15 June 2014

Infinite Enlightenment

Don't you just love an epiphany? I had one the other day while sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my sister, the day before her wedding.

An epiphany, in the sense I'm using it, is a moment of sudden revelation or insight. This time, it was a discernment that I've struggled with for years that finally -- in a flash! -- became quite clear to me.

I was sipping on something hot, reading Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World's Greatest Business Case for Compassion. I'm reading it because I've volunteered (as a curriculum developer) at Aravind, the biggest and busiest eye hospital in the world, five times. I know one of the authors (who was just a young teen when I first visited Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India in 1994), and the whole Aravind "family" has stayed in my heart over the last 20 years. 

I've known all this time that the hospital's patriarch, affectionately known as Dr. V (because his name is nine syllables long), was a devotee of Sri Aurobindo (the hospital was named in his honour, as was Auroville near Pondicherry) and the Mother, but besides finding out that Aurobindo's writings were rather too dense for me (the man was a genius, literary and otherwise), I never bothered to pursue Dr. V's attraction to these writings. Thanks to this book, I've finally learned about Sri Aurobindo's gift.

Here, interspersed with Dr. V's journal entries and the prose of authors Pavithra K. Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy, is what I read from Sri Aurobindo's Savitri, an epic poem (perhaps the longest ever written in the English language):

In a contrary balance to earth's truth of things
The gross weighs less, the subtle counts for more;
On inner values hangs the outer plan.
All he had done was to prepare a field;
His small beginnings asked for a mighty end.
This Light comes not by struggle or by thought;
In the mind's silence the Transcendent acts
And the hushed heart hears the unuttered Word.
A vast surrender was his only strength.
-- Sri Aurobindo, in Savitri

From Infinite Vision:

"'Man is a transitional being,' [Sri Aurobindo] would declare, 'he is not final.' A conviction that evolution is incomplete, that humankind as we know it is a work in progress and that it is destined to realize a collective and radical transformation of consciousness, is central to the approach Sri Aurobindo developed and termed 'Integral Yoga.'"

"Sri Aurobindo's philosophy differs from most traditional Eastern belief systems in two ways. First, awakening, or enlightenment, is not the end goal. Sri Aurobindo was pioneering the idea that humans have the capacity to shape their lives in harmony with the deeper forces at play, and that by doing so, they actively help all of creation make an evolutionary leap to its summit potential. Second, he did not advocate retreat from worldly activity and renunciation of material concerns in pursuit of realization. He defended life on earth as the real field of growth and progress. His Integral Yoga proposed a sweeping canvas that included all spheres of the human experience: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual."

BINGO! That's it!  "He defended life on earth (Earth?) as the real field of growth and progress." 

For many, many years, I have resisted spiritual work (though, ironically, I think of myself as a spiritual person). I've witnessed too many friends who were on a spiritual path focusing inwardly at a time when there's so much to be done in the outer world. I couldn't bring myself to focus on myself. But between Sri Aurobindo's call to apply spiritual growth in the physical world and Dr. V's example of applying his deep spiritual work to the purpose of ending needless blindness in India and around the world, I felt an instant liberation -- a new freedom to do the climate change work in a spiritual way.

Here's more from the book:

"Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not codify a set of techniques in their teachings. Maintaining that the path to transformation is specific to each person, they instead emphasized an ecumenical approach comprising skillful aspiration, rejection, and surrender as means to progress. In this trifold framework, aspiration is defined as a sincere dedication toward realizing truth and perfection in all aspects of living. Rejection is the diligent refutation of hindrances -- any movements of thought or action that cloud the consciousness and impede an alignment with truth. And surrender is the deep, unconditional opening to the influence and will of our highest nature." 

Theirs was "the secular idea of working to be an instrument of emerging perfection within the field of daily living."

And then came this inspiration from the life of Dr. V. "The more one examines Dr. V's life, the clearer it becomes that what set him above others was not broad strokes of genius or recurrent flashes of brilliance. His accomplishments were made up of a steady succession of disciplined moments accumulated over a lifetime -- moments inhabited by empathy, a passion for excellence, and the stamina for hard, humble work."

Suddenly I'm not sure why I'm sharing all this with you. Is it because I want my spiritually leaning friends to join me in this climate change work? (And to stop suggesting that I shouldn't get so emotional or shouldn't say anything negative -- to which I want to reply: "How about if you feel some emotion instead, and start sharing the very negative truth about the threats we're posing to the future of all children on this planet? Instead of asking me to stop because it upsets your belief that a spiritual life must be all sweetness and light?")

Perhaps it's because I want us to emulate Dr. V's reach and influence in eye care and blindness eradication within the world of climate change activism? Or is it simply so that you, long-time reader or first-time visitor, can bear witness to this luminous epiphany in my life?

Whichever, I'm excited to have found an authentic intersection between fighting the good climate change fight and doing the good spiritual work. According to Sri Aurobindo, "our ascent to the top of the evolutionary staircase" is an inevitable journey that we do not take alone but with every other species, "because it is both 'the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of nature's process.' In other words, it is a journey that is being worked out by our own deepest purpose, in conjunction with the natural unfolding of the universe." 

Indeed, Aurobindo believed there is a "concealed consciousness" in all things: "Everything contains a seed of a higher, cosmic intelligence … the Divine." Acknowledging both the Divine and the Ecological Imperative in all life can only help us in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual work to safeguard this precious planet.

As Dr. V concluded, "Humanitarian service [and climate change work is humanitarian work!] is quite difficult if you are not able to love with your whole heart. Love is the most important factor to disseminate anything...."

With thanks to Pavithra and Suchitra (the book is a lovely, lovely read), Dr. V, Sri Aurobindo and my sister (for making me wait in that quiet coffee shop ;-) for this timely inspiration. 


Next week, I will lay out our Climate Emergency Countdown plan for you! Hope you have a fabulous week!


  1. Google " the egg " by Andy Weir .. i derived an understanding from there.

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for that tip! I didn't know what I was getting into, but The Egg is a deceptively simple but incredibly profound short story about the interconnectedness of us all on a journey together. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    Folks, here's a link to it with translations in numerous languages: http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?