The Initial Stage of the Yoga of Self-Perfection

In his book The Mother, Sri Aurobindo identifies two things required for the spiritual transformation sought in the integral Yoga. The first of these represents the individual effort of the human individual. There seems to be quite a bit of discussion in spiritual circles about whether any individual effort is required at all! The idea is that the Divine takes up the soul that surrenders to it and accomplishes the entire yogic process. This concept implies however that the seeker has already reached a state of consciousness where a true and complete surrender of the human individuality to the Divine is actually possible. The insistence of the body, vital and mind, and the knot of the ego make this, however, an advanced stage, corresponding to the second stage and second thing required for the Yoga, namely, the Divine intervention and action.

With respect to the individual effort, Sri Aurobindo observes: “First, there will be the personal endeavour of the human being, as soon as he becomes aware by his soul, mind, heart of this divine possibility and turns towards it as the true object of life, to prepare himself for it and to get rid of all in him that belongs to a lower working, of all that stands in the way of his opening to the spiritual truth and its power, so as to possess by this liberation his spiritual being and turn all his natural movements into free means of its self-expression.”

It is by this turn that the self-conscious Yoga aware of its aim begins: there is a new awakening and an upward change of the life motive. So long as there is only an intellectual, ethical and other self-training for the now normal purposes of life which does not travel beyond the ordinary circle of working of mind, life and body, we are still only in the obscure and yet unillumined preparatory Yoga of Nature; we are still in pursuit of only an ordinary human perfection. A spiritual desire of the Divine and of the divine perfection, of a unity with him in all our being and a spiritual perfection in all our nature, is the effective sign of this change, the precursory power of a great integral conversion of our being and living.”

By personal effort a precursory change, a preliminary conversion can be effected; it amounts to a greater or less spiritualising of our mental motives, our character and temperament, and a mastery, stilling or changed action of the vital and physical life. This converted subjectivity can be made the base of some communion or unity of the soul in mind with the Divine and some partial reflection of the divine nature in the mentality of the human being. That is as far as man can go by his unaided or indirectly aided effort, because that is an effort of mind and mind cannot climb beyond itself permanently: at most it arises to a spiritualised and idealised mentality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 2, The Integral Perfection, pp. 592-593