classes ::: Letters_On_Poetry_And_Art, Sri_Aurobindo, Integral_Yoga, chapter,
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object: - Poetry and Sadhana
book class:Letters On Poetry And Art
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
media class:chapter

29 Mar 1934

Can one gain as much profit (I mean spiritually) from writing poems, etc. as from devoting ones time to sadhanameditation, etc. In other words, can literary activity be taken as part of ones sadhana?

Any activity can be taken as part of the sadhana if it is offered to the Divine or done with the consciousness or faith that it is done by the Divine Power. That is the important point.

29 March 1934
19 May 1938

It is obvious that poetry cannot be a substitute for sadhana; it can be an accompaniment only. If there is a feeling (of devotion, surrender etc.), it can express and confirm it; if there is an experience, it can express and strengthen the force of experience. As reading of books like the Upanishads or Gita or singing of devotional songs can help, especially at one stage or another, so this can help also. Also it opens a passage between the exterior consciousness and the inner mind or vital. But if one stops at that, then nothing much is gained. Sadhana must be the main thing and sadhana means the purification of the nature, the consecration of the being, the opening of the psychic and the inner mind and vital, the contact and presence of the Divine, the realisation of the Divine in all things, surrender, devotion, the widening of the consciousness into the cosmic Consciousness, the Self one in all, the psychic and the spiritual transformation of the nature. If these things are neglected and only poetry and mental development and social contacts occupy all the time, then that is not sadhana. Also the poetry must be written in the true spirit, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but as a means of contact with the Divine through aspiration or of the expression of ones own inner being, as it was written formerly by those who left behind them so much devotional and spiritual poetry in India; it does not help if it is written only in the spirit of the Western artist or littrateur. Even works or meditation cannot succeed unless they are done in the right spirit of consecration and spiritual aspiration gathering up the whole being and dominating all else. It is the lack of this gathering up of the whole life and nature and turning it towards the one aim, which is the defect in so many here, that lowers the atmosphere and stands in the way of what is being done by myself and the Mother.

19 May 1938
24 Dec 1934

What I wrote to you about poetry was an entirely general answer to the question of the relation of poetry to sadhana. I wrote how poetry could be part of sadhana and under what conditions, what were its limitations and also that it could not be a substitute for sadhana. I made no personal application; I have not said or suggested anywhere that the ideas or bhakti expressed in your poetry were humbug or hypocrisy and I have not said or suggested anywhere that all our labour on you had been wasted and gone for nothing. These absurd ideas, like all the rest, are imaginations and inventions of the vital ego foisted by it on your mind in order to justify its pressure on you to leave Pondicherry and the Yoga.

I understood from what you had written and said before that you wanted to concentrate altogether on the sadhanato do what I call the gathering up of the whole life and nature and turning it towards the one aim, and I wrote that the lack of this was the defect of the majority of the sadhaks here. What I wrote implied therefore an approval of your resolution. No doubt, it implied also that you had not yet made this total gathering up and turning; if you had, there would have been no need of this resolution of yours and no room for it. If your whole life and every part of your being has already been gathered up and entirely consecrated to the Divine, then you are on the perfect way and there is obviously no need of any change in your way of life or your sadhana. But this can be said of very few in the Ashram. But that does not mean that all the people in the Ashram except a few are insincere and that all our work on them has been thrown away. What it means is that for our work to be fully done, for the decisive realisations and the complete inner and outer change, the entire gathering up and turning of the whole life and nature is indispensable and that if it is only partially done, it is a defect in the sadhana and stands in the way of a full working and decisive and total change of the consciousness. If your whole vital nature and all the movements of your outer life had been already gathered up and turned towards the Divine alone without any other aim or interest, how is it that this vital revolt came about? And how is it that it whirls furiously around such things as the refusal of an easy chair or an almirah or of a special room which the Mother has reserved for another purpose? Or around the gossip of sadhaks and what this one may have said or that one may have said or the attitude of sadhaks towards you? It is evident that the part of your vital which was concerned with these outward things or with the outward contacts with others was not yet turned solely towards the one aim, that it was still interested and affected by these things which have nothing to do with the realisation of the Divine or with Yoga.

It is quite true that when you first came, the Mother was not in favour of your staying and taking up the Yoga here, for you had then a very strong obscurity and impurity in your vital nature and this could easily make the Yoga too difficult for you and create serious trouble. When however you persisted in staying, we gave you your opportunity as we had done in similar cases before. For it is always possible for the psychic being to prevail, if it is determined to do so, over the difficulties of the vital nature, even though it may mean severe inner struggles for a time. This concession was justified by certain results; you opened in a remarkable way into the inner being by the poetic aspiration and you had experiences which strengthened the psychic call and created a psychic and mental basis for your sadhana. Even you were able to throw out from the vital the sexual obsession which had been one of the chief difficulties there.1

It wont do to put excessive and sweeping constructions on what I write, otherwise it is easy to misunderstand its real significance. I said that there was no reason why poetry of a spiritual character (not any poetry like Verlaines or Swinburnes or Baudelaires) should bring no realisation at all. This did not mean that poetry was a major means of realisation of the Divine. I did not say that it would lead us to the Divine or that anyone had achieved the Divine through poetry or that poetry by itself can lead us straight into the sanctuary. Obviously if such exaggerations are put into my words, they become absurd and untenable.

My statement is perfectly clear and there is nothing in it against reason or common sense. The Word has powereven the ordinary written word has a power. If it is an inspired word it has still more power. What kind of power or power for what depends on the nature of the inspiration and the theme and the part of the being it touches. If it is the Word itself,as in certain utterances of the great ScripturesVeda, Upanishads, Gita,it may well have a power to awaken a spiritual impulse, an uplifting, even certain kinds of realisation. To say that it cannot contradicts spiritual experience.

The Vedic poets regarded their poetry as mantras, they were the vehicles of their own realisations and could become vehicles of realisation for others. Naturally, these mostly would be illuminations, not the settled and permanent realisation that is the goal of Yogabut they could be steps on the way or at least lights on the way. Many have such illuminations, even initial realisations while meditating on verses of the Upanishads or the Gita. Anything that carries the Word, the Light in it, spoken or written, can light this fire within, open a sky, as it were, bring the effective vision of which the Word is the body. In all ages spiritual seekers have expressed their aspirations or their experiences in poetry or inspired language and it has helped themselves and others. Therefore there is nothing absurd in my assigning to such poetry a spiritual or psychic value and effectiveness to poetry of a psychic or spiritual character.

24 December 1934

  Sri Aurobindo broke off here. He did not send this incomplete letter in this form. It is reproduced from his manuscripts.Ed.

16 Apr 1935

I have always told you that you ought not to stop your poetry and similar activities. It is a mistake to do so out of asceticism or with the idea of tapasy. One can stop these things when they drop of themselves, because one is in full experience and so interested in ones inner life that one has no energy to spare for the rest. Even then, there is no rule for giving up; for there is no reason why the poetry, etc., should not be a part of sadhana. The love of applause, of fame, the ego-feeling have to be given up, but that can be done without giving up the activity itself.

16 April 1935
16 Apr 1935

It is perfectly true that all human greatness and fame and achievement are nothing before the greatness of the Infinite and Eternal. There are two possible deductions from that, first, that all human action has to be renounced and one should go into a cave; the other is that one should grow out of ego so that the activities of the nature may become one day consciously an action of the Infinite and Eternal. But it does not follow that one must or can grow out of ego and the vital absorption at once and, if one does not, that proves incapacity for Yoga. I myself never gave up poetry or other creative human activities out of tapasy; they fell into a subordinate position because the inner life became stronger and stronger slowly: nor did I really drop them, only I had so heavy a work laid upon me that I could not find time to go on. But it took me years and years to get the ego out of them or the vital absorption, but I never heard anybody say and it never occurred to me that that was a proof that I was not born for the Yoga.

As to the born Yogi what I said was that there was a born Yogi in you, and I very explicitly based it on the personality that showed itself in your earlier experiences in a vivid way which no one accustomed to the things of Yoga or having any knowledge about them could fail to recognise. But I did not mean that there was nothing in you which was not born Yogic. Everyone has many personalities in him and many of them are not Yogic at all in their propensities. But if one has the will to Yoga, the born Yogi prevails as soon as he gets a chance of manifesting himself through the crust of the mind and vital nature. Only, very often that takes time. One must be prepared to give the time.

16 April 1935
10 Nov 1934

Of course when you are writing poems or composing you are in contact with your inner being, that is why you feel so different then. The whole art of Yoga is to get that contact and get from it into the inner being itself, for so one can enter directly into and remain in all that is great and luminous and beautiful. Then one can try to establish them in this troublesome and defective outer shell of oneself and in the outer world also.

10 November 1934
18 Nov 1936

Literature and art are or can be first introductions to the inner beingthe inner mind and vital; for it is from there that they come. And if one writes poems of bhakti, poems of divine seeking etc., or creates music of that kind, it means that there is a bhakta or seeker inside who is supporting himself by that self expression. There is also the point of view behind Leles answer to me when I told him that I wanted to do Yoga but for work, for action, not for Sannyasa and Nirvana,but after years of spiritual effort I had failed to find the way and it was for that I had asked to meet him. His first answer was, It should be easy for you as you are a poet. But it was not from any point of view like that that Nirod put his question and it was not from that point of view that I gave my answer. It was about some special character-making virtue that he seemed to attribute to literature.

18 November 1936
23 May 1938

I dont understand why Lele told you that because you are a poet, sadhana will be easy to you through poetry.

Because I told him I wanted to do Yoga in order to get a new inner Yogic consciousness for life and action, not for leaving life. So he said that. A poet writes from an inner source, not from the external mind, he is moved by inspiration to write, i.e. he writes what a greater Power writes through him. So the Yogi karmachari has to act from an inner source, to derive his thoughts and movements from that, to be inspired and impelled by a greater Power which acts through him. He never said that sadhana will be easy for me through poetry. Where is through poetry phrase? Poetry can be done as a part of sadhana and help the sadhanabut sadhana through poetry is a quite different matter.

23 May 1938
8 Aug 1936

If poetic progress meant a progress in the whole range of Yoga, Nishikanta would be a great Yogi by this time. The opening in poetry or any other part helps to prepare the general opening when it is done under the pressure of Yoga, but it is at first something special, like the opening of the subtle vision or subtle senses. It is the opening of a special capacity in the inner being.

8 August 1936
9 Dec 1931

I do not think you need be anxious about the poetry; the power is sure to re-express itself as soon as you are ready for a progress. It has probably stopped working temporarily because the pressure is now for the inner self-creation more than for the outer expressionI am speaking, of course, of your case in particular. The expression in poetry and other forms must be, for the Yogin, a flowing out from a growing self within and not merely a mental creation or an aesthetic pleasure. Like that the inner self grows and the poetic power will grow with it.

9 December 1931
22 Feb 1935

What you say about the spontaneous development of the capacity in the metre after a silent and inactive incubation of over two years, is quite true. But it is not amazing; it often happens and is perfectly natural to those who know the laws of the being by observation and experience. In the same way one suddenly finds oneself knowing more of a language or a subject after returning to it subsequent to a short interim without study, problems which had been abandoned as unsolvable solving themselves spontaneously and easily after sleep or when they are taken up again; knowledge or ideas coming up from within without reading or learning or hearing from others. Sudden efflorescences of capacity, intuitions, wellings up of all sorts of things point to the same inner power or inner working. It is what we mean when we speak of the word, knowledge or activity coming out of the silence, of a working behind the veil of which the outer mind is unconscious but which one day bears its results, of the inner manifesting itself in the outer. It makes at once true and practical what sounds only a theory to the uninitiated,the strong distinction made by us between the inner being and the outer consciousness. It is how also unexpected Yogic capacity reveals itself, sometimes no doubt as a result of long and apparently fruitless effort, sometimes as a spontaneous outflowering of what was concealed there all the time or else as a response to a call which had been made but at the time and for long seemed to be without an answer.

22 February 1935
20 Nov 1934

I like very much both the feeling and the form of your poem. Of course when you are writing poems or composing you are in contact with your inner being, that is why you feel so different then. The whole art of Yoga is to get that contact and get from it into the inner being itself, for so one can enter directly into and remain in all that is great and luminous and beautiful. Then one can try to establish them in this troublesome and defective outer shell of oneself and in the outer world also.

20 November 1934
25 Dec 1934

This poetry, even if it does not lead to any realisation,though there is no reason why it should not, since it is not mundane,is yet a link with the inner being and expresses its ideal. That is its value for the sadhana.

25 December 1934
24 Jul 1938

The use of your writing is to keep you in touch with the inner source of inspiration and intuition, so as to wear thin the crude external crust in the consciousness and encourage the growth of the inner being.

24 July 1938
10 Aug 1937

What do you wish me to be, an artist, a literary man, or a poet?

A sadhakall these things can be included in sadhana.

Why is my mind so wretchedly limited, my soul such a feeble flame?

It is not the question, for this is not a question of personal capacity but of the development of the receptivity and for that the sole thing necessary is an entire or at least a dominant will to receive. What you call your mind and your soul are only a small surface part of you, not your whole being. Personal capacity belongs to the temporary surface personality which you have put forward in this life and which is mutable, is already changing and can change much farthere.g. the poems you are writing are certainly beyond what was your original capacitythey belong to a range of experience to the Word of which you have opened by a development beyond your old mental selfa farther development beyond not only your old mental self but also your old vital self is needed to get the concrete realisation of that range of experience.

What is standing in the way is something that is still attached to the limitations of the old personality and hesitates to take the plunge because by doing so it may lose these cherished limitations. It stands back in apprehension from the plunge because it is afraid of being taken out of its depthsbut unless one is taken out of the very shallow depth of this small part of the self, how can one get into the Infinite at all? Further more, there is no real danger in finding oneself in the Infinite, it is a place of greater safety and greater riches, not less; but this something in you does not like the prospect because it has to merge itself into a larger self-existence. You asked the Mother to press on you the lighting of the fire within and she has been doing so, but this is standing back with the feeling Oh Lord! what will become of me if this flame gets lit. You must get rid of this clinging to the past self and life, then you can have a fire which will not be feeble. You have not fallen between two stools,you are hesitating between two consciousnesses, the old and the new, the small and the great, that is all.

As for the poetry, wellyou have developed up to a point at which your work is of a very rare and unique qualityin no way inferior to that of the others of whom you speak,the difficulty of intermittency of production is nothing, for all feel that except Nishikanta and Dilip who have no misgivings about their creative power. Yours rises probably from the fact that in order to have free command of the highest planes of poetry, you have to rise into them and not only open to the Word from themit is therefore the same difficulty in another form. Otherwise, if you had the old self-satisfaction of which you draw so glowing a picture, you would have found your present poetry marvellous and gone on writing freely only oscillating between the different planes achieved and content to do so. This is not a proof of incapacity but of the will to greater things. Only that will must not be in the mind only but take full hold of the vital also and must be a will that what you write of shall be a part not only of thought but of life. Which comes back to what I have written aboveget free from the obscure hesitation to open and let the force do its work.

One must either do that if one wants a rapid change or go quietly and wait for the slower working from behind the veil to reduce and break the obstacle.

10 August 1937
14 Apr 1938

There is nothing definite that I can tell you. Mother finds no conscious opposition in your mind or will to surrender and transformation. But probably the difficulty lies in the vital (not mind) of the artist (the poet, painter etc. in you), because the vital of the artist is always accustomed to its independence, to follow its own way, to make and live in its own world and pursue the impulses of its nature. If that element changes then probably surrender and transformation could be more rapid, but it is not always easy for it to change at once, it usually goes by a gradual and almost unobserved change.

I hesitate to write in this high tone: I am the Light of the One, etc. It sounds too high and grand. Some dont like this tone at all. Dilip is one. They call it insincere. Is there no justification for a poet-sadhak to use this tone?

If such poems are put as a claim, or vaunted as a personal experience of Yoga, they may be objected to on that ground. But a poet is not bound to confine himself to his personal experience. A poet writes from inspiration or from imagination or vision. Milton did not need to go to Heaven or Hell or the Garden of Eden before he wrote Paradise Lost. Are all Dilips bhakti poems an exact transcription of his inner state? If so, he must be a wonderful Yogi and bhakta.

14 April 1938

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   1 Integral Yoga, #Letters On Poetry And Art, #Sri Aurobindo, #Integral Yoga
  object: - Poetry and Sadhana
  author class:Sri Aurobindo

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