Any activity, if done with the right attitude, can elevate the consciousness and prepare the foundation for an integral union with the Divine. This was the rationale behind Sri Aurobindo’s assertion “All life is Yoga“. A previous post discussed how the study of science can aid in Yoga. In this post, we cover Sri Aurobindo & The Mother’s thoughts on how artistic endeavours such as poetry, painting and music can aid in the Yogic effort.
Spirituality is a wider thing than formal religion and it is in the service of spirituality that Art reaches its highest self-expression. Spirituality is a single word expressive of three lines of human aspiration towards divine knowledge, divine love and joy, divine strength, and that will be the highest and most perfect Art which, while satisfying the physical requirements of the aesthetic sense, the laws of formal beauty, the emotional demand of humanity, the portrayal of life and outward reality, reaches beyond them and expresses inner spiritual truth, the deeper not obvious reality of things, the joy of God in the world and its beauty and desirableness and the manifestation of divine force and energy in phenomenal creation.
Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God: The National Value of Art – V
Art nourishes the aesthetic sensibility just as Science develops the logical abilities. (See Ethical, Logical and Aesthetic Mind). The purpose of using Art as a practice within Yoga is to nurture the ability to materialize the purest Divine vibration through oneself. The essential quality of any piece of Art depends on the inspiration behind it – the root of its original vibration. This inspiration can come from any of the occult planes of the Universe (see Cosmology). If the inspiration is poor, the quality of Art is vulgar and banal. But as we expand in consciousness through Yoga, our intuition starts to tap into the Highest worlds, and we become capable of materializing those stirring, pure and heavenly vibrations which turn into inspiring works of music, painting and poetry. All artistic endeavours are, in reality, a disguised and unconscious attempt to materialize these pure vibrations. Art, as part of Yoga, can be made a medium for expressing that which is noble and spiritual within us.
We tend to appreciate only that which excites us at the current stage of our evolution. Those who are young and carefree prefer loud music. Consequently, it is not easy to distinguish the mystic touch present in a work of Art because the values by which a piece is judged may change depending on the civilizational values. But overall, the music that makes the heart throb, feet tap and hips shake is quite different from the music which touches the deepest recesses of the heart and evokes that feeling of adoration towards the Divine. The first is an example of superficial vital excitement while the second is a sign of psychic aspiration. Similarly, the painting or photograph that may seem visually appealing is distinct from the painting which opens the door to Eternity. And the poem which makes one sentimental for smaller joys of life is of lesser quality than the one which evokes in one the desire for union with the Divine. The ability to discriminate this mystic touch behind a piece of Art is something which only comes with the growth of the psychic within us. Nevertheless, it is something which must be kept in mind in all artistic efforts.
Right attitude is important
Like all activities in Yoga, artistic skills must be perfected in the spirit of surrender to the Divine rather than for improving self-esteem as is commonly observed. These are a couple of excerpts from Sri Aurobindo on this topic.
But the main thing (behind Art) is a certain preparation of the consciousness so that it may be able to respond more and more freely to the higher Force. In this preparation many things are useful—the poetry and music you are doing can help, for it acts as a sort of śravana [hearing] and manana [thinking], even if the feeling roused is intense, a sort of natural nididhyāsana [contemplation]. (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – IV)
(Note: Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana (hearing, reflection and then contemplation) are the three steps in which one gains knowledge as per Vedanta.)
Every artist almost (there can be rare exceptions) has got something of the “public” man in him in his vital-physical parts, which makes him crave for the stimulus of an audience, social applause, satisfied vanity, appreciation, fame. That must go absolutely, if you want to be a Yogi, — your art must be a service not of your own ego, not of anyone or anything else but solely of the Divine. (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Poetry and Art: Ambition and the Desire for Fame)
Purification of the emotional being
Art aids the purification of the emotional being – that turbulent piece of consciousness which is centered from the throat to the navel and which powers our desires and ambitions. This purification, denoted as cittasuddhi in Yoga and similar to the katharsis that Aristotle spoke of, is a very important prerequisite in the Yoga of Self-Perfection discussed by Sri Aurobindo in the Synthesis of Yoga. The restrained psychic delight which comes with the perfection of artistic skills makes the consciousness of Man less coarse and more receptive to the Divine.
(This purification) is done in poetry by the detached and disinterested enjoyment of the eight rasasor forms of emotional aestheticism which make up life unalloyed by the disturbance of the lower self-regarding passions. Painting and sculpture work in the same direction by different means. Art sometimes uses the same means as poetry but cannot do it to the same extent because it has not the movement of poetry; it is fixed, still, it expresses only a given moment, a given point in space and cannot move freely through time and region. But it is precisely this stillness, this calm, this fixity which gives its separate value to Art. Poetry raises the emotions and gives each its separate delight. Art stills the emotions and teaches them the delight of a restrained and limited satisfaction, – this indeed was the characteristic that the Greeks, a nation of artists far more artistic than poetic, tried to bring into their poetry. Music deepens the emotions and harmonises them with each other. Between them music, art and poetry are a perfect education for the soul; they make and keep its movement purified, self-controlled, deep and harmonious. These, therefore, are agents which cannot profitably be neglected by humanity on its onward march or degraded to the mere satisfaction of sensuous pleasure which will disintegrate rather than build the character. They are, when properly used, great educating, edifying and civilising forces. (Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God: The National Value of Art – IV)
Awakening the psychic being
The growing sensitivity towards Nature brings a palpable sense of the Divine within Manifestation, which can lead to an awakening of the psychic being within the heart.
Behind a few figures, a few trees and rocks the supreme Intelligence, the supreme Imagination, the supreme Energy lurks, acts, feels, is, and if the artist has the spiritual vision, he can see it and suggest perfectly the great mysterious Life in its manifestations brooding in action, active in thought, energetic in stillness, creative in repose, full of a mastering intention in that which appears blind and unconscious. The great truths of religion, science, metaphysics, life, development become concrete, emotional, universally intelligible and convincing in the hands of the master of plastic Art, and the soul of man, in the stage when it is rising from emotion to intellect, looks, receives the suggestion and is uplifted towards a higher development, a diviner knowledge. So it is with the divine love and joy which pulsates throughout existence and is far superior to alloyed earthly pleasure. Catholic, perfect, unmixed with repulsion, radiating through all things, the common no less than the high, the mean and shabby no less than the lofty and splendid, the terrible and the repulsive no less than the charming and attractive, it uplifts all, purifies all, turns all to love and delight and beauty. A little of this immortal nectar poured into a man’s heart transfigures life and action. The whole flood of it pouring in would lift mankind to God. This too Art can seize on and suggest to the human soul, aiding it in its stormy and toilsome pilgrimage. In that pilgrimage it is the divine strength that supports. Shakti, Force, pouring through the universe supports its boundless activities, the frail and tremulous life of the rose no less than the flaming motions of sun and star. To suggest the strength and virile unconquerable force of the divine Nature in man and in the outside world, its energy, its calm, its powerful inspiration, its august enthusiasm, its wildness, greatness, attractiveness, to breathe that into man’s soul and gradually mould the finite into the image of the Infinite is another spiritual utility of Art. This is its loftiest function, its fullest consummation, its most perfect privilege. (Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God: The National Value of Art – V)
The occult zones of music, painting, color
As discussed earlier, the inspiration behind a piece of Art can come from many different planes, depending on how conscious the artist is. In the following discussion with her disciple Satprem, the Mother discusses the character of those highest zones of consciousness whose vibrations materialize into spellbinding works of Art. A Yogin consciously enters these worlds by shifting the center of his consciousness into the higher sheaths (see Constitution)
Satprem: I once went into the world of music, and what I heard there was so wonderful, so incredibly beautiful that the impact remained with me for hours after I woke up. It was incredible. Where is that world located?
Mother: It’s at the very summit of human consciousness, on the borderline between what Sri Aurobindo calls the lower and the higher hemispheres. It is a world of creation with several levels or degrees.
The first zone you encounter is the zone of painting, sculpture, architecture: everything that has a material form. It is the zone of forms, colored forms that are expressed as paintings, sculptures, and architecture. They are not forms as we know them, but rather typal forms; you can see garden types, for instance, wonderfully colored and beautiful, or construction types.
Then comes the musical zone, and there you find the origin of the sounds that have inspired the various composers. Great waves of music, without sound. It seems a bit strange, but that’s how it is.
Beyond the musical zone lies thought: thoughts, organized thoughts for plays and books, abstractions for philosophies. But what used to interest me particularly were the combinations that give birth to novels or plays. what you find there are thought formations that are expressed in each person’s brain in his own language. There are thought combinations for novels, plays, even philosophical systems. They are combinations of pure thought, not formulated in any language, but they are automatically expressed in each one’s brain according to his particular language. It is the domain of pure thought.
Higher up, there is a fourth zone, a zone of colored lights, plays of colored lights.
That’s the order: first form, then sound, then ideas, then colored lights. But that zone is already more distant from humanity; it is a zone of forces, a zone which appears as colored lights. No forms – colored lights representing forces. And one can combine these forces so that they work in the terrestrial atmosphere and bring about certain events. It’s a zone of action, independent of form, sound and thought; it is above all that. A zone of active power and might you can use for a particular purpose – if you have the capacity to do so. Each of these zones contains several levels, and the top of the musical zone is already starting to be waves, waves of vibration. But it’s still directly related to music, while those colored forces I am speaking of have to do with terrestrial transformations and actions – great actions. They are powers of action. This zone where you hear no sound eventually becomes sounds and music. It is the summit. Each zone contains several levels.
Satprem: In short, when one rises to that Origin, one finds a single vibration, which can be expressed as music or thought or architectural or pictorial forms – is that right?
Mother: Yes, but it goes through specific transformations en route. It passes through one zone or another, where it undergoes transformations to adapt itself to the particular mode of expression. The waves of music are one particular mode of expression of those colored waves – they should really be called “luminous” waves, for they are self-luminous. Waves of colored light. Great waves of colored light. All those zones of artistic creation are very high up in human consciousness, which is why art can be a wonderful tool for spiritual progress. (The Mother, Mother’s Agenda: October 27, 1962)