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Consciousness and health

Viewing and treating others as the Divine

Dr. Larry Seidlitz

“... the idea on which the mind should fix is that of God in all, all in God and all as God (1).”
“All is the Divine Being.”
(Bhagavad Gita. VII, 19)


This paper examines human relationships in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s Integral Yoga. A fundamental assertion, common to many spiritual traditions, is that the Divine is immanent within all human beings as well as beyond them. We are invited to make this basic truth an ideal to which we progressively align our day-to-day experience and practice of interacting with others. Various quotes are explored from Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s writings, which contextualise this ideal and practice in various situations such as work, helping others, family relations, as well as interacting with others in general. The chief obstacle of desire is elaborated. Central practices of Integral Yoga are discussed to base our efforts in transforming our relations, such as inwardly concentrating on the psychic being, developing awareness of the Witness Puruṣa, calling on the Divine Grace for help in effecting the changes sought and developing greater awareness and vigilance in our day-to-day actions.

It is perhaps obvious, but at times it is useful to stress this important truth, that the Divine dwells in every person, that each is in fact a form of the Divine, however imperfect that form may seem to be. It is especially important to be reminded of this at this time when people have become so polarised with opposing values, religions, philosophies and political views, viewpoints on social issues and perspectives on various practical issues. However, underlying all differences of viewpoint, opinion or approach towards life, there is a fundamental unity, a fundamental truth in which differing views all find their justification and reason for existence, as well as the basis for their harmonisation with all others.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have presented a certain view of the nature of Reality which is quite different from what we normally experience and quite different from the way that we conduct our lives. If we accept this view of Reality, then our aim should be to realign our experience and our conduct into better conformity with this ideal. Our way of looking at the world, including our way of looking at others, must undergo a significant, even a radical change. This necessarily takes time, effort, discipline, perseverance and it takes the support and the Grace of the Divine. Moreover, they have presented us with methods and with practical guidance in order to carry out this change. But before considering their guidance for how to change, let us consider in more detail the ideal with regard to our relations with others into which we must progressively grow.

Loving the Divine through others

One of Sri Aurobindo’s writings which most strikingly emphasises the idea of the Divine being in all and the experience of seeing the Divine in others is Thoughts and Aphorisms. Here are a few aphorisms that convey that ideal and that experience:

“— Love of man, love of woman, love of things, love of thy neighbour, love of thy country, love of animals, love of humanity are all the love of God reflected in these living images. So love and grow mighty to enjoy all, to help all and to love for ever (2).”

“— Pity may be reserved, so long as thy makes distinctions, for the suffering animals; but humanity deserves from thee something nobler; it asks for love, for understanding, for comradeship, for the help of the equal and brother (3).”
“— He who has done even a little good to human beings, though he be the worst of sinners, is accepted by God in the ranks of His lovers and servants. He shall look upon the face of the Eternal (4).”

“— When I knew nothing, then I abhorred the criminal, sinful and impure, being myself full of crime, sin and impurity; but when I was cleansed and my eyes unsealed, then I bowed down in my spirit before the thief and the murderer and adored the feet of the harlot; for I saw that these souls had accepted the terrible burden of evil and drained for all of us the greater portion of the churned poison of the world-ocean (5).”

We get a more nuanced view of how we should relate to others in the Letters on Yoga, which has a substantial section devoted to the subject. What is stressed there more strongly is the idea that love, harmony, and unity with others, while important, come about as an outcome of love, harmony and unity with the Divine, and that unity with the Divine comes about as a result of the contact with and realisation of our psychic being and the Divine immanent within ourselves. Therefore, there is a stronger emphasis on living within in our inner being, on communing with the Divine within ourselves as a prerequisite to relating to others as forms of the Divine. While love, friendship, goodness, charity, generosity to others are highly valued, they are seen as a natural outflow from the soul or psychic being expressed through the transformed instruments of the mind, vital, and physical consciousness. At the same time, the Letters show more clearly how normally our relations with others are typically deformed and debased by the vital ego, and that this deformity must cease and make way for the deeper psychic feelings to come out. Here are a few short passages which relate these ideas:

“There is a love in which the emotion is turned towards the Divine in an increasing receptivity and growing union. What it receives from the Divine it pours out on others, but freely without demanding a return. If you are capable of that, then that is the highest and most satisfying way to love (6).”

The next day the correspondent asked, “What must one do to have this love?” Sri Aurobindo replied, “First you must want it in a continuous way (7).”

“Absence of love and fellow-feeling is not necessary for nearness to the Divine; on the contrary, a sense of closeness and oneness with others is a part of the divine consciousness into which the sadhak enters by nearness to the Divine and the feeling of oneness with the Divine. (8).”

Our ideal is to see the Divine in itself, in ourselves, and in all things and all beings, and thus in our relations with others we must learn to approach them in this spirit. Nevertheless, while the Divine is there in all, there exist differences in its manifestation through the individual form of others; all cannot be treated in the same way. These differences must be acknowledged, but instead of approaching them in a vital and mental way, through division and conflict, they are to be approached in a psychic manner. That means that we must be centred within in our soul, our psychic being, not reacting to others with the outer consciousness, but using the outer consciousness only as an instrument and channel for the soul. Until we are capable of this inner contact and union with the deeper psychic consciousness within us, developing that inner contact and unity should be our main focus. That means concentrating on our soul.

Dangers in relations with others

It may also mean withdrawing from or minimising contacts with others who tend to lower the consciousness or pull it outward. But more importantly it means striving to remain within and detached from the difficulties that may arise in our day-to-day relations with others. Sri Aurobindo says in a letter:

“It is true that mixing with others too closely tends to lower the condition, if they are not themselves in the right attitude and live very much in the vital. In all contacts what you have to do is to remain within, keep a detached attitude and not allow yourself to be troubled by the difficulties that arise in work or the movements of people, but keep yourself the true movement. Do not be caught by the desire to ‘help’ others — do and speak yourself the right thing from the inner poise and leave the help to come to them from the Divine. Nobody can really help — only the Divine Grace (9).”

This last sentence seems to contradict what was said in some of the Thoughts and Aphorisms, including some of those that are mentioned earlier. Like with many issues, we must be careful not to take one statement by Sri Aurobindo or the Mother and turn it into a dogma or a rule. Always there are subtleties and differences in how we apply their statements to particular situations. This is perhaps especially true in the context of human relations, because here the people under consideration, both ourselves and the others to whom we relate, are especially variable. Therefore, it may be useful to consider this question of ‘helping others’ more closely, because it is so important to the theme of this talk.

Many of you may be familiar with some of the negative statements made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother about ‘philanthropy’, which is usually associated with an organised activity of ‘helping others’. As an example, we can consider the following aphorism and the Mother’s comment on it:

“This is a miracle that men can love God, yet fail to love humanity. With whom are they in love then?”

Question: “Is it possible to reach the Divine through philanthropy?”

“It depends on what you mean by philanthropy. Normally, we call philanthropists those who do charitable works. Here Sri Aurobindo does not use the word philanthropy, for, as it is usually understood, philanthropy is a social and conventional attitude, a kind of magnified egoism which is not love but a condescending pity which assumes a patronising air (10).”

In this aphorism Sri Aurobindo refers to those who follow the ascetic path in solitary search of a solitary God, by trying to cut themselves off completely from the world and men.

“But for Sri Aurobindo men form part of the Divine; and if you truly love the Divine, how can you not love men, since they are an aspect of Himself (11)?”

The Mother here stresses the characteristics of philanthropy which are particularly negative, “…a kind of magnified egoism which is not love but a condescending pity which assumes a patronising air (12).”

But there are other aspects of helping others that can be counter-productive both for one’s self and for the ones we are trying to help. Here are a few selections from the section on helping others in Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga:

“Of course it is the disadvantage of helping others that one comes into contact with their consciousness and their difficulties and also gets more externalised (13).”

“This ‘helping others’ is a perilous business — it brings the ‘guru’ ego or else you very uncertainly rid others of their difficulties and very certainly get them yourself (14).”

“The attempt to help people and clear things for others was an ego impulse. It magnified the ego and brought boasting, imagination, vital flattery (15).”

“The idea of helping others is a subtle form of the ego. It is only the Divine Force that can help. One can be its instrument, but you should first learn to be a fit and egoless instrument (16).”

The last sentence here seems to be crucial in terms of helping others, “One can be its instrument, but you should first learn to be a fit and egoless instrument.”

As I discussed earlier, if one is centred in the psychic, then naturally, a divine helpfulness flows out to others. A safer method of helping others is suggested by the following:

“To want unwaveringly the welfare of another both in the head and the heart, is the best help one can give (17).”

“As for prayers, the fact of praying and the attitude it brings, especially unselfish prayer for others, itself opens you to the higher Power, even if there is no corresponding result in the person prayed for. Nothing can be positively said about that, for the result must necessarily depend on the persons, whether they are open or receptive or something in them can respond to any Force the prayer brings down (18).”

“As for helping [others], you can only be sure of that if you yourself have an assured basis, with the psychic being always prominent, full of faith and joy and strength, — then others can gather strength and faith and joy from such a one by speech or contact. But to arrive at that you must, as I have been telling you, open yourself to the Light and Force that come from myself and the Mother and to no other influence (19).”

Developing positive relations with others

Let us consider now relationships with others in general, and how this attitude of treating others as the Divine may come into play. We have already said that our main focus in the early stages of the Yoga should be on establishing contact with our psychic being, on living within as it is sometimes put, and not on throwing ourselves out too much into relations with others. At the same time, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have said that we should not cut ourselves off from others, that keeping some relations with others helps us keep balance so that yoga does not become solely an interior thing which can lead to other difficulties.

Our relations with others in our work life is an important area in which we can develop a more psychic approach to relations there. It is in these relations that we come face to face with many of the challenges when changing our own egocentric mental attitudes and the wrong tendencies and impulses of our vital nature. In work also, there should be an emphasis on remaining centred within, in contact with the Mother or our own psychic being.

One important issue that may come in our working relationships is with regard to how to treat superiors and subordinates. This letter from Sri Aurobindo sums it up nicely, and can also be applied to relationships outside of the workplace:

“To be able to see the viewpoint of others and make allowance for their nature — neither being too harsh, authoritative or exacting, nor too weak and accommodating or indulgent, but still, even when firm, combining firmness with tact and sympathy,— it is very necessary for one who has to deal with others as his inferiors in position and subject to his authority. It is also necessary when the position is reversed so that there may not be unnecessary clash or friction with official superiors (20).”

More generally, we may be frustrated by what we perceive as the wrong actions of others, whether towards us directly, or towards the work itself. The following letter nicely describes the yogic attitude towards these difficulties:

“From the point of view of sadhana — you must not allow yourself to be in the least disturbed by these things [lack of sympathy and support in one’s work]. What you have to do, what is right to be done, should be done in perfect calmness with the support of the Divine Force. All that is necessary for a successful result, can be done — including the securing of the support of those who are able to help you. But if this outer support is not forthcoming, you have not to be disturbed but to proceed calmly on your way. If there is any difficulty or unsuccess anywhere not due to your own fault, you have not to be troubled. Strength, unmoved calm, quiet, straight and right dealing with all things you have to deal with must be the rule of your action (21).”

What is suggested here is an attitude of equality or equanimity, that of remaining centred deep within ourselves and unmoved, unaffected by the things that others do or the circumstances of the work. It means keeping an inner contact with the Divine, leaning on the Divine for support in the work and its challenges, rather than on others or on our own limited abilities and resources. Again, our outer nature should become an instrument of our inner Self, of the psychic being, and as Sri Aurobindo nicely puts it in another letter, not set up shop for itself. In another interesting letter Sri Aurobindo indicates the effectiveness of this inner poise on the behaviour of others:

“I have known even instances in which the perception of the Divine in all accompanied by an intense experience of universal love or a wide experience of an inner harmony had an extraordinary effect in making all around kind and helpful, even the most coarse and hard and cruel (22).”

With regard to relationships in general, including those outside of work, for those practising the yoga, Sri Aurobindo advises that personal relations should have the Divine for their centre. This means that our focus should be on our relation with the Divine, on the development of that relation into a close union, and relations with others should be subordinated to that central relation and come as a part of it. There can be friendships with others, but attachment to others should fall away as well as any engrossing affection that interferes with the developing relation with the Divine. Similarly, other vital movements that may arise in us in our relations with others such as anger, jealousy, or sexual desire should be rejected. Family ties also should not interfere with the central relation with the Divine, and if they do, then sometimes they have to be renounced or else be allowed to drop away gradually. In one letter, Sri Aurobindo says:

“Relations after taking up Yoga should be less and less based on physical origin or the habits of the physical consciousness and more and more on the basis of sadhana — of sadhak with sadhaks, of others as souls travelling the same path or children of the Mother than in the ordinary way or with the old viewpoint (23).”

Sri Aurobindo explains that the movement from our existing relations prior to yoga, to the spiritual ideal for our relations with others may differ for different people. He describes two main approaches. One is leave behind our earlier relations and focus exclusively on the relation with the Divine and only allow new relations that may develop in the course of the sadhana that are a part of it. The other approach is, “… to go forward from where one is, seeking the Divine centrally and subordinating all else to that, but not putting everything else aside, rather seeking to transform gradually and progressively whatever is capable of such transformation… (24).”

Inner obstacles to yogic relations with others

This gives a general idea of the ideal towards which we must move and the attitudes which we must develop. Standing in the way of this development are the normal egoistic attitudes and tendencies of our outer mind, vital, and physical nature. They present formidable obstacles to the development of this inner psychic poise, this firm anchoring of ourselves on the psychic consciousness, this quiet leaning for support on the Divine, and the natural outflow of the psychic feelings and its guidance through surrendered and responsive instruments of our outer nature.

Let us now take a closer look at these obstacles of the outer nature. The principal obstacle in the lower nature is desire. Sri Aurobindo says of desire that it, “… invades the sensational mind and brings into it the unquiet thirst of sensations, invades the dynamic mind with the lust of control, having, domination, success, fulfilment of every impulse, fills the emotional mind with the desire for the satisfaction of liking and disliking, for the wreaking of love and hate, brings the shrinkings and panics of fear and the strainings and disappointments of hope, imposes the tortures of grief and the brief fevers and excitements of joy, makes the intelligence and intelligent will the accomplices of all these things and turns them in their own kind into deformed and lame instruments, the will into a will of craving and the intelligence into a partial, a stumbling and an eager pursuer of limited, impatient, militant prejudgment and opinion. Desire is the root of all sorrow, disappointment, affliction, for though it has a feverish joy of pursuit and satisfaction, yet because it is always a straining of the being, it carries into its pursuit and its getting a labour, hunger, struggle, a rapid subjection to fatigue, a sense of limitation, dissatisfaction and early disappointment with all its gains, a ceaseless morbid stimulation, trouble, disquiet, asānti…. (25).”

This is a kind of psychological analysis that shows how desire gets into and perverts the different parts of our psychological make-up, our senses and perceptions, our emotions, our thoughts and strivings and will. All of these affect our relations with others. Let us consider more practically how desires infect our relations with other people. People are constantly doing things or saying things that may be consistent or inconsistent with our desires. As a result, we tend to be attracted to those people who satisfy or support our desires, and avoid those who do not. This tends to further increase the desires and keep us in their grip while it leads to the avoidance of people who might otherwise be helpful for our inner growth. But since we cannot always avoid those people who may go against our desires, we then tend to react emotionally to their words and deeds and therefore experience various negative emotions such as anger or fear or disappointment. We may also react physically and retaliate in words or deeds, further aggravating the situation which may lead to greater discord and more unpleasant feelings. In short, we tend to get caught in swirls or repetitive negative thoughts, feelings and actions, and as a result fail to remain centred within, in our inner being, where alone we can find a poise of calm and peace and a sure guidance for our mind, vital energies, and physical actions.

Therefore, in order to relate to others in the true way, in the divine way, it is necessary to get rid of desire. This is of course difficult and takes time. It is perhaps impossible ifwe simply attempt to suppress our desires in a kind of piecemeal fashion as they come up. Sri Aurobindo proposes methods for a more radical break with the vibration or energy of desire itself, not simply with its objects.

Yogic methods for establishing positive relations with others

Sri Aurobindo indicates that there is a part of our being which can stand back from this swirl of vital energy of desire and its pursuit and observe it in a disinterested way, as if it were looking at something outside the window. This is called the Witness Puruṣa and it can completely detach itself from the outer play of the nature. He asks us to look within ourselves and find it because it is always there watching this play of the nature, and identity ourselves with it rather than with the outward play of the nature and its desires and ceaseless activity. This is easiest to do in meditation, but it can be progressively brought out more and more into daily life as well. We see that this is very much consistent with the idea we have stressed so far about centring ourselves within and acting always from this inner centre. Whenever we lose this inner poise, the only thing to do is to get it back as soon as we can. With practice and persistence we can gradually establish this inner poise in our inner being.

Another radical way of overcoming desire is to fervently and frequently ask the Divine Mother to help us do it. Sri Aurobindo says that this is the main secret of the Yoga, to get the Divine Force to do it for us. To do this we must have faith in the Mother, in the Divine Force, that it can accomplish this in us. Logically it should be able to do it, since it is the Divine Force that is behind all forces in the universe. Normally this faith in the Divine is deficient and we tend to rely on our own efforts, which we can see usually has very poor or slow results. There is a kind of fog that settles over us and obscures the presence of the Divine Force from us. This obscurity is in part a lack of receptivity, and it can come from mental, vital or physical sources.

Therefore, we should be clear in our mind that the Divine Force is there waiting to support our efforts or carry them out for us, and then we should practise aspiring, calling, praying to the Divine for whatever object may be needed in our spiritual growth, such as in this case the overcoming of desire. The more often we do this, the more intensely we do this, the more we will see the effects of the working of the Divine Force in us. Even a weak aspiration or prayer will have its effect, but if we can make it strong and steady it will have tremendous effects. It is a simple technique but very effective. This method can also be combined with the previous one of standing back in the Witness Puruṣa, such that from that silent inner poise we call on the Divine to quieten and then silence the outer turmoil of desire, or whatever else we might aspire for.

A third method is to become more and more conscious, aware, watchful, sensitive in our interactions with others. We must learn to detect when and where desire is entering, and keep up a will that it should not be allowed to enter and distort the interaction. Am I trying to get something from the other person? Am I trying to get the other person to do something? Is the other person trying to get something from me? Is the other person trying to get me to do something? This kind of vital exchange goes on all the time. It leads to a constant exchange of vital energies with other people which may be harmless or may be harmful. How is it affecting me personally? How is it affecting my spiritual growth? How does it seem to be affecting the other person? Do we accept the person as they are? Can we see that within them is a divine soul that is developing its ability to express itself through the experiences of their outer personality? Every day we should strive to become more conscious of our motives in our interactions with others, and to become more conscious of their motives with us.

Another thing to become conscious of when trying to overcome desire is to be aware of our own self-deception. Desire is very tricky and can take deceptive forms. But it also clouds our mind so that it is not seen and can continue. In our relationships with others, if we look carefully, we are likely to find that we continuously justify our wrong movements, such as using others to satisfy our desires as well as wrong reactions to their behaviour, such as anger, jealousy, hurt pride, disappointment, sadness, and the like. We say to ourselves, they did this to me so I am entitled to feel this way. But we must take ownership of our feelings and actions. It is not inevitable that we respond to slights or insults with outrage. It is also possible to be unaffected if we are not dependent on others for our self-worth, or if we are poised in our inner being. An attitude of constant self-justification for wrong actions or thoughts or feelings makes it very difficult to overcome them.

And finally, we can use another method that involves making a slight twist to a practical advice that was given by Sri Aurobindo. He said:
“Always behave as if the Mother were looking at you, because she is, indeed, always present (26).”

We can slightly change this advice to say, ‘Always treat others as if the Mother were living within them, because she is, indeed, always present.’

It would help us to treat others more respect-fully, with greater consciousness and sensitivity, and with the right kind of love. I think one of the greatest of spiritual experiences would be to have the sense of the Divine existing in others, gradually developing the mould of their outer personality so that it can express itself ever more clearly, truly and powerfully. Having that sense would relieve us of much disappointment and anguish over the supposed imperfections of others, and enable us to take joy in their being and their gradual unfolding.


1. Sri Aurobindo. The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Volume 36. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2006, p. 294.

2. Sri Aurobindo. The Complete Works, Volume 12; 1997, p. 491.

3. Ibid., p. 446.

4. Ibid., p. 495.

5. Ibid., p. 438.

6. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 31; 2014, p. 291.

7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p.325.

10. The Mother. The Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 10. 2nd ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 2001, p. 82.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid..

13. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 31, p. 319.

14. Ibid., p. 318.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., p. 320.

18. Ibid., p. 321.

19. Ibid , 318.

20. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 29; 2013, p. 282.

21. Ibid., p. 283.

22. Ibid., p. 502.

23. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 31, p. 291.

24. Ibid., p. 289.

25. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 24; 1999, pp. 656-57.

26. Sri Aurobindo. Complete Works, Volume 32; 2012, p. 169.

Larry Seidlitz PhD. is a devotee and scholar of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, living near Auroville, (India), who works as a writer, editor and course facilitator on their teachings.

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