Editor’s Note: These selections from Sri Aurobindo’s letters highlight the necessity of work in Integral Yoga. One also finds helpful guidance on how to open oneself to the Mother’s force and feel her presence in one’s consciousness and the work one is doing.
Work or Meditate?
To go entirely inside in order to have experiences and to neglect the work, the external consciousness, is to be unbalanced, one sided in the sadhana—for our Yoga is integral; so also to throw oneself outward and live in the external being alone is to be unbalanced, one-sided in the sadhana. One must have the same consciousness in inner experience and outward action and make both full of the Mother.
There should be not only a general attitude, but each work should be offered to the Mother so as to keep the attitude a living one all the time. There should be at the time of work no meditation, for that would withdraw the attention from the work, but there should be the constant memory of the One to whom you offer it.
This is only a first process; for when you can have constantly the feeling of a calm being within concentrated in the sense of the Divine Presence while the surface mind does the work, or when you can begin to feel always that it is the Mother’s force that is doing the work and you are only a channel or an instrument, then in place of memory there will have begun the automatic constant realisation of Yoga, divine union, in works.
Those who do work for the Mother in all sincerity, are prepared by the work itself for the right consciousness even if they do not sit down for meditation or follow any particular practice of Yoga.
It is not necessary to tell you how to meditate; whatever is needful will come of itself if in your work and at all times you are sincere and keep yourself open to the Mother.
The Mother does not think that it is good to give up all work and only read and meditate. Work is part of the Yoga and it gives the best opportunity for calling down the Presence, the Light and the Power into the vital and its activities; it increases also the field and the opportunity of surrender.
It is not enough to remember that the work is the Mother’s—and the results also. You must learn to feel the Mother’s force behind you and to open to the inspiration and the guidance. Always to remember by an effort of the mind is too difficult; but if you get into the consciousness in which you feel always the Mother’s force in you or supporting you, that is the true thing.
Disciple: When I am alone for some time, I feel aspiration in the heart, peace and Samata. I feel as if nothing can disturb me. But when I come out to work or move here and there and mix with others, I lose this feeling. Why does it happen like this?
Sri Aurobindo: It is the difficulty of being calm and surrendered in action and movement; when there is no action and one is simply sitting still, it is easy to be quiet.
Disciple: How can this weakness be rejected from the nature so that I can live in peace and Samata in the midst of work and everywhere?
Sri Aurobindo: By rejecting ego and desire and living and working for the Divine alone.
Disciple: Will those who live in peace and Samata but do not work for the Mother’s sake or do little work be transformed fully?
Sri Aurobindo: No; they do not get transformed at all.
Disciple: If one works with an attitude of service and love, but does not meditate, will it not lead to stagnation from an inner standpoint? Many say, “We are doing Mother’s work and that is sufficient.”
Sri Aurobindo: If they do it in the right spirit, then it may be sufficient for them, as it will bring the rest—because of the spirit in which they do it. It is a matter of idiosyncrasy—there are some who cannot get anything by meditation, so that work or bhakti is their only resource.
Disciple: People say, “As long as the lower nature is not fully purified, it is dangerous to do a lot of meditation. If one meditates too much before one has become purified by means of work, things might rise up from the lower nature and upset the sadhak. When the higher forces come down into a nature not sufficiently purified through work, it is difficult to bear the descent of the divine forces.”
Sri Aurobindo: It is not the descent of the higher or divine forces that upsets a sadhak, it is his acceptance of forces of falsehood through ambition, vanity, desire to be a great Yogi or an attachment to his experiences without regard to their truth or their source.
It is not well to spend the whole time or the greater part of the time in meditation unless one is very strong in mind— for one gets into a habit of living in an inner world entirely and losing touch with external realities—this brings in a onesided inharmonious movement and may lead to disturbance of balance. To do both meditation and work and dedicate both to the Mother is the best thing.
Opening to Mother’s Force
Disciple: My thoughts, emotions and sensations are all turned towards the Mother. But how can I make them serve her in practical life? I still make mistakes and do not always get the right inspiration.
Sri Aurobindo: That depends on the physical mind. It has to learn to stop listening to itself and following its own ideas and to call seriously and persistently for the inspiration of the Mother—your physical mind has to become a portion of hers, answering at once and accurately to whatever comes from her.
Disciple: X says that he cannot feel your presence during work as he can during meditation. He does not understand how work can help him.
Sri Aurobindo: He has to learn to consecrate his work and feel the Mother’s power working through it. A purely sedentary subjective realisation is only a half realisation.
Disciple: I pray that I may feel the Mother’s protection while working. I feel happy to work. I am not able to meditate every day, but as long as I am working I feel that the work itself is sadhana.
Sri Aurobindo: Work for the Mother done with the right concentration on her is as much a sadhana as meditation and inner experiences.
Disciple: During physical pursuits, I find that the Mother’s Force takes them up. But when I am not working, what should I aspire for?
Sri Aurobindo: For the Mother’s power to work and bring down by the proper stages the higher consciousness. Also for the system to be more and more fit—quiet, egoless, surrendered.
It is not our experience that by meditation alone it is possible to change the nature, nor has retirement from outward activity and work much profited those who have tried it; in many cases it has been harmful.
A certain amount of concentration, an inner aspiration in the heart and an opening of the consciousness to the Mother’s presence there and to the descent from above are needed. But without action, without work the nature does not really change; it is there and by contact with men that there is the test of the change in the nature.
As for the work one does, there is no higher or lower work; all work is the same provided it is offered to the Mother and done for her and in her power. [. . .]
This [experience of the true attitude] happens when the work is always associated with the Mother’s thought, done as an offering to her, with the call to do it through you.
All ideas of ego, all association of egoistic feelings with the work must disappear. One begins to feel the Mother’s force doing the work; the psychic grows through a certain inner attitude behind the work and the adhar becomes open both to the psychic intuitions and influences from within and to the descent from above. Then the result of meditation can come through the work itself.
Work and Inner Consecration
Just as you give yourself through work to the Mother doing all for her, so there is an inner giving or consecration.
Ordinarily the mind and vital live for themselves, want this or that, seek after it and feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled if they do not get it. But when they give themselves, this ceases. Whatever the Mother does with them that they accept—ask for nothing, rely on her entirely, live for her will and not for their desires. Then they begin to be empty of their old selves and old movements, fill with the presence of the Mother, the will of the Mother, the workings of the Mother—that becomes all their life.
Disciple: Once in an interview the Mother told me, “Why do you make any difference between me and work?” I am not sure if I have been able to reproduce the exact words, but they are almost like that. I pray to you to make the idea a little more explicit.
Sri Aurobindo: As it stands, it has no meaning. What Mother must have said is “Why do you make any separation between me and work?”
It is she who is doing the work, she is there in it, so it is a mistake to make an opposition between concentration on her and the work. Her presence is there in both.
This state of mind, described in your letter, must be due to a tension created by an urge in the psychic to make a complete surrender to the Mother and some obstruction in the vital mind and surface intellect. This mind supports the obstruction by an excessive self-depreciation (not well-founded as a sound and just self-examination would be) and a questioning of all you do so that you can see only defects and wrong motives. That creates unrest, doubt and strain and hampers your sadhana and prevents the psychic impulse from acting freely.
You should do your work simply in the confidence that it is accepted and appreciated by the Mother, as indeed it is,— for your work has been very good and helpful to her. Let the psychic movement express itself simply and spontaneously in action without allowing the outer mind to interfere; that would very likely release the tension and then your sadhana could proceed in a quiet cheerfulness, confident of its own truth and the Mother’s loving acceptance.
– Sri Aurobindo (CWSA, Vol. 32, pp. 246-254)
~ Design: Raamkumar