The Supramental Consciousness and the Process of Concentration

Due to the nature and character of the mental consciousness, which tends to react to various sensory impressions and input and thus jumps around without consistency from one thought or subject to the next, the process of concentration is a necessary one that helps the mind overcome its limitations and prepares the consciousness for the ascent to the next level.

At the level beyond the mind, termed by Sri Aurobindo the “supramental” level, however, there is a complete reversal of the process and the significance of concentration. The supramental consciousness is one and unified, not fragmented as the mental consciousness. Its normal status is comprehensive and therefore, there is no need, once that point has been reached, to further concentrate on a specific idea or concept; rather, the supramental consciousness embraces everything in a wholistic manner and even when it sees and deals with various forms or forces, it does so within the framework of the whole, without treating them as independent or opposed to one another.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But that which is beyond the mind and into which we seek to rise is superior to the running process of the thought, superior to the division of ideas. The Divine is centred in itself and when it throws out ideas and activities does not divide itself or imprison itself in them, but holds them and their movement in its infinity; undivided, its whole self is behind each Idea and each movement and at the same time behind all of them together. Held by it, each spontaneously works itself out, not through a separate act of will, but by the general force of consciousness behind it; if to us there seems to be a concentration of divine Will and Knowledge in each, it is a multiple and equal and not an exclusive concentration, and the reality of it is rather a free and spontaneous working in a self-gathered unity and infinity.”

By attaining that next level of consciousness, the Soul shares in its qualities of oneness and unity. “It is for this reason that, as is said in the ancient books, the man who has arrived at Self-possession attains spontaneously without the need of concentration in thought and effort the knowledge or the result which the Idea or the Will in him moves out to embrace.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 307-308


Concentration, Samadhi and the Integral Yoga

As traditionally understood, Samadhi is a state of consciousness that is totally absorbed in the Absolute, devoid of content of “names and forms” and abstracted from the outer world and its forms, forces, powers and events. There are several stages of Samadhi, such as that “with seed” and that “without seed” representing the idea that certain forms of the trance-state still hold the ability to recreate the names and forms, while others are so far developed that nothing can disturb it, and it is essentially a total absorption.

Sri Aurobindo has already observed that Samadhi in the integral Yoga must take on a new meaning, which he defines here: “…a certain self-gathered state of our whole existence lifted into that superconscient truth, unity and infinity of self-aware, self-blissful existence is the aim and culmination; and that is the meaning we shall give to the term Samadhi. Not merely a state withdrawn from all consciousness of the outward, withdrawn even from all consciousness of the inward into that which exists beyond both whether as seed of both or transcendent even of their seed-state; but a settled existence in the One and Infinite, united and identified with it, and this status to remain whether we abide in the waking condition in which we are conscious of the forms of things or we withdraw into the inward activity which dwells in the play of the principles of things, the pay of their names and typal forms or we soar to the condition of static inwardness where we arrive at the principles themselves and at the principle of all principles, the seed of name and form.”

To attain this state of consciousness, the traditional Yoga of knowledge sets forth a systematic discipline of purification and concentration. This method systematically drops off the focus of the consciousness from the outer world and its forms and moves inward to concept, principle and eventually pure status of being. Sri Aurobindo observes in this regard that there is a form of concentration that can provide leverage in this process: “This concentration proceeds by the Idea, using thought, form and name as keys which yield up to the concentrating mind the Truth that lies concealed behind all thought, form and name; for it is through the Idea that the mental being rises beyond all expression to that which is expressed, to that of which the Idea itself is only the instrument. By concentration upon the Idea the mental existence which at present we are breaks open the barrier of our mentality and arrives at the state of consciousness, the state of being, the state of power of conscious-being and bliss of conscious-being to which the Idea corresponds and of which it is the symbol, movement and rhythm. Concentration by the Idea is, then, only a means, a key to open to us the superconscient planes of our existence…”

The main thing is to recognize that this is a technique and that by moving beyond outer forms and names, and concepts to the ideal plane of Ideas, and then moving from there to a status of being that is devoid of specific form, even ideal forms, we are providing leverage for exceeding the limits of the mentality. Once the all-encompassing state of Samadhi is attained, it remains firm whether in the outer world of manifestation or in the inner conscious awareness, and is thus, independent of the physical act of renunciation that has been a requirement of the traditional Yoga of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 307

The Divine Concentration

The integeral Yoga starts from the basis that the Divine is not solely the Transcendent, but also manifests as the Universal and the Individual Soul. The world therefore is not an illusion, but a conscious manifest Existence of the Timeless through Time. The individual is not separate from the Divine, but rather a nexus or focus for individualisation and the creation of points of differentiation and interchange by the Divine for His own play. Thus, each action we undertake is not that of a separate, fragmented being.

Sri Aurobindo explains the meaning of concentration from this viewpoint: “All our concentration is merely an image of the divine Tapas by which the Self dwells gathered in itself, by which it manifests within itself, by which it maintains and possesses its manifestation, by which it draws back from all manifestation into its supreme oneness. Being dwelling in consciousness upon itself for bliss, this is the divine Tapas; and a Knowledge-Will dwelling in force of consciousness on itself and its manifestations is the essence of the divine concentration, the Yoga of the Lord of Yoga. Given the self-differentiation of the Divine in which we dwell, concentration is the means by which the individual soul identifies itself with and enters into any form, state or psychological self-manifestation (bhava) of the Self. To use this means for unification with the Divine is the condition for the attainment of divine knowledge and the principle of all Yoga of knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 306

The Aim of the Integral Yoga

In order to appreciate the relation of the traditional practices of the Yoga of knowledge to the focus of the seeker of the integral Yoga, we must first appreciate the differences in aim between the two paths. The traditional Yoga of knowledge fixates all its attention on the transcendent, the Eternal, the Absolute. All effort spent dealing with the other world of manifestation is considered essentially to be that much effort wasted or at least not applied most effectively. Concentration for the Yoga of knowledge then implies a removal of the attention from the outer world and its forms, forces and objects. For the seeker of the integral Yoga, however, a new understanding about the role of concentration arises when we recognize that the integral Yoga does not seek to abandon the outer world, but to transform it into a true and clear expression of the Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo describes the aim of the integral Yoga: “We must aim indeed at the Highest, the Source of all, the Transcendent but not to the exclusion of that which it transcends, rather as the source of an established experience and supreme state of the soul which shall transform all other states and remould our consciousness of the world into the form of its secret Truth. We do not seek to excise from our being all consciousness of the universe, but to realise God, Truth and Self in the universe as well as transcendent of it. We shall seek therefore not only the Ineffable, but also His manifestation as infinite being, consciousness and bliss embracing the universe and at play in it.”

Through an increasing identity, we shall take up all fields of action in life, including knowledge, power, love, beauty, not just in an ideal status beyond all manifestation, but also in the universal creation and in each individual form and being within that universal existence. “This not only as a means of approach and passage to His supreme transcendence, but as the condition even when we possess and are possessed by the Transcendent, of a divine life in the manifestation of the cosmos.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 305-306

Raja Yoga and the Transcendent Goal of the Traditional Yoga of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo uses the systematic progression of steps of Raja Yoga as an example of the use of concentration as part of the discipline used in the Yoga of knowledge to achieve spiritual liberation. In the traditional Yoga of knowledge there is a focus on the abandonment of the “illusory” life of the world, and an absorption into the status of the highest transcendent Brahman: “…it implies also in the end a renunciation, a cessation and lastly an ascent into the absolute and transcendent state of Samadhi from which if it culminates, if it endures, there is, except perhaps for one soul out of many thousands, no return. For by that we go to the ‘supreme state of the Eternal whence souls revert not’ into the cyclic action of Nature; and it is into this Samadhi that the Yogin who aims at release from the world seeks to pass away at the time of leaving his body.”

Taking up the theme of Raja Yoga: “We see this succession in the discipline of the Rajayoga. For first the Rajayogin must arrive at a certain moral and spiritual purity; he must get rid of the lower or downward activities of his mind, but afterwards he must stop all its activities and concentrate himself in the one idea that leads from activity to the quiescence of status. The Rajayogic concentration has several stages, that in which the object is seized, that in which it is held, that in which the mind is lost in the status which the object represents or to which the concentration leads, and only the last is termed Samadhi in the Rajayoga although the word is capable, as in the Gita, of a much wider sense. But in the Rajayogic Samadhi there are different grades of status,–that in which the mind, though lost to outward objects, still muses, thinks, perceives in the world of thought, that in which the mind is still capable of primary thought-formations and that in which, all out-darting of the mind even within itself having ceased, the soul rises beyond thought into the silence of the Incommunicable and Ineffable.”

Along the way, the mind is trained in concentration by focusing it on varying objects, whether external forms, or sounds, or internal visualisation or concepts. “the highest support according to the Upanishads is the mystic syllable AUM, whose three letters represent the Brahman or Supreme Self in its three degrees of status, the Waking Soul, the Dream Soul and the Sleep Soul, and the whole potent sound rises towards that which is beyond status as beyond activity. For of all Yoga of knowledge the final goal is the Transcendent.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 304-305

The Power of Concentration In the Yoga of Knowledge

In his lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda provides an extended description of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and their meaning. To a great extent, this text is a primer on the power of concentration and its application for the practitioner of Yoga. Raja Yoga can be seen as the art and science of concentration. One of the powers described by Swami Vivekananda is “samyama’, essentially a total, absorbed concentration on any object which results in the complete knowing by identity of whatever was the focus of the concentration. In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the disciple is urged to undertake “concentration in thought”, as translated by Sri Aurobindo, because “concentration in thought is the Eternal.” The power of concentration is central to any practice of the Yoga of Knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo provides a description of three powers of concentration in achieving the spiritual aim: “By concentration on anything whatsoever we are able to know that thing, to make it deliver up its concealed secrets; we must use this power to know not things, but the one Thing-in-itself. By concentration again the whole will can be gathered up fro the acquisition of that which is still ungrasped, still beyond us; this power, if it is sufficiently trained, sufficiently single-minded, sufficiently sincere, sure of itself, faithful to itself alone, absolute in faith, we can use for the acquisition of any object whatsoever; but we ought to use it not for the acquisition of the many objects which the world offers to us, but to grasp spiritually that one object worthy of pursuit which is also the one subject worthy of knowledge. By concentration of our whole being on one status of itself, we can become whatever we choose; we can become, for instance, even if we were before a mass of weaknesses and fear, a mass instead of strength and courage, or we can become all a great purity, holiness and peace or a single universal soul of Love; but we ought, it is said, to use this power to become not even these things, high as they may be in comparison with what we now are, but rather to become that which is above all things and free from all action and attributes, the pure and absolute Being.” These three powers, when applied to the highest aim set forth for the Yoga of knowledge, become the way, the path and the method of the Yogic process.

Understanding and wielding the power of concentration, however, is important not just for the practice of the traditional Yoga of knowledge, but has its benefits for the integral Yoga as well, when one recognizes that the aim of the Yoga of knowledge, essentially a renunciation of the world, does not entirely agree with the premise of the integral Yoga which seeks to unify the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the material, the One and the many, and transform all life, not through renunciation of that life, but through spiritual action, into a pure expression of the Divine Being in manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 304

Purity and Concentration

Sri Aurobindo observes that the status of purity and that of concentration are necessary to one another. “Purity and concentration are indeed two aspects, feminine and masculine, passive and active, of the same status of being; purity is the condition in which concentration becomes entire, rightly effective, omnipotent; by concentration purity does its works and without it would only lead to a state of peaceful quiescence and eternal repose.”

By achieving the types of purity of the being that allow the higher understanding to operate in a clear and direct manner without dilution or admixture, we can bring about a state of concentration that is incredibly focused and powerful.

We also find that where the impurity yet exists, the diffuse and varied impulses, emotions, suggestions, desires, cravings, thoughts and wishes all seem to jostle around inside the being creating a chaotic and unruly environment where concentration is basically impossible. Sri Aurobindo notes that “impurity is a confusion of Dharmas, a lax, mixed and mutually entangled action of the different parts of the being; and this confusion proceeds from an absence of right concentration of its knowledge on its energies in the embodied Soul.”

“Equally, without purity the complete, equal, flexible concentration of the being in right thought, right will, right feeling or secure status of spiritual experience is not possible. Therefore the two must proceed together, each helping the victory of the other, until we arrive at that eternal calm fro which may proceed some partial image in the human being of the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient activity.’

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 303

The Power of Intellectual Passivity

The purification of the higher understanding is a necessary precondition for exceeding the limitations of the mind as an instrument of knowledge; however, it is in itself insufficient to achieve the higher knowledge which is the object of the Yoga of knowledge. Sri Aurobindo notes: “But for real knowledge something more is necessary, since real knowledge is by our very definition of it supra-intellectual.”

At some point the mind must be prepared to become quiet and receptive to allow the higher powers of knowledge, that have their origin beyond the mental framework, to become fully active. In order to do this, Sri Aurobindo cites the need for “the power of intellectual passivity” which is of two kinds.

“In the first place we have seen that intellectual thought is in itself inadequate and is not the highest thinking; the highest is that which comes through the intuitive mind and from the supramental faculty. So long as we are dominated by the intellectual habit and by the lower workings, the intuitive mind can only send its messages to us subconsciously and subject to a distortion more or less entire before it reaches the conscious mind; or if it works consciously, then only with an inadequate rarity and a great imperfection in its functioning.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that a similar process is required to separate the intuitive mind from the higher reasoning intelligence to that which was undertaken to separate the sense-mind from the higher reason. “The remedy is to train first the intellect to recognise the true intuition, to distinguish it from the false and then to accustom it, when it arrives at an intellectual perception or conclusion, to attach no final value to it, but rather look upward, refer all to the divine principle and wait in as complete a silence as it can command for the light from above. In this way it is possible to transmute a great part of our intellectual thinking into the luminous truth-conscious vision,–the ideal would be a complete transition,–or at least to increase greatly the frequency, purity and conscious force of the ideal knowledge working behind the intellect.” This demands a passive stance of the intellectual faculty to recognise and be receptive to this higher form of knowing that originates beyond the framework of the intellect.

The second phase goes beyond even this receptivity: “But for the knowledge of the Self it is necessary to have the power of a complete intellectual passivity, the power of dismissing all thought, the power of the mind to think not at all which the Gita in one passage enjoins.” The power of the silence of the mind, so antithetical to the Western reliance on the thought process, is in fact, the necessary power to achieve this higher result. “But this power of silence is a capacity and not an incapacity, a power and not a weakness. It is a profound and pregnant stillness. Only when the mind is entirely still, like clear, motionless and level water, in a perfect purity and peace of the whole being and the soul transcends thought, can the Self which exceeds and originates all activities and becomings, the Silence fro which all words are born, the Absolute of which all relativities are partial reflections manifest itself in the pure essence of our being. In a complete silence only is the Silence heard; in a pure peace only is its Being revealed.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 3, The Purified Understanding, pp. 301-302

Addressing the Third Cause of Impurity For the Action of the Higher Understanding

Sri Aurobindo has described the first cause of impurity in the understanding as stemming from the vital nature and the action of desire. The second cause proceeds from the senses and the sense-mind and their imperfect operation both in terms of perception and in terms of interpretation of the data. Thie third cause of impurity is native to the higher understanding itself and is due to bias, predilection or a predetermined frame of reference used by the higher understanding, which filters the results and skews them.

Sri Aurobindo weighs in on this subject: “They lead to a partiality and attachment which makes the intellect cling to certain ideas and opinions with a more or less obstinate will to ignore the truth in other ideas and opinions, cling to certain fragments of a truth and shy against the admission of other parts which are yet necessary to its fullness, cling to certain predilections of knowledge and repel all knowledge that does not agree with the personal temperament of thought which has been acquired by the past of the thinker.”

This particular issue is especially difficult for those who have adopted a specific direction or line of thought or understanding, as they tend to see their own framework as being true and others as being less true or even false. We see this particularly in religious and philosophical teachings which try to maintain a wall around the understanding of the seeker who adheres to those specific teachings. Sri Aurobindo asks the seeker to be willing to see and accept truth even in teachings opposed to one’s own direction:

“The remedy lies in a perfect equality of the mind, in the cultivation of an entire intellectual rectitude and in the perfection of mental disinterestedness. The purified understanding as it will not lend itself to any desire or craving, so will not lend itself either to any predilection or distaste for any particular idea or truth, and will refuse to be attached even to those ideas of which it is most certain or to lay on them such an undue stress as is likely to disturb the balance of truth and depreciate the values of other elements of a complete and perfect knowledge.”

The goal of the Yoga of knowledge is not to erect a philosophical system that is impervious to being brought down by counter-arguments, but to release the understanding from the bonds of limitation so that it can see and respond to the infinite truth of existence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 3, The Purified Understanding, pg. 300

Addressing the Second Cause of Impurity For the Action of the Higher Understanding

Whereas the first cause of impurity is related to the mixing of the vital force of desire into the action of the higher reason, the second is caused by the mixing of the sense-mind into the higher understanding. The sense-mind collects and interprets the impressions of the senses. Unfortunately, the sense-impressions frequently convey inaccurate, incomplete or mis-perceived facts. For instance, the senses tell us that the sun revolves around the earth. For long ages of human history, most people accepted this as factual. Today through the use of instruments of technology we are able to correct this false impression and override it with our reason. Along the way, those, such as Copernicus or Galileo who proposed a different model of the cosmic plan than that accepted by the sense-mind as reality, were treated with contempt and harsh punishment for their “heresy”.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “No knowledge can be true knowledge which subjects itself to the senses or uses them otherwise than as first indices whose data have constantly to be corrected and overpassed. The beginning of Science is the examination of the truths of the world-force that underlie its apparent workings such as our senses represent them to be; the beginning of philosophy is the examination of the principles of things which the senses mistranslate to us; the beginning of spiritual knowledge is the refusal to accept the limitations of the sense-life or to take the visible and sensible as anything more than phenomenon of the Reality.”

It becomes therefore essential that the higher reason and faculties of understanding are freed from subjection to the sense-mind and allowed to undertake their true function in a state of calm, quiet and an undemanding poise of the sense-mind. This practice is an important part of the Yoga of knowledge: “When the understanding in us stands back from the action of the sense-mind and repels its intermiscence, the latter detaches itself from the understanding and can be watched in its separate action. It then reveals itself as a constantly swirling and eddying undercurrent of habitual concepts, associations, perceptions, desires without any real sequence, order or principle of light….Ordinarily the human understanding accepts this undercurrent and tries to reduce it to a partial order and sequence; but by so doing it becomes itself subject to it and partakes of that disorder, restlessness, unintelligent subjection to habit and blind purposeless repetition which makes the ordinary human reason a misleading, limited and even frivolous and futile instrument. There is nothing to be done with this fickle, restless, violent and disturbing factor but to get rid of it whether by detaching it and then reducing it to stillness or by giving a concentration and singleness to the thought by which it will of itself reject this alien and confusing element.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 3, The Purified Understanding, pp. 299-300