A.S. Dalal

A.S. Dalal

Born in Tanzania (1926); graduated in philosophy from the University of Poona, India (1950); lived as an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry (1952-59); studied psychology at the University of Poona (1959-61); pursued studies in clinical psychology and received training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in the United States (1964-70); worked in the United States in different positions until 1985; residing in Pondicherry since 1986, engaged chiefly in research and writing.

To date has written three books on Sri Aurobindo’s psychological thought as well as a book comparing some aspects of Eckhart Tolle’s teaching with Sri Aurobindo’s yoga; has also compiled twelve books (one currently in the press) based on the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

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A.S. Dalal on his Spiritual Quest

I do not know when my quest can be said to have begun, but I remember being keenly interested at the age of fifteen in questions pertaining to God, the origin of the universe, and the purpose of life. Around this time a new headmaster came to our school. It was most probably he who initially fostered and nourished my interest in philosophical subjects. In his classes he would almost invariably digress to talk about such subjects. I visited him frequently in his home and read books on abstract subjects from his library as well as public libraries. The headmaster regarded himself as an agnostic who neither believed nor disbelieved in God. Agnosticism came to be also my first outlook on the ultimate reality.

When I was about sixteen, a devout and learned missionary priest of the Bahai faith gave a talk at our school. Later I had an interview with him. Unable to convince me of the existence of God, he remarked about the futility of intellectual questions regarding God’s existence: water, he said, will never yield butter, however hard one churns it.

Not long afterwards, imperceptibly, I came to have faith in the existence of God. I do not know how or why.

Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen I read voraciously books on religion, psychology, and philosophy. Though I was born in a conservative Muslim family, I was drawn to all religions and went to Christian, Hindu, as well as Muslim places of worship. I was not yet on any particular spiritual path.

Then, at the age of nineteen, I came in contact with Theosophy. In the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky, I found not only answers to all my intellectual questions but also a path of which I became an ardent follower and promulgator.

When I was about twenty-one, I became acquainted with a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The books of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that I borrowed from him had a deep appeal. In particular, the Mother’s Prieres et Meditations1 made a strong impression, and I was prompted to write to her.

It was nearly three years later, in 1950, that I visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and had Sri Aurobindo’s Darshan. That was a turning point in my spiritual quest. I became less and less interested in Theosophy and more and more drawn to Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. Since 1951 I have been an avowed practitioner of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga and, though I have found inspiration from several spiritual teachers after Sri Aurobindo, I have felt no strong inclination to study any spiritual teachings other than those of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga until I came into contact with Eckhart.

The previously mentioned contacts I had with certain persons at different times, the books I came across, and the events and circumstances of my life — many of them seemingly chance incidents — have made me realize intimately the truth of the Mother’s words about the role of one’s inmost self — the soul or psychic being — in guiding one on the spiritual path. She has said:

If you have within you a psychic being sufficiently awake to watch over you, to prepare your path, it can draw towards you things which help you, draw people, books, circumstances, all sorts of little coincidences which come to you as though brought by some benevolent will and give you an indication, a help, a support to take decisions and turn you in the right direction. But once you have taken this decision, once you have decided to find the truth of your being, once you start sincerely on the road, then everything seems to conspire to help you to advance. …2

It was only after a lapse of time that retrospectively I had some understanding of the meaning and significance of each of the previously mentioned landmark events and stages in my spiritual growth. I understood that the upsurge of my interest in religious and philosophical subjects at the age of fifteen marked the beginning of the manifest influence of my inner being on my surface being, because all aspiration for the higher things of life, says Sri Aurobindo, comes from the inner being. As he states,

Only a little of the inner being escapes through these centres [of consciousness3 ] into the outer life, but that little is the best part of ourselves and responsible for our art, poetry, philosophy, ideals, religious aspirations, efforts at knowledge and perfection.4

I understood the significance of the period of agnosticism through which I passed: it served to disencumber me of certain beliefs that I had acquired without reflection.

The inexplicable birth of faith5 in the existence of God has given me an insight into what the Mother has said about faith:

Faith is certainly a gift given to us by the Divine Grace. It is like a door suddenly opening upon an eternal truth, through which we can see it, almost touch it.

As in everything else in the ascent of humanity, there is the necessity — especially at the beginning — of personal effort. It is possible that in some exceptional circumstances, for reasons which completely elude our intelligence, faith may come almost accidentally, quite unexpectedly, almost without ever having been solicited, but most frequently it is an answer to a yearning, a need, an aspiration, something in the being that is seeking and longing, even though not in a very conscious and systematic way.6

Theosophy enabled me to understand the fundamental unity of all religions — something I had intuitively sensed earlier — thereby freeing me from the views I had been influenced by previously that tended to stress the differences rather than the similarities among the various religions. Theosophy also served to introduce me to certain fundamental doctrines of Eastern spiritual philosophy, such as karma, rebirth, and spiritual evolution — tenets that were quite alien to my early beliefs about the afterlife.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seemed to have entered my life at a timely point when Theosophy was beginning to pall on me. Theosophical teachings had well satisfied my need for a philosophical understanding of questions pertaining to life, but for leading a spiritual life, all it offered was basically a path founded on the philosophical concept of the brotherhood of mankind and the ethical ideal of service to humanity. There was a yearning in me, as yet unformulated, for something deeper than the philosophical light and the ethical path I had found in Theosophy. What my inner being seemed to be asking for was a spiritual path leading to self-discovery and God-realization. It is such a path that I found in Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. Most probably, the reason why the Mother’s Prayers and Meditations made a special appeal to me was that the book speaks of the Divine as not only an impersonal Reality — as conceived in Theosophy — but also as the Lord of the universe and Master of one’s being, with whom one can establish a relationship through prayer, devotion, self-offering, and self-consecration.7

The Theosophical view of a solely impersonal Reality no longer seemed to satisfy me. Initially, such a view had made a strong appeal to me because of my dissatisfaction with a too human conception of God with which I grew up. As the Mother remarks in answering the question “What does to seek after the Impersonal mean?”:

Oh! It’s very much in fashion in the West, my child. All those who are tired or disgusted with the God taught by the Chaldean religions, and especially the Christian religion — a single God, jealous, severe, despotic and so much in the image of man that one wonders if it is not a demiurge as Anatole France said — these people when they want to lead a spiritual life no longer want the personal God, because they are too frightened lest the personal God resemble the one they have been taught about; they want an impersonal Godhead, something that doesn’t at all resemble — or as little as possible — the human being; that’s what they want.

… but beyond the impersonal Divine there is the Divine who is the Person himself; and we must go through the Impersonal to reach the Supreme Divine who is beyond.8

The view of God as the Supreme Divine, who is beyond the personal and the impersonal, resonated with my deepest intuitions.

Eckhart speaks of God primarily as an impersonal Divine and, like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, does not use the word “God” very often for similar reasons. He does, however, sometimes speak of Grace, which makes of God more than a purely impersonal Reality solely meting out the results of human actions under the inexorable law of karma.9 From Eckhart’s viewpoint, the Divine can be spoken of equally well as He, She, or It.

My inner quest had begun, as it does to some extent with most seekers, with an intellectual need to understand myself, the nature of reality, and the purpose of life. This intellectual need had been well met by Theosophy. So, when I came in contact with Sri Aurobindo, it was his practical teachings on yoga rather than his philosophical writings to which I was particularly drawn. However, his philosophical writings, which I felt to be charged with the vibrations of a spiritual consciousness and which gave me an intuitive feeling that they were based on spiritual experience, made an impression that was deeper than that of Theosophy and gave me a greater understanding than what I had gained in Theosophy of the nature of the soul and its evolution, and of the laws of karma and reincarnation. I feel that the deep impact Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical teaching tends to have is due to its not being a product of mental theorizing but having its source in the state of silence beyond the mind. As Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1933: “Since 1908 when I got the silence, I never think with my head or brain — it is always in the wideness generally above the head that the thoughts occur.”10

It is certainly not because of any need for a greater philosophical understanding of things that I have been drawn to Eckhart in recent years. In the first place, that need had already been amply met by Theosophy and by Sri Aurobindo. Secondly, Eckhart does not offer a system of philosophy. As he states, a spiritual teaching is not a philosophy or a cosmology; it does not seek to explain the nature of the universe but to help one in accessing a state of consciousness beyond that of the mind. Many of Eckhart’s talks, in fact, typically open with a disclaimer that the talk does not purport to give new “information” or theory that may provide food for thought. The power of his words lies not so much in their informational content as in the “high-energy frequency of Presence which they carry.”11

A word regarding the relevance of philosophy for the spiritual life from the viewpoint of Sri Aurobindo. He states:

It is only if there is a greater consciousness beyond Mind and that consciousness is accessible to us that we can know and enter into the ultimate Reality. Intellectual speculation and reasoning must fall necessarily into a very secondary place and even lose their reason for existence. Philosophy, intellectual expression of the Truth may remain, but mainly as a means of expressing this greater discovery and as much of its contents as can at all be expressed in mental terms to those who still live in the mental intelligence.12 [Italics by the author.]

Sri Aurobindo is one of those few mystics who, having discovered the Truth through spiritual experience, have given an intellectual expression of the Truth “as a means of expressing this greater discovery and as much of its contents as can at all be expressed in mental terms to those who still live in the mental intelligence.” More on the subject of the role of philosophy in relation to spiritual experience will be said in a subsequent chapter.

Meeting a world teacher such as Eckhart and being strongly drawn to his teachings cannot be a mere chance incident without significance. But I feel I have yet to understand fully the intent of the invisible Wisdom behind my coming into contact with Eckhart at the present stage of my spiritual journey. All I can do at this juncture is to state some of the aspects of Eckhart’s teaching that have made a special appeal to me, and which I have found helpful in my practice of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga.

Though Eckhart’s teachings do not deal with philosophical questions posed by the intellect, they contain a wealth of psychological insights that resonate with one’s inner experience and intuition. It is in fact the thoroughly psychological, experiential, nonmetaphysical, and dogma-free nature of his teachings that makes them most appealing.

A.S. Dalal “Eckhart Comes to Me”
from the book “Eckhart Tolle and Sri Aurobindo”

Prayers and Meditations, comprising extracts from a diary written by the Mother during years of intensive yogic discipline.

2 The Mother, Questions and Answers ’50-51, Collected Works of the Mother. Centenary Edition (hereafter CWM). (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 1972-87), Vol. 4. p. 261.

3 Called Chakras in Sanskrit.

4 Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (hereafter SABCL), (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1970-75), Vol. 24, p. 1165.

5 “Faith in the spiritual sense is not a mental belief which can waver and change. It can wear that form in the mind, but that belief is not the faith itself, it is only its external form.” — Sri Aurobindo

6 The Mother, Questions and Answers ’57-58, CWM, Vol. 9, p. 351.

7 “The Impersonal is Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, not a Person, bur a state. The Person is the Existent, the Conscious, the Blissful; consciousness, existence, bliss taken as separate things are only states of his being. But in fact the two (personal being and eternal state) are inseparable and are one reality.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, SABCL. Vol. 22, p. 259.)

8 The Mother. Questions and Answers 1955. CWM, Vol. 7, p. 244.

9 “It [Divine Grace] is a power that is superior to any rule, even to the Cosmic Law — for all spiritual seers have distinguished between the Law and the Grace. … There are these three powers: (1) The Cosmic Law, of Karma or what else; (2) the Divine Compassion acting on as many as it can reach through the nets of the Law and giving them their chance; (3) the Divine Grace which acts more incalculably but also more irresistibly than the others.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, SABCL, Vol. 23, p. 609.)

10 Sri Aurobindo, On Himself, SABCL, Vol. 26. p. 88.

11 Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, Vancouver, B.C.: Namaste Publishing, 1999, p. 87.

12 Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga. SABCL, Vol. 22, p. 158.

Books by A.S.Dalal

  • Psychology, Mental Health and Yoga
  • A Greater Psychology
  • Eckhart Tolle and Sri Aurobindo

Compilations from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

  • Living Within
  • The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth
  • The Psychic Being
  • Soul — Its Nature, Mission and Evolution
  • The Hidden Forces of Life
  • Growing Within
  • The Psychology of Inner Development
  • Looking from Within
  • A Seeker’s Guide to Attitudes for Mastery and Inner Growth
  • Powers Within
  • Living Words
  • Soul Kindlers for the New Millennium
  • Our Many Selves
  • Practical Yogic Psychology
  • Emergence of the Psychic
  • Governance of Life by the Soul
  • The Yoga of Sleep and Dreams
  • The Night-School of Yoga
  • The God-Touch
  • And Other Lights from Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri
  • Gifts of Grace
  • Five Aids for Inner Growth

The books and compilations listed above can be found through SABDA and Lotus Lights Publications. Some of the books have been published in other languages.