The Paradox of Life

When once asked about what surprises him, the Dalai Lama  responded, “Man — because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”  In the same vein, these are some remarks by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

A strange antinomy is his nature’s rule.
A riddle of opposites is made his field:
Freedom he asks but needs to live in bonds,
He has need of darkness to perceive some light
And need of grief to feel a little bliss;
He has need of death to find a greater life.

(Savitri, Book III, Canto IV)

Sri Aurobindo on the paradox of life

“The whole world yearns after freedom, yet each creature is in love with his chains; this is the first paradox and inextricable knot of our nature.

“Man is in love with the bonds of birth; therefore he is caught in the companion bonds of death. In these chains he aspires after freedom of his being and mastery of his self-fulfilment.

“Man is in love with power; therefore he is subjected to weakness. For the world is a sea of waves of force that meet and continually fling themselves on each other; he who would ride on the crest of one wave, must faint under the shock of hundreds.

“Man is in love with pleasure; therefore he must undergo the yoke of grief and pain. For unmixed delight is only for the free and passionless soul; but that which pursues after pleasure in man is a suffering and straining energy.

“Man hungers after calm, but he thirsts also for the experiences of a restless mind and a troubled heart. Enjoyment is to his mind a fever, calm an inertia and a monotony.

“Man is in love with the limitations of his physical being, yet he would have also the freedom of his infinite mind and his immortal soul.

“And in these contrasts something in him finds a curious attraction; they constitute for his mental being the artistry of life. It is not only the nectar but the poison also that attracts his taste and his curiosity”  [1].

During a discussion, the Mother expanded on these remarks of Sri Aurobindo:

I knew some poets who used to say, “It is my enemies’ hatred which makes me value the affection of my friends….” And it is the almost inevitable likelihood of misfortune which gives all its savour to happiness, and so on. And they value repose only in contrast with the daily agitation, silence only because of the usual noise, and some of them even tell you, “Oh! it is because there are illnesses that good health is cherished.” It goes so far that a thing is valued only when it is lost. And as Sri Aurobindo says here: When this fever of action, of movement, this agitation of creative thought is not there, one feels one is falling into inertia. Most people fear silence, calm, quietude. They no longer feel alive when they are not agitated.

I have seen many cases in which Sri Aurobindo had given silence to somebody, had made his mind silent, and that person came back to him in a kind of despair, saying: “But I have become stupid!” For his thought was no longer excited.

What he says here is terribly true. Men want freedom but they are in love with their chains, and when one wants to take them away, when one wants to show them the path of true liberation, they are afraid, and often they even protest.

Almost all man’s works of art – literary, poetic, artistic – are based on the violence of contrasts in life. When one tries to pull them out of their daily dramas, they really feel that it is not artistic. If they wanted to write a book or compose a play where there would be no contrasts, where there would be no shadows in the picture, it would probably be something seemingly very dull, very monotonous, lifeless, for what man calls “life” is the drama of life, the anxiety of life, the violence of contrasts. And perhaps if there were no death, they would be terribly tired of living [2].

As the Mother states above, the human mind inevitably finds the first glimpse of mental silence heady and intolerable at the same time.  Sri Aurobindo alluded to one such incident in his communications with a disciple, Nagin Doshi.  He wrote:”Y when he was here asked for Yoga. I told him how to make his mind silent and it became silent. He immediately got frightened and said, “I am becoming a fool, I can’t think”, so I took what I had given away from him. That is how the average mind regards silence” [3].

Forget mental silence.  If you ever want to test your capacity to abide in solitude, you should visit an anechoic chamber, a sound-absorbent room where sensitive audio measurements are conducted.  According to one company which has built such a chamber, the longest that someone has stayed there alone is 45 minutes.  After that, people become so disoriented that they start having  hallucinations!

‘When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.And this is a very disorientating experience. Mr Orfield explained that it’s so disconcerting that sitting down is a must. He said: ‘How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechnoic chamber, you don’t have any cues. You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and manoeuvre. If you’re in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair'[4].

Photo: Relativity by Escher. Click image for source


  1. Sri Aurobindo.  Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, CWSA vol 13, p 204.
  2. The Mother.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 9, p 28.
  3. Nagin Doshi.  Guidance from Sri Aurobindo : letters to a young disciple, vol. 2, p 235.
  4. Ted Thornhill.  “We all crave it, but can you stand the silence? The longest anyone can bear Earth’s quietest place is 45 minutes“.  Daily Mail,  3 April 2012.

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5 thoughts on “The Paradox of Life

  1. Pingback: The Grace is at work everywhere | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

    1. mwb6119

      John Cage: “And what is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposefulessness or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life–not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act if its own accord.” Silence: Lectures and Writings of John Cage, p.12

  2. mw

    *This quotation appears to be in concert with this posting.

    “There are some who shy away from immediate contact with the eternal in order to preserve their personal wishes and predilections, their attachments and emotional bonds. They are eager to participate in life with their egocentric individuality kept intact. They are unwilling to relinquish their inherited and ingrained notions of good and evil, god and devil. This may be called ethical love. It shows active interest in social amelioration. But it is afraid of rising above social morality in favour of a direct encounter with the eternal. The naked touch of the eternal is devastating to the fixed notions of conventional morality and dogmatic theology. It effectuates a transvaluation of values. It crucifies egocentric individuality with all its pet desires and flattering creeds.

    from Integral Yoga: The Concept of Harmonious and Creative Living by Haridas Chaudhuri [Love or Lila pg. 98-9]:


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