Enlightenment - Lessons from a Yogi
by Anuradha Vashisht
Mastery through attitude—how does this gospel apply to a yogi? In Sri Aurobindo we have an example of a person involved in the most demanding work (as a key leader of the freedom movement in early 20th century), physical hardships (imprisonment and solitary confinement), a person amidst the hue and cry of life, silently pursuing yoga-sadhana within. Not in an ashram or a secluded forest, but in politics and media, in courtroom and jail—these were the places of meditation and yoga for Sri Aurobindo.
Said he: “I spent the first part of my imprisonment in Alipore jail in a solitary cell and again after the assassination of Noren Gossain to the last days of the trial... I was carrying on my Yoga during these days, learning to do so in the midst of much noise and clamour but apart and in silence... My Yoga begun in 1904 had always been personal and apart; those around me knew I was a Sadhak but they knew little more as I kept all that went on in me to myself.”
Is a yogi born perfect? Does he also have to exert his will to overcome weaknesses in his nature so that the ordinary experiences of life become extraordinary, or is everything handed to him on a platter, and his only business is to meditate, invoke and receive? Though much is not available about Sri Aurobindo’s personal life, there are a few hints to the contrary. The yogi too has to ‘plod on’...
Says Sri Aurobindo: “It took me four years of inner striving to find a real Way, even though the divine help was with me all the time, and even then, it seemed to come by an accident; and it took me ten more years of intense Yoga under a supreme inner guidance to trace it out and that was because I had my past and the world’s past to assimilate and overpass before I could find and found the future.
“Why did not everything open up in me like the painting vision and some other things? All did not. As I told you I had to plod in many things. Otherwise the affair would not have taken so many years (30). In this Yoga one can’t take a shortcut in everything. I had to work on each problem and on each conscious plane to solve or to transform and in each I had to take the blessed conditions as they were and do honest work without resorting to miracles. …I was also noted in my earlier time before Yoga for the rareness of anger. At a certain period of the Yoga it rose in me like a volcano and I had to take a long time eliminating it.”
Another instance is present in an interaction with his disciple, Nirodbaran.
Nirodbaran: “No joy, no energy, no cheerfulness. Don’t like to read or write—as if a dead man were walking about. Do you understand the position?”
Sri Aurobindo: “I quite understand; often had it myself devastatingly. That’s why I always advise people who have it to cheer up and buck up.
“I have borne every attack which human beings have borne, otherwise I would be unable to assure anybody that ‘this too can be conquered!’ At least I would have no right to say so…the Divine when he takes on the burden of terrestrial nature, takes it fully, sincerely and without any conjuring tricks or pretence…
“The psychic being does the same for all who are intended for the spiritual way, men need not be extraordinary beings to follow Yoga. That is the mistake you are making, to harp on greatness as if only the great can be spiritual.”
In the world
How did Sri Aurobindo carry on with his spiritual practice in the midst of work like political action and all kinds of pressures? He says: “I wanted spiritual experience and political action together. I would not take up a method that required me to give up action and life.”
“I first began on my own with pranayama, drawing the breath into my head. This gave me good health, lightness and an increased power of thinking. Side by side certain experiences also came. But not many nor important ones. I began to see things in the subtle. Then I had to give it up when I took to politics. I wanted to resume my yoga but did not know how to begin again.
“When I came to Baroda from the Surat Congress (1907), Barin (Sri Aurobindo’s brother) had written to me that he knew a certain yogi—Lele… He (Lele) asked me to do nothing but throw away all thoughts that came to my mind. In three days I did it…I realised the Silent Brahman Consciousness. I began to think from above the brain and have done so ever since. Sometimes at night the Power would come and I would receive it and also the thoughts it brought and in the morning I would put down the whole thing word by word on paper.
“In that very silence, in that thought-free condition, we went to Bombay. There I had to give a lecture at the National Union. So, I asked him (Lele) what I should do. He asked me to pray. But I was absorbed in the silent Brahman and so I told him I was not in a mood to pray. Then he said he and some others would pray and I should simply go to the meeting and make namaskar to the audience as Narayana, the all-pervading Divine, and then a voice would speak through me. I did exactly as he told me. On my way to the meeting somebody gave me a paper to read. There was some headline there which caught my eye and left an impression. When I rose to address the meeting the idea flashed across my mind and then all of a sudden something spoke out…”
Yet another instance:
“From the balcony of a friend’s house, I saw the whole busy movements of Bombay city as a picture in a cinema show: all unreal, shadowy. That was a Vedantic experience. Ever since I have maintained that peace of mind, never losing it even in the midst of difficulties…. Before parting I told Lele: ‘Now that we shall not be together I should like you to give me instructions about Sadhana.’ In the meantime I told him of a Mantra that had arisen in my heart. He was giving me instructions when he suddenly stopped and asked me if I could rely absolutely on Him who had given me the Mantra. I said I could always do it. Then Lele said there was no need of instructions… Some months later, he came to Calcutta. He asked me if I meditated in the morning and in the evening. I said, ‘No.’…I had received the command from within that a human Guru was not necessary for me. As to dhyana—meditation—I was not prepared to tell him that I was practically meditating the whole day.
“All that I wrote in the Bande Mataram and Karmayogin (nationalistic newspapers) was from that state. I have since trusted the inner guidance even when I thought it was leading me astray. The Arya (Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual monthly) and the subsequent writings did not come from the brain. It was, of course, the same Power working. Now I do not use that method. I developed it to perfection and then abandoned it.” (From Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani)
“Two things are necessary in this yoga—balance and a strong hold on the earth. By balance I mean the different parts of the being adjusted to one another, or some steadiness, a quiet poise somewhere in the man—not an unsteady inner condition.
“A strong mental being is also very necessary. Otherwise, when the experiences come the man turns upside down.… To combine the inner development with the outer would be ideal. Science, for instance, steadies reason and gives a firm grounding to the physical mind. Art—I mean the appreciation of beauty pure and simple, without the sensual grasping at the object—trains up the aesthetic side of the mind…. Philosophy cultivates the pure thinking power. And politics and such other departments of mental work train up the dynamic mind. All these should be duly trained with the full knowledge that they have their limited utility. Philosophy tends to become mere mental gymnastics and preference for one’s own ideas and mental constructions. So also Reason becomes the tyrant and denies anything further. But if the training is given to these parts with an understanding of their limitations then they may serve very usefully the object of this yoga. As I say, they must all admit a higher working in them.”
A perfect yoga requires perfect balance. “First of all I believed that nothing is impossible, and at the same time I could question everything.... A perfect yogi can have strong imagination and equally strong reason. Imagination can believe in everything while reason works out the logical steps.”
On April 4, 1910 Sri Aurobindo arrived in Pondicherry where he was to remain till the end of his bodily life in 1950. This period has little to tell on the outside. As Sri Aurobindo himself said regarding an attempt to write his biography: “The attempt is bound to be a failure, because neither you nor anyone else knows anything at all of my life; it has not been on the surface for men to see. In my view, a man’s value does not depend on what he learns, or his position or fame, or what he does, but on what he is and inwardly becomes.”
The 40 years at Pondicherry were a period of intense sadhana and groundbreaking work in the spiritual realms that were to produce permanent mutations in world events and the entire future of humanity and the earth. Sri Aurobindo’s attempt was for the whole humanity, for earthly evolution, to bring down a “principle of inner Truth, Light, Harmony, Peace into earth-consciousness”. To escape into it and achieve moksha, liberation for his soul, was easy enough. But this was not the aim of his work. Nor was it to establish this higher divine principle only in the spirit, resulting in loss of spiritual status when one performed works in everyday life. Once established even at the lower planes of mind, vital (emotions, desires, energies of action) and physical, each and every act, thought, movement would reflect divinity, not only as a state of peace but in dynamic action.
Sri Aurobindo’s own life was proof of this: “I had no urge towards spirituality in me, I developed spirituality. I was incapable of understanding metaphysics, I developed into a philosopher. I had no eye for painting—I developed it by Yoga. I transformed my nature from what it was to what it was not…not by a miracle and I did it to show what could be done and how it could be done. I did not do it out of any personal necessity of my own or by a miracle without any process…. I also did not do it by myself, if you mean by myself the Aurobindo that I was. He did it by the help of Krishna and the Divine Shakti. I had help from human sources also.”
A new consciousness
What was this work? “It is the higher Truth I seek, whether it makes men greater or not is not the question, but whether it will give them truth and peace and light to live in and make life something better than a struggle with ignorance and falsehood and pain and strife. Then, even if they are less great than the men of the past, my object will have been achieved. For me mental conceptions cannot be the end of all things. I know that the Supermind is the truth.…
“I am seeking to bring some principle of inner Truth, Light, Harmony, Peace into earth-consciousness; I see it above and know what it is—feel it ever gleaming down my consciousness from above and I am seeking to make it possible for it to take up the whole being into its own native power.... I believe the descent of this Truth opening the way to a development of divine consciousness here to be the final sense of the earth evolution…
“What we are doing at present is to make ourselves fit instruments for the higher Truth, so that when it comes down there will be the proper instrumentation for its working. We won’t reject life; we have to bring a new consciousness into the external work. Supposing I am preparing fish for the cats. That is not my Supramental work. But as it happens to be there I do it, so as to be able to do anything that is needed in the proper way, without mistake. The tuning of the violin is not merely a physical but also a mental work, while this work is infinitely more complex. We have not to do our work mechanically, we have to become conscious of the forces that are at work and find out those that make for success and those that make for failure. We have to bring about the right movement.
“Life has no ‘isms’ in it, Supermind also has no ‘isms’. It is the mind that introduces all ‘isms’ and creates confusion… A leader who thinks too much and is busy with ideas, trying all the time to fit the realities of life to his ideas hardly succeeds. While the leader who is destined to succeed does not bother his head about ideas. He sees the forces at work and knows by intuition those that make for success. He also knows the right combination of forces and the right moment when he should act.”
Not only was this work possible, it was inevitable, for Sri Aurobindo believed that ‘the descent of this Truth opening the way to a development of divine consciousness here to be the final sense of the earth evolution’. And it was this that formed his special focus of concentration during the years at Pondicherry.
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