All Existences in the Self, and the Self in All Existences

The seeker of the integral Yoga has as an initial aim the attainment of Oneness with the Transcendent, Eternal, Infinite Brahman. Yet this aim is not disassociated from the life in the world; rather there must be a recognition that the world is real, and that all of the beings, forms and forces in the world are also that One. With the tendency to see things as “either/or”, the human mind wants to reject the world in order to achieve the Eternal. Sri Aurobindo points out that this “cutting of the knot” is not actually a complete understanding of the truth of our existence.

“When we have once got rid of our confinement to this lower status, we are apt to seize on the other side of the same erroneous relation between self and world; we tend to regard this eternity which we increasingly are in which we live as the sole reality and begin to look down from it upon the world and man as a remote illusion and unreality, because that is a status quite opposite to our new foundation in which we no longer place our roots of consciousness, from which we have been lifted up and transfigured and with which we seem to have no longer any binding link.”

“But the self and the world are in an eternal close relation and there is a connection between them, not a gulf that has to be overleaped. Spirit and material existence are highest and lowest rung of an orderly and progressive series. Therefore between the two there must be a real relation and principle of connection by which the eternal Brahman is able to be at once pure Spirit and Self and yet hold in himself the universe of himself; and it must be possible for the soul that is one with or in union with the Eternal to adopt the same poise of divine relation in place of our present ignorant immersion in the world.”

“For integral self-possession we must be one not only with the Self, with God, but with all existences.”

“This is the realization which the ancient Vedantins spoke of as seeing all existences in the self and the self in all existences; and in addition they speak of the crowning realization of the man in whom the original miracle of existence has been repeated, self-being has become all these existences that belong to the worlds of the becoming. (Isha Upanishad.) In these three terms is expressed, fundamentally, the whole of that real relation between the self and the world which we have to substitute for the false relation created by the limiting ego.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 10, The Realisation of the Cosmic Self, pp. 352-354

Acting in the World Without the Ego-Sense

Those who follow the path of the ascetic renunciation of life to attain the status of the Transcendent, the Brahman, treat the world and all forms, forces and actions in the world as an illusion or a lesser reality. The integral seeker, however, although he too must break free of the ego-sense and achieve the transcendent Silence, also needs to be able to integrate this state of consciousness with action in the world. He recognizes that the world is not an illusion, but a manifestation of the Divine and the express intention of the Lord. Prakriti is seen by the integral seeker not as a maya of illusion, but as the executive force of the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo describes this relation: “In reality, the Prakriti does not act for itself or by its own motion, but with the Self as lord; for out of that Silence wells all this action, that apparent Void looses out as if into movement all these infinite riches of experiences.”

The question arises as to how the Jiva or individual Soul can act without ego. “There will be no ego-sense even if there is a sort of individualisation for the purposes of the play of universal consciousness in an individual mind and frame; and for this reason that all will be unforgettably the One and every Person or Purusha will be to him the One in many forms or rather in many aspects and poises, Brahman acting upon Brahman, one Nara-Naryana (The Divine, Narayana, making itself one with humanity even as the human, Nara becomes one with the Divine.) everywhere. In that larger play of the Divine the joy of the relations of divine love also is possible without the lapse into the ego-sense,–just as the supreme state of human love likewise is described as the unity of one soul in two bodies. The ego-sense is not indispensable to the world-play in which it is so active and so falsifies the truth of things; the truth is always One at work on itself, at play with itself, infinite in unity, infinite in multiplicity. When the individualised consciousness rises to and lives in that truth of the cosmic play, then even in full action, even in possession of the lower being the Jiva remains still one with the Lord, and there is no bondage and no delusion. He is in possession of Self and released from the ego.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pg. 351

The Basis of the Sense of the Illusory Nature of Outer Existence

The refusal of the ascetic, as Sri Aurobindo has described it in The Life Divine, is based on an experience so all-encompassing and so all-powerful that it is understandable why that path has been accepted by so many throughout history as the true end and goal of their spiritual seeking. This refusal is one that denies reality to the outer world of names, forms and actions, or at least relegates it to a lesser reality. In the view of the ascetic, the only true aim or goal is to abandon the entire outer world, the universal manifestation and the individual ego-personality and become fully, totally absorbed in the Absolute, silent, unmoving, vast and void of all action.

Sri Aurobindo states: “Into that abyss of tranquility we must plunge and become that, if we are to annul the hold of this lower nature upon the soul. Therefore the universalized Jiva first ascends into the Silence; it becomes vast, tranquil, actionless. What action takes place, whether of body and these organs or any working whatever, the Jiva sees but does not take part in, authorise or in any way associate itself with it. There is action, but no personal actor, no bondage, no responsibility.”

Action may require the apparent action of the ego-personality, but the Jiva remains behind or above, unaffected, and wears the ego-personality as a convenient suit of clothes for that action. In a further experience, the Jiva may find that the action continues purely as the mechanical round of Nature through the three Gunas without any personality intervening at all.

“The soul may go even beyond this realisation; it may either rise to the Brahman on the other side of all idea of Self as a Void of everything that is here, a Void of unnameable peace and extinction of all, even of the Sat, even of that Existent which is the impersonal basis of individual or universal personality; or else it may unit with it as an ineffable “That” of which nothing can be said; for the universe and all that is does not even exist in That, but appears to the mind as a dream more unsubstantial than any dream ever seen or imagined, so that even the word dream seems too positive a thing to express its entire unreality. These experiences are the foundation of that lofty illusionism which takes such firm hold of the human mind in its highest overleapings of itself.”

Even a slight taste of these experiences can be overwhelming to the seeker, so it is easy to understand how many are captivated by it and dedicate their lives to establishing them on a constant basis.

Sri Aurobindo observes that the seeker of the integral Yoga must also go through the experience of the vast Silence in order to do away with the vestiges of the ego-personality, yet the integral seeker does not remain in this experience; rather he recognizes that the world manifestation also is the Brahman, and thus, he participates in this manifestation as an instrument or portion of the Transcendent.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 350-351

Facing and Overcoming the Dark Night of the Soul in the Yogic Endeavor

One of the greatest dangers for someone practicing Yoga is a sense of discouragement that comes about when the mental ideal turns out not to be easily and totally translated to the outer nature. Experiences may come in the beginning as the intensity of the initial burst of enthusiasm brings about a focus and effort that is unsustainable for the long haul. When the experiences withdraw, the seeker may find himself feeling “abandoned” and “lost”. Spiritual seekers throughout the ages have described what they call the “dark night of the soul”, where the seeker feels like the support and help of the Divine Presence has been totally withdrawn. For the seeker of liberation and renunciation of the world of action, this is a difficult trial. For the seeker of the integral Yoga who must not only acquire the spiritual standpoint, but then work through the issues involved in transforming the outer life in its every detail, the difficulty is magnified and vastly extended.

Sri Aurobindo observes that there is not actually a withdrawal of the Divine support: “In reality, what happens is that a cloud or veil intervenes between the lower nature and the higher consciousness and the Prakriti resumes for a time its old habit of working under the pressure but not always with a knowledge or present memory of that high experience. What works in it then is a ghost of the old ego supporting a mechanical repetition of the old habits upon the remnants of confusion and impurity still left in the system. The cloud intervenes and disappears, the rhythm of ascent and descent renews itself until the impurity has been worked out.”

Eventually, however, the patient and persistent effort has its result: “But if or when our conscious being has become sufficiently pure and clear, then there is a firm station in the higher consciousness. The impersonalized Jiva, one with the universal or possessed by the Transcendent, lives high-seated above (udasina, the word for the spiritual ‘indifference’, that is to say the unattached freedom of the soul touched by the supreme knowledge.) and looks down undisturbed at whatever remnants of the old working of Nature may revisit the system. He cannot be moved by the workings of the three modes of Prakriti in his lower being, nor can he be shaken from his station by the attacks even of grief and suffering. And finally, there being no veil between, the higher peace overpowers the lower disturbance and mobility. There is a settled silence in which the soul can take sovereign possession of itself above and below and altogether.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 349-350

The Process and Experience of the Dissolution of the Ego

The practice of Yoga is not an exercise in philosophy or religion; rather, it is a work that seeks to effect a change in consciousness. Along the way, as the process unfolds, new experiences and perceptions take hold in the inner being of the seeker. While the realization may begin in the mind, eventually the repeated and habitual adjustment to the standpoint leads to something deeper, something that transforms the very inner nature of the conscious existence. The key step is to work at dissolving the ego-sense, thereby liberating the consciousness from its bondage to the fragmented and limited conscious existence of the human personality, so that it may widen and partake of the nature of the universal and transcendent aspects of existence.

Sri Aurobindo identifies the methodology: “In the path of Knowledge one attempts this abolition, negatively by a denial of the reality of the ego, positively by a constant fixing of the thought upon the idea of the One and the Infinite in itself or the One and Infinite everywhere. This, if persistently done changes in the end the mental outlook on oneself and the whole world and there is a kind of mental realisation; but afterwards by degrees or perhaps rapidly and imperatively and almost at the beginning the mental realisation deepens into spiritual experience–a realisation in the very substance of our being. More and more frequent conditions come of something indefinable and illimitable, a peace, a silence, a joy, a bliss beyond expression, a sense of absolute impersonal Power, a pure existence, a pure consciousness, an all-pervading Presence.”

This new state of consciousness eventually finishes the process of dissolving the ego-sense as it takes hold, repeats itself and becomes constant. During the process, there come experiences such as “…first a sudden sense of a cosmic consciousness, a casting of oneness into the universal; from that universality one can aspire more easily, aspire to the Transcendent. There is a pushing back and rending or a rushing down of the walls that imprisoned our conscious being; there is a loss of all sense of individuality and personality, of all placement in Space or Time or action and law of Nature; there is no longer an ego, a person definite and definable, but only consciousness, only existence, only peace and bliss; one becomes immortality, becomes eternity, becomes infinity. All that is left of the personal soul is a hymn of peace and freedom and bliss vibrating somewhere in the Eternal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 347-349

The Fullness of the Realisation in the Integral Yoga

The seeker of the integral Yoga begins with the understanding that there is an omnipresent reality which has a transcendent Spirit as the source of all, yet beyond all the manifested forms of the universe, a universal form of manifestation which partakes of the reality as it is a manifestation of that Spirit, and individual forms which participate in the universal manifestation while themselves partaking of the nature of the Spirit. The integral Yoga does not accept, therefore, any one-sided realization which denies or minimizes the reality of either the Transcendent or the Universal; rather, they are to be integrated together.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If the highest height of spiritual experience, the sheer summit of all realisation is the absolute union of the soul with the Transcendent who exceeds the individual and the universe, the widest scope of that union is the discovery of that very Transcendent as the source, support, continent, informing and constituent spirit and substance of both these manifesting powers of the divine Essence and the divine Nature. Whatever the path, this must be for him the goal. The Yoga of Action also is not fulfilled, is not absolute, is not victoriously complete until the seeker has felt and lives in his essential and integral oneness with the Supreme….The Yoga of devotion too is complete only when the lover and the Beloved are unified and difference is abolished in the ecstasy of a divine oneness, and yet in the mystery of this unification there is the sole existence of the Beloved but no extinction or absorption of the lover. It is the highest unity which is the express direction of the path of knowledge, the call to absolute oneness is its impulse, the experience of it its magnet: but it is this very highest unity which takes as its field of manifestation in him the largest possible cosmic wideness. Obeying the necessity to withdraw successively from the practical egoism of our triple nature and its fundamental ego-sense, we come to the realisation of the spirit, the self, the lord of this individual human manifestation, but our knowledge is not integral if we do not make this self in the individual one with the cosmic spirit and find their greater reality above in an inexpressible but not unknowable Transcendence. That Jiva, possessed of himself, must give himself up into the being of the Divine. The self of the man must be made one with the Self of all; the self of the finite individual must pour itself into the boundless finite and that cosmic spirit must be exceeded in the transcendent Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 346-347

The Jiva : The True Self and The Supreme Object of Knowledge

The Jiva, also referred to as Jivatman, is the term used to describe the true soul of man as distinguished from the ego-sense in the mental-vital-physical being. While the ego is bound to the actions of Nature, the Jiva is free and separate. The Jiva is of the nature of the Spirit. Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is not a thing bound, as the mental being, the vital, the physical are bound, by her habits, laws or processes. The Jiva is a spirit and self, superior to Nature. It is true that it consents to her acts, reflects her moods and upholds the triple medium of mind, life and body through which she casts them upon the soul’s consciousness; but it is itself a living reflection or a soul-form or a self-creation of the Spirit universal and transcendent. The One Spirit who has mirrored some of His modes of being in the world and in the soul, is multiple in the Jiva. That Spirit is the very Self of our self, the One and the Highest, the Supreme we have to realise, the infinite existence into which we have to enter.”

The realization of the Jivatman implies a shifting from the standpoint of the limited individual nexus or form of being, controlled and formed by the action of the three Gunas of Nature, to the free and unlimited standpoint of the Spirit which is at the same time transcendent, universal and manifest in the individual form, as multiple instances of the One Spirit, which is then called the Jiva.

The various paths of realization then differentiate themselves as to how they relate to the concept of the Jiva and its practical reality in the process of soul-seeking and liberation. Some will follow the path of an exclusive focus on the transcendent Spirit into which the Jiva should seek to be absorbed. Others seek to turn the relation between the individual form of Spirit, the Jiva into a constant play of devotion and love toward the universal Spirit. This distinguishes the Monist from the Dualist or partial Monist as described by Sri Aurobindo. In either case, the bound ego-formation must be renounced and the Jiva, released from the ego-sense, can then realise the “supreme object of knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pp. 345-346