Applying the Freedom and Power of the Witness Consciousness of the Purusha

The achievement of the stance of witness, abstracted from the action of the nature, provides a form of relative freedom and power of action to the Purusha that it does not experience when fully involved in the actions of nature. There are several different directions that the Soul may take from this point forward. Essentially, there may be a focus on enhancing the power and results on the mental level, but without any higher aspirations. There may be a focus on achieving oneness with Brahman through a rejection of the activities of the mind and life. There may be an attempt to achieve a higher spiritual realisation within the framework of the universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo describes these various options: “It is possible for the Purusha to use it on the mental plane itself for a constant self-observation, self-development, self-modification, to sanction, reject, alter, bring out new formulations of the nature and establish a calm and disinterested action, a high and pure sattwic balance and rhythm of its energy, a personality perfected in the sattwic principle. This may amount only to a highly mentalised perfection of our present intelligence and the ethical and the psychic being or else, aware of the greater self in us it may impersonalise, universalise, spiritualise its self-conscious existence and the action of its nature and arrive either at a large quietude or a large perfection of the spiritualised mental energy of its being.”

“It is possible aain for the Purusha to stand back entirely and by a refusal of sanction allow the whole normal action of the mind to exhaust itself, run down, spend its remaining impetus of habitual action and fall into silence. Or else this silence may be imposed on the mental energy by rejection of its action and a constant command to quietude. The soul may through the confirmation of this quietude and mental silence pass into some ineffable tranquility of the spirit and vast cessation of the activities of Nature.”

“But it is also possible to make this silence of the mind and ability to suspend the habits of the lower nature a first step towards the discovery of a superior formulation, a higher grade of the status and energy of our being and pass by an ascent and transformation into the supramental power of the spirit.”

The realisation sought by the integral Yoga would encourage the shifting of the standpoint from the mental to the supramental level of consciousness, as that is where the entire action of mind, life and body actually originates. “For the supermind is the divine mind and it is on the supramental plane that the individual arrives at his right, integral, luminous and perfect relation with the supreme and universal Purusha and the supreme and universal Para Prakriti.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 730-731

The Witness Poise of the Purusha

For most people, the intertwined relationship of Purusha and Prakriti means that there is very little leverage or ability by the Soul to take charge of and manage the reactions of the nature. There is also very little possibility of self-examination and reflection until a more evolved mental consciousness is able to express itself in the being. Sri Aurobindo notes that when the mental consciousness develops, a true subjective separation of Purusha and Prakriti into a “witness consciousness” and an “executive force” becomes possible. This represents an important stage in the enhancement to the evolutionary process that Yoga represents.

“The mental Purusha is naturally able in its own native principle of mind to detach itself, as we have seen, from the workings of its Prakriti and there is then a division of our being between a consciousness that observes and can reserve its will-power and an energy full of the substance of consciousness that takes the forms of knowledge, will and feeling. This detachment gives at its highest a certain freedom from the compulsion of the soul by its mental nature. For ordinarily we are driven and carried along in the stream of our own and the universal active energy partly floundering in its waves, partly maintaining and seeming to guide or at least propel ourselves by a collected thought and an effort of the mental will muscle; but now there is a part of ourselves, nearest to the pure essence of self, which is free from the stream, can quietly observe and to a certain extent decide its immediate movement and course and to a greater extent its ultimate direction. The Purusha can at last act upon the Prakriti from half apart, from behind or from above her as a presiding person or presence,…, by the power of sanction and control inherent in the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pg. 729

The Power of the Pure Mental Energy For Managing the Pranic Energy in the Body

For those attempting to free themselves from the limitations of the physical consciousness, a recognition of the intertwined action of the physical mind and the vital prana is essential. The physical mind does not so much control the action of prana, as be controlled by its driving influence. Of course, the physical mind does exercise some power over the vital prana and part of what we consider to be human development is based on this action. It is a very much circumscribed action, however, and subject to being perverted or hijacked for the desires of the vital being, even when it purports to be acting for higher motives.

Through the practice of Yoga it is possible to become conscious of this immixture as well as to recognise that there are higher levels of mind that are both more powerful and at the same time free from the taint of the vital desire force. The first of these levels is what may be called “pure mind”. Sri Aurobindo describes the situation: “But when we get clear above the physical mind, we can get too above the pranic force to the consciousness of a pure mental energy which is a higher formulation of the Shakti. There we are aware of a universal mind consciousness closely associated with this energy in, around and above us,–above, that is to say, the level of our ordinary mind status,– giving all the substance and shaping all the forms of our will and knowledge and of the psychic element in our impulses and emotions. This mind force can be made to act upon the pranic energy and can impose upon it the influence, colour, shape, character, direction of our ideas, our knowledge, our more enlightened volition and thus more effectively bring our life and vital being into harmony with our higher powers of being, ideals and spiritual aspirations.”

“But when we take our station above the physical mind, we are able then to separate clearly the two forms of energy, the two levels of our being, disentangle their action and act with a clearer and more potent self-knowledge and an enlightened and a purer will-power.”

This provides leverage on the change of consciousness that is taking place, but it does not provide the complete liberation, as this first mental level is still very much a limited force. “The mental energy we find to be itself derivative, a lower and limiting power of the conscious spirit which acts only by isolated and combined seeings, imperfect and incomplete half-lights which we take for full and adequate light, and with a disparity between the idea and knowledge and the effective will-power. And we aware soon of a far higher power of the Spirit and its Shakti concealed or above, super-conscient to mind or partially acting through the mind, of which all this is an inferior derivation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 728-729

The Pranic Shakti

The energy which operates within the normal ranges of our body-life-mind is a specific, albeit limited formulation of the universal force. Through the practice of Yoga, the seeker becomes aware of the greater energy which both constitutes the physical energy with which we are familiar and exceeds it in the actions of the entire energy of the universe. Sri Aurobindo notes: “but if we once get beyond this first formation by some liberation of the hidden, recondite, subliminal parts of our existence by Yoga, we become aware of a greater life-force, a pranic Shakti, which supports and fills the body and supplies all the physical and vital activities…, and supplies and sustains too from below all our mental action.”

“This force we feel in ourselves also, but we can feel it too around us and above, one with the same energy in us, and can draw it in and down to aggrandise our normal action or call upon and get it to pour into us. It is an illimitable ocean of Shakti and will pour as much of itself as we can hold into our being. This pranic force we can use for any of the activities of life, body or mind with a far greater and effective power than any that we command in our present operations, limited as they are by the physical formula.”

Because this pranic Shakti is not bound by the limitations of the physical frame, it can effectuate results far beyond what we consider to be the normal operations of the mind-life-body. Such results may include things like healing illness, for instance, or providing substantially enhanced energy for physical, vital and mental activities.

Traditionally, the use of Asana and Pranayama have been prescribed for gaining access to and an enhancement of the action of this pranic Shakti in the individual seeker. These exercises require very serious dedication of time and focus in order to achieve consistent results, and Sri Aurobindo observes that there are other methods available to the seeker to become conscious of, and to bring about the active intervention of this higher energy in the human life: “But the same thing can be done by mental will and practice or by an increasing opening of ourselves to a higher spiritual power of the Shakti.”

Access to the limitless energy of the pranic Shakti however is not the final goal of the integral Yoga, as it too is a formulation and has its own limitations. “…but still, however great and powerful, it is a lower formulation, a link between mind and body, an instrumental force. There is a consciousness in it, a presence of the spirit, of which we are aware, but it is encased, involved in and preoccupied with the urge to action. It is not to this action of the Shakti that we can leave the whole burden of our activities; we have either to use its lendings by our own enlightened personal will or else call in a higher guidance; for of itself it will act with greater force, but still according to our imperfect nature and mainly by the drive and direction of the life-power in us and not according to the law of the highest spiritual existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 727-728

The Potential to Open to the Power of the Universal Divine Energy, Shakti

The normal experience of the human being is to act as if he is a separated individual with his own capacity for energy and action. He responds as if he is totally different than the rest of the universal energy swirling around outside himself. It is as if each human being is a machinery with its own independent power generating unit, capable of living without anyone or anything else in the universe. It is clear, however, on deeper examination that the individual is actually an expression of the universal energy. If we submerge a drinking glass in a pond, there is water outside the glass as well as inside, but it is the same water, from the same source. Each human being is a vessel for the holding and expression of energy, and this energy is constantly moving into and out of the individual as he lives his life. He breathes in, he absorbs energy from the world, he eats and converts energy from food, and he feels emotions, experiences thoughts, and then, expresses out his vibrational energy, emotions and thoughts, etc. The individual is part of the universal and the universal constitutes the individual. No one exists in a vacuum absent the rest of the manifestation. It is this principle that makes it possible to consciously open up to the action and power of the universal divine Shakti, as it is already there, within us, if we become receptive to experiencing and expressing it.

Once this reality is acknqwledged, the question then becomes how to adjust our view so that we see, experience and relate to the world in such a way that we are conscious of expressing the Divine Shakti. Sri Aurobindo notes: “In our active being this translates into a replacement of our egoistic, our personal, our separatively individual will and energy by a universal and a divine will and the all-guiding power of the Purushottama. We replace the inferior action of the limited, ignorant and imperfect personal will and energy in us by the action of the divine Shakti.”

He provides us insight on the potential: “And, on the other hand, this universal Shakti is within ourselves, concentrated in us, for the whole power of it is present in each individual as in the universe, and there are means and processes by which we can awaken its greater and potentially infinite force and liberate it to its larger workings.”

By making the shift from the individual standpoint to the divine standpoint, then, it becomes realistic for the individual thereby to act from an unlimited, unbounded and infinite power source. While we do not see this generally in our everyday life that lives within the boundaries of the mental/vital/physical frame, there are occasions when we see glimpses of a higher working of force in individuals who are destined to lead the way to new directions and opportunities for humanity.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 726-727

Understanding the True Relation Between Soul and Nature

“The Spirit who is here in man and the Spirit who is there in the Sun, lo, it is One Spirit and there is no other.” Thus states the Taittiriya Upanishad in Bhriguvalli, Chapter 10 as translated by Sri Aurobindo in The Upanishads, pg. 281.

The duality described by Sankhya and others, the separation of the Soul and Nature, is a limited and practical distinction but not a real or ultimate duality. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo concludes that there is one “omnipresent Reality” which encompasses the Divine Spirit and the manifesting force of the Spirit. Nature represents that manifesting force. It is not other than Spirit, but essentially a quality or characteristic of Spirit in its unfoldment into universal form and action.

“The highest and real truth of existence is the one Spirit, the supreme Soul, Purushottama, and it is the power of being of this Spirit which manifests itself in all that we experience as universe. This universal Nature is not a lifeless, inert or unconscious mechanism, but informed in all its movements by the universal Spirit. The mechanism of its process is only an outward appearance and the reality is the Spirit creating or manifesting its own being by its own power of being in all that is in Nature.”

This understanding is not limited to the macro-universe, but also is implied within human nature. Thus, the subjective experience of an entity that is capable of free will is an expression of the Soul, an expression and part of the universal Spirit, with its inalienable freedom from all limitations of form, while sanctioning and supporting the limitations for purpose of the progressive manifestation and play of the universe that the Spirit is creating. The objective experience of an entity that is bound by the laws of Nature is due to the self-limiting of the focus of the Soul for purposes of the manifestation, and represents the organized form and force of Nature as the executive power carrying out the Spirit’s intention.

“The universal energy acts in us, but the soul limits itself by the ego-sense, lives in a partial and separate experience of her workings, uses only a modicum and a fixed action of her energy for its self-expression. It seems rather to mastered and used by this energy than to use it, because it identifies itself with the ego-sense which is part of the natural instrumentation and lives in the ego experience. The ego is in fact driven by the mechanism of Nature of which it is a part and the ego-will is not and cannot be a free will. To arrive at freedom, mastery and perfection we have to get back to the real self and soul within and arrive too thereby at our true relations with our own and with universal nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pg. 726

A Brief Overview of the Sankhya View of the Relation of Soul and Nature, Purusha and Prakriti

Seers and thinkers have wrestled with the apparent opposition between our sense of free will on the one side, and the seeming machinery of the universe with its fixed and inexorable rules on the other. This is not purely an intellectual or philosophical issue, but an important fundamental question of whether and to what extent it is possible to realise freedom from the mechanisms of the universe, as well as the next question of how to go about achieving this freedom.

The Sankhya philosophy provided one answer that has been quite influential in the direction taken in India by those who practice Yoga. Even if it does not perfectly answer all the questions of existence, it provides at least a practical basis for the yogic effort, and figures, therefore, prominently in texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.

Sri Aurobindo sums up the Sankhya view this way: “The Sankhya explanation is that our present existence is governed by a dual principle. Prakriti is inert without the contact of Purusha, acts only by a junction with it and then too by the fixed mechanism of her instruments and qualities; Purusha, passive and free apart from Prakriti, becomes by contact with her and sanction to her works subject to this mechanism, lives in her limitation of ego-sense and must get free by withdrawing the sanction and returning to its own proper principle.

Others have formulated the duality between soul and nature somewhat differently as Sri Aurobindo points out: “Another explanation that tallies with a certain part of our experience is that there is a dual being in us, the animal and material, or more widely the lower nature-bound, and the soul or spiritual being entangled by mind in the material existence or in world-nature, and freedom comes by escape from the entanglement, the soul returning to its native planes or the self or spirit to its pure existence. The perfection of the soul then is to be found not at all in, but beyond Nature.”

In each case, the solution provided by the past efforts comes down to a withdrawal and abandonment of Nature in order to achieve the freedom of the Soul.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 16, The Divine Shakti, pp. 725-726