Silence and action can both co-exist in our lives, encompassed in the Supreme Consciousness; as part of an integral philosophy.
David Cecil is a writer, poet, humanist scholar, educator, closely connected to the Integral Philosophy and Integral Education movement. An M.A. in English, from the University of Calcutta, he has contributed to various regional, national and overseas literary and current affairs journals. Currently, he divides his time between Darjeeling, Calcutta, and Pondicherry
Within the popular Indian imagination, the Rishi, sits crossed-legged, in his mountain enclave, where he receives the great Truth. Meditative immobility is perceived as the seer’s philosophical disposition; and Silence, the agency of reception and revelation of truth. This imagination, has endured, creating its own mythology. The myth of silence has become the reality of passivity, immobility and philosophy.
Here, is where the populist contradiction begins.
Life is action. Humanity is sustained by activity. Civilisation and its progress, requires the constant demand of this action, activity, and motion. This too has evolved, through time a mythology: the myth of action. Getting things done is life’s rule of law. It calls for dynamic involvement, engagement; at times, enforces a ruthless, rootless, cyclic entrapment, creating a self-same eternal laya.
All this is not unknown.
It is therefore, not impossible to gauge where the belief that Silence, save in its philosophical and ascetic poise, is contrary and opposite to action. This popular idea in its extreme form, argues that silence as passivity prevents, obstructs, and is a negating attitude to the principle of action; hence a negation of life.
So, it may appear that one is left with two extreme and differing positions. On one hand, the passivity of the ascetic and on the other the activity of the materialist. The extreme materialist position is seen in the Lokayata philosophy, of the Epic Age where only perceptual proof is truth. That Matter is Life.
In popular parlance: “doing nothing” versus doing something. Our social, common, moral, and human mores treat the idea of “doing nothing” with disdain. Quietus is weakness; passivity is the worst kind of flaw: it is perceived as cowardice, or mockingly as laziness.
The contradiction becomes more subtle, when we turn to our spiritual mores, to Dharma. Samkara, the earliest of the Vedic Sutra commentators, and preceptor of the Samkhya school, founded that man’s only condition was to seek God; in writing his commentary in the first Sutra of the Vedanta Sutras, he carefully expounds that a seeker must adopt the habit of meditation; renunciation of one’s personal aspirations, and practical motivations. No other action or preoccupation exists save the Knowledge of God - for this man needed to turn away, and stand apart from life, to be the passive observer, not an active enjoyer. To be the bird on the branch, that watches the other eat.
Vedanta tells us that the triune yoga of perfection: Knowledge, Work and Devotion, can only be fulfilled when we surrender to the divine influence, and become its instrument. To return to the passive personality; the observer of the divine Will. Here, silence is the crux of being. Action and activity is seen as Illusion, as Mayavada; and its reality the great Ignorance. Life, which supports this Ignorance, is bested by its own limitation, conditioned causality, predicated by its separative egoism, reason, and desire. The solution, to transform our Ignorance would be to yield activity to master Truth.
The solution expands, into a division of life.
In this divided state, we have the two conditions: the ascetic way of life that determines silence to be the One Reality, and the One Supreme, forsaking all other dimensions in human terms and realisation. The other is the materialist: where outward manifestation, the senses and perceptual reason is the only Reality.
Within, these two divisions, either one flees to a mountain cave, joins an ashram or monastery; or submits to the swadharma of their nature, and becomes part of its flow and activity. What of those who listen to call of both: the silence of the inner self, and the outward rhythms of the world’s activity? What about those who feel an impassioned pull to contribute in society and in humanity, in material terms? Those, who relish engagement with the creative mind and muse; and take, delight in expression.
Or just simply, those souls, who wish to reach a little deeper, and live through inner meaning-outer activity, a spiritualised life. If we can these days have dual passports, can we not have dual realities? Is unity a choice between one way of living, against the other? Will participation and creation through activity be dismissed as a purposeless altruism, unworthy of our divine destiny? Will choosing a spiritual destiny, force us to apathy, so as to be dismissed again as an ineffectual category in humanity’s progress? In social and economic terms we have a middle class, so we must as well have a middle category in spiritual terms.
We do, and we may call it an Integral class.
This new category and condition comes through the informing vision of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. We can live in the world, engage with life, be involved in activity; realise action through yoga. This yoga of knowledge, works, and devotion that Vedanta prescribes is achieved through the Integral vision and philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. Here the experiential becomes the basis of the experiment: the synthesising of the dual-reality; a reconnoitring of the earlier contradictions, and the abolition of the division.
Sri Aurobindo’s vision ends the extremes of negations, and in the Truth of Vedanta, establishes harmony, and the truth behind the relations between Silence and Activity. The Brahman, as Supreme Consciousness seen in the light Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, contains both- the Silent and Dynamic Prakriti and the Passive and Active Purusha. Unified and complimentary the Silent-Active, Prakriti-Purusha , are the Brahman’s instruments; means; phenomenal and causal movement and reality.
The Gita-Upanishad upholds the truth of action as well as the renunciation of the action. Revealing, the yoga of Knowledge, Action, Wisdom, Meditation, Devotion, and Liberation. Yet, the Gita easily comes to the aid of those schools of thought which use partial interpretation to obfuscate its hidden secret synthesis. It is still used as a means to uphold the binary conditions that refuse to accept the agreement that Integral Yoga brings.
There are sceptics. The earliest of them being the philosopher and President S. Radhakrishnan, Sri Aurobindo’s contemporary who in the first edition of his Indian Philosophy, Volume One, chose to dismiss, without a valued investigation, relying on perpetuated Schools of Indian thought, Sri Aurobindo’s understanding of the secret inner and integral harmony of the Vedas and Vedanta. Saying then, in 1923, “we must hesitate to follow the lead of Mr. Aurobindo Ghosh”. This hesitation is not unique; yet its uniqueness lies elsewhere: in the inability to perceive the truth of the One in Multiplicity, and the Silence within the Action.
Gandhi was famous for having a day of silence. On Mondays, he would not speak to anyone, keeping a maun vrat. Here too silence is particularised, placed in opposition to articulation, as a means of action. Gandhi was able to grasp at the inner- working of silence within action, and the relation of dynamic-passivity. Its means, however were limited to partial movement. This does not take off any of the shine of its importance or achievement, but to be fully seen in wider, less finite light.
His thought and practice of Non-violence, that is part of the active-passive quality which was used as a means of force, as resistance in the national freedom movement. Gandhi used the synthesis of the silent-dynamic in his political movement with success, understanding silence as force-motivator. Yet, he did not fully harness the self same capacity in its comprehensive spiritual dimension. His prominent silence-prayer meetings were the basis of a political unity, as an extension of socio-religious integrity. Its universal dimension was lean.
The synthesis behind the Vedantic truth is excavated through Sri Aurobindo’s personal and lived yoga. It is a living practice, and field of individual experiment: a new spiritualised living. Sri Aurobindo, does not regard silence and activity as contrary or conflicting forces, instead he regards them as being an essential and complimentary combination: where the Silence informs and illumines the Activity, as Activity expresses and manifests Silence.
“Silence is the basis and the support of creation. This silence is nothing but a gathering of energy; Silence is the ingathering of the consciousness of energy or force; it is the ingathered poise of Brahman.”
- Sri Aurobindo
This understanding founds the basis, the preparation, and progress of an Integral life.
Integral yoga, shifts the majoritarian myth of silence and action, and creates a new dimension, whose poise establishes harmony. Aged; extreme contraries are re-birthed by righting old divisions and relations; completing and complimenting the union between Matter and Spirit; Man and Nature, Finite and Eternal.
This shift in consciousness, prepares us to see the wider, fuller, and more complete play of the Brahman. Not, limited in terms or means, the Divine Consciousness extends itself as “whatsoever is individual universe of movement in universal motion”.(Isha Upanishad, Sri Aurobindo)
We, see Silence and Action in their right relation: as the twin forms of conscious energy-force, vitalised by the play of Purusha and Prakriti ; which vivify the involution-evolution principle in Consciousness. In Brahman, extends Nature and Causality, in finite and eternal terms.
Brahman as Supreme Consciousness, gathers within itself our limited personality, and finite category, by transformation through consciousness, abolishes the “knot of ego”.
We begin to glimpse at the sarva rupam anantam, and sarva bhutani reality: the One in Multiplicity. This One-ness, grows and establishes itself through yoga. The direct experiential result is the shift in attitude, where we grow more unified through integral living.
This has manifold implications-the most direct being the synthesis of our inward movements: that of Silence in self, and those of our outward movements- that self in the Action. This synthesis creates an essential condition for a new Integral destiny, which effects the harmonisation of human life and action, and the building towards a spiritualised human activity and destiny.
In its widest scope, this change in consciousness, and lived reality of One-ness creates the Humanity of the Future. The establishing of an Integral conscious Society and Civilisation; with the Integral citizen at its centre.
This integral citizen receives from Sri Aurobindo a magnificent manifesto:
“Man, too becomes perfect only when he has found within himself that absolute calm and passivity of Brahman and supports, it with the same divine and inexhaustible activity”
- Sri Aurobindo.
The Rishi no longer, sits in his mountain enclave, or recedes to an ashram or monastery but takes the lead in contributing to the advancing human progress. He combines the force of the Silent and Active Brahman, and inhabits the widest aspiration of man’s destiny. He is an Integral activist.