The Impersonal Divine and the Personal Divine

In our typical linear thought process we tend to fixate on either the Impersonal aspect of the Divine, or the Personal aspect, and we treat them as either mutually exclusive or in competition with each other, with some adherents favoring one and some the other. In reality, both aspects are part of an integral Truth of existence.

Those who practice the austerities of renunciation, focusing their consciousness on the Absolute, hold that only the Impersonal Divine is the truth, and those who follow any personal relationship with Divinity are simply ensnared by Maya, the illusion of the world. Yet, when we observe the universe and the detailed interaction of all its elements and beings, and the intricacy of the symbiotic relation of each to all, it becomes clear that this does not happen by random chance of an Impersonal machinery of some sort, but there must be a conscious intelligence driving the creation forward and developing all these forms of beauty, wonder and relationship.

In the West there is a similar debate about “evolution” versus “creationism”, with the one side essentially saying that there is no necessity for a God to exist as the mechanism of evolution can develop all of existence, while others deny the reality of evolution by indicating that God simply created everything “as is” and thus, there is only a truth of the Personal Deity. Yet there is a simple solution that incorporates both views, that the Divine put in place the mechanism of evolution, along with karma and rebirth to carry it forward, with a directed intention so that both the impersonal and the personal are part and parcel of the same integrated reality.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There is always the personal and the impersonal side of the Divine and the Truth and it is a mistake to think the impersonal alone to be true or important, for that leads to a void incompleteness in part of the being, while only one side is given satisfaction. Impersonality belongs to the intellectual mind and the static self, personality to the soul and heart and dynamic being. Those who disregard the personal Divine ignore something which is profound and essential. … In following the heart in its purer impulses one follows something that is at least as precious as the mind’s loyalty to its own conceptions of what the Truth may be.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Bhakti, pp. 158-162

The Forms of Divine Love

There are two primary manifestations of Divine Love experienced and reported by seekers and devotees around the world, irrespective of particular religious or philosophical backgrounds. The first is a focus on the personal manifestation of the Divine, which brings the seeker to an extremely intimate and personal form of devotion and experience. This may be directed at a specific form of the Divine, or to the Virgin Mary for Christians, or Krishna to the Vaishnavas. It may also take on a wider formation that opens the heart centre, not to a specific form of the Divine, but the Divine in all. This form ls what Sri Aurobindo calls psychic love. The second form is a more universalised type of love, which focuses on the Impersonal rather than the Personal aspect of the Divine. The Bodhisattwa ideal that dedicates the seeker to the realisation of all sentient beings before achieving personal salvation is an example of this type of wide, disinterested love and dedication to the entire manifested universe. In either case, whether concentrating on the Personal or the Impersonal aspect of the Divine, there is a pure self-giving to the object of the love and devotion without expectation or demand. Eventually the integral truth of love and devotion will encompass both the Personal and the Impersonal together as two aspects of the same Truth.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Divine’s love is that which comes from above poured down from the Divine Oneness and its Ananda on the being — psychic love is a form taken by divine love in the human being according to the need and possibilities of the human consciousness.”

“Universal love is the spiritual founded on the sense of the One and the Divine everywhere and the change of the personal into a wide universal consciousness, free from attachment and ignorance. … Cosmic love depends on the realisation of oneness of self with all. Psychic love or feeling for all can exist without this realisation.”

“The psychic love is pure and full of self-giving without egoistic demands, but it is human and can err and suffer. The Divine Love is something much vaster and deeper and full of light and Ananda. The love that belongs to the spiritual planes is of a different kind — the psychic has its own more personal love, bhakti, surrender. Love in the higher or spiritual mind is more universal and impersonal. The two must go together to make the highest divine love.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Universal Love and Psychic Love, pp. 156-158

Approaching the Transition from Human Love to Divine Love

There has been a strong impulse among many spiritual or religious traditions to reject all manifestations of human love as flawed and imperfect expressions of what love is intended to be in the Divine viewpoint. It is of course evident that most of what passes for love in the world has its deformations, weaknesses and failures. Yet, it is possible to identify the kernel that represents a deeper and truer impulse. The question then arises whether the manifestations of human love should be denied, or, possibly, uplifted and purified.

We see various expressions of love in the world, from the core attraction, at a very basic level, of the entire universal creation, to the interactions of plants and their environment, to the individualised expressions of love in the animal world and within the human context. Researchers have noted that plants will naturally work to absorb toxins out of the soil in a process that helps clean and purify the earth. Some plants actually give up nutrients into a depleted soil, and farmers have harnessed this expression of ‘love’ by rotation planting of “nitrogen-fixing” crops to replenish nutrients for other crops that need to draw those nutrients later. We see an almost infinite number of what we may call symbiotic relationships in nature that show that different species actually support one another in their existence for mutual benefit.

On the animal level, we begin to see expressions of love that carry through into the human world. Mothers caring for their children and even sacrificing their lives and well-being for the sake of those children is just one such expression.

Human love encompasses a number of subsets such as romantic love, filial love, the love of parents for children (and vice versa), and as the individual grows, matures and widens, a more disinterested love that encompasses larger units of humanity, including love for others, charitable action, disinterested love as an expression of a religious or spiritual commitment, etc. We see individuals taking on suffering to free others, first responders and caregivers putting their health and lives on the line to aid other people, and martyrdom undertaken as a commitment to a concrete expression of love for a group of individuals or for humanity as a whole. Commitments such as the Bodhisattva ideal extend the concept of impersonal love to all of creation.

Each stage represents a widening and deepening of the core impulse of love, as we see a progression through stages that show both the deeper intention of the Divine manifesting love in the universe, and the value of these intermediate expressions as steps in the maturation and growth process for the individual undergoing these developments. While they may be weak, imperfect or even greatly flawed in their expression, they express a spark of the Divine Truth of Love.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The Divine Love may not be able yet to manifest on the physical plane, humanity being what it is, as fully and freely as it would otherwise do, but that does not make it less close or intense than the human. It is there waiting to be understood and accepted and meanwhile giving all the help you can receive to raise and widen you into the consciousness in which it will be no longer possible for these difficulties and these misunderstandings to recur — the state in which there is possible the full and perfect union.”

“And let me say also that, as regards human love and divine Love, I admitted the first as that from which we have to proceed and to arrive at the other, intensifying and transforming into itself, not eliminating, human love. Divine Love, in my view of it, is again not something ethereal, cold and far, but a love absolutely intense, intimate and full of unity, closeness and rapture using all the nature for its expression. Certainly, it is without the confusions and disorders of the present lower vital nature which it will change into something entirely warm, deep and intense; but that is no reason for supposing that it will lose anything that is true and happy in the elements of love.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Universal Love and Psychic Love, pp. 156-158

Human Love and Divine Love

How do we understand the term ‘love’ in the context of spiritual sadhana? We bring to the term a large number of impressions, ideas, and conceptions based on our cultural background, educational upbringing and socialization in our society. We have no direct experience, for the most part, of anything other than what we may call human love. Human love is a very mixed affair, including various needs, urges, desires, vital drives, lusts of the body and mental preconceptions about love that color our understanding. Human love is also often associated, on an individual basis, with sexual gratification, domination, and vital reactions of jealousy and various forms of abusive conduct towards those with whom we have a relationship we call ‘love’. We look at actions of charity, self-sacrifice for a higher cause or altruism as acts of love on a more disinterested scale.

It is impossible to bring all these associations into the truth of what may be termed ‘divine love”. We can assert certain things that divine love is not, but until we have an actual experience of divine love, our conceptions are obviously going to fall short.

Those who have experienced even a touch of divine love report an experience of ineffable bliss, of an overwhelming feeling of adoration, of gratitude, of self-giving in a non-demanding way with no expectations. There is a joy of surrender to the Divine that goes beyond any experience of human interactions under the term ‘love’. Even human compassion and goodwill cannot approximate the experience of those who have been graced with the experience of divine love.

All expressions of love in our lives, whether personal and individual, or whether the wider, more expansive forms we give to these acts, contain a seed of Divine Love, although in some cases there is only a very tiny seed or one that has been vastly deformed and distorted as it has been filtered through the human instruments of the body, life and mind.

It is therefore not possible to speak of bringing forth Divine Love in the world without associating it with the transformation of consciousness that brings with it an entirely new relationship and perspective between the human individual and the universal manifestation that shifts the relation from an ego-basis to one that is wide, receptive and giving at the same time.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To bring the Divine Love and Beauty and Ananda into the world is, indeed, the whole crown and essence of our yoga. But it has always seemed to me impossible unless there comes as its support and foundation and guard the Divine Truth — what I call the supramental — and its Divine Power. Otherwise Love itself blinded by the confusions of this present consciousness may stumble in its human receptacles and, even otherwise, may find itself unrecognised, rejected or rapidly degenerating and lost in the frailty of man’s inferior nature. But when it comes in the divine truth and power, Divine Love descends first as something transcendent and universal and out of that transcendence and universality it applies itself to persons according to the Divine Truth and Will, creating a vaster, greater, purer personal love than any the human mind or heart can now imagine. It is when one has felt this descent that one can be really an instrument for the birth and action of the Divine Love in the world.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Universal Love and Psychic Love, pp. 156-158

Helpful Tips About the Practice of Meditation

The 3 gunas of Nature, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas are active in all things, even in the approach we take to the practice of meditation. Understanding these modes and the specific types of energy they each represent can aid us in tuning the meditation practice for ultimate positive results. Tamas acts through darkness, sloth, torpor and indolence. When Tamas is in the ascendent, there is an inclination to avoid meditation through tiredness or inertia or a sense of it being useless. When Rajas rules, there tends to be an effort to control and dominate the process, an active pressure to succeed, which results in ruffling the ‘mind stuff’ (citta), thus defeating one of the primary goals of meditation. Sattwa provides a calm, focused and effortless poise that is an optimal basis for achieving receptivity and responsiveness to the light and peace of meditation.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is quite natural to want to meditate while reading yogic literature — that is not the laziness. The laziness of the mind consists in not meditating, when the consciousness wants to do so.”

“It is not a fact that when there is obscurity or inertia, one cannot concentrate or meditate. If one has in the inner being the steady will to do it, it can be done.”

“Effort means straining endeavour. There can be an action with a will in it in which there is no strain or effort. Straining and concentration are not the same thing. Straining implies an over-eagerness and violence of effort, while concentration is in its nature quiet and steady. If there is restlessness or over-eagerness, then that is not concentration.”

“It is certainly much better to remain silent and collected for a time after the meditation. It is a mistake to take the meditation lightly — by doing that one fails to receive or spills what is received or most of it.”

“The best help for concentration is to receive the Mother’s calm and peace into your mind. It is there above you — only the mind and its centres have to open to it.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Distinguishing the Location of the Conscious Awareness from the Object of Meditation

It is a somewhat frequent occurrence that the instruction to meditate on the space behind the heart, or between the eyebrows is taken to be the meditation itself. There is a difference between where one “seats” one’s consciousness during meditation and the object of the meditation. Sri Aurobindo makes this difference clear. As one gains insight into the internal space within one’s being, it becomes clear that the location of the awareness is something different than the subject upon which one is concentrating or focusing. We find, in fact, that at different times we naturally feel the center of our awareness variously either in the head or the heart, depending on the situation, mood and immediate focus of the meditation. A devotional aspiration will naturally seat itself in the heart centre. A will for knowledge will naturally occur in the head. In each case, the object of meditation is the Divine.

Depending on where the consciousness seats itself during any particular form of meditation, there may be a vastly different opening or type of receptivity that is experienced by the seeker. Thus, a concentration in the head may lead to a descent of a wideness, or a vast calm or peace into the being, while a concentration in the heart centre may bring about a feeling of devotion, love or the bliss of oneness with the object of one’s seeking.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is no harm in concentrating sometimes in the heart and sometimes above the head. But concentration in either place does not mean keeping the attention fixed on a particular spot; you have to take your station of consciousness in either place and concentrate there not on the place, but on the Divine. This can be done with eyes shut or with eyes open, according as it best suits you. … You can concentrate on the sun, but to concentrate on the Divine is better than to concentrate on the sun. … At the top of the head or above it is the right place for yogic concentration in reading or thinking.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Practical Tips Regarding Meditation

The first point that should be considered is why one wants to meditate and what the expected result should be. This is important because it helps set the internal expectation and helps thereby in understanding the different aspects, both internal and external, that can influence the result. Meditation, or “success” in meditation, is not a goal in itself. Meditation is a means to an end, the end being the shifting of the conscious awareness and focus away from the outer, surface ego-personality to the divine consciousness, universalising, and widening the consciousness in the process. In the integral yoga, of course, with the eventual focus on transformation of the nature and the action in the world, this process must extend beyond the session of seated quiet and take hold of the nature at all times and in all circumstances.

Tuning the being to the process of meditation does take time and some amount of regular effort. Starting from a quiet place and having a comfortable seat is beneficial in the beginning. Traditional texts describe the conditions for effective meditation in a place that is neither too hot nor too cold, too dry or too damp, too windy, quiet, calm environment, safe from distractions and potential dangers, on a seat that is conducive to comfortable sitting without squirming or having to move constantly, etc. This long list of conditions is not intended to limit meditation, but to assist the process, particularly in the beginning, such that the seeker can actually establish the experience of meditation within the being and thereby be able to tune to the energetic status and maintain it. At some point, the meditation can actually take over the being and remain active in all life circumstances, maintaining the connection to the Divine Presence, the universal creation and then the actual seated meditation under controlled conditions is no longer absolutely necessary for the practitioner.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “What do you call meditation? Shutting the eyes and concentrating? It is only one method for calling down the true consciousness. To join with the true consciousness or feel its descent is the only thing important and if it comes without the orthodox method, as it always did with me, so much the better. Meditation is only a means or device, the true movement is when even walking, working or speaking one is still in sadhana.”

“The sitting motionless posture is the natural posture for concentrated meditation — walking and standing are active conditions. It is only when one has gained the enduring rest and passivity of the consciousness that it is easy to concentrate and receive when walking or doing anything. A fundamental passive condition of the consciousness gathered into itself is the proper poise for concentration and a seated gathered immobility in the body is the best position for that. It can be done also lying down, but that position is too passive, tending to be inert rather than gathered. This is the reason why yogis always sit in an asana. One can accustom oneself to meditate walking, standing, lying but sitting is the first natural posture.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Practical Advice About Meditation, pp. 154-156

Samadhi, the Yogic Trance, and the Waking Realisation

The yogic trance, samadhi, is considered a goal for the spiritual seeker, providing access to the realisation of spiritual Oneness. In the integral yoga, however, dropping of the outer life and activity and entering into a trance state is not the end goal. The consciousness that is experienced in the trance state is to be brought down and made fully active in the mind, life and body of the seeker in daily life. The initial links to this higher state of consciousness occur in trance because there is no direct connection or link that has been made fully operative and the human psyche simply does not know how to respond to or process the impact of that consciousness. The withdrawal into trance provides a gateway for such a relation, but eventually, the trance must, and will, give way to the active intervention of this higher state of awareness in a transformed, or at least transforming, mind-life-body complex.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The experience you had is of course the going inside of the consciousness which is usually called trance or samadhi. The most important part of it however is the silence of the mind and vital which is fully extended to the body also. To get the capacity of this silence and peace is a most important step in the sadhana. It comes at first in meditation and may throw the consciousness inward in trance, but it has to come afterwards in the waking state and establish itself as a permanent basis for all the life and action. It is the condition for the realisation of the Self and the spiritual transformation of the nature.”

“…it is in the waking state that this realisation must come and endure in order to be a reality of the life. If experienced in trance it would be a superconscient state true for some part of the inner being, but not real to the whole consciousness. Experiences in trance have their utility for opening the being and preparing it, but it is only when the realisation is constant in the waking state that it is truly possessed. Therefore in this yoga most value is given to the waking realisation and experience. … To work in the calm ever-widening consciousness is at once a sadhana and a siddhi.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Samadhi, pp. 153-154

Samadhi and the Integral Yoga

Traditional paths of yoga, and in particular the yoga practice organised and codified by Patanjali, hold Samadhi as an ultimate state of consciousness that puts the seeker into a state of superconscious reality that effectively links him to the Divine reality and purpose of existence. Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga describes the methods of attaining to Samadhi and the results therefrom. He indicates that Samadhi, the yogic trance, differs from entering into the sleep state by the results that eventuate. The sage who enters into Samadhi gains new realisations and understanding and becomes enlightened, while the individual who enters into the non-awareness of the outer world of the state of sleep wakes up unchanged. He also describes different stages of Samadhi, such as “with seed” or “without seed” in terms of the finality of the status, that is, with or without the normal human mental activity reasserting itself. Samadhi, while seen as a major goal and stage of realisation in these traditional paths, must obviously be seen from a different viewpoint by the practitioner of the integral yoga, who wants to bring down the divine consciousness to transform the life in the world. Ideally the seeker will experience a modified state of consciousness akin to Samadhi, but without the necessity of the complete withdrawal of all activity so that this new status can act in the life.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “In samadhi it is the inner mental, vital, physical which are separated from the outer, no longer covered by it — therefore they can fully have inner experiences. The outer mind is either quiescent or in some way reflects or shares the experience. As for the central consciousness being separated from all mentality that would mean a complete trance without any recorded experiences.”

“Chit is the pure consciousness, as it Sat-Chit-Ananda. Chitta is the stuff of mixed mental-vital-physical consciousness out of which arise the movements of thought, emotion, sensation, impulse, etc. It is these that in the Patanjali system have to be stilled altogether so that the consciousness may be immobile and go into Samadhi. Our yoga has a different function. The movements of the ordinary consciousness have to be quieted and into the quietude there has to be brought down a higher consciousness and its powers which will transform the nature.”

“Samadhi is not a thing to be shunned — only it has to be made more and more conscious. It is not necessary to be in samadhi to be in contact with the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Samadhi, pp. 153-154

Concentration in the Mental Centre to Achieve the Realisation of the Divine Presence in the Integral Yoga

Traditional yogic disciplines advise the seeker to concentrate between the eyebrows, chanting OM and focusing on the Divine Will. Sri Aurobindo notes this practice, and develops it to provide access to the higher ranges of consciousness above the mental level. The Isha Upanishad notes that there is a “lid” that is brilliant and golden in color that prevents the seeker from seeing the Truth of existence. That lid is the border between the mental and the higher planes. The seeker, through the concentration in the mental centre, can bring about a receptive silent state of the mentality, by which the aspiration and will can open to the higher planes and become receptive to the descent of the states of awareness that are active at those levels.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “That other way is the concentration in the head, in the mental centre. This, if it brings about the silence of the surface mind, opens up an inner, larger, deeper mind within which is more capable of receiving spiritual experience and spiritual knowledge. But once concentrated here one must open the silent mental consciousness upward to all that is above mind. After a time one feels the consciousness rising upward and in the end it rises beyond the lid which has so long kept it tied in the body and finds a centre above the head where it is liberated into the Infinite. There it begins to come into contact with the universal Self, the Divine Peace, Light, Power, Knowledge, Bliss, to enter into that and become that, to feel the descent of these things into the nature. To concentrate in the head with the aspiration for quietude in the mind and the realisation of the Self and Divine above is the second way of concentration. It is important, however, to remember that the concentration of the consciousness in the head is only a preparation for its rising to the centre above; otherwise, one may get shut up in one’s own mind and its experiences or at best attain only to a reflection of the Truth above instead of rising into the spiritual transcendence to live there. For some the mental concentration is easier, for some the concentration in the heart centre; some are capable of doing both alternately — but to begin with the heart centre, if one can do it, is the more desirable.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Meditation and Concentration in the Integral Yoga, pp. 149-153