Not many people, including those in its land of origin, fully comprehend what the word ‘Yoga’ actually means, or all that it encompasses. In this month of June as the world celebrates International Yoga Day, we publish two letters written by Pavitra-da to seekers who had written to Sri Aurobindo with their queries on the path and practice of Yoga. Sri Aurobindo assigned the task of writing replies to these seekers to Pavitra-da.
Pavitra-da (Philippe Barbier Saint-Hilaire, 1894-1969) came to India in 1925. He met Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in Pondicherry, where he was accepted as a sadhak. Sri Aurobindo gave him the name Pavitra. In 1951 he was appointed by the Mother as the director of the newly founded Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He served in this position for 18 years, as well as being general secretary of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, until his death in 1969.
This letter was first published in the 1947 issue of Sri Aurobindo Circle.
Sri Aurobindo has received your letter and wants me to reply to you.
Undoubtedly, the conditions of Western life are not, generally speaking, favourable to a spiritual existence, in so far as its whole activity is turned outwards. A greater effort will have to be made if one wishes to turn away from the present collective trend of action, sensation and thought. And it is certain too that at the outset, periods of calm, comparative solitude and concentration are necessary in order to enable the consciousness to make this effort and to turn inwards or upwards.
But the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo (following herein the master idea of the Gita) is not a flight far from the world, a renouncement of action. Its aim is rather to transform action and to make it a part of spiritual life itself.
It is true that Yoga demands an equipoise and that every weak point, physical or mental, is a source of much trouble and much difficulty. But what is, should always be taken as it is; it is inevitably the point from which one has to start. And the start must be made forthwith. Even if you can see only a part of the road (as a matter of fact it is always so) it would be unwise to wait for more favourable circumstances.
The circumstances of today are the outcome of the past, and those of the future, even of the near future, depend in their turn on our present attitude and our present aspiration. It is possible to alter circumstances that are unfavourable, and you may be sure that, if your aspiration is sincere and intense, possibilities will open out before you and enable you to realise your spiritual destiny. Besides, very often, circumstances are unfavourable only in appearance. If they appear hostile it is only because there is a conflict within us; we are ourselves divided, dragged asunder by contrary tendencies. The soul aspires after one thing, the mind longs for another, the vital craves yet for another; that is why our life is made up of shocks and is over strewn with obstacles.
It would then be vain to wait until circumstances offer you an easy Yoga in twenty-five lessons. Your primary task is to unify your whole being around the central spiritual will, the will that ever tends towards a Divine union and a Divine manifestation. This task you can undertake where you are, in your actual life, even if there be certain difficulties on the score of health, for, above all, it is a change of inner attitude that is sought. In proportion as you progress, external circumstances will become your helpers and allies, instead of holding you back and blocking your way.
Start work, such as you are, knowing the way to be long and arduous, knowing that you will have to surmount many obstacles, such as doubt and discouragement, but knowing also that you are going to penetrate into the light of Truth, by short flashes at first, but later on in a more stable and continuous manner; you will become conscious of the Divine presence, and you will learn to live the only life that is worth living.
Go forward and the door will open unto you.
Cover image: Painting by Ritam Upadhyay, digital redesign by Rishabh Sharma