Overview of the Traditional Yoga of Knowledge Paths

The traditional yoga of knowledge starts with several core principles. First, there is an intuition of a reality which is unchanging, eternal and absolute, that is other than the outer reality we experience in our normal human lives with our physical-vital-mental being and faculties. There are variations as to how this ultimate reality is conceived, such as an emptiness or void, or a transcendent existence beyond the transitory phenomena of our lives. Second, that knowledge of this reality can be experienced through identity with it, as it cannot be grasped by the mind and its limited capabilities; and third, that through a discipline that systematically abandons attachment to the activities, perceptions and forms of the outer world, the seeker can escape the limitations of the mental framework and thereby achieve this knowledge by identity of the Supreme, which is the highest knowledge, not subject to change, decay or dissolution.

Sri Aurobindo describes this further: “All that is individual, all that is cosmic has to be austerely renounced by the seeker of the absolute Truth. The supreme quiescent Self or else the absolute Nihil is the sole Truth, the only object of spiritual knowledge. The state of knowledge, the consciousness other than this temporal that we must attain is Nirvana, an extinction of ego, a cessation of all mental, vital and physical activities, of all activities whatsoever, a supreme illumined quiescence, the pure bliss of an impersonal tranquility self-absorbed and ineffable. The means are meditation, concentration excluding all things else, a total loss of the mind in its object.”

This implies eventually an abandonment of all action. “In the end, in any severe and pure Jnanayoga, all works must be abandoned for an entire quiescence. Action may prepare salvation, it cannot give it….The supreme state of quiescence is the very opposite of action and cannot be attained by those who persist in works. And even devotion, love, worship are disciplines for the unripe soul, are at best the best methods of the Ignorance….Even thought-activity must disappear in the sole consciousness of identity or of nothingness and by its own quiescence bring about the quiescence of the whole nature. The absolute Identical alone must remain or else the eternal Nihil.”

This understanding has led to the path of the ascetic or the renunciate who removes himself from society in order to systematically undertake the severe austerities required to bring about the unity and identity of this path of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 1, The Object of Knowledge, pp. 273-274

Seeking For Knowledge of the Eternal

“Bhrigu, Varuna’s son, came unto his father Varuna and said, ‘Lord, teach me the Eternal.’ ” Varuna responded: ” Seek thou to know that from which these creatures are born, whereby being born they live and to which they go hence and enter again; for that is the Eternal.” Thus begins the Bhriguvalli of the Taittiriya Upanishads. (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhriguvalli, Chapter 1, pg 275)

Most people fixate their minds and attention on the outer world of forms, forces and beings. They are concerned with social relationships, and the various actions necessary to survive and succeed in the world. They focus on using their minds to acquire facts, to apply logic and reason to the realm of society’s activities, and they place little, if any, of their attention on the seeking for the Eternal. There are however, always those who try to understand why it is we are alive, what the world is all about, and how and why it functions. There are seekers, scientists, dreamers, poets, mystics, sages and seers, yogis, those who gaze at the stars at night and wonder, and those who go on various forms of vision quest.

The Upanishads taken as a whole focus on this eternal quest, and this is the reason they are revered as books of deep wisdom. They look beyond the surface phenomena and move the mind to ultimate causes and purposes.

The Yoga of Knowledge is a path that seeks out this deeper wisdom of the essence of life and existence. Sri Aurobindo describes the seeking thus: “All spiritual seeking moves towards an object of Knowledge to which men ordinarily do not turn the eye of the mind, to someone or something Eternal, Infinite, Absolute that is not the temporal things or forces of which we are sensible although he or it may be in them or behind them or their source or creator. It aims at a state of knowledge by which we can touch, enter or know by identity this Eternal, Infinite and Absolute, a consciousness other than our ordinary consciousness of ideas and forms and things, a knowledge that is not what we call knowledge but something self-existent, everlasting, infinite.”

This knowledge, since it addresses things beyond the reach of the mind, things which are invisible to the outer eye, and addresses levels of consciousness outside the framework that the mind can encompass, must necessarily identify, locate, associate with, and develop powers of knowing that are beyond the limited mental faculties that we use for outer facts and events. The mind can at best reflect, as a mirror reflect. The reality can be truly grasped only by other and greater powers of knowledge.

It is the province of the Yoga of Knowledge to both identify the real object of knowledge, and to develop those faculties and powers of knowing that permit the arising of true understanding.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 1, The Object of Knowledge, pg. 273

Intermediate Realisations and Levels of Consciousness Are Not the Supramental Manifestation

Sri Aurobindo undertook detailed and precise review of the various experiences, planes of consciousness and realisations that arise in the course of the practice of the Yoga. He is therefore careful to distinguish between one or another level or aspect of the spiritual growth of the seeker and the ultimate realisation of the supramental consciousness, which, as previously noted, is an “ultimate” not an “immediate” aim or goal. He raises this issue at some length to help avoid the leap, so rewarding to the egoistic consciousness and mind of man, that any escape from the framework of body-life-mind into something higher or deeper represents some kind of experience or expression of this higher realisation.

“To reach supermind it is not enough to go above the ordinary movements of the human mind; it is not enough to receive a greater light, a greater power, a greater joy or to develop capacities of knowledge, sight, effective will that surpass the normal range of the human being. All light is not the light of the spirit, still less is all light the light of the supermind; the mind, the vital, the physical itself have lights of their own, as yet hidden, which can be very inspiring, exalting, informative, powerfully executive. A breaking out into the cosmic consciousness may also bring in an immense enlargement of the consciousness and power. An opening into the inner mind, inner vital, inner physical, any range of the subliminal consciousness, can liberate an activity of abnormal or supernormal powers of knowledge, action or experience which the uninstructed mind can easily mistake for spiritual revelations, inspirations, intuitions. An opening upward into the greater ranges of the higher mental being can bring down much light and force creating an intense activity of the intuitivised mind and life-power or an ascent into these ranges can bring a true but still incomplete light easily exposed to mixture, a light which is spiritual in its source, though it does not always remain spiritual in its active character when it comes down into the lower nature. But none of these things is the supramental light, the supramental power; that can only be seen and grasped when we have reached the summits of mental being, entered into overmind and stand on the borders of an upper, a greater hemisphere of spiritual existence.”

“To imagine that we have reached such a condition when we are still moving in the dynamics of the Ignorance, though it may be an enlightened or illumined Ignorance, is to lay ourselves open either to a disastrous misleading or to an arrest of the evolution of the being. For if it is some inferior state that we thus mistake for the supermind, it lays us open to all the dangers we have seen to attend a presumptuous egoistic haste in our demand for achievement.”

“Even the achievement of a complete inner liberation and a high spiritual consciousness is not that supreme transformation; for we may have that achievement, a status perfect in itself, in essence, and still our dynamic parts may in their instrumentation belong to an enlightened spiritualised mind and may be in consequence, like all mind, defective even in its greater power and knowledge, still subject to a partial or local obscuration or a limitation by the original circumscribing nescience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 269-270

Attainment of the Supramental Consciousness Is Not the Immediate Goal of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It must also be kept in mind that the supramental change is difficult, distant, an ultimate stage; it must be regarded as the end of a far-off vista; it cannot be and must not be turned into a first aim, a constantly envisaged goal or an immediate objective. For it can only come into the view of possibility after much arduous self-conquest and self-exceeding, at the end of many long and trying stages of a difficult self-evolution of the nature.”

If the seeker reflects on the actual operation of his body-life-mind and ego-personality, he will see the many present issues, concerns, limitations and difficulties that need to be systematically worked on and overcome in order to move the consciousness beyond the level at which human beings tend to operate. “One must first acquire an inner Yogic consciousness and replace by it our ordinary view of things, natural movements, motives of life; one must revolutionise the whole present build of our being.”

This transformation must continually proceed to the deepest levels of the being and the well-spring of unconscious and subconscious habitual actions and motives that drive most of the life-action. Sri Aurobindo calls for the psychic transformation that opens up all the inner motive-forces of the life and turns them toward the Divine. Thereafter comes the descent and action of the higher Light and Force to spiritualise and refine the action by removing the boundaries set by the ego-consciousness. “Then only the passage into the supramental consciousness begins to become possible, and even then there is a difficult ascent to make each stage of which is a separate arduous achievement.”

All of this takes time, and even the concentrated effort of a life dedicated to yogic practice does not eliminate this time requirement: “Yoga is a rapid and concentrated conscious evolution of the being, but however rapid, even though it may effect in a single life what in an instrumental Nature might take centuries and milleniums or many hundreds of lives, still all evolution must move by stages; even the greatest rapidity and concentration of the movement cannot swallow up all the stages or reverse natural process and bring the end near to the beginning.”

Sri Aurobindo cautions strongly against the attempt to “storm the gates”, so to speak. This could lead to “…a fatal self-inflation into an unnatural unhuman and undivine bigness of magnified ego. If the being is small, the nature weak and incapable, there is not this large-scale disaster; but a loss of balance, a mental unhinging and fall into unreason or a vital unhinging and consequent moral aberration or a deviation into some kind of morbid abnormality of the nature may be the untoward consequence. This is not a Yoga in which abnormality of any kind, even if it be an exalted abnormality, can be admitted as a way to self-fulfilment or spiritual realisation. Even when one enters into supernormal and suprarational experience, there should be no disturbance of the poise which must be kept firm from the summit of the consciousness to its base; the experiencing consciousness must preserve a calm balance, an unfailing clarity and order in its observation, a sort of sublimated commonsense, an unfailing power of self-criticism, right discrimination, co-ordination and firm vision of things; a sane grasp on facts and a high spiritualised positivism must always be there. it is not by becoming irrational or infrarational that one can go beyond ordinary nature into supernature; it should be done by passing through reason to a greater light of superreason. This superreason descends into reason and takes it up into higher levels even while breaking its limitations; reason is not lost but changes and becomes its own true unlimited self, a coordinating power of the supernature.”

These warnings underline the need for patience, balance and steady effort and the understanding of the enormous changes required and the time needed to carry them out in the nature. That is why Sri Aurobindo indicates that the seeker should not fixate on achieving the supermind as the immediate focus or goal.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 267-269

Attaining the Supermind Is Not the Object of the Integral Yoga

There is a danger which arises when the vital ego of man tries to associate itself with any great ideal or progress, as is represented by the ascent to the supramental level of consciousness. This danger can lead to pride, arrogance and the feeling of superiority that can look down on others and other paths, and which may lead to complacency in the effort. As we see from the history of humanity, the appeal of attaining new and greater powers, new and greater knowledge, some form of “supermanhood” is something that is quite attractive to the ego-personality. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the attainment of the supermind is not the goal but a means towards a divine realisation and action.

“It is a mistake to think, as many are apt to think, that the object of a supramental Yoga is to arrive at a mighty magnificence of a supermanhood, a divine power and greatness, the self-fulfilment of a magnified individual personality. This is a false and disastrous conception,–disastrous because it is likely to raise the pride, vanity and ambition of the rajasic vital mind in us and that, if not overpassed and overcome, must lead to spiritual downfall, false because it is an egoistic conception and the first condition of the supramental change is to get rid of ego. it is most dangerous for the active and dynamic nature of the man of will and works which can easily be led away by the pursuit of power.”

It is therefore essential to remain focused on the true goal of the yoga, for which the ascent to the supramental level is a means, not the end itself: “The sole aim is a spiritual perfection, a finding of the true self and a union with the Divine by putting on the divine consciousness and nature. All the rest is constituent detail and attendant circumstance. Ego-centric impulses, ambition, desire of power and greatness, motives of self-assertion are foreign to this greater consciousness and would be an insuperable bar against any possibility of even a distant approach towards the supramental change. One must lose one’s little lower self to find the greater self. Union with the Divine must be the master motive; even the discovery of the truth of one’s own being and of all being, life in that truth and its greater consciousness, perfection of the nature are only natural results of that movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 266-267

The Key Role of the Supramental Consciousness In the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo has identified a status of consciousness that mediates between the upper hemisphere of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, and the lower hemisphere of Body-Life-Mind. The characteristics of the upper hemisphere are pure existence, absolute knowledge and power, and unadulterated bliss. It is absolute, eternal, and infinite. The characteristics of the lower hemisphere are fragmentation and limitation, division and the consequent ignorance, weakness and suffering. The upper is the ultimate cause and substance from which the lower is created. Between the two there is the level of consciousness which Sri Aurobindo terms the “supramental” consciousness. While maintaining the characteristics of a Truth-Consciousness, this mediating level is able to take the “undivided” and parcel it out into individual forms, beings and powers. It acts something like a step-down transformer which takes the energy generated from a major electricity generator and cuts it back to a level that the individual transmitting wires and the receiving stations can handle and utilize without burning up from the pure, unadulterated energy.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “For the supermind is a Truth-Consciousness in which the Divine Reality, fully manifested, no longer works with the instrumentation of the Ignorance; a truth of status of being which is absolute becomes dynamic in a truth of energy and activity of the being which is self-existent and perfect. Every movement there is a movement of the self-aware truth of Divine Being and every part is in entire harmony with the whole. Even the most limited and finite action is in the Truth-Consciousness a movement of the Eternal and Infinite.”

Whatever specific steps a yogic process takes in the seeker, whether through the path of knowledge, devotion or works, the initial goal is to make a conscious connection with the Divine. In the integral Yoga there is the additional aspect of both accepting the manifestation as the omnipresent reality of the Divine and becoming an instrument of its evolutionary transformation from a state of ignorance, fragmentation and limitation to a state of knowledge, power and Oneness. “But the path, whatever its point of starting, must debouch into a vaster dominion; it must proceed in the end through a totality of integrated knowledge, emotion, will of dynamic action, perfection of the being and the entire nature. In the supramental consciousness, on the level of the supramental existence this integration becomes consummate; there knowledge, will, emotion, the perfection of the self and the dynamic nature rise each to its absolute of itself and all to their perfect harmony and fusion with each other, to a divine integrality, a divine perfection.”

It is the attainment of this level of consciousness that represents the key to the integral Yoga: “An ascent into the supramental Truth not only raises our spiritual and essential consciousness to that height but brings about a descent of this Light and Truth into all our being and all our parts of nature. All then becomes part of the Divine Truth, an element and means of the supreme union and oneness; this ascent and descent must be therefore an ultimate aim of this Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 13, The Supermind and the Yoga of Works, pp. 265-266

The Paths Of Knowledge, Devotion and Works Join In the Integral Yoga

Historically, individual seekers have been drawn to one or another of the paths of yoga, primarily based on their own inner predilections, readiness and openness, which brought about an introduction to and opportunity to take up the practice of one of the paths. Each of the paths had its own focus, practices, and end results for the sincere seeker.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the three paths as follows: “In the Way of Knowledge we may arrive at a point where we can leap out of personality and universe, escape from all thought and will and works and all way of Nature and, absorbed and taken up into Eternity, plunge into the Transcendence; that, though not obligatory on the God-knower, may be the soul’s decision, the term pursued by the self within us.”

“In the Way of Devotion we may reach through an intensity of adoration and joy union with the supreme All-Beloved and remain eternally in the ecstasy of his presence, absorbed in him alone, intimately in one world of bliss with him; that then may be our being’s impulsion, its spiritual choice.”

“But in the Way of Works another prospect opens; for travelling on that path, we can enter into liberation and perfection by becoming of one law and power of nature with the Eternal; we are identified with him in our will and dynamic self as much as in our spiritual status; a divine way of works is the natural outcome of this union; a divine living in a spiritual freedom the body of its self-expression.”

“In the Integral Yoga these three lines of approach give up their exclusions, meet and coalesce or spring out of each other; liberated from the mind’s veil over the self, we live in the Transcendence, enter by the adoration of the heart into the oneness of a supreme love and bliss, and all our forces of being uplifted into the one Force, our will and works surrendered into the one Will and Power, assume the dynamic perfection of the divine Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 263-264