The Difficulties of the Path of the Integral Yoga

The integral Yoga has as one of its large goals the taking up and transformation of the entire life of the individual and the world. Sri Aurobindo points out that the seeker must have a clear sight as to what the implications of this are. There can be no “cutting of the knot” of the problem of life, the messy, difficult and obstructing energies and distractions that plague the seeker. The yogic disciplines based on knowledge may try to minimize the attention on the needs, desires and impulsions of the life-energy, to develop a one-pointed fix on the Eternal as the ultimate way and goal. Religions have also tended to place salvation in some “other” world or heaven after death, through preparation and devotion in this life, albeit coloured by compromises with the life-energy along the way.

“A way of pure Knowledge is comparatively straightforward and easy to the tread of the seeker in spite of our mortal limitations and the pitfalls of the Ignorance; a way of pure Love, although it has its stumbling-blocks and its sufferings and trials, can in comparison be easy as the winging of a bird through the free azure. For Knowledge and Love are pure in their essence and become mixed and embarrassed, corrupted and degraded only when they enter into the ambiguous movement of the life-forces and are seized by them for the outward life’s crude movements and obstinately inferior motives. Alone of these powers Life or at least a certain predominant Will-in-life has the appearance of something impure, accursed or fallen in its very essence.”

Whether we perceive the difficulty as a form of darkness or inertia, fixated solely on physical gratification or survival; or as a form of grasping for the stimulation and satisfaction of the desires of the life-force, the opportunities for distraction, flagging efforts or outright self-deception are enormous. Even when we align the life-force with higher aims set by the highest emotional and mental drives of the Nature, it is easily misled, diverted or obscured under the burden of the desire-mind and its gross or subtle insistence on its own satisfaction in opposition to the higher principles.

“All these forces the spiritual seeker grows aware of in himself and finds all around him and has to struggle and combat incessantly to be rid of their grip and dislodge the long-entrenched mastery they have exercised over his own being as over the environing human existence. The difficulty is great; for their hold is so strong, so apparently invincible that it justifies the disdainful dictum which compares human nature to a dog’s tail,–for, straighten it never so much by force of ethics, religion, reason or any other redemptive effort, it returns in the end always to the crooked curl of Nature.”

“All labour to straighten out this native crookedness strikes the struggling will as a futility; a flight, a withdrawal to happy Heaven or peaceful dissolution easily finds credit as the only wisdom and to find a way not to be born again gets established as the only remedy for the dull bondage or the poor shoddy delirium or the blinded and precarious happiness and achievement of earthly existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 159-162

Revealing the Divinity in the Manifested World of Forms

The central issue for a “yoga of works” is to transform the action in the outer world into a divine activity. The normal life we experience and see around us seems to be hostile to and antithetical to a Divine life. Many spiritual disciplines have therefore counseled a complete and radical break with the life of the world, so that the seeker may focus on his spiritual essential truth, on the Eternal, on the Absolute. For some, the world represents a provisional ground, filled with illusory objects of desire that distract and cloud the spiritual essence of life. While it may be accepted to some degree provisionally, eventually the seeker must abandon that life and focus on what is “real” and “eternal”.

Sri Aurobindo’s focus on what he terms “reality omnipresent” leads him to conclude that eventually, the yogic aspiration must grapple with and take up the field of life, unravel the mystery and riddle of its apparent opposition to the Truth, and bring about a Divine transformation of the actual life in the world, by revealing its true status as a Divine manifestation and as he states poetically in his epic work Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol “Matter shall reveal the Spirit’s face.”

“Yet it is precisely these activities that are claimed for a spiritual conquest and divine transformation by the integral Yoga. Abandoned altogether by the more ascetic disciplines, accepted by others only as a field of temporary ordeal or a momentary, superficial and ambiguous play of the concealed spirit, this existence is fully embraced and welcomed by the integral seeker as a field of fulfilment, a field for divine works, a field of the total self-discovery of the concealed and indwelling Spirit. A discovery of the Divinity in oneself is his first object, but a total discovery too of the Divinity in the world behind the apparent denial offered by its scheme and figures and, last, a total discovery of the dynamism of some transcendent Eternal; for by its descent this world and self will be empowered to break their disguising envelopes and become divine in revealing form and manifesting process as they now are secretly in their hidden essence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 159

The Power of Love Supramentalised

Sri Aurobindo’s systematic approach to the development of consciousness and its impact on the Divine manifestation finally allows us to fit together all the “puzzle pieces” of the spiritual quest that have, in the past, either been overlooked or over-emphasized, or mis-placed. The need for the psychic being, the divine flame in the deepest heart of man, has already been described at length. It gains its ultimate power to transform life when it is accompanied by the change in standpoint from the human to the divine standpoint. Sri Aurobindo has defined various steps along the way, including the important aspect of what he terms the “supramental consciousness” due to its power which clearly exceeds the mental level active in humanity today.

A primary characteristic of the supramental consciousness is the ability to simultaneously in awareness, without conflict, hold both the sense of Oneness and the recognition of diversity in the manifestation. The ultimate force of love and devotion occurs when it is yoked to this supramental consciousness:

“There in the supramental Gnosis is the fulfilment, the culminating height, the all-embracing extent of the inner adoration, the profound and integral union, the flaming wings of Love upbearing the power and joy of a supreme Knowledge. For supramental love brings an active ecstasy that surpasses the void passive peace and stillness which is the heaven of the liberated Mind and does not betray the deeper greater calm which is the beginning of the supramental silence. The unity of a love which is able to include in itself all differences without being diminished or abrogated by their present limitations and apparent dissonances is raised to its full potentiality on the supramental level. For there an intense oneness with all creatures founded on a profound oneness of the soul with the Divine can harmonise with a play of relations that only make the oneness more perfect and absolute. The power of Love supramentalised can take hold of all living relations without hesitation or danger and turn them Godwards delivered from their crude, mixed and petty human settings and sublimated into the happy material of a divine life.”

This is possible due to the nature of the supramental consciousness itself: “…it can perpetuate the play of differences without forfeiting or in the least diminishing either the divine union or the infinite oneness. For a supramentalised consciousness it would be utterly possible to embrace all contacts with men and the world in a purified flame-force and with a transfigured significance, because the soul would then perceive always as the object of all emotion and all seeking for love or beauty the One Eternal and could spiritually use a wide and liberated life-urge to meet and joni with that One Divine in all things and all creatures.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 158-159

The Emergence of the Psychic Being and the Transformation of Life

The first hints or promptings that arise within the individual from the psychic being are generally relatively weak and easily overcome by the insistence of the mind’s narrow vision and stubborn attachments, the vital being’s aggressive desires and the physical being’s heaviness and darkness. Over time, as the seeker becomes more attentive to the quiet voice of the soul, it becomes stronger, comes forward more effectively and links with the being and force of the Divine, of whose nature it partakes. It is this joining of the Divine spark within with the Divine Force above and around that creates the opportunity for the psychic being to exercise real power over the lower nature of mind-life-body.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this dynamic: “And yet the leading of the inmost psychic being is not found sufficient until it has succeeded in raising itself out of this mass of inferior Nature to the highest spiritual levels and the divine spark and flame descended here have rejoined themselves to their original fiery Ether. For there is there no longer a spiritual consciousness still imperfect and half-lost to itself in the thick sheaths of human mind, life and body, but the full spiritual consciousness in its purity, freedom and intense wideness.”

The pure and undiluted force of Knowledge, Power, Love, Harmony and Beauty, which abides in these hiher spiritual realms, can then be welcomed to replace the distorted and weakened forms that pass for these things in the ordinary human experience. “Thus for the individual consciousness a Force is manifested which can deal sovereignly in it with the diminutions and degradations of the values of the Ignorance. At last it begins to be possible to bring down into life the immense reality and intense concreteness of the love and joy that are of the Eternal. Or at any rate it will be possible for our spiritual consciousness to raise itself out of the mind into the supramental Light and Force and Vastness; there in the light and potency of the supramental Gnosis are the splendour and joy of a power of divine self-expression and self-organisation which could rescue and re-create the world of the Ignorance into a figure of the Truth of the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 157-158

The Essential Role of the Psychic Being in the Transformation of Life Through Divine Love

As long as we rely primarily on the powers of mind, emotions, vital energy and the physical existence, our interpretation and our response to things remains limited, clouded and misguided in various ways. These are powers that have their initial basis in the Ignorance and partake of the nature of ignorance. Even the high ideals and flights of passionate devotion or dedicated action, if they rely on these powers, tend to be mixed in their intention and their result, subject to the force of desire, and mitigated in their power of effectuation. There are also reactions from these parts of our being that tend to oppose the Light, Force and Truth of the higher Divine Love when it descends into us, and either obstructs, or tries to redirect that energy into fulfillment of the lower nature’s desires and ambitions.

Sri Aurobindo describes the result: “Instead of a Divine Love creator of a new heaven and a new earth of Truth and Light, they would hold it here prisoner as a tremendous sanction and glorifying force of sublimation to gild the mud of the old earth and colour with its rose and sapphire the old turbid unreal skies of sentimentalising vital imagination and mental idealised chimera. if that falsification is permitted, the higher Light and Power and Bliss withdraw, there is a fall back to a lower status; or else the realisation remains tied to an insecure half-way and mixture or is covered and even submerged by an inferior exaltation that is not the true Ananda. It is for this reason that the Divine Love which is at the heart of all creation and the most powerful of all redeeming and creative forces has yet been the least frontally present in earthly life, the least successfully redemptive, the least creative.”

Even the slightest touch of this power for the normal human nature leads to misuse: “what little could be seized has been corrupted at once into a vital pietistic ardour, a defenceless religious or ethical sentimentalism, a sensuous or even sensual erotic mysticism of the roseate coloured mind or passionately turbid life-impulse and with these simulations compensated its inability to house the Mystic Flame that could rebuild the world with its tongues of sacrifice.”

This brings us to the central and critical role of the psychic being: “It is only the inmost psychic being unveiled and emerging in its full power that can lead the pilgrim sacrifice unscathed through these ambushes and pitfalls; at each moment it catches, exposes, repels the mind’s and the life’s falsehoods, seizes hold on the truth of the Divine Love and Ananda and separates it from the excitement of the mind’s ardours and the blind enthusiasm of the misleading life-force. But all things that are true at their core in mind and life and the physical being it extricates and takes with it in the journey till they stand on the heights, new in spirit and sublime in figure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 155-157

Only Divine Love Can Bring About World Harmony and Universal Oneness

The dream of human unity, the “brotherhood of man”, a world of harmony, utopia, paradise, the “city of God”, has occupied humanity, in one form or another, for millenia. Numerous attempts have been made to create communities, civilisations, or various other forms of human groupings to realise this goal. Much thought has gone into the shape of such a society and how it should be governed, what guiding principles should be followed and what the central organising theme should be. As yet, however, all such attempts have fallen short of the goal. Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that as long as the organizing principle is based on the mind, it cannot actually achieve the final result sought.

“It is the divine love which so emerges that, extended in inward feeling to the Divine in man and all creatures in an active universal equality, will be more potent for the perfectability of life and a more real instrument than the ineffective mental ideal of brotherhood can ever be. It is this poured out into acts that could alone create a harmony in the world and a true unity between all its creatures; all else strives in vain towards that end so long as Divine Love has not disclosed itself as the heart of the delivered manifestation in terrestrial Nature.”

To achieve the outflowering of Divine Love, it is essential that the seeker bring the psychic being forward through devotion and adoration, expressed not only inwardly in spirit and sense, but also outwardly through the offering of all actions as an act of worship. “A psychic fire within must be lit into which all is thrown with the Divine Name upon it. In that fire all the emotions are compelled to cast off their grosser elements and those that are undivine perversions are burned away and the others discard their insufficiencies, till a spirit of largest love and a stainless divine delight arises out of the flame and smoke and frankincense.”

“It is the inner offering of the heart’s adoration, the soul of it in the symbol, the spirit of it in the act, that is the very life of the sacrifice. If the offering is to be complete and universal, then a turning of all our emotions to the Divine is imperative.”

The long aspiration and goal of the spiritual quest of humanity can and will be achieved through this method.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 155

The Spirit of Divine Love In the Integral Yoga

The complete and powerful transformation from the human standpoint to the divine standpoint, and the impact thereby on the outer life in the world, is most effectively brought about by the central action of devotion, love and adoration in concrete form in the outer world. The yogic paths that are centered in the mind of knowledge, or the dedication of the power of works, can become dry and abstracted from life, or the performance of a stoic duty. When, however, each action takes on the nature of an act of consecration, there is a noticeable change in the sadhana. It becomes less of a struggle and can take on more the aspect of a joyful self-giving.

Sri Aurobindo describes this: “In itself the adoration in the act is a great and complete and powerful sacrifice that tends by its self-multiplication to reach the discovery of the One and make the radiation of the Divine possible. For devotion by its embodiment in acts not only makes its own way broad and full and dynamic, but brings at once into the harder way of works in the world the divinely passionate element of joy and love which is often absent in its beginning when it is only the austere spiritual will that follows in a struggling uplifting tension the steep ascent, and the heart is still asleep or bound to silence. If the spirit of divine love can enter, the hardness of the way diminishes, the tension is lightened, there is a sweetness and joy even in the core of difficulty and struggle.”

“All life turned into this cult, all actions done in the love of the Divine and in the love of the world and its creatures seen and felt as the Divine manifested in many disguises become by that very fact part of an integral Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 154-155

The Essential Nature of the Yoga of Love

It is difficult for us to see or even visualize the creation as an expression of the power of Divine Love. We see the struggle, the conflict, the opposition, the pitting of each against all that has characterized virtually the entire human experience, and certainly that of the other living beings in our world. Concepts such as “survival of the fittest” clearly delineate the operative mindset of what it takes to survive and thrive in the world. Sri Aurobindo explains: “it does not so appear now because, even if a Divine Love is there in the world upholding all this evolution of creatures, yet the stuff of life and its action is made up of an egoistic formation, a division, a struggle of life and consciousness to exist and survive in an apparently indifferent, inclement or even hostile world of inanimate and inconscient Matter.”

The manifestation and expression of the Oneness of the entire creation, and its foundation in the power of Divine Love may be the actual intention of the universal creation toward which we are striving to gain an understanding. “it is to discover that at its supreme source, to bring it from within and to radiate it out up to the extreme confines of life that is turned the effort of the Yoga.”

To accomplish this, the seeker must begin to express and manifest the nature of that Divine Love in his inner being and in his outer actions: “All action, all creation must be turned into a form, a symbol of the cult, the adoration, the sacrifice; it must carry something that makes it bear in it the stamp of a dedication, a reception and translation of the Divine Consciousness, a service of the Beloved, a self-giving, a surrender. This has to be done wherever possible in the outward body and form of the act; it must be done always in its inward emotion and an intensity that shows it to be an outflow from the soul towards the Eternal.”

We can see that as the consciousness increases and there is a closer sense of the Divine in all things, the tendencies toward egoistic desire and aggressive “one against all” reactions gets mitigated or reversed. We can extrapolate from this the future evolutionary trend as the yoga of love transforms the spirit and the actions of more individuals and thereby provides a foundation for greater harmony, understanding, mutuality and support in the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pg. 154

The Meaning and Importance of the Symbol, Form and Outward Acts of Worship

There is a great temptation, given the inclination of the mental faculties to create hard and fast differentiations and dualities, to either decide that the outer form of worship, including the specific idols, symbols or rites, is all-important or alternatively, to determine that it has little relevance in terms of true spiritual development in relation to the inner spirit and meaning of the worship.

It is also quite true that heavy reliance on the outer forms of worship lead to, in most cases, the creation of an outer shell with very little inner substance, as people conduct the ceremony without focus on the significance of it. This has occurred in most religions, even when the origin of the symbol or specific ritual held substantial inner sense when it was originated.

Sri Aurobindo however looks deeper into the matter and finds that there is an important role for the outer form to play, as long as it is the expression of the deeper inner aspiration: “For if without a spiritual aspiration worship is meaningless and vain, yet the aspiration also without the act and the form is a disembodied and, for life, an incompletely effective power.” The outer act or form allows the inner spirit within the seeker or devotee to take a more concrete form and thus, have its impact on the outer levels of the being and in the world. “…but few can dispense with the support or outward symbols and even a certain divine element in human nature demands them always for the completeness of its spiritual satisfaction. Always the symbol is legitimate in so far as it is true, sincere, beautiful and delightful, and even one may say that a spiritual consciousness without any aesthetic or emotional content is not entirely or at any rate not integrally spiritual. In the spiritual life the basis of the act is a spiritual consciousness perennial and renovating, moved to express itself always in new forms or able to renew the truth of a form always by the flow of the spirit, and to so express itself and make every action a living symbol of some truth of the soul is the very nature of its creative vision and impulse. It is so that the spiritual seeker must deal with life and transmute its form and glorify it in its essence.”

Once again we see here the integrative and balanced approach that Sri Aurobindo has developed to neither deny the inner nor the outer aspect of the spiritual aspiration as expressed through worship.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 153-154

The Three Aspects of the Perfection of Devotion to the Divine

To turn the entire life and its acts into a process of devotion to the Divine, Sri Aurobindo has identified three parts or aspects: “a practical worship of the Divine in the act, a symbol of worship in the form of the act expressing some vision and seeking or some relation with the Divine, an inner adoration and longing for oneness or feeling of oneness in the heart and soul and spirit.”

A ritual outer form of worship is relatively ineffective if it is not accompanied by the inner spirit and intention of the act. At the same time, the ability to make the vision or intention solid through an expression in a material form, whether through physical manifestation of the being, or through some kind of material form of offering, is a benefit to to fix that devotion into the world.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the most essential point is the inner spirit and intention, as he quotes the Gita: “He who gives to me with a heart of adoration a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a cup of water, I take and enjoy that offering of his devotion;” He clarifies that it is not only these physical forms, but also the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can be offered as elements of the devotional activity.

“It is true that the especial act or form of action has its importance, even a great importance, but it is the spirit in the act that is the essential factor; the spirit of which it is the symbol or materialised expression gives it its whole value and justifying significance.”

The end result is the devotee using every action and movement of life as an act of adoration and devotion: “It is so that life can be changed into worship,–by putting behind it the spirit of a transcendent and universal love, the seeking of oneness, the sense of oneness; by making each act a symbol, an expression of Godward emotion or a relation with the Divine; by turning all we do into an act of worship, an act of the soul’s communion, the mind’s understanding, the life’s obedience, the heart’s surrender.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 152-153