A reader from India asked a question which deserves to be highlighted as a separate blog post. The question was: “Many times people on their way to temples meet with accidents and die. What is the point of praying to Deities if they cannot protect their own devotees ? We also hear of stories where people claim that their beloved Deity saved them. How do we know if it was the Deity who intervened. Why does the Diety intervene in one case and not in another?”
The short answer to the question “Are Indians more spiritual” is “no, certainly not“. If you look at the hoi polloi, they can be as materialistic as people in other countries – spending their leisure hours shopping in malls and merrily wining and dining their way through life. But the long answer is a little more complicated since it requires some occult perception of the cultural and subconscious atmosphere which pervades in every country. In this article, we present some observations by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa on the East-West differences as regards the spiritual pursuit. Do bear in mind that these observations are not eternal truths. These remarks were uttered at a certain point in time and come with an expiration date, because conditions in various countries can change over time.
Thomas McEvilley has done a systematic study of the correspondence between ancient Greek and Indian philosophy in his 2001 book The Shape of Ancient Thought. This post summarizes his discovery of the Kundalini concept in Greek and other ancient non-Indian cultures. The manner in which these concepts were divined or disseminated through various ancient cultures is a matter of contention, which I shall not pursue here.
When Truths realized by enlightened sages and prophets are relayed down the ages without proper understanding, they tend to get frozen into customs observed by the masses out of habit or due to fear of God. Such archaic customs tend to accumulate until they are shattered by the next enlightened sage who appears on the scene. In this context, these are some striking observations of Mother Mirra Alfassa on some encrustations of Hinduism.
The contemporary religious tendency is to divide people into believers and non-believers instead of viewing them all as souls who are part of the One Divine, to regard sin as a deviance from morality subject to punishment rather than a transient condition which can be overcome with growth of consciousness, to assume that deliverance of the soul occurs due to strong belief in God rather than sublime contemplation. These are a couple of discourses by the Mother Mirra Alfassa on how religions are formed.
We live in times where spirituality is the new buzzword and religion is derided as outdated, but it is not clear what the differences between the two are. The religious approach can be summed up as a combination of nostalgia for the past, desire for structure in life, respect for authority and an inability to entertain ambiguity. The spiritual path is propelled by the desire to rediscover the Truth for oneself by using some psychological and occult practices. The rest of this article delineates these differences in detail.
Why do we live in fear or awe of God? Sri Aurobindo says it is our primitive mentality, which creates a deformed conception of God based on our egoistic human standards, that is to blame. We see God as a magnified Man and seek to influence him by bribing him with animal sacrifice, self-mortification and more generally, with a crafty trading mentality(e.g. “I will do this if you give me that”). Religion begins with an adoration of God but due to the crudity of human nature and lack of any practical method for abolishing the ego, ends up as the fear and awe of God. The path of Yoga by virtue of various spiritual practices aimed at abolishing the ego does not suffer from the same limitation and hence brings about Divine union. The following is an excerpt from the Synthesis of Yoga on the rationale behind man’s fear and awe of God.
The caste system in India has been a subject of much controversy. It was supposed to be an identification of man’s inbuilt inclinations and capacities, but gradually this truth was lost and it morphed into a mechanical system for slotting people into various social categories based on their birth in a certain family. It thus became a vehicle for stigma and discrimination. In the following selections from various works, Sri Aurobindo points out the true origin of the caste system – how the four castes are actually four latent powers (caturvyuha) within Man which must be perfected by every person on the spiritual path. The Brahmin represents the faculty of knowledge, ethics and learning, the Kshatriya represents valour, the Vaishya represents commerce and relationship of harmony, while the Shudra represents perfection in work.