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Introduction to Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness - by Satprem

I become what I see in myself. All that thought suggests to me, I can do; all that thought reveals in me, I can become. This should be man's unshakable faith in himself, because God dwells in him.
--Sri Aurobindo

THERE WAS ONCE a wicked Maharaja who could not bear to think that anyone might be superior to him. So he summoned all the pandits of the realm, as was customary on momentous occasions, and put to them this question: "Which of us two is greater, I or God?" The pandits trembled. Being wise by profession, they asked for time; also, an old habit made them cling to their positions and to their lives. Yet they were worthy pandits and did not want to offend God. As they were lamenting, the oldest among them reassured them: "Leave it to me, tomorrow I will speak to the Prince." The next day, the whole court was gathered in a solemn durbar when the old pandit arrived, his hands humbly folded, his forehead smeared with white ashes. He bowed low and spoke these words: "O Lord, undoubtedly thou art the greater". The Prince twirled his long moustache thrice, and puffed himself up. "Thou art the greater, Lord, for thou canst banish us from thy kingdom, whilst God cannot: verily, all is His kingdom and there is nowhere to go outside Him".

This Indian tale, which we heard in Bengal, where Sri Aurobindo was born, has a kinship with him who said that all is He - gods, devils, men, and the earth, not merely the heavens - and whose entire experience leads to a divine rehabilitation of Matter. For the last half-century, psychology has been ceaselessly reintegrating the demons in man; the task of the next half-century may be, as Andre Malraux thought, to "reintegrate the gods in man", or rather, as Sri Aurobindo willed, to reintegrate the Spirit in man and in matter, and to create "the life divine on earth": The heavens beyond are great and wonderful, but greater and more wonderful are the heavens within you. It is these Edens that await the divine worker.

There are many ways to set out to Work. Each of us, in fact, has his or her own particular opening: for one it may be a well-crafted object or a job well done; for another a beautiful idea, a harmonious philosophical system; for still another a piece of music, a river, a burst of sunlight on the sea - all those are ways of breathing in the Infinite. But they are brief moments, while we seek a permanence. They are short spells subject to many elusive conditions, while we seek something inalienable, which depends neither on conditions nor on circumstances - a window within us that will never close again.

And since those conditions are rather difficult to meet here on earth, we speak of "God", of "spirituality", of Christ, Buddha, and the whole lineage of the founders of the great religions - all are ways of finding permanence. But perhaps we are not religious or spiritual men, just plain men who believe in the earth, who are wary of high-sounding words and tired of dogmas; perhaps we are also weary of thinking too well - all we want is our own little river flowing into the Infinite. There was once a great saint in India who, for years and years before he found peace, used to ask whomever he met, "Have you seen God?...Have you seen God? and would go away angry because people always told him stories. He wanted to see. He was not wrong, considering all the falsehood men have put behind this word, as behind so many others. Once we have seen, we will be able to talk about it - or more likely we will remain silent. No, we do not want to delude ourselves with fine words; we want to start with what we have, right where we are, with our cloddy shoes and also our little ray of sunshine on the good days, for that is our simple faith. And we do see that the earth is in a rather sorry state; we would like it to change, but we have become wary too of universal panaceas, of movements and parties and theories. So we will start at square one, that is, with ourselves; it is not much, but it is all we have, and we will try to change this little bit of world before attempting to save the other. That may not be such a foolish idea, for who knows whether changing the one is not the most effective way to changing the other?

What can Sri Aurobindo do for us at this low altitude?

There is Sri Aurobindo the philosopher, Sri Aurobindo the poet - which he was in essence - and the visionary of evolution; but not everybody is a philosopher or a poet, much less a seer. Yet would we not be content if he gave us a way to believe in our own possibilities, not only our human but our superhuman and divine possibilities, and a way not only to believe in them but to discover them ourselves, step by step, to see and become vast, as vast as the earth we love and all the lands and all the seas we hold within us? For there is Sri Aurobindo the explorer - who was also a yogi, but did he not say that Yoga is the art of conscious self-finding? It is this exploration of consciousness that we would like to undertake with him. And if we proceed calmly, patiently, with sincerity, bravely facing the difficulties on the road - and God knows it is rocky enough - there is no reason why the window should not one day open and let the sunshine in forever. In reality, it is not one but several windows that open one after another, each time onto a broader expanse, a new dimension of our kingdom, and each time it means a change of consciousness as radical as, say, passing from sleep to the waking state. We will follow here the main stages of these changes of consciousness, as Sri Aurobindo experienced them and described them to his disciples in his integral yoga, up to the point where they take us to the threshold of a new, still unknown experience that will perhaps have the power to change life.

For Sri Aurobindo is not only the explorer of consciousness, he is the builder of a new world. Indeed, what is the point of changing our consciousness if the world around us remains as it is? We would be like Andersen's emperor walking naked through the streets of his capital. Thus, after exploring the outermost frontiers of worlds not unknown to ancient wisdom, Sri Aurobindo discovered another world, as yet unmapped, which he called Supermind or Supramental, and which he sought to pull down upon earth. He invites us to pull a little with him and to take part in a beautiful story, if we like one. For the Supermind, Sri Aurobindo tells us, brings a decisive change in the evolution of the earth-consciousness that will have the power to transform our material world, and to do so as thoroughly and lastingly as, and hopefully better than, the Mind did when it first appeared in Matter. We will see, then, how the integral yoga leads to a supramental yoga, or yoga of terrestrial transformation, which we will try to outline - outline only because the story is still in the making, it is quite new and arduous, and we do not yet know very well where it will take us or even if it will succeed.

That, after all, depends a little on all of us.

--by Satprem

New Earth Books

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