The Integration of the Goals of Vedanta and Veda

The Yoga of works, as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo in the integral Yoga, is not some kind of ritual sacrifice, nor done without knowledge or devotion. In his view, works, knowledge and devotion all complement and support one another; the process of starting from any one of them will inevitably entail growing into all three over time.

Sri Aurobindo introduces this point as follows: “For even when we speak of the sacrifice of works by itself, we do not mean the offering only of our outward acts, but of all that is active and dynamic in us; our internal movements no less than our external doings are to be consecrated on the one altar. The inner heart of all work that is made into a sacrifice is a labour of self-discipline and self-perfection by which we can hope to become conscious and luminous with a Light from above poured into all our movements of mind, heart, will, sense, life and body.”

This brings about a unification between the goals of the ancient sages of the Vedanta, who focused on the knowledge aspect, and the still more ancient mystical sense of the Vedas, which involved an inner transformation that made the practitioner into a vessel of the deeper spiritual Force in all his life and acts.

“An increasing light of divine consciousness will make us close in soul and one by identity in our inmost being and spiritual substance with the Master of the world-sacrifice–the supreme object of existence proposed by the ancient Vedanta; but also it will tend to make us one in our becoming by resemblance to the Divine in our nature, the mystic sense of the symbol of sacrifice in the sealed speech of the seers of the Veda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pg. 125

The Two Signs Of the Process of Transformation Of the Consciousness

The process of transformation of consciousness is one that is long, slow and laborious, due to the requirement to address each aspect, level, force and movement of consciousness and bring it into alignment with the change in standpoint and the corresponding modification to outer action and reaction. Add to this the continual pressure from the universal manifestation to reinstate these untransformed thoughts, feelings and movements, and one can see the rationale for the struggle that is involved.

Sri Aurobindo describes the issue: “Even when centrally fitted, prepared, open already, it will still be long before all our movements of mind, life and body, all the multiple and conflicting members and elements of our personality consent or, consenting, are able to bear the difficult and exacting process of the transformation. And hardest of all, even if all in us is willing, is the struggle we shall have to carry through against the universal forces attached to the present unstable creation when we seek to make the final supramental conversion and reversal of consciousness by which the Divine Truth must be established in us in its plenitude and not merely what they would more readily permit, an illumined Ignorance.”

It is this process and this difficulty that sets the requirement for the complete surrender, the totality of the sacrifice, the absolute giving up of the human in order to achieve the divine standpoint. “It is for this that a surrender and submission to That which is beyond us enabling the full and free working of its Power is indispensable. As that self-giving progresses, the work of the sacrifice becomes easier and more powerful and the prevention of the opposing Forces loses much of its strength, impulsion and substance.”

There are two signs identified by Sri Aurobindo that show the process at work: “There takes place a coming to the front of some secret inmost soul within which was veiled by the restless activity of the mind, by the turbulence of our vital impulses and by the obscurity of the physical consciousness, the three powers which in their confused combination we now call our self. There will come about as a result a less impeded growth of a Divine Presence at the centre with its liberating Light and effective Force and an irradiation of it into all the conscious and subconscious ranges of our nature. These are the two signs, one marking our completed conversion and consecration to the great Quest, the other the final acceptance by the Divine of our sacrifice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pg. 124

The Transformation of Our Being Through the Yogic Process

We normally see the world and respond to it from the viewpoint of a human individual, separated, fragmented, and limited facing an immensely complex and enormously large universal manifestation consisting of endless numbers of forms and forces, carrying out actions that go beyond the ability of any individual to truly understand and effectively respond to. This is called the “human standpoint”. The process of the integral Yoga involves the total shifting of our standpoint to the “divine standpoint”. From this view we are no longer separate or isolated individuals, but witnesses and participants in the larger being and consciousness that both transcends and encompasses all those forms, forces and beings that we formerly considered to be separate and outside of us. Our actions also are transformed to be those, not of a separated individual ego-personality, but to be the outflowing of the divine Force in its development of the intention of its manifestation.

In order for this to occur, Sri Aurobindo describes a dual process of ascent and descent: “There must be an ascension of the whole being, an ascension of spirit chained here and trammelled by its instruments and its environment to sheer Spirit free above, an ascension of soul towards some blissful Super-soul, an ascension of mind towards some luminous Supermind, an ascension of life towards some vast Super-life, an ascension of our very physicality to join its origin in some pure and plastic spirit-substance.”

“At the same time there must be a descent too to affirm below what we have gained above: on each height we conquer we have to turn to bring down its power and its illumination into the lower mortal movement; the discovery of the Light forever radiant on high must correspond with the release of the same Light secret below in every part down to the deepest caves of subconscient Nature.”

The process to shift from the human to the divine standpoint, with all that is implied, can take on the aspects of a strenuous effort or a battle of conflicting impulses, thoughts, desires and reactions. “For all our old obscure and ignorant nature will contend repeatedly and obstinately with the transforming Influence, supported in its lagging unwillingness or its stark resistance by mot of the established forces of environing universal Nature; the powers and principalities and the ruling beings of the Ignorance will not easily give up their empire.”

Because we are not the totally separate individuals, walled off from the rest of the creation, which we consider ourselves to be, the transformation process itself cannot proceed without setbacks and struggles. Even if we have gained some ground within the individual standpoint, the same forces and impulses still exist and work to regain their influence and undermine the progress from outside. Until all is transformed, nothing is completely transformed. The yogic process entails dedicating oneself to this continuous and continual effort, while opening up to and responding to the descent of the divine consciousness and force as it answers from above.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 123-124

An Integral Transformation of Our Being

The integral Yoga seeks to unify our consciousness with the Divine consciousness, while at the same time accepting and transforming our life in the world into an instrumental action of the Divine in manifestation. This Yoga envisions achieving the unification of Spirit and Matter in our being. In his epic poem, Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, Sri Aurobindo declares “and Matter shall reveal the Spirit’s face”.

This Yoga, therefore, does not rely on an escape from the manifested world into a high, abstract liberation of the Spirit. Nor does it take up various practices solely to achieve success and benefits in the material world. Rather, the goal is to find the key that harmonises the two poles of existence and fuse them into one omnipresent Reality within which we live a divine life.

“A union by identity may be ours, a liberation and change of our substance of being into that supreme Spirit-substance, of our consciousness into that divine Consciousness, of our soul-state into that ecstasy of spiritual beatitude or that calm eternal bliss of existence. A luminous indwelling in the Divine can be attained by us secure against any fall or exile into this lower consciousness of the darkness and the Ignorance, the soul ranging freely and firmly in its own natural world of light and joy and freedom and oneness. And since this is not merely to be attained in some other existence beyond but pursued and discovered here also, it can only be by a descent, by a bringing down of the Divine Truth, by the establishment here of the soul’s native world of light, joy, freedom, oneness. A union of our instrumental being no less than of our soul and spirit must change our imperfect nature into the very likeness and image of Divine Nature; it must put off the blind, marred, mutilated, discordant movements of the Ignorance and put on the inherence of that light, peace, bliss, harmony, universality, mastery, purity, perfection; it must convert itself into a receptacle of divine knowledge, an instrument of divine Will-Power and Force of Being, a channel of divine Love, Joy and Beauty. This is the transformation to be effected, an integral transformation of all that we now are or seem to be, by the joining–Yoga–of the finite being in Time with the Eternal and Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 122-123

The Three Forms of Union With the Divine In the Integral Yoga

Historically seekers have focused on achieving union with the Divine. The term “yoga” actually comes from the root meaning “to yoke” and essentially means the achievement of this union. Union with the Divine, however, can take on different forms or aspects depending on the focus. For the seeker of the integral Yoga, an all-embracing union with the Divine is the goal and fruit of the effort. There are three primary aspects or forms of this union that Sri Aurobindo has identified:

“There is a union in spiritual essence, by identity; there is a union by the indwelling of our soul in this highest Being and Consciousness; there is a dynamic union of likeness or oneness of nature between That and our instrumental being here. The first is the liberation from the Ignorance and identification with the Real and Eternal, …, which is the characteristic aim of the Yoga of Knowledge. The second, the dwelling of the soul with or in the Divine, …, is the intense hope of all Yoga of love and beatitude. The third, identity in nature, likeness to the Divine, to be perfect as That is perfect, …, is the high intention of all Yoga of power and perfection or of divine works and service. The combined completeness of the three altogether, founded here on a multiple Unity of the self-manifesting Divine, is the complete result of the integral Yoga, the goal of its triple Path and the fruit of its triple sacrifice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pg. 122

The Supreme Integral Divine Reality: The Aim of the Integral Yoga

The human consciousness tries to achieve the goals set before it primarily through a process of concentration, which in its very nature is an approach that limits and excludes, in order to increase the focus and intensity of the effort on the desired aim. We see therefore that in almost any field of endeavor, the specialist is preeminent. This is the individual who makes it his task to understand and apply knowledge in a specific field and who therefore is able to go deeper, extend his reach farther, and achieve more in that field. The trade off, of course, is that the field of action is narrow and limited, and the results are generally cut off from the more general progress that must be made for the greater evolutionary aims of the universal manifestation. Thus, this process of concentration is both a benefit and a severe limitation. The integral Yoga, by its very nature, cannot rely exclusively or even primarily, on any such limited concentration; the goal of this Yoga is an integral and complete transformation of the entire direction and action of the life-energy in all its aspects.

Sri Aurobindo takes up the theme: “For the seeker of the integral Yoga no single experience, no one Divine Aspect,–however overwhelming to the human mind, sufficient for its capacity, easily accepted as the sole or the ultimate reality,–can figure as the exclusive truth of the Eternal. For him the experience of the Divine Oneness carried to its extreme is more deeply embraced and amply fathomed by following out to the full the experience of the Divine Multiplicity…. He sees what is aimed at by the jarring sects and philosophies and accepts each facet of the Reality in its own place, but rejects their narrowness and errors and proceeds farther till he discovers the One Truth that binds them together.”

“It is through the human exceeding itself and opening itself to a supreme plenitude that the Divine must manifest itself here, since that comes inevitably in the course and process of the spiritual evolution, and therefore he will not despise or blind himself to the Godhead because it is lodged in a human body….Beyond the limited human conception of God, he will pass to the one divine Eternal, but also he will meet him in the faces of the Gods, his cosmic personalities supporting the World-Play, detect him behind the mask of the Vibhutis, embodied World-Forces or human Leaders, reverence and obey him in the Guru, worship him in the Avatar.”

“Thus reveals himself to the seeker in the progress of the sacrifice the Lord of the sacrifice. At any point this revelation can begin; in any aspect the Master of the Work can take up the work in him and more and more press upon him and it for the unfolding of his presence. In time all the Aspects disclose themselves, separate, combine, fuse, are unified together. At the end there shines through it all the supreme integral Reality, unknowable to Mind which is part of the Ignorance, but knowable because self-aware in the light of a spiritual consciousness and a supramental knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 120-121

The Integration of the Impersonal and Personal Divine Aspects In the Divine Being

The seeker of the integral Yoga strives to understand the basis and reality of both of the poles of existence, the impersonal and the personal, the infinite and the finite, the one and the many. Rather than being trapped within the partial view of either extreme, the integral seeker must find a way to recognise the Truth that is encompassed both within the framework of these terms and that exceeds both of them and harmonises them in the ultimate Unity.

Sri Aurobindo describes the position of the seeker in this Yoga: “…his whole experience has shown him the necessity of these double terms and their currents of Energy negative and positive in relation to each other, for the manifestation of what is within the one Existence. For himself Personality and Impersonality have been the two wings of his spiritual ascension and he has the prevision that he will reach a height where their helpful interaction will pass into a fusion of their powers and disclose the integral Reality and release into action the original force of the Divine.”

This understanding even encompasses the practice and experiences of Yoga: “An impersonal Presence has dominated from above or penetrated and occupied his nature; a Light descending has suffused his mind, life-power, the very cells of his body, illumined them with knowledge, revealed him to himself down to his most disguised and unsuspected movements, exposing, purifying, destroying or brilliantly changing all that belonged to the Ignorance. A Force has poured into him in currents or like a sea, worked in his being and all its members, dissolved, new-made, reshaped, transfigured everywhere. A Bliss has invaded him and shown that it can make suffering and sorrow impossible and turn pain itself into divine pleasure. A Love without limits has joined him to all creatures or revealed to him a world of inseparable intimacy and unspeakable sweetness and beauty and begun to impose its law of perfection and its ecstasy even amidst the disharmony of terrestrial life. A spiritual Truth and Right have convicted the good and evil of this world of imperfection or of falsehood and unveiled a supreme good and its clue of subtle harmony and its sublimation of action and feeling and knowledge.”

These are all incidents or details of the larger reality which pervades the consciousness of the seeker, a reality that is a living Being that creates and embodies the entire universal manifestation: “But behind all these and in them he has felt a Divinity who is all these things, a Bringer of Light, a Guide and All-Knower, a Master of Force, a Giver of Bliss, Friend, Helper, Father, Mother, Playmate in the world-game, an absolute Master of his being, his soul’s Beloved and Lover. All relations known to human personality are there in the soul’s contact with the Divine; but they rise towards superhuman levels and compel him towards a divine nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 119-120