It is a commonly observed amongst those who have awakened to the spiritual path that once they have ceased to be selfish, they start thinking of ways to uplift the rest of the world. One may feel despondent at the chaos in society and seek some semblance of stability or some foothold on which a better future can be built. When we grapple with this intractable problem, we find ourselves psychologically evolving through successive stages of inner growth and along with us, the solution to our dilemma also evolves.
“Difficult periods come on earth to compel men to overcome their small personal egoism and to turn exclusively to the Divine for help and light. The wisdom of men is ignorant. Only the Divine knows.”
(Mother Mirra Alfassa, Agenda, Dec 15 1971)
In our active involvement with worldly problems, we may pass through many phases of development, all of which are necessary steps in the spiritual journey. In our quest for perfection, we embrace and absorb numerous partial truths which help in the development of our personality, as they bolster our willpower, soften our heart, and make our body withstand greater amounts of stress.
Our first reaction to the injustice and inequality we see in the world may be driven by a combination of idealism and compassion. We may take a stand to fight for what is right or we may engage in charitable deeds to help our fellow man. Our action could be ineffective at times because it may be infused with baser instincts like self-righteousness and pride. One has to adopt a rigorous disciple of self-observation to cleanse such admixtures from the personality. As the Bhagavad Gita says, action must be done out of selfless spirit instead of activist or reformist zeal. It is the consciousness with which the action is done, more than the act itself, that is the decisive factor in awakening the soul within.
At some point, we may realize that agitating the heart about the instability seen in the world is actually counter-productive because it disrupts the consciousness from stabilizing within. One begins to see that our surface is constituted with a layer of idealism, a kind of mask which shields our inner self, which determines our subjective reactions to worldly events. Different people may have disparate reactions based on the educational and cultural values that they have imbibed since childhood. When one notices this mask, one begins to question one’s actions, “What is my duty? How can I know that the cause I am working for is true or more important than some other cause?“
It is at this stage that one comprehends what some ancient Yogis have said : that the world is indeed real but the purely materialistic view of it is an illusion. In order to see the world as it really is, one needs to develop occult insight to visualize the invisible forces which stand behind the material world and shape worldly events. It is only then that one can know with certitude that the cause one has undertaken is the right one.
With the coming of this understanding, one consciously drops the reformist zeal which permeated one’s worldly actions so far. One engages in deeper contemplation in order to dissolve the mask of desires and idealisms that one wears and allow a Higher Power to guide one’s actions. At some point in life, you will observe that if you are intended to carry out some task, your intuition will irresistibly take you there – knowingly or unknowingly.
Another realization may hit us at a later stage – that the change you can bring into the world is proportional to the change within you. We may see that much of our effort, although necessary, is still insufficient, whether it be through charity, speeches, legislation and meticulous organization. In certain situations, reformist zeal is actually counter-productive because you may be able to mentally convince someone but you cannot dissolve the habits ingrained within his/her being. Sustainable change is only possible when you are able to manifest and transmit the Power of Love – not the conventional emotionalism disguised as love but rather the vibratory force-field which emanates from realized sages and silently influences their disciples. As Ramana Mahashi elucidates in the following passage:
Question: How can silence be so powerful?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: A realised sage sends out waves of spiritual influence, which draw many people towards him. Yet he may sit in a cave and maintain complete silence. We may listen to lectures upon truth and come away with hardly any grasp of the subject, but to come into contact with a realised one, though he speaks nothing, will give much more grasp of the subject. He never needs to go out among the public. If necessary he can use others as instruments. The Guru is the bestower of silence who reveals the light of Self-knowledge that shines as the residual reality. Spoken words are of no use whatsoever if the eyes of the Guru meet the eyes of the disciple.
(For more, see How does a Guru act?)
Lastly, one may also discern that any notion of outward stability is essentially a mirage because people are in different stages of evolution and have to learn lessons which may be different from the lessons one is currently learning. Permanent change in earthly conditions is required to solve some of dire problems which face humanity, but this kind of change only occurs through a change of the human consciousness itself, and that typically spans centuries.
In the following talk, the Mother Mirra Alfassa expatiates on the progressive manner in which one can collaborate towards worldly good.
Question: How can one collaborate in curing the evil and ugliness seen everywhere? By loving? What is the power of love? What effect can an individual consciousness, acting alone, have on the rest of mankind?
Mother Mirra: How to collaborate in curing evil and ugliness? … We can say that there’s a kind of hierarchic scale of collaboration or action; a negative cooperation and a positive cooperation.
To begin with, there’s what could be called a negative way, the way expounded by Buddhism and similar religions: the refusal to see. To be in a state of such purity and beauty that there is no perception of evil and ugliness. It’s like something that doesn’t touch you because it doesn’t exist in you. This is the perfection of the negative method. It is quite elementary: never take notice of evil, never speak of the evil present in others, never perpetuate the vibrations of evil by observation, criticism or giving undue attention to the evil deed. This is what Buddha taught: each time you mention an evil you help spread it.
This skirts the issue.
Nevertheless, it ought to be a very general rule; yet its critics have a reply: ‘If you don’t see evil you can never cure it. If you leave someone to his squalor he will never emerge from it.’ (It’s not exactly true, but it’s how they legitimize their actions.) In an aphorism (“To feel and love the God of beauty and good in the ugly and the evil, and still yearn in utter love to heal it of its ugliness and its evil, this is real virtue and morality”), Sri Aurobindo has anticipated these objections: it is not through ignorance or unconsciousness or indifference that you fail to see evil – you can see and even feel it, but you refuse to collaborate in spreading it by giving it the force of your attention or the support of your consciousness. And for that, you must yourself be above the perception and sensation – able to see evil or ugliness without suffering, without feeling shocked or troubled. You see them from a height where such things do not exist, yet you have the conscious perception of them – they don’t affect you, you are free. This is the first step.
The second step is to be positively conscious of the supreme Goodness and Beauty behind all things and supporting all things, permitting them to exist. Once you have seen Him, you can perceive Him behind the mask and the distortion – even ugliness, even cruelty, even evil are a disguise for that Something which is essentially good or beautiful, luminous, pure.
With this comes true collaboration. For when you have this vision, this awareness, when you live in this consciousness, you also get the power to pull THAT into the manifestation on earth and put it into contact with what, for the time being, distorts and disguises; thus the deformation and disguise are gradually transformed by the influence of the Truth behind. Here we are at the top rung on the scale of collaboration.
(Mother’s Agenda, Jan 10 1961)
If when thou sittest alone, still and voiceless on the mountaintop, thou canst perceive the revolutions thou art conducting, then hast thou the divine vision and art freed from appearances.
— Sri Aurobindo