Author: Beloo Mehra, Published in Sri Aurobindo’s Action, Vol. 50 (8 & 9, Aug-Sept 2019), pp. 5-6
“Western civilisation is proud of its successful modernism. But there is much that it has lost in the eagerness of its gains and much which men of old strove towards that it has not even attempted to accomplish.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 81)
This is not true of only Western civilisation anymore. In the East, in India, and wherever else we find strong impact of the ‘modernism’ of the Western variety, we find similar story being played out. Indeed, the modernism, especially the modern science, has brought some valuable gains too, but there is much that has been lost. In the name of modernity, societies are getting oppressed by what Sri Aurobindo refers to as “unashamed mass of ugliness and vulgarity, … unchastened external utilitarianism, … vitalistic riot and the morbid exaggeration and unsoundness of many of its growths,” resulting from an “uneliminated survival of the triumphant barbarian” (ibid, p. 82, emphasis added).
This is because the Western variety of modernism – driven primarily by the advent of modern science and the age of rational individualism – is entirely a child of the Mind, at the service of exaggerating and embellishing Life. The nature of progress unleashed by this has very little real connection with inner dimensions of Life – that real throbbing, pulsating, vibrant field for multi-faceted human progress.
While Sri Aurobindo in the passage quoted above concerns more with the civilisational or collective problem, a more immediate question for us, emerging from his analysis, would be – how to approach and live our individual lives as means to the progress and perfection we seek, without getting caught up in the web of ‘external utilitarianism’ or ‘a vitalistic riot’? What is that right attitude and right spirit with which to make our life a path to our sound and integral growth?
Two possibilities arise: the method of exaggeration of Life, and the method of upraising the Life.
“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. (ibid, pp. 15-16)
Let me add that the ‘West’ here is not really a geographical marker but rather a descriptor 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 progress. But it is predominantly an outer progress only, and may eventually dig 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 mostly add-ons, done primarily for the purpose of making Mind – intellect, emotion, aesthetics, ethics – 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 for it – by turning inside. It doesn’t involve rejecting anything that Life offers, nor does it reject anything concerned with the Mind – intellect, emotion, aesthetics, or ethics. It works by journeying the inner path to discover the hidden spirit behind them all, by raising everything to their highest possible meaning and purpose, by dominating the Life through the hidden powers of the Spirit.
The destination of this journey lies within us, and so are its pathways and the detours. The key which can open up this pathway is perhaps 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 ups and the downs, the contentment and the confusion, the tranquility and the turmoil that Life presents on our individual life-paths must become the grist for the mill, so to speak. It must become the means and the way to our inner progress.
Only when the Light of the Spirit shines upon the dark, hidden, sleepy and sluggish corners of our minds, we begin to see and recognise the real meaning and purpose behind all that life offers us. With each little effort made to wake up in the Light, with each little step taken to step out and walk in that Light we begin to upraise the life, to 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 different from the one made when we only exaggerate Life, the progress unleashed by the Western variety of modernism. 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 because essentially both, in their true essence, not only express but are also moved by the Spirit. It helps both rise consciously to their fuller and greater possibilities via all that they experience. 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.