The four aids every seeker needs
Sri Aurobindo was unique among spiritual masters in being a perfect synthesis of the East and the West. That gave his teachings a refreshing and contemporary touch, free from any dogma and prejudice. While he was rooted in ancient Indian wisdom, his teachings have a global scope in today’s world. This article by
Ramesh Bijlani is part of a series that celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, which falls in 2022.
Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga gives every seeker the freedom to carve out her own path. It is a freedom which is easy to welcome but difficult to make good use of. Therefore, most seekers end up looking for any hints whatsoever in his teachings, which may give some clues as to what they are expected to do. One of the well-known hints comes from a chapter on ‘Four aids’ in Sri Aurobindo’s monumental work, The Synthesis of Yoga. The four aids on the path of yoga are: knowledge, personal effort, Guru and time.
Some knowledge of the philosophy of yoga i.e. the techniques that have been used successfully by seekers in the past regarding choosing between right and wrong; and the attitude to life – particularly to success and failure, joy and sorrow and all the ups and downs of life – is helpful. Much of the necessary knowledge is actually within the seeker; it just needs to be awakened. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding.”
Personal effort should be guided by knowledge. For personal effort, Sri Aurobindo uses the word utsaha (literally, enthusiasm or vigour), which in itself is highly insightful. Having an intense aspiration to make spiritual progress and to be eager to put in all the necessary effort are more important than the exact type of work that the seeker puts in. The seeker “should be able to say in the Biblical phrase, ‘My zeal for the Lord has eaten me up’,” says Sri Aurobindo.
The guru is, in fact, more than an aid. The guru is so essential that, just to set the right example, even those who did not need a guru, adopted one. Even Ram and Krishna had gurus. Guru is the bridge between the Divine and the seeker. It is through the Guru that the Light, Power and Grace of the Divine are channelised to the seeker, without which all the knowledge acquired and the effort put in may merely amount to much activity without achievement.
Finally, time is something that one may forget as a necessary aid. No matter what one does, and how much devotion one has to the guru, spiritual progress is a slow and unsteady process. It is a long journey, for which one lifetime is grossly insufficient. Therefore, one has to patiently let the process take its time. As a couplet by Kabir says, ‘a plant will not grow any faster if we give it too much water; the plant will grow only at the rate at which it is programmed to grow.’
Calling knowledge, effort, guru, and time mere aids is an understatement. As Sri Aurobindo says, progress in yoga “can be best attained by the combined working of [these] four great instruments. The Sadhaka (seeker) who has all these aids is sure of his goal. Even a fall will be for him only a means of rising and death a passage towards fulfilment.”
Ramesh Bijlani, once a professor at AIIMS, New Delhi, is now a spiritual seeker at Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch.
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