Centuries ago, Yajnavalkya used the analogy of “the great fish which travels along both banks, the nearer and the farther” while referring to the human consciousness which oscillates between the waking and the deep sleep state (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.3.17). He wrote that when the Atman “rests in the intermediate state (of dream)”, it sees both states – waking and deep sleep (Brihad. Up. 4.3.9). In the state of dreamless sleep, the Advaita Vedantins saw evidence of the existence of Brahman; they reasoned that if a person feels refreshed after sleep, it must be because the Atman had temporarily united with Brahman .
One of the themes on which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother differ from early Vedantins is “conscious dream exploration”. While Sri Aurobindo claimed that the occult worlds that we enter in our dreams are as “real” as the physical world, the earliest Advaita Vedantins, Gaudapada and Adi Shankaracharya (8th century C.E.) saw all the worlds as illusory. For Gaudapada and Shankara, the highest state was sushupti (deep sleep) because the Atman became united with the Brahman in that state.
In the context of the recent Delhi gang rape case, a woman from India wrote to me asking “what take spirituality has on crimes such as these. Does the victim suffer because of sanchit (past accumulated) karma? Should one regard whatever happens as good?” A few weeks before this horrific Delhi incident, another woman had asked on a mailing list: “There are lots of places where Sri Aurobindo says that God is in evil too. I cannot see this when I think of someone being raped or tortured or molested. Can someone explain how this can be?”. Today, Huffington Post published a short piece by Dr. Deepak Sarma, professor of South Asian religions and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, questioning what answer Karma can offer in response to such tragedies. In light of all this discussion, these are some answers based on the model of Karma proposed by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I am not sure if I have satisfactory answers to these profound questions but I am going to try!
While reading the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, have you ever wondered from what level of consciousness they spoke? Was their brain constantly tingling with luminous revelations as they answered questions? Were subtle images of the past or future dancing before their eyes when they looked at people? There are recorded conversations where Sri Aurobindo admits to not knowing certain worldly matters, implying that either omniscience is not what it is projected to be or that he didn’t care to use his occult powers to investigate mundane matters (see Notes below)