The Self — the Atman and Individual Liberation

One of the primary objectives of traditional paths of yoga has been the liberation from the bondage of the world of illusion, the phantasmagoria of the creation and the individual’s fixation on success and failure, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, happiness and despair that occurs as a result of the ego-personality’s attachment to these transitory results. Historically this has been carried out through an abandonment of the life in the world, adoption of a life of seclusion and acceptance of the circumstances that arise while focusing intensely on freeing the consciousness from the outer attachments and joining the larger Self of the universal creation. A prime example can be seen in the practice of Tibet’s renowned yogi, Milarepa, who practiced intensive meditation in caves in the Himalayas, for the most part naked, and without regular food, subsisting on eating nettles.

For the integral yoga, the liberation from the ego-personality and the snares of attachment remains an important step, although the kind of exclusive abandonment practiced historically is not the preferred path, since this yoga focuses on eventual transformation of the life. True transformation cannot occur, however, when the ego dominates the consciousness and controls the understanding and action of the being.

The experience of the liberation of the consciousness is palpable and creates a new standpoint and sense of union that is not there in the normal life and awareness of the individual. From this standpoint, the life in the world can seem, particularly in the beginning, as a form of illusion or maya, a show or external play that is ephemeral and ever-changing, while the experience of the Self is one of infinity, a deep sense of peace and wide embracing of the entire existence as one.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is an experience of the extension of consciousness. In yoga experience the consciousness widens in every direction, around, below, above, in each direction stretching to infinity. When the consciousness of the yogi becomes liberated, it is not in the body, but in this infinite height, depth, and wideness that he lives always. Its basis is an infinite void or silence, but in that all can manifest — Peace, Freedom, Power, Light, Knowledge, Ananda. This consciousness is usually called the consciousness of the Self or Atman, for it is a pure existence or self that is the source of all things and contains all things.”

“The Self is being, not a being. By Self is meant the conscious essential existence, one in all.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, The Consciousness of the Self, pp. 181-184

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