Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga

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In The Synthesis of Yoga Sri Aurobindo unfolds his vision of an integral (also called “purna” or “complete”) yoga embracing all the powers and activities of man. He provides an overview of the main paths of yoga, their primary methodologies and the necessity for integrating them into a complete, all-embracing and all-encompassing activity. The motto “All Life Is Yoga” is the theme of this text.

Sri Aurobindo points out that this is not intended as a fixed methodology: “The Synthesis of Yoga was not meant to give a method for all to follow. Each side of the Yoga was dealt with separately with all its possibilities, and an indication as to how they meet so that one starting from knowledge could realise Karma and Bhakti also and so with each path.” (pg. 899)

The final section begins to flesh out an integrative method which Sri Aurobindo called the “yoga of self-perfection”. While all the details of this approach were not completed to the extent desired, Sri Aurobindo has provided ample guidelines for the seeker to understand the direction and the path.

It is our goal to take up the systematic review of The Synthesis of Yoga in the following pages. All page number citations in this review are based on the U.S. edition of The Synthesis of Yoga published by Lotus Press, EAN: 978-0-9415-2465-0 Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga

Chapter headings and organization of the material follow The Synthesis of Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo Studies

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Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga has enormous implications for the time we find ourselves in.  As we systematically destroy the basis of life on the planet, and wall off one another through ultimate fragmentation, we are left with the stark contrast of choosing between survival and destruction, life and death, growth or decline.  Sri Aurobindo recognizes the necessity of the individual within the context of the collectivity, universality and the transcendent consciousness of Oneness.  The individual is the nexus or hub of the evolutionary urge, but not separate from nor at the expense of the life of the cosmic whole.

We also have a daily twitter feed on Sri Aurobindo’s studies at www.twitter.com/santoshk1

We have systematically worked our way through The Life Divine as well as The Mother , Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma.  The newest posts appear near the top.  If you want to start at the beginning, go to the oldest post and roll forward until you reach the final posts in July 2012.

Another option is to “search” for the chapter you would like to study and see all posts relating to that chapter. You may have to ask for “older posts” once you have the search results if you are looking for one of the earlier chapters.

We have separated the posts relating to each book into their own folder as an additional organisational tool.

Similarly you can use the search box to find specific concepts, terms or issues you are interested in. The results will show all posts that address those concepts or terms. You may have to click on “older posts” to find all the references here as well.

The next book we are taking up is The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo, following a similar format to that we have utilised for The Life Divine , The Mother, Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma.

You may also want to visit our information site for Sri Aurobindo at Sri-Aurobindo.Com

Sri Aurobindo’s major writings are published in the US by Lotus Press.

The systematic studies on this blog have also been published as self-standing books by Lotus Press and are available in both printed formats and as e-books. There are 3 volumes encompassing Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, 2 volumes encompassing Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, as well as 1 volume for Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo, and Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma., and 1 volume currently for the first section of The Synthesis of Yoga titled Readings In Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, Vol. 1 Introduction and Yoga of Divine Works

Many of the major writings of Sri Aurobindo are now also accessible on the Amazon Kindle Platform as well as Apple itunes, google play, kobo, and Barnes & Noble nook as well.  Kindle e-book reader program is also available for PC, Laptop, iPad, Blackberry, Android, iPhone and many other platforms from Amazon without charge. You can find the current list of titles available by going to http://www.amazon.com , go to the “kindle store” and type in “Aurobindo” New titles are being added as they can be made ready. Many of the major books are already accessible by the Kindle Reader.  You can follow a similar procedure for the other platforms we now support for Sri Aurobindo’s writings, I-tunes, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and KOBO.

The Experience of the Supramental Shakti

The practice of Yoga is not an intellectual exercise, nor a philosophical or religious conception, nor even a devotional rite or ritual. The practice of Yoga is grounded in experience and thus, effectuates real changes to the mental poise, emotional response, vital reactions and physical being of the seeker. The preliminary stages represent preparatory efforts so that the being can both come into direct contact with the higher spiritual powers, respond to them, and integrate them harmoniously into all the parts of the being. In order to be able to receive, hold and utilize these higher forms of energy, there must be a strong and solid peace and equality in the entire being, as well as a receptiveness and a preparatory turning of the mind and heart toward the divine.

Sri Aurobindo describes the various ways the divine Shakti may manifest within the consciousness of the seeker: “This supramental Shakti may form itself as a spiritualised intuitive light and power in the mind itself, and that is a great but still a mentally limited spiritual action. Or it may transform altogether the mind and raise the whole being to the supramental level. In any case this is the first necessity of this part of the Yoga, to lose the ego of the doer, the ego-idea and the sense of one’s own power of action and initiation of action and control of the result of action and merge it in the sense and vision of the universal Shakti originating, shaping, turning to its ends the action of ourselves and others and of all the persons and forces of the world. And this realisation can become absolute and complete in all the parts of our being only if we can have that sense and vision of it in all its forms, on all the levels of our being and the world being, as the material, vital, mental and supramental energy of the Divine, but all these, all the powers of all the planes must be seen and known as self-formulations of the one spiritual Shakti, infinite in being, consciousness and Ananda. It is not the invariable rule that this power should first manifest itself on the lower levels in the lower forms of energy and then reveal its higher spiritual nature. And if it does so come, first in its mental, vital or physical universalism, we must be careful not to rest content there. It may come instead at once in its higher reality, in the might of the spiritual splendour. The difficulty then will be to bear and hold the Power until it has laid powerful hands on and transformed the energies of the lower levels of the being.”

In whichever way the divine Shakti touches the seeker’s being, there should be a progressive surrender of the ego-consciousness to the Divine, in all ways and forms of action and being; otherwise, the touch of a higher power, if it awakens and enlarges the ego, can lead to an increased egoistic action, with arrogance and self-righteousness as signs of that deformation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 736-737

The Transformation of Nature Through the Link Between Mind and the Supramental Shakti

Spiritual aspirants throughout history have experienced a division between the awareness that is based in the complex of mind-life-body and is infused with the ego-sense, and the unified experience of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda) of the abstract spiritual realisations that occur from time to time through the trance state of Samadhi, primarily. There are other forms or ways that these spiritual realisations can come about, of course, but for purposes of this discussion, it is sufficient to reference the access to this state through Samadhi. The bifurcation between these two opposed types of experience have led spiritual seekers to treat the ordinary human status as something that is an illusion or a lesser reality, and to thereby propose to achieve spiritual Oneness through abandonment of the daily activities and focuses of life. The integral Yoga however insists on the need for a true integration between the two, through a process that eventually brings about direct control of the energies expressed through mind-life-body by the spiritual powers of Sat-Chit-Ananda. This process occurs through development of a link through higher levels of awareness that can simultaneously hold the truth of Oneness while manifesting a universal creation that expresses practically infinite diversity in a harmonised interplay of this multiplicity within the framework of unity.

Sri Aurobindo explores the transitional issues: “The mental, vital and physical energy in us and the universe is felt to be a derivation from the supreme Shakti, but at the same time an inferior, separated and in some sense another working. The real spiritual force may send down its messages or the light and power of its presence above us to the lower levels or may descend occasionally and even for a time possess, but it is then mixed with the inferior workings and partially transforms and spiritualises them, but is itself diminished and altered in the process. There is an intermittent higher action or a dual working of the nature. Or we find that the Shakti for a time raises the being to a higher spiritual plane and then lowers it back into the inferior levels. These alternations must be regarded as the natural vicissitudes of a process of transformation from the normal to the spiritual being. The transformation, the perfection cannot for the integral Yoga be complete until the link between the mental and the spiritual action is formed and a higher knowledge applied to all the activities of our existence. That link is the supramental or gnostic energy in which the incalculable infinite power of the supreme being, consciousness, delight formulates itself as an ordering divine will and wisdom, a light and power in the being which shapes all the thought, will, feeling, action and replaces the corresponding individual movements.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 735-736

The Divine Shakti As the Active Presence of the Divine

As can be expected in a wholesale transformation of the standpoint of consciousness and action, there are intermediate stages between the full immersion in the ego-consciousness and the complete sense of Oneness with the Divine and the action of the Divine in the manifestation. Up to this point, even as the individual begins to sense the Divine Shakti acting and thereby reduces the sense of ego as the owner and driver of the action, there remains still at least a subtle sense of difference that continues to reinforce the ego-sense.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The sattwic, rajasic and tamasic ego is diminished but not eliminated; or if it seems to disappear, it has only sunk in our parts of action into the universal operation of the gunas, remains involved in them and is still working in a covert, subconscient fashion and may force itself to the front at any time.”

The poise of the seeker in the yogic process, at this stage, should be to continually remind himself of the Oneness and the manifestation of all by the Divine through His Shakti. “He must be aware behind Prakriti of the one Supreme and universal Purusha. He must see and feel not only that all is the self-shaping of the one Force, Prakriti or Nature, but that all her actions are those of the Divine in all, the one Godhead in all, however veiled, altered and as it were perverted–for perversion comes by a conversion into lower forms–by transmission through the ego and the gunas. This will farther diminish the open or covert insistence of the ego and, if thoroughly realised, it will make it difficult or impossible for it to assert itself in such a way as to disturb or hamper the farther progress. The ego-sense will become, so far as it interferes at all, a foreign intrusive element and only a fringe of the mist of the old ignorance hanging on to the outskirts of the consciousness and its action. And, secondly, the universal Shakti must be realised, must be seen and felt and borne in the potent purity of its higher action, its supramental and spiritual workings. This greater vision of the Shakti will enable us to escape from the control of the gunas, to convert them into their divine equivalents and dwell in a consciousness in which the Purusha and Prakriti are one and not separated or hidden in or behind each other. There the Shakti will be in its every movement evident to us and naturally, spontaneously, irresistibly felt as nothing else but the active presence of the Divine, the shape of power of the supreme Self and Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pg. 735

The Divine Shakti Carries Out All Actions in the Universe

The ego-conception has its value in terms of a specific type of organization and action in the mental-vital-physical world. For those who are immersed in the ego-personality, there is a sense of complete individuality and separation from other forms and beings, and a consequent sense of opposition and competition. In an ultimate sense, however, there is no separate reality of each ego-personality–we are all constituted by and our actions carried out by the universal divine Power of the Supreme, the Divine Shakti.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “This is the nature of the divine Shakti that it is the timeless power of the Divine which manifests itself in time as a universal force creating, constituting, maintaining and directing all the movements and workings of the universe. This universal Power is apparent to us first on the lower levels of existence as a mental, vital and material cosmic energy of which all our mental, vital and physical activities are the operations.”

This is an essential recognition for the seeker to establish within his awareness in order to loosen the grip of the ego and allow the process of universalizing the awareness to take hold. “To see that we are not the originators of action but that it is rather this Power that acts in ourselves and in all others, not I and others the doers, but the one Prakriti, which is the rule of the Karmayoga, is also the right rule here.” Eventually the ego-sense has to be eliminated and replaced by this new standpoint from the universal view. “To see our actions as not our own but those of the divine Shakti working in the form of the lower Prakriti on the inferior levels of the conscious being, helps powerfully towards this change. And if we can do this, then the separation of our mental, vital and physical consciousness from that of other beings thins and lessens; the limitations of its workings remain indeed, but they are broadened and taken up into a large sense and vision of the universal working; the specialising and individualising differentiations of Nature abide for their own proper purpose, but are no longer a prison. The individual feels his mind, life and physical existence to be one with that of others amid all differences and one wit the total power of the spirit in Nature.”

At a certain level, this Oneness of all existence can be relatively easily seen and grasped. For instance if we reflect on the life of a tree, we can quickly recognize that it is not separate from and cannot exist absent sunlight, water, earth, nutrition and air. Take away any part of the universal creation and we do not have a tree! The unique form assumed by the tree is brought about as part of a larger manifestation and thus, it is also tied into the life cycle of insects, birds, fungi, and eventually animals and human beings. Similarly we can see in the animal kingdom the symbiotic relationships that develop between various animals who cannot exist or thrive without one another and all of them cannot exist without the framework of the biosphere, ecosphere, noosphere, that universal Nature has created for this manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 17, The Action of the Divine Shakti, pp. 734-735

Becoming Aware of the Divine Shakti

Sri Aurobindo consistently emphasizes the clear distinction between action undertaken in the individual, egoistic state of consciousness and the action of the Divine Shakti working through the instrumentation of the individual being. This requires a shift from the human standpoint to the divine standpoint, both in terms of status of consciousness and for power of action. This is not an intellectual formulation, but the real experience of the being which is being described. For those seekers who continue to see and experience the world through the limitations of the ego, a first intellectual overlay may be required to prepare the instrument for the true action of the Shakti. In the end, however, the experience must go beyond the mental idea or belief to become a full and actual realisation.

Sri Aurobindo describes the action of the Divine Shakti in this case: “There will then be no separate personal will or individual energy trying to conduct our actions, no sense of a little personal self as the doer, nor will it be the lower energy of the three gunas, the mental, vital and physical nature. The divine Shakti will fill us and preside over and take up all our inner activities, our outer life, our Yoga. She will take up the mental energy, her own lower formation, and raise it to its highest and purest and fullest powers of intelligence and will and psychic action. She will change the mechanical energies of the mind, life and body which now govern us into delight-filled manifestations of her own living and conscious power and presence. She will manifest in us and relate to each other all the various spiritual experiences of which the mind is capable. And as the crown of this process she will bring down the supramental light into the mental levels, change the stuff of mind into the stuff of supermind, transform all the lower energies into energies of her supramental nature and raise us into our being of gnosis. The Shakti will reveal herself as the power of the Purushottama, and it is the Ishwara who will manifest himself in his force of supermind and spirit and be the master of our being, action, life and Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 732-733

Becoming Aware of the Higher Ranges of Consciousness of the Spirit

When we experience daylight, with the sun shining, our attention is fixated on the world around us and we are not aware of the infinite universe within which our planet, our solar system and our sun are very tiny parts. When the sun sets, however, we can view the expanse of space and the stars, and we begin to realize that we are part of something far beyond our current capacities and awareness. Similarly, in the realm of consciousness, while we remain fixed on our mental-vital-physical existence, we are oblivious to the higher ranges of consciousness, but as we achieve a status of quieting the activity of our normal range of experience, we can begin to gain a finer sense and awareness of levels previously unknown to us. This is the experience that millenia of the practice of Yoga, meditation and spiritual disciplines of other types can prepare us for and bring forward.

The experience may come on the side of the Purusha. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “On the side of Purusha it reveals itself as Self or Spirit, as Being or as the one sole existent Being, the divine Purushottama, and the individual Jiva soul can enter into entire oneness with it in its timeless self or in its universality, or enjoy nearness, immanence, difference without any gulf of separation and enjoy too separably and at one and the same time oneness of being and delight-giving difference of relation in active experiencing nature.”

On the side of Prakriti, the experience may take the following forms: “On the side of Prakriti the power and Ananda of the Spirit come into the front to manifest this Infinite in the beings and personalities and ideas and forms and forces of the universe and there is then present to us the divine Mahashakti, original Power, supreme Nature, holding in herself infinite existence and creating the wonders of the cosmos. The mind grows conscious of this illimitable ocean of Shakti or else of her presence high above the mind and pouring something of herself into us to constitute all that we are and think and will and do and feel and experience, or it is conscious of her all around us and our personality a wave of the ocean of power of spirit, or of her presence in us and of her action there based on our present form of natural existence but originated from above and raising us towards the higher spiritual status.”

It is also possible to merge the consciousness into the vast infinite of existence, losing touch with the individual personality, and shifting the standpoint of the consciousness to that infinity or to the universality of the manifestation. These are possible stages or experiences, but do not represent the fullness of the experience sought in the integral Yoga:

“But the perfection sought in the integral Yoga is not only to be one with her in her highest spiritual power and one with her in her universal action, but to realise and possess the fullness of this Shakti in our individual being and nature. For the supreme Spirit is one as Purusha or as Prakriti, conscious being or power of conscious being, and as the Jiva in essence of self and spirit is one with the supreme Purusha, so on the side of Nature, in power of self and spirit it is one with Shakti…. To realise this double oneness is the condition of the integral self-perfection. The Jiva is then the meeting-place of the play of oneness of the supreme Soul and Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 731-732

Applying the Freedom and Power of the Witness Consciousness of the Purusha

The achievement of the stance of witness, abstracted from the action of the nature, provides a form of relative freedom and power of action to the Purusha that it does not experience when fully involved in the actions of nature. There are several different directions that the Soul may take from this point forward. Essentially, there may be a focus on enhancing the power and results on the mental level, but without any higher aspirations. There may be a focus on achieving oneness with Brahman through a rejection of the activities of the mind and life. There may be an attempt to achieve a higher spiritual realisation within the framework of the universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes these various options: “It is possible for the Purusha to use it on the mental plane itself for a constant self-observation, self-development, self-modification, to sanction, reject, alter, bring out new formulations of the nature and establish a calm and disinterested action, a high and pure sattwic balance and rhythm of its energy, a personality perfected in the sattwic principle. This may amount only to a highly mentalised perfection of our present intelligence and the ethical and the psychic being or else, aware of the greater self in us it may impersonalise, universalise, spiritualise its self-conscious existence and the action of its nature and arrive either at a large quietude or a large perfection of the spiritualised mental energy of its being.”

“It is possible aain for the Purusha to stand back entirely and by a refusal of sanction allow the whole normal action of the mind to exhaust itself, run down, spend its remaining impetus of habitual action and fall into silence. Or else this silence may be imposed on the mental energy by rejection of its action and a constant command to quietude. The soul may through the confirmation of this quietude and mental silence pass into some ineffable tranquility of the spirit and vast cessation of the activities of Nature.”

“But it is also possible to make this silence of the mind and ability to suspend the habits of the lower nature a first step towards the discovery of a superior formulation, a higher grade of the status and energy of our being and pass by an ascent and transformation into the supramental power of the spirit.”

The realisation sought by the integral Yoga would encourage the shifting of the standpoint from the mental to the supramental level of consciousness, as that is where the entire action of mind, life and body actually originates. “For the supermind is the divine mind and it is on the supramental plane that the individual arrives at his right, integral, luminous and perfect relation with the supreme and universal Purusha and the supreme and universal Para Prakriti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 730-731