led to the new and integral aim by their intense labour of research on the basis of which the life on the earth be led eventually to achieve total and integral integration, perfection, harmony and unity.
As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, in one of his letters on this subject, the Leader of the Way has to bear the great burden of all the past upward endeavour and also meet the obstacles that block the progress towards the future and the new discovery or invention. Let us quote the relevant lines from that letter:
“As for the Mother and myself, we have had to try all ways, follow all methods, to surmount mountains of difficulties, …far more difficult conditions, battles to fight, wounds to endure, ways to cleave through impenetrable morass and desert and forest, hostile masses to conquer – a work such as, I am certain, none else had to do before us. For the Leader of the Way in a work like ours has not only to bring down and represent and embody the Divine, but to represent too the ascending element in humanity and to bear the burden of humanity to the full and experience, not in a mere play or Lila but in grim earnest, all the obstruction, difficulty, opposition, baffled and hampered and only slowly victorious labour which are possible on the Path. But it is neither necessary nor tolerable that all that should be repeated over again to the full in the experience of others. It is because we have the complete experience that we can show a straighter and easier road to others – if they will only consent to take it….”
The integral path excludes exclusivism, but provides to each individual the path of free growth suitable to his temperament and capacities and the path of arriving at comprehensiveness, integration and perfection. This path includes everything from all the religions and all systems of Yoga which is essential for its all-inclusive aim and which contributes to the needed acceleration of the progression on the path.
Synthesis presupposes the presence of oneness in various elements which are to be synthesized; the various elements need to have organic interconnections among themselves and with the underlying oneness; and finally, synthesis implies linear combination or
successive combination or vertical or integral combination, ― but in all cases it should be a combination that involves intelligible discrimination. An undiscriminating combination in block would not be a synthesis, but confusion. The question of synthesis of yoga arises because there have been in the course of history a development of specialized schools of yoga and specialized processes of yoga, and there have also been various systems of the synthesis of yoga. If there is today a need for a new synthesis of yoga, it is because the object of spiritual evolution of the growing individual and of the graded development of terrestrial existence has come to be conceived in terms of the largest and ever progressive totality of integration, and this integration is incapable of being realized by any specialized processes of yoga or even by any earlier systems of the synthesis of yoga.
But the earlier specialized systems of synthesis of yoga are so disparate in their tendencies and so highly elaborated in their forms that it is not easy to find a proper method of arriving at their right union. The problem becomes even more difficult because in the past these highly specialized systems have been long confirmed in their mutual opposition of their ideas and methods. The new synthesis of yoga has, however, been able to seize on some central principle common to all which includes and utilizes in the right place and proportion the particular principles of the varieties of the yogic disciplines; it has also been able to seize on some central dynamic force which is the common secret of the divergent methods and capable therefore of organizing a natural selection and combination of their varied energies and different utilities. In the resulting synthesis, it has been possible to neglect the
forms and outsides of the various yogic disciplines and various processes of successive practise. This synthesis is thus neither a combination in mass nor by successive practice.
The spiritual evolution which is the key of the new synthesis of yoga considers the individual soul and the universal principles of Matter, Life and Mind to be intertwined in an evolutionary process which has so far reached a critical stage where it is possible for the individual to develop knowledge and will that can be consciously applied for purposes of the evolution of supramental consciousness in matter by means of which the individual will be able to realize not only the integral Reality integrally but will also be able to fulfill itself in its role of Leadership of evolution and in the task of building the supramental temple of the divine in supramentalized Matter. The present stage of universal matter, life and mind is conceived as the lower Nature, and what is attempted by means of the synthesis of yoga is to build the higher Nature of the Supermind, which is of the nature of Knowledge and which culminates in the life divine. The passage from the lower to the higher is the aim of the new synthesis of Yoga, and this passage is affected, not by the rejection of the lower and escape into the higher, but by the transformation of the lower and its elevation to the higher Nature. It is because the aim is that of a transformation of our integral being into the terms of the supramental divine existence that the synthesis of yoga or integral yoga becomes indispensable.
The one common principle and the one central dynamic Force in all systems of yoga is that of concentration; in the new synthesis, that common
principle and force of concentration is sought to be developed integrally, as a result of which the method is to put our whole conscious being into relation, concentration and contact with the Divine and to call Him in to transform our entire being. As a result of this integral concentration, the present lower personality of the seeker is used in its entirety as the centre of a divine transfiguration and the instrument of its own perfection.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother recognize three outstanding features that characterize the yogic process and power when they act integrally on the given individual. In the first place, it does not act according to a fixed system of succession as in the specialized methods of yoga, but with a sort of free, scattered and yet gradually intensive and purposeful working determined by the temperament of the individual in whom it operates. This working nourishes the helpful materials which his nature offers and utilizes the obstacles which it presents for purposes of purification and perfection. In a sense, therefore, each individual has in this path his own method of yoga, even though there are certain broad lines of working common to all which enable to construct, not indeed, a routine system, but yet some kind of shastra or scientific method of the synthesis of yoga.
Secondly, this process, being integral, accepts our nature such as it stands organized by our past evolution and without rejecting anything essential compels to undergo a divine change and divine integration. .
Thirdly, every experience and outer contact with our world-environment, however trifling or however disastrous, is used for the yogic development, and every
inner experience, even to the most repellent suffering or the most humiliating fall, becomes a step on the path to perfection. It is recognized that all life is a yoga of Nature and that yoga marks the stage at which every experience and effort becomes capable of self-awareness and therefore of right application in the individual.
Integral Realization of the Integral Reality
Sri Aurobindo points out in his “Synthesis of Yoga” that if we can cross beyond the Mind’s frontier twilight into the vast plane of supramental Knowledge, another positive and direct and living experience of the supreme Infinite is attained. It is then seen that the Absolute is beyond personality and beyond impersonality, and yet it is both the Impersonal and the supreme Person and all persons. It is seen that the Absolute is beyond the distinction of unity and multiplicity, and yet it is the One and the Innumerable Many in all the universes. It is further seen that it is beyond all limitation by quality and yet it is not limited by a quality-less void but it is too all infinite qualities. In that supramental experience, the Absolute is the individual soul and all souls and more of them; it is the formless Brahman and the universe. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “It is the cosmic and the supracosmic spirit, the supreme Lord, the supreme Self, the supreme Purusha and the supreme Shakti, the Ever Unborn who is endlessly born, the Infinite who is innumerably finite, the multitudinous One, the complex Simple, the many-sided Single, the Word of the Silence Ineffable, the impersonal omnipresent Person, the Mystery, translucent in highest consciousness to its own spirit, but to a lesser consciousness veiled in its own exceeding
light and impenetrable for ever. These things are to the dimensional mind irreconcilable opposites, but to the constant vision and experience of the supramental Truth-Consciousness they are so simply and inevitably the intrinsic nature of each other that even to think of them as contraries is an unimaginable violence. The walls constructed by the measuring and separating Intellect have disappeared and the Truth in its simplicity and beauty appears and reduces all to terms of its harmony and unity and light. Dimensions and distinctions remain but as figures for use, not a separative prison for the self-forgetting Spirit.”
The New Synthesis of Yoga and the New Integral Aim of Life
The realization of the integral reality is the basic objective of the integral yoga, and to arrive at the supramental realization of the integral reality by the methods of the integral yoga that we find in Sri Aurobindo can be seen corroborated and confirmed by the description of the integral reality and supramental consciousness that we find in the records of the synthesis of yoga in the Veda, Upanishads and the Gita, and in the Tantra. But Sri Aurobindo and the Mother go farther and determine a new integral aim of life which can be fulfilled by new methods of their integral yoga. Let us elucidate this important point in some detail.
Supra-terrestrial Theories of the Aim of Life
The Vedic and Upanishadic experience has declared that Matter also is Spirit or Brahman; but, Sri Aurobindo points out, these two extreme terms are so far divided that this identification cannot be convincing unless we recognize a series of ascending terms between Spirit and Matter. But here, again, the
integral experience of the Veda and the Upanishads confirms a series of ascending terms, ― Life, Mind, Supermind and the grades that unite Mind to Supermind – between Spirit and Matter. In fact, not only the Veda and the Upanishads but several other theories also maintain that there are supra-terrestrial worlds, which exist independent of the physical cosmos and earthly existence. These supra-terrestrial theories are not necessarily integral in their vision of the world and their aim of life, but from the integral point of view, their assertion of the insistence on supra-terrestrial planes can be confirmed by a large body of knowledge, which has been developed by efforts that make a transition from the physical to the supra-physical, and it is even contended that the evolutionary movement in the material world is constantly aided by the forces and beings of these supra-terrestrial systems or planes of existence.
There are, indeed, several theories concerning supra-terrestrial planes of existence which have been put forward in the least rational form of questionable creed or dogma. It has, for example, been maintained that man is a being primarily created as a material living body upon earth into which a newly born divine soul is breathed or else with which it is associated by the fiat of an almighty Creator. According to this view, each individual is given one opportunity to be on the earth and at the end of that opportunity the individual soul departs to a world of eternal bliss or to a world of eternal misery either according as the general or preponderant balance of his acts is good or evil or according as he accepts or rejects a particular creed, mode of worship, divine mediator or else according to the pre-destined judgment of his Creator. But there
are many other views, - and there is also an Indian view, - which regard the world as a field of a play or lila of the divine Being with the conditions of cosmic existence in this world of an inferior Nature. According to this view, the soul of man takes part in the play through a series of births, but it is destined to re-ascend at last into the proper plane of the Divine Being and there enjoy an eternal proximity and communion, or else be unified with the Divine Being or get extinguished in the Being or in the Ineffable Non-Being. This is not the place to discuss philosophical issues involved in various statements of the supra-terrestrial theory, but the integral theories of yogic experience and even some other exclusive theories, which are based on yogic experience and knowledge, admit that every individual soul is immortal and that through a protracted series of births in the terrestrial plane, every soul is required in due course of its evolution to develop ethical and spiritual being as a means of ascension and therefore the one proper business of life in this world of Matter. Finally, in all these theories, the role of the individual and the way in which the individual can relate itself with the cosmic life, cosmic consciousness and even with supra-cosmic reality is underlined.
Supra-cosmic Aim of Life
But there are theories and even yogic experiences which, even while admitting the relative validity of the material life and also of the existence of supra-terrestrial planes, maintain that both material life and supra-terrestrial life are temporary and that the entire cosmos and individual souls in the cosmos are ultimately unreal, and the only effort that must be concentrated upon is
to find ways and means so that one can be led to realize the eternal supra-cosmic or acosmic Spaceless and Timeless Absolute. According to this supra-cosmic view, just as we can enter into the cosmic consciousness and be one with all cosmic existence, even so, we can enter into the world-transcending consciousness and become superior to all cosmic existence. But if it is asked whether this transcendence is necessarily a rejection of all individual and cosmic existence, reference is made to the experience of the Spirit, which stands at the gates of the Transcendent. The supreme and perfect Spirit is described as luminous, pure, sustaining the world but inactive in it, without sinews of energy, without flaw of duality, without scar of division, unique, identical, free from all appearance of relation and of multiplicity, - the inactive Brahman, the transcendent Silence. It is in the experience of this pure and inactive Brahman or of the pure Self that the supra-cosmic view takes its stand. It maintains that transcendence of cosmic consciousness means also the rejection of cosmic consciousness. The appeal of this view is that neither the cosmic nor the terrestrial nor the supra-terrestrial life has any ultimate meaning and that renunciation is a sole path of knowledge, that acceptation of physical life is the act of the ignorant, and that cessation from birth is the right use of human birth. This supra-cosmic view, which is held by certain schools of Vedantic monism in varying formulations, is reiterated even more trenchantly by the philosophy, which is often described as the philosophy of Nihilism. And this philosophy of Nihilism, too, is supported by one of the most powerful yogic experiences. According to this experience, it is possible to travel beyond the Silence of the Brahman by a greater negation to extinguish self into Non-Being. The Non-Being
is absolute withdrawal. It is possible to pass in Silence beyond the Silence.
Ours is an age out of sympathy with the supra-cosmic attitude which rejects life in the world. Our age may even attribute the negativistic and its ascetic spirit to the failing of the vital energy in ancient days of India where it became prominent. But according to Sri Aurobindo, the supra-cosmic view cannot be rejected simply because our age is out of sympathy with it, since it corresponds to the truth of our existence, a state of conscious realization which stands at the very summit of our possibility. On the other hand, it is true that the supra-cosmic view is easily associated with a sense of the entire vanity of human life, the unreality of cosmic existence, the bitter ugliness and cruelty of earth, the insufficiency of supra-terrestrial or heavenly existence, and the aimlessness of repetitions of births in the body.
But the idea of total vanity of life is not altogether an inevitable consequence of the supracosmic theory of existence. As Sri Aurobindo points out, in the Vedantic Monism of the Upanishads, the experience of the supracosmic being does not cancel the experience of the reality of the Becoming. The becoming of the Brahman is accepted as reality; there is room therefore for a truth of the becoming: there is in that truth a right law of life; there is even room for arriving at the delight in the midst of the temporal existence and for the effective utilization of practical energy. The Upanishadic Monism has, therefore, been considered as an integral form of Monism and under that Monism, an attempt could be made to integrate the truths of all the other theories of the aim of life. But there is a difficulty in arriving at a true and effective integration.
For even if the object of the highest synthesis of the Upanishadic knowledge is integral, there is, according to Sri Aurobindo, no inevitable arrival at the highest possible integration of all the theories of existence and their corresponding aims of life. The question is as to whether the Upanishads put forward the possibility and realization of the transformation of the inconscient and transformation of material life into divine life. For, the full integration would imply the conquest of the Inconscience by the superconscience, so that the superconscience, if it is concealed in the inconscience, can also manifest in its fullness. For then only there could be the effective fulfillment of the cosmic aim of life, which insists on the utter fulfillment of cosmic activities or terrestrial activities.
Sri Aurobindo points out that despite the dynamic aspect of the aim of life that we find in the entire system of the synthesis of yoga in the Upanishads, what is counseled to the soul is that the truth and law of its temporal becoming once fulfilled, cosmic life has no ultimate fulfillment, and the soul has to turn back to its final self-realisation, for its natural highest fulfillment is a release, a liberation into its original being, its eternal self, its timeless reality. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “There is a circle of becoming starting from eternal Being and ending in it; or, from the point of view of the Supreme as a personal or superpersonal Reality, there is a temporary play, a game of becoming and living in the universe. Here, evidently, there is no other significance of life than the will of the Being to become, the will of consciousness and the urge of its force towards becoming, its delight of becoming; for the individual, when that is withdrawn from him or fulfilled in him and no longer active, the becoming ceases: but
otherwise the universe persists or always comes back into manifestation, because the will to become is eternal and must be so since it is the inherent will of an eternal Existence. It may be said that one defect in this view of things is the absence of any fundamental reality of the individual, of any abiding value and significance of his natural or his spiritual activity… And yet the question remains over; for the stress on our individual being, the demand on it, the value put on individual perfection and salvation is too great to be dismissed as a device for a minor operation, the coiling and uncoiling of an insignificant spiral amid the vast circlings of the Eternal’s becoming in the universe.”
Spiritual Evolution of the Soul and Terrestrial Existence: Key to the new Integral Aim of Life
The central point of importance in the solution lies in the discovery of Sri Aurobindo that spiritual evolution is the sense of our birth and terrestrial existence. In the light of this discovery, he found that the evolution of mind, life and spirit in Matter would be the sign of the possibility and even eventual inevitability of the manifestation of the Supermind and of the transformation of Matter leading to true integration of the Spirit and Matter. That is the reason why he lays a great stress on the theme of spiritual evolution and regards a complete involution of all that Spirit is and its evolutionary self-unfolding as the secret meaning and significance of our material existence.
As Sri Aurobindo points out: “An involution of spirit in the Inconscience is the beginning; an evolution in the Ignorance with its play of the possibilities of a partial developing knowledge is the middle, and the cause of the anomalies of our present nature, - our
imperfection is the sign of a transitional state, a growth not yet completed, an effort that is finding its way; a consummation in a deployment of the spirit’s self-knowledge and the self-power of its divine being and consciousness is the culmination: these are the three stages of this cycle of the spirit’s progressive self-expression in life. The two stages that have already their play seem at first sight to deny the possibility of the later consummating stage of the cycle, but logically they imply its emergence; for if the inconscience has evolved consciousness, the partial consciousness already reached must surely evolve into complete consciousness. It is a perfected and divinized life for which the earth-nature is seeking, and this seeking is a sign of the Divine Will in Nature. Other seekings also there are and these too find their means of self-fulfilment; a withdrawal into the supreme peace or ecstasy, a withdrawal into the bliss of the Divine Presence are open to the soul in earth-existence: for the Infinite in its manifestation has many possibilities and is not confined by its formulations. But neither of these withdrawals can be the fundamental intention in the Becoming itself here; for then an evolutionary progression would not have been undertaken, - such a progression here can only have for its aim a self-fulfilment here: a progressive manifestation of this kind can only have for its soul of significance the revelation of Being in a perfect Becoming.”
Full Manifestation of Spirit in Matter
The manifestation of divine life on earth is the distinctive and unprecedented aim that has been explicitly stated by Sri Aurobindo as the aim of his integral yoga. Full manifestation of Spirit in Matter
as the culmination of integration of Spirit and Matter has sometimes been envisaged in the past, and in the earliest synthesis of yoga of the Veda this aim may have been, it appears, attempted. There is also a view that the kingdom of heaven is within us and it is not dependent on any outer manifestation or instrumentation or formula of external being. According to Sri Aurobindo, this view is valid and there can undoubtedly be a spiritual life within, and inner life has a supreme spiritual importance and the outer has a value only in so far as it is expressive of the inner status. The Gita, too, states that the man of spiritual realization dwells in the divine and lives and acts and behaves, in all ways of his being and acting, in the Divine. And when one lives inwardly a divine life, the reflection of that divine life would fall on his outer acts or existence, even if they did not pass beyond the ordinary instrumentation of human thought and action in this world of earth-nature. According to Sri Aurobindo, this is the first truth and the essence of the matter; but still, from the point of view of spiritual evolution, this would be only an individual liberation and perfection in an unchanged environmental existence. He points out that for a greater dynamic earth-nature itself, a spiritual change of the whole principle and instrumentation of life and action, the appearance of new order of being in a new earth-life must be envisaged in our idea of the total consummation. This would mean total transmutation of the whole nature. The divine life on the earth would imply a way of living that develops higher instruments of world-vision and world-action for dynamisation of consciousness in the physical existence and takes up and transforms the values of a world of material Nature.
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