We very easily fall into the mistaken idea that the path we follow is the best way to approach the Divine or achieve spiritual realisation and that other paths are either less effective or do not provide the complete liberation from the ego-personality. We also tend to accept the idea that whichever form our lead capabilities take represents the best way to approach the Divine. Thus, someone who follows the path of Knowledge may believe that devotion or selfless work are lesser paths, while someone who opens his heart joyfully in adoration or self-surrender may feel like the individual following the path of knowledge is simply trying to escape life without the fruits of true realisation.

The divine singer, Narad, one day passed a yogi who was engaged in deep concentration and tapasya. The yogi took the opportunity to ask Narad when he would achieve liberation. Narad replied that it would be four more lifetimes, at which the yogi lamented how long it would take and how much effort he had to make to get there. Narad continued on his journey and came across an individual singing and praising the name of God while dancing ecstatically. This individual too asked Narad, whose reply was that as many leaves as there are on this tree, represents the number of lifetimes before you will be liberated. The seeker wept with joy and exclaimed how joyful he was that the Divine would bestow his Grace upon him in such a short span of time. He was liberated immediately.

Each path of spiritual development relies on one or another of the powers of human existence, and each path can lead the seeker to fulfillment if he follows it conscientiously and with the necessary patience and persistence. Each path has its difficulties and obstacles, and each one has its own advantages. Thus, an individual need not ‘shop around’ for a path he assumes is best, but follow the path that carries through with the unique development of his own life and direction. Those with a devotional nature should naturally grow with that capacity. Those who are called to dedicated work should seek to carry out the tasks before him. Thus, each one eventually reaches the Divine.

It is commonly said that ‘the paths are many, the truths are One’, showing the unity of the goal despite different methods of approach. Yet it is also true that depending on the character and type of the focus, the seeker may experience the unifying truth through different aspects. Each one goes where his focus, attention and concentration takes him.

Dr. Dalal notes: “The form in which one experiences and realises the Truth depends on the nature of the path one follows. Thus the paths of the Adwaitin and the Buddhist lead to the experience of Nirvana and the realisation of the Truth as impersonal Principle — an Impersonal Absolute Existence (Adwaita) or an Impersonal Absolute Non-Existence (Buddhism). On the other hand, the paths based on self-consecration through works and action, such as the path of the Gita, and the paths of devotion and prayer, such as that of the Christian mystics, lead to the experience of the Truth as a Personal Being, Ishwara, the Lord. An integral approach, states Sri Aurobindo, leads to the realisation of the Truth as both personal and impersonal.”

He writes: “… if we carry up our heart as well as our reasoning mind to the Highest, we shall find that we can reach it through the absolute Person as well as through an absolute impersonality…. [In the universal aspect] too we meet him in various forms of divine personality; in formulations of quality which variously express him to us in his nature; in infinite quality, the Anantaguna; in the divine Person who expresses himself through infinite quality; in absolute impersonality, an absolute existence or an absolute non-existence, which is yet all the time the unexpressed Absolute of this divine Person, this conscious Being who manifests himself through us and through the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pg. xx

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.