Sri Aurobindo and The Veda (Auroville) - Audio - 13 January 1999

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We start with this statement. There are two facts which cannot be doubted: You cannot doubt that there is a circumstance – I am your circumstance, you are my circumstance; the very fact of circumstance implies that there is somebody who is observing the circumstance – I am always watching a circumstance. These are the two facts which nobody can deny: There is a circumstance, and an observer of the circumstance. And "I" am the observer of the circumstance in every case. Whoever makes a statement is himself an observer. Everyone is therefore having an indivisible experience of oneself confronted with a circumstance. There is an expression in Sanskrit, kshetra kshetragya, there is an observer and there is a circumstance. I find myself engulfed in circumstance. Every human being who is observing the circumstance is making a constant effort; you look at your own psychology, you see that you are constantly making an effort to experience the circumstance – that's the minimum – to deal with the circumstance, to exploit the circumstance, to enjoy the circumstance, to change the circumstance, to master the circumstance. Every human being is constantly doing nothing but this. Wherever you are, whoever you are, this is a fact which constantly pursues you, you are constantly confronted with a circumstance. You are constantly trying to understand a circumstance, to witness a circumstance, to grasp what it is, to enjoy it, to fight it, to exploit it, to change it, to master it.

There are people in the world who are constantly complaining about their circumstances. I don't know if you have met such people or not, but there are many-many people in the world who are constantly complaining. "Oh, my circumstances are not good; otherwise I would be the best man in the world. I am not getting the right amount of salary; I don't have a car, a refrigerator or a television in my house. Give me all the good facilities and you'll see how good I am!" A teacher once told me, "My students do not want to learn, that is my problem! If you can give me students who want to learn, then you'll see what a good teacher I am!" That was his great complaint, and he was very serious. So, "Why do you take students in your school who do not want to learn? That is your fault. I am a good teacher, but you are taking students who do not want to learn, so what can I do?" That is to say, the person who makes admissions is bad.

"My circumstances are bad, but I am good" – that is one attitude. There are some people who think that their circumstances are given: So what can you do? You are what you are, you remain what you are, you can do nothing about it. Suffer it, be miserable, go on complaining, spend your whole life grumbling." One is reconciled to it – this is another way of looking at things. Some people say, "It doesn't matter, I'll change the circumstances, I'll fight!" Revolution!

Whatever it may be, every human being is constantly trying to reckon with the circumstances. This is an indubitable fact. The human mind asks, "What is it that is absolutely unquestionable?" So I give the answer, there are two things that nobody can question: that there is a circumstance, and there is somebody, like yourself, who is trying to grapple with the circumstance. These are the two things which are always constant and cannot be questioned. You start your whole argument with these two indivisible things.

Having done this, you go into the depths of this "me" who is trying to deal with the circumstances. "What is myself?" The self at any given time is a package full of mysteries. In the beginning it seems to be very familiar to me. I think that I know myself, there is a familiar understanding of myself. We understand ourselves, as it were, quite well; others may not understand you, but you understand yourself quite well. That is our first impression. I seem very familiar to myself, and I think that I understand myself. It is gradually that you begin to find that you don't understand yourself.

This is a very important point of experience which many people arrive at, when you really understand that you don't understand yourself. There are many people who come to realize that they are so bad that they had not imagined that they are so bad. Under certain circumstances they happen to do certain things and they realize, "My Lord! Was I really capable of doing something so wrong? I was, and I did it."

It is at this stage that you begin to explore this me who is dealing with circumstances. All education has to be centered basically on this. Because it is "I" who have to struggle with the circumstances, the knowledge of me is very important. Therefore, the basic program of education is to be self-knowledge: To know oneself is the fundamental aim of education. Education which does not give you the knowledge of yourself is incomplete. In a sense it is irrelevant education, because unless you know yourself you cannot deal with the circumstances properly.

Now, if you want to explore yourself, what is the method? The most important method is introspection. Introspection is not an easy exercise. It requires, first, a decision to observe yourself under a microscope; you take yourself and put a microscope on it, as it were, so that you can see the details of yourself, what I call "myself" in a very-very objective manner. And you discover so many things inside this self! Pleasure, pain, joy, happiness, wishes, desires, will, and many other things, like instincts, impulses, conditions of restlessness, great ambitions, attractions repulsions – you find a host of things. So first of all become aware of all the elements that constitute yourself as you understand it. To make a summary of this you can simply say that at the lowest level you find instinct. The lowest level of our being is instinct; the instinct to eat, for example – one of the basic instincts. There are many psychologists who have given lists of instincts. MacDougal, one of the great psychologists of the present day, has made a list of seventeen instincts; I don't want to burden you with all seventeen, but instinct, the meaning of instinct has to be understood.

An instinct has three parts: a pressure to act, a pressure to know, and in both these pressures there is an emotional content. These are the three aspects of every instinct, and the nature of it is spontaneity. Instinct is not learned, it is automatic. It's there in you, you don't need to learn. You may need to learn how to eat, but the instinct to eat is automatic. Some kind of eating is automatic. Afterwards people may tell you what is the civilized or uncivilized way of eating – that is another matter, that is learned. But generally, to grasp the object that will fulfill your appetite is spontaneous. You will find that in what you call yourself, there are many instincts.

At a higher level there is desire. Very often people make no distinction between instinct and desire, but there is one. Desire is also very often spontaneous, but desire involves a decision, while in instinct there is no decision. You plunge into action automatically, you don't decide. Many objects are present before you; you are drawn to this, drawn to that, drawn to the other. And then you say, "I desire all of them." Then ultimately you say, "But among all these desires, I desire this the most." And then you pursue that particular desire. So there is a decision you make.

Where there are desires, there is preference. Even when you desire something, and you have decided to desire it, there is still a higher level where you go into the question of preference. Very often preference is preceded by an experience of the consequences of desire. You have a desire, you enjoy the desire, or you are frustrated in your desire – some consequence has come about, you have learned. Through the experience of learning you come to the state of preference. I may desire ice cream, but knowing that it will make me sick I prefer not to eat it. In preference, there is a further decision – the decision arrived at by comparing the consequences and then deciding whether I want this or that. Even if I desire something, I can prefer against my desire. Your preferences may be opposed to your desires.

To become aware of these levels – instinct, desire and preference – is the first step. Then you become aware of what are called attractions. Desire is also a kind of attraction, but in life you find that there are dominant attractions. Not only desires; desires can be petty, desires can be great, strong, but overtopping them all is attraction. There is a powerful magnet, as it were, which draws you towards it. I want to become a star because I am attracted by a certain star; I want to become a pilot; I want to be a chief manager, a chief executive – they are big attractions. There are short-standing attractions and there are long-standing attractions. I may be attracted by something for a short while, then I will overcome it, then another attraction comes – how many people have had the experience of these fleeting attractions? I may like this person for five years, then I overcome it; another person comes into my life and now I am attracted by that person, and so on. But there are also long-standing attractions. There are some aims, some personalities, some objects which are so powerful that your whole life is spent satisfying only this one attraction. It goes on and on and on.

Corresponding to attractions you have got repulsions. You will find that there is something called "psychological chemistry". Just as when you take hydrogen out of water there is bound to be fire, so with human beings. With some people you feel very at ease, very comfortable; others you cannot stand for even a moment. Even though that person may be very nice, very reasonable, the moment he starts speaking you feel like going away. This is psychological chemistry. You can't stand it; automatically you want to go away from there.

Then comes the realm of emotions. Joy, sorrow, happiness, sympathy – there are various kinds of emotions. When you are introspective, these are things you become aware of much more easily. If you really put your microscope on yourself, you will become aware of all this. But put yourself this question: "Among all of these, what am I?" You are trying to find the me, and when you put the microscope on yourself, you find that there are so many things. All of this is in you, and therefore the question is: "What, among all this, is really me?"

One answer is that all of it put together is me. But afterwards you begin to find that this particular desire with which you were identified, which you thought of as yourself, doesn't attract you anymore. "If the me was this desire, and this desire has gone, and yet I continue, then what am I? That means that I was different from the desire." Similarly, you go on examining all of this, and you ask this question, "What am I?"

Now you will begin to explore much more, and you will come to a further development: sensation. Sensation is what happens to you when your senses are excited by an object. I touch the arm of General Tewari, and the experience of his shirt is my sensation. And you will see that there are many kinds of sensations. It is a tremendous thing actually, if you just examine the number of sensations we can have and the combinations of sensations. The sensation of taste – how many tastes are there in the world? Sweet and bitter are the two extremes, but between the two there are so many kinds of tastes! Every cook knows the differences of taste, and if you are a good eater you know that there are so many kinds. Now, this is only the field of taste; there are so many colors in the world of which you can have sensation, so many kinds of music, so many kinds of sounds – there's a whole multitude. Kinds of touch, smoothness, hardness, roughness; and even in smoothness there are many kinds, not one. And smell – how many different scents are there in the world? If you go to Paris, hundreds of kinds of perfumes are available, and each one has a slight difference from the other. And yet there is a real difference.

So there is a whole realm of sensations. And you ask the question, "Am I sensation?" But if you are not there then there is no sensation at all. If your senses do not exist, there is no sensation at all. If one is completely paralyzed, and the senses don't work, then what is the condition of the world? One student asked me, "Supposing you are born with all your senses dead, right from the beginning – what is your experience of the world?" The eyes, the ears, the tongue, the skin are not functioning. Would there be a world at all? Would we experience the world at all? This is the power of sensation that the whole world seems to me to be what it is because of my power of sensation. I may seem to be nothing but sensation, a bundle of sensations. A little while ago we were saying that we are full of instincts, desires, preferences, attractions, emotions and now we come to the realm of sensations. So you can see how complex all this is.

And then, overtopping sensations are perceptions. There is a difference between sensation and perception. All our basic experiences are sensations, but to become aware of and determine the object of your sensations is perception. Perception is the awareness through sensation of the object in question. Sensation is what you sense, perception is also the perception of an object which stimulates you.

Out of perceptions arise ideas. This is another world, a huge world. You have an idea of the table, an idea of the microphone, an idea of this, of that – hundreds and millions of ideas. And all this is in you. Even if you don't examine yourself, these are all the time present in you, multitudes of them.

Ideas are also of different kinds. There are particular ideas – ideas of particular objects – and there are universal ideas. "Whiteness" is an idea that doesn't necessarily correspond to any white object itself, it is a universal idea, an idea that can be present in so many white objects; you understand whiteness apart from an object which is white.

With the help of particular and universal ideas, you are able to have a power that is called determination. People do not have as many determinations as they do ideas, perceptions or sensations that is because of the power that is called intellect. This realm of intellect is a huge domain. What is the difference between ideas and intellect or between perceptions, sensations, ideas and intellect? Ideas are derived from sensations and perceptions, but they arise also independently from them.

Now, this statement is difficult to understand. Usually you perceive a thing and then you have an idea about it, but I am saying that you can have ideas which are not derived from perceptions and sensations. Like the idea of "Universal". You have seen white objects, but do you think that you have seen whiteness? Can you say that you have seen whiteness? To some extent, yes; but let us go deeper. You have seen many beautiful objects, but can you say that you have seen Beauty physically? You have seen beautiful objects, but how did you decide that it was a beautiful object? Because you have developed an idea or a sense of Beauty independent of all the beautiful objects that you have seen – and then you compare your idea of Beauty with the object given to you and you say: "It is beautiful."

Ever this idea may be regarded as something which has been seen to some extent, as perception and sensation, but let us go to another example: Goodness. Have you seen goodness physically? When you say, "He is a good man, he is kind." Have you seen kindness physically? How do you know that this is kind, that this is good?

So there are ideas that are derived from sensations and perceptions, and there are ideas that are not derived from them – and yet they are ideas, and they are effective ideas, they are not fictions. They are real ideas. When universal ideas, not derived from sensation or perception, begin to operate very powerfully in your mind, then the power of intellect develops. So intellect has a relationship primarily with universal ideas which are not perceived by the physical senses. So long as you remain with ideas that are only in sensation and perception, your intellect is still not fully developed. It begins to develop more and more fully when universal ideas not derived from physical perceptions and sensations begin to predominate. This is the realm of intellect. When intellectually you understand what addition, subtraction, division and multiplication are – these four operations of arithmetic understood through universal ideas – this is the primary function of the intellect. When you exercise the intellect then you arrive at a determination: your decision. "I decide, independent of my desire, my attraction, my impulses and instincts" – you go above everything and you decide on the basis of universal ideas that you possess. When begin to lead this kind of life, you are leading an intellectual life. This is my interest to Jivatma, and still Jivatma is quite different from all this.

All this is within the field of what is called the ego. All this of which I have spoken so far can be known by this one word, ego. With regard to every one of them there is a sense of "I". I am thinking, I am perceiving, I am attracted, I am repelled. And then you begin to ask yourself, "What is this ‘I’?" What is ego? What is me? All this, and yet much more than all this.

It is a very difficult question: What is ego? Many people are unable to answer it; it requires years and years of reflection to arrive at an answer. I'll give you briefly the result of my years and years of reflection. (This is the advantage of being a young student, you get the experience of older people.)

Ego is, first of all, a sense – not a sensation, a sense – of a limited finite, a sense of the finite. (The finite is that which has boundaries, limitations.) Ego is a sense of the finite – "I am limited" – but which wants to become unlimited. And yet which wants to remain limited. It wants to become limitless and it wants to remain limited. This is a kind of self-contradiction, "I want to become unlimited and yet I want to remain limited, and I want to remain independent of all the rest."

Ego is a sense of the finite that wants infinity, yet remain finite, and wants independence. This is the sense of ego. You can experience ego in a stark, brutal manner, when you criticize somebody and see his reaction. When somebody is criticized and reacts to the criticism, his first answer is, "I am what I am" Which means, "I want to remain what I am." Yet he reacts because he wants to come out of himself, he is not satisfied with himself, if he was there would be no reaction at all. The very fact that there is a reaction means, "I want to be different from what I am. I want to show my difference from what this person has understood." This is a limited experience in which the sense of contradiction is understood, but there are many instances at higher levels where the self-contradiction of the ego – it wants to remain itself and yet become different from itself is constantly visible.

But more importantly, the ego is a sense which wants to remain independent from all the rest. This is the greatest self-contradiction. A finite is one which is always dependent upon others – there is no finite which is not dependent upon others – and yet this finite wishes to remain independent of all the others, which is impossible. A finite by definition depends upon others.

All of us, basically, in our psychological constitution, have this sense of ego. All of us are so constituted that we are governed by the ego-consciousness. And very often when the question is asked, "What is me?" it is this. It's a vague answer, because if you examine what it is... Nothing corresponds to it. A finite existing independently does not exist, and yet the ego is the sense of a finite that considers itself independent. So you might say that we are all governed by a consciousness which is fictitious. There is no such thing as a finite which is independent, and yet I have a sense that I am a finite, independent of all the others. I am different, therefore independent. As long as I say that I am different it is all right, but I go one step farther and say that I am independent. Once you recognize this self-contradiction, you really ask ‘what am I’ – this is the starting point of real self-discovery.