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Aurobindo, the occult and mental silence

(the following is extracted from a letter on the role of thinking vs. devotion)

Sri Aurobindo said,  “There is nothing mind can do that cannot be better done in the mind’s immobility”

This should be put in context. We are talking about a guy who spent a great deal of time in philosophy and culture. Is he here refuting his life’s work? Of course not. His point is that the mind works best as a receiver of inspiration not as the primary producer of it. Also when he says things like that he is talking more about individual spiritual attainment not cultural production which requires the mind be moved, even if the impetus is from above. He did like to emphasize receptivity and inner silence in cultural work as well, but again this is just part of the whole integral attitude: devotional silence grounds the occult in soulful service to the divine. Its a balance of the two and integration. As Gurdjieff says, “Love without knowledge is demonic”. One could say of course with Steiner that knowledge without love/devotion is Luciferic if it is spiritual, Ahrimanic if it is material. Another relevant Gurdjieff quote is “Conscious Faith is freedom, emotional faith is slavery, mechanical faith is foolishness.”

I tend to think Aurobindo’s preference for Eastern concepts distorted his understanding of what he was doing. He fits in much better with the other major Theosophical era spiritual modernists like Blavatsky, Steiner and Gurdjieff. That whole era of spiritualism was defined by mystery schools allowing information out into the culture because they wanted to influence the culture directly, not just through reclusive private spiritual work, but through ideas. Aurobindo kept thinking his private spiritual work was the most important, always waiting for some magical transformation of society he would initiate through his bodily transformation. His understanding of cultural evolution was rather limited by his main influences in that field being French Enlightenment thought, whereas Steiner had a much fuller picture of the esoteric forces. Consequently, Steiner had a much deeper influence over the culture. Aurobindo had no mystery school initiation or training. He was amazing in how he did everything on his own. His diary is a unique record of someone testing out every occult reality and concept for himself. . It was the Mother who was the trained occultist, trained by Max Theon,  one of the key initiators of the whole spiritual emergence of the era.

Aurobindo just took a few basic western occult concepts from the Mother, but was more intent on going his own way trying to evolve the concepts directly out the vedantic tradition, even mostly ignoring tantric developments which had already traversed similar territory. Which to me was reinventing the wheel, since centuries had passed, millenia since vedanta, and much had been accomplished already. His actual occult work  was consequently confused. He would go back and forth between focusing on the microcosmic forces in his own body that he knew were a localized occult nodal point of the greater system, and then he would go and try to psychically influence the outcomes of individual battles in WW2. He was still very much the child of the French revolution in his political thinking and his psychic politics followed suit. He still wanted quick revolution and never quite reconciled his taste for violent revolution and battle which defined his youth and young adult vision, with his intuition of a greater and longer term spiritual evolution. So he focused on the deepest levels with his private spiritual transformation and its effect on the whole, but then would be very concerned about surface level realities like the outcomes of battles, and tended to dismiss the cultural production which had defined his midlife; which for me was his most important contribution. Savitri he worked on till the end, but it was always just an experiment for him, not his primary work. He actually thought he was the most spiritually advanced being on the planet, who along with the mother was going to save the world.

I think it is clear that there are advanced adapts and high spiritual beings that prefer to stay in the background, but use people with a gift for cultural production and inspiration to further the culture through art, science and philosophy. We all have unique gifts we are here to use and we are doing what we can to develop the ones that we are here to develop. I am fully aware of the dangers of the mechanical intellect as it is my primary purpose to help displace its dominance on our planet in whatever way I can. Mental silence and emotional devotion is the best way to receive guidance and inspiration. By itself devotional practice leads to knowledge, yes. But Aurobindo points out in his synthesis, that as that knowledge comes, the devotional path becomes integral eventually anyway; that is, it must also use the tools of a broader practical psychology to deal with the complexity of forces approached as the occult mind opens out of the purity of affective and effective surrender. He thinks starting out integal is more effective but it is not for everybody.  I would add, as Western people living in the world, it is inevitable that our practice have tantric and integral components since surrender in this context is dangerous without a reliable guide to those forces. That guide is philosophy—the tradition that has evolved to update us on the cultural and political climate we inhabit. Without it, we can see what happens almost inevitably with Eastern spiritual groups.

We are confronting occult forces no matter what we do, but surrender and acceptance is always the best attitude. The best parts of the Western tradition, especially the good parts of the esoteric, romantic and postmodern movements use that receptivity as a starting point. Two of Steiner’s favorite figures were Nietzsche and Goethe. Though they may have suffered, they were all about accepting things as they are first and listening and forming art and knowledge out of that receptive state, or as Nietzsche put it out of a love of fate, and not out of suffering and resistance which he equated more with the Christian tradition. But Steiner pinpoints the Christ impulse as the very essence of the fruition of the devotional attitude. It is Aurobindo’s psychic being, the one major concept he got from the Western occult tradition. It is devotion not just to God, but to service of God in the world.

Steiner has a great lecture series comparing the Gita and Paul’s letters. He sees the Gita and Krishna as important precursors to what becomes fully manifest in Christianity. Even atheists like Zizek recognize the importance of Christianity as the turning point in devotion moving from the transcendent and ethnically bound religiosity to service to mankind as a whole. The Christian era helped bring to fruition the intellectual soul which has allowed us the freedom to begin this current era of developing the consciousness soul which may eventually, if we succeed, set up the future evolution of humanity in the far future. These aren’t just theories or speculations; they are ways of talking about what we all are learning to do: find our way in a world increasingly independent from the primordial divine and increasingly dependent on our values. But no matter how large a scale or detailed the picture, no matter if we admit it or not, we are all working and using our individual soul to further our talents in service of the divine, more or less. Cultural production is not really what is important however important as an expression and sign it may be. What matters is what we are doing right here between us in these letters and inside our own minds everyday—laying down the structures of relations between the different qualities of the divine that we, and everything else, express and are all working to integrate and develop.