(Written as a preface to the book (compilation) Gifts of Grace)
As commonly understood, Grace signifies what comes to one as a result of God’s mercy or favour. In the deeper and wider sense in which the term is used in this book, Grace stands for the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-beneficent evolutionary Force which impels and guides human beings towards self-realisation. It is this Force, as the Mother once put it, that “does everything, is behind everything, organises everything, conducts everything, so that the march forward to the divine realisation may be as swift, as complete, as total and harmonious as possible, considering the circumstances of the world1.” This compilation deals with five gifts of Grace—that is, five of the most helpful agents of the evolutionary Force of Grace. These five potent aids for inner growth are: aspiration for progress, will for progress, faith and trust, difficulties and suffering, and the psychic being.
The reader may be surprised to see “difficulties and suffering” presented as a gift of Grace and an aid for inner growth. Our normal self, governed by the mental and vital (desire) nature, is apt to look upon difficulties and suffering as obstacles on the way. But according to the deeper view highlighted in this book, difficulties are opportunities for progress, and suffering is a door that leads to the discovery of our true self. As the Mother says:
“Shocks and trials always come as a divine grace to show us the points in our being where we fall short and the movements in which we turn our back on our soul by listening to the clamour of our mental being and vital being.
If we know how to accept these spiritual blows with due humility, we are sure to cover a great distance at a single bound”2.
The paramount importance of the psychic being as an aid for inner growth lies in the fact that the first three aids dealt with in this book—aspiration for progress, will for progress, and faith and trust—arise from or depend upon the psychic being. And the fourth aid—difficulties and suffering—can be correctly understood and dealt with only by the psychic being. For, the psychic being is the seat and source of aspiration, will, and faith; and it is the divine element in the psychic being which enables one to turn difficulties and suffering into a blessing and a force for inner growth.
Many years ago, a senior sadhak of the Ashram asked the present writer the difference between the soul and the psychic being. It was somewhat surprising to be asked such a basic question by someone who was presumably well-read in the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, had lived in the Ashram for many years, and even had a voluminous correspondence with Sri Aurobindo. Such an instance brings home the need for study in order to clarify one’s understanding. The Mother once gave this advice about an excellent method for studying Sri Aurobindo. She has written:
“It is not by books that Sri Aurobindo ought to be studied but by subjects—what he has said on the Divine, on Unity, on religion, on evolution, on education, on self-perfection, on supermind, etc., etc.”3
The Mother’s advice about the way to study Sri Aurobindo applies perhaps even more to her own works, for they consist mostly of informal talks dealing with a wide variety of subjects rather than of systematic writings on specific subjects. This compilation is based on this method of study by subject.
Not everyone is called upon or motivated to undertake this kind of systematic study of subjects advised by the Mother. It is only for those who wish to have a better understanding of a given subject, either to meet an intellectual need or for a more effective practice of the teachings.
The fifth aid dealt with in this compilation, the psychic being, was once described by the Mother as a “special help” to mankind “to lead it faster”4. The subject of the psychic being has been dealt with exclusively in two previous compilations by the present editor5. Therefore, with a few exceptions, texts contained in the two previous compilations have not been repeated here.
Concepts such as the soul and the psychic being—which refer to things which are not part of our ordinary consciousness and experience—call for some explanation for all of us. But many also find it difficult to understand even terms pertaining to inner states and movements, such as aspiration, will, and faith, which are part of their own consciousness. By way of illustration, a doctor friend had read The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga, but had difficulty understanding the meaning of aspiration. (The first chapter in The Life Divine is titled “The Human Aspiration”!) This friend was a college student when The Life Divine was first published, and he borrowed money in order to buy a copy of the book. Obviously, he experienced quite a strong aspiration for spiritual knowledge, but intellectually he had difficulty understanding what aspiration is. Psychological or experiential states and movements such as aspiration, will and faith can be best understood by distinguishing them from other similar experiential states and movements with which one is already familiar. By distinguishing aspiration from desire, will from wish, aspiration from will, will from desire, faith from belief, etc. one can be led, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “from the known to the unknown”6. This principle of learning has served as a guide in selecting some of the passages on aspiration, will, faith and trust contained in this book.
The great majority of passages selected here are those which are likely to appeal to all seekers of inner growth, irrespective of the path they may be following, though some passages will be meaningful only to practitioners of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga.
It should be borne in mind that reading a compilation is not the same as reading the original works. Passages compiled from diverse sources so as to throw light on different aspects of a particular subject can serve to give a better understanding of the subject, but excerpts from longer texts are apt to lose to some extent the consciousness that pervades the fuller texts from which they are drawn. This applies particularly to the thematic major works of Sri Aurobindo, and to a lesser extent to the diverse works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s letters on yoga from which the great majority of the passages in this compilation have been drawn. Therefore, ideally a compilation such as this should be used as a supplement to the original works. One who has not read the original works would do well to look up and delve into them. To encourage this, references for all the quoted passages have been given at the end of the book. One who is familiar with the original works quoted in the compilation can use the compilation for a more focused study of a particular subject in order to gain a possibly clearer and fuller understanding of the subject.
- The Mother, Questions and Answers 1956, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 8, p. 251.
- The Mother, Words of the Mother, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 14, p. 235.
- The Mother, On Education, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 12, p. 208.
- The Mother, Questions and Answers 1957-58, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 9, p. 430.
- The Psychic Being and Emergence of the Psychic, both published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
- Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Vol. 18, p. 617.