Essays in Philosophy and Yoga

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Essays in
Philosophy and Yoga
© Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 1998
Published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department
Printed at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry
Essays in Philosophy and Yoga
Shorter Works
1910 – 1950
Publisher’s Note
Essays in Philosophy and Yoga consists of short works in prose
written by Sri Aurobindo between 1909 and 1950 and published
during his lifetime. All but a few of them are concerned with
aspects of spiritual philosophy, yoga, and related subjects. Short
writings on the Veda, the Upanishads, Indian culture, political theory, education, and poetics have been placed in other
The title of the volume has been provided by the editors.
It is adapted from the title of a proposed collection, “Essays
in Yoga”, found in two of Sri Aurobindo’s notebooks. Since
1971 most of the contents of the volume have appeared under
the editorial title The Supramental Manifestation and Other
The contents are arranged in five chronological parts. Part
One consists of essays published in the Karmayogin in 1909 and
1910, Part Two of a long essay written around 1912 and published in 1921, Part Three of essays and other pieces published
in the monthly review Arya between 1914 and 1921, Part Four
of an essay published in the Standard Bearer in 1920, and Part
Five of a series of essays published in the Bulletin of Physical
Education in 1949 and 1950.
Many of the essays in Part Three were revised slightly by the
author and published in small books between 1920 and 1941.
The editors have retained the titles and arrangement of most of
those books.
The texts of the pieces have been checked against the texts
published in journals and books during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime.
Part One
Essays from the Karmayogin (1909 – 1910)
The Ideal of the Karmayogin
Man — Slave or Free?
Yoga and Human Evolution
Yoga and Hypnotism
The Greatness of the Individual
The Process of Evolution
Stead and the Spirits
Stead and Maskelyne
Fate and Free-Will
The Three Purushas
The Strength of Stillness
The Principle of Evil
The Stress of the Hidden Spirit
Part Two
The Yoga and Its Objects (circa 1912)
The Yoga and Its Objects
Appendix: Explanations of Some Words and Phrases 92
Part Three
Writings from the Arya (1914 – 1921)
Notes on the Arya
The “Arya’s” Second Year
Appendix: Passages Omitted from “Our Ideal”
The “Arya’s” Fourth Year
On Ideals and Progress
On Ideals
Yoga and Skill in Works
Conservation and Progress
The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress
Our Ideal
The Superman
The Superman
All-Will and Free-Will
The Delight of Works
The Inconscient
Thoughts and Glimpses
Thoughts and Glimpses
The Problem of Rebirth
Section I: Rebirth and Karma
The Reincarnating Soul
Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
The Significance of Rebirth
The Ascending Unity
Involution and Evolution
Karma and Freedom
Karma, Will and Consequence
Rebirth and Karma
Karma and Justice
Section II: The Lines of Karma
The Foundation
The Terrestrial Law
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
The Higher Lines of Karma
Appendix I: The Tangle of Karma
Appendix II: A Clarification
Other Writings from the Arya
The Question of the Month
The Needed Synthesis
“Arya” — Its Significance
Different Methods of Writing
Occult Knowledge and the Hindu Scriptures
The Universal Consciousness
The News of the Month
The News of the Month
South Indian Vaishnava Poetry
Andal: The Vaishnava Poetess
Nammalwar: The Supreme Vaishnava Saint
and Poet
Arguments to The Life Divine
Arguments to The Life Divine
Part Four
From the Standard Bearer (1920)
Part Five
From the Bulletin of Physical Education (1949 – 1950)
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
Perfection of the Body
The Divine Body
Supermind and the Life Divine
Supermind and Humanity
Supermind in the Evolution
Mind of Light
Supermind and Mind of Light
Part One
Essays from the Karmayogin
1909 – 1910
Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry
The Ideal of the Karmayogin
NATION is building in India today before the eyes of
the world so swiftly, so palpably that all can watch the
process and those who have sympathy and intuition distinguish the forces at work, the materials in use, the lines of
the divine architecture. This nation is not a new race raw from
the workshop of Nature or created by modern circumstances.
One of the oldest races and greatest civilisations on this earth,
the most indomitable in vitality, the most fecund in greatness,
the deepest in life, the most wonderful in potentiality, after
taking into itself numerous sources of strength from foreign
strains of blood and other types of human civilisation, is now
seeking to lift itself for good into an organised national unity.
Formerly a congeries of kindred nations with a single life and
a single culture, always by the law of this essential oneness
tending to unity, always by its excess of fecundity engendering fresh diversities and divisions, it has never yet been able
to overcome permanently the almost insuperable obstacles to
the organisation of a continent. The time has now come when
those obstacles can be overcome. The attempt which our race
has been making throughout its long history, it will now make
under entirely new circumstances. A keen observer would predict its success because the only important obstacles have been
or are in the process of being removed. But we go farther and
believe that it is sure to succeed because the freedom, unity and
greatness of India have now become necessary to the world.
This is the faith in which the Karmayogin puts its hand to
the work and will persist in it, refusing to be discouraged by
difficulties however immense and apparently insuperable. We
believe that God is with us and in that faith we shall conquer. We believe that humanity needs us and it is the love
and service of humanity, of our country, of the race, of our
Essays from the Karmayogin
religion that will purify our heart and inspire our action in the
The task we set before ourselves is not mechanical but moral
and spiritual. We aim not at the alteration of a form of government but at the building up of a nation. Of that task politics
is a part, but only a part. We shall devote ourselves not to
politics alone, nor to social questions alone, nor to theology or
philosophy or literature or science by themselves, but we include
all these in one entity which we believe to be all-important,
the dharma, the national religion which we also believe to be
universal. There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of
human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience
of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the sanātana dharma, the eternal
religion. Under the stress of alien impacts she has largely lost
hold not of the structure of that dharma, but of its living reality.
For the religion of India is nothing if it is not lived. It has to be
applied not only to life, but to the whole of life; its spirit has
to enter into and mould our society, our politics, our literature,
our science, our individual character, affections and aspirations.
To understand the heart of this dharma, to experience it as a
truth, to feel the high emotions to which it rises and to express
and execute it in life is what we understand by Karmayoga. We
believe that it is to make the yoga the ideal of human life that
India rises today; by the yoga she will get the strength to realise
her freedom, unity and greatness, by the yoga she will keep the
strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and
the material is only its shadow and reflex.
The European sets great store by machinery. He seeks to
renovate humanity by schemes of society and systems of government; he hopes to bring about the millennium by an act of
Parliament. Machinery is of great importance, but only as a
working means for the spirit within, the force behind. The nineteenth century in India aspired to political emancipation, social
renovation, religious vision and rebirth, but it failed because
it adopted Western motives and methods, ignored the spirit,
history and destiny of our race and thought that by taking over
The Ideal of the Karmayogin
European education, European machinery, European organisation and equipment we should reproduce in ourselves European
prosperity, energy and progress. We of the twentieth century
reject the aims, ideals and methods of the Anglicised nineteenth
precisely because we accept its experience. We refuse to make
an idol of the present; we look before and after, backward to the
mighty history of our race, forward to the grandiose destiny for
which that history has prepared it.
We do not believe that our political salvation can be attained
by enlargement of Councils, introduction of the elective principle, colonial self-government or any other formula of European
politics. We do not deny the use of some of these things as
instruments, as weapons in a political struggle, but we deny
their sufficiency whether as instruments or ideals and look beyond to an end which they do not serve except in a trifling
degree. They might be sufficient if it were our ultimate destiny
to be an outlying province of the British Empire or a dependent adjunct of European civilisation. That is a future which
we do not think it worth making any sacrifice to accomplish.
We believe on the other hand that India is destined to work
out her own independent life and civilisation, to stand in the
forefront of the world and solve the political, social, economical
and moral problems which Europe has failed to solve, yet the
pursuit of whose solution and the feverish passage in that pursuit
from experiment to experiment, from failure to failure she calls
her progress. Our means must be as great as our ends and the
strength to discover and use the means so as to attain the end
can only be found by seeking the eternal source of strength in
We do not believe that by changing the machinery so as to
make our society the ape of Europe we shall effect social renovation. Widow-remarriage, substitution of class for caste, adult
marriage, intermarriages, interdining and the other nostrums
of the social reformer are mechanical changes which, whatever
their merits or demerits, cannot by themselves save the soul of
the nation alive or stay the course of degradation and decline.
It is the spirit alone that saves, and only by becoming great and
Essays from the Karmayogin
free in heart can we become socially and politically great and
We do not believe that by multiplying new sects limited
within the narrower and inferior ideas of religion imported from
the West or by creating organisations for the perpetuation of the
mere dress and body of Hinduism we can recover our spiritual
health, energy and greatness. The world moves through an indispensable interregnum of free thought and materialism to a new
synthesis of religious thought and experience, a new religious
world-life free from intolerance, yet full of faith and fervour,
accepting all forms of religion because it has an unshakable
faith in the One. The religion which embraces Science and faith,
Theism, Christianity, Mahomedanism and Buddhism and yet is
none of these, is that to which the World-Spirit moves. In our
own, which is the most sceptical and the most believing of all,
the most sceptical because it has questioned and experimented
the most, the most believing because it has the deepest experience and the most varied and positive spiritual knowledge, —
that wider Hinduism which is not a dogma or combination of
dogmas but a law of life, which is not a social framework but
the spirit of a past and future social evolution, which rejects
nothing but insists on testing and experiencing everything and
when tested and experienced turning it to the soul’s uses, in this
Hinduism we find the basis of the future world-religion. This
sanātana dharma has many scriptures, Veda, Vedanta, Gita,
Upanishad, Darshana, Purana, Tantra, nor could it reject the
Bible or the Koran; but its real, most authoritative scripture is in
the heart in which the Eternal has His dwelling. It is in our inner
spiritual experiences that we shall find the proof and source of
the world’s Scriptures, the law of knowledge, love and conduct,
the basis and inspiration of Karmayoga.
Our aim will therefore be to help in building up India for the
sake of humanity — this is the spirit of the Nationalism which
we profess and follow. We say to humanity, “The time has come
when you must take the great step and rise out of a material
existence into the higher, deeper and wider life towards which
humanity moves. The problems which have troubled mankind
The Ideal of the Karmayogin
can only be solved by conquering the kingdom within, not by
harnessing the forces of Nature to the service of comfort and
luxury, but by mastering the forces of the intellect and the spirit,
by vindicating the freedom of man within as well as without
and by conquering from within external Nature. For that work
the resurgence of Asia is necessary, therefore Asia rises. For that
work the freedom and greatness of India is essential, therefore
she claims her destined freedom and greatness, and it is to the
interest of all humanity, not excluding England, that she should
wholly establish her claim.”
We say to the nation, “It is God’s will that we should be
ourselves and not Europe. We have sought to regain life by
following the law of another being than our own. We must
return and seek the sources of life and strength within ourselves.
We must know our past and recover it for the purposes of our
future. Our business is to realise ourselves first and to mould
everything to the law of India’s eternal life and nature. It will
therefore be the object of the Karmayogin to read the heart of
our religion, our society, our philosophy, politics, literature, art,
jurisprudence, science, thought, everything that was and is ours,
so that we may be able to say to ourselves and our nation, ‘This
is our dharma.’ We shall review European civilisation entirely
from the standpoint of Indian thought and knowledge and seek
to throw off from us the dominating stamp of the Occident;
what we have to take from the West we shall take as Indians.
And the dharma once discovered we shall strive our utmost not
only to profess but to live, in our individual actions, in our social
life, in our political endeavours.”
We say to the individual and especially to the young who
are now arising to do India’s work, the world’s work, God’s
work, “You cannot cherish these ideals, still less can you fulfil
them if you subject your minds to European ideas or look at
life from the material standpoint. Materially you are nothing,
spiritually you are everything. It is only the Indian who can
believe everything, dare everything, sacrifice everything. First
therefore become Indians. Recover the patrimony of your forefathers. Recover the Aryan thought, the Aryan discipline, the
Essays from the Karmayogin
Aryan character, the Aryan life. Recover the Vedanta, the Gita,
the Yoga. Recover them not only in intellect or sentiment but in
your lives. Live them and you will be great and strong, mighty,
invincible and fearless. Neither life nor death will have any terrors for you. Difficulty and impossibility will vanish from your
vocabularies. For it is in the spirit that strength is eternal and
you must win back the kingdom of yourselves, the inner Swaraj,
before you can win back your outer empire. There the Mother
dwells and She waits for worship that She may give strength. Believe in Her, serve Her, lose your wills in Hers, your egoism in the
greater ego of the country, your separate selfishness in the service
of humanity. Recover the source of all strength in yourselves and
all else will be added to you, social soundness, intellectual preeminence, political freedom, the mastery of human thought, the
hegemony of the world.”
E HAVE spoken of Karmayoga as the application of
Vedanta and Yoga to life. To many who take their
knowledge of Hinduism secondhand this may seem
a doubtful definition. It is ordinarily supposed by “practical”
minds that Vedanta as a guide to life and Yoga as a method of
spiritual communion are dangerous things which lead men away
from action to abstraction. We leave aside those who regard all
such beliefs as mysticism, self-delusion or imposture; but even
those who reverence and believe in the high things of Hinduism
have the impression that one must remove oneself from a full
human activity in order to live the spiritual life. Yet the spiritual
life finds its most potent expression in the man who lives the
ordinary life of men in the strength of the Yoga and under the law
of the Vedanta. It is by such a union of the inner life and the outer
that mankind will eventually be lifted up and become mighty
and divine. It is a delusion to suppose that Vedanta contains no
inspiration to life, no rule of conduct, and is purely metaphysical
and quietistic. On the contrary, the highest morality of which
humanity is capable finds its one perfect basis and justification in
the teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita. The characteristic
doctrines of the Gita are nothing if they are not a law of life,
a dharma, and even the most transcendental aspirations of the
Vedanta presuppose a preparation in life, for it is only through
life that one can reach to immortality. The opposite opinion is
due to certain tendencies which have bulked large in the history
and temperament of our race. The ultimate goal of our religion is
emancipation from the bondage of material Nature and freedom
from individual rebirth, and certain souls, among the highest we
have known, have been drawn by the attraction of the final hush
and purity to dissociate themselves from life and bodily action
in order more swiftly and easily to reach the goal. Standing like
Essays from the Karmayogin
mountain-peaks above the common level, they have attracted
all eyes and fixed this withdrawal as the highest and most commanding Hindu ideal. It is for this reason that Sri Krishna laid
so much stress on the perfect Yogin’s cleaving to life and human
activity even after his need of them was over, lest the people,
following, as they always do, the example of their best, turn
away from their dharma and bastard confusion reign. The ideal
Yogin is no withdrawn and pent-up force, but ever engaged in
doing good to all creatures, either by the flood of the divine
energy that he pours on the world or by himself standing in the
front of humanity, its leader in the march and the battle, but
unbound by his works and superior to his personality.
Moreover the word Vedanta is usually identified with the
strict Monism and the peculiar theory of Maya established by
the lofty and ascetic intellect of Shankara. But it is the Upanishads themselves and not Shankara’s writings, the text and
not the commentary, that are the authoritative Scripture of the
Vedantin. Shankara’s, great and temporarily satisfying as it was,
is still only one synthesis and interpretation of the Upanishads.
There have been others in the past which have powerfully influenced the national mind and there is no reason why there
should not be a yet more perfect synthesis in the future. It
is such a synthesis, embracing all life and action in its scope,
that the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda have
been preparing. What is dimly beginning now is a repetition
on a wider stage of what happened once before in India, more
rapidly but to smaller issues, when the Buddha lived and taught
his philosophy and ethics to the Aryan nations. Then as now a
mighty spirit, it matters not whether Avatar or Vibhuti, the full
expression of God in man or a great outpouring of the divine
energy, came down among men and brought into their daily life
and practice the force and impulse of utter spirituality. And this
time it is the full light and not a noble part, unlike Buddhism
which, expressing Vedantic morality, yet ignored a fundamental
reality of Vedanta and was therefore expelled from its prime seat
and cradle. The material result was then what it will be now,
a great political, moral and social revolution which made India
the Guru of the nations and carried the light she had to give
all over the civilised world, moulding ideas and creating forms
which are still extant and a living force. Already the Vedanta
and the Yoga have exceeded their Asiatic limit and are beginning
to influence the life and practice of America and Europe; and
they have long been filtering into Western thought by a hundred
indirect channels. But these are small rivers and underground
streams. The world waits for the rising of India to receive the
divine flood in its fullness.
Yoga is communion with God for knowledge, for love or for
work. The Yogin puts himself into direct relation with that which
is omniscient and omnipotent within man and without him. He
is in tune with the infinite, he becomes a channel for the strength
of God to pour itself out upon the world whether through calm
benevolence or active beneficence. When a man rises by putting
from him the slough of self and lives for others and in the joys
and sorrows of others; — when he works perfectly and with love
and zeal, but casts away the anxiety for results and is neither
eager for victory nor afraid of defeat; — when he devotes all
his works to God and lays every thought, word and deed as
an offering on the divine altar; — when he gets rid of fear and
hatred, repulsion and disgust and attachment, and works like the
forces of Nature, unhasting, unresting, inevitably, perfectly; —
when he rises above the thought that he is the body or the heart
or the mind or the sum of these and finds his own and true self; —
when he becomes aware of his immortality and the unreality of
death; — when he experiences the advent of knowledge and feels
himself passive and the divine force working unresisted through
his mind, his speech, his senses and all his organs; — when having thus abandoned whatever he is, does or has to the Lord of
all, the Lover and Helper of mankind, he dwells permanently in
Him and becomes incapable of grief, disquiet or false excitement,
— that is Yoga. Pranayam and Asans, concentration, worship,
ceremonies, religious practice are not themselves Yoga but only a
means towards Yoga. Nor is Yoga a difficult or dangerous path,
it is safe and easy to all who take refuge with the Inner Guide
and Teacher. All men are potentially capable of it, for there is no
Essays from the Karmayogin
man who has not strength or faith or love developed or latent in
his nature, and any one of these is a sufficient staff for the Yogin.
All cannot, indeed, reach in a single life the highest in this path,
but all can go forward; and in proportion as a man advances
he gets peace, strength and joy. And even a little of this dharma
delivers man or nation out of great fear.
-vSpm=y-y Dm-y /Ayt
mhto ByAt^.
It is an error, we repeat, to think that spirituality is a thing
divorced from life. “Abandon all” says the Isha Upanishad “that
thou mayst enjoy all, neither covet any man’s possession. But
verily do thy deeds in this world and wish to live thy hundred
years; no other way is given thee than this to escape the bondage
of thy acts.” It is an error to think that the heights of religion
are above the struggles of this world. The recurrent cry of Sri
Krishna to Arjuna insists on the struggle; “Fight and overthrow
thy opponents!” “Remember me and fight!” “Give up all thy
works to me with a heart full of spirituality, and free from
craving, free from selfish claims, fight! let the fever of thy soul
pass from thee.” It is an error to imagine that even when the
religious man does not give up his ordinary activities, he yet
becomes too sattwic, too saintly, too loving or too passionless
for the rough work of the world. Nothing can be more extreme
and uncompromising than the reply of the Gita in the opposite
sense, “Whosoever has his temperament purged from egoism,
whosoever suffers not his soul to receive the impress of the
deed, though he slay the whole world yet he slays not and is
not bound.” The Charioteer of Kurukshetra driving the car of
Arjuna over that field of ruin is the image and description of
Karmayoga; for the body is the chariot and the senses are the
horses of the driving and it is through the bloodstained and miresunk ways of the world that Sri Krishna pilots the soul of man
to Vaicuntha.
Man — Slave or Free?
HE EXCLUSIVE pursuit of Yoga by men who seclude
themselves either physically or mentally from the contact
of the world has led to an erroneous view of this science as
something mystic, far-off and unreal. The secrecy which has been
observed with regard to Yogic practices, — a necessary secrecy
in the former stages of human evolution, — has stereotyped this
error. Practices followed by men who form secret circles and
confine the instruction in the mysteries strictly to those who
have a certain preparatory fitness, inevitably bear the stamp
to the outside world of occultism. In reality there is nothing
intrinsically hidden, occult or mystic about Yoga. Yoga is based
upon certain laws of human psychology, a certain knowledge
about the power of the mind over the body and the inner spirit
over the mind which are not generally realised and have hitherto
been considered by those in the secret too momentous in their
consequences for disclosure until men should be trained to use
them aright. Just as a set of men who had discovered and tested
the uttermost possibilities of mesmerism and hypnotism might
hesitate to divulge them freely to the world lest the hypnotic
power should be misused by ignorance or perversity or abused in
the interests of selfishness and crime, so the Yogins have usually
preserved the knowledge of these much greater forces within us
in a secrecy broken only when they were sure of the previous
ethical and spiritual training of the neophyte and his physical
and moral fitness for the Yogic practices. It became therefore
an established rule for the learner to observe strict reserve as
to the inner experiences of Yoga and for the developed Yogin
as far as possible to conceal himself. This has not prevented
treatises and manuals from being published dealing with the
physical or with the moral and intellectual sides of Yoga. Nor
has it prevented great spirits who have gained their Yoga not
Essays from the Karmayogin
by the ordinary careful and scientific methods but by their own
strength and the special grace of God, from revealing themselves
and their spiritual knowledge to mankind and in their intense
love for humanity imparting something of their power to the
world. Such were Buddha, Christ, Mahomed, Chaitanya, such
have been Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. It is still the orthodox view that the experiences of Yoga must not be revealed
to the uninitiated. But a new era dawns upon us in which the
old laws must be modified. Already the West is beginning to
discover the secrets of Yoga. Some of its laws have revealed
themselves however dimly and imperfectly to the scientists of
Europe while others through Spiritualism, Christian Science,
clairvoyance, telepathy and other modern forms of occultism
are being almost discovered by accident as if by men groping
in the dark and stumbling over truths they cannot understand.
The time has almost come when India can no longer keep her
light to herself but must pour it out upon the world. Yoga must
be revealed to mankind because without it mankind cannot take
the next step in the human evolution.
The psychology of the human race has not yet been discovered by Science. All creation is essentially the same and proceeds
by similar though not identical laws. If therefore we see in the
outside material world that all phenomena proceed from and can
be reduced to a single causal substance from which they were
born, in which they move and to which they return, the same
truth is likely to hold good in the psychical world. The unity
of the material universe has now been acknowledged by the
scientific intellect of Europe and the high priests of atheism and
materialism in Germany have declared the ekam evādvitı̄yam in
matter with no uncertain voice. In so doing they have merely
reaffirmed the discovery made by Indian masters of the Yogic
science thousands of years ago. But the European scientists have
not discovered any sure and certain methods, such as they have
in dealing with gross matter, for investigating psychical phenomena. They can only observe the most external manifestations
of mind in action. But in these manifestations the mind is so
much enveloped in the action of the outer objects and seems so
Man — Slave or Free?
dependent on them that it is very difficult for the observer to find
out the springs of its action or any regularity in its workings. The
European scientists have therefore come to the conclusion that
it is the stimulations of outside objects which are the cause of
psychical phenomena, and that even when the mind seems to act
of itself and on its own material it is only associating, grouping
together and manipulating the recorded experiences from outside objects. The very nature of mind is, according to them, a
creation of past material experience transmitted by heredity with
such persistence that we have grown steadily from the savage
with his rudimentary mind to the civilised man of the twentieth
century. As a natural result of these materialistic theories, science
has found it difficult to discover any true psychical centre for the
multifarious phenomena of mind and has therefore fixed upon
the brain, the material organ of thought, as the only real centre.
From this materialistic philosophy have resulted certain theories
very dangerous to the moral future of mankind. First, man is
a creation and slave of matter. He can only master matter by
obeying it. Secondly, the mind itself is a form of gross matter
and not independent of and master of the senses. Thirdly, there
is no real free will, because all our action is determined by two
great forces, heredity and environment. We are the slaves of our
nature, and where we seem to be free from its mastery, it is
because we are yet worse slaves of our environment, worked on
by the forces that surround and manipulate us.
It is from these false and dangerous doctrines of materialism
which tend to subvert man’s future and hamper his evolution,
that Yoga gives us a means of escape. It asserts on the contrary
man’s freedom from matter and gives him a means of asserting that freedom. The first great fundamental discovery of the
Yogins was a means of analysing the experiences of the mind and
the heart. By Yoga one can isolate mind, watch its workings as
under a microscope, separate every minute function of the various parts of the antah.karan.a, the inner organ, every mental and
moral faculty, test its isolated workings as well as its relations to
other functions and faculties and trace backwards the operations
of mind to subtler and ever subtler sources until just as material
Essays from the Karmayogin
analysis arrives at a primal entity from which all proceeds, so
Yoga analysis arrives at a primal spiritual entity from which all
proceeds. It is also able to locate and distinguish the psychical
centre to which all psychical phenomena gather and so to fix
the roots of personality. In this analysis its first discovery is that
mind can entirely isolate itself from external objects and work
in itself and of itself. This does not, it is true, carry us very far
because it may be that it is merely using the material already
stored up by its past experiences. But the next discovery is that
the farther it removes itself from objects, the more powerfully,
surely, rapidly can the mind work with a swifter clarity, with
a victorious and sovereign detachment. This is an experience
which tends to contradict the scientific theory, that mind can
withdraw the senses into itself and bring them to bear on a mass
of phenomena of which it is quite unaware when it is occupied
with external phenomena. Science will naturally challenge these
as hallucinations. The answer is that these phenomena are related to each other by regular, simple and intelligible laws and
form a world of their own independent of thought acting on
the material world. Here too Science has this possible answer
that this supposed world is merely an imaginative reflex in the
brain of the material world and to any arguments drawn from
the definiteness and unexpectedness of these subtle phenomena
and their independence of our own will and imagination it can
always oppose its theory of unconscious cerebration and, we
suppose, unconscious imagination. The fourth discovery is that
mind is not only independent of external matter, but its master;
it can not only reject and control external stimuli, but can defy
such apparently universal material laws as that of gravitation
and ignore, put aside and make nought of what are called laws
of nature and are really only the laws of material nature, inferior
and subject to the psychical laws because matter is a product of
mind and not mind a product of matter. This is the decisive
discovery of Yoga, its final contradiction of materialism. It is
followed by the crowning realisation that there is within us a
source of immeasurable force, immeasurable intelligence, immeasurable joy far above the possibility of weakness, above the
Man — Slave or Free?
possibility of ignorance, above the possibility of grief which we
can bring into touch with ourselves and, under arduous but not
impossible conditions, habitually utilise or enjoy. This is what
the Upanishads call the Brahman and the primal entity from
which all things were born, in which they live and to which they
return. This is God and communion with Him is the highest aim
of Yoga — a communion which works for knowledge, for work,
for delight.
Yoga and Human Evolution
HE WHOLE burden of our human progress has been
an attempt to escape from the bondage to the body and
the vital impulses. According to the scientific theory, the
human being began as the animal, developed through the savage and consummated in the modern civilised man. The Indian
theory is different. God created the world by developing the
many out of the One and the material out of the spiritual. From
the beginning, the objects which compose the physical world
were arranged by Him in their causes, developed under the law
of their being in the subtle or psychical world and then manifested in the gross or material world. From kāran.a to sū,
from sū to sthūla, and back again, that is the formula.
Once manifested in matter the world proceeds by laws which
do not change, from age to age, by a regular succession, until it
is all withdrawn back again into the source from which it came.
The material goes back into the psychical and the psychical
is involved in its cause or seed. It is again put out when the
period of expansion recurs and runs its course on similar lines
but with different details till the period of contraction is due.
Hinduism regards the world as a recurrent series of phenomena
of which the terms vary but the general formula abides the
same. The theory is only acceptable if we recognise the truth of
the conception formulated in the Vishnu Purana of the world
as vijñāna-vijr.mbhitāni, developments of ideas in the Universal
Intelligence which lies at the root of all material phenomena
and by its indwelling force shapes the growth of the tree and
the evolution of the clod as well as the development of living
creatures and the progress of mankind. Whichever theory we
take, the laws of the material world are not affected. From
aeon to aeon, from kalpa to kalpa Narayan manifests himself
in an ever-evolving humanity which grows in experience by a
Yoga and Human Evolution
series of expansions and contractions towards its destined selfrealisation in God. That evolution is not denied by the Hindu
theory of yugas. Each age in the Hindu system has its own line
of moral and spiritual evolution and the decline of the dharma
or established law of conduct from the Satya to the Kaliyuga
is not in reality a deterioration but a detrition of the outward
forms and props of spirituality in order to prepare a deeper
spiritual intensity within the heart. In each Kaliyuga mankind
gains something in essential spirituality. Whether we take the
modern scientific or the ancient Hindu standpoint the progress
of humanity is a fact. The wheel of Brahma rotates for ever but
it does not turn in the same place; its rotations carry it forward.
The animal is distinguished from man by its enslavement to
the body and the vital impulses. Aśanāyā mr.tyuh., Hunger who
is Death, evolved the material world from of old, and it is the
physical hunger and desire and the vital sensations and primary
emotions connected with the prān.a that seek to feed upon the
world in the beast and in the savage man who approximates to
the condition of the beast. Out of this animal state, according to
European Science, man rises working out the tiger and the ape
by intellectual and moral development in the social condition. If
the beast has to be worked out, it is obvious that the body and
the prān.a must be conquered, and as that conquest is more or
less complete, the man is more or less evolved. The progress of
mankind has been placed by many predominatingly in the development of the human intellect, and intellectual development is
no doubt essential to self-conquest. The animal and the savage
are bound by the body because the ideas of the animal or the
ideas of the savage are mostly limited to those sensations and associations which are connected with the body. The development
of intellect enables a man to find the deeper self within and partially replace what our philosophy calls the dehātmaka-buddhi,
the sum of ideas and sensations which make us think of the body
as ourself, by another set of ideas which reach beyond the body,
and, existing for their own delight and substituting intellectual
and moral satisfaction as the chief objects of life, master, if they
cannot entirely silence, the clamour of the lower sensual desires.
Essays from the Karmayogin
That animal ignorance which is engrossed with the cares and
the pleasures of the body and the vital impulses, emotions and
sensations is tamasic, the result of the predominance of the third
principle of nature which leads to ignorance and inertia. That is
the state of the animal and the lower forms of humanity which
are called in the Purana the first or tamasic creation. This animal
ignorance the development of the intellect tends to dispel and it
assumes therefore an all-important place in human evolution.
But it is not only through the intellect that man rises. If
the clarified intellect is not supported by purified emotions, the
intellect tends to be dominated once more by the body and to
put itself at its service and the lordship of the body over the
whole man becomes more dangerous than in the natural state
because the innocence of the natural state is lost. The power of
knowledge is placed at the disposal of the senses, sattva serves
tamas, the god in us becomes the slave of the brute. The disservice which scientific Materialism is unintentionally doing the
world is to encourage a return to this condition; the suddenly
awakened masses of men, unaccustomed to deal intellectually
with ideas, able to grasp the broad attractive innovations of free
thought but unable to appreciate its delicate reservations, verge
towards that reeling back into the beast, that relapse into barbarism which was the condition of the Roman Empire at a high
stage of material civilisation and intellectual culture and which a
distinguished British statesman declared the other day to be the
condition to which all Europe approached. The development of
the emotions is therefore the first condition of a sound human
evolution. Unless the feelings tend away from the body and the
love of others takes increasingly the place of the brute love of self,
there can be no progress upward. The organisation of human
society tends to develop the altruistic element in man which
makes for life and battles with and conquers aśanāyā mr.tyuh.. It
is therefore not the struggle for life, or at least not the struggle
for our own life, but the struggle for the life of others which is
the most important term in evolution, — for our children, for
our family, for our class, for our community, for our race and
nation, for humanity. An ever-enlarging self takes the place of
Yoga and Human Evolution
the old narrow self which is confined to our individual mind
and body, and it is this moral growth which society helps and
So far there is little essential difference between our own
ideas of human progress and those of the West except in this vital
point that the West believes this evolution to be a development
of matter and the satisfaction of the reason, the reflective and
observing intellect, to be the highest term of our progress. Here
it is that our religion parts company with Science. It declares
the evolution to be a conquest of matter by the recovery of the
deeper emotional and intellectual self which was involved in
the body and overclouded by the desires of the prān.a. In the
language of the Upanishads the manah.kos.a and the buddhikos.a
are more than the prān.akos.a and annakos.a and it is to them
that man rises in his evolution. Religion farther seeks a higher
term for our evolution than the purified emotions or the clarified
activity of the observing and reflecting intellect. The highest term
of evolution is the spirit in which knowledge, love and action,
the threefold dharma of humanity, find their fulfilment and end.
This is the ātman in the ānandakos.a, and it is by communion
and identity of this individual self with the universal self which is
God that man will become entirely pure, entirely strong, entirely
wise and entirely blissful, and the evolution will be fulfilled. The
conquest of the body and the vital self by the purification of the
emotions and the clarification of the intellect was the principal
work of the past. The purification has been done by morality
and religion, the clarification by science and philosophy, art,
literature and social and political life being the chief media in
which these uplifting forces have worked. The conquest of the
emotions and the intellect by the spirit is the work of the future.
Yoga is the means by which that conquest becomes possible.
In Yoga the whole past progress of humanity, a progress
which it holds on a very uncertain lease, is rapidly summed
up, confirmed and made an inalienable possession. The body
is conquered, not imperfectly as by the ordinary civilised man,
but entirely. The vital part is purified and made the instrument
of the higher emotional and intellectual self in its relations with
Essays from the Karmayogin
the outer world. The ideas which go outward are replaced by
the ideas which move within, the baser qualities are worked out
of the system and replaced by those which are higher, the lower
emotions are crowded out by the nobler. Finally all ideas and
emotions are stilled and by the perfect awakening of the intuitive
reason which places mind in communion with spirit the whole
man is ultimately placed at the service of the Infinite. All false
self merges into the true Self. Man acquires likeness, union or
identification with God. This is mukti, the state in which humanity thoroughly realises the freedom and immortality which
are its eternal goal.
Yoga and Hypnotism
HEN the mind is entirely passive, then the force of
Nature which works in the whole of animate and
inanimate creation, has free play; for it is in reality this force which works in man as well as in the sun and
star. There is no doubt of this truth whether in Hinduism or
in Science. This is the thing called Nature, the sum of cosmic
force and energy, which alone Science recognises as the source
of all work and activity. This also is the Prakriti of the Hindus
to which under different names Sankhya and Vedanta agree in
assigning a similar position and function in the Universe. But
the immediate question is whether this force can act in man
independently of man’s individual will and initiative. Must it
always act through his volition or has it a power of independent
operation? The first real proof which Science has had of the
power of action independent of volition is in the phenomena of
hypnotism. Unfortunately the nature of hypnotism has not been
properly understood. It is supposed that by putting the subject to
sleep the hypnotist is able in some mysterious and unexplained
way to substitute his will for the subject’s. In a certain sense all
the subject’s activities in the hypnotic state are the results of his
own volition, but that volition is not spontaneous, it is used as
a slave by the operator working through the medium of suggestion. Whatever the hypnotist suggests that the subject shall think,
act or feel, he thinks, acts or feels, and whatever the hypnotist
suggests that the subject shall become, he becomes. What is it
that gives the operator this stupendous power? Why should the
mere fact of a man passing into this sleep-condition suspend the
ordinary reactions of mind and body and substitute others at
the mere word of the man who has said to him, “Sleep”? It is
sometimes supposed that it is the superior will of the hypnotist
which overcomes the will of the other and makes it a slave. There
Essays from the Karmayogin
are two strong objections to this view. It does not appear to be
true that it is the weak and distracted will that is most easily
hypnotised; on the contrary the strong concentrated mind forms
a good subject. Secondly, if it were the operator’s will using the
will of the subject, then the results produced must be such as
the latter could himself bring about, since the capacities of the
instrument cannot be exceeded by the power working through
the instrument. Even if we suppose that the invading will brings
with it its own force still the results produced must not exceed
the sum of its capacity plus the capacity of the instrument. If
they commonly do so, we must suppose that it is neither the will
of the operator nor the will of the subject nor the sum of these
two wills that is active, but some other and more potent force.
This is precisely what we see in hypnotic performance.
What is this force that enables or compels a weak man to
become so rigid that strong arms cannot bend him? that reverses
the operations of the senses and abrogates pain? that changes the
fixed character of a man in the shortest of periods? that is able to
develop power where there was no power, moral strength where
there was weakness, health where there was disease? that in its
higher manifestations can exceed the barriers of space and time
and produce that far-sight, far-hearing and far-thinking which
shows mind to be an untrammelled agent or medium pervading
the world and not limited to the body which it informs or seems
to inform? The European scientist experimenting with hypnotism is handling forces which he cannot understand, stumbling
on truths of which he cannot give a true account. His feet are
faltering on the threshold of Yoga. It is held by some thinkers,
and not unreasonably if we consider these phenomena, that mind
is all and contains all. It is not the body which determines the
operations of the mind, it is the mind which determines the laws
of the body. It is the ordinary law of the body that if it is struck,
pierced or roughly pressed it feels pain. This law is created by the
mind which associates pain with these contacts, and if the mind
changes its dharma and is able to associate with these contacts
not pain but insensibility or pleasure, then they will bring about
those results of insensibility or pleasure and no other. The pain
Yoga and Hypnotism
and pleasure are not the result of the contact, neither is their
seat in the body; they are the result of association and their
seat is in the mind. Vinegar is sour, sugar sweet, but to the
hypnotised mind vinegar can be sweet, sugar sour. The sourness
or sweetness is not in the vinegar or sugar, but in the mind. The
heart also is the subject of the mind. My emotions are like my
physical feelings, the result of association, and my character is
the result of accumulated past experiences with their resultant
associations and reactions crystallising into habits of mind and
heart summed up in the word, character. These things like all the
rest that are made of the stuff of associations are not permanent
or binding but fluid and mutable, anityāh. sarvasaṁskārāh.. If
my friend blames me, I am grieved; that is an association and
not binding. The grief is not the result of the blame but of an
association in the mind. I can change the association so far that
blame will cause me no grief, praise no elation. I can entirely
stop the reactions of joy and grief by the same force that created
them. They are habits of the mind, nothing more. In the same
way though with more difficulty I can stop the reactions of
physical pain and pleasure so that nothing will hurt my body. If
I am a coward today, I can be a hero tomorrow. The cowardice
was merely the habit of associating certain things with pain and
grief and of shrinking from the pain and grief; this shrinking
and the physical sensations in the vital or nervous man which
accompany it are called fear, and they can be dismissed by the
action of the mind which created them. All these are propositions
which European Science is even now unwilling to admit, yet it
is being proved more and more by the phenomena of hypnotism
that these effects can be temporarily at least produced by one
man upon another; and it has even been proved that disease can
be permanently cured or character permanently changed by the
action of one mind upon another. The rest will be established in
time by the development of hypnotism.
The difference between Yoga and hypnotism is that what
hypnotism does for a man through the agency of another and
in the sleeping state, Yoga does for him by his own agency and
in the waking state. The hypnotic sleep is necessary in order
Essays from the Karmayogin
to prevent the activity of the subject’s mind full of old ideas
and associations from interfering with the operator. In the waking state he would naturally refuse to experience sweetness in
vinegar or sourness in sugar or to believe that he can change
from disease to health, cowardice to heroism by a mere act
of faith; his established associations would rebel violently and
successfully against such contradictions of universal experience.
The force which transcends matter would be hampered by the
obstruction of ignorance and attachment to universal error. The
hypnotic sleep does not make the mind a tabula rasa but it
renders it passive to everything but the touch of the operator.
Yoga similarly teaches passivity of the mind so that the will may
act unhampered by the saṁskāras or old associations. It is these
saṁskāras, the habits formed by experience in the body, heart
or mind, that form the laws of our psychology. The associations
of the mind are the stuff of which our life is made. They are
more persistent in the body than in the mind and therefore
harder to alter. They are more persistent in the race than in the
individual; the conquest of the body and mind by the individual
is comparatively easy and can be done in the space of a single
life, but the same conquest by the race involves the development
of ages. It is conceivable, however, that the practice of Yoga
by a great number of men and persistence in the practice by
their descendants might bring about profound changes in human
psychology and, by stamping these changes into body and brain
through heredity, evolve a superior race which would endure
and by the law of the survival of the fittest eliminate the weaker
kinds of humanity. Just as the rudimentary mind of the animal
has been evolved into the fine instrument of the human being
so the rudiments of higher force and faculty in the present race
might evolve into the perfect buddhi of the Yogin.
Yo yacchraddhah. sa eva sah.. According as is a man’s fixed
and complete belief, that he is, — not immediately always but
sooner or later, by the law that makes the psychical tend inevitably to express itself in the material. The will is the agent by
which all these changes are made and old saṁskāras replaced
by new, and the will cannot act without faith. The question then
Yoga and Hypnotism
arises whether mind is the ultimate force or there is another
which communicates with the outside world through the mind.
Is the mind the agent or simply the instrument? If the mind be
all, then it is only animals that can have the power to evolve;
but this does not accord with the laws of the world as we know
them. The tree evolves, the clod evolves, everything evolves.
Even in animals it is evident that mind is not all in the sense
of being the ultimate expression of existence or the ultimate
force in Nature. It seems to be all only because that which is all
expresses itself in the mind and passes everything through it for
the sake of manifestation. That which we call mind is a medium
which pervades the world. Otherwise we could not have that
instantaneous and electrical action of mind upon mind of which
human experience is full and of which the new phenomena of
hypnotism, telepathy etc. are only fresh proofs. There must be
contact, there must be interpenetration if we are to account for
these phenomena on any reasonable theory. Mind therefore is
held by the Hindus to be a species of subtle matter in which
ideas are waves or ripples, and it is not limited by the physical
body which it uses as an instrument. There is an ulterior force
which works through this subtle medium called mind. An animal species develops, according to the modern theory, under the
subtle influence of the environment. The environment supplies
a need and those who satisfy the need develop a new species
which survives because it is more fit. This is not the result of any
intellectual perception of the need nor of a resolve to develop
the necessary changes, but of a desire, often though not always
a mute, inarticulate and unthought desire. That desire attracts
a force which satisfies it. What is that force? The tendency of
the psychical desire to manifest in the material change is one
term in the equation; the force which develops the change in
response to the desire is another. We have a will beyond mind
which dictates the change, we have a force beyond mind which
effects it. According to Hindu philosophy the will is the Jiva,
the Purusha, the self in the ānandakos.a acting through vijñāna,
universal or transcendental mind; this is what we call spirit.
The force is Prakriti or Shakti, the female principle in Nature
Essays from the Karmayogin
which is at the root of all action. Behind both is the single Self
of the universe which contains both Jiva and Prakriti, spirit
and material energy. Yoga puts these ultimate existences within
us in touch with each other and by stilling the activity of the
saṁskāras or associations in mind and body enables them to act
swiftly, victoriously, and as the world calls it, miraculously. In
reality there is no such thing as a miracle; there are only laws
and processes which are not yet understood.
Yoga is therefore no dream, no illusion of mystics. It is
known that we can alter the associations of mind and body
temporarily and that the mind can alter the conditions of the
body partially. Yoga asserts that these things can be done permanently and completely. For the body conquest of disease, pain
and material obstructions, for the mind liberation from bondage
to past experience and the heavier limitations of space and time,
for the heart victory over sin and grief and fear, for the spirit
unclouded bliss, strength and illumination, this is the gospel of
Yoga, is the goal to which Hinduism points humanity.
The Greatness of the Individual
N ALL movements, in every great mass of human action
it is the Spirit of the Time, that which Europe calls the
Zeitgeist and India Kala, who expresses himself. The very
names are deeply significant. Kali, the Mother of all and destroyer of all, is the Shakti that works in secret in the heart
of humanity manifesting herself in the perpetual surge of men,
institutions and movements, Mahakala the Spirit within whose
energy goes abroad in her and moulds the progress of the
world and the destiny of the nations. His is the impetus which
fulfils itself in Time, and once there is movement, impetus
from the Spirit within, Time and the Mother take charge
of it, prepare, ripen and fulfil. When the Zeitgeist, God in
Time, moves in a settled direction, then all the forces of the
world are called in to swell the established current towards
the purpose decreed. That which consciously helps, swells it,
but that which hinders swells it still more, and like a wave on
the windswept Ocean, now rising, now falling, now high on
the crest of victory and increase, now down in the troughs of
discouragement and defeat, the impulse from the hidden Source
sweeps onward to its preordained fulfilment. Man may help
or man may resist, but the Zeitgeist works, shapes, overbears,
The great and memorable vision of Kurukshetra when Sri
Krishna manifesting his world-form declared himself as destroying Time, is significant of this deep perception of humanity.
When Arjuna wished to cast aside his bow and quiver, when
he said, “This is a sin we do and a great destruction of men
and brothers, I will forbear,” Sri Krishna after convincing his
intellect of error, proceeded by that marvellous vision described
in the eleventh canto of the Gita to stamp the truth of things
upon his imagination. Thus run the mighty stanzas:
Essays from the Karmayogin
kAlo_E-m lok"ykt^ þvˆo
lokAn^ smAht,Emh þv,.
_Ep (vA\ n BEvyEt sv
_vE-TtA, þ(ynFk
q, yoDA,;
t-mA‚vm,E¤ yfo lB-v
Ej(vA f/n^ B,± rA>y\ smˆm^.
EnhtA, pvm
EnEmmA/\ Bv s&ysAEcn^;
“I am Time who waste and destroy the peoples; lo, I have arisen
in my might, I am here to swallow up the nations. Even without
thee all they shall not be, the men of war who stand arrayed in
the opposing squadrons. Therefore do thou arise and get thee
great glory, conquer thy foes and enjoy a great and wealthy
empire. For these, they were slain even before and it is I who
have slain them; be the occasion only, O Savyasachin.”
It is not as the slow process of Time that Sri Krishna manifests himself; it is as the Zeitgeist consummating in a moment
the work carefully prepared for decades that He appears to
Arjuna. All have been moving inevitably towards the catastrophe of Kurukshetra. Men did not know it: those who would
have done everything possible to avert the calamity, helped its
coming by their action or inaction; those who had a glimpse of
it strove in vain to stop the wheels of Fate; Sri Krishna himself
as the nis.kāma karmayogin who does his duty without regard to
results, went on that hopeless embassy to Hastinapura; but the
Zeitgeist overbore all. It was only afterwards that men saw how
like rivers speeding towards the sea, like moths winging towards
the lighted flame all that splendid, powerful and arrogant Indian
world with its clans of Kings and its weapons and its chariots
and its gigantic armies were rushing towards the open mouths
of the destroyer to be lost in His mighty jaws, to be mangled
between His gnashing teeth. In the lı̄lā of the Eternal there are
movements that are terrible as well as movements that are sweet
and beautiful. The dance of Brindaban is not complete without
the death-dance of Kurukshetra; for each is a part of that great
The Greatness of the Individual
harmonic movement of the world which progresses from discord
to accord, from hatred and strife to love and brotherhood, from
evil to the fulfilment of the evolution by the transformation of
suffering and sin into beauty, bliss and good, śivam, śāntam,
śuddham, ānandam.
Who could resist the purpose of the Zeitgeist? There were
strong men in India then by the hundred, great philosophers and
Yogins, subtle statesmen, leaders of men, kings of thought and
action, the efflorescence of a mighty intellectual civilisation at
its height. A little turning to the right instead of to the left on
the part of a few of these would, it might seem, have averted
the whole catastrophe. So Arjuna thought when he flung aside
his bow. He was the whole hope of the Pandavas and without
him their victory must seem a mere dream and to fight an act of
madness. Yet it is to him that the Zeitgeist proclaims the utter
helplessness of the mightiest and the sure fulfilment of God’s
decree. “Even without thee all they shall not be, the men of war
who stand arrayed in the opposing squadrons.” For these men
are only alive in the body; in that which stands behind and fulfils
itself they are dead men. Whom God protects who shall slay?
Whom God has slain who shall protect? The man who slays
is only the occasion, the instrument by which the thing done
behind the veil becomes the thing done on this side of it. That
which was true of the great slaying at Kurukshetra is true of all
things that are done in this world, of all the creation, destruction
and preservation that make up the lı̄lā.
The greatness of this teaching is for the great. Those who are
commissioned to bring about mighty changes are full of the force
of the Zeitgeist. Kali has entered into them and Kali when she
enters into a man cares nothing for rationality and possibility.
She is the force of Nature that whirls the stars in their orbits,
lightly as a child might swing a ball, and to that force there is
nothing impossible. She is aghat.ana-ghat.ana-pat.ı̄yası̄, very skilful in bringing about the impossible. She is the devātmaśaktih.
svagun.air nigūd.hā, the Power of the Divine Spirit hidden in the
modes of its own workings, and she needs nothing but time
to carry out the purpose with which she is commissioned. She
Essays from the Karmayogin
moves in Time and the very movement fulfils itself, creates its
means, accomplishes its ends. It is not an accident that she works
in one man more than in another. He is chosen because he is a
likely vessel, and having chosen him she neither rejects him till
the purpose is fulfilled nor allows him to reject her. Therefore
Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:
ydh¬ArmAE™(y n yo(-y iEt mys
{q &yvsAy-t
þkEt-(vA\ Enyo#yEt;
“The thought which thou thinkest and takest refuge in egoism
saying ‘I will not fight,’ this thy resolve is a vain thing; Nature
will yoke thee to thy work.” When a man seems to have rejected
his work, it merely means that his work is over and Kali leaves
him for another. When a man who has carried out a great work
is destroyed, it is for the egoism by which he has misused the
force within that the force itself breaks him to pieces, as it broke
Napoleon. Some instruments are treasured up, some are flung
aside and shattered, but all are instruments. This is the greatness
of great men, not that by their own strength they can determine
great events, but that they are serviceable and specially-forged
instruments of the Power which determines them. Mirabeau
helped to create the French Revolution, no man more. When he
set himself against it and strove, becoming a prop of monarchy,
to hold back the wheel, did the French Revolution stop for the
backsliding of France’s mightiest? Kali put her foot on Mirabeau
and he disappeared; but the Revolution went on, for the Revolution was the manifestation of the Zeitgeist, the Revolution
was the will of God.
So it is always. The men who prided themselves that great
events were their work, because they seemed to have an initial
hand in them, go down into the trench of Time and others march
forward over their shattered reputations. Those who are swept
forward by Kali within them and make no terms with Fate, they
alone survive. The greatness of individuals is the greatness of the
eternal Energy within.
The Process of Evolution
HE END of a stage of evolution is usually marked by
a powerful recrudescence of all that has to go out of
the evolution. It is a principle of Nature that in order
to get rid of any powerful tendency or deep-seated association
in humanity, whether in the mass or in the individual, it has
first to be exhausted by bhoga or enjoyment, afterwards to be
dominated and weakened by nigraha or control and, finally,
when it is weak, to be got rid of by saṁyama, rejection or selfdissociation. The difference between nigraha and saṁyama is
that in the first process there is a violent struggle to put down,
coerce and, if possible, crush the tendency, the reality of which
is not questioned, but in the second process it is envisaged as a
dead or dying force, its occasional return marked with disgust,
then with impatience, finally with indifference as a mere ghost,
vestige or faint echo of that which was once real but is now void
of significance. Such a return is part of the process of Nature for
getting rid of this undesirable and disappearing quantity.
Saṁyama is unseasonable and would be fruitless when a
force, quality or tendency is in its infancy or vigour, before it
has had the enjoyment and full activity which is its due. When
once a thing is born it must have its youth, growth, enjoyment,
life and final decay and death; when once an impetus has been
given by Prakriti to her creation, she insists that the velocity shall
spend itself by natural exhaustion before it shall cease. To arrest
the growth or speed unseasonably by force is nigraha, which
can be effective for a time but not in perpetuity. It is said in the
Gita that all things are ruled by their nature, to their nature they
return and nigraha or repression is fruitless. What happens then
is that the thing untimely slain by violence is not really dead, but
withdraws for a time into the Prakriti which sent it forth, gathers an immense force and returns with extraordinary violence
Essays from the Karmayogin
ravening for the rightful enjoyment which it was denied. We see
this in the attempts we make to get rid of our evil saṁskāras or
associations when we first tread the path of Yoga. If anger is a
powerful element in our nature, we may put it down for a time
by sheer force and call it self-control, but eventually unsatisfied
Nature will get the better of us and the passion return upon
us with astonishing force at an unexpected moment. There are
only two ways by which we can effectively get the better of
the passion which seeks to enslave us. One is by substitution,
replacing it whenever it rises by the opposite quality, anger by
thoughts of forgiveness, love or forbearance, lust by meditation
on purity, pride by thoughts of humility and our own defects or
nothingness; this is the method of Rajayoga, but it is a difficult,
slow and uncertain method; for both the ancient traditions and
the modern experience of Yoga show that men who had attained
for long years the highest self-mastery have been suddenly surprised by a violent return of the thing they thought dead or
for ever subject. Still this substitution, slow though it be, is one
of the commonest methods of Nature and it is largely by this
means, often unconsciously or half-consciously used, that the
character of a man changes and develops from life to life or
even in the bounds of a single lifetime. It does not destroy things
in their seed and the seed which is not reduced to ashes by
Yoga is always capable of sprouting again and growing into the
complete and mighty tree. The second method is to give bhoga
or enjoyment to the passion so as to get rid of it quickly. When
it is satiated and surfeited by excessive enjoyment, it becomes
weak and spent and a reaction ensues which establishes for a
time the opposite force, tendency or quality. If that moment is
seized by the Yogin for nigraha, the nigraha so repeated at every
suitable opportunity becomes so far effective as to reduce the
strength and vitality of the vr.tti sufficiently for the application
of the final saṁyama. This method of enjoyment and reaction
is also a favourite and universal method of Nature, but it is
never complete in itself and, if applied to permanent forces or
qualities, tends to establish a see-saw of opposite tendencies,
extremely useful to the operations of Prakriti but from the point
The Process of Evolution
of view of self-mastery useless and inconclusive. It is only when
this method is followed up by the use of saṁyama that it becomes
effective. The Yogin regards the vr.tti merely as a play of Nature
with which he is not concerned and of which he is merely the
spectator; the anger, lust or pride is not his, it is the universal
Mother’s and she works it and stills it for her own purposes.
When, however, the vr.tti is strong, mastering and unspent, this
attitude cannot be maintained in sincerity and to try to hold
it intellectually without sincerely feeling it is mithyācāra, false
discipline or hypocrisy. It is only when it is somewhat exhausted
by repeated enjoyment and coercion that Prakriti or Nature at
the command of the soul or Purusha can really deal with her own
creation. She deals with it first by vairāgya in its crudest form of
disgust, but this is too violent a feeling to be permanent; yet it
leaves its mark behind in a deep-seated wish to be rid of its cause,
which survives the return and temporary reign of the passion.
Afterwards its return is viewed with impatience but without
any acute feeling of intolerance. Finally supreme indifference or
udāsı̄natā is gained and the final going out of the tendency by
the ordinary process of Nature is watched in the true spirit of
the saṁyamı̄ who has the knowledge that he is the witnessing
soul and has only to dissociate himself from a phenomenon for
it to cease. The highest stage leads either to mukti in the form
of laya or disappearance, the vr.tti vanishing altogether and for
good, or else to another kind of freedom when the soul knows
that it is God’s lı̄lā and leaves it to Him whether He shall throw
out the tendency or use it for His own purposes. This is the
attitude of the Karmayogin who puts himself in God’s hands
and does work for His sake only, knowing that it is God’s force
that works in him. The result of that attitude of self-surrender is
that the Lord of all takes charge and according to the promise of
the Gita delivers His servant and lover from all sin and evil, the
vr.ttis working in the bodily machine without affecting the soul
and working only when He raises them up for His purposes.
This is nirliptatā, the state of absolute freedom within the lı̄lā.
The law is the same for the mass as for the individual. The
process of human evolution has been seen by the eye of inspired
Essays from the Karmayogin
observation to be that of working out the tiger and the ape.
The forces of cruelty, lust, mischievous destruction, pain-giving,
folly, brutality, ignorance were once rampant in humanity, they
had full enjoyment; then by the growth of religion and philosophy they began in periods of satiety such as the beginning of
the Christian era in Europe to be partly replaced, partly put
under control. As is the law of such things, they have always
reverted again with greater or less virulence and sought with
more or less success to reestablish themselves. Finally in the
nineteenth century it seemed for a time as if some of these forces
had, for a time at least, exhausted themselves and the hour for
saṁyama and gradual dismissal from the evolution had really
arrived. Such hopes always recur and in the end they are likely
to bring about their own fulfilment, but before that happens
another recoil is inevitable. We see plenty of signs of it in the
reeling back into the beast which is in progress in Europe and
America behind the fair outside of Science, progress, civilisation
and humanitarianism, and we are likely to see more signs of
it in the era that is coming upon us. A similar law holds in
politics and society. The political evolution of the human race
follows certain lines of which the most recent formula has been
given in the watchwords of the French Revolution, freedom,
equality and brotherhood. But the forces of the old world, the
forces of despotism, the forces of traditional privilege and selfish
exploitation, the forces of unfraternal strife and passionate selfregarding competition are always struggling to reseat themselves
on the thrones of the earth. A determined movement of reaction
is evident in many parts of the world and nowhere perhaps more
than in England which was once one of the self-styled champions
of progress and liberty. The attempt to go back to the old spirit
is one of those necessary returns without which it cannot be so
utterly exhausted as to be blotted out from the evolution. It rises
only to be defeated and crushed again. On the other hand the
force of the democratic tendency is not a force which is spent
but one which has not yet arrived, not a force which has had
the greater part of its enjoyment but one which is still vigorous,
unsatisfied and eager for fulfilment. Every attempt to coerce it
The Process of Evolution
in the past reacted eventually on the coercing force and brought
back the democratic spirit fierce, hungry and unsatisfied, joining
to its fair motto of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” the terrible
addition “or Death”. It is not likely that the immediate future
of the democratic tendency will satisfy the utmost dreams of
the lover of liberty who seeks an anarchist freedom, or of the
lover of equality who tries to establish a socialistic dead level,
or of the lover of fraternity who dreams of a world-embracing
communism. But some harmonisation of this great ideal is undoubtedly the immediate future of the human race. On the old
forces of despotism, inequality and unbridled competition, after
they have been once more overthrown, a process of gradual
saṁyama will be performed by which what has remained of
them will be regarded as the disappearing vestiges of a dead
reality and without any further violent coercion be transformed
slowly and steadily out of existence.
Stead and the Spirits
ONSIDERABLE attention has been attracted and excitement created by the latest development of Mr. W. T.
Stead’s agency for communicant spirits which he calls
Julia’s Bureau. The supposed communications of Mr. Gladstone,
Lord Beaconsfield and other distinguished politicians on the
question of the Budget have awakened much curiosity, ridicule
and even indignation. The ubiquitous eloquence of Lord Curzon has been set flowing by what he considers this unscrupulous
method of pressing the august departed into the ranks of Liberal
electioneering agents, and he has penned an indignant letter to
the papers in which there is much ornate Curzonian twaddle
about sacred mysteries and the sanctities of the grave. If there
is anything at all in the alleged communications from departed
souls which have become of increasing interest to the European
world, it ought to be fairly established that the grave is nothing
but a hole in the earth containing a rotting piece of matter with
which the spirit has no farther connection, and that the spirit
is very much the same after death as before, takes much interest in small, trivial and mundane matters and is very far from
regarding his new existence as a solemn, sacred and mysterious
affair. If so, we do not see why we either should approach the
departed spirit with long and serious faces or with any more
unusual feelings than curiosity, interest and eagerness to acquire
knowledge of the other world and communication with those
we knew and loved in this, in fact, the ordinary human and
earthly feelings existing between souls sundered by time and
space, but still capable of communication. But Lord Curzon still
seems to be labouring under the crude Christian conception of
the blessed dead as angels harping in heaven whose spotless
plumes ought not to be roughly disturbed by human breath and
of spiritual communication as a sort of necromancy, the spirit of
Stead and the Spirits
Mr. Gladstone being summoned from his earthy bed and getting
into it again and tucking himself up comfortably in his coffin
after Julia and Mr. Stead have done with him. We should have
thought that in the bold and innovating mind of India’s only
Viceroy these coarse European superstitions ought to have been
destroyed long ago.
It is not, however, Lord Curzon but Mr. Stead and the spirits
with whom we have to deal. We know Mr. Stead as a pushing
and original journalist, not always over-refined or delicate either
in his actions or expressions, skilful in the advertisement of his
views, excitable, earnest, declamatory, loud and even hysterical,
if you will, in some of his methods, but certainly neither a liar
nor a swindler. He does and says what he believes and nothing
else. It is impossible to dismiss his Bureau as an imposture or
mere journalistic réclame. It is impossible to dismiss the phenomena of spirit communications, even with all the imposture
that unscrupulous moneymakers have imported into them, as
unreal or a deception. All that can reasonably be said is that
their true nature has not yet been established beyond dispute.
There are two conceivable explanations, one that of actual spirit
communication, the other that of vigorously dramatised imaginary conversations jointly composed with wonderful skill and
consistency by the subconscious minds, whatever that may be,
of the persons present, the medium being the chief dramaturge
of this subconscious literary Committee. This theory is so wildly
improbable and so obviously opposed to the nature of the
phenomena themselves, that only an obstinate unwillingness to
admit new facts and ideas can explain its survival, although it
was natural and justifiable in the first stages of investigation.
There remains the explanation of actual spirit communication.
But even when we have decided on this hypothesis as the base
of our investigation, we have to be on our guard against a multitude of errors; for the communications are vitiated first by the
errors and self-deceptions of the medium and the sitters, then by
the errors and self-deceptions of the communicant spirits, and,
worst of all, by deliberate deceit, lies and jugglery on the part
of the visitants from the other world. The element of deceit and
Essays from the Karmayogin
jugglery on the part of the medium and his helpers is not always
small, but can easily be got rid of. Cheap scepticism and cheaper
ridicule in such matters is only useful for comforting small brains
and weak imaginations with a sense of superiority to the larger
minds who do not refuse to enquire into phenomena which are at
least widespread and of a consistently regular character. The true
attitude is to examine carefully the nature of the phenomena, the
conditions that now detract from their value and the possibility
of removing them and providing perfect experimental conditions which would enable us to arrive at a satisfactory scientific
result. Until the value of the communications is scientifically
established, any attempt to use them for utilitarian, theatrical or
yet lighter purposes is to be deprecated, as such misuse may end
in shutting a wide door to potential knowledge upon humanity.
From this point of view Mr. Stead’s bizarre experiments
are to be deprecated. The one redeeming feature about them
is that, as conducted, they seem to remove the first elementary
difficulty in the way of investigation, the possibility of human
deceit and imposture. We presume that he has got rid of professional mediums and allows only earnest-minded and honourable
investigators to be present. But the other elements of error and
confusion are encouraged rather than obviated by the spirit and
methods of Mr. Stead’s Bureau. First, there is the error and
self-deception of the sitters. The spirit does not express himself
directly but has to give his thoughts at third hand; they come
first to the intermediary spirit, Julia or another, by her they are
conveyed to the human medium and through him conveyed by
automatic or conscious speech or writing to the listeners. It is
obvious how largely the mind of the medium and, to a smaller
but still great extent, the thought-impressions of the other sitters
must interfere, and this without the least intention on their part,
rather in spite of a strong wish in the opposite direction. Few
men really understand how the human mind works or are fitted
to watch the processes of their own conscious and half-conscious
thought even when the mind is disinterested, still less when it is
active and interested in the subject of communication. The sitters
interfere, first, by putting in their own thoughts and expressions
Stead and the Spirits
suggested by the beginnings of the communication, so that what
began as a spirit conversation ends in a tangle of the medium’s
or sitters’ ideas with the little of his own that the spirit can get in
now and then. They interfere not only by suggesting what they
themselves think or would say on the subject, but by suggesting
what they think the spirit ought dramatically to think or say,
so that Mr. Gladstone is made to talk in interminable cloudy
and circumambient periods which were certainly his oratorical
style but can hardly have been the staple of his conversation,
and Lord Beaconsfield is obliged to be cynical and immoral
in the tone of his observations. They interfere again by eagerness, which sometimes produces replies according to the sitters’
wishes and sometimes others which are unpleasant or alarming,
but in neither case reliable. This is especially the case in answers
to questions about the future, which ought never to be asked. It is
true that many astonishing predictions occur which are perfectly
accurate, but these are far outweighed by the mass of false and
random prediction. These difficulties can only be avoided by
rigidly excluding every question accompanied by or likely to
raise eagerness or expectation and by cultivating entire mental
passivity. The last however is impossible to the medium unless
he is a practised Yogin, or in a trance, or a medium who has
attained the habit of passivity by an unconscious development
due to long practice. In the sitters we do not see how it is to be
induced. Still, without unemotional indifference to the nature of
the answer and mental passivity the conditions for so difficult
and delicate a process of communication cannot be perfect.
Error and self-deception from the other side of the veil cannot be obviated by any effort on this side; all that we can do is to
recognise that the spirits are limited in knowledge and cabined
by character, so that we have to allow for the mental and moral
equation in the communicant when judging the truth and value
of the communication. Absolute deception and falsehood can
only be avoided by declining to communicate with spirits of
a lower order and being on guard against their masquerading
under familiar or distinguished names. How far Mr. Stead and
his circle have guarded against these latter errors we cannot
Essays from the Karmayogin
say, but the spirit in which the sittings are conducted, does not
encourage us to suppose that scrupulous care is taken in these
respects. It is quite possible that some playful spirit has been
enacting Mr. Gladstone to the too enthusiastic circle and has
amused himself by elaborating those cloudy-luminous periods
which he saw the sitters expected from the great deceased Opportunist. But we incline to the view that what we have got in this
now famous spirit interview, is a small quantity of Gladstone, a
great deal of Stead and a fair measure of the disembodied Julia
and the assistant psychics.
Stead and Maskelyne
HE VEXED question of spirit communication has become a subject of permanent public controversy in England. So much that is of the utmost importance to our
views of the world, religion, science, life, philosophy, is crucially
interested in the decision of this question, that no fresh proof
or disproof, establishment or refutation of the genuineness and
significance of spirit communications can go disregarded. But
no discussion of the question which proceeds merely on first
principles can be of any value. It is a matter of evidence, of the
value of the evidence and of the meaning of the evidence. If the
ascertained facts are in favour of spiritualism, it is no argument
against the facts that they contradict the received dogmas of
science or excite the ridicule alike of the enlightened sceptic and
of the matter-of-fact citizen. If they are against spiritualism, it
does not help the latter that it supports religion or pleases the
imagination and flatters the emotions of mankind. Facts are
what we desire, not enthusiasm or ridicule; evidence is what
we have to weigh, not unsupported arguments or questions of
fitness or probability. The improbable may be true, the probable
entirely false.
In judging the evidence, we must attach especial importance
to the opinion of men who have dealt with the facts at first
hand. Recently, two such men have put succinctly their arguments for and against the truth of spiritualism, Mr. W. T. Stead
and the famous conjurer, Mr. Maskelyne. We will deal with
Mr. Maskelyne first, who totally denies the value of the facts
on which spiritualism is based. Mr. Maskelyne puts forward
two absolutely inconsistent theories, first, that spiritualism is
all fraud and humbug, the second, that it is all subconscious
mentality. The first was the theory which has hitherto been
held by the opponents of the new phenomena, the second the
Essays from the Karmayogin
theory to which they are being driven by an accumulation of
indisputable evidence. Mr. Maskelyne, himself a professed master of jugglery and illusion, is naturally disposed to put down
all mediums as irregular competitors in his own art; but the
fact that a conjuror can produce an illusory phenomenon, is
no proof that all phenomena are conjuring. He farther argues
that no spiritualistic phenomena have been produced when he
could persuade Mr. Stead to adopt conditions which precluded
fraud. We must know Mr. Maskelyne’s conditions and have
Mr. Stead’s corroboration of this statement before we can be
sure of the value we must attach to this kind of refutation.
In any case we have the indisputable fact that Mr. Stead himself has been the medium in some of the most important and
best ascertained of the phenomena. Mr. Maskelyne knows that
Mr. Stead is an honourable man incapable of a huge and impudent fabrication of this kind and he is therefore compelled to fall
back on the wholly unproved theory of the subconscious mind.
His arguments do not strike us as very convincing. Because we
often write without noticing what we are writing, mechanically,
therefore, says this profound thinker, automatic writing must
be the same kind of mental process. The one little objection
to this sublimely felicitous argument is that automatic writing
has no resemblance whatever to mechanical writing. When a
man writes mechanically, he does not notice what he is writing;
when he writes automatically, he notices it carefully and has his
whole attention fixed on it. When he writes mechanically, his
hand records something that it is in his mind to write; when he
writes automatically, his hand transcribes something which it is
not in his mind to write and which is often the reverse of what
his mind would tell him to write. Mr. Maskelyne farther gives
the instance of a lady writing a letter and unconsciously putting
an old address which, when afterwards questioned, she could
not remember. This amounts to no more than a fit of absentmindedness in which an old forgotten fact rose to the surface of
the mind and by the revival of old habit was reproduced on the
paper, but again sank out of immediate consciousness as soon as
the mind returned to the present. This is a mental phenomenon
Stead and Maskelyne
essentially of the same class as our continuing unintentionally
to write the date of the last year even in this year’s letters. In
one case it is the revival, in the other the persistence of an old
habit. What has this to do with the phenomena of automatic
writing which are of an entirely different class and not attended
by absent-mindedness at all? Mr. Maskelyne makes no attempt
to explain the writing of facts in their nature unknowable to
the medium, or of repeated predictions of the future, which are
common in automatic communications.
On the other side Mr. Stead’s arguments are hardly more
convincing. He bases his belief, first, on the nature of the communications from his son and others in which he could not
be deceived by his own mind and, secondly, on the fact that
not only statements of the past, but predictions of the future
occur freely. The first argument is of no value unless we know
the nature of the communication and the possibility or impossibility of the facts stated having been previously known to
Mr. Stead. The second is also not conclusive in itself. There
are some predictions which a keen mind can make by inference
or guess, but, if we notice the hits and forget the misses, we
shall believe them to be prophecies and not ordinary previsions.
The real value of Mr. Stead’s defence of the phenomena lies in
the remarkable concrete instance he gives of a prediction from
which this possibility is entirely excluded. The spirit of Julia, he
states, predicted the death within the year of an acquaintance
who, within the time stated, suffered from two illnesses, in one
of which the doctors despaired of her recovery. On each occasion the predicting spirit was naturally asked whether the illness
was not to end in the death predicted, and on each she gave
an unexpected negative answer and finally predicted a death
by other than natural means. As a matter of fact, the lady in
question, before the year was out, leaped out of a window and
was killed. This remarkable prophecy was obviously neither a
successful inference nor a fortunate guess, nor even a surprising
coincidence. It is a convincing and indisputable prophecy. Its
appearance in the automatic writing can only be explained either
by the assumption that Mr. Stead has a subliminal self, calling
Essays from the Karmayogin
itself Julia, gifted with an absolute and exact power of prophecy
denied to the man as we know him, — a violent, bizarre and
unproved assumption, — or by the admission that there was a
communicant with superior powers to ordinary humanity using
the hand of the writer. Who that was, Julia or another, ghost,
spirit or other being, is a question that lies beyond. This controversy, with the worthlessness of the arguments on either side and
the supreme worth of the one concrete and precise fact given, is
a signal proof of our contention that, in deciding this question,
it is not a priori arguments, but facts used for their evidential
value as an impartial lawyer would use them, that will eventually
Fate and Free-Will
QUESTION which has hitherto divided human thought
and received no final solution, is the freedom of the
human being in his relation to the Power intelligent or
unintelligent that rules the world. We strive for freedom in our
human relations, to freedom we move as our goal, and every
fresh step in our human progress is a further approximation to
our ideal. But are we free in ourselves? We seem to be free, to do
that which we choose and not that which is chosen for us; but
it is possible that the freedom may be illusory and our apparent
freedom may be a real and iron bondage. We may be bound
by predestination, the will of a Supreme Intelligent Power, or
blind inexorable Nature, or the necessity of our own previous
The first is the answer of the devout and submissive mind
in its dependence on God, but, unless we adopt a Calvinistic
fatalism, the admission of the guiding and overriding will of God
does not exclude the permission of freedom to the individual.
The second is the answer of the scientist; Heredity determines
our Nature, the laws of Nature limit our action, cause and effect compel the course of our development, and, if it be urged
that we may determine effects by creating causes, the answer
is that our own actions are determined by previous causes over
which we have no control and our action itself is a necessary
response to a stimulus from outside. The third is the answer of
the Buddhist and of post-Buddhistic Hinduism. “It is our fate, it
is written on our forehead, when our Karma is exhausted, then
alone our calamities will pass from us”; — this is the spirit of
tamasic inaction justifying itself by a misreading of the theory
of Karma.
If we go back to the true Hindu teaching independent of
Buddhistic influence, we shall find that it gives us a reconciliation
Essays from the Karmayogin
of the dispute by a view of man’s psychology in which both Fate
and Free-will are recognised. The difference between Buddhism
and Hinduism is that to the former the human soul is nothing,
to the latter it is everything. The whole universe exists in the
spirit, by the spirit, for the spirit; all we do, think and feel is for
the spirit. Nature depends upon the Atman, all its movement,
play, action is for the Atman.
There is no Fate except insistent causality which is only
another name for Law, and Law itself is only an instrument in the
hands of Nature for the satisfaction of the spirit. Law is nothing
but a mode or rule of action; it is called in our philosophy not
Law but Dharma, holding together, it is that by which the action
of the universe, the action of its parts, the action of the individual is held together. This action in the universal, the parts, the
individuals is called Karma, work, action, energy in play, and the
definition of Dharma or Law is action as decided by the nature
of the thing in which action takes place, — svabhāva-niyataṁ
karma. Each separate existence, each individual has a swabhava
or nature and acts according to it, each group, species or mass
of individuals has a swabhava or nature and acts according to
it, and the universe also has its swabhava or nature and acts
according to it. Mankind is a group of individuals and every
man acts according to his human nature, that is his law of being
as distinct from animals, trees or other groups of individuals.
Each man has a distinct nature of his own and that is his law
of being which ought to guide him as an individual. But beyond
and above these minor laws is the great dharma of the universe
which provides that certain previous karma or action must lead
to certain new karma or results.
The whole of causality may be defined as previous action
leading to subsequent action, Karma and Karmaphal. The Hindu
theory is that thought and feeling, as well as actual speech or
deeds, are part of Karma and create effects, and we do not accept
the European sentiment that outward expression of thought and
feeling in speech or deed is more important than the thought or
feeling itself. This outward expression is only part of the thing
expressed and its results are only part of the Karmaphal. The
Fate and Free-Will
previous karma has not one kind of result but many. In the
first place, a certain habit of thought or feeling produces certain
actions and speech or certain habits of action and speech in this
life, which materialise in the next as good fortune or evil fortune.
Again, it produces by its action for the good or ill of others a
necessity of happiness or sorrow for ourselves in another birth.
It produces, moreover, a tendency to persistence of that habit of
thought or feeling in future lives, which involves the persistence
of the good fortune or evil fortune, happiness or sorrow. Or,
acting on different lines, it produces a revolt or reaction and
replacement by opposite habits which in their turn necessitate
opposite results for good or evil. This is the chain of karma, the
bondage of works, which is the Hindu Fate and from which the
Hindus seek salvation.
If, however, there is no escape from the Law, if Nature is
supreme and inexorable, there can be no salvation; freedom
becomes a chimaera, bondage eternal. There can be no escape,
unless there is something within us which is free and lord, superior to Nature. This entity the Hindu teaching finds in the
spirit ever free and blissful which is one in essence and in reality
with the Supreme Soul of the Universe. The spirit does not act,
it is Nature that contains the action. If the spirit acted, it would
be bound by its action. The thing that acts is Prakriti, Nature,
which determines the Swabhava of things and is the source and
condition of Law or dharma. The soul or Purusha holds up the
swabhava, watches and enjoys the action and its fruit, sanctions
the law or dharma. It is the king, Lord or Ishwara without whose
consent nothing can be done by Prakriti. But the king is above
the law and free.
It is this power of sanction that forms the element of free will
in our lives. The spirit consents not that itself shall be bound,
but that its enjoyment should be bound by time, space and
causality and by the swabhava and the dharma. It consents to
virtue or sin, good fortune or evil fortune, health or disease,
joy or suffering, or it refuses them. What it is attached to, that
Nature multiplies for it; what it is weary of, has vairāgya for,
that Nature withdraws from it. Only, because the enjoyment is in
Essays from the Karmayogin
space and time, therefore, even after the withdrawal of consent,
the habitual action continues for a time just as the locomotive
continues to move after the steam is shut off, but in a little while
it slows down and finally comes to a standstill. And because
the enjoyment is in causality, the removal of the habit of action
is effected not spontaneously and freely, but by an established
process or one of many established processes. This is the great
truth now dawning on the world, that Will is the thing which
moves the world and that Fate is merely a process by which Will
fulfils itself.
But in order to feel its mastery of Nature, the human soul
must put itself into communion with the infinite and universal
Spirit. Its will must be one with the universal Will. The human
soul is one with the universal Spirit, but in the body it stands
out as something separate and unconnected, because a certain
freedom is permitted it in order that the swabhava of things may
be diversely developed in different bodies. In using this freedom
the soul may do it ignorantly or knowingly. If it uses it ignorantly,
it is not really free, for ignorance brings with it the illusion of
enslavement to Nature. Used knowingly, the freedom of the
soul becomes one with surrender to the universal Will. Either
apparent bondage to Fate in Nature or realised freedom from
Nature in the universal freedom and lordship of the Paramatman
and Parameshwara, this is the choice offered to the human soul.
The gradual self-liberation from bondage to Nature is the true
progress of humanity. The inert stone or block is a passive sport
of natural laws, God is their Master. Man stands between these
two extreme terms and moves upward from one to the other.
The Three Purushas
HE GREATEST of all the philosophical problems which
human thought has struggled to solve, is the exact nature
and relation to us of the conscious Intelligence in the phenomenal existence around. The idealist denies the phenomenal
existence, the materialist denies the conscious Intelligence. To
the former, phenomenon is a passing shadow on the luminous
calm of the single universal Spirit: to the latter, intelligence is
a temporary result of the motions of Matter. The idealist can
give no satisfactory explanation of the existence of the shadow;
he admits that it is inexplicable, a thing that is and yet is not:
the materialist can give no satisfactory explanation of the existence of intelligence; he simply tries to trace the stages of
its development and the methods of its workings, and covers
over the want of an explanation by the abundant minuteness
of his observations. But the soul of Man, looking out and in,
is satisfied neither with Shankara nor with Haeckel. It sees the
universal existence of phenomena, it sees the universal existence
of Intelligence. It seeks a term which will admit both, cover
both, identify both; it demands, not an elimination of either, but
a reconcilement.
The Upanishads do not deny the reality of the world, but
they identify it with Brahman who transcends it. He is the One
without a second; He is the All. If all is Brahman, then there
can be nothing but Brahman, and therefore the existence of the
All, sarvam idam, does not contradict the unity of Brahman,
does not establish the reality of bheda, difference. It is one
Intelligence looking at itself from a hundred view-points, each
point conscious of and enjoying the existence of the others. The
shoreless stream of idea and thought, imagination and experience, name and form, sensation and vibration sweeps onward for
ever, without beginning, without end, rising into view, sinking
Essays from the Karmayogin
out of sight; through it the one Intelligence with its million
self-expressions pours itself abroad, an ocean with innumerable
waves. One particular self-expression may disappear into its
source and continent, but that does not and cannot abolish the
phenomenal universe. The One is for ever, and the Many are for
ever because the One is for ever. So long as there is a sea, there
will be waves.
In the oceanic stir and change of universal Nature the soul
or Purusha is the standing-point, stable, unmoving, unchanging,
eternal, — nityah. sarvagatah. sthān.ur acalo’yaṁ sanātanah.. In
the whole, the Purusha or soul is one, — there is One Spirit which
supports the stir of the Universe, not many. In the individual the
One Purusha has three stages of personality; He is One, but
triple, trivr.t. The Upanishads speak of two birds on one tree,
of which one eats the fruit of the tree, the other, seated on a
higher branch, does not eat but watches its fellow; one is ı̄śa or
lord of itself, the other is anı̄śa, not lord of itself, and it is when
the eater looks up and perceives the greatness of the watcher
and fills himself with it that grief, death, subjection, — in one
word māyā, ignorance and illusion, ceases to touch him. There
are two unborn who are male and one unborn who is female;
she is the tree with its sweet and bitter fruit, the two are the
birds. One of the unborn enjoys her sweetness, the other has put
it away from him. These are the two Purushas, the aks.ara, or
immutable spirit, and the ks.ara, or apparently mutable, and the
tree or woman is Prakriti, universal Energy which the Europeans
call Nature. The ks.ara purus.a is the soul in Nature and enjoying
Nature, the aks.ara purus.a is the soul above Nature and watching
her. But there is One who is not seated on the tree but occupies
and possesses it, who is not only lord of Himself, but lord of all
that is: He is higher than the ks.ara, higher than the aks.ara, He
is Purushottama, the Soul one with God, with the All.
These three Purushas are described in the fifteenth chapter
of the Gita. “There are two Purushas in the world, the aks.ara
and the ks.ara, — the ks.ara is all creatures, the aks.ara is called
kūt.astha, the one on the summit. There is another Purusha, the
highest (uttama), called also the Paramatma or Supreme Spirit,
The Three Purushas
who enters into the three worlds, (the worlds of sus.upti, svapna,
jāgrat, otherwise the causal, mental and physical planes of existence), and sustains them as their imperishable lord.” And in
the thirteenth chapter, while drawing the distinction between the
lower Purusha and the higher, Sri Krishna defines more minutely
the relations of God and the individual soul to Nature. “Prakriti
is the basic source of cause, effect and agency; the Purusha, of
the sense of enjoyment of happiness and grief; for it is the soul in
Nature (Purusha in Prakriti) that enjoys the threefold workings
of things caused by Nature, (the play of conservation, creation
and destruction; reception, reaction and resistance; illumination, misconception and obscuration; calm, work and inertia;
all being different manifestations of three fundamental forces
called the gunas or essential properties of Prakriti), and it is the
attachment of the soul to the gunas that is the cause of births in
bodies good and evil. The highest Purusha in this body is the one
who watches, who sanctions, who enjoys, who upholds, who is
the mighty Lord and the Supreme Soul.”
The personality of the Supreme Soul is universal, not individual. Whatever is in all creatures, character, idea, imagination,
experience, sensation, motion, is contained by Him as an object
of spiritual enjoyment without limiting or determining Him.
He is all things at once. Such a universality is necessary to
support and supply individual existence, but it cannot be the
determining limit of individual existence. Something has to be
reserved, something put forward, and this partial manifestation
is the individual. “It is verily an eternal part of Me that in the
world of individual existence becomes the Jiva or individual.”
The Jiva or individual is ks.ara purus.a, and between him and
the Supreme stands the aks.ara purus.a, the bird on the summit
of the tree, joyous in his own bliss, undisturbed by the play
of Nature, impartially watching it, receiving its images on his
calm immovable existence without being for a moment bound
or affected, eternally self-gathered, eternally free. This aks.ara
purus.a is our real self, our divine unity with God, our inalienable
freedom from that which is transient and changing. If it did not
exist, there would be no escape from the bondage of life and
Essays from the Karmayogin
death, joy and grief, sin and virtue; we should be prisoners in
a cage without a door, beating our wings against the bars in
vain for an exit; life and death, joy and grief, sin and virtue
would be eternal, ineffugable realities, not temporary rules determining the great game of life, and we should be unwilling
actors, not free playmates of God able to suspend and renew
the game when we will. It is by realising our oneness with the
aks.ara purus.a that we get freedom from ignorance, freedom
from the cords of desire, freedom from the imperative law of
works. On the other hand if the aks.ara purus.a were all, as
the Sankhya philosophy contends, there would be no basis for
different experience, no varying personality, every individual
existence would be precisely like every other individual existence, the development and experience of one soul in Nature
an exact replica of the development and experience of another
soul. It is the ks.ara purus.a who is all creatures, and the variety of experience, character and development is effected by a
particular part of the universal swabhava or nature of conscious
existence in phenomena being attached to a particular individual
or Jiva. This is what is meant by saying that it is a part of God
which becomes the Jiva. This swabhava, once determined, does
not change; but it manifests various parts of itself, at various
times, under various circumstances, in various forms of action
and various bodies suited to the action or development it has
to enjoy. It is for this reason that the Purusha in Nature is
called ks.ara, fluid, shifting, although it is not in reality fluid
or shifting, but constant, eternal and immutable, sanātana. It
is the variety of its enjoyment in Time, Space and Causality
that makes it ks.ara. The enjoyment of the aks.ara purus.a is
self-existent, beyond Time, Space and Causality, aware of but
undisturbed by the continual multitudinous flux and reflux of
Prakriti. The enjoyment of Purushottama is both in Prakriti and
beyond it, it embraces and is the reality of all experience and
Development is determined by the ks.ara purus.a, but not
conducted by him. It is Prakriti, the Universal Energy, that conducts development under the law of cause and effect, and is the
The Three Purushas
true agent. The soul is not the agent, but the lord who enjoys
the results of the action of his agent, Prakriti or Nature; only
by his attachment to Prakriti he forgets himself and identifies
himself with her so as to have the illusion of agency and, by
thus forgetting himself, ceases to be lord of himself, becomes
subject to Causality, imprisoned in Time and Space, bound by
the work which he sanctions. He himself, being a part of God,
is made in His image, of one nature with Him. Therefore what
God is, he also is, only with limitation, subject to Time, Space
and Causality, because he has, of his own will, accepted that
bondage. He is the witness, and if he ceased to watch, the drama
would stop. He is the source of sanction, and what he declares
null and void, drops away from the development. He is the enjoyer, and if he became indifferent, that individual development
would be arrested. He is the upholder, and if he ceased to sustain
the ādhāra, the vehicle, it would fall and cease. He is the lord,
and it is for his pleasure that Nature acts. He is the spirit, and
matter is only his vehicle, his robe, his means of self-expression.
But all his sanctions, refusals, behests act not at once, not there
and then, not by imperative absolute compulsion, but subject to
lapse of time, change of place, working of cause to effect. The
lapse may be brief or long, a moment or centuries; the change
small or great, here or in another world; the working direct or
indirect, with the rapid concentration of processes which men
call a miracle or with the careful and laboured evolution in
which every step is visibly ordered and deliberate; but so long as
the Jiva is bound, his lordship is limited and constitutional, not
despotic and absolute. His sanction and signature are necessary,
but it is the Lords spiritual and temporal of his mind and body,
the Commons in his external environment who do the work of
the State, execute, administer, legislate.
The first step in self-liberation is to get rid of the illusion of
agency, to realise that Nature acts, not the soul. The second is
to remove the siege of phenomenal associations by surrendering
lordship to God, leaving Him alone to uphold and sanction by
the abdication of one’s own independent use of these powers,
offering up the privilege of the enjoyer to Him. All that is then
Essays from the Karmayogin
left is the attitude of the aks.ara purus.a, the free, blissful selfexistence, watching the action of Prakriti, but outside it. The
ks.ara withdraws into the aks.ara. When the sāks.ı̄ or witness
withdraws into God Himself, that is the utter liberation.
The Strength of Stillness
HERE are two great forces in the universe, silence and
speech. Silence prepares, speech creates. Silence acts,
speech gives the impulse to action. Silence compels,
speech persuades. The immense and inscrutable processes of the
world all perfect themselves within, in a deep and august silence,
covered by a noisy and misleading surface of sound — the stir of
innumerable waves above, the fathomless resistless mass of the
ocean’s waters below. Men see the waves, they hear the rumour
and the thousand voices and by these they judge the course of
the future and the heart of God’s intention; but in nine cases
out of ten they misjudge. Therefore it is said that in History
it is always the unexpected that happens. But it would not be
the unexpected if men could turn their eyes from superficies
and look into substance, if they accustomed themselves to put
aside appearances and penetrate beyond them to the secret and
disguised reality, if they ceased listening to the noise of life and
listened rather to its silence.
The greatest exertions are made with the breath held in;
the faster the breathing, the more the dissipation of energy.
He who in action can cease from breathing, — naturally, spontaneously, — is the master of Prana, the energy that acts and
creates throughout the universe. It is a common experience of the
Yogin that when thought ceases, breathing ceases, — the entire
kumbhak effected by the Hathayogin with infinite trouble and
gigantic effort, establishes itself easily and happily, — but when
thought begins again, the breath resumes its activity. But when
the thought flows without the resumption of the inbreathing
and outbreathing, then the Prana is truly conquered. This is a
law of Nature. When we strive to act, the forces of Nature do
their will with us; when we grow still, we become their master.
But there are two kinds of stillness — the helpless stillness of
Essays from the Karmayogin
inertia, which heralds dissolution, and the stillness of assured
sovereignty which commands the harmony of life. It is the
sovereign stillness which is the calm of the Yogin. The more
complete the calm, the mightier the yogic power, the greater the
force in action.
In this calm, right knowledge comes. The thoughts of men
are a tangle of truth and falsehood, satyam and anr.tam. True
perception is marred and clouded by false perception, true judgment lamed by false judgment, true imagination distorted by
false imagination, true memory deceived by false memory. The
activity of the mind must cease, the chitta be purified, a silence
fall upon the restlessness of Prakriti, then in that calm, in that
voiceless stillness illumination comes upon the mind, error begins to fall away and, so long as desire does not stir again, clarity
establishes itself in the higher stratum of the consciousness compelling peace and joy in the lower. Right knowledge becomes the
infallible source of right action. Yogah. karmasu kauśalam.
The knowledge of the Yogin is not the knowledge of the
average desire-driven mind. Neither is it the knowledge of the
scientific or of the worldly-wise reason which anchors itself on
surface facts and leans upon experience and probability. The
Yogin knows God’s way of working and is aware that the
improbable often happens, that facts mislead. He rises above
reason to that direct and illuminated knowledge which we call
vijñānam. The desire-driven mind is emmeshed in the intricate
tangle of good and evil, of the pleasant and the unpleasant, of
happiness and misfortune. It strives to have the good always, the
pleasant always, the happiness always. It is elated by fortunate
happenings, disturbed and unnerved by their opposite. But the
illuminated eye of the seer perceives that all leads to good; for
God is all and God is sarvamaṅgalam. He knows that the apparent evil is often the shortest way to the good, the unpleasant
indispensable to prepare the pleasant, misfortune the condition
of obtaining a more perfect happiness. His intellect is delivered
from enslavement to the dualities.
Therefore the action of the Yogin will not be as the action
of the ordinary man. He will often seem to acquiesce in evil,
The Strength of Stillness
to avoid the chance of relieving misfortune, to refuse his assent
to the efforts of the noble-hearted who withstand violence and
wickedness; he will seem to be acting piśācavat. Or men will
think him jad.a, inert, a stone, a block, because he is passive,
where activity appears to be called for; silent, where men expect voicefulness; unmoved, where there is reason for deep and
passionate feeling. When he acts, men will call him unmatta,
a madman, eccentric or idiot; for his actions will often seem
to have no definite result or purpose, to be wild, unregulated,
regardless of sense and probability or inspired by a purpose
and a vision which is not for this world. And it is true that he
follows a light which other men do not possess or would even
call darkness; that what is a dream to them, is to him a reality;
that their night is his day. And this is the root of the difference
that, while they reason, he knows.
To be capable of silence, stillness, illuminated passivity is to
be fit for immortality — amr.tatvāya kalpate. It is to be dhı̄ra,
the ideal of our ancient civilisation, which does not mean to be
tamasic, inert and a block. The inaction of the tamasic man is a
stumbling-block to the energies around him, the inaction of the
Yogin creates, preserves and destroys; his action is dynamic with
the direct, stupendous driving-power of great natural forces. It
is a stillness within often covered by a ripple of talk and activity
without, — the ocean with its lively surface of waves. But even as
men do not see the reality of God’s workings from the superficial
noise of the world and its passing events, for they are hidden
beneath that cover, so also shall they fail to understand the action
of the Yogin, for he is different within from what he is outside.
The strength of noise and activity is, doubtless, great, — did not
the walls of Jericho fall by the force of noise? But infinite is the
strength of the stillness and the silence, in which great forces
prepare for action.
The Principle of Evil
HE PROBLEM of evil is one that has taxed human
thought and evolved various and conflicting solutions.
To the rationalist who does not believe in anything not
material, the problem does not exist. Everything is in nature as
the result of evolution. Nature is blind and unintelligent and has
therefore no conception of good or evil; the conception belongs
to the human mind and is the result of the social sense and
the ideas of pleasure and pain developed in human beings by
a perfectly intelligible natural process. It is to men who believe
in Intelligence as governing and developing the world that the
problem exists. Why did evil come into existence and what is its
The unwillingness of the devout soul to admit that evil can
have its existence in God, has led to variations of the Manichean
theory which sees a double control in the world, God as the
Principle of good and Satan as the Principle of evil. Those who
regard the belief in the existence of an intelligent evil power
as superstition, find the origin of evil in man who abuses his
freedom and by his revolt and self-will gives birth to sin. This
solution solves nothing, for it does not explain why there should
have been a possibility of evil at all. Unless we limit our conception of God as the source and creator of all, that from which all
proceeds, we must admit that evil as part of the economy of the
world must have proceeded from Him no less than good. Even
if we violently posit another creative force in the world limiting
His universality, we shall have to assume that He, having the
power to prevent evil, permits it; for He is omnipotent, and
none can do anything except by the permission of His all-wise
and overruling Providence. And if we limit the omnipotence of
God, we reduce Him to a mere Demiurgus, a great Artificer of
things struggling amongst forces over which He has not entire
The Principle of Evil
control. Such a conception is unphilosophical and contrary to
the universal spiritual experience of mankind. The problem remains why, if He is God, All-Love, sarvamaṅgalam, He creates
evil or, if He does not create it, permits it.
To our mind there is no escaping from the belief that, if
God exists, He is All. All proceeds from Him; from what other
source can it proceed? All exists in Him; in what other being or
continent can it exist? Therefore evil must proceed from Him,
evil must exist in Him. Since He is All-Wise, for all knowledge
is His, it must exist for some wise and perfect purpose. Since
He is All-Love, it must exist for good and not for anything
which contradicts the good. Only, His is an infinite wisdom,
ours a finite, His perfect, ours undeveloped. His is an infinite and
all-wise love, ours a finite and unwise love, a love imperfectly
informed by knowledge, full of māyā, attachment to passing
happiness and pleasure. God’s love looks beyond, ours fixes its
eyes on the moment.
Experience must always be the basis of true knowledge, but
it must be experience illuminated by true perception, not experience dominated by surface impressions. The experience of the
mind which has compassed calm and is able to preserve its tranquillity under the most strenuous assaults of pain, misfortune
and evil, is alone worth having. The mind which is not dhı̄ra,
which feels grief and thinks under the influence of affection and
passion, even if it be noble affection and passion, cannot arrive
at the samyag jñānam, the complete and perfect truth. Emotion
is for the heart, it should not besiege the intellect; for the proper
business of the intellect is to observe and understand, not to be
obscured by the slightest prejudice, the least trace of feeling. One
who is dhı̄ra will look narrowly at every incident and, if he cannot see at once, wait for enlightenment as to its ultimate purpose
and issue; so waiting, so calmly considering, the meaning of life
dawns on the mind, an infinite purpose reveals itself in things
small and great, in occurrences good and bad: omniscient Providence reveals itself in the fall of the sparrow and the death of the
ant as well as in the earthquake that destroys great cities and the
floods that make thousands destitute and homeless. Rudra and
Essays from the Karmayogin
Shiva reveal themselves as one. The Yogin sees God in all things,
not only in all beings but in all events. He is the flood, He is the
earthquake, He is Death that leads to a higher life, He is Pain
that prepares us for a higher bliss. This is a thing that cannot be
argued; it has to be seen. Paripaśyanti dhı̄rāh.. And sight is only
possible to the calm heart and the unperturbed understanding.
The materialist is not wrong when he holds good and evil
to be merely operations of Nature which she uses impartially
and without making a distinction, and that the distinction is
an evolution in the human mind. Evil is good disintegrating to
prepare for a higher good. That which is now tyranny, was once
necessary to consolidate human society. What was once an ideal
state of society, would now be barbarous and evil. Morality
progresses, religion widens with the growing manifestation of
that which is divine in the human race. As with the individual,
so with the race and the world, evil tends to good, it comes into
existence in order that men may reject the lesser good and rise
to the higher.
The problem of pain remains. Was it necessary that the process should be accompanied with pain to the individual? At one
time the capacity for pain, physical and mental, was infinitely
less than it is now, so little that it might be pronounced to be nil.
It is a remarkable fact that disease, pain and grief have grown
keener with the growing fineness of the human organisation.
Obviously this can only be a temporary development necessary
to prepare a higher race which shall rise above pain to a higher
capacity for pleasure and happiness. The lower organisation
resisted the saṁskāra of pain and grief by the coarseness of its
composition, it rejected pain in the sense of not knowing it. The
higher organisation of the future will not be below it, but rise
above it. It was the knowledge of good and evil that brought grief
and sin into the world; when that knowledge is surmounted, man
will rise above grief and sin. Before he ate the forbidden fruit, he
had the innocence of the animal; when he shall cease to eat it,
he will have the innocence of the God. Is it not so that in nature
pain is a possibility which has to be exhausted and man has been
selected as the instrument to bring it into existence, in a limited
The Principle of Evil
space, for a limited time, and work it out of the cosmos? In the
light of this idea the Christian doctrine of the Son of Man on
the cross acquires a new significance and man himself becomes
the Christ of the universe.
Another question occurs. Is pain real or a shadow? The
Vedantist believes that the soul is a part of God or one with God
Himself, and cannot feel pain or grief, but only ānanda, bliss.
The jı̄va or soul takes the rasa, the delight of the dualities, and it
changes to bliss in his nature; but this is veiled by the ignorance
and separates the jı̄va in his svarūpa from the mind and the
heart. Pain is a negative vikāra or corruption of true experience
in the mind, pleasure a positive vikāra. The truth is ānanda. But
this is a knowledge for which mankind is not ready. Only the
Yogin realises it and becomes sama, like-minded to pain and
pleasure, good or evil, happiness or misfortune. He takes the
rasa of both and they give him strength and bliss; for the veil
between his mind and his soul is removed and the apparent man
in him has become one with the svarūpa or real man. If mankind
as a whole came too early by that knowledge, the evolution of
the perfect good would be delayed. The utter sweetness of dayā
and prema, pity and love, might never be extracted from the lı̄lā.
The Stress of the Hidden Spirit
HE WORLD is a great game of hide and seek in which the
real hides behind the apparent, spirit behind matter. The
apparent masquerades as real, the real is seen dimly as
if it were an unsubstantial shadow. The grandeur of the visible
universe and its laws enslaves men’s imaginations. “This is a
mighty machine,” we cry, “but it moves of its own force and
needs neither guide nor maker; for its motion is eternal.” Blinded
by a half truth we fail to see that, instead of a machine without
a maker, there is really only an existence and no machine. The
Hindus have many images by which they seek to convey their
knowledge of the relation between God and the world, but the
idea of the machine does not figure largely among them. It is a
spider and his web, a fire with many sparks, a pool of salt water
in which every particle is penetrated by the salt. The world
is a waking dream, an embodied vision, a mass of knowledge
arranged in corporeal appearances expressing so many ideas
which are each only a part of one unchanging truth. Everything
becomes, nothing is made. Everything is put out from latency,
nothing is brought into existence. Only that which was, can be,
not that which was not. And that which is, cannot perish; it can
only lose itself. All is eternal in the eternal spirit.
What was from of old? The spirit. What is alone? The spirit.
What shall be for ever? The spirit. All that is in Space and Time,
is He; and whatever there may be beyond Space and Time, that
too is He. Why should we think so? Because of the eternal and
invariable unity which gives permanence to the variability of the
many. The sum of matter never changes by increase or diminution, although its component parts are continually shifting; so
is it with the sum of energy in the world, so is it with the spirit.
Matter is only so much mobile energy vibrating intensely into
form. Energy is only so much spirit manifesting the motion that
The Stress of the Hidden Spirit
we call energy. Spirit is Force, Spirit Existence, — matter and
energy are only motions in Spirit. Force and Existence made one
in Bliss, Sachchidanandam, this is the eternal reality of things.
But that Force is not motion, it is Knowledge or Idea. Knowledge
is the source of motion, not motion of knowledge. The Spirit
therefore is all, It is alone. Idea or Force, Existence, Bliss are
only its triune manifestations, existence implying idea which is
force, force or idea implying bliss.
The Spirit manifest as Intelligence is the basis of the world.
Spirit as existence, Sat, is one; as Intelligence it multiplies itself
without ceasing to be one. We see that tree and say “Here is a
material thing”; but if we ask how the tree came into existence,
we have to say, it grew or evolved out of the seed. But growth
or evolution is only a term describing the sequence in a process.
It does not explain the origin or account for the process itself.
Why should the seed produce a tree and not some other form of
existence? The answer is, because that is its nature. But why is
that its nature? Why should it not be its nature to produce some
other form of existence, or some other kind of tree? That is the
law, is the answer. But why is it the law? The only answer is that
it is so because it is so; that it happens, why no man can say. In
reality when we speak of Law, we speak of an idea; when we
speak of the nature of a thing, we speak of an idea. Nowhere
can we lay our hands on an object, a visible force, a discernible
momentum and say “Here is an entity called Law or Nature.”
The seed evolves a tree because tree is the idea involved in the
seed; it is a process of manifestation in form, not a creation. If
there were no insistent idea, we should have a world of chances
and freaks, not a world of law — there would be no such idea
as the nature of things, if there were not an originating and
ordering intelligence manifesting a particular idea in forms. And
the form varies, is born, perishes; the idea is eternal. The form is
the manifestation or appearance, the idea is the truth. The form
is phenomenon, the idea is reality.
Therefore in all things the Hindu thinker sees the stress
of the hidden spirit. We see it as Prajna, the universal Intelligence, conscious in things unconscious, active in things inert.
Essays from the Karmayogin
The energy of Prajna is what the Europeans call Nature. The
tree does not and cannot shape itself, the stress of the hidden
Intelligence shapes it. He is in the seed of man and in that little
particle of matter carries habit, character, types of emotion into
the unborn child. Therefore heredity is true; but if Prajna were
not concealed in the seed, heredity would be false, inexplicable,
impossible. We see the same stress in the mind, heart, body
of man. Because the hidden spirit urges himself on the body,
stamps himself on it, expresses himself in it, the body expresses
the individuality of the man, the developing and conscious idea
or varying type which is myself; therefore no two faces, no
two expressions, no two thumb impressions even are entirely
alike; every part of the body in some way or other expresses
the man. The stress of the spirit shows itself in the mind and
heart; therefore men, families, nations have individuality, run
into particular habits of thought and feeling, therefore also they
are both alike and dissimilar. Therefore men act and react, not
only physically but spiritually, intellectually, morally on each
other, because there is one self in all creatures expressing itself
in various idea and forms variously suitable to the idea. The
stress of the hidden Spirit expresses itself again in events and
the majestic course of the world. This is the Zeitgeist, this is
the purpose that runs through the process of the centuries, the
changes of the suns, this is that which makes evolution possible
and provides it with a way, means and a goal. “This is He who
from years sempiternal hath ordered perfectly all things.”
This is the teaching of the Vedanta as we have it in its oldest
form in the Upanishads. Adwaita, Vishishtadwaita, Dwaita are
merely various ways of looking at the relations of the One to
the Many, and none of them has the right to monopolise the
name Vedanta. Adwaita is true, because the Many are only
manifestations of the One. Vishishtadwaita is true because ideas
are eternal and having manifested, must have manifested before
and will manifest again, — the Many are eternal in the One,
only they are sometimes manifest and sometimes unmanifest.
Dwaita is true, because although from one point of view the
One and the Many are eternally and essentially the same, yet,
The Stress of the Hidden Spirit
from another, the idea in its manifestation is eternally different
from the Intelligence in which it manifests. If Unity is eternal
and unchangeable, duality is persistently recurrent. The Spirit
is infinite, illimitable, eternal, and infinite, illimitable, eternal
is its stress towards manifestation filling endless space with
innumerable existences.
Part Two
The Yoga and Its Objects
Circa 1912
The Yoga and Its Objects
HE YOGA we practise is not for ourselves alone, but for
the Divine; its aim is to work out the will of the Divine
in the world, to effect a spiritual transformation and to
bring down a divine nature and a divine life into the mental,
vital and physical nature and life of humanity. Its object is not
personal Mukti, although Mukti is a necessary condition of the
yoga, but the liberation and transformation of the human being.
It is not personal Ananda, but the bringing down of the divine
Ananda — Christ’s kingdom of heaven, our Satyayuga — upon
the earth. Of moks.a we have no personal need; for the soul is
nityamukta and bondage is an illusion. We play at being bound,
we are not really bound. We can be free when God wills; for he,
our supreme Self, is the master of the game, and without his grace
and permission no soul can leave the game. It is often God’s will
in us to take through the mind the bhoga of ignorance, of the
dualities, of joy and grief, of pleasure and pain, of virtue and sin,
of enjoyment and renunciation: for long ages, in many countries,
he never even thinks of the yoga but plays out this play century
after century without wearying of it. There is nothing evil in
this, nothing which we need condemn or from which we need
shrink, — it is God’s play. The wise man is he who recognises
this truth and knowing his freedom, yet plays out God’s play,
waiting for his command to change the methods of the game.
The command is now. God always keeps for himself a chosen country in which the higher knowledge is through all chances
and dangers, by the few or the many, continually preserved, and
for the present, in this Chaturyuga at least, that country is India.
Whenever he chooses to take the full pleasure of ignorance, of
the dualities, of strife and wrath and tears and weakness and
selfishness, the tamasic and rajasic pleasures, of the play of the
Kali in short, he dims the knowledge in India and puts her down
The Yoga and Its Objects
into weakness and degradation so that she may retire into herself
and not interfere with this movement of his Lila. When he wants
to rise up from the mud and Narayana in man to become once
again mighty and wise and blissful, then he once more pours
out the knowledge on India and raises her up so that she may
give the knowledge with its necessary consequences of might,
wisdom and bliss to the whole world. When there is the contracted movement of knowledge, the yogins in India withdraw
from the world and practise yoga for their own liberation and
delight or for the liberation of a few disciples; but when the
movement of knowledge again expands and the soul of India
expands with it, they come forth once more and work in the
world and for the world. Yogins like Janaka, Ajatashatru and
Kartavirya once more sit on the thrones of the world and govern
the nations.
God’s Lila in man moves always in a circle, from Satyayuga
to Kali and through Kali to the Satya, from the Age of Gold to
the Age of Iron and back again through the Iron to the Gold. In
modern language the Satyayuga is a period of the world in which
a harmony, stable and sufficient, is created and man realises for
a time, under certain conditions and limitations, the perfection
of his being. The harmony exists in its nature, by the force of
a settled purity; but afterwards it begins to break down and
man upholds it, in the Treta, by force of will, individual and
collective; it breaks down further and he attempts to uphold it
in the Dwapara by intellectual regulation and common consent
and rule; then in the Kali it finally collapses and is destroyed.
But the Kali is not merely evil; in it the necessary conditions are
progressively built up for a new Satya, another harmony, a more
advanced perfection. In the period of the Kali which has passed,
still endures in its effects, but is now at an end, there has been a
general destruction of the ancient knowledge and culture. Only a
few fragments remain to us in the Vedas, Upanishads and other
sacred works and in the world’s confused traditions. But the
time is at hand for a first movement upward, the first attempt to
build up a new harmony and perfection. That is the reason why
so many ideas are abroad for the perfection of human society,
The Yoga and Its Objects
knowledge, religion and morals. But the true harmony has not
yet been found.
It is only India that can discover the harmony, because it is
only by a change — not a mere readjustment — of man’s present
nature that it can be developed, and such a change is not possible
except by yoga. The nature of man and of things is at present
a discord, a harmony that has got out of tune. The whole heart
and action and mind of man must be changed, but from within,
not from without, not by political and social institutions, not
even by creeds and philosophies, but by realisation of God in
ourselves and the world and a remoulding of life by that realisation. This can only be effected by Purnayoga, a yoga not devoted
to a particular purpose, even though that purpose be Mukti or
Ananda, but to the fulfilment of the divine humanity in ourselves
and others. For this purpose the practices of Hatha and Raja
Yoga are not sufficient and even the Trimarga will not serve; we
must go higher and resort to the Adhyatmayoga. The principle of
Adhyatmayoga is, in knowledge, the realisation of all things that
we see or do not see but are aware of, — men, things, ourselves,
events, gods, titans, angels, — as one divine Brahman, and in action and attitude, an absolute self-surrender to the Paratpara Purusha, the transcendent, infinite and universal Personality who is
at once personal and impersonal, finite and infinite, self-limiting
and illimitable, one and many, and informs with his being not
only the Gods above, but man and the worm and the clod below.
The surrender must be complete. Nothing must be reserved, no
desire, no demand, no opinion, no idea that this must be, that
cannot be, that this should be and that should not be; — all must
be given. The heart must be purified of all desire, the intellect of
all self-will, every duality must be renounced, the whole world
seen and unseen must be recognised as one supreme expression
of concealed Wisdom, Power and Bliss, and the entire being
given up, as an engine is passive in the hands of the driver, for the
divine Love, Might and perfect Intelligence to do its work and
fulfil its divine Lila. Ahaṅkāra must be blotted out in order that
we may have, as God intends us ultimately to have, the perfect
bliss, the perfect calm and knowledge and the perfect activity of
The Yoga and Its Objects
the divine existence. If this attitude of perfect self-surrender can
be even imperfectly established, all necessity of Yogic kriyā inevitably ceases. For then God himself in us becomes the sadhaka
and the siddha and his divine power works in us, not by our artificial processes, but by a working of Nature which is perfectly
informed, all-searching and infallibly efficient. Even the most
powerful Rajayogic saṁyama, the most developed prān.āyāma,
the most strenuous meditation, the most ecstatic Bhakti, the
most self-denying action, mighty as they are and efficacious,
are comparatively weak in their results when set beside this
supreme working. For those are all limited to a certain extent by
our capacity, but this is illimitable in potency because it is God’s
capacity. It is only limited by his will which knows what is best
for the world and for each of us in the world and apart from it.
The first process of the yoga is to make the saṅkalpa of
ātmasamarpan.a. Put yourself with all your heart and all your
strength into God’s hands. Make no conditions, ask for nothing,
not even for siddhi in the yoga, for nothing at all except that
in you and through you his will may be directly performed. To
those who demand from him, God gives what they demand,
but to those who give themselves and demand nothing, he gives
everything that they might otherwise have asked or needed and
in addition he gives himself and the spontaneous boons of his
The next process is to stand aside and watch the working
of the divine power in yourself. This working is often attended
with disturbance and trouble in the system, therefore faith is
necessary, though perfect faith is not always possible at once;
for whatever impurity is in you, harboured openly or secretly
lurking, is likely to rise at first and be repeated so long as it is
not exhaustively swept out, and doubt in this age is an almost
universal impurity. But even when doubt assails, stand by and
wait for it to pass, availing yourself if possible of the satsaṅga of
those who are already advanced on the path, but when that is absent, still holding fast to the principle of the yoga, self-surrender.
When distressed within or assailed from without, remember the
words of the Gita,
The Yoga and Its Objects
mE΁, svd,gAEZ m(þsAdAt^ tEryEs.
“By giving thyself up in heart and mind to Me, thou shalt cross
over all difficulties and perils by My grace,” and again,
svDmAn^ pEr(y>y mAm
k\ frZ\ v}j.
ah\ (vA svpAp
<yo mo"EyyAEm mA f,c,;
“Abandon all dharmas (all law, rule, means and codes of every
kind whether formed by previous habit and belief or imposed
from outside) and take refuge in Me alone; I will deliver thee
from all sin and evil, — do not grieve.” “I will deliver”, — you
have not to be troubled or struggle yourself as if the responsibility were yours or the result depended on your efforts, a mightier
than you is busy with the matter. Neither disease nor calamity
nor the rising of sin and impurity in you should cause any alarm.
Hold fast only to him. “I will deliver thee from all sin and evil.”
But the release does not come by a sudden miracle, it comes by a
process of purification and these things are a part of the process.
They are like the dust that rises in clouds when a room long
uncleaned is at last swept out. Though the dust seem to choke
you, yet persevere, mā śucah..
In order to stand aside, you must know yourself as the
Purusha who merely watches, consents to God’s work, holds
up the Adhar and enjoys the fruits that God gives. The work
itself is done by God as Shakti, by Kali, and is offered up by her
as a Yajna to Sri Krishna; you are the Yajamana who sees the
sacrifice done, whose presence is necessary to every movement
of the sacrifice and who tastes its results. This separation of
yourself, this renunciation of the kartr.tva-abhimāna (the idea
of yourself as the doer) is easier if you know what the Adhar
is. Above the buddhi which is the highest function of mind
is the higher buddhi, or vijñāna, the seat of the satyadharma,
truth of knowledge, truth of bhāva, truth of action, and above
this ideal faculty is the ānanda or cosmic bliss in which the
divine part of you dwells. It is of this vijñāna and this ānanda
that Christ spoke as the kingdom of God that is within you.
The Yoga and Its Objects
We at present are awake, jāgrat, in the lower movements but
sus.upta, fast asleep, in the vijñāna and ānanda; we have to
awaken these levels of consciousness within us and their awakening and unmixed activity is the siddhi of the yoga. For when
that happens, we gain the condition of being which is called in
the Gita dwelling in God, of which Sri Krishna speaks when
he says, mayi nivasis.yasyeva, “Verily thou shalt dwell in Me.”
Once it is gained, we are free and blessed and have everything
towards which we strive.
The third process of the yoga is to perceive all things as God.
First, as a rule, in the process of knowledge one comes to see
pervading all space and time one divine impersonal Existence,
Sad Atman, without movement, distinction or feature, śāntam, in which all names and forms seem to stand with
a very doubtful or a very minor reality. In this realisation the
One may seem to be the only reality and everything else Maya, a
purposeless and inexplicable illusion. But afterwards, if you do
not stop short and limit yourself by the impersonal realisation,
you will come to see the same Atman not only containing and
supporting all created things, but informing and filling them,
and eventually you will be able to understand that even the
names and forms are Brahman. You will then be able to live
more and more in the knowledge which the Upanishads and the
Gita hold up as the rule of life; you will see the Self in all existing
things and all existing things in the Self, ātmānaṁ sarvabhūtes.u
sarvabhūtāni cātmani; you will be aware of all things as Brahman, sarvaṁ khalvidaṁ brahma. But the crowning realisation
of this yoga is when you become aware of the whole world
as the expression, play or Lila of an infinite divine personality,
when you see in all, not the impersonal Sad Atman which is
the basis of manifest existence, — although you do not lose that
knowledge, — but Sri Krishna who at once is, bases and transcends all manifest and unmanifest existence, avyakto ’vyaktāt
parah.. For behind the Sad Atman is the silence of the Asat which
the Buddhist Nihilists realised as the śūnyam and beyond that
silence is the Paratpara Purusha (purus.o varen.ya ā
tamasah. parastāt). It is he who has made this world out of his
The Yoga and Its Objects
being and is immanent in and sustains it as the infinite-finite
Ishwara, ananta and sānta, Shiva and Narayana, Sri Krishna
the Lilamaya who draws all of us to him by his love, compels
all of us by his masteries and plays his eternal play of joy and
strength and beauty in the manifold world.
The world is only a play of his being, knowledge and delight,
sat, cit and ānanda. Matter itself, you will one day realise, is not
material, it is not substance but form of consciousness, gun.a, the
result of quality of being perceived by sense-knowledge. Solidity
itself is only a combination of the, saṁhati and dhr.ti,
cohesion and permanence, a state of conscious being, nothing else. Matter, life, mind and what is beyond mind, it is all
Sri Krishna the Ananta-guna Brahman playing in the world as
the Sachchidananda. When we have this realisation, when we
dwell in it securely and permanently, all possibilities of grief and
sin, fear, delusion, internal strife and pain are driven puissantly
from our being. We realise in our experience the truth of the
aAnd\ b}œZo Ev’An^ n EbB
Et k,t–n.
“He who possesses the delight of the Brahman has no fear from
anything in the world,”and that other in the Isha Upanishad,
yE-mn^ svAEZ BtAEn aA(m
{vABd^ EvjAnt,.
t/ ko moh, k, fok ek(vmn,p[yt,;
“When all created things become one with a man’s self by his
getting the knowledge (vijñāna), thereafter what bewilderment
can he have or what grief, when in all things he sees their oneness?” The whole world then appears to us in a changed aspect,
as an ocean of beauty, good, light, bliss, exultant movement on
a basis of eternal strength and peace. We see all things as śubha,
śiva, maṅgala, ānandamaya. We become one in soul with all
beings, sarvabhūtātma-bhūtātmā, and, having steadfastly this
experience, are able by contact, by oneness, by the reaching out
of love, to communicate it to others, so that we become a centre
The Yoga and Its Objects
of the radiation of this divine state, brāhmı̄ sthiti, throughout
our world.
It is not only in things animate but in things inanimate
also that we must see Narayana, experience Shiva, throw our
arms around Shakti. When our eyes, that are now blinded by
the idea of Matter, open to the supreme Light, we shall find that
nothing is inanimate, but all contains, expressed or unexpressed,
involved or evolved, secret or manifest or in course of manifestation, not only that state of involved consciousness which we call
annam or Matter, but also life, mind, knowledge, bliss, divine
force and being, — prān.a, manas, vijñāna, ānanda, cit, sat. In all
things the self-conscious personality of God broods and takes
the delight of his Flowers, fruits, earth, trees, metals, all
things have a joy in them of which you will become aware,
because in all Sri Krishna dwells, praviśya, having entered into
them, not materially or physically, — because there is no such
thing, Space and Time being only conventions and arrangements
of perception, the perspective in God’s creative Art, — but by cit,
the divine awareness in his transcendent being.
IfA vA-yEmd\ sv yt^ EkÑ jg(yA\ jgt^.
“All this world and every object in this world of Prakriti has
been created as a habitation for the Lord.”
Nor is it enough to see him in all things and beings, sarvabhūtes.u; you must see him in all events, actions, thoughts,
feelings, in yourself and others, throughout the world. For this
realisation two things are necessary: first, that you should give
up to him the fruit of all your actions, secondly, that you should
give up to him the actions themselves. Giving up the fruits of
action does not mean that you must have the vairāgya for the
fruits, turn away from them or refuse to act with a given end
before you. It means that you must act, not because you want
this or that to happen or think it necessary that this or that
should happen and your action needed to bring it about, but
because it is kartavyam, demanded by the Master of your being
and must be done with whatever result God is pleased to give.
The Yoga and Its Objects
You must put aside what you want and wish to know what
God wants; distrust what your heart, your passions or your
habitual opinions prefer to hold as right and necessary, and
passing beyond them, like Arjuna in the Gita, seek only to know
what God has set down as right and necessary. Be strong in the
faith that whatever is right and necessary will inevitably happen
as the result of your due fulfilment of the kartavyaṁ karma, even
if it is not the result that you preferred or expected. The power
that governs the world is at least as wise as you and it is not
absolutely necessary that you should be consulted or indulged
in its management; God is seeing to it.
But what is the kartavyaṁ karma? It is very difficult to say,
— gahanā karman.o gatih.. Most people would translate kartavyaṁ karma by the English word and idea, duty; if asked to
define it, they would say it is the right and moral action, what
people understand by right and morality, what you yourself conscientiously think to be right or else what the good of society, the
nation or mankind demands of you. But the man who remains
bound by these personal or social ideas of duty, necessary as
they are for the ignorant to restrain and tame their clamorous
desires or their personal egoism, will be indeed what is called
a good man, but he will never attain to the fulfilment of this
yoga. He will only replace the desire for one kind of fruit by the
desire for another kind; he will strive, even more passionately
perhaps, for these higher results and be more bitterly grieved
by not attaining them. There is no passion so terrible as the
passion of the altruist, no egoism so hard to shake as the fixed
egoism of virtue, precisely because it is justified in its own eyes
and justified in the sight of men and cannot see the necessity for
yielding to a higher law. Even if there is no grieving over the
results, there will be the labour and strife of the rajasic kartā,
struggling and fighting, getting eager and getting exhausted, not
trigun.ātı̄ta, always under bondage to the
It was under the domination of these ideas of personal virtue
and social duty that Arjuna refused to fight. Against his reasonings Sri Krishna sets two different ideas, one inferior for the
use of the man bound but seeking liberation, another superior
The Yoga and Its Objects
for the liberated man, the Shastra and surrender not only of the
fruits of the work but of the work itself to God. The virtue of the
Shastra is that it sets up a standard outside ourselves, different
from our personal desires, reasonings, passions and prejudices,
outside our selfishness and self-will, by living up to which in the
right spirit we can not only acquire self-control but by reducing
even the sattwic ahaṅkāra to a minimum prepare ourselves for
liberation. In the old days the Shastra was the Vedic Dharma
based upon a profound knowledge of man’s psychology and the
laws of the world, revealing man to himself and showing him
how to live according to his nature; afterwards it was the law
of the Smritis which tried to do the same thing more roughly
by classifying men according to the general classes of which the
Vedas speak, the cāturvarn.ya; today it is little more than blind
mechanical custom and habitual social observance, a thing not
sattwic but tamasic, not a preparatory discipline for liberation,
but a mere bondage.
Even the highest Shastra can be misused for the purposes
of egoism, the egoism of virtue and the egoism of prejudice
and personal opinion. At its best it is a great means towards
the preparation of liberation. It is śabda-brahma. But we must
not be satisfied with mere preparation, we must, as soon as
our eyes are opened, hasten on to actual freedom. The liberated soul and the sadhak of liberation who has surrendered
even his actions to God, gets beyond the highest Shastra,
The best foundation for the surrender of action is the realisation that Prakriti is doing all our actions at God’s command
and God through our svabhāva determines the action. From that
moment the action belongs to him, it is not yours nor the responsibility yours; there is indeed no responsibility, no bondage of
Karma, for God has no responsibility, but is in every way master
and free. Our actions become not only like the Shastric man’s
svabhāvaniyata, regulated by nature and therefore dharma, but
the svabhāva itself is controlled like a machine by God. It is
not easy for us, full as we are of the Sanskaras of ignorance, to
arrive at this stage of knowledge, but there are three stages by
The Yoga and Its Objects
which it can be rapidly done. The first is to live in the spirit of
the śloka, —
(vyA ãqFk
f ãEd E-Tt
n yTA Eny,Äo_E-m tTA kroEm.
“According as I am appointed by Thee, O Hrishikesha! seated
in my heart, so I act.” When this has entered into your daily life,
it will be easier to accomplish the second stage and live in the
knowledge of the Gita,
I˜r, svBtAnA\ ãŒ
_j,n Et¤Et.
B}Amyn^ svBtAEn y/A!YAEn mAyyA;
“God stands in the heart of all beings, whirling round all, as on
a wheel, by the Maya of the three” You will then be able
to perceive the action of the three in you and watch the
machinery at its work, no longer saying, tathā karomi, I do, but
gun.ā vartanta eva, it is merely the that work. One great
difficulty in these stages, especially before you can distinguish
the action of the, is the perception of the impurity of the
svabhāva, the haunting idea of sin and virtue. You must always
remember that, since you have put yourself in God’s hands, he
will work out the impurities and you have only to be careful, as
you cannot be attached either to pāpa or pun.ya, sin or virtue.
For he has repeatedly given the abhaya vacana, the assurance
of safety. “Pratijānı̄hi,” he says in the Gita, “na me bhaktah.
pran.aśyati, he who is devoted to Me cannot perish.”
The third stage comes out of the second, by full realisation
of God, or of itself by the grace of God. Not only will the
Purusha stand apart and be trigun.ātı̄ta, beyond the three,
but the Prakriti, though using the, will be free from their
bondage. Sattwa, as we know it, will disappear into pure prakāśa
and jyotih., and the nature will live in a pure, free and infinite
self-existing illumination. Tamas, as we know it, will disappear
into pure śama or śānti, and the nature will take its firm stand
on an infinite and ineffable rest and peace. Rajas, as we know
it, will disappear into pure tapas, and the nature will flow in
The Yoga and Its Objects
a free and infinite ocean of divine force. On that foundation
of calm and in that heaven of light, action will occur as the
spontaneous objective expression of God’s knowledge, which is
one with God’s will. This is the condition of infinity, ānantya,
in which this struggle of bound and limited sattwa, rajas and
tamas is replaced by a mighty harmony of free prakāśa, tapas
and śama. And even before you reach that condition, on the
way to it, you will find that some mighty force not your own,
not situated in your body though possessing and occupying it, is
thinking for you, feeling for you, acting for you, your very body
as well as your mind and heart being moved by that force and not
by yourself. You will enjoy that thought, feeling, action, but will
neither possess nor be possessed by it, — karmān.i pravilı̄yante,
your actions will disappear without leaving in you mark or trace,
as a wave disappears from the surface of the sea, as water falls
from the lotus leaf. Your mind, heart, body will not be yours,
but God’s; you yourself will be only a centre of being, knowledge
and bliss through which God works in that Adhar. This is the
condition in which one is utterly taccittah., given up in all his
conscious being to God, in which there is utter fulfilment of the
y-y nAh\kto BAvo b,Eˆy-y n El=yt
“One whose state of being is free from egoism and whose understanding receives no stain.” This is the surrender of action to
which Sri Krishna gives so much importance.
mEy svAEZ kmAEZ s\[email protected](mc
EnrAfFEnmmo B(vA y,@y-v Evgt>vr,;
“Laying down all actions upon Me, with thy whole conscious
being in adhyātmayoga, become free from desire and the sense
of belongings; fight, let the fever of thy soul pass from thee.” For
this great and complete liberation it is necessary that you should
be nih.spr.ha, nirdvandva and nirahaṅkāra, without the longing
and reaching after things, free from the saṁskāra of the dualities
The Yoga and Its Objects
and free from egoism; for these three things are the chief enemies
of self-surrender. If you are nirdvandva, you can be nih.spr.ha,
but hardly otherwise, for every dvandva creates in the mind by
the very nature of the mind some form of rāgadves.a, like and
dislike, attraction and repulsion, whether they are the lowest
dualities that appeal to the mind through the body, hunger and
thirst, heat and cold, physical pleasure and pain, or the middle
sorts that appeal to it through the feelings and desires, success
and failure, victory and defeat, fortune and misfortune, pleasure
and displeasure, joy and grief, hate and love, or the highest
which appeal to the mind through the discriminating buddhi,
virtue and sin, reason and unreason, error and truth. These
things can only be put under our feet by complete knowledge,
the knowledge that sees God in all things and thus comes to understand the relations of things to each other in his great cosmic
purpose, by complete Bhakti which accepts all things with joy,
— thus abolishing the dvandvas, — because they come from the
Beloved or by perfect action offering up all works as a sacrifice
to God with an entire indifference to these dualities of success,
failure, honour, disgrace, etc., which usually pursue all Karma.
Such knowledge, such Bhakti, such Karma come inevitably as
the eventual result of the saṅkalpa of self-surrender and the
practice of it.
But it is ahaṅkāra that by making the relation and effect of
things on ourselves or on things connected with us the standard
of life, makes the dvandvas a chain for our bondage. Ahaṅkāra
in its action on our life and sadhana will be seen to be of three
kinds, rajasic, tamasic and sattwic. Rajas binds by desire and
the craving in the nature for occupation and activity, it is always reaching after action and the fruit of action; it is in order
that we may be free from the rajasic ahaṅkāra that we have
the command, “Do not do works from the desire of fruit,”
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūh., and the command to give up our
actions to God. Tamas binds by weakness and the craving in the
nature for ease and inaction; it is always sinking into idleness, depression, confusion of mind, fear, disappointment, despondency
and despair; it is in order that we may get rid of the tamasic
The Yoga and Its Objects
ahaṅkāra that we are given the command, “Let there be no
attachment to inaction,” and the instruction to pursue the yoga
always, whether we seem to advance or seem to be standing
still or seem even to be going back, always with a calm faith
and patient and cheerful perseverance, anirvin.n.acetasā. Sattwa
binds by knowledge and pleasure; it is always attaching itself
to some imperfect realisation, to the idea of one’s own virtue,
the correctness of one’s own opinions and principles or at its
highest, as in the case of Arjuna, opposing some personal idea
of altruism, justice or virtue against the surrender of our will
that God demands of us. It is for the escape from the sattwic
ahaṅkāra that we have to pass beyond the attachment to the
duality of virtue and sin, ubhe
Each of the working on the ahaṅkāra has its particular danger for the sadhak who has made the saṅkalpa of
self-surrender, but has not yet attained to the full accomplishment of the surrender. The danger of the rajogun.a is when the
sadhak is assailed by the pride that thinks, “I am a great sadhak,
I have advanced so far, I am a great instrument in God’s hands,”
and similar ideas, or when he attaches himself to the work as
God’s work which must be carried out, putting himself into it
and troubling himself about it as if he had more interest in God’s
work than God himself and could manage it better. Many, while
they are acting all the while in the spirit of rajasic ahaṅkāra,
persuade themselves that God is working through them and they
have no part in the action. This is because they are satisfied with
the mere intellectual assent to the idea without waiting for the
whole system and life to be full of it. A continual remembrance of
God in others and renunciation of individual eagerness (spr.hā)
are needed and a careful watching of our inner activities until
God by the full light of self-knowledge, jñānadı̄pena bhāsvatā,
dispels all further chance of self-delusion.
The danger of tamogun.a is twofold, first, when the Purusha thinks, identifying himself with the tamas in him, “I am
weak, sinful, miserable, ignorant, good-for-nothing, inferior to
this man and inferior to that man, adhama, what will God
do through me?” — as if God were limited by the temporary
The Yoga and Its Objects
capacities or incapacities of his instruments and it were not
true that he can make the dumb to talk and the lame to cross
the hills, mūkaṁ karoti vācālaṁ paṅguṁ laṅghayate girim, —
and again when the sadhak tastes the relief, the tremendous
relief of a negative śānti and, feeling himself delivered from all
troubles and in possession of peace, turns away from life and
action and becomes attached to the peace and ease of inaction.
Remember always that you too are Brahman and the divine
Shakti is working in you; reach out always to the realisation of
God’s omnipotence and his delight in the Lila. He bids Arjuna
work lokasaṅgrahārthāya, for keeping the world together, for
he does not wish the world to sink back into Prakriti, but insists
on your acting as he acts,
lokA n k,yA km c
“These worlds would be overpowered by tamas and sink into
Prakriti if I did not do actions.” To be attached to inaction is to
give up our action not to God but to our tamasic ahaṅkāra.
The danger of the sattvagun.a is when the sadhak becomes
attached to any one-sided conclusion of his reason, to some
particular kriyā or movement of the sadhana, to the joy of any
particular siddhi of the yoga, perhaps the sense of purity or
the possession of some particular power or the Ananda of the
contact with God or the sense of freedom and hungers after
it, becomes attached to that only and would have nothing else.
Remember that the yoga is not for yourself; for these things,
though they are part of the siddhi, are not the object of the siddhi,
for you have decided at the beginning to make no claim upon
God but take what he gives you freely and, as for the Ananda,
the selfless soul will even forego the joy of God’s presence, when
that is God’s will. You must be free even from the highest sattwic
ahaṅkāra, even from the subtle ignorance of mumuks.utva, the
desire of liberation, and take all joy and delight without attachment. You will then be the siddha or perfect man of the Gita.
These then are the processes of the yoga, (1) the saṅkalpa of
ātmasamarpan.a, (2) the standing apart from the Adhar by self-
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knowledge, (3) the vision of God everywhere and in all things
and in all happenings, the surrender of the fruits of action and
action itself to God, and the freedom thereby from ignorance,
from ahaṅkāra, from the dvandvas, from desire, so that you are
śuddha, mukta, siddha, full of Ananda, pure, free, perfect and
blissful in your being. But the processes will be worked out, once
the saṅkalpa is made, by God’s Shakti, by a mighty process of
Nature. All that is indispensable on your part is the anumati and
smr.ti. Anumati is consent, you must give a temporary consent
to the movements of the yoga, to all that happens inside or
outside you as part of the circumstances of the sadhana, not
exulting at the good, not fretting at the evil, not struggling in
your heart to keep the one or get rid of the other, but always
keeping in mind and giving a permanent assent to that which
has to be finally effected. The temporary consent is passive
submission to the methods and not positive acceptance of the
results. The permanent consent is an anticipatory acceptance of
the results, a sort of effortless and desireless exercise of will. It is
the constant exercise of this desireless will, an intent aspiration
and constant remembrance of the path and its goal which are
the dhr.ti and utsāha needed, the necessary steadfastness and
zeal of the sadhak; vyākulatā or excited, passionate eagerness is
more intense, but less widely powerful, and it is disturbing and
exhausting, giving intense pleasure and pain in the pursuit but
not so vast a bliss in the acquisition. The followers of this path
must be like the men of the early yugas, dhı̄rāh., the great word
of praise in the Upanishads. In the remembrance, the smr.ti or
smaran.a, you must be apramatta, free from negligence. It is by
the loss of the smr.ti owing to the rush and onset of the
that the yogin becomes bhras.t.a, falls from his firm seat, wanders
from his path. But you need not be distressed when the pramāda
comes and the state of fall or clouded condition seems to persist,
for there is no fear for you of a permanent fall since God himself
has taken entire charge of you and if you stumble, it is because it
is best for you to stumble, as a child by frequent stumbling and
falling learns to walk. The necessity of apramattatā disappears
when you can replace the memory of the yoga and its objects by
The Yoga and Its Objects
the continual remembrance of God in all things and happenings,
the nitya anusmaran.a of the Gita. For those who can make the
full surrender from the beginning there is no question; their path
is utterly swift and easy.
It is said in the “Sanatsujatiya” that four things are necessary
for siddhi — śāstra, utsāha, guru and kāla — the teaching of the
path, zeal in following it, the Guru and time. Your path is that
which I am pointing out, the utsāha needed is this anumati and
this nitya smaran.a, the Guru is God himself and for the rest
only time is needed. That God himself is the Guru, you will find
when knowledge comes to you; you will see how every little circumstance within you and without you has been subtly planned
and brought about by infinite wisdom to carry out the natural
process of the yoga, how the internal and external movements
are arranged and brought together to work on each other, so
as to work out the imperfection and work in the perfection.
An almighty love and wisdom are at work for your uplifting.
Therefore never be troubled by the time that is being taken, even
if it seems very long, but when imperfections and obstructions
arise, be apramatta, dhı̄ra, have the utsāha, and leave God to do
the rest. Time is necessary. It is a tremendous work that is being
done in you, the alteration of your whole human nature into a
divine nature, the crowding of centuries of evolution into a few
years. You ought not to grudge the time. There are other paths
that offer more immediate results or at any rate, by offering you
some definite kriyā you can work at yourself, give your ahaṅkāra
the satisfaction of feeling that you are doing something, so many
more prān.āyāmas today, so much longer a time for the āsana,
so many more repetitions of the japa, so much done, so much
definite progress marked. But once you have chosen this path,
you must cleave to it. Those are human methods, not the way
that the infinite Shakti works, which moves silently, sometimes
imperceptibly to its goal, advances here, seems to pause there,
then mightily and triumphantly reveals the grandiose thing that
it has done. Artificial paths are like canals hewn by the intelligence of man; you travel easily, safely, surely, but from one given
place to another. This path is the broad and trackless ocean by
The Yoga and Its Objects
which you can travel widely to all parts of the world and are
admitted to the freedom of the infinite. All that you need are
the ship, the steering-wheel, the compass, the motive-power and
a skilful captain. Your ship is the Brahmavidya, faith is your
steering-wheel, self-surrender your compass, the motive-power
is she who makes, directs and destroys the worlds at God’s
command and God himself is your captain. But he has his own
way of working and his own time for everything. Watch his
way and wait for his time. Understand also the importance of
accepting the Shastra and submitting to the Guru and do not do
like the Europeans who insist on the freedom of the individual
intellect to follow its own fancies and preferences which it calls
reasonings, even before it is trained to discern or fit to reason. It
is much the fashion nowadays to indulge in metaphysical discussions and philosophical subtleties about Maya and Adwaita and
put them in the forefront, making them take the place of spiritual
experience. Do not follow that fashion or confuse yourself and
waste time on the way by questionings which will be amply and
luminously answered when the divine knowledge of the vijñāna
awakes in you. Metaphysical knowledge has its place, but as a
handmaid to spiritual experience, showing it the way sometimes
but much more dependent on it and living upon its bounty. By
itself it is mere pān.d.itya, a dry and barren thing and more often a
stumbling-block than a help. Having accepted this path, follow
its Shastra without unnecessary doubt and questioning, keeping
the mind plastic to the light of the higher knowledge, gripping
firmly what is experienced, waiting for light where things are
dark to you, taking without pride what help you can from the
living guides who have already trod the path, always patient,
never hastening to narrow conclusions, but waiting for a more
complete experience and a fuller light, relying on the Jagadguru
who helps you from within.
It is necessary to say something about the Mayavada and
the modern teachings about the Adwaita because they are much
in the air at the present moment and, penetrated with ideas
from European rationalism and agnosticism for which Shankara
would have been astonished to find himself made responsible,
The Yoga and Its Objects
perplex many minds. Remember that one-sided philosophies are
always a partial statement of truth. The world, as God has made
it, is not a rigid exercise in logic but, like a strain of music, an infinite harmony of many diversities, and his own existence, being
free and absolute, cannot be logically defined. Just as the best
religion is that which admits the truth of all religions, so the best
philosophy is that which admits the truth of all philosophies and
gives each its right place. Maya is one realisation, an important
one which Shankara overstressed because it was most vivid to his
own experience. For yourself leave the word for subordinate use
and fix rather on the idea of Lila, a deeper and more penetrating
word than Maya. Lila includes the idea of Maya and exceeds
it; nor has it that association of the vanity of all things, useless
to you who have elected to remain and play with Sri Krishna in
Mathura and Brindavan.
God is one but he is not bounded by his unity. We see him
here as one who is always manifesting as many, not because he
cannot help it, but because he so wills, and outside manifestation
he is anirdeśyam, indefinable, and cannot be described as either
one or many. That is what the Upanishads and other sacred
books consistently teach; he is ekamevādvitı̄yam, One and there
is no other, but also and consequently he is “this man, yonder
woman, that blue-winged bird, this scarlet-eyed.” He is sānta, he
is ananta; the Jiva is he. “I am the aśvattha tree,” says Sri Krishna
in the Gita, “I am death, I am Agni Vaishwanara, I am the heat
that digests food, I am Vyasa, I am Vasudeva, I am Arjuna.” All
that is the play of his caitanya in his infinite being, his manifestations, and therefore all are real. Maya means nothing more than
the freedom of Brahman from the circumstances through which
he expresses himself. He is in no way limited by that which we
see or think about him. That is the Maya from which we must
escape, the Maya of ignorance which takes things as separately
existent and not God, not caitanya, the illimitable for the really
limited, the free for the bound. Do you remember the story of
Sri Krishna and the Gopis, how Narada found him differently
occupied in each house to which he went, present to each Gopi in
a different body, yet always the same Sri Krishna? Apart from the
The Yoga and Its Objects
devotional meaning of the story, which you know, it is a good
image of his World-Lila. He is sarva, everyone, each Purusha
with his apparently different Prakriti and action is he, and yet
at the same time he is the Purushottama who is with Radha,
the Para Prakriti, and can withdraw all these into himself when
he wills and put them out again when he wills. From one point
of view they are one with him, from another one yet different,
from yet another always different because they always exist,
latent in him or expressed at his pleasure. There is no profit in
disputing about these standpoints. Wait until you see God and
know yourself and him and then debate and discussion will be
The goal marked out for us is not to speculate about these
things, but to experience them. The call upon us is to grow into
the image of God, to dwell in him and with him and be a channel
of his joy and might and an instrument of his works. Purified
from all that is aśubha, transfigured in soul by his touch, we
have to act in the world as dynamos of that divine electricity
and send it thrilling and radiating through mankind, so that
wherever one of us stands, hundreds around may become full
of his light and force, full of God and full of Ananda. Churches,
Orders, theologies, philosophies have failed to save mankind
because they have busied themselves with intellectual creeds,
dogmas, rites and institutions, with ācāraśuddhi and darśana,
as if these could save mankind, and have neglected the one thing
needful, the power and purification of the soul. We must go back
to the one thing needful, take up again Christ’s gospel of the
purity and perfection of mankind, Mahomed’s gospel of perfect
submission, self-surrender and servitude to God, Chaitanya’s
gospel of the perfect love and joy of God in man, Ramakrishna’s
gospel of the unity of all religions and the divinity of God in
man, and, gathering all these streams into one mighty river, one
purifying and redeeming Ganges, pour it over the death-in-life
of a materialistic humanity as Bhagirath led down the Ganges
and flooded with it the ashes of his fathers, so that they may be
a resurrection of the soul in mankind and the Satyayuga for a
while return to the world. Nor is this the whole object of the
The Yoga and Its Objects
Lila or the Yoga; the reason for which the Avatars descend is to
raise up man again and again, developing in him a higher and
ever higher humanity, a greater and yet greater development of
divine being, bringing more and more of heaven again and again
upon the earth until our toil is done, our work accomplished and
Sachchidananda fulfilled in all even here, even in this material
universe. Small is his work, even if he succeeds, who labours for
his own salvation or the salvation of a few; infinitely great is
his, even if he fail or succeed only partially or for a season, who
lives only to bring about peace of soul, joy, purity and perfection
among all mankind.
Explanations of Some Words and Phrases
“Matter itself, you will one day realise, is not material, it is
not substance but form of consciousness, gun.a, the result of
quality of being perceived by sense-knowledge.” (p. 77)
There is no need to put “the” before “quality” — in English that
would alter the sense. Matter is not regarded in this passage as
a quality of being perceived by sense; I don’t think that would
have any meaning. It is regarded as a result of a certain power
and action of consciousness which presents forms of itself to
sense perception and it is this quality of sense-perceivedness,
so to speak, that gives them the appearance of Matter, i.e. of
a certain kind of substantiality inherent in themselves — but in
fact they are not self-existent substantial objects but forms of
consciousness. The point is that there is no such thing as the
self-existent Matter posited by nineteenth-century Science.
“chitta” and “chetas”
Chitta is ordinarily used for the mental consciousness in general,
thought, feeling, etc. taken together with a stress now on one
side or another, sometimes on the feelings as in citta-pramāthı̄,
sometimes on the thought-mind — that is why I translated it [on
p. 75 (maccittah.)] “heart and mind” in its wider sense. Chetas
can be used in the same way, but it has a different shade of
sense, properly speaking, and can include also the movements
of the soul, covering the whole consciousness even; [on p. 82]
I take it in its most general sense. The translation is not meant
Sri Aurobindo wrote these explanations in 1938 in answer to questions asked by a Hindi
translator of The Yoga and Its Objects.
Explanations of Some Words and Phrases
to be literal but to render the thought in the line in its fullness. Adhyātmacetasā practically amounts to what in English
we would describe as a spiritual consciousness.
“throw our arms around” (p. 78)
It is a figure meaning to comprehend in our consciousness with
love and Ananda.
“the nature” (p. 81, lines 29, 31, 33)
Nature here means the parts of Prakriti in the human being: as
it is the condition of the Prakriti that changes with shifting of
the gunas and it is this condition of the Prakriti that will become
illumined by the transformation of sattva into jyotih..
lokasaṅgrahārthāya (p. 85) — Does this mean present order?
No. It is in a more general sense the maintenance of the world
order which may be a developing, not necessarily a stationary
one, an order spiritual, moral etc. and not merely a social order.
Part Three
Writings from the Arya
1914 – 1921
Notes on the Arya
The “Arya’s” Second Year
HE “ARYA”, born by a coincidence which might well
have been entirely disastrous to its existence in the very
month when there broke out the greatest catastrophe that
has overtaken the modern world, has yet, though carried on
under serious difficulties, completed its first year. We have been
obliged unfortunately to discontinue the French edition from
February last as our director M. Paul Richard was then recalled
to join his class of the Reserve Army in France. We have to thank
the indulgence of our French subscribers who have consented to
receive the English edition in its stead.
We have been obliged in our first year for reasons we shall
indicate in the preface to our August number1 to devote the Review almost entirely to high philosophy and severe and difficult
thinking. But the object we had in view is now fulfilled and
we recognise that we have no right to continue to subject our
readers to the severe strain of almost 64 pages of such strenuous
intellectual labour. We shall therefore in the next year devote a
greater part of our space to articles on less profound subjects
written in a more popular style. Needless to say, our matter
will always fall within the definition of a philosophical Review
and centre around the fundamental thought which the “Arya”
We shall continue the Life Divine, the Synthesis of Yoga
and the Secret of the Veda; but we intend to replace the Selected
Hymns by a translation of the Hymns of the Atris (the fifth Mandala of the Rig Veda) so conceived as to make the sense of the
Vedic chants at once and easily intelligible without the aid of a
The “preface” in question appeared under the title “Our Ideal”. The bulk of that
piece is printed on pages 140 – 47. Passages referring to the Arya were omitted from it
after its first publication; these are reproduced on pages 103 – 4. — Ed.
Notes on the Arya
commentary to the general reader. The same circumstance which
obliged us to discontinue the French edition, will also prevent
us from continuing the Wherefore of the Worlds. Happily, we
have been able to bring it to a point where the writer’s central
idea appears, the new creation of our world by redeeming Love,
— a fitting point for the faith and reason of man to pause upon
at the moment of the terrible ordeal which that world is now
Without the divine Will which knows best what to use and
what to throw aside, no human work can come to the completion hoped for by our limited vision. To that Will we entrust the
continuance and the result of our labours and we conclude the
first year of the “Arya” with the aspiration that the second may
see the speedy and fortunate issue of the great world-convulsion
which still pursues us and that by the Power which brings always
the greatest possible good out of apparent evil there may emerge
from this disastrous but long-foreseen collapse of the old order
a new and better marked by the triumph of higher principles
of love, wisdom and unity and a sensible advance of the race
towards our ultimate goal, — the conscious oneness of the Soul
in humanity and the divinity of man.
Passages Omitted from “Our Ideal”
The “Arya” having completed its first year and survived the first
perils of infancy, now offers itself a second time to the decisions
of Time and the mind of the hour. We think it necessary to open
our new year with a succinct statement of the idea this Review
is intended to serve and the aim which it holds before it. For our
Review has been conceived neither as a mirror of the fleeting
interests and surface thoughts of the period we live in, nor as
the mouthpiece of a sect, school or already organised way of
thinking. Its object is to feel out for the thought of the future,
to help in shaping its foundations and to link it to the best and
most vital thought of the past.
Our first preoccupation in the “Arya” has therefore been
with the deepest thought that we could command on the
philosophical foundations of the problem; and we have been
so profoundly convinced that without this basis nothing we
could say would have any real, solid and permanent value
that we have perhaps given too great a space to difficult and
abstruse thought whether in the shaping of our own ideas or
in the study and restatement of the ancient Eastern knowledge.
Our excuse is that we come forward as ourselves learners
and students and must begin at the roots to proceed forward
These paragraphs formed part of the article “Our Ideal” when it was published in
the Arya in August 1915 (one month after “The ‘Arya’s’ Second Year”). The passages
occurred at the beginning of the essay and before its last paragraph. They were omitted
from “Our Ideal” when it was included in the book Ideal and Progress in 1920.
Notes on the Arya
Our second preoccupation has been with the psychological
disciplines of Yoga; but here also we have been obliged to concern ourselves with a deep study of the principles underlying
the methods rather than with a popular statement of methods
and disciplines. But without this previous study of principles the
statement of methods would have been unsound and not really
helpful. There are no short cuts to an integral perfection.
Other and more popular sides of our work we have been
obliged hitherto to neglect; but now that we have advanced a
little in the more difficult part of it, we hope to turn increasingly
to these more obvious and general subjects of interest. And if
our readers are still willing to follow us, their recompense will
be a more clear, sound and solid thought on these subjects than
we could otherwise have given them.
The “Arya’s” Fourth Year
E CLOSE this month the fourth year of the “Arya”,
and bring to a conclusion at the same time the “Psychology of Social Development”, the “Ideal of Human
Unity” and the first series of the “Essays on the Gita”. A few
more chapters will complete the “Life Divine”. We are therefore
well in view of the completion of the first part of the work
which we had proposed to ourselves in starting this philosophical monthly, and we take the opportunity to say a few words
upon the principle which has governed our writing and which
the difficulty of a serial exposition on several lines at a time, scattering and breaking up the total impression, may have prevented
some of our readers from grasping in its entirety.
We had not in view at any time a review or magazine in the
ordinary sense of the word, that is to say, a popular presentation or criticism of current information and current thought on
philosophical questions. Nor was it, as in some philosophical
and religious magazines in India, the restatement of an existing
school or position of philosophical thought cut out in its lines
and needing only to be popularised and supported. Our idea
was the thinking out of a synthetic philosophy which might be
a contribution to the thought of the new age that is coming
upon us. We start from the idea that humanity is moving to
a great change of its life which will even lead to a new life of
the race, — in all countries where men think, there is now in
various forms that idea and that hope, — and our aim has been
to search for the spiritual, religious and other truth which can
enlighten and guide the race in this movement and endeavour.
The spiritual experience and the general truths on which such
an attempt could be based, were already present to us, otherwise
we should have had no right to make the endeavour at all; but
the complete intellectual statement of them and their results and
Notes on the Arya
issues had to be found. This meant a continuous thinking, a
high and subtle and difficult thinking on several lines, and this
strain, which we had to impose on ourselves, we were obliged to
impose also on our readers. This too is the reason why we have
adopted the serial form which in a subject like philosophy has
its very obvious disadvantages, but was the only one possible.
Our original intention was to approach the synthesis from
the starting-point of the two lines of culture which divide human
thought and are now meeting at its apex, the knowledge of the
West and the knowledge of the East; but owing to the exigencies
of the war this could not be fulfilled. The “Arya” except for one
unfinished series has been an approach to the highest reconciling
truth from the point of view of the Indian mentality and Indian
spiritual experience, and Western knowledge has been viewed
from that standpoint. Here the main idea which has governed
our writing, was imposed on us by the very conditions of the
problem. All philosophy is concerned with the relations between
two things, the fundamental truth of existence and the forms in
which existence presents itself to our experience. The deepest
experience shows that the fundamental truth is truth of the
Spirit; the other is the truth of life, truth of form and shaping
force and living idea and action. Here the West and East have
followed divergent lines. The West has laid most emphasis on
truth of life and for a time come to stake its whole existence
upon truth of life alone, to deny the existence of spirit or to
relegate it to the domain of the unknown and unknowable; from
that exaggeration it is now beginning to return. The East has
laid most emphasis on truth of the Spirit and for a time came,
at least in India, to stake its whole existence upon that truth
alone, to neglect the possibilities of life or to limit it to a narrow
development or a fixed status; the East too is beginning to return
from this exaggeration. The West is reawaking to the truth of the
Spirit and the spiritual possibilities of life, the East is reawaking
to the truth of Life and tends towards a new application to it of
its spiritual knowledge. Our view is that the antinomy created
between them is an unreal one. Spirit being the fundamental
truth of existence, life can be only its manifestation; Spirit must
The “Arya’s” Fourth Year
be not only the origin of life but its basis, its pervading reality
and its highest and total result. But the forms of life as they
appear to us are at once its disguises and its instruments of selfmanifestation. Man has to grow in knowledge till they cease to
be disguises and grow in spiritual power and quality till they
become in him its perfect instruments. To grow into the fullness
of the divine is the true law of human life and to shape his earthly
existence into its image is the meaning of his evolution. This is
the fundamental tenet of the philosophy of the “Arya”.
This truth had to be worked out first of all from the metaphysical point of view; for in philosophy metaphysical truth is
the nucleus of the rest, it is the statement of the last and most
general truths on which all the others depend or in which they
are gathered up. Therefore we gave the first place to the “Life
Divine”. Here we start from the Vedantic position, its ideas of
the Self and mind and life, of Sachchidananda and the world, of
Knowledge and Ignorance, of rebirth and the Spirit. But Vedanta
is popularly supposed to be a denial of life, and this is no doubt
a dominant trend it has taken. Though starting from the original
truth that all is the Brahman, the Self, it has insisted in the end
that the world is simply not-Brahman, not-Self; it has ended
in a paradox. We have attempted on the contrary to establish
from its data a comprehensive Adwaita. We have shown that
mind and life and matter are derivations from the Self through a
spiritual mind or supermind which is the real support of cosmic
existence and by developing mind into that, man can arrive
at the real truth of the spirit in the world and the real truth
and highest law of life. The Self is Sachchidananda and there
is no incurable antinomy between that and the world; only we
see the world through the eyes of the Ignorance and we have
to see it through the eyes of the Knowledge. Our ignorance
itself is only knowledge developing out of its involution in the
apparent nescience of Matter and on its way to a return to its
conscious integrality. To accomplish that return and manifest
the spiritual life in the human existence is the opportunity given
by the successions of rebirth. We accept the truth of evolution,
not so much in the physical form given to it by the West as
Notes on the Arya
in its philosophical truth, the involution of life and mind and
spirit here in matter and their progressive manifestation. At the
summit of this evolution is the spiritual life, the life divine.
It was necessary to show that these truths were not inconsistent with the old Vedantic truth, therefore we included explanations from this point of view of the Veda, two of the Upanishads
and the Gita. But the Veda has been obscured by the ritualists
and the scholiasts. Therefore we showed in a series of articles,
initially only as yet, the way of writing of the Vedic mystics,
their system of symbols and the truths they figure. Among the
Upanishads we took the Isha and the Kena; to be full we should
have added the Taittiriya, but it is a long one and for it we had
no space. The Gita we are treating as a powerful application of
truth of spirit to the largest and most difficult part of the truth of
life, to action, and a way by which action can lead us to birth into
the Spirit and can be harmonised with the spiritual life. Truth of
philosophy is of a merely theoretical value unless it can be lived,
and we have therefore tried in the “Synthesis of Yoga” to arrive
at a synthetical view of the principles and methods of the various
lines of spiritual self-discipline and the way in which they can
lead to an integral divine life in the human existence. But this is
an individual self-development, and therefore it was necessary
to show too how our ideal can work out in the social life of
mankind. In the “Psychology of Social Development” we have
indicated how these truths affect the evolution of human society.
In the “Ideal of Human Unity” we have taken the present trend
of mankind towards a closer unification and tried to appreciate
its tendencies and show what is wanting to them in order that
real human unity may be achieved.
Our plan has compelled us to deal mainly with first principles and work them out in their fullness. In future we do
not propose to start any other long series of this kind, but to
have more short articles with a broader, more direct and, as
far as possible, more popular treatment. We shall also permit
ourselves a freer range and diversity, so far as that is permissible
in a philosophical review.
On Ideals and Progress
On Ideals
DEALS are truths that have not yet effected themselves for
man, the realities of a higher plane of existence which have
yet to fulfil themselves on this lower plane of life and matter,
our present field of operation. To the pragmatical intellect which
takes its stand upon the ever-changing present, ideals are not
truths, not realities, they are at most potentialities of future truth
and only become real when they are visible in the external fact
as work of force accomplished. But to the mind which is able
to draw back from the flux of force in the material universe, to
the consciousness which is not imprisoned in its own workings
or carried along in their flood but is able to envelop, hold and
comprehend them, to the soul that is not merely the subject
and instrument of the world-force but can reflect something of
that Master-Consciousness which controls and uses it, the ideal
present to its inner vision is a greater reality than the changing
fact obvious to its outer senses. The Idea is not a reflection of the
external fact which it so much exceeds; rather the fact is only a
partial reflection of the Idea which has created it.
Certainly, ideals are not the ultimate Reality, for that is
too high and vast for any ideal to envisage; they are aspects
of it thrown out in the world-consciousness as a basis for the
workings of the world-power. But they are primary, the actual
workings secondary. They are nearer to the Reality and therefore
always more real, forcible and complete than the facts which
are their partial reflection. Reflections themselves of the Real,
they again are reflected in the more concrete workings of our
existence. The human intellect in proportion as it limits itself by
the phenomena of self-realising Force fails to catch the creative
Idea until after we have seen the external fact it has created;
but this order of our sense-enslaved consciousness is not the real
order of the universe. God pre-exists before the world can come
On Ideals and Progress
into being, but to our experience in which the senses act first
and only then the finer workings of consciousness, the world
seems to come first and God to emerge out of it, so much so
that it costs us an effort to rise out of the mechanical, pluralistic
and pantheistic conceptions of Him to a truer and higher idea
of the Divine Reality. That which to us is the ultimate, is in
truth the primary reality. So too the Idea which seems to us to
rise out of the fact, really precedes it and out of it the fact has
arisen. Our vulgar contrast of the ideal and the real is therefore
a sensuous error, for that which we call real is only a phenomenon of force working out something that stands behind
the phenomenon and that is pre-existent and greater than it.
The Real, the Idea, the phenomenon, this is the true order of the
creative Divinity.
The pragmatic intellect is only sure of a thing when it finds
it realised in Power; therefore it has a certain contempt for
the ideal, for the vision, because it drives always at execution
and material realisation. But Power is not the only term of the
Godhead; Knowledge is the elder sister of Power: Force and
Consciousness are twin aspects of being both in the eternal foundation of things and in their evolutionary realisation. The idea is
the realisation of a truth in Consciousness as the fact is its realisation in Power, both indispensable, both justified in themselves
and in each other, neither warranted in ignoring or despising
its complement. For the idealist and visionary to despise the
pragmatist or for the pragmatist to depreciate the idealist and
visionary is a deplorable result of our intellectual limitations
and the mutual misunderstandings by which the arrogance of
our imperfect temperament and mentality shuts itself out from
perfection. It is as if we were to think that God the Seer and
Knower must despise God the Master of works and energies
or the Lord of action and sacrifice ignore the divine Witness
and Originator. But these two are one and the division in us a
limitation that mankind has yet to conquer.
The human being advances in proportion as he becomes
more and more capable of knowing before he realises in action. This is indeed the order of evolution. It begins with a
On Ideals
material working in which the Prakriti, the executive Power, is
veiled by its works, by the facts it produces, and itself veils the
consciousness which originates and supports all its workings.
In Life the force emerges and becomes vibrant in the very surface of its works; last, in Mind the underlying consciousness
reveals itself. So too man is at first subject in his mentality
to the facts which his senses envisage, cannot go behind and
beyond them, knows only the impressions they make on his
receptive mind. The animal is executive, not creative; a passive
tool of Matter and Life he does not seek in his thought and will
to react upon and use them: the human being too in his less
developed state is executive rather than creative; he limits his
view to the present and to his environment, works so as to live
from day to day, accepts what he is without reaching forward
in thought to what he may be, has no ideals. In proportion
as he goes beyond the fact and seeks to anticipate Nature, to
catch the ideas and principles behind her workings and finally
to seize the idea that is not yet realised in fact and himself
preside over its execution, he becomes originative and creative
and no longer merely executive. He begins thus his passage from
subjection to mastery.
In thus progressing humanity falls apart after its fashion
into classes; it divides itself between the practical man and the
idealist and makes numerous compromises between the two extremes. In reality the division is artificial; for every man who
does anything in the world, works by virtue of an idea and
in the force given to him by ideals, either his own or others’
ideals, which he may or may not recognise but in whose absence
nevertheless he would be impotent to move a single step. The
smaller the ideals, the fewer they are and the less recognised
and insisted on, the less also is the work done and the progress
realised; on the other hand, when ideals enlarge themselves,
when they become forceful, widely recognised, when different
ideals enter into the field, clash and communicate their thought
and force to each other, then the race rises to its great periods of
activity and creation. And it is when the Ideal arisen, vehement,
energetic, refuses to be debarred from possession and throws
On Ideals and Progress
itself with all the gigantic force of the higher planes of existence
on this reluctant and rebellious stuff of life and matter to conquer it that we have the great eras which change the world by
carrying out the potentialities of several centuries in the action
of a few decades.
Therefore wherever and whenever the mere practical man
abounds and excludes or discourages by his domination the
idealist, there is the least work and the least valuable work done
in that age or country for humanity; at most some preliminary
spade-work, some labour of conservation and hardly perceptible motion, some repression of creative energies preparing for
a great future outburst. On the other hand, when the idealist
is liberated, when the visionary abounds, the executive worker
also is uplifted, finds at once an orientation and tenfold energy
and accomplishes things which he would otherwise have rejected
as a dream and chimera, which to his ordinary capacity would
be impossible and which often leave the world wondering how
work so great could have been done by men who were in themselves so little. The union of the great idealist with the great
executive personality who receives and obeys the idea is always
the sign of a coming realisation which will be more or less deep
and extensive in proportion as they are united or as the executive
man seizes more or less profoundly and completely the idea he
serves and is able to make permanent in force what the other
has impressed upon the consciousness of his age.
Often enough, even when these two different types of men
work in the same cause and one more or less fulfils the other,
they are widely separated in their accessory ideas, distrust, dislike and repudiate each other. For ordinarily the idealist is full
of anticipations which reach beyond the actual possibilities or
exceed the work that is destined to be immediately fulfilled; the
executive man on the other hand is unable to grasp either all the
meaning of the work he does or all its diviner possibilities which
to him are illusion and vanity while to the other they are all that
is supremely valuable in his great endeavour. To the practical
worker limiting himself by patent forces and actual possibilities
the idealist who made his work possible seems an idle dreamer
On Ideals
or a troublesome fanatic; to the idealist the practical man who
realises the first steps towards his idea seems a coarse spoiler
of the divine work and almost its enemy: for by attaching too
much importance to what is immediately possible he removes
the greater possibilities which he does not see, seems to prevent
and often does prevent a larger and nobler realisation. It is the
gulf between a Cavour and a Mazzini, between the prophet
of an ideal and the statesman of a realisable idea. The latter
seems always to be justified by the event, but the former has a
deeper justification in the shortcomings of the event. The successes of the executive man hiding away the ideal under the
accomplished fact are often the tragedies of the human spirit
and are responsible for the great reactions and disappointments
it undergoes when it finds how poor and soulless is the accomplished fact compared with the glory of the vision and the ardour
of the effort.
It cannot be doubted which of these two opposites and
complementaries is the most essential to success. Not only is
the upheaval and fertilising of the general consciousness by
the thinker and the idealist essential to the practical realisation of great changes, but in the realisation itself the idealist
who will not compromise is an indispensable element. Show
me a movement without a force of uncompromising idealism
working somewhere in its sum of energies and you have shown
me a movement which is doomed to failure and abortion or to
petty and inconsiderable results. The age or the country which
is entirely composed of reasonable, statesmanlike workers ever
ready for concession and compromise is a country which will
never be great until it has added to itself what is lacking to
it and bathed itself in pure and divine fountains and an age
which will accomplish nothing of supreme importance for the
progress of humanity. There is a difference however between the
fanatic of an idea and the true idealist: the former is simply the
materialistic, executive man possessed by the idea of another,
not himself the possessor of it; he is haunted in his will and
driven by the force of the idea, not really illumined by its light.
He does harm as well as good and his chief use is to prevent the
On Ideals and Progress
man of compromise from pausing at a paltry or abortive result;
but his excesses also bring about great reactions. Incapable of
taking his stand on the ideal itself, he puts all his emphasis on
particular means and forms and overstrains the springs of action
till they become dulled and incapable of responding to farther
excitation. But the true idealist is not the servant of the letter or
the form; it is the idea which he loves and the spirit behind the
idea which he serves.
Man approaches nearer his perfection when he combines in
himself the idealist and the pragmatist, the originative soul and
the executive power. Great executive personalities have usually
been men of a considerable idealism. Some indeed have served
a purpose rather than an ideal; even in the idea that guided or
moved them they have leaned to its executive rather than its
inspiring and originative aspect; they have sought their driving
force in the interest, passion and emotion attached to it rather
than in the idea itself. Others have served consciously a great
single thought or moral aim which they have laboured to execute
in their lives. But the greatest men of action who were endowed
by Nature with the most extraordinary force of accomplishment,
have owed it to the combination in them of active power with
an immense drift of originative thought devoted to practical
realisation. They have been great executive thinkers, great practical dreamers. Such were Napoleon and Alexander. Napoleon
with his violent prejudice against ideologues and dreamers was
himself a colossal dreamer, an incurable if unconscious ideologist; his teeming brain was the cause of his gigantic force and
accomplishment. The immense if shapeless ideas of Alexander
threw themselves into the form of conquests, cities, cultures;
they broke down the barriers of Greek and Asiatic prejudice
and narrow self-imprisonment and created an age of civilisation
and soul-interchange.
But these great personalities do not contain in themselves the
combination which humanity most needs; not the man of action
driven by ideas, the pragmatist stirred by a half-conscious exaltation from the idealistic, almost the mystic side of his nature,
but the seer who is able to execute his vision is the higher term
On Ideals
of human power and knowledge. The one takes his stand in the
Prakriti, the executive Force, and is therefore rather driven than
leads himself even when he most successfully leads others; the
other takes his stand in the Purusha, the Knower who controls
executive force, and he possesses the power that he uses. He
draws nearer to the type of the divine Seer-Will that has created
and governs the universe. But such a combination is rare and
difficult; for in order to grasp the Ideal the human soul has to
draw back so far from the limitations, pettinesses, denials of the
world of phenomenal fact that the temperament and mentality
become inapt for executive action upon the concrete phenomena
of life and matter. The mastery of the fact is usually possible to
the idealist mind only when its idealism is of no great depth or
power and can therefore accommodate itself more easily to the
actual life-environment.
Until this difficulty is overcome and the Seer-Will becomes
more common in man and more the master of life, the ideal
works at a disadvantage, by a silent pressure upon the reluctant
world, by occasional attacks and sudden upheavals; a little is
accomplished in a long time or by a great and sudden effort,
a little that is poor enough, coarse enough, material enough
compared with the thing seen and attempted, but which still
makes a farther advance possible though often after a period of
quiescence and reaction. And times there are, ages of stupendous effort and initiative when the gods seem no longer satisfied
with this tardy and fragmentary working, when the ideal breaks
constantly through the dull walls of the material practical life,
incalculable forces clash in its field, innumerable ideas meet and
wrestle in the arena of the world and through the constant storm
and flash, agitation of force and agitation of light the possibility
of the victoriously fulfilled ideal, the hope of the Messiah, the
expectation of the Avatar takes possession of the hearts and
thoughts of men. Such an age seems now to be coming upon the
world. But whether that hope and expectation and possibility
are to come to anything depends upon whether men prepare
their souls for the advent and rise in the effort of their faith, life
and thought to the height and purity of a clearly-grasped ideal.
On Ideals and Progress
The Messiah or Avatar is nothing but this, the divine Seer-Will
descending upon the human consciousness to reveal to it the
divine meaning behind our half-blind action and to give along
with the vision the exalted will that is faithful and performs and
the ideal force that executes according to the vision.
Yoga and Skill in Works
Yoga is skill in works.
OGA, says the Gita, is skill in works, and by this phrase
the ancient Scripture meant that the transformation of
mind and being to which it gave the name of Yoga
brought with it a perfect inner state and faculty out of which the
right principle of action and the right spiritual and divine result
of works emerged naturally like a tree out of its seed. Certainly,
it did not mean that the clever general or politician or lawyer or
shoemaker deserves the name of a Yogin; it did not mean that
any kind of skill in works was Yoga, but by Yoga it signified
a spiritual condition of universal equality and God-union and
by the skill of the Yogic worker it intended a perfect adaptation
of the soul and its instruments to the rhythm of the divine and
universal Spirit in a nature liberated from the shackles of egoism
and the limitations of the sense-mind.
Essentially, Yoga is a generic name for the processes and
the result of processes by which we transcend or shred off our
present modes of being and rise to a new, a higher, a wider
mode of consciousness which is not that of the ordinary animal
and intellectual man. Yoga is the exchange of an egoistic for a
universal or cosmic consciousness lifted towards or informed by
the supra-cosmic, transcendent Unnameable who is the source
and support of all things. Yoga is the passage of the human
thinking animal towards the God-consciousness from which he
has descended. In that ascent we find many levels and stages,
plateau after plateau of the hill whose summit touches the Truth
of things; but at every stage the saying of the Gita applies in
an ever higher degree. Even a little of this new law and inner
order delivers the soul out of the great peril by which it had been
On Ideals and Progress
overtaken in its worldward descent, the peril of the ignorance
by which the unillumined intellect, even when it is keenest or
sagest, must ever be bound and limited, of the sorrow and sin
from which the unpurified heart, even when it wears the richest purple of aspiration and feeling, must ever suffer soil and
wound and poverty, and of the vanity of its works to which
the undivinised will of man, even when it is most vehement and
powerful or Olympian and victorious, must eternally be subject.
It is the utility of Yoga that it opens to us a gate of escape out
of the vicious circle of our ordinary human existence.
The idea of works, in the thought of the Gita, is the widest
possible. All action of Nature in man is included, whether it
be internal or external, operate in the mind or use the body,
seem great or seem little. From the toil of the hero to the toil
of the cobbler, from the labour of the sage to the simple physical act of eating, all is included. The seeking of the Self by
thought, the adoration of the Highest by the emotions of the
heart, the gathering of means and material and capacity and
the use of them for the service of God and man stand here on
an equal footing. Buddha sitting under the Bo-tree and conquering the illumination, the ascetic silent and motionless in his
cave, Shankara storming through India, debating with all men
and preaching most actively the gospel of inaction are all from
this point of view doing great and forceful work. But while
the outward action may be the same, there is a great internal
difference between the working of the ordinary man and the
working of the Yogin, — a difference in the state of the being, a
difference in the power and the faculty, a difference in the will
and temperament.
What we do, arises out of what we are. The existent is
conscious of what he is; that consciousness formulates itself as
knowledge and power; works are the result of this twofold force
of being in action. Mind, life and body can only operate out of
that which is contained in the being of which they are forces.
This is what we mean when we say that all things act according
to their nature. The divine Existence is pure and unlimited being
in possession of all itself, it is sat; whatever it puts forth in
Yoga and Skill in Works
its limitless purity of self-awareness is truth of itself, satya; the
divine knowledge is knowledge of the Truth, the divine Will is
power of the Truth, the divine workings are words and ideas of
the Truth realising themselves in manifold forms and through
many stages and in infinite relations. But God is not limited or
bound by any particular working or any moment of time or any
field of space or any law of relation, because He is universal and
infinite. Nor is He limited by the universe; for His infinity is not
cosmic, but supracosmic.
But the individualised being is or acts as if he were so bound
and limited, because he treats the particular working of existence
that he is and the particular moment of time and field of space
in which it is actually operating and the particular conditions
which reign in the working and in the moment and in the field as
if they were self-existent realities and the binding truth of things.
Himself, his knowledge, his force and will, his relations with the
world and his fellows, his need in it and his desire from them he
treats as the sufficient truth and reality, the point of departure
of all his works, the central fact and law of his universe. And
from this egoistic error arises an all-vitiating falsehood. For the
particular, the individual can have no self-existence, no truth,
no valid force except in so far as it reflects rightly and relates
and conforms itself justly to the universal, to the all-being, the
all-knowledge, the all-will and follows its true drift towards selfrealisation and vast delight in itself. Therefore the salvation of
the individual lies in his universalising himself; and this is the
lesson which life tries always to teach him but the obstinate ego
is always unwilling to learn; for the universal is not any group
or extended ego, not the family, community, nation or even all
mankind, but an infinite far surpassing all these littlenesses.
Nor is the universalising of himself sufficient for liberation,
although certainly it will make him practically more free and in
his being nearer to the true freedom. To put himself in tune with
the universal is a step, but beyond the universal and directing
and determining it is the supracosmic Infinity; for the universe
also has no self-existence, truth or validity except as it expresses
the divine Being, Knowledge, Will, Power, Delight of Him who
On Ideals and Progress
surpasses all universe, so much that it can be said figuratively
that with a petty fragment of His being and a single ray of His
consciousness He has created all these worlds. Therefore the
universalised mind must look up from its cosmic consciousness
to the Supernal and derive from that all its sense of being and
movement of works. This is the fundamental truth from which
the Yogic consciousness starts; it helps the individual to universalise himself and then to transcend the cosmic formula. And
this transformation acts not only on his status of being but on
his active consciousness in works.
The Gita tells us that equality of soul and mind is Yoga and
that this equality is the foundation of the Brahman-state, that
high infinite consciousness to which the Yogin aspires. Now
equality of mind means universality; for without universality
of soul there may be a state of indifference or an impartial
self-control or a well-governed equality of temperament, but
these are not the thing that is meant. The equality spoken of is
not indifference or impartiality or equability, but a fundamental
oneness of attitude to all persons and all things and happenings
because of the perception of all as the One. Such equality, it is
erroneously thought, is incompatible with action. By no means;
this is the error of the animal and the intellectual man who thinks
that action is solely possible when dictated by his hopes, fears
and passions or by the self-willed preferences of the emotion and
the intellect justifying themselves by the illusions of the reason.
That might be the fact if the individual were the real actor and
not merely an instrument or secondary agent; but we know well
enough, for Science and Philosophy assure us of the same truth,
that the universal is the Force which acts through the simulacrum of our individuality. The individual mind, pretending to
choose for itself with a sublime ignorance and disregard of the
universal, is obviously working on the basis of a falsehood and
by means of an error and not in the knowledge and the will of
the Truth. It cannot have any real skill in works; for to start
from a falsehood or half-truth and work by means of blunders
and arrive at another falsehood or half-truth which we have
immediately to change, and all the while to weep and struggle
Yoga and Skill in Works
and suffer and have no sure resting-place, cannot surely be called
skill in works. But the universal is equal in all and therefore its
determinations are not self-willed preferences but are guided by
the truth of the divine will and knowledge which is unlimited
and not subject to incapacity or error.
Therefore that state of the being by which the Yogin differs from the ordinary man, is that by which he rises from the
foundation of a perfect equality to the consciousness of the one
existence in all and embracing all and lives in that existence and
not in the walls of his body or personal temperament or limited
mind. Mind and life and body he sees as small enough things
which happen and change and develop in his being. Nay, the
whole universe is seen by him as happening within himself, not
in his small ego or mind, but within this vast and infinite self with
which he is now constantly identified. All action in the universe
he sees as arising in this being, out of the divine Existence and
under the stress of the divine Truth, Knowledge, Will and Power.
He begins to participate consciously in its working and to see
all things in the light of that divine truth and governance; and
even when his own actions move on certain lines rather than
others, he is not bound by them or shut to the truth of all the
rest by his own passions and preferences, gropings and seekings
and revolts. It is evident that such an increasing wideness of
vision must mean an increasing knowledge. And if it be true
that knowledge is power, it must mean also an increasing force
for works. Certainly, it would not be so, if the Yogin continued
to act by the light of his individual reason and imagination
and will; for the intellect and all that depends on it can only
work by virtue of rigid limitations and exclusive determinations.
Accordingly, the continued activity of the unillumined intellect
and its servants conflicts with the new state of consciousness
and knowledge which arises out of this larger existence, and so
long as they remain active, it cannot be perfect or assured; for
the consciousness is being continually pulled down to the lower
field of ego-habit by the claim of their narrow workings. But the
Yogin ceases, progressively, to act by the choice of his intellectual
or emotional nature. Another light dawns, another power and
On Ideals and Progress
presence intervenes, other faculties awake in the place of the old
human-animal combination.
As the state of being changes, the will and temperament
must necessarily be modified. Even from an early stage the
Yogin begins to subordinate his personal will or it becomes
naturally subordinate to the sense of the supreme Will which
is attracting him upward. Ignorantly, imperfectly, blunderingly
it moves at first, with many recoils and relapses into personal
living and personal action, but in time it becomes more in tune
with its Source and eventually the personal will merges upward
and all ways into the universal and infinite and obeys implicitly the transcendent. Nor does this change and ascension and
expanding mean any annihilation of the will-power working
in the individual, as the intellectual man might imagine; but
rather it increases it to an immense forcefulness while giving
it an infinite calm and an eternal patience. The temperament
also is delivered from all leash of straining and desire, from all
urge of passion and pain of wilful self-delusion. Desire, even
the best, turns always to limitation and obscuration, to some
eager exclusive choice and pressure, to some insistent exclusion
of what should not be excluded and impatient revolt against the
divine denials and withholdings. It generates anger and grief and
passion and obstinacy, and these bring about the soul’s loss of its
divine memory or steadfast consciousness of itself and its selfknowledge and its equal vision of the truth of things. Therefore
desire and its brood are incompatible with skill in works and
their persistence is the sign of an imperfect Yoga.
Not only must the will and fundamental knowledge-view
of things change, but a new combination of faculties take the
place of the old. For if the intellect is not to do all our mental
work for us or to work at all in its unillumined state and if the
will in the form of desires, wishes, intellectual preferences is not
to determine and enforce our action, then it is clear that other
powers of knowledge and will must awaken and either replace
the intellect and the mental preference or illumine and guide the
one and transform and dominate the other. Otherwise either the
action may be nil or else its impulses mechanical and chaotic,
Yoga and Skill in Works
even if the static being is blissfully enlarged; for they will well
up indeed out of the universal and not the personal, but out
of the universal in its lower formula which permits the erratic
action of the heart and mind, while the old personal will and
reason will not be there to impose some light and order on their
ill-connected impulsions. Such faculties and new combination
of faculties can and do emerge and they are illuminations and
powers that are in direct touch and harmony with the light and
power of the Truth; therefore in proportion as they manifest
and take hold of their functions, they must increase the force,
subtlety and perfection of the Yogin’s skill in works.
But the greatest skill in works of Yoga is that which to the
animal man seems its greatest ineptitude. For all this difficult
attainment, the latter will say, may lead to anything you please,
but we have to lose our personal life, abandon our personal
objects, annul our personal will and pleasure and without these
life cannot be worth living. Now the object of all skill in works
must be evidently to secure the best welfare either of ourselves
or of others or of all. The ordinary man calls it welfare to secure
momentarily some transient object, to wade for it through a sea
of grief and suffering and painful labour and to fall from it again
still deeper into the same distressful element in search of a new
transient object. The greatest cunning of Yoga is to have detected
this cheat of the mind and its desires and dualities and to have
found the way to an abiding peace, a universal delight and an
all-embracing satisfaction, which can not only be enjoyed for
oneself but communicated to others. That too arises out of the
change of our being; for the pure truth of existence carries also
in it the unalloyed delight of existence, they are inseparable in
the status of the infinite. To use the figures of the Vedic seers, by
Yoga Varuna is born in us, a vast sky of spiritual living, the divine
in his wide existence and infinite truth; into that wideness Mitra
rises up, Lord of Light and Love who takes all our activities of
thought and feeling and will, links them into a divine harmony,
charioteers our movement and dictates our works; called by this
wideness and this harmony Aryaman appears in us, the Divine
in its illumined power, uplifted force of being and all-judging
On Ideals and Progress
effective will; and by the three comes the indwelling Bhaga, the
Divine in its pure bliss and all-seizing joy who dispels the evil
dream of our jarring and divided existence and possesses all
things in the light and glory of Aryaman’s power, Mitra’s love
and light, Varuna’s unity. This divine Birth shall be the son of
our works; and than creating this what greater skill can there be
or what more practical and sovereign cunning?
Conservation and Progress
ANKIND thinks naturally in extremes or else reconciles by a patchwork and compromise. Whether he
makes a fetish of moderation or surrenders himself to
the enthusiasm of the single idea, the human being misses always
truth of vision and the right pitch of action because instead of
seeing, feeling and becoming in obedience to his nature like
other animate existences he tries always to measure things by a
standard he has set up in his intelligence. But it is the character
of his intelligence that it finds it an easy task to distinguish and
separate but is clumsy in combining. When it combines, it tends
to artificialise and falsify. It feels at ease in pursuing a single
idea to its logical consequences and in viewing things from a
single standpoint; but to harmonise different ideas in action and
to view the facts from different standpoints is contrary to its
native impulse; therefore it does that badly, with an ill grace and
without mastery. Oftenest it makes an incongruous patchwork
rather than a harmony. The human mind is strong and swift
in analysis; it synthesises with labour and imperfectly and does
not feel at home in its syntheses. It divides, opposes and, placed
between the oppositions it creates, becomes an eager partisan
of one side or another; but to think wisely and impartially and
with a certain totality is irksome and disgusting to the normal
human being.
All human action as all human thought suffers from these
disabilities. For it is seduced by a trenchant idea which it follows without proper attention to collateral issues, to necessary
companion ideas, to the contrary forces in operation, or else it
regards these merely as enemies, brands them as pure falsehood
and evil and strives with more or less violence to crush them out
of existence. Then it sees other ideas which it attempts to realise
in turn, either adding them to its past notions and possessions
On Ideals and Progress
or else rejecting these entirely for the new light; it makes a fresh
war and a new clearance and denies its past work in the interest
of a future attainment. But it has also its repentances, its returns, its recalls and re-enthronings of banished gods and even
of lifeless ghosts and phantoms to which it gives a temporary
and false appearance of life. And on the way it has continually
its doubts, scruples, hesitations, its portentous assumptions of
a sage moderation and a gradual and cautious advance. But
human moderation is usually a wiseacre and a botcher; it sews a
patch of new velvet on old fustian or of new fustian on old velvet
and admires its deplorable handiwork. And its cautious advance
means an accumulation of shams, fictions and dead conventions
till the burden of falsehood becomes too great for life to bear and
a violent revolution is necessary to deliver the soul of humanity
out of the immobilising cerements of the past. Such is the type of
our progress; it is the advance of an ignorant and purblind but
always light-attracted spirit, a being half-animal, half-god, stumbling forward through the bewildering jungle of its own errors.
This characteristic of human mentality shows itself in the
opposition we create between conservation and progress. Nothing in the universe can really stand still because everything there
is a mould of Time and the very essence of Time is change by
a movement forward. It is true that the world’s movement is
not in a straight line; there are cycles, there are spirals; but still
it circles, not round the same point always, but round an ever
advancing centre, and therefore it never returns exactly upon its
old path and never goes really backward. As for standing still, it
is an impossibility, a delusion, a fiction. Only the spirit is stable;
the soul and body of things are in eternal motion. And in this
motion there are the three determining powers of the past, future
and present, — the present a horizontal and constantly shifting
line without breadth between a vast realised infinity that both
holds back and impels and a vast unrealised infinity that both
repels and attracts.
The past is both a drag and a force for progress. It is all
that has created the present and a great part of the force that
is creating the future. For the past is not dead; its forms are
Conservation and Progress
gone and had to go, otherwise the present would not have come
into being: but its soul, its power, its essence lives veiled in the
present and ever-accumulating, growing, deepening will live on
in the future. Every human being holds in and behind him all
the past of his own race, of humanity and of himself; these three
things determine his starting-point and pursue him through his
life’s progress. It is in the force of this past, in the strength
which its huge conservations give to him that he confronts the
unillumined abysses of the future and plunges forward into the
depths of its unrealised infinities. But also it is a drag, partly
because man afraid of the unknown clings to the old forms of
which he is sure, the old foundations which feel so safe under his
feet, the old props round which so many of his attachments and
associations cast their tenacious tendrils, but also partly because
the forces of the past keep their careful hold on him so as to
restrain him in his uncertain course and prevent the progress
from becoming a precipitation.
The future repels us even while it irresistibly attracts. The repulsion lies partly in our own natural recoil from the unknown,
because every step into this unknown is a wager between life and
death; every decision we make may mean either the destruction
or the greater fulfilment of what we now are, of the name and
form to which we are attached. But also it lies in the future
itself; for there, governing that future, there are not only powers
which call us to fulfil them and attract us with an irresistible
force but other powers which have to be conquered and do
not desire to yield themselves. The future is a sphinx with two
minds, an energy which offers itself and denies, gives itself and
resists, seeks to enthrone us and seeks to slay. But the conquest
has to be attempted, the wager has to be accepted. We have to
face the future’s offer of death as well as its offer of life, and it
need not alarm us, for it is by constant death to our old names
and forms that we shall live most vitally in greater and newer
forms and names. Go on we must; for if we do not, Time itself
will force us forward in spite of our fancied immobility. And
this is the most pitiable and dangerous movement of all. For
what can be more pitiable than to be borne helplessly forward
On Ideals and Progress
clinging to the old that disintegrates in spite of our efforts and
shrieking frantically to the dead ghosts and dissolving fragments
of the past to save us alive? And what can be more dangerous
than to impose immobility on that which is in its nature mobile?
This means an increasing and horrible rottenness; it means an
attempt to persist on as a putrid and stinking corpse instead of a
living and self-renewing energetic creature. The greatest spirits
are therefore those who have no fear of the future, who accept its
challenge and its wager; they have that sublime trust in the God
or Power that guides the world, that high audacity of the human
soul to wrestle with the infinite and realise the impossible, that
wise and warrior confidence in its ultimate destiny which mark
the Avatars and prophets and great innovators and renovators.
If we consider carefully we shall see that the past is indeed
a huge force of conservation, but of conservation that is not
immobile, but on the contrary offers itself as material for change
and new realisation; that the present is the constant change and
new actual realisation which the past desires and compels; and
that the future is that force of new realisation not yet actual
towards which the past was moving and for the sake of which it
lived. Then we perceive that there is no real opposition between
these three; we see that they are parts of a single movement,
a sort of Trinity of Vishnu-Brahma-Maheshwara fulfilling by
an inseparable action the one Deity. Yet the human mind in
its mania of division and opposition seeks to set them at strife
and ranges humanity into various camps, the partisans of the
past, the partisans of the present, the partisans of the future, the
partisans of all sorts of compromises between the three forces.
Nature makes good use of the struggle between these partisans
and her method is necessary in our present state of passionate
ignorance and egoistic obstinacy; but none the less is it from the
point of view of a higher knowledge a pitiably ignorant struggle.
The partisans of the future call themselves the party of
progress, the children of light and denounce the past as ignorant, evil, a mass of errors and abuses; their view alone has
the monopoly of the light, the truth, the good — a light, good
and truth which will equally be denounced as error and evil by
Conservation and Progress
succeeding generations. The partisans of the present look with
horror upon all progress as an impious and abominable plunge
into error and evil and degeneration and ruin; for them the
present is the culmination of humanity, — as previous “present”
times were for all the preceding generations and as the future
which they abhor will be for these unprogressive souls if they
should then reincarnate; they will then defend it with the same
passion and asperity against another future as they now attack
it in the interests of the present. The partisans of the past are
of two kinds. The first admit the defects of the present but
support it in so far as it still cherishes the principles of the high,
perfect, faultless, adorable past, that golden age of the race or
community, and because even if somewhat degenerate, its forms
are a bulwark against the impiety of progress; if they admit
any change, it is in the direction of the past that they seek it. A
second kind condemn the present root and branch as degenerate,
hateful, horrible, vicious, accursed; they erect a past form as the
hope of a humanity returning to the wisdom of its forefathers.
And to such quarrels of children the intellectuals and the leaders
of thought and faith lend the power of the specious or moving
word and the striking idea and the emotional fervour or religious
ardour which they conceive to be the very voice and light and
force of Truth itself in its utter self-revelation.
The true thinker can dispense with the éclat which attaches
to the leader of partisans. He will strive to see this great divine
movement as a whole, to know in its large lines the divine intention and goal in it without seeking to fix arbitrarily its details;
he will strive to understand the greatness and profound meaning
of the past without attaching himself to its forms, for he knows
that forms must change and only the formless endures and that
the past can never be repeated, but only its essence preserved,
its power, its soul of good and its massed impulse towards a
greater self-fulfilment; he will accept the actual realisations of
the present as a stage and nothing more, keenly appreciating its
defects, self-satisfied errors, presumptuous pretensions because
these are the chief enemies of progress, but not ignoring the
truth and good that it has gained; and he will sound the future
On Ideals and Progress
to understand what the Divine in it is seeking to realise, not
only at the present moment, not only in the next generation,
but beyond, and for that he will speak, strive, if need be battle,
since battle is the method still used by Nature in humanity, even
while all the while he knows that there is more yet beyond
beside which, when it comes to light, the truth he has seized
will seem erroneous and limited. Therefore he will act without
presumption and egoism, knowing that his own errors and those
which he combats are alike necessary forces in that labour and
movement of human life towards the growing Truth and Good
by which there increases shadowily the figure of a far-off divine
The Conservative Mind
and Eastern Progress
HE ARRIVAL of a new radical idea in the minds of men
is the sign of a great coming change in human life and
society; it may be combated, the reaction of the old idea
may triumph for a time, but the struggle never leaves either
the thoughts and sentiments or the habits and institutions of
the society as they were when it commenced. Whether it knows
it or not, it has gone forward and the change is irretrievable.
Either new forms replace the old institutions or the old while
preserving the aspect of continuity have profoundly changed
within, or else these have secured for themselves a period of
greater rigidity, increasing corruption, progressive deterioration
of spirit and waning of real force which only assures them in
the future a more complete catastrophe and absolute disappearance. The past can arrive at the most at a partial survival or
an euthanasia, provided it knows how to compromise liberally
with the future.
The conservative mind is unwilling to recognise this law
though it is observable throughout human history and we can
easily cull examples with full hands from all ages and all climes;
and it is protected in its refusal to see by the comparative rarity
of rapid revolutions and great cataclysmal changes; it is blinded
by the disguise which Nature so often throws over her processes
of mutation. If we look casually at European history in this light
the attention is only seized by a few conspicuous landmarks,
the evolution and end of Athenian democracy, the transition
from the Roman republic to the empire, the emergence of feudal Europe out of the ruins of Rome, the Christianisation of
Europe, the Reformation and Renascence together preparing a
new society, the French Revolution, the present rapid movement
towards a socialistic State and the replacing of competition by
organised cooperation. Because our view of European history is
On Ideals and Progress
chiefly political, we do not see the constant mutation of society
and of thought in the same relief; but we can recognise two
great cycles of change, one of the ancient races leading from
the primitive ages to the cultured society of the Graeco-Roman
world, the other from the semi-barbarism of feudal Christendom to the intellectual, materialistic and civilised society of
modern times.
In the East, on the contrary, the great revolutions have been
spiritual and cultural; the political and social changes, although
they have been real and striking, if less profound than in Europe,
fall into the shade and are apt to be overlooked; besides, this
unobtrusiveness is increased by their want of relief, the slow
subtlety of their process and the instinctive persistence and reverence with which old names and formulas have been preserved
while the thing itself was profoundly modified until its original sense remained only as a pious fiction. Thus Japan kept its
sacrosanct Mikado as a cover for the change to an aristocratic
and feudal government and has again brought him forward in
modern times to cover and facilitate without too serious a shock
the transition from a mediaeval form of society into the full flood
of modernism. In India the continued fiction of the ancient fourfold order of society based on spiritual idealism, social type,
ethical discipline and economic function is still used to cover
and justify the quite different, complex and chaotic order of
caste which, while it still preserves some confused fragments of
the old motives, is really founded upon birth, privilege, local
custom and religious formalism. The evolution from one type of
society to another so opposed to it in its psychological motives
and real institutions without any apparent change of formula
is one of the most curious phenomena in the social history of
mankind and still awaits intelligent study.
Our minds are apt to seize things in the rough and to appreciate only what stands out in bold external relief; we miss the law
of Nature’s subtleties and disguises. We can see and fathom to
some extent the motives, necessities, process of great revolutions
and marked changes and we can consider and put in their right
place the brief reactions which only modified without actually
The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress
preventing the overt realisation of new ideas. We can see for instance that the Sullan restoration of Roman oligarchy, the Stuart
restoration in England or the brief return of monarchy in France
with the Bourbons were no real restorations, but a momentary
damming of the tide attended with insufficient concessions and
forced developments which determined, not a return to the past,
but the form and pace of the inevitable revolution. It is more
difficult but still possible to appreciate the working of an idea
against all obstacles through many centuries; we can comprehend now, for instance, that we must seek the beginnings of
the French Revolution, not in Rousseau or Mirabeau or the
blundering of Louis XVI, but in movements which date back to
the Capet and the Valois, while the precise fact which prepared
its tremendous outbreak and victory and determined its form
was the defeat of the Calvinistic reformation in France and the
absolute triumph of the monarchical system over the nobility
and the bourgeoisie in the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
That double victory determined the destruction of the monarchy
in France, the downfall of the Church and, by the failure of the
nobles to lead faithfully the liberal cause whether in religion or
politics, the disappearance of aristocracy.
But Nature has still more subtle and disguised movements
in her dealings with men by which she leads them to change
without their knowing that they have changed. It is because she
has employed chiefly this method in the vast masses of the East
that the conservative habit of mind is so much stronger there
than in the West. It is able to nourish the illusion that it has
not changed, that it is immovably faithful to the ideas of remote
forefathers, to their religion, their traditions, their institutions,
their social ideals, that it has preserved either a divine or an
animal immobility both in thought and in the routine of life and
has been free from the human law of mutation by which man
and his social organisations must either progress or degenerate
but can in no case maintain themselves unchanged against the
attack of Time. Buddhism has come and gone and the Hindu
still professes to belong to the Vedic religion held and practised
by his Aryan forefathers; he calls his creed the Aryan dharma,
On Ideals and Progress
the eternal religion. It is only when we look close that we see the
magnitude of the illusion. Buddha has gone out of India indeed,
but Buddhism remains; it has stamped its giant impress on the
spirit of the national religion, leaving the forms to be determined
by the Tantricism with which itself had made alliance and some
sort of fusion in its middle growth; what it destroyed no man
has been able to restore, what it left no man has been able to
destroy. As a matter of fact, the double cycle which India has
described from the early Vedic times to India of Buddha and the
philosophers and again from Buddha to the time of the European
irruption was in its own way as vast in change religious, social,
cultural, even political and administrative as the double cycle of
Europe; but because it preserved old names for new things, old
formulas for new methods and old coverings for new institutions
and because the change was always marked in the internal but
quiet and unobtrusive in the external, we have been able to
create and preserve the fiction of the unchanging East. There
has also been this result that while the European conservative
has learned the law of change in human society, knows that he
must move and quarrels with the progressist only over the right
pace and the exact direction, the Eastern or rather the Indian
conservative still imagines that stability may be the true law of
mortal being, practises a sort of Yogic āsana on the flood of
Time and because he does not move himself, thinks — for he
keeps his eyes shut and is not in the habit of watching the banks
— that he can prevent the stream also from moving on.
This conservative principle has its advantages even as rapid
progress has its vices and its perils. It helps towards the preservation of a fundamental continuity which makes for the longevity
of civilisations and the persistence of what was valuable in humanity’s past. So, in India, if religion has changed immensely
its form and temperament, the religious spirit has been really
eternal, the principle of spiritual discipline is the same as in the
earliest times, the fundamental spiritual truths have been preserved and even enriched in their contents and the very forms
can all be traced back through their mutations to the seed of
the Veda. On the other hand this habit of mind leads to the
The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress
accumulation of a great mass of accretions which were once
valuable but have lost their virtue and to the heaping up of dead
forms and shibboleths which no longer correspond to any vital
truth nor have any understood and helpful significance. All this
putrid waste of the past is held to be too sacred to be touched
by any profane hand and yet it chokes up the streams of the
national life or corrupts its waters. And if no successful process
of purification takes place, a state of general ill-health in the
social body supervenes in which the principle of conservation
becomes the cause of dissolution.
The present era of the world is a stage of immense transformations. Not one but many radical ideas are at work in the
mind of humanity and agitate its life with a vehement seeking
and effort at change; and although the centre of the agitation
is in progressive Europe, yet the East is being rapidly drawn
into this churning of the sea of thought and this breaking up
of old ideas and old institutions. No nation or community can
any longer remain psychologically cloistered and apart in the
unity of the modern world. It may even be said that the future
of humanity depends most upon the answer that will be given
to the modern riddle of the Sphinx by the East and especially
by India, the hoary guardian of the Asiatic idea and its profound spiritual secrets. For the most vital issue of the age is
whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by
the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by
a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge. The West never really succeeded
in spiritualising itself and latterly it has been habituated almost
exclusively to an action in the external governed by political
and economic ideals and necessities; in spite of the reawakening
of the religious mind and the growth of a widespread but not
yet profound or luminous spiritual and psychical curiosity and
seeking, it has to act solely in the things of this world and to
solve its problems by mechanical methods and as the thinking political and economic animal, simply because it knows no
other standpoint and is accustomed to no other method. On
the other hand the East, though it has allowed its spirituality
On Ideals and Progress
to slumber too much in dead forms, has always been open to
profound awakenings and preserves its spiritual capacity intact,
even when it is actually inert and uncreative. Therefore the hope
of the world lies in the re-arousing in the East of the old spiritual practicality and large and profound vision and power of
organisation under the insistent contact of the West and in the
flooding out of the light of Asia on the Occident, no longer in
forms that are now static, effete, unadaptive, but in new forms
stirred, dynamic and effective.
India, the heart of the Orient, has to change as the whole
West and the whole East are changing, and it cannot avoid
changing in the sense of the problems forced upon it by Europe. The new Orient must necessarily be the result either of
some balance and fusion or of some ardent struggle between
progressive and conservative ideals and tendencies. If therefore
the conservative mind in this country opens itself sufficiently to
the necessity of transformation, the resulting culture born of a
resurgent India may well bring about a profound modification
in the future civilisation of the world. But if it remains shut up in
dead fictions, or tries to meet the new needs with the mind of the
schoolman and the sophist dealing with words and ideas in the
air rather than actual fact and truth and potentiality, or struggles
merely to avoid all but a scanty minimum of change, then, since
the new ideas cannot fail to realise themselves, the future India
will be formed in the crude mould of the Westernised social and
political reformer whose mind, barren of original thought and
unenlightened by vital experience, can do nothing but reproduce
the forms and ideas of Europe and will turn us all into halting
apes of the West. Or else, and that perhaps is the best thing
that can happen, a new spiritual awakening must arise from
the depths of this vast life that shall this time more successfully
include in its scope the great problems of earthly life as well as
those of the soul and its transmundane destinies, an awakening
that shall ally itself closely with the renascent spiritual seeking of
the West and with its yearning for the perfection of the human
race. This third and as yet unknown quantity is indeed the force
needed throughout the East. For at present we have only two
The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress
extremes of a conservative immobility and incompetence imprisoned in the shell of past conventions and a progressive force
hardly less blind and ineffectual because secondhand and merely
imitative of nineteenth-century Europe, with a vague floating
mass of uncertainty between. The result is a continual fiasco
and inability to evolve anything large, powerful, sure and vital,
a drifting in the stream of circumstance, a constant grasping
at details and unessentials and failure to reach the heart of the
great problems of life which the age is bringing to our doors.
Something is needed which tries to be born; but as yet, in the
phrase of the Veda, the Mother holds herself compressed in
smallness, keeps the Birth concealed within her being and will
not give it forth to the Father. When she becomes great in impulse
and conception, then we shall see it born.
Our Ideal
E BELIEVE in the constant progression of humanity
and we hold that that progression is the working out
of a Thought in Life which sometimes manifests itself
on the surface and sometimes sinks below and works behind
the mask of external forces and interests. When there is this
lapse below the surface, humanity has its periods of apparent
retrogression or tardy evolution, its long hours of darkness or
twilight during which the secret Thought behind works out one
of its phases by the pressure mainly of economic, political and
personal interests ignorant of any deeper aim within. When the
Thought returns to the surface, humanity has its periods of light
and of rapid efflorescence, its dawns and splendid springtides;
and according to the depth, vitality, truth and self-effective energy of the form of Thought that emerges is the importance of
the stride forward that it makes during these Hours of the Gods
in our terrestrial manifestation.
There is no greater error than to suppose, as the “practical”
man is wont to do, that thought is only a fine flower and ornament of life and that political, economic and personal interests
are the important and effective motors of human action. We
recognise that this is a world of life and action and developing
organism; but the life that seeks to guide itself only by vital
and material forces is a slow, dark and blundering growth. It
is an attempt to approximate man to the method of vegetable
and animal existence. The earth is a world of Life and Matter,
but man is not a vegetable nor an animal; he is a spiritual and
a thinking being who is set here to shape and use the animal
mould for higher purposes, by higher motives, with a more
divine instrumentation.
Therefore by his very nature he serves the working of a
Thought within him even when he is ignorant of it in his surface
Our Ideal
self. The practical man who ignores or despises the deeper life
of the Idea, is yet serving that which he ignores or despises.
Charlemagne hewing a chaotic Europe into shape with his sword
was preparing the reign of the feudal and Catholic interpretation
of human life with all that that great though obscure period of
humanity has meant for the thought and spiritual development
of mankind. But it is when the Thought emerges and guides life
that man grows towards his full humanity, strides forward on
his path and begins to control the development of Nature in his
destiny or at least to collaborate as a conscious mind and spirit
with That which controls and directs it.
The progress of humanity has therefore been a constant
revolution with its rhythm of alternative darkness and light, but
both the day and the night have helped to foster that which is
evolving. The periods have not been the same for all parts of the
globe. In the historic ages of the present cycle of civilisation the
movement has been almost entirely centred in the twin continents of Asia and Europe. And there it has been often seen that
when Asia was moving through the light, Europe was passing
through one of her epochs of obscurity and on the other hand
the nights of Asia’s repose or stagnation have corresponded with
the days of Europe’s mental vigour and vital activity.
But the fundamental difference has been that Asia has served
predominantly (not exclusively) as a field for man’s spiritual experience and progression, Europe has been rather a workshop
for his mental and vital activities. As the cycle progressed, the
Eastern continent has more and more converted itself into a
storehouse of spiritual energy sometimes active and reaching
forward to new development, sometimes conservative and quiescent. Three or four times in history a stream of this energy
has poured out upon Europe, but each time Europe has rejected
wholly or partially the spiritual substance of the afflatus and
used it rather as an impulse to fresh intellectual and material
activity and progress.
The first attempt was the filtering of Egyptian, Chaldean and
Indian wisdom through the thought of the Greek philosophers
from Pythagoras to Plato and the Neo-Platonists; the result was
On Ideals and Progress
the brilliantly intellectual and unspiritual civilisation of Greece
and Rome. But it prepared the way for the second attempt when
Buddhism and Vaishnavism filtered through the Semitic temperament entered Europe in the form of Christianity. Christianity
came within an ace of spiritualising and even of asceticising the
mind of Europe; it was baffled by its own theological deformation in the minds of the Greek fathers of the Church and by
the sudden flooding of Europe with a German barbarism whose
temperament in its merits no less than in its defects was the very
antitype both of the Christian spirit and the Graeco-Roman
The Islamic invasion of Spain and the southern coast of
the Mediterranean — curious as the sole noteworthy example
of Asiatic culture using the European method of material and
political irruption as opposed to a peaceful invasion by ideas —
may be regarded as a third attempt. The result of its meeting with
Graecised Christianity was the reawakening of the European
mind in feudal and Catholic Europe and the obscure beginnings
of modern thought and science.
The fourth and last attempt which is as yet only in its
slow initial stage is the quiet entry of Eastern and chiefly of
Indian thought into Europe first through the veil of German
metaphysics, more latterly by its subtle influence in reawakening the Celtic, Scandinavian and Slavonic idealism, mysticism,
religionism, and the direct and open penetration of Buddhism,
Theosophy, Vedantism, Bahaism and other Oriental influences
in both Europe and America.
On the other hand, there have been two reactions of Europe
upon Asia; first, the invasion of Alexander with his aggressive
Hellenism which for a time held Western Asia, created echoes
and reactions in India and returned through Islamic culture upon
mediaeval Europe; secondly, the modern onslaught of commercial, political, scientific Europe upon the moral, artistic and
spiritual cultures of the East.
The new features of this mutual interpenetration are, first,
that the two attacks have synchronised and, secondly, that they
have encountered in each case the extreme exaggeration of their
Our Ideal
opposites. Intellectual and materialistic Europe found India, the
Asia of Asia, the heart of the world’s spiritual life, in the last
throes of an enormous experiment, the thought of a whole nation concentrated for centuries upon the pure spiritual existence
to the exclusion of all real progress in the practical and mental
life of the race. The entering stream of Eastern thought found
in Europe the beginning of an era which rejected religion, philosophy and psychology, — religion as an emotional delusion,
philosophy, the pure essence of the mind, as a barren thoughtweaving, — and resolved to devote the whole intellectual faculty
of man to a study of the laws of material Nature and of man’s
bodily, social, economic and political existence and to build
thereon a superior civilisation.
That stupendous effort is over; it has not yet frankly declared
its bankruptcy, but it is bankrupt. It is sinking in a cataclysm
as gigantic and as unnatural as the attempt which gave it birth.
On the other hand, the exaggerated spirituality of the Indian
effort has also registered a bankruptcy; we have seen how high
individuals can rise by it, but we have seen also how low a
race can fall which in its eagerness to seek after God ignores His
intention in humanity. Both the European and the Indian attempt
were admirable, the Indian by its absolute spiritual sincerity, the
European by its severe intellectual honesty and ardour for the
truth; both have accomplished miracles; but in the end God and
Nature have been too strong for the Titanism of the human spirit
and for the Titanism of the human intellect.
The salvation of the human race lies in a more sane and
integral development of the possibilities of mankind in the individual and in the community. The safety of Europe has to be
sought in the recognition of the spiritual aim of human existence, otherwise she will be crushed by the weight of her own
unillumined knowledge and soulless organisation. The safety of
Asia lies in the recognition of the material mould and mental
conditions in which that aim has to be worked out, otherwise
she will sink deeper into the slough of despond of a mental
and physical incompetence to deal with the facts of life and the
shocks of a rapidly changing movement. It is not any exchange
On Ideals and Progress
of forms that is required, but an interchange of regenerating
impulses and a happy fusion and harmonising.
The synchronism and mutual interpenetration of the two
great currents of human effort at such a crisis in the history of
the race is full of hope for the future of humanity, but full also of
possible dangers. The hope is the emergence of a new and better
human life founded on a greater knowledge, a pursuit of the new
faculties and possibilities opening out before us and a just view
of the problem which the individual, the society, the race have to
solve. Mankind has been drawn together by the developments
of material science and for good or evil its external future is
henceforth one; its different parts no longer develop separately
and in independence of each other. There opens out at the same
time the possibility that by the development and practice of the
science and the life of the soul it may be made one in reality and
by an internal unity.
The idea by which the enlightenment of Europe has been
governed is the passion for the discovery of the Truth and Law
that constitutes existence and governs the process of the world,
the attempt to develop the life and potentialities of man, his
ideals, institutions, organisations by the knowledge of that Law
and Truth and the confidence that along this line lies the road
of human progress and perfection.
The idea is absolutely just and we accept it entirely; but its
application has been erroneous. For the Law and Truth that has
to be discovered is not that of the material world — though this
is required, nor even of the mental and physical — though this
is indispensable, but the Law and Truth of the Spirit on which
all the rest depends. For it is the power of the Self of things that
expresses itself in their forms and processes.
The message of the East to the West is a true message,
“Only by finding himself can man be saved,” and “what shall it
profit a man though he gain the whole world, if he lose his own
soul?” The West has heard the message and is seeking out the
law and truth of the soul and the evidences of an inner reality
greater than the material. The danger is that with her passion
for mechanism and her exaggerated intellectuality she may fog
Our Ideal
herself in an external and false psychism, such as we see arising
in England and America, the homes of the mechanical genius,
or in intellectual, unspiritual and therefore erroneous theories
of the Absolute, such as have run their course in critical and
metaphysical Germany.
The idea by which the illumination of Asia has been governed is the firm knowledge that truth of the Spirit is the sole
real truth, the belief that the psychological life of man is an
instrument for attaining to the truth of the Spirit and that its laws
must be known and practised with that aim paramount, and the
attempt to form the external life of man and the institutions of
society into a suitable mould for the great endeavour.
This idea, too, is absolutely just and we accept it entirely. But
in its application, and in India most, it has deviated into a divorce
between the Spirit and its instruments and a disparagement and
narrowing of the mental and external life of the race. For it is
only on the widest and richest efflorescence of this instrumental
life that the fullest and most absolute attainment of the spiritual
can be securely based. This knowledge the ancients of the East
possessed and practised; it has been dimmed in knowledge and
lost in practice by their descendants.
The message the West brings to the East is a true message.
Man also is God and it is through his developing manhood that
he approaches the godhead; Life also is the Divine, its progressive expansion is the self-expression of the Brahman, and to deny
Life is to diminish the Godhead within us. This is the truth that
returns to the East from the West translated into the language of
the higher truth the East already possesses; and it is an ancient
knowledge. The East also is awaking to the message. The danger
is that Asia may accept it in the European form, forget for a time
her own law and nature and either copy blindly the West or make
a disastrous amalgam of that which she has in its most inferior
forms and the crudenesses which are invading her.
The problem of thought therefore is to find out the right
idea and the right way of harmony; to restate the ancient and
eternal spiritual truth of the Self so that it shall re-embrace,
permeate, dominate, transfigure the mental and physical life;
On Ideals and Progress
to develop the most profound and vital methods of psychological self-discipline and self-development so that the mental
and psychical life of man may express the spiritual life through
the utmost possible expansion of its own richness, power and
complexity; and to seek for the means and motives by which
his external life, his society and his institutions may remould
themselves progressively in the truth of the spirit and develop
towards the utmost possible harmony of individual freedom and
social unity.
This is our ideal and our search. Throughout the world there
are plenty of movements inspired by the same drift, but there is
room for an effort of thought which shall frankly acknowledge
the problem in its integral complexity and not be restrained in
the flexibility of its search by attachment to any cult, creed or
extant system of philosophy.
The effort involves a quest for the Truth that underlies existence and the fundamental Law of its self-expression in the
universe — the work of metaphysical philosophy and religious
thought; the sounding and harmonising of the psychological
methods of discipline by which man purifies and perfects himself
— the work of psychology, not as it is understood in Europe,
but the deeper practical psychology called in India Yoga; and
the application of our ideas to the problems of man’s social and
collective life.
Philosophy and religious thought based on spiritual experience must be the beginning and the foundation of any such
attempt; for they alone go behind appearances and processes to
the truth of things. The attempt to get rid of their supremacy
must always be vain. Man will always think and generalise and
try to penetrate behind the apparent fact, for that is the imperative law of his awakened consciousness; man will always
turn his generalisations into a religion, even though it be only
a religion of positivism or of material Law. Philosophy is the
intellectual search for the fundamental truth of things, religion
is the attempt to make the truth dynamic in the soul of man.
They are essential to each other; a religion that is not the expression of philosophic truth, degenerates into superstition and
Our Ideal
obscurantism, and a philosophy which does not dynamise itself
with the religious spirit is a barren light, for it cannot get itself
practised. But again neither of these get their supreme value
unless raised into the spirit and cast into life.
What then shall be our ideal? Unity for the human race
by an inner oneness and not only by an external association of
interests; the resurgence of man out of the merely animal and
economic life or the merely intellectual and aesthetic into the
glories of the spiritual existence; the pouring of the power of the
spirit into the physical mould and mental instrument so that man
may develop his manhood into that true supermanhood which
shall exceed our present state as much as this exceeds the animal
state from which science tells us that we have issued. These three
are one; for man’s unity and man’s self-transcendence can come
only by living in the Spirit.
The Superman
The Superman
HE IDEAL of the Superman has been brought recently
into much notice, some not very fruitful discussion and a
good deal of obloquy. It is apt to be resented by average
humanity because men are told or have a lurking consciousness
that here is a claim of the few to ascend to heights of which the
many are not capable, to concentrate moral and spiritual privileges and enjoy a domination, powers and immunities hurtful
to a diffused dignity and freedom in mankind. So considered,
supermanhood is nothing more important than a deification of
the rare or solitary ego that has out-topped others in the force of
our common human qualities. But this presentation is narrow
and a travesty. The gospel of true supermanhood gives us a
generous ideal for the progressive human race and should not
be turned into an arrogant claim for a class or individuals. It is a
call to man to do what no species has yet done or aspired to do in
terrestrial history, evolve itself consciously into the next superior
type already half foreseen by the continual cyclic development
of the world-idea in Nature’s fruitful musings. And when we
so envisage it, this conception ranks surely as one of the most
potent seeds that can be cast by thought into the soil of our
human growth.
Nietzsche first cast it, the mystic of Will-worship, the troubled, profound, half-luminous Hellenising Slav with his strange
clarities, his violent half-ideas, his rare gleaming intuitions
that came marked with the stamp of an absolute truth and
sovereignty of light. But Nietzsche was an apostle who never
entirely understood his own message. His prophetic style was
like that of the Delphic oracles which spoke constantly the word
of the Truth but turned it into untruth in the mind of the hearer.
Not always indeed; for sometimes he rose beyond his personal
temperament and individual mind, his European inheritance
The Superman
and environment, his revolt against the Christ-idea, his war
against current moral values and spoke out the Word as he had
heard it, the Truth as he had seen it, bare, luminous, impersonal
and therefore flawless and imperishable. But for the most part
this message that had come to his inner hearing vibrating out
of a distant Infinite like a strain caught from the lyre of far-off
Gods, did get, in his effort to appropriate and make it nearer
to him, mixed up with a somewhat turbulent surge of collateral
ideas that drowned much of the pure original note.
Especially, in his concept of the Superman he never cleared
his mind of a preliminary confusion. For if a sort of human
godhead is the goal to which the race must advance, the first
difficulty is that we have to decide to which of two very different
types of divinity the idea in us should owe allegiance. For the
deity within may confront us either with the clear, joyous and
radiant countenance of the God or the stern convulsed visage of
the Titan. Nietzsche hymned the Olympian but presented him
with the aspect of the Asura. His hostile preoccupation with
the Christ-idea of the crucified God and its consequences was
perhaps responsible for this distortion, as much as his subjection
to the imperfect ideas of the Greeks. He presents to us sometimes
a superman who fiercely and arrogantly repels the burden of
simple sorrow and service, not one who arises victorious over
mortality and suffering, his ascension vibrant with the triumphsong of a liberated humanity. To lose the link of Nature’s moral
evolution is a capital fault in the apostle of supermanhood; for
only out of the unavoidable line of the evolution can that emerge
in the bosom of a humanity long tested, ripened and purified by
the fire of egoistic and altruistic suffering.
God and Titan, Deva and Asura, are indeed close kin in their
differences; nor could either have been spared in the evolution.
Yet do they inhabit opposite poles of a common existence and
common nature. The one descends from the light and the infinity,
satisfied, to the play; the other ascends from the obscurity and
the vagueness, angry, to the struggle. All the acts of the God
derive from the universal and tend to the universal. He was
born out of a victorious harmony. His qualities join pure and
The Superman
gracious hands and link themselves together naturally and with
delight as in the pastoral round of Brindavan, divine Krishna
dominating and holding together its perfect circles. To evolve in
the sense of the God is to grow in intuition, in light, in joy, in
love, in happy mastery; to serve by rule and to rule by service;
to be able to be bold and swift and even violent without hurt or
wickedness and mild and kindly and even self-indulgent without
laxity or vice or weakness; to make a bright and happy whole in
oneself and, by sympathy, with mankind and all creatures. And
in the end it is to evolve a large impersonal personality and to
heighten sympathy into constant experience of world-oneness.
For such are the Gods, conscious always of their universality
and therefore divine.
Certainly, power is included. To be the divine man is to
be self-ruler and world-ruler; but in another than the external
sense. This is a rule that depends upon a secret sympathy and
oneness which knows the law of another’s being and of the
world’s being and helps or, if need be, compels it to realise its
own greatest possibilities, but by a divine and essentially an inner
compulsion. It is to take all qualities, energies, joys, sorrows,
thoughts, knowledge, hopes, aims of the world around us into
ourselves and return them enriched and transmuted in a sublime
commerce and exploitation. Such an empire asks for no vulgar
ostentation or golden trappings. The gods work oftenest veiled
by light or by the storm-drift; they do not disdain to live among
men even in the garb of the herdsman or the artisan; they do
not shrink from the cross and the crown of thorns either in their
inner evolution or their outward fortunes. For they know that
the ego must be crucified and how shall men consent to this if
God and the gods have not shown them the way? To take all that
is essential in the human being and uplift it to its most absolute
term so that it may become an element of light, joy, power for
oneself and others, this is divinity. This, too, should be the drift
of supermanhood.
But the Titan will have nothing of all this; it is too great
and subtle for his comprehension. His instincts call for a visible,
tangible mastery and a sensational domination. How shall he
The Superman
feel sure of his empire unless he can feel something writhing
helpless under his heel, — if in agony, so much the better? What
is exploitation to him, unless it diminishes the exploited? To be
able to coerce, exact, slay, overtly, irresistibly, — it is this that
fills him with the sense of glory and dominion. For he is the
son of division and the strong flowering of the Ego. To feel
the comparative limitation of others is necessary to him that he
may imagine himself immeasurable; for he has not the real, selfexistent sense of infinity which no outward circumstance can
abrogate. Contrast, division, negation of the wills and lives of
others are essential to his self-development and self-assertion.
The Titan would unify by devouring, not by harmonising; he
must conquer and trample what is not himself either out of
existence or into subservience so that his own image may stand
out stamped upon all things and dominating all his environment.
In Nature, since it started from division and egoism, the
Titan had to come first; he is here in us as the elder god, the
first ruler of man’s heaven and earth. Then arrives the God and
delivers and harmonises. Thus the old legend tells us that the
Deva and the Asura laboured together to churn the ocean of life
for the supreme draught of immortality, but, once it had been
won, Vishnu kept it for the God and defrauded the fiercer and
more violent worker. And this seems unjust; for the Asura has
the heavier and less grateful portion of the burden. He begins
and leads; he goes his way hewing, shaping, planting: the God
follows, amends, concludes, reaps. He prepares fiercely and with
anguish against a thousand obstacles the force that we shall use:
the other enjoys the victory and the delight. And therefore to
the great God Shiva the stained and stormy Titan is very dear,
— Shiva who took for himself the fierce, dark and bitter poison
first churned up from the sea of life and left to others the nectar.
But the choice that Shiva made with knowledge and from love,
the Titans made from darkness and passion, — desirous really of
something very different and deceived by their stormy egoism.
Therefore the award of Vishnu stands; to the God shall fall the
crown and the immortality and not, unless he divinise himself,
to the proud and strenuous Asura.
The Superman
For what is supermanhood but a certain divine and harmonious absolute of all that is essential in man? He is made in God’s
image, but there is this difference between the divine Reality
and its human representative that everything which in the one
is unlimited, spontaneous, absolute, harmonious, self-possessed
becomes in the other limited, relative, laboured, discordant, deformed, possessed by struggle, kept by subservience to one’s
possessions, lost by the transience and insecurity which come
from wrong holding. But in this constant imperfection there is
always a craving and an aspiration towards perfection. Man,
limited, yearns to the Infinite; relative, is attracted in all things
towards their absolute; artificial in Nature, drives towards a
higher ease, mastery and naturalness that must for ever be denied to her inconscient forces and half-conscient animals; full
of discords, he insists upon harmony; possessed by Nature and
to her enslaved, is yet convinced of his mission to possess and
master her. What he aspires to, is the sign of what he may be.
He has to pass by a sort of transmutation of the earthly metal
he now is out of flawed manhood into some higher symbol. For
Man is Nature’s great term of transition in which she grows
conscious of her aim; in him she looks up from the animal with
open eyes towards her divine ideal.
But God is complex, not simple; and the temptation of the
human intellect is to make a short cut to the divine nature by
the exclusive worship of one of its principles. Knowledge, Love
whose secret word is Delight, Power and Unity are some of the
Names of God. But though they are all divine, yet to follow
any of them exclusively is to invite, after the first energy is over,
His departure from us and denial; for even unity, exclusively
pursued, ceases to be a true oneness. Yet this error we perpetually commit. Is it Love in whose temple we adore? Then we
shut its gates upon Power as a child of the world and the devil
and bid Knowledge carry elsewhere her lack of sweetness and
remoteness from the heart’s fervour. We erect an idol of Power
and would pass all else through the fire of Moloch before its
sombre and formidable image, expelling Love with scorn as a
nurse of weaklings and degrading Knowledge to the position of
The Superman
a squire or even a groom of Force. Or we cultivate Knowledge
with a severe aloofness and austerity to find at last the lotus of
the heart dulled and fading — happy if its more divine faculties
are not already atrophied — and ourselves standing impotent
with our science while the thunders of Rudra crash through and
devastate the world we have organised so well by our victorious and clear-minded efficiency. Or we run after a vague and
mechanical zero we call unity and when we have sterilised our
secret roots and dried up the wells of Life within us, discover,
unwise unifiers, that we have achieved death and not a greater
existence. And all this happens because we will not recognise
the complexity of the riddle we are set here to solve. It is a great
and divine riddle; but it is no knot of Gordius, nor is its allwise Author a dead king that he should suffer us to mock his
intention and cut through to our will with the fierce impatience
of the hasty mortal conqueror.
None of these oppositions is more constant than that of
Power and Love: yet neither of these deities can be safely neglected. What can be more divine than Love? But followed
exclusively it is impotent to solve the world’s discords. The
worshipped Avatar of love and the tender saint of saints leave
behind them a divine but unfollowed example, a luminous and
imperishable but ineffective memory. They have added an element to the potentialities of the heart, but the race cannot utilise
it effectively for life because it has not been harmonised with the
rest of the qualities that are essential to our fullness. Shall we
therefore turn round and give ourselves to Power with its iron
hands of action and its hard and clear practical intellect? The
men of power may say that they have done a more tangible work
for their race than the souls of Love, but it is a vain advantage.
For they have not even tried to raise us beyond our imperfect
humanity. They have erected a temporary form or given a secular
impetus. An empire has been created, an age or a century organised, but the level of humanity has not been raised nearer to the
secret of a Caesar or a Napoleon. Love fails because it hastily
rejects the material of the world’s discords or only tramples them
underfoot in an unusual ecstasy; Power because it seeks only to
The Superman
organise an external arrangement. The world’s discords have to
be understood, seized, transmuted. Love must call Power and
Knowledge into the temple and seat them beside her in a unified
equality; Power must bow its neck to the yoke of Light and Love
before it can do any real good to the race.
Unity is the secret, a complex, understanding and embracing
unity. When the full heart of Love is tranquillised by knowledge
into a calm ecstasy and vibrates with strength, when the strong
hands of Power labour for the world in a radiant fullness of
joy and light, when the luminous brain of knowledge accepts
and transforms the heart’s obscure inspirations and lends itself
to the workings of the high-seated Will, when all these gods
are founded together on a soul of sacrifice that lives in unity
with all the world and accepts all things to transmute them,
then is the condition of man’s integral self-transcendence. This
and not a haughty, strong and brilliant egoistic self-culture enthroning itself upon an enslaved humanity is the divine way of
All-Will and Free-Will
IS IS surely a bounded soul who has never felt the
brooding wings of a Fate overshadow the world, never
looked beyond the circle of persons, collectivities and
forces, never been conscious of the still thought or the assured
movement of a Presence in things determining their march. On
the other hand it is the sign of a defect in the thought or a void
of courage and clearness in the temperament to be overwhelmed
by Fate or hidden Presence and reduced to a discouraged acquiescence, — as if the Power in things nullified or rendered
superfluous and abortive the same Power in myself. Fate and
free-will are only two movements of one indivisible energy. My
will is the first instrument of my Fate, Fate a Will that manifests
itself in the irresistible subconscious intention of the world.
All error like all evil is born of a division in the indivisible.
Because God has a myriad aspects, mind breaks up His unity;
it creates a violent opposition and vain attempt at mutual exclusion in the united family of the Ideas and Powers that are
convergently busy with the universe. Thus our thought erects
a mysterious Fate or an equally mysterious free-will and insists
that this or that must be but both shall not subsist together. It
is a false and unreal quarrel. I have a will, that is plain; but it
is not true that it is free in the sense of being a thing apart in
the world determining itself and its actions and fruits as if it
alone existed or as if it could at all shape itself except as visible
crest and form of an invisible wave. Even the wave is more
than itself; for that too has behind it the tramp of the whole
measureless ocean of Force and Time. On the other hand there
is no incalculable Fate, no blind, cruel and ineluctable Necessity
against which the wings of the soul must dash themselves in vain
as if it were a bird snared by a monstrous Fowler in a dim-lit
and fantastic cage.
All-Will and Free-Will
All times and nations have felt or played with the idea of
Fate. The Greeks were pursued by the thought of a mysterious
and ineffable Necessity presiding over the divine caprices of
the gods. The Mahomedan sits calm and inert under the yoke of
Kismet. The Hindu speaks of Karma and the writing on the forehead when he would console himself for calamity or failure or
excuse himself from perseverance and masculine effort. And all
these notions are akin in the general imprecision of the idea they
shadow forth and the vague twilight in which they are content
to leave its ulterior significance. Modern Science has brought
in an equally formless and arbitrary predestination of Law of
Nature and Heredity to contradict the idea of responsibility in
a free, willing and acting soul. Where there is no soul, there
can be no freedom. Nature works out her original law in man;
our fathers and mothers with all that they carried in them are
a second vital predestination and the dead generations impose
themselves on the living; pressure of environment comes in as a
third Fate to take from us the little chance of liberty we might
still have snatched out of this infinite coiling of forces. The triple
Moirai of the Greeks have been re-enthroned with other masks
and new names. We believe once more in a tremendous weaving
of our fate, but by the measured dance of immense material
Powers. It is the old gods again, but stripped of intelligence
and the chance of human sympathy, inexorable because they are
conscious neither of themselves nor of us.
It is doubtful whether belief in Fate or free-will makes much
difference to a man’s action, but it certainly matters a great deal
to his temperament and inner being; for it puts its stamp on the
cast of his soul. The man who makes belief in Fate an excuse for
quiescence, would find some other pretext if this were lacking.
His idea is only a decorous garment for his mood; it clothes his
indolence and quiescence in a specious robe of light or drapes
it with a noble mantle of dignity. But when his will clutches
at an object or action, we do not find him pursuing it with a
less strenuous resolution or, it may be, a less childish impatience
or obstinacy than the freest believer in free-will. It is not our
intellectual ideas that govern our action, but our nature and
The Superman
temperament, — not dhı̄,1 but mati or even manyu, or, as the
Greeks would have said, thumos and not nous.
On the other hand a great man of action will often seize
on the idea of Fate to divinise to himself the mighty energy that
he feels driving him on the path of world-altering deeds. He is
like a shell discharged from some dim Titanic howitzer planted
in concealment far behind this first line of trenches which we
see thrown out by Life into the material world; or he is like a
planet sped out from Nature’s hands with its store of primal
energy sufficient for its given time, its fixed service to the worldlife, its settled orbit round a distant and sovereign Light. He
expresses in the idea of Fate his living and constant sense of
the energy which has cast him down here whether to break like
some Vedic Marut the world’s firm and established things or
to cut through mountains a path down which new rivers of
human destiny can pour. Like Indra or Bhagirath he precedes;
the throng of the divine waters follow. His movement decides
their course; here Indus shall flow, there Ganges pace yellow and
leonine to the sea. Therefore we find that the greatest men of
action the world has known were believers in Fate or in a divine
Will. Caesar, Mahomet, Napoleon, what more colossal workers
has our past than these? The superman believes more readily in
Destiny, feels more vitally conscious of God than the average
human mind.
A saying of Napoleon’s is pregnant of the true truth of this
matter. Questioned why, since he talked continually of fate, he
thought it worth while to be always thinking and planning, he
answered with just reason, “Because it is still Fate who wills
that I should plan.” This is the truth. There is a Will or Force
in the world that determines the result of my actions as part of
the great whole; there is a Will in me that determines, concealed
by my thought and personal choice, the part that I shall take in
determining the whole. It is this that my mind seizes on and calls
my will. But I and mine are masks. It is All-existence that gives
These are terms of Vedic psychology. Dhı̄ is the intellect; mati, the general mentality;
manyu, the temperament and emotive mind.
All-Will and Free-Will
me my reality; it is the All-will and All-knowledge that, while I
calculate, works in me for its own incalculable purpose.
For this very reason I am right in laying stress on my freewill. If a Necessity governs even the gods, yet is my will a
daughter of Necessity with a right in the mansion of her mother;
or even it is a face of the divine Necessity that in many forms
plays with the world. If Kismet is the will of God, yet is that will
active in my present moment and not only in the hour of my
birth or of the birth of the world. If my past actions determine
my present, my immediate action also determines the moment
that shall be and is not utterly put off by a tardy mechanism to
belated effects in a far-off life. If Law of nature and heredity and
environment are powerful, yet do they depend on the individual
for the use to which they shall be turned.
The fruit of my actions belongs not to me, but to God and
the world; my action belongs to God and myself. There I have
a right. Or rather it belongs to God in myself; the right is His,
but I enjoy it. The Will that works in me is the indivisible All
which only seems to separate itself from itself in my body and
personality, nāmarūpa, as the whole sea throws itself upon a
particular coast in a particular surge of waves. The All and the
I are at play of hide and seek with each other in a corner of an
infinite universe.
I may play entirely at cross-purposes with the All-Will in
me. That is when I lend my will-power to be a servant of the
nervous part of my mind which, ignorant and passionate, adores
self, openly or under many pretences, as its own god. It is this in
me, this egoist, this hungerer that feels upon it in the heavy hand
of Fate the oppression of a tyrant or the resistance of a blind and
unintelligent power. For always absorbed in its own need and
view-point it helps the All by that friction and opposition which
are so essential to the mechanism of the world. Therefore it
misunderstands the firm Teacher and His stern, yet loving compulsion in things and must progress by self-will and struggle and
suffering because it cannot yet learn to progress by obedience.
But also I may, by an intuition in my nature, an aspiration in
my heart and a reason in my mind, put myself at the service of
The Superman
some strong ideal, some intelligent Force that serves God with
or without knowledge of Him. Then is my will a true will; it
does its share, it leaves its quota, it returns to its Master with
its talent used or increased. And to a certain extent it is free; for
a great liberty is this, to be delivered from the Animal and the
Rakshasa in ourselves, free to choose the right or be chosen by it.
But how different a thing would it be if I could persuade
my ego to break and emerge from the mould in which it has
taken refuge from its divine Pursuer! The great antinomy would
then be abrogated and not simply mitigated. My free-will would
become God-will and Fate put off her mask. By consenting to
be the mere slave of God and consciously but one instrument
of That which is not bound by its instruments, I should know
a freedom which sings on the harps of heaven, but which no
speech of man can utter; I should be washed and rolled in the
waves of pure puissance and pure ecstasy, the immeasurable
and unfathomable ecstasy of all-being and all-life and all-force.
I should see Fate illumined melting into Will and Will glorified
passing into God.
The Delight of Works
N THY works there are always these three, the Master, the
Worker and the Instrument. To define them in oneself rightly
and rightly to possess them is the secret of works and of the
delight of works.
Learn thou first to be the instrument of God and to accept
thy Master. The instrument is this outward thing thou callest
thyself; it is a mould of mind, a driving-force of power, a machinery of form, a thing full of springs and cogs and clamps and
devices. Call not this the Worker or the Master; it can never be
the Worker or the Master. Accept thyself humbly, yet proudly,
devotedly, submissively and joyfully as a divine instrument.
There is no greater pride and glory than to be a perfect
instrument of the Master.
Learn thou first absolutely to obey. The sword does not
choose where it shall strike, the arrow does not ask whither it
shall be driven, the springs of the machine do not insist on the
product that shall be turned out from its labour. These things
are settled by the intention and working of Nature and the more
the conscious instrument learns to feel and obey the pure and
essential law of its nature, the sooner shall the work turned out
become perfect and flawless. Self-choice by the nervous motivepower, revolt of the physical and mental tool can only mar the
Let thyself drive in the breath of God and be as a leaf in
the tempest; put thyself in His hand and be as the sword that
strikes and the arrow that leaps to its target. Let thy mind be as
the spring of the machine, let thy force be as the shooting of a
piston, let thy work be as the grinding and shaping descent of
the steel on its object. Let thy speech be the clang of the hammer
on the anvil and the moan of the engine in its labour and the cry
of the trumpet that proclaims the force of God to the regions.
The Superman
In whatsoever way do as an instrument the work that is natural
to thee and appointed.
The sword has a joy in the battle-play, the arrow has a mirth
in its hiss and its leaping, the earth has a rapture in its dizzy whirl
through space, the sun has the royal ecstasy of its blazing splendours and its eternal motion. O thou self-conscious instrument,
take thou too the delight of thy own appointed workings.
The sword did not ask to be made, nor does it resist its user,
nor lament when it is broken. There is a joy of being made and
a joy of being used and a joy of being put aside and a joy too of
being broken. That equal joy discover.
Because thou hast mistaken the instrument for the worker
and the master and because thou seekest to choose by the ignorance of thy desire thy own state and thy own profit and thy own
utility, therefore thou hast suffering and anguish and hast many
times to be thrust into the red hell of the furnace and hast many
times to be reborn and reshaped and retempered until thou shalt
have learned thy human lesson.
And all these things are because they are in thy unfinished
nature. For Nature is the worker and what is it that she works
at? She shapes out of her crude mind and life and matter a fully
conscious being.
* *
Know thyself next as the Worker. Understand thy nature to be
the worker and thy own nature and All-Nature to be thyself.
This nature-self is not proper to thee nor limited. Thy nature
has made the sun and the systems, the earth and her creatures,
thyself and thine and all thou art and perceivest. It is thy friend
and thine enemy, thy mother and thy devourer, thy lover and
thy torturer, the sister of thy soul and an alien and a stranger,
thy joy and thy sorrow, thy sin and thy virtue, thy strength and
thy weakness, thy knowledge and thy ignorance. And yet it is
none of these things, but something of which they are attempts
and imperfect images. For beyond all these it is an original
The Delight of Works
self-knowledge and an infinite force and innumerable quality.
But in thee there is a special movement, a proper nature
and an individual energy. Follow that like a widening river till it
leads thee to its infinite source and origin.
Know therefore thy body to be a knot in Matter and thy
mind to be a whirl in universal Mind and thy life to be an eddy
of Life that is for ever. Know thy force to be every other being’s
force and thy knowledge to be a glimmer from the light that
belongs to no man and thy works to be made for thee and be
delivered from the error of thy personality.
When that is done, thou shalt take thy free delight in the
truth of thy individual being and in thy strength and in thy glory
and in thy beauty and in thy knowledge; and in the denial of these
things thou shalt take delight also. For all this is the dramatic
mask of the Person and the self-image of the self-Sculptor.
Why shouldst thou limit thyself? Feel thyself also in the
sword that strikes thee and the arms that embrace, in the blazing
of the sun and the dance of the earth, in the flight of the eagle
and the song of the nightingale, in all that is past and all that
is now and all that is pressing forward to become. For thou art
infinite and all this joy is possible to thee.
The Worker has the joy of her works and the joy of her Lover
for whom she works. She knows herself to be his consciousness
and his force, his knowledge and his reserving of knowledge, his
unity and his self-division, his infinity and the finite of his being.
Know thyself also to be these things; take thou also the delight
of thy Lover.
There are those who know themselves as a workshop or an
instrument or the thing worked, but they mistake the Worker
for the Master; this too is an error. Those who fall into it can
hardly arrive at her high, pure and perfect workings.
The instrument is finite in a personal image, the worker
is universal with a personal trend, but neither of these is the
Master; for neither is the true Person.
* *
The Superman
Know last the Master to be thyself; but to this self put no form
and seek for it no definition of quality. Be one with That in thy
being, commune with That in thy consciousness, obey That in
thy force, be subject to That and clasped by it in thy delight, fulfil
That in thy life and body and mentality. Then before an opening
eye within thee there shall emerge that true and only Person,
thyself and not thyself, all others and more than all others, the
Director and Enjoyer of thy works, the Master of the worker
and the instrument, the Reveller and Trampler in the dance of
the universe and yet hushed and alone with thee in thy soul’s
silent and inner chamber.
The joy of the Master possessed, there is nothing else for
thee to conquer. For He shall give thee Himself and all things
and all creatures’ gettings and havings and doings and enjoyings
for thy own proper portion, and He shall give thee that also
which cannot be portioned.
Thou shalt contain in thy being thyself and all others and
be that which is neither thyself nor all others. Of works this is
the consummation and the summit.
HAT IN its principle and scope is the force of evolution and how does it work out in the world?
The theory of evolution has been the key-note
of the thought of the nineteenth century. It has not only affected all its science and its thought-attitude, but powerfully
influenced its moral temperament, its politics and its society.
Without it there could not have been that entire victory of the
materialistic notion of life and the universe which has been
the general characteristic of the age that is now passing, —
a victory which for a time even claimed to be definitive, —
nor such important corollary effects of this great change as
the failure of the religious spirit and the breaking-up of religious beliefs. In society and politics it has led to the substitution of the evolutionary for the moral idea of progress
and the consequent materialisation of social ideas and social
progress, the victory of the economic man over the idealist.
The scientific dogma of heredity, the theory of the quite recent
emergence of the civilised thinking human animal, the popular notion of the all-pervading struggle for life and the aid it
has given to an exaggerated development of the competitive
instinct, the idea of the social organism and the aid it has
given to the contrary development of economic socialism and
the increasing victory of the organised State or community over
the free individual, — all these are outflowings from the same
The materialistic view of the world is now rapidly collapsing
and with it the materialistic statement of the evolution theory
must disappear. Modern European thought progresses with a
vertiginous rapidity. If it is Teutonic in its fidelity of observation
and its tendency to laborious systematisation, it has also another
side, Celtic-Hellenic, a side of suppleness, mobility, readiness for
rapid change, insatiable curiosity. It does not allow the same
thought, the same system to exercise for very long a secure empire; it is in haste to question, to challenge, to reject, to remould,
to discover new and opposite truths, to venture upon other experiments. At present this spirit of questioning has not attacked
the evolution theory at its centre, but it is visibly preparing to
give it a new form and meaning.
The general idea of evolution was the filiation of each successive form or state of things to that which preceded it, its
appearance by a process of outbringing or deploying of some
possibility prepared and even necessitated by previous states
and previous tendencies. Not only does a form contain the seed
of the form that reproduces it, but also the seed of the possible
new form that varies from it. By successive progression a worldsystem evolves out of the nebula, a habitable planet appears in
an uninhabitable system, protoplasmic life emerges by some yet
unknown process out of Matter, the more developed grows out
of the less developed organism. The fish and the creeping thing
are the descendants of the plasm, the biped and quadruped trace
back to the fish and reptile, man is a quadruped of the genus
Ape who has learned to walk erect on two legs and has divested
himself of characteristics unsuited to his new mode of life and
progression. Force in Matter is the unconscious Goddess who
has worked these miracles by her inherent principle of natural
adaptation and in the organism by the additional machinery
of heredity; by natural selection those species which reproduce
new characteristics developed by adaptation to the environment
and favourable to survival, tend to propagate themselves and
remain; others fall back in the race of life and disappear.
Such were once the salient ideas; but some of them and not
the least important are now questioned. The idea of the struggle
for life tends to be modified and even denied; it is asserted that, at
least as popularly understood, it formed no real part of Darwinism. This modification is a concession to reviving moralistic and
idealistic tendencies which seek for a principle of love as well as a
principle of egoism in the roots of life. Equally important are the
conclusion arrived at by some investigators into the phenomena
of heredity that acquired characteristics are not handed down to
the posterity and the theory that it is chiefly predispositions that
are inherited; for by these modifications the process of evolution
begins to wear a less material and mechanical aspect; its source
and the seat of its motive power are shifted to that which is least
material, most psychical in Matter. Finally, the first idea of a
slow and gradual evolution is being challenged by a new theory
of evolution through sudden and rapid outbursts; and again we
pass from the sense of an obvious superficial machinery and allsufficient material necessity to profundities whose mystery is yet
to be fathomed.
In themselves, indeed, these modifications would not be
radical. Their importance lies in their synchronism with a great
resurgence, in new forms, of old ideas that had been submerged
by the materialistic wave. Theories of vitalism, idealistic tendencies of thought, which were supposed to have been slain by the
march of physical Science, now arise, dispute the field and find
their account in every change of scientific generalisation which
at all opens the way to their own expansion and reassertion. In
what respects then is it likely that the evolution theory will be
found deficient by the wider and more complex thought of the
future and compelled to undergo essential changes?
In the first place, the materialistic theory of evolution starts
from the Sankhya position that all world is a development out
of indeterminate Matter by Nature-Force, but it excludes the
Silent Cause of the Sankhyas, the Purusha or observant and reflective Soul. Hence it conceives the world as a sort of automatic
machine which has somehow happened. No intelligent cause,
no aim, no raison d’être, but simply an automatic deployment,
combination, chance self-adaptation of means to end without
any knowledge or intention in the adaptation. This is the first
paradox of the theory and its justification must be crushing and
conclusive if it is to be finally accepted by the human mind.
Again, Force in indeterminate Matter without any Conscious-Soul being all the beginning and all the material of things,
Mind, Life and Consciousness can only be developments out of
Matter and even only operations of Matter. They cannot be at
all things in themselves, different from Matter or in the last
degree independent of it. This is the second paradox and the
point at which the theory has eventually failed to establish itself.
More and more the march of knowledge leads towards the view
that the three are different forms of Force, each with its own
characteristics and proper method of action, each reacting upon
the other and enriching its forms by the contact.
An idea has even begun to dawn that there is not a single creation but a triple, material, vital and mental; it may be regarded
as a composite of three worlds, as it were, interpenetrating each
other. We are led back to the old Vedic idea of the triple world
in which we live. And we may reasonably forecast that when
its operations are examined from this new standpoint, the old
Vedic knowledge will be justified that it is one Law and Truth
acting in all, but very differently formulated according to the
medium in which the work proceeds and its dominant principle.
The same gods exist on all the planes and maintain the same
essential laws, but with a different aspect and mode of working
and to ever wider results.
If this be the truth, then the action of evolution must be other
than has been supposed. For example the evolution of Life in
Matter must have been produced and governed not by a material principle, but by a Life-Principle working in and upon the
conditions of Matter and applying to it its own laws, impulses,
necessities. This idea of a mighty Life, other than the material
Principle, working in it and upon it has begun to dominate the
advanced thought of Europe. The other idea of a still mightier
Mind working in Life and upon it has not yet made sufficient
way because the investigation of the laws of Mind is still in its
groping infancy.
Again, the materialist theory supposes a rigid chain of material necessity; each previous condition is a coordination of so
many manifest forces and conditions; each resulting condition
is its manifest result. All mystery, all element of the incalculable
disappears. If we can completely analyse the previous conditions
and discover their general law, we can be sure of the subsequent result, as in the case of an eclipse or an earthquake. For
all is manifestation which is the logical result of a previous
Once more the conclusion is too simple and trenchant; the
world is more complex. Besides the manifest causes there are
those that are unmanifest or latent and not subject to our analysis or come from behind or above and cannot be calculated
and forecast though by a higher revelatory Knowledge they may
be foreseen. This element increases as we climb the ladder of
existence; its scope is greater in Life than in Matter, freer in Mind
than in Life. European thought already tends to posit behind all
manifest activity an Unmanifest called according to intellectual
predilection either the Inconscient or the Subconscient which
contains more and in a way unseizable to us knows more and
can more than the surface existence. Out of this Unmanifest the
manifest constantly emerges.
Again we return towards an ancient truth already known
to the Vedic sages, — the idea of an inconscient or subconscient
ocean of being, the ocean of the heart of things out of which the
worlds form themselves. But the Veda posits also a governing
and originating Superconscient which accounts for the appearance of a hidden consciousness and knowledge pervading the
operations of Evolution and which constitutes the self-acting
Law and Truth behind them.
The theory of materialistic evolution led naturally to the idea
of a slow and gradual progression in a straight line. It admits
reversions, atavisms, loops and zigzags of reaction deflecting the
straight line, but these must necessarily be subordinate, hardly
visible if we calculate by ages rather than by shorter periods of
time. Here too, fuller knowledge disturbs the received notions. In
the history of man everything seems now to point to alternations
of a serious character, ages of progression, ages of recoil, the
whole constituting an evolution that is cyclic rather than in one
straight line. A theory of cycles of human civilisation has been
advanced, we may yet arrive at the theory of cycles of human
evolution, the Kalpa and Manwantaras of the Hindu theory. If
its affirmation of cycles of world-existence is farther off from
affirmation, it is because they must be so vast in their periods
as to escape not only all our means of observation, but all our
means of deduction or definite inference.
Instead of slow, steady, minute gradations it is now suggested that new steps in evolution are rather effected by rapid
and sudden outbursts, outbreaks, as it were, of manifestation
from the unmanifest. Shall we say that Nature preparing slowly
behind the veil, working a little backwards, working a little
forwards, one day arrives at the combination of outward things
which makes it possible for her to throw her new idea into
a realised formation, suddenly, with violence, with a glorious
dawning, with a grandiose stride? And that would explain the
economy of her relapses and her reappearances of things long
dead. She aims at a certain immediate result and to arrive at it
more quickly and entirely she sacrifices many of her manifestations and throws them back into the latent, the unmanifest, the
subconscient. But she has not finished with them; she will need
them at another stage for a farther result. Therefore she brings
them forward again and they reappear in new forms and other
combinations and act towards new ends. So evolution advances.
And her material means? Not the struggle for life only. The
real law, it is now suggested, is rather mutual help or at least mutual accommodation. Struggle exists, mutual destruction exists,
but as a subordinate movement, a red minor chord, and only
becomes acute when the movement of mutual accommodation
fails and elbow-room has to be made for a fresh attempt, a new
The propagation of acquired characteristics by heredity was
too hastily and completely asserted; it is now perhaps in danger of being too summarily denied. Not Matter alone, but Life
and Mind working upon Matter help to determine evolution.
Heredity is only a material shadow of soul-reproduction, of
the rebirth of Life and Mind into new forms. Ordinarily, as a
constant factor or basis, there is the reproduction of that which
was already evolved; for new characteristics to be propagated in
the species they must have been accepted, received, sanctioned
in the vital and mental worlds; then only can they be automatically self-reproduced from the material seed. Otherwise they are
private and personal acquisitions and are returned into the State
exchequer, the treasury of the subconscient, and do not go to
the family estate. When the mind-world and life-world are ready,
they are poured out freely on fit recipients. This is the reason
why it is predisposition that is chiefly inherited. The psychical
and vital force in the material principle is first impressed; when
that has been done on a sufficient scale, it is ready for a general
new departure and an altered heredity appears.
Thus the whole view of Evolution begins to change. Instead
of a mechanical, gradual, rigid evolution out of indeterminate
Matter by Nature-Force we move towards the perception of a
conscious, supple, flexible, intensely surprising and constantly
dramatic evolution by a superconscient Knowledge which reveals things in Matter, Life and Mind out of the unfathomable
Inconscient from which they rise.
The Inconscient
HE FIRST or superficial view which the observing mind
takes on any object of knowledge is always an illusory
view; all science, all true knowledge comes by going behind the superficies and discovering the inner truth and the
hidden law. It is not that the thing itself is illusory, but that
it is not what it superficially appears to be; nor is it that the
operations and functionings we observe on the surface do not
take place, but that we cannot find their real motive-power,
process, relations by the simple study of them as they offer
themselves to the observing senses.
In the realm of physical science this is obvious enough and
universally admitted. The earth is not flat but round, not still but
constant to a double motion; the sun moves but not round the
earth; bodies that seem to us luminous are in themselves nonluminous; things that are part of our daily experience, colour,
sound, light, air are quite other in their reality than what they
pretend to be. Our senses give us false views of distance, size,
shape, relation. Objects which seem to them self-existent forms
are aggregations and constituted by subtler constituents which
our ordinary faculties are unable to detect. These material constituents again are merely formulations of a Force which we
cannot describe as material and of which the senses have no
evidence. Yet the mind and the senses can live quite satisfied
and convinced in this world of illusions and accept them as the
practical truth — for to a certain extent they are the practical
truth and sufficient for an initial, ordinary and limited activity.
But only to a certain extent; for there are possibilities of a
wider life, a more mastering action, a greater practicality which
can only be achieved by going behind these surfaces and utilising
a truer knowledge of objects and forces. The discovery of the
secret operations of Nature leads to a contingent discovery, the
The Inconscient
possibility of a farther use of her forces to which she herself has
not proceeded, not finding them necessary for the mere preservation of existence and its ordinary workings, but has left to man,
her mental being, to discover and utilise for the amelioration of
existence and for the development of its possibilities.
All this is easy to see in the realm of Matter; but mankind is
not yet entirely ready to recognise the same truth and follow
up the same principle in the realm of Mind. It is true that
psychology has made an advance and has begun to improve
its method. Formerly, it was a crude, scholastic and superficial
systematisation of man’s ignorance of himself. The surface psychological functionings, will, mind, senses, reason, conscience,
etc., were arranged in a dry and sterile classification; their real
nature and relation to each other were not fathomed nor any use
made of them which went beyond the limited action Nature had
found sufficient for a very superficial mental and psychic life and
for very superficial and ordinary workings. Because we do not
know ourselves, therefore we are unable to ameliorate radically
our subjective life or develop with mastery, with rapidity, with a
sure science the hidden possibilities of our mental capacity and
our moral nature. The new psychology seeks indeed to penetrate
behind superficial appearances, but it is encumbered by initial
errors which prevent a profounder knowledge, — the materialistic error which bases the study of mind upon the study of the
body; the sceptical error which prevents any bold and cleareyed investigation of the hidden profundities of our subjective
existence; the error of conservative distrust and recoil which
regards any subjective state or experience that departs from
the ordinary operations of our mental and psychical nature
as a morbidity or a hallucination, — just as the Middle Ages
regarded all new science as magic and a diabolical departure
from the sane and right limits of human capacity; finally, the
error of objectivity which leads the psychologist to study others
from outside instead of seeing his true field of knowledge and
laboratory of experiment in himself. Psychology is necessarily a
subjective science and one must proceed in it from the knowledge
of oneself to the knowledge of others.
But whatever the crudities of the new science, it has at least
taken the first capital step without which there can be no true
psychological knowledge; it has made the discovery which is
the beginning of self-knowledge and which all must make who
deeply study the facts of consciousness, — that our waking and
surface existence is only a small part of our being and does not
yield to us the root and secret of our character, our mentality or
our actions. The sources lie deeper. To discover them, to know
the nature and the processes of the inconscient or subconscient
self and, so far as is possible, to possess and utilise them as
physical science possesses and utilises the secret of the forces of
Nature ought to be the aim of a scientific psychology.
But here the first difficulty confronts us, the problem
whether this other and greater self of which our waking existence is only a surface and a phenomenon, is subconscient
or inconscient. And thereon hinges the whole destiny of the
human being. For if it is inconscient in its very nature, then
we cannot hope to illuminate ourselves with the hidden light of
these depths — for light there is none — or to find and to possess
ourselves of the secret of its power. On the other hand if it is
subconscient, that is to say a concealed consciousness deeper,
greater, more powerful than our superficial self, an endless vista
of self-enlargement opens out before us and the human race
marches towards infinite possibilities.
Modern psychological experiment and observation have
proceeded on two different lines which have not yet found their
point of meeting. On the one hand psychology has taken for
its starting-point the discoveries and the fundamental thesis of
the physical sciences and has worked as a continuation of physiology. The physical sciences are the study of inconscient Force
working in inconscient Matter and a psychology which accepts
this formula as the basis of all existence must regard consciousness as a phenomenal result of the Inconscient working on the
inconscient. Mind is only an outcome and as it were a record
of nervous reactions. The true self is the inconscient; mental
action is one of its subordinate phenomena. The Inconscient
is greater than the conscient; it is the god, the magician, the
The Inconscient
creator whose action is far more unerring than the ambitious but
blundering action of the conscious mentality. The tree is more
perfectly guided than man in its more limited action, precisely
because it lives unambitiously according to Nature and is passive
in the hands of the Inconscient. Mind enters in to enlarge the
field of activity, but also to multiply errors, perversities, revolts
against Nature, departures from the instinctive guiding of the
Inconscient Self which generate that vast element of ignorance,
falsehood and suffering in human life, — that “much falsehood
in us” of which the Vedic poet complains.
Where then lies the hope that mind will repair its errors
and guide itself according to the truth of things? The hope lies
in Science, in the intelligent observation, utilising, initiation of
the forces and workings of the Inconscient. To take only one
instance, — the Inconscient operates by the law of heredity and,
left to itself, works faultlessly to ensure the survival of good and
healthy types. Man misuses heredity in the false conditions of
his social life to transmit and perpetuate degeneracy. We must
study the law of heredity, develop a science of Eugenics and
use it wisely and remorselessly — with the remorseless wisdom
of Nature — so as to ensure by intelligence the result that the
Inconscient assures by instinctive adaptation. We can see where
this idea and this spirit will lead us, — to the replacement of
the emotional and spiritual idealism which the human mind
has developed by a cold sane materialistic idealism and to an
amelioration of mankind attempted by the rigorous mechanism
of the scientific expert, no longer by the profound inspiration
of genius and the supple aspiration of puissant character and
personality. And yet what if this were only another error of the
conscient mind? What if the mistaking and the disease, the revolt
and departure from Nature were itself a part, a necessary part of
the wise and unerring plan of the profound Inconscient Self and
all the much falsehood a means of arriving at a greater truth and
a more exalted capacity? The fact that genius itself, the highest
result of our developing consciousness, flowers so frequently on
a diseased branch is a phenomenon full of troubling suggestions.
The clear way of ascertained science need not always be the best
way; it may stand often in the path of development of a yet
greater and deeper Knowledge.
The other line of psychological investigation is still frowned
upon by orthodox science, but it thrives and yields its results
in spite of the anathema of the doctors. It leads us into bypaths of psychical research, hypnotism, mesmerism, occultism
and all sorts of strange psychological gropings. Certainly, there
is nothing here of the assured clearness and firmly-grounded
positivism of the physical method. Yet facts emerge and with
the facts a momentous conclusion, — the conclusion, that there
is a “subliminal” self behind our superficial waking mind not
inconscient but conscient, greater than the waking mind, endowed with surprising faculties and capable of a much surer
action and experience, conscient of the superficial mind though
of it the superficial mind is inconscient. And then a question
rises. What if there were really no Inconscient at all, but a hidden Consciousness everywhere perfect in power and wisdom,
of which our mind is the first slow, hesitating and imperfect
disclosure and into the image of which the human mentality
is destined progressively to grow? It would at least be no less
valid a generalisation and it would explain all the facts that we
now know considerably better than the blind and purposeless
determinism of the materialistic theory.
In pursuing psychological investigation upon this line we
shall only be resuming that which had already been done by
our remote forefathers. For they too, the moment they began to
observe, to experiment, to look below the surface of things, were
compelled to perceive that the surface man is only a form and
appearance and that the real self is something infinitely greater
and more profound. They too must have passed through the
first materialistic stages of science and philosophy. For we read
in the Aitareya Upanishad that entering upon possession of the
material world and the body, the Purusha, the Conscious Soul,
asks himself, “If utterance is by speech and life by the breath,
vision by the eye, hearing by the ear, thought by the mind,” if in
short all the apparent activities of the being can be accounted for
by the automatic functioning of Nature, “then what am I?” And
The Inconscient
the Upanishad says farther, “He being born distinguished only
the working of the material elements, for what else was there
of which he should discuss and conclude?” Yet in the end “he
beheld this conscious being which is Brahman utterly extended
and he said to himself, Now have I really seen.” So too in the
Taittiriya Upanishad Bhrigu Varuni meditating on the Brahman
comes first to the conclusion that “Matter is Brahman” and only
afterwards discovers Life that is Brahman, — so rising from the
materialistic to the vitalistic theory of existence as European
thought is now rising, — then Mind that is Brahman and then
Knowledge that is Brahman, — so rising to the sensational and
the idealistic realisations of the truth — and at last Bliss of Existence that is Brahman. There he pauses in the ultimate spiritual
realisation, the highest formulation of knowledge that man can
The Conscient therefore and not the Inconscient was the
Truth at which the ancient psychology arrived; and it distinguished three strata of the conscient self, the waking, the dream
and the sleep selves of Man, — in other words the superficial
existence, the subconscient or subliminal and the superconscient
which to us seems the inconscient because its state of consciousness is the reverse of ours: for ours is limited and based on
division and multiplicity, but this is “that which becomes a
unity”; ours is dispersed in knowledge, but in this other self
conscious knowledge is self-collected and concentrated; ours is
balanced between dual experiences, but this is all delight, it
is that which in the very heart of our being fronts everything
with a pure all-possessing consciousness and enjoys the delight
of existence.1 Therefore, although its seat is that stratum of
consciousness which to us is a deep sleep, — for the mind there
cannot maintain its accustomed functioning and becomes inconscient, — yet its name is He who knows, the Wise One, Prajna.
“This” says the Mandukya Upanishad, “is omniscient, omnipotent, the inner control, the womb of all and that from which
creatures are born and into which they depart.” It answers,
See the Mandukya Upanishad for these brief and profound definitions.
therefore, closely enough to the modern idea of the Inconscient
corrected by the other modern idea of the subliminal self; for
it is inconscient only to the waking mind precisely because it
is superconscient to it and the mind is therefore only able to
seize it in its results and not in itself. And what better proof can
there be of the depth and truth of the ancient psychology than
the fact that when modern thought in all its pride of exact and
careful knowledge begins to cast its fathom into these depths,
it is obliged to repeat in other language what had already been
written nearly three thousand years ago?
We find the same idea of this inner control repeated in the
Gita; for it is the Lord who “sits in the hearts of all creatures and
turns all creatures mounted on an engine by his Maya.” At times
the Upanishad seems to describe this Self as the “mental being
leader of the life and the body”, which is really the subliminal
mind of the psychical investigators; but this is only a relative
description. The Vedantic psychology was aware of other depths
that take us beyond this formula and in relation to which the
mental being becomes in its turn as superficial as is our waking
to our subliminal mind. And now once more in the revolutions
of human thought these depths have to be sounded; modern
psychology will be led perforce, by the compulsion of the truth
that it is seeking, on to the path that was followed by the ancient.
The new dawns, treading the eternal path of the Truth, follow
it to the goal of the dawns that have gone before, — how many,
who shall say?
For this knowledge was not first discovered in the comparatively late antiquity that gave us the Upanishads which we
now possess. It is already there in the dateless verses of the Rig
Veda, and the Vedic sages speak of it as the discovery of yet
more ancient seers besides whom they themselves were new and
modern. Emerging from the periods of eclipse and the nights of
ignorance which overtake humanity, we assume always that we
are instituting a new knowledge. In reality, we are continually
rediscovering the knowledge and repeating the achievement of
the ages that have gone before us, — receiving again out of the
“Inconscient” the light that it had drawn back into its secrecies
The Inconscient
and now releases once more for a new day and another march
of the great journey.
And the goal of that journey cannot be other than the “highest good” which the ancient psychologists proposed to the life
and growth of the soul. Man, the mental being, once aware
that there is this deep, great and hidden self, the real reality
of his being, must necessarily seek to enter into it, to become
conscious in it, to make there his centre instead of dwelling
on the surface, to win and apply its diviner law and supreme
nature and capacity, to make himself one with it so that he shall
become the Real instead of the Apparent Man. And the sole debate that remains is whether this great conquest can be achieved
and enjoyed in this human life and terrestrial body or is only
possible beyond — whether in fact the human consciousness is
the chosen instrument for the progressive self-revelation of this
“Inconscient”, this real self within us, or only a baulked effort
with no fruition here or a haphazard and incomplete sketch that
can never be perfected into the divine image.
ANY hard things have been said about materialism by
those who have preferred to look at life from above
rather than below or who claim to live in the more
luminous atmosphere of the idealistic mind or ether of the spiritual existence. Materialism has been credited with the creation of
great evils, viewed even as the archimage of a detestable transformation or the misleader guiding mankind to an appalling
catastrophe. Those whose temperament and imagination dally
lovingly with an idealised past, accuse it for the cultural, social,
political changes which they abhor, regarding them as a disturbance, happily, they believe, temporary, of eternal moral values
and divinely ordained hierarchies. Those, more numerous, who
look beyond to the hope of a larger idealism and higher spirituality, proclaim in its decline and passing away a fortunate
deliverance for the human spirit. World-wide strife and competition have been, it is said, its fruits, war and the holocaust
of terrible sacrifice in which mankind has been squandering its
strength, blood, treasure, — though these are no new calamities,
nor would it be safe to hope that they are the last of their
kind, — are pointed to as its nemesis or regarded as a funeral
pyre it has lighted for itself in whose cruel flame the errors
and impurities it brought into existence are being burned to
ashes. Science has been declared suspect as a guide or instructor
of mankind and bidden to remain parked within her proper
limits, because she was for long the ally of the material view
of existence, a suggester of atheism and agnosticism, a victorybringer of materialism and scepticism, the throne of their reign
or pillar of their stability. Reason has been challenged because
rationalism and free-thought were appropriated as synonyms of
materialistic thinking.
All this wealth of accusation may have and much of it has
its truth. But most things that the human mind thus alternately
trumpets and bans, are a double skein. They come to us with
opposite faces, their good side and their bad, a dark aspect of
error and a bright of truth; and it is as we look upon one or the
other visage that we swing to our extremes of opinion or else
oscillate between them. Materialism may not be quite as dead as
most would declare it to be; still held by a considerable number
of scientific workers, perhaps a majority, — and scientific opinion is always a force both by its power of well-ascertained truth
and its continued service to humanity, — it constitutes even now
the larger part of the real temper of action and life even where
it is rejected as a set opinion. The strong impressions of the past
are not so easily erased out of our human mentality. But it is a
fast receding force; other ideas and standpoints are crowding in
and thrust it out from its remaining points of vantage. It will
be useful before we say farewell to it, and can now be done
with safety, to see what it was that gave to it its strength, what
it has left permanently behind it, and to adjust our new viewpoints to whatever stuff of truth may have lain within it and
lent it its force of applicability. Even we can look at it with an
impartial sympathy, though only as a primary but lesser truth of
our actual being, — for it is all that, but no more than that, —
and try to admit and fix its just claims and values. We can now
see too how it was bound to escape from itself by the widening
of the very frame of knowledge it has itself constructed.
Admit, — for it is true, — that this age of which materialism
was the portentous offspring and in which it had figured first
as petulant rebel and aggressive thinker, then as a grave and
strenuous preceptor of mankind, has been by no means a period
of mere error, calamity and degeneration, but rather a most
powerful creative epoch of humanity. Examine impartially its
results. Not only has it immensely widened and filled in the
knowledge of the race and accustomed it to a great patience of
research, scrupulosity, accuracy, — if it has done that only in one
large sphere of inquiry, it has still prepared for the extension of
the same curiosity, intellectual rectitude, power for knowledge
to other and higher fields, — not only has it with an unexampled
force and richness of invention brought and put into our hands,
for much evil, but also for much good, discoveries, instruments,
practical powers, conquests, conveniences which, however we
may declare their insufficiency for our highest interests, yet few
of us would care to relinquish, but it has also, paradoxical as
that might at first seem, strengthened man’s idealism. On the
whole, it has given him a kindlier hope and humanised his nature. Tolerance is greater, liberty has increased, charity is more a
matter of course, peace, if not yet practicable, is growing at least
imaginable. Latterly the thought of the eighteenth century which
promulgated secularism has been much scouted and belittled,
that of the nineteenth which developed it, riddled with adverse
criticism and overpassed. Still they worshipped no mean godheads. Reason, science, progress, freedom, humanity were their
ideals, and which of these idols, if idols they are, would we like
or ought we, if we are wise, to cast down into the mire or leave
as poor unworshipped relics on the wayside? If there are other
and yet greater godheads or if the visible forms adored were only
clay or stone images or the rites void of the inmost knowledge,
yet has their cult been for us a preliminary initiation and the
long material sacrifice has prepared us for a greater religion.
Reason is not the supreme light, but yet is it always a necessary light-bringer and until it has been given its rights and
allowed to judge and purify our first infra-rational instincts,
impulses, rash fervours, crude beliefs and blind prejudgments,
we are not altogether ready for the full unveiling of a greater
inner luminary. Science is a right knowledge, in the end only
of processes, but still the knowledge of processes too is part of
a total wisdom and essential to a wide and a clear approach
towards the deeper Truth behind. If it has laboured mainly in
the physical field, if it has limited itself and bordered or overshadowed its light with a certain cloud of wilful ignorance, still
one had to begin this method somewhere and the physical field
is the first, the nearest, the easiest for the kind and manner of
inquiry undertaken. Ignorance of one side of Truth or the choice
of a partial ignorance or ignoring for better concentration on
another side is often a necessity of our imperfect mental nature.
It is unfortunate if ignorance becomes dogmatic and denies what
it has refused to examine, but still no permanent harm need have
been done if this willed self-limitation is compelled to disappear
when the occasion of its utility is exhausted. Now that we have
founded rigorously our knowledge of the physical, we can go
forward with a much firmer step to a more open, secure and
luminous repossession of mental and psychic knowledge. Even
spiritual truths are likely to gain from it, not a loftier or more
penetrating, — that is with difficulty possible, — but an ampler
light and fuller self-expression.
Progress is the very heart of the significance of human life,
for it means our evolution into greater and richer being; and
these ages by insisting on it, by forcing us to recognise it as
our aim and our necessity, by making impossible hereafter the
attempt to subsist in the dullness or the gross beatitude of a
stationary self-content, have done a priceless service to the earthlife and cleared the ways of heaven. Outward progress was the
greater part of its aim and the inward is the more essential?
but the inward too is not complete if the outward is left out of
account. Even if the insistence of our progress fall for a time too
exclusively on growth in one field, still all movement forward
is helpful and must end by giving a greater force and a larger
meaning to our need of growth in deeper and higher provinces
of our being. Freedom is a godhead whose greatness only the
narrowly limited mind, the State-worshipper or the crank of
reaction can now deny. No doubt, again, the essential is an
inner freedom; but if without the inner realisation the outer
attempt at liberty may prove at last a vain thing, yet to pursue
an inner liberty and perpetuate an outer slavery or to rejoice
in an isolated release and leave mankind to its chains was also
an anomaly that had to be exploded, a confined and too selfcentred ideal. Humanity is not the highest godhead; God is more
than humanity; but in humanity too we have to find and to serve
him. The cult of humanity means an increasing kindliness, tolerance, charity, helpfulness, solidarity, universality, unity, fullness
of individual and collective growth, and towards these things
we are advancing much more rapidly than was possible in any
previous age, if still with sadly stumbling footsteps and some
fierce relapses. The cult of our other human selves within the
cult of the Divine comes closer to us as our large ideal. To have
brought even one of these things a step nearer, to have helped
to settle them with whatever imperfect expression and formula
in our minds, to have accelerated our movement towards them
are strong achievements, noble services.
Objection can at once be made that all these great things
have no connection with materialism. The impulse towards them
was of old standing and long active in the human mind; the very
principle of the humanitarianism which has been one of the
striking developments of modern sentiment, was first brought
out from our nature and made prominent by religion, compassion and the love of man first intimately and powerfully enforced
by Christianity and Buddhism; if they have now a little developed, it is the natural expanding from seeds that had long been
sown. Materialism was rather calculated to encourage opposite
instincts; and the good it favoured it limited, made arid, mechanised. If all these nobler things have grown and are breaking the
bounds set to them, it is because man is fortunately inconsistent
and after a certain stage of our development cannot be really and
wholly materialistic; he needs ideals, ethical expansion, a closer
emotional fulfilment, and these needs he has tacked on to his
development of materialistic opinion and corrected its natural
results by them. But the ideals themselves were taken from an
anterior opinion and culture.
This is the truth, but not the whole truth. The old religious
cultures were often admirable in the ensemble and always in
some of their parts, but if they had not been defective, they could
neither have been so easily breached, nor would there have been
the need of a secularist age to bring out the results the religions
had sown. Their faults were those of a certain narrowness and
exclusive vision. Concentrated, intense in their ideal and intensive in their effect, their expansive influence on the human mind
was small. They isolated too much their action in the individual,
limited too narrowly the working of their ideals in the social
order, tolerated for instance and even utilised for the ends of
church and creed an immense amount of cruelty and barbarism
which were contrary to the spirit and truth from which they had
started. What they discouraged in the soul of the individual, they
yet maintained in the action and the frame of society, seemed
hardly to conceive of a human order delivered from these blots.
The depth and fervour of their aspiration had for its shadow a
want of intellectual clarity, an obscurity which confused their
working and baulked the expansion of their spiritual elements.
They nourished too a core of asceticism and hardly cared to
believe in the definite amelioration of the earth life, despised by
them as a downfall or a dolorous descent or imperfection of
the human spirit, or whatever earthly hope they admitted saw
itself postponed to the millennial end of things. A belief in the
vanity of human life or of existence itself suited better the preoccupation with an aim beyond earth. Perfection, ethical growth,
liberation became individual ideals and figured too much as an
isolated preparation of the soul for the beyond. The social effect
of the religious temperament, however potentially considerable,
was cramped by excessive other-worldliness and distrust in the
intellect accentuated to obscurantism.
The secularist centuries weighed the balance down very
much in the opposite direction. They turned the mind of the
race wholly earthwards and manwards, but by insisting on intellectual clarity, reason, justice, freedom, tolerance, humanity,
by putting these forward and putting the progress of the race and
its perfectibility as an immediate rule for the earthly life to be
constantly pressed towards and not shunting off the social ideal
to doomsday to be miraculously effected by some last divine
intervention and judgment, they cleared the way for a collective
advance. For they made these nobler possibilities of mankind
more imperative to the practical intelligence. If they lost sight of
heaven or missed the spiritual sense of the ideals they took over
from earlier ages, yet by this rational and practical insistence
on them they drove them home to the thinking mind. Even
their too mechanical turn developed from a legitimate desire
to find some means for making the effective working of these
ideals a condition of the very structure of society. Materialism
was only the extreme intellectual result of this earthward and
human turn of the race mind. It was an intellectual machinery
used by the Time-spirit to secure for a good space the firm fixing
of that exclusive turn of thought and endeavour, a strong rivet
of opinion to hold the mind of man to it for as long as it might
be needed. Man does need to develop firmly in all his earthly
parts, to fortify and perfect his body, his life, his outward-going
mind, to take full possession of the earth his dwelling-place,
to know and utilise physical Nature, enrich his environment
and satisfy by the aid of a generalised intelligence his evolving
mental, vital and physical being. That is not all his need, but it
is a great and initial part of it and of human perfection. Its full
meaning appears afterwards; for only in the beginning and in
the appearance an impulse of his life, in the end and really it
will be seen to have been a need of his soul, a preparing of fit
instruments and the creating of a fit environment for a diviner
life. He has been set here to serve God’s ways upon earth and
fulfil the Godhead in man and he must not despise earth or
reject the basis given for the first powers and potentialities of
the Godhead. When his thought and aim have persisted too far
in that direction, he need not complain if he is swung back for
a time towards the other extreme, to a negative or a positive,
a covert or an open materialism. It is Nature’s violent way of
setting right her own excess in him.
But the intellectual force of materialism comes from its response to a universal truth of existence. Our dominant opinions
have always two forces behind them, a need of our nature and
a truth of universal existence from which the need arises. We
have the material and vital need because life in Matter is our
actual basis, the earthward turn of our minds because earth is
and was intended to be the foundation here for the workings of
the Spirit. When indeed we scan with a scrupulous intelligence
the face that universal existence presents to us or study where
we are one with it or what in it all seems most universal and
permanent, the first answer we get is not spiritual but material.
The seers of the Upanishads saw this with their penetrating
vision and when they gave this expression of our first apparently
complete, eventually insufficient view of Being, “Matter is the
Brahman, from Matter all things are born, by Matter they exist,
to Matter they return,” they fixed the formula of universal truth
of which all materialistic thought and physical science are a
recognition, an investigation, a filling in of its significant details,
elucidations, justifying phenomena and revelatory processes, the
large universal comment of Nature upon a single text.
Mark that it is the first fact of experience from which we
start and up to a certain point an undeniable universal truth
of being. Matter surely is here our basis, the one thing that is
and persists, while life, mind, soul and all else appear in it as a
secondary phenomenon, seem somehow to arise out of it, subsist
by feeding upon it, — therefore the word used in the Upanishads
for Matter is annam, food, — and collapse from our view when
it disappears. Apparently the existence of Matter is necessary to
them, their existence does not appear to be one whit necessary
to Matter. The Being does present himself at first with this face,
inexorably, as if claiming to be that and nothing else, insisting
that his material base and its need shall first be satisfied and, until
that is done, grimly persistent with little or with no regard for our
idealistic susceptibilities and caring nothing if he breaks through
the delicate net of our moral, our aesthetic and our other finer
perceptions. They have the hope of their reign, but meanwhile
this is the first visage of universal existence and we have not
to hide our face from it any more than could Arjuna from the
terrible figure of the Divine on the battle-field of Kurukshetra,
or attempt to escape and evade it as Shiva, when there rose
around him the many stupendous forms of the original Energy,
fled from the vision of it to this and that quarter, forgetful of his
own godhead. We must look existence in the face in whatever
aspect it confronts us and be strong to find within as well as
behind it the Divine.
Materialistic science had the courage to look at this universal truth with level eyes, to accept it calmly as a starting-point
and to inquire whether it was not after all the whole formula
of universal being. Physical science must necessarily to its own
first view be materialistic, because so long as it deals with the
physical, it has for its own truth’s sake to be physical both in its
standpoint and method; it must interpret the material universe
first in the language and tokens of the material Brahman, because
these are its primary and its general terms and all others come
second, subsequently, are a special syllabary. To follow a selfindulgent course from the beginning would lead at once towards
fancies and falsities. Initially, science is justified in resenting any
call on it to indulge in another kind of imagination and intuition.
Anything that draws it out of the circle of the phenomena of objects, as they are represented to the senses and their instrumental
prolongations, and away from the dealings of the reason with
them by a rigorous testing of experience and experimentation,
must distract it from its task and is inadmissible. It cannot allow
the bringing in of the human view of things; it has to interpret
man in the terms of the cosmos, not the cosmos in the terms of
man. The too facile conclusion of the idealist that since things
only exist as known to consciousness, they can exist only by consciousness and must be creations of the mind, has no meaning
for it; it first has to inquire what consciousness is, whether it is
not a result rather than a cause of Matter, coming into being, as it
seems to do, only in the frame of a material inconscient universe
and apparently able to exist only on the condition that that has
been previously established. Starting from Matter, science has to
be at least hypothetically materialistic.
When the action of the material principle, the first to organise itself, has been to some extent well understood, then
can this science go on to consider what claim to be quite other
terms of our being, — life and mind. But first it is forced to
ask itself whether both mind and life are not, as they seem to
be, special consequences of the material evolution, themselves
powers and movements of Matter. After and if this explanation
has failed to cover and to elucidate the facts, it can be more
freely investigated whether they are not quite other principles
of being. Many philosophical questions arise, as, whether they
have entered into Matter and whence or were always in it, and
if so, whether they are for ever less and subordinate in action or
are in their essential power greater, whether they are contained
in it only or really contain it, whether they are subsequent and
dependent on its previous appearance or only that in their apparent organisation here but in real being and power anterior
to it and Matter itself dependent on the essential pre-existence
of life and mind. A greater question comes, whether mind itself
is the last term or there is something beyond, whether soul is
only an apparent result and phenomenon of the interaction of
mind, life and body or we have here an independent term of
our being and of all being, greater, anterior, ultimate, all matter
containing and contained in a secret spiritual consciousness,
spirit the first, last and eternal, the Alpha and the Omega, the
OM. For experiential philosophy either Matter, Mind, Life or
Spirit may be the Being, but none of these higher principles can
be made securely the basis of our thought against all intellectual
questioning until the materialistic hypothesis has first been given
a chance and tested. That may in the end turn out to have been
the use of the materialistic investigation of the universe and its
inquiry the greatest possible service to the finality of the spiritual
explanation of existence. In any case materialistic science and
philosophy have been after all a great and austere attempt to
know dispassionately and to see impersonally. They have denied
much that is being reaffirmed, but the denial was the condition
of a severer effort of knowledge and it may be said of them,
as the Upanishad says of Bhrigu the son of Varuna, sa tapas
taptvā annaṁ brahmeti vyajānāt. “He having practised austerity
discovered that Matter was the Brahman.”
The gates of escape by which a knowledge starting from
materialism can get away from its own self-immuring limitations, can here only be casually indicated. I may take another
occasion to show how the possibility must become in eventual
fact a necessity. Physical science has before its eye two eternal
factors of existence, Matter and Energy, and no others at all are
needed in the account of its operations. Mind dealing with the
facts and relations of Matter and Energy as they are arranged
to the senses in experience and continuative experiment and
are analysed by the reason, would be a sufficient definition of
physical science. Its first regard is on Matter as the one principle
of being and on Energy only as a phenomenon of Matter; but
in the end one questions whether it is not the other way round,
all things the action of Energy and Matter only the field, body
and instrument of her workings. The first view is quantitative
and purely mechanical, the second lets in a qualitative and a
more spiritual element. We do not at once leap out of the materialistic circle, but we see an opening in it which may widen
into an outlet when, stirred by this suggestion, we look at life
and mind not merely as phenomenon in Matter but as energies
and see that they are quite other energies than the material with
their own peculiar qualities, powers and workings. If indeed
all action of life and mind could be reduced, as it was once
hoped, to none but material, quantitative and mechanical, to
mathematical, physiological and chemical terms, the opening
would cease to be an outlet; it would be choked. That attempt
has failed and there is no sign of its ever being successful.
Only a limited range of the phenomena of life and mind could
be satisfied by a purely bio-physical, psycho-physical or biopsychical explanation, and even if more could be dealt with by
these data, still they would only have been accounted for on
one side of their mystery, the lower end. Life and Mind, like
the Vedic Agni, have their two extremities hidden in a secrecy,
and we should by this way only have hold of the tail-end: the
head would still be mystic and secret. To know more we must
have studied not only the actual or possible action of body and
matter on mind and life, but explored all the possible action of
mind too on life and body; that opens undreamed vistas. And
there is always the vast field of the action of mind in itself and
on itself, which needs for its elucidation another, a mental, a
psychic science.
Having examined and explained Matter by physical methods and in the language of the material Brahman, — it is not
really explained, but let that pass, — having failed to carry that
way of knowledge into other fields beyond a narrow limit, we
must then at least consent to scrutinise life and mind by methods
appropriate to them and explain their facts in the language and
tokens of the vital and mental Brahman. We may discover then
where and how these tongues of the one existence render the
same truth and throw light on each other’s phrases, and discover too perhaps another, high, brilliant and revealing speech
which may shine out as the definitive all-explaining word. That
can only be if we pursue these other sciences too in the same
spirit as the physical, with a scrutiny, not only of their obvious
and first actual phenomena, but of all the countless untested
potentialities of mental and psychic energy, and with a free unlimited experimentation. We shall find out that their ranges of
the unknown are immense. We shall perceive that until the possibilities of mind and spirit are better explored and their truths
better known, we cannot yet pronounce the last all-ensphering
formula of universal existence. Very early in this process the
materialistic circle will be seen opening up on all its sides until it
rapidly breaks up and disappears. Adhering still to the essential
rigorous method of science, though not to its purely physical
instrumentation, scrutinising, experimenting, holding nothing
for established which cannot be scrupulously and universally
verified, we shall still arrive at supraphysical certitudes. There
are other means, there are greater approaches, but this line of
access too can lead to the one universal truth.
Three things will remain from the labour of the secularist
centuries; truth of the physical world and its importance, the
scientific method of knowledge, — which is to induce Nature
and Being to reveal their own way of being and proceeding, not
hastening to put upon them our own impositions of idea and
imagination, adhyāropa, — and last, though very far from least,
the truth and importance of the earth life and the human endeavour, its evolutionary meaning. They will remain, but will turn
to another sense and disclose greater issues. Surer of our hope
and our labour, we shall see them all transformed into light of a
vaster and more intimate world-knowledge and self-knowledge.
Thoughts and Glimpses
When we have passed beyond knowings, then we shall have
Knowledge. Reason was the helper; Reason is the bar.
When we have passed beyond willings, then we shall have Power.
Effort was the helper; Effort is the bar.
When we have passed beyond enjoyings, then we shall have
Bliss. Desire was the helper; Desire is the bar.
When we have passed beyond individualising, then we shall be
real Persons. Ego was the helper; Ego is the bar.
When we have passed beyond humanity, then we shall be the
Man. The Animal was the helper; the Animal is the bar.
Transform reason into ordered intuition; let all thyself be light.
This is thy goal.
Transform effort into an easy and sovereign overflowing of the
soul-strength; let all thyself be conscious force. This is thy goal.
Transform enjoying into an even and objectless ecstasy; let all
thyself be bliss. This is thy goal.
Transform the divided individual into the world-personality; let
all thyself be the divine. This is thy goal.
Transform the Animal into the Driver of the herds; let all thyself
be Krishna. This is thy goal.
* *
Thoughts and Glimpses
What I cannot do now is the sign of what I shall do hereafter.
The sense of impossibility is the beginning of all possibilities. Because this temporal universe was a paradox and an impossibility,
therefore the Eternal created it out of His being.
Impossibility is only a sum of greater unrealised possibles. It
veils an advanced stage and a yet unaccomplished journey.
If thou wouldst have humanity advance, buffet all preconceived
ideas. Thought thus smitten awakes and becomes creative. Otherwise it rests in a mechanical repetition and mistakes that for
its right activity.
To rotate on its own axis is not the one movement for the human
soul. There is also its wheeling round the Sun of an inexhaustible
Be conscious first of thyself within, then think and act. All living thought is a world in preparation; all real act is a thought
manifested. The material world exists because an Idea began to
play in divine self-consciousness.
Thought is not essential to existence nor its cause, but it is an
instrument for becoming; 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.
Not to go on for ever repeating what man has already done
is our work, but to arrive at new realisations and undreamedof masteries. Time and soul and world are given us for our
field, vision and hope and creative imagination stand for our
prompters, will and thought and labour are our all-effective
What is there new that we have yet to accomplish? Love, for as
yet we have only accomplished hatred and self-pleasing; Knowledge, for as yet we have only accomplished error and perception
and conceiving; Bliss, for as yet we have only accomplished
pleasure and pain and indifference; Power, for as yet we have
only accomplished weakness and effort and a defeated victory;
Life, for as yet we have only accomplished birth and growth
and dying; Unity, for as yet we have only accomplished war and
In a word, godhead; to remake ourselves in the divine image.
If Brahman were only an impersonal abstraction eternally contradicting the apparent fact of our concrete existence, cessation
would be the right end of the matter; but love and delight and
self-awareness have also to be reckoned.
The universe is not merely a mathematical formula for working
out the relation of certain mental abstractions called numbers
and principles to arrive in the end at a zero or a void unit, neither
is it merely a physical operation embodying certain equations of
forces. It is the delight of a Self-lover, the play of a Child, the
endless self-multiplication of a Poet intoxicated with the rapture
of His own power of endless creation.
We may speak of the Supreme as if He were a mathematician
working out a cosmic sum in numbers or a thinker resolving by
experiment a problem in relations of principles and the balance
of forces: but also we should speak of Him as if He were a lover,
a musician of universal and particular harmonies, a child, a poet.
The side of thought is not enough; the side of delight too must be
entirely grasped: Ideas, Forces, Existences, Principles are hollow
moulds unless they are filled with the breath of God’s delight.
These things are images, but all is an image. Abstractions give us
the pure conception of God’s truths; images give us their living
If Idea embracing Force begot the worlds, Delight of Being begot
the Idea. Because the Infinite conceived an innumerable delight
in itself, therefore worlds and universes came into existence.
Thoughts and Glimpses
Consciousness of being and Delight of being are the first parents.
Also, they are the last transcendences. Unconsciousness is only
an intermediate swoon of the conscious or its obscure sleep; pain
and self-extinction are only delight of being running away from
itself in order to find itself elsewhere or otherwise.
Delight of being is not limited in Time; it is without end or
beginning. God comes out from one form of things only to enter
into another.
What is God after all? An eternal child playing an eternal game
in an eternal garden.
God cannot cease from leaning down towards Nature, nor man
from aspiring towards the Godhead. It is the eternal relation of
the finite to the infinite. When they seem to turn from each other,
it is to recoil for a more intimate meeting.
In man nature of the world becomes again self-conscious so that
it may take the great leap towards its Enjoyer. This is the Enjoyer whom unknowingly it possesses, whom life and sensation
possessing deny and denying seek. Nature of the world knows
not God only because it knows not itself; when it knows itself,
it shall know unalloyed delight of being.
Possession in oneness and not loss in oneness is the secret. God
and Man, World and Beyond-world become one when they
know each other. Their division is the cause of ignorance as
ignorance is the cause of suffering.
Man seeks at first blindly and does not even know that he is
seeking his divine self; for he starts from the obscurity of material
Nature and even when he begins to see, he is long blinded by
the light that is increasing in him. God too answers obscurely to
his search; He seeks and enjoys man’s blindness like the hands
of a little child that grope after its mother.
God and Nature are like a boy and girl at play and in love. They
hide and run from each other when glimpsed so that they may
be sought after and chased and captured.
Man is God hiding himself from Nature so that he may possess her by struggle, insistence, violence and surprise. God is
universal and transcendent Man hiding himself from his own
individuality in the human being.
The animal is Man disguised in a hairy skin and upon four legs;
the worm is Man writhing and crawling towards the evolution
of his Manhood. Even crude forms of Matter are Man in his
inchoate body. All things are Man, the Purusha.
For what do we mean by Man? An uncreated and indestructible
soul that has housed itself in a mind and body made of its own
The meeting of man and God must always mean a penetration
and entry of the divine into the human and a self-immergence
of man in the Divinity.
But that immergence is not in the nature of an annihilation.
Extinction is not the fulfilment of all this search and passion,
suffering and rapture. The game would never have been begun
if that were to be its ending.
Delight is the secret. Learn of pure delight and thou shalt learn
of God.
What then was the commencement of the whole matter? Existence that multiplied itself for sheer delight of being and plunged
into numberless trillions of forms so that it might find itself
And what is the middle? Division that strives towards a multiple
unity, ignorance that labours towards a flood of varied light, pain
Thoughts and Glimpses
that travails towards the touch of an unimaginable ecstasy. For
all these things are dark figures and perverse vibrations.
And what is the end of the whole matter? As if honey could taste
itself and all its drops together and all its drops could taste each
other and each the whole honeycomb as itself, so should the end
be with God and the soul of man and the universe.
Love is the keynote, Joy is the music, Power is the strain,
Knowledge is the performer, the infinite All is the composer
and audience. We know only the preliminary discords which are
as fierce as the harmony shall be great; but we shall arrive surely
at the fugue of the divine Beatitudes.
The whole world yearns after freedom, yet each creature is in
love with his chains; this is the first paradox and inextricable
knot of our nature.
Man is in love with the bonds of birth; therefore he is caught in
the companion bonds of death. In these chains he aspires after
freedom of his being and mastery of his self-fulfilment.
Man is in love with power; therefore he is subjected to weakness.
For the world is a sea of waves of force that meet and continually
fling themselves on each other; he who would ride on the crest
of one wave, must faint under the shock of hundreds.
Man is in love with pleasure; therefore he must undergo the
yoke of grief and pain. For unmixed delight is only for the free
and passionless soul; but that which pursues after pleasure in
man is a suffering and straining energy.
Man hungers after calm, but he thirsts also for the experiences
of a restless mind and a troubled heart. Enjoyment is to his mind
a fever, calm an inertia and a monotony.
Man is in love with the limitations of his physical being, yet
he would have also the freedom of his infinite mind and his
immortal soul.
And in these contrasts something in him finds a curious attraction; they constitute for his mental being the artistry of life. It
is not only the nectar but the poison also that attracts his taste
and his curiosity.
* *
In all these things there is a meaning and for all these contradictions there is a release. Nature has a method in every madness
of her combinings and for her most inextricable knots there is a
Death is the question Nature puts continually to Life and her
reminder to it that it has not yet found itself. If there were no
siege of death, the creature would be bound for ever in the form
of an imperfect living. Pursued by death he awakes to the idea
of perfect life and seeks out its means and its possibility.
Weakness puts the same test and question to the strengths and
energies and greatnesses in which we glory. Power is the play of
life, shows its degree, finds the value of its expression; weakness
is the play of death pursuing life in its movement and stressing
the limit of its acquired energy.
Pain and grief are Nature’s reminder to the soul that the pleasure
it enjoys is only a feeble hint of the real delight of existence. In
each pain and torture of our being is the secret of a flame of
rapture compared with which our greatest pleasures are only as
dim flickerings. It is this secret which forms the attraction for
the soul of the great ordeals, sufferings and fierce experiences of
life which the nervous mind in us shuns and abhors.
The restlessness and early exhaustion of our active being and its
instruments are Nature’s sign that calm is our true foundation
Thoughts and Glimpses
and excitement a disease of the soul; the sterility and monotony
of mere calm is her hint that play of the activities on that firm
foundation is what she requires of us. God plays for ever and is
not troubled.
The limitations of the body are a mould; soul and mind have
to pour themselves into them, break them and constantly remould them in wider limits till the formula of agreement is
found between this finite and their own infinity.
Freedom is the law of being in its illimitable unity, secret master
of all Nature: servitude is the law of love in the being voluntarily
giving itself to serve the play of its other selves in the multiplicity.
It is when freedom works in chains and servitude becomes a law
of Force, not of Love, that the true nature of things is distorted
and a falsehood governs the soul’s dealings with existence.
Nature starts with this distortion and plays with all the combinations to which it can lead before she will allow it to be righted.
Afterwards she gathers up all the essence of these combinations
into a new and rich harmony of love and freedom.
Freedom comes by a unity without limits; for that is our real
being. We may gain the essence of this unity in ourselves; we
may realise the play of it in oneness with all others. The double
experience is the complete intention of the soul in Nature.
Having realised infinite unity in ourselves, then to give ourselves
to the world is utter freedom and absolute empire.
Infinite, we are free from death; for life then becomes a play of
our immortal existence. We are free from weakness; for we are
the whole sea enjoying the myriad shock of its waves. We are
free from grief and pain; for we learn how to harmonise our
being with all that touches it and to find in all things action and
reaction of the delight of existence. We are free from limitation;
for the body becomes a plaything of the infinite mind and learns
to obey the will of the immortal soul. We are free from the
fever of the nervous mind and the heart, yet are not bound to
Immortality, unity and freedom are in ourselves and await there
our discovery; but for the joy of love God in us will still remain
the Many.
Thoughts and Glimpses
Some think it presumption to believe in a special Providence or
to look upon oneself as an instrument in the hands of God, but I
find that every man has a special Providence and I see that God
uses the mattock of the labourer and babbles in the mouth of a
little child.
Providence is not only that which saves me from the shipwreck
in which everybody else has foundered. Providence is also that
which while all others are saved snatches away my last plank of
safety and drowns me in the solitary ocean.
The delight of victory is sometimes less than the attraction of
struggle and suffering; nevertheless the laurel and not the cross
should be the aim of the conquering human soul.
Souls that do not aspire are God’s failures; but Nature is pleased
and loves to multiply them because they assure her of stability
and prolong her empire.
Those who are poor, ignorant, ill-born or ill-bred are not the
common herd; the common herd are all who are satisfied with
pettiness and an average humanity.
Help men, but do not pauperise them of their energy; lead and
instruct men, but see that their initiative and originality remain
intact; take others into thyself, but give them in return the full
godhead of their nature. He who can do this is the leader and
the guru.
God has made the world a field of battle and filled it with the
trampling of combatants and the cries of a great wrestle and
struggle. Would you filch His peace without paying the price He
has fixed for it?
Thoughts and Glimpses
Distrust a perfect-seeming success, but when having succeeded
thou findest still much to do, rejoice and go forward; for the
labour is long before the real perfection.
There is no more benumbing error than to mistake a stage for
the goal or to linger too long in a resting-place.
* *
Wherever thou seest a great end, be sure of a great beginning.
Where a monstrous and painful destruction appals thy mind,
console it with the certainty of a large and great creation. God
is there not only in the still small voice, but in the fire and in the
The greater the destruction, the freer the chances of creation; but
the destruction is often long, slow and oppressive, the creation
tardy in its coming or interrupted in its triumph. The night
returns again and again and the day lingers or seems even to
have been a false dawning. Despair not therefore, but watch
and work. Those who hope violently, despair swiftly: neither
hope nor fear, but be sure of God’s purpose and thy will to
The hand of the divine Artist works often as if it were unsure of
its genius and its material. It seems to touch and test and leave,
to pick up and throw away and pick up again, to labour and fail
and botch and repiece together. Surprises and disappointments
are the order of his work before all things are ready. What
was selected, is cast away into the abyss of reprobation; what
was rejected, becomes the corner-stone of a mighty edifice. But
behind all this is the sure eye of a knowledge which surpasses
our reason and the slow smile of an infinite ability.
God has all time before him and does not need to be always in a
hurry. He is sure of his aim and success and cares not if he break
his work a hundred times to bring it nearer perfection. Patience
is our first great necessary lesson, but not the dull slowness to
Thoughts and Glimpses
move of the timid, the sceptical, the weary, the slothful, the
unambitious or the weakling; a patience full of a calm and gathering strength which watches and prepares itself for the hour of
swift great strokes, few but enough to change destiny.
Wherefore God hammers so fiercely at his world, tramples and
kneads it like dough, casts it so often into the blood-bath and the
red hell-heat of the furnace? Because humanity in the mass is still
a hard, crude and vile ore which will not otherwise be smelted
and shaped: as is his material, so is his method. Let it help to
transmute itself into nobler and purer metal, his ways with it
will be gentler and sweeter, much loftier and fairer its uses.
Wherefore he selected or made such a material, when he had
all infinite possibility to choose from? Because of his divine Idea
which saw before it not only beauty and sweetness and purity,
but also force and will and greatness. Despise not force, nor hate
it for the ugliness of some of its faces, nor think that love only
is God. All perfect perfection must have something in it of the
stuff of the hero and even of the Titan. But the greatest force is
born out of the greatest difficulty.
* *
All would change if man could once consent to be spiritualised;
but his nature mental and vital and physical is rebellious to the
higher law. He loves his imperfections.
The Spirit is the truth of our being; mind and life and body in
their imperfection are its masks, but in their perfection should
be its moulds. To be spiritual only is not enough; that prepares
a number of souls for heaven, but leaves the earth very much
where it was. Neither is a compromise the way of salvation.
The world knows three kinds of revolution. The material has
strong results, the moral and intellectual are infinitely larger in
their scope and richer in their fruits, but the spiritual are the
great sowings.
Thoughts and Glimpses
If the triple change could coincide in a perfect correspondence,
a faultless work would be done; but the mind and body of
mankind cannot hold perfectly a strong spiritual inrush: most
is spilt, much of the rest is corrupted. Many intellectual and
physical upturnings of our soil are needed to work out a little
result from a large spiritual sowing.
Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man
the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at
a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of
divine love and charity; Buddhism has shown him a noble way to
be wiser, gentler, purer, Judaism and Islam how to be religiously
faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has
opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities. A great thing would be done if all these God-visions could
embrace and cast themselves into each other; but intellectual
dogma and cult egoism stand in the way.
All religions have saved a number of souls, but none yet has
been able to spiritualise mankind. For that there is needed not
cult and creed, but a sustained and all-comprehending effort at
spiritual self-evolution.
The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral,
physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual revolution
waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and
there. Until it comes the sense of the others cannot be understood
and till then all interpretation of present happening and forecast
of man’s future are vain things. For its nature, power, event are
that which will determine the next cycle of our humanity.
HE PHILOSOPHY and thought of the Greeks is perhaps
the most intellectually stimulating, the most fruitful of
clarities the world has yet had. Indian philosophy was intuitive in its beginnings, stimulative rather to the deeper vision of
things, — nothing more exalted and profound, more revelatory
of the depths and the heights, more powerful to open unending vistas has ever been conceived than the divine and inspired
Word, the mantra of Veda and Vedanta. When that philosophy
became intellectual, precise, founded on the human reason, it
became also rigidly logical, enamoured of fixity and system,
desirous of a sort of geometry of thought. The ancient Greek
mind had instead a kind of fluid precision, a flexibly inquiring
logic; acuteness and the wide-open eye of the intellect were its
leading characteristics and by this power in it it determined
the whole character and field of subsequent European thinking.
Nor is any Greek thinker more directly stimulating than the
aphoristic philosopher Heraclitus; and yet he keeps and adds
to this more modern intellectual stimulativeness something of
the antique psychic and intuitive vision and word of the older
Mystics. The trend to rationalism is there, but not yet that fluid
clarity of the reasoning mind which was the creation of the
Professor R. D. Ranade has recently published a small treatise on the philosophy of Heraclitus. From the paging of the
treatise it seems to be an excerpt, but from what there is nothing
to tell. It is perhaps too much to hope that it is from a series of
essays on philosophers or a history of philosophy by this perfect
writer and scholar. At any rate such a work from such a hand
would be a priceless gain. For Professor Ranade possesses in a
superlative degree the rare gift of easy and yet adequate exposition; but he has more than this, for he can give a fascinating
interest to subjects like philology and philosophy which to the
ordinary reader seem harsh, dry, difficult and repellent. He joins
to a luminous clarity, lucidity and charm of expression an equal
luminousness and just clarity of presentation and that perfect
manner in both native to the Greek and French language and
mind, but rare in the English tongue. In these seventeen pages he
has presented the thought of the old enigmatic Ephesian with a
clearness and sufficiency which leaves us charmed, enlightened
and satisfied.
On one or two difficult points I am inclined to differ with
the conclusions he adopts. He rejects positively Pfleiderer’s view
of Heraclitus as a mystic, which is certainly exaggerated and, as
stated, a misconception; but it seems to me that there is behind
that misconception a certain truth. Heraclitus’ abuse of the mysteries of his time is not very conclusive in this respect; for what he
reviles is those aspects of obscure magic, physical ecstasy, sensual
excitement which the Mysteries had put on in some at least of
their final developments as the process of degeneration increased
which made a century later even the Eleusinian a butt for the
dangerous mockeries of Alcibiades and his companions. His
complaint is that the secret rites which the populace held in ignorant and superstitious reverence “unholily mysticise what are
held among men as mysteries.” He rebels against the darkness of
the Dionysian ecstasy in the approach to the secrets of Nature;
but there is a luminous Apollonian as well as an obscure and
sometimes dangerous Dionysian mysticism, a Dakshina as well
as a Vama Marga of the mystic Tantra. And though no partaker
in or supporter of any kind of rites or mummery, Heraclitus still
strikes one as at least an intellectual child of the Mystics and
of mysticism, although perhaps a rebel son in the house of his
mother. He has something of the mystic style, something of the
intuitive Apollonian inlook into the secrets of existence.
Certainly, as Mr. Ranade says, mere aphorism is not mysticism; aphorism and epigram are often enough, perhaps usually
a condensed or a pregnant effort of the intellect. But Heraclitus’
style, as Mr. Ranade himself describes it, is not only aphoristic
and epigrammatic but cryptic, and this cryptic character is not
Heraclitus – 1
merely the self-willed obscurity of an intellectual thinker affecting an excessive condensation of his thought or a too closelypacked burden of suggestiveness. It is enigmatic in the style of
the mystics, enigmatic in the manner of their thought which
sought to express the riddle of existence in the very language of
the riddle. What for instance is the “ever-living Fire” in which
he finds the primary and imperishable substance of the universe
and identifies it in succession with Zeus and with eternity? or
what should we understand by “the thunderbolt which steers
all things”? To interpret this fire as merely a material force of
heat and flame or simply a metaphor for being which is eternal
becoming is, it seems to me, to miss the character of Heraclitus’ utterances. It includes both these ideas and everything
that connects them. But then we get back at once to the Vedic
language and turn of thought; we are reminded of the Vedic
Fire which is hymned as the upbuilder of the worlds, the secret
Immortal in men and things, the periphery of the gods, Agni who
“becomes” all around the other immortals, himself becomes and
contains all the gods; we are reminded of the Vedic thunderbolt,
that electric Fire, of the Sun who is the true Light, the Eye, the
wonderful weapon of the divine pathfinders Mitra and Varuna.
It is the same cryptic form of language, the same brief and abundant method of thought even; though the conceptions are not
identical, there is a clear kinship.
The mystical language has always this disadvantage that
it readily becomes obscure, meaningless or even misleading
to those who have not the secret and to posterity a riddle.
Mr. Ranade tells us that it is impossible to make out what
Heraclitus meant when he said, “The gods are mortals, men
immortals.” But is it quite impossible if we do not cut off
this thinker from the earlier thought of the mystics? The Vedic
Rishi also invokes the Dawn, “O goddess and human”; the
gods in the Veda are constantly addressed as “men”, the same
words are traditionally applied to indicate men and immortals.
The immanence of the immortal principle in man, the descent
of the gods into the workings of mortality was almost the
fundamental idea of the mystics. Heraclitus, likewise, seems to
recognise the inextricable unity of the eternal and the transitory,
that which is for ever and yet seems to exist only in this strife
and change which is a continual dying. The gods manifest
themselves as things that continually change and perish; man
is in principle an eternal being. Heraclitus does not really deal
in barren antitheses; his method is a statement of antinomies
and an adumbrating of their reconciliation in the very terms
of opposition. Thus when he says that the name of the bow
(biós) is life (bı́os), but its work is death, obviously he intends no mere barren play upon words; he speaks of that
principle of war, father of all and king of all, which makes
cosmic existence an apparent process of life, but an actual
process of death. The Upanishads seized hold of the same truth
when they declared life to be the dominion of King Death,
described it as the opposite of immortality and even related
that all life and existence here were first created by Death for
his food.
Unless we bear in mind this pregnant and symbolic character
of Heraclitus’ language we are likely to sterilise his thought
by giving it a too literal sense. Heraclitus praises the “dry
soul” as the wisest and best, but, he says, it is a pleasure and
satisfaction to souls to become moist. This inclination of the
soul to its natural delight in a sort of wine-drenched laxity
must be discouraged; for Dionysus the wine-god and Hades,
the Lord of Death, the Lord of the dark underworld, are one
and the same deity. Professor Ranade takes this eulogy of
the dry soul as praise of the dry light of reason; he finds in
it a proof that Heraclitus was a rationalist and not a mystic: yet strangely enough he takes the parallel and opposite
expressions about the moist soul and Dionysus in a quite
different and material sense, as an ethical disapprobation of
wine-drinking. Surely, it cannot be so; Heraclitus cannot mean
by the dry soul the reason of a sober man and by a moist
soul the non-reason or bewildered reason of the drunkard;
nor when he says that Hades and Dionysus are the same,
is he simply discouraging the drinking of wine as fatal to
the health! Evidently he employs here, as always, a figurative
Heraclitus – 1
and symbolic language because he has to convey a deeper
thought for which he finds ordinary language too poor and
Heraclitus is using the old language of the Mysteries, though
in his own new way and for his own individual purpose, when
he speaks of Hades and Dionysus and the everliving Fire or of
the Furies, the succourers of Justice who will find out the Sun if
he oversteps his measure. We miss his sense, if we see in these
names of the gods only the poorer superficial meanings of the
popular mythological religion. When Heraclitus speaks of the
dry or the moist soul, it is of the soul and not the intellect that
he is thinking, psuchē and not nous. Psuchē corresponds roughly
to the cetas or citta of Indian psychology, nous to buddhi; the
dry soul of the Greek thinker to the purified heart-consciousness,
śuddha citta, of the Indian psychologists, which in their experience was the first basis for a purified intellect, viśuddha buddhi.
The moist soul is that which allows itself to be perturbed by the
impure wine of sense ecstasy, emotional excitement, an obscure
impulse and inspiration whose source is from a dark underworld. Dionysus is the god of this wine-born ecstasy, the god
of the Bacchic mysteries, — of the “walkers in the night, mages,
bacchanals, mystics”: therefore Heraclitus says that Dionysus
and Hades are one. In an opposite sense the ecstatic devotee of
the Bhakti path in India reproaches the exclusive seeker by the
way of thought-discernment with his “dry knowledge”, using
Heraclitus’ epithet, but with a pejorative and not a laudatory
To ignore the influence of the mystic thought and its methods of self-expression on the intellectual thinking of the Greeks
from Pythagoras to Plato is to falsify the historical procession
of the human mind. It was enveloped at first in the symbolic, intuitive, esoteric style and discipline of the Mystics, — Vedic and
Vedantic seers, Orphic secret teachers, Egyptian priests. From
that veil it emerged along the path of a metaphysical philosophy
still related to the Mystics by the source of its fundamental ideas,
its first aphoristic and cryptic style, its attempt to seize directly
upon truth by intellectual vision rather than arrive at it by careful
ratiocination, but nevertheless intellectual in its method and aim.
This is the first period of the Darshanas in India, in Greece of
the early intellectual thinkers. Afterwards came the full tide of
philosophic rationalism, Buddha or the Buddhists and the logical
philosophers in India, in Greece the Sophists and Socrates with
all their splendid progeny; with them the intellectual method
did not indeed begin, but came to its own and grew to its fullness. Heraclitus belongs to the transition, not to the noontide
of the reason; he is even its most characteristic representative.
Hence his cryptic style, hence his brief and burdened thought
and the difficulty we feel when we try to clarify and entirely
rationalise his significances. The ignoring of the Mystics, our
pristine fathers, pūrve pitarah., is the great defect of the modern
account of our thought-evolution.
Heraclitus – 2
HAT PRECISELY is the key-note of Heraclitus’ thinking, where has he found his starting-point, or what are
the grand lines of his philosophy? For if his thought is
not developed in the severe systematic method of later thinkers,
if it does not come down to us in large streams of subtle reasoning and opulent imagery like Plato’s but in detached aphoristic
sentences aimed like arrows at truth, still they are not really
scattered philosophical reflections. There is an inter-relation, an
inter-dependence; they all start logically from his fundamental view of existence itself and go back to it for their constant
As in Indian, so in Greek philosophy the first question for
thought was the problem of the One and the Many. We see
everywhere a multiplicity of things and beings; is it real or only
phenomenal or practical, māyā, vyavahāra? Has individual man,
for instance, — the question which concerns us most nearly, —
an essential and immortal existence of his own or is he simply
a phenomenal and transient result in the evolution or play of
some one original principle, Matter, Mind, Spirit, which is the
only real reality of existence? Does unity exist at all and, if so,
is it a unity of sum or of primordial principle, a result or an
origin, a oneness of totality or a oneness of nature or a oneness
of essence, — the various standpoints of Pluralism, of Sankhya,
of Vedanta? Or if both the One and the Many are real, what
are the relations between these two eternal principles of being,
or are they reconciled in an Absolute beyond them? These are
no barren questions of logic, no battle of cloudy metaphysical
abstractions, as the practical and sensational man would have
us contemptuously believe; for on our answer to them depends
our conception of God, of existence, of the world and of human
life and destiny.
Heraclitus, differing in this, as Mr. Ranade reminds us, from
Anaximander who like our Mayavadins denied true reality to
the Many and from Empedocles who thought the All to be
alternately one and many, believed unity and multiplicity to be
both of them real and coexistent. Existence is then eternally one
and eternally many, — even as Ramanuja and Madhwa have
concluded, though in a very different spirit and from a quite
different standpoint. Heraclitus’ view arose from his strong concrete intuition of things, his acute sense of universal realities;
for in our experience of the cosmos we do find always and
inseparably this eternal coexistence and cannot really escape
from it. Everywhere our gaze on the Many reveals to us an
eternal oneness, no matter what we fix on as the principle of
that oneness; yet is that unity inoperative except by the multiplicity of its powers and forms, nor do we anywhere see it void
of or apart from its own multiplicity. One Matter, but many
atoms, plasms, bodies; one Energy, but many forces; one Mind
or at least Mind-stuff, but many mental beings; one Spirit, but
many souls. Perhaps periodically this multiplicity goes back,
is dissolved into, is swallowed up by the One from which it
was originally evolved; but still the fact that it has evolved
and got involved again, compels us to suppose a possibility
and even a necessity of its renewed evolution: it is not then
really destroyed. The Adwaitin by his Yoga goes back to the
One, feels himself merged, believes that he has got rid of the
Many, proved perhaps their unreality; but it is the achievement of an individual, of one of the Many, and the Many go
on existing in spite of it. The achievement proves only that
there is a plane of consciousness on which the soul can realise and not merely perceive by the intellect the oneness of
the Spirit, and it proves nothing else. Therefore, on this truth
of eternal oneness and eternal multiplicity Heraclitus fixes and
anchors himself; from his firm acceptance of it, not reasoning
it away but accepting all its consequences, flows all the rest of
his philosophy.
Still, one question remains to be resolved before we can
move a step farther. Since there is an eternal One, what is that?
Heraclitus – 2
Is it Force, Mind, Matter, Soul? or, since Matter has many principles, is it some one principle of Matter which has evolved all
the rest or which by some power of its own activity has changed
into all that we see? The old Greek thinkers conceived of cosmic
Substance as possessed of four elements, omitting or not having
arrived at the fifth, Ether, in which Indian analysis found the
first and original principle. In seeking the nature of the original
substance they fixed then on one or other of these four as the
primordial Nature, one finding it in Air, another in Water, while
Heraclitus, as we have seen, describes or symbolises the source
and reality of all things as an everliving Fire. “No man or god”
he says “has created the universe, but ever there was and is and
will be the everliving Fire.”
In the Veda, in the early language of the Mystics generally,
the names of the elements or primary principles of Substance
were used with a clearly symbolic significance. The symbol of
water is thus used constantly in the Rig Veda. It is said that
in the beginning was the inconscient Ocean out of which the
One was born by the vastness of His energy; but it is clear from
the language of the hymn that no physical ocean is meant, but
rather the unformed chaos of inconscient being in which the
Divine, the Godhead lay concealed in a darkness enveloped by
greater darkness. The seven active principles of existence are
similarly spoken of as rivers or waters; we hear of the seven
rivers, the great water, the four superior rivers, in a context
which shows their symbolic significance. We see this image fixed
in the Puranic mythus of Vishnu sleeping on the serpent Infinite
in the milky ocean. But even as early as the Rig Veda, ether is
the highest symbol of the Infinite, the apeiron of the Greeks;
water is that of the same Infinite in its aspect as the original
substance; fire is the creative power, the active energy of the
Infinite; air, the life-principle, is spoken of as that which brings
down fire out of the ethereal heavens into the earth. Yet these
were not merely symbols. The Vedic Mystics held, it is clear,
a close connection and effective parallelism to exist between
psychical and physical activities, between the action of Light,
for instance, and the phenomena of mental illumination; fire
was to them at once the luminous divine energy, the Seer-Will
of the universal Godhead active and creative of all things, and
the physical principle creative of the substantial forms of the
universe, burning secretly in all life.
It is doubtful how far the earlier Greek philosophic thinkers
preserved any of these complex conceptions in their generalisations about the original principle. But Heraclitus has clearly
an idea of something more than a physical substance or energy
in his concept of the everliving Fire. Fire is to him the physical
aspect, as it were, of a great burning creative, formative and
destructive force, the sum of all whose processes is a constant
and unceasing change. The idea of the One which is eternally
becoming Many and the Many which is eternally becoming One
and of that One therefore not so much as stable substance or
essence as active Force, a sort of substantial Will-to-become, is
the foundation of Heraclitus’ philosophy.
Nietzsche, whom Mr. Ranade rightly affiliates to Heraclitus,
Nietzsche, the most vivid, concrete and suggestive of modern
thinkers, as is Heraclitus among the early Greeks, founded his
whole philosophical thought on this conception of existence as
a vast Will-to-become and of the world as a play of Force; divine
Power was to him the creative Word, the beginning of all things
and that to which life aspires. But he affirms Becoming only and
excludes Being from his view of things; hence his philosophy
is in the end unsatisfactory, insufficient, lop-sided; it stimulates,
but solves nothing. Heraclitus does not exclude Being from the
data of the problem of existence, although he will not make
any opposition or gulf between that and Becoming. By his conception of existence as at once one and many, he is bound to
accept these two aspects of his everliving Fire as simultaneously
true, true in each other; Being is an eternal becoming and yet
the Becoming resolves itself into eternal being. All is in flux, for
all is change of becoming; we cannot step into the same waters
twice, for it is other and yet other waters that are flowing on.
And yet, with his keen eye on the truth of things, preoccupied
though he was with this aspect of existence, he could not help
seeing another truth behind it. The waters into which we step,
Heraclitus – 2
are and are not the same; our own existence is an eternity and
an inconstant transience; we are and we are not. Heraclitus does
not solve the contradiction; he states it and in his own way tries
to give some account of its process.
That process he sees as a constant change and a changing
back, an exchange and an interchange in a constant whole, —
managed for the rest by a clash of forces, by a creative and
determinative strife, “war which is the father and king of all
things.” Between Fire as the Being and Fire in the Becoming existence describes a downward and upward movement — pravr.tti
and nivr.tti — which has been called the “back-returning road”
upon which all travels. These are the master ideas of the thought
of Heraclitus.
Heraclitus – 3
WO APOPHTHEGMS of Heraclitus give us the startingpoint of his whole thinking. They are his saying that it
is wisdom to admit that all things are one and his other
saying “One out of all and all out of One.” How are we to
understand these two pregnant utterances? Must we read them
into each other and conclude that for Heraclitus the One only
exists as resultant of the many even as the many only exist as
a becoming of the One? Mr. Ranade seems to think so; he tells
us that this philosophy denies Being and affirms only Becoming,
— like Nietzsche, like the Buddhists. But surely this is to read
a little too much into Heraclitus’ theory of perpetual change,
to take it too much by itself. If that was his whole belief, it is
difficult to see why he should seek for an original and eternal
principle, the everliving Fire which creates all by its perpetual
changing, governs all by its fiery force of the “thunderbolt”,
resolves all back into itself by a cyclic conflagration, difficult
to account for his theory of the upward and downward way,
difficult to concede what Mr. Ranade contends, that Heraclitus
did hold the theory of a cosmic conflagration or to imagine what
could be the result of such a cosmic catastrophe. To reduce all
becoming into Nothing? Surely not; Heraclitus’ thought is at
the very antipodes from speculative Nihilism. Into another kind
of becoming? Obviously not, since by an absolute conflagration
existing things can only be reduced into their eternal principle
of being, into Agni, back into the immortal Fire. Something
that is eternal, that is itself eternity, something that is for ever
one, — for the cosmos is eternally one and many and does not
by becoming cease to be one, — something that is God (Zeus),
something that can be imaged as Fire which, if an ever-active
force, is yet a substance or at least a substantial force and not
merely an abstract Will-to-become, — something out of which
Heraclitus – 3
all cosmic becoming arises and into which it returns, what is this
but eternal Being?
Heraclitus was greatly preoccupied with his idea of eternal
becoming, for him the one right account of the cosmos, but his
cosmos has still an eternal basis, a unique original principle.
That distinguishes his thought radically from Nietzsche’s or the
Buddhists’. The later Greeks derived from him the idea of the
perpetual stream of things, “All things are in flux.” The idea
of the universe as constant motion and unceasing change was
always before him, and yet behind and in it all he saw too
a constant principle of determination and even a mysterious
principle of identity. Every day, he says, it is a new sun that
rises; yes, but if the sun is always new, exists only by change
from moment to moment, like all things in Nature, still it is the
same everliving Fire that rises with each Dawn in the shape of
the sun. We can never step again into the same stream, for ever
other and other waters are flowing; and yet, says Heraclitus, “we
do and we do not enter into the same waters, we are and we
are not.” The sense is clear; there is an identity in things, in all
existences, sarvabhūtāni, as well as a constant changing; there
is a Being as well as a Becoming and by that we have an eternal
and real existence as well as a temporary and apparent, are not
merely a constant mutation but a constant identical existence.
Zeus exists, a sempiternal active Fire and eternal Word, a One
by which all things are unified, all laws and results perpetually
determined, all measures unalterably maintained. Day and Night
are one, Death and Life are one, Youth and Age are one, Good
and Evil are one, because that is One and all these are only its
various shapes and appearances.
Heraclitus would not have accepted a purely psychological
principle of Self as the origin of things, but in essence he is
not very far from the Vedantic position. The Buddhists of the
Nihilistic school used in their own way the image of the stream
and the image of the fire. They saw, as Heraclitus saw, that
nothing in the world is for two moments the same even in the
most insistent continuity of forms. The flame maintains itself
unchanged in appearance, but every moment it is another and
not the same fire; the stream is sustained in its flow by ever
new waters. From this they drew the conclusion that there is no
essence of things, nothing self-existent; the apparent becoming is
all that we can call existence, behind it there is eternal Nothing,
the absolute Void, or perhaps an original Non-Being. Heraclitus
saw, on the contrary, that if the form of the flame only exists by
a constant change, a constant exchange rather of the substance
of the wick into the substance of the fiery tongue, yet there
must be a principle of their existence common to them which
thus converts itself from one form into another; — even if the
substance of the flame is always changing, the principle of Fire is
always the same and produces always the same results of energy,
maintains always the same measures.
The Upanishad too describes the cosmos as a universal motion and becoming; it is all this that is mobile in the mobility,
jagatyāṁ jagat, — the very word for universe, jagat, having the
radical sense of motion, so that the whole universe, the macrocosm, is one vast principle of motion and therefore of change
and instability, while each thing in the universe is in itself a microcosm of the same motion and instability. Existences are “all
becomings”; the Self-existent Atman, Swayambhu, has become
all becomings, ātmā eva abhūt sarvān.i bhūtāni. The relation
between God and World is summed up in the phrase, “It is He
that has moved out everywhere, sa paryagāt”; He is the Lord,
the Seer and Thinker, who becoming everywhere — Heraclitus’
Logos, his Zeus, his One out of which come all things — “has
fixed all things rightly according to their nature from years sempiternal”, — Heraclitus’ “All things are fixed and determined.”
Substitute his Fire for the Vedantic Atman and there is nothing
in the expressions of the Upanishad which the Greek thinker
would not have accepted as another figure of his own thought.
And do not the Upanishads use among other images this very
symbol of the Fire? “As one Fire has entered into the world and
taken shapes according to the various forms in the world,” so
the one Being has become all these names and forms and yet
remains the One. Heraclitus tells us precisely the same thing;
God is all contraries, “He takes various shapes just as fire, when
Heraclitus – 3
it is mingled with spices, is named according to the savour of
each.” Each one names Him according to his pleasure, says the
Greek seer, and He accepts all names and yet accepts none, not
even the highest name of Zeus. “He consents and yet at the
same time does not consent to be called by the name of Zeus.”
So too said Indian Dirghatamas of old in his long hymn of the
divine Mysteries in the Rig Veda, “One existent the sages call
by many names.” Though He assumes all these forms, says the
Upanishad, He has no form that the vision can seize, He whose
name is a mighty splendour. We see again how close are the
thoughts of the Greek and very often even his expressions and
images to the sense and style of the Vedic and Vedantic sages.
We must put each of Heraclitus’ apophthegms into its right
place if we would understand his thought. “It is wise to admit
that all things are one,” — not merely, be it noted, that they came
from oneness and will go back to oneness, but that they are one,
now and always, — all is, was and ever will be the everliving Fire.
All seems to our experience to be many, an eternal becoming of
manifold existences; where is there in it any principle of eternal
identity? True, says Heraclitus, so it seems; but wisdom looks
beyond and does see the identity of all things; Night and Day,
Life and Death, the good and the evil, all are one, the eternal,
the identical; those who see only a difference in objects, do not
know the truth of the objects they observe. “Hesiod did not
know day and night; for it is the One,” — esti gar hen, asti
hi ekam. Now, an eternal and identical which all things are, is
precisely what we mean by Being; it is precisely what is denied by
those who see only Becoming. The Nihilistic Buddhists1 insisted
that there were only so many ideas, vijñānāni, and impermanent
forms which were but the combination of parts and elements:
no oneness, no identity anywhere; get beyond ideas and forms,
you get to self-extinction, to the Void, to Nothing. Yet one must
posit a principle of unity somewhere, if not at the base or in
the secret being of things, yet in their action. The Buddhists had
Buddha himself remained silent on this question; his goal of Nirvana was a negation
of phenomenal existence, but not necessarily a denial of any kind of existence.
to posit their universal principle of Karma which, when you
think of it, comes after all to a universal energy as the cause
of the world, a creator and preserver of unchanging measures.
Nietzsche denied Being, but had to speak of a universal Will-tobe; which again, when you come to think of it, seems to be no
more than a translation of the Upanishadic tapo brahma, “WillEnergy is Brahman.” The later Sankhya denied the unity of
conscious existences, but asserted the unity of Nature, Prakriti,
which is again at once the original principle and substance of
things and the creative energy, the phusis of the Greeks. It is
indeed wise to agree that all things are one; for vision drives at
that, the soul and the heart reach out to that, thought comes
circling round to it in the very act of denial.
Heraclitus saw what all must see who look at the world
with any attention, that there is something in all this motion
and change and differentiation which insists on stability, which
goes back to sameness, which assures unity, which triumphs into
eternity. It has always the same measures; it is, was and ever will
be. We are the same in spite of all our differences; we start
from the same origin, proceed by the same universal laws, live,
differ and strive in the bosom of an eternal oneness, are seeking
always for that which binds all beings together and makes all
things one. Each sees it in his own way, lays stress on this or that
aspect of it, loses sight of or diminishes other aspects, gives it
therefore a different name — even as Heraclitus, attracted by its
aspect of creative and destructive Force, gave it the name of Fire.
But when he generalises, he puts it widely enough; it is the One
that is All, it is the All that is One, — Zeus, eternity, the Fire. He
could have said with the Upanishad, “All this is the Brahman”,
sarvaṁ khalu idaṁ brahma, though he could not have gone on
and said, “This Self is the Brahman”, but would have declared
rather of Agni what a Vedantic formula says of Vayu, tvaṁ
pratyaks.aṁ brahmāsi, “Thou art manifest Brahman.”
But we may admit the One in different ways. The Adwaitins
affirmed the One, the Being, but put away “all things” as Maya,
or they recognised the immanence of the Being in these becomings which are yet not-Self, not That. Vaishnava philosophy saw
Heraclitus – 3
existence as eternally one in the Being, God, eternally many by
His nature or conscious-energy in the souls whom He becomes
or who exist in her. In Greece also Anaximander denied the
multiple reality of the Becoming. Empedocles affirmed that the
All is eternally one and many; all is one which becomes many
and then again goes back to oneness. But Heraclitus will not so
cut the knot of the riddle. “No,” he says in effect, “I hold to my
idea of the eternal oneness of all things; never do they cease to
be one. It is all my everliving Fire that takes various shapes and
names, changes itself into all that is and yet remains itself, not at
all by any illusion or mere appearance of becoming, but with a
severe and positive reality.” All things then are in their reality and
substance and law and reason of their being the One; the One in
its shapes, values, changings becomes really all things. It changes
and is yet immutable: for it does not increase or diminish, nor
does it lose for a moment its eternal nature and identity which is
that of the everliving Fire. Many values which reduce themselves
to the same standard and judge of all values; many forces which
go back to the same unalterable energy; many becomings which
both represent and amount to one identical Being.
Here Heraclitus brings in his formula of “One out of all
and all out of One”, which is his account of the process of the
cosmos just as his formula “All things are one” is his account of
the eternal truth of the cosmos. One, he says, in the process of the
cosmos is always becoming all things from moment to moment,
hence the eternal flux of things; but all things also are eternally
going back to their principle of oneness; hence the unity of the
cosmos, the sameness behind the flux of becoming, the stability
of measures, the conservation of energy in all changes. This he
explains farther by his theory of change as in its character a
constant exchange. But is there then no end to this simultaneous
upward and downward motion of things? As the downward has
so far prevailed as to create the cosmos, will not the upward too
prevail so as to dissolve it back into the everliving Fire? Here we
come to the question whether Heraclitus did or did not hold the
theory of a periodic conflagration or pralaya. “Fire will come on
all things and judge and convict them.” If he held it, then we have
again another striking coincidence of Heraclitus’ thought with
our familiar Indian notions, the periodic pralaya, the Puranic
conflagration of the world by the appearance of the twelve suns,
the Vedantic theory of the eternal cycles of manifestation and
withdrawal from manifestation. In fact, both the lines of thought
are essentially the same and had to arrive inevitably at the same
Heraclitus – 4
ERACLITUS’ account of the cosmos is an evolution and
involution out of his one eternal principle of Fire, — at
once the one substance and the one force, — which he
expresses in his figurative language as the upward and downward road. “The road up and down” he says “is one and the
same.” Out of Fire, the radiant and energetic principle, air,
water and earth proceed, — that is the procession of energy
on its downward road; there is equally in the very tension of
this process a force of potential return which would lead things
backward to their source in the reverse order. In the balance
of these two upward and downward forces resides the whole
cosmic action; everything is a poise of contrary energies. The
movement of life is like the back-returning of the bow, to which
he compares it, an energy of traction and tension restraining
an energy of release, every force of action compensated by a
corresponding force of reaction. By the resistance of one to the
other all the harmonies of existence are created.
We have the same idea of an evolution of successive conditions of energy out of a primal substance-force in the Indian
theory of Sankhya. There indeed the system proposed is more
complete and satisfying. It starts with the original or root energy,
mūla prakr.ti, which as the first substance, pradhāna, evolves by
development and change into five successive principles. Ether,
not fire, is the first principle, ignored by the Greeks, but rediscovered by modern Science;1 there follow air, fire, the igneous,
radiant and electric energy, water, earth, the fluid and solid. The
Sankhya, like Anaximenes, puts Air first of the four principles
admitted by the Greeks, though it does not like him make it
the original substance, and it thus differs from the order of
Now again rejected, though that does not seem to be indubitable or final.
Heraclitus. But it gives to the principle of fire the function of
creating all forms, — as Agni in the Veda is the great builder of
the worlds, — and here at least it meets his thought; for it is as
the energetic principle behind all formation and mutation that
Heraclitus must have chosen Fire as his symbol and material
representative of the One. We may remember in this connection
how far modern Science has gone to justify these old thinkers
by the importance it gives to electricity and radio-active forces
— Heraclitus’ fire and thunderbolt, the Indian triple Agni — in
the formation of atoms and in the transmutation of energy.
But the Greeks failed to go forward to that final discrimination which India attributed to Kapila, the supreme analytical
thinker, — the discrimination between Prakriti and her cosmic
principles, her twenty-four tattwas forming the subjective and
objective aspects of Nature, and between Prakriti and Purusha,
Conscious-Soul and Nature-Energy. Therefore while in the
Sankhya ether, fire and the rest are only principles of the objective evolution of Prakriti, evolutionary aspects of the original
phusis, the early Greeks could not get back beyond these aspects
of Nature to the idea of a pure energy, nor could they at all
account for her subjective side. The Fire of Heraclitus has to do
duty at once for the original substance of all Matter and for God
and Eternity. This preoccupation with Nature-Energy and the
failure to fathom its relations with Soul has persisted in modern
scientific thought, and we find there too the same attempt to
identify some primary principle of Nature, ether or electricity,
with the original Force.
However that may be, the theory of the creation of the
world by some kind of evolutionary change out of the original substance or energy, by parin.āma, is common to the early
Greek and the Indian systems, however they may differ about
the nature of the original phusis. The distinction of Heraclitus
among the early Greek sages is his conception of the upward
and downward road, one and the same in the descent and the
return. It corresponds to the Indian idea of nivr.tti and pravr.tti,
the double movement of the Soul and Nature, — pravr.tti, the
moving out and forward, nivr.tti, the moving back and in. The
Heraclitus – 4
Indian thinkers were preoccupied with this double principle so
far as it touches the action of the individual soul entering into
the procession of Nature and drawing back from it; but still they
saw a similar, a periodic movement forward and back of Nature itself which leads to an ever-repeated cycle of creation and
dissolution; they held the idea of a periodic pralaya. Heraclitus’
theory would seem to demand a similar conclusion. Otherwise
we must suppose that the downward tendency, once in action,
has always the upper hand over the upward or that cosmos is
eternally proceeding out of the original substance and eternally
returning to it, but never actually returns. The Many are then
eternal not only in power of manifestation, but in actual fact of
It is possible that Heraclitus may so have thought, but it
is not the logical conclusion of his theory; it contradicts the
evident suggestion of his metaphor about the road which implies a starting-point and a point of return; and we have too
the distinct statement of the Stoics that he believed in the theory
of conflagration, — an assertion which they are hardly likely
to have made if this were not generally accepted as his teaching. The modern arguments against enumerated by Mr. Ranade
are founded upon misconceptions. Heraclitus’ affirmation is not
simply that the One is always Many, the Many always One, but
in his own words, “out of all the One and out of One all.” Plato’s
phrasing of the thought, “the reality is both many and one and in
its division it is always being brought together,” states the same
idea in different language. It means a constant current and backcurrent of change, the upward and downward road, and we may
suppose that as the One by downward change becomes completely the All in the descending process, yet remains eternally
the one everliving Fire, so the All by upward change may resort
completely to the One and yet essentially exist, since it can again
return into various being by the repetition of the downward
movement. All difficulty disappears if we remember that what
is implied is a process of evolution and involution, — so too the
Indian word for creation, sr.s.t.i, means a release or bringing forth
of what is held in, latent, — and that the conflagration destroys
existing forms, but not the principle of multiplicity. There will
be then no inconsistency at all in Heraclitus’ theory of a periodic
conflagration; it is rather, that being the highest expression of
change, the complete logic of his system.
Heraclitus – 5
F IT is the law of Change that determines the evolution
and involution of the one downward and upward road, the
same law prevails all along the path, through all its steps
and returns, in all the million transactions of the wayside. There
is everywhere the law of exchange and interchange, amoibē.
The unity and the multiplicity have at every moment this active
relation to each other. The One is constantly exchanging itself
for the many; that gold has been given, you have instead these
commodities, but in fact they are only so much value of the
gold. The many are constantly exchanging themselves for the
One; these commodities are given, disappear, are destroyed, we
say, but in their place there is the gold, the original substanceenergy to the value of the commodities. You see the sun and
you think it is the same sun always, but really it is a new
sun that rises each day; for it is the Fire’s constant giving of
itself in exchange for the elemental commodities that compose
the sun which preserves its form, its energy, its movement, all
its measures. Science shows us that this is true of all things,
of the human body, for instance; it is always the same, but it
preserves its apparent identity only by a constant change. There
is a constant destruction, yet there is no destruction. Energy
distributes itself, but never really dissipates itself; change and
unalterable conservation of energy in the change are the law,
not destruction. If this world of multiplicity is destroyed in the
end by Fire, yet there is no end and it is not destroyed, but only
exchanged for the Fire. Moreover, there is exchange between
all these becomings which are only so many active values of
the Being, commodities that are a fixed value and measure of
the universal gold. Fire takes of its substance from one form and
gives to another, changes one apparent value of its substance into
another apparent value, but the substance-energy remains the
same and the new value is the equivalent of the old, — as when
it turns fuel into smoke and cinders and ashes. Modern Science
with a more accurate knowledge of what actually happens in
this change, yet confirms Heraclitus’ conclusion. It is the law of
the conservation of energy.
Practically, the active secret of life is there; all life physical or
mental or merely dynamic maintains itself by constant change
and interchange. Still, Heraclitus’ account is so far not altogether
satisfactory. The measure, the value of the energy exchanged remains unaltered even when the form is altered, but why should
also the cosmic commodities we have for the universal gold be
fixed and in a way unchanging? What is the explanation, how
comes about this eternity of principles and elements and kinds
of combination and this persistence and recurrence of the same
forms which we observe in the cosmos? Why in this constant
cosmic flux should everything after all remain the same? Why
should the sun, though always new, be yet for all practical purposes the same sun? Why should the stream be, as Heraclitus
himself admits, the same stream although it is ever other and
other waters that are flowing? It was in this connection that
Plato brought in his eternal, ideal plane of fixed ideas, by which
he seems to have meant at once an originating real-idea and
an original ideal schema for all things. An idealistic philosophy
of the Indian type might say that this force, the Shakti which
you call Fire, is a consciousness which preserves by its energy
its original scheme of ideas and corresponding forms of things.
But Heraclitus gives us another account, not quite satisfactory,
yet profound and full of suggestive truth; it is contained in his
striking phrases about war and justice and tension and the Furies
pursuing the transgressor of measures. He is the first thinker to
see the world entirely in the terms of Power.
What is the nature of this exchange? It is strife, eris, it is
war, polemos! What is the rule and result of the war? It is justice.
How acts that justice? By a just tension and compensation of
forces which produce the harmony of things and therefore, we
presume, their stability. “War is the father of all and the king of
all”; “All things becoming according to strife”; “To know that
Heraclitus – 5
strife is justice”; these are his master apophthegms in this matter.
At first we do not see why exchange should be strife; it would
seem rather to be commerce. Strife there is, but why should
there not also be peaceful and willing interchange? Heraclitus
will have none of it; no peace! he would agree with the modern
Teuton that commerce itself is a department of War. It is true
there is a commerce, gold for commodities, commodities for
gold, but the commerce itself and all its circumstances are governed by a forceful, more, a violent compulsion of the universal
Fire. That is what he means by the Furies pursuing the sun;
“for fear of Him” says the Upanishad “the wind blows . . . and
death runs.” And between all beings there is a constant trial of
strength; by that warfare they come into being, by that their
measures are maintained. We see that he is right; he has caught
the initial aspect of cosmic Nature. Everything here is a clash of
forces and by that clash and struggle and clinging and wrestling
things not only come into being, but are maintained in being.
Karma? Laws? But different laws meet and compete and by
their tension the balance of the world is maintained. Karma? It
is the forcible justice of an eternal compelling Power and it is
the Furies pursuing us if we transgress our measures.
War, contends Heraclitus, is not mere injustice, chaotic violence; it is justice, although a violent justice, the only kind
possible. Again, from that point of view, we see that he is right.
By the energy expended and its value shall the fruits be determined, and where two forces meet, expenditure of energy
means a trial of strength. Shall not then the rewards be to the
strong according to his strength and to the weak according to his
weakness? So it is at least in the world, the primal law, although
subject to the help of the weak by the strong which need not
after all be an injustice or a violation of measures, in spite of
Nietzsche and Heraclitus. And is there not after all sometimes
a tremendous strength behind weakness, the very strength of
the pressure on the oppressed which brings its terrible reaction,
the back return of the bow, Zeus, the eternal Fire, observing his
Not only between being and being, force and force is there
war, but within each there is an eternal opposition, a tension
of contraries, and it is this tension which creates the balance
necessary to harmony. Harmony then there is, for cosmos itself
is in its result a harmony; but it is so because in its process
it is war, tension, opposition, a balance of eternal contraries.
Real peace there cannot be, unless by peace you mean a stable
tension, a balance of power between hostile forces, a sort of
mutual neutralisation of excesses. Peace cannot create, cannot
maintain anything, and Homer’s prayer that war might perish
from among Gods and men is a monstrous absurdity, for that
would mean the end of the world. A periodic end there may
be, not by peace or reconciliation, but by conflagration, by an
attack of Fire, to pur epelthon, a fiery judgment and conviction.
Force created the world, Force is the world, Force by its violence
maintains the world, Force shall end the world, — and eternally
re-create it.
Heraclitus – 6
ERACLITUS is the first and the most consistent teacher
of the law of relativity; it is the logical result of his
primary philosophical concepts. Since all is one in its
being and many in its becoming, it follows that everything must
be one in its essence. Night and day, life and death, good and
evil can only be different aspects of the same absolute reality.
Life and death are in fact one, and we may say from different
points of view that all death is only a process and change of
life or that all life is only an activity of death. Really both are
one energy whose activity presents to us a duality of aspects.
From one point of view we are not, for our existence is only a
constant mutation of energy; from another we are, because the
being in us is always the same and sustains our secret identity.
So too, we can only speak of a thing as good or evil, just or
unjust, beautiful or ugly from a purely relative point of view,
because we adopt a particular standpoint or have in view some
practical end or temporarily valid relation. He gives the example
of “the sea, water purest and impurest”, their fine element to
the fish, abominable and undrinkable to man. And does not this
apply to all things? — they are the same always in reality and
assume their qualities and properties because of our standingpoint in the universe of becoming, the nature of our seeing and
the texture of our minds. All things circle back to the eternal
unity and in their beginning and end are the same; it is only in
the arc of becoming that they vary in themselves and from each
other, and there they have no absoluteness to each other. Night
and day are the same; it is only the nature of our vision and
our standing-point on the earth and our relations of earth and
sun that create the difference. What is day to us, is to others
Because of this insistence on the relativity of good and evil,
Heraclitus is thought to have enunciated some kind of supermoralism; but it is well to see carefully to what this supermoralism of Heraclitus really amounts. Heraclitus does not deny the
existence of an absolute; but for him the absolute is to be found
in the One, in the Divine, — not the gods, but the one supreme
Divinity, the Fire. It has been objected that he attributes relativity
to God, because he says that the first principle is willing and yet
not willing to be called by the name of Zeus. But surely this
is to misunderstand him altogether. The name Zeus expresses
only the relative human idea of the Godhead; therefore while
God accepts the name, He is not bound or limited by it. All our
concepts of Him are partial and relative; “He is named according
to the pleasure of each.” This is nothing more nor less than the
truth proclaimed by the Vedas, “One existent the sages call by
many names.” Brahman is willing to be called Vishnu, and yet
he is not willing, because he is also Brahma and Maheshwara
and all the gods and the world and all principles and all that is,
and yet not any of these things, neti neti. As men approach him,
so he accepts them. But the One to Heraclitus as to the Vedantin
is absolute.
This is quite clear from all his sayings; day and night, good
and evil are one, because they are the One in their essence and in
the One the distinctions we make between them disappear. There
is a Word, a Reason in all things, a Logos, and that Reason is
one; only men by the relativeness of their mentality turn it each
into his personal thought and way of looking at things and live
according to this variable relativity. It follows that there is an
absolute, a divine way of looking at things. “To God all things
are good and just, but men hold some things to be good, others
unjust.” There is then an absolute good, an absolute beauty, an
absolute justice of which all things are the relative expression.
There is a divine order in the world; each thing fulfils its nature
according to its place in the order and in its place and symmetry
in the one Reason of things is good, just and beautiful precisely
because it fulfils that Reason according to the eternal measures.
To take an example, the world war may be regarded as an evil
by some, a sheer horror of carnage, to others because of the new
Heraclitus – 6
possibilities it opens to mankind, it may seem a good. It is at
once good and evil. But that is the relative view; in its entirety,
in its fulfilment in each and all of its circumstances of a divine
purpose, a divine justice, a divine force executing itself in the
large reason of things, it is from the absolute point of view good
and just — to God, not to man.
Does it follow that the relative view-point has no validity
at all? Not for a moment. On the contrary, it must be the expression, proper to each mentality according to the necessity
of its nature and standpoint, of the divine Law. Heraclitus says
that plainly; “Fed are all human laws by one, the divine.” That
sentence ought to be quite sufficient to protect Heraclitus against
the charge of antinomianism. True, no human law is the absolute expression of the divine justice, but it draws its validity, its
sanction from that and is valid for its purpose, in its place, in its
proper time, has its relative necessity. Even though men’s notions
of good and justice vary in the mutations of the becoming, yet
human good and justice persist in the stream of things, preserve
a measure. Heraclitus admits relative standards, but as a thinker
he is obliged to go beyond them. All is at once one and many,
an absolute and a relative, and all the relations of the many are
relativities, yet are fed by, go back to, persist by that in them
which is absolute.
Heraclitus – 7
HE IDEAS of Heraclitus on which I have so far laid stress,
are general, philosophical, metaphysical; they glance
at those first truths of existence, devānāṁ prathamā
vratāni,1 for which philosophy first seeks because they are the
key to all other truths. But what is their practical effect on
human life and aspiration? For that is in the end the real value
of philosophy for man, to give him light on the nature of his
being, the principles of his psychology, his relations with the
world and with God, the fixed lines or the great possibilities of
his destiny. It is the weakness of most European philosophy —
not the ancient — that it lives too much in the clouds and seeks
after pure metaphysical truth too exclusively for its own sake;
therefore it has been a little barren because much too indirect in
its bearing on life. It is the great distinction of Nietzsche among
later European thinkers to have brought back something of the
old dynamism and practical force into philosophy, although
in the stress of this tendency he may have neglected unduly
the dialectical and metaphysical side of philosophical thinking.
No doubt, in seeking Truth we must seek it for its own sake
first and not start with any preconceived practical aim and
prepossession which would distort our disinterested view of
things; but when Truth has been found, its bearing on life
becomes of capital importance and is the solid justification of
the labour spent in our research. Indian philosophy has always
understood its double function; it has sought the Truth not
only as an intellectual pleasure or the natural dharma of the
reason, but in order to know how man may live by the Truth
or strive after it; hence its intimate influence on the religion, the
social ideas, the daily life of the people, its immense dynamic
The first laws of working of the Gods.
Heraclitus – 7
power on the mind and actions of Indian humanity. The Greek
thinkers, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, the Stoics and Epicureans,
had also this practical aim and dynamic force, but it acted
only on the cultured few. That was because Greek philosophy,
losing its ancient affiliation to the Mystics, separated itself from
the popular religion; but as ordinarily Philosophy alone can
give light to Religion and save it from crudeness, ignorance
and superstition, so Religion alone can give, except for a few,
spiritual passion and effective power to Philosophy and save
it from becoming unsubstantial, abstract and sterile. It is a
misfortune for both when the divine sisters part company.
But when we seek among Heraclitus’ sayings for the human
application of his great fundamental thoughts, we are disappointed. He gives us little direct guidance and on the whole
leaves us to draw our own profit from the packed opulence of
his first ideas. What may be called his aristocratic view of life,
we might regard possibly as a moral result of his philosophical
conception of Power as the nature of the original principle. He
tells us that the many are bad, the few good and that one is to
him equal to thousands, if he be the best. Power of knowledge,
power of character, — character, he says, is man’s divine force,
— power and excellence generally are the things that prevail
in human life and are supremely valuable, and these things in
their high and pure degree are rare among men, they are the
difficult attainment of the few. From that, true enough so far
as it goes, we might deduce a social and political philosophy.
But the democrat might well answer that if there is an eminent
and concentrated virtue, knowledge and force in the one or the
few, so too there is a diffused virtue, knowledge and force in
the many which acting collectively may outweigh and exceed
isolated or rare excellences. If the king, the sage, the best are
Vishnu himself, as old Indian thought also affirmed, to a degree
to which the ordinary man, prā janah., cannot pretend, so
also are “the five”, the group, the people. The Divine is samas.t.i
as well as vyas.t.i, manifested in the collectivity as well as in the
individual, and the justice on which Heraclitus insists demands
that both should have their effect and their value; they depend
indeed and draw on each other for the effectuation of their
Other sayings of Heraclitus are interesting enough, as when
he affirms the divine element in human laws, — and that is also a
profound and fruitful sentence. His views on the popular religion
are interesting, but move on the surface and do not carry us very
far even on the surface. He rejects with a violent contempt the
current degradation of the old mystic formulas and turns from
them to the true mysteries, those of Nature and of our being, that
Nature which, as he says, loves to be hidden, is full of mysteries,
ever occult. It is a sign that the lore of the early Mystics had been
lost, the spiritual sense had departed out of their symbols, even
as in Vedic India; but there took place in Greece no new and
powerful movement which could, as in India, replace them by
new symbols, new and more philosophic restatements of their
hidden truths, new disciplines, schools of Yoga. Attempts, such
as that of Pythagoras, were made; but Greece at large followed
the turn given by Heraclitus, developed the cult of the reason
and left the remnants of the old occult religion to become a
solemn superstition and a conventional pomp.
Doubly interesting is his condemnation of animal sacrifice;
it is, he says, a vain attempt at purification by defilement of
oneself with blood, as if we were to cleanse mud-stained feet
with mud. Here we see the same trend of revolt against an
ancient and universal religious practice as that which destroyed
in India the sacrificial system of the Vedic religion, — although
Buddha’s great impulse of compassion was absent from the
mind of Heraclitus: pity could never have become a powerful
motive among the old Mediterranean races. But the language
of Heraclitus shows us that the ancient system of sacrifice in
Greece and in India was not a mere barbaric propitiation of
savage deities, as modern inquiry has falsely concluded; it had
a psychological significance, purification of the soul as well as
propitiation of higher and helpful powers, and was therefore in
all probability mystic and symbolical; for purification was, as
we know, one of the master ideas of the ancient Mysteries. In
India of the Gita, in the development of Judaism by the prophets
Heraclitus – 7
and by Jesus, while the old physical symbols were discouraged
and especially the blood-rite, the psychological idea of sacrifice
was saved, emphasised and equipped with subtler symbols, such
as the Christian Eucharist and the offerings of the devout in the
Shaiva or Vaishnava temples. But Greece with its rational bent
and its insufficient religious sense was unable to save its religion;
it tended towards that sharp division between philosophy and
science on one side and religion on the other which has been
so peculiar a characteristic of the European mind. Here too
Heraclitus was, as in so many other directions, a forerunner, an
indicator of the natural bent of occidental thought.
Equally striking is his condemnation of idol-worship, one
of the earliest in human history, — “he who prays to an image
is chattering to a stone wall.” The intolerant violence of this
protestant rationalism and positivism makes Heraclitus again
a precursor of a whole movement of the human mind. It is
not indeed a religious protest such as that of Mahomed against
the naturalistic, Pagan and idolatrous polytheism of the Arabs
or of the Protestants against the aesthetic and emotional saintworship of the Catholic Church, its Mariolatry and use of images
and elaborate ritual; its motive is philosophic, rational, psychological. Heraclitus was not indeed a pure rationalist. He believes
in the Gods, but as psychological presences, cosmic powers, and
he is too impatient of the grossness of the physical image, its hold
on the senses, its obscuration of the psychological significance
of the godheads to see that it is not to the stone, but to the
divine person figured in the stone that the prayer is offered.
It is noticeable that in his conception of the gods he is kin to
the old Vedic seers, though not at all a religious mystic in his
temperament. The Vedic religion seems to have excluded physical images and it was the protestant movements of Jainism and
Buddhism which either introduced or at least popularised and
made general the worship of images in India. Here too Heraclitus
prepares the way for the destruction of the old religion, the reign
of pure philosophy and reason and the void which was filled up
by Christianity; for man cannot live by reason alone. When
it was too late, some attempt was made to re-spiritualise the
old religion, and there was the remarkable effort of Julian and
Libanius to set up a regenerated Paganism against triumphant
Christianity; but the attempt was too unsubstantial, too purely
philosophic, empty of the dynamic power of the religious spirit.
Europe had killed its old creeds beyond revival and had to turn
for its religion to Asia.
Thus, for the general life of man Heraclitus has nothing to
give us beyond his hint of an aristocratic principle in society
and politics, — and we may note that this aristocratic bent was
very strong in almost all the subsequent Greek philosophers.
In religion his influence tended to the destruction of the old
creed without effectively putting anything more profound in
its place; though not himself a pure rationalist, he prepared
the way for philosophic rationalism. But even without religion philosophy by itself can give us at least some light on
the spiritual destiny of man, some hope of the infinite, some
ideal perfection after which we can strive. Plato who was influenced by Heraclitus, tried to do this for us; his thought
sought after God, tried to seize the ideal, had its hope of a
perfect human society. We know how the Neo-platonists developed his ideas under the influence of the East and how they
affected Christianity. The Stoics, still more directly the intellectual descendants of Heraclitus, arrived at very remarkable
and fruitful ideas of human possibility and a powerful psychological discipline, — as we should say in India, a Yoga, — by
which they hoped to realise their ideal. But what has Heraclitus
himself to give us? Nothing directly; we have to gather for ourselves whatever we can from his first principles and his cryptic
Heraclitus was regarded in ancient times as a pessimistic
thinker and we have one or two sayings of his from which we
can, if we like, deduce the old vain gospel of the vanity of things.
Time, he says, is playing draughts like a child, amusing itself with
counters, building castles on the sea-shore only to throw them
down again. If that is the last word, then all human effort and
aspiration are vain. But on what primary philosophical conception does this discouraging sentence depend? Everything turns
Heraclitus – 7
on that; for in itself this is no more than an assertion of a selfevident fact, the mutability of things and the recurrent transiency
of forms. But if the principles which express themselves in forms
are eternal or if there is a Spirit in things which finds its account
in the mutations and evolutions of Time and if that Spirit dwells
in the human being as the immortal and infinite power of his
soul, then no conclusion of the vanity of the world or the vanity
of human existence arises. If indeed the original and eternal
principle of Fire is a purely physical substance or force, then,
truly, since all the great play and effort of consciousness in us
must sink and dissolve into that, there can be no permanent
spiritual value in our being, much less in our works. But we
have seen that Heraclitus’ Fire cannot be a purely physical or
inconscient principle. Does he then mean that all our existence
is merely a continual changeable Becoming, a play or Lila with
no purpose in it except the playing and no end except the conviction of the vanity of all cosmic activity by its relapse into the
indistinguishable unity of the original principle or substance?
For even if that principle, the One to which the many return, be
not merely physical or not really physical at all, but spiritual,
we may still, like the Mayavadins, affirm the vanity of the world
and of our human existence, precisely because the one is not
eternal and the other has no eventual aim except its own selfabolition after the conviction of the vanity and unreality of all its
temporal interests and purposes. Is the conviction of the world
by the one absolute Fire such a conviction of the vanity of all
the temporal and relative values of the Many?
That is one sense in which we can understand the thought
of Heraclitus. His idea of all things as born of war and existing by strife might, if it stood by itself, lead us to adopt,
even if he himself did not clearly arrive at, that conclusion. For
if all is a continual struggle of forces, its best aspect only a
violent justice and the highest harmony only a tension of opposites without any hope of a divine reconciliation, its end a
conviction and destruction by eternal Fire, all our ideal hopes
and aspirations are out of place; they have no foundation in
the truth of things. But there is another side to the thought
of Heraclitus. He says indeed that all things come into being
“according to strife”, by the clash of forces, are governed by
the determining justice of war. He says farther that all is utterly
determined, fated. But what then determines? The justice of a
clash of forces is not fate; forces in conflict determine indeed,
but from moment to moment, according to a constantly changing balance always modifiable by the arising of new forces.
If there is predetermination, an inevitable fate in things, then
there must be some power behind the conflict which determines
them, fixes their measures. What is that power? Heraclitus tells
us; all indeed comes into being according to strife, but also
all things come into being according to Reason, kat’ erin but
also kata ton logon. What is this Logos? It is not an inconscient reason in things, for his Fire is not merely an inconscient
force, it is Zeus and eternity. Fire, Zeus is Force, but it is also
an Intelligence; let us say then that it is an intelligent Force
which is the origin and master of things. Nor can this Logos
be identical in its nature with the human reason; for that is
an individual and therefore relative and partial judgment and
intelligence which can only seize on relative truth, not on the
true truth of things, but the Logos is one and universal, an
absolute reason therefore combining and managing all the relativities of the many. Was not then Philo justified in deducing
from this idea of an intelligent Force originating and governing
the world, Zeus and Fire, his interpretation of the Logos as “the
divine dynamic, the energy and the self-revelation of God”?
Heraclitus might not so have phrased it, might not have seen
all that his thought contained, but it does contain this sense
when his different sayings are fathomed and put together in
their consequences.
We get very near the Indian conception of Brahman, the
cause, origin and substance of all things, an absolute Existence
whose nature is consciousness (Chit) manifesting itself as Force
(Tapas, Shakti) and moving in the world of his own being as
the Seer and Thinker, kavir manı̄s.ı̄, an immanent KnowledgeWill in all, vijñānamaya purus.a, who is the Lord or Godhead,
ı̄ś, ı̄śvara, deva, and has ordained all things according to their
Heraclitus – 7
nature from years sempiternal, — Heraclitus’ “measures” which
the Sun is forced to observe, his “things are utterly determined.”
This Knowledge-Will is the Logos. The Stoics spoke of it as
a seed Logos, spermatikos, reproduced in conscious beings as
a number of seed Logoi; and this at once reminds us of the
Vedantic prājña purus.a, the supreme Intelligence who is the
Lord and dwells in the sleep-state holding all things in a seed of
dense consciousness which works out through the perceptions
of the subtle Purusha, the mental Being. Vijnana is indeed a
consciousness which sees things, not as the human reason sees
them in parts and pieces, in separated and aggregated relations,
but in the original reason of their existence and law of their
existence, their primal and total truth; therefore it is the seed
Logos, the originative and determinant conscious force working
as supreme Intelligence and Will. The Vedic seers called it the
Truth-consciousness and believed that men also could become
truth-conscious, enter into the divine Reason and Will and by
the Truth become immortals, anthrōpoi athanatoi.
Does the thought of Heraclitus admit of any such hope as the
Vedic seers held and hymned with so triumphant a confidence?
or does it even give ground for any aspiration to some kind
of a divine supermanhood such as his disciples the Stoics so
sternly laboured for or as that of which Nietzsche, the modern
Heraclitus, drew a too crude and violent figure? His saying that
man is kindled and extinguished as light disappears into night,
is commonplace and discouraging enough. But this may after
all be only true of the apparent man. Is it possible for man
in his becoming to raise his present fixed measures? to elevate
his mental, relative, individual reason into direct communion
with or direct participation in the divine and absolute reason?
to inspire and raise the values of his human force to the higher
values of the divine force? to become aware like the gods of
an absolute good and an absolute beauty? to lift this mortal
to the nature of immortality? Against his melancholy image of
human transiency we have that remarkable and cryptic sentence, “the gods are mortals, men immortals”, which, taken
literally, might mean that the gods are powers that perish and
replace each other and the soul of man alone is immortal, but
must at least mean that there is in man behind his outward
transiency an immortal spirit. We have too his saying, “thou
canst not find the limits of the soul”, and we have the profoundest of all Heraclitus’ utterances, “the kingdom is of the
child.” If man is in his real being an infinite and immortal
spirit, there is surely no reason why he should not awaken
to his immortality, arise towards the consciousness of the universal, one and absolute, live in a higher self-realisation. “I
have sought for myself” says Heraclitus; and what was it that
he found?
But there is one great gap and defect whether in his knowledge of things or his knowledge of the self of man. We see in
how many directions the deep divining eye of Heraclitus anticipated the largest and profoundest generalisations of Science and
Philosophy and how even his more superficial thoughts indicate
later powerful tendencies of the occidental mind, how too some
of his ideas influenced such profound and fruitful thinkers as
Plato, the Stoics, the Neo-platonists. But in his defect also he
is a forerunner; it illustrates the great deficiency of later European thought, such of it at least as has not been profoundly
influenced by Asiatic religions or Asiatic mysticism. I have tried
to show how often his thought touches and is almost identical
with the Vedic and Vedantic. But his knowledge of the truth
of things stopped with the vision of the universal reason and
the universal force; he seems to have summed up the principle
of things in these two first terms, the aspect of consciousness,
the aspect of power, a supreme intelligence and a supreme energy. The eye of Indian thought saw a third aspect of the Self
and of Brahman; besides the universal consciousness active in
divine knowledge, besides the universal force active in divine
will, it saw the universal delight active in divine love and joy.
European thought, following the line of Heraclitus’ thinking,
has fixed itself on reason and on force and made them the
principles towards whose perfection our being has to aspire.
Force is the first aspect of the world, war, the clash of energies;
the second aspect, reason, emerges out of the appearance of
Heraclitus – 7
force in which it is at first hidden and reveals itself as a certain
justice, a certain harmony, a certain determining intelligence and
reason in things; the third aspect is a deeper secret behind these
two, universal delight, love, beauty which taking up the other
two can establish something higher than justice, better than
harmony, truer than reason, — unity and bliss, the ecstasy of
our fulfilled existence. Of this last secret power Western thought
has only seen two lower aspects, pleasure and aesthetic beauty;
it has missed the spiritual beauty and the spiritual delight. For
that reason Europe has never been able to develop a powerful
religion of its own; it has been obliged to turn to Asia. Science
takes possession of the measures and utilities of Force; rational
philosophy pursues reason to its last subtleties; but inspired
philosophy and religion can seize hold of the highest secret,
uttamaṁ rahasyam.
Heraclitus might have seen it if he had carried his vision
a little farther. Force by itself can only produce a balance of
forces, the strife that is justice; in that strife there takes place
a constant exchange and, once this need of exchange is seen,
there arises the possibility of modifying and replacing war by
reason as the determinant principle of the exchange. This is
the second effort of man, of which Heraclitus did not clearly
see the possibility. From exchange we can rise to the highest
possible idea of interchange, a mutual dependency of self-giving
as the hidden secret of life; from that can grow the power of
Love replacing strife and exceeding the cold balance of reason. There is the gate of the divine ecstasy. Heraclitus could
not see it, and yet his one saying about the kingdom of the
child touches, almost reaches the heart of the secret. For this
kingdom is evidently spiritual, it is the crown, the mastery
to which the perfected man arrives; and the perfect man is a
divine child! He is the soul which awakens to the divine play,
accepts it without fear or reserve, gives itself up in a spiritual
purity to the Divine, allows the careful and troubled force of
man to be freed from care and grief and become the joyous
play of the divine Will, his relative and stumbling reason to
be replaced by that divine knowledge which to the Greek, the
rational man, is foolishness, and the laborious pleasure-seeking
of the bound mentality to lose itself in the spontaneity of the
divine Ananda; “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” The
Paramhansa, the liberated man, is in his soul bālavat, even as if
a child.
The Problem of Rebirth
Section I
Rebirth and Karma
HE THEORY of rebirth is almost as ancient as thought
itself and its origin is unknown. We may according to our
prepossessions accept it as the fruit of ancient psychological experience always renewable and verifiable and therefore
true or dismiss it as a philosophical dogma and ingenious speculation; but in either case the doctrine, even as it is in all
appearance well-nigh as old as human thought itself, is likely
also to endure as long as human beings continue to think.
In former times the doctrine used to pass in Europe under
the grotesque name of transmigration which brought with it to
the Western mind the humorous image of the soul of Pythagoras
migrating, a haphazard bird of passage, from the human form
divine into the body of a guinea-pig or an ass. The philosophical appreciation of the theory expressed itself in the admirable
but rather unmanageable Greek word, metempsychosis, which
means the insouling of a new body by the same psychic individual. The Greek tongue is always happy in its marriage of
thought and word and a better expression could not be found;
but forced into English speech the word becomes merely long
and pedantic without any memory of its subtle Greek sense and
has to be abandoned. Reincarnation is the now popular term,
but the idea in the word leans to the gross or external view of the
fact and begs many questions. I prefer “rebirth”, for it renders
the sense of the wide, colourless, but sufficient Sanskrit term,
punarjanma, “again-birth”, and commits us to nothing but the
fundamental idea which is the essence and life of the doctrine.
Rebirth is for the modern mind no more than a speculation
and a theory; it has never been proved by the methods of modern
science or to the satisfaction of the new critical mind formed by
a scientific culture. Neither has it been disproved; for modern
science knows nothing about a before-life or an after-life for
The Problem of Rebirth
the human soul, knows nothing indeed about a soul at all, nor
can know; its province stops with the flesh and brain and nerve,
the embryo and its formation and development. Neither has
modern criticism any apparatus by which the truth or untruth
of rebirth can be established. In fact, modern criticism, with
all its pretensions to searching investigation and scrupulous certainty, is no very efficient truth-finder. Outside the sphere of the
immediate physical it is almost helpless. It is good at discovering
data, but except where the data themselves bear on the surface
their own conclusion, it has no means of being rightly sure of
the generalisations it announces from them so confidently in one
generation and destroys in the next. It has no means of finding
out with surety the truth or untruth of a doubtful historical
assertion; after a century of dispute it has not even been able to
tell us yes or no, whether Jesus Christ ever existed. How then
shall it deal with such a matter as this of rebirth which is stuff
of psychology and must be settled rather by psychological than
physical evidence?
The arguments which are usually put forward by supporters
and opponents, are often weak or futile and even at their best
insufficient either to prove or to disprove anything in the world.
One argument, for instance, often put forward triumphantly
in disproof is this that we have no memory of our past lives
and therefore there were no past lives! One smiles to see such
reasoning seriously used by those who imagine that they are
something more than intellectual children. The argument proceeds on psychological grounds and yet it ignores the very nature
of our ordinary or physical memory which is all that the normal
man can employ. How much do we remember of our actual lives
which we are undoubtedly living at the present moment? Our
memory is normally good for what is near, becomes vaguer or
less comprehensive as its objects recede into the distance, farther
off seizes only some salient points and, finally, for the beginning
of our lives falls into a mere blankness. Do we remember even
the mere fact, the simple state of being an infant on the mother’s
breast? and yet that state of infancy was, on any but a Buddhist theory, part of the same life and belonged to the same
individual, — the very one who cannot remember it just as he
cannot remember his past lives. Yet we demand that this physical
memory, this memory of the brute brain of man which cannot
remember our infancy and has lost so much of our later years,
shall recall that which was before infancy, before birth, before
itself was formed. And if it cannot, we are to cry, “Disproved
your reincarnation theory!” The sapient insipiency of our ordinary human reasoning could go no farther than in this sort of
ratiocination. Obviously, if our past lives are to be remembered
whether as fact and state or in their events and images, it can
only be by a psychical memory awaking which will overcome
the limits of the physical and resuscitate impressions other than
those stamped on the physical being by physical cerebration.
I doubt whether, even if we could have evidence of the physical memory of past lives or of such a psychical awakening, the
theory would be considered any better proved than before. We
now hear of many such instances confidently alleged though
without that apparatus of verified evidence responsibly examined which gives weight to the results of psychical research. The
sceptic can always challenge them as mere fiction and imagination unless and until they are placed on a firm basis of evidence.
Even if the facts alleged are verified, he has the resource of
affirming that they are not really memories but were known to
the person alleging them by ordinary physical means or were
suggested to him by others and have been converted into reincarnate memory either by conscious deception or by a process
of self-deception and self-hallucination. And even supposing the
evidence were too strong and unexceptionable to be got rid
of by these familiar devices, they might yet not be accepted
as proof of rebirth; the mind can discover a hundred theoretical
explanations for a single group of facts. Modern speculation and
research have brought in this doubt to overhang all psychical
theory and generalisation.
We know for instance that in the phenomena, say, of automatic writing or of communication from the dead, it is disputed
whether the phenomena proceed from outside, from disembodied minds, or from within, from the subliminal consciousness,
The Problem of Rebirth
or whether the communication is actual and immediate from the
released personality or is the uprising to the surface of a telepathic impression which came from the mind of the then living
man but has remained submerged in our subliminal mentality.
The same kind of doubts might be opposed to the evidences
of reincarnate memory. It might be maintained that they prove
the power of a certain mysterious faculty in us, a consciousness
that can have some inexplicable knowledge of past events, but
that these events may belong to other personalities than ours
and that our attribution of them to our own personality in past
lives is an imagination, a hallucination, or else an instance of
that self-appropriation of things and experiences perceived but
not our own which is one out of the undoubted phenomena
of mental error. Much would be proved by an accumulation of
such evidences but not, to the sceptic at least, rebirth. Certainly,
if they were sufficiently ample, exact, profuse, intimate, they
would create an atmosphere which would lead in the end to a
general acceptance of the theory by the human race as a moral
certitude. But proof is a different matter.
After all, most of the things that we accept as truths are really no more than moral certitudes. We have all the profoundest
unshakable faith that the earth revolves on its own axis, but as
has been pointed out by a great French mathematician, the fact
has never been proved; it is only a theory which accounts well
for certain observable facts, no more. Who knows whether it
may not be replaced in this or another century by a better — or
a worse? All observed astronomical phenomena were admirably
accounted for by theories of spheres and I know not what else,
before Galileo came in with his “And yet it moves,” disturbing
the infallibility of Popes and Bibles and the science and logic of
the learned. One feels certain that admirable theories could be
invented to account for the facts of gravitation if our intellects
were not prejudiced and prepossessed by the anterior demonstrations of Newton.1 This is the ever-perplexing and inherent
plague of our reason; for it starts by knowing nothing and has
This was written in pre-Einsteinian days.
to deal with infinite possibilities, and the possible explanations
of any given set of facts, until we actually know what is behind them, are endless. In the end, we really know only what
we observe and even that subject to a haunting question, for
instance, that green is green and white is white, although it
appears that colour is not colour but something else that creates
the appearance of colour. Beyond observable fact we must be
content with reasonable logical satisfaction, dominating probability and moral certitude, — at least until we have the sense
to observe that there are faculties in us higher than the sensedependent reason and awaiting development by which we can
arrive at greater certainties.
We cannot really assert as against the sceptic any such
dominant probability or any such certitude on behalf of the
theory of rebirth. The external evidence yet available is in the
last degree rudimentary. Pythagoras was one of the greatest of
sages, but his assertion that he fought at Troy under the name
of the Antenorid and was slain by the younger son of Atreus
is an assertion only and his identification of the Trojan shield
will convince no one who is not already convinced; the modern
evidence is not as yet any more convincing than the proof of
Pythagoras. In absence of external proof which to our mattergoverned sensational intellects is alone conclusive, we have the
argument of the reincarnationists that their theory accounts for
all the facts better than any other yet advanced. The claim is
just, but it does not create any kind of certitude. The theory
of rebirth coupled with that of Karma gives us a simple, symmetrical, beautiful explanation of things; but so too the theory
of the spheres gave us once a simple, symmetrical, beautiful
explanation of the heavenly movements. Yet we have now got
quite another explanation, much more complex, much more
Gothic and shaky in its symmetry, an inexplicable order evolved
out of chaotic infinities, which we accept2 as the truth of the
Or used to accept, but now it is suggested that this order is only a schema created
by our own mind or determined by the constitution of our brain, a syntax and logic of
word and thought which we impose on a world that in fact does not or may not contain
any such thing.
The Problem of Rebirth
matter. And yet, if we will only think, we shall perhaps see that
even this is not the whole truth; there is much more behind
we have not yet discovered. Therefore the simplicity, symmetry,
beauty, satisfactoriness of the reincarnation theory is no warrant
of its certitude.
When we go into details, the uncertainty increases. Rebirth
accounts, for example, for the phenomenon of genius, inborn
faculty and so many other psychological mysteries. But then
Science comes in with its all-sufficient explanation by heredity,
— though, like that of rebirth, all-sufficient only to those who
already believe in it. Without doubt, the claims of heredity have
been absurdly exaggerated. It has succeeded in accounting for
much, not all, in our physical make-up, our temperament, our
vital peculiarities. Its attempt to account for genius, inborn faculty and other psychological phenomena of a higher kind is a
pretentious failure. But this may be because Science knows nothing at all that is fundamental about our psychology, — no more
than primitive astronomers knew of the constitution and law of
the stars whose movements they yet observed with a sufficient
accuracy. I do not think that even when Science knows more and
better, it will be able to explain these things by heredity; but the
scientist may well argue that he is only at the beginning of his
researches, that the generalisation which has explained so much
may well explain all, and that at any rate his hypothesis has had
a better start in its equipment of provable facts than the theory
of reincarnation.
Nevertheless, the argument of the reincarnationist is so far
a good argument and respect-worthy, though not conclusive.
But there is another more clamorously advanced which seems
to me to be on a par with the hostile reasoning from absence of
memory, at least in the form in which it is usually advanced to
attract unripe minds. This is the ethical argument by which it is
sought to justify God’s ways with the world or the world’s ways
with itself. There must, it is thought, be a moral governance for
the world; or at least some sanction of reward in the cosmos
for virtue, some sanction of punishment for sin. But upon our
perplexed and chaotic earth no such sanction appears. We see the
good man thrust down into the press of miseries and the wicked
flourishing like a green bay-tree and not cut down miserably in
his end. Now this is intolerable. It is a cruel anomaly, it is a
reflection on God’s wisdom and justice, almost a proof that God
is not; we must remedy that. Or if God is not, we must have
some other sanction for righteousness.
How comforting it would be if we could tell a good man and
even the amount of his goodness, — for should not the Supreme
be a strict and honourable accountant? — by the amount of ghee
that he is allowed to put into his stomach and the number of
rupees he can jingle into his bank and the various kinds of good
luck that accrue to him. Yes, and how comforting too if we could
point our finger at the wicked stripped of all concealment and cry
at him, “O thou wicked one! for if thou wert not evil, wouldst
thou in a world governed by God or at least by good, be thus
ragged, hungry, unfortunate, pursued by griefs, void of honour
among men? Yes, thou art proved wicked, because thou art
ragged. God’s justice is established.” The Supreme Intelligence
being fortunately wiser and nobler than man’s childishness, this
is impossible. But let us take comfort! It appears that if the
good man has not enough good luck and ghee and rupees, it is
because he is really a scoundrel suffering for his crimes, — but
a scoundrel in his past life who has suddenly turned a new leaf
in his mother’s womb; and if yonder wicked man flourishes and
tramples gloriously on the world, it is because of his goodness —
in a past life, the saint that was then having since been converted
— was it by his experience of the temporal vanity of virtue? — to
the cult of sin. All is explained, all is justified. We suffer for our
sins in another body; we shall be rewarded in another body for
our virtues in this; and so it will go on ad infinitum. No wonder,
the philosophers found this a bad business and proposed as a
remedy to get rid of both sin and virtue and even as our highest
good to scramble anyhow out of a world so amazingly governed.
Obviously, this scheme of things is only a variation of the
old spiritual-material bribe and menace, the bribe of a Heaven
of fat joys for the good and the threat of a hell of eternal fire
or bestial tortures for the wicked. The idea of the Law of the
The Problem of Rebirth
world as primarily a dispenser of rewards and punishments is
cognate to the idea of the Supreme Being as a judge, “father” and
school-master who is continually rewarding with lollipops his
good boys and continually caning his naughty urchins. It is cognate also to the barbarous and unthinking system of sometimes
savage and always degrading punishment for social offences
on which human society, unable still to find out or organise a
more satisfactory way, is still founded. Man insists continually
on making God in his own image instead of seeking to make
himself more and more in the image of God, and all these ideas
are the reflection of the child and the savage and the animal in us
which we have still failed to transform or outgrow. We should
be inclined to wonder how these fancies of children found their
way into such profound philosophical religions as Buddhism
and Hinduism, if it were not so patent that men will not deny
themselves the luxury of tacking on the rubbish from their past
to the deeper thoughts of their sages.
No doubt, since these ideas were so prominent, they must
have had their use in training humanity. Perhaps even it is true
that the Supreme deals with the child soul according to its childishness and allows it to continue its sensational imaginations of
heaven and hell for a time beyond the death of the physical body.
Perhaps both these ideas of after-life and of rebirth as fields of
punishment and reward were needed because suited to our halfmentalised animality. But after a certain stage the system ceases
to be really effective. Men believe in Heaven and Hell but go on
sinning merrily, quit at last by a Papal indulgence or the final
priestly absolution or a death-bed repentance or a bath in the
Ganges or a sanctified death at Benares, — such are the childish
devices by which we escape from our childishness! And in the
end the mind grows adult and puts the whole nursery nonsense
away with contempt. The reward and punishment theory of
rebirth, if a little more elevated or at least less crudely sensational, comes to be as ineffective. And it is good that it should
be so. For it is intolerable that man with his divine capacity
should continue to be virtuous for a reward and shun sin out
of terror. Better a strong sinner than a selfish virtuous coward
or a petty hucksterer with God; there is more divinity in him,
more capacity of elevation. Truly the Gita has said well, kr.pan.āh.
phalahetavah.. And it is inconceivable that the system of this vast
and majestic world should have been founded on these petty and
paltry motives. There is reason in these theories? then reason of
the nursery, puerile. Ethics? then ethics of the mud, muddy.
The true foundation of the theory of rebirth is the evolution
of the soul, or rather its efflorescence out of the veil of Matter and
its gradual self-finding. Buddhism contained this truth involved
in its theory of Karma and emergence out of Karma but failed to
bring it to light; Hinduism knew it of old, but afterwards missed
the right balance of its expression. Now we are again able to
restate the ancient truth in a new language and this is already
being done by certain schools of thought, though still the old
incrustations tend to tack themselves on to the deeper wisdom.
And if this gradual efflorescence be true, then the theory of
rebirth is an intellectual necessity, a logically unavoidable corollary. But what is the aim of that evolution? Not conventional
or interested virtue and the faultless counting out of the small
coin of good in the hope of an apportioned material reward,
but the continual growth towards a divine knowledge, strength,
love and purity. These things alone are real virtue and this virtue
is its own reward. The one true reward of the works of love is
to grow ever in capacity and delight of love up to the ecstasy
of the spirit’s all-seizing embrace and universal passion; the one
reward of the works of right Knowledge is to grow perpetually
into the infinite Light; the one reward of the works of right
Power is to harbour more and more of the Force Divine, and
of the works of purity to be freed more and more from egoism
into that immaculate wideness where all things are transformed
and reconciled into the divine equality. To seek other reward is
to bind oneself to a foolishness and a childish ignorance; and
to regard even these things as a reward is an unripeness and an
And what of suffering and happiness, misfortune and prosperity? These are experiences of the soul in its training, helps,
props, means, disciplines, tests, ordeals, — and prosperity often
The Problem of Rebirth
a worse ordeal than suffering. Indeed, adversity, suffering may
often be regarded rather as a reward to virtue than as a punishment for sin, since it turns out to be the greatest help and purifier
of the soul struggling to unfold itself. To regard it merely as the
stern award of a Judge, the anger of an irritated Ruler or even
the mechanical recoil of result of evil upon cause of evil is to
take the most superficial view possible of God’s dealings with
the soul and the law of the world’s evolution. And what of
worldly prosperity, wealth, progeny, the outward enjoyment of
art, beauty, power? Good, if they be achieved without loss to
the soul and enjoyed only as the outflowing of the divine Joy
and Grace upon our material existence. But let us seek them first
for others or rather for all, and for ourselves only as a part of
the universal condition or as one means of bringing perfection
The soul needs no proof of its rebirth any more than it
needs proof of its immortality. For there comes a time when
it is consciously immortal, aware of itself in its eternal and
immutable essence. Once that realisation is accomplished, all
intellectual questionings for and against the immortality of the
soul fall away like a vain clamour of ignorance around the selfevident and ever-present truth. Tato na vicikitsate. That is the
true dynamic belief in immortality when it becomes to us not
an intellectual dogma but a fact as evident as the physical fact
of our breathing and as little in need of proof or argument.
So also there comes a time when the soul becomes aware of
itself in its eternal and mutable movement; it is then aware
of the ages behind that constituted the present organisation of
the movement, sees how this was prepared in an uninterrupted
past, remembers something of the bygone soul-states, environments, particular forms of activity which built up its present
constituents and knows to what it is moving by development
in an uninterrupted future. This is the true dynamic belief in
rebirth, and there too the play of the questioning intellect ceases;
the soul’s vision and the soul’s memory are all. Certainly, there
remains the question of the mechanism of the development and
of the laws of rebirth where the intellect and its inquiries and
generalisations can still have some play. And here the more one
thinks and experiences, the more the ordinary, simple, cut-anddried account of reincarnation seems to be of doubtful validity.
There is surely here a greater complexity, a law evolved with
a more difficult movement and a more intricate harmony out
of the possibilities of the Infinite. But this is a question which
demands long and ample consideration; for subtle is the law of
it. An.ur hyes.a dharmah..
The Reincarnating Soul
UMAN thought in the generality of men is no more than
a rough and crude acceptance of unexamined ideas. Our
mind is a sleepy or careless sentry and allows anything
to pass the gates which seems to it decently garbed or wears
a plausible appearance or can mumble anything that resembles
some familiar password. Especially is this so in subtle matters,
those remote from the concrete facts of our physical life and
environment. Even men who will reason carefully and acutely
in ordinary matters and there consider vigilance against error
an intellectual or a practical duty, are yet content with the most
careless stumbling when they get upon higher and more difficult
ground. Where precision and subtle thinking are most needed,
there they are most impatient of it and averse to the labour demanded of them. Men can manage fine thought about palpable
things, but to think subtly about the subtle is too great a strain
on the grossness of our intellects; so we are content with making
a dab at the truth, like the painter who threw his brush at his
picture when he could not get the effect that he desired. We
mistake the smudge that results for the perfect form of a verity.
It is not surprising then that men should be content to think
crudely about such a matter as rebirth. Those who accept it,
take it usually ready-made, either as a cut-and-dried theory or a
crude dogma. The soul is reborn in a new body, — that vague and
almost meaningless assertion is for them sufficient. But what is
the soul and what can possibly be meant by the rebirth of a soul?
Well, it means reincarnation; the soul, whatever that may be, had
got out of one case of flesh and is now getting into another case
of flesh. It sounds simple, — let us say, like the Djinn of the
Arabian tale expanding out of and again compressing himself
into his bottle or perhaps as a pillow is lugged out of one pillowcase and thrust into another. Or the soul fashions for itself a body
The Reincarnating Soul
in the mother’s womb and then occupies it, or else, let us say,
puts off one robe of flesh and then puts on another. But what
is it that thus “leaves” one body and “enters” into another?
Is it another, a psychic body and subtle form, that enters into
the gross corporeal form, — the Purusha perhaps of the ancient
image, no bigger than a man’s thumb, or is it something in itself
formless and impalpable that incarnates in the sense of becoming
or assuming to the senses a palpable shape of bone and flesh?
In the ordinary, the vulgar conception there is no birth of
a soul at all, but only the birth of a new body into the world
occupied by an old personality unchanged from that which once
left some now discarded physical frame. It is John Robinson
who has gone out of the form of flesh he once occupied; it is
John Robinson who tomorrow or some centuries hence will reincarnate in another form of flesh and resume the course of
his terrestrial experiences with another name and in another
environment. Achilles, let us say, is reborn as Alexander, the
son of Philip, a Macedonian, conqueror not of Hector but of
Darius, with a wider scope, with larger destinies; but it is still
Achilles, it is the same personality that is reborn, only the bodily
circumstances are different. It is this survival of the identical
personality that attracts the European mind today in the theory
of reincarnation. For it is the extinction or dissolution of the personality, of this mental, nervous and physical composite which
I call myself that is hard to bear for the man enamoured of life,
and it is the promise of its survival and physical reappearance
that is the great lure. The one objection that really stands in the
way of its acceptance is the obvious non-survival of memory.
Memory is the man, says the modern psychologist, and what is
the use of the survival of my personality, if I do not remember
my past, if I am not aware of being the same person still and
always? What is the utility? Where is the enjoyment?
The old Indian thinkers, — I am not speaking of the popular
belief which was crude enough and thought not at all about the
matter, — the old Buddhistic and Vedantist thinkers surveyed
the whole field from a very different standpoint. They were
not attached to the survival of the personality; they did not
The Problem of Rebirth
give to that survival the high name of immortality; they saw
that personality being what it is, a constantly changing composite, the survival of an identical personality was a non-sense,
a contradiction in terms. They perceived indeed that there is
a continuity and they sought to discover what determines this
continuity and whether the sense of identity which enters into
it is an illusion or the representation of a fact, of a real truth,
and, if the latter, then what that truth may be. The Buddhist
denied any real identity. There is, he said, no self, no person;
there is simply a continuous stream of energy in action like the
continuous flowing of a river or the continuous burning of a
flame. It is this continuity which creates in the mind the false
sense of identity. I am not now the same person that I was a year
ago, not even the same person that I was a moment ago, any
more than the water flowing past yonder ghaut is the same water
that flowed past it a few seconds ago; it is the persistence of the
flow in the same channel that preserves the false appearance
of identity. Obviously, then, there is no soul that reincarnates,
but only Karma that persists in flowing continuously down an
apparently uninterrupted channel. It is Karma that incarnates;
Karma creates the form of a constantly changing mentality and
physical bodies that are, we may presume, the result of that
changing composite of ideas and sensations which I call myself.
The identical “I” is not, never was, never will be. Practically,
so long as the error of personality persists, this does not make
much difference and I can say in the language of ignorance that
I am reborn in a new body; practically, I have to proceed on the
basis of that error. But there is this important point gained that
it is all an error and an error which can cease; the composite
can be broken up for good without any fresh formation, the
flame can be extinguished, the channel which called itself a river
destroyed. And then there is non-being, there is cessation, there
is the release of the error from itself.
The Vedantist comes to a different conclusion; he admits an
identical, a self, a persistent immutable reality, — but other than
my personality, other than this composite which I call myself. In
the Katha Upanishad the question is raised in a very instructive
The Reincarnating Soul
fashion quite apposite to the subject we have in hand. Nachiketas, sent by his father to the world of Death, thus questions
Yama, the lord of that world: Of the man who has gone forward,
who has passed away from us, some say that he is and others
“this he is not”; which then is right? what is the truth of the
great passage? Such is the form of the question and at first sight
it seems simply to raise the problem of immortality in the European sense of the word, the survival of the identical personality.
But that is not what Nachiketas asks. He has already taken as the
second of three boons offered to him by Yama the knowledge of
the sacred Flame by which man crosses over hunger and thirst,
leaves sorrow and fear far behind him and dwells in heaven
securely rejoicing. Immortality in that sense he takes for granted
as, already standing in that farther world, he must surely do.
The knowledge he asks for involves the deeper, finer problem,
of which Yama affirms that even the gods debated this of old
and it is not easy to know, for subtle is the law of it; something
survives that appears to be the same person, that descends into
hell, that ascends into heaven, that returns upon the earth with
a new body, but is it really the same person that thus survives?
Can we really say of the man “He still is,” or must we not rather
say “This he no longer is”? Yama too in his answer speaks not
at all of the survival of death, and he only gives a verse or two
to a bare description of that constant rebirth which all serious
thinkers admitted as a universally acknowledged truth. What he
speaks of is the Self, the real Man, the Lord of all these changing
appearances; without the knowledge of that Self the survival of
the personality is not immortal life but a constant passing from
death to death; he only who goes beyond personality to the real
Person becomes the Immortal. Till then a man seems indeed
to be born again and again by the force of his knowledge and
works, name succeeds to name, form gives place to form, but
there is no immortality.
Such then is the real question put and answered so divergently by the Buddhist and the Vedantin. There is a constant
reforming of personality in new bodies, but this personality is
a mutable creation of force at its work streaming forward in
The Problem of Rebirth
Time and never for a moment the same, and the ego-sense that
makes us cling to the life of the body and believe readily that
it is the same idea and form, that it is John Robinson who is
reborn as Sidi Hossain, is a creation of the mentality. Achilles
was not reborn as Alexander, but the stream of force in its
works which created the momentarily changing mind and body
of Achilles flowed on and created the momentarily changing
mind and body of Alexander. Still, said the ancient Vedanta,
there is yet something beyond this force in action, Master of it,
one who makes it create for him new names and forms, and
that is the Self, the Purusha, the Man, the Real Person. The egosense is only its distorted image reflected in the flowing stream
of embodied mentality.
Is it then the Self that incarnates and reincarnates? But the
Self is imperishable, immutable, unborn, undying. The Self is
not born and does not exist in the body; rather the body is born
and exists in the Self. For the Self is one everywhere, — in all
bodies, we say, but really it is not confined and parcelled out in
different bodies except as the all-constituting ether seems to be
formed into different objects and is in a sense in them. Rather all
these bodies are in the Self; but that also is a figment of spaceconception, and rather these bodies are only symbols and figures
of itself created by it in its own consciousness. Even what we call
the individual soul is greater than its body and not less, more
subtle than it and therefore not confined by its grossness. At
death it does not leave its form, but casts it off, so that a great
departing Soul can say of this death in vigorous phrase, “I have
spat out the body.”
What then is it that we feel to inhabit the physical frame?
What is it that the Soul draws out from the body when it casts
off this partial physical robe which enveloped not it, but part of
its members? What is it whose issuing out gives this wrench,
this swift struggle and pain of parting, creates this sense of
violent divorce? The answer does not help us much. It is the
subtle or psychical frame which is tied to the physical by the
heart-strings, by the cords of life-force, of nervous energy which
have been woven into every physical fibre. This the Lord of
The Reincarnating Soul
the body draws out and the violent snapping or the rapid or
tardy loosening of the life-cords, the exit of the connecting force
constitutes the pain of death and its difficulty.
Let us then change the form of the question and ask rather
what it is that reflects and accepts the mutable personality, since
the Self is immutable? We have in fact an immutable Self, a real
Person, lord of this ever-changing personality which, again, assumes ever-changing bodies, but the real Self knows itself always
as above the mutation, watches and enjoys it, but is not involved
in it. Through what does it enjoy the changes and feel them to be
its own, even while knowing itself to be unaffected by them? The
mind and ego-sense are only inferior instruments; there must be
some more essential form of itself which the Real Man puts
forth, puts in front of itself, as it were, and at the back of the
changings to support and mirror them without being actually
changed by them. This more essential form is or seems to be in
man the mental being or mental person which the Upanishads
speak of as the mental leader of the life and body, manomayah.
prān.a-śarı̄ra-netā. It is that which maintains the ego-sense as a
function in the mind and enables us to have the firm conception
of continuous identity in Time as opposed to the timeless identity
of the Self.
The changing personality is not this mental person; it is a
composite of various stuff of Nature, a formation of Prakriti and
is not at all the Purusha. And it is a very complex composite with
many layers; there is a layer of physical, a layer of nervous, a
layer of mental, even a final stratum of supramental personality;
and within these layers themselves there are strata within each
stratum. The analysis of the successive couches of the earth is
a simple matter compared with the analysis of this wonderful
creation we call the personality. The mental being in resuming
bodily life forms a new personality for its new terrestrial existence; it takes material from the common matter-stuff, life-stuff,
mind-stuff of the physical world and during earthly life it is
constantly absorbing fresh material, throwing out what is used
up, changing its bodily, nervous and mental tissues. But this is
all surface work; behind is the foundation of past experience
The Problem of Rebirth
held back from the physical memory so that the superficial
consciousness may not be troubled or interfered with by the
conscious burden of the past but may concentrate on the work
immediately in hand. Still that foundation of past experience is
the bedrock of personality; and it is more than that. It is our real
fund on which we can always draw even apart from our present
superficial commerce with our surroundings. That commerce
adds to our gains, modifies the foundation for a subsequent
Moreover, all this is, again, on the surface. It is only a
small part of ourselves which lives and acts in the energies of
our earthly existence. As behind the physical universe there are
worlds of which ours is only a last result, so also within us there
are worlds of our self-existence which throw out this external
form of our being. The subconscient, the superconscient are
oceans from which and to which this river flows. Therefore to
speak of ourselves as a soul reincarnating is to give altogether
too simple an appearance to the miracle of our existence; it puts
into too ready and too gross a formula the magic of the supreme
Magician. There is not a definite psychic entity getting into a new
case of flesh; there is a metempsychosis, a reinsouling, a rebirth
of new psychic personality as well as a birth of a new body.
And behind is the Person, the unchanging entity, the Master
who manipulates this complex material, the Artificer of this
wondrous artifice.
This is the starting-point from which we have to proceed
in considering the problem of rebirth. To view ourselves as
such and such a personality getting into a new case of flesh
is to stumble about in the ignorance, to confirm the error of
the material mind and the senses. The body is a convenience,
the personality is a constant formation for whose development
action and experience are the instruments; but the Self by whose
will and for whose delight all this is, is other than the body,
other than the action and experience, other than the personality
which they develop. To ignore it is to ignore the whole secret of
our being.
Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
WO TRUTHS, discoveries with an enormous periphery
of luminous result and of a considerable essential magnitude, evolution and heredity, figure today in the front
of thought, and I suppose we have to take them as a wellestablished unquenchable light upon our being, lamps of a constant lustre, though not yet very perfectly trimmed, final so far as
anything is final in man’s constantly changing cinematographic
process of the development of intellectual knowledge. They may
be said to make up almost the whole fundamental idea of life
in the way of seeing peculiar to a mind dominated, fashioned,
pressed into its powerful moulds by the exact, curious, multifariously searching, yet in the end singularly limited observation and
singularly narrow reason of our modern science. Science is in her
own way a great seer and magician; she has both the microscopic
and the macroscopic, the closely gazing and the telescopic view,
a dissolving power of searching analytic resolution, a creative
power of revealing synthetic effectuation. She has hunted to
their lair many of the intermediate secret processes of the great
creatrix, and even she has been able, by the inventive faculty
given to us, to go and do one better. Man, this midget in infinity,
locomotive yet nailed to the contiguity of a petty crust of soil
by the force of gravitation, has certainly scored by her a goodly
number of points against the mother of the universe. But all this
has been done in some perfection only in the limits of her lowest
obtrusive physical field.
Face to face with psychic and spiritual secrecies, as in the
open elementary world even of mind, Science has still the uninformed gaze and the groping hands of the infant. In that sphere
she, so precise, illuminative, compelling in the physical, sees
only the big blazing buzzing confusion which James tells us,
with a possibly inaccurate vividness of alliterative phrase, is
The Problem of Rebirth
the newborn baby’s view of the sensible world into which he
has dropped down the mysterious stairs of birth. Science, faced
with what are still to her the wonderful random accords and
unexplained miracles of consciousness, protects herself from the
errors of the imagination, — but stumbling incidentally by that
very fact into plenty of the errors of an inadequate induction, —
behind an opaque shield of cautelous scepticism. She clings with
the grasping firmness of the half-drowned to planks of security
she thinks she has got in a few well-tested correspondences, —
so-styled, though the word as used explains nothing, — between
mental action and its accompaniment of suggestive or instrumental physical functionings. She is determined, if she can, to
explain every supraphysical phenomenon by some physical fact;
psychological process of mind must not exist except as result or
rendering of physiological process of body. This set resolution,
apparently rational and cautious of ascertainable and firmly tangible truth, but really heroic in its paradoxical temerity, shuts
up her chance of rapid discovery, for the present at least, in a
fairly narrow circle. It taints too her extensions of physical truth
into the psychological field with a pursuing sense of inadequacy.
And this inadequacy in extended application is very evident in
her theories of heredity and evolution when she forces them
beyond their safe ground of physical truth and labours to illumine by them the subtle, complex, elusive phenomena of our
psychological being.
There are still, I dare say, persons here and there who cherish
a secret or an open unfaith in the theory of a physical evolution
and believe that it will one day pass into the limbo of dead
generalisations like the Ptolemaic theory in astronomy or like
the theory of humours in medicine; but this is a rare and excessive scepticism. Yet it may not be without use or aptitude for
our purpose to note that contrary to current popular notions
the scientific account of this generalisation, like that of a good
number of others, is not yet conclusively proved, even though
now taken for granted. But still there is on the whole a mass
of facts and indications in its favour so considerable as to look
overwhelming, so that we cannot resist the conclusion that in
Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
this way or some such way the whole thing came about and
we find it difficult to conceive any more convincing explanation
of the indubitable ascending and branching scale of genus and
species which meets even our casual scrutiny of living existence.
One thing at least seems now intellectually certain, we can no
longer believe that these suns and systems were hurled fullshaped and eternally arranged into boundless space and all these
numberless species of being planted on earth ready-made and
nicely tailored in seven days or any number of days in a sudden
outburst of caprice or Dionysiac excitement or crowded activity
of mechanical conception by the fiat of a timeless Creator. The
successive development which was summarily proposed by the
ancient Hindu thinkers, the lower forms of being first, man
afterwards as the crown of the Spirit’s development of life on
earth, has been confirmed by the patient and detailed scrutiny of
physical science, — an aeonic development, though the farther
Hindu conception of a constant repetition of the principle in
cycles is necessarily incapable of physical evidence.
One thing more seems now equally certain that not only
the seed of all life was one, — again the great intuition of the
Upanishads foreruns the conclusions of the physical enquiry,
one seed which the universal self-existence by process of force
has disposed in many ways, ekaṁ bı̄jaṁ bahudhā śakti-yogāt,
— but even the principle of development is one and the structural ground-plan too as it develops step by step, in spite of
all departures to this side or that in the workings of the creative Force or the creative Idea. Nature seems to start with an
extraordinary poverty of original broad variative conceptions
and to proceed to an extraordinary richness of her minuter consequential variations, which amounts to a forging of constant
subtle differentiations of species and in the individual a startling
insistence on result of uniqueness. It almost looks as if in the
process of her physical harmonies there was meant to be some
formal effect or symbolic reproduction of the truth that all things
are originally one being, but a one who insists on his own infinite
diversity, and even a suggestion that there is in this eternal unity
an eternal pluralism, the Infinite Being self-repeated in an infinite
The Problem of Rebirth
multiplicity of beings each unique and yet each the One. To a
mind on the look-out for the metaphysical suggestions we can
draw from the apparent facts of being, that might not seem
altogether an imagination.
In any case we have this now patent order in the profuse
complexities of the natural harmony of living things, — one plasmic seed, one developing ground-plan, an opulent number of
varieties whose logical process would be by an ascending order
which passes up through fine but still very distinct gradations
from the crude to the complex, from the less organised to the
more organised, from the inferior to the superior type. The first
question that should strike the mind at once, when this tree of
life has been seen, is whether this logical order was indeed the
actual order in the history of the universe, and then, a second,
naturally arising from that problem, whether, if so, each new
form developed by variation from its natural predecessor or
came in by some unknown process, a fresh, independent and in
a way sudden creation. In the first case, we have the scientific
order of physical evolution, — in the other one knows not well
what, perhaps an unseen Demiurge who developed the whole
thing in the earlier period of the earth evolution and has now
wholly or almost entirely stopped the business so that we have
no new physical development of that kind, but only, it may be,
an evolution of capacity in types already created. Science stands
out for a quite natural and mechanical, a quite unbroken physical evolution with many divergent lines indeed of developing
variation, but in the line no gap or interstice. It is true that there
are not one but a host of missing links, which even the richest
remains of the past cannot fill in, and we are not in a position to
deny with an absolute dogmatism the possibility of an advance
per saltum, by a rapid overleaping, perhaps even by a crowded
psychical or bio-psychic preparation whose result sprang out in
the appearance of a new type with a certain gulf between itself
and the preceding forms of life. With regard to man especially
there is still an enormous uncertainty as to how he, so like yet
so different from the other sons of Nature, came into existence.
Still the gaps can be explained away, there is a great mass of
Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
telling facts in favour of the less physically anarchic view, and
it seems to have on its side the right of greatest probability in a
material universe where the most perfectly physical principle of
proceeding would seem to be the just basic law.
But even if we admit the most scrupulous and rigorous continuity of successive determination, the question arises whether
the process of evolution has been indeed so exclusively physical
and biological as at first sight it looks. If it is, we must admit
not only a rigorous principle of class heredity, but a law of
hereditary progressive variation and a purely physical cause of
all mental and spiritual phenomena. Heredity by itself means
simply the constant transmission of physical form and biological
characteristics from a previous life to its posterity. There is very
evidently such a general force of hereditary transmission within
the genus or species itself, as the tree so the seed, as the seed
so the tree, so that a lion generates a lion and not a cat or a
rhinoceros, a man a human being and not an ourang-outang,
— though one reads now of a curious and startling speculation,
turning the old theory topsy-turvy, that certain ape kinds may be,
not ancestors, but degenerate descendants of man! But farther,
if a physical evolution is the whole fact, there must be a capacity for the hereditary transmission of variations by which new
species are or have been created, — not merely in the process
of a mixture or crossing, but by an internal development which
is stored up and handed down in the seed. That too may very
well be admitted, even though its real process and rationale
are not yet understood, since the transmission of family and
individual characteristics is a well-observed phenomenon. But
then the things transmitted are not only physical and biological,
but psychological or at least bio-psychic characters, repetitions
of customary nervous experience and mental tendency, powers.
We have to suppose that the physical seed transmits these things.
We are called upon to admit that the human seed for instance,
which does not contain a developed human consciousness, yet
carries with it the powers of such a consciousness so that they
reproduce themselves automatically in the thinking and organised mentality of the offspring. This, even if we have to accept
The Problem of Rebirth
it, is an inexplicable paradox unless we suppose either that there
is something more behind, a psychical power behind the veil of
material process, or else that mind is only a process of life and life
only a process of matter. Therefore finally we have to suppose the
physical theory capable of explaining by purely material causes
and a material constitution the mystery of the emergence of life
in matter and the equal mystery of the emergence of mind in
life. It is here that difficulties begin to crowd in which convict it,
so far at least, of a hopeless inadequacy, and the nature of that
inadequacy, its crux, its stumbling-point leave room for just that
something behind, something psychical, a hidden soul process
and for a more complex and less materialistic account of the
truth of evolution.
The materialistic assumption — it is no more than a hypothetical assumption, for it has never been proved — is that
development of non-living matter results under certain unknown
conditions in a phenomenon of unconscious life which is in its
real nature only an action and reaction of material energy, and
the development of that again under certain unknown conditions
in a phenomenon of conscious mind which is again in its real nature only an action and reaction of material energy. The thing is
not proved, but that, it is argued, does not matter; it only means
that we do not yet know enough; but one day we shall know,
— the necessary physiological reaction called by us an intuition
or train of reasoning crowned by discovery having, I suppose,
taken place in a properly constituted nervous body and the more
richly convoluted brain of a Galileo of biology, — and then this
great and simple truth will be proved, like many other things
once scoffed at by the shallow common sense of humanity. But
the difficulty is that it seems incapable of proof. Even with regard
to life, which is by a great deal the lesser difficulty, the discovery
of certain chemical or other physical and mechanical conditions
under which life can be stimulated to appear, will prove no more
than that these are the favourable or necessary conditions for the
manifestation of life in body, — such conditions there must be in
the nature of things, — but not that life is not another new and
higher power of the force of universal being. The connection of
Rebirth, Evolution, Heredity
life responses with physical conditions and stimuli proves very
clearly that life and matter are connected and that, as indeed
they must do to coexist, the two kinds of energy act on each
other, — a very ancient knowledge; but it does not get rid of the
fact that the physical response is accompanied by an element
which seems to be of the nature of a nervous excitement and an
incipient or suppressed consciousness and is not the same thing
as the companion physical reaction.
When we come to mind, we see — how could it be otherwise
in an embodied mind? — a response, interaction, connection, a
correspondence if you will; but no amount of correspondence
can show how a physical response can be converted into or
amount to or by itself constitute in result a conscious operation,
a perception, emotion, thought-concept, or prove that love is a
chemical product or that Plato’s theory of ideas or Homer’s Iliad
or the cosmic consciousness of the Yogin was only a combination of physiological reactions or a complex of the changes of
grey brain matter or a flaming marvel of electrical discharges.
It is not only that common sense and imagination boggle at
these theories, — that objection may be disregarded, — not only
that perception, reason and intuition have to be thrust aside in
favour of a forced and too extended inference, but that there
is a gulf of difference here between the thing to be explained
and the thing by which it is sought to explain it which cannot be
filled up, however much we may admit nervous connections and
psycho-physical bridges. And if the physical scientist points to
a number of indicative facts and hopes one day to triumph over
these formidable difficulties, there is growing up on the other
side an incipient mass of psychical phenomena which are likely
to drown his theory in fathomless waters. The insuperability of
these always evident objections is beginning to be more widely
recognised, but since the past still holds considerable sway, it is
necessary to insist on them so that we may have the clear right to
go on to more liberal hypotheses which do not try prematurely
to reduce to a mechanical simplicity the problem of our being.
One of these is the ancient view that not only incidence
of body and life on mind and soul, but incidence of mind and
The Problem of Rebirth
soul on body and life have to be considered. Here too there is
the evolutionary idea, but physical and life evolution, even the
growth of mind, are held to be only incidental to a soul evolution
of which Time is the course and the earth among many other
worlds the theatre. In the old Indian version of this theory evolution, heredity and rebirth are three companion processes of the
universal unfolding, evolution the processional aim, rebirth the
main method, heredity one of the physical conditions. That is a
theory which provides at least the framework for a harmonious
explanation of all the complex elements of the problem. The
scientific idea starts from physical being and makes the psychical
a result and circumstance of body; this other evolutionary idea
starts from soul and sees in the physical being an instrumentation
for the awakening to itself of a spirit absorbed in the universe
of Matter.
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
HE IDEAS that men currently form about life and things
are for the most part pragmatic constructions. They are
forms of a reason which is concerned with giving only
such a serviceable account to itself of its surroundings as shall
make a sufficient clue to our immediate business of the growth,
action, satisfaction of the personality, something feasible, livable, effective for our journeying in Time, something viable in
the twofold French sense of the word. Whether it corresponds to
or is directly in touch with any real reality of things seems to be
very much a matter of accident. It seems to be sufficient if we can
persuade our facile and complaisant reason of its truth and find
it serviceable and fruitful in consequences for thought, action
and life-experience. It is true that there is another unpragmatic
reason in us which labours to get rid of this demand of the intellectual and vital personality; it wants to look at the real truth of
things without veils and without any object, to mirror the very
image of Truth in the still waters of a dispassionate, clear and
pure mentality. But the workings of this calmer greater reason
are hampered by two tremendous difficulties. First, it seems next
to impossible to disengage it entirely from the rest of ourselves,
from the normal intellectuality, from the will to believe, from
that instinct of the intelligence which helps the survival, by a
sort of subtle principle of preference and selection, of the way of
thinking that suits our personal bent or the accomplished frame
of our nature. And again, what is the Truth that our reason
mirrors? It is after all some indirect image of Truth, not her very
self and body seen face to face; it is an image moulded from
such data, symbol, process of Reality, — if any real Reality there
is, — as we can gather from the very limited experience of self
and existing things open to human mind. So that unless there
be some means by which knowledge can burst through all veils
The Problem of Rebirth
to the experience of the very Reality itself, or unless there be
some universal Logos, divine Mind or Supermind, which knows
itself and all things and our consciousness can reflect or get into
touch with that, a pursuing insufficiency and uncertainty must
always keep its baffling grasp upon even the highest power and
largest walk of our reason and beset all the labour of human
Nowhere are these disabilities more embarrassing than in
those fundamental questions of the nature of the world and of
our own existence which yet most passionately interest thinking
humanity because this is in the end the thing of utmost importance to us, since everything else, except some rough immediate
practicality of the moment, depends on its solution. And even
that, until this great question is settled, is only a stumbling forward upon a journey of which we know not the goal or the
purpose, the meaning or the necessity. The religions profess to
solve these grand problems with an inspired or revealed certainty; but the enormity of their differences shows that in them
too there is a selection of ideas, separate aspects of the Truth, —
the sceptic would say, shows of imagination and falsehood, —
and a construction from a limited spiritual experience. In them
too there is an element of chosen and willed believing and some
high pragmatic aim and utility, whether that be the soul’s escape
from the sorrow or unreality of existence or celestial bliss or a
religio-ethical sanction and guidance. The philosophical systems
are very obviously only feasible selective constructions of great
reflective ideas. More often these are possibilities of the reason
much rather than assured certainties or, if founded on spiritual
experience, they are still selective constructions, a sort of great
architectural approach to some gate into unknowable Divine
or ineffable Infinite. The modern scientific mind professed to
rid us of all mere intellectual constructions and put us face to
face with truth and with assured truth only; it claimed the right
to rid man of the fantastic encumbrance of religion and the
nebulous futilities of metaphysical philosophy. But religion and
philosophy have now turned upon science and convicted her,
on her own statement of facts, of an equal liability to the two
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
universal difficulties of human reason. The system of science
seems to be itself only another feasible and fruitful construction
of the reason giving a serviceable account to itself of the physical
world and our relations to it, and it seems to be nothing more.
And its knowledge is fatally bound by the limitation of its data
and its outlook. Science too creates only a partial image of Truth
stamped with a character of much uncertainty and still more
clearly imprinted with the perverse hallmark of insufficiency.
We have to recognise that human reason, moving as it does
from a starting-point of ignorance and in a great environing
circle of ignorance, must proceed by hypothesis, assumption
and theory subject to verification of some kind convincing to
our reason and experience. But there is this difference that the
religious mind accepts the theory or assumption, — to which it
does not at all give these names, for they are to it things felt,
— with faith, with a will of belief, with an emotional certainty,
and finds its verification in an increasing spiritual intuition and
experience. The philosophic mind accepts it calmly and discerningly for its coherent agreement with the facts and necessities
of being; it verifies by a pervading and unfailing harmony with
all the demands of reason and intellectualised intuition. But the
sceptical mind — not the mind of mere doubt or dogmatic denial
which usually arrogates that name, but the open and balanced
mind of careful, impartial and reserved inquiry, — gives a certain
provisional character to its hypotheses, and it verifies by the
justification of whatever order or category of ascertainable facts
it takes for its standard of proof and invests with a character of
decisive authority or reality. There is room enough for all three
methods and there is no reason why our complex modern mind
should not proceed simultaneously by all of them at once. For
if the sceptical or provisional attitude makes us more ready to
modify our image of Truth in the light of new material of thought
and knowledge, the religious mind also, provided it keeps a
certain firm and profound openness to new spiritual experience,
can proceed faster to a larger and larger light, and meanwhile
we can walk by it with an assured step and go securely about our
principal business of the growth and perfection of our being. The
The Problem of Rebirth
philosophic mind has the use of giving a needed largeness and
openness to our mentality, — if it too does not narrow itself by
a closed circle of metaphysical dogma, — and supports besides
the harmony of our other action by the orderly assent of the
higher reason.
In this matter of the soul and rebirth the initial hypothesis
now lies quite open to us; the barrier has fallen. For if there is
one thing now certain it is that physical science may give clues of
process, but cannot lay hold on the reality of things. That means
that the physical is not the whole secret of world and existence,
and that in ourselves too the body is not the whole of our being.
It is then through something supraphysical in Nature and ourselves which we may call the soul, whatever the exact substance
of soul may be, that we are likely to get that greater truth and
subtler experience which will enlarge the narrow rigid circle
traced by physical science and bring us nearer to the Reality.
There is nothing now to bar the most rational mind, — for true
rationalism, real free thought need no longer be identified, as it
was for some time too hastily and intolerantly, with a denial of
the soul and a scouting of the truths of spiritual philosophy and
religion, — there is nothing to prevent us from proceeding firmly
upon whatever certitudes of spiritual experience have become
to us the soil of our inner growth or the pillars on our road
to self-knowledge. These are soul realities. But the exact frame
we shall give to that knowledge, will best be built by farther
spiritual experience aided by new enlarged intuitions, confirmed
in the suggestions of a wide philosophic reason and fruitfully
using whatever helpful facts we may get from the physical and
the psychic sciences. These are truths of soul process; their full
light must come by experimental knowledge and observation of
the world without us and the world within.
The admission of the soul’s existence does not of itself lead,
by its own necessity, by any indispensable next step, to the
acceptance of rebirth. It will only bring in this indispensable
consequence if there is such a thing as a soul evolution which
enforces itself always and is a constant part of the order of
existence and the law of the time process. Moreover some kind
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
of admission of an individual soul is a first condition of the truth
of rebirth. For there is a plausible theory of existence which
admits an All-Soul, a universal being and becoming of which
the material world is some sensible result, but does not admit
any at all abiding truth of our spiritual individuality. The AllSoul may continually develop, may slowly yet urgently evolve
its becoming; but each individual man or apparent individual
being is to this way of thinking only a moment of the All-Soul
and its evolution; out of that it rises by the formation which
we call birth and it sinks back into it by the dissolution which
we call death. But this limiting idea can only stand if we credit
a creative biological evolution and its instrument of physical
heredity with the whole causation of all our mental and spiritual
being; but in that case we have no real soul or spirit, our soul
personality or spiritual becoming is a fruit of our life and body.
Now the question of rebirth turns almost entirely upon the one
fundamental question of the past of the individual being and its
future. If the creation of the whole nature is to be credited to
the physical birth, then the body, life and soul of the individual
are only a continuation of the body, life and soul of his ancestry,
and there is no room anywhere for soul rebirth. The individual
man has no past being independent of them and can have no
independent future; he can prolong himself in his progeny, — the
child may be his second or continued self, as the Upanishad puts
it, — but there is no other rebirth for him. No continued stream
of individuality presided over by any mental or spiritual person
victoriously survives the dissolution of the body. On the other
hand, if there is any element in us, still more the most important
of all, which cannot be so accounted for, but presupposes a past
or admits a future evolution other than that of the race mind
and the physical ancestry, then some kind of soul birth becomes
a logical necessity.
Now it is just here that the claims of physical and vital
evolution and heredity seem to fail, — as a cause of our whole
mental and spiritual being. Certainly it has been shown that our
body and the most physical part of our life action are very largely
the results of heredity, but not in such a way as to exclude an
The Problem of Rebirth
assisting and perhaps really predominant psychical cause other
than the ancestral contribution. It has been shown if you will
that our conscious vitality and those parts of mind which depend
upon it, something of temperament, something of character, certain impulses and predispositions, are to a great extent shaped
— or is it only influenced? — by evolutionary heredity; but not
that they are entirely due to this force, not that there is no
soul, no spiritual entity which accepts and makes use of this
instrumentation, but is not its created result or helplessly subject
to it in its becoming. Still more are the higher parts of our mind
marked with a certain stamp of spiritual independence. They are
not altogether helpless formations of evolutionary heredity. But
still all these things are evidently very much under the influence
of environment and its pressures and opportunities. And we may
draw from that, if we choose, a limiting conclusion; we may say
that they are a phase of the universal soul, a part of the process
of its evolution by selection; the race, not the individual, is the
continuous factor and all our individual effort and acquisition,
only in appearance, not really independent, ceases with death,
except so much of our gain as is chosen to be carried on in the
race by some secret will or conscious necessity in the universal
being or the persistent becoming.
But when we come to our highest spiritual elements, we
find that here we do arrive at a very clear and sovereign independence. We can carry on far beyond any determination
by environment or the pressure of the race-soul our own soul
evolution by the governing force of our spiritual nature. Quite
apart from any evidence of an after-life on other planes or any
memory of past births, this is sufficient warrant for a refusal
to accept as sufficient any theory of the ephemeral being of
the individual and the sole truth of the evolutionary Universal.
Certainly, the individual being is not thereby shown to be independent of the All-Soul; it may be nothing but a form of it in
time. But it is sufficient for our purpose that it is a persistent soul
form, not determined by the life of the body and ceasing with
its dissolution, but persisting independently beyond. For if it is
thus independent of the physical race continuity in the future, if
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
it thus shows itself capable of determining its own future soul
evolution in time, it must have had secretly such an independent existence all through and it must have been determining in
reality, though no doubt by some other and indirect insistence,
its past soul evolution too in time. Possibly it may exist in the
All-Soul only during the universal continuity, may have arisen
from it in that, may pass into it eventually. Or on the contrary
it may exist in it prior to, or it is better to say, independent of
the universal continuity, and there may be some kind of eternal
individual. But it is sufficient for the theory of rebirth that a
secret soul continuity of the individual does exist and not alone
a brute succession of bodies informed by the All-Soul with a
quite ephemeral illusion of mental or spiritual individuality.
There are theories of existence which accept the individual
soul, but not soul evolution. There is, for instance, that singular
dogma of a soul without a past but with a future, created by the
birth of the body but indestructible by the death of the body.
But this is a violent and irrational assumption, an imagination
unverified and without verisimilitude. It involves the difficulty
of a creature beginning in time but enduring through all eternity, an immortal being dependent for its existence on an act
of physical generation, yet itself always and entirely unphysical
and independent of the body which results from the generation.
These are objections insuperable to the reason. But there is too
the difficulty that this soul inherits a past for which it is in
no way responsible, or is burdened with mastering propensities
imposed on it not by its own act, and is yet responsible for its
future which is treated as if it were in no way determined by that
often deplorable inheritance, damnosa hereditas, or that unfair
creation, and were entirely of its own making. We are made
helplessly what we are and are yet responsible for what we are,
— or at least for what we shall be hereafter, which is inevitably
determined to a large extent by what we are originally. And we
have only this one chance. Plato and the Hottentot, the fortunate child of saints or Rishis and the born and trained criminal
plunged from beginning to end in the lowest fetid corruption of
a great modern city have equally to create by the action or belief
The Problem of Rebirth
of this one unequal life all their eternal future. This is a paradox
which offends both the soul and the reason, the ethical sense
and the spiritual intuition.
There is too the kindred idea, behind which a truth obscurely
glimmers, that the soul of man is something high, pure and great
which has fallen into the material existence and by its use of its
nature and its acts in the body must redeem itself, must return
to its own celestial nature. But it is evident that this one earthly
life is not sufficient for all to effect that difficult return, but
rather most may and do miss it entirely; and we have then either
to suppose that an immortal soul can perish or be doomed to
eternal perdition or else that it has more existences than this
poor precarious one apparently given to it, lives or states of
being which intervene between its fall and the final working out
of a sure redemption. But the first supposition is subject to all
the difficulties of that other paradox. Apart from the problem
of the reason of the descent, it is difficult to see how straight
from celestial being these different souls should have lapsed
immediately to such immense differences of gradation in their
fall and in such a way that each is responsible for the otherwise
cruel and unequal conditions under which he has to determine
so summarily his eternal future. Each must surely have had a
past which made him responsible for his present conditions, if
he is to be held thus strictly to account for all their results and the
use he makes of his often too scanty, grudging and sometimes
quite hopeless opportunity. The very nature of our humanity
supposes a varying constituent past for the soul as well as a
resultant future.
More reasonable therefore is a recent theory which suggests
that a spirit or mental being has descended from another and
greater plane and taken up the material existence when the physical and the animal evolution had proceeded far enough for a
human embodiment upon earth to be possible. He looks back to
a long series of human lives, beginning from that point, which
has brought each of us to his present condition, and forward to
a still continuing series which will carry all by their own degrees
and in their own time to whatever completion, transfiguration,
Rebirth and Soul Evolution
return awaits the self-embodying human soul and is the crown
of its long endeavour. But here again, what is it that brings about
this connection of a spiritual being and higher mental nature and
a physical being and lower animal nature? what necessitates this
taking up of the lower life by the spirit which here becomes man?
It would seem surely that there must have been some previous
connection; the possessing mental or spiritual being must all the
time have been preparing this lower life it thus occupies for a
human manifestation. The whole evolution would then be an
ordered continuity from the beginning and the intervention of
mind and spirit would be no sudden inexplicable miracle, but a
coming forward of that which was always there behind, an open
taking up of the manifested life by a power which was always
secretly presiding over the life evolution.
What this theory of rebirth supposes is an evolution of being
in the material world from matter to embodied mind and a universal spirit which ensouls this evolution, while our individual
spirits exist in the universal and follow their upward course to
whatever purposed consummation or liberation or both may
beckon to us at its end. Much more than this it may mean, but
this at least; a soul evolution the real fact, an assumption of
higher and higher forms the first appearance. We might indeed
allow a past and future for the human soul, but place them
below and above this terrestrial plane and admit only one casual
or purposeful existence upon earth. But this would mean two
orders of progressive existence unconnected and yet meeting for
a brief moment. There would be an errant individual human soul
intervening in the ordered terrestrial evolution and almost immediately passing out without any connecting cause or necessity.
But especially it leaves insufficiently explained the phenomenon
of the largely terrestrial animal being and nature of this spiritual
and supra-terrestrial entity, this soul, its struggle for liberation,
and the infinitely varying degrees in which in different bodies it
has succeeded in dominating the lower nature. A past terrestrial
soul evolution sufficiently accounting for these variations and
degrees of our mixed being and a future soul evolution that
helps us progressively to liberate the godhead of the spirit, seem
The Problem of Rebirth
the only just and reasonable explanation of this labour of a
matter-shackled soul which has attained a variable degree of
humanity in the midst of a general progressive appearance of
the life, mind and spirit in a material universe. Rebirth is the
only possible machinery for such a soul evolution.
The Significance of Rebirth
HE ONE question which through all its complexities is
the sum of philosophy and to which all human enquiry
comes round in the end, is the problem of ourselves, —
why we are here and what we are, and what is behind and
before and around us, and what we are to do with ourselves,
our inner significances and our outer environment. In the idea
of evolutionary rebirth, if we can once find it to be a truth and
recognise its antecedents and consequences, we have a very sufficient clue for an answer to all these connected sides of the one
perpetual question. A spiritual evolution of which our universe
is the scene and earth its ground and stage, though its plan is
still kept back above from our yet limited knowledge, — this
way of seeing existence is a luminous key which we can fit into
many doors of obscurity. But we have to look at it in the right
focus, to get its true proportions and, especially, to see it in its
spiritual significance more than in its mechanical process. The
failure to do that rightly will involve us in much philosophical
finessing, drive on this side or the other to exaggerated negations
and leave our statement of it, however perfect may be its logic,
yet unsatisfying and unconvincing to the total intelligence and
the complex soul of humanity.
The bare idea of repeated births as the process of our soul
existence does not carry us much farther than the simple material
reality of this single life in the body, that first fact of our conscious sensation and memory which is the occasion of all our
speculations. Behind our present starting-point and preceding
this one lappet of our race in the fields of being rebirth reminds us
indeed of a past, of pregnant anterior courses, a soul-existence in
many previous bodies which have immediately created what we
now are. But to what use or advantage if there is no progressive
significance in our pre-existence and our persevering continuity?
The Problem of Rebirth
In front of us it rolls far back from our vision the obstruction of
the near blank wall of death; our journeying upon earth becomes
less of a long or brief unretraceable road ending abruptly and
perplexingly in a cul-de-sac; our physical dissolution is robbed of
the cruellest poison of its sting. For the burden of death to man
the thinking, willing, feeling creature is not the loss of this poor
case or chariot of body, but it is the blind psychical finality death
suggests, the stupid material end of our will and thought and
aspiration and endeavour, the brute breaking off of the heart’s
kind and sweet relations and affections, the futile convicting
discontinuity of that marvellous and all-supporting soul-sense
which gives us our radiant glimpses of the glory and delight of
existence, — that is the discord and harsh inconsequence against
which the thinking living creature revolts as incredible and inadmissible. The fiery straining to immortality of our life, mind,
psyche, which can assent to cessation only by turning in enmity
upon their own flame of nature, and the denial of it which the
dull acquiescence of a body consenting inertly to death as to life
brings in on us, is the whole painful irreconcilable contradiction
of our double nature. Rebirth takes the difficulty and solves it
in the sense of a soul continuity with a beat of physical repetition. Like other non-materialistic solutions it gives the right
to the soul’s suggestion as against the body’s and sanctions the
demand for survival, but unlike some others it justifies the bodily
life by its utility to the soul’s continued self-experience; our too
swift act in the body ceases to be an isolated accident or an
abrupt interlude, it gets the justification of a fulfilling future
as well as a creating past for its otherwise haphazard actions
and relations. But simple persistence, mechanical continuity is
not enough; that is not all our psychical being signifies, not the
whole luminous meaning of survival and continuity; without ascension, without expansion, without some growing up straight
into light in the strength of our spirit our higher members toil
here uncompleted, our birth in matter is not justified by any
adequate meaning. We are very little better off than if death
remained our ending; for our life in the end becomes then an
indefinitely continued and renewed and temporarily consequent
The Significance of Rebirth
in place of an inconsequent, abruptly ended and soon convicted
By rebirth, too, this world around us, our environment, its
suggestions, its opportunities are no longer left as the field of an
ephemeral physical flowering or as a Life which cares very little
for and means very little to the individual, though it may offer
much perhaps during its uncertain longer time to the species. The
world grows to us a field of soul-experience, a system of soulrecurrences, a means of self-effectuation, perhaps a crystallising
of the conscious being’s effective self-reflections. But to what end
if our recurrence is only a repetition or a hesitating fluctuation
within a few set types with a very limited, always uncompleted
circle of accomplishment? For that is what it comes to, if there is
no upward outlet, no infinite progression or no escape or enlarging into the soul’s infinities. Rebirth tells us that what we are is a
soul performing constantly the miracle of self-embodiment; but
why this embodiment, what this soul has to do here with itself
and what use it is to make of this world which is given to it for
its grandiose scene, its difficult, plastic material and its besieging
battery of multiform stimulus and suggestions, is hardly at all
clearer than before. But the perception of rebirth as an occasion
and means for a spiritual evolution fills in every hiatus. It makes
life a significant ascension and not a mechanical recurrence;
it opens to us the divine vistas of a growing soul; it makes the
worlds a nexus of spiritual self-expansion; it sets us seeking, and
with a sure promise to all of a great finding now or hereafter,
for the self-knowledge of our spirit and the self-fulfilment of a
wise and divine intention in our existence.
The oppressing sense of a circle of mechanical recurrence
and the passionate seeking for an outlet of absolute escape
haunted the earlier statements of the truth of rebirth and have
left upon them in spite of the depths they fathomed a certain
stamp of unsatisfactory inadequacy, — not illogical, for they are
logical enough, once their premisses are admitted, but unsatisfying, because they do not justify to us our being. For, missing
the divine utility of the cosmic workings, they fail to explain
to us with a sufficiently large, patient, steadfast wholeness God
The Problem of Rebirth
and ourselves and existence, negate too much, miss the positive
sense of our strain and leave sounding an immense note of spiritual futility and cosmic discord. No statement of the sense of
our being or our non-being has laid a more insistent stress on
rebirth than did the Buddhistic; but it affirms strongly only the
more strongly to negate. It views the recurrence of birth as a
prolonged mechanical chain; it sees, with a sense of suffering
and distaste, the eternal revolving of an immense cosmic wheel
of energy with no divine sense in its revolutions, its beginning
an affirmation of ignorant desire, its end a nullifying bliss of
escape. The wheel turns uselessly for ever disturbing the peace
of Non-being and creating souls whose one difficult chance and
whole ideal business is to cease. That conception of being is
only an extension from our first matter-governed sense of the
universe, of our creation in it and of our decisive cessation. It
takes up at every point our first obvious view of the bodily life
and restates all its circumstances in the terms of a more psychical
and spiritual idea of our existence.
What we see in the material universe is a stupendous system of mechanical recurrences. A huge mechanical recurrence
rules that which is long-enduring and vast; a similar but frailer
mechanical recurrence sways all that is ephemeral and small.
The suns leap up into being, flame wheeling in space, squander
force by motion and fade and are extinct, again perhaps to blaze
into being and repeat their course, or else other suns take their
place and fulfil their round. The seasons of Time repeat their
unending and unchanging cycle. Always the tree of life puts
forth its various flowers and sheds them and breaks into the
same flowers in their recurring season. The body of man is born
and grows and decays and perishes, but it gives birth to other
bodies which maintain the one same futile cycle. What baffles
the intelligence in all this intent and persistent process is that it
seems to have in it no soul of meaning, no significance except
the simple fact of causeless and purposeless existence dogged or
relieved by the annulling or the compensating fact of individual
cessation. And this is because we perceive the mechanism, but
do not see the Power that uses the mechanism and the intention
The Significance of Rebirth
in its use. But the moment we know that there is a conscious
Spirit self-wise and infinite brooding upon the universe and a
secret slowly self-finding soul in things, we get to the necessity
of an idea in its consciousness, a thing conceived, willed, set in
motion and securely to be done, progressively to be fulfilled by
these great deliberate workings.
But the Buddhistic statement admits no self, spirit or eternal
Being in its rigorously mechanical economy of existence. It takes
only the phenomenon of a constant becoming and elevates that
from the physical to the psychical level. As there is evident to our
physical mind an Energy, action, motion, capable of creating by
its material forces the forms and powers of the material universe,
so there is for the Buddhistic vision of things an Energy, action,
Karma, creating by its psychic powers of idea and association
this embodied soul life with its continuity of recurrences. As the
body is a dissoluble construction, a composite and combination,
so the soul too is a dissoluble construction and combination; the
soul life like the physical life sustains itself by a continuous flux
and repetition of the same workings and movements. As this
constant hereditary succession of lives is a prolongation of the
one universal principle of life by a continued creation of similar
bodies, a mechanical recurrence, so the system of soul rebirth
too is a constant prolongation of the principle of the soul life
by a continued creation through Karma of similar embodied
associations and experiences, a mechanical recurrence. As the
cause of all this physical birth and long hereditary continuation
is an obscure will to life in Matter, so the cause of continued soul
birth is an ignorant desire or will to be in the universal energy
of Karma. As the constant wheelings of the universe and the
motions of its forces generate individual existences who escape
from or end in being by an individual dissolution, so there is
this constant wheel of becoming and motion of Karma which
forms into individualised soul-lives that must escape from their
continuity by a dissolving cessation. An extinction of the embodied consciousness is our apparent material end; for soul too the
end is extinction, the blank satisfaction of Nothingness or some
ineffable bliss of a superconscient Non-Being. The affirmation of
The Problem of Rebirth
the mechanical occurrence or recurrence of birth is the essence
of this view; but while the bodily life suffers an enforced end
and dissolution, the soul life ceases by a willed self-extinction.
The Buddhistic theory adds nothing to the first obvious
significance of life except an indefinite prolongation by rebirth
which is a burden, not a gain, and the spiritual greatness of the
discipline of self-extinction, — the latter, no doubt, a thing of
great value. The illusionist solution adds something, but does
not differ very greatly in its motive from the Buddhistic. It
sets against the futile cosmic repetition an eternity of our own
absolute being; from the ignorance which creates the illusory
mechanism of a recurrence of rebirth, it escapes into the selfknowledge of our ineffable existence. That seems to bring in a
positive strain and to give to our being an initial, a supporting
and an eventual reality. But the hiatus here is the absence of all
true and valid relation between this real being of ours and all our
birth and becoming. The last event and end of our births is not
represented as any absolute fulfilment of what we are, — that
would be a great, fruitful and magnificently positive philosophy,
nor as the final affirmation of a progressive self-finding, — that
too would give a noble meaning to our existence; it is a turning
away from the demand of the universal Spirit, a refusal of all
these cosmic ideas, imaginations, aspirations, action and effectuation. The way to find our being given us is an absolute denial
of all our becoming. We rise to self by a liberating negation
of ourselves, and in the result the Idea in the universe pursues
its monstrous and aimless road, but the individual ceases and
is blest in the cessation. The motive of this way of thought is
the same oppressive sense of an ignorant mechanical cosmic
recurrence as in the Buddhistic and the same high impatient
passion of escape. There is recognition of a divine source of life,
but a non-recognition of any divine meaning in life. And as for
rebirth it is reduced in its significance to a constant mechanism
of self-deception, and the will not to live is shown us as the
last acquisition, the highest good and the one desirable result
of living. The satisfaction which Illusionism gives, — for it does
give a certain high austere kind of satisfaction to the intellect
The Significance of Rebirth
and to one turn of spiritual tendency, — is the pressing to a last
point of the obvious antinomy between this great burdensome
and tyrannous mechanism, the universe, and the spirit which
feels itself of another and a diviner nature, the great relief to
a soul passioning for freedom, but compelled to labour on as
a spring of the dull machine, of being able to cast away the
cosmic burden, and finally the free and bare absoluteness of
this spiritual conclusion. But it gives no real, because no fruitful
answer to the problem of God and man and the significance
of life; it only gets away from them by a skilful evasion and
takes away from them all significance, so that any question of
the sense and will in all this tremendous labour and throb and
seeking loses meaning. But the challenge of God’s universe to the
knowledge and strength of the human spirit cannot in the end be
met by man with a refusal or solved by an evasion, even though
an individual soul may take refuge from the demand, as a man
may from the burden of action and pain in unconsciousness, in
spiritual trance or sleep or escape through its blank doors into
the Absolute. Something the Spirit of the universe means by our
labour in existence, some sense it has in these grandiose rhythms,
and it has not undertaken them in an eternally enduring error
or made them in a jest.1 To know that and possess it, to find and
fulfil consciously the universal being’s hidden significances is the
task given to the human spirit.
There are other statements or colourings of the idea of
rebirth which admit a more positive sense for existence and
nourish a robuster confidence in the power and delight of being
which are its secret fountains; but they all stumble in the end
over the limitations of humanity and an inability to see any
outlet from their bondage in the order of the universe, because
they suppose this to be a thing fixed from of years sempiternal
— śāśvatı̄bhyah. samābhyah., not an eternally developing and
creative, but an immutable cycle. The Vaishnava idea of the play
of God, striking as it does into the secret of the hidden delight
The magnificent and pregnant phrase of the Koran, “Thinkest thou that I have made
the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in a jest?”
The Problem of Rebirth
at the core of things, is a luminous ray shot into the very heart
of the mystery; but isolated it cannot solve all its enigma. There
is more here in the world than a play of secret delight; there is
knowledge, there is power, there is a will and a mighty labour.
Rebirth so looked at becomes too much of a divine caprice with
no object but its playing, and ours is too great and strenuous
a world to be so accounted for. Such chequered delight as is
given to our becoming, is a game of disguises and seekings with
no promise here of any divine completeness; its circles seem in
the end not worth following out and the soul turns gladly to its
release from the game’s unsatisfying mazes. The Tantric solution
shows us a supreme superconscient Energy which casts itself out
here into teeming worlds and multitudinous beings and in its
order the soul rises from birth to birth and follows its million
forms, till in a last human series it opens to the consciousness and
powers of its own divinity and returns through them by a rapid
illumination to the eternal superconscience. We find at last the
commencement of a satisfying synthesis, some justification of
existence, a meaningful consequence in rebirth, a use and a sufficient though only temporary significance for the great motion
of the cosmos. On lines very like these the modern mind, when
it is disposed to accept rebirth, is inclined to view it. But there
is a too minor stress on the soul’s divine potentialities, a haste
of insistence on the escape into superconscience; the supreme
Energy constructs too long and stupendous a preparation for
so brief and so insufficient a flowering. There is a lacuna here,
some secret is still missing.
There are certain limitations of our own thought over which
all these solutions stumble, and the chief of these obstacles are
our sense of the mechanical nature of the universe and our
inability to see forward to a greater than our present type of
humanity. We see the superconscient Spirit in its effulgence and
freedom and we see the universe in its inconscient bondage to
the cycle of its mechanical recurrences, or we see existence as
an abstract entity and Nature as a mechanical force; the conscient soul stands between as a link between these opposites,
but it is itself so incomplete that we cannot find in this link
The Significance of Rebirth
the secret or make of it a strong master of reconciliation. Then
we pronounce birth to be an error of the soul and see our one
chance of liberation in a shaking off of these natal shackles and
a violent reversion to supracosmic consciousness or the freedom
of abstract being. But what if rebirth were in truth no long
dragging chain, but rather at first a ladder of the soul’s ascension
and at last a succession of mighty spiritual opportunities? It will
be so if the infinite existence is not what it seems to the logical
intellect, an abstract entity, but what it is to intuition and in
deeper soul experience, a conscious spiritual Reality, and that
Reality as real here as in any far off absolute Superconscience.
For then universal Nature would be no longer a mechanism with
no secret but its own inconscient mechanics and no intention but
the mere recurrent working; it would be the conscient energy
of the universal Spirit hidden in the greatness of its processes,
mahimānam asya. And the soul ascending from the sleep of
matter through plant and animal life to the human degree of
the power of life and there battling with ignorance and limit to
take possession of its royal and infinite kingdom would be the
mediator appointed to unfold in Nature the spirit who is hidden
in her subtleties and her vastnesses. That is the significance of
life and the world which the idea of evolutionary rebirth opens
to us; life becomes at once a progressive ascending series for the
unfolding of the Spirit. It acquires a supreme significance: the
way of the Spirit in its power is justified, no longer a foolish
and empty dream, an eternal delirium, great mechanical toil or
termless futility, but the sum of works of a large spiritual Will
and Wisdom: the human soul and the cosmic spirit look into
each other’s eyes with a noble and divine meaning.
The questions which surround our existence elucidate themselves at once with a certain satisfactory fullness. What we are
is a soul of the transcendent Spirit and Self unfolding itself in
the cosmos in a constant evolutionary embodiment of which
the physical side is only a pedestal of form corresponding in its
evolution to the ascending degrees of the spirit, but the spiritual
growth is the real sense and motive. What is behind us is the
past terms of the spiritual evolution, the upward gradations of
The Problem of Rebirth
the spirit already climbed, by which through constant rebirth we
have developed what we are, and are still developing this present
and middle human term of the ascension. What is around us is
the constant process of the unfolding in its universal aspect: the
past terms are there contained in it, fulfilled, overpassed by us,
but in general and various type still repeated as a support and
background; the present terms are there not as an unprofitable
recurrence, but in active pregnant gestation of all that is yet
to be unfolded by the spirit, no irrational decimal recurrence
helplessly repeating for ever its figures, but an expanding series
of powers of the Infinite. What is in front of us is the greater
potentialities, the steps yet unclimbed, the intended mightier
manifestations. Why we are here is to be this means of the
spirit’s upward self-unfolding. What we have to do with ourselves and our significances is to grow and open them to greater
significances of divine being, divine consciousness, divine power,
divine delight and multiplied unity, and what we have to do with
our environment is to use it consciously for increasing spiritual
purposes and make it more and more a mould for the ideal unfolding of the perfect nature and self-conception of the Divine in
the cosmos. This is surely the Will in things which moves, great
and deliberate, unhasting, unresting, through whatever cycles,
towards a greater and greater informing of its own finite figures
with its own infinite Reality.
All this is to the mind that lives in the figures of the present,
as it must be to the careful sceptical mind of positive inquiry,
no more than a hypothesis; for if evolution is an acknowledged
idea, rebirth itself is only a supposition. Take it so, but still it is a
better hypothesis than the naive and childlike religious solutions
which make the world an arbitrary caprice and man the breathing clay puppet of an almighty human-minded Creator, and at
least as good a hypothesis as the idea of a material inconscient
Force somehow stumbling into a precarious, ephemeral, yet always continued phenomenon of consciousness, or a creative Life
labouring in the Bergsonian formula oppressed but constant in
the midst of a universal death, as good too as the idea of a
mechanical working of Prakriti, Maya, Shakti into which or in
The Significance of Rebirth
which a real or unreal individual stumbles and wanders, dandramyamān.o andhena nı̄yamāno yathāndhah.,2 until he can get
out of it by a spiritual liberation. To a large philosophical questioning it will not seem in disagreement with the known lines of
existence or out of tune with the facts and necessities of being
or the demands of reason and intuition, even though it admits
a yet unrealised factor, things yet to be; for that is implied in
the very idea of evolution. It may modify, but does not radically
contradict any religious experience or aspiration, — for it is not
inconsistent either with a union with Superconscience or bliss in
heavens beyond or any personal or impersonal relation with the
Divine, since these may well be heights of the spiritual unfolding.
Its truth will depend on spiritual experience and effectuation; but
chiefly on this momentous issue, whether there is anything in
the soul-powers of man which promises a greater term of being
than his present mentality and whether that greater term can be
made effective for his embodied existence. That is the question
which remains over to be tested by psychological inquiry and the
problem to be resolved in the course of the spiritual evolution
of man.
There are transcendental questions of the metaphysical necessity, possibility, final reality of an evolutionary manifestation
of this kind, but they do not need to be brought in now and here;
for the time we are concerned only with its reality to experience
and with the processional significance of rebirth, with the patent
fact that we are a part of some kind of manifestation and move
forward in the press of some kind of evolution. We see a Power
at work and seek whether in that power there is a conscious
Will, an ordered development and have first to discover whether
it is the blind result of an organised Chance or inconscient
self-compelled Law or the plan of a universal Intelligence or
Wisdom. Once we find that there is a conscious Spirit of which
this movement is one expression, or even admit that as our
working hypothesis, we are bound to go on and ask whether
this developing order ceases with what man now is or is laden
“Beating about like the blind led by the blind.”
The Problem of Rebirth
with something more towards which it and he have to grow,
an unfinished expression, a greater unfound term, and in that
case it is evidently towards that greater thing that man must
be growing; to prepare it and to realise it must be the stage
beyond in his destiny. Towards that new step in the evolution
his history as a race must be subconsciently tending and the
powers of the highest individuals half consciently striving to be
delivered of this greater birth; and since the ascending order
of rebirth follows always the degrees of the evolution, that too
cannot be meant to stop short or shoot off abruptly into the
superconscient without any regard to the intended step. The
relation of our birth to life on other levels of consciousness
and to whatever transcendent Superconscience there may be,
are important problems, but their solution must be something
in harmony with the intention of the Spirit in the universe; all
must be part of a unity, and not an imbroglio of spiritual incoherences and contradictions. Our first bridge from the known
to the unknown on this line of thought must be to discover how
far the yet unfinished ladder of evolution can mount in the earth
series. The whole processional significance of rebirth may be
wrapped up in that one yet unattempted discovery.
The Ascending Unity
HE HUMAN mind loves a clear simplicity of view; the
more trenchant a statement, the more violently it is caught
by it and inclined to acceptance. This is not only natural
to our first crudity of thinking, and the more attractive because
it makes things delightfully easy to handle and saves an immense amount of worry of enquiry and labour of reflection,
but, modified, it accompanies us to the higher levels of a more
watchful mentality. Alexander’s method with the fateful knot
is our natural and favourite dealing with the tangled web of
things, the easy cut, the royal way, the facile philosophy of this
and not this, that and not that, a strong yes and no, a simple
division, a pair of robust opposites, a clean cut of classification.
Our reason acts by divisions, even our ordinary illogical thought
is a stumbling and bungling summary analysis and arrangement
of the experience that offers itself to us with such unending
complexity. But the cleanest and clearest division is that which
sets us most at ease, because it impresses on our still childlike
intelligence a sense of conclusive and luminous simplicity.
But the average mind enamoured of a straight and plain
thinking, for which, for a famous instance, that great doctor
Johnson thought with the royal force dear to all strong men
when he destroyed Berkeley’s whole philosophy by simply kicking a stone and saying “There I prove the reality of matter,” is
not alone affected by this turn towards simple solutions. Even
the philosopher, though he inclines to an intricate reasoning by
the way, is best delighted when he can get by it to some magnificently conclusive conclusion, some clean-cutting distinction
between Brahman and non-Brahman, Reality and unreality or
any of the host of mental oppositions on which so many “isms”
have been founded. These royal roads of philosophy have the
advantage that they are highly and grandly cut for the steps of
The Problem of Rebirth
the metaphysical intellect and at the same time attract and overpower the ordinary mind by the grandiose eminence of the peak
in which they end, some snow-white heaven-cutting Matterhorn
of sovereign formula. What a magnificent exterminating sweep
do we hear for instance in that old renowned sentence, brahma
satyaṁ jagan mithyā, the Eternal alone is true, the universe is a
lie, and how these four victorious words seem to settle the whole
business of God and man and world and life at once and for ever
in their uncompromising antithesis of affirmation and negation.
But after all perhaps when we come to think more at large about
the matter, we may find that Nature and Existence are not of
the same mind as man in this respect, that there is here a great
complexity which we must follow with patience and that those
ways of thinking have most chance of a fruitful truth-yielding,
which like the inspired thinking of the Upanishads take in many
sides at once and reconcile many conflicting conclusions. One
can hew material for a hundred philosophies out of the Upanishads as if from some bottomless Titans’ quarry and yet no
more exhaust it than one can exhaust the opulent bosom of our
mother Earth or the riches of our father Ether.
Man began this familiar process of simple cuttings by emphasising his sense of himself as man; he made of himself a being
separate, unique and peculiar in this world, for whom or round
whom everything else was supposed to be created, — and all the
rest, the subhuman existence, animal, plant, inanimate object,
everything to the original atom seemed to him a creation different from himself, separate, of another nature; he condemned all
to be without a soul, he was the one ensouled being. He saw
life, defined it by certain characters that struck his mind, and
set apart all other existence as non-living, inanimate. He looked
at his earth, made it the centre of the universe, because the
one inhabited scene of embodied souls or living beings; but the
innumerable other heavenly bodies were only lights to illumine
earth’s day or to relieve her night. He perceived the insufficiency
of this one earthly life only to create another opposite definition
of a perfect heavenly existence and set it in the skies he saw
above him. He perceived his “I” or self and conceived of it as a
The Ascending Unity
separate embodied ego, the centre of all his earthly and heavenly
interests, and cut off all other being as the not-I which was there
for him to make the best use he could out of it for this little
absorbing entity. When he looked beyond these natural sensegoverned divisions, he still followed the same logical policy.
Conceiving of spirit, he cut it off sharply as a thing by itself, the
opposite of all that was not spirit; an antinomy between spirit
and matter became the base of his self-conception, or else more
amply between spirit on the one side and on the other mind, life
and body. Then conceiving of self as a pure entity, all else being
not-self was separated from it as of quite another character.
Incidentally, with the eye of his inveterate dividing mind, he saw
it as his own separate self and, just as before he had made the
satisfaction of ego his whole business on earth, so he made the
soul’s own individual salvation its one all-important spiritual
and heavenly transaction. Or he saw the universal and denied
the reality of the individual, refusing to them any living unity
or coexistent reality, or saw a transcendent Absolute separate
from individual and universe so that these became a figment of
the unreal, Asat. Being and Becoming are to his clean-cutting
confidently trenchant mind two opposite categories, of which
one or the other must be denied, or made a temporary construction or a sum, or sicklied over with the pale hue of illusion, and
not Becoming accepted as an eternal display of Being. These
conceptions of the sense-guided or the intellectual reason still
pursue us, but a considering wisdom comes more and more to
perceive that conclusive and satisfying as they may seem and
helpful though they may be for action of life, action of mind,
action of spirit, they are yet, as we now put them, constructions.
There is a truth behind them, but a truth which does not really
permit of these isolations. Our classifications set up too rigid
walls; all borders are borders only and not impassable gulfs.
The one infinitely variable Spirit in things carries over all of
himself into each form of his omnipresence; the self, the Being
is at once unique in each, common in our collectivities and one
in all beings. God moves in many ways at once in his own
indivisible unity.
The Problem of Rebirth
The conception of man as a separate and quite peculiar
being in the universe has been rudely shaken down by a patient
and disinterested examination of the process of nature. He is
without equal or peer and occupies a privileged position on
earth, but is not solitary in his being; all the evolution is there to
explain this seeker of spiritual greatness embodied in a fragile
body and narrow life and bounded mind who in turn by his
being and seeking explains to itself the evolution. The animal
prepares and imperfectly prefigures man and is itself prepared
in the plant, as that too is foreseen obscurely by all that precedes it in the terrestrial expansion. Man himself takes up the
miraculous play of the electron and atom, draws up through
the complex development of the protoplasm the chemical life of
subvital things, perfects the original nervous system of the plant
in the physiology of the completed animal being, consummates
and repeats rapidly in his embryonic growth the past evolution
of the animal form into the human perfection and, once born,
rears himself from the earthward and downward animal proneness to the erect figure of the spirit who is already looking up
to his farther heavenward evolution. All the terrestrial past of
the world is there summarised in man, and not only has Nature
given as it were the physical sign that she has formed in him an
epitome of her universal forces, but psychologically also he is
one in his subconscient being with her obscurer subanimal life,
contains in his mind and nature the animal and rises out of all
this substratum into his conscious manhood.
Whatever soul there is in man is not a separate spiritual
being which has no connection with all the rest of the terrestrial
family, but seems to have grown out of it by a taking up of it all
and an exceeding of its sense by a new power and meaning of
the spirit. This is the universal nature of the type man on earth,
and it is reasonable to suppose that whatever has been the past
history of the individual soul, it must have followed the course of
the universal nature and evolution. The separative pride which
would break up the unity of Nature in order to make of ourselves
another as well as a greater creation, has no physical warrant,
but has been found on the contrary to be contradicted by all
The Ascending Unity
the evidence; and there is no reason to suppose that it has any
spiritual justification. The physical history of humankind is the
growth out of the subvital and the animal life into the greater
power of manhood; our inner history as indicated by our present
nature, which is the animal plus something that exceeds it, must
have been a simultaneous and companion growing on the same
curve into the soul of humanity. The ancient Indian idea which
refused to separate nature of man from the universal Nature or
self of man from the one common self, accepted this consequence
of its seeing. Thus the Tantra assigns eighty millions of plant and
animal lives as the sum of the preparation for a human birth and,
without binding ourselves to the figure, we can appreciate the
force of its idea of the difficult soul evolution by which humanity
has come or perhaps constantly comes into being. We can only
get away from this necessity of an animal past by denying all
soul to subhuman nature.
But this denial is only one of the blind, hasty and presumptuous isolations of the human mind which shut up in its own
prison of separate self-perception refuses to see its kinship with
the rest of natural being. Because soul or spirit works in the
animal on a lower scale, we are not warranted in thinking that
there is no soul in him, any more than a divine or superhuman being would be justified in regarding us as soulless bodies
or soulless minds because of the grovelling downward drawn
inferiority of our half-animal nature. The figure which we use
when sometimes we say of one of our own kind that he has
no soul, is only a figure; it means only that the animal type of
soul predominates in him over the more developed soul type
which we expect in the finer spiritual figure of humanity. But
this animal element is present in every mother’s son of us; it
is our legacy, our inheritance from the common earth-mother:
and how spiritually do we get this element of our being or incur
the burden of this inheritance, if it is not the earning of our
own past, the power we have kept from a bygone formative
experience? The spiritual law of Karma is that the nature of
each being can be only the result of his past energies; to suppose
a soul which assumes and continues a past karma that is not its
The Problem of Rebirth
own, is to cut a line of dissociation across this law and bring in
an unknown and unverified factor. But if we admit it, we must
account for that factor, we must explain or discover by what
law, by what connection, by what necessity, by what strange
impulsion of choice a spirit pure of all animal nature assumes a
body and nature of animality prepared for it by a lower order
of being. If there is no affinity and no consequence of past identity or connection, this becomes an unnatural and impossible
assumption. Then it is the most reasonable and concordant
conclusion that man has the animal nature, — and indeed if
we consider well his psychology, we find that he houses many
kinds of animal souls or rather an amalgam of animal natures,
— because the developing self in him like the developed body
has had a past subhuman evolution. This conclusion preserves
the unity of Nature and its developing order; and it concurs
with the persistent evidence of an interaction and parallelism
which we perceive between the inward and the outward, the
physical and the mental phenomenon, — a correspondence and
companionship which some would explain by making mind a
result and notation of the act of nerve and body, but which
can now be better accounted for by seeing in vital and physical
phenomenon a consequence and minor notation of a soul-action
which it at the same time hints and conceals from our sensebound mentality. Finally, it makes of soul or spirit, no longer
a miraculous accident or intervention in a material universe,
but a constant presence in it and the secret of its order and its
The concession of an animal soul existence and of its past
subhuman births slowly and guardedly preparing the birth into
humanity cannot stop short at this abrupt line in the natural
gradation. For man epitomises in his being not only the animal
existence below him, but the obscurer subanimal being. But if
it is difficult for us to concede a soul to the despised animal
form and mind, it is still more difficult to concede it to the brute
subconscience of the subanimal nature. Ancient belief made this
concession with the happiest ease, saw a soul, a living godhead
everywhere in the animate and in the inanimate and nothing was
The Ascending Unity
to its view void of a spiritual existence. The logical abstracting intellect with its passion for clean sections intermediately
swept away these large beliefs as an imaginative superstition or
a primitive animism and, mastered by its limiting and dividing
definitions, it drove a trenchant sectional cleavage between man
and animal, animal and plant, animate and inanimate being. But
now to the eye of our enlarging reason this system of intolerant
cleavages is in rapid course of disappearance. The human mind
is a development from what is inchoate in the animal mentality;
there is, even, in that inferior type a sort of suppressed reason, for that name may well be given to a power of instinctive
and customary conclusion from experience, association, memory and nervous response, and man himself begins with these
things though he develops out of this animal inheritance a free
human self-detaching power of reflective will and intelligence.
And it is now clear that the nervous life which is the basis of that
physical mentality in man and animal, exists also in the plant
with a fundamental identity; not only so, but it is akin to us by
a sort of nervous psychology which amounts to the existence of
a suppressed mind. A subconscient mind in the plant, it is now
not unreasonable to suggest, — but is it not at the summits of
plant experience only half subconscious? — becomes conscient
in the animal body. When we go lower down, we find hints that
there are involved in the subvital most brute material forms the
rudiments of precisely the same energy of life and its responses.
And the question then arises whether there is not an unbroken continuity in Nature, no scissions and sections, no unbridgeable gulfs or impassable borders, but a complete unity, matter
instinct with a suppressed life, life instinct with a suppressed
mind, mind instinct with a suppressed energy of a diviner intelligence, each new form or type of birth evolving a stage in the
succession of suppressed powers, and there too the evolution
not at an end, but this large and packed intelligence the means
of liberating a greater and now suppressed self-power of the
Spirit. A spiritual evolution thus meets our eye in the world
which an inner force raises up a certain scale of gradations of
its births in form by the unfolding of its own hidden powers to
The Problem of Rebirth
the greatness of its complete and highest reality. The word of
the ancient Veda stands, — out of all the ocean of inconscience,
apraketaṁ salilaṁ sarvam idam, it is that one spiritual Existent
who is born by the greatness of his own energy, tapasas tan
mahinā ajāyata ekam. Where in this evolution does the thing
we call soul make its first appearance? One is obliged to ask,
was it not there, must it not have been there from the first
beginnings, even though asleep or, as we may say, somnambulist
in matter? If man were only a superior animal with a greater
range of physical mind, we might conceivably say that there was
no soul or spirit, but only three successive powers of Energy in
a series of the forms of matter. But in this human intelligence
there does appear at its summit a greater power of spirit; we
rise up to a consciousness which is not limited by its physical
means and formulas. This highest thing is not, as it might first
appear, an unsubstantial sublimation of mind and mind a subtle
sublimation of living matter. This greatness turns out to have
been the very self-existent substance and power of our being;
all other things seem in comparison only its lesser forms of
itself which it uses for a progressive revelation; spirit in the end
proves itself the first and not only the last, Alpha as well as
Omega, and the whole secret of existence from its beginning.
We come to a fathomless conception of this all, sarvam idam,
in which we see that there is an obscure omnipresent life in
matter, activised by that life a secret sleeping mind, sheltered
in that sleep of mind an involved all-knowing all-originating
Spirit. But then soul is not to be conceived of as a growth or
birth of which we can fix a date of its coming or a stage in
the evolution which brings it to a first capacity of formation,
but rather all here is assumption of form by a secret soul which
becomes in the self-seeking of life increasingly manifest to a
growing self-conscience. All assumption of form is a constant
and yet progressive birth or becoming of the soul, sambhava,
sambhūti, — the dumb and blind and brute is that and not only
the finely, mentally conscious human or the animal existence.
All this infinite becoming is a birth of the Spirit into form. This
is the truth, obscure at first or vague to the intelligence, but very
The Ascending Unity
luminous to an inner experience, on which the ancient Indian
idea of rebirth took its station.
But the repeated birth of the same individual does not at
first sight seem to be indispensable in this overpowering universal unity. To the logical intellect it might appear to be a
contradiction, since all here is the one self, spirit, existence born
into nature, assuming a multitude of forms, ascending many
gradations of its stages of self-revelation. That summary cutting
of existence into the I and the not-I which was the convenience
of our egoistic notion of things, a turn of mind so powerful for
action, would seem to be only a practical or a mechanical device
of the one Spirit to support its separative phenomenon of birth
and conscious variation of combined proceeding, a sorcerer’s
trick of the universal intelligence; it is only apparent fact of
being, not its truth, — there is no separation, only a universal
unity, one spirit. But may not this again be a swinging away to
the opposite extreme? As the ego was an excessive scission in
the unity of being, so this idea of an ocean of unity in which
our life would be only an inconstant momentary wave, may be
a violent excision of something indispensable to the universal
order. Individuality is as important a thing to the ways of the
Spirit of existence as universality. The individual is that potent
secret of its being upon which the universal stresses and leans
and makes the knot of power of all its workings: as the individual grows in consciousness and sight and knowledge and all
divine power and quality, increasingly he becomes aware of the
universal in himself, but aware of himself too in the universality,
of his own past not begun and ended in the single transient body,
but opening to future consummations. If the aim of the universal
in our birth is to become self-conscient and possess and enjoy
its being, still it is done through the individual’s flowering and
perfection; if to escape from its own workings be the last end, still
it is the individual that escapes while the universal seems content
to continue its multitudinous births to all eternity. Therefore the
individual would appear to be a real power of the Spirit and
not a simple illusion or device, except in so far as the universal
too may be, as some would have it, an immense illusion or
The Problem of Rebirth
a grand imposed device. On this line of thinking we arrive at
the idea of some great spiritual existence of which universal
and individual are two companion powers, pole and pole of its
manifestation, indefinite circumference and multiple centre of
the activised realities of its being.
This is a way of seeing things, harmonious at least in its
complexity, supple and capable of a certain all-embracing scope,
which we can take as a basis for our ideas of rebirth, — an
ascending unity, a spirit involved in material existence which
scales wonderfully up many gradations through life to organised
mind and beyond mind to the evolution of its own complete
self-conscience, the individual following that gradation and the
power for its self-crowning. If human mind is the last word of its
possibility on earth, then rebirth must end in man and proceed
by some abrupt ceasing either to an existence on other planes
or to an annulment of its spiritual circle. But if there are higher
powers of the spirit which are attainable by birth, then the ascent
is not finished, greater assumptions may lie before the soul which
has now reached and is lifted to a perfecting of the high scale
of humanity. It may even be that this ascending rebirth is not
the long upward rocket shooting of a conscious being out of
matter or its whirling motion in mind destined to break up and
dissolve in some high air of calm nothingness or of silent timeless
infinity, but a progress to some great act and high display of the
Divinity which shall give a wise and glorious significance to his
persistent intention in an eternal creation. Or that at least may
be one power of the Eternal’s infinite potentiality.
Involution and Evolution
HE WESTERN idea of evolution is the statement of a
process of formation, not an explanation of our being.
Limited to the physical and biological data of Nature, it
does not attempt except in a summary or a superficial fashion
to discover its own meaning, but is content to announce itself as
the general law of a quite mysterious and inexplicable energy.
Evolution becomes a problem in motion which is satisfied to
work up with an automatic regularity its own puzzle, but not to
work it out, because, since it is only a process, it has no understanding of itself, and, since it is a blind perpetual automatism
of mechanical energy, it has neither an origin nor an issue. It
began perhaps or is always beginning; it will stop perhaps in
time or is always somewhere stopping and going back to its
beginnings, but there is no why, only a great turmoil and fuss
of a how to its beginning and its cessation; for there is in its
acts no fountain of spiritual intention, but only the force of an
unresting material necessity. The ancient idea of evolution was
the fruit of a philosophical intuition, the modern is an effort of
scientific observation. Each as enounced misses something, but
the ancient got at the spirit of the movement where the modern
is content with a form and the most external machinery. The
Sankhya thinker gave us the psychological elements of the total
evolutionary process, analysed mind and sense and the subtle
basis of matter and divined some of the secrets of the executive
energy, but had no eye for the detail of the physical labour of
Nature. He saw in it too not only the covering active evident
Force, but the concealed sustaining spiritual entity, though by an
excess of the analytic intellect, obsessed with its love of trenchant
scissions and symmetrical oppositions, he set between meeting
Soul and Force an original and eternal gulf or line of separation.
The modern scientist strives to make a complete scheme and
The Problem of Rebirth
institution of the physical method which he has detected in its
minute workings, but is blind to the miracle each step involves
or content to lose the sense of it in the satisfied observation of
a vast ordered phenomenon. But always the marvel of the thing
remains, one with the inexplicable wonder of all existence, —
even as it is said in the ancient Scripture,
āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam,
āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyah.;
āścaryavac cainam anyah. śr.n.oti,
śrutvāpyenaṁ veda na caiva kaścit.
“One looks on it and sees a miracle, another speaks of it as a
miracle, as a miracle another hears of it, but what it is, for all
the hearing, none knoweth.” We know that an evolution there
is, but not what evolution is; that remains still one of the initial
mysteries of Nature.
For evolution, as is the habit with the human reason’s accounts and solutions of the deep and unfathomable way of the
spirit in things, raises more questions than it solves; it does not
do away with the problem of creation, for all its appearance
of solid orderly fact, any more than the religious affirmation of
an external omnipotent Creator could do it or the illusionist’s
mystic Maya, aghat.ana-ghat.ana-pat.ı̄yası̄, very skilful in bringing
about the impossible, some strange existent non-existent Power
with an idea in That which is beyond and without ideas, selfempowered to create an existent non-existent world, existent
because it very evidently is, non-existent because it is a patched
up consistency of dreamful unreal transiences. The problem is
only prolonged, put farther back, given a subtle and orderly, but
all the more challengingly complex appearance. But, even when
our questioning is confined to the one issue of evolution alone,
the difficulty still arises of the essential significance of the bare
outward facts observed, what is meant by evolution, what is it
that evolves, from what and by what force of necessity? The
scientist is content to affirm an original matter or substance,
atomic, electric, etheric or whatever it may finally turn out to
be, which by the very nature of its own inherent energy or of an
Involution and Evolution
energy acting in it and on it, — the two things are not the same,
and the distinction, though it may seem immaterial in the beginning of the process, is of a considerable ultimate consequence,
— produces owing to some unexplained law, constant system
of results or other unalterable principle a number of different
basic forms and powers of matter or different sensible and effective movements of energy: these come into being, it seems,
when the minute original particles of matter meet together in
variously disposed quantities, measures and combinations, and
all the rest is a varying, developing, mounting movement of
organised energy and its evolutionary consequences, parin.āma,
which depends on this crude constituting basis. All that is or
may be a correct statement of phenomenal fact, — but we must
not forget that the fundamental theory of science has been going
of late through a considerable commotion of an upsetting and a
rapid rearrangement, — but it carries us no step farther towards
the principal, the all-important thing that we want to know. The
way in which man sees and experiences the universe, imposes
on his reason the necessity of a one original eternal substance
of which all things are the forms and a one eternal original
energy of which all movement of action and consequence is the
variation. But the whole question is what is the reality of this
substance and what is the essential nature of this energy?
Then, even if we suppose the least explicable part of the
action to be an evolutionary development of the immaterial
from Matter, still is that development a creation or a liberation,
a birth of what did not exist before or a slow bringing out of
what already existed in suppressed fact or in eternal potentiality?
And the interest of the question becomes acute, its importance
incalculable when we come to the still unexplained phenomenon
of life and mind. Is life a creation out of inanimate substance or
the appearance of a new, a suddenly or slowly resultant power
out of the brute material energy, and is conscious mind a creation
out of inconscient or subconscient life, or do these powers and
godheads appear because they were always there though in a
shrouded and by us unrecognizable condition of their hidden
or suppressed idea and activity, Nomen and Numen? And what
The Problem of Rebirth
of the soul and of man? Is soul a new result or creation of
our mentalised life, — even so many regard it, because it clearly
appears as a self-conscient, bright, distinguishable power only
when thinking life has reached some high pitch of its intensity,
— or is it not a permanent entity, the original mystery that now
unveils its hidden form, the eternal companion of the energy we
call Nature, her secret inhabitant or her very spirit and reality?
And is man a biological creation of a brute energy which has
somehow unexpectedly and quite inexplicably managed to begin to feel and think, or is he in his real self that inner Being
and Power which is the whole sense of the evolution and the
master of Nature? Is Nature only the force of self-expression,
self-formation, self-creation of a secret spirit, and man however
hedged in his present capacity, the first being in Nature in whom
that power begins to be consciently self-creative in the front of
the action, in this outer chamber of physical being, there set to
work and bring out by an increasingly self-conscious evolution
what he can of all its human significance or its divine possibility?
That is the clear conclusion we must arrive at in the end, if we
once admit as the key of the whole movement, the reality of this
whole mounting creation a spiritual evolution.
The word evolution carries with it in its intrinsic sense, in the
idea at its root the necessity of a previous involution. We must, if
a hidden spiritual being is the secret of all the action of Nature,
give its full power to that latent value of the idea. We are bound
then to suppose that all that evolves already existed involved,
passive or otherwise active, but in either case concealed from us
in the shell of material Nature. The Spirit which manifests itself
here in a body, must be involved from the beginning in the whole
of matter and in every knot, formation and particle of matter;
life, mind and whatever is above mind must be latent inactive or
concealed active powers in all the operations of material energy.
The only alternative would be to drive in between the two sides
of our being the acute Sankhya scission; but that divides too
much spirit and nature. Nature would be an inert and mechanical thing, but she would set to her work activised by some
pressure on her of the Spirit. Spirit would be Being conscious
Involution and Evolution
and free in its own essence from the natural activity, but would
phenomenally modify or appear to modify its consciousness in
response to some reaction of Nature. One would reflect the
movements of the active Power, the other would enlighten her
activities with the consciousness of the self-aware immortal being. In that case the scientific evolutionary view of Nature as
a vast mechanical energy, life, mind and natural soul action its
scale of developing operations would have a justification. Our
consciousness would only be a luminous translation of the selfdriven unresting mechanical activity into responsive notes of
experience of the consenting spiritual witness. But the disabling
difficulty in this notion is the quite opposite character of our own
highest seeing; for in the end and as the energy of the universal
force mounts up the gradients of its own possibilities, Nature
becomes always more evidently a power of the spirit and all her
mechanism only figures of its devising mastery. The power of
the Flame cannot be divided from the Flame; where the Flame
is, there is the power, and where the power is there is the fiery
Principle. We have to come back to the idea of a spirit present
in the universe and, if the process of its works of power and its
appearance is in the steps of an evolution, there imposes itself
the necessity of a previous involution.
This spirit in things is not apparent from the beginning, but
self-betrayed in an increasing light of manifestation. We see the
compressed powers of Nature start released from their original
involution, disclose in a passion of work the secrets of their
infinite capacity, press upon themselves and on the supporting
inferior principle to subject its lower movement on which they
are forced to depend into a higher working proper to their own
type and feel their proper greatness in the greatness of their selfrevealing effectuations. Life takes hold of matter and breathes
into it the numberless figures of its abundant creative force, its
subtle and variable patterns, its enthusiasm of birth and death
and growth and act and response, its will of more and more
complex organisation of experience, its quivering search and
feeling out after a self-consciousness of its own pleasure and pain
and understanding gust of action; mind seizes on life to make
The Problem of Rebirth
it an instrument for the wonders of will and intelligence; soul
possesses and lifts mind through the attraction of beauty and
good and wisdom and greatness towards the joy of some halfseen ideal highest existence; and in all this miraculous movement
and these climbing greatnesses each step sets its foot on a higher
rung and opens to a clearer, larger and fuller scope and view
of the always secret and always self-manifesting spirit in things.
The eye fixed on the physical evolution has only the sight of
a mechanical grandeur and subtlety of creation; the evolution
of life opening to mind, the evolution of mind opening to the
soul of its own light and action, the evolution of soul out of the
limited powers of mind to a resplendent blaze of the infinities
of spiritual being are the more significant things, give us greater
and subtler reaches of the self-disclosing Secrecy. The physical
evolution is only an outward sign, the more and more complex
and subtle development of a supporting structure, the growing
exterior metre mould of form which is devised to sustain in
matter the rising intonations of the spiritual harmony. The spiritual significance finds us as the notes rise; but not till we get to
the summit of the scale can we command the integral meaning
of that for which all these first formal measures were made the
outward lines, the sketch or the crude notation. Life itself is only
a coloured vehicle, physical birth a convenience for the greater
and greater births of the Spirit.
The spiritual process of evolution is then in some sense a
creation, but a self-creation, not a making of what never was,
but a bringing out of what was implicit in the Being. The Sanskrit
word for creation signifies a loosing forth, a letting out into the
workings of Nature. The Upanishad in a telling figure applies the
image of the spider which brings its web out of itself and creates
the structure in which it takes its station. That is applied in the
ancient Scripture not to the evolution of things out of Matter,
but to an original bringing of temporal becoming out of the
eternal infinity; Matter itself and this material universe are only
such a web or indeed no more than a part of it brought out from
the spiritual being of the Infinite. But the same truth, the same
law holds good of all that we see of the emergence of things from
Involution and Evolution
involution in the material energy. We might almost speak here
of a double evolution. A Force inherent in the Infinite brings out
of it eternally the structure of its action in a universe of which
the last descending scale is based upon an involution of all the
powers of the spirit into an inconscient absorption in her selfoblivious passion of form and structural working. Thence comes
an ascent and progressive liberation of power after power till the
spirit self-disclosed and set free by knowledge and mastery of its
works repossesses the eternal fullness of its being which envelops
then and carries in its grasp the manifold and unified splendours
of its nature. At any rate the spiritual process of which our
human birth is a step and our life is a portion, appears as the
bringing out of a greatness, asya mahimānam, which is secret,
inherent and self-imprisoned, absorbed in the form and working
of things. Our world-action figures an evolution, an outrolling of
a manifold Power gathered and coiled up in the crude intricacy
of Matter. The upward progress of the successive births of things
is a rise into waking and larger and larger light of a consciousness
shut into the first hermetic cell of sleep of the eternal Energy.
There is a parallel in the Yogic experience of the Kundalini,
eternal Force coiled up in the body in the bottom root vessel
or chamber, mūlādhāra, pedestal, earth-centre of the physical
nervous system. There she slumbers coiled up like a Python and
filled full of all that she holds gathered in her being, but when
she is struck by the freely coursing breath, by the current of Life
which enters in to search for her, she awakes and rises flaming
up the ladder of the spinal chord and forces open centre after
centre of the involved dynamic secrets of consciousness till at the
summit she finds, joins and becomes one with the spirit. Thus
she passes from an involution in inconscience through a series
of opening glories of her powers into the greatest eternal superconscience of the spirit. This mysterious evolving Nature in the
world around us follows even such a course. Inconscient being
is not so much a matrix as a chamber of materialised energy in
which are gathered up all the powers of the spirit; they are there,
but work in the conditions of the material energy, involved, we
say, and therefore not apparent as themselves because they have
The Problem of Rebirth
passed into a form of working subnormal to their own right
scale where the characteristics by which we recognise and think
we know them are suppressed into a minor and an undetected
force of working. As Nature rises in the scale, she liberates them
into their recognisable scales of energy, discloses the operations
by which they can feel themselves and their greatness. At the
highest summit she rises into the self-knowledge of the spirit
which informed her action, but because of its involution or concealment in the forms of its workings could not be known in the
greatness of its reality. Spirit and Nature discovering the secret
of her energies become one at the top of the spiritual evolution
by a soul in Nature which awakens to the significance of its own
being in the liberation of the highest truth: it comes to know that
its births were the births, the assumptions of form of an eternal
Spirit, to know itself as that and not a creature of Nature and
rises to the possession of the revealed, full and highest power of
its own real and spiritual nature. That liberation, because liberation is self-possession, comes to us as the crown of a spiritual
We must consider all the packed significance of this involution. The spirit involved in material energy is there with all its
powers; life, mind and a greater supramental power are involved
in Matter. But what do we mean when we say that they are involved, and do we mean that all these things are quite different
energies cut off from each other by an essential separateness, but
rolled up together in an interaction, or do we mean that there is
only one Being with its one energy, varying shades of the light
of its power differentiated in the spectrum of Nature? When
we say that Life is involved in Matter or in material Force, for
of that Force Matter seems after all to be only a various selfspun formation, do we not mean that all this universal working,
even in what seems to us its inconscient inanimate action, is
a life-power of the spirit busy with formation, and we do not
recognise it because it is there in a lower scale in which the
characteristics by which we recognise life are not evident or are
only slightly evolved in the dullness of the material covering?
Material energy would be then Life packed into the density of
Involution and Evolution
Matter and feeling out in it for its own intenser recognisable
power which it finds within itself in the material concealment
and liberates into action. Life itself would be an energy of a secret
mind, a mind imprisoned in its own forms and quivering out in
the nervous seekings of life for its intenser recognisable power
of consciousness which it discovers within the vital and material
suppression and liberates into sensibility. No doubt, practically,
these powers work upon each other as different energies, but
in essence they would be one energy and their interaction the
power of the spirit working by its higher on its lower forces,
depending on them at first, but yet turning in the scale of its
ascent to overtop and master them. Mind too might only be
an inferior scale and formulation derived from a much greater
and supramental consciousness, and that consciousness too with
its greater light and will a characteristic originating power of
spiritual being, the power which secret in all things, in mind, in
life, in matter, in the plant and the metal and the atom assures
constantly by its inevitable action the idea and harmony of the
universe. And what is the spirit itself but infinite existence, eternal, immortal being, but always a conscious self-aware being, —
and that is the difference between the materialist’s mechanical
monism and the spiritual theory of the universe, — which here
expresses itself in a world finite to our conceptions whose every
movement yet bears witness to the Infinite? And this world is
because the spirit has the delight of its own infinite existence
and the delight of its own infinite self-variation; birth is because
all consciousness carries with it power of its own being and all
power of being is self-creative and must have the joy of its selfcreation. For creation means nothing else than a self-expression;
and the birth of the soul in the body is nothing but a mode of
its own self-expression. Therefore all things here are expression,
form, energy, action of the Spirit; matter itself is but form of
spirit, life but power of being of the spirit, mind but working
of consciousness of the spirit. All Nature is a display and a play
of God, power and action and self-creation of the one spiritual
Being. Nature presents to spirit at once the force, the instrument,
the medium, the obstacle, the result of his powers, and all these
The Problem of Rebirth
things, obstacle as well as instrument, are the necessary elements
for a gradual and developing creation.
But if the Spirit has involved its eternal greatness in the
material universe and is there evolving its powers by the virtue
of a secret self-knowledge, is disclosing them in a grandiose
succession under the self-imposed difficulties of a material form
of being, is disengaging them from a first veiling absorbed inconscience of Nature, there is no difficulty in thinking or seeing
that this soul shaped into humanity is a being of that Being,
that this also has risen out of material involution by increasing
self-expression in a series of births of which each grade is a
new ridge of the ascent opening to higher powers of the spirit
and that it is still arising and will not be for ever limited by
the present walls of its birth but may, if we will, be born into a
divine humanity. Our humanity is the conscious meeting place of
the finite and the infinite and to grow more and more towards
that Infinite even in this physical birth is our privilege. This
Infinite, this Spirit who is housed within us but not bound or
shut in by mind or body, is our own self and to find and be
our self was, as the ancient sages knew, always the object of
our human striving, for it is the object of the whole immense
working of Nature. But it is by degrees of the self-finding that
Nature enlarges to her spiritual reality. Man himself is a doubly
involved being; most of himself in mind and below is involved
in a subliminal conscience or a subconscience; most of himself
above mind is involved in a spiritual superconscience. When
he becomes conscient in the superconscience, the heights and
the depths of his being will be illumined by another light of
knowledge than the flickering lamp of the reason can now cast
into a few corners; for then the master of the field will enlighten
this whole wonderful field of his being, as the sun illumines the
whole system it has created out of its own glories. Then only he
can know the reality even of his own mind and life and body.
Mind will be changed into a greater consciousness, his life will
be a direct power and action of the Divinity, his very body no
longer this first gross lump of breathing clay, but a very image
and body of spiritual being. That transfiguration on the summit
Involution and Evolution
of the mountain, divine birth, divya janma, is that to which all
these births are a long series of laborious steps. An involution
of spirit in matter is the beginning, but a spiritual assumption of
divine birth is the fullness of the evolution.
East and West have two ways of looking at life which are
opposite sides of one reality. Between the pragmatic truth on
which the vital thought of modern Europe enamoured of the
vigour of life, all the dance of God in Nature, puts so vehement
and exclusive a stress and the eternal immutable Truth to which
the Indian mind enamoured of calm and poise loves to turn
with an equal passion for an exclusive finding, there is no such
divorce and quarrel as is now declared by the partisan mind, the
separating reason, the absorbing passion of an exclusive will of
realisation. The one eternal immutable Truth is the Spirit and
without the spirit the pragmatic truth of a self-creating universe
would have no origin or foundation; it would be barren of significance, empty of inner guidance, lost in its end, a firework display
shooting up into the void only to fall away and perish in mid-air.
But neither is the pragmatic truth a dream of the non-existent,
an illusion or a long lapse into some futile delirium of creative
imagination; that would be to make the eternal Spirit a drunkard
or a dreamer, the fool of his own gigantic self-hallucinations.
The truths of universal existence are of two kinds, truths of the
spirit which are themselves eternal and immutable, and these
are the great things that cast themselves out into becoming and
there constantly realise their powers and significances, and the
play of the consciousness with them, the discords, the musical
variations, soundings of possibility, progressive notations, reversions, perversions, mounting conversions into a greater figure of
harmony; and of all these things the spirit has made, makes
always his universe. But it is himself that he makes in it, himself
that is the creator and the energy of creation and the cause and
the method and the result of the working, the mechanist and the
machine, the music and the musician, the poet and the poem,
supermind, mind and life and matter, the soul and Nature.
An original error pursues us in our solutions of our problem.
We are perplexed by the appearance of an antinomy; we set soul
The Problem of Rebirth
against Nature, the spirit against his creative energy. But Soul
and Nature, Purusha and Prakriti, are two eternal lovers who
possess their perpetual unity and enjoy their constant difference,
and in the unity abound in the passion of the multitudinous play
of their difference, and in every step of the difference abound in
the secret sense or the overt consciousness of unity. Nature takes
the Soul into herself so that he falls asleep in a trance of union
with her absorbed passion of creation and she too seems then to
be asleep in the whirl of her own creative energy; and that is the
involution in Matter. Above, it may be, the Soul takes Nature
into himself so that she falls asleep in a trance of oneness with
the absorbed self-possession of the spirit and he too seems to be
asleep in the deep of his own self-locked immobile being. But
still above and below and around and within all this beat and
rhythm is the eternity of the spirit who has thus figured himself
in soul and nature and enjoys with a perfect awareness all that
he creates in himself by this involution and evolution. The soul
fulfils itself in Nature when it possesses in her the consciousness of that eternity and its power and joy and transfigures the
natural becoming with the fullness of the spiritual being. The
constant self-creation which we call birth finds there the perfect
evolution of all that it held in its own nature and reveals its own
utmost significance. The complete soul possesses all its self and
all Nature.
Therefore all this evolution is a growing of the Self in material nature to the conscious possession of its own spiritual
being. It begins with form — apparently a form of Force — in
which a spirit is housed and hidden; it ends in a spirit which
consciously directs its own force and creates or assumes its own
forms for the free joy of its being in Nature. Nature holding her
own self and spirit involved and suppressed within herself, an
imprisoned master of existence subjected to her ways of birth
and action, — yet are these ways his and this spirit the condition
of her being and the law of her workings, — commences the
evolution: the spirit holding Nature conscious in himself, complete by his completeness, liberated by his liberation, perfected
in his perfection, crowns the evolution. All our births are the
Involution and Evolution
births of this spirit and self which has become or put forth a
soul in Nature. To be is the object of our existence, — there is
no other end or object, for the consciousness and bliss of being
is the whole beginning and middle and end, as it is that which
is without beginning or end. But this means in the steps of the
evolution to grow more and more until we grow into our own
fullness of self; all birth is a progressive self-finding, a means
of self-realisation. To grow in knowledge, in power, in delight,
love and oneness, towards the infinite light, capacity and bliss of
spiritual existence, to universalise ourselves till we are one with
all being, and to exceed constantly our present limited self till it
opens fully to the transcendence in which the universal lives and
to base upon it all our becoming, that is the full evolution of
what now lies darkly wrapped or works half evolved in Nature.
NE FINDS an unanswerable truth in the theory of
Karma, — not necessarily in the form the ancients gave
to it, but in the idea at its centre, — which at once strikes
the mind and commands the assent of the understanding. Nor
does the austerer reason, distrustful of first impressions and critical of plausible solutions, find after the severest scrutiny that the
more superficial understanding, the porter at the gateways of our
mentality, has been deceived into admitting a tinsel guest, a false
claimant into our mansion of knowledge. There is a solidity at
once of philosophic and of practical truth supporting the idea,
a bedrock of the deepest universal undeniable verities against
which the human mind must always come up in its fathomings
of the fathomless; in this way indeed does the world deal with
us, there is a law here which does so make itself felt and against
which all our egoistic ignorance and self-will and violence dashes
up in the end, as the old Greek poet said of the haughty insolence
and prosperous pride of man, against the very foundation of
the throne of Zeus, the marble feet of Themis, the adamantine
bust of Ananke. There is the secret of an eternal factor, the
base of the unchanging action of the just and truthful gods,
devānāṁ dhruvān.i vratāni, in the self-sufficient and impartial
law of Karma.
This truth of Karma has been always recognised in the East
in one form or else in another; but to the Buddhists belongs
the credit of having given to it the clearest and fullest universal
enunciation and the most insistent importance. In the West too
the idea has constantly recurred, but in external, in fragmentary
glimpses, as the recognition of a pragmatic truth of experience,
and mostly as an ordered ethical law or fatality set over against
the self-will and strength of man: but it was clouded over by
other ideas inconsistent with any reign of law, vague ideas of
some superior caprice or of some divine jealousy, — that was a
notion of the Greeks, — a blind Fate or inscrutable Necessity,
Ananke, or, later, the mysterious ways of an arbitrary, though
no doubt an all-wise Providence. And all this meant that there
was some broken half-glimpse of the working of a force, but
the law of its working and the nature of the thing itself escaped
the perception, — as indeed it could hardly fail to do, since the
mental eye of the West, absorbed by the passion of life, tried to
read the workings of the universe in the light of the single mind
and life of man; but those workings are much too vast, ancient,
unbrokenly continuous in Time and all-pervading in Space, —
not in material infinity alone, but in the eternal time and eternal
space of the soul’s infinity, — to be read by so fragmentary a
glimmer. Since the Eastern idea and name of the law of Karma
was made familiar to the modern mentality, one side of it has
received an increasing recognition, perhaps because latterly that
mentality had been prepared by the great discoveries and generalisations of Science for a fuller vision of cosmic existence and
a more ordered and majestic idea of cosmic Law. It may be as
well then to start from the physical base in approaching this
question of Karma, though we may find at last that it is from
the other end of being, from its spiritual summit rather than its
material support that we must look in order to catch its whole
significance — and to fix also the limits of its significance.
Fundamentally, the meaning of Karma is that all existence is
the working of a universal Energy, a process and an action and
a building of things by that action, — an unbuilding too, but as
a step to farther building, — that all is a continuous chain in
which every one link is bound indissolubly to the past infinity of
numberless links, and the whole governed by fixed relations, by a
fixed association of cause and effect, present action the result of
past action as future action will be the result of present action, all
cause a working of energy and all effect too a working of energy.
The moral significance is that all our existence is a putting out of
an energy which is in us and by which we are made and as is the
nature of the energy which is put forth as cause, so shall be that
of the energy which returns as effect, that this is the universal
The Problem of Rebirth
law and nothing in the world can, being of and in our world,
escape from its governing incidence. That is the philosophical
reality of the theory of Karma, and that too is the way of seeing
which has been developed by physical Science. But its seeing has
been handicapped in the progress to the full largeness of its own
truth by two persistent errors, first, the strenuous paradoxical
attempt — inevitable and useful no doubt as one experiment
of the human reason which had to have its opportunity, but
foredoomed to failure — to explain supraphysical things by a
physical formula, and a darkening second error of setting behind
the universal rule of law and as its cause and efficient the quite
opposite idea of the cosmic reign of Chance. The old notion of an
unintelligible supreme caprice, — unintelligible it must naturally
be since it is the working of an unintelligent Force, — thus prolonged its reign and got admission side by side with the scientific
vision of the fixities and chained successions of the universe.
Being is no doubt one, and Law too may be one; but it is perilous to fix from the beginning on one type of phenomena with
a predetermined will to deduce from that all other phenomenon
however different in its significance and nature. In that way we
are bound to distort truth into the mould of our own prepossession. Intermediately at least we have rather to recognise the
old harmonious truth of Veda — which also came by this way in
its end, its Vedanta, to the conception of the unity of Being, —
that there are different planes of cosmic existence and therefore
too of our own existence and in each of them the same powers,
energies or laws must act in a different type and in another sense
and light of their effectuality. First, then, we see that if Karma
be a universal truth or the universal truth of being, it must be
equally true of the inly-born mental and moral worlds of our
action as in our outward relations with the physical universe.
It is the mental energy that we put forth which determines the
mental effect, — but subject to all the impact of past, present and
future surrounding circumstance, because we are not isolated
powers in the world, but rather our energy a subordinate strain
and thread of the universal energy. The moral energy of our
action determines similarly the nature and effect of the moral
consequence, but subject too — though to this element the rigid
moralist does not give sufficient consideration, — to the same
incidence of past, present and future surrounding circumstance.
That this is true of the output of physical energy, needs no saying
nor any demonstration. We must recognise these different types
and variously formulated motions of the one universal Force,
and it will not do to say from the beginning that the measure
and quality of my inner being is some result of the output of
a physical energy translated into mental and moral energies, —
for instance, that my doing a good or a bad action or yielding to
good or to bad affections and motives is at the mercy of my liver,
or contained in the physical germ of my birth, or is the effect of
my chemical elements or determined essentially and ultimately
by the disposition of the constituent electrons of my brain and
nervous system. Whatever drafts my mental and moral being
may make on the corporeal for its supporting physical energy
and however it may be affected by its borrowings, yet it is very
evident that it uses them for other and larger purposes, has a
supraphysical method, evolves much greater motives and significances. The moral energy is in itself a distinct power, has its
own plane of karma, moves me even, and that characteristically,
to override my vital and physical nature. Forms of one universal
Force at bottom — or at top — these may be, but in practice they
are different energies and have to be so dealt with — until we
can find what that universal Force may be in its highest purest
texture and initial power and whether that discovery can give
us in the perplexities of our nature a unifying direction.
Chance, that vague shadow of an infinite possibility, must be
banished from the dictionary of our perceptions; for of chance
we can make nothing, because it is nothing. Chance does not at
all exist; it is only a word by which we cover and excuse our
own ignorance. Science excludes it from the actual process of
physical law; everything there is determined by fixed cause and
relation. But when it comes to ask why these relations exist and
not others, why a particular cause is allied to a particular effect,
it finds that it knows nothing whatever about the matter; every
actualised possibility supposes a number of other possibilities
The Problem of Rebirth
that have not actualised but conceivably might have, and it is
convenient then to say that Chance or at most a dominant probability determines all actual happening, the chance of evolution,
the stumblings of a groping inconscient energy which somehow
finds out some good enough way and fixes itself into a repetition
of the process. If Inconscience can do the works of intelligence,
it may not be impossible that chaotic Chance should create a
universe of law! But this is only a reading of our own ignorance
into the workings of the universe, — just as prescientific man
read into the workings of physical law the caprices of the gods
or any other name for a sportive Chance whether undivine or
dressed in divine glories, whether credited with a pliant flexibility to the prayers and bribes of man or presented with an
immutable Sphinx face of stone, — but names only in fact for
his own ignorance.
And especially when we come to the pressing needs of our
moral and spiritual being, no theory of chance or probability
will serve at all. Here Science, physical in her basis, does not
help except to point out to a certain degree the effects of my
physicality on my moral being or of my moral action on my physicality: for anything else of just illumination or useful purpose,
she stumbles and splashes about in the quagmire of her own
nescience. Earthquake and eclipse she can interpret and predict,
but not my moral and spiritual becoming, but only attempt to
explain its phenomena when they have happened by imposing
polysyllables and fearful and wonderful laws of pathology, morbid heredity, eugenics and what not of loose fumbling, which
touch only the draggled skirts of the lowest psycho-physical
being. But here I need guidance more than anywhere else and
must have the recognition of a law, the high line of a guiding
order. To know the law of my moral and spiritual being is at
first and last more imperative for me than to learn the ways of
steam and electricity, for without these outward advantages I
can grow in my inner manhood, but not without some notion
of moral and spiritual law. Action is demanded of me and I need
a rule for my action: something I am urged inwardly to become
which I am not yet, and I would know what is the way and law,
what the central power or many conflicting powers and what the
height and possible range and perfection of my becoming. That
surely much more than the rule of electrons or the possibilities
of a more omnipotent physical machinery and more powerful
explosives is the real human question.
The Buddhists’ mental and moral law of Karma comes in at
this difficult point with a clue and an opening. As Science fills
our mind with the idea of a universal government of Law in the
physical and outward world and in our relations with Nature,
though she leaves behind it all a great unanswered query, an
agnosticism, a blank of some other ungrasped Infinite, — here
covered by the concept of Chance, — the Buddhist conception
too fills the spaces of our mental and moral being with the same
sense of a government of mental and moral Law: but this too
erects behind that Law a great unanswered query, an agnosticism, the blank of an ungrasped Infinite. But here the covering
word is more grandly intangible; it is the mystery of Nirvana.
This Infinite is figured in both cases by the more insistent and
positive type of mind as an Inconscience, — but material in the
one, in the other a spiritual infinite zero, — but by the more
prudent or flexible thinkers simply as an unknowable. The difference is that the unknown of Science is something mechanical
to which mechanically we return by physical dissolution or laya,
but the unknown of Buddhism is a Permanent beyond the Law
to which we return spiritually by an effort of self-suppression,
of self-renunciation and, at the latest end, of self-extinction,
by a mental dissolution of the Idea which maintains the law
of relations and a moral dissolution of the world-desire which
keeps up the stream of successions of the universal action. This
is a rare and an austere metaphysics; but to its discouraging
grandeur we are by no means compelled to give assent, for it is
neither self-evident nor inevitable. It is by no means so certain
that a high spiritual negation of what I am is my only possible
road to perfection; a high spiritual affirmation and absolute of
what I am may be also a feasible way and gate. This nobly glacial
or blissfully void idea of a Nirvana, because it is so overwhelmingly a negation, cannot finally satisfy the human spirit, which
The Problem of Rebirth
is drawn persistently to some highest positive and affirmation
of itself and only uses negations by the way the better to rid
itself of what comes in as an obstacle to its self-finding. To the
everlasting No the living being may resign itself by an effort, a
sorrowful or a superb turning upon itself and existence, but the
everlasting Yes is its native attraction: our spiritual orientation,
the magnetism that draws the soul, is to eternal Being and not
to eternal Non-Being.
Nevertheless certain essential and needed clues are there in
the theory of Karma. And first, there is this assurance, this firm
ground on which I can base a sure tread, that in the mental
and moral world as in the physical universe there is no chaos,
fortuitous rule of chance or mere probability, but an ordered
Energy at work which assures its will by law and fixed relation
and steady succession and the links of ascertainable cause and
effectuality. To be assured that there is an all-pervading mental
law and an all-pervading moral law, is a great gain, a supporting
foundation. That in the mental and moral as in the physical
world what I sow in the proper soil, I shall assuredly reap, is
a guarantee of divine government, of equilibrium, of cosmos; it
not only grounds life upon an adamant underbase of law, but by
removing anarchy opens the way to a greater liberty. But there is
the possibility that if this Energy is all, I may only be a creation
of an imperative Force and all my acts and becomings a chain of
determination over which I can have no real control or chance of
mastery. That view would resolve everything into predestination
of Karma, and the result might satisfy my intellect but would be
disastrous to the greatness of my spirit. I should be a slave and
puppet of Karma and could never dream of being a sovereign
of myself and my existence. But here there comes in the second
step of the theory of Karma, that it is the Idea which creates
all relations. All is the expression and expansion of the Idea,
sarvān.i vijñāna-vijr.mbhitāni. Then I can by the will, the energy
of the Idea in me develop the form of what I am and arrive at the
harmony of some greater idea than is expressed in my present
mould and balance. I can aspire to a nobler expansion. Still, if the
Idea is a thing in itself, without any base but its own spontaneous
power, none originating it, no knower, no Purusha and Lord, I
may be only a form of the universal Idea and myself, my soul,
may have no independent existence or initiation. But there is
too this third step that I am a soul developing and persisting in
the paths of the universal Energy and that in myself is the seed
of all my creation. What I have become, I have made myself by
the soul’s past idea and action, its inner and outer karma; what
I will to be, I can make myself by present and future idea and
action. And finally, there is this last supreme liberating step that
both the Idea and its Karma may have their origin in the free
spirit and by arriving at myself by experience and self-finding
I can exalt my state beyond all bondage of Karma to spiritual
freedom. These are the four pillars of the complete theory of
Karma. They are also the four truths of the dealings of Self with
Karma and Freedom
HE UNIVERSE in which we live presents itself to our
mentality as a web of opposites and contraries, not to
say contradictions, and yet it is a question whether there
can be in the universe any such thing as an entire opposite or a
real contradiction. Good and evil seem to be as opposite powers
as well can be and we are apt by the nature of our ethical
mind to see the world, at any rate in its moral aspect, as a
struggle and tug of war between these eternal opposites, God
and devil, Deva and Asura, Ahuramazda, Angrya Mainyu. We
hope always that on some as yet hardly conceivable day the one
will perish and the other triumph and be convinced of eternity;
but actually they are so intertangled that some believe they are
here always together like light and shadow and, if at all, then
only somewhere beyond this world of action, in some restful
and silent eternity is there a release from the anguish of the knot
of their intertwining, their bitter constant embrace and struggle.
Good comes out of evil and again good itself seems often to
turn to evil; the bodies of the wrestling combatants get so mixed
and confounded together that to distinguish them the minds of
the sages even are perplexed and bewildered. And it would seem
sometimes as if this distinction hardly existed except for man and
the spirits who urge him, perhaps since he ate of that tree of dual
knowledge in the garden; for matter knows it not and life below
man troubles itself but little, if at all, with moral differences.
And it is said too that on the other side of human being and
beyond its struggles is a serenity of the high and universal spirit
where the soul transcends sin, but transcends also virtue, and
neither sorrows nor repents nor asks “Why have I not done the
good and wherefore have I done this which is evil?”1 because in
Taittiriya Upanishad.
Karma and Freedom
it all things are perfect and to it all things are pure.
But there is a yet more radical instance of the eventual unreality of opposites. For the sages make too an opposition of the
Knowledge and the Ignorance, — vidyā avidyā, citti acitti, — on
which this question of good and evil seems very intimately to
hang. Evil runs behind an ignorant urge of the soul in nature,
is itself an ignorant perversion of its will, and the partiality of
good is equally an affliction of the Ignorance. But when we look
closely into the essence of these two things, we find that on one
side ignorance seems to be nothing else than an involved or a
partial knowledge; it is knowledge wrapped up in an inconscient
action or it is knowledge feeling out for itself with the tentacles of
mind; and again on the other side knowledge itself appears to be
at best a partial knowing and always to have something beyond
of which it is ignorant, even its highest and widest splendour
a golden outbreak of solar effulgence against the mass of blueblack light of infinity through which we look beyond it to the
Our mind is compelled to think always by oppositions, from
the practical validity of which we cannot escape, but which yet
seem always in some sort questionable. We get a perception
of a law of Karma, the constant unavoidable successions of
the acts of energy and its insistent stream of consequences and
reactions, the chain of causality, the great mass of past causes
behind us from which all future consequence ought infallibly to
unroll itself, and by this we try to explain the universe; but then
immediately there arises the opposite idea and the challenging
problem of liberty. Whence comes this notion of liberty, this
divine or this Titanic thirst in man for freedom, born perhaps
of something in him by which, however finite be his mind and
life and body, he participates in the nature of infinity? For when
we look round on the world as it is, everything seems to be by
necessity and to move under a leaden constraint and compulsion.
This is the aspect of the unthinking world of Force and Matter
in which we live; and even in ourselves, in man the thinker,
how little is free from some kind of present constraint and of
compelling previous necessity! So much of what we are and do
The Problem of Rebirth
is determined by our environment, so much has been shaped by
our education and upbringing, — we are made by life and by the
hands of others, are clay for many potters: and, as for what is
left, was it not determined, even that which is most ourselves,
by our individual, our racial, our human heredity or in the last
resort by universal Nature who has shaped man and each man
to what he is for her blind or her conscient uses?
But we insist and say that we have a will which is aware
of a however heavily burdened freedom and can shape to its
own purpose and change by its effort environment and upbringing and the formations of heredity and even our apparently
immutable common nature. But this will and its effort, is it
not itself an instrument, even a mechanical engine of Nature,
the active universal energy, and is not its freedom an arbitrary
illusion of our mentality which lives in each moment of the
present and separates it by ignorance, by an abstraction of the
mind from its determining past, so that I seem at every critical
moment to exercise a free and virgin choice, while all the time
my choice is dominated by its own previous formation and by
all that obscure past which I ignore? Granted that Nature works
through our will and can create and change, can, that is to say,
produce a new formation out of the stuff she has provided for
her workings, is it not by a past impulsion and a continuous
energy from it that the thing is done? That is the first idea of
Karma. Certainly, our present will must come in as one though
not by any means the sole element of the act and formation,
but in this view it is not a free ever-new will, but in the first
place a child and birth of all the past nature, our action, our
present karma the result of an already formed shape of the force
of that nature, swabhava. And in the second place our will is
an instrument constantly shaped and used by something greater
than ourselves. Only if there is a soul or self which is not a
creation, but a master of Nature, not a formation of the stream
of universal energy, but itself the former and creator of its own
Karma, are we justified in our claim of an actual freedom or at
least in our aspiration to a real liberty. There is the whole heart
of the debate, the nodus and escape of this perplexed issue.
Karma and Freedom
But here the critical negative analytic thinker, ancient nihilistic Buddhist or modern materialist, comes in to take away
the basis of any actual freedom in our earthly or in any possible
heavenly existence. The Buddhist denied the existence of a Self
free and infinite; that, he thought, was only a sublimation of
the idea of ego, an imposition, adhyāropa, or gigantic magnified
shadow thrown by the falsehood of our personality on eternal
Non-Existence. But as for the soul, there is no soul, but only a
stream of forms, ideas and sensations, and as the idea of a chariot
is only a name for the combination of planks and pole and wheels
and axles, so is the idea of individual soul or ego only a name for
the combination or continuity of these things. Nor is the universe
itself anything other than such a combination, saṅghāta, formed
and maintained in its continuity by the successions of Karma,
by the action of Energy. In this mechanical existence there can
be no freedom from Karma, no possible liberty; but there is yet
a possible liberation, because that which exists by combination
and bondage to its combinations can be liberated from itself by
dissolution. The motive power which keeps Karma in motion
is desire and attachment to its works, and by the conviction of
impermanence and the cessation of desire there can come about
an extinction of the continuity of the idea in the successions of
But if this extinction may be called a liberation, it is yet not
a status of freedom; for that can only repose upon an affirmation, a permanence, not upon a negative and extinction of all
affirmations, and needs too, one would imagine, a someone or
something that is free. The Buddha himself, it may be remarked,
seems to have conceived of Nirvana as a status of absolute bliss
of freedom, a negation of Karmic existence in some incognisable Absolute which he refused steadfastly to describe or define
by any positive or any negative, — as indeed definition by any
exclusive positive or widest sum of positives or any negative or
complete sum of negatives would seem by the very fact of its
bringing in a definition and thereby a limitation to be inapplicable to the Absolute. The Illusionist’s Maya is a more mystic
thing and more obscure to the intelligence; but we have at least
The Problem of Rebirth
here a Self, a positive Infinite which is capable therefore of an
eternal freedom, but only in inaction, by cessation from Karma.
For the self as the individual, the soul in action of Karma is
bound always by ignorance, and only by rejection of individuality and of the cosmic illusion can we return to the liberty of
the Absolute. What we see in both these systems is that spiritual
freedom and the cosmic compulsion are equally admitted, but in
a total separation and an exclusion from each other’s own proper
field, — still as absolute opposites and contraries. Compulsion
of ignorance or Karma is absolute in the world of birth; freedom
of the spirit is absolute in a withdrawal from birth and cosmos
and Karma.
But these trenchant systems, however satisfactory to the
logical reason, are suspect to a synthetic intelligence; and at any
rate, as we find that knowledge and ignorance are not in their
essence absolute contraries but ignorance and inconscience itself
the veil of a secret knowledge, so it may be at least possible that
liberty and the compulsion of Karma are not such unbridgeable
opposites, but that behind and even in Karma itself there is all
the time a secret liberty of the indwelling Spirit. Buddhism and
Illusionism too do not assert any external or internal predestination, but only a self-imposed bondage. And very insistently they
demand of man a choice between the right and the wrong way,
between the will to an impermanent existence and the will to
Nirvana, between a will to cosmic existence and the will to an
absolute spiritual being. Nor do they demand this choice of the
Absolute or of the universal Being or Power, who indeed cares
nothing for their claim and goes on very tranquilly and securely
with his mighty eternal action, but they ask it of the individual,
of the soul of man halting perplexed between the oppositions
of his mentality. It would seem then that there is something in
our individual being which has some real freedom of will, some
power of choice of a great consequence and magnitude, and
what is it then that thus chooses, and what are the limits, where
the beginning or the end of its actual or its possible liberty?
Difficult also is it to understand how unsubstantial Impermanence can have such a giant hold or present this power of
Karma and Freedom
eternal continuity in Time, — there must surely, one thinks, be
a Permanent which expresses itself in this continuity, dhruvam
adhruves.u; or how an Illusion, — for what is illusion but an
inconsequent dream or unsubstantial hallucination? — can build
up this mighty world of just sequence and firm law and linked
Necessity; some secret self-knowledge and wisdom there must be
which guides the Energy of Karma in its idea and has appointed
for her the paths she must hew in Time. It is because of their
persistence of principle in all the transiences of particular form
that things have such a hold on our mind and will. It is because
the world is so real that we feel so potently its grasp on us and our
spirits turn on it with this grip of the wrestler. It is often indeed
too fiercely real for us and we seek for liberty in the realm of
dream or planes of the ideal and, not finding it sufficiently there,
because we have not the freedom nor can develop the mastery
to impose our ideal on this active reality, we seek it beyond
in the remote and infinite greatness of the Absolute. We shall
do better then to fix on that other more generally admissible
distinction, namely, of the world of Karma as a practical or
relative reality and the being of the Spirit constant behind it or
brooding above it as a greater supreme reality. And then we have
to find whether in the latter alone is any touch of freedom or
whether, as must surely be if it is the Spirit that presides over
the Energy at work and over its action, there is here too some
element or some beginning at least of liberty, and whether, even
if it be small and quite relative, we cannot in these steps of Time,
in these relations of Karma make this freedom great and real by
dwelling consciously in the greatness of the Spirit. May not that
be the sovereignty we shall find here when we rise to the top of
the soul’s evolution?
One thing we will note that this urge towards control and
this impression of freedom are an orientation and an atmosphere
which cling about the action of mind, and they grow in Nature
as she rises towards mentality. The world of Matter seems to
know nothing about freedom; everything there appears as if
written in sibyllic laws upon tablets of stone, laws which have a
process, but no initial reason, serve a harmony of purposes or at
The Problem of Rebirth
least produce a cosmos of fixed results, but do not appear to be
shaped with an eye to them by any discoverable Intelligence. We
can think of no presence of soul in natural things, because we can
see in them no conscious action of mind and a conscious active
mental intelligence is to our notions the very basis and standingground, if not the whole stuff of soul-existence. If Matter is all,
then we may very easily conclude that all is a Karma of material
energy which is governed by some inherent incomprehensible
mechanically legislating Necessity. But then we see that Life
seems to be made of a different stuff; here various possibility
develops, here creation becomes eager, pressing, flexible, protean; here we are conscious of a searching and a selection, many
potentialities and a choice of actualities, of a subconscient idea
which is feeling around for its vital self-expression and shaping
an instinctive action, — often, though in certain limits, with an
unerring intuitive guidance of life to its immediate objective or
to some yet distant purpose, — of a subconscient will too in
the fibre of all this vast seeking and mutable impulsion. But yet
this too works within limits, under fetters, in a given range of
But when we get out into mind, Nature becomes there
much more widely conscious of possibility and of choice; mind
is aware of potentialities and of determinations in idea which
are other than those of the immediate actuality or of the fixedly
necessary consequence of the sum of past and present actualities;
it is aware of numberless “may-be”s and “might-have-been”s,
and these last are not entirely dead rejected things, but can return
through the power of the Idea and effect future determinations
and can fulfil themselves at last in the inner reality of their
idea though, it may well be, in other forms and circumstances.
Moreover, mind can and does go still further; it can conceive
of an infinite possibility behind the self-limitations of actual
existence. And from this seeing there arises the idea of a free and
infinite Will, a Will of illimitable potentiality which determines
all these innumerable marvels of its own universal becoming or
creation in Space and Time. That means the absolute freedom
of a Spirit and Power which is not determined by Karma, but
Karma and Freedom
determines Karma. Apparent Necessity is the child of the spirit’s
free self-determination. What affects us as Necessity, is a Will
which works in sequence and not a blind Force driven by its
own mechanism.
This is not, however, a binding inference and always there remain on this head arguable by the reason three main conceptions
which we can form of existence. First, there is the idea, facile to
our reason, of a blind mechanical Necessity of some kind, — and
against or behind that nothing or some absolute non-existence.
The nature of this Necessity would be that of a fixed processus
bound to certain initial and general determinations of which all
the rest is the consequence. But that is only a first appearance of
universal things, the stamp of phenomenal impression which we
get from the aspect of the material universe. Then, there is the
idea of a free infinite Being, God or Absolute, who somehow or
other creates out of something or out of nothing, in reality or
only in conception, or brings out of himself into manifestation
a world of the necessity of his will or Maya or Karma in which
all things, all creatures are bound as the victims of a necessity,
not mechanical or external, but spiritual and internal, a force
of Ignorance or a force of Karma or else some kind of arbitrary
predestination. And, finally, there is the idea of an absolute free
Existence which supports, develops and informs a universe of
relations, of that Power as the universal Spirit of our existence,
of the world as the evolution of these relations, of beings in the
universe as souls who work them out with some freedom of the
spirit as its basis, — for that they inwardly are, — but with an
observation of the law of the relations as their natural condition.
This law would be in phenomenon or as seen in a superficial view of its sole outward machinery an apparent chain of
necessity, but in fact it would be a free self-determination of
the Spirit in existence. The free self and spirit would be there
informing all the action of material energy, secretly conscient
in its inconscience; his would be the movement of life and its
inner spirit of guidance; but in mind would be something of
the first open light of his presence. The soul evolving in Nature,
prakr.tir jı̄vabhūtā, would be an immortal clouded Power of him
The Problem of Rebirth
growing into the light of the spirit and therefore towards the
consciousness and reality of freedom. It would be bound at first
in Nature and obey helplessly in all its action the urge of Karma,
because on the surface the action of energy would be the whole
truth of its kinetic being; the rest, the freedom, the origination
is there, but concealed below, subliminal and therefore not at all
manifest in the action. Even in mentality the action of Karma
would be the main fact; everything would be determined by the
nature of force of our active being working upon and responding
to the influences of the environment and by the nature of quality
of our active being which would colour and shape the character
of these outputtings and responses. But that force is the force,
that quality the quality of the soul; and as the soul grew aware of
itself, the consciousness of Freedom would emerge, assert itself,
insist, strive to grow into a firmly felt and possessed reality.
Free in the spirit within, conditioned and determined in Nature,
striving in his soul to bring out the spiritual light, mastery and
freedom to work upon the obscurity and embarrassment of his
first natural conditions and their narrow determinations, this
would be the nature of man the mental being.
On this basis it becomes possible to come at some clear
and not wholly antinomous relation between man’s necessity
and man’s freedom, between his earthly human nature at whirl
in the machinery of mind, life and body and the master Soul,
the Godhead, the real Man behind whose consent supports or
whose bidding governs its motions. The soul of man is a power
of the self-existence which manifests the universe and not the
creature and slave of a mechanical Nature; and it is only the
natural instruments of his being, it is mind, life and body and
their functions and members which are helpless apparatus and
gear of the machinery. These things are subject to the action of
Karma, but man in himself, the real man within is not its subject,
na karma lipyate nare. Rather is Karma his instrument and its
developments the material he uses, and he is using it always from
life to life for the shaping of a limited and individual, which
may be one day a divine and cosmic personality. For the eternal
spirit enjoys an absolute freedom. This freedom appears to us no
Karma and Freedom
doubt in a certain status, origin or background of all being as an
unconditioned infinite of existence, but also it is in relation to the
universe the freedom of an existence which displays an infinite
of possibilities and has a power of shaping at will out of its own
potentiality the harmonies of the cosmos. Man, too, may well be
capable of a release, moks.a, into the unconditioned Infinite by
cessation of all action, mind and personality. But that is not the
whole of the spirit’s absolute freedom; it is rather an incomplete
liberty, since it endures only by its inaction. But the freedom of
the Spirit is not so dependent; it can remain unimpaired in all
this action of Karma and is not diminished or abrogated by the
pouring of its energies into the whirl of the universe. And one
may say that man cannot enjoy the double freedom because as
man he is an individual being and therefore a thing in Nature,
subject to Ignorance, to Karma. To be free he must get away from
individuality, nature and Karma, and then man no longer exists,
there is only the unconditioned Infinite. But this is to assume that
there is no power of spiritual individuality, but only a power of
individuation in Nature. All is then a formation of a nodus of
mental, vital and physical Karma with which the one self for a
long time mistakenly identifies its being by the delusion of ego.
But if on the contrary there is any such thing as an individual
power of spirit, it must, in whatever degree of actuality, share in
the united force and freedom of the self-existent Divinity; for it
is being of his being.
Freedom somewhere there is in our being and action, and we
have only to see how and why it is limited in our outward nature,
why here I am at all under any dominion of Karma. I appear to
be bound by the law of an outward and imposed energy only
because there is separation between my outward nature and my
inmost spiritual self and I do not live in that outwardness with
my whole being, but with a shape, turn and mental formation of
myself which I call my ego or my personality. The cosmic spirit
in matter seems itself to be so bound, for the same reason. It has
started an outward compressed action, a law and disposition
of material energy which must be allowed to unroll its consequences; itself holds back behind and conceals its shaping touch;
The Problem of Rebirth
but still its supporting assent and impulse are there and these
come out more into the open as Nature raises herself in the scales
of life and mind. Nevertheless, I have to note that even in mind
and even in its phenomenon of a conscious will Karma is the first
law and there cannot be for me there a complete freedom; there
is no such thing as a mental will which is absolutely free. And this
is because mind is part of the action of the outward Ignorance,
an action which seeks for knowledge but does not possess its
full light and power, which can conceive of self and spirit and
infinity and reflect them, but not altogether live in them, which
can quiver with infinite possibility, but can only deal in a limited
half-effective fashion with restricted possibilities. An Ignorance
cannot be permitted to have, even if in its nature it could have,
free mastery. It would never do for an ignorant mind and will to
be given a wide and real freedom; for it would upset the right
order of the energy which the Spirit has set at work and produce
a most unholy confusion. It must be forced to obey or, if it resists,
to bear the reaction of the Law; its partial freedom of a clouded
and stumbling knowledge must be constantly overruled both in
its action and its result by the law of universal Nature and the
will of the seeing universal Spirit who governs the dispositions
and consequences of Karma. This constrained overruled action
is in patent fact the character of our mental being and action.
But still there is here something which we may call a relative
freedom. It does not really belong to our outward mind and will
or that shadow of myself which I have put forth in my mental
ego; for these things are instruments and they work in the roads
of the successions of Karma. But they still feel a power constantly
coming forth and either assenting to or intervening in the action
of the nature, and that power they attribute to themselves. They
are aware of a relative freedom in their disposition of action and
of at least a potential absolute freedom behind it, and mixing
these two things confusedly together mind, will and ego cry out
in unison “I am free.” But this freedom and power are influences from the soul. To use a familiar metaphysical language,
they type the assent and will of the Purusha without which the
Prakriti cannot move on her way. The first and the greater part
Karma and Freedom
of this soul-influence is in the form of an assent to Nature, an
acquiescence; and for good reason. For I start with the action
of the universal Energy which the Spirit has set in motion and
as I rise from the ignorance towards knowledge, the first thing
demanded from me is to gather experience of its law and of my
relations to the law and partly therefore to acquiesce, to allow
myself to be moved, to see and to come to know the nature of
the motions, to suffer and obey the law, to understand and know
This obedience is forcibly imposed on the lower ignorant
creation. But thinking man who experiences increasingly from
generation to generation and from life to life the nature of things
and develops reflective knowledge and the sense of his soul in
Nature, delivers in her a power of initiating will. He is not
bound to her set actualities; he can refuse assent, and the thing
in Nature to which it is refused goes on indeed for a time and
produces its results by impetus of Karma, but as it runs, it loses
power and falls into impotence and desuetude. He can do more,
he can command a new action and orientation of his nature.
The assent was a manifestation of the power of the soul as giver
of the sanction, anumantā, but this is a power of the soul as
active lord of the nature, ı̄śvara. Then Nature still insists more
or less on her old habitual way by reason of her past impetus or
the right of previous sanctions and may even, in proportion as
she is unaccustomed to control, resist and call in hostile powers,
our own creations, the children of our past willings; then is
there a battle in the house of our being between the lord and his
spouse or between old and new nature and a defeat of the soul
or its victory. And this is certainly a freedom, but only a relative
freedom, and even the greatest mental self-mastery a relative and
precarious thing at the best. This liberty when we look down
at it from a higher station, is not well distinguishable from a
lightened bondage.
The mental being in us can be a learner in the school of
freedom, not a perfect adept. A real freedom comes when we get
away from the mind into the life of the spirit, from personality
to the Person, from Nature to the lord of Nature. There again
The Problem of Rebirth
the first liberty is a passive power; it is of the nature of an assent;
it is an observing and essential liberty in which the active part of
the being is an instrument of the supreme Spirit and its universal
action. But the assent is to the will of the Spirit and not to the
mechanical force of Nature, and there is thrown on the mind the
freedom of the spirit’s light and purity and a right knowledge
of relations and a clear detached assent to the divine workings.
But if man would have too a freedom of power, of participation,
of companionship as the son of God in a greater divine control,
he must then not only get back from mind, but must stand,
in his thought and will even, above the levels of mentality and
find there a station of leverage, a spiritual pou stō,2 whence
he can sovereignly move the world of his being. Such a station
of consciousness there is in our supramental ranges. When the
soul is one with the Supreme and with the universal not only
in essence of consciousness and spiritual truth of being, but in
expressive act too of consciousness and being, when it enjoys
an initiating and relating truth of spiritual will and knowledge
and the soul’s overflowing delight in God and existence, when
it is admitted to the spirit’s fullness of assent to self and its
creative liberty, its strain of an eternal joy in self-existence and
self-manifestation, Karma itself becomes a rhythm of freedom
and birth a strain of immortality.3
A “where to stand”, the station of leverage from which Archimedes, could he only
have found it, undertook to move the world.
Sambhūtyā amr.tam aśnute, “by birth he enjoys immortality.”
Karma, Will and Consequence
ILL, KARMA and consequence are the three steps of
the Energy which moves the universe. But Karma and
consequence are only the outcome of will or even its
forms; will gives them their value and without it they would be
nothing, nothing at least to man the thinking and growing soul
and nothing, it may be hazarded, to the Spirit of which he is
a flame and power as well as a creature. The thing we first see
or imagine we see, when we look at the outward mechanism of
the universe, is energy and its works, action and consequence.
But by itself and without the light of an inhabiting will this
working is only a huge soulless mechanism, a loud rattling of
crank and pulley, a monstrous pounding of spring and piston. It
is the presence of the spirit and its will that gives a meaning to
the action and it is the value of the result to the soul that gives its
profound importance to all great or little consequence. It would
not matter to anyone or anything, not even to the cosmos itself,
though this universal stir came to an end tomorrow or had
never been created, if these suns and systems were not the field
of a consciousness which there rolls out its powers, evolves its
works, enjoys its creations, plans and exults in its immense aims
and sequences. Spirit and consciousness and power of the spirit
and Ananda are the meaning of existence. Take away this spiritual significance and this world of energy becomes a mechanical
fortuity or a blind and rigid Maya.
The life of man is a portion of this vast significance, and
since it is in him that on this material plane it comes out in its
full capacity of meaning, a very important and central portion.
The Will in the universe works up to him in the creative steps of
its energy and makes of his nature a chariot of the gods on which
it stands within the action, looks out on its works from the very
front and no longer only from behind or above Nature’s doings
The Problem of Rebirth
and moves on to the ultimate consequences and the complete
evolution of its purpose. The will of man is the agent of the
Eternal for the unveiling of his secret meaning in the material
creation. Man’s mind takes up all the knots of the problem and
works them out by the power of the spirit within him and brings
them nearer to the full force and degree of their individual and
cosmic solutions. This is his dignity and his greatness and he
needs no other to justify and give a perfect value to his birth and
his acts and his passing and his return to birth, a return which
must be — and what is there in it to grieve at or shun? — until
the work of the Eternal in him is perfected or the cycles rest from
the glory of their labour.
This view of the world is the standpoint from which we must
regard the question of man’s conscious will and its dealings with
life, because then all things fall into their natural place and we
escape from exaggerated and depreciated estimates. Man is a
conscious soul of the Eternal, one with the Infinite in his inmost
being, and the spirit within him is master of his acts and his
fate. For fate is fatum, the form of act and creation declared
beforehand by a Will within him and the universe as the thing
to be done, to be achieved, to be worked out and made the selfexpression of his spiritual being. Fate is adr.s.t.a, the unseen thing
which the Spirit holds hidden in the plan of its vision, the consequence concealed from the travailing mind absorbed in the work
of the moment by the curtained nearnesses or the far invisible
reaches of Time. Fate is niyati, the thing willed and executed by
Nature, who is power of the Spirit, according to a fixed law of its
self-governed workings. But since this Eternal and Infinite, our
greater Self, is also the universal being, man in the universe is
inseparably one with all the rest of existence, not a soul working
out its isolated spiritual destiny and nature while all other beings
are nothing but his environment and means or obstacles, — that
they are indeed, but they are much more to him, — which is
the impression cast on the mind by the thought or the religions
that emphasise too much his centre of individuality or his aim
of personal salvation. He is not indeed solely a portion of the
universe. He is an eternal soul which, though limited for certain
Karma, Will and Consequence
temporal purposes in its outward consciousness, has to learn
to enlarge itself out of those limits, to find and make effective
its unity with the eternal Spirit who informs and transcends the
universe. That spiritual necessity is the truth behind the religious
But also he is one in God and one in Nature with all beings
in the cosmos, touches and includes all other souls, is linked to
all powers of the Being that are manifest in this cosmic working.
His soul, thought, will, action are intimate with the universal
soul, thought, will and action. All acts on and through him and
mixes with him and he acts too on all and his thought and
will and life mix in and become a power of the one common
life. His mind is a form and action of the universal mind. His
call is not to be busy and concerned only with his own growth
and perfection and natural destiny or spiritual freedom. A larger
action too claims him. He is a worker in a universal work; the life
of others is his life; world-consequence and the world-evolution
are also his business. For he is one self with the selves of all other
The dealings of our will with Karma and consequence have
to be envisaged in the light of this double truth of man’s individuality and man’s universality. And seen in this light the question of
the freedom of our individual will takes on another appearance.
It becomes clear enough that our ego, our outward personality
can be only a minor, a temporal, an instrumental form of our
being. The will of the ego, the outward, the mentally personal
will which acts in the movement cannot be free in any complete
or separate sense of freedom. It cannot so be free because it
is bound by its partial and limited nature and it is shaped by
the mechanism of its ignorance, and again because it is an individualised form and working of the universal energy and at
every moment impinged upon and modified and largely shaped
by environing wills and powers and forces. But also it cannot so
be free because of the greater Soul in us behind the mind which
determines works and consequence according to the will in its
being and the nature, its power of being, not in the moment
but in the long continuities of Time, not solely by the immediate
The Problem of Rebirth
adaptation to the environment, but by its own previous intention
which has shaped the environment and already predetermined
in great part the present act and consequence. The inward will
in the being which is in intimacy with that Power is the real will
and this outward thing only an instrumentation for a working
out from moment to moment, a spring of the karmic mechanism.
That inward will we find when we get back to it, to be a free
will, not armoured in a separate liberty, but free in harmony
with the freedom of the Spirit guiding and compelling Nature
in all souls and in all happenings. This thing our outward mind
cannot see easily because the practical truth which it feels is
the energy of Nature at once working on us from without and
forming too our action from within and reacting upon herself
by the mental will, her instrument, to continue her self-shaping
for farther Karma and farther consequence. Yet are we aware of
a self and the presence of this self imposes on our minds the idea
of someone who wills, someone who shapes even the nature and
is responsible for consequence.
To understand one must cease to dwell exclusively on the
act and will of the moment and its immediate consequences.
Our present will and personality are bound by many things, by
our physical and vital heredity, by a past creation of our mental
nature, by environmental forces, by limitation, by ignorance. But
our soul behind is greater and older than our present personality.
The soul is not the result of our heredity, but has prepared by
its own action and affinities this heredity. It has drawn around
it these environmental forces by past karma and consequence.
It has created in other lives the mental nature of which now it
makes use. That ancient soul of long standing, sempiternal in
being, purus.ah. purān.ah. sanātanah., has accepted the outward
limitation, the outward ignorance as a means of figuring out in
a restriction of action from moment to moment the significance
of its infinity and the sequence of its works of power. To live
in this knowledge is not to take away the value and potency of
the moment’s will and act, but to give it an immensely increased
meaning and importance. Then each moment becomes full of
things infinite and can be seen taking up the work of a past
Karma, Will and Consequence
eternity and shaping the work of a future eternity. Our every
thought, will, action carries with it its power of future selfdetermination and is too a help or a hindrance for the spiritual
evolution of those around us and a force in the universal working. For the soul in us takes in the influences it receives from
others for its own self-determination and gives out influences
which the soul in them uses for their growth and experience.
Our individual life becomes an immensely greater thing in itself
and is convinced too of an abiding unity with the march of the
And karma and consequence also get a wider meaning. At
present we fix too much on the particular will and act of the
moment and a particular consequence in a given time. But the
particular only receives its value by all of which it is a part, all
from which it comes, all to which it moves. We fix too much also
on the externalities of karma and consequence, this good or that
bad action and result of action. But the real consequence which
the soul is after is a growth in the manifestation of its being, an
enlarging of its range and action of power, its comprehension of
delight of being, its delight of creation and self-creation, and not
only its own but the same things in others with which its greater
becoming and joy are one. Karma and consequence draw their
meaning from their value to the soul; they are steps by which
it moves towards the perfection of its manifested nature. And
even when this object is won, our action need not cease, for it
will keep its value and be a greater force of help for all these
others with whom in self we are one. Nor can it be said that
it will have no self-value to the soul grown aware of freedom
and infinity; for who shall persuade me that my infinity can only
be an eternal full stop, an endless repose, an infinite cessation?
Much rather should infinity be eternally capable of an infinite
The births of the soul are the series of a constant spiritual
evolution, and it might well seem that when the evolution is
finished, and that must be, it might at first appear, when the soul
involved in ignorance returns to self-knowledge, the series of our
births too ought to come to a termination. But that is only one
The Problem of Rebirth
side of the matter, one long act here of the eternal drama, doing,
karma. The spirit we are is not only an eternal consciousness and
eternal being; its characters are an eternal power of being and
an eternal Ananda. Creation is not to the spirit a trouble and an
anguish, but a delight expressed, even though in the entirety of
its depths inexpressible, fathomless, endless, inexhaustible. It is
only the limited action of mind in the ignorance straining after
possession and discovery and unable to find the concealed power
of the spirit that makes of the delight of action and creation a
passion or suffering: for, limited in capacity and embarrassed by
life and body, it has yet desires beyond its capacity, because it is
the instrument of a growth and the seed of an illimitable selfexpression and it has the pain of the growth and the pain of the
obstacle and the pain of the insufficiency of its action and delight.
But let this struggling self-creator and doer of works once grow
into the consciousness and power of the secret infinite spirit
within it and all this passion and suffering passes away into an
immeasurable delight of liberated being and its liberated action.
The Buddhist perception of karma and suffering as inseparable, that which drove the Buddha to the search for a means of
the extinction of the will to be, is only a first phase and partial
appearance. To find self is the cure of suffering, because self is
infinite possession and perfect satisfaction. But to find self in
quiescence is not the whole meaning of the spiritual evolution,
but to find it too in its power of being; for being is not only
eternal status, but also eternal movement, not only rest, but also
action. There is a delight of rest and a delight of action, but
in the wholeness of the spirit these two things are no longer
contraries, but one and inseparable. The status of the spirit is
an eternal calm, but also its self-expression in world-being is
without any beginning or end, because eternal power means an
eternal creation. When we gain the one, we need not lose its
counterpart and consequence. To get to a foundation is not to
destroy all capacity for superstructure.
Karma is nothing but the will of the Spirit in action, consequence nothing but the creation of will. What is in the will of
being, expresses itself in karma and consequence. When the will
Karma, Will and Consequence
is limited in mind, karma appears as a bondage and a limitation,
consequence as a reaction or an imposition. But when the will
of the being is infinite in the spirit, karma and consequence
become instead the joy of the creative spirit, the construction of
the eternal mechanist, the word and drama of the eternal poet,
the harmony of the eternal musician, the play of the eternal
child. This lesser, bound, seemingly separate evolution is only a
step in the free self-creation of the Spirit from its own illimitable
Ananda. That is behind all we are and do; to hide it from mind
and bring it slowly forward into the front of existence and action
is the present play of Self with Nature.
Rebirth and Karma
HE ANCIENT idea of Karma was inseparably connected
with a belief in the soul’s continual rebirth in new bodies.
And this close association was not a mere accident, but a
perfectly intelligible and indeed inevitable union of two related
truths which are needed for each other’s completeness and can
with difficulty exist in separation. These two things are the soul
side and the nature side of one and the same cosmic sequence.
Rebirth is meaningless without karma, and karma has no fount
of inevitable origin and no rational and no moral justification
if it is not an instrumentality for the sequences of the soul’s
continuous experience. If we believe that the soul is repeatedly
reborn in the body, we must believe also that there is some link
between the lives that preceded and the lives that follow and
that the past of the soul has an effect on its future; and that is
the spiritual essence of the law of Karma. To deny it would be
to establish a reign of the most chaotic incoherence, such as we
find only in the leaps and turns of the mind in dream or in the
thoughts of madness, and hardly even there. And if this existence
were, as the cosmic pessimist imagines, a dream or an illusion or,
worse, as Schopenhauer would have it, a delirium and insanity
of the soul, we might accept some such law of inconsequent
consequence. But, taken even at its worst, this world of life
differs from dream, illusion and madness by its plan of fine,
complex and subtle sequences, the hanging together and utility
even of its discords, the general and particular harmony of its
relations, which, if they are not the harmony we would have, not
our longed-for ideal harmony, has still at every point the stamp
of a Wisdom and an Idea at work; it is not the act of a Mind
in tatters or a machine in dislocation. The continuous existence
of the soul in rebirth must signify an evolution if not of the self,
for that is said to be immutable, yet of its more outward active
Rebirth and Karma
soul or self of experience. This evolution is not possible if there
is not a connected sequence from life to life, a result of action
and experience, an evolutionary consequence to the soul, a law
of Karma.
And on the side of Karma, if we give to that its integral and
not a truncated meaning, we must admit rebirth for the sufficient
field of its action. For Karma is not quite the same thing as a
material or substantial law of cause and effect, the antecedent
and its mechanical consequence. That would perfectly admit
of a Karma which could be carried on in time and the results
come with certainty in their proper place, their just degree by a
working out of the balance of forces, but need not in any way
touch the human originator who might have passed away from
the scene by the time the result of his acts got into manifestation.
A mechanical Nature could well visit the sins of the fathers not
on them, but on their fourth or their four-hundredth generation,
as indeed this physical Nature does, and no objection of injustice
or any other mental or moral objection could rise, for the only
justice or reason of a mechanism is that it shall work according
to the law of its structure and the fixed eventuality of its force in
action. We cannot demand from it a mind or a moral equity or
any kind of supraphysical responsibility. The universal energy
grinds out inconsciently its effects and individuals are only fortuitous or subordinate means of its workings; the soul itself, if
there is a soul, makes only a part of the mechanism of Nature,
exists not for itself, but as a utility for her business. But Karma
is more than a mechanical law of antecedent and consequence.
Karma is action, there is a thing done and a doer and an active
consequence; these three are the three joints, the three locks, the
three sandhis of the connexus of Karma. And it is a complex
mental, moral and physical working; for the law of it is not less
true of the mental and moral than of the physical consequence
of the act to the doer. The will and the idea are the driving force
of the action, and the momentum does not come from some
commotion in my chemical atoms or some working of ion and
electron or some weird biological effervescence. Therefore the
act and consequence must have some relation to the will and the
The Problem of Rebirth
idea and there must be a mental and moral consequence to the
soul which has the will and idea. That, if we admit the individual
as a real being, signifies a continuity of act and consequence to
him and therefore rebirth for a field of this working. It is evident
that in one life we do not and cannot labour out and exhaust
all the values and powers of that life, but only carry on a past
thread, weave out something in the present, prepare infinitely
more for the future.
This consequence of rebirth would not follow from the very
nature of Karma if there were only an All-Soul of the universe.
For then it would be that which is carrying on in myriads of
forms its past, working out some present result, spinning yarn
of karma for a future weft of consequence. It is the All-Soul
which would be the originator, would upbear the force of the
act, would receive and exhaust or again take up for farther uses
the returning force of the consequence. Nothing essential would
depend on its doing all these things through the same individual
mask of its being. For the individual would only be a prolonged
moment of the All-Soul, and what it originated in this moment
of its being which I call myself, might very well produce its
result on some other moment of the same being which from the
point of view of my ego would be somebody quite different from
and unconnected with myself. There would be no injustice, no
unreason in such an apparently vicarious reaping of the fruit or
suffering of the consequence; for what has a mask, though it be a
living and suffering mask, to do with these things? And, in fact,
in the nature of life in the material universe a working out of the
result of the action of one in the lives of many others, an effect of
the individual’s action on the group or the whole is everywhere
the law. What I sow in this hour, is reaped by my posterity for
several generations and we can then call it the karma of the
family. What the men of today as community or people resolve
upon and execute, comes back with a blessing or a sword upon
the future of their race when they themselves have passed away
and are no longer there to rejoice or to suffer; and that we can
speak of as the karma of the nation. Mankind as a whole too
has a karma; what it wrought in its past, will shape its future
Rebirth and Karma
destiny; individuals seem only to be temporary units of human
thought, will, nature who act according to the compulsion of
the soul in humanity and disappear; but the karma of the race
which they have helped to form continues through the centuries,
the millenniums, the cycles.
But we can see, when we look into ourselves, that this relation of the individual to the whole has a different significance;
it does not mean that I have no existence except as a more or
less protracted moment in the cosmic becoming of the All-Soul:
that too is only a superficial appearance and much subtler and
greater is the truth of my being. For the original and eternal
Reality, the Alpha and Omega, the Godhead is neither separate
in the individual nor is he only and solely a Pantheos, a cosmic
spirit. He is at once the eternal individual and the eternal AllSoul of this and many universes, and at the same time he is
much more than these things. This universe might end, but he
would still be; and I too, though the universe might end, could
still exist in him; and all these eternal souls would still exist
in him. But as his being is for ever, so the succession of his
creations too is for ever; if one creation were to come to an
end, it would be only that another might begin and the new
would carry on with a fresh commencement and initiation the
possibility that had not been worked out in the old, for there
can be no end to the self-manifestation of the Infinite. Nāsti
anto vistarasya me. The universe finds itself in me, even as I
find myself in the universe, because we are this face and that
face of the one eternal Reality, and individual being is as much
needed as universal being to work out this manifestation. The
individual vision of things is as true as the universal vision, both
are ways of the self-seeing of the Eternal. I may now see myself
as a creature contained in the universe; but when I come to
self-knowledge, I see too the universe to be a thing contained
in myself, subtly by implication in my individuality, amply in
the great universalised self I then become. These are data of an
ancient experience, things known and voiced of old, though they
may seem shadowy and transcendental to the positive modern
mind which has long pored so minutely on outward things that
The Problem of Rebirth
it has become dazed and blind to any greater light and is only
slowly recovering the power to see through its folds; but they
are for all that always valid and can be experienced today by
any one of us who chooses to turn to the deepest way of the
inner experience. Modern thought and science, if we look at the
new knowledge given us in its whole, do not contradict them,
but only trace for us the outward effect and workings of these
realities; for always we find in the end that truth of self is not
contradicted, but reproduced and made effectual here by law of
Energy and law of Matter.
The necessity of rebirth, if we look at it from the outward
side, from the side of energy and process, stands upon a persistent and insistent fact which supervenes always upon the
generality of common law and kind and constitutes the most
intimate secret of the wonder of existence, the uniqueness of
the individual. And this uniqueness is everywhere, but appears
as a subordinate factor only in the lower ranges of existence. It
becomes more and more important and pronounced as we rise in
the scale, enlarges in mind, gets to enormous proportions when
we come to the things of the spirit. That would seem to indicate
that the cause of this significant uniqueness is something bound
up with the very nature of spirit; it is something it held in itself
and is bringing out more and more as it emerges out of material
Nature into self-conscience. The laws of being are at bottom one
for all of us, because all existence is one existence; one spirit,
one self, one mind, one life, one energy of process is at work;
one will and wisdom has planned or has evolved from itself the
whole business of creation. And yet in this oneness there is a
persistent variety, which we see first in the form of a communal
variation. There is everywhere a group energy, group life, group
mind, and if soul is, then we have reason to believe that however
elusive it may be to our seizing, there is a group-soul which is
the support and foundation — some would call it the result —
of this communal variety. That gives us a ground for a group
karma. For the group or collective soul renews and prolongs
itself and in man at least develops its nature and experience
from generation to generation. And who knows whether, when
Rebirth and Karma
one form of it is disintegrated, community or nation, it may
not wait for and assume other forms in which its will of being,
its type of nature and mentality, its attempt of experience is
carried forward, migrates, one might almost say, into new-born
collective bodies, in other ages or cycles? Mankind itself has this
separate collective soul and collective existence. And on that
community the community of karma is founded; the action and
development of the whole produces consequence of karma and
experience for the individual and the totality even as the action
and development of the individual produces consequences and
experience for others, for the group, for the whole. And the
individual is there; you cannot reduce him to a nullity or an
illusion; he is real, alive, unique. The communal soul-variation
mounts up from the rest, exceeds, brings in or brings out something more, something new, adds novel powers in the evolution.
The individual mounts and exceeds in the same way from the
community. It is in him, on his highest heights that we get the
flame-crest of self-manifestation by which the One finds himself
in Nature.
And the question is how does that come about at all? I enter
into birth, not in a separate being, but in the life of the whole,
and therefore I inherit the life of the whole. I am born physically
by a generation which is a carrying on of its unbroken history;
the body, life, physical mentality of all past being prolongs itself
in me and I must therefore undergo the law of heredity; the
parent, says the Upanishad, recreates himself by the energy in
his seed and is reborn in the child. But as soon as I begin to
develop, a new, an independent and overbearing factor comes
in, which is not my parents nor my ancestry, nor past mankind,
but I, my own self. And this is the really important, crowning,
central factor. What matters most in my life, is not my heredity;
that only gives me my opportunity or my obstacle, my good
or my bad material, and it has not by any means been shown
that I draw all from that source. What matters supremely is
what I make of my heredity and not what my heredity makes of
me. The past of the world, bygone humanity, my ancestors are
there in me; but still I myself am the artist of my self, my life,
The Problem of Rebirth
my actions. And there is the present of the world, of humanity,
there are my contemporaries as well as my ancestors; the life of
my environment too enters into me, offers me a new material,
shapes me by its influence, lays its direct or its indirect touch
on my being. I am invaded, changed, partly recreated by the
environing being and action in which I am and act. But here
again the individual comes in subtly and centrally as the decisive
power. What is supremely important is what I make of all this
surrounding and invading present and not what it makes of me.
And in the interaction of individual and general Karma in which
others are causes and produce an effect in my existence and I am
a cause and produce an effect on them, I live for others, whether
I would have it so or no, and others live for me and for all. Still
the central power of my psychology takes its colour from this
seeing that I live for my self, and for others or for the world only
as an extension of my self, as a thing with which I am bound up
in some kind of oneness. I seem to be a soul, self or spirit who
constantly with the assistance of all create out of my past and
present my future being and myself too help in the surrounding
creative evolution.
What then is this all-important and independent power in
me and what is the beginning and the end of its self-creation?
Has it, even though it is something independent of the physical and vital present and past which gives to it so much of its
material, itself no past and no future? Is it something which
suddenly emerges from the All-Soul at my birth and ceases at
my death? Is its insistence on self-creation, on making something
of itself for itself, for its own future and not only for its fleeting
present and the future of the race, a vain preoccupation, a gross
parasitical error? That would contradict all that we see of the
law of the world-being; it would not reduce our life to a greater
consistency with the frame of things, but would bring in a freak
element and an inconsistency with the pervading principle. It is
reasonable to suppose that this powerful independent element
which supervenes and works upon the physical and vital evolution, was in the past and will be in the future. It is reasonable
also to suppose that it did not come in suddenly from some
Rebirth and Karma
unconnected existence and does not pass out after one brief
intervention; its close connection with the life of the world is
rather a continuation of a long past connection. And this brings
in at once the whole necessity of past birth and karma. I am a
persistent being who pursue my evolution within the persistent
being of the world. I have evolved my human birth and I help
constantly in the human evolution. I have created by my past
karma my own conditions and my relations with the life of
others and the general karma. That shapes my heredity, my
environment, my affinities, my connections, my material, my
opportunities and obstacles, a part of my predestined powers
and results, not arbitrarily predestined but predetermined by my
own stage of nature and past action, and on this groundwork I
build new karma and farther strengthen or subtilise my power of
natural being, enlarge experience, go on with my soul evolution.
This process is woven in with the universal evolution and all its
lines are included in the web of being, but it is not merely a
jutting point or moment of it or a brief tag shot into the tissue.
That is what rebirth means in the history of my manifested self
and of universal being.
The old idea of rebirth errs on the contrary by an excessive
individualism. Too self-concentrated, it treated one’s rebirth and
karma as too much one’s own single affair, a sharply separate
movement in the whole, leaned too much on one’s own concern
with one’s self and even while it admitted universal relations and
a unity with the whole, yet taught the human being to see in life
principally a condition and means of his own spiritual benefit
and separate salvation. That came from the view of the universe as a movement which proceeds out of something beyond,
something from which each being enters into life and returns
out of it to its source, and the absorbing idea of that return as
the one thing that at all matters. Our being in the world, so
treated, came in the end to be regarded as an episode and in
sum and essence an unhappy and discreditable episode in the
changeless eternity of the Spirit. But this was too summary a
view of the will and the ways of the Spirit in existence. Certain
it is that while we are here, our rebirth or karma, even while it
The Problem of Rebirth
runs on its own lines, is intimately one with the same lines in the
universal existence. But my self-knowledge and self-finding too
do not abolish my oneness with other life and other beings. An
intimate universality is part of the glory of spiritual perfection.
This idea of universality, of oneness not only with God or the
eternal Self in me, but with all humanity and other beings, is
growing to be the most prominent strain in our minds and it
has to be taken more largely into account in any future idea
or computation of the significance of rebirth and karma. It was
admitted in old times; the Buddhist law of compassion was a
recognition of its importance; but it has to be given a still more
pervading power in the general significance.
The self-effectuation of the Spirit in the world is the truth
on which we take our foundation, a great, a long self-weaving
in time. Rebirth is the continuity of that self-effectuation in the
individual, the persistence of the thread; Karma is the process, a
force, a work of energy and consequence in the material world,
an inner and an outer will, an action and mental, moral, dynamic consequence in the soul evolution of which the material
world is a constant scene. That is the conception; the rest is a
question of the general and particular laws, the way in which
karma works out and helps the purpose of the spirit in birth
and life. And whatever those laws and ways may be, they must
be subservient to this spiritual self-effectuation and take from
it all their meaning and value. The law is a means, a line of
working for the spirit, and does not exist for its own sake or
for the service of any abstract idea. Idea and law of working are
only direction and road for the soul’s progress in the steps of its
Karma and Justice
HAT ARE the lines of Karma? What is the intrinsic
character and active law of this energy of the soul and
its will and development of consequence? To ask that
question is to ask what is the form taken here by the dynamic
meaning of our existence and what the curves of guidance of
its evolving self-creation and action. And such a question ought
not to be answered in a narrow spirit or under the obsession of
some single idea which does not take into account the manysidedness and rich complexity of this subtle world of Nature.
The law of Karma can be no rigid and mechanical canon or
rough practical rule of thumb, but rather its guiding principle
should be as supple a harmonist as the Spirit itself whose will
of self-knowledge it embodies and should adapt itself to the
need of self-development of the variable individual souls who
are feeling their way along its lines towards the right balance,
synthesis, harmonies of their action. The karmic idea cannot be
— for spirit and not mind is its cause — a cosmic reflection of
our limited average human intelligence, but rather the law of
a greater spiritual wisdom, a means which behind all its dumb
occult appearances embodies an understanding lead and a subtle
management towards our total perfection.
The ordinary current conception of law of Karma is dominantly ethical, but ethical in no very exalted kind. Its idea of
karma is a mechanical and materialistic ethics, a crudely exact
legal judgment and administration of reward and punishment,
an external sanction to virtue and prohibition of sin, a code,
a balance. The idea is that there must be a justice governing
the award of happiness and misery on the earth, a humanly
intelligible equity and that the law of Karma represents it and
gives us its formula. I have done so much good, pun.ya. It is my
capital, my accumulation and balance. I must have it paid out
The Problem of Rebirth
to me in so much coin of prosperity, the legal currency of this
sovereign and divine Themis, or why on earth should I at all do
good? I have done so much evil. That too must come back to
me in so much exact and accurate punishment and misfortune.
There must be so much outward suffering or an inward suffering
caused by outward event and pressure; for if there were not
this physically sensible, visible, inevitable result, where would
be any avenging justice and where could we find any deterrent
sanction in Nature against evil? And this award is that of an
exact judge, a precise administrator, a scrupulous merchant of
good for good and evil for evil who has learned nothing and will
never learn anything of the Christian or Buddhistic ideal rule,
has no bowels of mercy or compassion, no forgiveness for sin,
but holds austerely to an eternal Mosaic law, eye for eye, tooth
for tooth, a full, slow or swift, but always calm and precisely
merciless lex talionis.
This commercial and mathematical accountant is sometimes
supposed to act with a startling precision. A curious story was
published the other day, figuring as a fact of contemporary occurrence, of a rich man who had violently deprived another of
his substance. The victim is born as the son of the oppressor
and in the delirium of a fatal illness reveals that he has obliged
his old tyrant and present father to spend on him and so lose
the monetary equivalent of the property robbed minus a certain
sum, but that sum must be paid now, otherwise — The debt
is absolved and as the last pice is expended, the reborn soul
departs, for its sole object in taking birth is satisfied, accounts
squared and the spirit of Karma content. That is the mechanical
idea of Karma at its acme of satisfied precision. At the same
time the popular mind in its attempt to combine the idea of a
life beyond with the notion of rebirth, supposes a double prize
for virtue and a double penalty for transgression. I am rewarded
for my good deeds in heaven after death until the dynamic value
of my virtue is exhausted and I am then reborn and rewarded
again materially on earth. I am punished in hell to the equivalence of my sins and again punished for them in another life in
the body. This looks a little superfluous and a rather redundant
Karma and Justice
justice, and, even, the precise accountant becomes very like an
unconscionable hundred per cent usurer. Perhaps it may be said
that beyond earth it is the soul that suffers — for purification,
and here the physical being — as a concession to the forces of life
and the symmetry of things: but still it is the soul that thus pays
double in its subtle experience and in its physical incarnation.
The strands of our nature which mix in this natural but
hardly philosophic conception, have to be disentangled before
we can disengage the right value of these ideas. Their first motive
seems to be ethical, for justice is an ethical notion; but true ethics
is dharma, the right fulfilment and working of the higher nature,
and right action should have right motive, should be its own
justification and not go limping on the crutches of greed and
fear. Right done for its own sake is truly ethical and ennobles
the growing spirit; right done in the lust for a material reward or
from fear of the avenging stripes of the executioner or sentence of
the judge, may be eminently practical and useful for the moment,
but it is not in the least degree ethical, but is rather a lowering
of the soul of man; or at least the principle is a concession to
his baser animal and unspiritual nature. But in natural man,
born before the higher dharma and more potent and normal as
a motive to action, come two other very insistent things, kāma,
artha, desire and pleasure of enjoyment with its corresponding
fear of suffering, and interest of possession, acquisition, success
with its complementary pain of lacking and frustration, and this
is what governs most prominently the normal barbaric or still
half barbaric natural man. He needs to some not small extent
if he is to conform his close pursuit of desire and interest to
the ethical standard, a strict association or identity of result of
virtue with some getting of his interest and pleasure and result
of sin with some loss of materially or vitally desirable things
and the infliction of mental, vital or physical pain. Human law
proceeds on this principle by meeting the grosser more obvious
offences with punishment and avenging pain or loss and on the
other hand assuring the individual in some degree of the secure
having of his legitimate pleasure and interest if he observes the
legal rule. The cosmic law is expected by the popular theory of
The Problem of Rebirth
Karma to deal with man on his own principle and do this very
thing with a much sterner and more unescapable firmness of
application and automatic necessity of consequence.
The cosmic Being must be then, if this view is to hold, a sort
of enlarged divine Human or, we might say, a superior anthropoid Divine, or else the cosmic Law a perfection and magnitude
of human methods and standards, which deals with man as he
is accustomed to deal with his neighbour, — only not with a
rough partial human efficacy, but either a sure omniscience or
an unfailing automatism. Whatever truth there may be behind
that notion, this is not likely to be an adequate account of the
matter. In actual life, if we put aside the rebirth theory, there are
traces of this method, but it does not work out with any observable consistency, — not even if we accept an unsatisfactory and
hardly just vicarious punishment as part of the scheme. What
surety have we, then, of its better or its faultless working out in
rebirth except for some similar partial signs and indications and,
to fill in the blanks, our general sense of the fitness of things?
And again where does the true nature of ethics come in in this
scheme? That more elevated action, it would almost seem, is
an ideal movement of less use for the practical governance of
life than as one part of a preparation for a fourth and last need
of man, his need of spiritual salvation, and salvation winds up
finally our karma and casts away the economy along with the
very thought and will of life. Desire is the law of life and action
and therefore of Karma. To do things above the material level
for their own sake and their pure right or pure delight is to head
straight towards the distances of heaven or the silence of the
Ineffable. But this is a view of the meaning of existence against
which it is time for the higher seeing mind and being of man to
protest and to ask whether the ways of the Spirit in the world
may not be capable of a greater, nobler and wiser significance.
But still, since the mind of man is part of the universal mind
and reflects something of it in a however broken or as yet imperfect and crookedly seeing fashion, there may well be something
of a real truth behind this view, though it is not likely to be the
whole or the well understood truth. There are some certain or
Karma and Justice
probable laws of the universal working which are relevant to it
and must enter into the account. First, it is sure that Nature has
laws of which the observance leads to or helps well-being and
of which the violation imposes suffering; but all of them cannot
be given a moral significance. Then there is the certainty that
there must be a moral law of cause and consequence in the total
web of her weaving and this we would perhaps currently put
into the formula that good produces good and evil evil, which
is a proposition of undoubted truth, though also we see in this
complicated world that evil comes out of what we hold to be
good, and again out of evil disengages itself something that yet
turns to good. Perhaps our system of values is too rigidly precise
or too narrowly relative; there are subtle things in the totality,
minglings, interrelations, cross-currents, suppressed or hidden
significances which we do not take into account. The formula is
true, but is not the whole truth, at least as now understood in
its first superficial significance.
And at any rate in the ordinary notion of Karma we are
combining two different notions of good. I can well understand
that moral good does or ought to produce and increase moral
good and moral evil to farther and to create moral evil. It does so
in myself. The habit of love confirms and enhances my power of
love; it purifies my being and opens it to the universal good. The
habit of hatred on the contrary corrupts my being, fills it with
poison, with bad and morbid toxic matter, and opens it to the
general power of evil. My love ought also by a prolongation or
a return to produce love in others and my hatred to give rise to
hatred; that happens to a certain, a great extent, but it need not
be and is not an invariable or rigorous consequence; still we may
well see and believe that love does throw out widening ripples
and helps to elevate the world while hatred has the opposite
consequence. But what is the necessary connection between this
good and evil on the one hand and on the other pleasure and
pain? Must the ethical power always turn perfectly into some
term of kindred hedonistic result? Not entirely; for love is a
joy in itself, but also love suffers; hatred is a troubled and selfafflicting thing, but has too its own perverse delight of itself and
The Problem of Rebirth
its gratifications; but in the end we may say that love, because it
is born of the universal Delight, triumphs in its own nature and
hatred because it is its denial or perversion, leads to a greater
sum of misery to myself as to others. And of all true moral
good and real evil this may be said that the one tends towards
some supreme Right, the r.tam of the Vedic Rishis, the highest
law of a highest Truth of our being and that Truth is the door
of the spirit’s Ananda, its beatific nature, the other is a missing
or perversion of the Right and the Truth and exposes us to its
opposite, to false delight or suffering. And even in the perplexed
steps of life some reflection of this identity must emerge.
This correspondence is, still, more essentially true in the
inner field, in the spiritual, mental and emotional result and
reaction of the good or the evil or of the effects of its outgoing
action. But where is the firm link of correspondence between the
ethical and the more vital and physical hedonistic powers of life?
How does my ethical good turn into smiling fortune, crowned
prosperity, sleek material good and happiness to myself and my
ethical evil into frowning misfortune, rugged adversity, sordid
material ill and suffering, — for that is what the desire soul of
man and the intelligence governed by it seem to demand, — and
how is the account squared or the transmutation made between
these two very different energies of the affirmation and denial
of good? We can see this much that the good or the evil in
me translates itself into a good or an evil action which among
other things brings about much mental and material happiness
and suffering to others, and to this outgoing power and effect
there ought to be an equal reaction of incoming power and
effect, though it does not seem to work itself out immediately or
with any discoverable exactness of correspondence. There does
still appear to be a principle of rebound in Nature; our action
has in some degree the motion of recoil of the boomerang and
cycles back towards the will that has cast it on the world. The
stone we hurl rashly against the universal Life is cast back at
us and may crush, maim or injure our own mental and physical
being. But this mechanical rebound is not the whole principle of
Karma. Nor is Karma wholly a mixed ethical-hedonistic order
Karma and Justice
in its total significance, for there are involved other powers of
our consciousness and being. Nor is it again a pure mechanism
which we set going by our will and have then helplessly to
accept the result; for the will which produced the effect, can also
intervene to modify it. And above all the initiating and receiving
consciousness can change the values and utilities of the reactions
and make another thing of life than this automatic mechanism
of fateful return or retribution to the half-blind embodied actor
in a mute necessity of rigorous law of Nature.
The relation of our consciousness and will to Karma is the
thing upon which all the subtler lines of action and consequence
must depend; that connexus must be the hinge of the whole
significance. The dependence of the pursuit of ethical values on
a sanction by the inferior hedonistic values, material, vital and
lower mental pleasure, pain and suffering, appeals strongly to
our normal consciousness and will; but it ceases to have more
than a subordinate force and finally loses all force as we grow
towards greater heights of our being. That dependence cannot
then be the whole or the final power or guiding norm of Karma.
The relation of will to action and consequence must be cast
on more subtle and liberal lines. The universal Spirit in the
law of Karma must deal with man in the lower scale of values
only as a part of the transaction and as a concession to man’s
own present motives. Man himself puts these values, makes that
demand for pleasure and prosperity and dreads their opposites,
desires heaven more than he loves virtue, fears hell more than he
abhors sin, and while he does so, the world-dispensation wears
to him that meaning and colour. But the spirit of existence is not
merely a legislator and judge concerned to maintain a standard
of legal justice, to dole out deterrents and sanctions, rewards and
penalties, ferocious pains of hell, indulgent joys of paradise. He
is the Divine in the world, the Master of a spiritual evolution and
the growing godhead in humanity. That godhead grows however
slowly beyond the dependence on the sanctions of pleasure and
pain. Pain and pleasure govern our primary being and in that
primary scale pain is Nature’s advertisement of things we should
avoid, pleasure her lure to things she would tempt us to pursue.
The Problem of Rebirth
These devices are first empirical tests for limited objects; but as
I grow, I pass beyond their narrower uses. I have continually to
disregard Nature’s original warnings and lures in order to get
to a higher nature. I have to develop a nobler spiritual law of
This will be evident if we consider our own greater motives
of action. The pursuit of Truth may entail on me penalties and
sufferings; the service of my country or the world may demand
from me loss of my outward happiness and good fortune or
the destruction of my body; the increase of my strength of will
and greatness of spirit may be only possible by the ardours of
suffering and the firm renunciation of joys and pleasures. I must
still follow after Truth, I must do the service to my race my
soul demands from me; I must increase my strength and inner
greatness and must not ask for a quite irrelevant reward, shun
penalty or make a bargain for the exact fruits of my labour. And
that which is true of my action in the present life, must be equally
true of my connected action and self-development through many
births. Happiness and sorrow, good fortune and ill-fortune are
not my main concern whether in this birth or in future lives,
but my perfection and the higher good of mankind purchased
by whatever suffering and tribulation. Spinoza’s dictum that joy
is a passage to a greater perfection and sorrow a passage to a
lesser perfection is a much too summary epigram. Delight will
be indeed the atmosphere of perfection and attends too even the
anguish of our labour towards it, but first a higher delight which
has often much trouble for its price, and afterwards a highest
spiritual Ananda which has no dependence on outward circumstances, but rather is powerful to new-shape their meanings and
transform their reactions. These things may be above the first
formulation of the world energy here, may be influences from
superior planes of the universal existence, but they are still a
part of the economy of Karma here, a process of the spiritual
evolution in the body. And they bring in a higher soul nature
and will and action and consequence, a higher rule of Karma.
The law of Karma is therefore not simply an extension
of the human idea of practical justice into future births and
Karma and Justice
a rectification there of the apparent injustice of life. A justice or
rather a justness there must be in all the workings of the worldenergy; Nature certainly seems to be scrupulous in her measures.
But in the life of man there are many factors to be taken into
the reckoning; there are too stages, grades, degrees. And on a
higher step of our being things do not look the same nor are
quite the same as on a lower grade. And even in the first normal
scale there are many factors and not only the ethical-hedonistic
standard. If it is just that the virtuous man should be rewarded
with success and happiness and the wicked man punished with
downfall and pain at some time, in some life, on earth or in
heaven or in hell, it is also just that the strong man should have
the reward of his cultivated strength, the intellectual man the
prize of his cultivated skill, the will that labours in whatever
field the fruit of its effort and its works. But it does not work
rightly, you say, not morally, not according to the ethical law?
But what is right working in this connection of will and action
and consequence? I may be religious and honest, but if I am dull,
weak and incompetent? And I may be selfish and impious, but
if I have the swift flame of intellect, the understanding brain,
the skill to adapt means to ends, the firm courageous will fixed
on its end? I have then an imperfection which must impose its
consequences, but also I have powers which must make their
way. The truth is that there are several orders of energy and
their separate characteristic working must be seen, before their
relations can be rightly discovered in the harmonies of Nature.
A complex web is what we have to unravel. When we have seen
the parts in the whole, the elements and their affinities in the
mass, then only can we know the lines of Karma.
Section II
The Lines of Karma
The Foundation
HE IDEA of Karma has behind it two ideas that are its
constituent factors, a law of Nature, of the energy or
action of Nature, and a soul that lives under that law,
puts out action into that energy and gets from it a return in
accordance and measure with the character of its own activities.
And here certain considerations have at once intervened which
it will not do to ignore. This putting out of action and its return
cannot have anything more than a mechanical importance, it
cannot have a mental, moral and spiritual significance, if the
action of universal Nature is something quite different from the
soul’s action in character, in meaning, in the law of her being that
constitutes it, if it is not itself the energy, the work of a Mind, a
Soul, a Spirit. If the individual energy is that of a soul putting out
action and receiving a return in kind, physical, mental, moral
and spiritual from the universal energy, the universal energy too
that makes the return should be that of an All-Soul in which and
in relation to which this individual flame of the All-Soul lives.
And it is apparent, if we consider, that the individual’s energy of
action is not something miraculously separate and independent,
it is not a power born of itself, living in itself, acting in its
separate and wholly self-formed puissance. On the contrary it
is the universal that acts in the individual energy and acts, no
doubt with an individual application, but on universal lines and
in harmony with its universal law. But if that were all the truth,
then there would be no real individual and no responsibility of
any kind except the responsibility of universal Nature to carry
out the idea or to execute the force put forth in the individual
as in the universal by the All-Soul, the cosmic Spirit. But there is
also this soul of the individual, and that is a being of the Infinite
and a conscious and efficient portion of the All-Soul, a deputy
or representative, and puts forth the energy given to it according
The Problem of Rebirth
to its own potentiality, type, limits with a will that is in some
sense its own. The Spirit in the cosmos is the lord, the Ishwara
of all Nature, but the individual soul is likewise a representative,
a delegate Ishwara, the underlord at least if not the overlord of
his nature, — the recipient, agent and overseer, let us say, of his
own form and use of the universal energy of Nature.
And next we see that each being is actually in life, in the
world an individual in a species and each species has a nature of
its own, a Swabhava or way of the self-being, and each individual too a nature of his own, an individual way of his self-being
within that of the species. The law of the action is determined
generally by this swabhava of the species and individually by the
swabhava of the individual but within that larger circle. Man
is at once himself, in a certain way peculiar and unique, and
a depressed portion of God and a natural portion of mankind.
There is in other words a general and an individual Swadharma
or natural principle and law of all action for the kind and for
the individual in the kind. And it is clear too that every action
must be a particular application, a single result, a perfect or
imperfect, right or perverted use of the general and within it of
the individual swadharma.
But again, if that were all, if each man came into life with
his present nature ready determined for him and irrevocable and
had to act according to it, there would be no real responsibility;
for he would do good according to the good and evil according
to the evil in his nature, he would be imperfect according to
its imperfection or perfect according to its perfection; and he
might have to suffer the return of his good or evil, bear exactly
the just consequences of his perfection or his imperfection, but
mechanically and not by his choice: for his apparent choice
would be the compulsion of the nature in him and could not be
in any way, directly or indirectly, the result of his spirit’s will.
But in fact there is within his being a power of development, a
power of change, or in the language of our modern conceptions
an evolutionary power. His nature is what it is because he has
so made it by his past; he has induced this present formulation
by a precedent will in his spirit. He has risen to humanity by
The Foundation
the force of his spirit and by the power of the All-Soul out of
the vast possibilities of universal Nature. He has developed by
his own long evolution of that humanity the character and law
of action of his present individual being; he has built his own
height and form of human nature. He may change what he has
made, he may rise even, if that be within the possibilities of the
universe, beyond human and to or towards superhuman nature.
It is the possibility of the universal Nature and her law that
determines his natural being and action, but it is part of her law
to be subject to the spirit, and she will develop in reply to an
insistent call; for then she must respond, she must supply the
needed energy, she must determine the acts in that direction, she
must assure its issue. His past and his present nature and the
environment he has secured may present constant obstacles, but
they must still yield in the end to the evolutionary will in him
in proportion to its sincerity, wholeness and insistence. All the
possibility of the All-being is in him, all the power of the AllWill is behind him. This evolution and all its circumstances, his
life, its form, its events, its values arise out of that urge and are
shaped according to the past, present or future active will of his
spirit. As is his use of the energy, so was and will be the return
of the universal energy to him now and hereafter. This is the
fundamental meaning of Karma.
At the same time this action and evolution of the spirit
taking birth in a body are not an easy and simple thing, as it
would or might be if Nature were all of one piece and evolution were only a raising of the degrees of a single power. For
there are many strands, many degrees, many forms of energy
of Nature. There is in the world of birth an energy of physical being and nature, arising out of the physical an energy
of vital being and nature, arising out of the vital an energy
of mental being and nature, arising out of the mental an energy of spiritual or supramental being and nature. And each of
these forms of energy has a law of its own, lines of its own
action, a right to its own manner of operation and existence,
because each is fundamental to some necessity of the whole.
And we see accordingly that each in its impulse follows its
The Problem of Rebirth
own lines regardless of the rest, each in the combination imposes as much of its domination as it can on the others. The
mental being is itself a most complex thing and has several
forms of energy, an intellectual, a moral, an emotional, a hedonistic energy of mental nature, and the will in each is in
itself absolute for its own rule and is yet forced to be modified in action by the running into it and across it of the other
strands. The way and the movement of the world action are
indeed a difficult and entangled process, gahanā karman.o gatih.,
and therefore too the way and movement of our own action
which we cannot separate in its law, however much the mere
mind in us might like to have it so, from the law of the world
action. And if all these energies are forms of energy of the nature of the Spirit, then it is likely that only when we rise into
the consciousness of the supreme spiritual being can we hope
wholly to understand all the integral secret and harmony of
the world action and therefore the integral meaning and law of
It may therefore serve a partial purpose but can be of little
eventual advantage to try to cut the knot of the riddle by reducing to the law of one form of energy alone all the apparent
tangle of the cosmic action. The universe is not solely an ethical
proposition, a problem of the antinomy of the good and the evil;
the Spirit of the universe can in no way be imagined as a rigid
moralist concerned only with making all things obey the law
of moral good, or a stream of tendency towards righteousness
attempting, hitherto with only a very poor success, to prevail and
rule, or a stern Justicer rewarding and punishing creatures in a
world that he has made or has suffered to be full of wickedness
and suffering and evil. The universal Will has evidently many
other and more supple modes than that, an infinity of interests,
many other elements of its being to manifest, many lines to
follow, many laws and purposes to pursue. The law of the world
is not this alone that our good brings good to us and our evil
brings evil, nor is its sufficient key the ethical-hedonistic rule
that our moral good brings to us happiness and success and our
moral evil brings to us sorrow and misfortune. There is a rule
The Foundation
of right in the world, but it is the right of the truth of Nature
and of the truth of the spirit, and that is a vast and various rule
and takes many forms that have to be understood and accepted
before we can reach either its highest or its integral principle.
The will in the intellectual being may erect knowledge and
truth of knowledge as the governing principle of the Spirit, the
will in the volitional being may see Will or Power as very God,
the will in the aesthetic being enthrone beauty and harmony as
the sovereign law, the will in the ethical being have a vision of
it as Right or Love or Justice, and so on through a long chapter.
But even though all these may very well be supreme aspects of
the Supreme, it will not do to shut up the acts of the Infinite into
one formula. And for a beginning it is best to phrase the law of
Karma as generally and vaguely as may be and put it simply thus
without any particular colour or content that according to the
energy put forth shall be its return, not with any mathematical
precision of conscious will and its mechanical consequences, but
subject to the complicated working of many world forces. If we
thus state broadly our foundation, the simplicity of the ordinary
solutions disappears, but that is a loss only to love of dogma or to
the mind’s indolence. The whole law of the cosmic action or even
the one law governing all the others cannot well be the measure
of a physical, mechanical and chemical energy, nor the law of
a life force, nor a moral law or law of mind or of idea forces;
for it is evident that none of these things by its single self covers
or accounts for all the fundamental powers. There is likely to
be something else of which all these are the means and energies.
Our initial formula itself can be only a general mechanical rule,
but still it is likely to be the practical rule of all parts of the mechanism, and if it only states itself and does at first nothing more,
yet an impartial regard on the variety of its operations may open
out many meanings and may lead us to the essential significance.
The practical and the efficient base of Karma is all the relation of the soul to the energies of Nature, the use by Purusha
of Prakriti. It is the soul’s demand on, consent to or use of the
energies of Nature and the return and reflex of her energies
on the soul that must determine the steps of our progress in
The Problem of Rebirth
our births, whether that progress be in a given direction or a
long up and down or in a perpetual circle. There is another, a
circumstantial aspect of the law of Karma and that hinges on
the turn of our action not only to our self, but to others. The
nature of the energies we put forth and even the return and
reflex of their consequence upon us affects not only ourselves
but all around us and we must account too for the direction
of our acts upon others, its effect upon them and the return of
the direction and rebound of consequence of the effect upon
our own life and being. But the energy we put forth on others
is ordinarily of a mixed character, physical, vital, moral, mental
and spiritual, and the return and consequence too are of a mixed
character. A physical action, a vital pressure thrown forth from
ourselves carries in it a mental or moral as well as a physical
and vital power and issues often quite beyond our conscious will
and knowledge and the consequence to ourselves and to others
is found to be different enough in character and measure from
anything we intended or could have calculated and foreseen. The
calculation escapes us because too complex by far is the universal energy acting through us and our conscious will intervenes
in it simply as an instrument; our real acceptance is that of a
more fundamental power within, a secret, a subliminal assent of
our subconscient and superconscient spirit. And the return too,
whatever the agents, is of the same complex universal energy
and determined by some difficult correlation of the force acting
and the force acted upon in her.
But there is another, an ultimate and essential sense of
Karma, a relation in it between the soul in us and the Supreme
or the All-Self; on that all is founded and to that all leads and
must refer to it at every step. That relation too is not so simple a
thing as is imagined by the religions. For it must answer to a very
vast spiritual sense underlying the whole process of Karma and
there must be a connection of each of our workings in the use
of the universal energy to that fundamental and perhaps infinite
significance. These three things, the will of the soul in Nature
and the action of Nature in and on the soul and through it and
back to it, the effect of the intercrossing between the action of
The Foundation
the soul on others and the return to it of the force of its action
complicated by theirs, and the meaning of the soul’s action in
relation to its own highest Self and the All-Self, to God, make
up between them all the bearings of Karma.
The Terrestrial Law
CONSIDERATION of the lines of Karma ought certainly to begin with a study of the action of the world as
it is, as a whole, however contrary it may be to the rule
or to the desire of our moral or our intellectual reason, and to
see if we cannot find in its own facts its own explanation. If the
actual truth of the world breaks out from the too rigid cadres
our moral sense or our intelligence would like to see imposed
on the freely or the inevitably self-determining movement of the
Infinite, on the immeasurable largeness of his being or the mighty
complexities of his will, it is very likely that that is because our
moral sense and our intellect, since they are mental and human,
are too narrow to understand or to bind him. Any shifting of the
base of the problem by which we get out of the difficulty, impose
our limits on what overpasses us and compel God to be even as
ourselves, may very well be an evasion and an intellectual device
and not the way of truth. The problem of knowledge is after all
this, to reflect the movements of the Infinite and see, and not to
force it into a mould prepared for it by our intelligence.
The ordinary idea of Karma follows this latter unsound
method. The world we see is to our notions, if not immoral, yet
non-moral and contradictory to our idea of what it should be.
Therefore we go behind it, discover that this earth life is not all,
erect anew there our moral rule and rejoice to find that after all
the universe does obey our human conceptions and therefore
all is well. The mysterious conflict, the Manichean struggle,
the inextricable tangle here of good and evil is not cured or
accounted for, but we say that at least the good and the evil
are justly dealt with according to their kind, this duly rewarded
and that duly punished in other worlds or other births, there is
therefore a dominant moral law and we may cherish a faith that
the good will prevail, Ahuramazda conquer and not Ahriman,
The Terrestrial Law
and on the whole all is as it should be. Or if not, if the tangle is
inextricable, if this world is evil or existence itself an enormous
mistake — as it must be, man is inclined to think, if it does not
suit his desires and conceptions, — then at least I individually
by satisfying the moral law may get out of the tangle away to
the pleasures of a better world or to the bodiless and mindless
peace of Nirvana.
But the question is whether this is not a rather childish and
impatient mood and whether these solutions come anywhere
near solving the whole complexity of the problem. Let us grant
that a dominant moral law governs, not action, — for that is
either free or, if not free, compelled to be of all kinds, — but the
result of action in the world and that a supreme good will work
itself out in the end. The difficulty remains why that good should
use evil as one and almost the chief of its means or the dominant
moral law, sovereign, unescapable, categorical, imperative, the
practical governor, if not the reason of our existence, should
be compelled to fulfil itself through so much that is immoral
and by the agency of a non-moral force, through hell on earth
and hell beyond, through petty cruelty of punishment and huge
fury of avenging calamity, through an immeasurable and, as it
seems, never ending sequence of pain and suffering and torture.
It must surely be because there are other things in the Infinite
and therefore other laws and forces here and of these the moral
law, however great and sovereign to itself, has to take account
and is compelled to accommodate its own lines to their curve of
movement. And if that is so our plain course, if we are to see the
true connections, is to begin by studying the separate law and
claim of these other forces: for till it is done we cannot know
rightly how they act upon and condition or are acted upon and
utilised by any moral rule that we may distinguish intervening
in the complex of the world action. And first let us look at the
terrestrial law as it is apart from any question of rebirth, the
joining, the play, the rule, the intention of the forces here: for it
may be that the whole principle is already there and that rebirth
does not so much correct or change as complete its significance.
But on earth the first energy is the physical; the lines of
The Problem of Rebirth
the physical energy creating the forms, deploying the forces of
the material universe are the first apparent conditions of our
birth and create the practical basis and the original mould of
our earthly existence. And what is the law of this first energy,
its self-nature, swabhava and swadharma? It is evidently not
moral in the human sense of the word: the elemental gods of the
physical universe know nothing about ethical distinctions, but
only the bare literal rule of energy, the right track and circuit
of the movement of a force, its right action and reaction, the
just result of its operation. There is no morality, no hesitation of
conscience in our or the world’s elements. The fire is no respecter
of persons and if the saint or the thinker is cast into it, it will
not spare his body. The sea, the stormwind, the rock on which
the ship drives do not ask whether the just man drowned in
the waters deserved his fate. If there is a divine or a cosmic
justice that works in these cruelties, if the lightning that strikes
impartially tree or beast or man, is — but it would appear in
the case of the man alone, for the rest is accident, — the sword
of God or the instrument of Karma, if the destruction wrought
by the volcano, the typhoon or the earthquake is a punishment
for the sins of the community or individually of the sins in a
past life of each man there that suffers or perishes, at least the
natural forces know it not and care nothing about it and rather
they conceal from us in the blind impartiality of their rage all
evidence of any such intention. The sun shines and the rain
falls on the just and the unjust alike; the beneficence and the
maleficence of Nature, the gracious and dreadful Mother, her
beauty and terror, her utility and her danger are bestowed and
inflicted without favour or disfavour on all her children and the
good man is no more her favourite than the sinner. If a law of
moral punishment is imposed through the action of her physical
forces, it must be by a Will from above her or a Force acting
unknown to her in her inconscient bosom.
But such a Will could not be itself that of a moral Being
ethical after the conceptions of man, — unless indeed it resembled man in his most coldly pitiless and savage moral reason
or unreason. For its action involves terrors of punishment that
The Terrestrial Law
would be abhorred as atrocities in an all-powerful human ruler
and could not be other than monstrous in a moral Divine Ruler.
A personal God so acting would be a Jehovah-Moloch, a merciless and unrighteous demander of righteousness and mercy.
On the other hand an inconscient Force mechanically executing
an eternal ethical rule without an author or mover would be
a paradox: for morality is a creation of conscious mind; an
inconscient machinery could have no idea of good and evil, no
moral intention or significance. An impersonal or omni-personal
conscious Will or Spirit in the universe could well enact such a
law and assure its execution, but must then be, although imposing on us good and evil and their results, itself beyond good and
evil. And what is this but to say that the universal Being escapes
from our ethical limitations and is a supramoral, appearing to
us here in physical Nature as an infra-moral, Infinite?
Now, that a conscious Infinite is there in physical Nature, we
are assured by every sign, though it is a consciousness not made
or limited like ours. All her constructions and motions are those
of an illimitable intuitive wisdom too great and spontaneous and
mysteriously self-effective to be described as an intelligence, of a
Power and Will working for Time in eternity with an inevitable
and forecasting movement in each of its steps, even in those
steps that in their outward or superficial impetus seem to us
inconscient. And as there is in her this greater consciousness and
greater power, so too there is an illimitable spirit of harmony and
beauty in her constructions that never fails her, though its works
are not limited by our aesthetic canons. An infinite hedonism
too is there, an illimitable spirit of delight, of which we become
aware when we enter into impersonal unity with her; and even
as that in her which is terrible is a part of her beauty, that in her
which is dangerous, cruel, destructive is a part of her delight, her
universal Ananda. If then all else in us, our intelligence, our dynamic and volitional, our aesthetic, our hedonistic being, when
they regard the physical universe, feel intuitively the satisfaction
in it of something great and illimitable but still mysteriously of
their own kind, must not our moral sense, our sense of Right,
find too there the satisfaction of something of which it is itself the
The Problem of Rebirth
reflection? An intuitive perception of this kind is at the root of
our demand for a moral order in the universe. Yes, but here too
our partial conceptions, our own moral canons are not sufficient;
this is a greater and illimitable Right, not bound to the ethical
formula, and its first principle is that each thing should observe
the law of its own energy and each energy move in its own
lines in the total scheme and fulfil its own function and make
its own returns. The physical law is the right and justice, the
duty, the ought of the physical world. The godhead of Fire in
the Upanishad, questioned by the Spirit, “What is the power in
thee?” makes answer “This is my power that whatever is cast to
me, I burn,” and a similar answer is made by each physical thing
to the question of the life and the mind. It observes the lines of
its physical energy and is concerned with no other law or justice.
No law of Karma, the moral law included, could exist, if there
were not to begin with this principle as the first foundation of
What then is the relation of man to this physical Nature,
man this soul intervening in and physically born of her in a body
subjected to her law of action? what his function as something
that is yet more than her, a life and a mind and a spirit? what
his swabhava, his swadharma? First, he owes to her a mechanical obedience of which she herself working in his body takes
care: but also, as a soul evolving the power of consciousness
secret in her, his business is to know and to use her law and
even in knowing and using it to transcend her more material
limit, habit, purpose and formula. Observance of Nature but
also transcendence of first nature is continually the purpose of
the Spirit within him. A continuous series of transcendences is
the most significant thing in the world action and evolution itself
is only Nature’s constant impulse and effort of self-exceeding, of
a greater self-becoming, her way of expressing more and more,
getting out a greater form of birth and awakened power of
presence of the self that is in her. Life brings in a whole range of
these transcendences, mind another and greater range, and since
mind is so evidently imperfect and incomplete, a thing of seeking
in its very nature, there must surely be a range or many ranges
The Terrestrial Law
of transcendence above mind. Man meets with the powers of
his mind the rule of the physical action and the law of vital
Karma, brings in a law of mental and moral Karma and lifts
along the ladder of these scales to something more, to a potency
of spiritual action which may even lead him to an exceeding
of Karma itself, a freedom from or of birth and becoming, a
perfecting transcendence.
Man’s exceeding of the physical law does not come solely by
his evolution of a moral sense in a non-moral world of Nature.
Its essential rule is rather a turning of a conscious intelligence
and will on life and matter, morality itself only this knowledge
and will seeking for a rule of truth and right of action, satyam
r.tam, in his relation to his inner self and to his fellow-beings.
But his dealings with the purely physical lines of Nature are
non-moral, a matter at first of observance where he must, of
satisfaction by instinctive or experienced utilisings, of suffering
at her hands by compulsion, and more and more, as he grows,
of a struggle of his knowledge and will to know and master her
forces for his use and pleasure, for instruments and expedients,
for a greater base and circle of opportunities, for the joy itself
of will and knowledge. He makes her forces his opportunities
and to increase them faces her perils. He defies her powers,
transgresses her limitations, sins constantly against her first prohibitions, takes her punishments and overcomes them, becomes
by wrestling of his mind and will with her acquainted with
her greater possibilities which she herself has left unused while
she waited for his coming. She meets his effort with physical
obstruction and opposition, with a No that constantly recedes,
with the mask of his own ignorance, with the menace of her
danger. One might suggest the fancy, — attributing to her that
resistance which certain instincts in man oppose to the daring of
spiritual adventure, to new enlargings of knowledge, new forms
of will or new standards of conduct, regarding them stupidly as
sin and impiety because they transgress what is established, —
that to physical Nature in her first power life itself with its starts
and deviations and stumblings and sufferings is a sin against
her law of sure physical harmony and exact measure and much
The Problem of Rebirth
more mind with its daring, its sin of boundless adventure, its final
yearnings towards the unmeasured, the above-law, the infinite.
But in fact all that the godhead of physical Nature is concerned with in man’s dealings with her is to observe a just law of
return of her energies to his effort. Wherever his knowledge and
will can harmonise itself with the lines of her energies, she makes
a return according to its action on her: where it works on her
with insufficiency, ignorance, carelessness, error, she overwhelms
his effort or injures; as he wills more and discovers more, she
returns to him a greater utility and fruit of her powers, consents
to his masteries and favours his violences. He has arrived at
a unity, a Yoga with her in her greater secret possibilities, —
he has liberated them and, as he uses them, so he has from
her their return. He observes and he extends for her her lines
and she responds with an exact ministry and obedience. All this
he can do at present within certain physical limits and lines of
working and there is a modification but not a radical change.
There are indications that by a more direct pressure of a mental
and psychical energy on the physical, the response can be made
more variable, the physical depart from what seem to be fixed
limits and habits, and it is conceivable that as knowledge and
will entered into the region of higher and yet higher powers,
the action of physical energy might grow entirely responsive,
giving whatever return is seemingly demanded from her, and
its lines perfectly flexible. But even this transcendence would
have to regard the great original measures fixed by the All-Will:
there could be a free use, perhaps a large transformation of the
physical energy, but not a departure from its fundamental law
and purpose.
All this founds a reign of law, a principle of the just return of
energy that is the neutral essence of Karma, but it has no eye of
regard for ethical measures and no moral significance. Man may
and does invent cruel and immoral means of getting at physical
knowledge and its powers or turn to unethical ends the energies
she places at his service, but that is a matter between his will and
his own soul and of his relation with other living beings, his and
their concern and not hers. Physical Nature gives impartially her
The Terrestrial Law
results and rewards and demands from man observance not of
the moral but the physical law: she asks for a just knowledge
and a scrupulous practice of her physical lines and nothing else.
There is no karmic retort from her on the many cruelties of
science, no revolt against an unethical use of her facilities, much
punishment of ignorance but none of wickedness. If there is
something in the lower rounds of Nature which reacts against
certain transgressions of the moral law, it begins obscurely on
a higher scale, with life. A vital reaction of the kind there is
and it produces physico-vital effects, but mark that in this kind
of reaction there is no observance of our limits and measures,
but rather the same promiscuous impartiality as in the acts of
physical Nature. In this field we have to admit a law of vicarious
punishment, a constant smiting of the innocent for the sins of
the guilty which would seem shocking and brutally unethical
and unjust to us if inflicted by a human being. Life seems to
punish itself for its errors and excesses without any care to limit
the reaction to the agent of the excess or the error. There is here
an order of the lines of energy that is not at least primarily or in
intention ethical, but rather concerned with a system of returns
not governed by our moral ideas.
The movements of life seem indeed to be as little as the
physical laid on ethical lines. The fundamental right and justice
of life is to follow the curve of the vital energies, to maintain
the functions of the life force and to give a return to its own
powers. Its function is to survive, to reproduce itself, to grow
and possess and enjoy, to prolong and enlarge and assure its
action, power, having, pleasure as much as earth will allow. All
means are good to life that secure these ends: the rest is a matter
of right balance between the vital energy and its physical means,
of a putting forth of its powers and the kind of return it gets
for those powers. At first — and this continues even after the
emergence of mind in life and as long as mind is subservient to
the life force, — that is all we see. Vital nature works out her
ends faultlessly enough, but not by any means blamelessly in the
ethical sense. Death is her second means of self-preservation,
destruction her constant instrument for change and renovation
The Problem of Rebirth
and progress, suffering inflicted on oneself or on others oftenest her price for victory and pleasure. All life lives upon other
life, makes a place for itself by encroachment and exploitation,
possesses by association but even more by struggle. Life acts
by mutual shock and mutual use of creatures by each other;
but it works only partly by mutual help and very much by a
mutual assault and devouring. And its reproduction is bound to
a means that the ethical sense even when most tolerant feels to
be animal and inferior, is inclined to regard as immoral in itself
and, when raised to its ascetic or puritan acuities, rejects as vile.
And yet when once we put aside our limited human conceptions
and look with impersonal eyes on this vast and various and
wonderful vital nature into which we are born, we find in it a
mysteriously perfect order, the work of a deep and illimitable
intuitive wisdom, an immense Power and will at its perfectly
seeing work, a great whole of beauty and harmony built out of
what seems to us a system of discords, a mighty joy of life and
creation which no heaviest toll of individual death or suffering
can tire or discourage and which, when we enter into oneness
with the great Ananda of its movement, these things seem rather
to cast into relief and against the hue of its ecstasy these shades
not to matter. There is here also, in these steps of vital Nature
and the law of her energies, a truth of the infinite; and this truth
of the Infinite’s insistence on life, life as it were for its own sake
and for the joy of creation has its own standards of right and
harmony, just balance and measure, fit action and reaction of
energy that cannot be judged by the human rule. It is a premental and still impersonal Tapas and Ananda and therefore a
still non-moral order.
Man’s relation with vital Nature is, again, first to be one
with it by observance and obedience to its rule, then to know
and direct it by conscious intelligence and will and to transcend
by that direction the first law of life, its rule and habit, formula,
initial significance. At first he is compelled to obey its instincts
and has to act even as the animal, but in the enlarged terms of
a mentalised impulsion and an increasingly clear consciousness
and responsible will in what he does. He too has first to strive
The Terrestrial Law
to exist, to make a place for himself and his kind, to grow
and possess and enjoy, to prolong, to enlarge and assure the
first vital lines of his life movement. He too does it even as the
others, by battle and slaughter, by devouring, by encroachment,
by laying his yoke on earth and her products and on her brute
children and on his fellow-men. His virtue, his dharma of the
vital nature, virtus, aretē, is at first an obligation to strength
and swiftness and courage and all things that make for survival,
mastery and success. Most even of the things in him that evolve
an ethical significance have at root not a truly ethical but a
dynamic character, — such as self-control, tapasyā, discipline.
They are vital-dynamic, not ethical energies; they are a rightly
massed and concentrated, rightly ordered putting forth of mentalised life forces and the return they seek and get are of the vital
and dynamic kind, power, success, mastery, increased capacities
of vital possession and expansion or the result of these things,
vital-hedonistic, the satisfaction of his desires, vital happiness,
enjoyment and pleasure.
Man’s first business is to bring his conscious intelligence
and will to enlarge the lines of life of the individual and the race.
Here again it is to these two powers primarily and only secondarily and partially to any moral force that the life energy gives
its returns. The battle in life’s primitive values is to the strong
and the race to the swift, and the weak and the torpid cannot
claim the goal and the crown on the strength of their greater
virtue; and there is in this a justice, while the moral principle of
reward would be here an injustice, for it would be a denial of
the principle of the right returns of energy which is fundamental
to any possible law of Karma. Raise the action by the powers of
the mind and still the greater successes, the glory and the victory,
fall to the men of great intelligence and the men of great will and
not necessarily to the more ethical intelligence or to the more
moralised will. Morality counts in this dynamic aspect of life
only as a prudential check or a concentrating tapasya. Life helps
those who most wisely and faithfully follow her impulses while
observing her limits and restraints or those who most powerfully
aid her greater impulses of expansion. It is those that get the most
The Problem of Rebirth
prudential profit out of her and these the most of her power and
movement and joy.
The greater movement at the same time brings in a power
of greater suffering as well as joy, the greater sins of life and
its greater virtues. Man as he dares the perils of physical nature, dares too the perils of the vital energy by transgressing
her safe rules and limits which she imposes automatically on
the animal. There are balances of her use of her energies, safe
measures and restraints which make living as secure as it can
be, — for all living is naturally a peril and an adventure, but a
certain prudence in Nature minimises the adventure as much as
is consistent with her ends and the intelligence of man tries to do
still better, to live securely and not dangerously, to exclude the
more formidable incertitudes from the order of his life. But the
instinct of expansion in man is continually breaking Nature’s
vital balances and disregarding his own limits and measures. He
is avid of experience, of the unmeasured and unknown in power
and experience and enjoyment as of the common and known
and safe, of the perilous extremes as of the sane averages. He
must sound all life’s possibilities, test the wrong as well as the
right use of her energies, pay his toll of suffering and get his
prize of more splendid victories. As far as mind working in
life’s ways can do it, he has to enlarge the lines of life and to
make a transformation of its action and its possibilities. This
has hitherto been a greatening of forms and never gone so far as
to make a radical change and override its first nature. It is only
by a transformation of our inner life that we can get beyond the
magnified, mentalised, reasoning and consciously willing animal
that for the most part the greater number of us are and only by
raising it up to unity with some spiritual power we have not yet
reached that we can hope to transform vital nature and make
her a free instrument of the higher spirit. Then man may be
really what he strives to be, master of his life, in control of vital
and physical Nature.
Meanwhile it is through an inward turn of his mind that he
gets to something like a transcendence, a living not for life but
for truth, for beauty, for power of the soul, for good and right,
The Terrestrial Law
love, justice. It is this endeavour that brings down into the lower
rounds of energy the powers of a higher circle, something of a
mental and a truly moral tending at its end to become a spiritual
law of action and the fruits of action of Karma.
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
AN IS not after all in the essence of his manhood or
in the inner reality of his soul a vital and physical
being raised to a certain power of mental will and
intelligence. If that were so, the creed that makes our existence
a manifestation of a Will to life, a Life Force moved by no other
object than its own play, heightening, efficient power, expansion, might have a good chance of being the sufficient theory
of our universe, and the law of our Karma, the rule of our
activities would be in entire consonance with that one purpose
and ordered by that dominant principle. Certainly in a great
part of this world’s outer activities, — or if we, fixing our eye
mainly on the vital play of the spirit of the universe, consider
them as man’s chief business and the main thing that matters,
— there is a colourable justification for this limited view of the
human being. But the more he looks into himself and the more
he goes inward and lives intimately and pre-eminently in his
mind and soul, the more he discovers that he is in his essential
nature a mental being encased in body and emmeshed in the life
activities, manu, manomaya purus.a. He is more than a thinking,
willing and feeling result of the mechanism of the physical or an
understanding nexus of the vital forces. There is a mental energy
of his being that overtops, pervades and utilises the terrestrial
action and his own terrestrial nature.
This character of man’s being prevents us from resting satisfied with the vitalistic law of Karma: the lines of the vital
energy are interfered with and uplifted and altered for man by
the intervention of the awakened mental energy of the spirit
that emerges in the material universe and creates here on earth
the form of man for its habitation, his complex nature to be
its expressive power, the gamut of its music, and the action
of his thought, perception, will, emotions the notation of its
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
harmonies. The apparent inconscience of physical Nature, the
beautiful and terrible, kindly and cruel conscious but amoral
Life Force that is the first thing we see before us, are not the
whole self-expression of the universal Being here and therefore
not the whole of Nature. Man comes into it to express and
realise a higher law of Nature and therefore a higher system of
the lines of Karma. The mental energy divides itself and runs
in many directions, has an ascending scale of the levels of its
action, a great variety and combination of its dynamic aims and
purposes. There are many strands of its weaving and it follows
each along its own line and combines manifoldly the threads
of one with the threads of another. There is in it an energy of
thought that puts itself out for a return and a constant increase
of knowledge, an energy of will that casts itself forth for a return
and increase of conscious mastery, fulfilment of the being, execution of will in action, an energy of conscious aesthesis that feels
out for a return and an increase of the creation and enjoyment
of beauty, an energy of emotion that demands in its action a
return and a constant increase of the enjoyment and satisfaction
of the emotional power of the being. All these energies act in a
way for themselves and yet depend upon and are inextricably
accompanied and mingled with each other. At the same time
mind has descended into matter and has to act in and through
this world of the vital and physical energy and to consent to and
make something of the lines of the vital and physical Karma.
Man, then, since he is a mental being, a means of the evolution of the mental self-expression of the spirit, cannot confine
the rule of his action and nature to an obedience to the vital and
physical law and an intelligent utilisation of it for the greater,
more ordered, more perfect enjoyment of his vital and physical
existence, perpetuation, reproduction, possession, enjoyment,
expansion. There is a higher law of mental being and nature of
which he is bound to become aware and to seek to impose it on
his life and his action. At first he is very predominantly governed
by the life needs and the movement of the life energies, and it is
in applying his mental energy to them and to the world around
him that he makes the earliest development of his powers of
The Problem of Rebirth
knowledge and will and trains the crude impulses that lead him
into the path of his emotional, aesthetic and moral evolution.
But always there is a certain obscure element that takes pleasure in the action of the mental energies for their own sake
and it is this, however imperfect at first in self-consciousness
and intelligence, that represents the characteristic intention of
Nature in him and makes his mental and eventually his spiritual
evolution inevitable. The insistence of the external world around
him and the need of utilising its opportunities and of meeting
its siege and dangers causes his mind to be much obsessed by
life and external action and the utility of thought and will and
perception for his dealings with the physical and life forces, and
to this preoccupation the finer more disinterested action and
subtler cast of motive of the mind nature demanding its own
inner development, seeking for knowledge, mastery, beauty, a
purer emotional delight for their own sake, and the pursuits
which are characteristic of this higher energy of the mental
nature, appear almost as by-products and at any rate things
secondary that can always be postponed and made subordinate
to the needs and demands of the mentalised vital and physical
being. But the finer and more developed mind in humanity has
always turned towards an opposite self-seeing, inclined to regard
this as the most characteristic and valuable element of our being
and been ready to sacrifice much and sometimes all to its calls
or its imperative mandate. Then life itself would be in reality for
man only a field of action for the evolution, the opportunity of
new experience, the condition of difficult effort and mastery of
the mental and spiritual being. What then will be the lines of
this mental energy and how will they affect and be affected by
the lines of the vital and physical Karma?
Three movements of the mental energy of man projecting
itself along the lines of life, successive movements that yet overlap and enter into each other, have created a triple strand of the
law of his Karma. The first is that, primary, obvious, universal,
predominant in his beginnings, in which his mind subjects and
assimilates itself to the law of life in matter in order to make the
most of the terrestrial existence for its own pleasure and profit,
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
artha, kāma, without any other modification or correction of
its pre-existing lines than is involved in the very impact of the
human intelligence, will, emotion, aesthesis. These indeed are
forces that lift up and greatly enlarge and infinitely rarefy and
subtilise by a consciously regulated and more and more skilful
and curious use the first crude, narrow and essentially animal
aims and movements common to all living creatures. And this
element of the mentalised vital existence, these lines of its movement making the main grey solid stuff of the life of the average
economic, political, social, domestic man may take on a great
amplitude and an imposing brilliance, but they remain always in
their distinctive, their original and still persistent character the
lines of movement, the way of Karma of the thinking, willing,
feeling, refining human animal, — not to be despised or excluded
from our total way of being when we climb to a higher plane
of conception and action, but still only a small part of human
possibility and, if regarded as the main preoccupation or most
imperative law of the human being, then limiting and degrading
it; for, empowered up to a certain point to enlarge and dynamise
and enrich, but not raise to a self-exceeding, they are useful
for ascension only when themselves uplifted and transformed
by a greater law and a nobler motive. The momentum of this
energy may be a very powerful mental action, may involve much
output of intelligence and will power and aesthetic perception
and expenditure of emotional force, but the return it seeks is
vital success and enjoyment and possession and satisfaction.
The mind no doubt feeds its powers on the effort and its fullness
on the prize, but it is tethered to its pasture. It is a mixed movement, mental in its means, predominantly vital in its returns; its
standard of the values of the return are measured by an outward
success and failure, an externalised or externally caused pleasure
and suffering, good fortune and evil fortune, the fate of the life
and the body. It is this powerful vital preoccupation which has
given us one element of the current notion of law of Karma, its
idea of an award of vital happiness and suffering as the measure
of cosmic justice.
The second movement of mind running on the lines of life
The Problem of Rebirth
comes into prominent action when man evolves out of his experience the idea of a mental rule, standard, ideal, a concretised
abstraction which is suggested at first by life experience, but
goes beyond, transcends the actual needs and demands of the
vital energy and returns upon it to impose some ideal mental
rule, some canon embodying a generalised conception of Right
on the law of life. For its essence is the discovery or belief of
the mind that in all things there is a right rule, a right standard,
a right way of thought, will, feeling, perception, action other
than that of the intuition of vital nature, other than that of the
first dealings of mind seeking only to profit by the vital nature
with a mainly vital motive, — for it has discovered a way of the
reason, a rule of the self-governing intelligence. This brings into
the seeking of vital pleasure and profit, artha, kāma, the power
of the conception of a mental truth, justice, right, the conception
of Dharma. The greater practical part of the Dharma is ethical,
it is the idea of the moral law. The first mind movement is nonmoral or not at all characteristically moral, has only, if at all,
the conception of a standard of action justified by custom, the
received rule of life and therefore right, or a morality indistinguishable from expediency, accepted and enforced because it
was found necessary or helpful to efficiency, power, success, to
victory, honour, approval, good fortune. The idea of Dharma
is on the contrary predominantly moral in its essence. Dharma
on its heights holds up the moral law in its own right and for
its own sake to human acceptance and observance. The larger
idea of Dharma is indeed a conception of the true law of all
energies and includes a conscience, a rectitude in all things, a
right law of thought and knowledge, of aesthesis, of all other
human activities and not only of our ethical action. But yet in
the notion of Dharma the ethical element has tended always
to predominate and even to monopolise the concept of Right
which man creates, — because ethics is concerned with action of
life and his dealing with his vital being and with his fellow-men
and that is always his first preoccupation and his most tangible
difficulty, and because here first and most pressingly the desires,
interests, instincts of the vital being find themselves cast into a
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
sharp and very successful conflict with the ideal of Right and the
demand of the higher law. Right ethical action comes therefore
to seem to man at this stage the one thing binding upon him
among the many standards raised by the mind, the moral claim
the one categorical imperative, the moral law the whole of his
At first however the moral conceptions of man and the
direction and output and the demand of return of the ethical
energy in him get themselves inextricably mixed with his vital
conceptions and demands and even afterwards lean on them very
commonly and very considerably for a support and incentive.
Human morality first takes up an enormous mass of customary
rules of action, a conventional and traditional practice much of
which is of a very doubtful moral value, gives to it an imperative
sanction of right and slips into the crude mass or superimposes
on it, but still as a part of one common and equal code, the true
things of the ethical ideal. It appeals to the vital being, his desires,
hopes and fears, incites man to virtue by the hope of rewards
and the dread of punishment, imitating in this device the method
of his crude and fumbling social practice: for that, finding its
law and rule which, good or bad, it wishes to make imperative
as supposing it to be at least the best calculated for the order
and efficiency of the community, opposed by man’s vital being,
bribes and terrifies as well as influences, educates and persuades
him to acceptance. Morality tells man, accommodating itself
to his imperfection, mostly through the mouth of religion, that
the moral law is imperative in itself, but also that it is very
expedient for him personally to follow it, righteousness in the
end the safest policy, virtue the best paymaster in the long run, —
for this is a world of Law or a world ruled by a just and virtuous
or at least virtue-loving God. He is assured that the righteous
man shall prosper and the wicked perish and that the paths of
virtue lie through pleasant places. Or, if this will not serve, since
it is palpably false in experience and even man cannot always
deceive himself, it offers him a security of vital rewards denied
here but conceded in some hereafter. Heaven and hell, happiness
and suffering in other lives are put before him as the bribe and
The Problem of Rebirth
the menace. He is told, the better to satisfy his easily satisfied
intellect, that the world is governed by an ethical law which determines the measure of his earthly fortunes, that a justice reigns
and this is justice, that every action has its exact rebound and his
good shall bring him good and his evil evil. It is these notions,
this idea of the moral law, of righteousness and justice as a thing
in itself imperative, but still needing to be enforced by bribe and
menace on our human nature, — which would seem to show
that at least for that nature they are not altogether imperative,
— this insistence on reward and punishment because morality
struggling with our first unregenerate being has to figure very
largely as a mass of restraints and prohibitions and these cannot
be enforced without some fact or appearance of a compelling
or inducing outward sanction, this diplomatic compromise or
effort at equivalence between the impersonal ethical and the
personal egoistic demand, this marriage of convenience between
right and vital utility, virtue and desire, — it is these accommodations that are embodied in the current notions of the law of
What real truth is there behind the current notions of Karma
in the actual facts or the fundamental powers of the life of man
here or the visible working of the law of the energies of the
cosmos? There is evidently a substantial truth, but it is a part
only of the whole; its reign or predominance belongs to a certain
element only, to the emphasis of one line among many of a
transitional movement between the law of the vital energy and
a greater and higher law of the mind and spirit. A mixture of
any two kinds of energy sets up a mixed and complex action of
the output of the energy and the return, and a too sharp-cut rule
affixing vital returns to a mental and moral output of force is
open to much exception and it cannot be the whole inner truth
of the matter. But still where the demand is for the vital return,
for success, an outer happiness, good, fortune, that is a sign of
the dominant intention in the energy and points to a balance of
forces weighing in the indicated direction. At first sight, if success
is the desideratum, it is not clear what morality has to say in the
affair, since we see in most things that it is a right understanding
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
and intelligent or intuitive practice of the means and conditions
and an insistent power of the will, a settled drive of the force of
the being of which success is the natural consequence. Man may
impose by a system of punishments a check on the egoistic will
and intelligence in pursuit of its vital ends, may create a number
of moral conditions for the world’s prizes, but this might appear,
as is indeed contended in certain vitalistic theories, an artificial
imposition on Nature and a dulling and impoverishment of the
free and powerful play of the mind force and the life force in
their alliance. But in truth the greatest force for success is a
right concentration of energy, tapasyā, and there is an inevitable
moral element in Tapasya.
Man is a mental being seeking to establish a control over
the life forces he embodies or uses, and one condition of that
mastery is a necessary self-control, a restraint, an order, a discipline imposed on his mental, vital and physical being. The
animal life is automatically subjected to certain measures; it is
the field of an instinctive vital Dharma. Man, liberated from
these automatic checks by the free play of his mind, has to replace them by willed and intelligent restraints, an understanding
measure, a voluntary discipline. Not only a powerful expenditure and free play of his energies, but also a right measure,
restraint and control of them is the condition of his life’s success and soundness. The moral is not the sole element: it is not
entirely true that the moral right always prevails or that where
there is the dharma, on that side is the victory. The immediate
success often goes to other powers, even an ultimate conquest
of the Right comes usually by an association with some form
of Might. But still there is always a moral element among the
many factors of individual and collective or national success
and a disregard of acknowledged right has at some time or
other disastrous or fatal reactions. Moreover, man in the use of
his energies has to take account of his fellows and the aid and
opposition of their energies, and his relations with them impose
on him checks, demands and conditions which have or evolve
a moral significance. There is laid on him almost from the first
a number of obligations even in the pursuit of vital success and
The Problem of Rebirth
satisfaction which become a first empirical basis of an ethical
And there are cosmic as well as human forces that respond
to this balance of the mental and moral and the vital order. First
there is something subtle, inscrutable and formidable that meets
us in our paths, a Force of which the ancient Greeks took much
notice, a Power that is on the watch for man in his effort at
enlargement, possession and enjoyments and seems hostile and
opposite. The Greeks figured it as the jealousy of the gods or as
Doom, Necessity, Ate. The egoistic force in man may proceed
far in its victory and triumph, but it has to be wary or it will
find this power there on the watch for any flaw in his strength or
action, any sufficient opportunity for his defeat and downfall. It
dogs his endeavour with obstacle and reverse and takes advantage of his imperfections, often dallying with him, giving him
long rope, delaying and abiding its time, — and not only of his
moral shortcomings but of his errors of will and intelligence, his
excesses and deficiencies of strength and prudence, all defects of
his nature. It seems overcome by his energies of Tapasya, but it
waits its season. It overshadows unbroken or extreme prosperity
and often surprises it with a sudden turn to ruin. It induces a
security, a self-forgetfulness, a pride and insolence of success
and victory and leads on its victim to dash himself against the
hidden seat of justice or the wall of an invisible measure. It is
as fatal to a blind self-righteousness and the arrogations of an
egoistic virtue as to vicious excess and selfish violence. It appears
to demand of man and of individual men and nations that they
shall keep within a limit and a measure, while all beyond that
brings danger; and therefore the Greeks held moderation in all
things to be the greatest part of virtue.
There is here something in the life forces obscure to us,
considered by our partial feelings sinister because it crosses our
desires, but obedient to some law and intention of the universal
mind, the universal reason or Logos which the ancients perceived at work in the cosmos. Its presence, when felt by the
cruder kind of religious mind, generates the idea of calamity as
a punishment for sin, — not observing that it has a punishment
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
too for ignorance, for error, stupidity, weakness, defect of will
and tapasya. This is really a resistance of the Infinite acting
through life against the claim of the imperfect ego of man to
enlarge itself, possess, enjoy and have, while remaining imperfect, a perfect and enduring happiness and complete felicity of
its world-experience. The claim is, we may say, immoral, and the
Force that resists it and returns, however uncertainly and late to
our eyes, suffering and failure as a reply to our imperfections,
may be considered a moral Force, an agent of a just Karma,
though not solely in the narrowly ethical sense of Karma. The
law it represents is that our imperfections shall have their passing
or their fatal consequences, that a flaw in our output of energy
may be mended or counterbalanced and reduced in consequence,
but if persisted in shall react even in excess of its apparent merits,
that an error may seem to destroy all the result of the Tapasya,
because it springs from a radical unsoundness in the intention
of the will, the heart, the ethical sense or the reason. This is the
first line of the transitional law of Karma.
A second line of Karmic response of the cosmic forces to
our action puts on also an appearance which tempts us to give
it a moral character. For there can be distinguished in Nature
a certain element of the law of the talion or — perhaps a more
appropriate figure, since this action seems rather mechanical
than rational and deliberate — a boomerang movement of energy returning upon its transmitter. The stone we throw is flung
back by some hidden force in the world life upon ourselves, the
action we put out upon others recoils, not always by a direct
reaction, but often by devious and unconnected routes, on our
own lives and sometimes, though that is by no means a common
rule, in its own exact figure or measure. This is a phenomenon
so striking to our imagination and impressive to our moral sense
and vital feelings that it has received some kind of solemn form
and utterance in the thought of all cultures, — “What thou hast
done, thou must suffer”, “He that uses the sword shall perish by
the sword”; “Thou hast sown the wind and thou shalt reap the
whirlwind”; — and we are tempted to erect it into a universal
rule and accept it as sufficient evidence of a moral order. But the
The Problem of Rebirth
careful thinker will pause long before he hastens to subscribe to
any such conclusion, for there is much that militates against it
and this kind of definite reaction is rather exceptional than an
ordinary rule of human life. If it were a regular feature, men
would soon learn the code of the draconic impersonal legislator
and know what to avoid and the list of life’s prohibitions and
vetoes. But there is no such clear penal legislation of Nature.
The mathematical precision of physical Nature’s action and
reaction cannot indeed be expected from mental and vital Nature. For not only does everything become infinitely more subtle,
complex and variable as we rise in the scale so that in our
life action there is an extraordinary intertwining of forces and
mixture of many values, but, even, the psychological and moral
value of the same action differs in different cases, according
to the circumstance, the conditions, the motive and mind of the
doer. The law of the talion is no just or ethical rule when applied
by man to men and, applied by superhuman dispenser of justice
or impersonal law with a rude rule of thumb to the delicate and
intricate tangle of man’s life action and life motives, it would be
no better. And it is evident too that the slow, long and subtle
purposes of the universal Power working in the human race
would be defeated rather than served by any universality of this
too precise and summary procedure. Accordingly we find that
its working is occasional and intermittent rather than regular,
variable and to our minds capricious rather than automatic and
plainly intelligible.
At times in the individual’s life the rebound of this kind of
Karma is decisively, often terribly clear and penal justice is done,
although it may come to him in an unexpected fashion, long
delayed and from strange quarters; but however satisfactory to
our dramatic sense, this is not the common method of retributive
Nature. Her ways are more tortuous, subtle, unobtrusive and
indecipherable. Often it is a nation that pays in this way for past
crimes and mistakes and the sign manual of the law of the talion
is there to point the lesson, but individually it is the innocent
who suffer. A commercially minded king of Belgium is moved
to make a good thing of the nation’s rubber estate and human
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
cattle farm in Africa and his agents murder and mutilate and
immolate thousands of cheap negro lives to hasten the yield and
swell his coffers. This able monarch dies in the splendour of
riches and the sacred odour of good fortune, his agents in no
way suffer: but here of a sudden comes Germany trampling her
armed way towards a dream of military and commercial empire
through prosperous Belgium and massacred men and women
and mutilated children startlingly remind us of Karma and illustrate some obscure and capricious law of the talion. Here at least
the nation in its corporate being was guilty of complicity, but at
other times neither guilty individual nor nation is the payer, but
perhaps some well-meaning virtuous blunderer gets the account
of evil recompense that should have been paid in of rights by
the strong despots before him who went on their way to the end
rejoicing in power and splendour and pleasure.
It is evident that we cannot make much of a force that works
out in so strange a fashion, however occasionally striking and
dramatic its pointing at cause and consequence. It is too uncertain in its infliction of penalty to serve the end which the human
mind expects from a system of penal justice, too inscrutably
variable in its incidence to act as an indicator to that element
in the human temperament which waits upon expediency and
regulates its steps by a prudential eye to consequence. Men and
nations continue to act always in the same fashion regardless
of this occasional breaking out of the lightnings of a retaliatory
doom, these occasional precisions of Karmic justice amidst the
uncertainties of the complex measures of the universe. It works
really not on the mind and will of man — except to some degree
in a subtle and imperfect fashion on the subconscient mind —
but outside him as a partial check and regulator helping to
maintain the balance of the returns of energy and the life purposes of the world-spirit. Its action is like that of the first line
of transitional Karma intended to prevent the success of the
vital egoism of man and serves as an interim compression and
compulsion until he can discover and succeed in spite of his vital
self in obeying a higher law of his being and a purer dynamism
of motive in his directing mind and governing spirit. It serves
The Problem of Rebirth
therefore a certain moral purpose in the will in the universe, but
is not itself, even in combination with the other, sufficient to be
the law of a moral order.
A third possible and less outwardly mechanical line of
Karma is suggested by the dictum that like creates like and in
accordance with that law good must create good and evil must
create evil. In the terms of a moral return or rather repayment
to moral energies this would mean that by putting forth love
we get a return of love and by putting forth hatred a return of
hatred, that if we are merciful or just to others, others also will
be to us just or merciful and that generally good done by us to
our fellow-men will return in a recompense of good done by
them in kind and posted back to our address duly registered in
the moral post office of the administrative government of the
universe. Do unto others as you would be done by, because then
they will indeed so do to you, seems to be the formula of this
moral device. If this were true, human life might indeed settle
down into a very symmetrical system of a harmoniously moral
egoism and a mercantile traffic in goodness that might seem
fair and beautiful enough to those who are afflicted with that
kind of moral aesthesis. Happily for the upward progress of the
human soul, the rule breaks down in practice, the world-spirit
having greater ends before it and a greater law to realise. The
rule is true to a certain extent in tendency and works sometimes
well enough and the prudential intelligence of man takes some
account of it in action but it is not true all the way and all
the time. It is evident enough that hatred, violence, injustice
are likely to create an answering hatred, violence and injustice
and that I can only indulge these propensities with impunity if
I am sufficiently powerful to defy resistance or so long as I am
at once strong enough and prudent enough to provide against
their natural reactions. It is true also that by doing good and
kindness I create a certain goodwill in others and can rely under
ordinary or favourable circumstances not so much on gratitude
and return in kind as on their support and favour. But this
good and this evil are both of them movements of the ego and
on the mixed egoism of human nature there can be no safe or
Mind Nature and Law of Karma
positive reliance. An egoistic selfish strength, if it knows what
to do and where to stop, even a certain measure of violence and
injustice, if it is strong and skilful, cunning, fraud, many kinds
of evil, do actually pay in man’s dealing with man hardly less
than in the animal’s with the animal, and on the other hand the
doer of good who counts on a return or reward finds himself
as often as not disappointed of his bargained recompense. The
weakness of human nature worships the power that tramples on
it, does homage to successful strength, can return to every kind
of strong or skilful imposition belief, acceptance, obedience:
it can crouch and fawn and admire even amidst movements
of hatred and terror; it has singular loyalties and unreasoning
instincts. And its disloyalties too are as unreasoning or light
and fickle: it takes just dealing and beneficence as its right and
forgets or cares not to repay. And there is worse; for justice,
mercy, beneficence, kindness are often enough rewarded by
their opposites and ill will an answer to goodwill is a brutally
common experience. If something in the world and in man
returns good for good and evil for evil, it as often returns evil
for good and, with or without a conscious moral intention, good
for evil. And even an unegoistic virtue or a divine good and love
entering the world awakens hostile reactions. Attila and Jenghiz
on the throne to the end, Christ on the cross and Socrates
drinking his portion of hemlock are no very clear evidence for
any optimistic notion of a law of moral return in the world of
human nature.
There is little more sign of its sure existence in the world
measures. Actually in the cosmic dispensation evil comes out
of good and good out of evil and there seems to be no exact
correspondence between the moral and the vital measures. All
that we can say is that good done tends to increase the sum
and total power of good in the world and the greater this grows
the greater is likely to be the sum of human happiness and that
evil done tends to increase the sum and total power of evil in
the world and the greater this grows, the greater is likely to
be the sum of human suffering and, eventually, man or nation
doing evil has in some way to pay for it, but not often in any
The Problem of Rebirth
intelligibly graded or apportioned measure and not always in
clearly translating terms of vital good fortune and ill fortune.
In short, what we may call the transitional lines of Karma
exist and have to be taken into account in our view of the
action of the world forces. But they are not and cannot be the
whole law of Karma. And they cannot be that because they are
transitional, because good and evil are moral and not vital values
and have a clear right only to a moral and not a vital return,
because reward and punishment put forward as the conditions
of good doing and evil doing do not constitute and cannot create
a really moral order, the principle itself, whatever temporary end
it serves, being fundamentally immoral from the higher point of
view of a true and pure ethics, and because there are other forces
that count and have their right, — knowledge, power and many
others. The correspondence of moral and vital good is a demand
of the human ego and like many others of its demands answers
to certain tendencies in the world mind, but is not its whole
law or highest purpose. A moral order there can be, but it is in
ourselves and for its own sake that we have to create it and, only
when we have so created it and found its right relation to other
powers of life, can we hope to make it count at its full value in
the right ordering of man’s vital existence.
The Higher Lines of Karma
HE THIRD movement of mind labours to bring the soul
of man out of the tangle of the vital and mental forces
and opens to him a field in which the mind raises itself,
raises at least the head of its thought and will, above the vital
demands and standards and there at that top of its activities,
whatever its other concessions to the lower Karma, lives for the
sake of the true values, the true demands of a mental being, even
though one imprisoned in a body and set to wrestle with the conditions of life in a material universe. The innate demand of the
mental being is for mental experience, for the mind’s manifold
strengths, its capacities, joys, growth, perfections, and for these
things for their own sake because of the inevitable satisfaction
they give to his nature, — the demand of the intellect for truth
and knowledge, the demand of the ethical mind for right and
good, the demand of the aesthetic mind for beauty and delight of
beauty, the demand of the emotional mind for love and the joy of
relation with our fellow-beings, the demand of the will for selfmastery and mastery of things and the world and our existence.
And the values which the mental being holds for supreme and
effective are the values of truth and knowledge, of right and
good, of beauty and aesthetic delight, of love and emotional joy,
of mastery and inner lordship. It is these things that he seeks to
know and follow, to possess, discover, enjoy, increase. It is for
this great adventure that he came into the world, to walk hardily
through the endless fields they offer to him, to experiment, to
dare, to test the utmost limit of each capacity and follow each
possibility and its clue to the end as well as to observe in each
its at present discovered law and measure. Here as in the other
fields, as in the vital and physical, so in his mental provinces, it
is the appointed work of his intelligence and will to know and
master through an always enlarging experience the conditions
The Problem of Rebirth
of an increasing light and power and right and truth and joy and
beauty and wideness, and not only to discover the Truth and the
Law and set up a system and an order, but to enlarge continually
its lines and boundaries. And therefore in these fields, as in life,
man, the mental being, cannot stop short too long in the partial
truth of an established system and a temporary mistaken for an
eternal order — here least, because as he advances he is always
tempted still farther forward until he realises that he is a seeker of
the infinite and a power of the absolute. His base here plunges
into the obscure infinite of life and matter; but his head rises
towards the luminous infinite of the spirit.
The third movement of the mental energy carries it therefore
into its own native field and kingdom above the pressing subjection to the lowering and limiting claim of a vital and physical
Karma. It is true that his lower being remains subject to the law
of life and of the body, and it is true also that he must strive
either to find in life or to bring into the world around him some
law of truth, of right and good, of beauty, of love and joy, of the
mind’s will and mastery, for it is by that effort that he is man and
not the animal and without it he cannot find his true satisfaction
in living. But two things he has more and more to feel and to
realise, first, that life and matter follow their own law and not,
in man’s sense of it at least, a moral, a rational, a mentally
determined aesthetic or other mind order, and if he wishes to
introduce any such thing into them, he must himself here create
it, transcending the physical and the vital law and discovering
another and a better, and secondly, that the more he follows
these things for their own sake, the more he discovers their true
form, svarūpa, and develops their force to prevail upon and lift
up life into an air of higher nature. In other words he passes
from the practical pursuit of a serviceable knowledge, morality,
aesthesis, force of emotion and will-power, — serviceable for his
vital aims, for life as it first is, — to an ideal pursuit of these
things and the transformation of life into the image of his ideal.
This he is unable indeed as yet to realise and is obliged to rest on
balance and compromise, because he has not found the whole
reconciling secret of that which lies beyond his ideals. But it is as
The Higher Lines of Karma
he pursues them in their purity, for their own imperative innate
demand and attraction, on the line of their trend to their own
infinite and absolute that he gets nearer in his total experience
to the secret. There is so a chance of his discovering that as the
beauty and irrefragable order of life and matter are due to the
joy of the Infinite in life and in matter and the fidelity of the
Force here at work to the hidden knowledge and will and idea
of the Self and Spirit in them, so there is within his own hidden
self, his own vast and covert spirit a secret of the Infinite’s selfknowledge, will, joy, love and delight, mastery, right and truth
of joy and action by which his own greater life rising above the
vital and mental limitations can discover an infinite perfection
and beauty and delight in itself and spontaneous irrefragable
Meanwhile this third movement of mind discovers a law of
the return of mental energies, pure in its kind and as certain
as the vital and the physical, as faithful to itself, to the self of
mind and to mind nature, a law not of vital returns to mental
dynamis, but of progression of the soul in the being and force of
good and beauty and power — of mind-power and soul-power
— and greatness and love and joy and knowledge. Mounting
here the ethical mind no longer follows good for a reward now
on earth or in another existence, but for the sake of good, and
no longer shuns evil for fear of punishment on earth later on in
this life or else in another life or in hell, but because to follow
evil is a degradation and affliction of its being and a fall from
its innate and imperative endeavour. This is to it a necessity of
its moral nature, a truly categorical imperative, a call that in the
total more complex nature of man may be dulled or suppressed
or excluded by the claim of its other parts and their needs, but
to the ethical mind is binding and absolute. The virtue that
demands a reward for acting well and needs a penalty to keep
it walking in the straight way, is no real portion, no true law
of the ethical being, but rather a mixed creation, a rule of his
practical reason that seeks always after utility and holds that to
be right which is helpful and expedient, a rule that looks first
not at the growth of the soul but at the mechanical securing of
The Problem of Rebirth
a regulated outward conduct and to secure it bribes and terrifies
the vital being into acquiescence and a reluctant subordination
of its own instincts and natural ventures. The virtue so created is
an expediency, a social decency, a prudent limitation of egoism,
a commercial substitute for the true thing; or, at best, it is a
habit of the mind and not a truth of the soul, and in the mind
a fabrication, mixed and of inferior stuff, a conventional virtue,
insecure, destructible by the wear and tear of life, easily confused with other expediencies or purchasable or conquerable by
them, — it is not a high and clear upbuilding, an enduring and
inwardly living self-creation of the soul. Whatever its practical
utility or service as a step of the transition, the mental habit
of confusion and vitalistic compromise it fosters and the more
questionable confusions and compromises that habit favours,
have made conventional morality one of the chief of the forces
that hold back human life from progressing to a true ethical
order. If humanity has made any lasting and true advance, it has
been not through the virtue created by reward and punishment
or any of the sanctions powerful on the little vital ego, but by
an insistence from the higher mind on the lower, an insistence
on right for its own sake, on imperative moral values, on an
absolute law and truth of ethical being and ethical conduct that
must be obeyed whatever the recalcitrances of the lower mind,
whatever the pains of the vital problem, whatever the external
result, the inferior issue.
This higher mind holds its pure and complete sway only
on a few high souls, in others it acts upon the lower and outer
mind but amidst much misprision, confusion and distortion of
thought and will and perverting or abating mixture; on the mass
of men governed by the lower egoistic, vital and conventional
standards of conduct its influence is indirect and little. None
the less it gives the clue we have to follow in order to pursue
the spiral ascent of the lines of Karma. And first we observe
that the just man follows the ethical law for its own sake and
not for any other purpose whatsoever, is just for the sake of
justice, righteous for the sake of righteousness, compassionate
for the sake of compassion, true for the sake of truth alone.
The Higher Lines of Karma
Harishchandra sacrificing self and wife and child and kingdom
and subjects in an unswerving fidelity to the truth of the spoken
word, Shivi giving his flesh to the hawk rather than fall from his
kingly duty of protection to the fugitive, the Bodhisattwa laying
his body before the famished tiger, images in which sacred or
epic legend has consecrated this greater kind of virtue, illuminate an elevation of the ethical will and a law of moral energy
that asks for no return from man or living thing or from the
gods of Karma, lays down no conditions, makes no calculation
of consequence, of less or more or of the greatest good of the
greatest number, admits neither the hedonistic nor the utilitarian
measure, but does simply the act as the thing to be done because
it is right and virtue and therefore the very law of being of the
ethical man, the categorical imperative of his nature.
This kind of high absoluteness in the ethical demand is appalling to the flesh and the ego, for it admits of no comfortable
indulgence and compromise, no abating reserves or conditions,
no profitable compact between the egoistic life and virtue. It is
offensive too to the practical reason, for it ignores the complexity
of the world and of human nature and seems to savour of an
extremism and exclusive exaggeration as dangerous to life as it
is exalted in ideal purpose. Fiat justitia ruat coelum, let justice
and right be done though the heavens fall, is a rule of conduct
that only the ideal mind can accept with equanimity or the ideal
life tolerate in practice. And even to the larger ideal mind this
absoluteness becomes untrustworthy if it is an obedience not to
the higher law of the soul, but to an outward moral law, a code
of conduct. For then in place of a lifting enthusiasm we have the
rigidity of the Pharisee, a puritan fierceness or narrowness or the
life-killing tyranny of a single insufficient side of the nature. This
is not yet that higher mental movement, but a straining towards
it, an attempt to rise above the transitional law and the vitalistic
compromise. And it brings with it an artificiality, a tension, a
coercion, often a repellent austerity which, disregarding as it
does sanity and large wisdom and the simple naturalness of
the true ethical mind and the flexibilities of life, tyrannising
over but not transforming it, is not the higher perfection of our
The Problem of Rebirth
nature. But still even here there is the feeling out after a great
return to the output of moral energy, an attempt well worth
making, if the aim can indeed so be accomplished, to build
up by the insistence on a rigid obedience to a law of moral
action that which is yet non-existent or imperfectly existent in
us but which alone can make the law of our conduct a thing
true and living, — an ethical being with an inalienably ethical
nature. No rule imposed on him from outside, whether in the
name of a supposed mechanical or impersonal law or of God
or prophet, can be, as such, true or right or binding on man:
it becomes that only when it answers to some demand or aids
some evolution of his inner being. And when that inner being is
revealed, evolved, at each moment naturally active, simply and
spontaneously imperative, then we get the true, the inner and
intuitive Law in its light of self-knowledge, its beauty of selffulfilment, its intimate life significance. An act of justice, truth,
love, compassion, purity, sacrifice becomes then the faultless
expression, the natural outflowering of our soul of justice, our
soul of truth, our soul of love and compassion, our soul of
purity or sacrifice. And before the greatness of its imperative
mandate to the outer nature the vital being and the practical
reason and surface seeking intelligence must and do bow down
as before something greater than themselves, something that
belongs directly to the divine and the infinite.
Meanwhile we get the clue to the higher law of Karma, of
the output and returns of energy, and see it immediately and
directly to be, what all law of Karma, really and ultimately, if
at first covertly, is for man, a law of his spiritual evolution. The
true return to the act of virtue, to the ethically right output of
his energy — his reward, if you will, and the sole recompense
on which he has a right to insist, — is its return upon him in
a growth of the moral strength within him, an upbuilding of
his ethical being, a flowering of the soul of right, justice, love,
compassion, purity, truth, strength, courage, self-giving that he
seeks to be. The true return to the act of evil, to the ethically
wrong output of energy — his punishment, if you will, and the
sole penalty he has any need or right to fear, — is its return upon
The Higher Lines of Karma
him in a retardation of the growth, a demolition of the upbuilding, an obscuration, tarnishing, impoverishing of the soul, of
the pure, strong and luminous being that he is striving to be.
An inner happiness he may gain by his act, the calm, peace,
satisfaction of the soul fulfilled in right, or an inner calamity,
the suffering, disturbance, unease and malady of its descent or
failure, but he can demand from God or moral Law no other.
The ethical soul, — not the counterfeit but the real, — accepts
the pains and sufferings and difficulties and fierce intimidations
of life, not as a punishment for its sins, but as an opportunity
and trial, an opportunity for its growth, a trial of its built or
native strength, and good fortune and all outer success not as a
coveted reward of virtue, but as an opportunity also and an even
greater more difficult trial. What to this high seeker of Right can
mean the vital law of Karma or what can its gods do to him that
he can fear or long for? The ethical-vitalistic explanation of the
world and its meaning and measures has for such a soul, for man
at this height of his evolution no significance. He has travelled
beyond the jurisdiction of the Powers of the middle air, the head
of his spirit’s endeavour is lifted above the dull grey-white belt
that is their empire.
There can be no greater error than to suppose, misled by
this absolute insistence of the ethical being, that the ethical is
the single or the supreme demand of the Infinite upon us or the
one law and line of the higher Karma, and that in comparison
with it nothing else matters. The German thinker’s idea that
there is a categorical imperative laid upon man to seek after
the right and good, an insistent law of right conduct, but no
categorical imperative of the Oversoul compelling him to seek
after the beautiful or the true, after a law of right beauty and harmony and right knowledge, is a singular misprision. It is a false
deduction born of too much preoccupation with the transitional
movement of man’s mind and, there too, only with one side of its
complex phenomena. The Indian thinkers had a wiser sight who
while conceding right ethical being and conduct as a first need,
still considered knowledge to be the greater ultimate demand,
the indispensable condition, and much nearer to a full seeing
The Problem of Rebirth
came that larger experience of theirs that either through an urge
towards absolute knowledge or a pure impersonality of the will
or an ecstasy of divine love and absolute delight, — and even
through an absorbing concentration of the psychical and the
vital and physical being, — the soul turns towards the Supreme
and that on each part of our self and nature and consciousness
there can come a call and irresistible attraction of the Divine.
Indeed, an uplift of all these, an imperative of the Divine upon
all the ways of our being, is the impetus of self-enlargement
to a complete, an integralising possession of God, freedom and
immortality, and that therefore is the highest law of our nature.
The fundamental movement of life knows nothing of an
absolute ethical insistence, its only categorical imperative is the
imperative of Nature herself compelling each being to affirm
its life as it must or as best it can according to its own inborn
self and way of expression of her, Swabhava. In the transitional
movement of life informed by mind there is indeed a moral
instinct developing into a moral sense and idea, — not complete
for it leaves large ranges of conduct in which there is a lacuna
or inconscience of the moral sense, a satisfied fulfilment of the
egoistic desires at the expense of others, and not imperative
since it is easily combated and overthrown by the earlier imposed, more naturally dominant law of the vital being. What
the natural egoistic man obeys most rigorously is the collective or social rule of conduct impressed on his mind by law
and tradition, jus, mores, and outside its conventional circle he
allows himself an easy latitude. The reason generalises the idea
of a moral law carrying with it an obligation man should heed
and obey but may disregard at this outer or that inner peril,
and it insists first and most on a moral law, an obligation of
self-control, justice, righteousness, conduct, rather than a law of
truth, beauty and harmony, love, mastery, because the regulation
of his desires and instincts and his outward vital action is his first
necessary preoccupation and he has to find his poise here and a
settled and sanctioned order before he commences securely to go
deeper and develop more in the direction of his inner being. It is
the ideal mind that brings into this superficial moral sense, this
The Higher Lines of Karma
relative obligation, the intuition of an inner and absolute ethical
imperative, and if it tends to give to ethics the first and most
important and in some minds the whole place, it is still because
the priority of action, long given to it in the evolution of mind
on earth, moves man to apply first his idealism to action and his
relations with other beings. But as there is the moral instinct in
the mind seeking for good, so too there is the aesthetic instinct,
the emotional and the dynamic and the instinct in man that
seeks after knowledge, and the developing reason is as much
concerned to evolve in all these directions as in the ethical and
to find out their right law; for truth, beauty, love, strength and
power are after all as necessary for the true growth of mind and
of life and even for the fullness of the action as righteousness,
purity and justice. Arriving on the high ideal plane these too
become, no less than the ethical motive, no longer a seeking
and necessity of this relative nature and importance, but a law
and call to spiritual perfection, an inner and absolute divine
The higher mind of man seeks not only after good, but
after truth, after knowledge. He has an intellectual as well as an
ethical being and the impulse that moves it, the will to know,
the thirst for truth is not less divine in its upward orientation
than the will to good, not less too in its earlier workings, but
even more, a necessity of the growth of our consciousness and
being and the right ordering of our action, not less an imperative
need laid upon man by the will of the spirit in the universe. And
in the pursuit of knowledge as in the pursuit of good we see
the same lines and stages of the evolution of energy. At first
as its basis there is simply a life-consciousness seeking for its
self, becoming more and more aware of its movements, actions
and reactions, its environment, its habits, its fixed laws, gaining
and enlarging and learning always to profit by self-experience.
This is indeed the fundamental purpose of consciousness and
use of intelligence, and intelligence with the thinking will in it is
man’s master faculty and supports and embraces, changes with
its change and widens with its widening and increasingly perfects
all the others. Mind in its first action pursues knowledge with a
The Problem of Rebirth
certain curiosity, but turns it mainly to practical experience, to a
help that enables it to fulfil better and to increase more assuredly
the first uses and purposes of life. Afterwards it evolves a freer
use of the intelligence, but there is still a dominant turn towards
the vital purpose. And we may observe that as a power for the
returns of life the world energy seems to attach a more direct
importance and give more tangible results to knowledge, to the
right practical workings of the intelligence than it yields to moral
right. In this material world it is at least doubtful how far moral
good is repaid by vital good and moral evil punished by a recoil,
but it is certain that we do pay very usually for our errors,
for stupidity, for ignorance of the right way of action, for any
ignoring or misapplication of the laws that govern our psychical,
vital and physical being; it is certain that knowledge is a power
for life efficiency and success. Intelligence pays its way in the
material world, guards itself against vital and physical suffering,
secures its vital rewards more surely than moral right and ethical
But the higher mind of humanity is no more content with a
utilitarian use of knowledge as its last word in the seeking of the
intelligence than with a vitalistic and utilitarian turn and demand
of the ethical being. As in the ethical, so in the intellectual being
of man there emerges a necessity of knowledge which is no
longer its utility for life, its need of knowing rightly in order to
act rightly, to deal successfully and intelligently with the world
around it, but a necessity of the soul, an imperative demand of
the inner being. The pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is the true, the intrinsic dharma of the intellect and not for
the sake primarily or even necessarily at all for the securing or the
enlargement of the means of life and success in action. The vital
kinetic man tends indeed to regard this passion of the intellect
as a respectable but still rather unpractical and often trivial
curiosity: as he values ethics for its social effects or for its rewards in life, so he values knowledge for its external helpfulness;
science is great in his eyes because of its inventions, its increase
of comforts and means and appliances: his standard in all things
is vital efficiency. But in fact Nature sees and stirs from the first
The Higher Lines of Karma
to a larger and more inward Will and is moved with a greater
purpose, and all seeking for knowledge springs from a necessity
of the mind, a necessity of its nature, and that means a necessity
of the soul that is here in nature. Its need to know is one with its
need to grow, and from the eager curiosity of the child upward
to the serious stress of mind of the thinker, scholar, scientist,
philosopher the fundamental purpose of Nature, the constant in
it, is the same. All the time that she seems busy only with the
maintenance of her works, with life, with the outward, her secret
underlying purpose is other, — it is the evolution of that which
is hidden within her: for if her first dynamic word is life, her
greater revealing word is consciousness and the evolution of life
and action only the means of the evolution of the consciousness
involved in life, the imprisoned soul, the Jiva. Action is a means,
but knowledge is the sign and the growth of the conscious soul
is the purpose. Man’s use of the intelligence for the pursuit of
knowledge is therefore that which distinguishes him most from
other beings and gives him his high peculiar place in the scale
of existence. His passion for knowledge, first world-knowledge,
but afterwards self-knowledge and that in which both meet and
find their common secret, God-knowledge, is the central drift of
his ideal mind and a greater imperative of his being than that of
action, though later in laying its complete hold on him, greater
in the wideness of its reach and greater too in its effectiveness
upon action, in the returns of the world energy to his power of
the truth within him.
It is in the third movement of highest mind when it is
preparing to disengage itself, its pure self of will and intelligence, the radiant head of its endeavour from subjection to the
vital motive that this imperative of nature, this intrinsic need
that creates in the mind of man the urge towards knowledge,
becomes something much greater, becomes instead more and
more plainly the ideal absolute imperative of the soul emerging
from the husks and sheaths of ignorance and pushing towards
the truth, towards the light as the condition of its fulfilment
and the very call of the Divine upon its being. The lure of an
external utility ceases to be at all needed as an incentive towards
The Problem of Rebirth
knowledge, just as the lure of a vital reward offered now or
hereafter ceases on the same high level of our ascent to be needed
as an incentive to virtue, and to attach importance to it under
whatever specious colour is even felt to be a degradation of the
disinterestedness, a fall from the high purity of the soul motive.
Already even in the more outward forms of intellectual seeking
something of this absoluteness begins to be felt and to reign. The
scientist pursues his discoveries in order that he may know the
law and truth of the process of the universe and their practical
results are only a secondary motive of the enquiring mind and no
motive at all to the higher scientific intelligence. The philosopher
is driven from within to search for the ultimate truth of things
for the one sake of Truth only and all else but to see the very
face of Truth becomes to him, to his absorbing mind and soul
of knowledge, secondary or of no importance; nothing can be
allowed to interfere with that one imperative. And there is the
tendency to the same kind of exclusiveness in the interest and
the process of this absolute. The thinker is concerned to seek
out and enforce the truth on himself and the world regardless of
any effect it may have in disturbing the established bases of life,
religion, ethics, society, regardless of any other consideration
whatsoever: he must express the word of the Truth whatever
its dynamic results on life. And this absolute becomes most
absolute, this imperative most imperative when the inner action
surpasses the strong coldness of intellectual search and becomes
a fiery striving for truth experience, a luminous inner truth living,
a birth into a new truth consciousness. The enamoured of light,
the sage, the Yogin of knowledge, the seer, the Rishi live for
knowledge and in knowledge, because it is the absolute of light
and truth that they seek after and its claim on them is single and
At the same time this also is a line of the world energy, —
for the world Shakti is a Shakti of consciousness and knowledge
and not only a Power of force and action, — and the output of
the energy of knowledge brings its results as surely as the energy
of the will seeking after success in action or after right ethical
conduct. But the result that it brings on this higher plane of the
The Higher Lines of Karma
seeking in mind is simply and purely the upward growth of the
soul in light and truth; that and whatever happiness it brings is
the one supreme reward demanded by the soul of knowledge and
the darkening of the light within, the pain of the fall from truth,
the pain of the imperfection of not living only by its law and
wholly in the light is its one penalty of suffering. The outward
rewards and the sufferings of life are small things to the higher
soul of knowledge in man: even his high mind of knowledge
will often face all that the world can do to afflict it, just as it
is ready to make all manner of sacrifices in the pursuit and the
affirmation of the truth it knows and lives for. Bruno burning
in the Roman fire, the martyrs of all religions suffering and
welcoming as witnesses to the light within them torture and
persecution, Buddha leaving all to discover the dark cause of
universal suffering in this world of the impermanence and the
way of escape into the supreme Permanence, the ascetic casting
away as an illusion life in the world and its activities, enjoyments,
attractions with the one will to enter into the absolute truth and
the supreme consciousness are witnesses to this imperative of
knowledge, its extreme examples and exponents.
The intention of Nature, the spiritual justification of her
ways appears at last in this turn of her energies leading the
conscious soul along the lines of truth and knowledge. At first
she is physical Nature building her firm field according to a
base of settled truth and law but determined by a subconscient
knowledge she does not yet share with her creatures. Next she is
Life growing slowly self-conscious, seeking out knowledge that
she may move seeingly in them along her ways and increase
at once the complexity and the efficacy of her movements, but
developing slowly too the consciousness that knowledge must be
pursued for a higher and purer end, for truth, for the satisfaction,
as the life expression and as the spiritual self-finding of the soul
of knowledge. But, last, it is that soul itself growing in the truth
and light, growing into the absolute truth of itself which is its
perfection, that becomes the law and high end of her energies.
And at each stage she gives returns according to the development
of the aim and consciousness of the being. At first there is the
The Problem of Rebirth
return of skill and effectual intelligence — and her own need
explains sufficiently why she gives the rewards of life not, as the
ethical mind in us would have it, to the just, not chiefly to moral
good, but to the skilful and to the strong, to will and force and
intelligence, — and then, more and more clearly disengaged, the
return of enlightenment and the satisfaction of the mind and the
soul in the conscious use and wise direction of its powers and
capacities and, last of all, the one supreme return, the increase of
the soul in light, the satisfaction of its perfection in knowledge,
its birth into the highest consciousness and the pure fulfilment
of its own innate imperative. It is that growth, a divine birth
or spiritual self-exceeding its supreme reward, which for the
Eastern mind has been always the highest gain, — the growth
out of human ignorance into divine self-knowledge.
The Tangle of Karma
BVIOUSLY we must leave far behind us the current
theory of Karma and its shallow attempt to justify
the ways of the Cosmic Spirit by forcing on them a
crude identity with the summary notions of law and justice,
the crude and often savagely primitive methods of reward and
punishment, lure and deterrent dear to the surface human mind.
There is here a more authentic and spiritual truth at the base
of Nature’s action and a far less mechanically calculable movement. Here is no rigid and narrow ethical law bound down
to a petty human significance, no teaching of a child soul by
a mixed system of blows and lollipops, no unprofitable wheel
of a brutal cosmic justice automatically moved in the traces
of man’s ignorant judgments and earthy desires and instincts.
Life and rebirth do not follow these artificial constructions, but
a movement spiritual and intimate to the deepest intention of
Nature. A cosmic Will and Wisdom observant of the ascending
march of the soul’s consciousness and experience as it emerges
out of subconscient Matter and climbs to its own luminous
divinity fixes the norm and constantly enlarges the lines of the
law — or, let us say, since law is a too mechanical conception,
— the truth of Karma.
For what we understand by law is a single immutably habitual movement or recurrence in Nature fruitful of a determined
sequence of things and that sequence must be clear, precise,
limited to its formula, invariable. If it is not that, if there is too
much flexibility of movement, if there intervenes too embarrassing a variety or criss-cross of action and reaction, a too rich
complex of forces, the narrow uncompromising incompetence
of our logical intelligence finds there not law but an incertitude
and a chaos. Our reason must be allowed to cut and hew and
arbitrarily select its suitable circumstances, isolate its immutable
The Problem of Rebirth
data, skeletonise or mechanise life; otherwise it stands openmouthed at a loss unable to think with precision or act with
effect in a field of subtle and indefinite measures. It must be
allowed to deal with mighty Nature as it deals with human
society, politics, ethics, conduct; for it can understand and do
good work only where it is licensed to build and map out its
own artificial laws, erect a clear, precise, rigid, infallible system
and leave as little room as possible for the endless flexibility and
variety and complexity that presses from the Infinite upon our
mind and life. Moved by this need we endeavour to forge for
our own souls and for the cosmic Spirit even such a single and
inflexible law of Karma as we would ourselves have made, had
the rule of the world been left to us. Not this mysterious universe
would we have made, but the pattern of a rational cosmos fitted
to our call for a simple definite guidance in action and for a wellmarked thumb rule facile and clear to our limited intelligence.
But this force we call Karma turns out to be no such precise
and invariable mechanism as we hoped; it is rather a thing of
many planes that changes its face and walk and very substance
as it mounts from level to higher level, and on each plane even
it is not one movement but an indefinite complex of many spiral
movements hard enough for us to harmonise together or to find
out whatever secret harmony unknown to us and incalculable
these complexities are weaving out in this mighty field of the
dealings of the soul with Nature.
Let us then call Karma no longer a Law, but rather the manysided dynamic truth of all action and life, the organic movement
here of the Infinite. That was what the ancient thinkers saw in
it before it was cut and shredded by lesser minds and turned
into an easy and misleading popular formula. Action of Karma
follows and takes up many potential lines of the spirit into its
multitudinous surge, many waves and streams of combining
and disputing world-forces; it is the processus of the creative
Infinite; it is the long and multiform way of the progression of
the individual and the cosmic soul in Nature. Its complexities
cannot be unravelled by our physical mind ever bound up in the
superficial appearance, nor by our vital mind of desire stumbling
The Tangle of Karma
forward in the cloud of its own instincts and longings and rash
determinations through the maze of these myriad favouring and
opposing forces that surround and urge and drive and hamper
us from the visible and invisible worlds. Nor can it be perfectly
classified, accounted for, tied up in bundles by the precisions
of our logical intelligence in its inveterate search for clear-cut
dogmas. On that day only shall we perfectly decipher what is
now to us Nature’s obscure hieroglyph of Karma when there
rises in our enlarged consciousness the supramental way of
knowledge. The supramental eye can see a hundred meeting and
diverging motions in one glance and envelop in the largeness of
its harmonising vision of Truth all that to our minds is clash and
opposition and the collision and interlocked strife of numberless
contending truths and powers. Truth to the supramental sight is
at once single and infinite and the complexities of its play serve
to bring out with an abundant ease the rich significance of the
Eternal’s many-sided oneness.
The complexity of the lines of Karma is much greater than
we have yet seen in the steps of thought that we have been
obliged to cut in order to climb to the summits where they
converge. For the convenience of the mind we have chosen to
speak as if there were four quite separate planes each with its
separate lines of Karma, — the physical with its fixed law and
very easily perceptible return to our energies, the life plane,
complex, full of doubtful rewards and dangerous rebounds,
rich promise and dark menace, the mind plane with its high
trenchant unattainable absolutes each in its separateness so difficult to embody and all so hard to reconcile and combine and
the supramental where Nature’s absolutes are reached, her relativities ordered to their place and all these lower movements
delivered and harmonised because they have found luminously
their inner spiritual reason for existence. That division is not
false in itself, but its truth is subject to two capital provisos
which at once give them a complexity not apparent in the first
formula. There are above and behind our human existence the
four levels but there each plane contains in itself the others,
although in each these others are subject to the dominant law
The Problem of Rebirth
of the plane, — life for instance obeys on the mental level the
law of mind and turns its movements into an instrumentation of
the free intelligence. Again man exists here in the body and the
physical world; he is open more or less to the vast movements
of a life plane and the free movements of a mental world that
are far vaster and freer in their potentialities than anything that
we call here life and mind, but he does not live in that free
mental light or in that vast vital force. His business is to bring
down and embody here as much of that greater life and greater
mind as can be precipitated into matter and equipped with a
form and organised in the physical formula. In proportion as he
ascends he does indeed rise above the physical and vital into the
higher mental lines of Karma, but he cannot leave them entirely
behind him. The saint, the intellectual man, scientist, thinker
or creator, the seeker after beauty, the seeker after any mental
absolute is not that alone; he is also, even if less exclusively
than others, the vital and physical man; subject to the urgings
of the life and the body, he participates in the vital and physical
motives of Karma and receives the perplexed and intertwined
return of these energies. It is not intended in his birth that
he shall live entirely in mind, for he is here to deal with life
and Matter as well and to bring as best he can a higher law
into life and Matter. And since he is not a mental being in a
mental world, it is not easy and in the end, we may suspect,
not possible for him to impose entirely and perfectly the law
of the mental absolutes, a mental good, beauty, love, truth and
power on his lower parts. He has to take this other difficult
truth into account that life and Matter have absolutes of their
own armed with an equal right to formulation and persistence
and he has to find some light, some truth, some spiritual and
supramental power that can take up these imperatives also no
less than the mind’s imperatives and harmonise all in a grand
and integral transformation. But the difficulty is again that if he
is not open to the world of free intelligence, he is still less open
to the deeper and vaster spiritual and supramental levels. There
can indeed be great descents of spiritual light, purity, power,
love, delight into the earth consciousness in its human formula;
The Tangle of Karma
but man as he is now can hold only a little of these things
and he can give them no adequate organisation and shape and
body in his mental movements or his life-action or his physical
and material consciousness and dynamis. The moment he tries
to get at the absolute of the spirit, he feels himself obliged to
reject body, to silence mind, and to draw back from life. It is
that urgent necessity, that inability of mind and life and body to
hold and answer to the spirit that is the secret of asceticism, the
philosophical justification of the illusionist, the compulsion that
moves the eremite and the recluse. If on the other hand he tries
to spiritualise mind and life and the body he finds in the end that
he has only brought down the spirit to a lower formulation that
cannot give all its truth and purity and power. He has to some
extent spiritualised mind, but much more has he mentalised the
spiritual and to mentalise the spiritual is to falsify and obscure
it or at the very least to dilute its truth, to imprison its force,
to limit and alter its potentialities. He has perhaps to a much
less extent spiritualised his life, but much more has he vitalised
the spiritual and to vitalise the spiritual is to degrade it. He has
never yet spiritualised the body, at most he has minimised the
physical by a spiritual refusal and abstinence or brought down
some mental and vital powers mistaken for spiritual into his
physical force and physical frame. More has not been done in
the human past so far as we can discover, or if anything greater
was done it was a transitory gain from the superconscient and
has returned again into our superconscience.
The secret reason of man’s failure to rise truly beyond himself is a fundamental incapacity in the mind, the life and the body
to organise the highest integral truth and power of the spirit. And
this incapacity exists because mind and life and matter are in
their nature depressed and imperfect powers of the Infinite that
need to be transformed into something greater than themselves
before they can escape from their depression and imperfection;
in their very nature they are a system of partial and separated
values and cannot adequately express or embody the integral
and the one, a movement of many divergent and mutually nonunderstanding or misunderstanding lines they cannot arrive
The Problem of Rebirth
of themselves at any but a provisional, limited and imperfect
harmony and order. There is no doubt a material Infinite, a
vital Infinite, a mental Infinite in which we feel a perfection,
a delight, an essential harmony, an inexpressible completeness
which, when we experience it, makes us disregard the discords
and imperfections and obscurities we see and even perceive them
as elements of the infinite perfection. In other words the Spirit,
the Infinite supports these depressed values and elicits from them
a certain joy of his manifestation that is complete and illimitable
enough in its own manner. But there is more behind and above,
there are greater more unmistakably harmonious values, greater
truly perfect powers of the Spirit than mind, life and matter and
these wait for their expression and only when they are expressed
can we escape from this system of harmony through discords
and of a perfection on the whole that subsists by imperfection in
the detail. And as we open to a greater knowledge, we find that
even for such harmonies, stabilities, perfections as the energies
of Mind, Life and Matter can realise, they depend really not
on their own delegated and inferior power which is at best a
more or less ignorant instrument but on a greater deeper organising force and knowledge of which they are the inadequate
derivations. That force and knowledge is the self-possessed
supramental power and will and the perfect and untrammelled
supramental gnosis of the Infinite. It is that which has fixed
the precise measures of Matter, regulates the motive instincts
and impulsions of Life, holds together the myriad seekings of
Mind; but none of these things are that power and gnosis and
nothing therefore mental, vital or physical is final or can even
find its own integral truth and harmony nor all these together
their reconciliation until they are taken up and transformed in a
supramental manifestation. For this supermind or gnosis is the
entire organising will and knowledge of the spiritual, it is the
Truth Consciousness, the Truth Force, the organic instrumentation of divine Law, the all-seeing eye of the divine Vision, the
freely selecting and generating harmony of the eternal Ananda.
A Clarification
In 1935, Sri Aurobindo was asked: “In ‘Rebirth and Karma’,
second chapter,1 I find that it is the ‘mental being’ which is
put forth from life to life — that it is the reincarnating soul.
But would not the mental being be a part of the personality
— the mental, nervous and physical composite — which in the
popular conception is the thing that is carried over or which
takes a new body in the next life? And the ‘Self’ here is quite
different from the ‘mental being’. . . . Is the ‘mental being’ then
the same thing as the ‘psychic being’ which is carried over to
the next life?”
The mental being spoken of by the Upanishad is not part of
the mental-nervous-physical composite — it is the manomaya
purusha prana-sharira-neta, the mental being leader of the life
and body. It could not be so described if it were part of the
composite. Nor can the composite or part of it be the Purusha,
— for the composite is composed of Prakriti. It is described
as manomaya by the Upanishads because the psychic being is
behind the veil and man being a mental being in the life and
body lives in his mind and not in his psychic, so to him the
manomaya purusha is the leader of the life and body, — of the
psychic behind supporting the whole he is not aware or dimly
aware in his best moments. The psychic is represented in man
by the Prime Minister, the manomaya, itself being a mild constitutional king; it is the manomaya to whom Prakriti refers for
assent to her actions. But still the statement of the Upanishads
gives only the apparent truth of the matter, valid for man and
the human stage only — for in the animal it would be rather the
pranamaya purusha that is the netā, leader of mind and body.
It is one reason why I have not yet allowed the publication of
See page 275.
The Problem of Rebirth
Rebirth and Karma because this had to be corrected and the
deeper truth put in its place. I had intended to do it later on, but
had not time to finish the remaining articles.
Other Writings from the Arya
The Question of the Month
The Needed Synthesis
What is the Synthesis needed at the present time?
Undoubtedly, that of man himself. The harmony of his faculties
is the condition of his peace, their mutual understanding and
helpfulness the means of his perfection. At war, they distract
the kingdom of his being; the victory of one at the expense of
another maims his self-fulfilment.
The peculiar character of our age is the divorce that has
been pronounced between reason and faith, the logical mind
and the intuitive heart. At first, the declaration of war between
them was attended by painful struggles, a faith disturbed or a
scepticism dissatisfied. But now their divorce has created exaggerated tendencies which impoverish human life by their mutual
exclusiveness, on the one side a negative and destructive critical
spirit, on the other an imaginative sentiment which opposes pure
instinct and a faith founded on dreams to the sterile fanaticism
of the intellect.
Yet a real divorce is impossible. Science could not move a
step without faith and intuition and today it is growing full of
dreams. Religion could not stand for a moment if it did not
support itself by the intellectual presentation, however inadequate, of profound truths. Today we see it borrowing many
of its weapons from the armoury of its opponent. But a right
synthesis in virtue of a higher and reconciling truth can alone
dissipate their mutual misunderstandings and restore to the race
its integral self-development.
The synthesis then of religious aspiration and scientific faculty, as a beginning; and in the resultant progress an integrality
also of the inner existence. Love and knowledge, the delight of
the Bhakta and the divine science of the knower of Brahman,
have to effect their unity; and both have to recover the fullness
The Question of the Month
of Life which they tend to banish from them in the austerity of
their search or the rapture of their ecstasy.
The heart and the mind are one universal Deity and neither
a mind without a heart nor a heart without a mind is the human
ideal. Nor is any perfection sound and real unless it is also
fruitful. The integral divine harmony within, but as its result a
changed earth and a nobler and happier humanity.
“Arya” — Its Significance
What is the significance of the name, “Arya”?
The question has been put from more than one point of view.
To most European readers the name figuring on our cover1 is
likely to be a hieroglyph which attracts or repels according to
the temperament. Indians know the word, but it has lost for
them the significance which it bore to their forefathers. Western
Philology has converted it into a racial term, an unknown ethnological quantity on which different speculations fix different
values. Now, even among the philologists, some are beginning
to recognise that the word in its original use expressed not a
difference of race, but a difference of culture. For in the Veda
the Aryan peoples are those who had accepted a particular type
of self-culture, of inward and outward practice, of ideality, of
aspiration. The Aryan gods were the supraphysical powers who
assisted the mortal in his struggle towards the nature of the
godhead. All the highest aspirations of the early human race, its
noblest religious temper, its most idealistic velleities of thought
are summed up in this single vocable.
In later times, the word Arya expressed a particular ethical
and social ideal, an ideal of well-governed life, candour, courtesy,
nobility, straight dealing, courage, gentleness, purity, humanity,
compassion, protection of the weak, liberality, observance of
social duty, eagerness for knowledge, respect for the wise and
learned, the social accomplishments. It was the combined ideal
of the Brahmana and the Kshatriya. Everything that departed
from this ideal, everything that tended towards the ignoble,
mean, obscure, rude, cruel or false, was termed un-Aryan. There
is no word in human speech that has a nobler history.
aAy — the word “ārya” printed in Devanagari script on the cover of the review.
See page 97. — Ed.
The Question of the Month
In the early days of comparative Philology, when the scholars sought in the history of words for the prehistoric history of
peoples, it was supposed that the word Arya came from the root
ar, to plough, and that the Vedic Aryans were so called when
they separated from their kin in the north-west who despised
the pursuits of agriculture and remained shepherds and hunters.
This ingenious speculation has little or nothing to support it.
But in a sense we may accept the derivation. Whoever cultivates
the field that the Supreme Spirit has made for him, his earth of
plenty within and without, does not leave it barren or allow it
to run to seed, but labours to exact from it its full yield, is by
that effort an Aryan.
If Arya were a purely racial term, a more probable derivation would be ar, meaning strength or valour, from ar, to fight,
whence we have the name of the Greek war-god Ares, areios,
brave or warlike, perhaps even aretē, virtue, signifying, like the
Latin virtus, first, physical strength and courage and then moral
force and elevation. This sense of the word also we may accept.
“We fight to win sublime Wisdom, therefore men call us warriors.” For Wisdom implies the choice as well as the knowledge
of that which is best, noblest, most luminous, most divine. Certainly, it means also the knowledge of all things and charity and
reverence for all things, even the most apparently mean, ugly or
dark, for the sake of the universal Deity who chooses to dwell
equally in all. But, also, the law of right action is a choice, the
preference of that which expresses the godhead to that which
conceals it. And the choice entails a battle, a struggle. It is not
easily made, it is not easily enforced.
Whoever makes that choice, whoever seeks to climb from
level to level up the hill of the divine, fearing nothing, deterred
by no retardation or defeat, shrinking from no vastness because
it is too vast for his intelligence, no height because it is too high
for his spirit, no greatness because it is too great for his force
and courage, he is the Aryan, the divine fighter and victor, the
noble man, aristos, best, the śres.t.ha of the Gita.
Intrinsically, in its most fundamental sense, Arya means an
effort or an uprising and overcoming. The Aryan is he who
“Arya” — Its Significance
strives and overcomes all outside him and within him that stands
opposed to the human advance. Self-conquest is the first law
of his nature. He overcomes earth and the body and does not
consent like ordinary men to their dullness, inertia, dead routine and tamasic limitations. He overcomes life and its energies
and refuses to be dominated by their hungers and cravings or
enslaved by their rajasic passions. He overcomes the mind and
its habits, he does not live in a shell of ignorance, inherited
prejudices, customary ideas, pleasant opinions, but knows how
to seek and choose, to be large and flexible in intelligence even
as he is firm and strong in his will. For in everything he seeks
truth, in everything right, in everything height and freedom.
Self-perfection is the aim of his self-conquest. Therefore
what he conquers he does not destroy, but ennobles and fulfils. He knows that the body, life and mind are given him in
order to attain to something higher than they; therefore they
must be transcended and overcome, their limitations denied,
the absorption of their gratifications rejected. But he knows
also that the Highest is something which is no nullity in the
world, but increasingly expresses itself here, — a divine Will,
Consciousness, Love, Beatitude which pours itself out, when
found, through the terms of the lower life on the finder and on
all in his environment that is capable of receiving it. Of that he
is the servant, lover and seeker. When it is attained, he pours
it forth in work, love, joy and knowledge upon mankind. For
always the Aryan is a worker and warrior. He spares himself no
labour of mind or body whether to seek the Highest or to serve
it. He avoids no difficulty, he accepts no cessation from fatigue.
Always he fights for the coming of that kingdom within himself
and in the world.
The Aryan perfected is the Arhat. There is a transcendent
Consciousness which surpasses the universe and of which all
these worlds are only a side-issue and a by-play. To that consciousness he aspires and attains. There is a Consciousness
which, being transcendent, is yet the universe and all that the
universe contains. Into that consciousness he enlarges his limited
ego; he becomes one with all beings and all inanimate objects
The Question of the Month
in a single self-awareness, love, delight, all-embracing energy.
There is a consciousness which, being both transcendental and
universal, yet accepts the apparent limitations of individuality
for work, for various standpoints of knowledge, for the play
of the Lord with His creations; for the ego is there that it may
finally convert itself into a free centre of the divine work and
the divine play. That consciousness too he has sufficient love,
joy and knowledge to accept; he is puissant enough to effect
that conversion. To embrace individuality after transcending it
is the last and divine sacrifice. The perfect Arhat is he who is
able to live simultaneously in all these three apparent states of
existence, elevate the lower into the higher, receive the higher
into the lower, so that he may represent perfectly in the symbols
of the world that with which he is identified in all parts of his
being, — the triple and triune Brahman.
What exactly is meant by meditation in Yoga? And what
should be its objects?
The difficulty our correspondent finds is in an apparent conflict
of authorities, as sometimes meditation is recommended in the
form of a concentrated succession of thoughts on a single subject, sometimes in the exclusive concentration of the mind on a
single image, word or idea, a fixed contemplation rather than
meditation. The choice between these two methods and others,
for there are others, depends on the object we have in view in
The thinking mind is the one instrument we possess at
present by which we can arrive at a conscious self-organisation
of our internal existence. But in most men thought is a confused drift of ideas, sensations and impressions which arrange
themselves as best they can under the stress of a succession of
immediate interests and utilities. In accordance with the general
method of Nature much is used as waste material and only a
small portion selected for definite and abiding formations. And
as in physical Nature, so here the whole process is governed by
laws which we rather suffer than use or control.
The concentration of thought is used by the Rajayogins to
gain freedom and control over the workings of mind, just as the
processes of governed respiration and fixed posture are used by
the Hathayogins to gain freedom and control over the workings
of the body and the vital functions.
By meditation we correct the restless wandering of the mind
and train it like an athlete to economise all its energies and fix
them on the attainment of some desirable knowledge or selfdiscipline. This is done normally by men in ordinary life, but
Yoga takes this higher working of Nature and carries it to its
The Question of the Month
full possibilities. It takes note of the fact that by fixing the mind
luminously on a single object of thought, we awaken a response
in general Consciousness which proceeds to satisfy the mind by
pouring into it knowledge about that object or even reveals to
us its central or its essential truth. We awaken also a response
of Power which gives us in various ways an increasing mastery
over the workings of that on which we meditate or enables us to
create it and make it active in ourselves. Thus by fixing the mind
on the idea of Divine Love, we can come to the knowledge of
that principle and its workings, put ourselves into communion
with it, create it in ourselves and impose its law on the heart and
the senses.
In Yoga concentration is used also for another object, —
to retire from the waking state, which is a limited and superficial condition of our consciousness, into the depths of our
being measured by various states of Samadhi. For this process
contemplation of the single object, idea or name is more powerful than the succession of concentrated thoughts. The latter,
however, is capable, by bringing us into indirect but waking
communion with the deeper states of being, of preparing an
integral Samadhi. Its characteristic utility, however, is the luminous activity of formative thought brought under the control
of the Purusha by which the rest of the consciousness is governed, filled with higher and wider ideas, changed rapidly into
the mould of those ideas and so perfected. Other and greater
utilities lie beyond, but they belong to a later stage of selfdevelopment.
In the Yoga of Devotion, both processes are equally used
to concentrate the whole being or to saturate the whole nature with thoughts of the object of devotion, its forms, its
essence, its attributes and the joys of adoration and union.
Thought is then made the servant of Love, a preparer of
Beatitude. In the Yoga of Knowledge meditation is similarly
used for discrimination of the True from the apparent, the
Self from its forms, and concentrated contemplation for communion and entry of the individual consciousness into the
An integral Yoga would harmonise all these aims. It would
have also at its disposal other processes for the utilisation of
thought and the mastery of the mind.
Different Methods of Writing
What is the origin of the different methods of writing, — from
right to left, from left to right or, like the Chinese, vertically?
The question is one of great interest but impossible to solve definitely for lack of substantial data. All one can do is to speculate
on the most probable and satisfying explanation.
In the first place, it is evident that these differences are no
mere accident nor the result of some trivial and local cause;
for they coincide with great cultural divisions of humanity belonging to prehistoric times. It is the races called Aryan from
their common original culture whose script is directed from left
to right; the Mesopotamian races deriving their culture from
the Chaldeans proceed from right to left; the Mongolians write
In the second place no explanation is possible if we adopt the
view that writing is a comparatively recent invention in the history of the human race and borrowed by all the ancient nations
from a common source, — a derivation, let us say, from Egyptian
hieroglyphs popularised and spread broadcast over earth by the
commercial activities of Phoenician traders. We must suppose
on the contrary that these differences were developed at a very
early time while the great cultures were in their formation and
before the dispersal of the races representing them.
Undoubtedly, the general use of writing is a late development in the history of the present cycle of civilisation. And to
this retardation two causes contributed, at first, the absence
of a simple and easy system and, afterwards, the absence of a
simple, common, but handy and durable material. While this
state of things endured, writing would not be used for daily and
ordinary purposes, but only in connection with great religious
ceremonies or, where culture was materially more advanced, for
Different Methods of Writing
the preservation of important records or of treasured and sacred
It is, therefore, in some circumstance intimately connected
with religious ideas and practices that we must look for the
explanation we are seeking; and it should be a circumstance
common to all these cultures, yet capable of leading to so striking
a difference.
The one important circumstance common, one might almost
say central, to the ideas and practices of the ancient nations was
the reverence for the sun and its supreme importance in religious
ceremonies. Might not the direction adopted for their writing
be determined by some difference in their attitude towards the
direction of the sun in its daily movement from east to west?
The difference of attitude can only be explained if we
suppose that for some reason the Aryan forefathers had their
faces turned southwards, the Mesopotamian northwards and
the Mongolian eastwards. In that case, the sun for the Aryans
would move from their left to their right, for the Mesopotamians
from their right to their left, for the Mongolians straight towards
them, and this difference would be represented by the movement
of the hand tracing the sacred symbols on some hard flat surface,
of stone or other material used for these early scripts.
But what circumstance, again, could lead to this difference?
We can only think of one, — that this tendency might have been
formed during the constant migration of these races from their
original habitat. If we accept Mr. Tilak’s theory of an Aryan
migration from the arctic regions southwards towards India,
Persia and the Mediterranean countries; if we can suppose that
the fathers of the Mesopotamian culture came from the south
northwards and that the first Mongolian movement was from
Central Asia to the east, we shall have the necessary conditions.
We may thus explain also the Sanskrit terms for the four directions; for entering India from the west and following this
line in their early colonisation, the east would be in front of
the Aryans, pūrva, the west behind, paścima, the south on their
right,, while the name for the north, uttara, higher,
might possibly indicate a memory of their old northern home in
The Question of the Month
that supreme point of the earth where they still placed the sacred
mountain of their gods.
Necessarily, this explanation is in the highest degree conjectural and depends on pure intellectual reasoning which is an
unsafe guide in the absence of solid and sufficient data. Nevertheless, it is the one positive explanation that suggests itself to
us and, as a hypothesis, is well worth taking into consideration.
Occult Knowledge and the
Hindu Scriptures
Are any of the following queries touched in Sanatan Dharma
books of philosophy?
1) The nature and formation of animal souls.
2) The shape, size, formations, nature and colour of subtle bodies.
3) The difference between the subtle bodies of saints and
ordinary people and the process of developing one into the
4) The rationale of the reincarnation theory.
5) The nature, constituents and situation of invisible
The first three questions are of a curious interest, the last two
cover a very wide field. All except the fourth belong more or less
to a kind of knowledge pursued with eager interest by a growing
number of inquirers, but still looked on askance by the human
mind in general, — the occult sciences. The Hindu Scriptures
and books of philosophy do not as a rule handle such questions
very directly or in any systematic fashion. They are concerned
either with the great and central questions which have always
occupied the human mind, the origin and nature of the universe,
the why, whence and whither of life, the highest good and the
means of attaining it, the nature of man and the destiny of the
human soul and its relation with the Supreme, or else they deal
with the regulation of ethics, society and the conduct of daily
life. Occult knowledge has been left to be acquired by occult
teaching. Nevertheless it was possessed by the ancient sages and
our correspondent will find a great deal of more or less scattered
information on these and cognate questions in the Veda, Upanishads and Puranas. But it is doubtful whether he would obtain
a satisfactory answer to his queries in the form in which he has
put them. He will find for instance a long description of invisible
The Question of the Month
worlds, — invisible, that is to say, to our physical senses, — in
the Vishnu Purana, but it is picturesque rather than precise. We
do not think he will find much about the constituents of the
worlds or the size of subtle bodies.
The form of the third question lends itself to misconception.
Obviously the method for an ordinary man to develop his subtle
body into that of a saint, is to cease to be an ordinary man and to
become a saint. There can be no other means. The subtle body is
the mental case and reflects the changes of the mentality which
is housed in it or the influence exercised on it by the activities
and experiences of our physical existence.
Reincarnation is much more prominent and the ideas about
it more systematised in Buddhist than in Hindu books. But most
of the Hindu philosophies took some kind of reincarnation for
granted. It was part of the ancient teaching which had come
down to them from the earliest times. They are more concerned
with its causes and the method of escape from the obligation
of rebirth; the thing itself was for them a fact beyond question.
But the nature of reincarnation is not the same for all the old
thinkers. The Upanishads, for instance, seem to teach that the
physical self is dissolved at death into its principle, ether; it is
the mental being that appears to be born and reborn, but in
reality birth and death are merely semblances and operations of
Nature, — of Aditi full of the gods, Aditi devatāmayı̄; the spirit
is really one in all bodies and is neither born nor dies. Nachiketas
in the Katha Upanishad raises the question whether the man as
we know and conceive him really survives death and this seems
to be the sense of the answer that he receives.
The Universal Consciousness
I have encountered in my life several examples of people living
or trying to live in the universal consciousness and it seemed
to me that it rendered them less compassionate, less humane,
less tender to the sufferings of others. It seems to me that if it is
necessary not to remain in the individual consciousness when
it is a question of our own sufferings, it is otherwise when it
is a question of sympathising with the sufferings of others. In
my opinion we feel more keenly the troubles of our brothers
in humanity if we remain in the individual consciousness. But
I may be mistaken and ask only to be enlightened by you on
this point.
Is it certain that such people are living in the universal consciousness? or, if they are, is it certain that they are really less
humane and compassionate? May they not be exercising their
humanity in another fashion than the obvious and external signs
of sympathy and tenderness?
If a man is really insensible to the experiences of others in the
world, he is not living in the full universal consciousness. Either
he has shut himself up in an experience of an individual peace
and self-content, or he is absorbed by his contact with some
universal principle in its abstract form without regard to its
universal action, or he is living inwardly apart from the universe
in touch with something transcendent of world-experience. All
these states are useful to the soul in its progress, but they are not
the universal consciousness.
When a man lives in the cosmic self, he necessarily embraces
the life of the world and his attitude towards that world struggling upward from the egoistic state must be one of compassion,
of love or of helpfulness. The Buddhists held that immersion in
the infinite non-ego was in itself an immersion in a sea of infinite
compassion. The liberated Sannyasin is described in the Gita
The Question of the Month
and in other Hindu books as one whose occupation is beneficence to all creatures. But this vast spirit of beneficence does not
necessarily exercise itself by the outward forms of emotional
sympathy or active charity. We must not bind down all natures
or all states of the divine consciousness in man to the one form
of helpfulness which seems to us the most attractive, the most
beautiful or the most beneficent. There is a higher sympathy
than that of the easily touched emotions, a greater beneficence
than that of an obvious utility to particular individuals in their
particular sufferings.
The egoistic consciousness passes through many stages in
its emotional expansion. At first it is bound within itself, callous
therefore to the experiences of others. Afterwards it is sympathetic only with those who are identified in some measure with
itself, indifferent to the indifferent, malignant to the hostile.
When it overcomes this respect for persons, it is ready for the
reception of the altruistic principle.
But even charity and altruism are often essentially egoistic
in their immediate motive. They are stirred by the discomfort
of the sight of suffering to the nervous system or by the pleasurableness of others’ appreciation of our kindliness or by the
egoistic self-appreciation of our own benevolence or by the need
of indulgence in sympathy. There are philanthropists who would
be troubled if the poor were not always with us, for they would
then have no field for their charity.
We begin to enter into the universal consciousness when,
apart from all individual motive and necessity, by the mere fact
of unity of our being with all others, their joy becomes our joy,
their suffering our suffering. But we must not mistake this for
the highest condition. After a time we are no longer overcome
by any suffering, our own or others’, but are merely touched
and respond in helpfulness. And there is yet another state in
which the subjection to suffering is impossible to us because we
live in the Beatitude, but this does not deter us from love and
beneficence, — any more than it is necessary for a mother to
weep or be overcome by the little childish griefs and troubles of
her children in order to love, understand and soothe.
The Universal Consciousness
Nor is detailed sympathy and alleviation of particular sufferings the only help that can be given to men. To cut down
branches of a man’s tree of suffering is good, but they grow
again; to aid him to remove its roots is a still more divine helpfulness. The gift of joy, peace or perfection is a greater giving
than the effusion of an individual benevolence and sympathy
and it is the most royal outcome of unity with others in the
universal consciousness.
The News of the Month
August – September 1914
The News of the Month
In close connection with the intellectual work of synthesis undertaken by this Review a Society has been founded in French
India under the name of the New Idea, (L’Idée Nouvelle). Its
object is to group in a common intellectual life and fraternity
of sentiment those who accept the spiritual tendency and idea
it represents and who aspire to realise it in their own individual
and social action.
The Society has already made a beginning by grouping together young men of different castes and religions in a common
ideal. All sectarian and political questions are necessarily foreign
to its idea and its activities. It is on a higher plane of thought
superior to external differences of race, caste, creed and opinion
and in the solidarity of the spirit that unity can be realised.
The Idée Nouvelle has two rules only for its members, first,
to devote some time every day to meditation and self-culture, the
second, to use or create daily at least one opportunity of being
helpful to others. This is, naturally, only the minimum of initial
self-training necessary for those who have yet to cast the whole
trend of their thought and feeling into the mould of a higher life
and to enlarge the egoistic into a collective consciousness.
The Society has its headquarters at Pondicherry with a
reading-room and library. A section has been founded at Karikal
and others are likely to be opened at Yanaon and Mahe.
The News of the Month
An Indo-French Committee (Comité Franco-Hindou) has been
founded in Paris and M. Pierre Loti has been invited to become
its Honorary President. The Committee proposes to develop
intellectual, scientific, artistic and economic relations between
France and India. It is a good deal for one Committee! Let us
at least hope that it will be able to carry out the first item of its
programme. No doubt, everything that brings men and nations
nearer to each other helps in the formation of a general intelligence more synthetic and comprehensive than the old divided
mind of humanity; but it is above all in the realm of thought and
by the exchange of ideas and the deeper experiences that the best
fruits are likely to be borne. Every new tie, especially every tie of
the spirit between Europe and India, between the West of today
and the East of yesterday and tomorrow, is a welcome sign of
the times for those who know how much the world’s progress
depends on their union.
M. Pierre Loti, in a letter addressed to the President of the
Committee, thus expresses his veneration for India: —
“And now I salute thee with awe, with veneration and
wonder, ancient India of whom I am the adept, the India of
the highest splendours of Art and Philosophy, the India also of
monstrous mysteries that terrify, India our cradle, India where
all that has been produced since her beginnings was ever impetuous and colossal. May thy awakening astonish that Occident,
decadent, mean, daily dwindling, slayer of nations, slayer of
gods, slayer of souls, which yet bows down still, ancient India,
before the prodigies of thy primordial conceptions.”
We cannot but subscribe to the sentiment, if not to all the
phrases, of this fine piece of literature.
But what are these monstrous and terrifying mysteries of
which M. Loti speaks? Terror is no longer in the mode, the age
of mysteries is over and the age of monstrosities has never been.
Ignorance is the only monstrosity.
The News of the Month
In an interview with the representative of an Indian journal Mr.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak has given a brief account of the work on the
Gita which he has been writing during his six years’ internment
in Mandalay. He begins: —
“You know that the Gita is regarded generally as a book
inculcating quietistic Vedanta or Bhakti. For myself, I have always regarded it as a work expounding the principles of human
conduct from a Vedantic ethical point of view, that is, reconciling
the philosophy of active life with the philosophy of knowledge
and the philosophy of devotion to God.”
Mr. Tilak then expresses his belief that before Shankara
and Ramanuja, the great Southern philosophers, wrote their
commentaries, the Gita was understood in its natural sense, but
from that time forward artificial and sectarian interpretations
prevailed and the element of Karmayoga in the Song Celestial
was disregarded. His book is intended to restore this natural
sense and central idea of the famous Scripture. It will contain a
word for word rendering preceded by an introduction of some
fifteen chapters in which he discusses the Vedanta and the ethics
of the Gita and compares the ethical philosophy of Western
thinkers with that of the Indian schools of thought. Although
the book will be published first in Marathi, we are promised a
version also in English.
We look forward with interest to a work which, proceeding
from a scholar of such eminence and so acute an intellect, one
especially whose name carries weight with all Hindus, must be
considered an event of no small importance in Indian religious
thought. We welcome it all the more because it seems to be
conceived in the same free and synthetic spirit as animates this
Review. It is a fresh sign of the tendency towards an increasingly
liberal movement of religious opinion in orthodox India, the
dissolution of the old habit of unquestioning deference to great
authorities and the consequent rediscovery of the true catholic
sense of the ancient Scriptures.
Those who have studied the Gita with a free mind, still more
The News of the Month
those who have tried to live it, cannot doubt for a moment the
justice of Mr. Tilak’s point of view. But is not the tendency of
the Gita towards a supra-ethical rather than an ethical activity?
Ethics is, usually, the standardising of the highest current social
ideals of conduct; the Song Celestial, while recognising their
importance, seeks to fix the principle of action deeper in the
centre of a man’s soul and points us ultimately to the government
of our outward life by the divine self within.
August 1914
The “Arya”, a Review of pure Philosophy, has no direct concern
with political passions and interests and their results. But neither can it ignore the enormous convulsion which is at present
in progress, nor at such a time can it affect to deal only with
the pettier happenings of the intellectual world as if men were
not dying in thousands daily, the existence of great empires
threatened and the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
The War has its aspects, of supreme importance to a synthetic
Philosophy, with which we would have the right to deal. But
now is not the hour, now in this moment of supreme tension
and wide-spread agony. Therefore, for the time, we suppress
this heading in our Review and shall replace it by brief notes on
subjects of philosophical interest, whether general or of the day.
Meanwhile, with the rest of the world, we await in silence the
predestined result.
September 1914
South Indian Vaishnava Poetry
The Vaishnava Poetess
REOCCUPIED from the earliest times with divine knowledge and religious aspiration the Indian mind has turned
all forms of human life and emotion and all the phenomena
of the universe into symbols and means by which the embodied
soul may strive after and grasp the Supreme. Indian devotion
has especially seized upon the most intimate human relations
and made them stepping-stones to the supra-human. God the
Guru, God the Master, God the Friend, God the Mother, God
the Child, God the Self, each of these experiences — for to us
they are more than merely ideas, — it has carried to its extreme
possibilities. But none of them has it pursued, embraced, sung
with a more exultant passion of intimate realisation than the
yearning for God the Lover, God the Beloved. It would seem as
if this passionate human symbol were the natural culminatingpoint for the mounting flame of the soul’s devotion: for it is
found wherever that devotion has entered into the most secret
shrine of the inner temple. We meet it in Islamic poetry; certain
experiences of the Christian mystics repeat the forms and images with which we are familiar in the East, but usually with
a certain timorousness foreign to the Eastern temperament. For
the devotee who has once had this intense experience it is that
which admits to the most profound and hidden mystery of the
universe; for him the heart has the key of the last secret.
The work of a great Bengali poet has recently reintroduced
this idea to the European mind, which has so much lost the
memory of its old religious traditions as to welcome and wonder
at it as a novel form of mystic self-expression. On the contrary
it is ancient enough, like all things natural and eternal in the
human soul. In Bengal a whole period of national poetry has
South Indian Vaishnava Poetry
been dominated by this single strain and it has inspired a religion
and a philosophy. And in the Vaishnavism of the far South, in
the songs of the Tamil Alwars we find it again in another form,
giving a powerful and original turn to the images of our old
classic poetry; for there it has been sung out by the rapt heart of
a woman to the Heart of the Universe.
The Tamil word, Alwar, means one who has drowned, lost
himself in the sea of the divine being. Among these canonised
saints of Southern Vaishnavism ranks Vishnuchitta, Yogin and
poet, of Villipattan in the land of the Pandyas. He is termed
Perialwar, the great Alwar. A tradition, which we need not
believe, places him in the ninety-eighth year of the Kaliyuga.
But these divine singers are ancient enough, since they precede
the great saint and philosopher Ramanuja whose personality
and teaching were the last flower of the long-growing Vaishnava tradition. Since his time Southern Vaishnavism has been a
fixed creed and a system rather than a creator of new spiritual
The poetess Andal was the foster-daughter of Vishnuchitta,
found by him, it is said, a new-born child under the sacred
tulsi-plant. We know little of Andal except what we can gather
from a few legends, some of them richly beautiful and symbolic.
Most of Vishnuchitta’s poems have the infancy and boyhood of
Krishna for their subject. Andal, brought up in that atmosphere,
cast into the mould of her life what her foster-father had sung
in inspired hymns. Her own poetry — we may suppose that she
passed early into the Light towards which she yearned, for it
is small in bulk, — is entirely occupied with her passion for the
divine Being. It is said that she went through a symbolic marriage
with Sri Ranganatha, Vishnu in his temple at Srirangam, and
disappeared into the image of her Lord. This tradition probably
conceals some actual fact, for Andal’s marriage with the Lord is
still celebrated annually with considerable pomp and ceremony.
The Supreme Vaishnava Saint and Poet
ARAN, renowned as Nammalwar (“Our Saint”)
among the Vaishnavas and the greatest of their saints
and poets, was born in a small town called Kuruhur,
in the southernmost region of the Tamil country — Tiru-nelveli (Tinnevelly). His father, Kari, was a petty prince who paid
tribute to the Pandyan King of Madura. We have no means
of ascertaining the date of the Alwar’s birth, as the traditional
account is untrustworthy and full of inconsistencies. We are
told that the infant was mute for several years after his birth.
Nammalwar renounced the world early in life and spent his time
singing and meditating on God under the shade of a tamarind
tree by the side of the village temple.
It was under this tree that he was first seen by his disciple, the
Alwar Madhura-kavi, — for the latter also is numbered among
the great Twelve, “lost in the sea of Divine Love”. Tradition says
that while Madhura-kavi was wandering in North India as a
pilgrim, one night a strange light appeared to him in the sky and
travelled towards the South. Doubtful at first what significance
this phenomenon might have for him, its repetition during three
consecutive nights convinced him that it was a divine summons
and where this luminous sign led he must follow. Night after night he journeyed southwards till the guiding light came
to Kuruhur and there disappeared. Learning of Nammalwar’s
spiritual greatness he thought that it was to him that the light
had been leading him. But when he came to him, he found
him absorbed in deep meditation with his eyes fast closed and
although he waited for hours the Samadhi did not break until he
took up a large stone and struck it against the ground violently.
At the noise Nammalwar opened his eyes, but still remained
South Indian Vaishnava Poetry
silent. Madhura-kavi then put to him the following enigmatical
question, “If the little one (the soul) is born into the dead thing
(Matter)1 what will the little one eat and where will the little
one lie?” to which Nammalwar replied in an equally enigmatic
style, “That will it eat and there will it lie.”
Subsequently Nammalwar permitted his disciple to live with
him and it was Madhura-kavi who wrote down his songs as they
were composed. Nammalwar died in his thirty-fifth year, but he
has achieved so great a reputation that the Vaishnavas account
him an incarnation of Vishnu himself, while others are only the
mace, discus, conch etc. of the Deity.
From the philosophical and spiritual point of view, his poetry ranks among the highest in Tamil literature. But in point
of literary excellence, there is a great inequality; for while some
songs touch the level of the loftiest world-poets, others, even
though rich in rhythm and expression, fall much below the
poet’s capacity. In his great work known as the Tiru-vay-moli
(the Sacred Utterance) which contains more than a thousand
stanzas, he has touched all the phases of the life divine and
given expression to all forms of spiritual experience. The pure
and passionless Reason, the direct perception in the high solar
realm of Truth itself, the ecstatic and sometimes poignant love
that leaps into being at the vision of the “Beauty of God’s face”,
the final Triumph where unity is achieved and “I and my Father
are one” — all these are uttered in his simple and flowing lines
with a strength that is full of tenderness and truth.
The lines which we translate below are a fair specimen of
the great Alwar’s poetry;2 but it has suffered considerably in
the translation, — indeed the genius of the Tamil tongue hardly
permits of an effective rendering, so utterly divergent is it from
that of the English language.
The form of the question reminds one of Epictetus’ definition of man, “Thou art a
little soul carrying about a corpse.” Some of our readers may be familiar with Swinburne’s adaptation of the saying, “A little soul for a little bears up the corpse which is
Sri Aurobindo’s translation of “Nammalwar’s Hymn of the Golden Age” appears in
Translations, volume 5 of THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO. — Ed.
The Life Divine
Chapter XIX
Mind as a final action of Supermind is a creative and not only a
perceptive power; in fact, material force itself being only a Will in
things working darkly as the expression of subconscious Mind,
Mind is the immediate creator of the material universe. But the
real creator is Supermind; for wherever there is Mind conscious
or subconscious, there must be Supermind regulating from behind the veil its activities and educing from them their truth of
inevitable result. Not a mental Intelligence, but Supermind is the
creator of the universe. — Mind manifests itself in the form of
Force to which we give the name of Life, and Life in Matter is an
energy or power in dynamic movement which builds up forms,
energises, maintains, disintegrates and recreates; death itself is
only a process of life. It is one all-pervading Life or constant
movement of dynamic energy which creates all these forms of
the material universe and is not destroyed in the destruction of its
forms. — The distinction between animal and plant life is unreal
and that between the animate and the inanimate unessential.
Plant-life has been found to be identical in organisation with
animal-life and, although the organisation may differ, life is also
present in the metal, the earth, the atom. This life-force pervades
the universe and is present in every form of it and there is a
constant interchange of its energies which creates the symptoms
and characteristics of vitality recognised by us; but even where
these are suspended, Life is present and only withdraws by a
process of dispersion which replaces the process of continual
reconstitution of the form. The presence of these symptoms and
characteristics is not the essential nor is their absence a sign of the
Sri Aurobindo prefixed brief summaries or “arguments” to fifteen chapters of The Life
Divine when they were first published in the Arya in 1916 and 1917. He omitted these
summaries when he revised the book in 1939 – 40.
Arguments to The Life Divine
absence of Life-force. Even where we do not detect Life, it exists.
— Conscious nervous sensation accompanies life in the animal,
but much of the action of nervous or life energy is subconscious;
in the plant, as in many actions of man, the nervous sensation
is present but the mentality of the sensation is subconscious.
In the very atom there is a subconscious will and desire which
must also be present in all atomic aggregates because they are
present in the Force which constitutes the atom. That force is
Chit-shakti, force of conscious being, variously represented in
various forms of life. — Life is an energising of conscious being
in substance of Matter, which on one side is constantly supplying
the material of physical formation and on the other labouring to
release mind and sense from their subconscious sleep in Matter.
It is therefore the dynamic link between Mind and Matter. To
create form and evolve consciousness out of its imprisonment in
form is the sense of the omnipresent Life in the universe.
Chapter XX
Death, Desire and Incapacity
Life is the same whatever its workings and its terms need not
be limited to those proper to physical existence. Life is a final
operation of divine conscious-force for individualising existence;
it is the energy-aspect of Mind when that creates and relates itself
to form of substance: it has all the universal conscious-force of
existence behind it and is not a separate entity or movement.
Life in us must become conscious of this divine Force behind it
in order to become divine. — Life, at first darkened, ignorant,
divided and helplessly subject, seeks as it develops to become
master and enjoyer, to grow in Power; but until it escapes from
the bonds of individuality it must be subject to its three badges
of limitation, Death, Desire and Incapacity. — The nature of
physical life imposes death because all life exists by a mutual
devouring and struggle and Life itself feeds upon the forms it creates; but the fundamental justification of Death is the necessity of
a constant variation of experience in succession of Time, the soul
seeking thus to enlarge itself and move towards the realisation of
its own infinity. — The process of Death results inevitably from
the division of substance; life’s attempt to aggrandise its being
thus divided and limited translates itself into the hunger that
devours. This hunger is the crude form of Desire, and Desire
is the necessary lever for self-affirmation; but eventually Desire
has to grow out of the law of Hunger into the law of Love. —
Desire itself is the result of the limitation of capacity which is the
consequence of divided Life working as the energy of ignorant
mind, all-force being only possible to all-knowledge. Therefore
growth by struggle is the third Law of Life. This strife again has
to divinise itself and become the clasp of Love. Until then Death,
Desire and Strife are and must be the triple mask of the divine
Life-principle in its cosmic self-affirmation.
Chapter XXI
The Ascent of Life
The development of Life starts from an original status of division, subconscious will and inert subjection to mechanical
forces. This is the type of material existence. — The terms of the
second status which we recognise as vitality, are death, hunger
and conscious desire, sense of limited capacity and the struggle
for survival and mastery. This is the basis of the Darwinian
conception of Life, the struggle for life and the survival of the
fittest. But this struggle involves a third status whose preparation
is marked by the emergence of the conscious principle of love. —
The third status contradicts the others in appearance, but really
fulfils them. Life begins with division and aggregation based on
the refusal of the atom, the first principle of ego and individuality
to accept death and fusion by dissolution. This gives a firm basis
for the creation of aggregate forms to be occupied by vital and
mental individualities. In the next stage we have the general
principle of death and dissolution by which the individual form
fuses itself in its elements into other lives. This principle of
constant fusion and interchange is the law of Life and extends
into vital and mental existence as well as the physical. The two
principles of individual persistence and mutual fusion have to
be harmonised and this can only be done by the emergence and
full development of mind which alone is subtle enough to persist
in individual consciousness beyond all fusion and dissolution of
forms. Here the union and harmony of the persistent individual
and the persistent aggregate life become possible. — Love is the
power by which this union and harmony are worked out; for
love exists by the persistence of the individual and his conscious
acceptance of the necessity and desire of interchange and selfgiving. Its growth means the emergence of Mind imposing its
law on the material existence, for Mind does not need to devour
The Ascent of Life
in order to possess and grow; it increases by giving and confirms
itself by fusion with others. — Subconscious will in the atom
becomes hunger and conscious desire in the vital being. Love
is the transfiguration of desire, a desire of possessing others
but also of self-giving; at first subject to hunger and the desire of
possession it reveals its own true law by an equal or greater joy in
self-giving. — The inert subjection of the will in the atom to the
not-self becomes in the vital being the sense of limited capacity
and the struggle for possession and mastery. In the third status
the not-self is recognised as a greater self and subjection to its
law and need freely accepted; at the same time the individual by
making the aggregate life and all it has to give his own, fulfils
his impulse of possession. This is the Mind’s reconciliation of
the two conflicting principles which we find at the root of all
existence. — But the true and perfect reconciliation can only
come by passing beyond Mind and founding all the operations
of life on the essential freedom and unity of the spirit.
Chapter XXII
The Problem of Life
Life being a divided movement of consciousness although really
an undivided force becomes a clash of opposing truths each
striving to fulfil itself. Mind has to solve the thousand and one
problems resulting but in Life itself, not merely in thought. The
difficulty lies in its ignorance of itself and the world. Man knows
only the surface of his own being and does not know the universality of the Force of which he is a part; therefore he can master
neither himself nor the world. He has to know and solve the
problem or else give place to some higher evolutionary being. —
The poise of Life is determined by the relation of the Force to
the Consciousness which drives it. Accordingly we have, besides
the Infinite Existence, first the life of material Nature ruled by
the infallible Inconscient; secondly the life of conscious being in
material Nature emerging out of the Inconscient, fallible, bewildered, only half-potent, which is our own; and thirdly the life
of the real Man to which we are moving where Consciousness
and Force are fulfilled and in harmony and the One at unison
with the many. That life will be founded on the awareness of
one Consciousness in many minds, one Force working in many
lives, one Delight of being in many hearts and bodies. — Man’s
difficulties; first, he only knows and governs a part of himself,
the greater part of himself is subconscient and it is this greater
cosmic part that really governs his surface being. This is what
is meant by his being governed by his Nature and by the Lord
seated within through the Maya or apparent denial of Sachchidananda by Himself. It is only by becoming one with the Lord
that man can be master of himself, but this union must be in
the Divine Maya, in the superconscient and not only or chiefly
in this lower Maya of the mental existence. — Secondly, he is
separated by his individuality from the universal and does not
The Problem of Life
know his fellow-beings. He must be not only in sympathy with
them, but arrive at a conscious unity with all and this conscious
unity exists only in what is now superconscient to us. — Thirdly,
Life is at war with body, Mind at war with the life and the
body, each trying to subject the others to its own law. Only the
supramental can find the law of immortal harmony which shall
reconcile this discord of our mortality. Each of these principles
has besides a soul in it which seeks a self-fulfilment beyond
what the present force of life, mind or body can give. There
is a conflict between opposing instincts of the body, opposing
desires and impulses of the life, opposing ideas of the mind.
The principle of unity is above in the supermind. — Man as he
develops becomes acutely aware of all these discords and seeks
a reconciliation with himself and with his fellow-beings. This
can only come by the perfection of his own existence through
the principle in himself to which he has not yet attained and
by embracing consciously the life of others in his own through
a universal consciousness which must also be gained by the
superconscient becoming conscient in us through an upward
Chapter XXIII
The Double Soul in Man
The ascent of Life is in its nature the ascent of the divine Delight
in things from its dumb conception in Matter to its luminous
consummation in Spirit. Like the other original divine principles, this Delight also must be represented in us by a cosmic
principle corresponding to it in the apparent existence. It is the
soul or psychic being. — As there is a subliminal luminous mind
behind our surface mind, a subliminal life behind our mortal
life, a subliminal wider corporeality behind our gross body, so
we have a double soul, the superficial desire-soul and the true
psychic entity. — The superficial in us is the small and egoistic,
the subliminal is in touch with the universal. So our subliminal
or true psychic being is open to the universal delight of things,
the superficial desire-soul is shut off from it. It feels the outward
touches of things, not their essence and therefore not their rasa or
true touch; and because it cannot reach the universal world-soul,
it cannot find its own true soul which is one with the world-soul.
— The desire-soul returns the triple response of pleasure, pain
and indifference, but the psychic being behind it has the equal
delight of all of its experiences; it compels the desire-soul to
more and more experience and to a change of its values. By
bringing this soul to the surface we can overcome the duality
of pleasure and pain, as is actually done in certain directions
of experience by the artist, Nature-lover, God-lover, etc. each
in his own fashion. But the difficulty is to do it in the desiresoul at its centre where it comes into contact with practical
living; for here the human mind shrinks from the application of
the principle of equality. — To bring this subliminal soul to the
surface is not enough; for it is open passively to the world-soul
but cannot possess the world. Those who thus arrive, become
close to the universal delight, but not masters of life. For there
The Double Soul in Man
are two principles of order and mastery, one false, the ego-sense,
the other true, the Lord who is one in the many. By merely
suppressing the ego-sense in the impersonal delight we gain the
centreless Impersonal and are fulfilled in our static being but not
in our active being. We must therefore gain the other centre in
the Supermind by which we shall consciously possess and not
merely undergo the delight of the One in His universal existence.
Chapter XXIV
Life and Mind are in the fact of evolution conditioned by the
body and therefore by the principle of Matter. The body is the
chief difficulty in the way of a spiritual transformation of life; it
has therefore been regarded by spiritual aspiration as an enemy
and the escape from the material existence has been made an
indispensable condition of the final emancipation. — The quarrel begins with the struggle between Life and Matter with the
apparent defeat of life in death as its constant circumstance; it
continues with the struggle of the Mind against the life and the
body and culminates with the struggle of the spirit against all
its instruments; but the right end and solution of these discords
is not an escape and a severance but the complete victory of the
higher over the lower. — We have to examine the problem of
the reality of Matter. Our present experience of Matter does not
give us its truth; for Matter is only an appearance of the Reality,
a form of its force-action presented to the principle of sense in
the universal consciousness. As Mind is only a final dividing
action of Supermind and Life of Conscious-Force working in
the conditions of the Ignorance, so Matter as we know it is
only the final form taken by conscious-being as the result of
that same working. Mind precipitating itself into Life to create
form gives to the universal principle of Being the appearance
of material substance instead of pure substance, that is to say,
of substance offering itself to the contact of mind as a stable
thing or object. This contact of mind with its object is Sense. —
In the divine Mind there is a movement which presents to the
divine Knower the forms of Himself as objects to His knowledge and this would create a division between the Knower and
the object of knowledge if there were not at the same time,
inevitably, another movement by which He feels the object as
Himself. This movement, in the divided state of existence created
by dividing Mind, is represented to us as the contact of sense
which becomes a basis for contact through the thought-mind by
which we return towards unity. — Since the action of Mind is
to divide infinitely the one infinite existence, Matter, the result
of that action, becomes in its apparent nature an infinite atomic
division and atomic aggregation of infinite substance. But its
reality is one and indivisible, even as is the reality of Life and of
Mind. Matter is Sachchidananda represented to His own mental
experience as a formal basis of objective knowledge, action and
Chapter XXV
The Knot of Matter
Spirit and Matter are the two ends of a unity, Spirit the soul and
reality of Matter, Matter the form and body of Spirit. There is
an ascending series of substance and Spirit at the summit is itself
pure substance of being. Brahman is the sole material as well
as the sole cause of the universe and Matter also is Brahman; it
is, like Life, Mind and Supermind, a mode of the eternal Sachchidananda. — Still, practically, Matter seems to be cut off from
Spirit and even its opposite and the material existence incompatible therefore with the spiritual. Matter is the culmination
of the principle of Ignorance in which Consciousness has lost
and forgotten itself and the self-luminous Spirit is represented
by a brute inconscient Force in whose mere action there appears
to be no self-knowledge, mind or heart. In this huge no-mind
Mind emerges and has to labour besieged and limited by the
universal Ignorance and in this heartless Inconscience a heart
has manifested which has to aspire opposed and corrupted by
the brutality of material Force. This is the form-absorbed Consciousness returning progressively to itself, but obliged to work
under the conditions of Matter, that is to say, always bound and
limited in its results. — For Matter is the opposite of the Spirit’s
freedom and mastery, the culmination of bondage; it is a huge
force of movement, but of inertly driven movement subject to a
law of which it has no conscience nor initiative but mechanically
obeys. It opposes therefore to the attempt of Life to impose itself
and freely utilise and the attempt of Mind to impose itself and
know and freely guide the constant opposition of its inertia; it
yields reluctantly to a certain extent, but brings always in the end
a definite denial, limit and obstruction. For this reason knowledge, power, love, etc. are always pursued, accompanied and
hedged in by their opposites. — For Matter is the culmination
The Knot of Matter
of the principle of division and struggle. It can only unify by an
association which carries with it the possibility of dissociation
and an assimilation which devours. Therefore Life and Mind in
Matter working under this law of division and struggle, that is to
say, of death, desire and limitation, aggregation and subsequent
dissociation, labour without any finality or certainty of assured
progress. — But especially the divisions of Matter bring in the
law of pain. Ignorance and Inertia would not be necessarily
a cause of pain if the Mind and Life were not aware of an
infinite Consciousness, Light and Power in which they live but
are prevented from participating by the Ignorance and Inertia
of Matter or were not stirred to possess this wideness partly or
wholly. Man especially, because he is most self-conscious, develops this awareness to a high degree, nor can he be permanently
satisfied with increase of power or knowledge within the limits
of the material world, for that is also limited and inconclusive
and, being aware of and impelled by the infinite within and
around him, he cannot escape the necessity of seeking to know
and possess it. This progression of the conscious being out of
the Inconscient to the infinite Consciousness might be a happy
outflowering but for the principle of rigid division and imprisonment of each divided being in his own ego which imposes the
law of struggle, the dualities of attraction and repulsion, pleasure
and pain, effort and failure, action and reaction, satisfaction and
dissatisfaction. All this is the denial of Ananda and implies, if
the negation be insuperable, the futility of existence; for if in
this existence the satisfaction sought by the Infinite in the finite
cannot be found, then ultimately it must be abandoned as an
error and a failure. — This is the basis of the pessimist theory
of material existence which supposes Matter to be the form and
Mind the cause of the universe and both of these to be eternally
subject to limitation and ignorance. But if on the contrary it is
immortal and infinite Spirit which has veiled itself in Matter and
is emerging, the development of a liberated supramental being
who shall impose in Mind, Life and Matter a higher law than
that of limitation and division, is the inevitable conclusion from
the nature of cosmic existence. There is no reason why such a
Arguments to The Life Divine
being should not liberate and make divine the physical existence
as well as the mind and life, unless our present view of Matter
represents the sole possible relation here between sense and its
object in which case, indeed, fulfilment must be sought only in
worlds beyond. But there are other states even of Matter and an
ascending series of the gradations of substance, and their higher
law is possible to the material being because it is there in it
already latent and potential.
Chapter XXVI
The Ascending Series of Substance
The materiality of Matter consists in a concentration of the
density of substance and its resistance to the conscious-force of
which through sense it becomes the object. An ascending scale
of substance from Matter to Spirit must mean a diminution
of resistance, division and bondage and an increasing subtlety,
flexibility, power of assimilation, interchange, transmutation,
unification. — There is such an ascending scale from the dense
to the subtle even in material substance and beyond the subtlest
material essence we have grades of other substance corresponding to the series of Matter, Life, Mind, Supermind and Spirit.
Each, that is to say, is the basis of a world or other kind of
existence in which these higher principles successively dominate
the others and fulfil themselves with their aid. In each therefore
there is an ever wider range of being, consciousness and force
ascending from the inconscience of material substance to the
infinite self-consciousness of spiritual. But all these principles
are interconnected. Matter contains all of them and evolves them
out of itself in obedience to the constant pressure of the higher
worlds, an evolution which must continue until they are able to
express themselves fully in the material principle. — Man is the
fit instrument for this fulfilment. He has other bodies besides the
physical in which he can become conscious and so enter into the
supraphysical grades of substance and impose their law upon his
material existence. Therefore his complete perfection is through
the ascent to supermind and the conquest of the physical also by
the supramental substance so that he will be able to command
a diviner physical life and conquer death in a divine body.
Chapter XXVII
The Sevenfold Chord of Being
There are, therefore, seven or else eight principles of being and
the four which constitute human existence are a refraction of the
four which constitute divine existence, but in inverted order. The
Divine descends from pure existence to Supermind to cast itself
into cosmic existence; the creature ascends from Matter to Mind
towards the Divine and meets it where mind and Supermind
meet with a veil between them. By the rending of the veil each
of the four divine human principles can find its transfigured self
in its divine equivalent. This transfiguration is the only possible positive goal of the creative evolution. — The presence of
the seven principles is essential to all cosmic being. For cosmic
being cannot exist except as the All-existence figuring itself in
its self-conception as Time and Space, nor can this figuration
take place except by an infinite Force which being of the nature
of an all-determining and all-apprehending Will must repose
on the action of an all-comprehending infinite Consciousness.
Nor could the result be a cosmos but for a power of infinite
knowledge and will determining out of the infinity in each figure
of things their law, form and course through a self-limitation by
Idea proceeding from a boundless liberty within. That power
of Knowledge-Will, that Idea is the fourth name of the Divine;
it is the Supermind or supreme Gnosis. — The lower trilogy is
also necessary in some form however different it may be from
our experience of Life, Mind and Matter. For there must be a
subordinate power and action of Supermind measuring, creating
fixed standpoints of mutual view and interaction in the universal
self-diffusion as between an infinite number of centres of the one
Consciousness; and such a power would be what we mean by
Mind. So too, Mind once given, Life, which is the working of
will and energy and conscious dynamis of being dependent on
The Sevenfold Chord of Being
such fixed standpoints of interaction, must accompany it and
substance with differentiation of form must also be present. —
It follows that in every cosmic arrangement the seven principles
must be existent, either manifested in simultaneous apparent
action or else all apparently involved in one of them which then
becomes the initial principle, but all secretly at work and bound
to evolve into manifestation. Therefore out of initial Matter
latent Life and Mind have emerged as apparent Life and Mind,
and latent Supermind and the hidden Spirit must emerge as
apparent Supermind and the triune glory of Sachchidananda.
Chapter XXVIII
The Knowledge and the Ignorance
The seven principles of existence are, then, one in their reality,
inseparable in their sevenfold action. They create the harmony
of the universe and there is no essential reason why this should
not be a complete harmony free from the element of discord,
division and limitation. — The Vedic seers believed in such a
creation and held its formation in man — called immortality —
to be the object of man’s Godward effort. But this is difficult
for the human mind to accept, except in a beyond, because
here the Inconscient seems to be all and the conscient soul an
accident or an alien unable fully to realise itself. Here Ignorance seems to be the law. — It is true that here we start from
the Inconscient and are governed by the Ignorance; we must
therefore examine this power of Consciousness and determine
its operation and origin, — not accepting the refusal of some
philosophies to consider the question because it is insoluble;
and first we must fix what we mean by the Ignorance. — In
the Veda the Ignorance is the non-perceiving of the essential
unity which is beyond mind and of the essence and self-law of
things in their original unity and actual universality; it is a false
knowledge based on division of the undivided, insistence on the
fragmentary and little and rejection of the vast and complete
view of things; it is the undivine Maya. — The Vedantic distinction of Vidya and Avidya made the opposition more trenchant,
Vidya being the knowledge of unity, Avidya the knowledge of
multiplicity, but the knowledge of both was held to be necessary
for the Truth and the Immortality; the Ignorance was not a
mere falsehood and seeing of unreality. The One really becomes
Chapter XXVIII of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was extensively revised in
1939 – 40, becoming the present Book Two, Part I, Chapter VII.
The Knowledge and the Ignorance
the Many. — Later, the opposition was supposed to be rigid and
irreconcilable, the world unreal, a super-imposition of name and
form on featureless Unity by Mind, the Ignorance an absolute
nescience of the Truth. — This we reject, because such dialectical
oppositions, flawed at their source, represent no actual reality
of existence as a whole; there is no irreconcilable opposition
of dual principles, Ignorance creative, Knowledge destructive of
world-existence, but an essential unity. As pain is an effect of
the universal Delight produced in the recipient by incapacity,
as incapacity is a disposition of the universal Will-force, so ignorance is a particular action of the universal Knowledge. —
Consciousness, which is Power, takes three poises; its plenitude
of the divine knowledge invariable in unity and multiplicity and
beyond; its dwelling upon apparent oppositions, the extreme
being the superficial appearance of complete nescience in the
Inconscient; and a mediary term or compromise between the
two which is a superficial and partial emergence of self-conscious
knowledge, our own egoistic ignorance or false-knowledge. The
exact relations between these three have to be determined.
Chapter XXIX
Memory, Self-Consciousness
and the Ignorance
Memory is believed by some schools to be the constituent of
our continuous personality; but memory is only a mechanism, a
device, a substitute for direct consciousness. The mind is directly
conscious of existence in the present, holds existence in the past
by its substitute memory, infers its future existence from this direct present self-consciousness and the memory of its continuity
in the past. — This sense of self-conscious existence it extends
into the idea of eternity, but the only eternity the mind really
seizes is a continuous succession of moments of being in eternal
Time; of this eternity it possesses only the present moment, a
limited portion of the past held fragmentarily and nothing at all
of the future, while it is unable to know any timeless eternity
of conscious being, any real eternal Self. Therefore the nature
of our Mind is an Ignorance seizing at knowledge by successive
action in the moments of Time. — If mind is all, then we must
remain for ever in this Ignorance which is not absolute nescience,
but an ineffectual and fragmentary seizing at knowledge. But
there are really two powers of our conscious being, Ignorance
of the mind, Knowledge beyond mind, simultaneously existing,
either separately in an eternal dualism or, as is really the fact,
as superior and inferior, sovereign and dependent states of the
same consciousness, by which the Knower sees his timeless being and the action of Time in that self through the Knowledge
while he sees himself in Time and travelling in the succession
of its moments by the Ignorance. For this reason the Upanishad
declares that Brahman can really be known only by knowing
Chapter XXIX of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was revised in 1939 – 40,
becoming the present Book Two, Part I, Chapter VIII.
Memory, Self-Consciousness and the Ignorance
him as both the Knowledge and the Ignorance and so only can
one arrive at the status of immortality. — Ignorance is therefore
the consciousness of being in the succession of Time, and it is
so called because, actually self-divided by the moments of Time,
the field of space and the forms of the multiplicity, it cannot
know either eternal Being or the World, either the transcendent
or the universal reality. Its knowledge is partly true, partly false,
because it ignores the essence and sees only fugitive parts of the
phenomenon. — It is through self-consciousness that the mind
can arrive most readily at the eternal Reality; the rest of its means
of knowledge are, like memory, devices and substitutes for direct
consciousness. It is easy therefore to regard the knowledge of the
self within as real and the rest as not-self and illusion. But the
distinction is illusory and self-absorption in the stable self within
is only one state of consciousness like self-dispersion in thought
and memory and will. The real self is the Eternal who is capable simultaneously of the mobility in Time and the immobility
basing Time. All object of knowledge is that real and eternal
self whether seen in essence and stability or in phenomenon and
instability of Time. — The Ignorance is a means by which it is
rendered into values of knowledge and action, Time being a
sort of bank on which we draw for valuation and action in the
present, with a realised store in the account of the past and an
unrealised infinite deposit to be taken from the future so as to be
made valuable for Time-experience and valid for Time-activity.
But, behind, all is known and ready for use according to the will
of the Self in its dealings with Time and Space and Causality.
Chapter XXX
Memory, Ego and Self-Experience
Consciousness of Self has two different aspects, the awareness
of a stable, immutable and timeless Self beyond mentality and
the awareness of a various self-experience in the process of
Time and the field of Space. There is a constant shifting of
the point of Time, a constant though less obvious changing
of the habitation and the environment and in these a constant
subjective modifying of the experience of the states of personality and the experience of the environment. — Memory here
is an indispensable factor in the linking of past and present
experience and is necessary to secure its continuity and coherence. Still Memory is not all; it is only a mediator between
the mind-sense and the coordinating mind. — It is the mindsense which shapes the object of experience as a wave of the
conscious being into a movement of emotion, vitality, sensation
or thought-perception. There is also an act of mental observation and valuation of this wave in the sense-mind. There is
also the subject or mental being who thus modifies his mental
becoming and observes and values it by an act of mind. It is
when the mental being stands back from the mental becoming and even from the mental act that he begins to perceive
himself as something different from all becoming, mutable in
that, but immutable beyond it. He is not two selves, one that
is and one that becomes, but one immutable who sees changing
phenomena of his being, the immutability evident to a direct and
pure self-consciousness, the mutable evident indirectly through
a conditional and secondary mental consciousness. — It is the
character of this indirect mental consciousness which can experience only by succession of Time that brings in the device
Chapter XXX of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was revised in 1939 – 40,
becoming the present Book Two, Part I, Chapter IX.
Memory, Ego and Self-Experience
of Memory. Memory is not the essence of mental experience
of becoming, nor of its continuity, nor of the recurrence of the
same experience or the same cause and effect in Time. These
are circumstances of the movement of the stuff of conscious
being and conscious force of being, a movement which is really undivided though only seen by mind in artificial divisions.
Memory is a device by which the experiences of the mind-sense
are linked together and these artificial divisions in Time bridged
over so that the coordinating mind and will may better and
better use the material of experience and impose order on its
conscious knowledge of its self and its conscious action in its
environment. It is an aid to our ignorance of self developing,
in the evolution of mind out of inconscient force, knowledge of
self by experience. — The ego-sense is a mental device by which
the mental being develops towards knowledge of that which
experiences as well as of that which is experienced. Memory
only tells us that the successive experiences have happened in
the same field of conscious being; it is the coordinating and
distinguishing mind which tells us that it is the same mental
being who experiences. — Mind-substance suffers the changes
of becoming; mind-sense experiences them; memory assures the
mind-sense of its continuity of experience; the coordinating mind
of knowledge relates them together and relates them also to
the ego or being who, it says, is the same in past and present
whether he forgets or remembers. In the animal this may be little
more than a coordination in the sense-mind by a discernment
largely involved in the sensations and the memories, but in man
it becomes a coordinating reason superior to sense and memory.
It is by this development that the ego-sense becomes distinct
and disengaged from its aids. — But it is itself only a device
and basis for self-development of true self-knowledge; it is a
stage in the evolution from nescience to partial knowledge and
from partial knowledge to true self-consciousness. The evolving
Mind becomes by it aware of an “I” that becomes and then
of a self superior to the becoming. It may fix on either to the
rejection of the other, but in doing so it acts on an imperfect
self-knowledge. It is as yet ignorant of all even of the individual
Arguments to The Life Divine
becoming which is not superficial; ignorant of the universal becoming except indirectly, as a not-self exterior to it. Its attempt
to find the true relation of the self and its becomings is based
therefore on an Ignorance; that can only be truly known by an
attempt to live out the relation in an integral development of
self-knowledge. That is the natural goal of our evolution which
is the movement of the Ignorance to exceed itself and arrive at
the conscious Truth of its being and conscious knowledge of all
Chapter XXXI
The Boundaries of the Ignorance
We know only a part even of our superficial life and conscious
becoming, fastening only on a little of our experience of self and
things, memorising less, using still less for knowledge and action.
What we reject, Nature stores and uses in our development, for
the most part by her subconscious action. Our waking self is
only a superimposition, a visible summit; the great body of our
being is submerged or subliminal. — The subliminal self perceives, remembers, understands, uses all that we fail to perceive,
remember or use. It provides all the material of our surface being
which is only a selection from its wider existence and activity.
It is only the physical and vital part of our existence which is,
properly speaking, subconscient; the subliminal self is the true
mental being and in relation to our waking mind it is rather
secretly circumconscient; for it envelops as well as supports.
Of all this larger part of our being we are ignorant. — We are
ignorant also of the superconscient, that which we ordinarily call
spirit or oversoul; yet this we find to be our highest and widest
self, Sachchidananda creating and governing all that we are and
become by His divine Maya. We are ignorant of the subliminal
sea of our being which casts up the wave of our superficial
existence; we are ignorant also of the superconscient ether of our
being which constitutes, contains, overroofs and governs both
the subliminal sea and the superficial wave. — We are ignorant
of ourselves in Time, for we know only a part of the present life
we are living; yet that exists only by all our past of which we are
ignorant and its trend is determined by all our future of which
we are still more ignorant. For our superconscient Self is eternal
Chapter XXXI of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was extensively revised in
1939 – 40, becoming the present Book Two, Part I, Chapter XI.
Arguments to The Life Divine
in its being and Time is only one of its modes, our subliminal is
eternal in its becoming and Time is its infinite field of experience.
— We are equally ignorant of the world, holding it to be not-self,
ignorant of ourselves in Space; for the world is one Self developing the movement of its conscious force in its self-conceptive
extension as Space. We confine ourselves in our consciousness
to a single knot of the one indivisible Matter, a single eddy of
the one indivisible Life, a single station of the one indivisible
Mind, a single soul-manifestation of the one indivisible Spirit.
Yet it is only by knowing the One that this individual mind,
life, body, soul can know itself or its action. — Thus ignorance
of self is the nature of our mind, but an ignorance full of the
impulse towards self-possession and self-knowledge. A manysided Ignorance striving to become an all-embracing Knowledge
is the definition of man the mental being.
Chapter XXXII
The Integral Knowledge
The ignorance in which we live is a sevenfold self-ignorance;
an ignorance of the Absolute and knowledge only of the relations of being and becoming; an ignorance of our timeless
and immutable self-existence and knowledge only of the cosmic
becoming; an ignorance of our cosmic self and knowledge only
of our egoistic existence; an ignorance of our eternal becoming in
Time and knowledge only of the one life present to our memory;
an ignorance of our larger and complex being in the world and
knowledge only of our surface waking existence; an ignorance of
the higher principles of our existence and knowledge only of the
life, mind and body; an ignorance therefore of the right law and
enjoyment of living and a knowledge only of the confused strife
of the dualities. — Our conception of the Ignorance determines
our conception of the knowledge and by that of the aim of our
existence, which coincides with the ideal of the earlier Vedic
thought. — We confirm by it our rejection of the extreme views
which hold the absolute Non-existence or absolute Existence to
be alone true and the relative world of being and becoming an
ignorance to be renounced. There is the unmanifest Absolute
and there is its manifestation; to fulfil the manifestation and
live in the sense of it as the Absolute manifesting himself is the
Knowledge. — We reject the view that regards the One, Infinite,
Formless, Spirit, Superconscient as the sole truth and the opposite terms as unreal or eventually false and vain values to be
abandoned. We accept it and them also not as alternates, but as
simultaneous values of the manifestation and their union in our
consciousness and right use of their relations as the knowledge.
Chapter XXXII of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was extensively revised and
enlarged in 1939 – 40, becoming the present Book Two, Part II, Chapter XV, “Reality
and the Integral Knowledge”.
Arguments to The Life Divine
— We reject equally the views that affirm a pluralistic Becoming without Being or see Mind, Life or Matter as the original
principle, and we reject the limitation to our apparent Nature
which is their practical conclusion. Becoming as the working
out of the energies of Being, Mind, Life and Matter as inferior terms of the higher divine Nature to be illumined, uplifted,
transformed by the higher terms is our view of the knowledge.
— We reject also intermediate theories like that which makes
God and cosmos one, — perceiving as we do that cosmos exists
in God who exceeds it and not God by the cosmos, — or like
that which seeks to abandon the earth and find fulfilment only
in heavens where the Many enjoy the presence of the One, —
perceiving, as we do, that there is a higher knowledge which
leads to complete identity and that divine life based upon it need
not be confined to heavens beyond, but may embrace the earth
also. — Ignorance is an initial state of knowledge, the essence
of which is to create a sense of limitation and division; it is
this which we have to overcome and transcend without creating
an opposite self-limitation. The integral aim of our existence
can only be the possession and power and joy of our integral
Chapter XXXIII
The Progress to Knowledge
To rise out of the sevenfold Ignorance into the integral Knowledge is the progress of man’s being; it is to grow in all his
complex existence and consciousness into the full possession
and enjoyment of his whole and his true being. — He starts
with three categories, himself, Nature or cosmos and God, and
though he tries to deny any two of these in order to affirm the
third only, he cannot really succeed; for he is neither separate
nor sufficient to himself, cosmos also is not sufficient to itself,
but points always to an infinite, one and absolute behind it, and
to affirm the Absolute to the exclusion of these two others leaves
man unsatisfied and cosmos unexplained. — In affirming himself
man has first to put himself in front and act and feel as if God
and the world existed for him and were less important to him
than himself; this is his egoistic phase necessary to disengage
his individuality out of Nature and as if against her and to
bring it out into force and capacity. He has to affirm himself in
the Ignorance before he can perfect himself in the Knowledge.
Afterwards he has to seek for himself in Nature and God and
others, but it is still himself that he seeks to know and possess
and his own perfection or salvation which is his motive. — In
the progressive enlargement of his knowledge he gets rid of his
sevenfold ignorance; of the temporal by growing into his eternal
being with its pre-existence and subsequent existence in Time;
of the psychological by enlarging his self-knowing beyond the
waking self into the subconscient and superconscient; of the
constitutional by realising his spiritual being and its categories;
of the cosmic by discovering his timeless self; of the egoistic by
Chapter XXXIII of The Life Divine as published in the Arya was extensively revised in
1939 – 40, becoming the present Book Two, Part II, Chapter XVII, “The Progress to
Knowledge — God, Man and Nature”.
Arguments to The Life Divine
realising the cosmic consciousness; of the original by opening to
the Absolute of whom Self, individual and Nature are so many
faces. — At the same time he realises the unity of himself and
Nature in the first three steps of knowledge, of himself and God
in the others; of himself with all beings relatively in Nature and
absolutely in God; of God and Nature because it is the Self who
has become all these beings and the nature of the Lord which is
apparent in cosmos. — The knowledge of Nature leads him to
the same results as soon as he goes beyond Matter and Life to
Mind; for he discovers a subconscient and superconscient, a soul
in Matter, and perceives a supernature in which he realises the
Self, the Spirit, the Absolute. — In the quest of God he begins by
seeing him through Nature and himself, crudely and obscurely
at first, till he finds more luminously the one Truth behind all
religions; for all seize on the Divine in many aspects and their
variety is necessary in order that man should come to know
God entirely. — When he arrives at the unity of his knowledge
of God, man and Nature, he has the complete knowledge, the
sense and goal of humanity’s progress and labour and the sure
foundation of all perfections and all harmonies.
Chapter I
The Human Aspiration
A search for God, (for a spiritual or divine Reality within oneself
and behind, above or within the phenomenon of existence,) for
perfection, for freedom, for an absolute Truth and Bliss, for
immortality has been the persistent preoccupation of the highest human thought since the earliest times. This preoccupation
seems to be a perpetual element in man’s nature; for it survives
the longest periods of scepticism.
This aspiration is in contradiction with his present existence
and normal experience of himself which is that of a mortal
being full of imperfections, ego-ridden, largely animal, subject
to transitory joys and much pain and suffering, bound by mechanical necessity. But the direct contradiction between what he
is and what he seeks to be need not be a final argument against
the validity of his aspiration. For such contradictions are part
of Nature’s general method; the aspiration may be realisable
either by a revolutionary individual effort or by an evolutionary
general progress.
The problems of existence are problems of harmony. Discords and disorder of the materials, oppositions, demand a
solution by accordance, by the discovery of a harmony. Thus the
accordance of an inanimation and inertia in a containing Matter
and the active indwelling stress of Life is Nature’s first problem,
its initial difficulty; its perfect solution would be immortality in
a material body. The accordance of an unconscious Matter and
In December 1940 Sri Aurobindo wrote an “Argument in Brief” and a shorter summary
of Book One, Chapter I of the revised Life Divine. Around the same time he drafted a
summary of Book One, Chapter XXIV. These summaries, similar to the “arguments”
published in the Arya, are reproduced here from his manuscripts.
Arguments to The Life Divine
an unconscious or half-conscious Life with a conscious Mind
and Will is her second problem; the possession of a direct and
perfect instrumentation of knowledge in a living body would
be its complete solution. The accordance of a mortal mind, life
and body with a secretly indwelling immortal spirit is the final
problem; the spiritualisation or divinisation of mind, life and
body, a divine life, would be the perfect solution. The search
after these solutions by the human being is not irrational; it is
rather the very effort and striving of Nature within him.
Life appears in Matter, Mind in Life because they are already
there. Matter is a form of veiled Life; Life a form of veiled Mind;
Mind may well be a form and veil of a higher power, the Spirit,
which is supramental in its nature. Nature has implanted an
impulse towards life in certain forms of Matter and evolves it
there, a similar evolutionary impulse towards mind in certain
forms of life, an impulse in certain minds towards what is beyond Mind, towards the unveiling of Spirit, the evolution of a
spiritual being. Each impulse justifies itself by the creation of the
necessary organs and faculties.
There is therefore no reason to put a limit to evolutionary
possibility by taking our present organisation or status of existence as final. The animal is a laboratory in which Nature has
worked out man; man may very well be a laboratory in which
she wills to work out superman, to disclose the soul as a divine
being, to evolve a divine nature.
Man’s highest aspiration has been always a seeking for God,
perfection, freedom, an absolute truth and bliss, immortality.
A direct contradiction exists between this aspiration and his
present state of mortality, imperfection, bondage to mechanical
necessity, ego and animality.
This contradiction between what he is now and what he
seeks to be is not a final argument against his aspiration. Contradictions are part of Nature’s method; the aspiration may be
achievable by individual effort or by an evolutionary progress.
The Human Aspiration
The problems of existence are problems of harmony.
The accordance of an active life-principle with the inanimate
Matter containing it is Nature’s first evolutionary problem; its
complete solution would be immortality in the body.
The accordance of conscious mind with an unconscious
matter and half-conscious life is her second evolutionary problem; a direct and perfect instrumentation of knowledge in a
living body would be its complete solution.
The accordance of immortal spirit with a mortal mind, life
and body is her third and final problem; its complete solution
would be the evolution of a divine being and a divine nature.
As Nature has implanted the impulse to life in matter, to
mind in life, so she has implanted in mind the impulse towards
the evolution of what is beyond mind, spiritual, supramental.
Each impulse justifies itself by the creation of the necessary
organs and faculties.
The animal is a laboratory in which she has worked out
man; man may be a laboratory in which she wills to work out
the superman, the being of a divine nature.
Chapter XXIV
Life then is not an inexplicable dream or impossible evil; it is
a force of being, a pulsation of the divine All-existence capable
of divine outflowering. But there still remains the problem of
This problem is of a fundamental importance. For all here,
mind, life, body, depend on Matter, evolve out of it; Matter is
their support, conditions their emergence and action. Man rose
out of the animal by developing a body capable of a progressive
mental illumination; to rise beyond himself to a divine manhood
or supermanhood he must develop a physical instrumentation
or body capable of a still greater supramental illumination.
But the body seems to be from the beginning the soul’s great
obstacle. Its opposition is a compelling cause of asceticism and
of the condemnation put by most religions upon Matter.
The conflict begins with Life and increases as higher principles evolve. There is a discord between Life and Matter ending
in death, the defeat of Life; but really there is a constant compromise, Life using Matter and even death for its own continuance:
Mind struggles with the limitations of life and matter, and there
is a half victory, a constant compromise. When spirit wakens to
itself it finds itself hampered by mind, life and body, oppressed
by its instruments. The solution proposed is to carry this discord
to its logical conclusion. Life rejects body, mind rejects life, the
spirit abandons its instruments and departs from world into its
own infinity.
This solution is not a solution, it is only the individual’s
escape from the problem; the labour of the world and its discord continues. But if Sachchidananda is the world’s indwelling
reality, discord cannot be the fundamental principle. The real
solution must be a true and complete conquest and taking up of
body by life, of life by mind, of all three by the spirit.
This can seem possible only when we have found the real
truth of Matter as of Soul, Mind and Life. As Life is found to
be force of Spirit, and Mind to be consciousness of Spirit, so
Matter is found to be body and substance of Spirit.
Matter as a thing in itself is non-existent. What we see of it
is a form or forms created by a particular relation between our
sense-experience and the all-existence in which we move. Science
discovers that Matter resolves into forms of Energy; Philosophy
discovers that Matter is only a substantial appearance and the
one reality is Spirit. But what brings about this phenomenon of
forms of Energy or this appearance of Spirit?
There should be only states of spirit or currents of Energy;
whence these phenomena of forms? It can be attributed to an
action of consciousness, an intervention of Mind, — sense-mind
creates the forms it seems to perceive; Thought works upon
them and gives them their values. But the embodied individual
thought or sense which thus conceives or perceives is itself a
creation and cannot be the creator. There must be a universal
Mind not known to us because subconscious to us in the form of
the universe, superconscious to us in the spirit. Such a universal
Mind may have determined and constructed the relations of
form with form and the rhythms of the universe.1
But how is this done?
Existence in its activity is a Consciousness-Force which
presents the workings of its Force to its consciousness as forms
of being. The Force of Existence of the one sole conscious being
can by its workings produce no results that are not forms of that
Being. Matter as substance of forms must then be itself a form
or substance of spirit; it can be nothing else.
The appearances it assumes, the phenomena of Matter
are the result of the dividing action of Mind. Consciousness
The embodied individual mind is a surface fragmentation of the universal consciousness repeating by its perceptions this creation and so by a sort of reflection creating for
its own thought and sense its own perceptual and conceptual universe.
Arguments to The Life Divine
descending from Supermind appears as Mind, an inferior power
of Supermind, Force appears as Life, an energy instrumental
to Mind; Mind descending into Life becomes by involution in
it subconscient and gives to the material workings of Life the
appearance of inconscience. The inconscience, inertia, atomic
disaggregation of Matter is due to this involved action of Mind.
The creative life-energy of Mind involved in Matter and there
turned into what appears to us as an inconscient material Energy
gives to form or substance of being on which it works the aspect
of inconscience. Mind here is a first action of Supermind in the
involutionary descent working in these conditions, separated
from the Supermind, Life is a similar action of Force of Being,
Matter the form taken by Being itself as a result of this working.
The fragmentation of Matter is due to the dividing action of
Mind which does not abrogate the essential unity of Existence.
The object is to push the principle of Multiplicity in the One to its
extreme which can only be done by division and separativeness
of consciousness and of form. For an awareness of things from
separate centres of consciousness is meant to be the basic experience of existence here. The movement of Mind the dividing
principle makes the knower regard the forms of his own universal being as other than he, but it has also a movement of union
which heals this phenomenal division. In divine Mind the two
actions are simultaneous and prevent the division from being
real. In ignorant or involved Mind the division seems real; the
movement towards union becomes a contact of consciousness
and primarily a contact of sense. Material substance is the form
in which Mind acting through sense contacts being as object, —
as a general object, a mass of objective existence and a multitude
of objects in that mass of being.
Part Four
From the Standard Bearer
HE “STANDARD BEARER” comes into the field today
entrusted with a special mission and as the bearer of an
ideal and a message. The standard it carries is not that of
an outward battle, but the ensign of a spiritual ideal and of a life
that must be its expression and the growing body of its reality.
Our endeavour shall be to prepare the paths and to accomplish
the beginning of a great and high change which we believe to be
and aim at making the future of the race and the future of India.
Our ideal is a new birth of humanity into the spirit; our life must
be a spiritually inspired effort to create a body of action for that
great new birth and creation.
A spiritual ideal has always been the characteristic idea and
aspiration of India. But the progress of Time and the need of
humanity demand a new orientation and another form of that
ideal. The old forms and methods are no longer sufficient for
the purpose of the Time-Spirit. India can no longer fulfil herself
on lines that are too narrow for the great steps she has to take
in the future. Nor is ours the spirituality of a life that is aged
and world-weary and burdened with the sense of the illusion
and miserable inutility of all God’s mighty creation. Our ideal
is not the spirituality that withdraws from life but the conquest
of life by the power of the spirit. It is to accept the world as
an effort of manifestation of the Divine, but also to transform
humanity by a greater effort of manifestation than has yet been
accomplished, one in which the veil between man and God shall
be removed, the divine manhood of which we are capable shall
come to birth and our life shall be remoulded in the truth and
light and power of the spirit. It is to make of all our action a
sacrifice to the master of our action and an expression of the
greater self in man and of all life a Yoga.
The West has made the growth of the intellectual, emotional,
From the Standard Bearer
vital and material being of man its ideal, but it has left aside the
greater possibilities of his spiritual existence. Its highest standards are ideals of progress, of liberty, equality and fraternity, of
reason and science, of efficiency of all kinds, of a better political,
social and economical state, of the unity and earthly happiness
of the race. These are great endeavours, but experiment after
experiment has shown that they cannot be realised in their truth
by the power of the idea and the sentiment alone: their real truth
and practice can only be founded in the spirit. The West has put
its faith in its science and machinery and it is being destroyed by
its science and crushed under its mechanical burden. It has not
understood that a spiritual change is necessary for the accomplishment of its ideals. The East has the secret of that spiritual
change, but it has too long turned its eyes away from the earth.
The time has now come to heal the division and to unite life and
the spirit.
This secret too has been possessed but not sufficiently practised by India. It is summarised in the rule of the Gita, yogasthah.
kuru karmān.i. Its principle is to do all actions in Yoga, in union
with God, on the foundation of the highest self and through the
rule of all our members by the power of the spirit. And this we
believe to be not only possible for man but the true solution
of all his problems and difficulties. This then is the message we
shall constantly utter and this the ideal that we shall put before
the young and rising India, a spiritual life that shall take up all
human activities and avail to transfigure the world for the great
age that is coming. India, she that has carried in herself from of
old the secret, can alone lead the way in this great transformation
of which the present sandhyā of the old yuga is the forerunner.
This must be her mission and service to humanity, — as she
discovered the inner spiritual life for the individual, so now to
discover for the race its integral collective expression and found
for mankind its new spiritual and communal order.
Our first object shall be to declare this ideal, insist on the
spiritual change as the first necessity and group together all who
accept it and are ready to strive sincerely to fulfil it: our second
shall be to build up not only an individual but a communal life
on this principle. An outer activity as well as an inner change is
needed and it must be at once a spiritual, cultural, educational,
social and economical action. Its scope, too, will be at once
individual and communal, regional and national, and eventually a work not only for the nation but for the whole human
people. The immediate object of this action will be a new creation, a spiritual education and culture, an enlarged social spirit
founded not on division but on unity, on the perfect growth and
freedom of the individual, but also on his unity with others and
his dedication to a larger self in the people and in humanity,
and the beginning of an endeavour towards the solution of the
economic problem founded not on any Western model but on
the communal principle native to India.
Our call is to young India. It is the young who must be
the builders of the new world, — not those who accept the
competitive individualism, the capitalism or the materialistic
communism of the West as India’s future ideal, nor those who
are enslaved to old religious formulas and cannot believe in
the acceptance and transformation of life by the spirit, but all
who are free in mind and heart to accept a completer truth and
labour for a greater ideal. They must be men who will dedicate
themselves not to the past or the present but to the future. They
will need to consecrate their lives to an exceeding of their lower
self, to the realisation of God in themselves and in all human
beings and to a whole-minded and indefatigable labour for the
nation and for humanity. This ideal can be as yet only a little seed
and the life that embodies it a small nucleus, but it is our fixed
hope that the seed will grow into a great tree and the nucleus be
the heart of an ever extending formation. It is with a confident
trust in the spirit that inspires us that we take our place among
the standard-bearers of the new humanity that is struggling to
be born amidst the chaos of a world in dissolution and of the
future India, the greater India of the rebirth that is to rejuvenate
the mighty outworn body of the ancient Mother.
Part Five
From the Bulletin
of Physical Education
1949 – 1950
The Supramental Manifestation
upon Earth
TAKE the opportunity of the publication of this issue of
the “Bulletin d’Éducation Physique” of the Ashram to give
my blessings to the Journal and the Association — J.S.A.S.A.
(Jeunesse Sportive de l’Ashram de Sri Aurobindo). In doing so I
would like to dwell for a while on the deeper raison d’être of such
Associations and especially the need and utility for the nation of
a widespread organisation of them and such sports or physical
exercises as are practised here. In their more superficial aspect
they appear merely as games and amusements which people
take up for entertainment or as a field for the outlet of the
body’s energy and natural instinct of activity or for a means of
the development and maintenance of the health and strength of
the body; but they are or can be much more than that: they are
also fields for the development of habits, capacities and qualities
which are greatly needed and of the utmost service to a people
in war or in peace, and in its political and social activities, in
most indeed of the provinces of a combined human endeavour.
It is to this which we may call the national aspect of the subject
that I would wish to give especial prominence.
In our own time these sports, games and athletics have assumed a place and command a general interest such as was seen
only in earlier times in countries like Greece, Greece where all
sides of human activity were equally developed and the gymnasium, chariot-racing and other sports and athletics had the
same importance on the physical side as on the mental side the
Arts and poetry and the drama, and were especially stimulated
and attended to by the civic authorities of the city state. It was
Greece that made an institution of the Olympiad and the recent
re-establishment of the Olympiad as an international institution
is a significant sign of the revival of the ancient spirit. This kind
of interest has spread to a certain extent to our own country and
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
India has begun to take a place in international contests such as
the Olympiad. The newly founded State in liberated India is also
beginning to be interested in developing all sides of the life of the
nation and is likely to take an active part and a habit of direction
in fields which were formerly left to private initiative. It is taking
up, for instance, the question of the foundation and preservation
of health and physical fitness in the nation and the spreading of
a general recognition of its importance. It is in this connection
that the encouragement of sports and associations for athletics
and all activities of this kind would be an incalculable assistance.
A generalisation of the habit of taking part in such exercises in
childhood and youth and early manhood would help greatly
towards the creation of a physically fit and energetic people.
But of a higher import than the foundation, however necessary, of health, strength and fitness of the body is the development of discipline and morale and sound and strong character
towards which these activities can help. There are many sports
which are of the utmost value towards this end, because they
help to form and even necessitate the qualities of courage, hardihood, energetic action and initiative or call for skill, steadiness
of will or rapid decision and action, the perception of what is
to be done in an emergency and dexterity in doing it. One development of the utmost value is the awakening of the essential
and instinctive body consciousness which can see and do what
is necessary without any indication from mental thought and
which is equivalent in the body to swift insight in the mind
and spontaneous and rapid decision in the will. One may add
the formation of a capacity for harmonious and right movements of the body, especially in a combined action, economical
of physical effort and discouraging waste of energy, which result
from such exercises as marches or drill and which displace the
loose and straggling, the inharmonious or disorderly or wasteful
movements common to the untrained individual body. Another
invaluable result of these activities is the growth of what has been
called the sporting spirit. That includes good humour and tolerance and consideration for all, a right attitude and friendliness to
competitors and rivals, self-control and scrupulous observance
of the laws of the game, fair play and avoidance of the use of
foul means, an equal acceptance of victory or defeat without bad
humour, resentment or ill-will towards successful competitors,
loyal acceptance of the decisions of the appointed judge, umpire
or referee. These qualities have their value for life in general
and not only for sport, but the help that sport can give to their
development is direct and invaluable. If they could be made
more common not only in the life of the individual but in the
national life and in the international where at the present day
the opposite tendencies have become too rampant, existence in
this troubled world of ours would be smoother and might open
to a greater chance of concord and amity of which it stands very
much in need. More important still is the custom of discipline,
obedience, order, habit of team-work, which certain games necessitate. For without them success is uncertain or impossible.
Innumerable are the activities in life, especially in national life,
in which leadership and obedience to leadership in combined
action are necessary for success, victory in combat or fulfilment
of a purpose. The role of the leader, the captain, the power and
skill of his leadership, his ability to command the confidence and
ready obedience of his followers is of the utmost importance in
all kinds of combined action or enterprise; but few can develop
these things without having learned themselves to obey and to
act as one mind or as one body with others. This strictness of
training, this habit of discipline and obedience is not inconsistent
with individual freedom; it is often the necessary condition for
its right use, just as order is not inconsistent with liberty but
rather the condition for the right use of liberty and even for
its preservation and survival. In all kinds of concerted action
this rule is indispensable: orchestration becomes necessary and
there could be no success for an orchestra in which individual
musicians played according to their own fancy and refused to
follow the indications of the conductor. In spiritual things also
the same rule holds; a sadhak who disregarded the guidance of
the Guru and preferred the untrained inspirations of the novice
could hardly escape the stumbles or even the disasters which so
often lie thick around the path to spiritual realisation.
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
I need not enumerate the other benefits which can be drawn
from the training that sports can give or dwell on their use in the
national life; what I have said is sufficient. At any rate, in schools
like ours and in universities sports have now a recognised and
indispensable place; for even a highest and completest education
of the mind is not enough without the education of the body.
Where the qualities I have enumerated are absent or insufficiently present, a strong individual will or a national will may
build them up, but the aid given by sports to their development
is direct and in no way negligible. This would be a sufficient
reason for the attention given to them in our Ashram, though
there are others which I need not mention here. I am concerned
here with their importance and the necessity of the qualities
they create or stimulate for our national life. The nation which
possesses them in the highest degree is likely to be the strongest
for victory, success and greatness, but also for the contribution
it can make towards the bringing about of unity and a more
harmonious world order towards which we look as our hope
for humanity’s future.
Perfection of the Body
HE PERFECTION of the body, as great a perfection as
we can bring about by the means at our disposal, must
be the ultimate aim of physical culture. Perfection is the
true aim of all culture, the spiritual and psychic, the mental, the
vital and it must be the aim of our physical culture also. If our
seeking is for a total perfection of the being, the physical part
of it cannot be left aside; for the body is the material basis, the
body is the instrument which we have to use. Śarı̄raṁ khalu
dharmasādhanam, says the old Sanskrit adage, — the body is
the means of fulfilment of dharma, and dharma means every
ideal which we can propose to ourselves and the law of its
working out and its action. A total perfection is the ultimate aim
which we set before us, for our ideal is the Divine Life which
we wish to create here, the life of the Spirit fulfilled on earth,
life accomplishing its own spiritual transformation even here on
earth in the conditions of the material universe. That cannot be
unless the body too undergoes a transformation, unless its action
and functioning attain to a supreme capacity and the perfection
which is possible to it or which can be made possible.
I have already indicated in a previous message a relative
perfection of the physical consciousness in the body and of the
mind, the life, the character which it houses as, no less than
an awakening and development of the body’s own native capacities, a desirable outcome of the exercises and practices of
the physical culture to which we have commenced to give in
this Ashram a special attention and scope. A development of the
physical consciousness must always be a considerable part of our
aim, but for that the right development of the body itself is an
essential element; health, strength, fitness are the first needs, but
the physical frame itself must be the best possible. A divine life
in a material world implies necessarily a union of the two ends
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
of existence, the spiritual summit and the material base. The
soul with the basis of its life established in Matter ascends to the
heights of the Spirit but does not cast away its base, it joins the
heights and the depths together. The Spirit descends into Matter
and the material world with all its lights and glories and powers
and with them fills and transforms life in the material world
so that it becomes more and more divine. The transformation is
not a change into something purely subtle and spiritual to which
Matter is in its nature repugnant and by which it is felt as an
obstacle or as a shackle binding the Spirit; it takes up Matter as a
form of the Spirit though now a form which conceals and turns
it into a revealing instrument, it does not cast away the energies
of Matter, its capacities, its methods; it brings out their hidden
possibilities, uplifts, sublimates, discloses their innate divinity.
The divine life will reject nothing that is capable of divinisation;
all is to be seized, exalted, made utterly perfect. The mind now
still ignorant, though struggling towards knowledge, has to rise
towards and into the supramental light and truth and bring it
down so that it shall suffuse our thinking and perception and
insight and all our means of knowing till they become radiant
with the highest truth in their inmost and outermost movements.
Our life, still full of obscurity and confusion and occupied with
so many dull and lower aims, must feel all its urges and instincts
exalted and irradiated and become a glorious counterpart of the
supramental super-life above. The physical consciousness and
physical being, the body itself must reach a perfection in all that
it is and does which now we can hardly conceive. It may even in
the end be suffused with a light and beauty and bliss from the
Beyond and the life divine assume a body divine.
But first the evolution of the nature must have reached a
point at which it can meet the Spirit direct, feel the aspiration
towards the spiritual change and open itself to the workings
of the Power which shall transform it. A supreme perfection, a
total perfection is possible only by a transformation of our lower
or human nature, a transformation of the mind into a thing
of light, our life into a thing of power, an instrument of right
action, right use for all its forces, of a happy elevation of its being
Perfection of the Body
lifting it beyond its present comparatively narrow potentiality
for a self-fulfilling force of action and joy of life. There must be
equally a transforming change of the body by a conversion of
its action, its functioning, its capacities as an instrument beyond
the limitations by which it is clogged and hampered even in its
greatest present human attainment. In the totality of the change
we have to achieve, human means and forces too have to be
taken up, not dropped but used and magnified to their utmost
possibility as part of the new life. Such a sublimation of our
present human powers of mind and life into elements of a divine
life on earth can be conceived without much difficulty; but in
what figure shall we conceive the perfection of the body?
In the past the body has been regarded by spiritual seekers
rather as an obstacle, as something to be overcome and discarded
than as an instrument of spiritual perfection and a field of the
spiritual change. It has been condemned as a grossness of Matter,
as an insuperable impediment and the limitations of the body
as something unchangeable making transformation impossible.
This is because the human body even at its best seems only to
be driven by an energy of life which has its own limits and is
debased in its smaller physical activities by much that is petty
or coarse or evil; the body in itself is burdened with the inertia
and inconscience of Matter, only partly awake and, although
quickened and animated by a nervous activity, subconscient in
the fundamental action of its constituent cells and tissues and
their secret workings. Even in its fullest strength and force and
greatest glory of beauty, it is still a flower of the material Inconscience; the inconscient is the soil from which it has grown and
at every point opposes a narrow boundary to the extension of
its powers and to any effort of radical self-exceeding. But if a
divine life is possible on earth, then this self-exceeding must also
be possible.
In the pursuit of perfection we can start at either end of our
range of being and we have then to use, initially at least, the
means and processes proper to our choice. In Yoga the process
is spiritual and psychic; even its vital and physical processes are
given a spiritual or psychic turn and raised to a higher motion
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
than belongs properly to the ordinary life and Matter, as for
instance in the Hathayogic and Rajayogic use of the breathing
or the use of Asana. Ordinarily a previous preparation of the
mind and life and body is necessary to make them fit for the
reception of the spiritual energy and the organisation of psychic
forces and methods, but this too is given a special turn proper
to the Yoga. On the other hand, if we start in any field at the
lower end we have to employ the means and processes which
Life and Matter offer to us and respect the conditions and what
we may call the technique imposed by the vital and the material energy. We may extend the activity, the achievement, the
perfection attained beyond the initial, even beyond the normal
possibilities but still we have to stand on the same base with
which we started and within the boundaries it gives to us. It
is not that the action from the two ends cannot meet and the
higher take into itself and uplift the lower perfection; but this
can usually be done only by a transition from the lower to a
higher outlook, aspiration and motive: this we shall have to do
if our aim is to transform the human into the divine life. But
here there comes in the necessity of taking up the activities of
human life and sublimating them by the power of the spirit.
Here the lower perfection will not disappear; it will remain but
will be enlarged and transformed by the higher perfection which
only the power of the spirit can give. This will be evident if we
consider poetry and art, philosophic thought, the perfection of
the written word or the perfect organisation of earthly life: these
have to be taken up and the possibilities already achieved or
whatever perfection has already been attained included in a new
and greater perfection but with the larger vision and inspiration
of a spiritual consciousness and with new forms and powers. It
must be the same with the perfection of the body.
The taking up of life and Matter into what is essentially a
spiritual seeking, instead of the rejection and ultimate exclusion
of them which was the attitude of a spirituality that shunned
or turned away from life in the world, involves certain developments which a spiritual institution of the older kind could
regard as foreign to its purpose. A divine life in the world or
Perfection of the Body
an institution having that for its aim and purpose cannot be or
cannot remain something outside or entirely shut away from
the life of ordinary men in the world or unconcerned with the
mundane existence; it has to do the work of the Divine in the
world and not a work outside or separate from it. The life of
the ancient Rishis in their Ashramas had such a connection; they
were creators, educators, guides of men and the life of the Indian
people in ancient times was largely developed and directed by
their shaping influence. The life and activities involved in the new
endeavour are not identical but they too must be an action upon
the world and a new creation in it. It must have contacts and
connections with it and activities which take their place in the
general life and whose initial or primary objects may not seem
to differ from those of the same activities in the outside world.
In our Ashram here we have found it necessary to establish a
school for the education of the children of the resident sadhaks,
teaching upon familiar lines though with certain modifications
and taking as part and an important part of their development an intensive physical training which has given form to
the sports and athletics practised by the Jeunesse Sportive of the
Ashram and of which this Bulletin is the expression. It has been
questioned by some what place sports can have in an Ashram
created for spiritual seekers and what connection there can be
between spirituality and sports. The first answer lies in what
I have already written about the connections of an institution
of this kind with the activities of the general life of men and
what I have indicated in the previous number as to the utility
such a training can have for the life of a nation and its benefit
for the international life. Another answer can occur to us if we
look beyond first objects and turn to the aspiration for a total
perfection including the perfection of the body.
In the admission of an activity such as sports and physical
exercises into the life of the Ashram it is evident that the methods
and the first objects to be attained must belong to what we have
called the lower end of the being. Originally they have been
introduced for the physical education and bodily development
of the children of the Ashram School, and these are too young
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
for a strictly spiritual aim or practice to enter into their activities
and it is not certain that any great number of them will enter
the spiritual life when they are of an age to choose what shall
be the direction of their future. The object must be the training
of the body and the development of certain parts of mind and
character so far as this can be done by or in connection with this
training, and I have already indicated in a previous number how
and in what directions this can be done. It is a relative and human perfection that can be attained within these limits; anything
greater can be reached only by the intervention of higher powers,
psychic powers, the power of the spirit. Yet what can be attained
within the human boundaries can be something very considerable and sometimes immense: what we call genius is part of the
development of the human range of being, and its achievements,
especially in things of the mind and will, can carry us half-way
to the divine. Even what the mind and will can do with the body
in the field proper to the body and its life, in the way of physical
achievement, bodily endurance, feats of prowess of all kinds,
a lasting activity refusing fatigue or collapse and continuing
beyond what seems at first to be possible, courage and refusal
to succumb under an endless and murderous physical suffering,
these and other victories of many kinds sometimes approaching
or reaching the miraculous are seen in the human field and must
be reckoned as a part of our concept of a total perfection. The
unflinching and persistent reply that can be made by the body
as well as the mind of man and by his life-energy to whatever
call can be imposed on it in the most difficult and discouraging
circumstances by the necessities of war and travel and adventure
is of the same kind, and their endurance can reach astounding
proportions and even the inconscient in the body seems to be
able to return a surprising response.
The body, we have said, is a creation of the Inconscient
and itself inconscient or at least subconscient in parts of itself
and much of its hidden action; but what we call the Inconscient
is an appearance, a dwelling place, an instrument of a secret
Consciousness or a Superconscient which has created the miracle
we call the universe. Matter is the field and the creation of the
Perfection of the Body
Inconscient and the perfection of the operations of inconscient
Matter, their perfect adaptation of means to an aim and end, the
wonders they perform and the marvels of beauty they create,
testify, in spite of all the ignorant denial we can oppose, to the
presence and power of consciousness of this Superconscience in
every part and movement of the material universe. It is there in
the body, has made it and its emergence in our consciousness is
the secret aim of evolution and the key to the mystery of our
In the use of such activities as sports and physical exercises
for the education of the individual in childhood and first youth,
which should mean the bringing out of his actual and latent
possibilities to their fullest development, the means and methods
we must use are limited by the nature of the body and its aim
must be such relative human perfection of the body’s powers
and capacities and the powers of mind, will, character, action of
which it is at once the residence and the instrument so far as these
methods can help to develop them. I have written sufficiently
about the mental and moral parts of perfection to which these
pursuits can contribute and this I need not repeat here. For the
body itself the perfections that can be developed by these means
are those of its natural qualities and capacities and, secondly, the
training of its general fitness as an instrument for all the activities which may be demanded from it by the mind and the will,
by the life-energy or by the dynamic perceptions, impulses and
instincts of our subtle physical being which is an unrecognised
but very important element and agent in our nature. Health and
strength are the first conditions for the natural perfection of the
body, not only muscular strength and the solid strength of the
limbs and physical stamina, but the finer, alert and plastic and
adaptable force which our nervous and subtle physical parts can
put into the activities of the frame. There is also the still more
dynamic force which a call upon the life-energies can bring into
the body and stir it to greater activities, even feats of the most
extraordinary character of which in its normal state it would
not be capable. There is also the strength which the mind and
will by their demands and stimulus and by their secret powers
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
which we use or by which we are used without knowing clearly
the source of their action can impart to the body or impose upon
it as masters and inspirers.
Among the natural qualities and powers of the body which
can be thus awakened, stimulated and trained to a normal activity we must reckon dexterity and stability in all kinds of physical
action, such as swiftness in the race, dexterity in combat, skill
and endurance of the mountaineer, the constant and often extraordinary response to all that can be demanded from the body
of the soldier, sailor, traveller or explorer to which I have already made reference, or in adventure of all kinds and all the
wide range of physical attainment to which man has accustomed
himself or to which he is exceptionally pushed by his own will
or by the compulsion of circumstance. It is a general fitness of
the body for all that can be asked from it which is the common
formula of all this action, a fitness attained by a few or by
many, that could be generalised by an extended and many-sided
physical education and discipline. Some of these activities can
be included under the name of sports; there are others for which
sports and physical exercises can be an effective preparation. In
some of them a training for common action, combined movement, discipline are needed and for that our physical exercises
can make one ready; in others a developed individual will, skill
of mind and quick perception, forcefulness of life-energy and
subtle physical impulsion are more prominently needed and may
even be the one sufficient trainer. All must be included in our
conception of the natural powers of the body and its capacity
and instrumental fitness in the service of the human mind and
will, and therefore in our concept of the total perfection of the
There are two conditions for this perfection, an awakening
in as great an entirety as possible of the body consciousness and
an education, an evocation of its potentialities, also as entire
and fully developed and, it may be, as many-sided as possible.
The form or body is, no doubt, in its origin a creation of the
Inconscient and limited by it on all sides, but still of the Inconscient developing the secret consciousness concealed within
Perfection of the Body
it and growing in light of knowledge, power and Ananda. We
have to take it at the point it has reached in its human evolution
in these things, make as full a use of them as may be and, as
much as we can, further this evolution to as high a degree as is
permitted by the force of the individual temperament and nature.
In all forms in the world there is a force at work, unconsciously
active or oppressed by inertia in its lower formulations, but in
the human being conscious from the first, with its potentialities
partly awake, partly asleep or latent: what is awake in it we
have to make fully conscious; what is asleep we have to arouse
and set to its work; what is latent we have to evoke and educate.
Here there are two aspects of the body consciousness, one which
seems to be a kind of automatism carrying on its work in the
physical plane without any intervention of the mind and in parts
even beyond any possibility of direct observation by the mind
or, if conscious or observable, still proceeding or capable of
continuing, when once started, by an apparently mechanical
action not needing direction by the mind and continuing so long
as the mind does not intervene.
There are other movements taught and trained by the mind
which can yet go on operating automatically but faultlessly even
when not attended to by the thought or will; there are others
which can operate in sleep and produce results of value to the
waking intelligence. But more important is what may be described as a trained and developed automatism, a perfected skill
and capacity of eye and ear and the hands and all the members
prompt to respond to any call made on them, a developed spontaneous operation as an instrument, a complete fitness for any
demand that the mind and life-energy can make upon it. This
is ordinarily the best we can achieve at the lower end, when we
start from that end and limit ourselves to the means and methods
which are proper to it. For more we have to turn to the mind and
life-energy themselves or to the energy of the spirit and to what
they can do for a greater perfection of the body. The most we can
do in the physical field by physical means is necessarily insecure
as well as bound by limits; even what seems a perfect health and
strength of the body is precarious and can be broken down at
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
any moment by fluctuations from within or by a strong attack or
shock from outside: only by the breaking of our limitations can
a higher and more enduring perfection come. One direction in
which our consciousness must grow is an increasing hold from
within or from above on the body and its powers and its more
conscious response to the higher parts of our being. The mind
pre-eminently is man; he is a mental being and his human perfection grows the more he fulfils the description of the Upanishad, a
mental being, Purusha, leader of the life and the body. If the mind
can take up and control the instincts and automatisms of the lifeenergy and the subtle physical consciousness and the body, if it
can enter into them, consciously use and, as we may say, fully
mentalise their instinctive or spontaneous action, the perfection
of these energies, their action too become more conscious and
more aware of themselves and more perfect. But it is necessary
for the mind too to grow in perfection and this it can do best
when it depends less on the fallible intellect of physical mind,
when it is not limited even by the more orderly and accurate
working of the reason and can grow in intuition and acquire
a wider, deeper and closer seeing and the more luminous drive
of energy of a higher intuitive will. Even within the limits of its
present evolution it is difficult to measure the degree to which the
mind is able to extend its control or its use of the body’s powers
and capacities and when the mind rises to higher powers still
and pushes back its human boundaries, it becomes impossible
to fix any limits: even, in certain realisations, an intervention by
the will in the automatic working of the bodily organs seems to
become possible.
Wherever limitations recede and in proportion as they recede, the body becomes a more plastic and responsive and in
that measure a more fit and perfect instrument of the action of
the spirit. In all effective and expressive activities here in the
material world the cooperation of the two ends of our being is
indispensable. If the body is unable whether by fatigue or by
natural incapacity or any other cause to second the thought or
will or is in any way irresponsive or insufficiently responsive,
to that extent the action fails or falls short or becomes in some
Perfection of the Body
degree unsatisfying or incomplete. In what seems to be an exploit of the spirit so purely mental as the outpouring of poetic
inspiration, there must be a responsive vibration of the brain
and its openness as a channel for the power of the thought and
vision and the light of the word that is making or breaking its
way through or seeking for its perfect expression. If the brain
is fatigued or dulled by any clog, either the inspiration cannot
come and nothing is written or it fails and something inferior
is all that can come out; or else a lower inspiration takes the
place of the more luminous formulation that was striving to
shape itself or the brain finds it more easy to lend itself to a less
radiant stimulus or else it labours and constructs or responds
to poetic artifice. Even in the most purely mental activities the
fitness, readiness or perfect training of the bodily instrument is
a condition indispensable. That readiness, that response too is
part of the total perfection of the body.
The essential purpose and sign of the growing evolution here
is the emergence of consciousness in an apparently inconscient
universe, the growth of consciousness and with it growth of the
light and power of the being; the development of the form and
its functioning or its fitness to survive, although indispensable,
is not the whole meaning or the central motive. The greater and
greater awakening of consciousness and its climb to a higher
and higher level and a wider extent of its vision and action is
the condition of our progress towards that supreme and total
perfection which is the aim of our existence. It is the condition
also of the total perfection of the body. There are higher levels
of the mind than any we now conceive and to these we must
one day reach and rise beyond them to the heights of a greater,
a spiritual existence. As we rise we have to open to them our
lower members and fill these with those superior and supreme
dynamisms of light and power; the body we have to make a more
and more and even entirely conscious frame and instrument, a
conscious sign and seal and power of the spirit. As it grows
in this perfection, the force and extent of its dynamic action
and its response and service to the spirit must increase; the
control of the spirit over it also must grow and the plasticity
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
of its functioning both in its developed and acquired parts of
power and in its automatic responses down to those that are
now purely organic and seem to be the movements of a mechanic inconscience. This cannot happen without a veritable
transformation, and a transformation of the mind and life and
very body is indeed the change to which our evolution is secretly
moving and without this transformation the entire fullness of a
divine life on earth cannot emerge. In this transformation the
body itself can become an agent and a partner. It might indeed
be possible for the spirit to achieve a considerable manifestation
with only a passive and imperfectly conscious body as its last or
bottommost means of material functioning, but this could not be
anything perfect or complete. A fully conscious body might even
discover and work out the right material method and process of a
material transformation. For this, no doubt, the spirit’s supreme
light and power and creative joy must have manifested on the
summit of the individual consciousness and sent down their fiat
into the body, but still the body may take in the working out its
spontaneous part of self-discovery and achievement. It would be
thus a participator and agent in its own transformation and the
integral transformation of the whole being; this too would be a
part and a sign and evidence of the total perfection of the body.
If the emergence and growth of consciousness is the central
motive of the evolution and the key to its secret purpose, then
by the very nature of that evolution this growth must involve
not only a wider and wider extent of its capacities, but also
an ascent to a higher and higher level till it reaches the highest
possible. For it starts from a nethermost level of involution in
the Inconscience which we see at work in Matter creating the
material universe; it proceeds by an Ignorance which is yet ever
developing knowledge and reaching out to an ever greater light
and ever greater organisation and efficacy of the will and harmonisation of all its own inherent and emerging powers; it must
at last reach a point where it develops or acquires the complete
fullness of its capacity, and that must be a state or action in
which there is no longer an ignorance seeking for knowledge
but Knowledge self-possessed, inherent in the being, master of
Perfection of the Body
its own truths and working them out with a natural vision and
force that is not afflicted by limitation or error. Or if there is a
limitation, it must be a self-imposed veil behind which it would
keep truth back from manifestation in Time but draw it out at
will and without any need of search or acquisition in the order
of a right perception of things or in the just succession of that
which has to be manifested in obedience to the call of Time.
This would mean an entry or approach into what might
be called a truth-consciousness self-existent in which the being
would be aware of its own realities and would have the inherent
power to manifest them in a Time-creation in which all would
be Truth following out its own unerring steps and combining
its own harmonies; every thought and will and feeling and act
would be spontaneously right, inspired or intuitive, moving by
the light of Truth and therefore perfect. All would express inherent realities of the spirit; some fullness of the power of the
spirit would be there. One would have overpassed the present
limitations of mind: mind would become a seeing of the light of
Truth, will a force and power of the Truth, Life a progressive
fulfilment of the Truth, the body itself a conscious vessel of the
Truth and part of the means of its self-effectuation and a form
of its self-aware existence. It would be at least some initiation
of this Truth-consciousness, some first figure and action of it
that must be reached and enter into a first operation if there
is to be a divine life or any full manifestation of a spiritualised
consciousness in the world of Matter. Or, at the very least, such
a Truth-consciousness must be in communication with our own
mind and life and body, descend into touch with it, control its
seeing and action, impel its motives, take hold of its forces and
shape their direction and purpose. All touched by it might not
be able to embody it fully, but each would give some form to it
according to his spiritual temperament, inner capacity, the line of
his evolution in Nature: he would reach securely the perfection
of which he was immediately capable and he would be on the
road to the full possession of the truth of the Spirit and of the
truth of Nature.
In the workings of such a Truth-consciousness there would
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
be a certain conscious seeing and willing automatism of the steps
of its truth which would replace the infallible automatism of the
inconscient or seemingly inconscient Force that has brought out
of an apparent Void the miracle of an ordered universe, and
this could create a new order of the manifestation of the Being
in which a perfect perfection would become possible; even a
supreme and total perfection would appear in the vistas of an
ultimate possibility. If we could draw down this power into
the material world, our agelong dreams of human perfectibility,
individual perfection, the perfectibility of the race, of society,
inner mastery over self and a complete mastery, governance and
utilisation of the forces of Nature could see at long last a prospect
of total achievement. This complete human self-fulfilment might
well pass beyond limitations and be transformed into the character of a divine life. Matter after taking into itself and manifesting
the power of life and the light of mind would draw down into
it the superior or supreme power and light of the spirit and in
an earthly body shed its parts of inconscience and become a
perfectly conscious frame of the spirit. A secure completeness
and stability of the health and strength of its physical tenement
could be maintained by the will and force of this inhabitant;
all the natural capacities of the physical frame, all powers of
the physical consciousness would reach their utmost extension
and be there at command and sure of their flawless action. As
an instrument the body would acquire a fullness of capacity, a
totality of fitness for all uses which the inhabitant would demand
of it far beyond anything now possible. Even it could become
a revealing vessel of a supreme beauty and bliss, — casting the
beauty of the light of the spirit suffusing and radiating from it
as a lamp reflects and diffuses the luminosity of its indwelling
flame, carrying in itself the beatitude of the spirit, its joy of the
seeing mind, its joy of life and spiritual happiness, the joy of
Matter released into a spiritual consciousness and thrilled with
a constant ecstasy. This would be the total perfection of the
spiritualised body.
All this might not come all at once, though such a sudden
illumination might be possible if a divine Power and Light and
Perfection of the Body
Ananda could take their stand on the summit of our being and
send down their force into the mind and life and body illumining
and remoulding the cells, awaking consciousness in all the frame.
But the way would be open and the consummation of all that
is possible in the individual could progressively take place. The
physical also would have its share in that consummation of the
There would always remain vistas beyond as the infinite
Spirit took up towards higher heights and larger breadths the
evolving Nature, in the movement of the liberated being towards
the possession of the supreme Reality, the supreme existence,
consciousness, beatitude. But of this it would be premature to
speak: what has been written is perhaps as much as the human
mind as it is now constituted can venture to look forward to
and the enlightened thought understand in some measure. These
consequences of the Truth-consciousness descending and laying
its hold upon Matter would be a sufficient justification of the
evolutionary labour. In this upward all-uplifting sweep of the
Spirit there could be a simultaneous or consecutive downward
sweep of the triumph of a spiritualised Nature all-including, alltransmuting and in it there could occur a glorifying change of
Matter and the physical consciousness and physical form and
functioning of which we could speak as not only the total but
the supreme perfection of the body.
The Divine Body
DIVINE life in a divine body is the formula of the ideal
that we envisage. But what will be the divine body?
What will be the nature of this body, its structure, the
principle of its activity, the perfection that distinguishes it from
the limited and imperfect physicality within which we are now
bound? What will be the conditions and operations of its life,
still physical in its base upon the earth, by which it can be known
as divine?
If it is to be the product of an evolution, and it is so that
we must envisage it, an evolution out of our human imperfection and ignorance into a greater truth of spirit and nature, by
what process or stages can it grow into manifestation or rapidly
arrive? The process of the evolution upon earth has been slow
and tardy — what principle must intervene if there is to be a
transformation, a progressive or sudden change?
It is indeed as a result of our evolution that we arrive at the
possibility of this transformation. As Nature has evolved beyond
Matter and manifested Life, beyond Life and manifested Mind,
so she must evolve beyond Mind and manifest a consciousness and power of our existence free from the imperfection
and limitation of our mental existence, a supramental or truthconsciousness, and able to develop the power and perfection
of the spirit. Here a slow and tardy change need no longer
be the law or manner of our evolution; it will be only so to
a greater or less extent so long as a mental ignorance clings
and hampers our ascent; but once we have grown into the truthconsciousness its power of spiritual truth of being will determine
all. Into that truth we shall be freed and it will transform mind
and life and body. Light and bliss and beauty and a perfection of
the spontaneous right action of all the being are there as native
powers of the supramental truth-consciousness and these will in
The Divine Body
their very nature transform mind and life and body even here
upon earth into a manifestation of the truth-conscious spirit. The
obscurations of earth will not prevail against the supramental
truth-consciousness, for even into the earth it can bring enough
of the omniscient light and omnipotent force of the spirit to
conquer. All may not open to the fullness of its light and power,
but whatever does open must to that extent undergo the change.
That will be the principle of transformation.
It might be that a psychological change, a mastery of the
nature by the soul, a transformation of the mind into a principle
of light, of the life-force into power and purity would be the
first approach, the first attempt to solve the problem, to escape
beyond the merely human formula and establish something that
could be called a divine life upon earth, a first sketch of supermanhood, of a supramental living in the circumstances of the
earth-nature. But this could not be the complete and radical
change needed; it would not be the total transformation, the
fullness of a divine life in a divine body. There would be a body
still human and indeed animal in its origin and fundamental
character and this would impose its own inevitable limitations
on the higher parts of the embodied being. As limitation by ignorance and error is the fundamental defect of an untransformed
mind, as limitation by the imperfect impulses and strainings
and wants of desire are the defects of an untransformed lifeforce, so also imperfection of the potentialities of the physical
action, an imperfection, a limitation in the response of its halfconsciousness to the demands made upon it and the grossness
and stains of its original animality would be the defects of an
untransformed or an imperfectly transformed body. These could
not but hamper and even pull down towards themselves the
action of the higher parts of the nature. A transformation of the
body must be the condition for a total transformation of the
It might be also that the transformation might take place
by stages; there are powers of the nature still belonging to the
mental region which are yet potentialities of a growing gnosis
lifted beyond our human mentality and partaking of the light
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
and power of the Divine and an ascent through these planes,
a descent of them into the mental being might seem to be the
natural evolutionary course. But in practice it might be found
that these intermediate levels would not be sufficient for the total
transformation since, being themselves illumined potentialities
of mental being not yet supramental in the full sense of the word,
they could bring down to the mind only a partial divinity or raise
the mind towards that but not effectuate its elevation into the
complete supramentality of the truth-consciousness. Still these
levels might become stages of the ascent which some would
reach and pause there while others went higher and could reach
and live on superior strata of a semi-divine existence. It is not
to be supposed that all humanity would rise in a block into the
supermind; at first those only might attain to the highest or some
intermediate height of the ascent whose inner evolution has fitted
them for so great a change or who are raised by the direct touch
of the Divine into its perfect light and power and bliss. The large
mass of human beings might still remain for long content with a
normal or only a partially illumined and uplifted human nature.
But this would be itself a sufficiently radical change and initial
transformation of earth-life; for the way would be open to all
who have the will to rise, the supramental influence of the truthconsciousness would touch the earth-life and influence even its
untransformed mass and a hope would be there and a promise
eventually available to all which now only the few can share in
or realise.
In any case these would be beginnings only and could not
constitute the fullness of the divine life upon earth; it would be
a new orientation of the earthly life but not the consummation
of its change. For that there must be the sovereign reign of a
supramental truth-consciousness to which all other forms of life
would be subordinated and depend upon it as the master principle and supreme power to which they could look up as the goal,
profit by its influences, be moved and upraised by something of
its illumination and penetrating force. Especially, as the human
body had to come into existence with its modification of the
previous animal form and its erect figure of a new power of
The Divine Body
life and its expressive movements and activities serviceable and
necessary to the principle of mind and the life of a mental being,
so too a body must be developed with new powers, activities or
degrees of a divine action expressive of a truth-conscious being
and proper to a supramental consciousness and manifesting a
conscious spirit. While the capacity for taking up and sublimating all the activities of the earth-life capable of being spiritualised
must be there, a transcendence of the original animality and the
actions incurably tainted by it or at least some saving transformation of them, some spiritualising or psychicising of the
consciousness and motives animating them and the shedding of
whatever could not be so transformed, even a change of what
might be called its instrumental structure, its functioning and
organisation, a complete and hitherto unprecedented control
of these things must be the consequence or incidental to this
total change. These things have been already to some extent
illustrated in the lives of many who have become possessed of
spiritual powers but as something exceptional and occasional,
the casual or incomplete manifestation of an acquired capacity
rather than the organisation of a new consciousness, a new life
and a new nature. How far can such physical transformation
be carried, what are the limits within which it must remain to
be consistent with life upon earth and without carrying that
life beyond the earthly sphere or pushing it towards the supraterrestrial existence? The supramental consciousness is not a
fixed quantity but a power which passes to higher and higher
levels of possibility until it reaches supreme consummations of
spiritual existence fulfilling supermind as supermind fulfils the
ranges of spiritual consciousness that are pushing towards it
from the human or mental level. In this progression the body
also may reach a more perfect form and a higher range of its
expressive powers, become a more and more perfect vessel of
* *
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
This destiny of the body has rarely in the past been envisaged or
else not for the body here upon earth; such forms would rather
be imagined or visioned as the privilege of celestial beings and
not possible as the physical residence of a soul still bound to
terrestrial nature. The Vaishnavas have spoken of a spiritualised
conscious body, cinmaya deha; there has been the conception
of a radiant or luminous body, which might be the Vedic jyotirmaya deha. A light has been seen by some radiating from the
bodies of highly developed spiritual persons, even extending to
the emission of an enveloping aura and there has been recorded
an initial phenomenon of this kind in the life of so great a
spiritual personality as Ramakrishna. But these things have been
either conceptual only or rare and occasional and for the most
part the body has not been regarded as possessed of spiritual
possibility or capable of transformation. It has been spoken of
as the means of effectuation of the dharma and dharma here
includes all high purposes, achievements and ideals of life not
excluding the spiritual change: but it is an instrument that must
be dropped when its work is done and though there may be and
must be spiritual realisation while yet in the body, it can only
come to its full fruition after the abandonment of the physical
frame. More ordinarily in the spiritual tradition the body has
been regarded as an obstacle, incapable of spiritualisation or
transmutation and a heavy weight holding the soul to earthly
nature and preventing its ascent either to spiritual fulfilment
in the Supreme or to the dissolution of its individual being in
the Supreme. But while this conception of the role of the body
in our destiny is suitable enough for a sadhana that sees earth
only as a field of the ignorance and earth-life as a preparation
for a saving withdrawal from life which is the indispensable
condition for spiritual liberation, it is insufficient for a sadhana
which conceives of a divine life upon earth and liberation of
earth-nature itself as part of a total purpose of the embodiment
of the spirit here. If a total transformation of the being is our
aim, a transformation of the body must be an indispensable part
of it; without that no full divine life on earth is possible.
It is the past evolution of the body and especially its animal
The Divine Body
nature and animal history which seems to stand in the way of
this consummation. The body, as we have seen, is an offspring
and creation of the Inconscient, itself inconscient or only halfconscious; it began as a form of unconscious Matter, developed
life and from a material object became a living growth, developed mind and from the subconsciousness of the plant and the
initial rudimentary mind or incomplete intelligence of the animal
developed the intellectual mind and more complete intelligence
of man and now serves as the physical base, container and instrumental means of our total spiritual endeavour. Its animal
character and its gross limitations stand indeed as an obstacle
to our spiritual perfection; but the fact that it has developed a
soul and is capable of serving it as a means may indicate that it
is capable of further development and may become a shrine and
expression of the spirit, reveal a secret spirituality of Matter,
become entirely and not only half-conscious, reach a certain
oneness with the spirit. This much it must do, so far at least it
must transcend its original earth-nature, if it is to be the complete
instrument of the divine life and no longer an obstacle.
* *
Still the inconveniences of the animal body and its animal nature
and impulses and the limitations of the human body at its best
are there in the beginning and persist always so long as there is
not the full and fundamental liberation, and its inconscience or
half-conscience and its binding of the soul and mind and lifeforce to Matter, to materiality of all kinds, to the call of the
unregenerated earth-nature are there and constantly oppose the
call of the spirit and circumscribe the climb to higher things.
To the physical being it brings a bondage to the material instruments, to the brain and heart and senses, wed to materiality
and materialism of all kinds, to the bodily mechanism and its
needs and obligations, to the imperative need of food and the
preoccupation with the means of getting it and storing it as
one of the besetting interests of life, to fatigue and sleep, to
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
the satisfaction of bodily desire. The life-force in man also is
tied down to these small things; it has to limit the scope of its
larger ambitions and longings, its drive to rise beyond the pull
of earth and follow the heavenlier intuitions of its psychic parts,
the heart’s ideal and the soul’s yearnings. On the mind the body
imposes the boundaries of the physical being and the physical
life and the sense of the sole complete reality of physical things
with the rest as a sort of brilliant fireworks of the imagination,
of lights and glories that can only have their full play in heavens
beyond, on higher planes of existence, but not here; it afflicts
the idea and aspiration with the burden of doubt, the evidence
of the subtle senses and the intuition with uncertainty and the
vast field of supraphysical consciousness and experience with the
imputation of unreality and clamps down to its earth-roots the
growth of the spirit from its original limiting humanity into the
supramental truth and the divine nature. These obstacles can be
overcome, the denials and resistance of the body surmounted, its
transformation is possible. Even the inconscient and animal part
of us can be illumined and made capable of manifesting the godnature, even as our mental humanity can be made to manifest
the superhumanity of the supramental truth-consciousness and
the divinity of what is now superconscious to us, and the total
transformation made a reality here. But for this the obligations
and compulsions of its animality must cease to be obligatory
and a purification of its materiality effected by which that very
materiality can be turned into a material solidity of the manifestation of the divine nature. For nothing essential must be left out
in the totality of the earth-change; Matter itself can be turned
into a means of revelation of the spiritual reality, the Divine.
The difficulty is dual, psychological and corporeal: the first is
the effect of the unregenerated animality upon the life, especially
by the insistence of the body’s gross instincts, impulses, desires;
the second is the outcome of our corporeal structure and organic
instrumentation imposing its restrictions on the dynamism of the
higher divine nature. The first of these two difficulties is easier to
deal with and conquer; for here the will can intervene and impose
on the body the power of the higher nature. Certain of these
The Divine Body
impulses and instincts of the body have been found especially
harmful by the spiritual aspirant and weighed considerably in
favour of an ascetic rejection of the body. Sex and sexuality and
all that springs from sex and testifies to its existence had to be
banned and discarded from the spiritual life, and this, though
difficult, is not at all impossible and can be made a cardinal condition for the spiritual seeker. This is natural and unescapable in
all ascetic practice and the satisfaction of this condition, though
not easy at first to fulfil, becomes after a time quite feasible; the
overcoming of the sex instinct and impulse is indeed binding on
all who would attain to self-mastery and lead the spiritual life.
A total mastery over it is essential for all spiritual seekers, the
eradication of it for the complete ascetic. This much has to be
recognised and not diminished in its obligatory importance and
its principle.
But all recognition of the sex principle, as apart from the
gross physical indulgence of the sex impulse, could not be excluded from a divine life upon earth; it is there in life, plays a
large part and has to be dealt with, it cannot simply be ignored,
merely suppressed or held down or put away out of sight. In
the first place, it is in one of its aspects a cosmic and even a
divine principle: it takes the spiritual form of the Ishwara and
the Shakti and without it there could be no world-creation or
manifestation of the world-principle of Purusha and Prakriti
which are both necessary for the creation, necessary too in their
association and interchange for the play of its psychological
working and in their manifestation as soul and Nature fundamental to the whole process of the Lila. In the divine life itself
an incarnation or at least in some form a presence of the two
powers or their initiating influence through their embodiments
or representatives would be indispensable for making the new
creation possible. In its human action on the mental and vital
level sex is not altogether an undivine principle; it has its nobler
aspects and idealities and it has to be seen in what way and to
what extent these can be admitted into the new and larger life.
All gross animal indulgence of sex desire and impulse would
have to be eliminated; it could only continue among those who
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
are not ready for the higher life or not yet ready for a complete
spiritual living. In all who aspired to it but could not yet take
it up in its fullness sex will have to be refined, submit to the
spiritual or psychic impulse and a control by the higher mind
and the higher vital and shed all its lighter, frivolous or degraded
forms and feel the touch of the purity of the ideal. Love would
remain, all forms of the pure truth of love in higher and higher
steps till it realised its highest nature, widened into universal
love, merged into the love of the Divine. The love of man and
woman would also undergo that elevation and consummation;
for all that can feel a touch of the ideal and the spiritual must
follow the way of ascent till it reaches the divine Reality. The
body and its activities must be accepted as part of the divine
life and pass under this law; but, as in the other evolutionary
transitions, what cannot accept the law of the divine life cannot
be accepted and must fall away from the ascending nature.
Another difficulty that the transformation of the body has to
face is its dependence for its very existence upon food, and here
too are involved the gross physical instincts, impulses, desires
that are associated with this difficult factor, the essential cravings
of the palate, the greed of food and animal gluttony of the belly,
the coarsening of the mind when it grovels in the mud of sense,
obeys a servitude to its mere animal part and hugs its bondage
to Matter. The higher human in us seeks refuge in a temperate
moderation, in abstemiousness and abstinence or in carelessness
about the body and its wants and in an absorption in higher
things. The spiritual seeker often, like the Jain ascetics, seeks
refuge in long and frequent fasts which lift him temporarily at
least out of the clutch of the body’s demands and help him to
feel in himself a pure vacancy of the wide rooms of the spirit.
But all this is not liberation and the question may be raised
whether, not only at first but always, the divine life also must
submit to this necessity. But it could only deliver itself from
it altogether if it could find out the way so to draw upon the
universal energy that the energy would sustain not only the
vital parts of our physicality but its constituent matter with
no need of aid for sustenance from any outside substance of
The Divine Body
Matter. It is indeed possible even while fasting for very long
periods to maintain the full energies and activities of the soul
and mind and life, even those of the body, to remain wakeful
but concentrated in Yoga all the time, or to think deeply and
write day and night, to dispense with sleep, to walk eight hours
a day, maintaining all these activities separately or together, and
not feel any loss of strength, any fatigue, any kind of failure or
decadence. At the end of the fast one can even resume at once
taking the normal or even a greater than the normal amount
of nourishment without any transition or precaution such as
medical science enjoins, as if both the complete fasting and the
feasting were natural conditions, alternating by an immediate
and easy passage from one to the other, of a body already
trained by a sort of initial transformation to be an instrument
of the powers and activities of Yoga. But one thing one does
not escape and that is the wasting of the material tissues of the
body, its flesh and substance. Conceivably, if a practicable way
and means could only be found, this last invincible obstacle too
might be overcome and the body maintained by an interchange
of its forces with the forces of material Nature, giving to her
her need from the individual and taking from her directly the
sustaining energies of her universal existence. Conceivably, one
might rediscover and re-establish at the summit of the evolution
of life the phenomenon we see at its base, the power to draw from
all around it the means of sustenance and self-renewal. Or else
the evolved being might acquire the greater power to draw down
those means from above rather than draw them up or pull them
in from the environment around, all about it and below it. But
until something like this is achieved or made possible we have to
go back to food and the established material forces of Nature.
In fact we do, however unconsciously, draw constantly upon
the universal energy, the force in Matter to replenish our material existence and the mental, vital and other potencies in the
body: we do it directly in the invisible processes of interchange
constantly kept up by Nature and by special means devised by
her; breathing is one of these, sleep also and repose. But as her
basic means for maintaining and renewing the gross physical
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
body and its workings and inner potencies Nature has selected
the taking in of outside matter in the shape of food, its digestion,
assimilation of what is assimilable and elimination of what cannot or ought not to be assimilated; this by itself is sufficient for
mere maintenance, but for assuring health and strength in the
body so maintained it has added the impulse towards physical
exercise and play of many kinds, ways for the expenditure and
renewal of energy, the choice or the necessity of manifold action
and labour. In the new life, in its beginnings at least, it would not
be necessary or advisable to make any call for an extreme or precipitate rejection of the need of food or the established natural
method for the maintenance of the still imperfectly transformed
body. If or when these things have to be transcended it must
come as a result of the awakened will of the spirit, a will also
in Matter itself, an imperative evolutionary urge, an act of the
creative transmutations of Time or a descent from the transcendence. Meanwhile the drawing in of the universal energy by a
conscious action of the higher powers of the being from around
or from above, by a call to what is still to us a transcending consciousness or by an invasion or descent from the Transcendence
itself, may well become an occasional, a frequent or a constant
phenomenon and even reduce the part played by food and its
need to an incidence no longer preoccupying, a necessity minor
and less and less imperative.
Meanwhile food and the ordinary process of Nature can be
accepted, although its use has to be liberated from attachment
and desire and the grosser undiscriminating appetites and clutch
at the pleasures of the flesh which is the way of the Ignorance;
the physical processes have to be subtilised and the grossest
may have to be eliminated and new processes found or new
instrumentalities emerge. So long as it is accepted, a refined
pleasure in it may be permitted and even a desireless ananda of
taste take the place of the physical relish and the human selection
by likings and dislikings which is our present imperfect response
to what is offered to us by Nature. It must be remembered that
for the divine life on earth, earth and Matter have not to be
and cannot be rejected but have only to be sublimated and to
The Divine Body
reveal in themselves the possibilities of the spirit, serve the spirit’s
highest uses and be transformed into instruments of a greater
The divine life must always be actuated by the push towards
perfection; a perfection of the joy of life is part and an essential
part of it, the body’s delight in things and the body’s joy of life
are not excluded from it; they too have to be made perfect. A
large totality is the very nature of this new and growing way of
existence, a fullness of the possibilities of the mind transmuted
into a thing of light, of the life converted into a force of spiritual
power and joy, of the body transformed into an instrument of
a divine action, divine knowledge, divine bliss. All can be taken
into its scope that is capable of transforming itself, all that can
be an instrument, a vessel, an opportunity for the expression of
this totality of the self-manifesting Spirit.
* *
There is one problem raised by sex for those who would reject
in toto the obligations imposed by the animality of the body and
put forward by it as an insistent opposition in the way of the
aspirant to a higher life: it is the necessity of the prolongation
of the race for which the sex activity is the only means already
provided by Nature for living beings and inevitably imposed
upon the race. It is not indeed necessary for the individual seeker
after a divine life to take up this problem or even for a group
who do not seek after it for themselves alone but desire a wide
acceptance of it by mankind as at least an ideal. There will
always be the multitude who do not concern themselves with it
or are not ready for its complete practice and to these can be
left the care for the prolongation of the race. The number of
those who lead the divine life can be maintained and increased,
as the ideal extends itself, by the voluntary adhesion of those
who are touched by the aspiration and there need be no resort
to physical means for this purpose, no deviation from the rule of
a strict sexual abstinence. But yet there may be circumstances in
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
which, from another standpoint, a voluntary creation of bodies
for souls that seek to enter the earth-life to help in the creation
and extension of the divine life upon earth might be found to be
desirable. Then the necessity of a physical procreation for this
purpose could only be avoided if new means of a supraphysical
kind were evolved and made available. A development of this
kind must necessarily belong to what is now considered as the
sphere of the occult and the use of concealed powers of action
or creation not known or possessed by the common mind of the
race. Occultism means rightly the use of the higher powers of our
nature, soul, mind, life-force and the faculties of the subtle physical consciousness to bring about results on their own or on the
material plane by some pressure of their own secret law and its
potentialities, for manifestation and result in human or earthly
mind and life and body or in objects and events in the world
of Matter. A discovery or an extension of these little known or
yet undeveloped powers is now envisaged by some well-known
thinkers as a next step to be taken by mankind in its immediate
evolution; the kind of creation spoken of has not been included
among these developments, but it could well be considered as
one of the new possibilities. Even physical science is trying to
find physical means for passing beyond the ordinary instrumentation or procedure of Nature in this matter of propagation
or the renewal of the physical life-force in human or animal
beings; but the resort to occult means and the intervention of
subtle physical processes, if it could be made possible, would be
a greater way which could avoid the limitations, degradations,
incompleteness and heavy imperfection of the means and results
solely available to the law of material force.
In India there has been always from the earliest times a
widely spread belief in the possibility and reality of the use
of these powers by men with an advanced knowledge of these
secret things or with a developed spiritual knowledge and experience and dynamic force and even, in the Tantras, an organised
system of their method and practice. The intervention of the
Yogi in bringing about a desired birth of offspring is also generally believed in and often appealed to and the bestowal on
The Divine Body
the child so obtained of a spiritual attainment or destiny by his
will or his blessing is sometimes asked for and such a result is
recorded not only in the tradition of the past but maintained
by the witness of the present. But there is here still the necessity
of a resort to the normal means of propagation and the gross
method of physical Nature. A purely occult method, a resort
to supraphysical processes acting by supraphysical means for a
physical result would have to be possible if we are to avoid this
necessity: the resort to the sex impulse and its animal process
could not be transcended otherwise. If there is some reality in the
phenomenon of materialisation and dematerialisation claimed
to be possible by occultists and evidenced by occurrences many
of us have witnessed, a method of this kind would not be out of
the range of possibility. For in the theory of the occultists and in
the gradation of the ranges and planes of our being which Yogaknowledge outlines for us there is not only a subtle physical
force but a subtle physical Matter intervening between life and
gross Matter, and to create in this subtle physical substance and
precipitate the forms thus made into our grosser materiality is
feasible. It should be possible and it is believed to be possible
for an object formed in this subtle physical substance to make
a transit from its subtlety into the state of gross Matter directly
by the intervention of an occult force and process, whether with
or even without the assistance or intervention of some gross
material procedure. A soul wishing to enter into a body or form
for itself a body and take part in a divine life upon earth might
be assisted to do so or even provided with such a form by this
method of direct transmutation, without passing through birth
by the sex process or undergoing any degradation or any of the
heavy limitations in the growth and development of its mind
and material body inevitable to our present way of existence. It
might then assume at once the structure and greater powers and
functionings of the truly divine material body which must one
day emerge in a progressive evolution to a totally transformed
existence both of life and form in a divinised earth-nature.
But what would be the internal or external form and structure and what the instrumentation of this divine body? The
The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth
material history of the development of the animal and human
body has left it bound to a minutely constructed and elaborated
system of organs and a precarious order of thei