Introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Raja Yoga Seeks Realisation Through Harnessing the Powers of the Mind

Raja Yoga remains something of a mystery for most people who have an active outer life, because it requires extensive practice and discipline to achieve total stillness in the body and a cessation of the waves of mental energy in the mind. When practiced seriously it can be a tool of tremendous power to both enhance the mental force, achieving thereby powers of concentration and other occult results, and achieve a divine union, liberating the practitioner from the subjection to the outer life and the mind’s attachment to the objects of the senses.

Sri Aurobindo describes the science of Raja Yoga briefly: “Our ordinary mentality is first disciplined, purified and directed towards the divine Being, then by a summary process of Asana and Pranayama the physical force of our being is stilled and concentrated, the life-force released into a rhythmic movement capable of cessation and concentrated into a higher power of its upward action, the mind, supported and strengthened by this greater action and concentration of the body and life upon which it rests, is purified of all its unrest and emotion and its habitual thought-waves, liberated from distraction and dispersion, given its highest force of concentration, gathered up into a trance of absorption. Two objects, the one temporal, the other eternal, are gained by this discipline. Mind-power develops in another concentrated action abnormal capacities of knowledge, effective will, deep light of reception, powerful light of thought-radiation which are altogether beyond the narrow range of our normal mentality; it arrives at the Yogic or occult powers around which there has been woven so much quite dispensable and yet perhaps salutary mystery. But the one final end and the one all-important gain is that the mind, stilled and cast into a concentrated trance, can lose itself in the divine consciousness and the soul be made free to unite with the divine Being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 1, The Principle of the Integral Yoga, pp. 583-584

Hatha Yoga Seeks Realisation Through the Body and Life-Force

Particularly as promoted in the West, Hatha Yoga is seen as a form of healthful exercise to bring stability and flexibility to the physical body; and of course, it can provide the individual practitioner extraordinary results along these lines when practiced consistently. What is frequently overlooked, however, is the original intent and use of the path of Hatha Yoga. Practitioners of this science were seeking to reach and liberate the divine Force that resides within the body in order to utilize it for higher realisation.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “All the power of the body is stilled, collected, purified, heightened, concentrated to its utmost limits or beyond any limits by Asana and other physical processes; the power of the life too is similarly purified, heightened, concentrated by Asana and Pranayama. This concentration of powers is then directed towards that physical centre in which the divine consciousness sits concealed in the human body. The power of Life, Nature-power, coiled up with all its secret forces asleep in the lowest nervous plexus of the earth-being,–for only so much escapes into waking action in our normal operations as is sufficient for the limited uses of human life,–rises awakened through centre after centre and awakens, too, in its ascent and passage the forces of each successive nodus of our being, the nervous life, the heart of emotion and ordinary mentality, the speech, sight, will, the higher knowledge, till through and above the brain it meets with and it becomes one with the divine consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 1, The Principle of the Integral Yoga, pg. 583

Introduction to the Yoga of Self-Perfection

Sri Aurobindo introduces the Yoga of Self-Perfection with the following statement: “The principle of Yoga is the turning of one or of all powers of our human existence into a means of reaching the divine Being. In an ordinary Yoga one main power of being or one group of its powers is made the means, vehicle, path. In a synthetic Yoga all powers will be combined and included in the transmuting instrumentation.”

One of the unique contributions Sri Aurobindo has made to the science of Yoga is the integration of all aspects of human life into one comprehensive unified approach that values each path for the specific progress it can provide without thereby denying or devaluing other methods of practice. Each individual is encouraged to take up the practice of Yoga starting from whichever aspect of being is in the forefront in his nature. At the same time, the seeker is asked to recognize that the other methods also have their rationale and importance and should be validated; in fact, the seeker may, and frequently does, find that there are varying stages in his own evolution that bring about a natural adjustment in his practice as the focus shifts from one aspect of being to another.

There may be periods of intense introspection and deep meditation consistent with the Yoga of knowledge. At other times there may be a focus on development of a deep devotion through the practices associated with the Yoga of love and devotion. Yet again, there are periods of dedicated, selfless work in the world as the seeker takes up the Yoga of works. The result of each practice adds to the completeness and integrality of the yogic realisation and ensures thereby that the seeker recognizes the maxim “All life is Yoga”.

Because the life in the world is seen as a real manifestation of the Divine, the human being is seen as part of the evolutionary development of the Divine’s intention, and thus, the various capacities are to be supported, raised up and perfected so that the individual can actively and consciously be an instrument of this divine action. Rather than abandoning the active life, the integral Yoga seeks to take it up and develop it, not for individual self-aggrandisement or for material gain, but for more effective participation in the evolutionary movement of the universe.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 1, The Principle of the Integral Yoga, pg. 583

Conclusions

We have completed our review of the third section of Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, focused on the Yoga of Love and Devotion, having previously reviewed the Yoga of Knowledge and the Yoga of Works. Each of the three primary paths of Yoga utilizes a particular capacity of the human being as the lever for the spiritual evolutionary action. Due to the differences in the capacity relied upon in each path, there is a different core focus and a different set of criteria for each one. We cannot say that any one of the three is “better” than the other two for spiritual realisation. In fact, a particular individual may find that there are various stages in the progress that call forth the focus and capacities of one or the other of these paths to achieve a particular step along the way.

Sri Aurobindo has clearly described the practice of the Yoga of love and devotion and has shown that someone starting with this path will eventually need to incorporate both knowledge and the will in works to achieve an integral development of the entire being and achieve unification, not only with the static, unmoving Impersonal but also with the Personal manifestation of the Divine. He has also described the power of this path to achieve complete realisation. Just as Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita treats total devotion as the “supreme secret”, Sri Aurobindo concurs and elaborates on this path in terms of the intensity and intimacy it develops as the seeker works to achieve union with the Divine in all ways and aspects of his being.

The fourth and final section of The Synthesis of Yoga takes up one of Sri Aurobindo’s unique contributions to the science of Yoga when it focuses on the “Yoga of Self Perfection”. That section builds upon the capacities of each of the traditional paths of Yoga to bring about a total transformation of the individual within the framework of the universal manifestation. The world is not treated as a pure “illusion” from which one needs to escape, but is treated as “reality omnipresent” that embodies the Divine in all names, forms and forces, and treats the individual as a unique aspect of this Divine manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Conclusions

The Way of Love and the Supreme Liberation

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna declares the “supreme secret” to be total devotion to the Supreme in all ways and aspects of the being: “Become my-minded, my lover and adorer, a sacrificer to Me, bow thyself to Me, to Me thou shalt come, this is my pledge and promise to thee, for dear art thou to Me. Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone. I will deliver thee from all sin and evil, do not grieve.” (Sri Aurobindo, Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, ch. 18, v. 65-66, pg. 286)

The way of the Bhakta is able to bring about the highest forms of liberation from the bondage of action. Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “Thus universalised, personalised, raised to its intensities, made all-occupying, all-embracing, all-fulfilling, the way of love and delight gives the supreme liberation.”

“We have the absolute union of the divine with the human spirit…; in that reveals itself a content of all that depends here upon difference,–but there the difference is only a form of oneness,–Ananda too of nearness and contact and mutual presence,… Ananda of mutual reflection, the thing that we call likeness,…, and other wonderful things too for which language has as yet no name. There is nothing which is beyond the reach of the God-lover or denied to him; for he is the favourite of the divine Lover and the self of the Beloved.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pg. 579

Love As the Central Foundation of Divine Realisation

Those who practice the traditional Yoga of devotion eventually reach a stage where the passionate and intense embrace of the Divine Lover is the central focus of their life and action. This element is also true for the seeker of the integral Yoga; however, the integral practitioner will naturally incorporate the elements of knowledge and works into his development. This implies a certain less intense and exclusive nature of the relationship of love, as these other elements claim time, attention and focus as well. The central foundation of the development of knowledge and works in the seeker who starts from love and devotion remains the intensity of the personal relationship developed through the aspect of love.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “The growing of the love of God must carry with it in him an expansion of the knowledge of God and of the action of the divine Will in his nature and living. The divine Lover reveals himself; he takes possession of the life. But still the essential relation will be that of love from which all things flow, love passionate, complete, seeking a hundred ways of fulfilment, every means of mutual possession, a million facets of the joy of union. All the distinctions of the mind, all its barriers and “cannot be”‘s, all the cold analyses of the reason are mocked at by this love or they are only used as the tests and fields and gates of union. Love comes to us in many ways; it may come as an awakening to the beauty of the Lover, by the sight of an ideal face and image of him, by his mysterious hints to us of himself behind the thousand faces of things in the world, by a slow or sudden need of the heart, by a vague thirst in the soul, by the sense of someone near us drawing us or pursuing us with love or of someone blissful and beautiful whom we must discover.”

We may even find that “…the lover whom we think not of, may pursue us, may come upon us in the midst of the world and seize on us for his own whether at first we will or no.” All of the possible relations, including those of the enemy, may open the door for the development of love. All human emotions related to the experience of love, including stages of jealousy, confusion, misunderstanding, and feelings of abandonment or separation, may arise at one time or another in the process.

“We throw up all the passions of the heart against him, till they are purified into a sole ecstasy of bliss and oneness. … Our higher and our lower members are both flooded with it [love], the mind and life no less than the soul: even the physical body takes its share of the joy, feels the touch, is filled in all its limbs, veins, nerves with the flowing of the wine of the ecstasy, amrta. Love and Ananda are the last word of being, the secret of secrets, the mystery of mysteries.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 578-579

Aspects of the Personal Relationship of the Seeker with the Divine

The relationship between the individual and the Divine is not limited to one particular form in the Yoga of love and devotion. There are a number of relations, any of which may be predominant at one time or another. They all enter into the complex and rich tapestry of love and intimacy which the human individual has with the Divine Personality. These aspects represent the deepening and widening of the Yoga of love and devotion.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “He is the friend, the adviser, helper, saviour in trouble and distress, the defender from enemies, the hero who fights our battles for us or under whose shield we fight, the charioteer, the pilot of our ways. And here we come at once to a closer intimacy; he is the comrade and eternal companion, the playmate of the game of living. But still there is so far a certain division, however pleasant, and friendship is too much limited by the appearance of beneficence. The lover can wound, abandon, be wroth with us, seem to betray, yet our love endures and even grows by these oppositions; they increase the joy of reunion and the joy of possession; through them the lover remains the friend, and all that he does, we find in the end, has been done by the lover and helper of our being for our soul’s perfection as well as for his joy in us. These contradictions lead to a greater intimacy. He is the father and mother too of our being, its source and protector and its indulgent cherisher and giver of our desires. He is the child born to our desire whom we cherish and rear. All these things the lover takes up; his love in its intimacy and oneness keeps in it the paternal and maternal care and lends itself to our demands upon it. All is unified in that deepest many-sided relation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 8, The Mystery of Love, pp. 577-578