February 29, 2008

Our physical nature offers an inert obstruction to any radical change

The Yoga of Self-Perfection and the Triple Transformation, by Richard Hartz
posted by Debashish on Mon 13 Aug 2007 04:06 PM PDT Permanent Link

Life and the Suprarational

At the heart of the difficulty of spiritualising human existence and elevating it towards the suprarational is the resistance of the parts of our being that seem to belong intrinsically to the domain of the infrarational. Our physical nature offers an inert obstruction to any radical change. But before we can even hope to deal with it, we must master the life-force connecting mind and body—the vital being, as Sri Aurobindo called it—whose problematic character already raises serious doubts about the possibility of an integral transformation.

We have seen that the leading powers of human nature—the intellect, the ethical will and the aesthetic and higher emotional faculties—may be said to be pursuing, each in its own way, some ideal of truth, good or beauty that points beyond itself to the Divine and Infinite. The vital being, on the other hand, appears to have no motive except its own self-assertion and enjoyment. Ethics, religion and spirituality have generally responded to its waywardness with coercion and repression, frustrating or throttling its impulses instead of transmuting them. Yet its free and enthusiastic cooperation is needed for the fullness of living. The vital nature dominates much of our individual and social existence. If it cannot be converted, the idea of spiritually perfecting our embodied life would seem to be a chimera.

The viability of a Yoga of self-perfection depends, therefore, on the discovery that “this great mass of vital energism contains in itself the imprisoned suprarational”. It has, in other words, an “instinctive reaching out for something divine, absolute and infinite which is concealed in its blind strivings”. Sri Aurobindo makes this point in a chapter of The Human Cycle entitled “The Suprarational Ultimate of Life”—the longest chapter in the book, whose extensive revision indicates the importance he gave to it. He goes on to observe: “The first mark of the suprarational, when it intervenes to take up any portion of our being, is the growth of absolute ideals”. As instances of vital ideals of this kind, he continues, we need only note, however imperfect and dim the present shapes, the strivings of love at its own self-finding, its reachings towards its absolute—the absolute love of man and woman, the absolute maternal or paternal, filial or fraternal love, the love of friends, the love of comrades, love of country, love of humanity.[29]

It is relevant to note that one of these ideals, “the absolute love of man and woman”, is the theme of the ancient story of Savitri and Satyavan. If Sri Aurobindo, instead of completing The Synthesis of Yoga and other works, devoted most of his literary energy in his later years to an epic based on this legend, it was evidently because through this tale of the victory of love over death he could symbolise a truth that was central to his message. That truth, we may say in the terminology of The Human Cycle, is the presence of “the imprisoned suprarational” in human life and the possibility of releasing it, with a consequent transformation extending even to the conquest of death.

It is the depiction of the Yoga of King Aswapati in Part One of Savitri, especially in the third canto, that resembles most closely in a number of places the Yoga of self-perfection as described in The Synthesis and in Sri Aurobindo’s diary, the Record of Yoga. But the poem as a whole, through the way the legend itself is told, conveys symbolically an essential aspect of the Yoga: the power of the Spirit over life and matter and the deliverance of our vital and physical being from subjection to the determinism of the present laws of Nature. Moreover, the debate between Savitri and Death provides an opportunity for bringing out the significance of the ideals which Sri Aurobindo saw as signs of a suprarational influence. In The Human Cycle, after mentioning the various expressions of love’s “reachings towards its absolute”, he goes on to say:

These ideals of which the poets have sung so persistently, are not a mere glamour and illusion, however the egoisms and discords of our instinctive, infrarational way of living may seem to contradict them. Always crossed by imperfection or opposite vital movements, they are still divine possibilities and can be made a first means of our growth into a spiritual unity of being with being.[30]

In Savitri, Sri Aurobindo joins his own voice to those of the poets who have chanted through the ages “the anthem of eternal love”.[31] In Book Ten, Canto Two, “The Gospel of Death and Vanity of the Ideal”, and in “The Debate of Love and Death” which follows, he takes up precisely the question raised in The Human Cycle. Are such ideals mere self-delusion or do they point to a divine possibility? Death heaps scorn on them, harping on human selfishness and the mutability of this world. Savitri’s reply is reminiscent of The Human Cycle, where Sri Aurobindo maintains that human relations, however disfigured by our present egoism, can become “not the poor earthly things they are now, but deep and beautiful and wonderful movements of God in man fulfilling himself in life”.[32]

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