Effort was the helper; Effort is the bar

An aphorism by Sri Aurobindo and it’s explanation:

When we have passed beyond knowings, then we shall have Knowledge. Reason was the helper; Reason is the bar.

Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental Manifestation: The Goal

This aphorism depicts the transition between two stages in spiritual life:

  1. In the first stage, one must purify one’s nature by rejecting lower impulses and habits and maintaining a constant will/aspiration towards the Divine. This requires conscious effort and indeed, Effort is the helper at this stage.
  2. In the second stage, one must surrender and not make any effort because the Divine has responded to our aspiration. A greater power descends into us, animates us, and transforms our consciousness. At this point, Effort is the bar because the desire to achieve, to control the Divine, to shape the formation of this new consciousness inevitably leads to the formation of the spiritual ego.

Another way to explain this is in terms of riding a bicycle:

  1. Initially, one has to struggle to stay off the ground.
  2. Later, one can give up the effort and just glide effortlessly.

When we have passed beyond willings,then we shall have Power.

This part of the aphorism indicates that first we must use our will-power, then we will have (Divine) Power within.

The Mother on this aphorism

And he (Sri Aurobindo) contrasts these “willings” — that is, all these superficial wills, often opposite and contradictory and without any lasting basis because they are founded on what he calls a “knowing” and not on knowledge — with the true will. These willings are necessarily fragmentary, sing, and often in opposition to one another, and this is what gives to the individual life and even to the collective its nature of incoherence, inconsistency and confusion….The word “will” is normally reserved to indicate what comes from the deeper being or the higher reality and what expresses in action the true knowledge which Sri Aurobindo has contrasted with knowings. So, when this will which expresses the true knowledge manifests in action, it manifests through the intervention of a deep and direct power which no longer requires any effort. And that is why Sri Aurobindo says here that the true power for action cannot come until one has gone beyond the stage of willings, that is, until the motive of action is the result not of a mere mental activity but of true knowledge.

True knowledge acting in the outer being gives true power.

This seems to be an explanation, the real explanation of that very familiar saying which is not understood in its essence but expresses a truth: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, to will is to have the power. It is quite obvious that this does not refer to “willings”, that is, to the more or less incoherent expression of desires but to the true will expressing a true knowledge; for this true will carries in itself the force of truth which gives power — an invincible power. And so, when one expresses “willings”, to be able to apply them in life and make them effective, some effort must come in — it is through personal effort that one progresses, and it is through effort that one imposes one’s willings upon life to make it yield to their demands — but when they are no longer willings, when it is the true will expressing the true knowledge, effort is no longer required, for the power is omnipotent.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 21 November 1956

Sri Aurobindo’s description of these two stages in spiritual life 

For here, there are two movements with a transitional stage between them, two periods of this Yoga: one of the process of surrender, the other of its crown and consequence.

In the first the individual prepares himself for the reception of the Divine into his members. For all this first period he has to work by means of the instruments of the lower Nature, but aided more and more from above. But in the later transitional stage of this movement our personal and necessarily ignorant effort more and more dwindles and a higher Nature acts; the eternal Shakti descends into this limited form of mortality and progressively possesses and transmutes it. In the second period the greater movement wholly replaces the lesser, formerly indispensable first action; but this can be done only when our self-surrender is complete. The ego person in us cannot transform itself by its own force or will or knowledge or by any virtue of its own into the nature of the Divine; all it can do is to fit itself for the transformation and make more and more its surrender to that which it seeks to become. As long as the ego is at work in us, our personal action is and must always be in its nature a part of the lower grades of existence; it is obscure or half-enlightened, limited in its field, very partially effective in its power. If a spiritual transformation, not a mere illumining modification of our nature, is to be done at all, we must call in the Divine Shakti to effect that miraculous work in the individual; for she alone has the needed force, decisive, all-wise and illimitable. But the entire substitution of the divine for the human personal action is not at once entirely possible. All interference from below that would falsify the truth of the superior action must first be inhibited or rendered impotent, and it must be done by our own free choice. A continual and always repeated refusal of the impulsions and falsehoods of the lower nature is asked from us and an insistent support to the Truth as it grows in our parts; for the progressive settling into our nature and final perfection of the incoming informing Light, Purity and Power needs for its development and sustenance our free acceptance of it and our stubborn rejection of all that is contrary to it, inferior or incompatible.

In the first movement of self-preparation, the period of personal effort, the method we have to use is this concentration of the whole being on the Divine that it seeks and, as its corollary, this constant rejection, throwing out, katharsis, of all that is not the true Truth of the Divine. An entire consecration of all that we are, think, feel and do will be the result of this persistence. This consecration in its turn must culminate in an integral self-giving to the Highest; for its crown and sign of completion is the whole nature’s all-comprehending absolute surrender. In the second stage of the Yoga, transitional between the human and the divine working, there will supervene an increasing purified and vigilant passivity, a more and more luminous divine response to the Divine Force, but not to any other; and there will be as a result the growing inrush of a great and conscious miraculous working from above. In the last period there is no effort at all, no set method, no fixed sadhana; the place of endeavour and Tapasya will be taken by a natural, simple, powerful and happy disclosing of the flower of the Divine out of the bud of a purified and perfected terrestrial nature. These are the natural successions of the action of the Yoga.

These movements are indeed not always or absolutely arranged in a strict succession to each other. The second stage begins in part before the first is completed; the first continues in part until the second is perfected; the last divine working can manifest from time to time as a promise before it is finally settled and normal to the nature. Always too there is something higher and greater than the individual which leads him even in his personal labour and endeavour. Often he may become, and remain for a time, wholly conscious, even in parts of his being permanently conscious, of this greater leading behind the veil, and that may happen long before his whole nature has been purified in all its parts from the lower indirect control. Even, he may be thus conscious from the beginning; his mind and heart, if not his other members, may respond to that seizing and penetrating guidance with a certain initial completeness from the very first steps of the Yoga. But it is the constant and complete and uniform action of the great direct control that more and more distinguishes the transitional stage as it proceeds and draws to its close. This predominance of a greater diviner leading, not personal to ourselves, indicates the nature’s increasing ripeness for a total spiritual transformation. It is the unmistakable sign that the self-consecration has not only been accepted in principle but is fulfilled in act and power. The Supreme has laid his luminous hand upon a chosen human vessel of his miraculous Light and Power and Ananda.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: Self-Consecration

3 thoughts on “Effort was the helper; Effort is the bar

  1. laxmi

    I loved the part above from Sri Aurobindo’s description of these two stages in spiritual life.

    The following passage speaks on the “double inner life”.

    “Your difficulty in getting rid of the aboriginal in your nature will remain so long as you try to change your vital part by the sole or main strength of your mind and mental will, calling in at most an indefinite and impersonal divine power to aid you. It is an old difficulty which has never been radically solved in life itself because it has never been met in the true way. In many ways of yoga it does not so supremely matter because the aim is not a transformed life but withdrawal from life. When that is the object of an endeavour, it may be sufficient to keep the vital down by a mental and moral compulsion, or else it may be stilled and kept lying in a kind of sleep and quiescence. There are some even who allow it to run and exhaust itself if it can while its possessor professes to be untouched and unconcerned by it; for it is only old Nature running on by a past impetus and will drop off with the fall of the body. When none of these solutions can be attained, the sadhak sometimes simply leads a double inner life, divided between his spiritual experiences and his vital weaknesses to the end, making the most of his better part, making as little as may be of the outer being. But none of these methods will do for our purpose. If you want a true mastery and transformation of the vital movements, it can be done only on condition you allow your psychic being, the soul in you, to awake fully, to establish its rule and opening all to the permanent touch of the Divine Shakti, impose its own way of pure devotion, whole-hearted aspiration and complete uncompromising urge to all that is divine on the mind and heart and vital nature. There is no other way and it is no use hankering after a more comfortable path. Nanyah pantha vidyate ayanaya.

    Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Physical – VIII

    (Sandeep: the Sanskrit verse above “Nanyah pantha vidyate ayanaya” means “No other way is known for eternal life” and it comes from the Yajurveda 31:18)

    Reply
  2. Pingback: The role of intellectual development in the spiritual path | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. Sandeep Post author

    This aphorism resembles the Bhagavad Gita 6.3

    aruruksor muner yogam
    karma karanam ucyate
    yogarudhasya tasyaiva
    samah karanam ucyate

    The neophyte in yoga has to put in effort, but one who has already attained to perfection can cease effort.

    Reply

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