The Change That Saves

‘The tale of Satyavan and Savitri is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death. But this legend is, as shown by many features of the human tale, one of the many symbolic myths of the Vedic cycle. Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save… Still this is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.’

Sri Aurobindo

To readers of the VISHAAL Newsletter, it ought to be evident after studying several issues that significant emphasis is being given in these essays to the factor of a harmonisation of two poises – the material and the spiritual – and by consequence, to the question of bridging the chasm that now exists between these two dimensions of reality. The spirit/matter polarity has translated itself into a planetary polarity. The East is considered the pole wherein the spirit finds itself most comfortable, and the consciousness of the people born and bred in that part of the world more easily reflects a concentration on this aspect of life. The West, on the other hand, has revealed itself over the past few centuries to be the staunchest champion of the concerns of matter. Our 20th Century technology stands testimony to the formidable strides the West has made in compelling matter to disclose its secrets for the purpose of this remarkable development.

A careful observation of the course of civilisation over the past several hundred years, particularly accelerated in this century, will show that indeed such a polarity exists. Moreover, we can observe that a sort of degeneration has set in, both in the East and in the West. It is clear that these two poises, isolated and disconnected from each other as is presently the case, are experiencing a decay never before witnessed. In fact, never before has it been so easy to distinguish the dichotomy that exists on the planet, clearly displayed in an East/West split and carried over to a disturbing separation between the concerns of the spirit and of matter.

On the surface it would seem that matter is leading in this confrontation and quest for supremacy; but it is moving us toward some as yet unformulated fulfilment, – or devastation. We cannot be sure which. Where is the technological conquest taking us as a civilisation? For we see that the severance between spirit and matter has indeed left the latter in a commanding position. By means of the tremendous destructive power that modern technology has given birth to, we realise that unless something as yet unforeseen takes place, this leadership of the material West will carry us to a devastating annihilation.

In the last VISHAAL (1/1), I discussed to some extent the position of the East in this regard, according to what Sri Aurobindo had foreseen. It is true that the East is to provide the inspiration that will arrest the decline and prevent materialism from overtaking the consciousness of the species and stamping its mould on all future generations, if indeed they are allowed to take birth. But what exactly is this inspiration? This is the important question we must now ask. And it concerns the inhabitants of both East and West in equal measure. At the same time, by reviewing the situation that has developed over the past two decades in particular, we can come to a clearer understanding of what the problem is and where its solution may lie. None can deny that the West has witnessed a spiritual invasion from the East during these past two decades, and more specifically from India. But what has been the result? My own work was born during this very period. It was in 1965 that I took up in earnest the quest for ‘a new way’. From that time until the present, we have seen many spiritual empires rise and fall, with no significant achievements left behind that point to a decisive encroachment into the stronghold of science and the all-pervading materialist consciousness. The latter still holds sway on the planet, still holds it captive to its destructive power, while no spiritual movement has been able to arrest this decay that we consider the upholders of matter over spirit to be responsible for.

However, I view the matter somewhat differently. The decay we are experiencing is largely the result of an effete, impotent and stagnant condition of spirituality. And why is this so? Why have the countless gurus with their respective messages of superior Eastern wisdom failed to correct the degenerative decline in any significant manner?

One of the problems that surfaces in this review concerns the stagnation of spirituality. While we have seen an extraordinary renewal in the realm of science and technology, in particular over the past century, on the surface there has been no such renaissance of spirituality in evidence. Furthermore, the most interesting and significant point is that the very necessity for such a renewal in spirituality is not at all appreciated. Today we are witnessing an upsurge of fundamentalism with its consequent fanaticism. Some people consider this a renaissance; but this appraisal is far from the truth. And in any case the rise of fundamentalism is reserved for religions – all of them without exception, we may add – and does not touch spirituality at all. Indeed, there can be no fundamentalism and fanaticism in true spirituality.

There is a vast abyss between the two – religion and spirituality – as anyone proficient in yoga can affirm. Therefore, while fundamentalism has increased over the past twenty years, in an effort to reinforce the hold religions have over the masses, which has significantly weakened due to the rise of science, we find no such movement in spiritual circles. That is, there is no attempt to renew or formulate the truths of the Spirit in a way consonant with the new demands a bold and determined Science thrusts upon us. What we have seen, however, is a fever to spread the word, in the East and in the West. Consequently, countless gurus have gone on spiritual campaigns to conquer the West and save the world by this invasion of the enlightened hordes from the East.

Many theoretical physicists with philosophical inclinations have become spokesmen for this spiritual invasion. They have perceived that Eastern mysticism holds ‘timeless’ truths and that science is just beginning to discover this fact and come to the same conclusions. These exponents of a new physics consider that they are bridging the gap between Science and Spirit in this fashion, and hence between West and East. However, to date I have not encountered any such thing. We do find physicists quoting from ancient eastern texts of wisdom, such as Brian Josephson with his penchant for Vedic science due to his involvement with transcendental meditation. But in no way does this throw any effective light on the issue, a light powerful enough to dispel the darkness in that abyss and concretely bridge the chasm.

The reason for this is quite clear: spirituality is considered a timeless truth and its experience static and unevolving. This is considered to be its main characteristic, by which it is distinguished from mundane and materialist concerns. The mysticism that has been exported to the West is hence ‘old wine’, devoid even of ‘new bottles’. And in most cases it is not even that, not even the true expression of the ancient paths.

Sri Aurobindo laboured intensely to alter this closed concept of the unchanging nature of spirituality, of schools of yoga and philosophy. I myself have heard criticisms of his work along these lines: It has never been done before, therefore it cannot be done (regarding the establishment of a life divine on Earth). Or else I have heard: If the great sages of the past have not revealed these things, how can Sri Aurobindo pretend to do so? This attitude is so recalcitrant and widespread that it has even been carried over to a condemnation of my work vis-à-vis Sri Aurobindo and the Mother:  ‘They’ never saw these things (you write of), so how can you! One venerable old sadhak who had been with Sri Aurobindo for many years has even gone so far as to tell me explicitly that whatever had not been seen and described by Sri Aurobindo could not be done by anyone else. Sri Aurobindo’s word is the ‘final word’, according to these pontiffs. But following this line of thought, it is evident that they must have also come to the conclusion that Sri Aurobindo’s work has failed, insofar as he himself admitted that much remained to be done. If we are not permitted to carry on where he left off, we must accept that failure is the ‘final word’.

In actual fact, Sri Aurobindo’s ‘word’ is the beginning, the broad outline of a spectacularly vast all-encompassing vision. The task is now to fill in the details of that vision and complete a work that he gave us in seed form.

Let me quote from his letters to disciples on this very theme, showing the incessant effort he was called upon to make in order to expose people to the idea of an evolving spiritual experience, to help them to accept the fact that spirit as well as matter is engaged in the process of evolution, and in equal measure:

‘…I have had no inspiration from the Sadhana of Bejoy Goswami, though a good deal at one time from Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. My remarks simply meant that I regard the spiritual history of mankind and especially of India as a constant development of a divine purpose, not a book that is closed, the lines of which have to be constantly repeated. Even the Upanishads and the Gita were not final though everything may be there in seed. In this development the recent spiritual history of India is a very important stage and the names I mentioned had a special prominence in my thought at the time – they seemed to me to indicate the lines from which the future spiritual development had most directly to proceed, not staying but passing on. I do not know that I would put my meaning exactly in the language you suggest. I may say that it is far from my purpose to propagate any religion, new or old, for humanity in the future. A way to be opened that is still blocked, not a religion to be founded, is my conception of the matter.’

18 August, 1935, ‘Sri Aurobindo on Himself’
CE, Volume 26, page 125  (Emphasis mine)

Concerning those sages he saw connected with him in this pioneering work, I must point out that in the new cosmology the places of both Ramakrishna and Vivekananda are clearly distinguishable above all the others, confirming empirically, so to speak, Sri Aurobindo’s experience (see The Gnostic Circle, and The New Way l&2). But on another occasion he displayed greater impatience:

‘…Truly, this shocked reverence for the past is a wonderful and fearful thing! After all, the Divine is infinite and the unrolling of the Truth may be an infinite process or at least, if not quite so much, yet with some room for new discovery and new statement, even perhaps new achievement, not a thing in a nutshell cracked and its content exhausted once for all by the first seer or sage, while the others must religiously crack the same nutshell all over again, each tremblingly fearful not to give the lie to the “past” seers and sages.’

8 October, 1935
(Ibid, page 135)

These letters cast essential light on the difficulties that have surfaced in the export of spirituality to the West. For in fact what has been sought is an opening to the old spirituality, that the West should become exposed to the timeless truths of the Sanatana Dharma, and in this way find salvation, or give to God what is His just due but which has been denied in the West in its frenetic pursuit of scientific and technological achievements.

However, the result of this endeavour has been quite the opposite. We have witnessed that rather than impose eastern truths of the Spirit on the consciousness prevailing in the West, the movements that sought to establish a certain supremacy became, each one of them, caught up in the morass of that materialistic mire which the gurus encountered, with the result that none of them could avoid the onslaught and the evident toll their spiritual enthusiasm had to bear in an increasing submission to the elements that have always been considered anathema to spirituality, – i.e., wealth, affluence, material comfort, not to speak of the temptations to use the media for publicity and thus become entrapped in the very mire they originally sought to purify. Accepting this state of affairs, the business of guruhood soon became the fastest way to make a fortune. Invariably all the movements that have gone westward since the 1960’s have suffered a diminishing of their spiritual purity and zeal and increasingly have taken on the proselytising attitudes of western religions, so far removed from the true nature of Indian spirituality. They have done very little to effectively change anything, and the most that can be said for them is that they have provided a means to close a culture gap, exposing the West to certain terms and modes of spiritual expression which it had been ignorant of on a mass level, but hardly a true establishment of the highest of Indian spirituality as a real force for change in the world. Nothing in fact comparable to the power that science wields, – not only in the West but increasingly in the East as well. That is, there has been no spiritual movement of this century that has been sufficiently powerful (and I use the word purposefully) to arrest the course that science and western materialism are imposing upon the world.

The reason for this is more than clear. All the spiritual movements have become bogged down in the past and are merely repeating the old formulas. And those formulas were, even in the past, incomplete. They catered to the regions and demands of the spirit, disregarding the life of the body. Indeed, the spirituality we know as ‘eastern’ is founded on the basic principle of escapism. This is the same as the foundation of western religion and mysticism: the Earth is a hell and birth thereupon is a scourge; salvation lies in heaven or nirvana, – anywhere, but decidedly out of this cosmic dimension and free from the strangling coils of a corruptible flesh.

With this formula, no matter how much we seek to clothe it in veils that camouflage its essence or render it palatable to our 20th Century taste for matter-oriented solutions, it is evident that no real and effective change can be brought about. The spiritual power that exponents of the traditional ways bring to the West is undermined from the outset, notably by this emphasis on otherworldliness, the outcome of a spirituality that refuses to renew itself and open itself to the new light that is being born on Earth.

I do not wish the reader to construe from the above that it is not by a spiritual force that the imperative change is to come about. What is meant is that with the spiritual force something more is needed, a new power that can effectively deal with the demands that a growing materialistic consciousness has imposed. Until now it has not been properly understood that ‘something else’ is required at this stage of evolution, something that the old spirituality simply cannot provide because its foundations are essentially otherworldly. And that ‘something’ is the capacity to deal with the power of matter, to withstand its colossal assault and not be overwhelmed by its boldness and, above all, its definiteness.

The way Sri Aurobindo has introduced (‘… a way to be opened that is still blocked’…) is not meant either to be a religion or, more especially, a movement, a stirring thus of the superficial strata in society and the collective consciousness. Rather, this new way offers a true power for change and unfolds a mechanism that works in the deepest layers. Because it touches the heart and root of existence, and because it holds the secret of the method for introducing true change, it is certain of attaining the goal.

In this context, I would like to point out that the USA, which stands at the centre of present day materialism, its inspirer, we may say, is characterised by a constant submersion in the flux and flow of precisely that superficial strata of change, those ceaseless, relentless stirrings in the most external dimensions. This finds its expression in a nation enamoured of fads, to name just one aspect, which wildly overtake the population. Like a tornado that whisks away everything it meets on its path, so the collective consciousness of America is drawn into the frenzy accompanying every new fad, intoxicated by the desire for change – for the sake of change. What is lacking in this display is an immobile, solid and stable core, a poise akin to the centred eye of the tornado which while it encourages and upholds change and dynamic renewal, yet bears in its centre that Stable Constant.

India at present is still caught in the opposite condition. There is stability born of the eternal truth it knows, but deriving from the old poise, it has become a power that obstructs change and renaissance, so badly needed now. India needs to unveil a new core or nucleus, one that is born of true unity, the unity that is the expression of the oneness of spirit and matter. For this, the quest has to be Earth-oriented and no longer otherworldly.

In the VISHAAL Newsletter of December, 1985, I mentioned the work of the neuroscientist, Roger Sperry, who is presently channeling his energy into what he calls the formulation of a new ethic. But he feels that science is the answer, and only through scientific methods – suitably enhanced or modified for the purpose – can any unifying force manifest in the world and halt the decay he is so conscious of, a decline that is precipitating us to our doom. Sperry insists that religion cannot provide this new ethic, nor mysticism, precisely because he understands that they are oriented to a beyond. In his book, Science and Moral Priority (Praeger 1985), he writes:  ‘Today’s conditions call for long-term, biospheric perspectives in which this world is conceived to be more than merely a way station to something better beyond.’ (page 23)

This brief passage reflects a trend in increasing evidence among the world’s intelligentsia. But thinkers such as Sperry or Josephson are well aware that science as it is now cannot provide the new poise that is required for this great transition. Indeed, what is interesting to note is that when they come to the point where their interests turn to the more spiritual needs of the human being, realising the impossible impasse we have reached as a civilisation, they invariably look into more mystical areas in the effort to find a solution. Or, like Sperry, they seek to introduce a new element into the old, a new scientific approach that can somehow accommodate this hitherto disregarded aspect of life. Sperry, as the above passage from his book reveals, is fully aware that any system which does not reorient itself toward a ‘this-world’ quest for truth is hopelessly doomed to failure. And with this – notwithstanding certain reservations which I shall discuss anon – we can agree.

Yet the gurus with their teachings are not equipped to deal with this situation. Hence they all succumb to the prevailing consciousness, in a sort of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude. What has been clearly overlooked is that a new way is needed to deal with the problem by effectively providing an entirely new Formula. And this is what the revelation of Supermind is: a newly manifested Power that can introduce real change, because it is a truth-consciousness poised on a completely different foundation from the old ways of the spirit, eastern or western.

This is apparent if we consider the aim of Sri Aurobindo’s work, the Earth-oriented nature of the quest, the goal of a life divine upon Earth. It is evident that in order to accomplish such a thing, a new way has to arise, equipped to deal with the strenuous demands made upon those of us who have become pioneers on this trail-blazing gnostic way, in which the truths of both spirit and matter find their rightful and complementary places.

The old spirituality has sought to convince the West with its technological consciousness that it must give up its materialistic bent in favour of a vision of reality in which forms of matter are seen to be intrinsically unreal. The only truth, they exclaim, is the Spirit, or the Self. And this is of course otherworldly. But the bold materialist consciousness is not so easily convinced, insofar as daily extraordinary breakthroughs are made in science and technology that indicate an increasing power to control those ‘unreal’ substances for the benefit – or detriment, if you will – of the human species. No amount of preaching the illusion of the world, in whatever of its overt or camouflaged forms, will convince the hard-core materialist that otherworldly spirituality is the answer to our woes. Rather, the scientific mind perceives that precisely such escapist attitudes have left us with no other choice but to accept a dichotomy between the two, spirit and matter, one pitted against the other.

After studying Roger Sperry’s work, its limitations become rather evident. Though he perceives or desires an upward trend in evolution to better and more noble expressions, his limited understanding of the human instrument undermines his efforts. The very fact that he places mind at the summit of being is one drawback. It obstructs a fuller vision and hence closes him to the numerous dimensions of consciousness that influence the human being and work through both body and mind. Added to this is his insistence that mind emerges from the instrument’s constituent parts, from which it cannot be separated. He stresses this point in an effort to discourage others from using his ideas to support the contention that there is an indwelling, immortal spirit, not dependent for its survival upon the life of the body. For Sperry, this sort of postulation lies at the root of the otherworldly syndrome he constantly decries.

However, a view of this order closes out the true vision, the integral poise and nature of the instrument, and hence it defeats its own purpose. Though Sperry seeks to reinstate what he considers to be the subjective reality by offering a certain legitimacy to the inner experience via his lofty concept of mind over matter, nonetheless he is closed to certain aspects of that subjective experience which would clearly demonstrate to him the fact that one may very well experience a Reality, a Presence, a Consciousness disengaged from the body and not dependent upon it at all. He ought to realise, furthermore, that it is this very fact that has sustained the otherworldly emphasis for so many millennia. As well, scores of people have had genuine out-of-the-body experiences. For the most part these are experiences in which the vital sheath slips out of the physical body and journeys on its own, fully conscious of what it is experiencing and able to provide a faithful description of those experiences when back in the physical. In many cases, the subject stands beside his sleeping body and thereafter can give a detailed account of what transpired in the room and around his sleeping frame. By an a priori refusal to accept such experiences, scientists like Sperry do little to further their aim of introducing a more holistic approach to life and consciousness.

Roger Sperry’s work offers the most striking example of the constrictions a mental attempt to reorder society imposes. His emphasis is pre-eminently on remodelling science so that it can be made to serve as the overseer in the introduction of ‘a new ethic’. According to Sperry this can only take place within the scientific framework. But the modified science he wishes to introduce is as impotent as the old science, – or the old spirituality, for that matter. It is limited in its perspective to the material strata and barely the surfacemost of those ‘inner’ dimensions. What is revealed is an appalling lack of knowledge concerning the real and integral causal role of consciousness, or even its very nature. The entire effort centres on mind and in fact barely touches the more all-encompassing truths of Consciousness. To further confuse the issue, the activity of consciousness is mistaken for the mental functions, or vice versa. When there is such a total disregard for the undeniable truths of the spiritual experience, when these are dismissed as merely quirks of an immature, undeveloped mind and psyche as yet closed to the higher redeeming light of Science, how can the true change come about that will relieve us of the narrowness that cages us in as a species? These attitudes reflect the customary pompousness of an inflated mental instrument, a mind in love with its meagre light, of which the individual submerged in Science is usually the victim. Rather, salvation can only come by a true widening, by which the truths of both spirit and matter are known. To seek to eschew the undeniable spiritual and occult experiences (called mystical and parapsychological by Sperry) of scores of people throughout the ages in favour of a one-dimensional, narrow and uninspiring concentration on the physical/mental strata solely, is, to say the least, a more presumptuous form of bigotry.

In another of his letters, Sri Aurobindo makes clear the distinction that is paramount in this matter, the line he draws between the change that can be brought about on the basis of traditional spirituality, in contrast to the ‘supramental transformation’ his work has introduced. This distinction is essential to understand because in it lays the answer we seek concerning the failure of the efforts of countless Indian gurus to alter the patterns of evolution in any significant way and thus deter us from the apparent collision course we are on. The supramental transformation, as Sri Aurobindo points out, engages the outer nature of the aspirant in the process of change along with the inner and spiritual dimensions of the being. This is its notable difference. And it is especially because of this that the Supermind can bring about a real and effective change on Earth, since it embraces the totality of the being and the surrounding circumstances of life in the operation.

‘If spiritual and supramental were the same thing, as you say my readers imagine, then all the sages and devotees and Yogis and Sadhaks throughout the ages would have been supramental beings and all I have written about the Supermind would be so much superfluous stuff, useless and otiose. Anybody who had spiritual experiences would then be a supramental being; the Ashram would be chock-full of supramental beings and every other Ashram in India also. Spiritual experiences can fix themselves in the inner consciousness and alter it, transform it, if you like; one can realise the Divine everywhere, the Self in all and all in the Self, the universal Shakti doing all things; one can feel merged in the Cosmic Self or full of ecstatic Bhakti or Ananda. But one may and usually does still go on in the outer parts of Nature thinking with the intellect or at best the intuitive mind, willing with a mental will, feeling joy and sorrow on the vital surface, undergoing physical afflictions and suffering from the struggle of life in the body with death and disease. The change then only will be that the inner self will watch all that without getting disturbed or bewildered, with a perfect equality, taking it as an inevitable part of Nature, inevitable at least so long as one does not withdraw to the Self out of Nature. That is not the transformation I envisage. It is quite another power of knowledge, another kind of will, another luminous nature of emotion and aesthesis, another constitution of the physical consciousness that must come in by the supramental change.’

(Ibid, pages 111-112)

The key here is the emphasis on a new development in a world hitherto thought to have reached the summit of the spiritual pursuit, in which the integral scope of the endeavour permits the practitioner of the Yoga to withstand a certain impact – if it may be so called – on the inner dimensions from the powers contained in the more external strata. Until now, the only way to withstand this overpowering onslaught has been by a withdrawal of the consciousness. Thus when the propagators of Eastern mysticism and spirituality voyage to the West and seek to confront that power in its own domain, so to speak, with the old formula of withdrawal, the result is either a complete or partial degeneration of the teachings, or else a submission to the lures the materialist world offers in abundance. In this neither spirit nor matter is the victor. The truth is rather that they end by destroying or at best weakening each other through a process of either top dog bullying or underdog undermining, to use a current description of western psychology.

The truth of the Spirit, upholder of this material manifestation, is an eternal unfolding of Itself into the myriad forms of our universe, – like  a rose that from a perfectly formed bud blossoms into its full and ravishing beauty, each stage in its flowering being as perfect as the former. And yet something increases, something is added by this unfolding of an ever-perfect splendour. Our experience of God is like the blossoming rose – a perfection to an ever greater perfection, never static, ever dynamic, as Truth always discloses more sublime aspects of itself.

This is the essence of Being, Sat of the Hindu tradition. Sat, pure existence is the absolute Truth, the infinitesimal Seed at the core of material creation. It is not religious dogma, so often called absolute truth by the zealots. Dogma is not being and hence can never be an absolute. But a rose engaged in the becoming of perfect and increasingly perfect form, is expressing that state of Being – that absoluteness. Even in its withering it never loses the grace of its essential and spontaneous perfection of being.

On this foundation we must build the bridge that unites East and West: on the solid rock of an eternal but ever unfolding, integral Truth.

February, 1986

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