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Sri Aurobindo

Letters on Yoga

Volume 1. Part One

9. Fate and Free-Will, Karma and Heredity, etc



December 16, 1936
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


Your extracts taken by themselves are very impressive, but when one reads the book, the impression made diminishes and fades away. You have quoted Cheiro’s successes, but what about his failures? I have looked at the book and was rather staggered by the number of prophecies that have failed to come off. You can’t deduce from a small number of predictions, however accurate, that all is predestined down to your putting the questions in the letter and my answer. It may be, but the evidence is not sufficient to prove it. What is evident is that there is an element of the predictable, predictable accurately and in detail as well as in large points, in the course of events. But that was already known; it leaves the question still unsolved whether all is predictable, whether destiny is the sole factor in existence or there are other factors also that can modify destiny,– or, destiny being given, there are not different sources or powers or planes of destiny and we can modify the one with which we started by calling in another destiny source, power or plane and making it active in our life. Metaphysical questions are not so simple that they can be trenchantly solved either in one sense or in another contradictory to it – that is the popular way of settling things, but it is quite summary and inconclusive. All is free-will or else all is destiny – it is not so simple as that. This question of free-will or determination is the most knotty of all metaphysical questions and nobody has been able to solve it – for a good reason that both destiny and will exist and even a free-will exists somewhere; the difficulty is only how to get at it and make it effective.

Astrology? Many astrological predictions come true, quite a mass of them, if one takes all together. But it does not follow that the stars rule our destiny; the stars merely record a destiny that has been already formed, they are a hieroglyph, not a Force,– or if their action constitutes a force, it is a transmitting energy, not an originating Power. Someone is there who has determined or something is there which is Fate, let us say; the stars are only indicators. The astrologers themselves say that there are two forces, daiva and puruṣakāra, fate and individual energy, and the individual energy can modify and even frustrate fate. Moreover, the stars often indicate several fate-possibilities; for example that one may die in mid-age, but that if that determination can be overcome, one can live to a predictable old age. Finally, cases are seen in which the predictions of the horoscope fulfil themselves with great accuracy up to a certain age, then apply no more. This often happens when the subject turns away from the ordinary to the spiritual life. If the turn is very radical, the cessation of predictability may be immediate; otherwise certain results may still last on for a time, but there is no longer the same inevitability. This would seem to show that there is or can be a higher power or higher plane or higher source of spiritual destiny which can, if its hour has come, override the lower power, lower plane or lower source of vital and material fate of which the stars are indicators. I say vital because character can also be indicated from the horoscope much more completely and satisfactorily than the events of the life.

The Indian explanation of fate is Karma. We ourselves are our own fate through our actions, but the fate created by us binds us; for what we have sown, we must reap in this life or another. Still we are creating our fate for the future even while undergoing old fate from the past in the present. That gives a meaning to our will and action and does not, as European critics wrongly believe, constitute a rigid and sterilising fatalism. But again, our will and action can often annul or modify even the past Karma, it is only certain strong effects, called utkaṭa karma, that are non-modifiable. Here too the achievement of the spiritual consciousness and life is supposed to annul or give the power to annul Karma. For we enter into union with the Will Divine, cosmic or transcendent, which can annul what it had sanctioned for certain conditions, new-create what it had created, the narrow fixed lines disappear, there is a more plastic freedom and wideness. Neither Karma nor Astrology therefore points to a rigid and for ever immutable fate.

As for prophecy, I have never met or known of a prophet, however reputed, who was infallible. Some of their predictions come true to the letter, others do not,– they half-fulfil or misfire entirely. It does not follow that the power of prophecy is unreal or the accurate predictions can be all explained by probability, chance, coincidence. The nature and number of those that cannot is too great. The variability of fulfilment may be explained either by an imperfect power in the prophet sometimes active, sometimes failing or by the fact that things are predictable in part only, they are determined in part only or else by different factors or lines of power, different series of potentials and actuals. So long as one is in touch with one line, one predicts accurately, otherwise not – or if the lines of power change, one’s prophecy also goes off the rails. All the same, one may say, there must be, if things are predictable at all, some power or plane through which or on which all is foreseeable; if there is a divine Omniscience and Omnipotence, it must be so. Even then what is foreseen has to be worked out, actually is worked out by a play of forces,– spiritual, mental, vital and physical forces – and in that plane of forces there is no absolute rigidity discoverable. Personal will or endeavour is one of those forces. Napoleon when asked why he believed in Fate, yet was always planning and acting, answered, “Because it is fated that I should work and plan”; in other words, his planning and acting were part of Fate, contributed to the results Fate had in view. Even if I foresee an adverse result, I must work for the one that I consider should be; for it keeps alive the force, the principle of Truth which I serve and gives it a possibility to triumph hereafter so that it becomes part of the working of the future favourable Fate, even if the fate of the hour is adverse. Men do not abandon a cause because they have seen it fail or foresee its failure; and they are spiritually right in their stubborn perseverance. Moreover, we do not live for outward result alone; far more the object of life is the growth of the soul,– not outward success of the hour or even of the near future. The soul can grow against or even by a material destiny that is adverse.

Finally, even if all is determined, why say that life is, in Shakespeare’s phrase or rather Macbeth’s, “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? Life would rather be that if it were all chance and random incertitude. But if it is something foreseen, planned in every detail, does it not rather mean that life does signify something, that there must be a secret Purpose that is being worked up to, powerfully, persistently, through the ages, and ourselves are a part of it and fellow-workers in the fulfilment of that invincible Purpose?

P.S. Well, one of the greatest ecstasies possible is to feel oneself carried by the Divine, not by the stars or Karma, for the latter is a bad business, dry and uncomfortable – like being turned on a machine, “yantrārūḍhāni māyayā”.


December 28, 1936


I am afraid I have no great confidence in Cheiro’s ideas and prophecies – some prophecies are fulfilled but most have gone wrong. The idea about the Jews is an old Jewish and Christian belief; not much faith can be put in it. As for the numbers, it is true that according to occult science numbers have a mystic meaning. It is also true that there are periods and cycles in life as well as in world-life. But too exact a meaning cannot always be put in these things.


September 12, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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I have not said that everything is rigidly predetermined. Play of forces does not mean that. What I said was that behind visible events in the world there is always a mass of invisible forces at work unknown to the outward minds of men, and by yoga, (by going inward and establishing a conscious connection with the Cosmic Self and Force and forces,) one can become conscious of these forces, intervene consciously in the play, and to some extent at least determine things in the result of the play. All that has nothing to do with predetermination. On the contrary, one watches how things develop and gives a push here and a push there when possible or when needed. There is nothing in all that to contradict the dictum of the great scientist Sir C. V. Raman. Raman said once that all these scientific discoveries are only games of chance. Only, when he says that scientific discoveries are games of chance, he is merely saying that human beings don’t know how it works out. It is not rigid predetermination, but it is not a blind inconscient Chance either. It is a play in which there is a working out of the possibilities in Time.


It is difficult indeed to make out what Planck means in these pages – what is his conclusion and how he arrives at it; he has probably so condensed his arguments that the necessary explanatory links are missing. The free-will affair, I see by glancing through the previous pages, arises only incidentally from his position that the new discoveries grouped round the quantum theory do not make a radical difference in physics. If there is a tendency to regard laws as statistical,– in which case there is no “strict causality” and no determinism – still there is nothing to prove that they cannot be treated and may not be advantageously treated as dynamical also – in which case determinism can stand; the uncertainty of individual behaviour (electrons, quanta) does not really undermine determinism, but only brings a new feature into it. That seems from a hasty glance to be his position. Certain scientific thinkers consider this uncertainty of individual behaviour to be a physical factor correspondent to the element of free-will in individual human beings. It is here that Planck brings in the question of free-will to refute the conclusion that it affects strict causality and the law of determinism. His argument, as far as I can make it out, is this:

1. The law of strict causality stands because any given action or inner happening of the individual human being is an effect determined completely by two causes, (a) the previous state of his mind taken as a whole, (b) external influences.

2. The will is a mental process completely determined by these two factors; therefore it is not free, it is part of the chain of strict causality – as are also the results of the free-will.

3. What is important is not the actual freedom of the will, but the man’s consciousness of freedom. This creates an inner experience of conscious motive which again creates fresh motives and so on indefinitely. For this reason it is impossible for a man to predict his future action – for at any moment a fresh motive may arise. But when we look back at the past, then the concatenation of cause and effect becomes apparent.

4. The fact of strict causality (or at least the theory of it) stands therefore unshaken by the consciousness of free-will of the individual. It is only obscured by the fact that a man cannot predict his own actions or grasp the causes of his present state; but that is because here the subject and object are the same and this subject-object is in a state of constant alternative motion unlike an object outside, which is supposed not to change as a result of the inner movements of the knower.

There is a reference to causal law and ethical law which baffles me. Is the “ethical law” something outside the strict chain of effects and causes? Is there such a thing at all? If “strict causality” rules all, what is such an ethical law doing there?

That is the argument so far as I can follow it, but it does not seem to me very conclusive. If a man’s conduct cannot be predicted by himself, neither can it be predicted by anyone else, though here the subject and object are not the same; if not predictable, then it must be for the same reason, the element of free-will and the mobility created by the possible indefinite intrusion of fresh motives. If that is so, strict causality cannot be affirmed,– though a plastic causality in which the power of choice called by us free-will is an element (either as one among many contributory causes or as an instrument of a cause beyond itself) can still be asserted as possible.

The statement that the action of the individual is strictly determined by his total mental state plus external influences is doubtful and does not lead very far. It is possible to undermine the whole idea of inevitable causality by holding that the total existing state before a happening is only the condition under which it happens – there are a mass of antecedents and there is a sequent, if it may be so called, or a mass of sequences, but nothing proves that the latter are inevitable consequences of the mass of antecedents. Possibly, this total existing state is a matrix into which some seed of happening is thrown or becomes active, so that there may be many possible results, and in the case of human action it is conceivable that free-will is the or at least a determining factor.

I do not think therefore that these arguments of Planck carry us very far. There is also, of course, the question raised in the book itself whether, granting determinism, a local state of things is an independent field of causality or all is so bound together that it is the whole that determines the local result. A man’s action then would be determined by universal forces and his state of mind and apparent choice would be part of the instrumentation of the Universal Force.


In the case of Socrates and that of the habitual drunkard raised by you, the difference you make is correct. The weak-willed man is governed by his vital and physical impulsions, his mental being is not dynamic enough to make its will prevail over them. His will is not “free” because it is not strong enough to be free, it is the slave of the forces that act on or in his vital and physical nature. In the case of Socrates the will is so far free that it stands above the play of these forces and he determines by his mental idea and resolve what he shall or shall not do. The question remains whether the will of Socrates is only free in this sense, itself being actually determined by something larger than the mentality of Socrates, something of which it is the instrument – whether the Universal Force or a Being in him of which his daemon was the voice and which not only gave his mind that decisive awareness of the mental ideal but imposed on it the drive to act in obedience to the awareness. Or it may be subject to a nexus between the inner Purusha and the Universal Force. In the latter case there would be an unstable balance between the determinism of Nature and a self-determination from within. If we start from the Sankhya view of things, that being (viz., the one of which his daemon was the voice) would be the soul or Purusha and both in the strong-willed Socrates and in the weak-willed slave of vital impulse, the action and its results would be determined by the assent or refusal of the Purusha. In the latter the Purusha gives its assent to and undergoes the play of the forces of Nature, the habit of the vital impulse, through a vital submission while the mind looks on helpless. In Socrates the Purusha has begun to emancipate itself and decide what it shall accept or shall not accept – the conscious being has begun to impose itself on the forces that act on it. This mastery has become so complete that he can largely determine his own actions and can even within certain limits not only forecast but fix the results – so that what he wants shall happen sooner or later.

As for the Superman, that is the conscious being whose emancipation is complete by his rising to a station beyond the limits of mind. He can determine his action in complete accord with an awareness which perceives all the forces acting in and on and around him and is able, instead of undergoing, to use them and even to determine.


September 23, 1934
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


After reading X’s cogent exposition, I saw what might be said from the intellectual point of view on this question so as to link the reality of the supreme Freedom with the phenomenon of the Determinism of Nature – in a different way from his, but to the same purpose. In reality, the freedom and the determination are only two sides of the same thing – for the fundamental truth is self-determination of the cosmos and in it a secret self-determination of the individual. The difficulty arises from the fact that we live in the surface mind of ignorance, do not know what is going on behind and see only the phenomenal process of Nature. There the apparent fact is an overwhelming determinism of Nature and as our surface consciousness is part of that process, we are unable to see the other term of the biune reality. For practical purposes, on the surface there is an entire determinism in Matter – though this is now disputed by the latest school of Science. As Life emerges a certain plasticity sets in, so that it is difficult to predict anything exactly as one predicts material things that obey a rigid law. The plasticity increases with the growth of Mind, so that man can have at least a sense of free-will, of a choice of his action, of a self-movement which at least helps to determine circumstances. But this freedom is dubious because it can be declared to be an illusion, a device of Nature, part of its machinery of determination, only a seeming freedom or at most a restricted, relative and subject independence. It is only when one goes behind away from Prakriti to Purusha and upward away from Mind to spiritual Self that the side of freedom comes to be first evident and then, by unison with the Will which is above Nature, complete.


In life all sorts of things offer themselves. One cannot take anything that comes with the idea that it is sent by the Divine. There is a choice and a wrong choice produces its consequences.


June 16, 1933


Destiny in the rigid sense applies only to the outer being so long as it lives in the Ignorance. What we call destiny is only in fact the result of the present condition of the being and the nature and energies it has accumulated in the past acting on each other and determining the present attempts and their future results. But as soon as one enters the path of spiritual life, this old predetermined destiny begins to recede. There comes in a new factor, the Divine Grace, the help of a higher Divine Force other than the force of Karma, which can lift the sadhak beyond the present possibilities of his nature. One’s spiritual destiny is then the divine election which ensures the future. The only doubt is about the vicissitudes of the path and the time to be taken by the passage. It is here that the hostile forces playing on the weaknesses of the past nature strive to prevent the rapidity of the progress and to postpone the fulfilment. Those who fall, fall not because of the attacks of the vital forces, but because they put themselves on the side of the hostile Force and prefer a vital ambition or desire (ambition, vanity, lust, etc.) to the spiritual siddhi.


May 5, 1936

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Neither Nature nor Destiny nor the Divine work in the mental way or by the law of the mind or according to its standards – that is why even to the scientist and the philosopher Nature, Destiny, the way of the Divine all remain a mystery. The Mother does not act by the mind, so to judge her action with the mind is futile.


December 28, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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Nature is very largely what you make of her or can make of her.



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Each has his own destiny and his entering into a particular family in one life is only an incident.


March 24, 1937
To Doshi, Nagin

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Consciousness is not a mechanical dead thing to cut in that way. Hereditary influence creates an affinity and affinity is a long thing. It is only when the hereditary part is changed that the affinity ceases.


[Stamp of heredity, race, caste and family:] A very big stamp in most cases – it is in the physical vital and physical material that the stamp chiefly exists – and it is increased by education and upbringing.


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Many things in the body and some in the mind and vital are inherited from the father and mother or other ancestors – that everybody is supposed to know. There are other things that are not inherited, but peculiar to one’s own nature or developed by the happenings of this life.


Karma and heredity are the two main causes [which determine the temperament at birth]. According to some heredity is also subject to Karma, but that may be only in a general way, not in all the details.


All energies put into activity – thought, speech, feeling, act – go to constitute Karma. These things help to develop the nature in one direction or another, and the nature and its actions and reactions produce their consequences inward and outward: they also act on others and create movements in the general sum of forces which can return upon oneself sooner or later. Thoughts unexpressed can also go out as forces and produce their effects. It is a mistake to think that a thought or will can have effect only when it is expressed in speech or act: the unspoken thought, the unexpressed will are also active energies and can produce their own vibrations, effects or reactions.


December 24, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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Exact? How can one measure exactly where vital, mental and spiritual factors come in? In dealing with a star and atom you may (though it appears you can’t with an electron) but not with a man and his living mind, soul and body.




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What X said is true, the play of the forces is very complex and one has to be conscious of them and, as it were, see and watch how they work before one can really understand why things happen as they do. All action is surrounded by a complexity of forces and if one puts a force for one of them to succeed, one must be careful to do it thoroughly and maintain it and not leave doors open for the other contrary ones to find their way in. Each man is himself a field of many forces – some were working for his sadhana, some were working for his ego and desires. There are besides powers which seek to make a man an instrument for purposes not his own without his knowing it. All of these may combine to bring about a particular result. These forces work each for the fulfilment of its own drive – they need not be at all what we call hostile forces,– they are simply forces of Nature.


The feeling of jealousy and abhimāna was of course a survival from the past movements of the nature. It is so that these things go out if they are rejected; they lose their force, can stay less and less, can affect less and less the consciousness,– finally, they are able to touch no longer and so come no longer.


September 8, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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Anyone with some intelligence and power of observation who lives more in an inward consciousness can see the play of invisible forces at every step which act on men and bring about events without their knowing about the instrumentation. The difference created by yoga or by an inner consciousness – for there are people like Socrates who develop or have some inner consciousness without yoga – is that one becomes conscious of these invisible forces and can also consciously profit by them or use and direct them. That is all.


May 2, 1938
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

Sri Aurobindo’s revised version of the letter see here (May 3, 1938)

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[Vital interchange:] Difficult to specify. There is always a drawing of vital forces from one to another in all human social mixture that takes place automatically. Love-making is one of the most powerful ways of each drawing upon the other’s vital force, or of one drawing the other’s, which also often happens in a one-sided way to the great detriment of the “other”. In the passage come many things good and bad, elation, feeling of strength and support, infiltration of good or bad qualities, interchange of psychological moods, states and movements, depressions, exhaustion – the whole gamut. People don’t know it – which is a mercy of God upon them – but when one gets into a certain yogic consciousness, one becomes very much aware and sensitive to all this interchange and action and reaction, but also one can build a wall against, reject etc. etc.

It is a wall of consciousness that one has to build. Consciousness is not something abstract, it is like existence itself or Ananda or mind or prāṇa, something very concrete. If one becomes aware of the inner consciousness, one can do all sorts of things with it, send it out as a stream of force, erect a circle or wall of consciousness around oneself, direct an idea so that it shall enter somebody’s head in America etc. etc.


March 19, 1936
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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His new consciousness makes him feel more strongly the opposite forces that one contacts when one moves in the world and has to do affairs and meet with others and he is afraid of a response in the vital which will upset his sadhana or create difficulties. Evidently he is a man who is psychically sensitive or has become so to that thing which you blindly refuse to recognise even when you are in the midst of it – the play of forces. You can feel your friend’s atmosphere through the letter “so beautiful, so strengthening, so refreshing” and it has an immediate effect on you. But your mind stares like an owl and wonders “What the hell can this be?”, I suppose, because your medical books never told you about it and how can things be true which are not known either to the ordinary mind or science? It is by an incursion of an opposite kind of forces that you fall into the Old Man’s clutches, but you can only groan and cry, “What’s this?” and when they are swept aside in a moment by other forces blink and mutter, “Well, that’s funny!” Your friend can feel and know at once when he is being threatened by the opposite forces and so he can be on his guard and resist old Nick, because he can detect at once one of his principal means of attack.


To Doshi, Nagin

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The consciousness of these things [influences of people] is intended for knowledge – a psycho-occult knowledge, necessary for the fullness of consciousness and experience. It is not intended that what is felt should be allowed to become an influence, whether a good one or a bad one.


As for the other matter, there are two different things. Some people have a faculty for receiving impressions about others which is not by any means infallible, but often turns out to be right. That is one thing and the yogic intuition by which one directly knows or feels what is in a man, his capacities, character, temperament is another. The first may help for developing the other, but it is not the same thing. The yogic faculty has to be and it can be complete only with a great development of the inner consciousness.


February 3, 1936
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

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Leave aside the question of Divine or undivine, no spiritual man who acts dynamically is limited to physical contact – the idea that physical contact through writing, speech, meeting is indispensable to the action of the spiritual force is self-contradictory, for then it would not be a spiritual force. The spirit is not limited by physical things or by the body. If you have the spiritual force, it can act on people thousands of miles away who do not know and never will know that you are acting on them or that they are being acted upon – they only know that there is a force enabling them to do things and may very well suppose it is their own great energy and genius.


The Divine Forces are meant to be used – the mistake of man individualised in the Ignorance is to use it for the ego and not for the Divine. It is that that has to be set right by the union with the Divine Consciousness and also by the widening of the individual being so that it can live consciously in the universal. Difficult it is owing to the fixed ego-habit, but it is not impossible.


All force comes from the Divine but it is more usually misused than used spiritually or rightly.


September 2, 1931
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

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It is certainly possible to have consciousness of things at a distance and to intervene.

The idea that yogins do not or ought not to use these powers I regard as an ascetic superstition. I believe that all yogins who have these powers do use them whenever they find that they are called on from within to do so. They may refrain if they think the use in a particular case is contrary to the Divine Will or see that preventing one evil may be opening the door to a worse or for any other valid reason, but not from any general prohibitory rule. What is forbidden to anyone with a strong spiritual sense is to be a miracle-monger, performing extraordinary things for show, for gain, for fame, out of vanity or pride. It is forbidden to use powers from mere vital motives, to make an Asuric ostentation of them or to turn them into a support for arrogance, conceit, ambition or any other of the amiable weaknesses to which human nature is prone. It is because half-baked yogins so often fall into these traps of the hostile forces that the use of yogic powers is sometimes discouraged as harmful to the user.

But it is mostly people who live much in the vital that so fall; with a strong and free and calm mind and a psychic awake and alive, such pettinesses are not likely to occur. As for those who can live in the true Divine Consciousness, certain powers are not powers at all in that sense, not, that is to say, supernatural or abnormal, but rather their normal way of seeing and acting, part of the consciousness – and how can they be forbidden or refuse to act according to their consciousness and its nature?

I suppose I have had myself an even more completely European education than you, and I have had too my period of agnostic denial, but from the moment I looked at these things I could never take the attitude of doubt and disbelief which was for so long fashionable in Europe. Abnormal, otherwise supraphysical experiences and powers, occult or yogic, have always seemed to me something perfectly natural and credible. Consciousness in its very nature could not be limited by the ordinary physical human-animal consciousness, it must have other ranges. Yogic or occult powers are no more supernatural or incredible than is supernatural or incredible the power to write a great poem or compose great music; few people can do it, as things are,– not even one in a million; for poetry and music come from the inner being and to write or to compose true and great things one has to have the passage clear between the outer mind and something in the inner being. That is why you got the poetic power as soon as you began yoga,– yogic force made the passage clear. It is the same with yogic consciousness and its powers; the thing is to get the passage clear,– for they are already within you. Of course, the first thing is to believe, aspire and, with the true urge within, make the endeavour.


Jādu (magic) is a special practice which is done by professional magicians or those who learn the art of the magician, but it is no part of yoga. What happens in yoga is that sometimes or even very commonly certain powers develop in the sadhak by which he can influence others or make them do things or make things happen that he wants. This and other yogic powers should never be used by the sadhak for egoistic purposes or to satisfy his vital desires. They can only be used when they become part of the realised divine consciousness by the Mother herself or at her command for good and unselfish purposes. There is no harm in yogic powers that come naturally as a part of the new consciousness and are not used for a wrong personal purpose. For instance you see something in vision or dream and that happens afterwards in the waking state. Well, that is a yogic power of prevision, knowing future things which often occurs as the consciousness grows; there is nothing wrong in its happening; it is part of the growth in sadhana. So with other powers. Only one must not get proud or boast or misuse the powers for the sake of desire, pride, power or the satisfaction of the ego.

The vision you saw of the man and the fire at his feet was probably a vision of the God Agni from whom flows the fire of tapasya and purification in the sadhana.

When the sadhana progresses, one almost always gets the power of vision; what one sees is true if one remains in the right consciousness. There are also wrong voices and experiences. The people who have gone mad, went mad because they were egoistic, began to think themselves great sadhaks and attach an exaggerated importance to themselves and their experiences; this made them get a wrong consciousness and wrong voices and visions and inspirations. They attached so much importance to them that they refused to listen to the Mother and finally became hostile to her because she told them they were in error and checked their delusions. Your visions and experiences are very true and good and I have explained to you what they signify – the wrong ones tried to come but you threw them away, because you were not attached to them and are fixed on the true aim of sadhana. One must not get attached to these things, but observe them simply and go on; then they become a help and cannot be a danger.


By black magic is meant the occultism of the adverse powers – the occultism of the divine Powers is quite different. One is based on unity, the other on division.


It is difficult to say [why Christ healed people] – it looks from the Bible account as if he did it as a sign that he was one sent by the Divine with power.


March 31, 1936

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You are quite right. She [Madame Blavatsky] was an occultist, not a spiritual personality. What spiritual teaching she gave, seemed to be based on intellectual knowledge, not on realisation. Her attitude was Tibetan Buddhistic. She did not believe in God, but in Nirvana, miraculous powers and the Mahatmas.


It is not possible to put any credence in the stories about this Swami.... It is possible that he has practised some kind of Tantric Yoga and obtained a few occult powers, but in all that you have said about him and in the printed papers there is no trace of any spiritual realisation or experience. All that he seems to think about is occult powers and feats of thaumaturgy. Those who take their stand on occult powers divorced from spiritual experiences are not yogis of a high plane of achievement. There are yogis who behave as if they had no control over themselves – the theory is that they separate the spirit from the nature and live in their inner realisation leaving the nature to a disordered action “like a child, mad man, piśāca or inert object”. There are others who deliberately use rough or violent speech to keep people at a distance or to test them. But the outbreak of rage of this Swami which you recount seems to have been simply an outburst of fury due to offended egoism. His judgment about Ramana Maharshi is absurd in the extreme1. As to his asking for the nail, hair etc. and his presenting of clothes or jumper, it was probably to establish a physical means of establishing an occult influence on you and your wife possibly by some Tantric or magic kriyā – in Tibet such magic processes are well-known and in common use.


November 15, 1948
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


I don’t know whether I can throw any positive light on X’s mystic experiences. The description, at any rate the latter part is not very easy to follow as it is very allusive in its expressions and not always precise enough to be clear. The first part of the experience indicates a native power of healing of whose action she herself does not know the process. It seems from her account to come from something in herself which should be from the terms she uses a larger and higher and brighter and more powerful consciousness with which she is in occasional communion but in which she does not constantly live. On the other hand another sentence seems to point to a Godhead or Divine Presence giving commands to her to guide others so that they might grow in consciousness. But she distinctly speaks of it as a greater “me” standing behind a blue diamond force. We must fall back then on the idea of a greater consciousness very high up with a feeling of divinity, a sense of considerable light and spiritual authority – perhaps in one of those higher spiritual mental planes of which I speak in The Life Divine and the Letters. The diamond light could well be native to these planes; it is usually white, but there it might well be blue; it is a light that dispels or drives away all impure things, especially a demoniac possession or the influence of some evil force. Evidently, the use of a power like this should be carefully guarded from the intrusion of any wrong element such as personal love of power, but that need not cause any apprehension as a keen inlook into oneself would be sufficient to reject it or keep it aloof. I think that is all I can say upon the data given in her letter.


August 25, 1936
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


About spiritism, I think, I can say this much for the present. It is quite possible for the dead or rather the departed – for they are not dead – who are still in regions near the earth to have communication with the living; sometimes it happens automatically, sometimes by an effort at communication on one side of the curtain or the other. There is no impossibility of such communication by the means used by the spiritists; usually, however, genuine communications or a contact can only be with those who are yet in a world which is a sort of idealised replica of the earth-consciousness and in which the same personality, ideas, memories persist that the person had here. But all that pretends to be communications with departed souls is not genuine, especially when it is done through a paid professional medium. There is there an enormous amount of mixture of a very undesirable kind – for apart from the great mass of unconscious suggestions from the sitters or the contributions of the medium’s subliminal consciousness, one gets into contact with a world of beings which is of a very deceptive or self-deceptive illusory nature. Many of these come and claim to be the departed souls of relatives, acquaintances, well-known men, famous personalities, etc. There are also beings who pick up the discarded feelings and memories of the dead and masquerade with them. There are a great number of beings who come to such seances only to play with the consciousness of men or exercise their powers through this contact with the earth and who dope the mediums and sitters with their falsehoods, tricks and illusions. (I am supposing, of course, the case of mediums who are not themselves tricksters.) A contact with such a plane of spirits can be harmful (most mediums become nervously or morally unbalanced) and spiritually dangerous. Of course, all pretended communications with the famous dead of long-past times are in their very nature deceptive and most of those with the recent ones also – that is evident from the character of these communications. Through conscientious mediums one may get sound results (in the matter of the dead), but even these are very ignorant of the nature of the forces they are handling and have no discrimination which can guard them against trickery from the other side of the veil. Very little genuine knowledge of the nature of the after-life can be gathered from these seances; a true knowledge is more often gained by the experience of individuals who make serious contact or are able in one way or another to cross the border.


They [mediums, clairvoyants, etc.] are most of them in contact with the vital-physical or subtle physical worlds and do not receive anything higher at all.




December 23, 1936

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The view taken by the Mahatma in these matters is Christian rather than Hindu – for the Christian, self-abasement, humility, the acceptance of a low status to serve humanity or the Divine are things which are highly spiritual and the noblest privilege of the soul. This view does not admit any hierarchy of castes; the Mahatma accepts castes but on the basis that all are equal before the Divine; a Bhangi doing his dharma is as good as the Brahmin doing his, there is division of function but no hierarchy of functions. That is one view of things and the hierarchic view is another, both having a standpoint and logic of their own which the mind takes as wholly valid but which only corresponds to a part of the reality. All kinds of work are equal before the Divine and all men have the same Brahman within them is one truth, but that development is not equal in all is another. The idea that it needs a special puṇya to be born as a Bhangi is, of course, one of those forceful exaggerations of an idea which are common with the Mahatma and impress greatly the mind of his hearers. The idea behind is that his function is an indispensable service to the society, quite as much as the Brahmin’s, but, that being disagreeable, it would need a special moral heroism to choose it voluntarily and he thinks as if the soul freely chose it as such a heroic service and as reward of righteous acts – but that is hardly likely. The service of the scavenger is indispensable under certain conditions of society, it is one of those primary necessities without which society can hardly exist and the cultural development of which the Brahmin life is part could not have taken place. But obviously the cultural development is more valuable than the service of the physical needs for the progress of humanity as opposed to its first static condition, and that development can even lead to the minimising and perhaps the entire disappearance by scientific inventions of the need for the functions of the scavenger. But that, I suppose, the Mahatma would not approve of, as it would come by machinery and would be a departure from the simple life. In any case, it is not true that the Bhangi life is superior to the Brahmin life and the reward of a special righteousness. On the other hand, the traditional conception that a man is superior to others because he is born a Brahmin is not rational or justifiable. A spiritual or cultured man of pariah birth is superior in the divine values to an unspiritual and worldly-minded or a crude and uncultured Brahmin. Birth counts, but the basic value is in the man himself, in the soul behind, and the degree to which it manifests itself in his nature.


October 16, 1935


Sacrifice has a moral and psychological value always. This value is the same no matter what may be the cause for which the sacrifice is made, provided the one who makes it believes in the truth or justice or other worthiness of his cause. If one makes the sacrifice for a cause one knows to be wrong or unworthy, all depends on the motive and spirit of the sacrifice. Bhishma accepting death in a cause he knew to be unjust, obeyed the call of loyalty to what he felt to be his personal duty. Many have done that in the past, and the moral and psychic value of their act lies, irrespective of the nature of the cause, in the nobility of the motive.

As to the other question, in this sense of the word ‘sacrifice’, there is none for the man who gives up something which he does not value, except in so far as he undergoes loss, defies social ban or obloquy or otherwise pays a price for his liberation. I may say, however, that without being cold and unloving a man may be so seized by a spiritual call or the call of a great human cause that the family or other ties count for nothing beside it, and he leaves all joyfully, without a pang, to follow the summoning Voice.

In the spiritual sense, however, sacrifice has a different meaning – it does not so much indicate giving up what is held dear as an offering of oneself, one’s being, one’s mind, heart, will, body, life, actions to the Divine. It has the original sense of “making sacred” and is used as an equivalent of the word yajña. When the Gita speaks of the “sacrifice of knowledge”, it does not mean a giving up of anything, but a turning of the mind towards the Divine in the search for knowledge and an offering of oneself through it. It is in this sense, too, that one speaks of the offering or sacrifice of works. The Mother has written somewhere that the spiritual sacrifice is joyful and not painful in its nature. On the spiritual path, very commonly, if a seeker still feels the old ties and responsibilities strongly he is not asked to sever or leave them, but to let the call in him grow till all within is ready. Many, indeed, come away earlier because they feel that to cut loose is their only chance, and these have to go sometimes through a struggle. But the pain, the struggle, is not the essential character of this spiritual self-offering.


October 17, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


It simply means that your sacrifice is still mental and has not yet become spiritual in its character. When your vital being consents to give up its desires and enjoyments, when it offers itself to the Divine, then the Yajna will have begun. What I meant was that the European sense of the word is not the sense of the word “Yajna” or the sense of “sacrifice” in such phrases as “the sacrifice of works”. It doesn’t mean that you give up all works for the sake of the Divine – for there would be no sacrifice of works at all. Similarly the sacrifice of knowledge doesn’t mean that you painfully and resolutely make yourself a fool for the sake of the Lord. Sacrifice means an inner offering to the Divine and the real spiritual sacrifice is a very joyful thing. Otherwise one is only trying to make oneself fit and has not yet begun the real Yajna. It is because your mind is struggling with your vital, the unwilling animal and asking it to allow itself to be immolated that there is the pain and struggle. If the spiritual will (or psychic) were more in the front then you would not be lamenting over the loss of the ghee and butter and curds thrown into the Fire or trying to have a last lick at it before casting it. The only difficulty would be about bringing down the gods fully enough (a progressive labour), not about lamentations over the ghee. By the way, do you think that the Mother or myself or others who have taken up the spiritual life had not enjoyed life and that it is therefore that the Mother was able to speak of a joyous sacrifice to the Divine as a true spirit of spiritual sacrifice? Or do you think we spent the preliminary stages in longings for the lost fleshpots of Egypt and that it was only later on we felt the joy of the spiritual sacrifice? Of course we did not; we and many others had no difficulty on the score of giving up anything we thought necessary to give up and no hankering afterwards. Your rule is as usual a stiff rule that does not at all apply generally.


July 12, 1937
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


Sacrifice depends on the inner attitude. If one has nothing outward to sacrifice one has always oneself to give.


October 17, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


There is nothing noble besides in fanaticism – there is no nobility of motive, though there may be a fierce enthusiasm of motive. Religious fanaticism is something psychologically low-born and ignorant – and usually in its action fierce, cruel and base. Religious ardour like that of the martyr who sacrifices himself only is a different thing.




There has been almost continuous war in the world – it is as in the history of the Roman Republic when the gates of the temple of Janus were closed only once or twice in its many centuries – a sign that the Republic was at peace with all the world. There have been in modern times long intervals between long wars, but small ones have been generally going on somewhere or another. Man is a quarrelling and fighting animal and so long as he is so how can there be peace?


War and conquest are part of the economy of vital Nature, it is no use blaming this or that people for doing it – everybody does it who has the power and the chance. China who now complains was herself an imperialist and colonising country through all the centuries in which Japan kept religiously within her own borders.... If it were not profitable, I suppose nobody would do it. England has grown rich on the plundered wealth of India. France depends for many things on her African colonies. Japan needs an outlet for her over-abundant population and safe economic markets nearby. Each is pushed by forces that use the minds of rulers and peoples to fulfil themselves – unless human nature changes no amount of moralizing will prevent it.


October 10, 1936
To Nahar, Prithwi Singh

See the letter


I would prefer to avoid all public controversy especially if it touches in the least on politics. Gandhi’s theories are like other mental theories built on a basis of one-sided reasoning and claiming for a limited truth (that of non-violence and passive resistance) a universality which it cannot have. Such theories will always exist so long as the mind is the main instrument of human truth-seeking. To spend energy trying to destroy such theories is of little use; if destroyed they are replaced by others equally limited and partial.

As for imperialism, that is no new thing – it is as old as the human vital; there was never a time in known human history when it was not in existence. To get out of it means to change human nature or at least to curb it by a superior power. Our work is not to fight these things but to bring down a higher nature and a Truth-creation which will make spiritual Light and Power the chief force in terrestrial existence.


April 23, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


There is a truth in Ahimsa, there is a truth in destruction also. I do not teach that you should go on killing everybody every day as a spiritual dharma. I say that destruction can be done when it is part of the divine work commanded by the Divine. Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing. I consider dharma as relative; unity with the Divine and action from the Divine Will, the highest way. Buddha did not aim at action in the world but at cessation from the world-existence. For that he found the Eightfold Path a necessary preparatory discipline and so proclaimed it.

It [Ahimsa] had nothing to do with the yoga, but with the path towards liberation found by Buddha. There are many paths and all need not be one and the same in their teaching.


June 27, 1943
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


[Re Vivisection:] I feel inclined to back out of the arena or take refuge in the usual saving formula, “there is much to be said on both sides”. Your view is no doubt correct from the commonsense or what might be called the “human” point of view. Krishnaprem takes the standpoint that we must not only consider the temporary good to humanity, but certain inner laws. He thinks the harm, violence or cruelty to other beings is not compensated and cannot be justified by some physical good to a section of humanity or even to humanity as a whole; such methods awake, in his opinion, a sort of Karmic reaction apart from the moral harm to the men who do these things. He is also of the opinion that the cause of disease is psychic, that is to say, subjective and the direction should be towards curing the inner causes much more than patching up by physical means. These are ideas that have their truth also. I fully recognize the psychic law and methods and their preferability, but the ordinary run of humanity is not ready for that rule and, while it is so, doctors and their physical methods will be there. I have also supported justifiable violence on justifiable occasions, e.g., Kurukshetra and the war against Hitler and all he means. The question then, from this middle point of view, about the immediate question is whether this violence is justifiable and the occasion justifiable. I back out.


January 13, 1934


Destruction in itself is neither good nor evil. It is a fact of Nature, a necessity in the play of forces, as things are in this world. The Light destroys the Darkness and the Powers of Darkness, and that is not a movement of Ignorance!

It all depends on the character of the destruction and the forces that enter into it. All dread of fire or other violent forces should be overcome. For dread shows a weakness – the free spirit can stand fearless before even the biggest forces of Nature.


April 10, 1934
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


Why should earthquakes occur by some wrong movement of man? When man was not there, did not earthquakes occur? If he were blotted out by poison gas or otherwise, would they cease? Earthquakes are a perturbation in Nature due to some pressure of forces; frequency of earthquakes may coincide with a violence of upheavals in human life but the upheavals of earth and human life are both results of a general clash or pressure of forces, one is not the cause of the other.


July 12, 1934

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It seems to be very foolish, these fasts – as if they could alter anything at all. A fast can at most affect one’s own condition, but how can it “atone” for the doings of others or change their nature?


It is a world which has emerged from the Inconscient and these things [poverty and misery] are results of the imperfect working of the human mind which, being born into the ignorant life and matter has to learn by effort and experience. Ignorance and ego have to be outgrown before there can be a true utilisation of the resources of Nature.




The idea of time may be a mental construction, but the sense of it may not be. Savages have the idea of time but it is in connection with the sun and stars and the lapse of day and night and the seasons, not perhaps a separate construction – but one is not sure for they have metaphysical conceptions of their own. Animals are not, I think, so limited in their consciousness – they have not only sensations, but an acute memory of certain things, observation, clear associations, an intelligence that plans, a very accurate sense of place and memory of place, an initial power of reasoning (not reflectively as the human mind does, but practically as any vital mind can do). I have seen a young kitten observing, coming at a correct conclusion, proceeding to do what was necessary for her purpose, a necessity imposed by that conclusion, just as a human child might do. We cannot therefore say that animals have no ideas. No clear measure of yesterday and tomorrow, perhaps, but the perception of past and future needs is there and of right times and seasons also – all vital, practical, not reflectively mental in the human way.

But it is true that when one gets beyond the mind, this sense of time changes into timelessness, into the eternal present.


[Time sense in the animals:] A very strong time sense – at least some of them – but usually it works only in connection with strong desires or habits, e.g. food.


No doubt the physical regulated time consciousness belongs mainly to the waking state but it can be subliminal as well as of the mental waking consciousness. E.g., sometimes one wills at night to get up at a fixed time in the morning and wakes exactly at that hour and minute – it is something in the subliminal being that recorded the time and vigilantly executed it.


It is the change in the consciousness. When one begins to feel the inner being and live in it (the result of the experience of peace and silence) the ordinary time sense disappears or becomes purely external.


Time is to the Intuition an extension of consciousness in which happenings are arranged and has not the same rigidity that it has to the intellect.


You are right. The present is a convention or only a constant movement out of the past into the future.




April 24, 1936
To Doshi, Nagin

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By greatness is meant an exceptional capacity of one kind or another which makes a man eminent among his fellows.


That kind of greatness has nothing to do with the psychic. It consists in a special mental capacity (Raman, Tagore) or in a great vital force which enables them to lead men and dominate them. These faculties are often but not always accompanied by something in the personality Daivic or Asuric which supports their action and gives to men an impression of greatness apart even from the special capacity – the sense of a great personality.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


People have begun to try to prove that great men were not great, which is a very big mistake. If greatness is not appreciated by men, the world will become mean, small, dull, narrow and tamasic.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Obviously, outer greatness is not the aim of yoga. But that is no reason why one should not recognise the part played by greatness in the order of the universe or the place of great men of action, great poets and artists, etc.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


It is the power in them [the great men] that is great and that power comes from the Divine – by their actions and greatness they help the world and aid the cosmic purpose. It does not matter whether they have ego or not – they are not doing yoga.


I don’t think it can be said that Napoleon had little of ego – he was exceedingly ego-centric. He made himself a dictator from Brumaire, and as a dictator he should always have acted – but he felt the need of support and made the error of seeking it in the democratic way – a way for which he was utterly unfit. He had the capacities of a ruler but not of a politician – as a politician he would have been an entire failure. His hesitations were due to this defect – if it can be called one. He could not have dealt successfully with parties or a parliamentary assembly.


April 15, 1936
To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Why should the Divine not care for the outer greatness? He cares for everything in the universe. All greatness is the Vibhuti of the Divine, says the Gita.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


It is not only the very very big people who are of importance to the Divine. All energy, strong capacity, power of effectuation are of importance.

As for Napoleon, Caesar and Shakespeare, not one of them was a virtuous man, but they were great men, and that was your contention that only virtuous men are great men and those who have vices are not great, which is an absurd contention. All of them went after women – two were ambitious, unscrupulous. Napoleon was most arrogant and violent.

Shakespeare stole deer, Napoleon lied freely, Caesar was without scruples.


To Doshi, Nagin

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Are you in a position to make a judgment as to what will or will not help God’s work? You seem to have very elementary ideas in these matters. What is your idea of divinisation – to be a virtuous man, a good husband, son, father, a good citizen, etc.? In that case, I myself must be undivine,– for I have never been these things. Men like X or Y would then be the great Transformed Divine Men.


To Doshi, Nagin

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But do you really believe that men like Napoleon, Caesar, Shakespeare were not great men and did nothing for the world or for the cosmic purpose? that God was deterred from using them for His purpose because they had defects of character and vices? What an absurd idea!


To Doshi, Nagin

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Why should the Divine care for the vices of great men? Is he a policeman? So long as one is in the ordinary nature, one has capacities and defects, virtues and vices. When one goes beyond, there are no virtues and vices,– for these things do not belong to the Divine Nature.


April 20, 1936
To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Vice and virtue have nothing to do with darkness or light, truth and falsehood. The spiritual man rises above vice and virtue, he does not rise above truth and light, unless you mean by truth and light, human truth and mental light. They have to be transcended, just as virtue and vice have to be transcended.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Vices are simply an overflow of energy in irregulated channels.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Great men have more energy (mental, vital, physical, all kinds of energy) and the energy comes out in what men call vices as well as in what men call virtues.


To Doshi, Nagin

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Men with great capacities or a powerful mind or a powerful vital have very often more glaring defects of character than ordinary men or at least the defects of the latter do not show so much, being like themselves, smaller in scale.


April 17, 1936
To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Yes, certainly. Many great men even have often very great vices and many of them. Great men are not usually model characters.


May 1, 1936
To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


Great or dazzling or small in their field, ambition is ambition and it is necessary for most for an energetic action. What is the use of calling a thing a vice when it is small and glorifying it when it is big?


When vanity is there on a big scale, it usually works like that. The man feels the energy in all he does, and mistakes the energy for high accomplishment. It is a common error. The high accomplishment is in only one or two fields.


It is a vanity, but it is not humbug, unless he does not believe in it. If he does not believe in it, it is humbug, but it is not vanity.


To Doshi, Nagin

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Most great men know perfectly well that they are great.




[The seeking of animals:] The satisfaction of their emotions and desires and their bodily needs – mostly. Animals are predominantly the vital creation on earth – the mind in them also is a vital mind – they act according to the push of the forces and have a vital but not a mental will.


Even the animal is more in touch with a certain harmony in things than man. Man’s only superiority is a more complex consciousness and capacity (but terribly perverted and twisted by misuse of Mind) and the ability (not much used as yet) of reaching towards higher things.


Human life and mind are neither in tune with Nature like the animals nor with Spirit – it is disturbed, incoherent, conflicting with itself, without harmony and balance. We can then regard it as diseased, if not itself a disease.


The plants are very psychic, but they can express it only by silence and beauty.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


[Beauty of a flower:] Form, colour, scent and something else which is indefinable.


To Doshi, Nagin

See the letter


The rose is not the only beautiful flower, there are hundreds of others; most flowers are beautiful.

There are degrees and kinds of beauty, that is all.

The rose is among the first of flowers because of the richness of its colour, the intensity of sweetness of its scent and the grace and magnificence of its form.


It is true that the plant world – even the animals if one takes them the right way – can be much better than human beings. It is the mental distortion that makes men worse.


Yes, it is a more simple and honest consciousness – that of the animal. Of course it expects something, but even if it does not get, the affection remains. Many animals, even if ill-treated, do not lose their love which means remarkable psychic development in the vital.


The emotional being of animals is often much more psychic than that of men who can be very insensitive. There were recently pictures of the tame tigress kept by a family and afterwards given by them to a Zoo. The look of sorrow on the face of the tigress in her cage at once gentle and tragically poignant is so intense as to be heart-breaking.


Most animals do not usually attack unless they are menaced or frightened or somehow made angry – and they can feel the atmosphere of people.


Cats have a very sure vital perception.


There are people who can move the ears without doing yoga at all or calling upon the resources of the Kundalini. I suppose it is simply a movement that man has lost through disuse, not having had like the animals to prick up his ear at every moment to listen to sounds that might indicate danger. I suppose he could revive the faculty if it were of any use.




[Responsibility for suffering:] Why man’s? What about the animals? They too suffer. You can say that suffering is a distortion of the lower consciousness, but you cannot make man or human nature alone responsible for it.


Yes – to watch the animals with the right perception of their consciousness helps to get out of the human mental limitations and see the Cosmic Consciousness on earth individualising itself in all forms – plant, animal, man and growing towards what is beyond man.




January 6, 1937


I am not aware that highly evolved personalities have no sense of humour or how the person can be said to be integrated when this sense is lacking. “Looseness” applies only to a frivolous levity without any substance behind it. There is no law that wisdom should be something rigidly solemn and without a smile.


September 24, 1936
To Roy, Dilip Kumar

See the letter


Sense of humour? It is the salt of existence. Without it the world would have got utterly out of balance – it is unbalanced enough already – and rushed to blazes long ago.


January 21, 1935
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


People are exceedingly silly – but I suppose they can’t help themselves. The more I see of humanity, the more that forces itself on me. The abysses of silliness of which its mind is capable....


February 8, 1937
To Nirodbaran Talukdar

See the letter


My opinion is that Allah is great and great is the mystery of the universe and things are not what they seem, etc.


1 Absurd because the greatness of a yogi does not depend at all on how long he lives or his state of health, but on the height or the depth of his spiritual realisation and experience.


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