The unique dynamics of living in a spiritual or religious community make it especially important to understand the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) distractions that can arise when the long habitual reactions of the vital nature, as well as the strong cultural pressures, developed over millennia, bring up the sexual tension between individuals. Sri Aurobindo was writing specifically to sadhaks in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, so he focused on the specific situations that were brought up to him by those members of the Ashram. But what he has to say on the subject of relations between people and the nature of psychic versus human forms of love have a much more general and much deeper application.
In today’s world, we would have to add that relations between individuals, regardless of gender, would have the same caveats involved. Any relationship that brings in the sexual tension can be distracting to the individuals focused on achieving a certain spiritual realization or goal.
Psychic love, as opposed to the human forms, focuses first and foremost on the love for the Divine, and when it expresses itself in a social setting, it does not react by seeing male or female, nor, frankly any other superficial characteristic, but sees another human being and treats that individual with equality, respect and consideration for the individual’s personal space and needs.
How much more harmonious would human life be if everyone interacted with everyone else based on their humanity and not on their gender stereotypes, sexual orientation, skin color, or place of origin, or even their acquired characteristics such as their religious or political beliefs.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is certainly easier to have friendship between man and man or between woman and woman than between man and woman, because there the sexual intrusion is normally absent. In a friendship between man and woman the sexual turn can at any moment come in a subtle or in a direct way and produce perturbations. But there is no impossibility of friendship between man and woman pure of this element; such friendships can exist and have always existed. All that is needed is that the lower vital should not look in at the back door or be permitted to enter. There is often a harmony between a masculine and a feminine nature, an attraction or an affinity which rests on something other than any open or covert lower vital (sexual) basis — it depends sometimes predominantly on the mental or the psychic or on the higher vital, sometimes on a mixture of these for its substance. In such a case friendship is natural and there is little chance of other elements coming in to pull it downwards or break it.”
“It is also a mistake to think that the vital alone has warmth and the psychic is something frigid without any flame in it. A clear limpid goodwill is a very good and desirable thing. But that is not what is meant by psychic love. Love is love and not merely goodwill. Psychic love can have a warmth and a flame as intense and more intense than the vital, only it is a pure fire, not dependent on the satisfaction of ego-desire or on the eating up of the fuel it embraces. It is a white flame, not a red one; but white heat is not inferior to the red variety in its ardour. It is true that the psychic love does not usually get its full play in human relations and human nature; it finds the fullness of its fire and ecstasy more easily when it is lifted towards the Divine. In the human relation the psychic love gets mixed up with other elements which seek at once to use it and overshadow it. It gets an outlet for its own full intensities only at rare moments. Otherwise it comes in only as an element, but even so it contributes all the higher things in a love fundamentally vital — all the finer sweetness, tenderness, fidelity, self-giving, self-sacrifice, reachings of soul to soul, idealising sublimations that lift up human love beyond itself, come from the psychic. If it could dominate and govern and transmute the other elements, mental, vital, physical, of human love, then love could be on the earth some reflection or preparation of the real thing, an integral union of the soul and its instruments in a dual life. But even some imperfect appearance of that is rare.”
“Our view is that the normal thing is in yoga for the entire flame of the nature to turn towards the Divine and the rest must wait for the true basis; to build higher things on the sand and mire of the ordinary consciousness is not safe. That does not necessarily exclude friendships or comradeships, but these must be subordinate altogether to the central fire. If anyone makes meanwhile the relation with the Divine his one absorbing aim, that is quite natural and gives the full force to the sadhana. Psychic love finds itself wholly when it is the radiation of the diviner consciousness for which we are seeking; till then it is difficult for it to put out its undimmed integral self and figure.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Relations Between Men and Women, pp 328-330
I would not have thought to refer to this love as ‘psychic love”. Transcendental, divine… or maybe even ‘quantum’ love. None of them are perfect. Another example of applying words to the ineffable.
Other words stemming from eastern thought that tend to cause conflict (misinterpretation) in the western world: illusion, reality, detachment… even karma.
This comes from Sri Aurobindo’s usage of the term ‘psychic being’ which is totally different than our modern day idea of “psychic” which is a completely different concept. Thus, as you note, the potential misinterpretation. The psychic being is the soul-essence within the being basically. It is that element of our being that is capable of true, disinterested, yet intense feelings of love, devotion, adoration, and sincere worship, as opposed to the vital being which is based on the ego and its gratifications
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I was not thinking of the word in terms of “psychic” as in a medium or seer, but it struck me more as a psychological term — something Jungian, perhaps.
I know very little about this great man, but I was moved by his discourses concerning “integral living”. I read The Life Divine, many years ago. I have not revisited Aurobindo since that time, until now.
Thank you for sharing your expertise.