The Inner Guide and Master Of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo clarifies for us the living Guidance that leads the seeker through the transitions and transformations that take place in the course of the yogic practice. “As the supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every man, so its supreme Guide and Teacher is the inner Guide, the World-Teacher, jagad-guru, secret within us. It is he who destroys our darkness by the resplendent light of his knowledge; that light becomes within us the increasing glory of his own self-revelation. he discloses progressively in us his own nature of freedom, bliss, love, power, immortal being. He sets above us his divine example as our ideal and transforms the lower existence into a reflection of that which it contemplates. By the inpouring of his own influence and presence into us he enables the individual being to attain to identity with the universal and transcendent.”

From this description it becomes clear that the inner Guide is not the voice of reason, of desire, of conscience, or of the social and moral training that has been inculcated in us through the society’s norms and institutions. It is important to reflect on this, to avoid the pitfalls that can arise from accepting the justifications that surround the ego’s appropriation of the various drives and desires that arise within the being on an unceasing basis.

The issue of finding and following the true Guidance is one that all paths of Yoga try to address, whether through requiring adherence to certain rules of conduct, avoidance of various temptations and situations, or through coming under the control of an institutional programme or a recognised outer teacher or guru. In Raja Yoga, for instance, the preliminary practices of yama and niyama are set forth as essential in order to bring calm to the outer being and bring a sense of control and distance from the rising up of the forces of desire. There is a concern that without these practices as the foundation, the rising up of forces within the being through the practice of Yoga would lead to potential disaster, the inability of the vessel to hold the divine Energy.

The voice of the divine Guidance must be found within. For most, to begin with, it is like a gentle prompting, or a feeling of knowing what one is called upon to do. For many, it is a very quiet voice that does not have the insistence of the vital impulsions of desire, and does not argue as the mind of reason or intellect may be prone to do.

When we reflect deeply on Sri Aurobindo’s description, we are struck by the self-evident nature of the guidance. The predominant characteristics are light, overwhelming clarity and an ever-widening and heightening sense of increasing knowledge, and the impact this has on our entire being and action. A result will be the transition away from the bondage to the ego and the outer life of desire, and an increasing sense of Oneness with the entire existence, as well as a transcendence that takes us beyond these forms and forces.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pg. 55

The Practical Necessity For the Three Stages Of Development of Integral Yoga

In our usual goal-oriented approach to action, it is tempting to try to leap over the earlier stages and settle oneself in the final status that results from the practice of the integral Yoga. This is particularly true for those who have strong development of the mental capacities, as they take the acceptance of the thought in the mind as representing the actual result in the rest of the being.

The action of the three Gunas in the lower Nature continues and ensures that various movements will be either clouded by delusion or darkness, desire or fear, or the assurance of rightness, all of which actually count as obstacles to the complete realisation of the results of the yogic practice in the entire being.

The human instrument is also quite complex, and just because we “think” something, it does not mean that at the level of physical or vital reaction or response, that thought is effective and being carried out without deformation.

These issues lead Sri Aurobindo to conclude that the seeker should be prepared to follow through diligently and systematically on the three stages and give the changes that occur time to ripen and take firm hold of the entire being.

“It will not do, it cannot be safe or effective to begin with the last and highest alone. It would not be the right course, either, to leap prematurely from one to another. For even if from the beginning we recognise in mind and heart the Supreme, there are elements of the nature which long prevent the recognition from becoming realisation.”

“And even if realisation has begun, it may be dangerous to imagine or to assume too soon that we are altogether in the hands of the Supreme or acting as his instrument. That assumption may introduce a calamitous falsity; it may produce a helpless inertia or, magnifying the movements of the ego with the Divine Name, it may disastrously distort and ruin the whole course of the Yoga.”

Once the process of aspiration has begun, the next phase involves taking up each movement of the mind, heart, vital being and physical body and overcoming the resistance and obstructions they put up: “The mental energies, the heart’s emotions, the vital desires, the very physical being have to be compelled into the right attitude or trained to admit and answer to the right influences. It is only then, only when this has been truly done, that the surrender of the lower to the higher can be effected, because the sacrifice has become acceptable.”

“The personal will of the Sadhaka has first to seize on the egoistic energies and turn them towards the light and the right; once turned, he has still to train them to recognise that always, always to accept, always to follow that.” Once that step has been mainly accomplished, the egoistic personality still remains in evidence, but can begin to respond to the demands of the higher Force in the actions carried out. “At the end of the progress, with the progressive disappearance of egoism and impurity and ignorance, this last separation is removed; all in the individual becomes the divine working.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 53-55

The Ego-Consciousness and the Divine Consciousness In Yoga

As human beings, we act starting from a state of consciousness which treats the individual as the center of the universe. The thoughts, ideas, impulsions and actions we undertake we treat as originating with us, and we call them “our own”. Thus, in the first stage of the integral Yoga, when “personal effort” is called for, we are essentially starting from this standpoint and continuing to appropriate the efforts to ourselves.

Sri Aurobindo clarifies that this “personal effort” is a product of the illusion thus created by the status of the ego-consciousness. “Always indeed it is the higher Power that acts. Our sense of personal effort and aspiration comes from the attempt of the egoistic mind to identify itself in a wrong and imperfect way with the workings of the divine Force. It persists in applying to experience on a supernormal plane the ordinary terms of mentality which it applies to its normal experiences in the world.”

At a certain stage as the awareness grows and the transition to a divine standpoint takes hold, we recognize this truth: “Enlightenment brings to us the knowledge that the ego is only an instrument; we begin to perceive and feel that these things are our own in the sense that they belong to our supreme and integral Self, one with the Transcendent, not to the instrumental ego. Our limitations and distortions are our contribution to the working; the true power in it is the Divine’s.”

The second stage, in which we see the action of the Divine undertaking the Yoga comes through this recognition: “When the human ego realises that its will is a tool, its wisdom ignorance and childishness, its power an infant’s groping, its virtue a pretentious impurity, and learns to trust itself to that which transcends it, that is its salvation.”

The assertion of our independence and free will is also an illusion of the ego-consciousness: “The apparent freedom and self-assertion of our personal being to which we are so profoundly attached, conceal a most pitiable subjection to a thousand suggestions, impulsions, forces which we have made extraneous to our little person. Our ego, boasting of freedom, is at every moment the slave, toy and puppet of countless beings, powers, forces, influences in universal Nature.”

True freedom comes about when the ego surrenders its hold and we assume the Divine standpoint and allow that greater consciousness and will to act through us as an occasion or nexus of the universal action it has undertaken.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pg. 53

The Three Stages of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo identifies three stages that occur in the process of the integral Yoga in the seeker. These are not precisely delineated levels, but will tend to flow into one another and to some degree overlap or interleave each other. The first step is the turning of the aspiration towards the Divine in one form or another, and through one or another aspect or power of the being. This stage involves the personal effort of the seeker working to establish contact with the Divine Truth. Once the contact has been firmly established, there is an inflowing of knowledge, will, emotion and force from the Divine, filling the being, transforming the reactions and the responses, providing insight and a power of effective action. The third stage uses the transformed instrument to reach out and place that power into action as part of the transforming action of the world.

The personal effort is necessary during the first stage to seek and establish a solid relation to the Divine: “So long as the contact with the Divine is not in some considerable degree established, so long as there is not some measure of sustained identity…, the element of personal effort must normally predominate.”

As the seeker begins to move more into the second stage, the personal effort gives way to the Divine response: “But in proportion as this contact establishes itself, the Sadhaka must become conscious that a force other than his own, a force transcending his egoistic endeavor and capacity, is at work in him and to this Power he learns progressively to submit himself and delivers up to it the charge of his Yoga. In the end his own will and force become one with the higher Power; he merges them in the divine Will and its transcendent and universe Force. He finds it thenceforward presiding over the necessary transformation of his mental, vital and physical being with an impartial wisdom and provident effectivity of which the eager and interested ego is not capable.”

At this point the being is ready to act as a nexus for Divine action in the world: “It is when this identification and this self-merging are complete that the divine centre in the world is ready. Purified, liberated, plastic, illumined, it can begin to serve as a means for the direct action of a supreme Power in the larger Yoga of humanity or superhumanity, of the earth’s spiritual progression or its transformation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 52-53

Personal Effort In the Integral Yoga

The normal human life is characterized by action motivated primarily by the vital drives of desire and fear, attraction and repulsion. There is very little, if any, room in that life for turning the being toward the Divine and focusing on the effort needed to overcome the force of desire and the limitations of the ego-consciousness. It takes a conscious turning of the focus toward the Divine by the individual to start the path of developing a yogic life. This may come about through a variety of causes, including disappointment of desire, a recognition of the emptiness and transitory nature of the fruits of action in the world, an ambition to gain some kind of religious or occult power, or a philosophical understanding that ripens over time. There is even an instance where it happened that a thief, in attempting to hide from the authorities, took on the robes and actions of the spiritual seeker as a Sannyasin, and over time, began to have experiences that transformed his life into one of true spirituality!

Once the turn takes place, however, the next step required is the personal effort of the seeker. While it is true, ultimately, that the ego-personality is something of a fictional construct, and that “personal effort” eventually must be overcome, it is also true that the seeker starts from that point and an effort in the direction of the spiritual realisation is the impetus required to break out of the orbit of the egoistic round.

Sri Aurobindo describes this personal effort: “The first determining element of the Siddhi is, therefore, the intensity of the turning, the force which directs the soul inward. The power of aspiration of the heart, the force of the will, the concentration of the mind, the perseverance and determination of the applied energy are the measure of that intensity. The ideal Sadhaka should be able to say in the Biblical phrase, ‘My zeal for the Lord has eaten me up.’ It is this zeal for the Lord, utsaha, the zeal of the whole nature for its divine results…, the heart’s eagerness for the attainment of the Divine,–that devours the ego and breaks up the limitations of its petty and narrow mould for the full and wide reception of that which it seeks, that which, being universal, exceeds and, being transcendent, surpasses even the largest and highest individual self and nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 51-52

The Need For Freedom To Develop New Approaches In the Integral Yoga

The Integral Yoga represents a re-envisioning of the goal of the yogic endeavor when viewed from the light of the traditional paths of Yoga. Traditionally, the seeker practiced a particular sadhana and focused on achieving a specific goal, usually one that took the individual away from the active life and endeavor in the world. Those paths were suited, therefore, to a fixed and defined methodology. The Integral Yoga, inasmuch as it attempts to not only achieve liberation for the individual, but also to bring about a complete transformation of consciousness in the world, must necessarily attempt new things and thus, requires the freedom to experiment, to formulate in a new way, and to take up lines of action and issues normally eschewed by the more traditional paths.

Sri Aurobindo speaks to this point: “An absolute liberty of experience and of the restatement of knowledge in new terms and new combinations is the condition of its self-formation. Seeking to embrace all life in itself, it is in the position not of a pilgrim following the highroad to his destination, but, to that extent at least, of a path-finder hewing his way through a virgin forest.”

“By this Yoga we not only seek the Infinite, but we call upon the Infinite to unfold himself in human life. Therefore the Shastra of our Yoga must provide for an infinite liberty in the receptive human soul. A free adaptability in the manner and type of the individual’s acceptance of the Universal and Transcendent into himself is the riht condition for the full spiritual life in man.”

“…one may say that the perfection of the integral Yoga will come when each man is able to follow his own path of Yoga, pursuing the development of his own nature in its upsurging towards that which transcends the nature. For freedom is the final law and the last consummation.”

Clearly, the idea of taking up every aspect, every movement, every energy and every power within one’s life, re-directing them, and transforming their action, is a daunting concept. If applied without proper focus and inner sincerity, it can easily lead to a loose and undisciplined view that, rather than following a narrower but more sure path, simply gets confused and misguided, with hidden springs of desire telling the mind what it wants to hear to justify a lack of effort and the untransformed life of desire-filled action. Freedom is not a recipe for “license”, but for a more intense effort and sincerity.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 50-51

Systems and Methods in the Practice of Yoga

Yoga is very much an application of practical psychological knowledge and techniques. The various paths of yoga have each developed an extensive body of knowledge which has been codified into systematic treatment so that someone taking up the practices of a particular path can apply the methods of that path and achieve the desired results over time. Some of the paths, such as Raja Yoga, are well known for their systematic treatment, particularly the organized approach taken by Patanjali. But in reality, whether it is Hatha Yoga or Raja Yoga, or one of the other paths, such as the triple path of Knowledge, Love and Works, experience and long-practice has led to the development of codified methodologies.

Sri Aurobindo describes the situation: “Each path has its Shastra, either written or traditional, passing from mouth to mouth through a long line of Teachers. In India a great authority, a high reverence even is ordinarily attached to the written or traditional teaching. All the lines of the Yoga are supposed to be fixed and the Teacher who has received the Shastra by tradition and realised it in practice guides the disciple along the immemorial tracks.”

This approach provides a relatively straightforward way for the Sadhaka to take up a practice and achieve the result specified. In its essence, however, it has the limitation of any established framework of knowledge, namely, that it tends to restrain or hold back new developments or practices through its naturally conservative tendency.

Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the benefits of this scientific codification of the practices and methods of yoga, but at the same time he makes it clear that there must still be room for free development and experimentation to continue. “The general knowledge on which the Yoga depends is fixed, but the order, the succession, the devices, the forms must be allowed to vary; for the needs and particular impulsions of the individual nature have to be satisfied even while the general truths remain firm and constant.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 49-50

The Shastra of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo reminds us of the real focus of our practice: “For the Sadhaka of the integral Yoga it is necessary to remember that no written Shastra, however great its authority or however large its spirit, can e more than a partial expression of the eternal Knowledge. He will use, but never bind himself even by the greatest Scripture.”

It is quite common that people who follow a particular path or tradition will value the scriptures of that path highly and become attached to them in ways that exclude anything else. Sri Aurobindo wants to ensure that the artificial limitations imposed by such a response need to be overcome eventually.

“His Yoga may be governed for a long time by one Scripture or by several successively,–if it is in the line of the great Hindu tradition, by the Gita, for example, the Upanishads, the Veda.” Similarly for those following the traditions of the other great religions or paths in the world.

It is also possible to find value and benefit from a wide and varied access to the scriptures of many paths. “But in the end he must take his station, or better still, if he can, always and from the beginning he must live in his own soul beyond the written Truth…beyond all that he has heard and all that he has yet to hear…. For he is not the Sadhaka of a book or of many books; he is a Sadhaka of the Infinite.”

For most of us, it is easiest to follow a clearly delineated and marked out path in our Yoga and we thus become highly reliant on the written scriptures we honor for their direct guidance. Sri Aurobindo asks us to take help from them where it is available, but to always listen to the Truth of the soul.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pg. 49

The Word–The Revealed Spiritual Truth

“in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So starts the New Testament to the Christian Bible in the Gospel of John. It is interesting to recognize that the various spiritual paths of the world, throughout history, have placed the Word at the center of the teaching. The Word represents the spiritual truth being communicated to the seeker. In the time before written scriptures, the teachings were passed down orally. But the Word means more than specific scriptural texts. The wisdom traditions of the world speak of words of power, words that embody the energy that can manifest the change being sought. Thus we also have the tradition of the power of prayer, and chanting, and the power of Mantra.

Sri Aurobindo describes the sources of the Word for the spiritual seeker: “The Word may come to us from within; it may come to us from without. But in either case, it is only an agency for setting the hidden knowledge to work. The word within may be the utterance of the inmost soul in us which is always open to the Divine or it may be the word of the secret and universal Teacher who is seated in the hearts of all.” Few are those who can gain the realisation, however, purely from the inner Word of guidance. For most of us, we need confirmation and the support of an external vehicle to deliver the Word and support our quest.

“Ordinarily, the Word from without, representative of the Divine, is needed as an aid in the work of self-unfolding; and it may be either a word from the past or the more powerful word of the living Guru. In some cases this representative word is only taken as a sort of excuse for the inner power to awaken and manifest; it is, as it were, a concession of the omnipotent and omniscient Divine to the generality of a law that governs Nature.”

“But usually the representative influence occupies a much larger place in the life of the Sadhaka. If the Yoga is guided by a received written Shastra,–some Word from the past which embodies the experience of former Yogins,–it may be practiced either by personal effort alone or with the aid of a Guru. The spiritual knowledge is then gained through meditation on the truths that are taught and it is made living and conscious by their realisation in the personal experience; the Yoga proceeds by the results of prescribed methods taught in a Scripture or a tradition and reinforced and illumined by the instructions of the Master. This is a narrower practice, but safe and effective within its limits, because it follows a well-beaten track to a long familiar goal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 48-49

The Shastra–The Divine Teaching

The term “education” comes from the Latin and means “to draw out”; it implies that the knowledge that each individual can realise is already within himself, and there just needs to be an opportunity or impetus for that knowledge to manifest. This is the basis also of the tradition of the great Greek sage, Socrates. The socratic method, as described by his disciple Plato, was to propound questions so that the knowledge within could be revealed.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the Divine teaching underpinning the Integral Yoga also is found within: “The supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every thinking and living being. The lotus of the eternal knowledge and the eternal perfection is a bud closed and folded up within us. It opens swiftly or gradually, petal by petal, through successive realisations, once the mind of man begins to turn towards the Eternal, once his heart, no longer compressed and confined by attachment to finite appearances, becomes enamoured, in whatever degree, of the Infinite. All life, all thought, all energising of the faculties, all experiences passive or active, become thenceforward so many shocks which disintegrate the teguments of the soul and remove the obstacles to the inevitable efflorescence.”

The teaching cannot be wholly contained in any book. The aspiration of the individual soul seeking for the meaning of his life, seeking for the Divine touch, seeking for the key to the disharmonies of the outer world, sets in motion a divine interaction. “He who chooses the Infinite has been chosen by the Infinite. He has received the divine touch without which there is no awakening, no opening of the spirit; but once it is received, attainment is sure, whether conquered swiftly in the course of one human life or pursued patiently through many stadia of the cycle of existence in the manifested universe.”

“Nothing can be taught to the mind which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfection of which the outer man is capable, is only a realising of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him. We know the Divine and become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 1, The Four Aids, pp. 47-48