Three Differences Between Integral Yoga and Traditional Spiritual Paths

People frequently wonder how the integral yoga may differ from the traditional paths of yogic practice. The aim of the integral yoga is to transform consciousness here on earth; it is not fixated solely on individual liberation, although individual realisation is a necessary step on the path, but rather, it looks towards the entire collective consciousness of life on earth as the field of change. This involves fixing the next phase of the evolution of consciousness into the earth-plane, a phase Sri Aurobindo terms “supramental”, as it is beyond the mental level. In order to undertake this Sri Aurobindo has integrated the essential steps and powers of the traditional yogas and applied them with flexibility to unravel the many knots in the consciousness that limit and hold us back, and to spur the connection to the higher consciousness and its integration into life here. Where issues arise that were not addresed in those prior yogic activities, new methods have been developed. Because this yoga addresses all the parts and planes of the being, it cannot rely on any one fixed path based on just one principle, but must eventually take up every aspect of being and apply the appropriate focus, energy and actions needed to resolve whatever needs to be adjusted, adapted or dispensed with from each level.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is new as compared with the old yogas: 1. Because it aims not at a departure out of world and life into Heaven or Nirvana, but at a change of life and existence, not as something subordinate or incidental, but as a distinct and central object. If there is a descent in other yogas, yet it is only an incident on the way or resulting from the ascent — the ascent is the real thing. Here the ascent is the first step, but it is a means for the descent. It is the descent of the new consciousness attained by the ascent that is the stamp and seal of the sadhana. Even the Tantra and Vaishnavism end in the release from life; here the object is the divine fulfilment of life.”

“2. Because the object sought after is not an individual achievement of divine realisation for the sake of the individual, but something to be gained for the earth-consciousness here, a cosmic, not solely a supra-cosmic achievement. The thing to be gained also is the bringing in of a Power of Consciousness (the supramental) not yet organised or active directly in earth-nature, even in the spiritual life, but yet to be organised and made directly active.”

“3. Because a method has been preconized for achieving this purpose which is as total and integral as the aim set before it, viz., the total and integral change of the consciousness and nature, taking up old methods but only as a part action and present aid to others that are distinctive. I have not found this method (as a whole) or anything like it professed or realised in the old yogas. If I had, I should have wasted my time in hewing out a road and in thirty years of search and inner creation when I could have hastened home safely to my goal in an easy canter over paths already blazed out, laid down, perfectly mapped, macadamised, made secure and public. Our yoga is not a retreading of old walks, but a spiritual adventure.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp. 35-42

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