Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
She is a well-known name in the blogging world. Greatly admired for her witty writing on a wide range of topics related to life and family, and deeply respected for her sagely scripting on several sensitive topics related to society and culture. Yes, I am speaking of the one who has the uncanny ability to ‘cyber-nag’ with such politeness and kindness that as a reader you end up seeking more of her nagging because you know it isn’t nagging at all.
Then what is it? It is the unique scent of her deep personal wisdom acquired as a result of life-experience and the quintessential charm of her incomparable expression that is steeped in her love for the written word and the inspiration behind it, as well as for the reader who is bound to be touched by her words and the thought behind it.
Zephyr Nag has been blogging for many years now, but I ‘met’ her only a year ago. Yes, I know I have a lot to catch up on many great things on her blog. But I have already experienced many moments of awe and deep beauty during every visit to her blog. One particular post of hers, titled “Coming Full Circle” touched me deeply. It was originally published on her blog more than two years ago. I have read it a few times now, and every time I read it I feel she is telling not only a personal story but through her story is speaking of a phenomenon widely seen and experienced. Perhaps it is so because there is a deep psychological truth behind the ‘circular’ journey that she describes.
I began to see Zephyr’s journey in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s psycho-social evolutionary march of individuals and societies – from symbolic to typal to conventional to individualistic to subjective stages. (For anyone interested to know more about these stages, Sri Aurobindo’s book The Human Cycle is highly recommended. I will also be happy to share a brief summary of these stages on request.)
Another important insight that reveals itself in Zephyr’s sincere and heartfelt account of her personal journey to arrive at a more subjective, inward-oriented approach to religion has to do with the different possibilities of the interaction and intersection between Reason and Religion. Of course, here we are speaking of the real essence of religion, not the crude and infra-rational religionism, though in the larger evolutionary march, both for an individual and a society, everything serves a purpose. There can be no hope for anything supra-rational unless one has passed through infra-rational and rational stages.
No better way to describe this than to rely on Sri Aurobindo’s words from The Human Cycle:
“There are two aspects of religion, true religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect, beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some ﬁxed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system. Not that these things are altogether negligible or that they must be unworthy or unnecessary or that a spiritual religion need disdain the aid of forms, ceremonies, creeds or systems. On the contrary, they are needed by man because the lower members have to be exalted and raised before they can be fully spiritualised, before they can directly feel the spirit and obey its law. An intellectual formula is often needed by the thinking and reasoning mind, a form or ceremony by the aesthetic temperament or other parts of the infrarational being, a set moral code by man’s vital nature in their turn towards the inner life. But these things are aids and supports, not the essence; precisely because they belong to the rational and infrarational parts, they can be nothing more and, if too blindly insisted on, may even hamper the suprarational light. Such as they are, they have to be offered to man and used by him, but not to be imposed on him as his sole law by a forced and inﬂexible domination. In the use of them toleration and free permission of variation is the ﬁrst rule which should be observed. The spiritual essence of religion is alone the one thing supremely needful, the thing to which we have always to hold and subordinate to it every other element or motive.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 177-178)
“The deepest heart, the inmost essence of religion, apart from its outward machinery of creed, cult, ceremony and symbol, is the search for God and the finding of God. Its aspiration is to discover the Infinite, the Absolute, the One, the Divine, who is all these things and yet no abstraction but a Being. Its work is a sincere living out of the true and intimate relations between man and God, relations of unity, relations of difference, relations of an illuminated knowledge, an ecstatic love and delight, an absolute surrender and service, a casting of every part of our existence out of its normal status into an uprush of man towards the Divine and a descent of the Divine into man. All this has nothing to do with the realm of reason or its normal activities; its aim, its sphere, its process is suprarational.
“Reason has indeed a part to play in relation to this highest field of our religious being and experience, but that part is quite secondary and subordinate….Reason is safest when it is content to take the profound truths and experiences of the spiritual being and the spiritual life, just as they are given to it, and throw them into such form, order and language as will make them the most intelligible or the least unintelligible to the reasoning mind. Even then it is not quite safe, for it is apt to harden the order into an intellectual system and to present the form as if it were the essence….All it can do is to address the consciousness of man through his intellect and, when it has done, to say, “I have tried to give you the truth in a form and system which will make it intelligible and possible to you; if you are intellectually convinced or attracted, you can now seek the real knowledge, but you must seek it by other means which are beyond my province.”
“But there is another level of the religious life in which reason might seem justified in interfering more independently and entitled to assume a superior role.
“Religious forms and systems become effete and corrupt and have to be destroyed, or they lose much of their inner sense and become clouded in knowledge and injurious in practice, and in destroying what is effete or in negating aberrations reason has played an important part in religious history. But in its endeavour to get rid of the superstition and ignorance which have attached themselves to religious forms and symbols, intellectual reason unenlightened by spiritual knowledge tends to deny and, so far as it can, to destroy the truth and the experience which was contained in them…. A purely rational religion could only be a cold and bare Deism, and such attempts have always failed to achieve vitality and permanence; for they act contrary to the dharma, the natural law and spirit of religion. If reason is to play any decisive part, it must be an intuitive rather than an intellectual reason, touched always by spiritual intensity and insight. For it must be remembered that the infrarational also has behind it a secret Truth which does not fall within the domain of the Reason and is not wholly amenable to its judgments.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 131-135)
One of my all-time favourite Hindi movies is Guide. I have watched this movie countless times (yes, I have read R. K. Narayan‘s novel too, but this is one of those rare cases where I think the film is better than the novel). And every time I tear up during the scene when the simple and deeply faithful village headman tells Raju guide, whom the villagers think of as some sadhu or saint, that roads to reach the God are often highly zig-zag and therefore beyond our comprehension. What a profound truth, stated so simply! It is really this zig-zag of life that shows us our path to the Divine.
Zephyr’s journey of ‘coming full circle’ speaks of one such zig-zag experience of life.
I am absolutely thrilled to re-blog her article on Matriwords, and I am indeed grateful to her for giving me full freedom to re-present this circular journey as I ‘see’ it in the light of the Truth that I find in Sri Aurobindo’s vision and work.
What I find most fascinating in her account — from an academic point of view, which is why it fits in with the ‘research’ focus of Matriwords is this: it presents both a seeker’s personal journey and at the same time speaks of something that is quite widely prevalent in our times, almost like a trend of modern mentality that first questions, rejects and gradually discovers some subjective truth within which opens up a whole new path of seeking. Of course, many (perhaps the majority) are stuck at the questioning/rejecting phase. And that’s the beauty of her narrative – it speaks of the “full circle” as she calls it.
There is so much to ponder and reflect upon in Zephyr’s article, particularly toward the end where she lists her key insights (about Hinduism, about secularism and many other topics) that each of those points can become an opportunity for deep thinking and analysis.
At first I was tempted to do that kind of analysis but then wisdom intervened (thankfully) and I decided to let her words speak for themselves. Something about the inner truths hidden in Zephyr’s journey (and its account coming from a deeper place within her) stopped me from adding any of my interpretive voice. Yet, the personal truths she speaks of seem like a perfect demonstration of the universal truths and wisdom contained in some of Sri Aurobindo’s deeply sublime aphorisms, coming from a supra-rational height of spiritual realisation. The two kinds of truths seem so ‘made for each other’, as the readers will notice from the re-presentation below.
Sri Aurobindo’s voluminous works on philosophy, yoga, poetry, culture, society and politics are indeed incomparable and written from supra-rational heights of consciousness. And so is his extremely insightful and deeply spiritual collection of aphorisms, each of which is an opportunity and invitation for deep contemplation and meditation.
In this re-presentation, while I keep Zephyr’s words and expression intact selected aphorisms from Sri Aurobindo have been inserted to help bring out the essence of Zephyr’s thought and make her individual experience more universally relevant (as per my understanding).
So without further ado, I re-present here Zephyr’s journey of “Coming Full Circle” as I see it. Thank you, Zephyr for writing this piece, and for allowing me to showcase this here on Matriwords in this three-part series.
“Atheism is a necessary protest against the wickedness of the Churches and the narrowness of creeds. God uses it as a stone to smash these soiled card-houses.” (CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 456)
“Atheism is the shadow or dark side of the highest perception of God. Every formula we frame about God, though always true as a symbol, becomes false when we accept it as a sufﬁcient formula. The Atheist & Agnostic come to remind us of our error.”
“God’s negations are as useful to us as His afﬁrmations. It is He who as the Atheist denies His own existence for the better perfecting of human knowledge. It is not enough to see God in Christ & Ramakrishna & hear His words, we must see Him and hear Him also in Huxley & Haeckel.” (pp. 498-99)
When I hear the oft repeated assertion that one is an atheist or an agnostic, I am reminded of my own turbulent brushes with faith over the decades and wonder if they have arrived at the conclusion after careful study or on impulse.
My own journey of faith has been an eventful, sometimes painful and at other times exhilarating, going all the way from implicit faith, to skepticism and rebellion, to questions and arguments, to an extended period of agnostic theism, and to implicit faith yet again. Though I believe that one’s faith is personal and not meant for discussion or dissection, I wanted to share this special journey. Maybe it will help someone out there.