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

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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

The Four Aids For the Attainment of Perfection in Yoga

We begin our yogic efforts from the basis of our human self, with the ego-personality and the standpoint of the mind and body which are our foundation in this world. Inevitably, the limitations of those instruments, and the layers of preconceived viewpoints and ideas that come with them, as well as the prevalent ideas of the society within which one develops, create obstacles to our transition to the divine standpoint. We experience confusion, setbacks, and the obstruction of powerful forces born of desire which make it difficult for us to know whether and to what extent we are progressing on the path and which set before us illusions about the steps we need to take and the actual status of our efforts along these lines. There are also the inevitable periods of discouragement and doubt, the “dark night of the soul” that has been described by seekers throughout history.

It is for these reasons that the path of Yoga requires the assistance of what Sri Aurobindo calls the “four aids”. “There is, first, the knowledge of the truths,principles, powers and processes that govern the realisation–shastra. Next comes a patient and persistent action on the lines laid down by the knowledge, the force of our personal effort–utsaha. There intervenes, third, uplifting our knowledge and effort into the domain of spiritual experience, the direct suggestion, example and influence of the Teacher–guru. Last comes the instrumentality of Time–kala; for in all things there is a cycle of their action and a period of the divine movement.”

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

Integral Realisation For the Individual and Society At Large

To counter-balance the exclusive concentration on individual realisation of the silent, supreme Brahman, there is a theme in human development that focuses on the perfection of the social order. Whether the goal is termed “utopia” or “paradise on earth” or the “kingdom of heaven on earth” or the “city of God”, there is a persistent need within humanity to attempt the achievement of a perfected order of life.

Many of these attempts have been based on moral philosophy, or political or economic theory; others have been based on specific religious doctrines that attempt to unify everyone in the society under one uniform banner. Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that this aspiration speaks to an inner reality and is part of the larger realisation that is sought by the integral yoga. The perfection and harmonious integration of this perfection into the social order cannot be achieved through politics, economics or uniformity of doctrine. It can only be achieved through an inner realisation achieved by the individual and translated into action in the world; as each individual grows inwardly and gains the true spiritual insight and illumination, the opportunity arises for society itself to take on the character of that spiritual force, and thus, we can achieve unity with diversity and the perfection of the social order of life, with harmony and balance.

“The divinising of the normal material life of man and of his great secular attempt of mental and moral self-culture in the individual and the race by this integralisation of a widely perfect spiritual existence would thus be the crown alike of our individual and of our common effort. Such a consummation being no other than the kingdom of heaven within reproduced in the kingdom of heaven without, would be also the true fulfilment of the great dream cherished in different terms by the world’s religions.”

“The widest synthesis of perfection possible to thought is the sole effort entirely worthy of those whose dedicated vision perceives that God dwells concealed in humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 5, Synthesis, pg. 44

An Integral Beatitude and Perfection

The divine realisation and liberation, when not confined to the abstract heights, but incorporating all our energies of life and action, leads to an all-embracing transformation of our being. This leads to the harmonious development of knowledge, will and love in a form that reaches into the transcendent, embraces the universal and fulfils itself through the individual. Sri Aurobindo describes the implications: “But since the attaining consciousness is not limited by its attainment, we win also the unity in Beatitude and the harmonised diversity in Love, so that all relations of the play remain possible to us even while we retain on the heights of our being the eternal oneness with the Beloved. And by a similar wideness, being capable of a freedom in spirit that embraces life and does not depend upon withdrawal from life, we are able to become without egoism, bondage or reaction the channel in our mind and body for a divine actino poured out freely upon the world.”

Inevitably, as each aspect of our being is taken up and transformed through this process, the action that takes place and the energy that pours out becomes purified and harmonised with the larger truth of our existence. This can make us perfected instruments of the divine action in the world when fully manifested. “Its result is an integral beatitude, in which there becomes possible at once the Ananda of all that is in the world seen as symbols of the Divine and the Ananda of that which is not-world. And it prepares the integral perfection of our humanity as a type of the Divine in the conditions of the human manifestation, a perfection founded on a certain free universality of being, of love and joy, of play of knowledge and of play of will in power and will in unegoistic action.”

At this point one can also look to the fruits of the other yogic paths, such as Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga and recognize the value and benefit of incorporating their physical and mental powers and perfections into that larger, integral perfection. In the Western world, there is a concept of a “sound mind in a sound body”. The integral yoga goes beyond this by insisting on a complete soul identification with our spiritual source, a complete Oneness with the universal manifestation, and a perfected and uplifted action of mind, will, emotions, vital being, and body in our interaction with the world.

“Such a mental and physical life would be in its nature a translation of the spiritual existence into its right mental and physical values. Thus we would arrive at a synthesis of the three degrees of Nature and of the three modes of human existence which she has evolved or is evolving. We would include in the scope of our liberated being and perfected modes of activity the material life, our base, and the mental life, our intermediate instrument.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 5, Synthesis, pp. 43-44

An Integral Realisation and an Integral Liberation

The Upanishads teach us that the Brahman is “One without a second”. This has justified the exclusive seeking after a realisation divorced from the life in the world, a focus and concentration that was all-consuming and led to the silence of the supreme states of awareness. But the Upanishads also teach us that “All this is the Brahman.” These two concepts, when put together, re-integrate the manifested universe with the abstract “beyond” of the silent Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this theme in the formulation of the Integral Yoga. The realisation is not an isolated or aloof knowledge divorced from life. “First, an integral realisation of Divine Being; not only a realisation of the One in its indistinguishable unity, but also in its multitude of aspects which are also necessary to the complete knowledge of it by the relative consciousness; not only realisation of unity in the Self, but of unity in the infinite diversity of activities, worlds and creatures.”

This integral realisation leads to a form of liberation vastly different from the one that takes the seeker away from the manifestation and life. Liberation is not viewed as an escape from life, but a transformation of the significance of life. “Not only the freedom born of unbroken contact of the individual being in all its parts with the Divine…, by which it becomes free even in its separation, even in the duality; … but also the acquisition of the divine nature by the transformation of this lower being into the human image of the divine…, and the complete and final release of all, the liberation of the consciousness from the transitory mould of the ego and its unification with the One Being, universal both in the world and the individual and transcendentally one both in the world and beyond all universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Introduction: The Conditions of the Synthesis, Chapter 5, Synthesis, pp. 42-43