by Ashesh Joshi

Tolerance is the acceptance of the right of co-existence of an apparently contradictory opinion or an action or a way of life. Tolerance extends an understanding and allows a concession to the human nature. In the inner discipline, it leads towards the experience of essential unity.

Complete Tolerance is an ideal, practiced in religions like Buddhism, Jainism etc. It serves well for the purpose of attaining Nirvana, Moksha, an experience which is separated from life – a fulfilment and an escape away from our life here. But, it should be noted that for a Yoga which deals with our life here and its fulfilment, Tolerance, Intolerance, Violence and Non-violence are incomplete attitudes in themselves and in order that they become effective here in what they represent – unity with all, they should be complimented with the practical service of the great ideal, the divine life manifestation upon earth. 

A Tale of Tolerance

There are some novice Monks who are highly recommended by a senior Monk to their Guru as capable of doing a very important work for people in a far away land. Now, the problem is that on the way they will have to encounter someone very mean and cruel.

So, the Guru calls them and asks, “What will you do if this man does not like you, does not talk to you well?” The Monks say, “That is fine, we will talk to him nicely all the same”.

“And what if he shouts at you, says bad words to you?”

“We will remain calm and show him how to remain calm”.

“He just might throw rotten vegetables at you”

“Then we will clean ourselves and smilingly show compassion”

“But, he will perhaps throw stones at you, beat you with stick, break your bones…”, the Guru retorted.

To which the Monks reply, “Then we will see the kindness in him that he did not kill us.”

The Guru smiled, “Well, you know, he has killed people before and he might kill you too!”

The Monks took a moment of reflection and replied, “Oh, if we are breathing our last, we will prepare to enter Nirvana and be glad that we have done our job well.”

The Guru is glad and approves their advance.

Now, I don’t think in the ancient times any real Guru would have been so tolerant but, that is how the story goes (After all, it is also known that the travelling Monks did adopt the practices of Martial Arts well developed in the ancient India).

Tolerance and the Integral Yoga

And this story is a good example of tolerance as it is practiced in religions or societies which do not aim to deal with a better life here, on earth rather focuses on one’s personal salvation. But, this is also a good example of incomplete attitude for a person pursuing a larger life or practicing the Integral Yoga.

Because the Integral Yoga is not just about being good and entering Nirvana and finding a personal salvation but, also about being tough and getting to the physical place where one needs to reach, do the work as it is meant to be done and not let it be spoilt, just because someone is hostile enough to block one’s way. In the example above, I would see the Integral Yoga practitioners run for their lives to avoid wasting time and energy and eventually reach their destination or if capable and found better for a collective good, fight the menace, may be fix him well, secure the good of all and make their way rather than giving up their mission so easily. The focus of the Integral yoga practitioner, apart from self-perfection, is on the perfection of the work at hand or accomplishment of the task he sees in his inner vision as his mission for the good of all.

Story apart, it is nice to tolerate even the intolerant people. And it should be practiced for oneself and also so that these people can experience the consciousness behind, receive its transforming influence and change. Love allows us to do that; parents allow children to make noise, we allow our colleagues to take out some steam… This is quite valid.

But, a close watch should follow such a space giving attitude! However we tolerate them, when our children, colleagues, nasty or hostile people begin to lay their hands on weapons (or harmful or even delicate stuff) with destroying tendencies, we need to step forward and disarm them otherwise, soon will follow destruction beyond our control. Itself a great virtue to practice for self-development, in the face of destruction, tolerance becomes a tool in the hands of the hostile and a greater means of general destruction! That is why in the moments of crisis, to the perceiving eyes and to the heroic hearts the tolerance becomes intolerable.

In the Integral Yoga, if we tolerate, it is to serve the Divine Mother and her purpose in the world and if we ever do not tolerate, that is also for the purpose of serving the Divine Mother.

However, the Inner growth comes first for any practitioner and if by resisting the oppressor one gets disturbed in one’s inner equilibrium, one has to consider building the inner state first rather than making any outer adjustments or resist only moderately or quietly. Later, to the degree that the inner state supports, the outer action, even fierce resistance and assault can be carried out.

The Occult Laws

There is a story from Mahabharata; Shishupal was very abusive towards Lord Krishna and kept no restrain on himself while cursing him. In a Parliament conference, when Shishupal again began his abuses, Krishna warned him that he will tolerate one hundred of his abuses and then he will kill him. Shishupal did not pay heed, kept on speaking bad words and insults and as he finished his hundredth abuse, Krishna took out his disc, threw on Shishupal and instantly beheaded him! Now, it is not that Krishna was really hurt by Shishupal’s remarks! Himself equal to all life he had found Shishupal a hindrance to the collective good and Shishupal had been literally asking to take him out of the game!

There are two things that we have to keep in mind; one is that every act of malice towards another person or the collective, distances oneself from the others, creates some kind of negative Karma, a burden of nature that one will have to bear and cross through while moving towards freedom and true happiness, towards the essential unity. And that there is a higher law, working to find this unity of all things and that will set a limit to the individual actions on the collective, not necessarily only tolerate but if found appropriate, intervene and fix things.

The life of Krishna is a good example of manifestation of this higher law. He left no stone unturned, visited and begged both sides to avoid the war but, when there was no other way left to move towards harmonious solution, his creative vision found a way to utilise the situation for a higher purpose and as the story goes, he then tactfully arranged a balance of forces to create the fiercest battle known to the human history, leading to the victory of most noble and capable of uniting the entire continent into one strong and spiritual nation for millenniums to come.

One cannot endlessly tolerate or lack tolerance without seeing its effects on the larger work being done here.

What to tolerate and what to resist?

The right to grow freely comes first for any individual or collective life. And since each indiviual has a different path to tread, a law unique to his development applies to him and his conditions for a free and harmonious development are unique to him too. For instance, for a small child, still developing senses and emotions, the freedom to develop his emotional identity is essential. For a teen-ager, still developing his mind, the freedom to grow his thinking is essential. While the individual freedom should be in over all harmony with the collective life and its conditions and will have to accept limitations because of this, the curbing of the freedom to grow cannot be tolerated, whether imposed by the society or by any individual – and should be resisted!

For the person destined to practice Yoga, having already developed mind and life parts, only body (and optionally material assette) is to be considered a vulnerable part of himself. That is to say, if he is insulted, the guidance without or within will only insist on overcoming the hurt feelings and if his opinion is contradicted, he will be asked to overcome narrowness of thinking and grow wider. Unless things are imposed with a physical force, the strongest – and Yoga is not for the weaklings – are asked to take things as challenges of Sadhana and not as a real threat of any kind!

Strangely, people do stretch this protecting one’s own inner state very far and make it a pretext to not act on the adversary. Not having enough widening of consciousness a practitioner of Yoga will not be able get alert even when his neighbour’s house is on fire; he will perhaps not be bothered by it. While for a person of wider consciousness, it is not his personal comfort, safety, accomplishment of work that is in the forefront of his consciousness, he sees widely and knows where to apply his energies in the world. As one grows in consciousness, one is able to see the consequences of actions, forces acting through them and the higher forces that can be called down on the situations successfully. He knows that the force that burns the neighbour’s house will turn towards his house too.

Incomplete Attitudes

One very important thing to remember, while tolerating or not tolerating is that one has to know, feel the limits of even these attitudes or simply that these attitudes are in themselves incomplete. When one sees one’s action not aiding to the Mother’s work, that is the individuals/collective involved is not growing towards an overall harmonious progression then one has not to keep pulling the same strings which cause the discord, one has to stop messing with any person or the collective life and withdraw in silence or in some positive activity that is completely neutral to the subject in question.

In practice this implies as being tolerant, if one was being intolerant so far and otherwise being more tolerant. This is not easy because this means one has to bear feeling insulted, emotionally hurt, badly handled, trick played or not respected in one’s opinion. The withdrawing still has to be done so that in the silence a greater Truth can grow and if need be, teach a greater lesson to all.

Is to disapprove, resist or fight the extremes of intolerance, is being intolerant?

While tolerance gives space to the aggressor for his growth and experiments, being tolerant can be in fact, just a way of being violent or at least a cause of great destruction! In many cases, it is the attachments to the villain or the benefits they receive from him that people do not want to resist because otherwise they will hurt their own interests. For that matter, they might even join the villain! There is the story where a great thief was finally caught and was to be executed. When he is asked for a last reasonable wish, he called his mother near him and told her that he was dying there thanks to her, that when in childhood whenever he stole, he was tolerated and appreciated by her and encouraged by that the young boy continued stealing to grow into a thief and finally a premature death awaited him. One remembers the stories when mothers rejected their children because however good they were to them and to their families, they had been wrong in the world. Mahabharata mentions the incident when at some moment during the Great War some warriors armed themselves with weapons of mass destruction, the wise men had to intervene to stop them from doing so.

The story of Mahabharata tells that almost all the leading warriors joining the side of Duryodhan, the vile king, did so because either they were fond of him or because they clung to their narrow ideals or, as in most cases, because of the benefits they derived by joining him. Lord Krishna sang the Bhagavad Gita, the doctrine of detachment in action to Arjun, explaining the deeper psychology of life precisely because Arjun was unwilling to fight the evil doers because of his attachments towards them! Finally, Krishna had to tell to him that he was talking big words and being a coward!

There is yet another way that tolerance can be a sure sign of cowardice! In order that they do not have to face themselves, many people cling to tolerance; when they say they do not want to be wrong like the villain, that they do not want disharmony or show aggression– even when it is a temporary and for a good purpose, what they really mean is that they fear the unreasonable reactions suppressed in their subconscious selves! More they realise themselves having suppressed anger and intolerance, more they cling to the extremes of tolerance. Eventually, these are the people that will prove to be most violent to the society and one of the first expressions of their suppressed aggression is the unjustified tolerance they show and insist on showing.

On the other hand, to resist evil is always for the strong of soul and nature. Being intolerant of the evil and of the extreme intolerant requires courage, purification of nature and self-mastery; self-mastery because not being detached, lost in the fury of action, one would loose the perception of the overall work and get over aggressive and destructive.

Tolerance, Intolerance and Harmony

Above us is the supremely harmonious tolerance, leading towards unity, below is the original and obstinate intolerance, pulling towards separation and disintegration and we, human beings are in between these two opposite poles of existence and depending on the situation and the need of the time, in view of the effectiveness of the ideal of unity of all beings, we need to be tolerant or intolerant. Considering our evolutionary role according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the service of the supreme mother being the real purpose of life, the deep and sincere perception of the overall harmonious progression remains the prime criteria regarding what attitude to freely adopt or drop from our action!