Why "Infinity in a drop"?
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: March 2019
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
It is possible to formulate the Vedic understanding of reality very simply. It goes something like this: Brahman, the Divine, is the absolute acme of Being, Consciousness, and Delight; it 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 very short, yet very 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 their everyday lives, in the people they met and the things they did.
It is in this context, that we should understand an ancient Indian story of a drop of water which reaches the ocean and dissolves into its vastness. This reunion of the drop with the ocean is taken as a symbol for the re-immersion of the individual into the Divine from which he came. It signifies liberation, the end of suffering by the extinction of individual existence. It is in this image that the most prominent schools of Advaita Vedanta, Yoga and Buddhism find each other.
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 more glorious process of transformation, a transformation that will help us to live and act in harmony with the intention of the whole?
Fairy tales tend to end with the killing of the dragon or the marriage of the prince and princess. After that satisfying 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. Though it sounds crude, we all know that in real life, marriage ends in death or divorce. But does it have to be so?
What if life was not an existentialist absurdity, not a freak, chance-driven aberration in an otherwise mechanical universe; what if māyā, the power that created the universe, 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 Ṛg Veda says, a "real idea" behind everything in existence? What if mokṣa and nirvāṇa were not the end, but just the beginning: crucial turning-points in our long journeys from the miseries of egoic existence to the vast beatitudes of a physically manifest yet genuinely divine Perfection?
In other words, what if the next stage in the ongoing evolution of consciousness would not be a return to a transcendence beyond the manifestation, 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 this is where the evolution is actually taking us? What if our basic understanding of ourselves and the universe in which we live is on track for a major upgrade?
In the four lines of Savitri quoted in the beginning, Sri Aurobindo reverses the story of the drop: he celebrates its creation. Sri Aurobindo starts from the same consciousness-centred understanding of reality on which the entire Indian tradition is based, and he uses the same imagery in which the drop stands for the individual and the ocean for the totality of being. He also accepts the need of the individual to realise their oneness with the infinite ocean of existence, but then he expands the story-line. And as we will see, doing this changes everything.
In this text we'll have a look at how Psychology would change if awareness of that Presence were made the centre of our understanding. We'd see how intimately we and the world are related, 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. In short, how life and psychology would suddenly begin to make sense.
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 insight into 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.
In other words, Infinity in a drop describes the psychology of small creatures who are in the midst of this amazing "adventure of consciousness and joy". It is an adventure that cannot only show us the essence of the ocean hidden deep within ourselves, but that can transform every aspect of our nature till we can express that essence, each in a different way, in every aspect of our being; till we can live, individually and collectively, a life that manifests the joy of love and oneness in total perfection.
It is a long journey, at times difficult and painful, but also beautiful, joyful, and always held high by an infinite love.