Spiritualising the Mind In the Practice of the Integral Yoga

Sri Aurobindo has shown that the two primary methods of the traditional Yoga of knowledge each have their limitations by excluding the active life in the world and the full implementation of the mentality in life. The seeking after the Absolute requires a total abandonment of the outer life; while the attempt to bring the divine Presence into the world involves a total quiescence of the being and the mind. The integral Yoga, which seeks to transform life, not abandon it, therefore must identify a method and process that permits such a transformative action to occur.

The mind, following its normal pattern of “either/or”, sees no easy solution to this conundrum. Sri Aurobindo observes that the secret lies in the planes of consciousness that are intermediate to the two poles, the divine pole of Sat-Chit-Ananda and the human pole of Body-Life-Mind. These intermediate planes carry the consciousness of the divine while simultaneously adapting it to the needs of the mental being living in the world.

We can conceive of this something like a huge power generating station that puts out enormous amounts of electricity at levels that cannot be sustained by normal household wiring and fixtures. The power thus transmitted must go through what is know as a ‘step down transformer’ which converts the power into a level and type that can actually be received and utilized by the end-user. The intermediate planes of consciousness do something similar and thus, adapt the divine knowledge and force into terms that can have an impact on the mind and life in the body.

This provides then a possibility and the mechanism for a meaningful interchange between the two states of consciousness, and thus, a format for the experience of the Divine Consciousness by the human seeker, and the infiltration of the Divine Consciousness into human life.

“The transformation is possible because, although the divine planes are above the mental consciousness and to enter actually into them we have ordinarily to lose the mental in Samadhi, yet there are in the mental being divine planes superior to our normal mentality which reproduce the conditions of the divine plane proper, although modified by the conditions, dominant here, of mentality. All that belongs to the experience of the divine plane can there be seized, but in the mental way and in a mental form. To these planes of divine mentality it is possible for the developed human being to arise in the waking state; or it is possible for him to derive from them a stream of influences and experiences which shall eventually open to them and transform into their nature his whole waking existence. These higher mental states are the immediate sources, the large actual instruments, the inner stations of his perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 381-382


Spiritualizing the Mind Through a Form of Waking Samadhi

The attempt to raise up the mind to the higher levels of consciousness is made virtually impossible by the different nature of the mind from the consciousness known as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Those who seek to attain the higher region thus are left to abandon the mind and actions that are dependent on it, such as an active life in the world. The alternative approach takes the position that the higher spiritual consciousness can descend and spiritualise the mind. The difficulty with this approach is the same one faced by those who seek to ascend with the mind; namely, the varying nature of the mind’s characteristic action and that of the higher levels of consciousness. Nevertheless, as we saw in the first instance, so in this one, a result can be attained. Sri Aurobindo describes the nature of this attempt: “This may be done and primarily must be done by the mind’s power of reflecting that which it knows, relates to its own consciousness, contemplates. For the mind is really a reflector and a medium and none of its activities originate in themselves, none exist per se. Ordinarily the mind reflects the status of mortal nature and the activities of the Force which works under the conditions of the material universe. But if it becomes clear, passive, pure, by the renunciation of these activities and of the characteristic ideas and outlook of mental nature, then as in a clear mirror or like the sky in clear water which is without ripple and unruffled by the winds, the divine is reflected.”

The limitation of this approach is that it requires a silencing and stilling of the mind-stuff, a condition attained through constant practice and through renunciation of the active life in the world, once again. “If it becomes active, it falls back into the disturbance of the mortal nature and reflects that and no longer the divine. For this reason an absolute quietism and a cessation first of all outer action and then of all inner movement is the ideal ordinarily proposed; here too, for the follower of the path of knowledge, there must be a sort of waking Samadhi. Whatever action is unavoidable, must be a purely superficial working of the organs of perception and motor action in which the quiescent mind takes eventually no part and from which it seeks no result or profit.”

Elsewhere, Sri Aurobindo describes the process of silencing the mind, which was his early introduction to the practice of Yoga. He was able to observe the thoughts entering from outside and through a process of rejection or disallowance of them, he was able to bring the mind to the silent state. This state may be necessary at some stage for the seeker to bring about the possibility of a new force working in the consciousness, but it clearly cannot meet the entire call of the seeker of the integral Yoga, as it remains limited in quiescence and inaction.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 380-381

The Need to Spiritualize the Mind

Deathbed salvation is a concept that has considerable attraction for those who recognize that the outer life is something lesser and distracting to the spiritual aspiration and for those who work to maintain a state of Yogic trance as much as possible to escape the impinging forces of the outer world. The basic concept is that if one is in a spiritual trance and from there pass to the state of death, salvation is assured. There is much in common here with the idea prevalent in some religions that even someone who has lived a life of dissipation and “sin” can be “saved” if he is truly repentant at the time of death.

What is not recognized in either of these approaches is the fact that there is a complex web of energies, physical, vital and mental which all have gone into the creation of the person at the time of death, and these energies are not simply wiped out through either the Yogic trance or the transition of death of the body. Until the entire being is transformed, there remain movements that continue the old consciousness and methods.

Sri Aurobindo observes: But what under these circumstances is the human mind which seeks the divine to do with its waking moments? For if these are subject to all the disabilities of mortal mentality, if they are open to the attacks of grief, fear, anger, passion, hunger, greed, desire, it is irrational to suppose that by the mere concentration of the mental being in the Yogic trance at the moment of putting off the body, the soul can pass away without return into the supreme existence. For man’s normal consciousness is still subject to what the Buddhists call the chain or stream of Karma; it is still creating energies which must continue and have their effect in a continued life of the mental being which is creating them.”

The mind, which is independent of the body, does not disappear with the death of the physical body. “…to get rid of mortal body is not to get rid of mortal mind.”

Sri Aurobindo goes further to state that adopting a type of what can be called a “spiritual distaste for the world” is nevertheless still a mental formation and thus, does not solve the issue. “…for this too belongs to the lower mental status and activity.”

“The highest teaching is that even the desire for liberation with all its mental concomitants must be surpassed before the soul can be entirely free. Therefore not only must the mind be able to rise in abnormal states out of itself into a higher consciousness, but its waking mentality also must be entirely spiritualised.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pg. 380

The Yogic Trance and the Renunciation of Active Life in the World

The mind operates on a different basic plan than the pure spiritual consciousness of Sat-Chit-Ananda. The mind divides, fragments, separates and classifies. Sat-Chit-Ananda by its very nature is based on unity, harmony and the awareness of absolute Oneness. It is thus not possible for the mind in its current status to take on the consciousness of the Divine. This has led, first, to the recognition that the mind needs to be silenced or stilled in order for the consciousness to shift to the upper hemisphere. Sri Aurobindo observes: “For this reason the Raja and other systems of Yoga give a supreme importance to the state of Samadhi or Yogic trance in which the mind withdraws not only from its ordinary interests and preoccupations, but first from all consciousness of outward act and sense and being and then from all consciousness of inward mental activities. In this its inward-gathered state the mental being may have different kinds of realisation of the Supreme in itself or in various aspects or on various levels, but the ideal is to get rid of mind altogether and, going beyond mental realisation, to enter into the absolute trance in which all sign of mind or lower existence ceases. But this is a state of consciousness to which few can attain and from which not all can return.”
The problem arises, of course, in that attaining such a state of consciousness and holding onto it is in conflict with the normal functioning and waking state of activity for which the mind is intended. Eventually, the bodily life, however, can reassert its call, and the trance is broken and the seeker returns to outer mental awareness. “And when one returns to the mental consciousness, one is back again in the lower being. Therefore it has been said that complete liberation from the human birth, complete ascension from the life of the mental being is impossible until the body and the bodily life are finally cast off. The ideal upheld before the Yogin who follows this method is to renounce all desire and every least velleity of the human life, of the mental existence, to detach himself utterly from the world and, entering more and more frequently and more and more deeply into the most concentrated state of Samadhi, finally to leave the body while in that utter in-gathering of the being so that it may depart into the supreme Existence. It is also be reason of this apparent incompatibility of mind and Spirit that so many religions and systems are led to condemn the world and look forward only to a heaven beyond or else a void Nirvana or supreme featureless self-existence in the Supreme.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 379-380

The Gulf Between Sat-Chit-Ananda and the Mental Being

There is a strong psychological basis in the attitude that considers an entirely new consciousness, one that is unlimited, and infinite in its expanse and its persistence through time, one that has absolute existence, all-consciousness and unimpaired bliss, to be impossible for the human being to experience, much less reside in. The basic makeup of the mental being, small, limited, separated, weak and hindered in every direction makes it seem like a foolish notion. This has led some to posit that such a consciousness, even supposing it exists (for many deny the reality of such a notion), is not attainable and belongs to another category of being, a God or Divinity that is greater than and other than the mental being. It has led others to determine that such an experience is possible, but not with the mental being, thus leading to the attempt to shut down the mental faculties, abandon focus on the life in the world, and shift the entire consciousness to this new standpoint.

Those who have a glimpse of this other consciousness are generally overwhelmed by the experience; it cannot be codified into our language and as the Upanishad states: “The Bliss of the Eternal from which words turn back without attaining and mind also returneth baffled…” (Taittiriya Upanishad Brahmanandavalli, Chapter 9)

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There is this infinite existence; but it is quite other than the mental being who becomes aware of it, and we cannot either raise ourselves to it and become it or bring it down to ourselves so that our own experience of our being and world-being shall be that of its blissful infinity. There is this great, boundless, unconditioned consciousness and force; but our consciousness and force stands apart from it, even if within it, limited, petty, discouraged, disgusted with itself and the world, but unable to participate in that higher thing which it has seen. There is this immeasurable and unstained bliss; but our own being remains the sport of a lower Nature of pleasure and pain and dull neutral sensation incapable of its divine delight. There is this perfect Knowledge and Will; but our own remains always the mental deformed knowledge and limping will incapable of sharing in or even being in tune with that nature of Godhead. Or else so long as we live purely in an ecstatic contemplation of that vision, we are delivered from ourselves; but the moment we again turn our consciousness upon our own being we fall away from it and it disappears or becomes remote an intangible. The Divinity leaves us; the Vision vanishes; we are back again in the pettiness of our mortal existence.”

Briefly stated, if there is to be a consciousness that unifies our experience with that of Sat-Chit-Ananda, the upper hemisphere of consciousness, we need to discover a new way of knowing and experiencing that moves beyond the limitations of the mind-life-body.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 378-379

Penetrating the Veil of the Higher Planes of Consciousness

The “brilliant golden lid” referred to in the Isha Upanishad describes an experience of consciousness by those who seek to achieve a higher state of conscious awareness than the mental-vital-physical mechanism under which most people operate. This has also given rise to the concept of there being two “hemispheres” of consciousness, the lower and the higher, separated by an intermediary level that translates the principle of the one into the principle of the other, similar to a “step down transformer” in terms of electricity generation and distribution. The upper hemisphere of Sat-Chit-Ananda is translated, through the action of the supramental level of consciousness, from its status of Oneness, All-Knowledge and All-Power and All-Bliss into the multitude of names, forms and forces that we recognize as separate in the lower hemisphere through the action of mind, but which are in reality forms, forces and beings that abide forever in inherent Oneness.

The effort to penetrate the veil or lid can take a number of forms, including the austere concentration of the Yoga of Knowledge, the devotional absorption of the Yoga of Love, or the dedicated focused Will and surrender of the Yoga of Works. It may also take the form of prayer and fasting, vision quest, or practices such as Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga or Raja Yoga that seek to control and direct the psychic Prana, the vital force of all creation, to direct the energy upwards and pierce through to the other side.

Depending on which method succeeds, the seeker will see the Divine in a different form or as a different principle. Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “But when it succeeds in that difficult endeavour, it sees the divine as something superior to it, distant, high, conceptually, vitally, even physically above it, to which it looks up from its own humble station and to which it has, if at all that be possible, to rise, or if it be not possible, to call that down to itself, to be subject to it and to adore. It sees the divine as a superior plane of being, and then it regards it as a supreme state of existence, a heaven or a Sat or a Nirvana according to the nature of its own conception nor realisation. Or it sees it as a supreme Being other than itself or at least other than its own present self, and then it calls it God under one name or another, and views it as personal or impersonal, qualitied or without qualities, silent and indifferent Power or active Lord and Helper, again according to its own conception or realisation, its vision or understanding of some side or some aspect of that Being. Or it sees it as a supreme Reality of which its own imperfect being is a reflection or from which it has become detached, and then it calls it Self or Brahman and qualifies it variously, always according to its own conception or realisation,–Existence, Non-Existence, Tao, Nihil, Force, Unknowable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 377-378

Divine Consciousness and Human Consciousness

The principle and basic mode of operation of the human mental being is vastly different from that of the spiritual being. Spirituality is not some kind of advanced or refined intellectuality; rather, it is a completely different level and order of consciousness with its own distinct way of knowing and acting. In most ways, it seems to be the “opposite” of the mental mode.

Sri Aurobindo sets these two side by side: First the spiritual being: “To the former belong infinite being, infinite consciousness and will, infinite bliss and the infinite comprehensive and self-effective knowledge of supermind, four divine principles…” Next the mental being: “…to the latter belong mental being, vital being, physical being, three human principles.”

“The divine is infinite and immortal being; the human is life limited in time and scope and form, life that is death attempting to become life that is immortality. The divine is infinite consciousness transcending and embracing all that it manifests within it; the human is consciousness rescued from a sleep of inconscience, subjected to the means it uses, limited by body and ego and attempting to find its relation to other consciousnesses, bodies, egos positively by various means of uniting contact and sympathy, negatively by various means of hostile contact and antipathy. The divine is inalienable self-bliss and inviolable all-bliss; the human is sensation of mind and body seeking for delight, but finding only pleasure, indifference and pain. The divine is supramental knowledge comprehending all and supramental will effecting all; the human is ignorance reaching out to knowledge by the comprehension of things in parts and parcels which it has to join clumsily together, and it is incapacity attempting to acquire force and will through a gradual extension of power corresponding to its gradual extension of knowledge; and this extension it can only bring about by a partial and parcelled exercise of will corresponding to the partial and parcelled method of its knowledge. The divine founds itself upon unity and is master of the transcendences and totalities of things; the human founds itself on separate multiplicity and is the subject even when the master of their division and fragmentations and their difficult solderings and unifyings.”

These are represented by two hemispheres, separated by a golden veil or lid. As a result, the human consciousness has no direct access to the upper divine hemisphere usually. The Isha Upanishad (v. 15) states: “The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid…” For most human beings, tied to the mental framework, there is both the failure to recognize this separation and that another entire hemisphere of consciousness both can and does exist, and the inability to break through that veil or lid. The practice of Yoga is intended to achieve such a result so that the human seeker can take on the consciousness of the Divine through knowledge by identity.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 13, The Difficulties of the Mental Being, pp. 376-377