January 26, 2006

Subtler regions of the field of action

The Hidden Face of Wisdom: Towards an Awakened Activism
Sean M. Kelly California Institute of Integral Studies
Here, for instance, is what Sri Aurobindo, referring to himself in the third person, had to say about his role in the outcome of World War II:
In his retirement Sri Aurobindo kept a close watch on all that was happening in the world and in India and actively intervened whenever necessary, but solely with a spiritual force and silent spiritual action; for it is part of the experience of those who have advanced far in Yoga that besides the ordinary forces and activities of the mind and life and body in Matter, there are other forces and powers that can act and do act from behind and from above; there is also a spiritual dynamic power which can be possessed by those who are advanced in the spiritual consciousness, … and this power is greater than any other and more effective. It was this force which, as soon as he had attained to it, he used, at first only in a limited field of personal work, but afterwards in a constant action upon the world forces.
He had no reason to be dissatisfied with the results or to feel the necessity of any other kind of action. … when it appeared as if Hitler would crush all the forces opposed to him and Nazism dominate the world, he began to intervene. He declared himself publicly on the side of the Allies, made some financial contributions in answer to the appeal for funds and encouraged those who sought his advice to enter the army or share in the war effort. Inwardly, he put his spiritual force behind the Allies from the moment of Dunkirk when everybody was expecting the immediate fall of England and the definite triumph of Hitler, and he had the satisfaction of seeing the rush of German victory almost immediately arrested and the tide of war begin to turn in the opposite direction.
This he did, because he saw that behind Hitler and Nazism were dark Asuric forces and that their success would mean the enslavement of mankind to the tyranny of evil, and a set-back to the course of evolution and especially to the spiritual evolution of mankind.… It was this reason also that induced him to support publicly the Cripps' offer and to press the Congress leaders to accept it…. When negotiations failed, Sri Aurobindo returned to his reliance on the use of his spiritual force alone against the aggressor and had the satisfaction of seeing the tide of Japanese victory, which had till then swept everything before it, change immediately into a tide of rapid, crushing and finally immense and overwhelming defeat….
These are clearly staggering claims!
  • How could one individual, tucked away in his room on a different continent, have a determining influence on the course of a war involving many nations and the interactions of millions of people?
  • What context do we have for even understanding, let alone for trying to assess the validity, of such claims?

We will turn to these questions in a moment. First I would like to point out that the standard activist view of Sri Aurobindo’s life in India is plainly mistaken. It was not a case of action in the “real” world followed by contemplation or “inner work,” but one of a continuity of action with a shift from grosser or more manifest to subtler regions of the field of action. Though he continued to act in more obvious ways—through public declarations, financial contributions, and in a consultative capacity—he considered his action on the subtle planes to be “greater than any other and more effective.”

As for contexts, I have said that I know of no comparable instances in modern times that we might turn to for comparison. Despite some similarities with Jung’s view of what lies behind the world’s “-isms,” or with Morin’s understanding of the power of “master words,” it is not a question here of interacting with the human collective unconscious or species mind, nor of encountering the manifestations of collective karma or archetypal forms per say. Instead, one has to do here with present supra- or infra- human forces/entities (Sri Aurobindo uses the Vedic term Asura, which is functionally equivalent to the Western, or Near Eastern, notion of “demon”) that are actively, though generally invisibly, involved in human affairs, and in this case, political affairs on a global scale.
Apparently, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother believed that Hitler’s soul had been replaced by an Asura. One could, of course, take Jung at his word with respect to the Nazis and the god Wotan, in which case we would have a closely parallel (and contemporary) interpretive framework. Jung, however, did not claim to play any direct, confrontative role in this particular encounter between the human and the demonic, nor presumably would he recommend such an attempt, given his repeated warnings of the dangers of possession, inflation, or fascination by these powers (whether he would even think it possible for someone to do what Sri Aurobindo claims to have done is impossible to say)...We do not know, unfortunately, any of the details of Sri Aurobindo’s intervention... Sri Aurobindo saw his ability to act on the subtle planes as something that comes naturally to “those who have advanced far in Yoga.”
In our own times, this Mind or its functional equivalent is often characterized in terms of “fields” of “energy,” perhaps even using David Bohm’s theory of the “implicate order,” which in physics is the non-local Ground of the manifest or “explicate” order of the material world as we normally experience it. Bohm himself proposed that, if enough people engaged in the process of meditative dialogue that he pioneered, and managed to clarify and harmonize the otherwise generally fragmented patterns that dominate our thinking and communication, this might have a catalyzing effect on society as a whole (see Bohm 1994; and Bohm and Kelly).” While reputable studies have been done that appear to demonstrate the ability of mere intention to heal or otherwise positively affect individual human beings, and even plants (see Dossey and Gerber), it is difficult to know how the effects on society could be reliably detected. We are faced with another version of the difficulty we encountered in wanting to verify Sri Aurobindo’s claims.

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