Letters on Yoga
Volume 1. Part One
6. The Divine and the Hostile Powers
1. Falsehood and Ignorance
Ignorance1 means Avidya, the separative consciousness and the egoistic mind and life that flow from it and all that is natural to the separative consciousness and the egoistic mind and life. This Ignorance is the result of a movement by which the cosmic Intelligence separated itself from the light of the supermind (the divine Gnosis) and lost the Truth,– truth of being, truth of divine consciousness, truth of force and action, truth of Ananda. As a result, instead of a world of integral truth and divine harmony created in the light of the divine Gnosis, we have a world founded on the part truths of an inferior cosmic Intelligence in which all is half-truth, half-error. It is this that some of the ancient thinkers like Shankara, not perceiving the greater Truth-Force behind, stigmatised as Maya and thought to be the highest creative power of the Divine. All in the consciousness of this creation is either limited or else perverted by separation from the integral Light; even the Truth it perceives is only a half-knowledge. Therefore it is called the Ignorance.
Falsehood, on the other hand, is not this Avidya, but an extreme result of it. It is created by an Asuric power which intervenes in this creation and is not only separated from the Truth and therefore limited in knowledge and open to error, but in revolt against the Truth or in the habit of seizing the Truth only to pervert it. This Power, the dark Asuric Shakti or Rakshasic Maya, puts forward its own perverted consciousness as true knowledge and its wilful distortions or reversals of the Truth as the verity of things. It is the powers and personalities of this perverted and perverting consciousness that we call hostile beings, hostile forces. Whenever these perversions created by them out of the stuff of the Ignorance are put forward as the Truth of things, that is the Falsehood, in the yogic sense, mithyā, moha.
2. Powers and Appearances
These are the forces and beings that are interested in maintaining the falsehoods they have created in the world of the Ignorance and in putting them forward as the Truth which men must follow. In India they are termed Asuras, Rakshasas, Pishachas (beings respectively of the mentalised vital, middle vital and lower vital planes) who are in opposition to the Gods, the Powers of Light. These too are Powers, for they too have their cosmic field in which they exercise their function and authority and some of them were once divine Powers (the former gods, pūrve devāḥ, as they are called somewhere in the Mahabharata) who have fallen towards the darkness by revolt against the divine Will behind the cosmos. The word “appearances” refers to the forms they take in order to rule the world, forms often false and always incarnating falsehood, sometimes pseudo-divine.
3. Powers and Personalities
The use of the word Power has already been explained – it can be applied to whatever or whoever exercises a conscious power in the cosmic field and has authority over the world-movement or some movement in it. But the Four2 of whom you speak are also Shaktis, manifestations of different powers of the Supreme Consciousness and Force, the Divine Mother, by which she rules or acts in the universe. And they are at the same time divine personalities; for each is a being who manifests different qualities and personal consciousness-forms of the Godhead. All the greater Gods are in this way personalities of the Divine – one Consciousness playing in many personalities, ekam sat bahudhā. Even in the human being there are many personalities and not only one, as used formerly to be imagined; for all consciousness can be at once one and multiple. “Powers and Personalities” simply describe different aspects of the same being; a Power is not necessarily impersonal and certainly it is not avyaktam, as you suggest,– on the contrary, it is a manifestation acting in the worlds of the divine Manifestation.
Emanations correspond to your description of the Matrikas of whom you speak in your letters. An emanation of the Mother is something of her consciousness and power put forth from her which, so long as it is in play, is held in close connection with her and, when its play is no longer required, is withdrawn back into its source, but can always be put out and brought into play once more. But also the detaining thread of connection can be severed or loosened and that which came forth as an emanation can proceed on its way as an independent divine being with its own play in the world. All the Gods can put forth such emanations from their being, identical with them in essence of consciousness and power though not commensurate. In a certain sense the universe itself can be said to be an emanation from the Supreme. In the consciousness of the sadhak an emanation of the Mother will ordinarily wear the appearance, form and characteristics with which he is familiar.
In a sense the four Powers of the Mother may be called, because of their origin, her Emanations, just as the Gods may be called Emanations of the Divine, but they have a more permanent and fixed character; they are at once independent beings allowed their play by the Adya Shakti and yet portions of the Mother, the Mahashakti, and she can always either manifest through them as separate beings or draw them together as her own various Personalities and hold them in herself, sometimes kept back, sometimes at play, according to her will. In the supramental plane they are always in her and do not act independently but as intimate portions of the supramental Mahashakti and in close union and harmony with each other.
These four Powers are the Mother’s cosmic Godheads, permanent in the world-play; they stand among the greater cosmic Godheads to whom allusion is made when it is said that the Mother as the Mahashakti of this triple world “stands there (in the overmind plane) above the Gods”. The Gods, as has already been said, are in origin and essence permanent Emanations of the Divine put forth from the Supreme by the Transcendent Mother, the Adya Shakti; in their cosmic action they are Powers and Personalities of the Divine each with his independent cosmic standing, function and work in the universe. They are not impersonal entities but cosmic Personalities, although they can and do ordinarily veil themselves behind the movement of impersonal forces. But while in the overmind and the triple world they appear as independent beings, they return in the supermind into the One and stand there united in a single harmonious action as multiple personalities of the One Person, the Divine Purushottama.
It is intended by the word Presence to indicate the sense and perception of the Divine as a Being, felt as present in one’s existence and consciousness or in relation with it, without the necessity of any further qualification or description. Thus, of the “ineffable Presence” it can only be said that it is there and nothing more can or need be said about it, although at the same time one knows that all is there, personality and impersonality, Power and Light and Ananda and everything else, and that all these flow from that indescribable Presence. The word may be used sometimes in a less absolute sense, but that is always the fundamental significance,– the essential perception of the essential Presence supporting everything else.
7. The Transcendent Mother
This is what is termed the Adya Shakti; she is the Supreme Consciousness and Power above the universe and it is by her that all the Gods are manifested, and even the supramental Ishwara comes into manifestation through her – the supramental Purushottama of whom the Gods are Powers and Personalities.
Of course, the gods exist – that is to say, there are Powers that stand above the world and transmit the divine workings. It is the physical mind which believes only what is physical that denies them. There are also beings of other worlds – gods and Asuras, etc.
There are gods everywhere on all the planes.
November 13, 1934
The dynamic aspect of the Divine is the Supreme Brahman, not the Gods. The Gods are Personalities and Powers of the dynamic Divine. You speak as if the evolution were the sole creation; the creation or manifestation is very vast and contains many planes and worlds that existed before the evolution, all different in character and with different kinds of beings. The fact of being prior to the evolution does not make them undifferentiated. The world of the Asuras is prior to the evolution, so are the worlds of the mental, vital or subtle physical Devas – but these beings are all different from each other. The great Gods belong to the overmind plane; in the supermind they are unified as aspects of the Divine, in the overmind they appear as separate personalities. Any godhead can descend by emanation to the physical plane and associate himself with the evolution of a human being with whose line of manifestation he is in affinity. But these are things which cannot be very easily understood by the mind, because the mind has too rigid an idea of personality – the difficulty only disappears when one enters into a more flexible consciousness above where one is nearer to the experience of One in all and All in one.
To Doshi, Nagin
See the letter
The Formateurs of the overmind have shaped nothing evil – it is the lower forces that receive from the overmind and distort its forms.
In the descent it [the falsehood] begins with Mind, in the evolutionary ascent it is difficult to say where it begins – for here the beginning is Inconscience and Ignorance; but I suppose we may say that conscious falsehood begins with the beginnings of mind still involved in Life or appearing out of it.
The Gods are in the universal Self – if identified with the universal Self one can feel their presence there. Also there is the experience of microcosm (the universe in oneself) in which all that is in the macrocosm (the larger universe) is present. All these things are for experience, for knowledge and must be taken as such. No merely personal turn should be given to them.
November 24, 1934
To Nahar, Prithwi Singh
See the letter
Again, what do you mean by a soul? My proposition simply meant that there is no existence which has not the support of something of the Divine behind it. But the word soul has various meanings according to the context; it may mean the Purusha supporting the formation of Prakriti, which we call a being, though the proper word would be rather a becoming; it may mean, on the other hand, specifically the psychic being in an evolutionary creature like man; it may mean the spark of the Divine which has been put into Matter by the descent of the Divine into the material world and which upholds all evolving formations here. There is and can be no psychic being in a non-evolutionary creature like the Asura; there can be none in a god who does not need one for his existence. But what the god has is a Purusha and a Prakriti or Energy of nature of that Purusha. If any being of the typal worlds wants to evolve, he has to come down to earth and take a human body and accept to share in the evolution. It is because they do not want to do this that the vital beings try to possess men so that they may enjoy the materialities of physical life without having the burden of the evolution or the process of conversion in which it culminates. I hope this is clear and solves the difficulty.
November 18, 1934
To Nahar, Prithwi Singh
See the letter
The three stages you speak of are stages not of evolution but of the involution of the Divine in Matter. The Devas and Asuras are not evolved in Matter; for the typal being only a Purusha with its Prakriti is necessary – this Purusha may put out a mental and vital Purusha to represent it and according as it is centred in one or another it belongs to the mental or vital world. That is all.
There is no essential difference anywhere, for all is fundamentally the essential Divine, the difference is in the manifestation. Practically we may say that the Jivatman is one of the Divine Many and dependent on the One; the Atman is the One supporting the Many. The psychic being does not merge in the Jivatman, it becomes united with it so that there is no difference between the eternal being supporting the manifestation from above and the same being supporting the manifestation from within it, because the psychic being has become fully aware of the play of the Divine through it. What is called merging takes place in the Divine Consciousness when the Jivatman feels itself so one with the Divine that there is nothing else.
November 1, 1934
To Nahar, Prithwi Singh
See the letter
While the Gods cannot be transformed, for they are typal and not evolutionary beings, they can come for conversion – that is to say, to give up their own ideas and outlook on things and conform themselves to the higher Will and supramental Truth of the Divine.
July 19, 1934
To Roy, Dilip Kumar
See the letter
Where do you find in “The Life Heavens”3 that I say or anybody says the conditions on the earth are glorious and suited to the Divine Life? There is not a word to that effect there! The Life Heavens are the heavens of the vital gods and there is there a perfect harmony but a harmony of the sublimated satisfied senses and vital desires only. If there is to be a Harmony, it must be of all the powers raised to their highest and harmonised together. All the non-evolutionary worlds are worlds limited to their own harmony like the Life Heavens. The Earth, on the other hand, is an evolutionary world, not at all glorious or harmonious even as a material world (except in certain appearances), but rather most sorrowful, disharmonious, imperfect. Yet in that imperfection is the urge towards a higher and more many-sided perfection. It contains the last finite which yet yearns to the supreme Infinite, (it is not satisfied by sense-joys precisely because in the conditions of the earth it is able to see their limitations). God is pent in the mire (mire is not glorious, so there is no claim to glory or beauty here), but that very fact imposes a necessity to break through that prison to a consciousness which is ever rising towards the heights. And so on. That is “a deeper power”, though not a greater actual glory or perfection. All that may be true or not to the mind, but it is the traditional attitude of Indian spiritual experience. Ask any yogin, he will tell you that the Life Heavens are childish things; even the gods, says the Purana, must come down to earth and be embodied there if they want mukti, giving up the pride of their limited perfection; they must enter into the last finite if they want to reach the last infinite. A poem is not a philosophical treatise or a profession of religious faith – it is the expression of a vision or an experience of some kind, mundane or spiritual. Here it is the vision of the Life Heavens, its perfection, its limitation and the counter-claim of the Earth or rather the Spirit or Power behind the earth-consciousness. It has to be taken at that, as an expression of a certain aspect of things, an expression of a certain kind of experience, not of a mental dogma. There is a deep truth behind it, though it may not be the whole truth of the matter. In the poem, also, there is no question of a divine life here, though that is hinted at as the inexpressed possible result of the ascent – because the Earth is not put aside (“Earth’s heart was felt beating below me still”); nevertheless the poem expresses only the ascent towards the Highest, far beyond the Life Heavens, and the Earth-Spirit claims that power and does not speak of any descent of a divine life.
The Gods have their own enjoyments though they may not be of a material character.
The higher beings are not likely to be in disharmony with each other, as they are not subject to the lower ignorance.
September 1, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar
See the letter
There are no planes of manifestation without forms – for without form creation or manifestation cannot be complete. But the supraphysical planes are not bound to the forms like the physical. The forms there are expressive, not determinative. What is important in the vital plane is the force or feeling and the form expresses it. A vital being has a characteristic form but he can vary it or mask his true form under others. What is primary on the mental plane is the perception, the idea, the mental significance and the form expresses that and these mental forms too can vary – there can be many forms expressing an idea in different ways or on different sides of the idea. Form exists but it is more plastic and variable than in physical nature.
As to the gods, man can build forms which they will accept but these forms too are inspired into man’s mind from the planes to which the god belongs. All creation has the two sides, the formed and the formless,– the gods too are formless and yet have forms, but a godhead can take many forms, here Maheshwari, there Pallas Athene. Maheshwari herself has many forms in her lesser manifestation, Durga, Uma, Parvati, Chandi, etc. The gods are not limited to human forms – man also has not always seen them in human forms only.
The lion with Durga on it is the symbol of the Divine Consciousness acting through a divinised physical-vital and vital-emotional force.
July 12, 1929
The lion is the attribute of the Goddess Durga, the conquering and protecting aspect of the Universal Mother.
The Death’s Head is the symbol of the Asura (the adversary of the gods) vanquished and killed by the Divine Power.
March 13, 1934
See larger variant of the text
Mahakali and Kali are not the same. Kali is a lesser form. Mahakali in the higher planes appears usually with the golden colour.
I indicate the psychological powers which they bring with them.
Mitra – Harmony.
Varuna – Wideness.
Aryamana – Power – Tapasya.
Brihasapati – Wisdom (Word and Knowledge).
Vishnu – Cosmic Consciousness.
Vayu – Life.
Yes, Mitra is rather a combination of two powers [Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati].
May 27, 1933
Vayu and Indra are cosmic godheads presiding over the action of cosmic principles – they are not the manomaya puruṣa or prāṇamaya puruṣa in each man.
The Purusha is an essential being supporting the play of Prakriti; the godhead (Indra, Vayu, etc.) is a dynamic being manifested in Prakriti for the works of the plane to which he belongs.
September 14, 1933
Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva are only three Powers and Personalities of the One Cosmic Godhead.
Brahma is the Power of the Divine that stands behind formation and the creation.
March 11, 1933
As for Vishnu being the creator, all the three gods are often spoken of as creating the universe – even Shiva who is by tradition the Destroyer.
September 25, 1933
There is no particular connection between Shiva and the overmind – the overmind is the higher station of all the Gods. It is better not to call it the overmind until the action of it is clear and there can be no mistake.
Mahashiva means a greater manifestation than that ordinarily worshipped as Shiva – the creative dance of a greater Divine manifesting Power.
It is probably the realm of the dynamic creative spirit from the highest mental plane which you saw as the world of Parvati-Shankara.
Shiva is the Lord of Tapas. The power is the power of Tapas. Krishna as a godhead is the Lord of Ananda, Love and Bhakti; as an incarnation, he manifests the union of wisdom (Jnana) and works and leads the earth-evolution through this towards union with the Divine by Ananda, Love and Bhakti.
The Devi is the Divine Shakti – the Consciousness and Power of the Divine, the Mother and Energy of the worlds. All powers are hers. Sometimes Devi-power may mean the power of the universal World-Force; but this is only one side of the Shakti.
It is, I suppose, the image of Sri Krishna as Lord of the divine love and Ananda – and his flute calls the physical being to awake out of the attachments of the physical world and turn to that love and Ananda.
The boy with the flute is Sri Krishna, the Lord descended into the world-play from the divine Ananda; his flute is the music of the call which seeks to transform the lower ignorant play of mortal life and bring into it and establish in its place the Lila of his divine Ananda. It was the psychic being in you that heard the call and followed after it.
This is the Krishna of the Gita (the boy Krishna is the Krishna of Brindaban), Krishna bringing the spiritual Knowledge, Will, bhakti – and not love and bhakti alone.
The eye indicates the vision of the higher spiritual consciousness and the blue expanse indicates that consciousness.
Buddha stands for the conquest over the Ignorance of the lower nature.
Narada stands for the expression of the Divine Love and Knowledge.
March 21, 1933
Ganesha is the Power that removes obstacles by the force of Knowledge; Kartikeya represents victory over the hostile Powers. Of course, the names given are human, but the gods exist.
September 22, 1934
Ganesha (among other things) is the Devata of spiritual Knowledge – so, as you are getting this Knowledge you saw yourself in this form identified with Ganesha.
The peacock is the bird of Victory and Kartikeya the leader of the divine forces.
February 1935 (?)
To Roy, Dilip Kumar
See the letter
The hostile forces exist and have been known to yogic experience ever since the days of the Veda and Zoroaster in Asia (and the mysteries of Egypt and the Cabbala) and in Europe also from old times. These things, of course, cannot be felt or known so long as one lives in the ordinary mind and its ideas and perceptions; for there, there are only two categories of influences recognisable, the ideas and feelings and actions of oneself and others and the play of environment and physical forces. But once one begins to get the inner view of things, it is different. One begins to experience that all is an action of forces, forces of Prakriti psychological as well as physical, which play upon our nature – and these are conscious forces or are supported by a consciousness or consciousnesses behind. One is in the midst of a big universal working and it is impossible any longer to explain everything as the result of one’s own sole and independent personality. You yourself have at one time written that your crises of despair etc. came upon you as if thrown on you and worked themselves out without your being able to determine or put an end to them. That means an action of universal forces and not merely an independent action of your own personality, though it is something in your nature of which they make use. But you are not conscious, and others also, of this intervention and pressure at its source for the reason I state. Those who have developed the inner view of things on the vital plane have plenty of experience of the hostile forces. However, you need not personally concern yourself with them so long as they remain incognito.
One may have the experiences on the mental plane without this knowledge coming; for there mind and idea predominate and one does not feel the play of Forces – it is only in the vital that that becomes clear. In the mind plane they manifest at most as mental suggestions and not as concrete Powers. Also, if one looks at things with the mind only (even though it be the inner mind), one may see the subtle play of Nature-forces but without recognising the conscious intention which we call hostile.
June 14, 1950
There are two kinds of Asuras – one kind were divine in their origin but have fallen from their divinity by self-will and opposition to the intention of the Divine: they are spoken of in the Hindu scriptures as the former or earlier gods; these can be converted and their conversion is indeed necessary for the ultimate purposes of the universe. But the ordinary Asura is not of this character, is not an evolutionary but a typal being and represents a fixed principle of the creation which does not evolve or change and is not intended to do so. These Asuras, as also the other hostile beings, Rakshasas, Pishachas and others resemble the devils of the Christian tradition and oppose the divine intention and the evolutionary purpose in the human being: they don’t change the purpose in them for which they exist which is evil, but have to be destroyed like the evil. The Asura has no soul, no psychic being which has to evolve to a higher state; he has only an ego and usually a very powerful ego; he has a mind, sometimes even a highly intellectualised mind; but the basis of his thinking and feeling is vital and not mental, at the service of his desire and not of truth. He is a formation assumed by the life-principle for a particular kind of work and not a divine formation or a soul.
The Asuras and Rakshasas etc. do not belong to the earth, but to supraphysical worlds; but they act upon the earth-life and dispute the control of human life and character and action with the Gods. They are the Powers of Darkness combating the Powers of Light.
Sometimes they possess men in order to act through them, sometimes they take birth in a human body. When their use in the play is over, they will either change or disappear or no longer seek to intervene in the earth-play.
The Asuras are really the dark side of the mental, or more strictly, of the vital mind plane. This mind is the very field of the Asuras. Their main characteristic is egoistic strength and struggle, which refuse the higher law. The Asura has self-control, tapas and intelligence, but all that for the sake of his ego. On the lower vital plane the corresponding forces we call the Rakshasas which represent violent passions and influences. There are also other kinds of beings on the vital plane which are called the Pishachas and Pramathas. They manifest more or less in the physico-vital.
On the physical plane the corresponding forces are obscure beings, more forces than beings, what the Theosophists call the elementals. They are not strongly individualised beings like the Rakshasas and Asuras, but ignorant and obscure forces working in the subtle physical plane. What we in Sanskrit call the Bhutas mostly come under this class. But there are two kinds of elementals, the one mischievous and the other not.
There are no Asuras on the higher planes where the Truth prevails, except in the Vedic sense – “the Divine in its strength”. The mental and vital Asuras are only a deviation of that power.
Yes, some kinds of Asuras are very religious, very fanatical about their religion, very strict about rules of ethical conduct. Others of course are just the opposite. There are others who use spiritual ideas without believing in them to give them a perverted twist and delude the sadhak. It is what Shakespeare described as the Devil quoting scripture for his own purpose.
At present what they are most doing is to try to raise up the obscurity and weakness of the most physical mind, vital, material parts to prevent the progress or fulfilment of the sadhana.
The Gandharvas are of the vital plane but they are vital Gods, not Asuras. Many Asuras are beautiful in appearance and can carry even a splendour or light with them. It is the Rakshasas, Pishachas, etc. who are ugly or evil in appearance.
January 31, 1934
See larger variant of the text
Hostile Forces. The purpose they serve in the world is to give a full chance to the possibilities of the Inconscience and Ignorance – for this world was meant to be a working out of these possibilities with the supramental harmonisation as its eventual outcome. The life, the work developing here in the Ashram has to deal with the world problem and has therefore to meet – it could not avoid – the conflict with the working of the hostile Powers in the human being.
The universe is certainly or has been up to now in appearance a rough and wasteful game with the dice of chance loaded in favour of the Powers of darkness, the Lords of obscurity, falsehood, death and suffering. But we have to take it as it is and find out – if we reject the way out of the old sages – the way to conquer. Spiritual experience shows that there is behind it all a wide terrain of equality, peace, calm, freedom, and it is only by getting into it that we can have the eye that sees and hope to gain the power that conquers.
If there were no hostile forces and there were still the evolutionary world, there could be ignorance still but not perversity in the ignorance. All would be a partial truth acting through imperfect instruments but for the best purposes of this or that stage in a progressive manifestation.
They are not hostile forces, they are simply the forces of the ordinary Nature. The hostile forces are those which try to pervert everything and are in revolt against the Divine and opposed to the yoga.
The lesser forces of Light are usually too much insistent on seeking for Truth to make effectivity their logic or their rule – the hostiles are too pragmatic to care for Truth, they want only success. As for the greater Forces (e.g. overmind) they are dynamic and try always to make consciousness effective, but they insist on consciousness, while the hostiles care nothing for that – the more unconscious you are and their automatic tool, the better they are pleased – for it is unconsciousness that gives them their chance.
April 6, 1936
To Nirodbaran Talukdar
See the letter
About the contact with the world and the hostile forces, that is of course always one of the sadhak’s chief difficulties, but to transform the world and the hostile forces is too big a task and the personal transformation cannot wait for it. What has to be done is to come to live in the Power that these things, these disturbing elements cannot penetrate, or, if they penetrate, cannot disturb, and to be so purified and strengthened by it that there is in oneself no response to anything hostile. If there is a protecting envelopment, an inner purifying descent and, as a result, a settling of the higher consciousness in the inner being and finally, its substitution even in the most external outwardly active parts in place of the old ignorant consciousness, then the world and the hostile forces will no longer matter – for one’s own soul at least; for there is a larger work not personal in which of course they will have to be dealt with; but that need not be a main preoccupation at the present stage.
May 7, 1933
It is the movements of the lower nature that get purified. The Asuras are not so easily transformed.
February 11, 1933
To Roy, Dilip Kumar
See the letter
As to Asuras, not many of them have shown signs of repentance or possibility of conversion up to now. It is not surprising that they should be powerful in a world of ignorance for they have only to persuade people to follow the established bent of their lower nature, while the Divine calls always for a change of nature. It is not to be wondered at that the Asura has an easier task and more momentary success in his combinations. But that temporary success does not bind the future.
Some of the vital beings are very intelligent but they do not make friends with the Light – they only try to avoid destruction and wait their time.
The evil forces are perversions of the Truth by the Ignorance – in any complete transformation they must disappear and the Truth behind them be delivered. In this way they can be said to be transformed by destruction.
1 This letter was written to explain certain terms occurring in the book The Mother by Sri Aurobindo.
2 Maheshwari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati.
3 A poem by Sri Aurobindo. See Collected Poems and Plays, Vol. II, pp. 282-84.