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The two paths

Dr. Alok Pandey


While the animal has only one road before him, the road that is right in front, determining his choices driven by the senses and instinct. But man has a subjective side to his existence, an inner road that can lead him deep within the inmost penetralia of his existence. This article touches upon the two roads before man with the possible implications of each.

The outer path

There are two paths that humanity has pursued in its relentless search for progress and seeking for Truth. One is outward, wherein one studies all that can be perceived through the senses and analysed objectively. One thus categorises the world into different groups based on common elements. Then they are further subdivided until the smallest unit is found that cannot be further broken. That is declared as the basic building-block of everything.

Next one tries to bring together the pieces that the mind and senses have created, observe their mutual interactions and thereby builds a working theory of everything. But by the time this stage is reached one has moved far, often very far from the field of the senses from where one had started. One enters a world that is barely observable even with sophisticated instruments. Its presence can be discerned through mathematics, inferred indirectly through reason, confirmed by its ability to predict events based on theories. This is the way that science, especially material science has followed. This works quite well with physical things, even though several gaps begin to appear there, inexplicable aspects and anomalous observations that defy and challenge the theory begin to creep in.

This begins to start falling apart when we enter the life-sciences. We enter a new field where physical forces alone do not determine events. By following the method of physical science, we can understand a lot of processes taking place within the body chemistry, physiology that studies the functions of tissues and organs as far as chemical processes go, and the physical anatomy of physical structures. Yet our understanding begins to enter a larger field of unpredictability since new subjective elements have begun to enter our material world and its physical processes. It is intent. It is this that behaviourists try to study and understand, building a lot of theories about intent of an animal or a bird. Its inadequacy can be understood simply by asking whether we can predict whether a crow will fly or not and if so, then when and in what direction.

Here we see that the body processes, the physiology and chemistry, begin to be determined by intent. If an animal intends to fight then one set of processes gets activated. If instead it decides to flee then another set of processes are spurred. A new element that begins to determine material and biological processes begins to appear with far-reaching consequences, especially for human beings. This is so because unlike animals, where intents themselves follow a pattern and habit, human beings bring in even more complex elements that make it near impossible to study intent.

The inner road

In fact, something new begins to emerge with man. It is conscious will and thought, deliberation and reflection, faith and aspiration. All this makes it difficult to predict the course of any event taking place within us, be it an illness or an accident. Since the whole human system is interconnected it is but natural that our mental and psychological processes must have some kind of effect upon the body. The mistake however that has been made by the outward-going approach and digging into matter by physical science (though valid to an extent in the purely physical field) is that we have come to believe that it is physical processes that govern our lives so completely that we have no real say in the matter of our own body.

While it cannot be denied that our present physical functioning does tend to limit certain possibilities, just as the make of a car limits its speed to an extent or the hardware of a computer limits the extent to which it can support certain software. Yet if we understand that this limitation is not real or final and that even within these limits there is much that we can do and achieve by simply reversing the way we look at things, then we shall be able to override, to whatever extent, the limitations of the body. It is just a question of habit, developed because of the way evolution happens. The past persists for some time, seemingly making the new element or possibility subordinated to the old way. It is this that creates link intermediary species where the evolutionary potential is yet to unfold.

The link and the transition

We believe that human beings have been passing through this transition for a long time. We ourselves are some kind of link species, intermediary beings of transition. Our animal past continues to hold us back in body and brain. But through the long, winding course of evolution we see some shining points like stars in the night, where the human being has displayed some exceptional possibility. There was a tendency at some point, an effort at least, for it to be generalised through yoga and an effort at spiritual evolution but it slumped back again in our present age as science took the other route, the road outside rather than within.

But perhaps we have reached that point wherein a new journey or rather the lost trails of past attempts can be picked up again, integrating our experience and gains from exploring the far limits of matter and our body’s physiology and chemistry. This other road opens three doors of possibilities.

Mind over matter

We are not as helpless as we believe ourselves to be. If we learn to disengage our mind from matter, in other words our thoughts and will and feelings from a stark bondage to our body and physical condition, then it is possible to have a much greater effect of our thoughts upon our illness and on the body in general. Even in ordinary life, we see how people during certain exceptional situations such as war or being trapped in a desert or a jungle or during intense army training can survive, overriding many so-called indispensable needs of the body.

Equally we see how certain religious practices endorse fasting from time to time, some even as rigorous as a denial of even water for a couple of days. As a psychiatrist, I have often been surprised to see some acutely violent patients who hardly eat or drink refusing everything, as if in a catatonic stupor followed by excitement, or in mania, yet continue to be extremely energetic. It is so, because the body draws energy directly from the lower vital ranges and hence can continue with less intake of food.

In fact, this understanding opens the doors to a new science of energy balance within the body. Ordinarily, we depend mainly on food and breathing for energy requirements of the body. But have we not noticed how sometimes when we are too busy or preoccupied with an intensely engaging mental process, how our hunger is put on hold for a long time. Equally, we see how when we are in a state of lethargy and dullness, the sudden arrival of a cherished friend and the exchanges that follow fill us with energy. Of course, there are mechanisms such as the adrenaline rush triggered by the sight and sound etc., but the switch to this rush is in the mind.

Newer possibilities of the mind

Ordinarily we cannot sustain these states for long, yet they indicate a possibility that yogis of a certain kind explore to its ultimate. Through the practice of breath mastery and thought control, they are able to slow down the body metabolism and conserve energy. They can also open to the universal vital energy, prāṇa, that keeps them healthy and fit with a minimum intake of food. Certainly, these extreme practices are generally not recommended and balance is always a saner and safer approach to life. But the possibility is there. How far can it extend? There are instances where even autonomic systems. such as the heartbeat, could be brought back to almost nil and yet the person continues to be alive and conscious.

Here we must understand that the mind domain is not a small expanse or stretch of road that ends with the emergence of reason. Human consciousness, and the human mind along with it is still evolving. There are many more domains and possibilities yet within the mental domain that await our exploration and expression through evolution. It is even logical that nature is bound to eventually leave behind reason and analysis, replacing it with more direct ways of knowing.

Reason and analysis based on a limited observation are laborious and inadequate processes. They have done their bit by organising the animal impulses and ordering the free-flowing movement of life into some kind of metre and rhythm. It has helped cut life into little sections to study and interpret and understand. But it fails miserably when it tries to go beyond its brief. For example, it can conceive to an extent but cannot find the key to live the truth of interconnectedness of life and all things. It finds mathematical equations to solve the problems of physics but the problem of life remains unsolved.

It can conceive of a future by projecting the present towards it, but cannot truly know what this future truly holds for us the next moment because it knows not the thread that links our past with the future. Knowing this inadequacy the seers and yogis explored other possibilities and discovered faculties that are asleep within us such as intuition, revelation, even direct vision. Though few, they are still a living testimony to what mankind has in store in the evolutionary process.

This does not mean abandoning reason but using it for its rightful purpose and assigning it the right place. Reason itself did not discard the animal instinct and impulses but modified it, trying to expand its range. So too the emergence of intuition and revelatory insights does not discard reason but uses it for the purpose for which it is meant, which is to organise our lower life into some semblance of order. Later a still higher faculty will emerge to not only put things in order but to harmonise all life according to the law of a vast and all-comprehensive Truth. All these faculties which we witness in certain exceptional people or in ordinary humanity under exceptional circumstances are bound to become more common as the evolutionary pressure increases. This process can however be accelerated and the means to do it is the true sense of yoga. Yoga does not help us regress to the old animal balance but helps us evolve further by bringing in new forces into play and thereby resets the balance at a higher level, making it not only more complete but also more enduring.

Newer possibilities of the body itself

Finally, there are new possibilities within the body itself. If we look at the trajectory of evolution, we shall find that the form or the body is like a magic box out of which new possibilities seem to emerge as a result of evolutionary challenges. It is as if there is concealed within each atom of existence a tremendous evolutionary impulsion that is pushing matter to evolve from what we call as inanimate matter to a half-conscious man.
But is matter really inanimate and non-living unless we define life in certain fixed restricted ways? The universe expands (moves) and brings out of itself many seeds called stars while absorbing back those which are born and die or disappear into oblivion. The day we understand that matter is living at some level and there is in it consciousness pushing it towards newer manifestations then we shall find the key to the mystery of the human body and its evolutionary capabilities. It will be inconsistent with the logical trajectory of evolution to believe that evolution is over with man.

This can at best be an anthropocentric view of creation but one that cannot hold long because it is inconsistent with creation. Its only use or rather misuse is to paint God in a human image and then to curse Him because He made us so incomplete and limited. But if we take the view that there are infinite possibilities hidden in matter itself, then it will not be difficult to assume that the story of evolution is not yet finished and man himself is a bridge or a catalyst towards still higher creations. He is, at worst, a transient being whose fate hangs in the balance of how he responds to the evolutionary pressure from within and around. At best, it opens the doors to a conscious evolution and thereby not only overpasses his present limitations, but discovers the ultimate possibilities that he dreams of, among which there is eventually the conquest over disease, ageing and death.

However, this is possible only if he does not stifle these possibilities by offering second-hand remedies such as the massive health-structure we have built. What is needed however is to tap the possibilities of conscious evolution through yoga, for that is what yoga really is. It is conscious and hence concentrated evolution, taking place through union with our own highest possibility of perfection. In other words, two things are required to actualise these higher possibilities of the body.

First is a faith in these possibilities, a faith that is consistent with reason in the sense that if evolution is the mechanism through which the human body has developed so far through all the forms that preceded it then its further evolution is a logical conclusion. The human body itself then becomes a means, a foot stool or a scaffolding for the evolutionary power, call it whatever, to build further, to evolve further, to lead us further to a newer, higher and better body which is the direction that evolution tends to take.

Secondly, we have to disinherit the belief that whatever we have discovered so far through a material approach to a living body is the last limit. There could be sleeping tracts, slumbering cells, latent neurons, evolving tissues that are to embody a greater possibility. But they need to be activated rather than dulled and stifled due to our misplaced belief in the omnipotence of outer remedies.

The needed shift

It would require a massive shift, a reorientation of our life from a blind and near total dependence upon outer means to an exploration and activation of inner means to heal, the surface to the depths, from the gross to the sublime, from the apparent to the real, from the present actual to the future potential. The future of man however depends upon whether we can take that shift or not. We are being pushed in that direction but the commercial interests of a few are preventing us from taking the shift. It is substituting courage and faith with fear and anxiety, rushing us unthinkingly towards the old habitual steps though they may eventually lead us to the abyss. But there are a few, a few who are everywhere who are quietly shedding the burden of the past and slowly entering through the doors of the future. It is these few, far from the loud blare and glare of the world who are the hope for the future.

This future possibility has been witnessed by mystics. Even if we regard them as a freak of nature, yet these first freaks are the outbreaks from behind the veil of something that is likely to generalise itself. The mystic experience is an experiment of Nature to climb beyond herself to meet her Lord. But a greater mysticism will see God invade Nature and turn this largely animal body through the human passage into a divine body. That is the evolutionary labour whose real purpose and significance we miss while observing the phenomenon but not its secret cause.

Let us close then with this thought of evolution carrying the body still further towards its inevitable destiny. What hides within matter must eventually emerge fully. And if, as the mystic experience behind the screen of Matter there is the hidden God, then one day He shall surely emerge from behind the veil that He has woven, and this world manifest the secret Divine:

“I passed into a lucent still abode
And saw as in a mirror crystalline
An ancient Force ascending serpentine
The unhasting spirals of the aeonic road.
Earth was a cradle for the arriving god
And man but a half-dark half-luminous sign
Of the transition of the veiled Divine
From Matter’s sleep and the tormented load

Of ignorant life and death to the Spirit’s light.
Mind liberated swam Light’s ocean vast,
And life escaped from its grey tortured line;
I saw Matter illumining its parent Night.
The soul could feel into infinity cast
Timeless God-bliss the heart incarnadine (1).”


1. Sri Aurobindo. Birth Centenary Library, Volume 5. Pondicherry: Sri Aurbindo Ashram Trust; 1971, p. 157.

Dr. Alok Pandey, an editor of NAMAH and a member of SAIIIHR, is a doctor practising at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

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The body




Trajectory of evolution




Hope for the future


Sri Aurobindo