When we read Sri Aurobindo’s aphorism noted below, we tend to focus on the second part of the equation, the “bar” to achieving the higher result. There is an implication thereby that we have already achieved the first part and that we are thus ready to proceed to the next phase or stage of inner growth. In some cases, we assign a moral value to the two states and try to apply this generally, such that we treat desire and ego as bad things that need to be removed, and we may even go so far as to try to extrapolate this to others, not just for our own spiritual growth.

Sri Aurobindo qualifies the phases with the precursor of “when we have passed beyond”. This implies that the second status only can be fully operative when we have utilized the first status to achieve a specific stage of development. Several questions arise. For instance, have we truly reached the stage of being fully conscious individuals that is brought about by the action of desire and ego? Has all of humanity reached that stage? In the case that we as individuals, or other individuals, have not yet become fully self-realised beings, we find a continued need and purpose to the action of desire and the existence of ego. To the extent that we have only partially achieved this stage, ongoing development of the ego-personality may still be required. Further, we can recognise that across all of humanity there is a range of development and thus, the action of desire and ego still has a very important role as the individualisation process expands within the frame of human development.

At the right point in time, each individual faces the need to go beyond the limits of the action of desire and the ego. At that point, the conditions arise for the soul, the psychic being, to come forward and lead one beyond the framework which has helped shape him up to that point.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “When we have passed beyond enjoyings, then we shall have Bliss. Desire was the helper; Desire is the bar. When we have passed beyond individualising, then we shall be real Persons. Ego was the helper; Ego is the bar. When we have passed beyond humanity, then we shall be the Man. The Animal was the helper; the Animal is the bar.”

The Mother comments: “It is the same principle expressed in all the activities or aspects of the being…. It is obvious that in order to come out of the state of the original inconscience desire was indispensable, for without desire there would have been no awakening to activity. But once you are born into consciousness, this very desire which helped you to come out of the inconscience prevents you from liberating yourself from the bonds of matter and rising to a higher consciousness.”

“It is the same thing for the ego, the self. In order to pass on to a higher plane, one must first exist; and to exist one must become a conscious, separate individual, and to become a conscious separate individual, the ego is indispensable, otherwise one remains mingled with all that lies around us. But once the individuality is formed, if one wants to rise to a higher level and live a spiritual life, if one wants even to become simply a higher type of man, the limitations of the ego are the worst obstacles, and the ego must be surpassed in order to enter the true consciousness.”

“And indeed, for the ordinary elementary life of man, all the qualities belonging to the animal nature, especially those of the body, were indispensable, otherwise man would not have existed. But when man has become a conscious, mental being, everything that binds him to his animal origin necessarily becomes a hindrance to progress and to the liberation of the being.”

“So, for everyone — except for those who are born free, and this is obviously very rare — for everyone this state of reason, of effort, desire, individualisation and solid physical balance in accordance with the ordinary mode of living is indispensable to begin with, until the time one becomes a conscious being, when one must give up all these things in order to become a spiritual being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter I Emergence from Unconsciousness, pp. 6-8

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.