The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, was skeptical of the widespread Eastern notion that the individual ego can be completely transcended and some form of universal consciousness can be attained. He thought it was a psychological projection of an idea which had no foundation in human experience and was critical of any attempt to mix psychology and philosophy. Jung thought that the East made such reductionist errors because it had not reached the high level of self-awareness achieved in the Western development of scientific thought .
The scholarly refusal to entertain any possibility of psychological transformation was also encountered by Nagin Doshi, a teenaged disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Nagin was once asked to write two essays during his English class in school. He decided to write on “spiritual peace“, a topic he felt comfortable with given his practice of Yoga. His English teacher, a reputed scholar in ordinary (most probably Western) philosophy rejected the essays as incoherent. It was left to Sri Aurobindo to sort out the confusion that the negative evaluation created in Nagin’s mind. First, let’s read the two essays and then Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on it.
1. On Peace
Spiritual peace has not the same meaning as peace in our worldly parlance. In the ordinary life, when one is less depressed, disturbed or despondent than people generally are, one thinks oneself at peace.
Our normal consciousness (viz. our mental, vital and physical) — inner and outer — whirls constantly in restless actions. It is always pushed to activity; to pass five minutes without some kind of movement would be intolerable to it. That is perhaps the reason why even those who have a philosophical bent are often afraid of silence in the preliminary stage of their practice of Yoga. They take it, or feel it, to be something terrible, blank, fearful. We shall soon see that true silence is never like that. They feel it as such only because they are too mentally oriented.
In the absence of sadhana(askesis) one can have quietness at the most. Even that can be attained only when one is above pain and suffering, strife and quarrel, gloom and despair, at least for the time being. But then, too, there is no true peace or quietude. These are the fruition of spiritual experience and a yogic practice is necessary for their attainment.
Worldly quietude or peace is very fragile, momentary, variable. Solid, lasting, self-existent, firm are the attributes of a higher peace. One who has that peace can stand against any turbulence or disturbance, shock or attack from the world, and yet hold his inner peace unmoved.
The ordinary peace is confined to the mind, whereas the yogic peace can descend into the vital and the body also. With many it takes up the mind first and then comes down into the other parts. But even if it has settled only in the mind, it casts its influence on the vital, and therefore we feel a kind of rest down to the very physical, as the physical is usually directed and pushed by the vital .
2. On Peace and the Vital
The spiritual peace, when it descends, brings with it such a force and strength that we feel ourselves safe, secure and poised. The vital cravings, dissatisfactions, disturbances touch us no more; and the vital likes and dislikes no longer interfere with the freedom of our will and aspiration; also, vital depression and despair are made quiet. These are the usual signs of a deep peace.
A peace in the mind is not enough. It can only quiet the mental disturbance and give scope for free thinking. But even this free thinking is hindered by the upsurging of the vital. For though we are mental beings, we live largely in the vital. Very few live purely and constantly in the mental consciousness. As we are more in the vital, the descent of peace straight into it is indispensable in order to calm completely our whole mental stuff.
But this peace must descend into the inner vital. The inner vital can open to spiritual things more easily than the outer. To bring down and establish peace in the outer vital needs long years of practice and an arduous sadhana. It is sufficient in the beginning to stabilise it in the inner vital. This will bring as a result a calm aloofness from all the lower vital movements, actions and thoughts .
Dialogue between Nagin and Sri Aurobindo
Nagin: Is all this correct?
Sri Aurobindo: Perfectly correct.
Nagin: My teacher rejected the second and third paragraphs. He condemned some of the sentences as rubbish. Are the essays so discouraging?
Sri Aurobindo: Certainly not. Why do you suppose X to be an authority on these things? You go to him for English, not for Yoga knowledge.
Nagin: He censures my use of expressions like “mental stuff”, “vital mind”, etc. At least here, are they used wrongly?
Sri Aurobindo: No, they are quite in place.
Nagin: The difference I made here about the inner vital and the outer vital does not coincide with his knowledge. Is there then anything to be corrected in my reference to the inner and outer vital and the peace?
Sri Aurobindo: Nothing at all. Every word is correct. It does not in the least matter whether what you write coincides or not with somebody else’s knowledge, so long as it coincides with mine and with your own inner perception and experience.
Nagin: I have heard that X has studied philosophy widely and is himself the author of a number of books.
Sri Aurobindo: All that has nothing to do with ordinary philosophy. Philosophy knows nothing about peace and silence or the inner and outer vital. These things are discovered only by Yoga.
Nagin: I suppose they have such notions because they are given too much to thoughts.
Sri Aurobindo: Yes.
Nagin: I am a little doubtful about the truth of what I wrote about philosophy; that is why I have asked you a separate question regarding it. I hope you will kindly point out my errors in ideas.
Sri Aurobindo: There is no error in these.
Nagin: The first essay I sent you was written as an initial training for philosophical thought, for X’s class. His judgment was that there were many incorrect ideas, particularly about philosophy and silence. But you said that there was no error there. In that case should I take all I have written as correct?
Sri Aurobindo: There was no error. Ordinary human minds, Europeans especially, are accustomed to regard thought as indispensable and as the highest thing, so they are alarmed of silence. 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. .
This exchange transpired in the 1930s. Times have changed. Yoga is now accepted as a means of psychological transformation in many parts of the world, but this dialogue offers an interesting window into the attitudes prevailing in the early twentieth century.
- Harold Coward. Jung and Eastern Thought. Albany, N.Y. : State University of New York Press, 1985, p 61. (google books)
- Nagin Doshi. Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 2, Pondicherry: SABDA, 1987, pp 231-235.
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