Why "Infinity in a drop"?
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: July 28, 2015
A miracle of the Absolute was born;
Infinity put on a finite soul,
All ocean lived within a wandering drop,
A time-made body housed the Illimitable.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p. 101
In the Indian tradition, the image of the drop and the ocean is generally used in the opposite direction: The moment when a drop merges back into the ocean is taken as a symbol for liberation and the end of suffering by the extinction of individual existence. It is in this image that the most prominent schools of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism find each other.
In the four lines of Savitri quoted here, Sri Aurobindo reverses the image, he celebrates the creation of the drop. He starts from the same consciousness-centred understanding of reality on which the entire Indian tradition is based; he accepts the need to find the ocean and merge in it; but then he expands the story line. And as we will see in this book, doing so changes everything.
In the Vedic tradition the foundational understanding of reality is formulated roughly like this: Brahman, the impersonal Divine, is not only transcendent, entirely beyond the universe; it is not only there as the universe, as the cosmic totality; it is not only intimately present in the innermost heart of every sentient being; it simply is the very stuff of everything, however big or small. There are several great sayings, mahāvākya, that express this beautifully:
I am Brahman.
sarvam khalu idam brahma,
Really, all this is Brahman.
tat tvam asi,
You are That.
Mystics from all times and cultures have felt this divine Presence, and they experienced it not only in the depths of their meditations but also in in their everyday lives, in the people and things they met, the things they did. In this text we'll have a look at how Psychology would change if we would make this realisation the centre of our understanding. We'll see how life — and psychology — suddenly begin to make sense, how we and the world are actually related, how it is that we human beings can understand the world, what it is that drives us, why we feel the way we feel, why there is pain and suffering and what we can do about them.
With sufficient effort and a bit of "good luck" (or rather, Grace) we'll understand all this not only as theory, not only as a "mental understanding" of the way our human mind works, but also as "lived reality", because the presence of the Divine can be "realised", it can be made real to our experience. It can not only be understood as an idea, a logical conclusion, faith or hope, but it can be known directly: more real than the reality perceived by the senses and more intimate than our own heart.
But the story doesn't need to end there. What if the long and arduous road to liberation was not the whole story? What if it could be followed by an even more difficult but in the end far more glorious process of transformation?
Fairy tales tend to end with the killing of the dragon or the marriage of the prince and princess. After that glorious moment, the child is supposed to fall asleep. But what if she stays hyper-alert and asks, with wide open eyes, "what then?" We are not good at visualising the "happiness ever after", and so we let the story end at the impressive climax. But we all know only too well, that in real life the period after marriage may be more difficult than the one before, and either way, marriage ends in death or divorce. But does it have to be so?
What if māyā was not an inexplicable lie, not an imposition (adhyāropa) on the ineffable perfection of Brahman, as Shankara held it to be; what if the little self was false, as Buddha taught, but the big Self (and everything else) was real because there actually was, as the Rig Veda says, a "real idea" behind every thing in existence? What if both mokṣa and nirvāṇa where not the end, but just the beginning: crucial turning-points in our long journeys from the miseries of egoïc existence to the vast beatitudes of a genuinely divine Perfection?
In other words, what if the next stage in the ongoing evolution of consciousness, would not be a return to an undifferentiated oneness or transcendence, but a further development towards an embodied harmony of love and oneness, an absolute delight in difference rooted in an infinite joy of being one? At our present level of consciousness, this may be impossible to imagine, but what if that is actually where the evolution is taking us?
Infinity in a drop describes the psychology of small creatures who are in the midst of this amazing "adventure of consciousness and joy". An adventure that gradually, over long time, not only shows us the essence of the ocean hidden deep within ourselves, but that can transform every aspect of our natures; till we learn to express that knowledge, each in a different way, in every aspect of our being; till we will live, even collectively, a life that expresses the joy of love and oneness in total perfection.
It is a long journey, no doubt, at times difficult and painful, but also beautiful, joyful, and always carried by an infinite love.
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