The Flame of Attention
And one must have that complete freedom to come upon that which is eternally true….
Continuing our series on understanding the spirituality of the Human Body
There is a scientist’s way of looking at the human body and there is a spiritual way to look at it. The two views, though different due to a difference in the angle of the vision, are nevertheless mutually complimentary if we take the larger interests of the human race in its evolutionary progression. The view of the scientist is of course more narrow, his angle of vision more focused on the details of physical processes, his field of enquiry the outward and the immediate. The scientist brings us to the detailed knowledge of the chemical blocks which build our physical body, the laws and processes that govern our physical existence and the means of physical interventions that can help it to remain fit and healthy and function normally.
The yogi casts a wider look, his angle of vision is broader since his consciousness moves in a larger field of experience – the inner and cosmic. He may not necessarily be aware of the detailed chemical constitution or physical processes governing the body yet his intervention can be more direct, powerful and effective. This is so because he knows the play of the cosmic forces and their subtle laws and occult processes that work upon matter and govern it from behind. Yet his aim of intervention is not merely to secure fitness and normalcy for their own sake but for the fulfilment of a higher Purpose, of the cosmic Will in man. Therefore does a yogi seldom intervene under any pressure of personal will of the claimant to health but rather more and more in alignment to a deeper and larger cosmic Will which sees beyond the outward and the immediate. Unless of course the mere intensity of the personal will is enough to move the cosmic Will.
There is of course an intermediate terrain between the physical and the spiritual, a domain of mixed possibilities. The physical scientist has begun to recognize this as higher than the physical domain and calls it ‘psychological’. What he means by the term is that our thoughts, will, emotions have their physical counterparts, and through these psychophysical components of our physiology, they can and indeed do influence the physical processes, the organs and their functioning. This is a great discovery and opens doors into deeper territories. As of now however the physical scientist is satisfied with studying only the physical components of our psychophysical parts.
But just as there is a physical side of the psychological parts, there is a pure psychological side of our physical existence. It is occult to our physical vision and yet is teeming with rich and varied possibilities. It consists of a direct seizing upon of mind energies and life energies and other forms of an intermediate energy and their deft handling to heal and succour. This field known to the occultists, the alchemists and the tantrics of old had taken a backseat in the last few centuries that saw man preoccupied almost exclusively with the physical world and his material existence. The triumphant march of sciences based upon a study of gross matter and its possibilities almost blotted out this other type and even diminished faith in such deeper hidden possibilities. But now since we have explored and sounded the depths of the physical world we see a resurgence of interest in the hidden forces of life.
As we have said, the view of the yogi is deeper and wider than even the psychological and the occult. This is so because to his unsealed vision there are disclosed not only the stray strands of mental and vital and other energies but also the forces and forms and beings and godheads at each of these universal planes of existence. Instead of simply channelling the ‘energies’ through his personal will, which besides may yet be an ignorant limited and egoistic will, he opens himself to the action and play of the Cosmic Divine and even the Will of the Transcendent Supreme by a progressive surrender of his psychological apparatus and the instrumentality of nature; by a progressive dissolution of the ego to that which is Beyond-ego. The sign of such a surrender is that he no more opens a healing shop or promises miracles to each and everyone who approaches since he can no longer be impelled any more by his own limited personal will or the limited and ignorant will of his clients. He begins to act or rather be acted upon, more and more directly in alignment to a higher Will, more and more silently, yet more and more powerfully. He can claim nothing, nor promise anything unless he sees and knows it as coming from the Transcendent Source of all things.
What then is this deeper view of the human body, its necessity and its ultimate purpose? How does our health and illness relate with this Purpose? And how can we facilitate this great Purpose through both health and illness? This of course is another point of divergence. For while the scientist (physical and occult) hardly evinces any interest in the body other than its utility for survival and physical (vital existence for its own sake), the yogi, sees further. The yogi sees in the body the capacity to deliver the soul out of its self-willed confinement in matter. According to the yogi, the seemingly unconscious field of matter is pregnant with a conscious soul that has entered into a state of self-oblivion having identified with the unconscious state of matter. It has done this deliberately so that by a slow process of an evolutionary progression it can extract the divine possibilities hidden in matter. This is possible because, in the deepest vision of the seers, it is Spirit that has become matter. And therefore by a process of reversal (what we term as an evolution) matter can reclaim its spiritual status. This evolutionary unfolding takes place by the pressure of the growing soul. As it wakes up, it also wakes up the deeper possibilities of matter – the possibility of sensation, the possibility of impulse to live; of feelings; of thought and ideation. In other words, matter is the field in which seedlings of the Spirit are sown deep, carefully hidden in the folds of darkness of our material existence. These seedlings are watered and looked after by the Divine Gardener who pours down the Light and Breath and Force of a higher sphere of spiritual existence through the mediating agency of the soul. The soul holds the trust deed of this field whose ownership is with the Divine. But till the soul grows and is able to exercise a sufficient degree of influence and control over matter and physical existence, it has to act through the already developed agency of a caretaker mind and life.
And herein lies the first knot of the problem of our bodily existence. The body has already developed from within itself the powers of life with its fairly elaborate and perfected processes. The powers of mind and their processes and neurological connections are still developing as some latest research tell us. In other words, unlike the processes of life, the processes of cognition are yet not fully laid down and new patterns are replacing old ones. But the soul-powers and soul faculties are still largely asleep except for occasional glimpses from time to time. The yogi’s efforts are therefore not focused so much on physical survival or health and fitness for vital enjoyment or to enhance comfort and sense-pleasure. In fact, the yogi may prefer the instrument to be broken rather than being used by reckless powers of an excess ambition and blind lust. His efforts are to first of all extract the soul out of its entrapment in matter and secondly, to exercise a spiritual control and mastery over material and bodily existence. Thirdly, and lastly, the aim put forward by Sri Aurobindo, to progressively spiritualise and then divinise matter.
The problem of the bodily existence that the yogi had set to resolve are therefore different from those of the medical scientist. Though they work upon the same field, they work towards a different aim and with different principles and methods. The medical scientist’s job is to repair the damaged bodily equipment and enhance its lifespan for survival purposes or even to prolong the ability of sensory enjoyment, physical pleasures and comforts. Therefore the medical scientist multiplies outer methods of prolonging life, repairing defects, handling emergencies, change of organs, etc. To preserve and prolong is his aim. But the yogi’s interest lies elsewhere. Not survival for the sake of survival, not prolongation of life for fear of death, not a fresh lease so that he can indulge a little longer into sense pleasures. So, his first and foremost aim is to keep the body supple and fit, in a reasonable healthy and balanced state relatively free of serious disturbances so that he can concentrate upon his soul. Not that he cannot do so in a sick body. He can, if he has a strong will, but in the usual case, a sick body, and a body full of tamas and inertia drags the consciousness outward and downward. True, with practice it is not difficult to learn detaching the mind from our physical condition yet that makes the effort so much more difficult, especially if there is too much of inertia. Besides inertia and tamas naturally attract forces of disharmony and disruption, of greed and lust. A physical consciousness that is too tamasic preoccupies itself with food, sex and sleep, etc., attraction to things that make the body heavy and dull or damage the nerves such as alcohol, tobacco, narcotics, heavy or stale food, etc.. Some simple medicines as and when necessary to avoid too much discomfort are okay in this stage when one is simply learning to disengage the soul from the body and mind. Life, death, disease are in this stage mere passing incidents that temporarily block our view or pause for a short while our search for the soul.
The second level of difficulty arises when having found his soul, the yogi strives to master each and every movement. The law of moderation is to be replaced here by a growing spiritual perfection. It is no more enough to eat in moderation but to eliminate greed completely. It is no more a regulated sex but an effort to completely master the sex impulse. It is no more having a sound refreshing sleep but to become conscious of that very period of rest. Even with regards to illness, the effort is to get rid of it by an inner control and exercise of a spiritual will and by the pressure of a higher consciousness and its forces. One may still need medicines but rarely and in lower dosages for short duration. As the change proceeds, the so-called normal laws of the body no more hold tight. The body itself is seen as a field and a symbol for the play of various forces and energies of different levels of consciousness reflected and represented in the body. This is a long and protracted battle. The vital and the mind do not easily let go off their old misrule. The subconscious caves where these traffickers and robbers hide raise their head again and again. The effort here is to link the physical consciousness to the soul and through it to the higher realms. This is done through aspiration and opening of the physical consciousness to change, a persistent, painstaking, rejection full of perseverance; a constant referral to Grace, its invocation to eliminate the many defects and impulses and a surrender to the Divine Will. As the psychic consciousness grows, as the inner being begins to change under the psychic pressure, as the higher forces accumulate, the task becomes relatively easier though by no means a simple one.
A distinction has to be made between the psychic control vis-à-vis a mental and vital control of the body. For people with a strong vital will can impose it upon the body. Usually, this vital will in man being subject to the ego and desire, is used for all the wrong purposes. However, sometimes the vital will and the mind can exercise a strong control over the body. Such a control should not be confused with the control arrived at by a psychic and spiritual consciousness. The vital and mental will impose upon the body certain arbitrary rules based on preferred opinions. These rules may even be drastic ones like raw vegan vegetarianism, or breatharians, or food fads, or an extensive exercise programme without proper and adequate rest and sleep. Such a control may appear drastic and swift to arrive but is usually temporary, achieved by a locking up of mental and vital energy in suppressing something, done at the expense of the body’s health (even though people do not always realise it is as in cases of anorexia nervosa). Besides, such a control usually brings a certain rigidity and harshness in nature. The psychic control takes longer because it keeps the little grain of wheat while removing the chaff, but is more complete, carries a sense of harmony, sweetness, peace and joy. Nevertheless, mental and vital control have their own utilities in our evolutionary journey. The mental and vital control is more external such as not eating certain things even though you like them, while the psychic control is more intrinsic such as eliminating greed. Both may therefore complement each other.
The psychic control is usually in the form of an invitation, a subtle indication of the gesture to be made, the thing to be done and the right way to do it. It has neither the harsh insistence of the mind nor the vehemence of the vital but acts more as a subtle but sure compulsion which we (the mind-vital-body ego) may or may not follow. But if persisted and followed, it leads a harmony and grace to the body, a ring of authentic sweetness and peace in the voice and speech, an unerring impulsion to our bodily movements and a spontaneous resetting of the body’s rhythms in accordance with deeper truths. The food becomes more nourishing and in the right quantity without our thinking or calculating of calories, the sleep becomes much more refreshing and the dreams change their quality, one develops a “natural’ (as contrasted with enforced and artificial) distaste for certain crude impulses such as sex and anger. Fear tends to diminish and finally vanish. The very limbs feel a subtle sweetness flowing through them as a rejuvenating sap of some immortal life, and even the taste and other senses may undergo a corresponding change. A new and deeper sense of beauty comes that is no more deceived by charming appearances and can easily see through them. A spontaneous knowledge, a more subtle but effective will, a quality of tranquillity in feeling and impulsion, a natural state of peace and joy, an uplifting of everything towards the Divine, a clarity that the intellect cannot offer, a goodwill, wideness and love that the heart has not known before, a native generosity of the soul that is equal-visioned towards all and therefore at peace and ease with itself and the world are some of the profound physical and psychological changes that arises with the progressive awakening of the psychic. This itself is a great gain and makes us so much more free from many maladies. But since it is difficult for man to remain in constant touch with the soul, there are lapses and recoils, the revolts of the vital, the surfing up of the mind’s anxieties and fears, the hearts hopes and expectations, the body’s maladies. The subconscient throws up the old ills and habits again in such vulnerable moments and the maladies return. Nevertheless, once the passage is seated for the psychic streams to pour upon the body it becomes easier and easier to get back to the psychic poise and heal the body from within.
This becomes possible because unlike the mind and the vital, the psychic consciousness can directly link us to the healing forces of a higher consciousness. It can even call down the touch of Grace upon matter and redeem it from its fallen state. And if for some reason it (the soul) decides to leave the body, then one is put in the best and most favourable inner conditions to do so. Then death itself becomes a leap, an opportunity, and crisis an evolutionary lever. If this is combined with a strong faith and will in the mind and the vital then it can make an almost impregnable fortress against almost all illnesses. Such a fortunate combination is however very rare. Often in fact, the story may well be different. A person with a great psychic possibility may be endowed with a great difficulty of nature that is like a shadow which he must conquer to realize his own true strength. And in Nature’s great economy and wisdom the obstacle is so arranged so that it may hasten the inner possibility which would remain dormant if it did not meet the friction and resistance of an opposing force which acts as a stimulant or a challenge to facilitate the psychic emergence. To conquer this rock-like obstacle to facilitate the flow of the soothing streams of the nectar of delight that secretly even now supports and heals our existence is the work of the yogi. This work needs time, patience, faith and courage. It is the work of bringing into the frame of our mortal existence that which exceeds all frames. It is the work of preparing our earthly field called the body to receive and implant seeds of light from another realm whose harvest is not yet known to man. But once it begins to blossom and bloom it will solve all problems of disease, incapacity and death by striking at the very roots of the malady that lie embedded and entangled in the dark concealment of the rock caves of our subconscient nature. Medicines cannot do it, nor can any alternate system of therapy or exercises of techniques of breathing do it for us. These may be and are helpful in their own place and time but only temporarily and perhaps immediately so. But the yogi looks beyond the temporal and the immediate. He looks at concealed parts, parts of light and parts of night and reuniting them becomes a whole.
From the Yogic point of view each part of the body is symbolic of a higher movement that is reflected here in a more or less distorted manner. Yet there is a subtle correspondence between the two. Now the effort of evolution translates itself in physical terms to create a perfect body that is truly representative of the higher states of consciousness, a body moved entirely by the higher forces and energies rather than by their lower and lesser counterparts as of now. This would naturally lead not only to a perfect immunity that could practically extend to everything but also to a free and full play of Divine Consciousness and its forces and energies in matter. It would bring, in other terms, a complete freedom from all animality and also death-bound, disease prone, desire driven humanity. How will this come about? The first step is to accumulate the forces and energies of a higher consciousness by a constant aspiration, psychic purification and a spiritual opening of the embodied human consciousness right up to the physical. There must increase simultaneously the receptivity of the body-cells to this higher consciousness. A conscious and methodical physical education is one of the means to achieve that. The pressure of the transformed inner consciousness will begin to mould and remould the physical stuff till it finally admits the transformation of each part into a corresponding physical centre of energy.
Secondly, to a deeper spiritual sight, each part contains the whole in itself. There is a whole universe contained or rather crammed within us. In a transformed body it may be possible to effectuate changes in one part of the world by concentrating on a corresponding part of the body and releasing the higher forces locked there. Each body can become then a representative body of the earth. This is the deeper work of the yogi – to awaken and release the spiritual forces locked in the prison house of matter. And by that release turn this prison into a camp or temple-house of God. The scientist’s work is simply to study and repair the prison-bars, make them strong and lasting. The yogi’s work is to change them and in its place erect something new, something far more beautiful and true.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alok Pandey’s book Veda of the Body
An exponent of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s writings, especially on the subject of Yoga, Psychology, Education and Health, he has a medical degree in Psychiatry and has served in the Indian Air Force. He lives and practices in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry.
And one must have that complete freedom to come upon that which is eternally true….
Continuing our article on the spiritual relationship between Maharishi Sri Aurobindo and Sri Krishna
What are the critical problems of today? And what could be relevance of ancient Indian wisdom in resolving our predicaments when modern knowledge appears to have been so advanced?