In an ancient Upanishadic tale, a youth approached a sage requesting to become a disciple and achieve spiritual realisation. The sage indicated that he should take two cattle into the forest, and when they numbered 1000 he should return and would undertake to teach the youth. The young man made sincere efforts and learned all there was to know about raising and breeding cattle, protecting them from predators, and survival in the forest for himself and his charges. He learned to be observant, patient, protective of those for whom he had taken on the responsibility while at the same time learning about the seasons, powers and timings of nature, and how to live in harmony with the beings who resided in the forest. Eventually he attained the goal and returned to the teacher. The teacher saw the glow of realisation and bowed down to the student, saying that the student was now the teacher, and he was the student, as the youth had attained spiritual realisation. This Upanishadic tale illustrates the potential of attaining liberation through works combined for a spiritual aspirant.

Those who believe that internal meditation is the only way may begrudge the time and external focus of works in the outer world. In some cases they become extremely withdrawn and uncomfortable acting in the world. In other cases, when they do undertake to act in the world, they may be brusque, angry or unable to handle the feelings, emotions and thoughts that arise in the external circumstances. One way or the other, there are dangers of becoming too entrenched in a narrow focus, which leads away from life and the world.

The integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother aims not solely for liberation from the life of the world, but for the active transformation of that life. This implies that the seeker must not only achieve a liberated state, but must be able to do so while interacting with the world and updating the way he relates to that world. He is to become an instrument of the divine manifestation in evolution, not an escapee from the task set by the Divine in creating this universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To keep up work helps to keep up the balance between the internal experience and the external development; otherwise one-sidedness and want of measure and balance may develop. Moreover, it is necessary to keep the sadhana of work for the Divine because in the end that enables the sadhak to bring out the inner progress into the external nature and life and helps the integrality of the sadhana.”

“It may be necessary for an individual here and there to plunge into meditation for a time and suspend work for that time or make it subordinate; but that can only be an individual case and a temporary retirement. Moreover, a complete cessation of work and entire withdrawal into oneself is seldom advisable; it may encourage a too one-sided and visionary condition in which one lives in a sort of mid-world of purely subjective experiences without a firm hold on either external reality or on the highest Reality and without the right use of the subjective experience to create a firm link and then a unification between the highest Reality and the external realisation in life.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pg.94

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at 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.