Each society, each religion, each culture in the world has its own characteristic ideas and responses to the questions that arise during an individual’s life. Many of these are programmed into the individual in childhood, starting with prenatal conditioning based on the energies of the mother. Once the child is born, he is trained to accept the societal norms and modes of reaction to various circumstances, until these become an unspoken assumption that forms the basis of the individual’s life responses and judgments.

The human intellect actually expects to have certain frameworks and predetermined filters for the input it receives. This makes the process of deciding things much faster than if all the data and all the vibrational patterns had to be analyzed each time in order to come to any conclusions. Thus, the system has evolved in such a way that it speeds the ability of the individual to navigate his way through society. It should be noted that due to cultural differences, some of these life-ways that are ‘second nature’ to an individual in his own culture, are foreign to life in other cultures and simply do not translate well across cultural barriers. Language limitations also help create the framework within which the mind functions under normal circumstances. Between cultural and language frameworks, most individuals live their lives truly circumscribed within a specific set of boundaries, and these boundaries are unseen and unrecognised for the most part.

There are, of course, down sides to this filtering and framing process. While it may help to have certain “laws” or “axioms” as a starting point in mathematics or physics, it becomes less valuable in fields of human relations where these can turn into various forms of bias or prejudice, or preconceived notions about people based on their external appearance, dress or the accent they use in their expression of language. The famous story of My Fair Lady revolved around an English professor who could judge the ‘class’ of any individual based on their accent, word usage, slang, etc. He undertook to change the perception of a specific individual through training her to speak in a totally different mode. Obviously preconceived notions, bias and prejudice can create tremendous dislocations and disharmony in any society, breeding a fixed ‘class’ structure that also determines access to and allocation of resources.

From the point of view of yogic practice, one of the first requirements is for the seeker to become aware of this type of predetermined response built into the subconscious basis that rules much of their responses to life. Once aware of these things, the seeker can begin to take steps to overcome these inherent untested and unspoken assumptions and thereby, liberate himself from the bondage of the fixed habits of mind and the past which otherwise hinder his growth and development. One tool to do this is to consciously practice a method known as the “empty box”. In whatever situation the individual finds himself, instead of assuming he knows what do to and how to do it, he can step back and look at it with a fresh viewpoint as if nothing at all were fixed, and the situation is an “empty box” waiting for new creative insight for resolution of next steps to be taken.

The Mother observes: “When a being is born upon earth, he is inevitably born in a certain country and a certain environment. Due to his physical parents he is born in a set of social, cultural, national, sometimes religious circumstances, a set of habits of thinking, of understanding, of feeling, conceiving, all sorts of constructions which are at first mental, then become vital habits and finally material modes of being. To put things more clearly, you are born in a certain society or religion, in a particular country, and this society has a collective conception of its own and this nation has a collective conception of its own, this religion has a collective ‘construction’ of its own which is usually very fixed. You are born into it. Naturally, when you are very young, you are altogether unaware of it, but it acts on your formation — that formation, that slow formation through hours and hours, through days and days, experiences added to experiences, which gradually builds up a consciousness. You are underneath it as beneath a bell-glass. It is a kind of construction which covers and in a way protects you, but in other ways limits you considerably. All this you absorb without even being aware of it and this forms the subconscious basis of your own construction. This subconscious basis will act on you throughout your life, if you do not take care to free yourself from it. And to free yourself from it, you must first of all become aware of it; and the first step is the most difficult, for this formation was so subtle, it was made when you were not yet a conscious being, when you had just fallen altogether dazed from another world into this one (laughing) and it all happened without your participating in the least in it. Therefore, it does not even occur to you that there could be something to know there, and still less something you must get rid of. And it is quite remarkable that when for some reason or other you do become aware of the hold of this collective suggestion, you realise at the same time that a very assiduous and prolonged labour is necessary in order to get rid of it. But the problem does not end there.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 3 Hidden Forces Around, pp. 58-59

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 20 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.
YouTube Channel www.youtube.com/@santoshkrinsky871
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at http://www.aurobindo.net
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at http://www.lotuspress.com