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Consciousness and health

Self-forgetfulness and its beauty

Dr. Monica Gulati


What bothers virtually every one of us is self-obsession. That too, an obsession about a separate self, that is me, myself, limited in this frame of body, mind and life. And believing that limitedness and sense of separateness to be true, one finds oneself always incomplete, lacking, not enough, and which takes us on a perpetual journey in a want to be more, more, always more; and which ultimately can only be fulfilled in the Divine. And isn’t it a paradox, that the more I live a life of self-forgetfulness, not making the little ‘me’ the centre of my world, the more life takes a deeper, truer meaning? In self-forgetfulness, I find true contentment. This article explores self-forgetfulness advancing towards self-giving, in the light of the words of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

The right place and the burden of self-obsession

The Mother says, there is nothing wrong with this world, things are just not in their right place. Self-obsession has a place in human evolution. When the individuality is temporarily being formed, as the ego personality, it helps to focus on what my likes are, what do I think about this or that, what do I not like, etc. It helps me to carve my shape out of the mass of collective suggestions. But when one is formed enough as a personality, soon the obsessive, repetitive focus on this falsehood of a separate self, brings nothing but darkness, limitation and suffocation and a burden to carry; it tells me now that it is time for the self-obsessive way of life to wither away, and a new life be born.

If we look at our thoughts throughout the twenty-four hours of the day, we will see that for a majority of us, it is all revolving around the ‘little separate self’, the ‘me’ — its storyline, the past, present commentaries on happenings, and future worries, its likes and dislikes, its desires and demands, its unfulfilled wishes, its reputation, its approval and rejection by so-called ‘other separate selves’. All this chatter of the surface-mind leaves one drained and unfulfilled, always focused on what is lacking (never paying any attention to what it has already, which is taken for granted) and the series of ignorant pursuits to fulfil the abyss through material possessions, which makes us toil even further.

When we realise that our life is becoming a misery, a burden, we will diagnose that we are just too full of our limited sense of self, which is really a false-identity, and hence the signal from the Universe in the form of misery, saying: ‘Dude, you are following the wrong track, the track of partnering with falsehood.’ It is my time now to listen to this signal of misery/suffering, and let go of my sticking to my notions of myself and the world.

Benefits of self-forgetfulness

All of us want beauty and harmony in life. We want clarity and peace and light. But due to our distorted perceptions, our ignorance, we are compelled to resort to ignorant means to attain peace and beauty, and hence we always push harmony and beauty away, although wanting to have them in life.

All the movements originating from the ‘sense of lack’ or from the egocentric self, are roots of our misery. I feel that I am incomplete and running after people or material gain will make me complete — this is our biggest illusion and causes a lot of drainage of our life-energies, at all the unnecessary places. Simultaneously, we also have the golden key — by offering our limited self fully to the Divine (like a wave crashing back into the ocean), an utter self-giving, one finds that completion and contentment without the need of any ambitious external accomplishment, although the latter may happen as a by-product on the path.

“Man has a right to beatitude since that is what he was created for. But any egocentric movement is the very opposite of this beatitude; so that if you seek it for yourself alone, you repel it instead of attracting it. By self-forgetfulness, by self-giving, without asking anything in return, by merging, so to say, into this beatitude so that it may shine upon all, you find the inner peace and joy which never leave you (1).”

When we live identified with the ego-consciousness, or a sense of lack, a sense of being a limited separate self, we are always looking for — what can life or people give me so as to fulfil me, complete me? And it’s no wonder that we keep running in all the possible directions, wanting, wanting, but we still remain unfulfilled. We have no lasting joy or peace in life. They only come in glimpses, and very soon, misery is back, when the focus on ‘me’, the separate self, is back. How to resolve this misery? How to have joy back in life?

“The first thing one learns on the way is that the joy of giving is far greater than the joy of taking.

Then gradually one learns that to forget oneself is the source of immutable peace. Later on, in this self-forgetfulness, one finds the Divine, and that is the source of an ever-increasing bliss.

Sri Aurobindo told me one day that if men knew this and were convinced of it, they would all want to do yoga (2).”

The Mother speaks on Sri Aurobindo’s Aphorism, and she reveals to us how we can partake of perfect peace of mind and an unalloyed joy if we offer ourselves to be used by the Divine, in whatever way He wills for us. Also, when we give ourselves to the Divine for His use, we stop bothering with our unfulfilled wishes, demands, or expectations from life. And hence, we step back from the falsehood of the ego state.

“…. And Sri Aurobindo says: I am not a Jnani…. I do not seek knowledge. I have given myself to the Divine to accomplish His work and, by the divine Grace, at every moment I know what must be known in order to accomplish this work.

“It is an admirable state; it is perfect peace of mind. There is no longer any need to accumulate acquired knowledge, received ideas which have to be memorised; it is no longer necessary to clutter one’s brain with thousands and thousands of things in order to have at one’s command, when the time comes, the knowledge that is needed to perform an action, to impart a teaching, to solve a problem. The mind is silent, the brain is still, everything is clear, quiet, calm; and at the right moment, by divine Grace a drop of light falls into the consciousness and what needs to be known is known. Why should one care to remember — why try to retain that knowledge? On the day or at the moment that it is needed one will have it again. At each second one is a blank page on which what must be known will be inscribed — in the peace, the repose, the silence of a perfect receptivity.

“One knows what must be known, one sees what must be seen, and since what must be known and seen comes directly from the Supreme, it is Truth itself; and it completely eludes all notions of reason or folly. What is true is true — that is all. And one has to sink very low to wonder whether it is folly or reason.

“Silence and a modest, humble, attentive receptivity; no concern for appearances or even any anxiety to be — one is quite modestly, quite humbly, quite simply the instrument which of itself is nothing and knows nothing, but is ready to receive everything and transmit everything.

“The first condition is self-forgetfulness, a total self-giving, the absence of ego.

And the body says to the Supreme Lord: ‘What You want me to be, I shall be; what You want me to know, I shall know; what You want me to do, I shall do (3).””

Path of self-forgetfulness — tools and challenges

One of the ways to forget oneself, one’s sense of limited separate self, the one connected with the whole storyline in life, is by bringing the mind to an in-gathered state, either by focusing on the breath, body, or by centring the mind on Divine name/japa, like: Ma/The Mother. One dissociates oneself from the surface storylines/roles/sense of separate self, sensory inputs and mental, emotional chatter, and one just immerses the mind into a quietude attained by repeating the Divine name or bringing the mind to an open spacious awareness via breath.

The Mother talks about her own childhood, and how focusing on the thing one is doing and being concentrated in wanting to know and understand things, keeps one away from self-obsession, and the darkness associated with it.

“You see, my child, the unfortunate thing is that you are too preoccupied with yourself. At your age I was exclusively occupied with my studies — finding things out, learning, understanding, knowing. That was my interest, even my passion. My mother, who loved us very much — my brother and myself — never allowed us to be ill tempered or discontented or lazy. If we went to complain to her about one thing or another, to tell her that we were discontented, she would make fun of us or scold us and say, ‘What is this nonsense? Don’t be ridiculous. Quick! Off you go and work, and never mind whether you are in a good or a bad mood! That is of no interest at all.’

“My mother was perfectly right and I have always been very grateful to her for having taught me the discipline and the necessity of self-forgetfulness through concentration on what one is doing.

“I have told you this because the anxiety you speak of comes from the fact that you are far too concerned about yourself. It would be better for you to pay more attention to what you are doing and to do it well (painting or music), to develop your mind, which is still very uncultivated, and to learn the elements of knowledge which are indispensable to a man if he does not want to be ignorant and uncultured.

“If you worked regularly eight to nine hours a day, you would be hungry and you would eat well, you would feel sleepy and sleep peacefully, and you would have no time to wonder whether you are in a good or a bad mood.

“I am telling you these things with all my affection, and I hope that you will understand them (4).”

Often it happens that the pain of the separate self is too much to bear, owing to some old resistant patterns. Something on such cases — when we remain in the same roles, same outer situations, same family, same people and workplace, etc. which is really not suiting well at the moment, owing to the identification with the thoughts and storylines around them, it often helps to take some time-off. There are many things which are relatively easy to let go, and hence keep offering ourselves to the Divine, every moment, and walk the path, without radically altering much outer situations. But there are times, when one is not able to let go, or be self-forgetful, while remaining immersed in the same family, relationships, workplace, etc. Then, one needs to take some time-off. When we step away from our blood or intimate relations, or our past routines for some time, it does help in giving the sensory input and mental interpretations a sort of rest, and offering ourselves a period of re-discovery of our inner ground. So that in that stability, once more, self-giving to the Divine can happen and a new birth can happen. It is like when one has a wound, giving it some time to heal away from external stimuli like sprinkling salt or chillies, help it to heal quicker and regain health.

If such is the case, in case of our past rigid samskaras, which are showing resistances again and again, one must take some time off like a retreat, to rediscover and then begin afresh, either back in the same place, or finding a new niche for oneself, where one can continue offering oneself to the Divine.

Living the true purpose of human life

We often wonder why we are born, what is the purpose of human birth. And most often, all our material possessions, after we have had them, still leave us empty and unfulfilled. This revelation can be a turning-point in one’s life. So far, I have been always wanting, wanting for my little separate self through accumulating material possessions, and where has it led me? It has at least led me to this point where I can see that living from this sense of lack and always obsessed with my little separate self and accumulating more possessions is not going to benefit me. Now one can embark on a journey of cultivation of self-forgetfulness with this understanding gained through life experiences; it can be a path towards active self-giving, offering our life to the Divine, in all aspects.

Wherever I am, I can start from there, for we clearly see, if we are brave enough to experiment with ourselves, that the peace, beauty and joy that we get in an utter self-giving to the Divine, is incomparable. And we can see that we have been looking for this throughout our life; and that there is no end to the endless demands of the ‘little me.’

“What is the difference between ‘self-forgetfulness’ and ‘self-giving’? Self-forgetfulness may simply be a passive state resulting from a total lack of egoism. Self-giving, which takes its full value when it is directed towards the Divine, is an active movement which includes love in its purest and highest form.

“A total self-giving to the Divine is the true purpose of existence (5).”


1. The Mother. The Collected Works of the Mother, Volume. 10. Cent ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1977, p. 278.

2. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 16; 1987, p. 432.

3. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 10, p.10.

4. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 16, p.121.

5. The Mother. Collected Works, Volume 10, p. 278.

Dr. Monica Gulati, a learner and a seeker, is based in Gurgaon, India and an editor of NAMAH.

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