Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
To bring the group back to the topic after an interesting digression, Mridula Di reads the passage[i] they have been discussing:
“The country, the land is only the outward body of the nation, its annamaya kosh, or gross physical body; the mass of people, the life of millions who occupy and vivify the body of the nation with their presence, is the pranamaya kosh, the life-body of the nation.”
M: So you see here – he uses the two terms given to us by Indian thought. The yogic literature also speaks of this. There is this, the annamaya kosha which is basically the outer gross physical body. It is also translated as the food sheath or the physical sheath. Got it so far?
(A few nods in agreement.)
M: Good. And then there is the pranamaya kosha – the vital sheath or the life-sheath. You and I, we all have these – the outer physical, material body. And the prana/life-body, that which animates the outer physical body, without which there is no movement in the physical body. Right? So far, so good?
A few collective voices: yes.
M: Sri Aurobindo says that it is the same thing with a nation. In fact, he says elsewhere that it is the same thing with any collective. A nation too has an outer annamaya kosh, the physical geography, the land, rivers, mountains etc. And the pranamaya kosh of a nation is actually the people who are its life-body. Together these are outer gross body of the nation. Makes sense, so far?
A few collective voices: yeah,..un-ha…kind of.
M: Moving on further, he writes:
“Within the gross body is a subtler body, the thoughts, the literature, the philosophy, the mental and emotional activities, the sum of hopes, pleasures, aspirations, fulfilments, the civilisation and culture, which make up the sukshma sharir of the nation.”
Gul: I am totally lost now.
Hari: Me too.
M: No, no. You can’t be lost. Have patience. See, it is a matter of changing or re-orienting our way of thinking or rather way of seeing. It takes time. Let us see what he is telling us here. He is actually speaking of what in the yogic literature is referred to as the different koshas or sheaths of the being. Right?
(A few nods in agreement).
M: According to that thought or rather way of seeing, behind the outer gross body of annamaya kosha (which we translated as the food or physical sheath) and the pranamaya kosha (the vital/prana/life-body or sheath), is the manomaya kosha or the mental sheath or layer of the being. The part which is the seat of thoughts, thinking, intellect, reason etc. Just like you and I have that layer of our being, so does a nation. That’s what Sri Aurobindo is telling us here.
Gul: Hmmm…so can we read that sentence again?
Gul: So he is saying that the subtle body or the sukshma sharir of the nation is the manomaya kosh, which is basically a nation’s hopes, aspirations, literature, intellectual activity, philosophy etc. Is that so?
M: Yes, that is the subtle body or sukshma sharir.
Hari: OK. I get it now! (adds smilingly) Well, I think I got it.
Avi: I am not sure I really follow completely. But maybe as we go further I will probably be more at ease with all this.
M: Yes, of course. All this initial unease is part of the un-learning process, you see. Un-learning of our ordinary, outer ways of seeing things. But this is essential in a way if we want to get closer to a more Indianized way of perceiving our world around us. Forget the world, if we want to understand who we are even!
M: Let’s proceed a bit more. You will be more at ease, trust me.
Avi: If you say so.
M: So, there is the mental body or manomaya kosha. But generally what we understand as mental activity is that kind of activity which is almost entirely based on sensory perceptions and the ordinary activities of mind like rational thinking, analysis, speculation, etc. But all great literature, deeper thought and philosophy and higher mental work can definitely not be the result of such activity? Can it be?
Avi: Aha! I think I can see where you are going with this.
Colin: Oh? You can? Please enlighten us, buddy!
M: Let him speak, friends. Avi, please go ahead.
Avi (looking smilingly at Colin): I think what you are trying to say is that there has to be some higher mental faculty at work there, I think. Maybe even some intuitive faculty.
M: Exactly. And also some deeper faculty of discernment, perception of higher truths etc.
M: So that’s why Sri Aurobindo then draws our attention to two innermost sheaths that are part of the causal body.
Eesh: Is this the third body, that term that came up earlier?
M: Yes. A third body, besides the gross body and the subtle body. Remember the gross body consists of the two sheaths – the outer physical and life/vital sheaths. The third, causal body, or Karana sharir, is the real, deeper cause which is behind everything, deeply hidden.
Gul: Hmmm….so a nation has this third body too, this causal body? Is this what Sri Aurobindo says here?
M: Yes, indeed. In yogic literature we come across a term called vijnanamaya kosha, or the sheath of Knowledge. This is part of the causal body. It is that part within which is the source of higher knowledge, knowledge that is not the result of our ordinary mental reasoning, analysis, etc. Higher powers of discernment are also a part of this sheath. The higher knowledge or deeper philosophy or the highest religio-spiritual thought that a culture or civilization produces spring from this sheath of higher knowledge.
M: Isn’t it? And then, there is also the Anandamaya kosha, the sheath of Bliss. This too is part of the causal body.
Hari: Now what is that?
M: Well, before we get into that, let me read out the rest of the passage where Sri Aurobindo speaks of this causal body of the nation.
“This subtle life of the nation again springs from a deeper existence in the causal body of the nation, the peculiar temperament which it has developed out of its ages of experience and which makes it distinct from others.”
M: So you see, he speaks of a deeper existence here. Something that is in the causal body of the nation. That could be, in this view, the unique temperament which gives a nation its uniqueness, its deeper identity or individuality. That is in the deeper sheath of its being, and consists of a higher discerning knowledge…. Makes sense?
Falguni: To be honest, it is a bit over the head.
Gul: I agree. You are asking us to look at a nation, our nation, in a really new way. And maybe that’s why it sounds a bit too heavy.
Colin: But I feel that the more we begin to apply this new way to understand our nation, we’ll find it easier to grasp.
Avi: Exactly, that’s how I feel too. That’s really an interesting way to look at a nation. We need to think of some practical examples.
M: Yes, we must. And you are right too, Gul! We aren’t used to thinking this way, we only look at things outwardly in our ordinary experience. As Avi and Colin say, once we begin to apply this understanding to make sense of all that goes around in our country, it will be easier to grasp these ideas. Let’s go into a bit more of this general understanding and then we can think of some appropriate examples. Alright?
Colin: Sure. But can we go back to the passage you just read….
M: Yes, sure. Tell me.
Colin: Do I understand correctly that he says that the subtle life of the nation, that is the mental activity etc springs or flows from this causal body, this deeper source?
M: Yes, you are absolutely right there! It is this deeper source, the causal body, the high seat of Higher Knowledge which is the real cause or reason or source behind all higher intellectual, creative life of a nation, all that actitivity which is part of the manomaya kosha, the mental part.
Dia: Hmmm….I see.
Colin: Yeah, you do?
M: And you will also see, not surprisingly, that most of the time as a nation we exist in the outer layers/sheaths only – the gross body, or maybe a bit of the mental body, isn’t that so?
Binoy: Yes, that’s true. But it is also true of all of us, I mean, we the people. Isn’t that so?
M: Exactly. What is true of the individual, is also true of the group or collective, remember?
M: But think about something else for a minute. To think of a peculiar national temperament which is in a way the source of everything that we see or perceive about a nation. Now, doesn’t that sound interesting? Doesn’t that give us a new lens to understand all that happens in a country?
Binoy: Yeah! it does, it does! I think I am beginning to follow this line of thought now. It will be an interesting thing to figure out what that peculiar temperament is for India.
M: Yes it will definitely be. But we must remember we are not speaking of a surface level psychological or attitudinal temperament. It is part of the deeper layers of our being, both as individuals and as a nation.
Dia: I think it will be an important challenge for us to figure out some of that.
M: Yes, hopefully in the coming days we could spend some time on that. And perhaps it will also be interesting to see if you and I also carry within us some of that peculiar temperament. No?
Binoy: Yes, indeed. Hmmm…this is definitely making me curious now!
(A little laughter.)
M: Well, all in good time. For now, let us move on to what we were discussing. Shall I read some more?
Eesh: Di, maybe we should stop here, it is a bit too much for today!
Dia: Yes, I agree with Eesh. Let’s take it up in the next session.
(A few collective voices in agreement.)
M: Sure. No problem. It has been a long session anyway. Next time, we’ll pick up from the same passage that we have been reading….
Dia: But Di, remember we also said we’ll talk a bit about why we have the concentration in the beginning of our class.
Avi: Yeah, we should begin with that.
M: Yes, that’s a good idea. But of course, we will begin with our discussion only after the concentration.
M: So, see you all next time. In the meantime, do read up a few times the particular passage we have been discussing, think a little more about it if you can.
(The group members begin to gather their things and prepare to leave).
[i] CWSA, Volume 7, pp. 1115-1116