The Life Divine—Chapters 1-7 (New Delhi, at Shubhra Ketu Foundation) - Session 6: 26 April 2008

If that experience is valid, it brings out the truth then we have to ask the question whether in the truth of the transcendence the world gets abolished or not, if not, why not? It is a very important metaphysical question. And Sri Aurobindo says because some Yogis have claimed that when you enter into that consciousness the world is abolished. The world is no more there. And therefore says all that you talk about the supramental manifestation in the body in this world is irrelevant. What is it? How can it be? The transcendent is transcendent. It has no connection, no link with the world at all. And you talk of supramental consciousness in the body. It is that experience which stands in contrast to what Sri Aurobindo proposes as the goal of life. And therefore unless you examine it impartially, truly, truthfully, in fullness, the rejection of our ideal which comes out of this experience ‒ that rejection has to be met, if at all it has to be met. That is why now the rest of the chapter is given to the consideration of this experience.

When you enter into transcendental consciousness the world lives by That, That does not live by the world. That consciousness exists; if that consciousness is valid then does it necessarily mean rejection of the world and rejection of any possibility of supramental manifestation in the physical body? Now Sri Aurobindo authenticates this transcendental experience because merely somebody saying I experienced it is not enough. There should be authentication, there should a proof of this experience and Sri Aurobindo says this experience is also described in the Upanishads, this very experience and Upanishadic description of an experience means Upanishad descriptions were means descriptions of a number of Rishis not one Rishi here and there. If you read the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, read the dialogue between Gargi and Yagnavalkya and many others, every statement of the Upanishad was debated in the conferences of those who had experiences. And any statement you made was judged by others based upon their experiences. It is only when you could get through that testing that was why Janaka who was so famous that he used to invite all the knower’s of the Brahman to his court, and there all the people who had supreme experiences were obliged to debate whether their experiences were supreme or not and that had to be judged by the verification, by sharing, like scientists coming together and sharing their experiences. That such a thing happened in India is a tremendous event and is a cultural part of our history written down in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. And not one debate but there are several debates given in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. This is the real history of India. Whether in historian records or not but the Upanishad is a record of these debates. They have been described.

So when Sri Aurobindo says, That has been described in the Upanishad, it is very important that is why Shruti is a pramana not because it is a dogmatic statement made by one revelation. In India for a Shruti to be a Shruti was only verified a hundred times then it became a Shruti, verifiable again now and tomorrow and day after tomorrow that is Shruti. And therefore now Sri Aurobindo brings it in that description of the Upanishad of that Transcendent. Sri Aurobindo says:

For at the gates of the Transcendent stands that mere and perfect Spirit described in the Upanishads, 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 pure Self of the Adwaitins, the inactive Brahman, the transcendent Silence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

This is the description you will find in the Upanishads and also the description of the Advaitic philosophers, that very description. If you read the 8th verse of the Ishopanishad gives exactly this description of this Transcendental Self. I’ll read again.

For at the gates of the Transcendent stands that mere and perfect Spirit described in the Upanishads, 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 pure Self of the Adwaitins, the inactive Brahman, the transcendent Silence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

This is the purest description given of That by which the world lives but That does not live by the world. That is described here and Sri Aurobindo repeats it in absolute authentic terms. Now Sri Aurobindo says:

And the mind when it passes those gates suddenly, without intermediate transitions, receives a sense of the unreality of the world and the sole reality of the Silence which is one of the most powerful and convincing experiences of which the human mind is capable. Here, in the perception of this pure Self or of the Non-Being behind it, we have the starting-point for a second negation,—parallel at the other pole to the materialistic, but more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on the individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the wilderness,—the refusal of the ascetic.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

Because it pronounces the world as unreal and nothing in the world is possible. Nothing can be injected into this world. This world in itself is an illusion. No reality can penetrate into it. To talk of supermind putting into the body is beside the point, impossible, this is the rejection of the ideal that we have put forward. So tomorrow we will do the final in this respect and how Sri Aurobindo speaks of it.

And we say that out of Non-Being Being appeared, we perceive that we are speaking in terms of Time about that which is beyond Time. For what was that portentous date in the history of eternal Nothing on which Being was born out of it or when will come that other date equally formidable on which an unreal all will relapse into the perpetual void? Sat and Asat, if they have both to be affirmed, must be conceived as if they were obtained simultaneously. They permit each other even though they refuse to mingle. Both, since we must speak in terms of Time, are eternal. And who shall persuade eternal Being that it does not really exist and only eternal Non-Being is? In such a negation of all experience how shall we find the solution that explains all experience?

Pure Being is the affirmation by the Unknowable of Itself as the free base of all cosmic existence. We give the name of Non-Being to a contrary affirmation of Its freedom from all cosmic existence, - freedom, that is to say, from all positive terms of actual existence which consciousness in the universe can formulate to itself, even from the most abstract, even from the most transcendent. It does not deny them as a real expression of Itself, but It denies Its limitation by all expression or any expression whatsoever. The Non-Being permits the Being, even as the Silence permits the Activity. By this simultaneous negation and affirmation, not mutually destructive, but complementary to each other like all contraries, the simultaneous awareness of conscious Self-being as a reality and the Unknowable beyond as the same Reality becomes realizable to the awakened human soul. Thus was it possible for the Buddha to attain the state of Nirvana and yet act puissiantly in the world, impersonal in his inner consciousness, in his action the most powerful personality that we know of as having lived and produced results upon the earth. “And the mind when it passes those gates suddenly, without intermediate transitions, receives a sense of the unreality of the world and the sole reality of the Silence which is one of the most powerful and convincing experiences of which the human mind is capable. Here, in the perception of this pure Self or of the Non-Being behind it, we have the starting-point for a second negation, - parallel at the other pole to the materialistic, but more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on the individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the wilderness, - the refusal of the ascetic.”

It pronounces that the world is unreal. And nothing in the world is possible. Nothing can be injected into this world. This world in itself is an illusion. No reality can penetrate into it. What you talk of supermind in the body, is besides the point—impossible. This is the rejection of the ideal that we have put forward.

We have before us a train of development of experiences, starting from the experience of matter, to different grades of the supraphysical, immaterial, of life and mind, and of cosmic consciousness and then we arrived at an experience which Sri Aurobindo has described in terms of the Upanishad, the experience of what is called the Advaitic experience as it has been expounded in the Advaitic Philosophy of Shankara, that Advaitic experience lays stress on the supervening experience of silence. It is an experience of what is called the inactive Brahman. It is also called in the Gita the experience of Kutastha, akshara Purusha, of the immobile Purusha. Now this experience right from the time of the Upanishad has played a major role in the determination of the attitude in India towards life. There has been a constant assertion of a movement towards inactivity. If reality is inactive, completely silent, one without the second, then the highest realization that we can attain is also that of the inactive Brahman. And that is the reason why we have in India a tremendous, almost overwhelming message—turn towards inactivity. Even in the Bhagavad Gita the conflict that has been portrayed in regard to Arjuna is that of a conflict between activity and inactivity. The terms are differently used at different stages in India but in the Bhagavad Gita the term that is used is the inactivity as proposed in the Sankhya as opposed to activity which in the Gita is proposed to be the aim of Yoga. In the Sankhyan philosophy, Ultimate Reality is the Purusha, an individual self which is luminous and inactive. In Jainism also the Ultimate Reality to be realized is the Jiva, which is entirely inactive, free from all action or karma. Again in Buddhism too the aim is to withdraw from all activity and to enter into the state of inactivity, although the term used in Buddhism is that of Non-Being. In the Advaitic Philosophy that inactivity is the character of the Being. In Buddhism there is an assertion of Non-Being, but there also the ultimate aim is to withdraw from all activity. It is true that this is not the only note in Indian thought; there have been many other philosophies and many systems of Yoga in which inactivity is not regarded to be the supreme. Even in the Upanishads, Para is of course the Inactive Brahman but there is also the concept of Paratapara, there is something that is beyond inactivity. In the Bhagavad Gita also the supreme is not Kutastha, is not the Inactive Brahman but the Purushottama, the one who is beyond both activity and inactivity. But still, in modern India even the gospel of inactivity has been holding a very high position among all the voices that we hear, particularly since the idea of Brahman has been revived in recent times and the study of Vedanta Sutra and the interpretation given of this Vedanta Sutra by Shankracharya has become very widespread and as a result the gospel of inactivity has been greatly emphasized. It is true, however, that the modern interpreters of the Advaitic Vedanta of Shankracharya because of the pressure on action of the modern days, there is a new interpretation, but this new interpretation tries to give concession to dynamism of life. But that dynamism is ultimately to be transcended. In Swami Vivekananda this trend of Advaitic Vedanta is very strong and in his gospel there is a combination of this Advaitic experience with another idea which is called Daridra Narayana Sewa, the service of the poorest of the poor. This idea has also been very prominent in the teaching of Vivekananda and this sewa is a dynamic action therefore, somehow some dynamic action is given place. Despite all this the one general trend as Sri Aurobindo points out is in the last two lines that we read.

..we have the starting-point for a second negation,—parallel at the other pole to the materialistic, but more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on the individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the wilderness,—the refusal of the ascetic.

It is this revolt of Spirit against Matter that for two thousand years, since Buddhism disturbed the balance of the old Aryan world, has dominated increasingly the Indian mind. Not that the sense of the cosmic illusion is the whole of Indian thought; there are other philosophical statements, other religious aspirations. Nor has some attempt at an adjustment between the two terms been wanting even from the most extreme philosophies. But all have lived in the shadow of the great Refusal and the final end of life for all is the garb of the ascetic. The general conception of existence has been permeated with the Buddhistic theory of the chain of Karma and with the consequent antinomy of bondage and liberation, bondage by birth, liberation by cessation from birth. Therefore all voices are joined in one great consensus that not in this world of the dualities can there be our kingdom of heaven, but beyond, whether in the joys of the eternal Vrindavan or the high beatitude of Brahmaloka, beyond all manifestations in some ineffable Nirvana or where all separate experience is lost in the featureless unity of the indefinable Existence. And through many centuries a great army of shining witnesses, saints and teachers, names sacred to Indian memory and dominant in Indian imagination, have borne always the same witness and swelled always the same lofty and distant appeal,—renunciation the sole path of knowledge, acceptation of physical life the act of the ignorant, cessation from birth the right use of human birth, the call of the Spirit, the recoil from Matter.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

This has been the dominant note of Indian thought even today. One of the important questions that Sri Aurobindo asks is that there is a claim that this experience of kutastha of the inactive Brahman is the highest, is the highest fact of existence. This is the claim. There is nothing beyond. And the claim is that one should always aim at the highest and if the highest is the inactive Brahman and if it is really true and nothing else then there should be no question at all, if that is the highest. There is a claim it is the highest. The question is, whether is it really the highest?

Sri Aurobindo himself in his own development of Yoga had this experience of the inactive Brahman almost at the very start of his own Yoga. What is regarded as the highest, and ultimate and the final one turned out in the case of Sri Aurobindo, one of the first realizations and that too within three days of meditation and the fact hood of this experience is therefore undeniable that there is an inactive Brahman; that there an eternal inactivity and Silence and that Silence can never be disturbed whatever be the rush of action. This truth is undeniable. It is variable, repeatable. Hundreds and thousands have done it and reaffirmed it. I would like to read out to you Sri Aurobindo’s own description of this experience, of the inactive Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo says:

Now to reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own Yoga. It threw me suddenly into a condition above and without thought, unstained by any mental or vital movement; there was no ego, no real world—only when one looked through the immobile senses, something perceived or bore upon its sheer silence a world of empty forms, materialised shadows without true substance. There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer, indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real. This was no mental realisation nor something glimpsed somewhere above,—no abstraction—it was positive, the only positive reality—although not a spatial physical world, pervading, occupying or rather flooding and drowning this semblance of a physical world, leaving no room or space for any reality but itself, allowing nothing else to seem at all actual, positive or substantial. I cannot say there was anything exhilarating or rapturous in the experience, as it then came to me,—the ineffable Ananda I had years afterwards,—but what it brought was an inexpressible Peace, a stupendous silence, an infinity of release and freedom. I lived in that Nirvana day and night before it began to admit other things into itself or modify itself at all, and the inner heart of experience, a constant memory of it and its power to return remained until in the end it began to disappear into a greater Superconsciousness from above.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga - II: The Adwaita of Shankaracharya

This is an experience that Sri Aurobindo describes. There are many other experiences, different descriptions given by him of the same experience but this is the basic experience and basic description of this realization. So that such an experience exists, such a Reality exists, is undeniable.

In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy the assertion of the inactive Brahman is a necessary part of the totality of all the affirmations that we find in Sri Aurobindo. The only question was whether this inactive Brahman is the only fact, the only highest fact. It is a fact that is underlined. The significance of it is also underlined. The point is whether this is the highest. This is the question Sri Aurobindo has discussed somewhere else also and I think we need to refer to one of the statements that Sri Aurobindo has made in regard to this subject and that is in the chapter called Reality and Cosmic Illusion, pp 469. Sri Aurobindo speaks of this experience:

It comes upon us with a great force of awakening to reality when the thought is stilled, when the mind withdraws from its constructions, when we pass into a pure selfhood void of all sense of individuality, empty of all cosmic contents: if the spiritualised mind then looks at individual and cosmos, they may well seem to it to be an illusion, a scheme of names and figures and movements falsely imposed on the sole reality of the Self-Existent. Or even the sense of self becomes inadequate; both knowledge and ignorance disappear into sheer Consciousness and consciousness is plunged into a trance of pure superconscient existence. Or even existence ends by becoming too limiting a name for that which abides solely for ever; there is only a timeless Eternal, a spaceless Infinite, the utterness of the Absolute, a nameless Peace, an overwhelming single objectless Ecstasy. There can certainly be no doubt of the validity—complete within itself—of this experience; there can be no denial of the overwhelming decisive convincingness—ekātma-pratyaya-sāram—with which this realisation seizes the consciousness of the spiritual seeker.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality and the Cosmic Illusion

This is where the new argument starts.

But still all spiritual experience is experience of the Infinite and it takes a multitude of directions; some of them—and not this alone—are so close to the Divine and the Absolute, so penetrated with the reality of Its presence or with the ineffable peace and power of the liberation from all that is less than It, that they carry with them this overwhelming sense of finality complete and decisive. There are a hundred ways of approaching the Supreme Reality and, as is the nature of the way taken, so will be the nature of the ultimate experience by which one passes into That which is ineffable, That of which no report can be given to the mind or expressed by any utterance. All these definitive culminations may be regarded as penultimates of the one Ultimate; they are steps by which the soul crosses the limits of Mind into the Absolute. Is then this realisation of passing into a pure immobile self-existence or this Nirvana of the individual and the universe one among these penultimates, or is it itself the final and absolute realisation which is at the end of every journey and transcends and eliminates all lesser experience? It claims to stand behind and supersede, to sublate and to eliminate every other knowledge; if that is really so, then its finality must be accepted as conclusive. But, against this pretension, it has been claimed that it is possible to travel beyond by a greater negation or a greater affirmation,—to extinguish self in Non-Being or to pass through the double experience of cosmic consciousness and Nirvana of world-consciousness in the One Existence to a greater Divine Union and Unity which holds both these realisations in its vast integral Reality. It is said that beyond the duality and the non-duality there is That in which both are held together and find their truth in a Truth which is beyond them. A consummating experience which proceeds by the exceeding and elimination of all other possible but lesser experiences is, as a step towards the Absolute, admissible. A supreme experience which affirms and includes the truth of all spiritual experience, gives to each its own absolute, integralises all knowledge and experience in a supreme reality, might be the one step farther that is at once a largest illuminating and transforming Truth of all things and a highest infinite Transcendence. The Brahman, the supreme Reality, is That which being known all is known; but in the illusionist solution it is That, which being known, all becomes unreal and an incomprehensible mystery: in this other experience, the Reality being known, all assumes its true significance, its truth to the Eternal and Absolute.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality and the Cosmic Illusion

This is the basic statement of the totality—Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Philosophy and Yoga. It admits the Inactive Brahman but it also admits the possibility of two other experiences which go beyond this experience—at least two other experiences. It also admits other experiences which are of the same level arrived at by different paths; like the experience of the Shaiva School of thought—the supreme realization of Shiva, who is dynamic, of Vishnu who is also dynamic and not purely Inactive Brahman. So these Sri Aurobindo calls penultimate realizations, not ultimate but penultimate experiences. Beyond these experiences are two other experiences. One is the experience which is more negative, the experience which Sri Aurobindo calls, experience of the Non-Being. Shankara’s experience is the experience of the Being. Advaitic experience is the experience of this highest Being. Buddhist, according to them there is an experience higher than the experience of the Being, you go into Non-Being. And Sri Aurobindo speaks of another higher experience in which all these experiences are transcended and all of them are held together. And therefore, Sri Aurobindo says that here in the highest experience, all of them can stand together. And Sri Aurobindo’s affirmation is that that is also the experience which has been described in the Upanishad in terms of Paratapara, in the terms of Purusha. In the Kathopanishad, that which goes beyond all that and the highest is not Tat but Purusha is the Being. Even the Ishopanishad from where the description is given in the chapter we were reading just now, even there the same reality is described both in neuter gender and in the masculine gender. If you read the full description it is Tat Shukram and so on and then says saha in the same sentence swayambhu that is the description given. It is That which is the Self-existent, saha swayambhu—not self existence but Self-existent, that which exists, He who exists. In the Bhagavad Gita also, Sri Aurobindo says it is the same reality which is described. It is the Akshara Purusha, shara Purusha and Purushotama—there is a dynamic and a static reality both are integrated into a Supreme Reality, which is both static and dynamic. So according to Sri Aurobindo this supreme integrating experience is a reaffirmation of the Upanishadic experience as also the Gita’s experience. And Upanishadic experience is also the experience of the Veda because Veda described the Reality both as Ekam Sat and as Deva. So both descriptions are to be found in the Rig Veda and all the Vedas. And therefore, this integral experience is not for the first time found in Sri Aurobindo.

The validity of an experience is to be judged by confirmation, by verification. What Sri Aurobindo states is verified right from the Vedic times. It is only at a given time in the history of India that this claim was made by the Buddhists for the first time, that the experience of the Non-Being is the highest. And Buddhism did not accept the authority of any other Veda or Upanishad, or the Gita, or any other kind; it simply asserted on its own—Non-Being, the Shunya is the highest according to Buddhism. Now Shankara’s affirmation came much later. But it was under the shadow of that affirmation of the Non-Being. And finding many statements in the Upanishads which support the experience of the Being that is inactive and there are a number of such statements in the Upanishad which do state that Being is the highest, or the Tat Ekam is the highest. So it is on the basis of the authority of those experiences that Shankara’s philosophy affirmed that the highest Reality is the Inactive Brahman and that he admitted that the dynamic Brahman is also there. He granted some reality to Ishwara in his philosophy. But ultimately he said Ishwara is itself an illusion. And ultimately, Ishwara consciousness has to be transcended and the highest experience consciousness is the experience of the Inactive Brahman. It is from that time that in India a tremendous conflict has arisen on this subject. Even today that conflict has not ceased. In fact one of the greatest crisis of Indian Philosophy is connected with this great debate in India. There are at least four or five varieties of Vedanta. Shankara’s Vedanta is one system of Vedanta. Ramanuja’s is another system of Vedanta ‒ it is called Vishishta’s Advaita. Then there is the Dvaita Vedanta of Madhvacharya, is also Vedanta. And then there is Vallabhacharya, which is Shuddha Advaita. And then there is the Vedanta of Sri Chaitanya which speaks of Veda

Abheda Achintitya Bheda Abheda Vada ‒ unthinkable difference and union and oneness. So with regard to the same text of the Vedanta sutra, the text is the same; Vedanta Sutra is a book which is supposed to summarize the whole of the Upanishadic philosophy. It is attributed to Badarayana. It is Badarayana who composed this text called the Vedanta Sutra. This Vedanta Sutra the same text is interpreted by all these acharyas and each acharya differs from the other. And each acharya claims the Vedanta Sutra as the authority. So you can imagine the kind of conflict that is existent in Indian thought and when the Westerners come and examine our claims, there is a tremendous difficulty of explaining these differences. It is a crisis from which one can escape or one can resolve only if one can grant that there is an experience, an integral experience in which all these experiences are found to be valid and that is what you find in The Life Divine. So in a sense you might say that this is an integral philosophy in which all the different schools of Vedanta get reconciled and reaffirmed. And in that sense, once again from a historical point of view the impasse of Indian philosophy is now crossed and that too on the same grounds on which all these Vedantic schools ultimately stand. The Vedantic schools stand on two grounds of argument. One is that philosophical reasoning affirms the conclusion and spiritual experience also confirms that conclusion. In the same ground Sri Aurobindo also shows now that philosophically the integral philosophy is defensible and this integral philosophy is also supported by an integral experience of Reality. And this integral experience of Reality is not for the first time fabricated by Sri Aurobindo. It is yogically verified right from the time of the Veda and Upanishads and the Gita. So this is the ground on which this solidity of this position stands.

But in the meantime, in this chapter that we are reading, Sri Aurobindo speaks of this affirmation of inactive Brahman and Sri Aurobindo says that the consequences of this affirmation are perilous and that’s a very strong criticism of this affirmation of the inactive Brahman, perilous because if Reality is really inactive and only inactive and if the world is really an illusion; if recoil from the world is the only meaning then you can conceive the consequences of it upon the entire morale of the people who hear the voice of the ascetic. The greatest minds, who are capable of doing the greatest works on the earth for advancement of earth evolution are bound to leave the world and return only to the inactive Brahman and give up all activities of life ultimately, renounce. The consequence would be that the world as is it is left to the second and third rate people who are moving round and round into the chain of desire and ambition and rivalries and if you look at the history of India, you will find that this is exactly what happened. After Buddhism and after the Shankara’s philosophy both became very dominant in India. The result has been one message—leave the world to the inactive Brahman, this world has no meaning, it has no purpose, nothing is to be done in the world. World is prapancha and always it will remain so and there is no liberation while working in the world in spite of the Gita. The Gita’s teachings stands and everybody worships Gita and yet in spite of that message which was given to Arjuna, Sri Krishna told Arjuna not to leave the world, not to withdraw from action and to do the action because the Divine Himself wills the action and Sri Krishna Himself speaks of the Divine Will in the world. In spite of that teaching, the teaching of Buddhism and Shankara’s philosophy became so prominent in the history of India, that Gita’s teachings also came to be, you might say understood or interpreted by different philosophers in their own different ways and somehow the responsibility that should come upon human being to act in the world that was diminished and even ultimately eliminated. As Sri Aurobindo says the call even in the Vaishnavism, call was to Vrindavana. It was not to the Vrindavana to be created on the earth, it was to that Vrindavana which eternally exists and you return to that Vrindavana. So even dynamic philosophies also ultimately fell in line and saying that ultimately nothing fundamentally great is to be done in the world, at the most when you are living in the world, do your best and prepare yourself to leave the world because renunciation in the world is also not an easy task but it said that the only task to be done in the world is to be capable of renouncing the world. Now just as in the case of materialism, Sri Aurobindo after showing the limitations of materialism, points out the services that materialism has rendered and wants us to derive from materialism whatever Truth lies in materialism and retain it in the integrality of all the truths. Similarly, in the case of this philosophy too, Sri Aurobindo wants to derive from this philosophy the utmost which is true and which must remain and which must be a part of the integrality of life.

So if you read the last paragraph of that chapter pp 24

For an age out of sympathy with the ascetic spirit—and throughout all the rest of the world the hour of the Anchorite may seem to have passed or to be passing—it is easy to attribute this great trend to the failing of vital energy in an ancient race tired out by its burden, its once vast share in the common advance, exhausted by its many-sided contribution to the sum of human effort and human knowledge. But we have seen that it corresponds to a truth of existence, a state of conscious realisation which stands at the very summit of our possibility. In practice also the ascetic spirit is an indispensable element in human perfection and even its separate affirmation cannot be avoided so long as the race has not at the other end liberated its intellect and its vital habits from subjection to an always insistent animalism.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

Today when we look at asceticism, which this philosophy has given rise to in India, one might like to condemn very hastily. In fact most of the Westerners when they criticize India, one's particular target of the criticism is the world requires dynamism, India only teaches quietism. And it ultimately only teaches you that the world is an illusion and the greatest message is to withdraw from the world and therefore the philosophy of India is useless for the world. This is the one great criticism which is made of Indian philosophy by those who look upon the message of the ascetic as the only message of India. It is in that context that some apologists of India they point out that it is because Indian race at a given time became exhausted after a long labour of output and activity; it was manifested in the time of the Veda, the Upanishad and the Gita. After a long labour there was exhaustion which came upon India and the theory of Buddhism and the theory of Shankara’s Vedanta was only an expression of that tiredness. Therefore, these two philosophies reflected fatigue of the Indian race and preached in India the gospel of inaction. This apology is not absolutely valid. It is not because India had become exhausted.

The truth of the Buddhistic philosophy of Non-Being, Sri Aurobindo says is a truth, the truth of the inactive Brahman is the truth; it is not as if a falsehood was preached. Both the theory of Non-Being and the theory of the Being, both being inactive corresponds to the truth of the highest possibility of human consciousness. Therefore, we should not condemn these philosophies in the way in which these philosophies stand to be condemned by those who don’t really understand the significance of these two great systems of philosophies. They both aim at exploration. In that exploration they did find Non-Being to be the summit and they declared it. The experience of the inactive Brahman is certainly found to be at the summit. It has been declared. Jainism which also speaks of inactivity at the end also corresponds to a real experience of the inactivity. The jivatman is experienced to be ultimately entirely inactive. Therefore it is an affirmation of a truth and that truth has got to be understood properly. Of course the results have been perilous but if you consider India as a laboratory in which Indians dared to make experiments with regard to all the domains of spiritual experience, then this experiment also should be given its proper value. We must understand that in the totality of the experiences obtained, if you ask the question how many experiences of the ultimate Reality can you count, then if you are not to count this as an experience, it would not be that rich sum of experiences as it ought to be. So from the point of view of the total richness of spiritual experiences, of which we have an account in Indian history, its place is very great and Sri Aurobindo says that while today we may like to condemn it but we should not fall into the line only of condemnation of it; we must see the truth of it, appreciate it, even emphasise it. Even in our total experience it must have its own place. In Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, the attainment of inactivity of Brahman is an indispensable step in the totality. You cannot have an integral experience of reality without having its foundation in this inactive Brahman. Therefore, in the path of integrality of Yoga the experience of silence, quietude, utter silence is also emphasised and if action is also emphasized, it is not action as understood today. The action that is prescribed in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo is an action that wells out of that silence. It is not an action which passes out as a result of desire and ambition to acquire more and more and possess more and more, not that. The action that is prescribed in this Yoga is an action that wells out of the intense silence of the being. It is like the Brahman itself. Brahman acts not because it is obliged to act. It acts because it is capable of acting. It is also one of the ways and not only that, when It acts, It remains inactive and that is the nature of Reality. It is not as if silence enters into activity then it ceases to be silent for some time. As Sri Aurobindo says it is not as if three fourths is inactive and one fourth is active. It is not that; it is an integral Reality in which even when the totality is in the field of action, the totality still remains inactive, that is the mystery and mastery of this Reality. Reality, when you describe, when you say, reality is static and dynamic, it is not as if it is three fourths static and one fourth is dynamic. It is such a Reality that even in full dynamism there is at the same time a total withdrawal from activity. Such is the nature of Ultimate Reality. Therefore Sri Aurobindo says that the experience of the inactivity is in any case indispensable and one has to attain to it. And in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo has given the indispensable part to this Yoga by which inactivity can be experienced.

Secondly, this doctrine of inactivity has given to India a great spirit of asceticism. Now what is asceticism? What is exactly the meaning of asceticism? Ascetic spirit is the spirit of what is called the spirit of mortification. It is a spirit to kill the sinews of energy, all dynamism, all impulses, all passions, all rushes, all pulsation of life and body. In some of the extreme cases of asceticism, you find ascetics inflicting pain on their body. William James gave an experience of one of the ascetics. He had made a special robe at night because at night while sleeping he felt comfortable, so in order that even the sleep may not be comfortable, he got nails fixed in his robe, so that when he wore the robe, the nails would impinge upon the skin and it would be extremely painful. So this is an extreme case of asceticism. It is a movement against even all comfort. A movement in which you undergo all kinds of difficulties and discomfort of the bodily life, vital life, mental life, all kinds of joys, all kinds of pleasures, all kinds of relaxations, all to be renounced. These ascetic practices have in India also, plenty of them. There were experiences in which you inflict cold and heat and rain on the body, unbearable heat and unbearable cold and try to suffer on the assumption that as long as there is comfort in the body, we will feel like enjoying the body and enjoyment of the body keeps you away from the Spirit. Spirit has to be inactive, completely free from all the snares which bind you to the body. You have many ascetic experiences in regard to control of the taste, the palate, not to eat this, not to eat anything that gives you great pleasure you should avoid it. There was in the recent philosophy of Gandhism also there was a tremendous asceticism ‒ to wear the minimum clothing and the bare clothing. To eat the bare minimum; and to eat that which is not only without taste but even anti-taste. One of his disciples called Kishore Lal Mashruwala he has written his ascetic experiments in which he said that he began to have even in the insipid food some kind of taste, so he decided to put quinine in that food but afterwards even the quinine he began to feel quite happy about. So these kinds of experiments have been made in India and in all ascetic traditions, not only in India even in the west asceticism is not absent. People have tried to master the pangs of hunger, passions of all kinds, pursuit after beauty to be completely shunned; and relationships of course to be completely thrown away; to lead a life of entire relationlessness and to live in the most uncomfortable conditions. Not to sleep at all for days and days and days because sleep also would give you some kind of comfort. So even what is called conquest of sleep; conquest of palate, conquest of sight, conquest of touch—all sensations, it’s a process of mortification. You give up all activities, all ease, all joy, all enthusiasm on the assumption that by doing so you can conquer, and you can distinguish between body and your Spirit and ultimately Spirit can be realized as distinct from the body and Spirit being inactive ultimately, there is no question of resumption of any activity. The body is thrown away ultimately as a kind of corpse to be thrown away, having no meaning or utility and liberation of the Spirit. This is the path of asceticism.

Now Sri Aurobindo says that these are exaggerations of the ascetic spirit. But for any conquest, for any self-mastery ascetic spirit is very important and the conquest of sense experience is a necessary part of the self-mastery. The methods of course are not ascetic methods and Sri Aurobindo says, you can master the sense life, the vital life, mental life; it’s possible but not through mortification. There is a possibility of withdrawal; inner withdrawal, not external withdrawal, inner withdrawal. The kind of withdrawal the Gita is preaching. The Gita also says one who eats too much, or one who eats too little, one who sleeps very little, or one who sleeps a lot, all this is to be avoided and you can ultimately arrive at the mastery of all sensations and all sense life by inner withdrawal and therefore which is more difficult in a way. It is easier to shun something but to be in it, to be in water and not to be wet—jal kamal vat, is difficult but it is possible and it is that path which is necessary. Therefore while condemning asceticism, the spirit in which you want to conquer and to stand above the demands of the body that truth has got to be affirmed; the excessive movements of asceticism of course have to be rejected. So Sri Aurobindo says that ascetic spirit has a truth behind it. The message of arriving at the inactive Reality is also truth. You must arrive at inactive Reality and both these elements have to be preserved, even while you are seeking a synthesis and reconciliation and integration. Therefore, Sri Aurobindo says in the last paragraph:

We seek indeed a larger and completer affirmation. We perceive that in the Indian ascetic ideal the great Vedantic formula, “One without a second”, has not been read sufficiently in the light of that other formula equally imperative, “All this is the Brahman”. The passionate aspiration of man upward to the Divine has not been sufficiently related to the descending movement of the Divine leaning downward to embrace eternally Its manifestation. Its meaning in Matter has not been so well understood as Its truth in the Spirit. The Reality which the Sannyasin seeks has been grasped in its full height, but not, as by the ancient Vedantins, in its full extent and comprehensiveness. But in our completer affirmation we must not minimise the part of the pure spiritual impulse. As we have seen how greatly Materialism has served the ends of the Divine, so we must acknowledge the still greater service rendered by Asceticism to Life. We shall preserve the truths of material Science and its real utilities in the final harmony, even if many or even if all of its existing forms have to be broken or left aside. An even greater scruple of right preservation must guide us in our dealing with the legacy, however actually diminished or depreciated, of the Aryan past.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic

We stop here for the moment and we can come back.

We now come to the fourth chapter ‘Reality Omnipresent’. Sri Aurobindo refers to this experience of the silent Brahman in the light of which renunciation of the world would be a logical message. But as Sri Aurobindo points out, silent or inactive Brahman is only one of the penultimate experiences of the highest Spirit and there is also the harmony of the inactive and the active Brahman. And it is that thesis that Sri Aurobindo develops in this chapter. That is to say that the inactivity of Brahman is not the denial of the world, is not meaningless of the world, is not meaninglessness of the world but one of the poises in which one would not be drowned in the world. To be master of the world, one has to be able to withdraw from the world and if one has to effect any change in the world, one should be able to go beyond the world and bring out from the inactive Brahman that aspect which is to be yet added to this world and which is not yet here in this world. All great creativity is fundamentally a creativity that one can gain by entering into the inactive Silence and something that wells out of that silence and goes into this world and thus one can even speak of the change of the world beyond the present elements which are available. In fact, one of the greatest, not one of the greatest but the greatest message of Sri Aurobindo is that the world as it is today, is having a certain chain in which it is limited by certain operations of a few laws, and these few laws are considered to be insuperable. Sri Aurobindo points out that these laws seem to limit our possibilities and the highest that we want to achieve in the world becomes unachievable because of these laws. How to break these laws, so that a better world can be created? All the reformists complain about the world as it is. All kinds of practices which are going on in the world, even so called legal activities, are limited activities and there are so many evils which are going on, which even by the process of law, you can’t change. You can’t change what human beings can see on the television, if they want to see something, which many people may seem to feel undesirable. Even if you make a law, that law can be infringed; so the present world is so constituted that the ideal world cannot become manifest. At the most you can rise to a certain rung and that to a certain rung only, not beyond. A new world requires a new energy to be manifested. And this new energy cannot become manifest, unless we are able to go into the inactive Brahman in which there is a store of energy. The inactive Brahman is not empty of energy. It is a quiet reservoir of energy and it is out of that quiet reservoir that new energies can be brought out. Therefore as Sri Krishna says, there is not only Akshara Purusha which is Kuthastha but also Kshara Purusha and beyond both Kshara and Akshara there is a Purushottama. And this is also verifiable in spiritual experience, it is not a dogma, it is not a belief, it is a Real Reality into a relationship with which one can enter.

So Sri Aurobindo says: pp 26, fourth paragraph.

But what then of that silent Self, inactive, pure, self-existent, self-enjoying, which presented itself to us as the abiding justification of the ascetic? Here also harmony and not irreconcilable opposition must be the illuminative truth. The silent and the active Brahman are not different, opposite and irreconcilable entities, the one denying, the other affirming a cosmic illusion; they are one Brahman in two aspects, positive and negative, and each is necessary to the other. It is out of this Silence that the Word which creates the worlds for ever proceeds; for the Word expresses that which is self-hidden in the Silence. It is an eternal passivity which makes possible the perfect freedom and omnipotence of an eternal divine activity in innumerable cosmic systems. For the becomings of that activity derive their energies and their illimitable potency of variation and harmony from the impartial support of the immutable Being, its consent to this infinite fecundity of its own dynamic Nature.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

Now just as Reality is both active and inactive, even if man wants to be perfect, he can be perfect only when he joins in him these two elements, a perfect silence and a great dynamism. The two joining together very often becomes difficult. The moment you become silent you begin to feel all activity is useless, you cannot have even the inspiration to go out of great enjoyment of silence in which you are absorbed and when you are active, to go back into inactivity is very difficult. Actually our activity is like a rubber band and the moment you want to bring it back, it expands and it is never possible to keep it exactly in equilibrium. Similarly in our consciousness too, the activity is so powerful; to withdraw from activity is one of the most difficult tasks. And similarly once you attain to silence, activity becomes very difficult. Not many of us have this experience because we are not very often inactive. Our main activity is constantly bubbling and therefore we are not able to experience it. The only experience we have is of sleep, which is inactive and one knows how difficult it is to come out of the sleep and to go into activity. That is the only analogy that we have. But not real inactivity, the real silence from which we can wake up and enter into activity.

Sri Aurobindo says: the perfection of the man…..

Man, too, becomes perfect only when he has found within himself that absolute calm and passivity of the Brahman and supports by it with the same divine tolerance and the same divine bliss a free and inexhaustible activity. Those who have thus possessed the Calm within can perceive always welling out from its silence the perennial supply of the energies that work in the universe. It is not, therefore, the truth of the Silence to say that it is in its nature a rejection of the cosmic activity. The apparent incompatibility of the two states is an error of the limited Mind which, accustomed to trenchant oppositions of affirmation and denial and passing suddenly from one pole to the other, is unable to conceive of a comprehensive consciousness vast and strong enough to include both in a simultaneous embrace. The Silence does not reject the world; it sustains it. Or rather it supports with an equal impartiality the activity and the withdrawal from the activity and approves also the reconciliation by which the soul remains free and still even while it lends itself to all action.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

But now there is a claim of going beyond silence. And that is a Buddhistic claim and that also should be included in the total harmony. The truth behind Buddhistic Shunya also has to be admitted. Therefore, now Sri Aurobindo speaks of that:

But, still, there is the absolute withdrawal, there is the Non-Being. Out of the Non-Being, says the ancient Scripture, Being appeared.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

This is the statement of the Taittiriya Upanishad, which says at the beginning was the Non-Being then came the Being. Of course Chhandogya Upanishad says and contests this statement and it says: how can Non-Being give rise to Being and therefore says ultimately at the beginning was only the Being. Now Taittiriya Upanishad or Chhandogya Upanishad is right because both are Upanishads and both are shrutis, and both are considered to be our authority of spiritual experiences. Then Buddhism also speaks of Non-Being and Nasadiya Sukta also speaks of the Non-Being by implication. There was a time when there was neither Non-Being nor the Being; so there is some truth about the whole claim of this Non-Being. Buddhists are not absolutely stating something which is not experienced.

I had a long dialogue with the Dalai Lama at one time in 1972-73 for about 6 hours in fact and all the time he spoke of the Non-Being, shunya, ultimately everything is shunya. And it has left on my consciousness a tremendous impress that there is among Buddhists a very strong trend towards what they believe to be the ultimate—most ultimate, is the Non-Being, is the shunya. Shankracharya contested the Non-Being and his interpretation of the Vedanta is actually an attempt to demolish this whole concept of the Non-Being. Now Sri Aurobindo, quoting this Taittiriya Upanishad on the one hand and also Chandogya Upanishad as he will do later, he affirms both and there is Non-Being and there is Being and Sri Aurobindo affirms that there is an experience of going beyond Being. You may name it by whatever name you want to give. You may call it Non-Being if you like, you may call it Paratpara if you like, you may call beyond, beyond, whatever you may like. But Sri Aurobindo affirms there is an experience, which goes beyond the experience of the Inactive Silence.

So Sri Aurobindo says here:

But, still, there is the absolute withdrawal, there is the Non-Being. Out of the Non-Being, says the ancient Scripture, Being appeared. Then into the Non-Being it must surely sink again. If the infinite indiscriminate Existence permits all possibilities of discrimination and multiple realisation, does not the Non-Being at least, as primal state and sole constant reality, negate and reject all possibility of a real universe? The Nihil of certain Buddhist schools would then be the true ascetic solution; the Self, like the ego, would be only an ideative formation by an illusory phenomenal consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

This is what the Buddhists believe that whatever is said to be Atman it is also a formation of a cosmic energy, which can be silenced. So you arrive at a complete Non-Being. Now Sri Aurobindo examines this claim and while giving its true place he points out that while discussing this question of Being and Non-Being the debate always takes turn into a verbal debate without asking what words tend to connote when you speak of Non-Being, what exactly is the word’s meaning. When Buddha, for example, if at all he spoke of the Non-Being ‒ I do not know whether he spoke of it at all or not because according to the dialogues which are available, Buddha refused to answer ultimate questions. But whatever is claimed, even if there is a claim, not of Buddha himself, but of Buddhists and they also speak on the basis of experience. They speak of an experience of something that transcends Being. So Sri Aurobindo says:

But again we find that we are being misled by words, deceived by the trenchant oppositions of our limited mentality with its fond reliance on verbal distinctions as if they perfectly represented ultimate truths and its rendering of our supramental experiences in the sense of those intolerant distinctions. Non-Being is only a word. When we examine the fact it represents, we can no longer be sure that absolute non-existence has any better chance than the infinite Self of being more than an ideative formation of the mind. We really mean by this Nothing something beyond the last term to which we can reduce our purest conception and our most abstract or subtle experience of actual being as we know or conceive it while in this universe. This Nothing then is merely a something beyond positive conception. We erect a fiction of nothingness in order to overpass, by the method of total exclusion, all that we can know and consciously are. Actually when we examine closely the Nihil of certain philosophies, we begin to perceive that it is a zero which is All or an indefinable Infinite which appears to the mind a blank, because mind grasps only finite constructions, but is in fact the only true Existence.

And when we say that out of Non-Being Being appeared, we perceive that we are speaking in terms of Time about that which is beyond Time. For what was that portentous date in the history of eternal Nothing on which Being was born out of it or when will come that other date equally formidable on which an unreal all will relapse into the perpetual void? Sat and Asat, if they have both to be affirmed, must be conceived as if they obtained simultaneously. They permit each other even though they refuse to mingle. Both, since we must speak in terms of Time, are eternal. And who shall persuade eternal Being that it does not really exist and only eternal Non-Being is? In such a negation of all experience how shall we find the solution that explains all experience?

Pure Being is the affirmation by the Unknowable of Itself as the free base of all cosmic existence. We give the name of Non-Being to a contrary affirmation of Its freedom from all cosmic existence,—freedom, that is to say, from all positive terms of actual existence which consciousness in the universe can formulate to itself, even from the most abstract, even from the most transcendent. It does not deny them as a real expression of Itself, but It denies Its limitation by all expression or any expression whatsoever. The Non-Being permits the Being, even as the Silence permits the Activity. By this simultaneous negation and affirmation, not mutually destructive, but complementary to each other like all contraries, the simultaneous awareness of conscious Self-being as a reality and the Unknowable beyond as the same Reality becomes realisable to the awakened human soul. Thus was it possible for the Buddha to attain the state of Nirvana and yet act puissantly in the world, impersonal in his inner consciousness, in his action the most powerful personality that we know of as having lived and produced results upon earth.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

If Buddha himself had attained the state of the non-being surely in that non-being there was that stupendous energy which worked itself out and produced the most powerful results in the history of the world. As Sri Aurobindo says here, if you want to bring out one personality as a personality, which can be described as the greatest personality in terms of a personality, it is Buddha and he is greatest because he acted most puissantly and produced most powerful results. There is no parallel to Buddha’s triumph. You must remember that he started with four disciples and that too he had to find them out. They had left him when he started eating because these four disciples had continued with him in the expectation that a great word would come from him and he was completely in an ascetic condition, eating nothing, starving himself and even his stomach had reached the spinal cord. I mean that much of hollow of his stomach was produced by continuous hunger of the body. And then when Buddha started eating, then these four disciples left him; saying now he has also fallen from that practice of yoga which he was practising and when Buddha attained the realisation, whatever was the description of that realisation, he felt that he had to give the message.

Now after reaching that nirvana what was the need in him to give the message, what was that push, even if that was non-being which was absolutely free from any activity whatsoever. What was the impulsion and from where it came? Surely it was a silence beyond silence, it was a being which could not be described as being, it was a denial of the being, silence beyond the silence in even there there was the activity. So activity is not something opposed to silence. As Sri Aurobindo says, it’s not contradictory; it is only in our human mind that you make a big contradiction between silence and activity because we do not normally have the two things simultaneously. But those who are really potent know how cool they are and suddenly they spring into action as if it were from nowhere and can produce great results. It is because activity and inactivity are not contradictions. This is the important point that Sri Aurobindo makes that being and non-being are not contradictions; the non-being is a word which indicates that even if positiveness of the being is a limitation, the reality is free even from that limitation. It can’t even be described as a being because being also would also be a limitation, it is being. So let us describe it as non-being and that non-being is that in which there is no possibility of a cosmic activity ‒ that is nishkriya and that nishkriyata is affirmed and according to Sri Aurobindo that nishkriyata must be attained as a part of the perfection. And you can’t be perfect unless like Buddha, you are able to have that complete silence within and a tremendous puissance in action.

When we ponder on these things, we begin to perceive how feeble in their self-assertive violence and how confusing in their misleading distinctness are the words that we use. We begin also to perceive that the limitations we impose on the Brahman arise from a narrowness of experience in the individual mind which concentrates itself on one aspect of the Unknowable and proceeds forthwith to deny or disparage all the rest. We tend always to translate too rigidly what we can conceive or know of the Absolute into the terms of our own particular relativity. We affirm the One and Identical by passionately discriminating and asserting the egoism of our own opinions and partial experiences against the opinions and partial experiences of others. It is wiser to wait, to learn, to grow, and, since we are obliged for the sake of our self-perfection to speak of these things which no human speech can express, to search for the widest, the most flexible, the most catholic affirmation possible and found on it the largest and most comprehensive harmony.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

Now having stated this basic position of harmony Sri Aurobindo points out that I’ll take you straight to the last paragraph because that gives the final conclusion of this chapter.

We start, then, with the conception of an omnipresent Reality of which neither the Non-Being at the one end nor the universe at the other are negations that annul; they are rather different states of the Reality, obverse and reverse affirmations. The highest experience of this Reality in the universe shows it to be not only a conscious Existence, but a supreme Intelligence and Force and a self-existent Bliss; and beyond the universe it is still some other unknowable existence, some utter and ineffable Bliss. Therefore we are justified in supposing that even the dualities of the universe, when interpreted not as now by our sensational and partial conceptions, but by our liberated intelligence and experience, will be also resolved into those highest terms. While we still labour under the stress of the dualities, this perception must no doubt constantly support itself on an act of faith, but a faith which the highest Reason, the widest and most patient reflection do not deny, but rather affirm. This creed is given, indeed, to humanity to support it on its journey, until it arrives at a stage of development when faith will be turned into knowledge and perfect experience and Wisdom will be justified of her works.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: Reality Omnipresent

Reality as at once static and dynamic and beyond, the Reality as the originator of the world, the Reality as the Satchidananda manifesting in the cosmic systems, not only one but cosmic systems, this is the starting point and the basic premise of The Life Divine.

Now there is one important element which is still yet not fitted into this conception of omnipresent Reality and that is the individual. Where does the individual fit into this totality? Now this is one of the most difficult problems and a question is often asked: what is the destiny of the individual? Since we have time, I will take up this chapter no. 5, so that this very important question receives some answer. Actually speaking 5, 6 and 7 all the three chapters deal with the same problem but essentially this chapter gives a basic answer to the question. Now let me first of all state the essential problem of the truth of individuality. Normally we experience the individual within a certain limitation, that limitation is called by one term ‒ ego. Every individual has some kind of what is called self-experience. It is one of the data of our psychological life. One doesn’t know how, but something happens in the working of our consciousness and there is this, what is called self-experience. One basic thing that nobody can deny is the experience that one constantly experiences. There is as it were a current of experience going on in each one of us; of course during sleep you don’t have the experience. But as soon as the experience becomes conscious, not that in sleep there was no experience at all but there is no consciousness of the experience. And as soon as the experience begins to be had, the idea of the self is conjoined with it. It is by an effort that you can withdraw yourself from the experience but normally experience and the self-experience is constantly going on inextricably. This experience is the starting point of our journey of life. A child too begins to weave whatever personality the child can weave out of this basic stuff of self-experience.

Now this self-experience has three characteristics. One is that it tends to identify this self-experience with whatever happens to one’s body and one feels as ifI means this all that is here and the body. Secondly there is a tendency to move out of oneself and to see the other one as distinguished from oneself and this distinction is greatly affirmed by the limitation and contours of our body. Everything that falls outside this body, I feel is the other. Thirdly whatever is the other is grasped at by what I consider to be myself. There is a constant tendency to grasp at the other and to bring it nearer to oneself, to experience it and to possess it and even to be identified with it. In a sense you might say that there is an inalienable experience of the self, not only as self identified with the body but self understood in distinction with the other and thirdly with an effort to grasp the other and to amalgamate that other within myself. This is our basic experience, self-experience.

Now why is it that there is this experience of the other and why is it that there is a tendency to grasp and to possess it? There are no metaphysical answers given as yet in most of the philosophical systems. In fact the egoistic consciousness has not been defined and analysed very, very minutely. In two chapters of this book, Sri Aurobindo describes the ego and self-experience in quite a great detail.

There are two chapters here in The Life Divine.

If you open chapter number 8 and 9 of the second volume, Memory, Self-consciousness and the Ignorance and the next chapter is Memory, Ego and Self-Experience. In these two chapters Sri Aurobindo has analysed and put the ego experience, self-experience which takes place in the field of ignorance that is to say if there was no ignorance, ego would have never be experienced. We are all as it were born in ignorance. Right from birth we are ignorant beings all the time looking around and looking around with an impulsion that seems to be automatic within us of the self-experience. It is on self-experience that ego is built and sometimes we even feel that the ego is built by memory, it is not the case but because of ego there is a memory, you might say. Because there is an ego-consciousness going on the memory gets built up. There is a theory which says memory is the man and if memory is gone, man is gone. And that is very often true. If I forget what I was in the past and if I can’t connect myself with the past and the present my personality seems to be shattered. This is what happens in schizophrenia and split personality and so on. But as against that it is also true that most of us have forgotten our childhood and yet we continue to be what we are, so it is not as if memory is such an indispensable element, there are experiences where for example a robber called Valmiki, he was Ratna the robber, he becomes suddenly transformed into a saint. There is no connection between his past personality, and a new personality is framed. Even if he remembers, he is now a different personality. So to say that memory is the man, is not psychologically entirely inevitable. The important point is that there is a sense of ego and this ego sense is based upon self-experience and there is a building of this ego. And this ego is a kind of a coordinating agency. There is normally a small field given to us in our experience. Now in this small field of experience the elements are all pell-mell given to us, egoistic consciousness coordinates. Even if you see the child, all the experiences around the child, the attempt is to coordinate them. And this effort at co-ordination is by this machinery called the ego-consciousness. So a small little machine which is coordinating and which is identifying itself with all that is coordinated is the egoistic consciousness. And this experience of the ego may be defined as a limited state of consciousness which coordinates various experiences and which is constantly engaged with the grasping of something that it considers to be other than itself and building up as large a universe as possible. This is the domain of the egoistic consciousness. It wants, if at all possible, it wants to embrace the whole universe and that is why the greatest egoistic human beings have tried to conquer the whole world. Their egoism is never satisfied, not fulfilled unless the whole world is possessed. There is a connection between the small little, there is a small machinery which constantly goes on expanding the aim of which is to have the whole universe in it and yet to retain itself, a kind of a self contradiction. If you embrace the whole universe, what I call myself has got to be blotted out, it is dissolved. Therefore, according to some experiences of egoistic consciousness, first of all, as long as it remains egoism, it can never embrace the universe. If it embraces the universe it ceases to itself, it is annulled. If it is annulled, what happens? That also is a question which is not sufficiently analysed and answered. There are some analogies given, a small idol made of salt, if it is put into the ocean, what happens to it? It is melted and the idol does not remain any more at all, it is gone. Now according to some therefore the individual if it expands, it is melted away. But expands into what? And would that expansion, what is the nature of that expansion? That expansion is what is called the universe and what is the nature of that expansion? And there, there is a fresh difficulty. This universe seems to be, if you examine properly, an expanding universe and that is the difficulty. There is no expansion which has a limit, if the universe is a kind of an infinite expansion there is no limit in it. And the moment you try to conceive of it, you can’t conceive because there is no such thing as a definite expansion. If it is definite, it is a boundary, so where is the limitless? Sri Aurobindo says that the universe can be defined only as boundless finite. It is a contradictory word, boundless finite, finite has a boundary, it can’t be boundless. But our experience of the world is that of a boundless finite. There is a constant expansion, it goes on and on, that is the meaning of the universe. Can therefore ego be satisfied, if it wants to expand and grasp everything? Therefore it is said that the egoistic consciousness can really be extinguished only if it can be identified with something that is beyond the universe. Now this is the theory of the Advaitin, according to Advaitin the ego is dissolved not in the universe, in the cosmos because even cosmos is an illusion. The individual is lost in a transcendental which is not universal; it is pure essence, there is no universality and the egoistic consciousness is ultimately dissolved. There are three theories of egoistic consciousness now, whatever we described so far. According to one the individual is only a small cog in the whole. It can never become unified with the whole universe because if it is unified with the universe it no more remains what it is. As long as it remains ego, it can never be unified with the universe. So according to this theory the individual can expand and can hope to expand, can go on expanding but never aim at complete loss of it. This is one theory, that an individual can expand and go on expanding but ultimately must find its small cog whatever machine it provides, however vast it becomes, it must remain what it is, ultimately egoistic consciousness. You can even become a superman, a vastest egoistic consciousness, in which you don’t become one with the universe, you are not annulled but you can master the world. You can stand above the world. This was the theory of Nietzsche. According to him, an individual should constantly expand himself to become so powerful, so great that it can dominate the whole world and it says that a human being is destined to develop this and every individual ultimately ought to do it. Those who cannot do it because he admits that there are human beings who have no such ambitions at all, they want to expand a little and remain satisfied with the little thing. So he says that for such individuals, you should give Christian morality, Christian ethics, for them that is a good teaching because Christian morality says ‘Be thou meek, be thou humble and accept your little small portion in the world and always depend upon becoming very meek and humble’. But there are other human beings for whom Christian morality should not be given, this Nietzsche himself very consciously gave this idea, it is not as if a secret doctrine. This is his doctrine that individual if he really wants to fulfil himself, he must expand and for him Christian ethics should not be given, he should not be told ‘be meek and be humble, he should be told he should expand, he should become great, master’. According to him humanity consists of two kinds of human beings, it’s also another theory of his. Human beings consists of two types of human beings, those who are born to be meek and humble and those who are born to be masters and therefore you should have double morality, morality to be given to those who are meek and humble, they should always be given that because it’s good for them, and there are others who are bound to be masters.

In fact, if you examine the great theory of Nazism, which flourished under Hitler was fundamentally this theory that those who are destined to rule the world, they must expand and they must dominate the world. That is why greater satisfaction. And human beings who are meek and humble, they should obediently be humble and meek and they should admit the superiority of those big men and accept the humility of their own position and serve and sub serve the masters. This was the fundamental motivation of Nazism during the Second World War. It’s a powerful philosophy. Nietzsche was a great philosopher, who influenced the entire German thought in his own time and developed into some of the leaders of Nazism this great feeling that they are born supermen and they have to be supermen and they have to manifest, they have to dominate the whole world and the whole world should come under the heels of these great supermen. That is the destiny of the individual you might say, the individual should expand and expand as much as possible and yet remain individuals, egoistic individuals ever expanding.

Now exactly the opposite is the view of the Advaita, according to which the individual has a frontal appearance, which is a false appearance. This falsity constitutes his individuality, there is no such thing as a small finite anywhere. All finitudes, either of the individual or even of the universe, even the boundless finite, all finitude is an illusion. Therefore, an individual should be led to abolish his egoism, and what will remain by that abolition is the Supreme Inactive Brahman. Inactive Brahman is acosmic, there is no cosmos even, no individual even, it is acosmic.

Every individual has to realise that his formation is false. The formation of the universe is false. He should so withdraw himself and become completely inactive, in that state of inactivity what remains is the Infinite, not infinite in the sense of the cosmos but that which is beyond all finitude ‒ a complete inactivity, having no expansion whatsoever, that all essence, complete inactivity. This is exactly the opposite of this theory, of Nietzschean theory. In between is a third theory and this third theory of the individual is the theory of the reality of the individual, not as finite which remains finite but as a wave which is always joined with the ocean. A wave is not a part of the ocean but a wave, when you see a wave, the wave is never cut off from the ocean, so it is not a portion, not a cut off portion, a wave is a portion which is conjoined with the infinite, all the time. To realise this Reality is the aim of the individual. This is the third view of the destiny of the individual. Now this third view is a very difficult view to sustain. The first view is easier, the second view is easier; the third view is more difficult. And it is that third view that is advocated by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine, that the individual is not the ego, it is a centre or a wave which is, it’s not ego because it’s not something cut off. This theory is actually the theory most beautifully described in the Gita. Where Sri Krishna says about the Jivatman mam eva anshah sanatana jiva is sanatana, it is eternal, mam eva anshah, My own portion. Now what is my own portion? My own portion is the wave of the ocean in which the wave is never cut off from the ocean. That is the meaning of mam eva anshah. Such is the nature of the individual, to attain this realisation, on the part of every individual, to discover his true connection with the sanatana, the Supreme that is the aim of the individual.

Now this chapter The Destiny of the Individual is centred on this concept. What is it that every individual ultimately is supposed to be? Now, I have avoided reading this chapter because it’s a very difficult chapter and unless this chapter is read in conjunction with another chapter which is 2nd volume, chapter number III, The Eternal and the Individual, where the logic of the relationship between the individual and the eternal has been explained. Unless this whole thing is read together, what is being conveyed here becomes very difficult? What I will do is simply to read one or two paragraphs from this chapter and speak of what is called the concept of the aim of the individual consisting of the liberation of the individual. In the Indian systems of Yoga we have the concept of moksha, the concept of mukti, and the concept of the liberation of the individual. We are all told that in human life, the highest purushartha is the purushartha of moksha and every individual is supposed to attain to that state of liberation. Now this state of liberation is conceived in various forms. The way in which this concept of liberation was conceived in the Veda was of one kind, the way in which it was conceived in the Upanishad is another, the way in which it is conceived in Buddhism is another, the way in which it was conceived in Jainism is another, the way in which it is conceived in Sankhya is still another, again there are differences even in the Vedanta. The state of liberation described in the Advaitic Mayavada is one state of description, in Vishishta Advaita there is another description of the liberation of the individual. In Dvaita there is another way of distinction, which is also described, in Achintya bhed abhedvada is another distinction, the state of liberation is described. And this itself is a very vast subject, ‒ liberation of the individual. We are all supposed to be looking for liberation and yet Indian philosophy gives us bewildering varieties and one doesn’t really know what is exactly to be done. This is another crisis of Indian philosophy. Just as the crisis of Indian philosophy with regard to the notion of the Ultimate Reality and because of the differences among all of them and lack of unanimity among them there is a big crisis. Similarly, with regard to the nature of the individual and the nature of liberation of the individual, because of the variety of ideas there is a great bewilderment and we are not able to give a proper guidance as to what exactly do you mean by liberation. Although everyone says liberation is the aim of life, it is the one thing to be aimed at. In this particular chapter, at a particular place Sri Aurobindo speaks of the idea of liberation that is expounded in Advaitic Mayavada. If you open the 6th paragraph from the end.“It is so that ascetic philosophy tends to conceive it.”

This ascetic philosophy is of course the philosophy of Adaivatic Mayavada. The third line,

“In the Monistic view..” Advaitic view is called the monistic view.

In the Monistic view the individual soul is one with the Supreme, its sense of separateness an ignorance, escape from the sense of separateness and identity with the Supreme its salvation. But who then profits by this escape?

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual

I repeat, ‘the individual soul is one with the Supreme’, its very nature is the identity of the soul with the Supreme. It’s not a formation, an individual is basically identical with the Supreme. Its sense of separateness and ignorance. If it feels that I am different from the Supreme, it's only because I am ignorant, actually I am always one with the Supreme and I am the Supreme, Shivo hum, Shivo hum. I am the Supreme. If I think I am different from it, it is only out of ignorance. It is that ignorance which has to be cut off.

Now Sri Aurobindo asks this question:

But who then profits by this escape? Not the supreme Self, for it is supposed to be always and inalienably free, still, silent, pure. Not the world, for that remains constantly in the bondage and is not freed by the escape of any individual soul from the universal Illusion. It is the individual soul itself which effects its supreme good by escaping from the sorrow and the division into the peace and the bliss. There would seem then to be some kind of reality of the individual soul as distinct from the world and from the Supreme even in the event of freedom and illumination. But for the Illusionist the individual soul is an illusion and non-existent except in the inexplicable mystery of Maya. Therefore we arrive at the escape of an illusory non-existent soul from an illusory non-existent bondage in an illusory non-existent world as the supreme good which that non-existent soul has to pursue!

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual

This is the contradiction that comes up in the monistic theory of the individual. And according to the Monistic view of the Vedanta they would say ‘yes’ it is true. All these contradictions are contradictions only within the field of Maya. Which really don’t exist, the only thing that exists is the one Supreme Brahman, where is the individual, the individual doesn’t exist. Now this problem remains acute at the end of the whole exposition of the Advaitic Mayavada.

Therefore Sri Aurobindo says this is according to them:

For this is the last word of the Knowledge, “There is none bound, none freed, none seeking to be free.” Vidya turns out to be as much a part of the Phenomenal as Avidya; Maya meets us even in our escape and laughs at the triumphant logic which seemed to cut the knot of her mystery.

These things, it is said, cannot be explained; they are the initial and insoluble miracle. They are for us a practical fact and have to be accepted. We have to escape by a confusion out of a confusion.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine - I: The Destiny of the Individual

This is the illogicality of that position and this is the doctrine which has become one of the most dominant doctrines in India today. As a result there is a tremendous weakness both in theory and in practice. If I know that I am one with the Brahman already, in what way have I to make an effort and even if I have to make an effort in what direction shall I make an effort? There is no real guidance except in the following: it is said that you are at present in a state of confusion, you think that you are an egoistic consciousness identified with this body. So first sit down in meditation and say to yourself, I am not a body. This identification is to be loosened and you withdraw from it. Then you distinguish between your vital impulses and vital desires and you say, I am not the vital being. Then you withdraw from all your mental identification. You come out of the mental identification. All this is of course very difficult. But still it is said you should practice it and after practising you will find that you will become completely separate in your consciousness and that which stands separate is not an individual. Egoism is gone because all egoism is now torn off, what remains is the Brahman. But then you find that Brahman was always free; that you have now become was also a part of an illusion. This is the mystery which has been accepted by the Advaitic Vedanta and it said you have got to accept it as it is, a mystery is a mystery. It’s a confusion we admit. But in this confusion, the confusion is the only way by which you can come out of the confusion. So the ideal of the individual is to extinguish himself. And when you extinguish your whole being, but individuality does not remain, there is no individuality. The individual is not real Reality. Logically this theory is indefensible although this theory is supposed to be the most logical theory, it is claimed by Advaitin that this theory is the most logical theory. And yet this illogicality is ingrained in the whole philosophical system. What Sri Aurobindo points out is if an individual really becomes free then there must be the individual to experience that freedom. Brahman is always free. Who experiences now the liberation, the one who was not liberated, one who was bound? But who was that that was bound? If that individual does not exist really, who is it that experiences that freedom? And this question remains unanswered. According to Sri Aurobindo there is a real bondage of the individual. The individual does experience the bondage, he does come out of the bondage, and does now experience freedom. This is one of the great differences between that view and this view. Now how does the individual become bound, becomes for this theory a very important question. How do we become bound, what are we, what is individual, is individual a mere ego? Sri Aurobindo’s answer is ego is not equated with the individual. Ego is only a formation, it is a machinery. The individual is different from the egoistic consciousness. The individual is an eternal portion of the Supreme, it’s not the movement, a machinery which coordinates various experiences. The individual is a portion, the word portion is very important, it’s not a part, it’s not a figment, it’s not something which is cut off, it’s a portion which is eternally united with the Supreme. Now that portion which is eternally united with the Supreme, how does it get into the state of bondage, is certainly a problem. The destiny of the individual is to really effectuate this liberation from bondage and having attained the liberation to manifest the Divine consciousness in the world. This is the destiny of the individual. When we have more time, we shall deal with this question in detail but for the next time. How does the individual, who is the eternal portion of the Supreme, how does it get into the state of bondage, get into the state of ignorance and how can it liberate itself from it? The Supreme problem actually from the point of view of the individual that problem is discussed in this book at length because it is one of the most important problems of human life.