Exercise of Will as Part of the Process of Yogic Transformation

There remains considerable confusion about the role of will-power in the development of the spiritual life of the individual. On the one side, the seeker is asked to not give in to the force of vital desire, and the will is often confused with desire. Thus, the idea of acting without desire is also equated with the negation of the use of will-power. On the other side, the seeker is asked to utilize will-power to control desire and, when an excessive force is used, this can lead to suppression and active self-torture, which do not lead to liberation. The middle ground in the use of will-power is to put it under the control of the psychic being and use it to establish a steady movement forward, while understanding the varying needs of the body, life and mind to effectuate real change, over time, without falling for the excesses of either too little, or too much attempt to control as the process unfolds.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The will is a part of the consciousness and ought to be in human beings the chief agent in controlling the activities of the nature. … If there is a constant use of the will, the rest of the being learns however slowly to obey the will and the actions become in conformity with the will and not with the vital impulses and desire. As for the rest (the feelings and desires etc. themselves) if they are not indulged in action or imagination and not supported by the will, if they are merely looked at and rejected when they come, then after some struggle they begin to lose their force and dwindle away. … For transformation to be genuine, the difficulty has to be rejected by all the parts. The Force can only help or enable them to do it, but it cannot replace this necessary action by a summary process. Your mind and inner being must impart their will to the whole. … So long as there is not a constant action of the Force from above or else of a deeper will from within, the mental will is necessary. … To be conscious is the first step towards overcoming — but for the overcoming strength is necessary and also detachment and the will to overcome.”

In terms of the right action of the will, Sri Aurobindo continues: “It is not the right kind of will-power then, probably they use some fighting or effortful will-power instead of the quiet but strong will that calls down the higher consciousness and force.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Using the Will, pp. 7-8

Psychoanalysis and Yoga Don’t Mix

Without the power to control and purify, an individual faces great risk in dredging up all kinds of subconscious energies, fears, experiences, dreams and desires. Psychoanalysis focuses on tapping into this subconscious level, but it does not start with any process to arm the individual with the necessary insight, and tools, to manage what comes up. Thus, it tends to create great confusion, in some cases leading to years of ongoing ‘therapy’ without any positive result.

The practice of yoga relies on the development of a focus, not on the lowest and least conscious levels of our awareness, but on the highest and most awake parts of our being. The sense is that as the higher powers of awakened consciousness gain more strength and bring with them new insights, understandings and ability to control and manage the forces of mind, life and body, it becomes more possible to deal with anything that would surge up from below, and if the subconscious levels need to be opened up and excavated, so to speak, at least the seeker will be armed with knowledge and be able to understand what is happening and thus, be able to manage what comes.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Your practice of psychoanalysis was a mistake….The psycho-analysis of Freud is the last thing that one should associate with yoga. It takes up a certain part, the darkest, the most perilous, the unhealthiest part of the nature, the lower .vital subconscious layer, isolates some of its most morbid phenomena and attributes to it and them an action out of proportion to its true role in the nature. Modern psychology is an infant science, at once rash and fumbling and crude. As in all infant sciences, the universal habit of the human mind — to take a partial or local truth, generalise it unduly and try to explain a whole field of Nature in its narrow terms — runs riot here …. It is true that the subliminal in man is the largest part of his nature and has in it the secret of the unseen dynamisms which explain his surface activities. But the lower vital subconscious which is all that this psycho-analysis of Freud seems to know, — and even of that it knows only a few ill-lit corners, — is no more than a restricted and very inferior portion of the subliminal whole…. First, one should make the higher mind and vital strong and firm and full of light and peace from above; afterwards one can open up or even dive into the subconscious with more safety and some chance of a rapid and successful change.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Observation versus Analysis, pp. 5-7