....Beauty ceased my heart to please,
Brightness in vain.
Recalled the vision of the light that glows
I hated the rich fragrance of the rose;
Weary and blind,
I tired of the suns and stars; then came
With broken mind
To heal me of the rash devouring flame,
The dull disease,
And sojourned with this mountains summit bleak,
These frozen seas.
King, the blind dazzling snows have made me meek,
Cooled my unease.
Pride could not follow, nor the restless will
Come and go;
My mind within grew holy, calm and still
Like the snow.....
The many’s voices fill the listening ear,
Distract the head :
The One is silence, on the snows we hear
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, Pg. 299-300)
The lure of ascetism is a great adventure, a jump into the unknown void, a call of the wilderness. Naturally, the ‘refusal’ of the ascetic to accept material life is more powerful, enduring and stubborn then the ‘refusal’ of the materialist to accept spirituality, more so, because Materialism carries its own in-built limitations. But that makes the materialist easier to move towards spirituality whereas the ascetic finds it more difficult to move towards accepting material reality. For Sri Aurobindo's vision of matter-spirit unity, both the movements are needed.
In the West, the triumph of materialism overshadowed spirituality. However in India, spirituality blossomed at the cost of bankruptcy of material life. In fact, Sri Aurobindo traces the degradation of contemporary Indian life and society to the fact that the best brains, lured with the call of ascetism, forsook society to plunge into the blissful or featureless Absolute or nihilistic Nirvana with one agenda - liberation in birthlessness. One aspired not to be reborn again into a material life: '.. all voices.. joined in one great consensus that not in this world of the dualities can there be our kingdom of heaven but beyond … And through many centuries a great army of shining witnesses, saints and teachers, names sacred to Indian memory and dominant in Indian imagination, have borne always the same witness and swelled always the some lofty and distant appeal, - renunciation the sole path of knowledge, acceptance of the physical life the act of the ignorant, cessation from birth the right use of human birth, the call of the spirit, the recoil from Matter' ( The Life Divine p.g.28-p.g.29)
Sri Aurobindo does not denounce the ascetic spirit- He emphases that it corresponds to a truth of existence and brings a state of conscious realisation which stands at the summit of human endeavor. It is a peak experience, a meta-quest, and is an indispensable element to prove that an animal humanity is not the last word – ‘purity’ is not a chimera but a living reality. It is an affirmation that the intellect and vital nature of man can free themselves from what Sri Aurobindo terms as 'insistent animalism'. Only Sri Aurobindo cautions: ‘We seek indeed a larger and completer affirmation. We perceive that in the Indian ascetic ideal the great Vedantic formula, ‘One without a second’, has not been read sufficiently in the light of that other formula equality imperative, “All this is the Brahman” ….. Its meaning in Matter has not been so well understood as its truth in the Spirit. The reality which the Sannyasin seeks has been grasped in its full height, but not, as by the ancient Vedantins, in its full extent and comprehensiveness.’
In fact, in the poem 'The Rishi', the ascetic who withdraws from material life to seek Truth, finally points out that not an abandonment but an fulfillment of earthly life is the gateway to Reality . In a moving dialogue with ‘King Manu’ the representative inquisitive human mind, the Rishi explains how he strove to seek God (Manu in Sanskrit is derived from ‘Mind’. The Mind or Mental consciousness is the leader in our terrestrial world, as it is till now the crowning achievement in evolution. As such, the inquisitive human mind is represented as a king who is in the forefront of the evolutionary march. He seeks an existential answer from the seer - the Rishi who is in touch with perennial wisdom):
My winged soul went up above the stars
Questing for God.
Oh, didst thou meet Him then? In what bright field
Upon thy road?
I asked the heavenly wanderers as they wheeled
For His abode.
Could glorious Saturn and his rings of hue
Direct thy flight?
Sun could not tell, nor any planet knew
Its source of light,
Nor could I glean that knowledge though I paced
The worlds beyond
And into outer nothingness have gazed.
Time’s narrow sound
I crossed, the termless flood where on the Snake
One slumbers throned,
Attempted. But the ages from Him break
Blindly and Space
Forgets its origin. Then I returned
Where luminous blaze
Deathless and ageless in their ease unearned
The ethereal race.
Did the gods tell thee? Has Varuna seen
The high God’s face?
How shall they tell of Him who marvel at sin
And smile at grief?
Did He not send His blissful Angels down
For thy relief?
The Angels know Him not, who fear His frown,
Have fixed belief.
Is there no heaven of eternal light
Where He is found?
The heavens of the Three have beings bright
Their portals round,
And I have journeyed to those regions blest,
Those hills renowned.
In Vishnu’s house where wide Love builds his nest,
My feet have stood.
Is he not That, the blue-winged Dove of peace,
Father of Good?
Nor Brahma, though the suns and hills and seas
Are called his brood.
Is God a dream then? Are the heavenly coasts
I came to Shiva’s roof; the flitting ghosts
Compelled me in.
Is He then God whom the forsaken seek,
Things of sin?
He sat on being’s summit grand, a peak
Immense of fire.
Knows He the secret of release from tears
And from desire?
His voice is the last murmur silence hears,
Tranquil and dire.
The silence calls us then and shall enclose?
Our true abode
Is here and in the pleasant house He chose
To harbour God.
In vain thou hast traveled the unwonted stars
And the void hast trod!
Is earth His seat? This body His poor hold
I flung off matter like a robe grown old;
Matter was dead.
Sages have told of vital force behind:
It is God then?
The vital spirits move but as a wind
Mind then is lord that like a sovereign sways
Delight and pain?
Mind is His wax to write and, written, rase
Form and name.
Is thought not He who has immortal eyes
Time cannot dim?
Higher, O king, the still voice bade me rise
Than thought’s clear dream.
Deep in the luminous secrecy, the mute
Profound of things,
Where murmurs never sound of harp or lute
And no voice sings,
Light is not, nor our darkness, nor these bright
In the deep steady voiceless core of white
And burning bliss,
The sweet vast centre and the cave divine
He dwells within us all who dwells not in
Aught that is.
Rishi, thy thoughts are like the blazing sun
Eye cannot face.
How shall our souls on that bright awful One
Hope even to gaze
Who lights the world from His eternity
With a few rays?………
O Rishi, I have wide dominion,
The earth obeys
And heaven obeys far beyond the sun
Her golden gaze.
But Him I seek, the still and perfect One,-
The Sun, not rays.
Seek Him upon the earth. For thee He set
In the huge press
Of many worlds to build a mighty state
For man’s success,
Who seeks his goal. Perfect thy human might,
Perfect the race.
For thou art He, O King. Only the night
Is on thy soul
By thy own will. Remove it and recover
The serene whole
Thou art indeed, then raise up man the lover
To God the goal.
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, Pg. 300-304, 311, 312)