Imagine for a moment that you knew the future. Doesn’t that seem a good thing? You could relax and work without getting stressed out; you could plan ahead and direct your energies only in those paths that you know would lead to success; you could avoid all those intransigent people who keep trapping you in some debilitating vortex of time. There would be no wastage of energy, no error, no agonizing in hindsight over missed opportunities. What a utopian world it would be! But counter-intuitive as it seems, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa offered some legitimate reasons as to why the future is deliberately hidden from us.
Consider what might happen if we knew the future. We might conveniently assume that “ends justify means” and proceed to engage in whatever unsavory actions that are required to manifest the favourable future that we have foreseen. The veil over the future forces us to act according to our conscience. We don’t live by our conscience all the time but it does start to actuate eventually, especially as our soul awakens and begins to question the reality behind the unfolding superficial worldly life.
Alternately, knowing the future might make us complacent and fatalistic. Why work when things are already decided? It is precisely for this reason that unattainable goals and ideals are needed, as the Mother discusses below:
…So if one knew ahead exactly what was going to happen, one would remain seated, quietly, and would do nothing any longer. One would say, “Good, if this must happen, it is good, I have nothing more to do.” That is why one doesn’t know….In ordinary life people say that for someone to realise something, he ought always to aim much farther than the goal he has to attain; that all who have realised something in life, all the great men who have created, realised something, their aim, their ambition, their plan was always much greater, vaster, more complete, more total than what they did. They always fell short of their expectation and hope. It is a weakness, but it comes from what I said, that unless one has a very great ideal before him and the hope of realising it, one doesn’t put out all the energies of the being and therefore doesn’t do what is necessary to attain even the nearest goal, except, as I said, when one can act with the clear vision that “this is what ought to be done” and without the slightest worry about the consequences and the result of what one does; but this is difficult. (1)
The simplistic view of the future as a fixed set of events that have to be accepted is completely untrue. The future is more akin to perpetually evolving configuration of clouds traversing the sky, which represent the Karma of a large number of entities (nations, people, earth, etc). The energies that each of these entities exerts in any direction, benevolent or malevolent, alters that configuration, and with the passage of time, this configuration partially manifests itself as events on the physical plane, which in turn shape our personality, thereby further altering that subtle Karmic configuration. Human beings, although seldom conscious of it, are actively putting out mental formations through their desires, which have an impact on the future. This is especially true in case of sages who have attained Self-realization; they acquire the power of prophesy by virtue of being identified with the Divine. (“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, [so] be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.” – Matthew 8:13)
In the light of this background, the Mother once remarked that not knowing or speaking about the future is actually advantageous, otherwise it may invite opposition from other people or occult forces that would desire the antipodal result.
Mother:… above all, don’t come and say, “You know, it will be like this.” Because that is what makes the thing most difficult, I don’t say that what has to be will not be, but perhaps there will be many more difficulties if one speaks about it. So it is better to let things happen (2)
Sri Aurobindo offered a similar non-committal response in another situation:
Dr Manilal: When will you be cured?
Sri Aurobindo : Don’t ask me the question. It is just what I can’t know, for, immediately I say something the hostile forces would at once rush to prevent it. That is why I don’t want to prophesy. Not that things are not known, or possibilities not seen. For instance, there are things about which I had definitely said. But where it is a question of possibilities, I don’t tie myself to that chain of possibilities. For if I do that I commit myself in advance to certain lines of movement and the result of it may not be what I want, and I won’t be able to bring down that for which I am striving, it may not be the highest but something partial. (3)
Since the future is actually an evolving configuration of forces, not knowing the future provides more flexibility, as Sri Aurobindo explains below.
Sri Aurobindo: I was telling you we know what we have got to know. But it is not always good to know. For instance, if I know a thing is going to happen I am bound to it, and even if it is not what I wanted, I have to accept it, and this prevents my having a greater or another possibility. So I want to keep myself free and deal with various possibilities. Below the Supermind everything is a question of possibilities; so if I keep myself free, I can accept or reject as I like. Destiny is not a thing fixed. It is just a complex of forces which can be changed. (4)
There are even situations where the Divine Power may choose to veil the future even from those who are advanced on the spiritual path, or who have already attained Self-realization.
Sri Aurobindo: … a Yogin who is to take part in action is not shown all the things by the Supreme. Only when the universal conditions are ready then all things are shown to him ; while one who is detached sees many things more. Also, the Supreme does not decide every detail before the universal conditions are ready when it comes down with an imperative decision. In between, it is all a working of universal forces. For example, take the case of physical disease to which you are prone by nature. When you have worked it out you find the same thing comes up in other forms. You cannot leave it off without working out all details and in each detail you can see only possibilities and moral certainties. Not that the Supreme does not know it all the time ; only, it does not interfere till the universal conditions are ready. The decision which the universal forces work out is also the decision of the Supreme. (5)
For all these diverse reasons, the future is prudently veiled from human beings. There is no denying that this lack of knowledge engenders many agonizing and hair-splitting moments when one does not know what to do, but eventually, albeit reluctantly, one comes to acknowledge that such excruciating challenges are necessary in life to awaken the latent soul power within. If we did not exert ourselves in choosing correctly, we would not “grow in consciousness”. And what exactly does that mean – “grow in consciousness”? Growth in consciousness occurs in those psychic moments of compassion, courage, or adroitness when the soul transcends the mundane existence by relinquishing selfish acts, lethargy, decadent habits, and depraved friends and spontaneously awakens to the discrimination of right thought and action. We continue to exist in a quagmire until our consciousness learns the intended lesson, at which point the quagmire itself vanishes.
What help is prevision to the driven? Safe doors cry opening near, the doomed pass on. A future knowledge is an added pain, A torturing burden and a fruitless light On the enormous scene that Fate has built. The eternal poet, universal Mind, Has paged each line of his imperial act; Invisible the giant actors tread And man lives like some secret player’s mask. He knows not even what his lips shall speak. For a mysterious Power compels his steps And life is stronger than his trembling soul.
(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Book VI, Canto I)
Collected Works of the Mother. vol 7, p 3
Collected Works of the Mother. vol. 8, p 13
Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, p 11
Nirodbaran. Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1 p 24
A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Second Series, p 312.