Seeing the Marvel of Existence

In the first of 56 chapters of his metaphysical opus The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo suggests something profound. He indicates that everything we encounter in life -- positive and negative, pleasurable and painful, good and evil -- serves the greater Good that is unfolding. He indicates that such dual pairs, which on the surface seem to be in contradiction, are really complements to one another -- necessary for the upward, progressive movement of each. In that way, every difficulty and problem that comes our way serves us just as well as positives circumstance -- perhaps more so. Moreover, that vision of things, that ability to perceive meaning and utility in everything we encounter, from the macro to the micro, from the positive to the negative is to see the Marvel of Existence.

Let me illustrate this principle with several examples from literature. In Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Miserable, a fundamentally good man Jean Valjean has escaped prison and is being pursued by an extremely dedicated, almost fanatical police officer named Javert. Along the way, Valjean raises a beautiful adopted daughter Cossette who falls in love with a young man named Marius, who eventually joins a people’s fighting force barricading themselves against the reactionary government. At one point, the older, magnanimous Valjean gets involved in the battle himself, and in a startling, ironic moment saves Marius’ life. Interestingly, Valjean never tells him what he had done. In addition, Valjean and Marius over time are at odds with one another because the elder does not want to relinquish his beloved daughter to the young man. In fact, now that Valjean senses that he is losing Cosette to Marius, life begins to all lose meaning, and so he begins to wither away.

But then one day near the end of Valjean’s life, the evil Innkeeper Thenardier -- who once raised Cosette in squalor and did many appalling things along the way -- reveals to Marius that Valjean was in fact the one who saved his life. Stunned by Thenardier revelations, Marius and Cosette rush to Valjean’s deathbed and console him, thanking him for a lifetime of self-givingness. In essence, a very bad person has come forward and unwittingly helped resolve a knot between two good people, -- enabling reconciliation between Marius and Valjean, and the return of Cosette’s deep love and affection for Valjean, something he so desperately longed for. And so after a lifetime of kindness and generosity, Jean Valjean dies a very happy man.

It is said that great literature revels the deepest truth of life. The principle that not just the good, but the negative and evil too serve the greater Good is also evident in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. For example, at one critical point in the story, one of the five Bennet sisters, the wild, rambunctious Lydia, has eloped with the scoundrel Wickham, threatening the Bennet family with scandal and social ostracism. The elopement also threatens to ruin the relationship between the very wealthy Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Now soon after the elopement ends with the marriage of Lydia and Wickham, Lydia foolishly blurts out that Darcy was the one who settled the accounts of her husband, resolving the situation. Lydia was instructed not to reveal this information. When Eliza hears this, she is thunderstruck because she now realizes how wrong she has been about Darcy. She saw him and arrogant and prideful, but instead, she now sees his very noble character. As a result, she falls in love with him, he proposes (again), and they marry. Without the verbal blunder from the negative Lydia, the marvelous outcome would never have occurred. I.e. Darcy and Eliza may not have fallen in love, married, found deep happiness, and thereby bring great wealth and social prestige to the Bennet family. That is the power the negative and false serve in manifesting the greater Good.

There is one other example of this principle in the novel. Late in the story, the aristocratic, wealthy, yet reactionary Lady Catherine tries to meddle in the relationship between Darcy and Eliza. When she does, it backfires on her, paving the way for the marriage of Darcy and Eliza. What happened was that when Lady Catherine got wind of the budding relationship, she stormed in the Bennet home, met with Eliza, and insisted that the relationship cease. Eliza of course refused. Most importantly however, when Lady Catherine returned home, Darcy learned of the meeting between his aunt and Eliza and realized from the discussion that Eliza had not ruled out a romance and marriage between him. Startled that this was the case, Darcy then went ahead and met Eliza, who then accepted his second proposal of marriage. In other words, without Lady Catherine’s negative intervention, the entire resolution of the story would not have come about! Her harmful attempt to block their relationship had the opposite effect of spurring them to come together.

Once again, we see how falsehood and evil play critical roles in movements of progress and greater accomplishment. It is to perceive that every thing -- good or bad, positive or negative, pleasurable or painful, -- serves a purpose in the great unfolding. It is an ultimate perspective and vision of life. It is to see the Marvel of Existence.