About the Book
Most people have quite a limited understanding of the meaning of Grace. As commonly understood Grace signifies what comes to one as a result of God's mercy of favour. In the deeper and wider sense in which the term is used in this book, Grace stands for the all- powerful, all- knowing, and all- beneficent evolutionary Force which impels and guides human beings towards self- realisation.
This compilation deals with five of the most helpful agents- veritable gifts- of the evolutionary Force of Grace. These five potent aids for inner growth are: aspiration for progress, will for progress, faith and trust, difficulties and suffering, and the psychic being.
The passages selected here have been chosen for their relevance and appeal to all seekers of inner growth whatever path they may be following. Some will be meaningful particularly to practitioners of Sri Aurobindo's yoga.
As commonly understood, Grace signifies what comes to one as a result of God’s mercy or favour. In the deeper and wider sense in which the term is used in this book, Grace stands for the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-beneficent evolutionary Force which impels and guides human beings towards self- realization. It is this Force, as the Mother once put it, that “does everything, is behind everything, organizes everything, conducts everything, so that the march forward to the divine realization may be as swift, as complete, as total and harmonious as possible, considering the circumstance of the world. This compilation deals with five veritable gifts of Grace- that is, five of the most helpful agents of the evolutionary Force of Grace. These five potent aids for inner growth are: aspiration for progress, will for progress, faith and trust, difficulties and suffering, and the psychic being.
The reader may be surprised to see “difficulties and suffering” presented as a gift of Grace and an aid for inner growth. Our normal self, governed by the mental and vital (desire) nature, is apt to look upon difficulties and suffering as obstacles on the way. But according to the deeper view highlighted in this book, difficulties are opportunities for progress, and suffering is a door that leads to the discovery of our true self. As the Mother says:
Shocks and trials always come as a divine grace to show us the points in our being where we fall short and the movements in which we turn our back on our soul be listening to the clamor of our mental being and vital being.
If we know how to accept these spiritual blows with due humility, we are sure to cover a great distance at a single bound.
The paramount importance of the psychic being as an aid for inner growth lies in the fact that the first three aids dealt with in this book- aspiration for program, will for progress, and faith and trust- arise from the psychic being. And the fourth aid- difficulties and suffering- can be correctly understood and dealt with only by the psychic being. For, the psychic being is the seat and source of aspiration, will, and faith; and it is the divine element in the psychic being which enables one to turn difficulties and suffering into a blessing and a force for inner growth.
Many years ago, a senior sadhak of the Ashram asked the present writer the difference between the soul and the psychic being. It was somewhat surprising to be asked such a basic question by someone who was presumably well-read in the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, had lived in the Ashram for many years, and even had a boluminous correspondence with Sri Aurobindo. Such an instance brings home the need for study in order to clarify one’s understanding. The mother once gave this advice about an excellent method for studying Sri Aurobindo. She has written.
It is not be books that Sri Aurobindo ought to be studied but by subjects- what he has said on the Divine, on Unity, on religious, on evolution, on education, on self- perfection, on supermind, etc., etc.
The mother’s advice about the ways to study Sri Aurobindo applies perhaps even more to her own works. for they consist mostly of informal talks dealing with a wide variety of subjects rather than of systematic writings on specific subjects. This compilation is based on this method of study by subject.
Not everyone is called upon or motivated to undertake this kind of systematic study of subjects advised by the Mother. It is only for those who wish to have a better understanding of a given subject, either to meet an intellectual need or for a more effective practice of the teachings.
The fifth aid dealt with in this compilation, the psychic being, was once described by the Mother as a “special help” to mankind “to lead it faster”. The subject of the psychic being has been dealt with exclusively in two previous compilations by the present editor. Therefore, with some exceptions, texts contained in the two previous compilations have not been repeated here.
Concepts such as the soul and the psychic being- which refer to things which are not part of our ordinary consciousness and experience- call for some explanation for all of us. But many also find it difficult to understand even terms pertaining to inner states and movements- such as aspiration, will, and faith- which are part of their own consciousness. By way of illustration, a doctor friend had read Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga, but had difficulty understanding the meaning of aspiration. (The first chapter in The Life Divine is titled “The Human Aspiration”!) This friend was college student when The Life Divine was first published, and he borrowed money in order to buy a copy of the book. Obviously, he experientially he knew what aspiration is, but intellectually he had difficulty understanding what aspiration means. Psychological or experiential states and movements such as aspiration, will and faith can be best understood by distinguishing them from other similar experiential states and movements with which one is already familiar. By distinguishing aspiration from desire, will from wish and desire, aspiration from will, faith from belief, etc., one can be led, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “from the known to the unknown”. This cardinal principle of learning has served as a guide in selecting some of the passages on aspiration, will, faith and trust contained in this book.
The great majority of passages selected here are those which are likely to appeal to all seekers of inner growth, irrespective of the path they may be following, though some passages will be meaningful primarily to practitioners of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga.
It should be borne in mind that reading a compilation in not the same as reading the original works. Passages compiled from diverse sources so as to throw light on different aspects of a particular subject can serve to give a better understanding of the subject, but excerpts from longer texts are apt to lose to some extent the consciousness that pervades the fuller texts from which they are drawn. This applies particularly to the thematic major works of Sri Aurobindo. It applies to some extent also to the diverse works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s letters on yoga from which the great majority of the passages in this compilation have been used as a supplement to the original works. One who has not read the original works would do well to look up and delve into them. To encourage this, reference for all the quoted passages have been given at the end of the book. One who is familiar with the original works quoted in the compilation can use the compilation for a more focused study of a particular subject in order to gain a possibly clearer and fuller understanding of the subject.
The aim of this introduction is twofold. First, it is to highlight some of the salient ideas contained in each of the five sections of the book, thus providing a partial overview of the book, Secondly, it is to explain and clarify some of the concepts and ideas which might present some difficulty to the understanding. Interspersed throughout the introduction the reader will find some words within quotation marks followed by a number in parentheses. These words are quoted from passages in the book, the number in parentheses indicating the serial number of the passage from which the words have been quoted.
Progress- Law of Life
From a spiritual viewpoint, there are very few highly significant differences between an animal and a human being. One of the most important differences is that whereas the animal is satisfied to be what it is, the human being is “unlike the animal, aware of imperfection and limitation and feels that there is something to be attained beyond what he now is. …. This “urge towards self-exceeding is at the basis of all aspiration for progress, Because of man’s innate urge towards self- exceeding, progress is the “law of his life”. “The moment one is satisfied and no longer aspires, one begins to die”.
Source of Aspiration
The seat and source of all aspiration, whether it is for outer or inner progress, is the psychic being, our innermost and true self. It is that part of our being which evolves from life to life. Earthly existence is meant for the progress of the progress of the psychic being towards its own self-discovery. Every experience helps the psychic being to make some progress. for “in an evolving world everything is necessarily a help to progress.”
Two Kinds of Progress in the Development of Abilities
In striving for self-perfection, two types of progress may be distinguished- progress in the further development of one’s present abilities, and progress in the development of new abilities which are presently dormant. A very small minority of human beings strive for the latter types of progress, though everyone has an undreamt of potential. “There is a genius within every one of us- we don’t know it”. The genius is in the psychic being.
Progress beyond Peace
In the past, spiritual aspiration has generally aimed at the attainment of peace through liberation from ego and desire, including the desire for progress. But in Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary view, the attainment of individual liberation is only the initial aim of a spiritual life. The true aim of spirituality is to make oneself an instrument for the progressive manifestation of the Divine upon the earth in an endless process of the evolution of consciousness. So the aspiration for progress must not cease with the liberation from ego and personal desires, and the consequent attainment of spiritual peace. As the Mother states:
There are teaching which say that one must have no desire at all; they are the ones that aim at a complete withdrawal from life in order to enter into the immobility of the Spirit, the absence of all activity, all movement, all form, all external reality. To attain that one must have no desire at all, that is to say, one must completely level behind all will for progress; progress itself becomes something unreal and external. But if in your conception of Yoga you keep the idea of progress, and if you admit that the whole universe follows a progression, then what you have to do is to shift the objective of desire; instead of turning it towards things that are external, artificial, superficial and egoistical, you must join it as a force of realisation to the aspiration directed to the truth.
Such an evolutionary view of spirituality, which goes beyond individual liberation, visualizes “a new aspect of the divine intervention in life, a new form of intervention of the divine forces in existence, a new aspect of spiritual realization”.
Progress of Nature and Progress through Sadhana
As stated previously, the purpose of life, from a spiritual viewpoint is progressive growth towards self- discovery. In this constantly evolving world, everyone progresses, consciously or unconsciously, towards this spiritual goal. The great majority of human beings “progress with the rhythm of Nature, which means that it can take centuries and centuries and centuries and millenniums to make the Slightest bit of progress”. Describing this “tardy method of slow and confused growth through the evolution of Nature” Shri Aurobindo write:
….the natural evolution is at its best an uncertain growth under cover, partly by the pressure of the environment, partly by a groping education and an ill-lighted purposeful effort, an only partially illumined and half-automatic use of opportunities with many blunders and lapses and relapses; a great portion of it is made up of apparent accidents and circumstances and vicissitudes,- though veiling a secret divine intervention and guidance.
Sadhana or spiritual practice is the conscious and swift way of attaining the spiritual goal. Through sadhana “one can do in a very short time what takes otherwise an interminable time”. By means of spiritual practice, “we replace this confused crooked crab- motion by a rapid, conscious and self- directed evolution which is planned to carry us, as far as can be, in a straight line towards the goal set before us.” The emergence of mind in the course of evolution marks a crucial step in human progress; the human being “has become awake and aware of himself, there has been made manifest in Mind its will to develop, to grow in knowledge, to deepen the inner and widen the outer existence, to increase the capacities of the nature”. Of a still greater significance is the human being’s growing urge towards a spiritual life, For the spiritual urge signifies that in the evolution of consciousness, Mind is not the last but only a middle term of the evolution and that man the mental being is only a transitional being who will be replaced by a spiritual being embodying the principle beyond mind- the Supermind.
Will for Progress- A Gift of Grace
Some spiritual paths, such as Adwaita (Non- Dualism) and Buddhism do not speak of Divine Grace, and regard personal effort as the only means for attaining the spiritual goal. From the viewpoint of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, personal effort through the exercise of one’s will is indeed indispensable for a long time in the beginning before one is ready to surrender one’s will totally and rely entirely on Divine Grace. However, Grace is seen to be present from the very beginning of the path, and personal effort itself is regarded as a gift of Grace.
Source of Will
Mental will is the chief force employed in putting forth personal effort. The true source of will, however, is the psychic being, not the mind. As the Mother remarks, “will is not in the head”. But, generally “it is in the higher part of the mind that this begins to take shape”. Thus it is “an intelligent will more or less enlightened which is the first instrument of our psychic being”. ”What takes the resolution to do yoga is not your body or your vital, not even your mind, it is the higher part of your mind or it is your psychic being”.
To exercise the mental will is to act “in conformity with the will and not with the vital impulses and desires”. But it is not only the impulses and desire of the vital that need to be controlled by will power; “the control of one’s thoughts is as necessary as the control of one’s vital desires and passions or the control of the movements of one’s body”.
Controlling thoughts with the power of mental will may sound like trying to cut a knife with its own edge. However, there are two parts of the mind, “the active part which is a factory of thoughts and the quiet masterful part which is at once a Witness and a Will, observing them, judging, rejecting, eliminating, accepting, ordering corrections and changes, the Master in the House of Mind, capable of self- empire…..
… the appearance of human mind and body on the earth marks a crucial step, a decisive change in the course and process of the evolution; it is not merely a continuation of the old lines. Up till this advent of a developed thinking mind in Matter evolution had been effected, not by the self- aware aspiration, intention, will or seeking of the living being, but subconsciously or subliminally by the automatic operation of Nature. This was so because the evolution began from the Inconscience and the secret Consciousness had not emerged sufficiently from it to operate through the self- aware participating individual will of its living creature. But in man the necessary change has been made- the being has become awake and aware of himself; there has been made manifest in Mind its will to develop, to grow in knowledge, to deepen the inner and widen the outer existence, to increase to capacities of the nature. Man has seen that there can be a higher status of consciousness than his own; the evolutionary oestrus is there in his parts of mind and life, the aspiration to exceed himself is delivered and articulate within him: he has become conscious of a soul, discovered the Self and Spirit. In him, then, the substitution of a conscious for a subconscious evolution has become conceivable and practicable, and it may well be concluded that the aspiration, the persistent endeavor in him is a sure sign of Nature’s will for a higher way to fulfillment, the emergence of a greater status.
Personal Effort and Surrender
Everyone is born with a seed of aspiration and will, but personal effort is needed to develop both.
….aspiration is a thing to be developed, educated, like all activities of the being. One may be born with a very slight aspiration and develop it so much that it becomes very great. One may be born with a very small will and develop it and make it strong.
As stated previously, personal effort is indispensable until one attains the state of total surrender of one’s personal will. So long as the lower nature represented by the ego is active, personal effort is necessary. “When one is no longer in his lower consciousness, when one has made a total surrender, then the lower nature is no longer active. But so long as it is active, personal effort is necessary”. For a long time there is a double process of self- effort and a growing surrender. “But a time comes when one feels the Presence and the force constantly and more and more feels that that is doing everything- so that the worst difficulties cannot disturb this sense and personal effort is no longer necessary, hardly even possible”.
From a deeper point of view, it is always the Divine Force that acts in sadhana, including in what we feel to be our own personal effort. Our personal self, the ego, is only a tool used by universal forces.
“Our sense of personal effort and aspiration comes from the attempt of the egoistic mind to identify itself in a wrong and imperfect way with the working of the divine Force….Enlightenment brings to us the knowledge that the ego is only an instrument; we begin to perceive and feel that these things are our own in the sense that they belong to our supreme and integral Self, one with the Transcendent, not to the instrumental ego. Our limitations and distortions are our contribution to the working; the true power in it is the Divine’s”.
Brahma Sutras (81)
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