Why are artists irregular in their conduct?

Artists who create ethereal works that require stupendous effort and imagination can often to be irregular in private life.  Such contradictions stem from a trifurcation in the human personality between the ethical, aesthetic and logical aspects.   Those who are mature in one aspect may be partially developed in the other two aspects.  Legal scholars may have  a strong ethical personality but lack any aesthetic abilities.  Artists can have an intensely refined aesthetic sense but may be undeveloped ethically or logically.  Scientists who possess acute logical clarity can be emotionally frigid.   In the couple of dialogues given below, the Mother Mirra Alfassa expatiates on the irregularities seen in the lives of great personalities.

Question: Why are artists generally irregular in their conduct and loose in character?

Answer: When they are so, it is because they live usually in the vital plane, and the vital part in them is extremely sensitive to the forces of that world and receives from it all kinds of impressions and impulsions over which they have no controlling power. And often too they are very free in their minds and do not believe in the petty social conventions and moralities that govern the life of ordinary people. They do not feel bound by the customary rules of conduct and have not yet found an inner law that would replace them. As there is nothing to check the movements of their desire-being, they lead easily a life of liberty or license. But this does not happen with all. I lived ten years among artists and found many of them to be bourgeois to the core; they were married and settled, good fathers, good husbands, and lived up to the most strict moral ideas of what should and what should not be done.

There is one way in which Yoga may stop the artist’s productive impulse. If the origin of his art is in the vital world, once he becomes a Yogi he will lose his inspiration or, rather, the source from which his inspiration used to come will inspire him no more, for then the vital world appears in its true light; it puts on its true value, and that value is very relative. Most of those who call themselves artists draw their inspiration from the vital world only; and it carries in it no high or great significance. But when a true artist, one who looks for his creative source to a higher world, turns to Yoga, he will find that his inspiration becomes more direct and powerful and his expression clearer and deeper. Of those who possess a true value the power of Yoga will increase the value, but from one who has only some false appearance of art even that appearance will vanish or else lose its appeal. To one earnest in Yoga, the first simple truth that strikes his opening vision is that what he does is a very relative thing in comparison with the universal manifestation, the universal movement. But an artist is usually vain and looks on himself as a highly important personage, a kind of demigod in the human world. Many artists say that if they did not believe what they do to be of a supreme importance, they would not be able to do it. But I have known some whose inspiration was from a higher world and yet they did not believe that what they did was of so immense an importance. That is nearer the spirit of true art. If a man is truly led to express himself in art, it is the way the Divine has chosen to manifest in him, and then by Yoga his art will gain and not lose. But there is all the question: is the artist appointed by the Divine or self-appointed?

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1929 – 1931): 28 July 1929

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Question: When one reads ordinary books, one has the impression of entering into the mind of the author and that is not always pleasant. I have also noticed that when one talks about business or work with an outsider, the conversation can be good and interesting, but as soon as one talks with the same person about his private life, the conversation immediately becomes painful.

: Yes, because work, especially if it is technical work, is the expression of the best in the man, while in his private life he comes down to a lower level, with very few exceptions. So many remarkable scholars, writers, artists who produce remarkable things, once they enter their homes, become detestable husbands, unpleasant fathers, intolerable people for those who are around them. And I am speaking of an élite, those who make special studies, discoveries, who run big institutions: outside, they are uncommon people, men of great abilities; back home they become commonplace and often unbearable – they have a nice time, they take rest, relax themselves. And if they begin to amuse themselves, that’s the end of it all! I knew people of great intelligence, admirable artists who, as soon as they began to “relax”, became utterly foolish! They did the most vulgar things, behaved like ill-bred children – they were relaxing. Everything comes from this “need” of relaxation; and what does that mean for most men? It means, always, coming down to a lower level. They do not know that for a true relaxation one must rise one degree higher, one must rise above oneself. If one goes down, it adds to one’s fatigue and brings a stupefaction. Besides, each time one comes down, one increases the load of the subconscient – this huge subconscient load which one must clean and clean if one wants to mount, and which is like fetters on the feet. But it is difficult to teach that, for one must know it oneself before one can teach it to others.

This is never told to children; they are allowed to commit all the stupidities in the world under the pretext that they need relaxation.

It is not by sinking below oneself that one removes fatigue. One must climb the ladder and there one has true rest, because one has the inner peace, the light, the universal energy. And little by little one puts oneself in touch with the truth which is the very reason of one’s existence.

If you contact that definitively, it removes completely all fatigue.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1950 – 1951): 26 February 1951

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  2. Ethical, logical and aesthetic mind

15 thoughts on “Why are artists irregular in their conduct?

  1. ipi

    Various letters by Sri Aurobindo on this topic

    But do you really believe that men like Napoleon, Caesar, Shakespeare were not great men and did nothing for the world or for the cosmic purpose? that God was deterred from using them for His purpose because they had defects of character and vices? What an absurd idea!

    Why should the Divine care for the vices of great men? Is he a policeman? So long as one is in the ordinary nature, one has capacities and defects, virtues and vices. When one goes beyond, there are no virtues and vices, — for these things do not belong to the Divine Nature.

    Vice and virtue have nothing to do with darkness or light, truth and falsehood. The spiritual man rises above vice and virtue, he does not rise above truth and light, unless you mean by truth and light, human truth and mental light. They have to be transcended, just as virtue and vice have to be transcended.

    Vices are simply an overflow of energy in irregulated channels.

    Great men have more energy (mental, vital, physical, all kinds of energy) and the energy comes out in what men call vices as well as in what men call virtues.

    Men with great capacities or a powerful mind or a powerful vital have very often more glaring defects of character than ordinary men or at least the defects of the latter do not show so much, being like themselves, smaller in scale.

    Sri Aurobindo
    (Letters on Yoga; Part I; PP 497-498)

  2. Sandeep Post author

    From Purani’s Evening Talks

    Disciple: There have been persons whose private life is very loose but in political life they are successful.

    Sri Aurobindo: What connection is there between morality and greatness? Most great men were immoral. Looseness in private morality arises from a strong vital being, and that strong vital being leads to success in great works. Immorality consists in allowing the vital impulses to go out unchecked. They may arise from strength or from weakness. In case of strength the vital impulses go out by the strength, in case of weakness they go out because they cannot be checked. Self-control, or samyama, does not necessarily require one to be a yogi or a divine man. Asuras exercise control over their vital impulses to conserve energy for great enjoyment.

    Those who do not give indulgence to their impulses through weakness or fear of society may be respectable, but I cannot call them pure.

    The ordinary idea of morality is the observance of social law. When Gandhi indulged with his pregnant wife there was nothing immoral in it according to ordinary ideas, but he regards that as immoral!

    Most saints have been sinners in the earlier period of their lives – like Bilwamangal.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Sri Aurobindo: Most saints have been sinners in the earlier period of their lives – like Bilwamangal

      I decided to look up this person Bilwamangal. He was a 14th century saint also known as Lila Suka who authored Sri Krisha karnamritam. He was initially infatuated with a prostitute named Chintamani. The story goes that one day, on the eve of his father’s funeral and amidst heavy rains, his lust drove him to visit Chintamani. After battling the vagaries of the weather, he finally reached her home. Seeing him half naked, thoroughly drenched and emitting a foul smell, she admonished him:

      ‘Are you not ashamed of yourself? Are you a true Brahmin? Are you not supposed to do the religious rites to your father? Can’t you control your senses for one day? Are you so mad after a body, which has nothing but flesh and blood? Should you ignore your dharma for this temporary pleasure and reach me in the dreadful night holding a dead body and a snake? Can’t you understand the simple logic that this external beauty of mine is but a passing phase and that sooner or later I will be floating in water like that decaying dead body? Had you shown half the interest you show on my body on lord Krishna he would have blessed you and you too would have enjoyed spiritual bliss as opposed to the physical happiness you derive from me.’

      These words were more powerful than a slap on his face! They struck him like a thunder! He analyzed himself. One never knows what thoughts or words or deeds bring about a drastic change in anybody. These words of admonition cleansed the perverted heart of Bilva Mangal and brought him back to his original good self. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

      He fell prostrate before Chintamani and said, ‘You are my guru. you have opened my eyes. I am very grateful to you.’ Chanting the name of Lord Krishna he left her house.

      Bilva Mangal was making a frantic search for Lord Krishna. He was wandering all over the country ‘Old habits die hard’. One day he came across a very beautiful lady. He followed her up to her house. Poor lady, unaware of his admiration for her beauty walked in. Unable to forget her, he sat outside the front gate. Her husband happened to come out after a while. He was surprised to see a stranger at his doorstep and enquired his whereabouts. Bilva Mangal frankly told him the truth and added ‘I am enchanted by her beauty. If you don’t mind, I would like to stare at her to my heart’s content. Please call her out.’ The man was a Sethji and the woman was his wife. But unlike any other man he was touched by the stranger’s frankness. He found no wrong in showing his wife for quite sometime. So he went into explain it to his wife.

      He found no wrong but God found it wrong. So He made Bilva Mangal realize his mistake. Bilva Mangal cursed himself for such crazy behaviour. When the lady came out to make a feast to his eyes, his mind had separated from his eyes. Instead of enjoying with the eyes, his mind cursed his lustful eyes, which brought shame upon him. So he hurriedly fetched two thorns from a nearby tree and poked his eyes with them. He felt that was the right punishment for his misguiding eyes. Blood rolled down his cheeks but he was dancing away happily, chanting the name of Lord Krishna, which echoed to the sky. The Seth and his wife were shocked to see the situation but were helpless. But this situation cleansed him of the remnants of his immoral behaviour.

      Read the full story at: http://www.telugubhakti.com/telugupages/monthly/Bhaktas/content5.htm
      Also see :101 Mystics of India by V K Subramanian, page 85

      1. Tusar N. Mohapatra

        [Chintamani is disillusioned, prompting the gods Krishna and Rukmini to descend to earth to show her the right path. The legend was filmed repeatedly, some versions presenting it as a biography of the saint poet Surdas (Homi Master’s silent Bilwamangal, 1929; Madan Theatres’ Bilwamangal, 1932). Most Hindi and Bengali versions tell the story from the male perspective, following Girish Ghosh’s famous play Bilwamangal (1886), but the South Indian films narrate Chintamani’s tale.]

        [Sandeep :replaced the link with http://www.hindu.com/mp/2009/06/08/stories/2009060850510400.htm%5D

    2. Sandeep Post author

      Disciple: There have been persons whose private life is very loose but in political life they are successful.

      Stanislav Grof discusses this aspect in his book “Beyond the Brain”, page 218. He says excessive sexual drive and an inclination to deviant sexuality are inextricably linked to the extreme degree of ambition it takes in today’s society to become a successful public figure.

      See also : A Sexual Profile of Men in Power by Janus, Bess and Saltus

    3. huta

      Those who do not give indulgence to their impulses through weakness or fear of society may be respectable, but I cannot call them pure.

      what is it to be pure?

      1. Sandeep Post author

        IMHO, to be pure is to live in the “psychic light”. It is seen in someone who acts neither in conformance nor defiance of society. One has to have an astounding inner balance to observe and act in all situations solely by the psychic guidance.

  3. ipi


    Disciple: In literary expression, I think, it is the inner man that counts. But that would be tantamount to saying that an insincere man can’t write things which will move readers with a genuine and concrete something.

    Sri Aurobindo: Plenty of insincere men have written inspiring things. That is because something in them felt it, though they could not carry it out in life, and that something was used by a greater power behind. Very often in his art, in his writings, the higher part of a man comes out, while the lower dominates his life.

    (CWSA vol. 27, Letters on Poetry and Art, p 730, 18th Oct 1935)

  4. Pingback: Should women dress modestly? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. huta

    what does it mean to be guided by an inner law and work and act in accordance with the truth? waht does Mother mean by the “truth” and light she says put all your thoughts before this light and if u see any dark hole then focus ur attention and examine this black hole…

    1. Sandeep Post author

      As you continue meticulously observing your daily movements, there will come upon you those unbidden moments of Silence when your mind will pause and tell you that you have been insincere in a particular situation with a particular person. This is how you find the inner law. In case you haven’t read it, see a recent post “Elusive touch of the psychic being”

      The spiritual path is like an ascending spiral, in which the inner light slowly increases and spreads to all corners of the being.

  6. mike

    Stanislav Grof wrote some interesting stuff about Kundalini in the west after his wife went through ‘shaktipat’ l believe.

    What he said about Jung here made me laugh. Jung didn’t seem to have a clue about some of these things:

    “Stanislav Grof considers Jung’s view that the awakening of Kundalini was exclusively an Eastern phenomenon and that it would take at least a thousand years before this energy could be set in motion as “probably the most remarkable error of his entire career.”

  7. huta

    perhaps Artists are an example here but such dualities and contradictions exist in all don’t they? Or is there some thing exceptional about these people (artists)? how does one know which plane one belongs to? whether one is vital ,mental,psychic?
    also Mother mentions that if an artist takes the yogic path then he will stop receiving inspiration form the vital world unless a true one then in such a case he will benefit from the yogic path ….. what exactly does she mean by this? can this be applied to ordinary people busy in the worldly life does it mean they all their desires in the fun activities that they otherwise enjoyed before coming to the path will disappear?

    1. Sandeep Post author

      huta: perhaps Artists are an example here but such dualities and contradictions exist in all don’t they? Or is there some thing exceptional about these people (artists)?

      Yes artists are an extreme example of the dualities which are present in all people.

      huta: how does one know which plane one belongs to? whether one is vital ,mental,psychic?

      Most people are mixed and highly vital in character, especially warriors, sportsmen, businessmen and artists. On the other hand, scientists generally live in pure mental planes and have few vital indulgences (they are reserved by nature, eat less, prefer solitude, and can be absent-minded). There are of course exceptions to these general remarks.

      By the same token, most marriages are vital in nature because they thrive on vital joy – eating, traveling, family comforts.

      Huta: also Mother mentions that if an artist takes the yogic path then he will stop receiving inspiration form the vital world unless a true one then in such a case he will benefit from the yogic path ….. what exactly does she mean by this? can this be applied to ordinary people busy in the worldly life does it mean they all their desires in the fun activities that they otherwise enjoyed before coming to the path will disappear?

      The source of most artistic inspiration is the vital world. What she means is that most artists tap into this vital inspiration through a haphazard process. Look at the chaotic life that many rock stars and movie stars live where they indulge in sex and drugs and sometimes die an early death. They need that chaos in order to find the tiny spark of inspiration. They even suffer from depression when away from the limelight and yet they are perfectly capable of giving incredible performances before an admiring audience.

      If artists stop living a chaotic life and take to yoga, there will be an interval where they can’t tap into vital world, but if they go past this temporary stoppage, a greater and more spiritual inspiration can cascade into their consciousness.

      Yes, even ordinary people who take to Yoga go through an intermediate phase of depressing listlessness where conventional joys of life no longer feel attractive but the higher spiritual world has not yet opened its glories.

  8. Pingback: Three occasions when Mahatma Gandhi evaded prostitutes | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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