The following excerpt is an entry from The Mother's Question and Answers, 1955, in which she discusses 'All work' as a 'school of experience' and 'the whole life [as] a field of experience' via which we learn how to unify the inner and the outer experience. Our civilization is build upon the Mind's experience that the inner self (Spirit) is opposite ... opposed to and separate from the external circumstances of our life (Matter). Some people live exclusively on the surface, not acknowledging or experiencing any underlying spirit, and some recoil from the surface towards the spirit, not acknowledging or experiencing the presence of spirit in the surface circumstances and dynamic movements of material existence.
The Mother acknowledges that a quest towards the Spirit or the Immobile, Silent Self upon which creation rests, may be progress compared to a purely materialistic perspective, but it is in no way the goal or highest perspective of our consciousness. The goal is a Unified-Consciousness ‒ simultaneously one and many, at rest and in motion, point and periphery, simple and complex. In other words the goal is not a recoil or escape from material existence which culminates in the realization of formlessness or nothingness (or even 'heaven'); but is a Unity-Consciousness, a Supramental Consciousness which transforms the totality of individual and collective circumstances into a Life Divine, via the realization of the eternal connection between the stable Core and the dynamic Periphery. The image of the circle, with its point and circumference (the Sun's Symbol) is the best way to begin to fathom this realization ... one is neither lost on the periphery nor recoiled towards the point. One IS the Totality.
The Mother mentions India's loss of vitality as one serious consequence of the recoil from matter epitomized in the teachings of Buddha and Shankara. But we could equally point to ongoing and gestating human disasters caused by other world religions which each in their own way consider our dynamic material existence (and simultaneously the feminine) to be inferior to the Divine Transcendent. But it also must be recognized that the 'opposing' view, that of the exclusively materialistic point of view (Life devoid of Spirit) is also the breeding ground for ongoing and eminent human disasters. In other words, both polarities of our current consciousness are destructive and that is why this stage of the evolution of our consciousness (the Mental stage) and our current civilization, has been foreseen to self-destruct ... it is inevitable because it is inherently unsustainable, inherently unstable.
7 September 1955
[The Mother reads from Lights on Yoga, “Work”.]
Student:“All work” is “a school of experience”?
Yes, surely. You don’t understand?
Student: No, Mother.
If you don’t do anything, you cannot have any experience. The whole life is a field of experience. Each movement you make, each thought you have, each work you do, can be an experience, and must be an experience; and naturally work in particular is a field of experience where one must apply all the progress which one endeavours to make inwardly.
If you remain in meditation or contemplation without working, well, you don’t know if you have progressed or not. You may live in an illusion, the illusion of your progress; while if you begin to work, all the circumstances of your work, the contact with others, the material occupation, all this is a field of experience in order that you may become aware not only of the progress made but of all the progress that remains to be made. If you live closed up in yourself, without acting, you may live in a completely subjective illusion; the moment you externalise your action and enter into contact with others, with circumstances and the objects of life, you become aware absolutely objectively of whether you have made progress or not, whether you are more calm, more conscious, stronger, more unselfish, whether you no longer have any desire, any preference, any weakness, any unfaithfulness—you can become aware of all this by working. But if you remain enclosed in a meditation that’s altogether personal, you may enter into a total illusion and never come out of it, and believe that you have realised extraordinary things, while really you have only the impression, the illusion that you have done so.
That is what Sri Aurobindo means.
Student: Then, Mother why do all the spiritual schools in India have as their doctrine escape from action?
Yes, because all this is founded upon the teaching that life is an illusion. It began with the teaching of the Buddha who said that existence was the fruit of desire, and that there was only one way of coming out of misery and suffering and desire; it was to come out of existence. And then this continued with Shankara who added that not only is it the fruit of desire but it is a total illusion, and as long as you live in this illusion you cannot realise the Divine. For him there was not even the Divine, I think; for the Buddha, at least, there wasn’t any.
Student: Then did they truly have experiences?
That depends on what you call “experience”. They certainly had an inner contact with something.
The Buddha certainly had an inner contact with something which, in comparison with the external life, was a non-existence; and in this non-existence, naturally, all the results of existence disappear. There is a state like this; it is even said that if one can keep this state for twenty days, one is sure to lose one’s body; if it is exclusive, I quite agree with it.
But it may be an experience which remains at the back, you see, and is conscious even while not being exclusive, and which causes the contact with the world and the outer consciousness to be supported by something that is free and independent. This indeed is a state in which one can truly make very great progress externally, because one can be detached from everything and act without attachment, without preference, with that inner freedom which is expressed outwardly.
Yet this is the real necessity: once this inner freedom has been attained and the conscious contact with what is eternal and infinite, then, without losing this consciousness one must return to action and let that influence the whole consciousness turned towards action.
This is what Sri Aurobindo calls bringing down the Force from above. In this way there is a chance of being able to change the world, because one has brought in a new Force, a new region, a new consciousness and put it into contact with the outer world. So its presence and action will produce inevitable changes and, let us hope, a total transformation in what this outer world is.
So we could say that the Buddha quite certainly had the first part of the experience, but that he never dreamt of the second, because it was contrary to his own theory. His theory was that one had to run away; but it is obvious that there is only one way of escape, to die, and yet, as he himself has said so well, you may be dead and be completely attached to life and still be in the cycle of births and not have liberation. And in fact he has admitted the idea that it is by successive passing lives on the earth that one can manage to develop oneself to reach this liberation. But for him the ideal was that the world would not exist any longer. It was as though he accused the Divine of having made a mistake and that there was only one thing to do, to rectify the mistake by annulling it. But naturally, to be reasonable and logical, he did not admit the Divine. It was a mistake made by whom, how, in what way?—this he never explained. He simply said that it was made and that the world had begun with desire and had to end with desire. He was just on the point of saying that this world was purely subjective, that is, a collective illusion, and that if the illusion ceased the world would cease to be. But he did not come so far. It is Shankara who took over and made the thing altogether complete in his teaching.
If we go back to the teaching of the Rishis, for example, there was no idea of flight out of the world; for them the realisation had to be terrestrial. They conceived a Golden Age very well, in which the realisation would be terrestrial. But starting from a certain decline of vitality in the spiritual life of the country, perhaps, from a different orientation which came in, you see... it is certainly starting from the teaching of the Buddha that this idea of flight came, which has undermined the vitality of the country, because one had to make an effort to cut oneself off from life. The outer reality became an illusory falsehood, and one had no longer to have anything to do with it. So naturally one was cut off from the universal energy, and the vitality went on diminishing, and with this vitality all the possibilities of realisation also diminished.
But it is very remarkable... I have met many people who were trying this method of detachment and separation from life, and living exclusively in the inner reality. These people, almost all of them, had in the outer life absolutely gross defects. When they returned to the ordinary consciousness, they were very much lower than one of the ´elite, for instance, a man of great culture and great intellectual and moral development. These people in their ordinary conduct, when they came out of their meditation, their exclusive concentration, lived very grossly. They had very, very ordinary defects, you see. I knew many of this kind. Or perhaps they had come to a stage where their outer life was a sort of dream in which they were, so to say, not existing. But one had altogether the impression of beings who were completely incomplete, totally incomplete, that is, outwardly there was nothing at all.
Student: But if in the outer consciousness one is very low, how can one meditate? It becomes very difficult, doesn’t it?
Yes, very difficult!
Student: Then how do these people succeed?
But they came out of it completely, they left it as one takes off a cloak, then they put it aside and entered another part of their being. And this is what happened exactly, it was as though they took away this consciousness, laid it aside and entered another part of their being. And in their meditation, as long as they remained there, it was very good. But these people, most of them, when in that state, were in a kind of samadhi, and they could not even speak; and so when they came back and returned to the ordinary consciousness, it was just where it was before, completely unchanged; there was no contact.
You see, what makes the thing difficult for you to understand is that you don’t know concretely, practically, that there are... different planes of your being, as of all beings, which may not have any contact among themselves, and that one may very well pass from one plane to another, and live in a certain consciousness, leaving the other absolutely asleep. And moreover, even in activity, at different times different states of being enter into activity, and unless one takes the greatest care to unify them, put them all in harmony, one of them may pull from one side, another from the other, and a third pull from the third, and all of them be absolutely in contradiction with one another.
There are people who in a certain state of being are constructive, for example, and capable of organising their life and doing very useful work, and in another part of their being they are absolutely destructive and constantly demolish what the other has constructed. I knew quite a number of people of this kind who, apparently had a rather incoherent life, but it was because the two parts of the being, instead of completing each other and harmonising in a synthesis, were separated and in opposition, and one undid what the other did, and all the time they passed like this from one to the other. They had a disorganised life. And there are more people of this kind than one would think!
There are very outstanding examples, striking ones, so clear and distinct they are; but less totally opposed conditions, though all the same in opposition to one another, occur very, very often. Besides, one has oneself the experience, when one has tried to make progress; there is one part of the being which participates in the effort and makes progress, and suddenly, without rhyme or reason, all the effort one has made, all the consciousness one has gained, capsizes in something which is quite different, opposed, over which one has no control.
Some people can make an effort the whole day through, succeed in building something within themselves; they go to sleep at night and the next morning all that they had done on the previous day is lost, they have lost it in a state of unconsciousness. This happens very often, these are not exceptional cases, far from it. And this is what explains, you see, why some people—when they withdraw into their higher mind for instance—can enter into very deep meditation and be liberated from the things of this world, and then when they return to their ordinary physical consciousness, are absolutely ordinary if not even vulgar, because they haven't taken care to establish any contact, and to see that what is above acts and transforms what is below.
Student: Mother, about the Buddha I have a question. You said that the Avatar comes to the earth to show that the Divine can live upon the earth. Then why did he preach just the contrary? Is he an Avatar or not?
That!... Some people say he was an Avatar, others say no, but this, to tell you the truth, it is...
I think that this first thing, that the Avatar comes to the earth to prove that the Divine can... it is not so much to prove by words as to prove by a certain realisation; and I think that it would be rather this aspect of the Divine which is constructive and preservative, rather than a transformative and destructive aspect. You see, to use the Indian names known in India, well, I think they are Avatars of Vishnu who come rather to prove that the Divine can come upon earth; whereas each time Shiva has manifested he has always manifested like this, in beings who have tried to fight against an illusion and demolish what is there.
I have reasons to think that the Buddha was one. To speak more accurately, he manifested something of the power of Shiva: it was the same compassion, the same understanding of all the misery, and the same power which destroys—obviously with the intention of transforming, but destroys rather than constructs. His work does not seem to have been very constructive. It was very necessary to teach men practically not to be egoistic; from that point of view it was very necessary. But in its deeper principle it has not helped very much in the transformation of the earth.
As I said, you see, instead of helping the descent of the higher Consciousness into the terrestrial life, it has strongly encouraged the separation of the deeper consciousness, which he said was the only true one, from all outer expression.
Now, you see, this question of the Divine upon the earth: well, quite naturally those who believed in him have made a god of him. One has only to see all the temples and all the Buddhist godheads to know that human nature has always the tendency to deify what it admires.
So, there it is!
[all bold emphasis is added]
Related Links: Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet's 11 January 2013 'On the Nature of Centreship - a Message to India' and her series The Partition of India discuss the inevitable and serious problems that arise when we sacrifice our totality to the duality of the Mind.