Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Evolution of the Interior Horizon of the Cosmos

So, in 1995, knowing that I had to choose one path and stick to it, I became a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. At the time, the choice was rather easy, based on the options available (or which I thought were available). Aurobindo (1872-1950) is widely considered to be the greatest Hindu sage of the 20th century, perhaps ever, alongside Shankara.

At the time, for reasons I have explained, I couldn't have chosen Christianity, because I just didn't know of any kind of Christianity that appealed to me, and many of the most visible forms -- or at least their practitioners -- frankly repelled me. I was a typical case of someone who turns to the east because we are exposed to so many religious yahoos from our own tradition. If I had been born in India, I'd probably have become Catholic, seeing what a wreck certain Hindu doctrines had made of the place. It was a classic case of comparing their best with our worst.

But Aurobindo also appealed to me because of his thoroughly modern intellect. Although born in India, he was educated at some of the finest schools in England, where he mastered Greek, Latin, and English -- not to mention learning French, Italian, German, and Spanish -- received various prizes for literature and history, and was eventually awarded a scholarship to Cambridge. By the time he returned to India in 1893, he had been thoroughy anglicized and actually had no knowledge of Indian culture or religion. He took a position at a university and then became one of the early leaders in the movement for independence. He was arrested on charges of sedition in 1908 and spent a year in jail, where he had some powerful spiritual experiences. He was acquitted a year later.

To make an endless story short, the spiritual experiences kept coming, and eventually a small group of followers formed around him. He began publishing a spiritual journal in 1914, and his output was somewhat staggering. For the next ten years or so, he engaged in what he called "overmental writing," in that the material would seemingly just come down through him as opposed to from him. Simultaneously he composed several major works, any one of which would be considered a signal achievement for a normal person, including The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Human Cycle, and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Vedas, not to mention reams of poetry, including the cosmic-spiritual epic Savitri, at some 24,000 lines the longest poem in the English language.

Much of his prose probably sounds a bit turgid to modern ears, since he was educated at the peak of that overly formal and florid Victorian or Edwardian or whatever you call it style. However, after the mid-1920s or so, he wrote almost nothing but letters to disciples -- thousands and thousands of them -- and in these he is much more informal, sometimes humorous and playful (he still wrote some poems as well). The letters are collected into three volumes, and are much more accessible than his formal writings. If you add the three volumes of letters together, they come to some 3400 pages, and cover most every conceivable spiritual topic.

I don't know that I want to get into a complete review of his philosophy, because it's just too complex and multifaceted. (The best introduction is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem). But perhaps his central theme was the reconciliation of the perennial insights of Vedanta embodied in the Upanishads (which form the esoteric essence of Hindu metaphysics) with the evolutionary cosmos revealed by science. In this regard, he was way ahead of his time, because he recognized that there can be no conflict between religion and science -- or that if there appears to be conflict, it must be concealing a deeper unity that eludes us. He has certain rough parallels with Hegel, in that he sees the cosmos as a platform of spiritual evolution toward higher and higher syntheses of unity.

But he has even more in common with the Catholic thinker Teilhard de Chardin, whose Phenomenon of Man was the first systematic attempt to do with Christianity what Aurobindo was doing with Vedanta, which is to say, reconcile it with the new scientific views that emerged in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In turn, Aurobindo and Teilhard have some loose affinities with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, if you want a purely secular point of entry into a cosmic view of evolution.

Another thing about Sri Aurobindo that appealed to me was that his approach worked largely through grace as opposed to self-effort. As I have mentioned, I really hadn't gotten too far based upon my own efforts, so I submitted myself to the grace of Sri Aurobindo and his collaborator, known as The Mother (long strange story there). I didn't really expect anything to happen, but something did, and rather immediately. I began meditating on a darshan photo of them, and felt "zapped" by their force. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but I was soon able to understand spiritual matters in a way I never could before. It was as if a veil had been lifted, or a new kind of transpersonal light shone on whatever it was I was looking into.

It was during this period of time that the idea for my book came to me. I was just meditating and I had this four-part, circular vision of the whole. I must emphasize that I saw the whole first, and that I had no idea how or even whether I would be able to sketch it out in linear form, as a sort of story, or four part "cosmic suite." In fact, there is no doubt that I wouldn't do it the same way today, but I did the best I could with the materials available to me -- or which fell into my hands -- at the time.

The book was actually written in the order it appears, as I first attempted to tackle cosmology and physics, then theoretical biology, then human evolution, and then the algorithms of spiritual transformation. As the book unfolds, you could say that I am grappling with both the subject matter and myself in real time -- except for the prologue and epilogue, which more or less represent the distilled essence of what I came up -- or down -- with.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled upon a book that was very helpful to me at the time, The Unity of Reality: God, God-Experience, and Meditation in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue. In it, von Bruck writes that "yoga is nothing else than a preparation of the body and mind for non-dual, intuitive knowledge." Elsewhere he writes that "Western culture is determined more by reflection, Asiatic cultures by meditation. The meeting of the two is the important historical event of the present century."

That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects.

This post was interrupted by child care responsibilities, and I lost the thread. I'll have to try to pick it up again tomorrow. Assuming anyone's interested, since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day.

I have broken the limits of the embodied mind
And am no more the figure of a soul.
The burning galaxies are in me outlined;
The universe is my stupendous whole.
--Sri Aurobindo, The Cosmic Spirit

Till all is done for which the stars were made,
Till the heart discovers God
And the soul knows itself. And even then
There is no end.
--Sri Aurobindo, Is This the End


Ricky Raccoon said...

I’m interested.
Please stop checking the blog counter.

NoMo said...

Child care is always more important than any of this - and the site meter is less.

And yeah, what Ricky said...

River Cocytus said...

Yes, the blog counter is only useful if you want to sell something. Other than that, all it is good for is making your head large enough to float your body to China, or on the other hand, make you call your work into question.

As for looking at the image, I have the impression that people will mistake that to mean the picture or its 'occupants' are holy, but rather, I've found that for a limited period of time things become 'enchanted' (in a good way) as though the Spirit has come to dwell in them in His own unique way.

I can give many instances; most Gospel songs I like, the first or second time (or sometimes the hundredth!) I sense something in the music, not the music itself, or rather, something within and beyond the music simultaneously.

Same thing for some icons; and so on. This is why we keep these things. But, some are fooled - in a paganistic sort of way - to make these things household idols - to revere the object instead of the subject, which in the end causes worship of the Object instead of the Subject. This is where iconoclasty comes in.

I can say though, that the Spirit dwells where he wishes, and if he wishes to dwell for a time in an image of Sri, for the purpose of aiding you Bob, from what I now understand of God's grace, it is without a question possible.

This is why they call Him the 'Paraclete' - he is the helper, the deliverer of grace. If you could not connect to Christianity, by his Grace he would find a way - so long as it was possible - to connect with you.

And it is another example of Christianity being the Way, not the Destination. We would do well to remember that.

juliec said...

Me, too, Ricky :) - if your numbers start to look like mine, Bob (I had over 50 hits yesterday - woohoo! My post about wounded dog ears really draws people in), then you might want to change tactics.

Maybe you haven't noticed much, but that little depth-charge you tossed out this weekend seems to have done something, whether you intended it or not. You've stirred up some interesting currents; is it really quantity of readers you want, or quality? Perhaps right now you're just winnowing away the chaff...

"That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects."

This is very, very important, at least to me. There, in a nutshell, is the reason I've struggled with religion all my life.

You may feel that you're stumbling around in the dark right now, lacking the time and quiet to rev up the high beam on the flashlight the way you did before, but perhaps that's just so you'll stumble into something in the dark you weren't expecting?

walt said...

RACCOON ALERT! Breaking news....

During last weekend's frivolities, when Bob got tagged, he in turn tagged several other folks - one of whom was the man known to trolls as Gentle Ben. While fulfilling his obligations, Ben, in a moment of what must have been "mirth," tagged me, and informed me that I was honor-bound to play-along.

Not wishing to spoil anyone's fun, I have in fact completed 8 random facts about myself, and for the sake of convenience, hung them up on a website, here, for anyone who's interested. Go soon, if you care, because like Hiasl, that site will soon be no more.

And now, back to Bob's blog, which is already in progress....

juliec said...

Thank you, Walt - both for playing along (I hoped you would) and for illustrating my point about the depth-charge :)

River Cocytus said...

Humm... was I tagged by anyone? Does it really matter? ;)

Maybe I'll bite anyway.

walt said...

Bob, throughout my adult life I have been kind of startled by the fluctuations of personal energy, interest given (even) important things, and the capacity for accomplishing certain tasks, spiritually-oriented or otherwise. This wave-like fluctuation of experience is not unnoticed, but no one really seems to know what to do about it, and we inevitably take it "personally" when it effects us. I mean, after all and everything is dissected and described, the solution offered is often along the lines of "Perseverance furthers."

You said in the post that Aurobindo was writing "from the firehose" for 10 years, but that afterward, he just blogged with his students for many years. Was there something in that period that could offer you some hints?

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn has been that "things only exist for a time."
But what do we do when the time is up?

You know your own head and what you want from your blog. So far, you haven't disappointed anyone on this end, despite those pesky all too human changes we are all subject to.

I know you already know this, but am just sayin'...

juliec said...

River, I tagged you on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Full URL's:

Cousin dupree said...

Suffice it to say, we are not impressed with the intellect or spiritual discernment of Rama Coomaraswamy.

Robin Starfish said...

Walt comes through with quality wizdom.

River - you have to add another point for each day late, as penalty. But then we're all familiar with the Grace Period.

Nomo - no excuses for avoiding the tag, you DO have a blog, you know. Just because you haven't posted anything to it yet... ;-)

Meanwhile, back to work...

on the second day
angels leave their first estate
zero minus one

Johan (cosmic swede) said...

"I began meditating on a darshan photo of them, and felt 'zapped' by their force. I suppose that's neither here nor there, but I was soon able to understand spiritual matters in a way I never could before."

Woooow, far out, dude!

I shall print your photo and start meditating right away Bob! Maybe I'll get to understand one or two things as well.


And more seriously, I just read in Meditation on the Tarot (Letter of Justice):

"An icon is the beginning of the way to spiritual reality; it does not replace it - as in idolatry - but gives an impulse and direction towards it."

How about that?!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Teilhardin de Chardin, you may be interested in
Wolfgang Smith's book,
"Teilhardism And
The New Religion "

River Cocytus said...

And the dear Father seems to be in Love with the Dark Ages. Odd how from his view, the pre-1300's - the most miserable time in Europe - as some kind of paradise? Without reading much else, he seems to have a distorted picture of reality. Reading Wealth of Nations, it is apparent that Division of Labor and the use of Machines as well as the acquisition of wealth are good things, but they may be taken to an unhealthy extreme. He seems to think that men in these times 'Lived by bread alone' - what he fails to realise is those same men always did, it was just that in the new era they were able to actually do so without utter desolation and misery.

At the end of what appears to be a Marxist analysis all he can say it that he assures us it is not.

In the era of massing, the later 1800's until probably the 1960's, a great evil had occurred, that is, men were being made into machines. But, by reducing your work to something a machine can do you eventually devalue it permanently. For instance, if the man does nothing more than flip a switch, than a more sophisticated machine will be built to do his job. The Father sees this as destroying the man for profit, making him a slave, but instead what is really happening is the manufacturer is devaluing their own product by proving that it can be built by mere machines.

In some sense, Guilds do nothing more than circle the wagons and protect potentially faulty workmanship from criticism. Just like licensing can be abused to make legitimate professionals out of quacks.

Anyhow, Liberation Theology seems to be, as always, based on a distorted view of the world. In stating that 'poverty' is the goal, and that destitution is an evil, they find themselves destituting the world at the same time they are impoverishing it. The fact is that while a man such as I desires to live wanting nothing, to have his needs taken care of and nothing desired above it, to continually attain that state requires 'aiming past the target' or so to speak.

So don't believe everyone who wants to be 'successful'. Sometimes the 'goal' is an excuse to make the same path walkable.

cousin dupree said...


Read it, disagree with it. It's always best to bow before reality.

Van said...

"That's how I feel. I just don't see how any kind of fundamentalist religion can survive if it isn't compatible with everything else we know to be true about the cosmos, both in its exterior and interior aspects."


"This post was interrupted by child care responsibilities, and I lost the thread."

(In so many ways) Double Yep!!!

"...since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day."

Heh, aside from all Walt, Ricky, Nomo, JulieC and River said, in checking the ol' sitemeter, I see that you've had more views today then I've had in the entire last year + ... might I suggest a handy dandy link icon at the top of your blog with the caption "ATTN: Those seeking to flee One Cosmos, please do so through Van's Blog. That is all".

Just a suggestion.


NoMo said...

Robin - You may now lift your tagged curse from me. Its done.

Van said...

Robin Starfish - Tag Meister!!!

Teri said...

I think folks mis-read the concept of "fundamentalist religion". If you want a true feeling for it, I'd suggest you start with XM Radio's Sunday gospel Bluegrass show. Because for the most part, this most basic view of religion helps those who don't have much else. They aren't intellectuals. They don't have much control over their environment. They don't have careers. They can get through difficult times because they have faith. And it makes up for whatever else they may lack.

Robin Starfish said...

Consider it lifted, sport. ;-)

wv: hjukvu (that's just too eerie for my own good)

Van said...

Terri said "...Because for the most part, this most basic view of religion helps those who don't have much else. They aren't intellectuals. They don't have much control over their environment. They don't have careers. They can get through difficult times because they have faith. And it makes up for whatever else they may lack. "

The thing about the stories of the Bible, is that they do present the meaning and direction appropriate to the level of understanding a person brings with them to the stories. What is amazing, is that as people seek more and deeper, they will always find more and more depth and wisdom waiting to grace them. It is also equiped to repulse the shallow athiestic viewpoint as well - in short, 'as you seek so shall you find' in this remarkable of all documents.

My only objection is when groups (believers or disbelievers) attempt to apply their level of understanding - shallow or deep - to the political/legal spectrum. Then we've got trouble.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Assuming anyone's interested, since the ol' site meter indicates that increasing numbers flee from the blog every day."

Bob, I think it's just the summertime (btw, I question the timing).
It's happenin' everywhere (well, north of the equator).
Virtually every blog loses readers in the summer for glitzier attractions such as Wally World, or that place with the goofy lookin' characters.

Maybe we should check out the Australian market, since it's winter there.
You know, Australiaize things a bit, speak there language.
Rooflect, koalaplate, dingotation.
Title a post: Tie Me Kangeroo Down, Sport... Metaphysicroo Down Under ...stuff like that.

At any rate, I'm not fleeing anywhere (that I know of), so you have at least one guaranteed reader, and if I was a bettin' man, quite a few more than that, I bet!

walt said...

Ahem, yon Benster! Just when, exactly, will you be completing your honor-bound duties? Hah? Hm?

Jacob C. said...

As they say, this is Relevant To My Interests.

There's been an odd sort of debate going on over at Free Republic, ever since the last few documents mooted by the Vatican have come out; the debate at large seems to be between a remarkably patient group of Catholics (Roman and other varieties) and a small group of Protestants who are clearly convinced that Mother Rome is wrong on just about everything but don't quite have the nerve to call her the whore of Babylon to her face.

One of the subjects the Protestants have repeatedly brought up is that of canonization of saints in Catholicism; for some reason, they read this as idolatry. What the Catholics have been trying to say, but without much success, is that the Church does not ask them (as the Protestants accuse) to worship the saints, even Mary; it asks them, rather, to recognize That which sh[O]ne through them. The saints are not demigods, but there is clearly a power that worked through them, which Catholics are asked to acknowledge. These were holy people, but they were not holy in and of themselves; if that was what was truly believed about them, the RCC would be little better than a massive personality cult. They were holy by virtue of the Spirit that made its home in them.

ximeze said...

Bob said: "his approach worked largely through grace as opposed to self-effort."

The Grace thing is sooooo cool, I just don't get that "works" are needed as a back-up plan. Way too James-ian for me & seem to completely miss the POINT of Christianity.

Strikes me as mucking-up Purity by injecting Ego into the existentialada.

stevesh said...


Consider yourself a signpost on a delightful old (ancient) road. People going by may be few but they will be grateful.

BTW, on Schopenhauer and appreciation of art: Pace Chesterton ("Art is the signature of Man"), even if birds did build ArtDeco or Tudor birdhouses that still would not be a provable "outer limit." ("Do not attempt to adjust your horizontal...").


Susannah said...

I'm here! Haven't fled. Stopping by still, just not as much time to comment lately. I like to give each post the attention it deserves first. :)

JimmieDub said...

I'm a blog lurker by nature, and as such I echo the sentiments of others here who encourage you to ignore the blog counter and continue posting. I bought your book One Cosmos and have been combing my way through your archives as well. I find your background to be remarkably similar to mine in your disdain for the more visible elements of Western Christianity. Although I was raised a Christian (Methodist - Ohio) I was eager to escape its perceived confinement when I went to college. But I keep getting the notion that there is something to it after all, if I could just strip away the chaff. I have recently become interested in your thoughts about alt-Christianity and look forward to more even as I methodically work my way through your archives.

debass said...

"that place with the goofy lookin' characters."

Ben, are you refering to Washington DC?
Politics is show business for the homely.


You're not blogging to be popular, I hope. Same as I don't play jazz to get rich. I have to play and you must write. It seems sacreligious to me not to use your God given talents and the grace bestowed upon us. I'm not 'splainin' this very well.

How to have a million dollars playing jazz?
Start with 2 million.

sakhak hu said...

Your post is the best short distillation of Aurobindo and his work that I've ever read. Superb work, Godwin. Count me as a admirer of your insight and talent.

I am a sadhak of the yoga of Aurobindo and the Mother; one central facet of their spiritual teaching that you didn't touch upon is the Psychic Being.

Making contact with one's psychic being is crucial to progress on that path. Please consider writing a column on it for the folks at home.

phil g said...

I'm still hear and all eyes/ears. I'm soaking up this latest thread.

Magnus Itland said...

The transfer - or perhaps rather contagion - of grace is a fascinating process. I'd like to study this subtopic of hagiology one day, but I doubt any school teaching it would accept me...

While in high school, I read several small books by the Norwegian naval officer and Christian mystic, Elias Aslaksen (much more literature from him is available in Norwegian than in English). While he made many references to the Bible, it was not exactly that I learned. Rather it was as if a fundamental understanding was transferred. I could now read parts of the Bible that he had never mentioned with a word, and the same clarity shone from the pages which had at best been stories until that. (Incidentally, my school grades went through the roof too. It was as if everything suddenly fell into place.) I have later come to believe that it was a kind of grace that was conferred. It seems that several of the Racoons here have had a similar experience with OC. It is not learning - it is more like unlocking.

Robin Starfish said...

And the tag ripples continue...thanks, Magnus!

Unlocking is an apt term, because when it happens it seems to be less of an intellectual leap and more of an ability to see what's really there. Reading George MacDonald did that to me, as does Bob. And lately, Basho. They are profoundly wise, but I'm not, so it's not like I understand much of anything. But my vision has certainly changed as a result of exposure to them; the landscape is so much more luminous, and it is a place to revel in.

And like you, I find myself reading the Bible differently now (and more, as well). Or more precisely, the truth that was always there is even more True and its dimensions far more multi-dimensional.