The Fourfold Perfection of the Psychic Prana

The powerful action of the prana in the nature is necessary for the fullness of the action of the mind, life and body. The prana permeates all levels of the body, life and mind. At the same time, it is also the hub of what Sri Aurobindo calls the “desire-soul” and is the source of distortions and perversions of the energy through the action of this desire-soul and the cravings, desires, attractions and repulsions that arise therefrom.

Sri Aurobindo has identified four major elements involved in the purification and perfection of the psychic Prana, to allow the full, free and vibrant action of the energy without the distortions: “…the first necessity is a fullness of the vital capacity in the mind, its power to do its full work, to take possession of all the impulsions and energies given to our inner psychic life for fulfilment in this existence, to hold them and to be a means for carrying them out with strength, freedom, perfection. Many of the things we need for our perfection, courage, will-power effective in life, all the elements of what we now call force of character and force of personality, depend very largely for their completest strength and spring of energetic action on the fullness of the psychic Prana. But along with this fullness there must be an established gladness, clearness and purity in the psychic life-being. This dynamis must not be a troubled, perfervid, stormy, fitfully or crudely passionate strength; energy there must be, rapture of its action it must have, but a clear and glad and pure energy, a seated and firmly supported pure rapture. And as a third condition of its perfection it must be poised in a complete equality. The desire-soul must get rid of the clamour, insistence or unequality of its desires in order that its desires may be satisfied with justice and balance and in the right way and eventually must rid them of the character of desire altogether and change them into impulsions of the divine Ananda. To that end it must make no demands nor seek to impose itself on heart, mind or spirit, but accept with a strong passive and active equality whatever impulsion and command comes into it from the spirit through the channel of a still mind and a pure heart. And it must accept too whatever result of the impulse, whatever enjoyment more or less, full or nil, is given to it by the Master of our being. At the same time, possession and enjoyment are its law, function, use, Swadharma. it is not intended to be a slain or mortified thing, dull in its receptive power, dreary, suppressed, maimed, inert or null. It must have a full power of pure and divine passion and rapture. The enjoyment it will have will be in the essence a spiritual bliss, but one which takes up into itself and transforms the mental, emotional, dynamic, vital and physical joy; it must have therefore an integral capacity for these things and must not by incapacity or fatigue or inability to bear great intensities fail the spirit, mind, heart, will and body. Fullness, clear purity and gladness, equality, capacity for possession and enjoyment are the fourfold perfection of the psychic Prana.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pp. 706-707

The Successive Manifestation of the Soul-Power Focused on Will and Force

When the balance of the qualities shifts from sattwa, as in the manifestation of the power of the intelligence as the dominating characteristic in a human individual, to rajas, there arises the development of the man of power, will, forceful action, leadership and dominion. Since the powers are not exclusive, depending on the admixture of tamas and sattwa, we see various soul-types arise. This represents the second of the great forces of the divine in manifestation, and it is essential for the fullness and effectiveness of the divine intention in the universe.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “…the turn of the nature may be to the predominance of the will-force and the capacities which make for strength, energy, courage, leadership, protection, rule, victory in every kind of battle, a creative and formative action, the will-power which lays its hold on the material of life and on the wills of other men and compels the environment into the shapes which the Shakti within us seeks to impose on life or acts powerfully according to the work to be done to maintain what is in being or to destroy it and make clear the paths of the world or to bring out into definite shape what is to be.”

While this power may have its positive and necessary formations, such as developing leaders, and those who are destined to begin some new project or phase and push it through to fruition against the resistance and opposition of the status quo, there are also possibilities for the ego, when it takes hold of this force, to pervert it to its own ends. This leads, as Sri Aurobindo notes, to: “…the man of mere brute force of will, the worshipper of power without any other ideal or higher purpose, the selfish, dominant personality, the aggressive violent rajasic man, the grandiose egoist, the Titan, Asura, Rakshasa.”

In its highest manifestations we see the soul of chivalry or nobility: “The high fearlessness which no danger or difficulty can daunt and which feels its power equal to meet and face and bear whatever assault of man or fortune or adverse gods, the dynamic audacity and daring which shrinks from no adventure or enterprise as beyond the powers of a human soul free from disabling weakness and fear, the love of honour which would scale the heights of the highest nobility of man and stoop to nothing little, base, vulgar or weak, but maintains untainted the ideal of high courage, chivalry, truth, straightforwardness, sacrifice of the lower to the higher self, helpfulness to men, unflinching resistance to injustice and oppression, self-control and mastery, noble leading, warriorhood and captainship of the journey and the battle, the high self-confidence of power, capacity, character and courage indispensable to the man of action…”

“To carry these things to their highest degree and give them a certain divine fullness, purity and grandeur is the perfection of those who have this Swabhava and follow this Dharma.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 15, Soul-Force and the Fourfold Personality, pp. 716-717

The Full and Free Action of the Pranic Shakti Is Required

The ascetic paths of Yoga try to achieve liberation and realisation by denying the action of the life-energy and suppressing or abandoning it. The integral Yoga, in embracing action in the world, necessarily has to address the action of the prana in carrying out its developmental process. A weak and easily tired or distracted force cannot achieve the integral realisation. Thus, the pranic force must be marshalled, concentrated, directed, and put to work in the being. Traditional paths of Yoga used various physical and psycho-physical methods, such as Pranayama to gain mastery over and control of the Prana. Sri Aurobindo notes that while this control is necessary, it must be capable of being exercised independent from any specific physical routine or practice.

“The same mastery must be got by the seeker of the integral Yoga; but he may arrive at it by other means and in any case he must not be dependent on any physical or breathing exercise for its possession and maintenance, for that will at once bring in a limitation and subjection to the Prakriti. Her instrumentation has to be used flexibly by the Purusha, but not to be a fixed control on the Purusha.”

The importance of the free and powerful play of the pranic Shakti is emphasized by Sri Aurobindo: “If it is full of strength and swiftness and a plenitude of all its powers, then the mind can go on the courses of its action with a plenary and unhampered movement. But if it is lame or soon tired or sluggish or weak, then an incapacity is laid on the effectuation of the will and activity of the mind. The same rule holds good of the supermind when it first comes into action. There are indeed states and activities in which the mind takes up the pranic Shakti into itself and this dependence is not felt at all; but even then the force is there, though involved in the pure mental energy. The supermind, when it gets into full strength, can do pretty well what it likes with the pranic Shakti, and we find that in the end this life power is transformed into the type of a supramentalised Prana which is simply one motor power of that greater consciousness. But this belongs to a later stage of the Siddhi of the Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pp. 705-706

Utilizing Faith As a Tool for the Development of Conscious Evolution

If we intend to apply the methodology of the integral Yoga, which uses the higher forms of conscious awareness to master and control the lower, then it becomes necessary to recognize several things: first, that the existing habitual reactions of body, life and mind limit the growth and development of this higher consciousness and second, that the higher powers such as the reasoning intelligence, or the yet higher supramental or spiritual forces are able to effect changes in what are considered to be fixed habits of body, life and mind. Sri Aurobindo notes that, for instance, the seeker cannot initially distinguish between purely physical energy in the body and the action of the Prana, the universal life-force which expresses itself in the physical energy, but also in the more subtle forms of energy that activates our mind and higher vital functioning. Until we can actually see and experience the working of Prana, he calls for us to have faith as we focus, concentrate and extend our perceptive ability and thereby can eventually have the direct experience of its action.

Many people try to minimize the action of faith by opposing it to scientific evidence or principles, but it is not so straightforward a proposition. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that faith “…is only a will aiming at greater truths…”. As long as we remain locked within the habitual round of thought and effort, we cannot evolve toward a higher awareness. The necessary leverage to escape the bondage of the logic of the material life is an act of faith in something other or greater than what we currently can perceive and experience. This faith may inform the inferences drawn by the scientist every bit as much as the insight of the mystic or the vision of the leader in any form of action.

This brings us then to the discovery and experience of the Prana: “Most men are not conscious of this pranic force in the body or cannot distinguish it from the more physical form of energy which it informs and uses for its vehicle. But as the consciousness becomes more subtle by practice of Yoga, we can come to be aware of the sea of pranic Shakti around us, feel it with the mental consciousness, concretely with a mental sense, see its courses and movements, and direct and act upon it immediately by the will. But until we thus become aware of it, we have to possess a working or at least an experimental faith in its presence and in the power of the will to develop a greater command and use of this Prana force. There is necessary a faith, sraddha, in the power of the mind to lay its will on the state and action of the body, such as those have who heal disease by faith, will or mental action; but we must seek this control not only for this or any other limited use, but generally as a legitimate power of the inner and greater over the outer and lesser instrument. This faith is combated by our past habits of mind, by our actual normal experience of its comparative helplessness in our present imperfect system and by an opposing belief in the body and physical consciousness….But as we persist and find this power giving evidence of itself to our experience, the faith in the mind will be able to found itself more firmly and grow in vigour and the opposing faith in the body will change, admit what it first denied and only accept in its habits the new yoke but itself call for this higher action. Finally we shall realise the truth that this being we are is or can become whatever it has the faith and will to be,–…and cease to set limits to our possibility or deny the potential omnipotence of the Self in us, the divine Power working through the human instrument.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pp. 704-705

Freeing the Action of the Pranic Shakti in the Body Through the Processes of the Integral Yoga

The power which infuses the physical body and provides it the enhanced strength, endurance and stability required to carry out the Will of the Divine Spirit is developed through the liberation and enhanced action of the Prana. The science of Hatha Yoga attempts this development through the use of Asana and Pranayama, along with specialised techniques known as “Bandhas” or “locks” which help direct the flow of the energy. Practitioners of yogic techniques such as Kundalini Yoga have as their stated goal the release of the coiled up, latent energy of the “kundalini” that resides in the Muladhara Chakra at the base of the spine, so that it rises through the various higher chakras and can eventually reach the 1000 petal chakra at the top of the head. Even those who practice purely physical culture through various forms of exercise and training are developing and focusing the pranic energy to infuse the physical instrument with life-force, intensity and the radiant glow of strength and health that accompanies the strong flow of the prana.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is the universal Prana, as the ancients knew, which in various forms sustains or drives material energy in all physical things from the electron and atom and gas up through the metal, plant, animal, physical man. To get this pranic Shakti to act more freely and forcibly in the body is knowingly or unknowingly the attempt of all who strive for a greater perfection of or in the body.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that the method used in the integral Yoga differs from that of normal physical culture, Hatha Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga, because it can be developed and moved by psychic and spiritual means of the development of the higher Will: “…but for our purpose it can be commanded by more subtle, essential and pliable means; first, by a will in the mind widely opening itself to and potently calling in the universal pranic Shakti on which we draw and fixing its stronger presence and more powerful working in the body; secondly, by the will in the mind opening itself rather to the spirit and its power and calling in a higher pranic energy from above, a supramental pranic force; thridly, the last step, by the highest supramental will of the spirit entering and taking up directly the task of the perfection of the body. In fact, it is always really a will within which drives and makes effective the pranic instrument even when it uses what seem to be purely physical means; but at first it is dependent on the inferior action. When we go higher, the relation is gradually reversed; it is then able to act in its own power or handle the rest only as a subordinate instrumentation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pg. 704

Making the Body a Perfect Instrument of the Spirit

The perfection of the capacity of the body to hold and express the higher forces has beneficial results for each level of the being. The physical body itself gains levels of energy and strength that cannot be achieved solely through usual physical culture and training. But it also acts as a more solid and responsive foundation for the action of the vital, emotional mental, and spiritual powers to act with a more intense and effective force than is usually possible.

Sri Aurobindo observes: The spiritual force will be able to do what it wills and as it wills in and through the body. It will be able to conduct an unlimited action of the mind or, at a higher stage, of the supermind without the body betraying the action by fatigue, incapacity, inaptitude or falsification. It will be able too to pour a full tide of the life-force into the body and conduct a large action and joy of the perfected vital being without that quarrel and disparity which is the relation of the normal life-instincts and life-impulses to the insufficient physical instrument they are obliged to use. And it will also be able to conduct a full action of the spiritualised psychic being not falsified, degraded or in any way marred by the lower instincts of the body and to use physical action and expression as a free notation of the higher psychical life. And in the body itself there will be a presence of a greatness of sustaining force, an abounding strength, energy and puissance of outgoing and managing force, a lightness, swiftness and adaptability of the nervous and physical being, a holding and responsive power in the whole physical machine and its driving springs of which it is now even at its strongest and best incapable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pp. 703-704

Developing the Power of the Body to Bear and Hold the Higher Forces of Consciousness and Will

There is a well-known story in the yogic tradition used to illustrate the need to solidify the base and create a firm foundation for the action of the higher powers of consciousness. It is told that one must develop such a solid foundation, both physically as well as in the vital, nervous body and the mentality, that any action of the higher force of consciousness can be held and not “spilled”. This is the story of the unbaked jar. If one tries to pour liquid into an unbaked jar, it will be lost. Similarly if the higher forms of knowledge, will, Ananda enter into an unprepared physical or vital frame, it will break that frame or be “spilled” in various forms of imbalanced action, spurred by the undue power that is coursing through an unprepared being. Therefore, it is one of the very first, and as Sri Aurobindo notes, the “most important Siddhi or perfection of the body”, required in the development and preparation of the physical instrument for the higher action.

“And finally the body must develop a perfect power to hold whatever force is brought into it by the spirit and to contain its action without spilling and wasting it or itself getting cracked. It must be capable of being filled and powerfully used by whatever intensity of spiritual or higher mind or life force without any part of the mechanical instrument being agitated, upset, broken or damaged by the inrush or pressure,–as the brain, vital health or moral nature are often injured in those who unwisely attempt Yogic practice without preparation or by undue means or rashly invite a power they are intellectually, vitally, morally unfit to bear,–and, thus filled, it must have the capacity to work normally, automatically, rightly according to the will of that spiritual or other now unusual agent without distorting, diminishing or mistranslating its intention and stress.”

We see some of the types of preparation required in the Rajayogic injunctions (the “8 limbs” of yoga) called yamas and niyamas, along with the practices of Asana and Pranayama, followed by the various stages of mental concentration and ability to hold the mind steady. These are frequently described as physical, moral and mental preparation, but they have a much deeper sense to purify and solidify the basis for holding the higher energies. The goal is not, per se, to develop “morality”, but to ensure that the body, life-energy, emotional nature and the mind are capable of holding the yogic force when it manifests. Otherwise, as Sri Aurobindo has alluded to, the being loses balance and is either deranged or broken by the yogic force.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 14, The Power of the Instruments, pg. 703