Where Does Desire Come From?

Everyone experiences the tug of desire. We observe something and suddenly we want to have it. We experience something pleasant and we want to have it happen once again. Sometimes we feel a sudden urge for something after being exposed to a commercial message. At other times we can simply be in a room where people are engaged in exercising the impulse of desire of various sorts and we find that the vibration of desire wells up within us. This is considered to be a normal part of life, so most people do not even pay attention to the process or the result. If a desire is frustrated and left unfulfilled, it brings with it a sense of loss, but if it is fulfilled, we oftentimes do not get much, if any, long-term satisfaction out of it. The action of desire is so central to our vital existence that it bears close examination.

Dr. Dalal notes: “The vital, like the mind, has certain inherent disturbances of its own. Being the seat and source of desires and longings, the vital constitutes one of the chief psychological disturbances, though extremely few people are conscious enough to experience desire as a disturbance. The fact that desire constitutes a disturbance or suffering is well brought out in the following remarks made by the Mother in response to the question: Where does desire come from?”

“The Buddha said that it comes from ignorance. It is more or less that. It is something in the being which fancies that it needs something else in order to be satisfied. And the proof that it is ignorance is that when one has satisfied it, one no longer cares for it, at least ninety-nine and a half times out of a hundred. I believe, right at its origin it is an obscure need for growth, as in the lowest forms of life love is changed into the need to swallow, absorb, become joined with another thing. This is the most primitive form of love in the lowest forms of life, it is to take and absorb. Well, the need to take is desire. So perhaps if we went back far enough into the last depths of the inconscience, we could say that the origin of desire is love. It is love in its obscurest and most unconscious form. It is a need to become joined with something, an attraction, a need to take, you see.”

“Take for instance… you see something which is — which seems to you or is — very beautiful, very harmonious, very pleasant; if you have the true consciousness, you experience this joy of seeing, of being in a conscious contact with something very beautiful, very harmonious, and then that’s all. It stops there. You have the joy of it — that such a thing exists, you see. And this is quite common among artists who have a sense of beauty. For example, an artist may see a beautiful creature and have the joy of observing the beauty, grace, harmony of movement and all that, and that’s all. It stops there. He is perfectly happy, perfectly satisfied, because he has seen something beautiful. An ordinary consciousness, altogether ordinary, dull like all ordinary consciousness — as soon as it sees something beautiful, whether it be an object or a person, hop! ‘I want it!’ It is deplorable, you know. And into the bargain it doesn’t even have the joy of the beauty, because it has the anguish of desire. It misses that and has nothing in exchange, because there is nothing pleasant in desiring anything. It only puts you in an unpleasant state, that’s all.”

Dr. Dalal continues: “The chief point to be noted in the above-quoted passage is that the ‘anguish of desire’ constitutes an inherent disturbance of the vital. As long as the vital consciousness prevails, one is in ‘an anguished state’ of desiring, and it is impossible to have inner peace.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Vital, pp. xix-xxiv

Characteristics of the Body Consciousness

Imagine we had to manage all the functions of the body through conscious attention by the mind, telling the body how to operate each organ, controlling each breath and heartbeat, controlling the energy production activities in the cells, etc. It would be clearly impossible. We depend entirely on the separate consciousness of the body to carry out its automatic functioning and with a precision and control beyond anything we could accomplish with direct mental intervention.

Beyond these functions however, we have a wide variety of actions that the body can be trained to carry out, functions which may start with a mental idea, but need to be systematically taught to the body. This includes all kinds of precision arts, handwriting, playing a musical instrument or engaging in sports which require hand-eye coordination or precise sequences to optimize and control movements. Even in these things, however, we find that once the training has been done, it is best to leave the body to carry out these functions without trying to micromanage the action from moment to moment.

The secret in this training lies in setting forth a clear idea of the objective, and then patiently devising a training regimen that the body uses to create what may be called “muscle memory”. This represents an interaction between the mental consciousness which devises the objective and the training method, and the body consciousness which responds to this activity and eventually takes ‘ownership’ of the activity and dispenses with the need for direct mental control.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In many things, in matters of health and illness for instance, in all automatic functionings, the body acts on its own and is not a servant of the mind. If it is fatigued, it can offer a passive resistance to the mind’s will. It can cloud the mind with tamas, inertia, dullness, fumes of the subconscient so that the mind cannot act. The arm lifts, no doubt, when it gets the suggestion, but at first the legs do not obey when they are asked to walk; they have to learn how to leave the crawling attitude and movement and take up the erect and ambulatory habit. When you first ask the hand to draw a straight line or to play music, it can’t do it and won’t do it. It has to be schooled, trained, taught, and afterwards it does automatically what is required of it. All this proves that there is a body-consciousness which can do things at the mind’s order, but has to be awakened, trained, made a good and conscious instrument.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Parts of the Being, pp. x – xiii

Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice — Summary and Conclusions

Sri Aurobindo took up yoga, not for individual salvation or to abandon the life of the world, but to aid in transforming life, for action in the world. He developed a deep background and understanding of the major lines of thought and development of the West, including his studies of Greek and Latin as well as his mastery of English, and then, upon his return to India and taking up a role in the battle for liberation from the British colonization and subsequently in his practice of yoga, his intense study and efforts at understanding and validating the ancient texts of the Rishis, the Rig Veda, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Out of this basis of understanding coupled with an intense practice of sadhana, evolved the integral yoga.

Integral yoga was not intended to set forth a specific and rigid set of practices for everyone to follow; rather, it was developed to understand the specific needs of each individual at each stage of development and to employ those methods and practices that would best aid in the further progress for the individual seeker. It also was not targeted at abandoning life. The integral yoga first focuses on achieving the necessary liberation from the fixed habits of body, life and mind that create a framework around each person’s life, and then, on bringing down into the being a higher status of consciousness and aiding its transformation of the being in all its aspects.

The eventual objective of the integral yoga was to provide conscious support to the natural process of evolution of consciousness, and thereby speed up its advent. Sri Aurobindo recognised that the evolution of life out of physical matter, and of mind out of life could not occur if they were not, in fact, already involved in matter. The evolution of forms follows the needs of the evolution of consciousness. He also recognised that the emergence of the mental being was nothing more than a transitional phase and that there would be a further development, which he called ‘supramental’, that would transform life for the individual and through individuals the life of the world in a similar but more powerful manner to the way that life transformed matter, or that mind transformed life.

Humanity has taken the mental evolution to such an extent that it has now become an obstacle and has resulted in an evolutionary crisis that threatens all of human existence on the planet. Either we need to evolve and transform our action, or face extinction. It is one of the principles of Nature that in preparation for a needed evolutionary leap, a crisis ensues which requires successfully transitioning to the next phase in order to solve the riddle of existence. The evolutionary crisis clearly puts a sense of urgency to the manifestation of this next phase of consciousness.

The evolution and manifestation of the supramental consciousness is not dependent upon any particular creed, cult, religion, philosophy, scientific standpoint, cultural background, race, gender or economic outlook. Sri Aurobindo himself pointed out that it was not his goal to start a new religion or creed, but to make possible a true transformation of human consciousness, independent of the mental standpoint that individuals hold based on their culture and education.

The book Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice was compiled and organised from among the thousands of letters on yoga that Sri Aurobindo wrote to disciples and others over a number of years. It outlines his philosophical outlook, the background and basis of the integral yoga, and delves into a vast array of details which aid the sincere seeker in understanding the inner workings of consciousness, and helps the seeker to work through the difficulties, obstacles and resistances of nature to truly bring about a transformation of consciousness in all parts of his being.

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Summary and Conclusions

Westerners and Indian Yoga, Part 5: the Yogic Path Is Not Limited by Race, Origin or Religious or Cultural Background

The objective of the integral yoga is to support the evolutionary process of the development and integration of the next stage of consciousness, beyond the mental consciousness. This step is necessary to overcome the limitations of the current mental framework which have helped create the existential crisis we are facing in the world today. This is not a yoga intended solely for individual salvation. As it is working to support an evolutionary process, it necessarily involves all of humanity in some way or another. Since it is focused on a change of consciousness, it is not a matter of intellectual beliefs, creeds, religious identification, or any other factor of superficial details such as country of origin, gender, race or the particular economic system or cultural folkways into which any individual is born. The integral yoga does not require anyone to join a particular movement or identify themselves with a specific group. It can, and must, take place regardless of any of these external details. This yoga is not focused on, nor intended just for those who profess a specific religious or philosophical belief, and thus, must be accessible to anyone who has the inclination, receptivity, goodwill and focus to carry out the needed steps to facilitate this consciousness change. The division between Eastern and Western is a false dichotomy in this regard.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “This conclusion of yours about the incapacity of the non-oriental for Indian yoga is simply born of a too despondently acute sense of your own difficulties; you have not seen those equally great that have long troubled or are still troubling others. Neither to Indian nor to European can the path of yoga be smooth and easy; their common human nature is there to see to that. To each his own difficulties seem enormous and radical and even incurable by their continuity and persistence and induce long periods of despondency and crises of despair. To have faith enough or enough psychic sight to react at once or almost at once and prevent these attacks is given hardly to two or three in a hundred. But one ought not to settle down into a fixed idea of one’s own incapacity or allow it to become an obsession; for such an attitude has no true justification and unnecessarily renders the way harder. Where there is a soul that has once become awake, there is surely a capacity within that can outweigh all surface defects and can in the end conquer.”

“If your conclusion were true, the whole aim of this yoga would be a vain thing; for we are not working for a race or a people or a continent or for a realisation of which only Indians or other orientals are capable. Our aim is not, either, to found a religion or a school of philosophy or a school of yoga, but to create a ground of spiritual growth and experience and a way which will bring down a greater Truth beyond the mind but not inaccessible to the human soul and consciousness. All can pass who are drawn to that Truth, whether they are from India or elsewhere, from the East or from the West. All may find great difficulties in their personal or common human nature; but it is not their physical origin or their racial temperament that can be an insuperable obstacle to their deliverance.”

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 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