Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice — Introduction


“All life is yoga”. While many believe that yoga is a series of physical exercises, or consists of specific practices taken up as part of one’s daily life, Sri Aurobindo set forth an entirely different understanding and methodology which seeks to take up every aspect of our life and existence, to bring conscious self-aware attention to every movement, feeling, emotion and thought that we experience. As we take up this yogic practice, we begin to understand that each of the paths of yoga that have heretofore been popularized focuses on a particular aspect or side of human life. Those who take up the practice of one or another of these paths are addressing a particular need or concentration, in many cases to the exclusion of other, equally essential, aspects of human life. One of the results of this exclusive concentration can be the abandonment of the normal worldly life. Another is the pigeonholing of the practice into a small segment of one’s activities, while the normal life goes on unchanged. In both of these cases, most of our existence is left untouched and unchanged.

Why practice yoga in the first place? Sri Aurobindo describes the evolution of consciousness, the limitations of our current stage in that process, and the potentiality of the human being, with self-aware and directed action, to participate in the development and manifestation of the next phase of evolutionary development. This focused action is the practice of what he terms an “integral yoga”, meaning that it takes up all of life and every aspect of human existence. Yoga is a form of applied psychology, where certain movements of consciousness work to unravel the complex and tangled actions and reactions of life, and provide coherence in the direction of greater consciousness aligned with the larger significance of the universal manifestation. Western scientists would consider this to be a separation of “signal” from background “noise” in our lives, to accentuate and emphasize the power of the signal.

The current volume explores the philosophy and principles of the integral yoga, provides clarity for how it compares to the traditional paths of yoga, and then takes up the actual implementations for the physical, vital, emotional, mental, and psychic and spiritual aspects of our human existence. As a background, Sri Aurobindo went into an intense concentrated state of his yogic practice from the mid-1920’s through 1950. During the 1930’s a number of disciples came and joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Aurobindo corresponded with them to reply to their specific inquiries and needs. While he cautioned that advice he provided to one person for a specific situation might not necessarily apply to another in a different situation, certain major thematic views emerged which have been carefully organized and compiled in the current text.

The editors note: “This compilation consists of letters by Sri Aurobindo on various aspects of his spiritual teaching and method of yogic practice. Parts 1 to 4 deal mainly with the philosophical and psychological foundations of the teaching. Parts 5 to 11 with the method of practice, and Part 12 with elements of both. Sri Aurobindo called his system the ‘Integral Yoga’ because it proposed ‘a union (yoga) in all parts of our being with the Divine and a consequent transmutation of all their now jarring elements into the harmony of a higher divine consciousness and existence.’. “

Sri Aurobindo calls us to what he terms an “adventure of consciousness”. The current text is intended to aid in our understanding and exploration of consciousness and the entire significance of our life and human development. Humanity is struggling today with the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the development and expression of the mental consciousness. The limitations of the mental view, which remains very much in service to the physical needs and vital desires of the material and life gradations of consciousness, have pushed humanity to an existential crisis, with the earth in the throes of the sixth mass extinction, and the balance of life now placed fully at risk. The solution cannot come through technology, mental ideas or the wide variety of competing ideologies that each focus on one aspect without taking it account the complexity of life and existence. It must come through the development of a new expression of consciousness, a consciousness of oneness and interconnection, that brings a new and deeper level of harmony to all existence. Sri Aurobindo holds that self-aware human beings can consciously participate in this evolutionary process, and it is the practice of the integral yoga to help bring about this solution to the current crises.

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Introduction

Sri Aurobindo’s and Related Writings on Apple iTunes for IPhone and IPad:


Sri Aurobindo’s and Related Writings on Apple iTunes for IPhone and IPad:

We continue to add more titles to this list on an ongoing basis, so please check back regularly for additional titles.  We also supply a large number of titles for Amazon Kindle and Google Play which are listed separately.  Below find the links to the e-book versions available at this time on Apple iTunes:

By Sri Aurobindo:

Bases of Yoga                                      Bases of Yoga

 Essays on the Gita                              Essays on the Gita

 The Mother                                        The Mother

 Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol         Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol

 By The Mother:

 Commentaries on the Dhammapada  Commentaries on the Dhammapada

 By Sri M. P. Pandit:

 An Early Chapter in The Mother’s Life   Early Chapter in The Mother’s Life

 Art of Living                                        Art of Living

 Bases of Tantra Sadhana                   Bases of Tantra Sadhana

 Commentaries on Sri Aurobindo’s Thought, V. 1  Commentaries Sri Aurobindo’s Thought, V. 1

 Dhyana                                               Dhyana

 Heart of Sadhana                               Heart of Sadhana

 How Do I Proceed?                             How Do I Proceed?

 Introducing The Life Divine               Introducing The Life Divine

 Introducing Savitri                             Introducing Savitri

 Japa                                                    Japa

Kundalini Yoga                                   Kundalini Yoga

Readings in Savitri, V. 1                     Readings in Savitri, V. 1

 Readings in Savitri, V. 2                     Readings in Savitri, V. 2

 Readings in Savitri, V. 3                     Readings in Savitri, V. 3

 Readings in Savitri, V. 4                     Readings in Savitri, V. 4

 Readings in Savitri, V. 5                     Readings in Savitri, V. 5

 Readings in Savitri, V. 7                     Readings in Savitri, V. 7

 Readings in Savitri, V. 8                     Readings in Savitri, V. 8

Readings in Savitri, V. 9                     Readings in Savitri, V. 9

 Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga               Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga

 A Summary of Savitri                         A Summary of Savitri

 Talks on The Life Divine, V. 1             Talks on The Life Divine, V. 1

 Teachings of Sri Aurobindo               Teachings of Sri Aurobindo

Thoughts on the Gita                         Thoughts on the Gita

 By Santosh Krinsky:

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 1  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine,V. 1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 2 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, V. 2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, Vol. 3 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, V. 3

Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo:               Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth and Karma:   Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Rebirth &  Karma

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita,V.1 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V.1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V. 2 Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita, V.2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 1  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 1

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 2  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 2

Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga, V. 3  Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga, V. 3

 By Rand Hicks:

A Savitri Dictionary                            A Savitri Dictionary

Rev. 6/11/17

Sri Aurobindo’s Writings Available as E-Books for Amazon Kindle Readers or App


The Amazon Kindle is perhaps the most popular e-book reader in the world, and the APP works on desktop computers, laptops, android phones, tablets etc. The APP can be downloaded free from We are systematically making Sri Aurobindo’s writings available for the Kindle App and Readers. Here are a few of them, with more links to be provided soon:

Bhagavad Gita and Its Message Bhagavad Gita and Its Message
Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga (compiled by M P Pandit) Dictionary of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga
Essays on the Gita Essays on the Gita
The Future Evolution of Man The Future Evolution of Man
Hidden Forces of Life (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Hidden Forces of Life
The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development
The Ideal of Human Unity The Ideal of Human Unity
Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice Integral Yoga
The Life Divine The Life Divine
Looking from Within (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Looking from Within
The Mind of Light The Mind of Light (The Supramental Manifestation on Earth)
The Mother The Mother
Our Many Selves (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Our Many Selves
Powers Within (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Powers Within
The Psychic Being (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Psychic Being
Rebirth and Karma Rebirth and Karma
Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol
Secret of the Veda Secret of the Veda
Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra (compiled by M P Pandit) Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra
The Synthesis of Yoga The Synthesis of Yoga
The Upanishads The Upanishads
Vedic Symbolism (compiled by M P Pandit) Vedic Symbolism
Yoga of Sleep and Dreams (compiled by AS Dalal from writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Yoga of Sleep and Dreams

By Sri M P Pandit:
Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga Sri Aurobindo and His Yoga
Teaching of Sri Aurobindo Teaching of Sri Aurobindo



Bases of Yoga BASES OF YOGA
Essays on the Gita ESSAYS ON THE GITA
The Human Cycle: Psychology of Social Development The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development
Ideal of Human Unity IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY
The Mind of Light THE MIND OF LIGHT
Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol  Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol
Sri Aurobindo on the Tantra SRI AUROBINDO ON THE TANTRA
The Synthesis of Yoga THE SYNTHESIS OF YOGA

For Android Phones, Tablets, and E-Readers

Sri Aurobindo Studies


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 post the daily blog entries also to our facebook page:

We also have a daily twitter feed on Sri Aurobindo’s studies at

We have systematically worked our way through The Life Divine as well as The Mother , Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development  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 as of today.

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 Upanshads 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, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Ideal of Human Unity and The Human Cycle: Psychology of Social Development.

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 4 volumes  for the Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Synthesis of Yoga as well as Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Ideal of Human Unity and Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Human Cycle, Readings in Sri Aurobindo’s The Future Evolution of Man.  .You can find the Readings series at Lotus Press

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 , 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 Existence of Mental, Vital and Physical Planes of Existence Independent of the Material World

Where do life and mind come from in the material world? How does inanimate Matter become the basis out of which life evolves? Western science, at a loss as to this process, simply has speculated that given enough time, the chemical/electrical interaction of material forces will spawn life and eventually, through random chance, bring about the advancements of the mind and intellect that we observe in the world today. All of this, however, begs the question about the constitution of Matter itself, its internal mathematical precision and laws of functioning, and the intelligence that creates and organises it.

Sri Aurobindo’s solution was to point out that nothing can evolve that has not been already involved, and thus, the consciousness that creates Matter has also involved the principles of Life and Mind into the material substance so that eventually they could manifest, as the tree grows from the embedded principles packed into the genetic makeup in the seed. This presupposes that there is a mental world or plane, and a vital world or plane where the native action of those principles is functioning in its own right.

Research and experience by scientists, yogism mystics and researchers in the field of consciousness support these conclusions. Many have reported the experience of other realms or worlds that operate on principles other than the limitations imposed in the material world. Sometimes in dream there may come an experience of a vital world. Some scientists report going into a different space of consciousness, unlinked from their physical bodies, bringing back with them new insights that lead to progress in their field of advancement. C.G. Jung’s work studying the “collective unconscious” also indicates an independent repository of shared experience that obviously falls outside the realm of the individual expressions of life and mind that we ordinarily treat as our reality.

Scientific progress in the field of quantum physics yields results, such as what is called quantum entanglement, that defy the logic of the material world’s boundaries and take us into realms of consciousness operating independently of the physical substance of the material world.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There is a vital plane (self-existent) above the material universe which we see; there is a mental plane (self-existent) above the vital and material. These three together, — mental, vital, physical, — are called the triple universe of the lower hemisphere. They have been established in the earth-consciousness by evolution — but they exist in themselves before the evolution, above the earth-consciousness and the material plane to which the earth belongs.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 51-56

The Influence of the Circumconscient Environmental Consciousness

The paradigm that has ruled Western psychology has focused on treating the individual as a discrete entity, separate and apart from everyone else, and independent of his environment. Pressure may be exerted by societal influences, economic influences or family relationships and expectations, but the individual has been treated as a self-standing entity capable of making his own determinations and choosing what to do, or not to do. C.G. Jung began to break down the absoluteness of this paradigm with his focus on the collective unconscious and the influences that arose from that source and impacted how individuals would respond or react. Yet the reality of our interaction with the universal forces and other beings is far more complex than Western science has fully acknowledged. It is not truly possible to gain full insight, understanding and mastery without a more complete view of the relationship between the individual and the subconscient, superconscient and circumconscient, or environmental, consciousness.

Researchers have shown that there is an “energy field” surrounding the human body. It can be enhanced or depleted, based on factors such as the emotional state, psychological state, physical health, etc. of the individual. This energy field acts as a gateway for both communicating feelings and emotions or thought-forms to others, or to receive in those from others. In addition, universal forces that circulate in the world find their access to the individual from there.

We can see examples of these universal forces taking hold of large segments of humanity when we observe panic reactions to global pandemics, or the development of mobs incited to violence, where individuals later report that they participated in things that were entirely uncharacteristic of their own ideas and feelings as they were “carried away by the energy of the mob”. On a more individual scale, one can be influenced by forces of desire, fear, greed, hunger that are moving generally in the world around one and have one’s mood and responses changed as a result of what are usually unseen and unrecognised interactions.

In terms of sadhana, the practice of yoga, the ability to distinguish what is coming in from outside, and how it is impacting the various parts of one’s being is both important and necessary as it is easier to deal with these forces as external to oneself than to treat them as if they belong to one as an individual. This represents an important distinction from the guilt and suppression techniques that have characterised a number of Western spiritual practices of the past, and a new appreciation of the need to monitor and deny entry to these forces within oneself.

Sri Aurobindo recounted a major realisation he had when he sat for meditation and was able to see thoughts entering from outside and by rejecting them, was able to achieve the silent mind, a basis for opening to higher planes of conscious awareness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “By environmental consciousness I mean something that each man carries around him, outside his body, even when he is not aware of it, — by which he is in touch with others and with the universal forces. It is through this that the thoughts, feelings etc. of others pass to enter into one — it is through this also that waves of the universal force — desire, sex, etc. come in and take possession of the mind, vital or body.”

“They [the subconscient and the environmental consciousness] are two quite different things. What is stored in the subconscient — impressions, memories, rise up from there into the conscious parts. In the environmental things are not stored up and fixed, although they move about there. It is full of mobility, a field of vibration or passage of forces.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

Can Human Beings Change?

We try, as human individuals, to make changes in our lives. Self-help information proliferates, and people try numerous methods to change various habits, cravings and directions in their lives. We have a proverb that it is harder to change human nature than to straighten out a dog’s tail, which implies that, in the end, it is not possible. Strategies we employ include attempting to force change through will-power, suppression of habits we would like to eliminate, and a variety of disciplines that attempt to harness one or another power of our nature to bring about change.

If we observe closely, we can in fact see that change is not only possible, but a part of the human experience. We continue to grow and strive to be more than we are today, and some of the strategies we employ show results. Yet we continue to be plagued by struggles against habits and cravings, pressure to conform to the expectations of our social setting –family, community, society — and confusion about the methods we employ. Suppression, it turns out, may yield short-term apparent results, but generally leads to a return, with more powerful action in many cases, of the action being suppressed. Yo-yo dieting is an example of the failure of artificial suppression. We try to utilize shame, or fear of punishment, or on the flip-side, promised rewards, to bring about change, but all of these have their own down sides in terms of long-term substantive change.

It takes a more precise and deeper understanding of human nature to bring about effective results and one of the first steps is to recognise that we can separate ourselves from our external being and not get caught up in its actions and reactions. This separation allows us to act upon the external nature without being enmeshed and having to struggle to change what we would otherwise identify as our own being, our own personality, a something that makes us “who we are”.

This separation of consciousness also helps us to observe the impact of the surrounding and impinging forces that put pressure on us to respond and conform. The witness consciousness, the separation of our inner being from our external mind, life and body, provides us leverage to recognise the power of these external forces and to thereby limit the influence of those which seek to hold back the necessary progress.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The outer being is a means of expression only, not one’s self. One must not identify with it, for what it expresses is a personality formed by the old ignorant nature. If not identified one can change it so as to express the true inner personality of the Light.”

“The individual is not limited to the physical body — it is only the external consciousness which feels like that. As soon as one gets over this feeling of limitation, one can feel first the inner consciousness which is connected with the body, but does not belong to it, afterwards the planes of consciousness above the body, also a consciousness surrounding the body, but part of oneself, part of the individual being, through which one is in contact with the cosmic forces and with other beings. The last is what I have called the environmental consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

Experiencing the Shift of Consciousness from the Outer Being to the Inner Being

There is a complete reversal of consciousness that occurs when the inner being opens and the awareness shifts inward. It may be experienced as a separation of an observer watching all the actions and events in the outer world, including the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and outer stimuli that impinge upon the being. Suddenly one might feel transported into a different state of awareness where the outer actions seem to be somewhat illusory or unreal. This seems to be one of the experiences that led to the development of the concept of the illusion of the world. Or one may be transported into a psychological space of peace or intense devotion.

For some people it comes when they experience a crisis, such as a near death experience. Suddenly they awaken into the world with new senses, and they experience the Divine consciously within them, around them, surrounding and supporting everything that exists, and they are at peace. Sometimes the inner doors open through meditation, through various practices of chanting or pranayama, or devotional intensity as well. There is a long history of seekers going on vision quests to break free of the bondage of the outer world and its calls to experience a deeper reality.

However the experience comes, it has the power to transform the life of the individual who has been granted that grace. While one lives constantly in the outer reality of the world the idea is that these experiences are simply dreams or hallucinations. But once the experience of the inner consciousness opens, it becomes clear that there is an even greater sense of reality that abides with it than with the things of the outer world.

We see many people who become disillusioned with their seeking after wealth, enjoyment, power in the world and begin to recognise that there is a deeper significance to their lives. They respond to the inner call, and get glimpses, initially, and then, over time, the consciousness, the awareness shifts to the inner being and a new sense of purpose, joy and connectedness takes over the being. Some reject the consciousness of the external world at this point and work towards liberation. Sri Aurobindo’s yoga calls for an integration and a transformation of the experience of the outer world through application of this new standpoint and consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “There are always two different consciousnesses in the human being, one outward in which he ordinarily lives, the other inward and concealed of which he knows nothing. When one does sadhana, the inner consciousness begins to open and one is able to go inside and have all kinds of experiences there. As the sadhana progresses, one begins to live more and more in this inner being and the outer becomes more and more superficial. At first the inner consciousness seems to be the dream and the outer the waking reality. Afterwards the inner consciousness becomes the reality and the outer is felt by many as a dream or delusion, or else as something superficial and external. The inner consciousness begins to be a place of deep peace, light, happiness, love, closeness to the Divine or the presence of the Divine, the Mother. One is then aware of two consciousnesses, the inner one and the outer which has to be changed into its counterpart and instrument — that also must become full of peace, light, union with the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

The Surface Being and the Inner Being

For most people, their lives are focused on the external world and their inner life consists mainly of brooding over or planning actions within that context. Even the distinction between extrovert and introvert is primarily a difference in ways of response to the world. The extrovert tends to be social and outgoing, while the introvert may be more indrawn and focused on the internal monologue about their external reality. Success, enjoyment, satisfaction of needs and desires, comfort, safety, family and friends, and the socialization process within the society are the primary issues that occupy those focused on the outer world.

Spiritual seekers experience a different inner reality which puts them in contact with the soul, the eternal portion of our existence. This is not a matter of sense perception, intellectual conceptualization or emotional or vital excitement, but a palpable, self-evident knowledge by identity. When one experiences the inner self, there is no doubt about the validity of what has occurred. The outer being is filled with doubt and uncertainty because it tries to achieve knowledge through assembling perceptions and facts and then organizing them and marshalling ideas about them into a logical format. This process is subject to all the limitations of sense perception, the linear processes of the mental action, and the frame within which these things all take place. The inner being dispenses with all of these limited forms and has direct contact with the divine presence. There is no debate about the existence or non-existence of the soul for the person who has actual experience, just as there is no debate about the energy of the sun.

When we experience the existence of the soul, and correlate it with the evolution of consciousness, the reality and process of rebirth as the mechanism for the soul and its development becomes obvious as well. Sri Aurobindo has devoted considerable explanation in Rebirth and Karma and in The Life Divine to this subject.

As long as we remain fixed in the surface being, we remain limited, and stuck in a never-ending round of pleasure and pain, joy and grief, attraction and repulsion, desire and fear, the dualities that create the framework and basis of the outer life. When one enters into the soul-experience, all of these dualities take on a subordinate significance as the divine standpoint transforms the response to outer events.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There are, we may say, two beings in us, one on the surface, our ordinary exterior mind, life, body consciousness, another behind the veil, an inner mind, an inner life, an inner physical consciousness constituting another or inner self. This inner self once awake opens in its turn to our true real eternal self. It opens inwardly to the soul, called in the language of this yoga the psychic being which supports our successive births and at each birth assumes a new mind, life and body. It opens above to the Self or Spirit which is unborn and by conscious recovery of it we transcend the changing personality and achieve freedom and full mastery over our nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

Understanding and Distinguishing the Complex Makeup of Human Nature

Everything we experience is filtered through the mind. For daily life, it may not be essential to go much deeper into the question, although even there some amount of awareness can be helpful, such as when one experiences pain, the actual cause needs to be determined to resolve the issue properly. When one confronts the need to bring about change and gain mastery over our lives, which is one of the aims of the integral yoga, then it becomes essential to understand from whence particular thoughts, feelings, emotions, impulses, perceptions arise and their causes so that an appropriate line of action or response can be determined.

Medical practitioners in particular find it necessary to distinguish the source of any symptom. One reports a headache, and the practitioner will set about to try and determine which of the hundreds of potential causes has created the headache. Is it caused by a particular type of daily stress, what we call a tension headache, or is it possibly due to a digestive failure or has there been a blow to the head, or possibly a tumor or a stroke? Is there an organ system that has a serious chronic problem? Only after the cause is determined can the appropriate treatment be recommended.

When a seeker attempts to meditate, there is the experience that the bodily discomforts, nervous impulses, feelings of hunger or thirst, fear, anxiety, the hankerings of desires and plans for the future all come to the forefront. The seeker then reports that there is no way to control the running of the unruly mind and develops strategies to observe but not get involved, or turn the attention elsewhere and disregard these rising impressions or thoughts. From another perspective however it becomes possible to actually dramatically reduce the disruptions to the meditation when one recognizes the different parts of the being and begins to untangle the knot of impulses that seem impossible to sort out in the mind. Experienced practitioners have given advice based on a deeper understanding when they tell the seeker to choose a comfortable seat in a location that is neither too hot nor too cold, nor too dry or damp or windy, without excessive noise or visual distractions, and not to undertake excessive fasting nor excessive eating or drinking, to practice moderation in one’s life habits and cultivate equanimity. These represent ways of bringing the body and its needs into balance, the nervous sheath into a state of calm and the emotions into harmony, thus freeing the mind of the seeker to focus the attention on the true object of the meditation.

Sri Aurobindo takes up the issue of the parts of the being and the origination of impulses experienced in the mind in great detail. Extensive review led him to describe the different parts and planes of the being, their various ways of acting and reacting and the way to distinguish between them when impulses arise in the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Men do not know themselves and have not learned to distinguish the different parts of their being; for these are usually lumped together by them as mind, because it is through a mentalised perception and understanding that they know or feel them; therefore they do not understand their own states and actions, or, if at all, then only on the surface. It is part of the foundation of yoga to become conscious of the great complexity of our nature, see the different forces that move it and get over it a control of directing knowledge. We are composed of many parts each of which contributes something to the total movement of our consciousness, our thought, will, sensation, feeling, action, but we do not see the origination or the course of these impulsions; we are aware only of their confused and pell-mell results on the surface upon which we can at best impose nothing better than a precarious shifting order.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 48-51

The Worlds and Planes of Consciousness

We tend to take for granted the feelings, emotions, ideas, thoughts, creative impulses, imaginations, insights, inspirations and intuitions we experience. We do not generally try to find out the source of these things, or how they come to be known to or experienced by us. We treat our bodies as some kind of a “black box” that simply “does” these things.

If we look more deeply however, it becomes clear that inanimate Matter, and the mixing of a few chemical reactions, cannot explain any of these things. It also becomes clear that a 3 or 4 year old musical prodigy, such as Mozart, must have access to another well of knowing than simply the development of physical musical skills. There are other unexplained situations such as the frequently reported out of body experience. Where does our awareness “go” when it leaves the body? Near death experiences, with documented clinical death, and a subsequent return to life in the body also poses questions for researchers. What is the source of the experiences so often reported by those who have died and returned in this way? The creative process also has raised substantive questions about the source of creativity and our methods of reaching out and channeling that creativity into our waking life.

When we question scientists, creative artists, musicians, poets, inventors, sages, yogis, mystics and visionaries, we find that they all report, one way or another, the shifting of their awareness, the opening of their consciousness to sources of inspiration from elsewhere, from outside themselves. Sri Aurobindo reported, and made a powerful tool of his yogic practice, the observation of thoughts entering the mind from outside, which he then was able to reject and allow the mind to fall into a receptive silence.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The physical is not the only world; there are others that we become aware of through dream records, through the subtle senses, through influences and contacts, through imagination, intuition and vision. There are worlds of a larger subtler life than ours, vital worlds; words in which Mind builds its own forms and figures, mental worlds; psychic worlds which are the soul’s home; others above with which we have little contact. In each of us there is a mental plane of consciousness, a psychic, a vital, a subtle physical as well as the gross physical and material plane. The same planes are repeated in the consciousness of general Nature. It is when we enter or contact these other planes that we come into connection with the worlds above the physical.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 46-48

The Occult Action and Interaction of the Planes of Existence

From a superficial perspective it is virtually impossible to understand the development of consciousness from Matter to Life, and from Life to Mind, and beyond. We now recognize that our beliefs and actions are conditioned by factors unseen and essentially unknown to us. C. G. Jung described the “collective unconscious” where many factors, not obvious to our conscious minds, lead us to act and react to situations, people and circumstances, including desires, tendencies, and impulsions of various sorts.

Sri Aurobindo takes the study of the occult interactions to a much more detailed level. He notes that contrary to the Western approach to things, creation comes from the higher, subtler planes and influences and modifies those that are lower and denser. Nothing can be created in the material world that has not been initiated and inserted here by the higher planes and worlds. The material plane conditions the result through its native characteristics and limitations so there is a complex interaction between the higher force and the lower material upon which it is set to work. The result is something other than the purest form of either one.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “If we regard the gradation of worlds or planes as a whole, we see them as a great connected complex movement; the higher precipitate their influences on the lower, the lower react to the higher and develop or manifest in themselves within their own formula something that corresponds to the superior power and its action. The material world has evolved life in obedience to a pressure from the mental plane. It is now trying to evolve supermind in obedience to a pressure from the supramental plane. In more detail, particular forces, movements, powers, beings of a higher world can throw themselves on the lower to establish appropriate and corresponding forms which will connect them with the material domain and, as it were, reproduce or project their action here. And each thing created here has, supporting it, subtler envelopes or forms of itself which make it subsist and connect it with forces acting from above. Man, for instance, has, besides his gross physical body, subtler sheaths or bodies by which he lives behind the veil in direct connection with supraphysical planes of consciousness and can be influenced by their powers, movements and beings. What takes place in life has always behind it pre-existent movements and forms in the occult vital planes; what takes place in mind presupposes pre-existent movements and forms in the occult mental planes. That is an aspect of things which becomes more and more evident, insistent and important, the more we progress in a dynamic yoga.”

“But all this must not be taken in too rigid and mechanical a sense. It is an immense plastic movement full of the play of possibilities and must be seized by a flexible and subtle tact or sense in the seeing consciousness. It cannot be reduced to a too rigorous logical or mathematical formula.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 46-48

Planes of Consciousness and Their Role in the Creation

We generally try to understand things from our own individual perspective, yet this perspective is severely limited and cannot fully comprehend or appreciate the larger forces at work or the complete significance of the creation. If we make the shift to the divine standpoint, however, we can begin to appreciate the organisation of the universal creation and the specific position and role of the individual beings and forms that make up that creation.

From the divine standpoint, consciousness is universal and consistent, transcending the actual manifestations we experience in the creation within which we exist. It takes on different forms, and carries out a variety of different actions, as part of its larger play of creation.

We can see that there are gradations of the manifested consciousness in forms that are, in and of themselves, “typal”; that is, they represent a very specific stage in the expression of consciousness and are themselves not subject to change and development. They exist, carry out their function and make up a matrix of existence without themselves growing beyond the limits self-imposed upon their type. There are also evolutionary beings, those that can exceed and grow beyond the initial limits placed upon them, and who thereby act as change actions in the expression of the universal creation. Human beings generally fall into the category of evolutionary beings and our characteristics of self-awareness and aspiration beyond our initial station represent the signs of this evolutionary urge.

When we start our review from the individual perspective, we fail to appreciate the subtle and significant variations in the expression of consciousness brought about by the different environments and conditions within which it is being put forth. The result of this is that we overlook the action of consciousness in other planes of existence if it does not meet our limited definition. Consciousness is not limited to the action of the mind. There is consciousness involved deeply in the material world, which can be seen when we observe the atomic structure, or the functioning of the suns, planets and other celestial bodies following principles of existence rooted in mathematical precision. There is consciousness involved in the vital plane of life, as can be noted through the symbiotic relationships that make all life part of a mutually-dependent web. We can look upon Matter, Life and Mind as planes of existence, each with its own characteristic framework and laws of action, as well as expression of consciousness conditioned by the characteristic operations of each plane. Further planes of consciousness, such as the Supramental, would similarly have their own method and ways of expression.

While Western science has held that life and consciousness derived somehow from inanimate Matter, it is clear that it is consciousness itself that is primary and that it creates the various planes, their conditions, the exact mode and form of the expression of consciousness required by that plane, and their interactions, rather than the other way round.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The gradations of consciousness are universal states not dependent on the outlook of the subjective personality; rather the outlook of the subjective personality is determined by the grade of consciousness in which it is organised according to its typal nature or its evolutionary stage.”

“It will be evident that by consciousness is meant something which is essentially the same throughout but variable in status, condition and operation, in which in some grades or conditions the activities we call consciousness can exist either in a suppressed or an unorganised or a different organised state; while in other states some other activities may manifest which in us are suppressed, unorganised or latent or else are less perfectly manifested, less intensive, extended and powerful than in those higher grades above our highest mental limit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 46-48

The Creation of the Worlds and the Cycles of Evolution

Entropy is a scientific theory that holds that the universe tends towards increasing disorder and dissolution over time, eventually having ordered patterns break down into randomness or chaos, and dissolution. While it is set forth in Western science as the second law of thermodynamics in a very specific way, it has taken on a much broader meaning when it is applied to the creation of the universe and its eventual dissolution. It is one of the key concepts that has ruled Western scientific thinking for a considerable period of time. This theory of entropy relies on the idea that the universe is wholly material in nature, consisting of Matter and Energy. It does not address the centrality of consciousness as the creating, informing and containing reality of existence, with Matter and Energy as specific results of consciousness, not the cause. It also assumes that Matter and Energy are a closed system and that there is nothing outside that framework that can create or add to it. For example, if we have a vehicle with fuel in it and set it in motion, it will run until the fuel runs out and then stop. If we don’t consider things further, we see this as an example of entropy. But if someone comes along and adds more fuel to the vehicle, it can start up again and we recognise that it is not entropy but a cyclical result of adding or decreasing available energy based on an actor outside the limits of the vehicle and its existing energy reserves.

If we look closely at creation, it does not seem that entropy is necessarily the end result of creation. There is a cycle of creation and dissolution and new creation, and through a deeper understanding of this pattern, we can see that the creation actually exhibits more order and complexity over time as it systematically evolves greater powers of consciousness into manifestation.

The process of creation is cyclical in nature as a large number of different levels, each with their own needs and characteristic lines of action, need to be harmonized to move everything forward in a balanced manner. Thus, an increase of the power of life energy requires suitable modifications to the physical forms that need to hold and utilize that energy. An influx of new mental powers requires changes to both the material form and the life energy. Progress must necessarily move step by step, as ascent to the next plane or level will require a period of integration into the foundation or basis upon which the progress is being built.

What may appear to us to be entropy therefore may actually be a period of integration that focuses on upgrading the prior levels so that the next advance can take place without breaking the entire system. The question then is one of perspective and time-frame of the view we take of the movement of the universal energy.

The ancient sages referred to vast periods of time called “yugas” which represented various stages of development or breakdown, and which cycled from dissolution to new creation and back again. Entropy in this case was seen as part of a cyclical process which eventually led to a new and increasing level of consciousness, organization and complexity, and not as an “end result”.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The cycles of evolution tend always upward, but they are cycles and do not ascend in a straight line. The process therefore gives the impression of a series of ascents and descents, but what is essential in the gains of the evolution is kept or, even if eclipsed for a time, re-emerges in new forms suitable to the new ages. The creation has descended all the degrees of being from the Supermind to Matter and in each degree it has created a world, reign, plane or order proper to that degree. In the creating of the material world there was a plunge of this descending Consciousness into an apparent Inconscience and an emergence of it out of that Inconscience, degree by degree, until it recovers its highest spiritual and supramental summits and manifests their powers here in Matter. But even in the Inconscience there is a secret consciousness which works, one may say, by an involved and hidden Intuition proper to itself.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 43-46