It is often hard for yogis to believe that a dark force truly exists in the world. However, over the last few years I have come to believe that such a force exists in Consciousness, that there is a power that works against the good, against God, against the light. Just as the divine Shakti is a real mystical power that can awaken and enlighten, so too is there a real dark power that brings destruction, mayhem and violence.
Of course, from the highest perspective there is only Consciousness. However, in practical reality there is the clash of light and dark as symbolised in all of the scriptures. These forces have been called different names by different religions and paths i.e. the Devil, Kali, Saturn, Satan, Maya, and many others.
Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry, the great yogi and Guru called this darkness ‘Hostile Forces’. He believed them to be the most challenging energy for a yogi. They disguise themselves as rational and sincere and are, therefore, extremely dangerous.
Below is a summary by a devotee of Aurobindo’s teaching on these forces from the third book of his letters. It expresses how to distinguish them from ordinary negative tendencies.
Note: the numbers are page numbers from Aurobindo’s book.
What are hostile forces?
The western mind might find it hard to believe in the operation of hostile forces, as it typically searches for external explanations for everything.(1742/2) However, as Aurobindo says: “It is a fact always known to all yogis and occultists since the beginning of time, in Europe and Africa as in India, that wherever yoga is done, there the hostile forces gather together to stop it.” (1731/1)
Attacks from hostile forces are not rare. All yogis will face attacks from hostile forces during the course of their sadhana. (1731/1) These attacks are distinct from our personal tendencies. Whereas our tendencies are part of human nature and are an expression of our ignorance, hostile forces are external entities that have the aim of stopping spiritual transformation.(1731/3) However, while they are distinct from our tendencies, hostile forces do often work against us by adding weight to our tendencies.(1731/1)
Why is it important to know about hostile forces?
Practically speaking, it’s important that we can distinguish between the presence of a tendency and the attack of a hostile force. The yogic antidote for attacks from hostile forces is different from the antidote for tendencies. (1732/2)
What consequences can an attack from a hostile force have?
An attack from a hostile force might affect us severely, or not at all. In the best case scenario, when a hostile force mounts an attack against somebody, that person is able to repel it by yogic means.(1732/1) If the person cannot repel the attack, they might be influenced by the hostile force, meaning that their thoughts, feelings and actions might reflect to some extent the will of that hostile force. Worse still, a person might become temporarily or permanently possessed by a hostile force, meaning that the hostile force has gained complete control over them. Being influenced or possessed by a hostile force is likely to have very serious consequences for the individual and for others around them.
DEALING WITH HOSTILE FORCES
How can one recognise an attack from hostile forces?
In Aurobindo’s words, “the action of the hostile forces is a special intervention creating violent inner conflicts, abnormal depressions, thoughts and impulses of a kind which can be easily recognised as suggestions e.g. leaving the Ashram, abandoning the yoga, revolt against the Divine, suggestions of calamity and catastrophe apparently irresistible, irrational impulses and so on” (1731/2) An attack might also encourage us to question, reason away, doubt or deny prior spiritual experiences. (1738/2)
As we deepen in our sadhana, we gain an increased capacity to distinguish between attacks from hostile forces and tendencies. (1737/3)
How should one deal with hostile forces, as opposed to tendencies?
Patient effort is the best remedy for tendencies.(1732/2) We should patiently and persistently do our practice, with the goal of making gradual progress.
A more forceful approach is required when hostile forces attack — hostile forces must be “shut out altogether”(1732/2) Aurobindo says that “An entire rejection and a complete turning to the Divine are the way to meet [the hostile forces].” (1740/3) We should not try to eradicate the hostile forces, but rather, we should focus upon becoming so established in the Self that the hostile forces cannot enter us nor harm us (1734/3). Aurobindo suggests that we “be like a cliff attacked by a stormy sea but never submerged by it” (1750/4)
Although we cannot prevent attacks from hostile forces, as we progress in our sadhana, we are able to throw off attacks from hostile forces with less difficulty.(1739/2) On the one hand, certain tendencies and dispositions can make us vulnerable to hostile forces, such as desires and fears, an attraction for drama, or a passive response to an attack. (1743/1) On the other hand certain noble traits will make us immune to hostile forces, including faith, the attitude of surrender, love, devotion, calmness and equanimity. (1739/3-4)
In terms of understanding, we should view these attacks as tests of our commitment to sadhana, and as opportunities to become stronger in the Self. (1738/4) We should not feel guilty about being under attack, as all yogis face attacks from hostile forces during their sadhana.(1738/2) Furthermore, an attack may come at any time, through no fault of our own, and it might even signify that our sadhana has reached a rapid pace, or that we are approaching a breakthrough (1741/1-5). Nonetheless, we must take these tests seriously – if we were to allow the hostile forces into ourselves to even an apparently small degree, it could have devastating consequences.(1735/6). We certainly should not invite “testing” since these attacks can be so dangerous. (1735/6)
In summary, we should deal with attacks from hostile forces by rejecting them completely, and turning with determination towards the Divine. In addition to this general approach, there are a number of principles that can guide us as we repel attacks from hostile forces, including the following:
- Don’t identify with hostile forces
When under attack from a hostile force, we might think that, for the sake of authenticity and integration, we need to express the hostile force’s influence. However, this is not the right way to think about it. Aurobindo says: “This state which tries to come upon you and seize is not part of your true self, but a foreign influence”(1749/6) Thus, only by rejecting hostile forces will we find the sense of wholeness that we seek.(1749/6, 1750/1)
- Don’t obsess about hostile forces or fear them
Some people might fall in the pitfall of obsessing about the hostile forces, and thereby give them power. While it’s important that we can recognise them and repel them, we should not think too much about them, or be expecting or looking out for them.(1764/3) If we give them too much of our attention it can create an unnecessary inner struggle, as we might try to destroy the hostile forces, rather than focusing our mind in a positive spiritual direction. In addition, we should never fear hostile forces, as this can make their attacks bold and aggressive.(1764/5) It’s much better to regard the hostile forces with indifference, and then focus the mind wholly on the Divine. (1748/2, 1764/3)
Don’t listen to arguments put forward by hostile forces
We might also be vulnerable to hostile forces when they make apparently reasonable suggestions to us. However, as Aurobindo says, “I do not see what reasons can be so subtle as to justify or even appear to justify something that opposes and tries to destroy the sadhana. Whatever stands in the way of spiritual progress, must be a falsehood whatever reasons it gives in its own favour. The best thing is not to listen to its reasons” (1751/2)
- Don’t sympathise with people who are possessed by hostile forces
If we were to feel sympathy toward somebody possessed by hostile forces, it would make us vulnerable to attacks from these forces. Although we should behave appropriately towards people who are possessed, we should avoid feeling sympathy towards them. (1765/1)
- Be patient when under attack
Sometimes we might feel impatient to be free from attacks from hostile forces, since these attacks might seem to slow down our spiritual progress. However, this impatience actually gives power to the hostile forces. Instead, we should remember that it is not necessarily bad that our sadhana might appear to be dull or slow moving, as progress might always be just around the corner.(1761/3) Instead we should continue our sadhana and remain quiet till the empty or dull period is over.(1764/4)
What can we do when the hostile forces attack an entire community?
In his Letters, Aurobindo talks of times when the hostile forces attacked his ashram as a whole. He explains that, just as individuals can repel the hostile forces by turning completely to the Divine, so too can the hostile forces be pushed away from the atmosphere of an ashram when there is a general turning to the Divine among the ashram community. (1745/2)
How should we deal with hostile forces in the world?
Many worldly people are constantly attacked, influenced or even possessed by hostile forces without being aware of it.(1736/4) However, through yoga we can become immune to hostile forces in our own inner worlds whilst moving in the outer world. Irrespective of our individual efforts, hostile forces will continue to exist in the outer world, because our collective level of consciousness is relatively low.(1735/4) They will continue to operate until a future stage of the evolution of consciousness. (1739/4)
To summarise, hostile forces are otherworldly entities that mount attacks against people with the purpose of quashing spiritual growth. A yogi can recognise that an attack might be taking place when they experience a desire to leave the ashram or their spiritual path, or when they notice doubts about previous experiences of higher consciousness. Yogis should deal with these attacks by rejecting them altogether, and turning their minds wholly towards the Divine.
“It is a fact always known to all yogis and occultists since the beginning of time, in Europe and Africa as in India, that wherever yoga is done, there the hostile forces gather together to stop it.” (1731/1)
“Normal human defects are one thing – they are the working of the lower nature of the Ignorance. The action of the hostile forces is a special intervention creating violent inner conflicts, abnormal depressions, thoughts and impulses of a kind which can be easily recognised as suggestions e.g. leaving the Ashram, abandoning the yoga, revolt against the Divine, suggestions of calamity and catastrophe apparently irresistible, irrational impulses and so on. It is a different order from the usual human weaknesses.” (1731/2)
“This state which tries to come upon you and seize is not part of your true self, but a foreign influence. To yield to it and to express it would therefore be not sincerity, but the expression of something false to your true being, something that will grow more and more foreign to you as you progress. Always reject it, when it comes, even if you feel strongly its touch; open in your mind and soul to the Mother, keep your will and faith and you will find it receding. Even if it returns obstinately, be equally and more obstinate against it, firm in rejection – that will discourage and wear it out and finally it will grow weak, a shadow of itself and disappear. Be true to your true self always – that is the real sincerity. Persist and conquer.” (1749/6-1750/1-2)
“I do not see what reasons can be so subtle as to justify or even appear to justify something that opposes and tries to destroy the sadhana. Whatever stands in the way of spiritual progress, must be a falsehood whatever reasons it gives in its own favour. The best thing is not to listen to its reasons.” (1751/2)
“Attacks are always going about and it is a period when they have fallen on many. But with a strong faith founded in the Mother and a whole-hearted aspiration, no attack can leave any lasting result.” (1749/4)