Letters of Sri Aurobindo
Volume II - Part 3
Fragment ID: 11997
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Sri Aurobindo — Unknown addressee
January 9, 1936
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I do not gather from these extracts1 the true nature of the transformation spoken of here. It seems to be something mental and moral with the love of God and a certain kind of union in separateness brought about by this divine love as the spiritualising element.
Love of God and union in separateness through that love and a transformation of the nature by realising certain mental, ethical, emotional, perhaps even physical possibilities (for the Vaishnavas speak of a new cinmaya body) is the principle of Vaishnava Yoga. So there is nothing here that was not already present in that line of Asiatic mysticism which looks to a Personal Deity and insists on the eternal pre-existence and survival of the individual being. A spiritual raising of the nature to its highest possibilities is a part of the Tantric discipline – so that too is not absent from Indian Yoga. The writer seems like most European writers to know only Illusionism and Buddhism and to accept them as the whole wisdom of Asia (sagesse asiatique); but even there he misinterprets their idea and their experience. Adwaita even in its extreme form does not aim at the extinction of existence, the adoption of nothingness, the end of the being and destruction of the essence. Only a certain kind of Nihilistic Buddhism aims at that and even so that Nothingness, Sunya, is described on another side of it as the Permanent. What these disciplines aim at is a passing from Time to Eternity, a putting off of the finite and putting on of the Infinite, a casting off of the bonds of ego and its results, desire, suffering, a falsified existence, in order to live in the true Self. These descriptions of the Christian writer betray an entire ignorance of the realisation which he decries, its infinity, freedom, surpassing peace, the ecstasy of the Brahmananda. It is an extinction of the limited individual personality but a liberation into cosmic and then into transcendental consciousness – an extinction of thought and life but a liberation into an unlimited consciousness and knowledge and being. The personality is extinguished but in something greater than itself, not in something less nor in mere “Néant”. If it be said that that negates earthly life, so does the Christian ideal, for the Christian ideal aims at the attainment of a celestial existence beyond the earth existence (beyond this single earth life, for reincarnation is not admitted), which is only a vale of sorrows and a passing ordeal. It insists on the preservation of the spiritual personality, but so do Vaishnavism and Shaivism and other “Asiatic” ideals. The writer’s ignorance of the many-sidedness of Asiatic wisdom deprives his depreciation of it of all value.
The phrases which struck you as resembling superficially at least our ideal of transformation are of a general character and could be adopted without hesitation by almost any spiritual discipline, even Illusionism would be willing to include it as a stage or experience on the way. All depends on the content you put into the words, what actual change in the consciousness and life they are intended to cover. If the transformation be “from sin to sainthood” by the union of the soul with God “in an intellectual light full of love” – which is the most definite description of it in these extracts,– then it is not at all identical, but rather very far from what I mean by transformation. For the transformation I aim at is not from sin to sainthood but from the lower nature of the Ignorance to the Divine Nature of Light, Peace, Truth, Divine Power and Bliss beyond the Ignorance. It journeys towards a supreme self-existent good and leaves behind it the limited struggling human conception of sin and virtue; it is not an intellectual light that is the sun of its aspiration but a spiritual supra-intellectual supramental light; it is not sainthood that is its culmination but divine consciousness – or if you like, soul-hood, spirit-hood, conscious self-hood, divine-hood. There is therefore between these two kinds or two degrees of transformation an immense difference.
I. “C’est un abandon héroïque, où l’âme parvient au sommet de l’activité libre, où la personne se transforme, où ses facultés sont épurées, déifiées par la grâce, sans que son essence soit détruite.”4
What is meant by free activity? With us the freedom consists in freedom from the darkness, limitation, error, suffering, transience of the ignorant lower Nature, but also in a total surrender to the Divine. Free action is the action of the Divine in us and through us; no other action can be free. That seems to be accepted in II and III; but this perception, this conception is as old as spiritual knowledge itself – it is not peculiar to Catholicism. What again is meant by the purification and deification of the faculties by Grace? If it is an ethical purification, that goes a very small way and does not bring deification. Again, if the deification is limited by the intellectual light, it must be a rather petty affair at the best. There was a similar aim in ancient Indian spirituality, but it had a larger sweep and a higher height than that. No spiritual discipline aims at purification or deification by the destruction of the essence – there can be no such thing, the very phrase is meaningless and self-contradictory. The essence of the being is indestructible. Even the most rigid Adwaita discipline does not aim at any such destruction; its object is the purest purity of the essential self. Transformation aims at this essential purity of the pure Spirit, but it asks also for the purity and divinity of the supreme Nature; it is not the essence of being but the accidents of our undeveloped imperfect nature that are destroyed and replaced by the manifestation of the divine Nature. The monistic Adwaita aims at the disappearance of the ego, not of the essence of the person; it arrives at its disappearance by identity with the One, by dissolution of the Nature-constructed ego into the reality of the eternal Self, for that, it says, not ego, is the essence of the person – so’ham, tat tvam asi. In our idea of transformation also there is the destruction of the ego, its dissolution into the cosmic and the divine consciousness, but by that destruction we recover the true or spiritual person which is an eternal portion of the Divine.
II. “La contemplation du chrétien... est inséparable de l’état de grâce6 et de vie divine. S’il doit s’anéantir, c’est encore sa personnalité qui triomphe en se laissant arracher à tout ce qui n’est pas elle, en brisant tous les liens qui l’unissent à son individu de chair, afin que le Dieu vivant puisse s’en saisir, l’assumer, l’habiter.”7
III. “Liberté qui consiste d’abord à subordonner ce qui est inférieur dans sa nature à ce qui lui est supérieur.”8
These passages can be taken in the above sense and as approximating to our ideal; but the confusion here is in the use of the word “personality”. Personality is a temporary formation and to eternise it would be to eternise ignorance and limitation. The true “I” is not the mental ego or the present personality which is only a mask, but the eternal I which assumes various personalities in various lives. The Christian and European conception of a single life on earth tends to bring about this error by making our present personality appear as if it were our whole self... Again, it is not merely the bodily individuality to which ignorance ties us, but the mental individuality and vital individuality also. All these ties have to be broken, the imperfect forms of mind and life transcended, mind transformed into something beyond mind, life into divine life, if the transformation is to be real and not merely a new shaping or heightening of the lights of the Ignorance.
IV. “Cette solitude de l’âme [de l’ascète asiatique] ... n’est pas le vrai loisir spirituel, la solitude active où s’opère la transformation du péché en sainteté par l’union de l’âme avec Dieu dans ‘une lumière intellectuelle toute pleine d’amour’.”9
I have commented already on this description of the transformation to be effected and have to add only one more reserve. The solitude of the self in the Divine has no doubt to be active as well as static and passive; but none who has not arrived at the silence and motionless solitude of the eternal Self can have the free and integral activity of the higher divine Nature. For the action is based on the silence and by the silence it is free.
V. “...la vie chrétienne. Mystique progressive qui est un enrichissement, un élargissement infini de la personne humaine.”11
This is not our idea of transformation – for the human person is the mental being limited by life and body. An enrichment and enlargement of it cannot go beyond the extreme limit of that formula, it can only widen and adorn its present poverty and narrowness. It cannot ascend out of the mental ignorance into a greater Truth and Light or bring that down in any fullness into earthly nature, which is the aim of transformation as we conceive it.
VI. “Pour l’Asiatique la personnalité est la chute de l’homme; pour le chrétien, c’est le dessein même de Dieu, le principe de l’union, le sommet naturel de la création qu’il appelle tout entière à la grâce.”12
The personality of this single life in man is a formation in the Ignorance, therefore a fall; it cannot be the summit of the being. We do not admit that it is the summit of the natural creation either, but say there are higher summits to which we have to climb and reveal their powers in earthly nature. The natural creation is an evolution of the hidden Divine Consciousness in Nature which is limited and disguised at first by the Ignorance. It has still to climb out of the Ignorance – therefore to get beyond the human person into the divine person. It is in this spiritual evolution that the Plan Divine (dessein de Dieu) manifests its central and significant line and calls all creation to the crowning Grace.
You will see therefore that the resemblance of the transformation here to our ideal is only on the surface, in the words, but not in the content of the words which is much narrower and of another order. So far as there is agreement and coincidence, it is because there is contained in them what is common (a certain conversion of the consciousness) to all spiritual disciplines; for all, in East or in West, have a common core of experience – it is in their developments, range, turn to this or that aspect or else their will towards the totality of the Truth that they differ.
1 Brief extracts from a book by Henri Massis, «Défense de l’Occident» (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1927), pp. 214 – 24. – Ed.
2 SABCL, volume 22; Letters of Sri Aurobindo. 4 Ser. transcendent
3 SABCL, volume 22: this
4 I. “It is a heroic surrender in which the soul reaches the summit of free activity, the being is transformed and its faculties are purified, deified by Grace, without its essence being destroyed.”
5 SABCL, volume 22; Letters of Sri Aurobindo. 4 Ser. this
6 Grace is not a conception peculiar to the Christian spiritual idea – it is there in Vaishnavism, Shaivism, the Shakta religion,– it is as old as the Upanishads.
7 II. “The contemplation of the Christian... is inseparable from the state of Grace and the divine life. Even when he annuls himself, his personality still triumphs by allowing itself to be torn away from all that is not itself, by breaking all the bonds that tie it to the flesh so that the living God may seize him, possess him and dwell in him.”
8 III. “Freedom means first to subordinate what is inferior in one’s nature to what is superior.”
9 IV. “This solitude of the soul [of the Asiatic ascetic] is not the true spiritual leisure, the active solitude in which the transformation from sin to sainthood takes place through the soul’s union with God in an intellectual light full of love.”
10 SABCL, volume 22; Letters of Sri Aurobindo. 4 Ser. passive and static
11 V. “... the Christian life, a mystic, progressive life which is an enrichment, an infinite enlargement of the human being.”
12 VI. “For the Asiatic, the personality is the fall of man; for the Christian it is the very plan of God, the principle of union, the summit of the natural creation, and it calls wholly to the Grace.”
13 SABCL, volume 22; Letters of Sri Aurobindo. 4 Ser. the East
14 SABCL, volume 22; Letters of Sri Aurobindo. 4 Ser. the West
Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga. II // CWSA.- Volume 29. (≈ 22-24 vol. of SABCL).- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2013.- 522 p.
Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga // SABCL.- Volume 22. (≈ 28 vol. of CWSA).- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1971.- 502 p.
[Largest or earliest found passage: ] Sri Aurobindo. Letters of Sri Aurobindo: In 4 Series.- Forth Series [On Yoga].- Bombay: Sri Aurobindo Sircle, 1951.- 652 p.