Ethics, Religion and Yoga
As we ponder over these difficult problems, we are led to discover that the moral nature of the human being is not the last and the highest component. Neither religious doctrines nor formulations of ethical ideals correspond to the highest demands that human beings are capable of. There is, it will be found, a divine being in us that can be directly contacted by the pursuit of spirituality and by the methods that are neither religious nor ethical, but yogic, — methods which demand rigorous practices of purification, of renunciation and austerity. At the highest borders, there is a demand for further transcendence where the divine reality is directly contacted and possessed and where the divine will begins to operate at a supra-mental level. In that spiritual and supra- mental component of our complex nature, it is claimed, is the integrating power; in it the truths of the individual and the collectivity coalesce; there, we discover that the individual and the collectivity are not what they appear to be in the lower or infra-rational parts of our being. Individual is not, it is discovered, fundamentally egoistic in nature; ego is only a temporary formation, but behind it there is the un-egoistic centre of universality, such that the individual finds its fullness in universality and universality finds its concentrated centre in the unegoistic individual.
It is claimed that beyond ethics and religion is a realm of the Spirit, and even though religions and ethics may lead us to the borders of that realm, a secure possession of that realm can be attained when the methods and practices of yoga are undertaken. It may even be said that the dilemmas that are inherent in the plurality of religions and plurality of ethical doctrines can be properly confronted and resolved when adherents of religious and ethical doctrines consent to transcend exclusivism and admit the possibilities of an entry into the realm of direct experiences of the Spirit and of attainment of illumined knowledge of the realm of the Spirit.
Does Yoga Promise Solution?
But does this realm of yogic endeavour lead to the knowledge that is true, objective and comprehensive? And does it provide, it may further be asked, the inspiration, guidance and attainment of perfection, — Yogic perfection, — that exceeds the boundaries of ordinary ethical or religious perfection? It may still be asked, will this endeavour ensure the highest possible integration of the being, — including the integration of the spiritual and the physical? And, finally, will this endeavour promote the highest welfare of humanity?
Solution in a New Synthesis of Yoga
The answer to these questions promises to be in the affirmative, if we undertake to pursue, study and practise the vast and integral path of a new Synthesis of Yoga that has been hewn during the last century by the colossal research in yoga that was initiated and conducted by Sri Aurobindo (1872 -1950),48 and which was developed to its fullness in collaboration with the Mother (1878 - 1973),49 who, in turn, accomplished the tasks of the yogic research to their highest required degree,
leaving for the future, a vast field of further research, verification, confirmation and ever-progressive enlargement and realization.
Exclusivism, which is clearly seen among religions, can also be discerned in the realm of Yoga. It is for this reason that exclusivism of religions cannot be transcended merely by entrance into the field of yoga and pursuits of any exclusive method of yoga. But where — as in the field of religion, the claim that it makes in regard to the truth that it advocates, — its objectivity, its comprehensiveness and its power of imparting perfection, — rests on dogmatism and the necessity of faith, in the field of yoga, a given system of yoga can prove the veracity of the truths that it claims by referring to its processes and methods as also the results to which they arrive at, and thus by the process of repeatability, and verifiability. Again, in the process of yoga, the element of faith, that is indispensable in any process of knowledge, scientific, philosophical or yogic, is admitted as a dynamic element and not as an element, in which one is required to rest for ever. In yoga, faith is admitted, but 'it is constantly sought to be turned into knowledge, the results of which can be verified in terms that are suitable and appropriate to yoga. But the element of exclusivism in the field of yoga has proved to be a stumbling block, and it has also been the cause of the battles of rival claims. The Vedic systems of yoga have been combated by the Buddhist system of yoga, and both of them have been combated by the Jain system of yoga. The Vedic systems of yoga have also come to be combated by the Tantric systems of yoga. Advocates of Jnana yoga have rejected the claims of Karma yoga or Bhakti yoga, and vice versa. The advocates of Bhakti yoga maintain that the supreme status of liberation is a state of love for the divine
and they regard the process of Jnana yoga and Karma yoga as subordinate to the process of Bhakti yoga. The exclusive path of Jnana yoga maintains that action may prepare one for liberation but action can never be itself the instrument of liberation. The exclusive path of Karma yoga tends to assign supreme importance to divine action rather than to divine knowledge or divine love. These conflicts became prominent in India soon after the period of the original and esoteric system of the Vedic synthesis of yoga and they have continued to fuel controversies right up to the present day. It is true that the ancient Vedic synthesis of yoga has aided a great deal in securing, during the long history of yoga, the attitude of larger understanding, tolerance, accommodation and even the spirit of synthesis, but there has still been a great weakness and some kind of sense of failure. One of the great tasks that has been accomplished by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that the real cause of the rise of exclusive systems of yoga and their continuous conflicts has been diagnosed and that cause has now been removed in the new synthesis of yoga which they have put forward.
This new synthesis of Yoga is unprecedented; it is neither the combination nor the culmination of the earlier paths of religions or of yoga. The earlier paths of yoga or the paths of yoga that lay behind various great religions were found by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to be all valid in their own degrees of their realizations and culminating points, but none of them were found to be as comprehensive as the demands of knowledge require, nor did they prove to be as integral as full integrality that can be demanded in terms of the unity and integrity of Spirit and Matter. As a matter of fact, it was found that religions and paths of yoga that lie behind religions aimed at the attainment of Reality or Heaven beyond the
earth, and even when there was occasionally a vision of City of God or of the heaven on the earth or even of the heaven and earth being one, 'no evidence could be found of any durable effort made to actualize or accomplish that vision. In the same way, none of the earlier yogic systems had envisaged the aim of the complete manifestation of Spirit in Matter or that of the total transformation of the life in Matter into the divine life on the earth. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were led to the new and integral aim by their intense labour of research on the basis of which the life on the earth can be led eventually to achieve total and integral integration, perfection, harmony and unity.
As Sri Aurobindo pointed out, in one of his letters on this subject, the Leader of the Way has to bear the great burden of all the past upward endeavour and also meet the obstacles that block the progress towards the future and the new discovery or invention. Let us quote the relevant lines from that letter:
"As for the Mother and myself, we have had to try all ways, follow all methods, to surmount mountains of difficulties, ...far more difficult conditions, battles to fight, wounds to endure, ways to cleave through impenetrable morass and desert and forest, hostile masses to conquer - a work such as, I am certain, none else had to do before us. For the Leader of the Way in a work like ours has not only to bring down and represent and embody the Divine, but to represent too the ascending element in humanity and to bear the burden of humanity to the full and experience, not in a mere play or Lila but in grim earnest, all the obstruction, difficulty, opposition, baffled and hampered and only slowly victorious labour which are possible on the Path. But it is neither necessary nor tolerable that all that should be repeated over
again to the full in the experience of others. It is because we have the complete experience that we can show a straighter and easier road to others - if they will only consent to take it..."50
The integral path excludes exclusivism, but provides to each individual the path of free growth suitable to his temperament and capacities and the path of arriving at comprehensiveness, integration and perfection. This path includes everything from all the religions and all systems of Yoga which is essential for its all-inclusive aim and which contributes to the needed acceleration of the progression on the path.
Synthesis presupposes the presence of oneness in various elements which are to be synthesized; the various elements need to have organic interconnections among themselves and with the underlying oneness; and finally, synthesis implies linear combination or successive combination or vertical or integral combination, —but in all cases it should be a combination that involves intelligible discrimination. An undiscriminating combination in block would not be a synthesis, but confusion. The question of synthesis of yoga arises because there have been in the course of history a development of specialized schools of yoga and specialized processes of yoga, and there have also been various systems of the synthesis of yoga. If there is today a need for a new synthesis of yoga, it is because the object of spiritual evolution of the growing individual and of the graded development of terrestrial existence has come to be conceived in terms of the largest and ever progressive totality of integration, and this integration is incapable of being realized by any specialized processes of yoga or even by any earlier systems of the synthesis of yoga.
But the earlier specialized systems of synthesis of yoga are so disparate in their tendencies and so highly elaborated in their forms that it is 'not easy to find a proper method of arriving at their right union. The problem becomes even more difficult because in the past these highly specialized systems have been long confirmed in their mutual opposition of their ideas and methods. The new synthesis of yoga has, however, been able to seize on some central principle common to all which includes and utilizes in the right place and proportion the particular principles of the varieties of the yogic disciplines; it has also been able to seize on some central dynamic force which is the common secret of the divergent methods and capable therefore of organizing a natural selection and combination of their varied energies and different utilities. In the resulting synthesis, it has been possible to neglect the forms and outsides of the various yogic disciplines and various processes of successive practise. This synthesis is thus neither a combination in mass nor by successive practice.
The spiritual evolution which is the key of the new synthesis of yoga considers the individual soul and the universal principles of Matter, Life and Mind to be intertwined in an evolutionary process which has so far reached a critical stage where it is possible for the individual to develop knowledge and will that can be consciously applied for purposes of the evolution of supramental consciousness in matter by means of which the individual will be able to realize not only the integral Reality integrally but will also be able to fulfill itself in its role of Leadership of evolution and in the task of building the supramental temple of the divine in supramentalized Matter. The present stage of universal matter, life and mind is conceived as the
lower Nature, and what is attempted by means of the synthesis of yoga is to build the higher Nature of the Supermind, which is of the nature of Knowledge and which culminates in the life divine. The passage from the lower to the higher is the aim of the new synthesis of Yoga, and this passage is affected, not by the rejection of the lower and escape into the higher, but by the transformation of the lower and its elevation to the higher Nature. It is because the aim is that of a transformation of our integral being into the terms of the supramental divine existence that the synthesis of yoga or integral yoga becomes indispensable.
The one common principle and the one central dynamic Force in all systems of yoga is that of concentration; in the new synthesis, that common principle and force of concentration is sought to be developed integrally, as a result of which the method is to put our whole conscious being into relation, concentration and contact with the Divine and to call Him in to transform our entire being. As a result of this integral concentration, the present lower personality of the seeker is used in its entirety as the centre of a divine transfiguration and the instrument of its own perfection.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother recognize three outstanding features that characterize the yogic process and power when they act integrally on the given individual. In the first place, it does not act according to a fixed system of succession as in the specialized methods of yoga, but with a sort of free, scattered and yet gradually intensive and purposeful working determined by the temperament of the individual in whom it operates. This working nourishes the helpful materials which his nature offers and utilizes the obstacles which it presents for purposes of purification and
perfection. In a sense, therefore, each individual has in this path his own method of yoga, even though there are certain broad lines of working" common to all which enable to construct, not indeed, a routine system, but yet some kind of shastra or scientific method of the synthesis of yoga.
Secondly, this process, being integral, accepts our nature such as it stands organized by our past evolution and without rejecting anything essential compels to undergo a divine change and divine integration.
Thirdly, every experience and outer contact with our world-environment, however trifling or however disastrous, is used for the yogic development, and every inner experience, even to the most repellent suffering or the most humiliating fall, becomes a step on the path to perfection. It is recognized that all life is a yoga of Nature and that yoga marks the stage at which every experience and effort becomes capable of self-awareness and therefore of right application in the individual.