Reflections on Chapter IV of the Synthesis of Yoga[1]

by Balvinder Banga

A woman I know works like a slave. Periodic bruises on her face tell you all you need to know of her marriage. For her, and others like her, the law of sacrifice – as she understands it – is obvious. No one stands alone, and only by giving can you receive. And so you give and give with a fear of the consequence if you do not, fearful of your jealous God. A fragile existence in a precarious world, this woman gives of herself to placate a God she believes could smite her if the worry lines on her face are not etched deeply enough. And so she offers her nervous prayers every morning and night in the belief that her wedding vows are the penance to be extracted before a post mortem reward. No pain no gain. Hers is a sacrifice of self immolation, carried by the belief that only in the offering of her suffering can her prayers ascend to heaven.

I know too a man, the same woman’s husband. He is a recovering alcoholic. Before the time of his sobriety he would walk into fights armoured only by the knowledge that he would get beaten, sometimes to the point where his body lay unconscious, awaiting an ambulance or the Samaritan who could haul him into a taxi. And yet he too prayed, and does so still, in shame and hope for redemption from a God whose love he doubts. And then he fasts for days at a stretch until he keels forward with headaches.    He is atoning, sacrificing his health for the wrongs he had done – and he had done many. Perhaps this is necessary for him. Who can say?

Sometimes there is an obstinacy in the nature, a trait, a habit, that can only be defeated if one endures or suffers through the process of its excision, however painful that may be. But these habits come to pass. They are not who we are; they are part of “the band of the spirit’s inner enemies” that cannot hurt us forever.  Sooner or later their swords are blunted, exhausted by the effort of attacking that which is invincible within us. “For the self within is really the Godhead evolving,  it is Krishna” the royal warrior, the indwelling divine. A flinching sacrifice, an offering with a jaw clenched in readiness at the divine assault for the paltry offering, is an anathema to the Royalty who needs nothing be it paltry or great.

True sacrifice has no place for fear or self torture. It is a self giving in love, in joy, of all that we are, “a passage from a lesser satisfaction to a greater Ananda.” In time we must accept that we, with our jealousies and griefs and sorrows, are worthy offerings at the altar. The woman with nothing but a marriage she regrets, the recovering alcoholic with the tremors in his hands, and the yogi sitting serene by the Banyan tree, all are acceptable to the One that sees. The gateway to the Lord is your sincerity.

In the end, vanquished by His love, we see that “even our sins and stumblings and sufferings and struggles …” were governed in their last result by Him. And what is that last result? “Only the sublimation by sacrifice of all that we are can enable us to embody the highest and live here in the immanent consciousness of the transcendent Spirit.” Of all that we are? Certainly, our thoughts (for better or worse), our breaths, “our very heart beats can and must be made conscious in us as the living rhythm of the universal sacrifice.”

Any bewilderment we may feel at the extent to which the offering of our hearts is accepted is a defect of the mind’s ignorance. And it is not the ephemeral mind that dictates the terms of the offering. It is the everlasting wisdom of the soul. “The soul knows it does not give itself to God in vain…”.

So it is in the end that we give, and give, the waves of our joyous offering effacing the lines between us and our brothers (including the one who cheats us with a smile). No longer do we crane our necks towards the sun, awaiting the epiphany of a divine descent. It is already manifest. “In all is the one self, the one Divine is all… and there is nothing else in the universe”. We come to feel the truth of this in our guts. It ceases to be “a metaphysical notion void of life…”.  It becomes life – beyond which is nothing, without which we are nothing. Only then do we adhere to the law of sacrifice.

[1] All quotations in this essay are from Sri Aurobindo. Reflections on what they mean for situations I describe herein are mine.