Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 4: Obstacles Faced by Westerners and the Soul’s Aspiration to Overcome Them in the Integral Yoga

All human beings, regardless of whether they are born in the West, the East, or elsewhere, find the challenges of taking up yoga to be daunting and requiring of them unstinting efforts to understand the obstacles, and identify and implement ways to overcome them. With its long history of support for spiritual practices, India has clearly at least some advantage in terms of preparing the ground for systematic spiritual effort. Of course, even those born in India and raised in that culture must face considerable obstacles associated with the basic nature of the human mind, emotions, vital force and physical body. The tales of spiritual quests and the difficulties attendant thereto are widespread in the traditional lore of India.

For Westerners there are of course unique challenges that arise due to the cultural background, education, and mind-set of the West which colors the approach to spirituality taken by almost all who endeavour in that direction from the West. As the world becomes smaller, and people are exposed to the cultural pressures of the West, even in India, these same issues now arise quite as frequently.

The centrality of the ego-personality and the vital, externally-facing action, along with the predominance of the mental culture as the basis for judgment and understanding, are clearly enormous obstacles. When a Westerner (or someone influenced by the cultural biases of the West) is asked to be receptive, quiet the mind, and surrender the ego, there is frequently a strong resistance that rises up, or else, in the attempt to carry out the needed steps, there comes in many cases a loss of the function of discrimination, which has led to much manipulation and abuse in modern-day attempts to bring yoga to the West. Surrender of the ego does not mean, nor require, abandonment of all faculties of understanding, analysis and clear-sighted vision of what is being asked, by whom and for what purpose. Finding a correct balance between the practice of surrender on the one hand, and the proper utilization of the mental intelligence, is of great importance.

When the soul comes forward to guide the yoga, regardless of whether one stems from East or West, these difficulties can be overcome through the unerring sense of rightness brought to the process by the psychic being and its unity with the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Indian sadhak has his own difficulties in his approach to the yoga — at least to this yoga — which a Westerner has in less measure. Those of the occidental nature are born of the dominant trend of the European mind in the immediate past. A greater readiness of essential doubt and sceptical reserve; a habit of mental activity as a necessity of the nature which makes it more difficult to achieve a complete mental silence; a stronger turn towards outside things born of the plenitude of active life (while the Indian commonly suffers from defects born rather of a depressed or suppressed vital force); a habit of mental and vital self-assertion and sometimes an aggressively vigilant independence which renders difficult any completeness of internal surrender even to a greater Light and Knowledge, even to the divine Influence — these are frequent obstacles. But these things are not universal in Westerners, and they are, on the other hand, present in many Indian sadhaks; they are, like the difficulties of the typical Indian nature, superstructural formations, not the very grain of the being. They cannot permanently stand in the way of the soul, if the soul’s aspiration is strong and firm, if the spiritual aim is the chief thing in the life. They are impediments which the fire within can easily burn away if the will to get rid of them is strong, and which it will surely burn away in the end, — though less easily, — even if the outer nature clings long to them and justifies them — provided that the fire, the central will, the deeper impulse is behind all, real and sincere.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Westerners and Indian Yoga, pp. 365-370


Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 3: Are There Advantages to an Indian Birth for the Practice of Yoga?

If we look at the qualities required for bringing about the emergence of the psychic being, the development of a devotional attitude, and support for the idea of focusing on the Eternal through subordination or even abandonment of the relations of the outer life, it is clear that India has developed an atmosphere and cultural support structure that can be of advantage for the seeker at certain stages of the quest. Clearly those born in the West, who are raised in an environment focused on material acquisition, external validation and a method of inquiry that challenges everything, have certain difficulties in achieving the right poise of receptivity and acceptance, devotion and openness that are important elements of spiritual development.

This is not to say that there are not also positive sides and advantages to the Western mind-set when it comes to the practice of Yoga. In the end, every human being, regardless of their birth, cultural influences, education or background, has the same basic human aspiration, needs, drives and capacities that can be utilized or subordinated in their search for the truth and significance of their lives.

On the other side, an Indian birth is not automatically a qualification and has its own cultural limitations and obstacles that eventually have to be overcome. The story of Prince Siddhartha and the attempt of his family to bind him with the luxuries of royalty and hide the realities of the struggles of life from him, show how far the familial power can work to hinder the spiritual aspirations and quest of the sincere seeker.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “What are the differences after all from the viewpoint of yoga between the sadhak of Indian and the sadhak of occidental birth? You say the Indian has his yoga half done for him, — first, because he has his psychic much more directly open to the Transcendent Divine. Leaving out the adjective, (for it is not many who are by nature drawn to the Transcendent, most seek more readily the Personal, the Divine immanent here, especially if they can find it in a human body,) there is there no doubt an advantage. It arises simply from the strong survival in India of an atmosphere of spiritual seeking and a long tradition of practice and experience, while in Europe the atmosphere has been lost, the tradition interrupted, and both have to be rebuilt. There is an absence too of the essential doubt which so much afflicts the minds of Europeans or, it may be added, Europeanised Indians, although that does not prevent a great activity of a practical and very operative kind of doubt in the Indian sadhak. But when you speak of indifference to fellow human beings in any deeper aspect, I am unable to follow your meaning. My own experience is that the attachment to persons — to mother, father, wife, children, friends — not out of sense of duty or social relationship, but through close heart-ties is quite as strong as in Europe and often more intense; it is one of the great disturbing forces in the way, some succumbing to the pull and many, even advanced sadhaks, being still unable to get it out of their blood and their vital fibre. The impulse to set up a ‘spiritual’ or a ‘psychic’ relationship with others — very usually covering a vital mixture which distracts them from the one aim — is a persistently common feature. There is no difference here between the Western and Eastern human nature. Only the teaching in India is of long standing that all must be turned towards the Divine and everything else either sacrificed or changed into a subordinate and ancillary movement or made by sublimation a first step only towards the seeking for the Divine. This no doubt helps the Indian sadhak if not to become single-hearted at once, yet to orientate himself more completely towards the goal. It is not always for him the Divine alone, though that is considered the highest state; but the Divine, chief and first, is easily grasped by him as the ideal.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Westerners and Indian Yoga, pp. 365-370

Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 2: A Hindu Temperament in a Westerner’s Body?

When a Westerner takes up a serious yogic practice, they frequently hear that they must be Hindu souls born into Western bodies. They are then viewed as somehow anomalous to the cast of mind, vital force and emotions that tend to develop through life-long exposure to Western culture, educational systems and social interactions. In some cases, there is speculation about whether they have taken prior births in India and are continuing the yogic practices of the past. Yet, this does not change the fact that taking birth in the West and undergoing the developmental process there has a significance of its own and should not be disregarded or undervalued. The integration of the Western and the Eastern ways of relating to one’s life in the world can actually bring about new solutions to old problems. The materialistic bent of the West needs balance with the spiritual focus of the East. The tendency to extreme other-worldly spiritual practices of the East may find a balance with an appreciation of the cosmic creation and its reality as part of the divine manifestation. Even supposing that someone brings forward sufficient mental and vital formations from a past lifetime to actually take up those activities as before (not a common, but a possible occurrence), the object in taking a Western birth is clearly not to simply fall into the groove of the former lifetime.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Your explanation of the ability of many Westerners to practice Indian yoga seems to be that they have a Hindu temperament in a European or American body. As Gandhi is inwardly a moralistic Westerner and Christian, you say, so the other non-oriental members of the Ashram are essentially Hindus in outlook. But what exactly is this Hindu outlook? I have not myself seen anything in them that can be so described nor has the Mother. My own experience contradicts your entire explanation. I knew very well Sister Nivedita (she was for many years a friend and a comrade in the political field) and met Sister Christine, — the two closest European disciples of Vivekananda. Both were Westerners to the core and had nothing at all of the Hindu outlook; although Sister Nivedita, an Irish woman, had the power of penetrating by an intense sympathy into the ways of life of the people around her, her own nature remained non-oriental to the end. Yet she found no difficulty in arriving at realisation on the lines of Vedanta. Here in this Ashram I have found the members of it who came from the West (I include especially those who have been here longest) typically occidental with all the quality and also all the difficulties of the Western mind and temperament and they have had to cope with their difficulties, just as the Indian members have been obliged to struggle with the limitations and obstacles created by their temperament and training. No doubt, they have accepted in principle the conditions of the yoga, but they had no Hindu outlook when they came and I do not think they have tried to acquire one. Why should they do so? It is not the Hindu outlook or the Western that fundamentally matters in yoga, but the psychic turn and the spiritual urge, and these are the same everywhere.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Westerners and Indian Yoga, pp. 365-370

Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 1: Is It Possible For Westerns to Practice Yoga?

The question is frequently raised as to whether Westerners, with a background and culture grounded in materialism, the fulfillment of the vital ambitions and desires, and the development of the mental faculties, can truly enter into the spirit of yoga and obtain the fruits of the yogic practice in the same way as people who stem from the culture of India, with its long history of spiritual practice and cultural inclinations towards devotion and prayer. There are numerous questions that arise from such an inquiry and Sri Aurobindo takes them up systematically. If one disregards the differences of specific practices and names, one can see that in the mystical traditions of the West there are clearly practices and spiritual developments that very closely mirror the lines of yoga developed in the East. Just as in India, yoga is not for everyone, so also in the West, it has always been a few who have gravitated toward these spiritual pursuits and endeavours. Humanity is one, regardless of superficial differences and cultural variances. The basic capacities, drives, needs and evolutionary pressures are similar for all of humanity. In today’s world, as it becomes ever-more clear that the entire world is threatened with extinction unless a new evolutionary principle of consciousness can manifest and change the course of human civilisation, it is to be hoped, and expected, that all human beings, regardless of their cultural or national origin, will participate in the needed transitions.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The best way to answer your letter will be, I think, to take separately the questions implied in it. I will begin with the conclusion you have drawn of the impossibility of the yoga for a non-oriental nature.”

“I cannot see any ground for such a conclusion; it is contrary to all experience. Europeans throughout the centuries have practiced with success spiritual disciplines which were akin to oriental yoga and have followed, too, ways of the inner life which came to them from the East. Their non-oriental nature did not stand in their way. The approach and experiences of Plotinus and the European mystics who derived from him were identical, as has been shown recently, with the approach and experiences of one type of Indian yoga. Especially, since the introduction of Christianity, Europeans have followed its mystic disciplines which were one in essence with those of Asia, however much they may have differed in forms, names and symbols. If the question be of Indian yoga itself in its own characteristic forms, here too the supposed inability is contradicted by experience. In early times Greek and Scythians from the West as well as Chinese and Japanese and Cambodians from the East followed without difficulty Buddhist or Hindu disciplines; at the present day an increasing number of occidentals have taken to Vedantic or Vaishnava or other Indian spiritual practices and this objection of incapacity or unsuitableness has never been made either from the side of the disciples or from the side of the Masters. I do not see, either, why there should be any such unbridgeable gulf; for there is no essential difference between the spiritual life in the East and the spiritual life in the West; what difference there is has always been of names, forms and symbols or else of the emphasis laid on one special aim or another or on one side or another of psychological experience. Even here differences are often alleged which do not exist or else are not so great as they appear. I have seen it alleged by a Christian writer (who does not seem to share your friend Angus’ objection to these scholastic small distinctions) that Hindu spiritual thought and life acknowledged or followed after only the Transcendent and neglected the Immanent Divinity, while Christianity gave due place to both Aspects; but in point of fact, Indian spirituality, even if it laid the final stress on the Highest beyond form and name, yet gave ample recognition and place to the Divine immanent in the world and the Divine immanent in the human being. Indian spirituality has, it is true, a wider and more minute knowledge behind it; it has followed hundreds of different paths, admitted every kind of approach to the Divine and has thus been able to enter into fields which are outside the less ample scope of occidental practice; but that makes no difference to the essentials, and it is the essentials alone that matter.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Westerners and Indian Yoga, pp. 365-370

Reading and the Concentration and Dispersion of Conscious Awareness

As we become aware of the states of conscious awareness within our being, it becomes clear that there are times when the consciousness is highly concentrated, intensely focused, and other times when it is dispersed and wandering seemingly aimlessly. Our activities, including reading, are indicative of these states, and help to create these states. We understand the concept that ‘you are what you eat’ on a physical level, but do we recognise that the food of the mind is the sensory input and ideas that we ingest? Reading becomes a vehicle for ingestion of ideas, experiences and facts into the mind, and if our reading is focused on literature that supports the spiritual sadhana, it can aid in the development of a spiritual state of consciousness; alternatively, if we focus our reading on external things, on vital forces and activities, on the ‘gossip’ of the world around us, then we are loosening the focus and dispersing the consciousness.

There is a price to be paid, generally, for any focus on the external world. For those who have a one-pointed fixation on achieving liberation or salvation, there is little, if any, reason for putting any attention whatsoever on the things of the world, and we find that such individuals take up a path of renunciation of the world to try to achieve their aim.

For those who believe that the universal creation is being transformed through the evolution of consciousness, and who understand that their role is to participate in that transformation, it is not so simple. A clear understanding needs to be achieved, and a balance struck, whereby the consciousness remains gathered and focused, while nevertheless relations with the outer world are continued and developed, which will include a certain amount of relation to the news, events and concepts afloat in the world.

Either way, the important thing for the seeker is to recognise these varying states of concentration or dispersion, understand them for what they are, and modulate them in such a way as to advance the sadhana and the transformative process.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “If one is always in the inner consciousness then one can be not dispersed even when doing outward things — or if one is conscious of the Divine at all times and in all one does, then also can one read newspapers or do much correspondence without dispersion. But even then though there is not dispersion, yet there is less intensity of consciousness when reading a newspaper or writing a letter than when one is not putting part of oneself into quite external things. It is only when the consciousness is quite siddha that there is not even this difference. That does not mean one should not do external things at all, for then one gets no training in joining the two consciousnesses. But one must recognise that certain things do disperse the consciousness or lower it or externalise it more than others. Especially one should not deceive or pretend to oneself that one is not dispersed by them when one is.”

“You are mistaken in thinking that the sadhana of X, Y, and Z does not suffer by the dispersion of their minds in all directions. They would have been far farther on the path if they did a concentrated yoga — even, Y who has an enormous receptivity and is eager for progress might have gone thrice as far as he has done. Moreover, your nature is intense in all it does and it was therefore quite its natural path to take the straight way. Naturally, when once the higher consciousness is settled and both the vital and physical sufficiently ready for the sadhana to go on of itself, strict tapasya will no longer be necessary. But till then we consider it very useful and helpful and in many cases indispensable. But we do not insist on it when the nature is not willing. I see too that those who get into the direct line, (there are not yet very many), get of themselves the tendency to give up these mind-dispersing interests and occupations and throw themselves fully into the sadhana.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

Reading as a Spiritual Practice and Its Limitations

While Sri Aurobindo created an enormous body of written materials regarding the integral yoga, the development of the next phase of consciousness growth in the earth-evolution, he also clearly recognized that there are limits to how much reading can aid the spiritual seeker. He made a clear distinction between mental and emotional development that can be supported by reading, and the experience of spiritual states of consciousness which develop within, and which are, at most, only tangentially influenced by reading and mental development, and at worst, can be impeded by either over-reliance on the mental processes, or by the seeker being misled in believing that mental processes are actually spiritual processes.

Reading may increase an individual’s understanding of the external world and help him to see the illusions of our interpretations of sense data, such as understanding the rotation of the world and travel through space versus our perception that the sun revolves around the earth. Similarly, reading may help one understand the complex interaction of the various aspects of our being and may help us also train and develop the powers that are unformed or latent within the being.

Reading of devotional literature may prepare the heart to enter into a state of consecration and aspiration.

Reading of mantric writings may, if practiced with the correct attitude and focus, bring about changes in the inner vibrational state. Similarly reading with a quiet and receptive mind of writing that evokes higher planes of conscious awareness may lead the individual to the edge of experience.

In the end, however, it is the spiritual experience, the actual change of consciousness, the reception of higher spiritual vibratory patterns into the being, that actually counts as spirituality, not a high mental or emotional development.

Reading may actually turn out to be a distraction from the sadhana if it is focused on entertainment, titillation of the mind and senses, awakening of energies that stem from the lower vital level of the being, or simply matters that bring down the energy into a gross, external, dull or vital atmosphere.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Reading good books can be of help in the early mental stage — they prepare the mind, put it in the right atmosphere, can even, if one is very sensitive, bring some glimpses of realisation on the mental plane. Afterwards the utility diminishes — you have to find every knowledge and experience in yourself.”

“Yes, the real knowledge comes of itself from within by the touch of the Divine. Reading can be only a momentary help to prepare the mind. But the real knowledge does not come by reading. Some preparation for the inner knowledge may be helpful — but the mind should not be too superficially active or seek to know only for curiosity’s sake.”

“To read what will help the yoga or what will be useful for the work or what will develop the capacities for the divine purpose. Not to read worthless stuff or for mere entertainment or for a dilettante intellectual curiosity which is of the nature of a mental dram-drinking. When one is established in the highest consciousness, one can read nothing or everything; it makes no difference — but that is still far off.”

“One can say generally that newspaper reading or novel reading is not helpful to the sadhana and is at least a concession to the vital which is not yet ready to be absorbed in the sadhana — unless and until one is able to read in the right way with a higher consciousness which is not only not ‘disturbed’ by the reading or distracted by it from the concentrated yoga-consciousness but is able to make the right use of what is read from the point of view of the inner consciousness and the inner life.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

Intellectual Understanding and Understanding in the Consciousness

Those who find their basis primarily in the mind tend to believe that their intellectual understanding of something represents something real and definitive and that their “knowing” means they “know” something. This is however, not quite accurate. For instance, one can read books and “know” about a particular activity or process but nevertheless be unable to fully comprehend all the subtlety or complexity that only becomes clear through experience and inner review. There is also the famous statement that reading about swimming does not mean one can swim when one enters the water.

Yoga is not dependent on an intellectual understanding of the processes or steps along the way. It is a matter of inner experiential understanding that may not correspond to the mental formations that develop as one studies books or hears lectures on the subject. It is one of the great distinguishing factors between academic learning and real life experience.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “… There are two kinds of understanding — understanding by the intellect and understanding in the consciousness. It is good to have the former if it is accurate, but it is not indispensable. Understanding by the consciousness comes if there is faith and openness, though it may come only gradually and through steps of experience. But I have seen people without education or intellectuality understand in this way perfectly well the course of the yoga in themselves, while intellectual men make big mistakes, e.g. take a neutral mental quietude for the spiritual peace and refuse to come out of it in order to go farther.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

Reading, Mental Development and Spiritual Growth

There is a general bias in our society that holds that someone who has a developed mentality, and who is ‘well-read’ is smarter or more intelligent than those who cannot read or who have limited reading capacity. Yet it must be recognised that intelligence cannot be measured, as is done in the West, on tests that validate reading skills and memorization of ‘facts’. Intelligence is actually a measure of how well an individual actually understands what the ‘facts’ mean and has the ability to go behind the surface meanings to get at the real root significance. This is not restricted to reading, but relates to all of life and experience. Thus, intellectual development does not always correlate with true understanding. This is also known as the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’.

Reading, particularly if it is done with a quiet and receptive frame of mind, or with a devotional openness of the heart, can help to put the being in the right ‘mood’ to open to spiritual forces and the higher ranges of mentality. This implies a different methodology for reading than is normally done in Western education. In the West, reading is used to acquire and hold onto factual knowledge, or to awaken the imagination to vital experiences, and in both cases, this ties the intellect down and creates a frame that is generally closed off from higher insights. Reading done slowly and deliberately, with an aspiration for understanding, may actually aid in the process of spiritual growth, and this is particularly the case if the reading is of devotional or spiritual literature that moves the mind and the heart into a receptive mode.

Another purpose of reading may be to acquire facts of the external world, and, if used to open up the sense of wonder and deeper insight into the nature of the creation, it can also aid in the spiritual seeking.

Certain types of reading can actually become a meditative process. Many who read Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri: a Legend and a Symbol, report experiences while reading certain passages, as the poem has a mantric force that, in a receptive state of mind, can bring with it the experience represented in that passage.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Reading and study are only useful to acquire information and widen one’s field of data. But that comes to nothing if one does not know how to discern and discriminate, judge, see what is within and behind things.”

“Intelligence does not depend on the amount one has read, it is a quality of the mind. Study only gives it material for its work as life also does. There are people who do not know how to read and write who are more intelligent than many highly educated people and understand life and things better. On the other hand, a good intelligence can improve itself by reading because it gets more material to work on and grows by exercise and by having a wider range to move in. But book-knowledge by itself is not the real thing, it has to be used as a help to the intelligence but it is often only a help to stupidity or ignorance — ignorance because knowledge of facts is a poor thing if one cannot see their true significance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

The Needed Balance of Spiritual Development and Mental Development

There has been a long-standing debate between those who believe in the power of mental development, under the rubric of ‘science’ and those who believe in the power of faith and spiritual aspiration, under the general terminology of ‘religion’. A similar debate rages between the position of academia and the paths of spiritual yoga. We prize high mental intelligence, particularly when it is focused on making our life in the material world more comfortable or rewarding. When it comes to spiritual practice, however, an insight, and a balance must be achieved to avoid mistaking mental development and intellectual development as somehow being spiritual in nature. Even those who can recite all the scriptures and describe all the various parables, stories and insights of the spiritual traditions may be acting from a purely intellectual basis, with no real foundation in spiritual development.

This is not to imply that going to the other extreme and devaluing the intellect will ensure spiritual progress. Much of this confusion is due to what Sri Aurobindo describes as ‘the refusal of the ascetic’ in The Life Divine. Spiritual pursuits that focus on the complete devaluation of the external life of the world have little interest in developing the intellect.

For a yogic practice that believes in both realisation of the spiritual truths, and the transformation of the external life based on those truths, a working relationship between spiritual experience and growth on the one hand, and the power of the mind on the other, is basically essential.

It is also true that certain types of study, reading and reflection in the mind can be aids in the spiritual quest by focusing the mind and controlling the vital nature, such that there can be a receptivity to spiritual insight and experience. This requires the mind, however, to maintain a poise of humility and not arrogantly assume that it ‘knows’, when in fact, its ‘knowledge’ is always partial and colored by preconceived notions and cultural training.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It does not help for spiritual knowledge to be ignorant of things of this world.”

“Knowledge is always better than ignorance. It makes things possible hereafter if not at the moment, while ignorance actively obstructs and misleads.”

“The development of the mind is a useful preliminary for the Sadhak; it can also be pursued along with the Sadhana on condition that it is not given too big a place and does not interfere with the one important thing, the Sadhana itself.”

“Mental development may or may not help sadhana — if the mind is too intellectually developed on certain rationalistic lines, it may hinder.”

“Sadhana is the aim of a sadhak, not mental development. But if he has spare time, those who have the mental turn will naturally spend it in reading or study of some kind.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Mental Development, Reading and Study, pp. 361-365

Art as a Dedicated Expression of the Divine

The object of creative expression through art is of primary importance to the spiritual seeker. As long as art is used as a way to enhance the vital ego, achieve recognition, fame, wealth, it has little, if any, value for spiritual practice. These objectives, in and of themselves, are part of the normal life of the mental/vital man and are expected to be the goals for those who take up these pursuits. When the individual begins, first, to treat the artistic pursuit as a means of inner development and expression, regardless of external recognition, he begins to recognise the true inner growth that is possible through such activity. At some point, this may develop further into a communion, a form of dedication, an aspiration, and an expression of the deeper sense of oneness that characterizes the spiritual consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “What you write is perfectly true, that all human greatness and fame and achievement are nothing before the greatness of the Infinite and the Eternal. There are two possible deductions from that: first that all human action has to be renounced and one should go into a cave; the other is that one should grow out of ego so that the activities of the nature may become one day consciously an action of the Infinite and Eternal. I myself never gave up poetry or other creative human activities out of tapasya; they fell into a subordinate position because the inner life became stronger and stronger slowly: nor did I really drop them, only I had so heavy a work laid upon me that I could not find time to go on. But it took me years and years to get the ego out of them or the vital absorption, but I never heard anybody say nor did it ever occur to me that that was a proof that I was not born for Yoga.”

“Every artist almost (there can be rare exceptions) has got something of the public man in him in his vital-physical parts which makes him crave for the stimulus of an audience, social applause, satisfied vanity, appreciation, fame. That must go absolutely if you want to be a yogi, — your art must be a service not of your own ego, not of anyone or anything else but solely of the Divine.”

“It is your aim to write from the Divine and for the Divine– you should then try to make all equally a pure transcription from the inner source and where the inspiration fails return upon your work so as to make the whole worthy of its origin and its object. All work done for the Divine, from poetry and art and music to carpentry or baking or sweeping a room, should be made perfect even in its smallest external detail as well as in the spirit in which it is done; for only then is it an altogether fit offering.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Art, Poetry, Music, Literature, pp. 356-361