Life, a field for progress. An actual, real, throbbing, vibrant, pulsating, living field for putting to real, outward test whatever little progress there might have been on the inside. Is that inner progress real? Life asks the question, we have to answer it.
Mind generally has a tendency to enjoy processing various kinds of inputs it receives through experiences, memories – conscious and subconscious, ideas and thoughts, all of which it then weaves into various kinds of theories, stories, webs, illusions, delusions, imaginations, problems, solutions, and all that. It has also a tendency to get caught up in these stories and webs, and start imagining that it is in reality responsible for creating all those ideas and thoughts in the first place. It forgets that for the most part it simply works as an open market place where all sorts of ideas and thoughts come to seduce the buyer. Will the buyer, the mind be seduced enough to ‘buy in’? Or will it be able to exercise its discerning power to say no to some wares and yes to some others?
But Life works differently. Life forces us to come out of an often mind-less mental track or web of ideas and thoughts, of stories and theories, and poses the real question — “do you really believe all those stories that you make up? Do you really mean what you say when you tell your story or espouse your theory? Or do you say all that simply because it sounds good? Or because it shows you off in a certain light, in a certain way, way that you want others to see you – for their attention, acceptance, sympathy or something more? But do you, yes you, really believe that that image is really you? Do you know that to be you? Show me. Show me that you can live what you speak, and then we’ll talk! Live the life I give you, with all its challenges, struggles, ups and downs that I am placing before you, and then we’ll talk!”
Life offers us no choice, but to accept the challenge. And we do it not out of any compulsion, but because we must. We accept the challenge, perhaps because deep inside we know that that is the only way to live Life. To meet all that Life offers in the right spirit, with the right attitude because that is the only way to master Life. Deep inside something in us knows that in affirming Life in this way, in living Life this way hides our way to progress, our path to liberation, our means to perfection. Individualized for each one of us, custom-made for each one of us.
But how to approach and live this individualized Life as a means to that inner fulfillment, inner progress and inner perfection we seek? What is that right attitude and right spirit with which to make our custom-made life a path to our liberation?
Two possibilities arise: the method of exaggeration of Life, and the method of upraising the Life.
The Spirit is a higher infinite of verities; life is a lower infinite of possibilities which seek to grow and find their own truth and fulfilment in the light of these verities. Our intellect, our will, our ethical and our aesthetic being are the reflectors and the mediators.
The method of the West* is to exaggerate life and to call down as much—or as little—as may be of the higher powers to stimulate and embellish life.
But the method of India is on the contrary to discover the spirit within and the higher hidden intensities of the superior powers and to dominate life in one way or another so as to make it responsive to and expressive of the spirit and in that way increase the power of life. Its tendency with the intellect, will, ethical, aesthetic and emotional being is to sound indeed their normal mental possibilities, but also to upraise them towards the greater light and power of their own highest intuitions. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 15-16)
Note: * Just so some ‘modern’ minds don’t over-react to the phrase ‘the method of the West’, it maybe worthwhile to add that the ‘West’ here is less about a geographical marker but rather more a representative of a particular outlook on life, existence, reality, knowledge and truth. In other words, ‘the method of the West’ is more about a rational-materialistic approach to Life, which views Spirit as something outside, something separate from Life; whereas ‘the method of India’ is about a more integral approach where Spirit is not removed from Life and Matter, just hidden and hence Life becomes a means to unveil that hidden spirit.*
The first method, by exaggerating the Life As Is and by only embellishing it here and there with the powers of the Spirit, offers one path to grow in our progress. But it is predominantly an outer progress only, and may eventually take us deeper into an inner cage, golden and gem-studded though it may be. This cage with its captivating aesthetic appeal, high intellectual ideas, and enthralling advancement in our material life is still that, a cage. Even the embellishments we occasionally add from the house of the Spirit are mainly add-ons, done primarily for the purpose of making Mind – intellect, emotion, aesthetics, ethics, everything – more effective means for fulfilling the ever-increasing and incessant demands and desires of Life. The cage created in this process may engage, amuse and entertain us for a while, a long while it could be. But something deep inside we know there is more to Life, Life outside the cage, Life that liberates or at least has the potential to liberate.
That’s when we turn to the method of upraising the Life. And there is only one way to do that. By turning inside. By not rejecting anything that Life offers — neither the intellect nor the emotion, neither the aesthetic nor the ethical, neither the good nor the bad; but by journeying the inner path to discover the hidden spirit behind them all, by raising everything to their highest possible meaning and purpose, by not merely exaggerating or embellishing Life As Is, but by elevating and transforming Life in the light of Spirit. In essence, by dominating the Life through the hidden powers of the Spirit.
How do we begin the path of upraising the Life? How do we begin the journey to anywhere? By walking the path. By taking the first step. By recognizing that just as the destination of this journey lies within us, so is the key to the door which opens the path of this journey. The key doesn’t have to be created anew, it is simply hidden at the moment, hidden behind the mix of things that cloud up our vision. We need to clear our way of seeing first.
The mix of all the good and the bad, the up and the down, the contentment and the confusion, the tranquility and the turmoil that Life presents on our individualized life-paths must become the grist for the mill, so to speak. It must become the means and the way to our inner progress because that’s what it really is, in essence.
But even this seeing and recognition of this real meaning and purpose behind this mix of Life’s offerings comes only when the Light of the Spirit shines upon the dark and hidden, the sleepy and sluggish corners of the mind. And that’s how with each little effort made to wake up in the Light, each little step taken to step out and walk in that Light helps upraise the life, helps uplift every little or big experience, every victory or failure, every up or down, every gain or loss, every good or bad.
When we begin to see, recognize, accept and work through each of these experiences with lesser and lesser inner excitement (in either direction – up or down) – and with more and more inner calmness and equanimity, we can be sure that we are indeed making progress, real progress.
This progress is qualitatively and essentially different from the one made when we only exaggerate Life. This progress is transformative in nature, because it opens up an entirely new way of looking at, and more importantly, of living Life. It places Mind not in conflict with Life, but facilitates a harmony between the two by making each see that both are in their true essence reflecting the Light of the Spirit. It helps them recognize that both must rise to their fuller and greater possibilities – via the route of all that they experience – and rise consciously. It helps them realize that in such development and upraising rests their true and real purpose.
This is a progress aimed to gain a real mastery over Life. An inner self-mastery, a true control over how to experience Life.