Editor’s note: The deep influence of the Western intellectual frameworks of modernist and postmodernist kind have led the modern mind to look at both the words — Progress and Perfection — in somewhat narrow and limited manner and often in a superficial way. This has also led to a certain kind of mental prejudice and bias. These selections help us remove these intellectual cobwebs and gain a deeper dimension to these ideas of Progress and Perfection.
The First Lesson to Learn
Surely a big stride will have been taken when man will naturally turn to perfect himself instead of waiting to find perfection in others. . . This reversal is the very basis of all true progress. The first human instinct: “It is the fault of circumstances, the fault of people, the fault… this one is like this, that one is like that, the other one…” And this goes on indefinitely.
The first step, the very first step is to say: “If I were as I ought to be or if this body were as it ought to be, all would be perfectly all right for it.” If in order to progress, you were to wait for others to progress, you would have to wait indefinitely. That is the very first thing that is to be circulated everywhere.
Never put the blame on others or on circumstances, because whatever the circumstances, even those that appear the worst, if you keep the true attitude and have the true consciousness, they will have no importance at all for your inner progress, no importance—I say this and I include even death.
Indeed, that seems to be the first lesson to learn. (Silence)
Sri Aurobindo had written (I translate freely) that the notion of sin has been introduced to hasten progress, and immediately (Mother laughs) man saw sin in all others—he never saw it in himself! Sri Aurobindo’s sentence is charming, but I do not remember it[i].
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Become Conscious of the Truth of Our Being
To work for your perfection, the first step is to become conscious of yourself, of the different parts of your being and their respective activities. You must learn to distinguish these different parts one from another, so that you may become clearly aware of the origin of the movements that occur in you, the many impulses, reactions and conflicting wills that drive you to action. It is an assiduous study which demands much perseverance and sincerity.
For man’s nature, especially his mental nature, has a spontaneous tendency to give a favourable explanation for everything he thinks, feels, says and does. It is only by observing these movements with great care, by bringing them, as it were, before the tribunal of our highest ideal, with a sincere will to submit to its judgment, that we can hope to form in ourselves a discernment that never errs.
For if we truly want to progress and acquire the capacity of knowing the truth of our being, that is to say, what we are truly created for, what we can call our mission upon earth, then we must, in a very regular and constant manner, reject from us or eliminate in us whatever contradicts the truth of our existence, whatever is opposed to it. In this way, little by little, all the parts, all the elements of our being can be organised into a homogeneous whole around our psychic centre.
This work of unification requires much time to be brought to some degree of perfection. Therefore, in order to accomplish it, we must arm ourselves with patience and endurance, with a determination to prolong our life as long as necessary for the success of our endeavour.
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Meditation, Progress and Transformation
. . . my experience (which is sufficiently long, for it is now almost fifty-three years since I have been dealing with people, with their yoga, their inner efforts; I have seen much here and there, a little everywhere in the world); well, I do not believe that it is by meditation that you can transform yourself. I am absolutely convinced of the contrary.
If while doing what you have to do—whatever it may be, whatever work it is—if you do it and while doing it are careful not to forget the Divine, to offer to Him what you do and try so to give yourself to Him that He may change all your reactions—instead of their being selfish, petty, stupid and ignorant, making them luminous, generous—then in that way you will make progress.
Not only will you have made some progress but you will have helped in the general progress.
I have never seen people who have left everything in order to go and sit down in a more or less empty contemplation (for it is more or less empty), I have never seen such people making any progress, or in any case their progress is very trifling.
I have seen persons who had no pretensions of doing yoga, who were simply filled with enthusiasm by the idea of terrestrial transformation and of the descent of the Divine into the world and who did their little bit of work with that enthusiasm in the heart, giving themselves wholly, without reserve, without any selfish idea of a personal salvation; these I have seen making magnificent progress, truly magnificent. And sometimes they are wonderful.
I have seen sannyasis, I have seen people who live in monasteries, I have seen people who professed to be yogis, well, I would not exchange one of the others for a dozen such people (I mean, from the standpoint of terrestrial transformation and world progress, that is to say, from the standpoint of what we want to do, to try that this world may no longer be what it is and may become truly the instrument of the divine Will, with the divine Consciousness).
It is not by running away from the world that you will change it. It is by working there, modestly, humbly but with a fire in the heart, something that burns like an offering. Voilà.
Disciple: So meditation is of no use?
No, and to the extent it is necessary, it will come spontaneously. All of a sudden, you will be seized by something that makes you still, makes you concentrate in the vision of an idea or of a psychological state. That captures you. You must not resist. Then you make the needed progress. At such a moment you see, you understand something; and then the next minute you start your work again with that something gained in you, but without any pretension.
What I most fear are those who believe themselves very exceptional because they sit down and meditate. Of all things this is the most dangerous, because they become so vain and so full of self-satisfaction that they close up in this way all avenues of progress. . .
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What is Perfection?
Some people put perfection at the apex. It is generally thought that perfection is the maximum one can do. But I say that perfection is not the apex, it is not an extreme. There is no extreme—whatever you may do, there is always the possibility of something better, and it is exactly this possibility of something better which is the very meaning of progress.
Since there is no extreme, how can we attain perfection?
Disciple: If we make some progress, could it be said that we are going towards perfection?
You are mixing up perfection and progress. You do not necessarily progress towards perfection. In progress there is perhaps a certain perfection, but it can’t be said that progress is perfection. Progress is rather an ascent.
Perfection is a harmony, an equilibrium.
But what is equilibrium? Who here has studied a little physics here?
Disciple: In a balance, when the two scales are equally loaded, it is said that an equilibrium is established.
That’s it. And so what do I mean when I say that perfection is an equilibrium?
Disciple: When, in a given circumstance, what is against the realisation, that is to say the opposition, is conquered by a conscious force, the result is the manifestation of the realisation.
Yes, it is more or less like that, but I should put it otherwise.
Disciple: The idea of perfection is something which comes to us from the Divine, it descends from plane to plane; and we climb back from plane to plane.
This is still an evolutionary idea. It is always said that when a creation reaches its maximum possibility, this is perfection; but it is not that! and it is exactly against this idea that I protest.
All this is only a rung in the progress. That is, Nature goes to the extreme limit of what she has, and when she sees that she can go no further, can no longer stir, she destroys everything and begins again. This can’t be called a perfection, for perfection cannot be demolished.
Perfection will come only when Nature can no longer undo what she has begun. For the moment there is no instance where she has not successively undone what she had begun, believing that it was not enough or it was not that which she wanted to do. Hence it cannot be said that she has attained perfection in her creation. It would be the maximum only if she had no need to undo what she has done.
Perfection – a progressive, dynamic equilibrium
Disciple: You say that we do not seek success, but is not success a sort of perfection?
For the ordinary human mentality success is perhaps a perfection, but not for us.
Perfection is not a static state, it is an equilibrium. But a progressive, dynamic equilibrium. One may go from perfection to perfection.
There can come a state from which it would not be necessary to descend to a lower rung in order to go farther; at the moment the march of Nature is like that, but in this new state, instead of being obliged to go back to be able to start again, one can walk always forward, without ever stopping.
As things are, one comes to a certain point and, as human beings as they are at present cannot progress indefinitely, one must pass to a higher species or leave the present species and create another. The human being as he is at the moment cannot attain perfection unless he gets out of himself—man is a transitional being.
In ordinary language it may be said: “Oh, this man is perfect”, but that is a literary figure. The maximum a human being can attain just now is an equilibrium which is not progressive. He may attain perhaps a static equilibrium but all that is static can be broken for lack of progress.
The Supreme and Perfect Equilibrium
Disciple: Is not perfection the fulfilment of the Divine in all the parts of the being?
No, what you are thinking of is again a rung in progress and not perfection.
Now we are going to try to find a definition which can fit all instances, that is, the individual, the collectivity, the earth and the universe.
We may say that perfection will be attained in the individual, the collectivity, on the earth and in the universe, when, at every moment, the receptivity will be equal in quality and quantity to the Force which wants to manifest.
That is the supreme equilibrium.
Hence, there must be a perfect equilibrium between what comes from above and what answers from below, and when the two meet, that is perfect equilibrium, which is the Realisation—a realisation in constant progress.
[i] “The sense of sin was necessary in order that man might become disgusted with his own imperfections. It was God’s corrective for egoism. But man’s egoism meets God’s device by being very dully alive to its own sins and very keenly alive to the sins of others.” (Thoughts and Aphorisms, CWSA, Vol. 12, pp. 430-431)
~ Design: Beloo Mehra