Although Guru's misconduct towards Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela and Suchatula was just that -- misconduct -- I'm not convinced that unethical behavior as a rule proves that an individual has no spiritual development. Before I can take up that subject, however, I think I should slow down and lay some groundwork.
I believe that consciousness precedes matter.
In other words, I'm not an atheist.
As a result of their experiences in the Center, I realize that some of my friends have become atheists. Some have embraced a purely scientific cosmology. In their view -- whether they've stopped to articulate it this way or not -- matter comes before consciousness. Without the brain, there is no mind. Without life, there is no existence.
That's a perfectly acceptable assumption about the nature of existence. It's just not mine. Which, by the way, is not to say that I buy into the somewhat simplistic notion that I must -- as a believer -- reject the workings of the rational mind. I certainly do not believe that, as I hope is apparent to those who have followed this memoir so far.
On the contrary, as Sri Aurobindo explains so well in The Life Divine, now more than ever the path of yoga requires a rational mind.
For that vast field of evidence and experience which now begins to reopen its gates to us, can only be safely entered when the intellect has been severely trained to a clear austerity; seized on by unripe minds, it lends itself to the most perilous distortions and misleading imaginations and actually in the past encrusted a real nucleus of truth with such an accretion of perverting superstitions and irrationalising dogmas that all advance in true knowledge was rendered impossible.
(The Life Divine (1st Ed. 1949) The Greystone Press, Ch. II, "The Two Negations: The Materialist Denial," p. 12.)
The point is, simply, that if you believe that nothing exists outside the material -- that there is no higher force or divine purpose to our life here on Earth -- then for you, ethics may very well be the end all and be all of human behavior.
If this is your view, then there may be little more for us to discuss.
My further musings about the interplay between the rigid requirements of ethical or moral standards and the much broader, elastic, and sometimes conflicting demands of yoga will mean nothing to you if you're a strict materialist. You're more than welcome to come along for the ride -- don't get me wrong -- I'm just trying to head off any quite justifiable arguments that my analyses are based upon a belief in the mystical (because, of course, they are).
Writing about metaphysical assumptions -- necessary though it may be -- presents two difficulties for me.
First of all, I don't want to come off as a blowhard. I don't have access to any secret knowledge or know any better than anyone else. These are just some of the ideas -- hypotheses really -- that inform my thinking about Guru and the Center experience in general. Like any hypotheses, mine may be wrong.
Second, there's always a risk that writing distorts the reality of these ideas. These metaphysical ideas -- to the extent they are real -- strike me as organic. Writing, by necessity, is linear. Reducing these elusive and hard to understand principles to writing -- and to a lesser extent just reasoning about them -- tends to strip them of their natural complexity and turns them into mechanistic rules.
As Sri Aurobindo notes, above, the untrained mind tends to encrust "a real nucleus of truth with such an accretion of perverting superstitions and irrationalising dogmas that all advance in true knowledge" is rendered impossible.
Nevertheless, I still think that we should consider a few more ideas before moving on. In addition to assuming that consciousness is a prerequisite for matter --- that the idea precedes the creation -- I also assume a non-dual monism.
In other words, I assume that we are all individual and unique expressions of a single whole consciousness. I prefer to conceive of the Divine as a formless energy or force; I tend to avoid the practice of anthropomorphizing.
I think of that permanent individual within each of us as the psychic being or soul, if you prefer that term. (It might be worth clicking here for a short refresher course on my interpretation of the lexicon of the Center.)
As I conceive it, the general purpose of the psychic being over time -- over the course of incarnations -- is to slowly gain strength and influence over nature.
I was trying to come up with a lighthearted analogy to help explain this process and I thought about gaming. For a simple example, consider computer chess. On my MacBook Air, I can play chess against the computer and I'm given a sliding difficulty scale that I can adjust for my level of play. When I make the game easy -- very easy -- I can beat the computer. When I make the game hard, I lose almost immediately.
Somewhere in the middle and the game is a challenge -- sometimes I win, sometimes I don't.
I think of spiritual evolution in much the same way. As the psychic being takes on more and more experience, it's strength -- and thus its influence -- grows. At some point, its influence begins to creep into the organism's conscious mind. This is when the seeker is born. With time, the psychic being begins to establish beachheads in the body, emotional life, and mind of the seeker. Eventually, that annexation becomes complete.
Is it really complete, though, and at what level of difficulty?
I think, for example, of my own time in the Center. It's all well and good that as a young twenty-something -- physically fit, emotionally detached, uneducated, without a care in the world -- I could experience a trance-like state, even if just for a few moments. But what happens when the game is made a little more difficult?
What happens when the demands of age, experience, education, spouse, children, and career all up the ante?
In my case, in hindsight, it seems my psychic being's influence was strong enough to annex much of my young and undeveloped psyche. Whether it's strong enough to hold the ground it already won years ago under the pressures of a modern, domesticated life is still an open question and, perhaps more to the point, still an ongoing process.
It is in this way that the ongoing process of evolution strikes me as similar to computer chess. As the core of your being becomes stronger and more stable, the difficulty level is ramped up (whether in this life or the next). In this view, the life of renunciation (sanyassa) is not the goal; it's just a means to the more complete goal of non-attachment (tyaga).
I touched on this idea in my post about Anugata.
The fact that a particular spiritual master may have experienced something profound and all encompassing when living under certain limited circumstances -- say as an all renouncing sadhu -- doesn't necessarily mean that such "self mastery" carries over when the game is leveled up, when the sadhu begins to embrace the world and extend his psychic influence over forces he had hitherto renounced.
Ultimately, that's what I think yoga is all about. It's about embracing life in all its forms.
"All life is Yoga."
The photo above is of the holy Shiva lingam at the Amarnath temple.