Editor’s Note: We present here an interesting conversation of Sri Aurobindo with a small set of disciples, dated January 6, 1939. This is documented in Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, recorded by A. B. Purani. During the discussion on methods of effacing the ego, Sri Aurobindo makes an important distinction between outward modesty and the true attitude of psychic humility which can help the sadhak get rid of the vital ego. As an added bonus, we also get a glimpse in this conversation of Sri Aurobindo’s outer personality during his political revolutionary days.
PURANI: Is there any difference between the two methods of effacement of ego: realisation of the Spirit above and its nature of purity, knowledge, etc., and realisation of humility in the heart? Isn’t it possible to get rid of egoism by the second method too?
SRI AUROBINDO: Egoism may go . . . (Then after a short silence) Yes, egoism may go . . .
We caught the significance of the unfinished sentence and said, “Oh, you mean ego may remain?”
SRI AUROBINDO: Ego remains but becomes harmless. It may help one spiritually. Complete removal of ego is possible when one identifies oneself with the Atman and realises the same Spirit in all. Also when the mental, vital and physical nature is known to be a derivation from the universal mental, vital and physical. The individual must realise also his identity with the transcendental or the cosmic Divine, whatever you may call it.
From the mental plane, when one rises and realises the Spirit, it is generally the mental sense of ego that goes, not the entire ego sense. The dynamic nature retains ego, especially the vital ego. When the psychic attitude of humility comes in and joins with it, it helps in getting rid of the vital ego.
The complete abolition of ego is not an easy thing. Even when you think that it is entirely gone, it suddenly comes into your actions and movements. Especially important is the removal of the mental and vital ego; the others, the physical and subconscient, don’t matter very much: they can be dealt with at leisure, for they are not so absorbing.
By humility it is not outward humility that is meant. There are many people who profess and show the utmost outward humility, as if they were nothing, but in their hearts they think, “I am the man” People are mostly impressed and guided by outward conduct.
Mahadev Desai complained that I had lost the old charm of modesty. I did not profess like others that I was nothing. How can I say I am nothing when I know that I am not nothing?
DR. BECHARLAL: Were you “modest” in your early life?
SRI AUROBINDO: I used to practise what you may call voluntary self-effacement or self-denial and I liked to keep myself behind. Perhaps Desai meant that by modesty. But I can’t say that I was more modest within than others.
PURANI: Gandhi also seems to express modesty. When he differs from Malaviya or somebody else, he says, “He is my superior but I differ.”
SRI AUROBINDO: But does he really believe that? When I differed in anything, I used to say very few words and remain stiff, simply saying, “I don’t agree.”
Once Surendranath Banerji wanted to annex the Extremist Party and invited us to the U.P. Moderate Conference to fight against Sir Pherozshah Mehta. But there was a clause that no association that was not of two or three years’ standing could send delegates to the Conference. Ours was a new party. So we could not go. But Banerji said, “We will elect you as delegates.” J. L. Banerji and others agreed to it, but I just said, “No.” I spoke at most twenty or thirty words and the whole thing failed. How can you call a man modest when he stands against his own party?
(Talks with Sri Aurobindo by Nirodbaran, 6 January 1939)
~ Graphic design: Beloo Mehra