Comparing the Methods of Yoga and the Methods of the Mind in the Acquisition of Knowledge

No matter how many facts we acquire, how much we study the outer world, and how much mental effort we put into the acquisition of knowledge of the material universe and its functioning, we eventually have to recognize that this knowledge is partial, limited, fragmented, and indirect and inferential. The yogic process of knowledge, in contrast to what we ordinarily consider to be the development of knowledge, focuses on the inner reality and the attempt to break through the barriers of separation between the mental consciousness and the divine consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo describes the differences, focusing on the unique methodology of the practitioners of Yoga: “[Yoga] begins by using knowledge, emotion and action for the possession of the Divine. For Yoga is the conscious and perfect seeking of union with the Divine towards which all the rest was an ignorant and imperfect moving and seeking. At first, then, Yoga separates itself from the action and method of the lower knowledge. For while this lower knowledge approaches God indirectly from outside and never enters his secret dwelling-place, Yoga calls us within and approaches him directly; while that seeks him through the intellect and becomes conscious of him from behind a veil, Yoga seeks him through realisation, lifts the veil and gets the full vision; where that only feels the presence and the influence, Yoga enters into the presence and fills itself with the influence; where that is only aware of the workings and through them gets some glimpse of the Reality, Yoga identifies our inner being with the Reality and sees from that the workings. Therefore the methods of Yoga are different from the methods of the lower knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pg. 493

Human Knowledge Can Lead to Divine Knowledge

In whatever direction humanity tries to acquire knowledge about the world and our life in the world, eventually the seeking leads to the Divine. Western science, grounded firmly in outer “facts” that could be seen, measured, correlated and compared, has itself begun to recognize that unseen factors are both real and significant, if not yet recognized as primary. Physics begins with the study of Matter. After manipulating matter for some time, a scientist discovered that Matter after all is a form of Energy and the conversion between the two was possible, with tremendous release of energy resulting from certain manipulations of Matter. Thereafter, other scientists took up the questions raised by quantum physics and eventually determined that Energy is a form of Consciousness. It is only one step from that realisation to an acknowledgement of the Divine and the Divine Will as the determining factor in the establishment, creation and perpetuation of the universe and its evolutionary action through Time and Space.

Intense study of the atomic structure of Matter, or the complex biological and ecological systems, and the total interdependence of all life-forms within one eco-sphere make it clear that the universal creation was not simply a development of random chance.

A similar series of steps can be followed through each field of human endeavor, as Sri Aurobindo has observed:

“At first it is the workings of life and forms of Nature which occupy us, but as we go deeper and deeper and get a completer view and experience, each of these lines brings us face to face with God. Science at its limits, even physical Science, is compelled to perceive in the end the infinite, the universal, the spirit, the divine intelligence and will in the material universe.”

“Art leads to the same end; the aesthetic human being intensely occupied with Nature through aesthetic emotion must in the end arrive at spiritual emotion and perceive not only the infinite life, but the infinite presence within her; preoccupied with beauty in the life of man he must in the end come to see the divine, the universal, the spiritual in humanity.”

“Philosophy dealing with the principles of things must come to perceive the Principle of all these principles and investigate its nature, attributes and essential workings.”

“The history and study of man like the history and study of Nature leads towards the perception of the eternal and universal Power and Being whose thought and will work out through the cosmic and human evolution.”

“The intellect begins to perceive and revere, the will to turn itself to the service of the Divine without whom Nature and man cannot exist or move and by conscious knowledge of whom alone we can arrive at our highest possibilities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pp. 492-493

God-Knowledge and World-Knowledge

The human individual acquires knowledge primarily by studying the external world, at least initially. This knowledge brings a wealth of perceptions, observations, correlations, inferences, and eventually principles that govern the way the world works. The knowledge may be broken up into various categories and forms, such as physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, psychology, sociology, engineering, mathematics, art and music, philosophy, etc. but in all cases it is focused on understanding and manipulating the facts of the external life. Sri Aurobindo observes: “There are two kinds of knowledge, that which seeks to understand the apparent phenomenon of existence externally, by an approach from outside, through the intellect,–this is the lower knowledge, the knowledge of the apparent world; secondly, the knowledge which seeks to know the truth of existence from within, in its source and reality, by spiritual realisation.” The world-knowledge uses the senses and the mind to process, organize, define and conclude. Extensions of the world-knowledge occur as we develop ever finer tools to expand our perceptions and test our conclusions, which would include the development of microscopes, telescopes, and all manner of equipment to test what is unseen by the unaided human senses.

Traditionally, those who awaken to the spiritual quest find that they no longer want to simply explore the externalities of life, and they turn their attention to the higher knowledge, the knowledge that comes outside the mental process through a process of identification, and the experience of oneness with a higher level of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo observes that neither form of knowledge can or should be dismissed outright.

“…but in reality they are two sides of one seeking. All knowledge is ultimately the knowledge of God, through himself, through Nature, through her works. Mankind has first to seek this knowledge through the external life; for until its mentality is sufficiently developed, spiritual knowledge is not really possible, and in proportion as it is developed, the possibilities of spiritual knowledge become richer and fuller.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pp. 491-492

Living a Life Dominated by Spirit

In Sri Aurobindo’s view, the goal of the Yoga of Knowledge is not fully achieved by the spiritual realisation of the higher planes of consciousness, whether the Gnosis, or the Bliss-Consciousness of Sat-Chit-Ananda. He envisions in addition, an entire transformation of the inner and outer life of the being, with a shift from the human standpoint to the divine standpoint as the lynch-pin of this change.

Sri Aurobindo observes, as to this further objective: “…it is to put on the divine being and the divine nature…. it is to raise our being into the divine being, our consciousness into the divine consciousness, our energy into the divine energy, our delight of existence into the divine delight of being.”

“And it is not only to lift ourselves into this higher consciousness, but to widen into it in all our being, because it is to be found on all the planes of our existence and in all our members, so that our mental, vital, physical existence shall become full of the divine nature.”

“This God-action in us is to be realised by an opening of ourselves to the divine gnosis and divine Ananda and, in its fullness, by an ascent into and a permanent dwelling in the gnosis and the Ananda.”

“We can raise our internal consciousness from plane to plane of the relations of Purusha with Prakriti, and even become, instead of the mental being dominated by the physical soul and nature, the gnostic being or the bliss-self and assume the gnostic or the bliss nature. And by this raising of the inner life we can transform our whole outward-going existence; instead of a life dominated by matter we shall then have a life dominated by spirit with all its circumstances moulded and determined by the purity of being, the consciousness infinite even in the finite, the divine energy, the divine joy and bliss of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pp. 490-491

The First Aim of the Yoga of Knowledge

The Yoga of knowledge has as its goal, the attainment of a state of consciousness that is at one with God, by whatever name or in whatever way we try to define it to our human intellect. The traditional practice of this Yoga has involved the abandonment of the life of the world as either a lesser reality or an illusion, or at least a distraction from the concentration needed to achieve this lofty goal. Sri Aurobindo accepts this definition, but broadens it to encompass not just the Divine in an abstract state, disassociated from the world, but also in the manifested world as well. He accepts the Upanishadic dictum of “One without a second”, while at the same time adopting that other dictum “All this is the Brahman” with no conflict or compromise involved on either side.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “…the end of the Yoga of Knowledge is God-possession, it is to possess God and be possessed by him through consciousness, through identification, through reflection of the divine Reality. But not merely in some abstraction away from our present existence, but here also; therefore to possess the Divine in himself, the Divine in the world, the Divine within, the Divine in all things and all beings. It is to possess oneness with God and through that to possess also oneness with the universal, with the cosmos and all existences; therefore to possess the infinite diversity also inthe oneness, but on the basis of oneness and not on the basis of division. It is to possess God in his personality and his impersonality; in his purity free from qualities and in his infinite qualities; in time and beyond time; in his action and in his silence; in the finite and in the infinite. It is to possess him not only in pure self, but in all self; not only in self, but in Nature; not only in spirit, but in supermind, mind, life and body; to possess him with the spirit, with the mind, with the vital and the physical consciousness; and it is again for all these to be possessed by him, so that our whole being is one with him, full of him, governed and driven by him. It is, since God is oneness, for our physical consciousness to be one with the soul and the nature of the material universe; for our life, to be one with all life; for our mind, to be one with the universal mind; for our spirit, to be identified with the universal spirit. It is to merge in him in the absolute and find him in all relations.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pg. 490

The Three Poises of the Purusha

The Purusha adopts a different poise in relation to Nature (Prakriti), depending on whether it is operating on the planes of Matter-Life-Mind, Gnosis (Vijnana) or Sat-Chit-Ananda. The normal poise of the soul for human beings is a sense of separation, division and opposition to the nature. The human individual creates thereby a dichotomy between “soul” and “nature” and the seeking for liberation tends to take the form of escaping the bonds of nature and “liberating” the soul. At the level of Vijnana, which mediates between the lower hemisphere of Mind-Life-Matter and the upper hemisphere of Sat-Chit-Ananda, the relation to Prakriti is balanced due to the inherent knowledge and oneness, yet there is still a sense of subjection to the divine play. When based in the upper hemisphere of Sat-Chit-Ananda, the Purusha is one with the Supreme and thus, there is no longer any sense of separation or division between the Soul and its Nature.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Purusha in mind, life and body is divided from Nature and in conflict with her. He labours to control and coerce what he can embody of her by his masculine force and is yet subject to her afflicting dualities and in fact her plaything from top to bottom, beginning to end.”

With respect to the gnostic consciousness: “In the gnosis he is biune with her, finds as master of his own nature their reconciliation and harmony by their essential oneness even while he accepts an infinite blissful subjection, the condition of his mastery and his liberties, to the Supreme in his sovereign divine Nature.”

The third, highest poise: “In the tops of the gnosis and in the Ananda he is one with the Prakriti and no longer solely biune with her. There is no longer the baffling play of Nature with the soul in the Ignorance; all is the conscious play of the soul with itself and all its selves and the Supreme and the divine Shakti in its own and the infinite bliss nature.”

“This is the supreme mystery, the highest secret, simple to our experience, however difficult and complex to our mental conceptions and the effort of our limited intelligence to understand what is beyond it. In the free infinity of the self-delight of Sachchidananda there is a play of the divine Child, a rasa lila of the infinite Lover, and its mystic soul-symbols repeat themselves in characters of beauty and movements and harmonies of delight in a timeless forever.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pp. 488-489

The Bliss-Nature and the Supramental Race

Each plane of existence has characteristic forms and beings that represent that plane and are based on the consciousness-force uniquely active on that plane. In the material world, of course, there are gross material forms, but as development there occurs, we see the rise of crystals, minerals and metals, which are more evolved forms of Matter. On the vital plane, there is first the evolution of plants and then later, the forms of animals as they begin to extend their reach and start the development of the mental consciousness on the vital plane. As the mental plane develops, there are first those forms which develop the mind, but the mind remains in service entirely to the physical and vital life. Later, more characteristic purer forms of mind evolve and we see the development of the rational, intellectual, creative, imaginative, emotional, and aesthetic powers, etc.. Further evolution begins to develop the higher mind functions such as intuition, inspiration, and insight. Still further evolution can bring about the development of planes beyond mind, such as the gnosis, which brings forward the sense and basis of unity and harmony that far exceeds the limited powers of the mental plane to forge a unified understanding and force of action.

When the gnostic plane is fully operative, it exceeds the mental plane and the characteristic action is one of unity, harmony, and all-encompassing bliss, while at the same time, it maintains the ability to transmit and diffuse that energy to the lower planes in ways that they can absorb and accept it. It is this plane that Sri Aurobindo characterizes as the supramental (“beyond the mind”) level and one can posit, based on the past evolutionary progression, that there will emerge beings who characteristically act from this plane of consciousness, and we may call them a “supramental race”.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The fully evolved soul will be one with all beings in the status and dynamic effects of experience of a bliss-consciousness intense and illimitable. And since love is the effective power and soul-symbol of bliss-oneness he will approach and enter into this oneness by the gate of universal love, the sublimation of human love at first, a divine love afterwards, at its summits a thing of beauty, sweetness and splendour now to us inconceivable. He will be one in bliss-consciousness with all the world-play and its powers and happenings and there will be banished for ever the sorrow and fear, the hunger and pain of our poor and darkened mental and vital and physical existence. He will get that power of the bliss-freedom in which all the conflicting principles of our being shall be unified in their absolute values. All evil shall perforce change itself into good; the universal beauty of the All-beautiful will take possession of its fallen kingdoms; every darkness will be converted into a pregnant glory of light and the discords which the mind creates between Truth and Good and Beauty, Power and Love and Knowledge will disappear on the eternal summit, in the infinite extensions where they are always one.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pg. 488

The Qualities of the Bliss-Soul and the Evolution of Consciousness

While it is impossible for the mental consciousness to truly understand the bliss consciousness, certain characteristics can nevertheless be defined conceptually. The divine standpoint, founded on oneness and unity, responds differently than the mental consciousness based on fragmentation and division. The mental consciousness feels that it must escape from the life of the world to embrace the life of the Spirit. The mental consciousness believes that names and forms are opposed to the unity, and to achieve oneness, the differentiation of names and forms must be erased.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The bliss-soul is not bound to birth or to non-birth; it is not driven by desireof the Knowledge or harassed by fear of the Ignorance. The supreme bliss-Soul has already the Knowledge and transcends all need of knowledge. Not limited in consciousness by the form and the act, it can play with the manifestation without being imbued with the Ignorance. Already it is taking its part above in the mystery of an eternal manifestation and here, when the time comes, will descend into birth without being the slave of Ignorance, chained to the revolutions of the wheel of Nature. For it knows that the purpose and law of the birth-series is for the soul in the body to rise from plane to plane and substitute always the rule of the higher for the rule of the lower play even down to the material field. The bliss-soul neither disdains to help that ascent from above nor fears to descend down the stairs of God into the material birth and there contribute the power of its own bliss nature to the upward pull of the divine forces.”

The ascent of the mental being is not directly into the bliss-consciousness. “Man, generally, cannot yet ascend to the bliss nature; he has first to secure himself on the higher mental altitudes, to ascend from them to the gnosis, still less can he bring down all the Bliss-Power into this terrestrial Nature; he must first cease to be mental man and become superhuman. All he can do now is to receive something of its power into his soul in greater or less degree, by a diminishing transmission through an inferior consciousness; but even that gives him the sense of an ecstasy and an unsurpassable beatitude.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pp. 487-488

Responding to the Attraction of the Divine Bliss

Those who are awakened to the seeking of the Divine are called in innumerable ways. Some may experience some kind of overwhelming sorrow or despair and turn to the Divine for understanding and solace. Others, again, may try to understand why they are alive, what the meaning of existence is, and they pursue a quest to find the answers. Still others may be swayed by the beauty of nature and the wonder of the inter-connections and the secret harmony of all existence. When they become conscious of the Divine, there is a tendency, based on the limitations of the mental consciousness, to treat one as the opposite of the present existence, and to define the seeking as an abandonment or denial of the reality of the outer life in order to focus all the attention and effort on the Absolute, the Infinite, the Divine Presence.

“We discover in the end that not only is that higher Reality the cause of all the rest, not only it embraces and exists in all the rest, but as more and more we possess it, all the rest is transformed in our soul-experience into a superior value and becomes the means of a richer expression of the Real, a more many-sided communion with the Infinite, a larger ascent to the Supreme. Finally, we get close to the absolute and its supreme values which are the absolutes of all things. We lose the passion for release,…, which till then actuated us, because we are now intimately near to that which is ever free, that which is neither attracted into attachment by what binds us now nor afraid of what to us seems to be bondage. It is only by the bound soul’s exclusive passion for its freedom that there can come an absolute liberation of our nature.”

The seeking of the Divine can take many intermediate forms: “First, in order comes the lure of an earthly reward, a prize of material, intellectual, ethical or other joy in the terrestrial mind and body. A second, remoter greater version of the same fruitful error is the hope of a heavenly bliss, far exceeding these earthly rewards; the conception of heaven rises in altitude and purity till it reaches the pure idea of the eternal presence of God or an unending union with the Eternal. And last we get the subtlest of all lures, an escape from these worldly or heavenly joys and from all pains and sorrows, effort and trouble and from all phenomenal things, a Nirvana, a self-dissolution in the Absolute, an Ananda of cessation and ineffable peace. In the end all these toys of the mind have to be transcended.”

When this occurs, the unity of all existence can be embraced by the seeker. “…the soul that has realised oneness has no sorrow or shrinking; the spirit that has entered into the bliss of the spirit has nought to fear from anyone or anything whatsoever. Fear, desire and sorrow are diseases of the mind; born of its sense of division and limitation, they cease with the falsehood that begot them. The Ananda is free from these maladies; it is not the monopoly of the ascetic, it is not born from the disgust of existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pp. 486-487

The Bliss of the Eternal From Which Words Turn Back Without Attaining

“The Bliss of the Eternal from which words turn back without attaining and mind also returneth baffled, who knoweth the Bliss of the Eternal?” Thus begins Chapter 9 of the Brahmanandavalli of the Taittiriya Upanishad. The mind is unable to grasp the freedom and unlimited nature of the Ananda, which is considered to be the original creative principle behind the manifestation of the universe. “The Divine on the Ananda plane is not incapable of a world-play or self-debarred from any expression of its glories. On the contrary, as the Upanishad insists, the Ananda is the true creative principle. For all takes brith from this divine Bliss; all is pre-existent in it as an absolute truth of existence which the Vijnana brings out and subjects to voluntary limitation by the Idea and the law of the Idea. In the Ananda all law ceases and ther eis an absolute freedom without binding term or limit. It is superior to all principles and in one and the same motion the enjoyer of all principles; it is free from all gunas and the enjoyer of its own infinite gunas; it is above all forms and the builder and enjoyer of all its self-forms and figures. This unimaginable completeness is what the spirit is, the spirit transcendent and universal, and to be one in bliss with the transcendent and universal spirit is for the soul too to be that and nothing less. Necessarily, since there is on this plane the absolute and the play of absolutes, it is ineffable by any of the conceptions of our mind or by signs of the phenomenal or ideal realities of which mind-conceptions are the figures in our intelligence.”

In its search for understanding, our mind develops conceptions, symbols, figures to represent realities within the limitations of the mental framework. “The symbol, the expressive reality, may give an idea, a perception, sense, vision, contact even of the thing itself to us, but at last we get beyond it to the thing it symbolises, transcend idea, vision, contact, pierce through the ideal and pass to the real realities, the identical, the supreme, the timeless and eternal, the infinitely infinite.”

We thus pass from a mental understanding to the experience of knowledge by identity. In such a status the individual is then unified with the Absolute, both in its transcendent status and in its myriad manifested forms, which are not separate, different or divided from that reality. The universe is the real expression of the Ananda of the Infinite, and the mental awareness is a filtered and diffused version of the ultimate reality that is experienced on the plane of Sat-Chit-Ananda.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 24, Gnosis and Ananda, pp. 485-486