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