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Notes on counselling

Progressive perfection

Dr. Soumitra Basu


The urge for perfection can become a stressor in life requiring counselling intervention. This article uses a Ramayana narrative to explain the metapsychology of perfection. The resistance of worldly transactions necessitates that perfection has to be progressively worked upon. Besides, Sri Aurobindo’s insight that the human being is transitional and capable of evolving further in consciousness adds a new dimension to the phenomenon of perfection. Spiritual experiences alone cannot usher in perfection unless complemented by psychological perfection. The Mother’s description of psychological virtues needed for perfection can be used in counselling and personality development programmes.

Metapsychology of perfection

One of the most desirable objectives in life is to attain perfection. Indeed, Sri Aurobindo describes that along with freedom, purity and beatitude, perfection forms the yogic quartet that constitutes the nature of divine existence (1). However, in the field of psychotherapy, we often find that the urge for perfection can become sufficiently strenuous to produce anxiety and stress. In vulnerable subjects, this urge can become so exaggerated as to precipitate an obsessive compulsive neurosis. Failure to meet high standards of perfection set by oneself can result in chronic guilt feelings that may border on the pathological. The Type-A executive personality who is more prone to ischemic heart disease is marked among other things by an excessive urge for perfection in executing his or her responsibility, leading to ‘workaholism’. Thus the most cherished objective in life can become a troublesome burden.

As a therapist, I have felt that the metapsychology of perfection should be appreciated if we have to deal with perfection as an issue. Can there be anything perfect in the world? Can the Divine itself create forms that represent sustainable perfection? It seems that not only the human being but the lesser gods can too be lured to imperfection. The story of Ahalya in the Ramayana is a case in point. Brahma, the Supreme Creator, produced beauty in its fullest perfection in the creation of Ahalya. The lesser gods, especially Indra, were tempted. This is significant as Indra shares the same root in Sanskrit as ‘Indriyas’—the senses. It is the function of Indra to see that knowledge is not distorted by the senses. Yet he is a secondary and not a primary power, hence falls short of the perfect perfection.

Ahalya was put in the custody of a virtuous and puritan sage, Gautama. Pleased by Gautama’s chastity, Brahma allowed him to marry Ahalya. One day, in the absence of Gautama, Ahalya was sensually lured by Indra. When he came to know of it, Gautama cursed Ahalya in rage, turning her to a stone. Ahalya was never given a chance to defend herself. It is not known whether she was a willing participant or an innocent victim of circumstances. The spell was broken only when the sage Viswamitra requested Lord Rama to free Ahalya by His Divine Grace. However, even before the divine intervention, Satananda born of the wedlock of Gautama and Ahalya had expressed his anguish to Rama about the cruel fate of his mother due to Indra’s imperfection. Incidentally, Satananda was the priest at the ceremony when Rama had arrived to marry King Janaka’s daughter.

This narration gives several interesting insights:

1. The Supreme Creator Himself fashioned a perfect form in the being of Ahalya but that neither ensured the sustainability of perfection nor could it save her from being cursed.

2. Gautama’s virtuosity was endorsed by God Himself but that could neither protect his wife nor control his egoistic rage. It is thus not enough to have spiritual experiences, it is also necessary to have a psychological perfection.

3. The lesser gods could not maintain their perfection in the face of temptation. It is surprising why Indra, who is supposed to inhibit distortion of knowledge through the senses, got himself entangled in the lure of the senses. This needs to be understood from two perspectives. Firstly, sensory perception is not the only and perfect gateway to knowledge. There are supra-sensorial pathways like reason and supra-rational pathways like intuition and revelation. Secondly, Sri Aurobindo has revealed what was not known earlier: the senses can themselves be transformed so that a fourth-dimensional perspective becomes available that can directly ‘perceive’ the unitary nature of Reality even while processing diversity in the material world (2).

4. The Divine Grace alone could break the curse as human beings are too imperfect to undo their karma with their own strength and without the Divine afflatus. One could argue that when Brahma representing the Impersonal Creative Divine Force could not safeguard the perfectibility of forms, how could Rama transmit the Divine Grace. Rama is the Avatar, the embodied Divinity, the Personal form of the Divine whose action can be more effectual within the limits of space and time. The Divine is represented both in personal and impersonal dimensions. In the ascetic’s world, removed from the battle of life and secured in the peace and sanctity of the hermitage, the Impersonal Divine is eulogised. In the midst of human transactions loaded with ignorance, falsehood and hedonism, the invocation of the Personal Divine ushers the Saviour Grace.

5. While Gautama, the virtuous and puritan sage, cursed Ahalya, it was another sage, Viswamitra, who advised, albeit instructed Rama, to break the curse. On one hand, it was Viswamitra’s role to reveal the embodied divinity in Rama’s manifestation. On the other hand, Viswamitra, in his endeavour to be perfect, suffered unparalleled ups and downs in life and sādhanā. Besides, he combined spirituality and the science of polity with a vision whose reverberations ran through ages. A seer-wisdom of such a magnitude can demonstrate pragmatism in fields where even the gods dare not to act.

This whole narrative brings the realisation that perfection per se is not a static entity but a relative term. Even God doesn’t fashion a sustainable perfectly finished entity in the world though there may be perfect archetypes in heaven! This is logical as the world represents diversity, multiplicity, divisibility, a veiling of the unitary nature of Reality and hence a matrix where perfection has to be progressively worked upon. Metaphysically speaking, the world of multiplicity and divisibility prevents the manifestation of that which is eternally perfect. As the Mother (3) described, “Perfection is eternal; it is only the resistance of the world that makes it progressive” (p. 85).

It is also important to note that spiritual experiences alone cannot bring perfection unless complemented by an endeavour for psychological perfection. It is only in recent times that psychology is being acknowledged as a gateway to spirituality just as so long religion was considered to be a gateway to spirituality. Even if one is spiritually advanced, a lack of psychological perfection can make the ego a great stumbling block in the path of progress.

Imperfection is thus a reality in the manifestation and the corollary is that we have to pursue a progressive movement towards perfection. “Perfection is not a summit, it is not an extreme. There is no extreme: whatsoever you do, there is always the possibility of something better and exactly this possibility of something better is the very meaning of progress”(4). It is hence not meaningful to constantly feel guilty about one’s imperfection, though the feeling of guilt has also a temporal significance. Psychopaths who have no sense of guilt do not learn from mistakes and do not make conscious attempts to progress. However, a constant feeling of guilt has a limited value unless one takes one’s imperfection as a barometer of oneself that provides an opportunity to outgrow one’s defects, an opportunity to progressively perfect oneself. This insight can serve as a powerful tool in counselling.

Progressive perfection

Sri Aurobindo has added another new dimension to this issue of perfectibility. In his seer-vision, the human being is a transitional being, hence imperfect and capable of an evolutionary growth through a hierarchy of progressively perfect forms housing a prog-ressively refined consciousness. The lotus is perfect in its design and beauty, the tiger is perfect in its grandeur and ferocity; the human being is imperfect. This is because the lotus and the tiger are at the summit of their evolutionary manifestation and are not supposed to evolve further (I often use this metaphor when counselling subjects who get shocked by the imperfection of their cherished ones). The human being has not reached the summit of the evolutionary curve in consciousness and is expected to manifest through progressively perfect futuristic models until a very high consciousness (called by Sri Aurobindo the ’Supramental Consciousness ‘) can manifest. It is only then that perfectibility can be sustainable in earthly nature. However, the human being alone cannot achieve this spectacular feat; the human aspiration has to arise, invoke and complement the descending Divine Grace. As Sri Aurobindo (5) wrote:

“There are two powers that alone can effect in their conjunction the great and difficult thing which is the aim of our endeavour, a fixed and unfailing aspiration that calls from below and a supreme Grace from above that answers” (p. 1).

This evolutionary perspective of consciousness is beyond the ambit of the counselling zone. Yet a counselling programme can initiate a movement towards psychological perfection as part of self-development preparing the ground for the growth in consciousness. The Mother has described that psychological perfection proceeds through the movements of sincerity, faith, devotion, aspiration, endurance and surrender (6).Counselling and personality development programmes can be designed to cultivate psychological virtues that lead to progressive perfection:

1. For achieving sincerity, one must cultivate transparency in action and attitude.

2. Faith is built on an absolute trust in the all-pervading divinity. When Baden-Powell used the term trust in the laws of the Boy Scouts, he put a great value on it by indicating that it was not the mere individual but his honour that had to be trusted. In spiritual parlance, this concept is extended to signify trust in the Power and Goodness of the Divine.

3. Devotion must be accompanied by the sense of gratitude; otherwise, a person can behave most egoistically or feel totally frustrated if he feels his prayers are not answered.

4. Aspiration has to be based on courage so that one takes the invincible risk to proceed through the vicissitudes of life to endure all resistance so as to attain one’s cherished goals. True aspiration is full of courage.

5. Endurance which is physically expressed through perseverance is needed so that one does not lose the motivation to progress.

6. Surrender to the Truth is the most indispensable attitude to begin the journey towards perfection. One has to surrender all doubts, all mental preferences, all egoistic movements, all one’s nature and finally one’s highest ideals and deepest essence in the service of the Truth. Surrender is the first and absolute condition for progress. (7).

A cultivation of psychological virtues builds the foundation for a progressive perfection.


1. Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Volume 20. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970; p. 43.

2. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Volume 21. 1970, pp. 831-52.

3. The Mother, Collected Works of the Mother. Cent. ed. Volume.15. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980.

4. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 15. p. 85.

5. Sri Aurobindo, SABCL, Volume 25. 1972. 6. The Mother, Collected Works, Volume 8. 1977. pp. 36-42.

7. Nolini Kanta Gupta: Collected Works. 3rd ed. Volume 4. Kolkata: Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, 1989; pp.48-51.

Dr. Soumitra Basu, a practising psychiatrist, is the Director of a new school of psychology, the Mira Vision Trust. He is also one of the Editors of NAMAH.


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Psychological perfection