About sriaurobindostudies

studying the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since 1971, this blog is meant to systematically review the writings of Sri Aurobindo.

Purification of the Nature: Negative and Positive Approaches

Ordinarily, when we reflect on addressing impurities in the nature, whether in the mind, the emotions, the vital nature or the physical body, we tend to fixate upon the weakness or limitation we have identified and work to directly control, change or suppress it. This is what may be termed a ‘negative’ approach to purification. A positive approach consists of building up the psychological force of peace which, in and of itself, prevents many of the disruptions that we otherwise would want to change or remove from our nature. The deeper the peace, the less the outer impulses can disrupt and disturb at all. Cultivating peace in the being is a progressive process over time. There can be a conscious effort to not react to the impulses that ordinarily would create a disturbance, and this may aid in the opening to the higher force as it descends from above and fills the being with the true peace that resides in those higher planes.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It [purity] is more a condition than a substance. Peace helps to purify – since in peace disturbing influences cease and the essence of purity is to respond only to the Divine Influence and not to have an affinity with other movements.”

“If you get peace, then to clean the vital becomes easy. If you simply clean and clean and do nothing else, you go very slowly — for the vital gets dirty again and has to be cleaned a hundred times. The peace is something that is clean in itself, so to get it is a positive way of securing your object. To look for dirt only and clean is the negative way.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 74

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Cultivating Inner Peace as the Basis of Spiritual Sadhana

Given the reactive nature of the external being, the mind, the vital, the physical body, there is generally a lack of peace and we are driven from one response to another as circumstances, events, sense impressions, etc. impinge upon us. Development of an awareness that is separated from this external being is an enormous aid to creating a platform for cultivating peace in the nature. The separation of the witness-consciousness from the active nature is one such technique that is recommended by Sri Aurobindo. The initial object in this case is to develop a space within oneself, and an inner awareness that is able to observe the actions and reactions that take place in the external being without engagement or desire of any kind. It has been likened to watching action on a motion picture or television screen. One sees and understand what is taking place, but is not directly ‘involved’ in the action. This standpoint can develop a strong and unshakable peace which eventually can be utilized to extend into the external being and bring about a calming and quieting influence in the outer being.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is true that through whatever is strongest in him a sadhak can most easily open to the Divine. But…peace is necessary for all; without peace and an increasing purity, even if one opens, one cannot receive perfectly all that comes down through the opening. Light too is necessary for all — without light one cannot take full advantage of all that comes down.”

“It is in the peace behind and that ‘something truer’ in you that you must learn to live and feel it to be yourself. You must regard the rest as not your real self, but only a flux of changing or recurring movements on the surface which are sure to go as the true self emerges.”

“When the peace is deep or wide it is usually in the inner being. The outer parts do not ordinarily go beyond a certain measure of quietude — they get deep peace only when they are flooded with it from the inner being.”

“They [peace and patience] go together. By having patience under all kinds of pressure you lay the foundations of peace.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 73-74

Stages of the Development of Peace in the Being

With all the complexity surrounding the reactions we have to impressions and pressures we receive from the world, it is important to both understand the seed causes of our reactions and find a way to systematically gain control over these reactions. One of the techniques recommended by Sri Aurobindo is to develop the standpoint of the witness observing the nature. The witness can then work to view what takes place in the surface nature as if it is happening outside oneself. This helps to attain objectivity and thereby insight into what is taking place in the nature, as well as makes it easier to separate oneself from the action in a way that can eventually bring about peace. This does not happen overnight, and we can see various stages in the progression, which Sri Aurobindo proceeds to outline.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Quietness is when the mind or vital is not troubled, restless, drawn about by or crowded with thoughts and feelings. Especially when either is detached and looks at these as a surface movement, we say that the mind or vital is quiet.”

“Calmness is a more positive condition, not merely an absence of restlessness, over-activity or trouble. When there is a clear or great or strong tranquility which nothing troubles or can trouble, then we say that calm is established.”

“It is quite usual to feel an established peace in the inner being even if there is disturbance on the surface. In fact that is the usual condition of the yogi before he has attained the absolute samata in all the being.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 73

Issues in the Establishment of Equanimity and Peace in the Being

We have long-established instincts that harken back to the animal kingdom, in what we may call the “fight or flight” response. This instinct is deeply embedded and lies at the root of one of the biggest obstacles to achieving calm and peace in the being. Every impulse we receive from outside triggers a reaction and if it appears at all threatening, it triggers this virtually automatic process. There are other reactive triggers, such as the built in neuro-chemical transmitters that are evoked when something is pleasurable or unpleasurable. The experience of these neuro-chemicals can lead to a cycle of desire, attempting to recreate the feeling in the being. Then we add learned responses that we gain from parents, siblings, friends, the societal framework around us, such that certain types of impulses provoke a response, such as patriotism, racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, etc. Many of these are deeply embedded in the psychology so that they take place virtually without conscious awareness of the being.

When the seeker takes up spiritual practices, one of the first things that needs to be accomplished is developing at least an initial platform of calm and peace, and from there, systematically rooting out the reactive nature of the desire-soul and the ego-personality. This process is not simple when one realises that just suppressing the outer reaction does not solve the problem. A much deeper psychological purification and tuning process winds up being required. It is something that occurs over time with constant effort. Instead of being upset about the lapses as they occur, the seeker should recognise the time and effort required and exercise patience, starting with a first basic establishment of equanimity wherever possible, and then reviewing disturbances, as they arise, to understand causes and potential solutions.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “To be calm, undisturbed and quiet is not the first condition for sadhana but for siddhi. It is only a few people (very few, one, two, three, four in a hundred sadhaks) who can get it from the first. Most have to go through a long preparation before they can get anywhere near it. Even afterwards when they begin to feel the peace and calm, it takes time to establish it — they swing between peace and disturbance for a fairly long time until all parts of the nature have accepted the truth and the peace.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 72

Equality: the State of Inner Peace in the Face of Provocation

How do we typically respond to the situations that we meet in the world? We want to fulfill our desires, have our wishes and ideas carried out, and have a modicum of control in our lives. When things do not go as we wish, we become frustrated, angry, resentful or otherwise upset. On the other side, when we get what we are seeking, we experience happiness, joy and enthusiastic participation. Many have pointed out that neither joy nor sorrow, positive or negative events or circumstances, are always present, but that they tend to ebb and flow and interchange with one another, so that every life meets with its “ups” and its “downs” in the course of life. In a world of uncertainty, our comfortable lives can be easily upset by war, storms, economic disruptions, or hostile acts perpetrated upon us or those with whom we are connected. To borrow from the author Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ The same holds true for the yogic practitioner, who sometimes has outstanding experiences and at other times, meets with intense opposition and conflict.

There is such a high level of violence in the world because humanity has not learned how to deal with the issues that confront us every day. Domestic violence, road rage, temper tantrums and angry outbursts, are all part of the daily life for many people and hardly given a second thought. When things we perceive as positive happen, ecstatic outbursts of joy can occur. Philosophers throughout history have raised the issue and some, such as the stoics, have counseled maintaining an even temper in all circumstances. Others tell us to hold back our outbursts and restrain our desires and our anger. Those who attempt this approach frequently find that they are not solving the reaction, but bottling it up, suppressing it, with sometimes negative impacts on their health and well-being including high blood pressure, ulcers, etc.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother counsel that the needed poise for the yogin is to maintain a state of inner peace and equality to all the touches, positive and negative, that one experiences in life. This is not an outward suppression of reactions that are then allowed to boil inwardly, but a true solving of the reactive nature such that there is neither an external outburst nor an inner seething that builds up. Anyone who has attempted this will easily recognise the difficulty involved in this accomplishment. It is a first foundation for yogic growth and development and requires substantial inner awareness to maintain calm. People generally tend to see strength in the use of brute force both physically and psychologically, yet in many cases, this comes as a result of the inner weakness. True strength lies in the ability to not let the touches of life negatively impact the psychological balance of the nature nor distract from the focus of the life.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Equality means a quiet and unmoved mind and vital, it means not to be touched or disturbed by things that happen or things said or done to you, but to look at them with a straight look, free from the distortions created by personal feeling, and to try to understand what is behind them, why they happen, what is to be learnt from them, what is it in oneself which they are cast against and what inner profit or progress one can make out of them; it means self-mastery over the vital movements, — anger and sensitiveness and pride as well as desire and the rest, — not to let them get hold of the emotional being and disturb the inner peace, not to speak and act in the rush and impulsion of these things, always to act and speak out of a calm inner poise of the spirit. It is not easy to have this equality in any full perfect measure, but one should always try more and more to make it the basis of one’s inner state and outer movements.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 72

Concentration Is Not the Same As Meditation

There is considerable confusion about meditation and concentration. They are, however, not quite the same. Achieving a meditative state inwardly can aid in the development of concentration. Certain forms of meditation utilize techniques that lead to concentration. Yet meditation can be calm, relaxed and peaceful without being a concentrated state of awareness that focuses on a single point, which is the definition of concentration. It can be ‘blank’ of ‘content’. Certain forms of meditation let the mind rest quietly in a state of vast general awareness, which is not ‘concentration’. In the stillness that thus arises in the mind, concentration then becomes more possible and more effective, yet it needs to be directed at a single object, whether that is an external object, or an internal one, such as the fire of aspiration that directs the attention solely to the Divine.

One can distinguish the gathered, focused energy of concentration through its intensity and the amplitude of the waves of awareness from the broader waves with lower amplitude of the meditative state. Scientists can measure the difference of waves being generated and have assigned different letters of the Greek alphabet to certain waves that are prevalent in the state of meditation from those that arise in the concentrated state, thus validating from the scientific perspective the differences between the two.

A disciple asks: “I read in the Conversations (1956): ‘Concentration alone will lead you to this goal.’ Should one increase the time of meditation?”

The Mother writes: “Concentration does not mean meditation; on the contrary, concentration is a state one must be in continuously, whatever the outer activity. By concentration I mean that all the energy, all the will, all the aspiration must be turned only towards the Divine and His integral realisation in our consciousness.”

“To keep constantly a concentrated and in-gathered attitude is more important than having fixed hours of meditation.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 71

How to Convert Mental Seeking into Living Spiritual Experience

Sri Aurobindo describes the first step to move from a mental seeking to a living spiritual experience as “the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself.” We ask what this means exactly. Some observation of our mental state discloses what we normally consider to be concentration. We focus on solving some issue or problem in our lives, or we focus on some experience, some opportunity, some relationship, some event. In each case, we turn our concentration outwards towards the external world and attach our focus to those external objects. If we are not concentrated on some specific outer circumstance, we are, for the most part, receiving sense perceptions, and moving more or less randomly through whatever presents itself to our senses, or rises up as a result of past impressions. We may experience hunger or thirst, desire or ambition of some sort, or may simply distract our attention through various forms of entertainment. We may be caught up in the idea of accumulating clothes, or technology or cars, or jewelry. These distractions do not involve much in the way of concentration generally and the mind jumps from one object to another when concentration is lacking. None of this however, represents the “concentration within oneself” Sri Aurobindo references.

When the seeker first attempts to understand and experience an inner concentration, he is immediately confronted with the almost endless distracting forces of sense perceptions, feelings, thoughts, ideas, and emotions. There is no settled peace in the mind and he may feel like it is an impossible task! Yogic science provides various guiding techniques to systematically prepare for an inward concentration. Regardless of the specific method chosen, with regular practice and patience, the mind eventually comes to a status of quiescence which is the basis for inward concentration. Some paths advise following the breath in and out to attain this initial stage. Others use the combination of a mantra with the breath to drive out thoughts or perceptions which can act as disturbances. Still others recommend putting the whole attention on creation of a mood that one becomes, such as deep aspiration, where nothing else can intervene and the entire being is focused on this aspiration. Focusing on a visualisation, or even on a single point of light can move one away from the surface being and eventually a point comes where one can lose track of time, space and circumstance and simply dwell in an inner space of light and calm. The experience,when it first arises, may occur without warning and without any form of expectation as the consciousness simply shifts away from all surface distractions. It may be helpful to create a space, and a specific time to quiet the mind and undertake the practice, as the regular process sets up a rhythm in the being. Once the inward awareness becomes quite regular, the seeker no longer need depend on such a formal practice or discipline to recreate the inner space of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “You have asked what is the discipline to be followed in order to convert the mental seeking into a living spiritual experience. The first necessity is the practice of concentration of your consciousness within yourself. The ordinary human mind has an activity on the surface which veils the real Self. But there is another, a hidden consciousness within behind the surface, one in which we can become aware of the real Self and of a larger deeper truth of nature, can realise the Self and liberate and transform the nature. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 70-71

The Power of Concentration is the Key to Realization in All Fields of Life

Every major accomplishment in human life involves some form of concentration. We live in a modern world that systematically distracts and disperses the mind, thus making it more difficult to achieve a state of concentration. Cell phones, internet surfing, music, flashing lights, entertainment, fast moving vehicles, powerful storms, news media gathering sensational reports to place before us 24 hours a day. It is a wonder that we can concentrate at all in the modern world! Those who achieve even a small modicum of concentration are able to achieve success in their field of focus far beyond that of most others who remain distracted and whose consciousness is confused, diffused and fragmented by falling victim to the distracting forces of modern day life.

For spiritual practitioners the development of the power of concentration is an important milestone in achieving spiritual realisation. Those who have a spiritual calling are frequently asked to avoid involvement with all the distracting influences, so they can focus on the object of their aspiration.

Some paths of yoga set forth intricate and highly detailed methods to train the concentration, such as the use of visualisation and the precise coordination and ordering of beings, shapes, colors and relationships. Mandalas, yantras, thangkas all represent methods that show or symbolize some force, event or relationship in the world of matter or the world of spirit. Disciples are asked to visualize these forms internally and to re-create them with utmost precision. This leads to a state of one-pointed concentration.

Raja Yoga also describes the processes whereby one attains “one pointed” concentration, which this path considers to be an essential aspect of the development of the super-conscient state characterized by the experience of samadhi.

Each of the major forms of yoga in the triple paths of knowledge, devotion and works, involves concentration on the respective objects of each path, whether it is light or some specific concept, a deity, a dedicated form of action, or some state of awareness to be developed and held intact, such as aspiration, devotion, surrender, etc.

The Mother observes: “… whatever you may want to do in life, one thing is absolutely indispensable and at the basis of everything, the capacity of concentrating the attention. If you are able to gather together the rays of attention and consciousness on one point and can maintain this concentration with a persistent will, nothing can resist it — whatever it may be, from the most material physical development to the highest spiritual one. But this discipline must be followed in a constant and, it may be said, imperturbable way; not that you should always be concentrated on the same thing — that’s not what I mean, I mean learning to concentrate. And materially, for studies, sports, all physical or mental development, it is absolutely indispensable. And the value of an individual is proportionate to the value of his attention.”

“And from the spiritual point of view it is still more important. There is no spiritual obstacle which can resist a penetrating power of concentration. For instance, the discovery of the psychic being, union with the inner Divine, opening to the higher spheres, all can be attained by an intense and obstinate power of concentration — but one must learn how to do it.”

“There is nothing in the human or even in the superhuman field, to which the power of concentration is not the key. … You can be the best athlete, you can be the best student, you can be an artistic, literary or scientific genius, you can be the greatest saint with that faculty. And everyone has in himself a tiny little beginning of it — it is given to everybody, but people do not cultivate it.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 69-70

An Inward Concentration Is Necessary for the Seeker of Knowledge

The ability to concentrate the mind allows us to function in the world in a coherent manner and to create results in whatever field the concentration takes up. Without concentration, the mind would jump from one perception, one impression, one idea to another randomly and instantaneously as new impulses arise. Everyone has had the experience of concentration, whether it be taking a test in school, or trying to excel at some skill or sport, or in taking up the study of music, art or even, reading a book and being absorbed in it. Sometimes we face a situation where we need to work through a series of steps or options and a period of time elapses as we systematically try to sort out those choices and make the right decision. We can also experience concentration in playing games, with the strategic game of chess being one of long-standing fame and world-wide acclaim as one of the ultimate games that promote the ability of the mind to focus, concentrate and exclude extraneous factors to achieve the result of checkmate. Of course, there are many forms of concentration that relate to specific ideas, thoughts, emotions, plans, feelings or physical situations.

More difficult for most people is a form of concentration that does not latch onto an external object and yet is not a dispersed or fragmented state of consciousness. Once the mind has been habituated to the practice of concentration, such as following a specific thought or idea through along its path, it becomes necessary for the seeker to shift the concentration inwards. The practices of Raja Yoga develop this into a science. Control of the breath, following and focusing on the breath, can become a first step in the process of detaching the concentration from an outer form. As the mind moves to stillness, concentration can be centered in a location such as between the eyebrows, or in the heart, or above the head, without specific ‘content’ other than the sense of the location of the concentration. Another option is to use a mantra or japa to drive out all other random thoughts and then let the consciousness focus so intensely that it no longer needs the japa to remain concentrated. Others focus on an external light, such as a candle flame, until awareness of the flame itself disappears.

Sri Aurobindo recounted a method he utilized to obtain silence in the mind. He observed the thoughts coming in and rejected them before they could take hold. After some time, he was able to obtain the concentrated status of the silent mind.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The mind is a thing that dwells in diffusion, in succession; it can only concentrate on one thing at a time and when not concentrated runs from one thing to another very much at random. Therefore it has to concentrate on a single idea, a single subject of meditation, a single object of contemplation, a single object of will in order to possess or master it, and this it must do to at least the temporary exclusion of all others…. The first step in concentration must be always to accustom the discursive mind to a settled unwavering pursuit of a single course of connected thought on a single subject and this it must do undistracted by all lures and alien calls on its attention. Such concentration is common enough in our ordinary life, but it becomes more difficult when we have to do it inwardly without any outward object or action on which to keep the mind; yet this inward concentration is what the seeker of knowledge must effect.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pg. 69

Focusing on the Signal While Eliminating the Noise: Concentration and Purification

Consider briefly that you have a television set that receives all the available channels, but you cannot tune the set, so that all picture and sound from the entire frequency range come in at the same time and mix up with each other, along with the static that occurs between various station signals. Obviously such a system is chaotic and does not function properly. In order to receive, understand and utilize whichever channel you want to watch, you need to be able to tune to that specific frequency and exclude all the others. Whether you are looking for spiritual instruction, religious channels, educational teachings, dramas, comedies, or cooking channels or those catering to other desires, the ability to focus and tune and maintain the setting is essential.

Our conscious awareness functions in a similar manner. We have the capability of receiving vibrations across a wide range of frequencies, but we tend to have a stream of confusing and mixed up incoming perceptions and the responses they provoke unless we have the ability to concentrate and focus on a particular signal, and eliminate the static and the conflicting signals at the same time. We need to focus on the desired “signal” and eliminate the ‘noise” from our interaction. Thus, concentration and purification go hand in hand for us to successfully interact with the manifestation of which we are a part.

The seeker’s role is to systematically work to tune toward the desired frequency that supports the spiritual aspiration and growth, and then to systematically reduce, and eventually eliminate the interference from competing signals that distract or take us away from the focus.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Along with purity and as a help to bring it about, concentration. Purity and concentration are indeed two aspects, feminine and masculine, passive and active, of the same status of being; purity is the condition in which concentration becomes entire, rightly effective, omnipotent; by concentration purity does its works and without it would only lead to a state of peaceful quiescence and eternal repose…. The fault of our nature is first an inert subjection to the impacts of things as they come in upon the mind pell-mell without order or control and then a haphazard imperfect concentration managed fitfully, irregularly with a more or less chance emphasis on this or on that object according as they happen to interest, not the higher soul or the judging and discerning intellect, but the restless, leaping, fickle, easily tired, easily distracted lower mind which is the chief enemy of our progress. In such a condition purity, the right working of the functions, the clear, unstained and luminous order of the being is an impossibility; the various workings, given over to the chances of the environment and external influences, must necessarily run into each other and clog, divert, distract, pervert. Equally, without purity the complete, equal, flexible concentration of the being in right thought, right will, right feeling or secure status of spiritual experience is not possible. Therefore the two must proceed together, each helping the victory of the other, until we arrive at that eternal calm from which may proceed some partial image in the human being of the eternal, omnipotent and omniscient activity.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter IV Growth of Consciousness First Steps and Foundation, pp. 68-69