All religions, excepting Buddhism and some aspects of Hinduism accept the existence of the soul, and they have different notions of the soul. Even in philosophies like Socrates and Plato, there was a difference in notions of soul. Even in Buddhism where soul is not accepted as an entity, there is still some kind of an individuality which remains as a conglomeration of tendencies, unifies in a certain manner and which can survive the death of the body and can also be reincarnated in a new body. Similarly, even those aspects of Hinduism which do not believe in the soul accept some kind of individuality which can incarnate itself in new bodies after the death of the body. In other words, the idea of our soul as an individual entity capable of surviving the death of the body is common to all the religions. Therefore, as far as the idea of the soul is concerned, Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s concept of the soul may be similar to the idea of soul which may be present in different religions of the world.
To understand, however, the distinction we may have to analyze this question of the soul more distinctly. According to Christianity and Islam, even according to Judaism, the soul is the breadth of god, which is breathes into the human body and human body alone. And this breath, although has a beginning, is immortal because it is the breath of god. It gets incarnated in a human body and after the death of the body, because it is immortal, it survives.
Now after the survival what happens to the soul is another area of discussion. According to Christianity, the soul remains in a certain condition, waiting for the day of judgments, which is bound to come when all the souls will be judged by the supreme lord and he will decide whether they will be accepted in heaven or they'll be condemned to hell. Those souls which have accepted the submission to Christ, will be sent to heaven. Those who have not, they will be sent to hell, and this hell is a perpetual hell. There is no escape from thereafter, you remain there forever and ever till the end.
This is in the discourse one of the sayings in one of St. Martin’s famous speeches. Imagine yourself in fire, imagine yourself in that fire. Let us boil the oil, imagine that you are thrown into that fire, imagine that heat that you experience in that oil for a moment, imagine half an hour and one hour and imagine years and imagine years after years. That is the punishment you will get if you don't accept Christ. Christ came on the earth to give you the news that here is a chance and opportunity for you to repent.
The body feels hot and cold, but the soul, which is the breath of god, should not actually be feeling any pain and heat and suffering?
That is the Vedantic concept of the soul. There is suffering, there is joy. There is some kind of sin according to Christianity of all of that are born. Adam and Eve, they are living in paradise and there was a wonderful happiness. A serpent, however, came and told Eve, here is a fruit on this tree of knowledge, wouldn’t you like to eat it. And she was tempted and she went to Adam and said, let us both together pluck the fruit of the tree and eat it and gain knowledge. They did it. They shouldn’t have done it. They should have freely chosen not to eat it, you're free, but they chose the wrong thing. It was an original sin and then God in his wrath, banished them from the paradise, and we are all children of Adam and Eve. We are all born therefore in sin.
We have therefore now a chance is given to us to choose, and Christ has come to tell you that if you repent and if you come, I have come here, choose me; if you choose me, you will have heaven. Now this is the basic point. In Islam also, Christ’s teaching is not the last teaching. Therefore, it is overpassed and Muhammad came as a prophet and who declares that all the prophets of the past have been great, but the latest is the most correct one, and now what is given the Quran is the correct one. Here there is no question of choosing surrender to Christ. You should surrender to no human being, idea of god’s son is not a correct idea. All human beings are equal, but you must surrender to God. You must obey God’s religion, God is only one, Allah is only one. There are no special incarnations of God, there are prophets, and this is the latest prophet telling you the final truth. Maybe there may be another prophet, later on imam will come later on, but until he comes, this is the latest, and God has now declared his will, obey now. If you don't, there is hell. If you accept God, you go to heaven.
Judaism also has the same theory, except it does not accept either Christ or Mohammad. It only maintains that there will be one who will come has not yet come and let all prophets the teachings continue. There is a prophet called Moses who has brought God’s Will, and that Will’s ten commandments remain. Follow them.
So all the three religions are called semitic religions. If you ask them the question: what is that soul, which is the breath? What is the nature of it? The answer is that the breath of god is holy spirit. In spirit It is divine, holy. The only difference between god and man is that god is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent but soul is not, but in holiness it shares. It is of the nature of knowledge, holiness, purity, and this soul when injected into the body is given the freedom and during this period of freedom, it is to exercise freedom rightly, if it uses god it can return to god, otherwise it is damned.
Such is the nature of the soul. It has got freedom to choose, that’s the nature of the soul, which is holy but it is free to choose evil. There is evil in the world. There is good and evil. If you ask the question from where has the evil arisen, there are many problems which are not answered. According to one view, this world is itself created out of nothing. All the things that you see in the world, in the universe, there is no substance out of which God has created this.
Why? Because if it was created out of himself, it would be divine in nature, but it is not divine. It is unholy, it is, you might say, even if holy to some extent, it’s not as holy as god. Maybe that god is a creator and there was actually nothing out of which he has created this world and he rules over the world. He’s a commander and the soul is a breath which is given this world as a field, and he has to choose this world or God. The distinction between this world and other world, it becomes very strong. The distinction between universe and Christ is sharp. To belong to this world is to be sinful. If you choose god, that is the real thing, so the soul is a breath of god, but the world is not the breath of god. It can't be because the world is so dirty, it can't be god’s manifestation, it’s a creation, it’s not a manifestation of God and creation out of nothing, because there can't be, it’s a message illogical, but they say there is no answer to this question.
If it was really divine, then divinity should be manifest, which it is not. God can create out of nothing this world, it is as it is. He is omnipotent, therefore he can create out of nothing, but it’s not divine. This world may be therefore looked upon as a field of trial. We are all put here on this earth as candidates and the constant battle is between good and evil, and you have been given freedom, you can choose and if you choose rightly, fine; if you don't, there is hell, you remain in hell.
Now, if you ask a question from where have you got this knowledge that there is heaven, there is hell? They are called revelations. God has revealed this knowledge that there is a hell, there is a paradise and that you are what you are as a free agent. These are called dogmatic statements, the revelations. You can question if you like, but you should not. You are free to question, but if you should question and if you don't accept, hell is there always available to you. Therefore, you shouldn't do that. Therefore my advice to you, don't question my child. You have got to accept it. Therefore what is it that you have to do in life? exercise free will, study with the scripture in which, god’s will is really manifested, is told how you should conduct your life and practice it. It’s called praxis. Spirituality is praxis in that sense. You don't really believe in what is given, you practice it. So that is what they said that religion is not only a question of belief but praxis. The word praxis is it's this kind of praxis. A commandment is given and you practice it, put into your life, choose the right thing: choose god, this choice of god and choosing a god is religion basically, the true religion as distinguished from a mere belief in god. Therefore, practice as if god exists, practice the holiness of choosing god and when you choose god, you experience that holiness of god, make prayers all the time, prayer is I accept God, I accept god’s will. This is praxis. This is a practice of religion.
Now this is the parameter of semitic religions and they are spread over in the vast area of the world these ideas. Now it is these concepts which have received big resistance in the west. Although Christianity has spread, Islam has spread, but Christianity particularly has come to be greatly challenged by all people who have turned to science. This whole idea of dogma, belief, there is no verification, that is why what is called materialism has flourished in the west so much, and yet many people have not been affected by this materialism. Why? Because who knows, Science is not all knowledge, maybe that science has not proved god but can science disprove God? You cannot prove god, fine. Can you disprove God? Who knows, there maybe hell? You are not all-knowing, God is all-knowing. That is why these religions have such a great hold.
So in connection to this, the fact that Sri Aurobindo says that there is a psychic being is not unique. All the religions say that, except for Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism, what is different is that most of the philosophers will say that it can only be practiced, the spiritual education or psychic education can only be done through the instrumentality of religions. But in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy that’s not there, it’s different from religion?
That, first of all, the soul, is not to be believed in really, it has to be experienced, you can verify, you can discover, you can realise.
So aspects of dogma and indoctrination are not there as in religion?
Correct. In their education, you are led to experience this in practice, in the real sense. It is praxis in the sense of a practice not based on belief but practice of discovery. It’s a quest, that’s why I have used the word quest, it is quest of knowledge, not practice of belief. It aims at experiencing, verifying, repeating. It’s not as a sporadic experience coming and going away. You can really be resisting your spirits and you can have experience of it and I experience the load here on my head, permanent load. Similarly, I can experience the soul as a permanent reality and all the qualities of psychic consciousness I can experience spontaneously.
Forgiveness is a mental condition of life, not that I have to make an effort that now I can feel it. Oh, he has done this much of fault that much of fault therefore I forgive four percent, ten percent I don't forgive. No, it’s a state of consciousness. Grace is automatic in that consciousness, my call to god is conscious and constant. A cry to God all the time like Chaitanya. Hare Krishna, hare Krishna—it’s a call, there is a constant calling, it’s not a belief. I live in my experience, in my fulfillment. If anything happens all around me, I can immediately see which is cruelty and which is not. A murderer comes to me smiling before me, I can move into the mind of the murderer. I have knowledge, psychic consciousness is a knowledge. The knowledge can verify. That this is speciality, the knowledge which can be verified, and this spiritual education aims at that. As I have said, somewhere, psychic, spiritual, supramental education is the pursuit of a knowledge of the geography of the spirit just as geographical knowledge consists in travel, similarly spiritual education is a travel. The individual is a traveller, you can travel and experience and see, you can describe your experiences.
In Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri see Book Two and these are experiences of the soul. The soul is described as a traveller. Psychic being is a traveller, it can travel into all the worlds in such a huge.. how many pages, different kingdoms have been described, and these are experienceable. Then there is in the Book Seven, that is the search of the psychic being, the soul. So that description is given, what is that journey of the soul, what do you experience, it’s a scientific description. Anybody who goes the soul will experience it. This geography of the soul is given. So spirituality, basically, is a quest of knowledge, and knowledge of a state of being, experience of the being, possession of the being, identity with that being, and the knowledge that comes of the world in the light of that knowledge, having seen which you can't be confused about the world. It is a discrimination which comes out, what is right, what is not right, what is behind the appearances, your dealing with the world becomes different and what’s the significance of the world and that knowledge is not easily obtainable. Even in that field, there are many levels of experiences, and you can therefore have what is called integral knowledge, limited knowledge and integral knowledge.
I can know the soul and yet not know everything. I may know the spirit and the silence of the spirit, I may not know the will of the spirit. Therefore, to get the knowledge of the will of the spirit another geography has to be traversed as the result of which you can know the will of the spirit and the of the capacities which come to you when you develop that knowledge of this vast field is the field of spirituality.
So it is in this sense all this is quite different from religion. When they say religion is praxis, it means practice of the belief in god and practice therefore of prayer, practice of the conduct which is prescribed, and practice of the presence of god and obedience to god’s will and resignation to god’s will. These are the elements of what is called praxis. Religion is only belief in all this, but when you say religion is praxis, it means practice of these things, but nothing more. It’s not a quest. Sri Aurobindo says that spirituality is to be, to know, to possess and to be, these three words he has marked out. This directly conflicts with what is practiced. In religion the experiences are confined to the practice of belief and for what is called preference of faith, when doubts arise, throw away the doubts. It’s a part of religion, it’s practice, practice throwing away the doubts and keep faith despite everything, I believe in god’s word, I believe what Quran says all that has been said is true.
This is one part, faith practice of faith which is called living faith. You really genuinely throw away the doubts in your mind and cling to the faith. This itself is a big practice according to religion. Secondly, to pray to god, practice our prayers. This is where the question of worship comes, pray to god, worship god, accept that he is great, he’s supreme and try to be near him. Near means believe in him and practice what he has asked you to do. It is said in Ramzan do not eat during the day time, practice it, don't merely believe that you should fast, practice fasting and during those days whatever conduct is prescribed, do that conduct. If you have to go to hajj, go to hajj at that time, it’s called praxis. Choose the good whatever has been said by Quran, choose the good and throw away all the temptations that are there around the world, throw away the temptation, don't be tempted. That’s called practice and experience the presence, god exists, believe in him. Therefore, he must be all around, so practice the presence of god, believe that god is all over. God is seeing and god is judging you. So don't commit sin. He knows it very well. He knows because he has omniscience, he knows it, practice as if you are in presence of god, fear god.
These are all elements of religious practice, whereas in spirituality you make a quest to know, to possess, and to be, you become yourself that spirit. You transcend the level of belief, that is epistemology, you transcend that state of faith. At first, spirituality has three attitudes towards belief. One is you don't need belief. Secondly, even if you believe, even if you want to get rid of doubts, it’s just good if you want to, but do not remain there, transcend that state, it is what is called turning faith into knowledge. If you have belief, first of all, belief is not compulsory, but if you want to believe that also is possible, it doesn't say don't believe, but you should turn that belief into knowledge. It’s the mark of that truth. And, thirdly that that knowledge, that experience can be repeated can be transmitted to others. There’s a method, by the methodical experience you can prove it. Therefore it’s a knowledge, verifiable knowledge, tested knowledge. This is spirituality.
Sri Aurobindo says to be is to be wholly, is another mark and when you are really spiritual, you experience what is truth. Normally, we don't experience truth because we are having three basic experiences normally in our life, in our body, life and mind. One is the experience of instinct. Now in the instinctive experience you have some glimmer of to be. You feel the passion, you feel as if it is possessing you, you are possessed, you are that and when somebody is angry, anger is a passion. You become the wave of anger yourself, it’s a flinging of yourself, anything that comes in your way, you just fling aside you, to destroy, that experience is something similar to the experience of being.
But when you really ask the question, that being is only an experience of a part of your being, only one wave which comes and goes away, afterwards you are where you are, come back again, it’s the fleeting experience of identity and being in all question of impulses, passions, it’s an experience of being, but they are transitory, they rise and they ebb and secondly, you never appear to possess, rather you are possessed by it. Therefore, that experience in which you also possess your being, that experience is not gained in instinct.
Secondly, in desire, there also experience of some being is present in desire, that’s because in desire, passion is also involved in it, in will, when you will something there is an experience of being, but again all these experiences are temporary and in all of them ultimately you find that you feel possessed, but you do not say that you are possessing, excepting for a short time you feel you are possession. In spirituality or in psychic experience that possession is a self-possession in which you can perceive yourself consciously, and it is something similar to what is called homecoming. After all the days travel and travail of life when you come home, where there is earth and force and rest and relaxation, there is some kind of an experience of being. During the day’s time you have been thrown aside like winds blowing you all the time, here is peace.
Now, psychic and spiritual experience leads to this permanently, this experience of being at home, settled, it’s a real experience of peace and passive understanding. Not only that, but to be is not only to be but to be wholly in all your parts of your being you can control your passions. You can control your desires. You can control your will. You can harmonize one part of your being with another part of your being and harmonise perfectly there. You can apportion satisfaction of different things according to your decision, and you can even fling aside all of them if you want, this is mastery. This is to be and to be wholly, all your parts of your being under your command. There is a super will in you, and everything in you will be reserved even the will, which has been conflicting with it submits to it.
To be wholly also has another meaning, to be wholly is to be universal. Not only all your parts of your being are in your command, but you are an expanse. You feel that the whole world is you. You are so vast. You are not limited to this physical space in which you are, the omnipresence of the spirit you become yourself omnipresent. You experience the whole universe within you. It’s called cosmic consciousness.
Therefore spirituality is spiritual consciousness, is cosmic consciousness. Spiritual conscious also is a transcendental consciousness. You experience yourself transcending the whole universe. These are very some of the summits of spiritual experiences but it’s a field, all this is a part of this knowledge and spiritual education actually means that you present to the students a geography first of all, a geographical knowledge which is verified knowledge, not something to be believed in. Children may not have the experience of all this, but you can talk to them that these are cosmic consciousness, just as you said to child New York exists, and if you want it, you can go there and you can explain, you can see yourself Disneyland in America, it exists. Similarly, you can say: cosmic consciousness exists, it’s not a dogma, it’s a verified proposition and therefore you say to the children, don't believe simply because I’m telling you, these are objects of experience, and if you want it, you can also have it, and I give you the message by which you can have it. This is the real meaning to be and to be wholly, to be transcendental.
These are the three words which describe the true spiritual consciousness and spirituality. So there is a distinction between religion and spirituality which is very well conceived, understood. Religion as a belief, religion as praxis both are understood, and yet it is said, spirituality is something quite different. It is neither religion as a belief nor religion as praxis. Spirituality is basically a quest, it’s a discovery.
There is a beautiful small book, I don't know if you have seen the Supreme Discovery. That is where true spirituality and true religion seem to coincide. Some portions of what is called praxis of religion and practice of spiritual education coincide. The distinction, basically, is whether whatever you do as a part of quest arriving at visions, arriving at knowledge, arriving at self-realization, arriving at universality, anything short of this is to believe and practice of those beliefs, which is not despised in a spiritual education. If somebody has to do it, it’s all right, if somebody says I don't care for those beliefs that also is all right, attitude of spirituality is not to insist upon belief, not to insist upon praxis of religion and to assert that independent of it by direct search you can have it. But if somebody says I need to have this crutch, that also is not denied. So what is called religious education is not denied, but to say it is the only spiritual education, that is not true. There are many ways of approaching spirituality. Even intellectual philosophizing can be a part of spiritual education. Listening to music can be part of spiritual education. Witnessing an art exhibition can be a part of spiritual education. A conversation with the holy man can also be part of spiritual education. A debate with an atheist can be also part of spiritual education, because the main point is whether you are willing to make a quest.