Concentration and Identification Are Required Steps in the Yoga of Knowledge

The purification of the instruments of knowing are the basis for the development of concentration. Ordinarily, the objects of the senses impinge upon our awareness and we are drawn out towards them in a number of directions. The promptings of desire further distract us, so that our minds are constantly in flux and dispersed. When we begin the practice of meditation, we find that there are thoughts and impressions jumping about and pulling our attention in all directions. There are moments when we fixate our attention on some specific idea or project and we call that concentration; however, this concentration on some outer form or idea is not the intense concentration required to achieve the divine standpoint of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “…we have to fix the will and the thought on the eternal and real behind all, and this demands an immense effort, a one-pointed concentration. Secondly, it is necessary in order to break down the veil which is erected by our ordinary mentality between ourselves and the truth; for outer knowledge can be picked up by the way, by ordinary attention and reception, but the inner, hidden and higher truth can only be seized by an absolute concentration of the mind on its object, an absolute concentration of the will to attain it and, once attained, to hold it habitually and securely unite oneself with it. For identification is the condition of complete knowledge and possession; it is the intense result of a habitual purified reflecting of the reality and an entire concentration on it; and it is necessary in order to break down entirely that division and separation of ourselves from the divine being and the eternal reality which is the normal condition of our unregenerated ignorant mentality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 25, The Higher and the Lower Knowledge, pg. 494

The Silence of the Mind and the Divine Transformation of the Lower Nature

The object of the silencing of the mind is to detach it from the impulses and promptings of the lower nature and adjust the standpoint to the “divine standpoint”.  The mind, no longer occupied entirely with sense impressions, impulses, desires and plans from the human standpoint, can take on a new role of interpreting and directing the higher knowledge and will down to transform the action of the body, life and mind itself.  Sri Aurobindo observes that once this status is achieved, “strenuous concentration will be found no longer necessary.”

“A free concentration of will using thought merely for suggestion and the giving of light to the lower members will take its place.  This Will will then insist on the physical being, the vital existence, the heart and the mind remoulding themselves in the forms of the Divine which reveal themselves out of the silent Brahman.”

It is this pressure from above, working through the silent mind, that effects the transformation sought in the integral Yoga, the conversion of all actions and energies of life into a manifestation of the Divine purpose.  “By swifter or slower degrees according to the previous preparation and purification of the members, they will be obliged with more or less struggle to obey the law of the will and its thought-suggestion, so that eventually the knowledge of the Divine takes possession of our consciousness on all its planes and the image of the Divine is formed in our human existence even as it was done by the old Vedic Sadhakas.  For the integral Yoga this is the most direct and powerful discipline.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 310

The Third Step In the Process of Concentration: The Silencing of the Mind

Sri Aurobindo relates the story of his own practice of Yoga and the technique of rejecting the thoughts as they entered from outside — thereby creating a total silence of the mind.  The silencing of the mind represents the third step in the process of concentration.  “This may be done by various ways; one is to stand back from the mental action altogether not participating in but simply watching it until, tired of its unsanctioned leaping and running, it falls into an increasing and finally an absolute quiet.”  This particular method is recommended by Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga, with some variations that may include monitoring and creating an equal, even flow of the breath, and thereby stilling the mind-stuff (chitta) from its incessant action.

There is also another more active technique, which is the one utilized by Sri Aurobindo himself in this regard:  “Another is to reject the thought-suggestions, to cast them away from the mind whenever they come and firmly to hold the peace of the being which really and always exists behind the trouble and riot of the mind.”  It may be noted that Sri Aurobindo observed that we do not “create” the thoughts in our own mind, but they come to us from outside and can be treated as external forms to be rejected before they seize hold of and modify the mind-stuff.

“When this secret peace is unveiled, a great calm settles on the being and there comes usually with it the perception and experience of the all-pervading silent Brahman, everything else at first seeming to be mere form and eidolon.  On the basis of this calm everything else may be built up in the knowledge and experience no longer of the external phenomena of things but of the deeper truth of the divine manifestation.”

Sri Aurobindo recounts the remarkable experience of acting, speaking, writing, from the basis of the silent mind once the basic result had been achieved using this method.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 309-310

The Second Step in the Process of Concentration

There is a state of awareness, sometimes referred to as ‘the zone’, in which the thought process stops but the innate knowledge and precise awareness continues and acts more perfectly than the halting flow of the rational intellect can accomplish.  The second step to which Sri Aurobindo refers has similarity to this state of awareness.  He describes it as “…the fixing of the whole mind in concentration on the essence of the idea only, so as to reach not the thought-knowledge or the psychological experience of the subject, but the very essence of the thing behind the idea.  In this process thought ceases and passes into the absorbed or ecstatic contemplation of the object or by a merging into it in an inner Samadhi.”  The seeker becomes one with the object and knows, by the form of “knowledge by identity” what the object is, and its deepest sense or meaning.  There is no rational process of sequential thinking or mental knowing that takes place in this form of concentration.

The experience is so intense that it generally occurs only in a state of deep contemplation disassociated from the actions, forces, impulses or impressions of the outer world and is one which has led many seekers to the mountain cave, the forest, or the desert, in order to minimize the possibilities of distraction and focus all the attention on the knowledge-quest.  Sri Aurobindo reminds us, however, that for the integral Yoga, the aim of which is the transformation of life itself, it will not be sufficient to achieve even this high but remote form of knowing; rather, once attained, there must be a bridge to bring back the insight, knowledge and power gained from that state of consciousness into the outer world of action in life.  “For otherwise we may possess it, as many do, in the elevated condition or in the inward Samadhi, but we shall lose our hold of it when we awake or descend into the contacts of the world; and this truncated possession is not the aim of an integral Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 309

The First Step In the Process of Concentration

Sri Aurobindo describes three successive steps or stages in the process of concentration. The first one “…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.”

For those who are engaged in deep studies or research, this process, focused on external facts, ideas or phenomena, is one of quite some familiarity. In the modern world, with the advent of distractions such as email, cell phones, texting, mass media, the ability to focus and concentrate without having the thought process interrupted or broken off is much more difficult than in the pre-digital world; nevertheless, the seeker is enjoined not only to be able to do this with external focus, but to be able to accomplish this kind of systematic flow of thought on a single subject internally without a specific fixed object upon which to concentrate. “yet this inward concentration is what the seeker of knowledge must effect.”

Sri Aurobindo also points out that what is sought here is not solely an intellectual exercise or mental training; rather, the thought must be a support and precursor to the actual experience of the object upon which concentration is being focused. “It is not, except perhaps at first, a process of reasoning that is wanted so much as a dwelling so far as possible on the fruitful essence of the idea which by the insistence of the soul’s will upon it must yield up all the facets of its truth. Thus if it be the divine Love that is the subject of concentration, it is on the essence of the idea of God as Love that the mind should concentrate in such a way that the various manifestation of the divine Love should arise luminously, not only to the thought, but in the heart and being and vision of the Sadhaka. The thought may come first and the experience afterwards, but equally the experience may come first and the knowledge arise out of the experience. Afterwards the thing attained has to be dwelt on and more and more held till it becomes a constant experience and finally the Dharma or law of the being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 308-309

The Supramental Consciousness and the Process of Concentration

Due to the nature and character of the mental consciousness, which tends to react to various sensory impressions and input and thus jumps around without consistency from one thought or subject to the next, the process of concentration is a necessary one that helps the mind overcome its limitations and prepares the consciousness for the ascent to the next level.

At the level beyond the mind, termed by Sri Aurobindo the “supramental” level, however, there is a complete reversal of the process and the significance of concentration. The supramental consciousness is one and unified, not fragmented as the mental consciousness. Its normal status is comprehensive and therefore, there is no need, once that point has been reached, to further concentrate on a specific idea or concept; rather, the supramental consciousness embraces everything in a wholistic manner and even when it sees and deals with various forms or forces, it does so within the framework of the whole, without treating them as independent or opposed to one another.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But that which is beyond the mind and into which we seek to rise is superior to the running process of the thought, superior to the division of ideas. The Divine is centred in itself and when it throws out ideas and activities does not divide itself or imprison itself in them, but holds them and their movement in its infinity; undivided, its whole self is behind each Idea and each movement and at the same time behind all of them together. Held by it, each spontaneously works itself out, not through a separate act of will, but by the general force of consciousness behind it; if to us there seems to be a concentration of divine Will and Knowledge in each, it is a multiple and equal and not an exclusive concentration, and the reality of it is rather a free and spontaneous working in a self-gathered unity and infinity.”

By attaining that next level of consciousness, the Soul shares in its qualities of oneness and unity. “It is for this reason that, as is said in the ancient books, the man who has arrived at Self-possession attains spontaneously without the need of concentration in thought and effort the knowledge or the result which the Idea or the Will in him moves out to embrace.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 307-308

Concentration, Samadhi and the Integral Yoga

As traditionally understood, Samadhi is a state of consciousness that is totally absorbed in the Absolute, devoid of content of “names and forms” and abstracted from the outer world and its forms, forces, powers and events. There are several stages of Samadhi, such as that “with seed” and that “without seed” representing the idea that certain forms of the trance-state still hold the ability to recreate the names and forms, while others are so far developed that nothing can disturb it, and it is essentially a total absorption.

Sri Aurobindo has already observed that Samadhi in the integral Yoga must take on a new meaning, which he defines here: “…a certain self-gathered state of our whole existence lifted into that superconscient truth, unity and infinity of self-aware, self-blissful existence is the aim and culmination; and that is the meaning we shall give to the term Samadhi. Not merely a state withdrawn from all consciousness of the outward, withdrawn even from all consciousness of the inward into that which exists beyond both whether as seed of both or transcendent even of their seed-state; but a settled existence in the One and Infinite, united and identified with it, and this status to remain whether we abide in the waking condition in which we are conscious of the forms of things or we withdraw into the inward activity which dwells in the play of the principles of things, the pay of their names and typal forms or we soar to the condition of static inwardness where we arrive at the principles themselves and at the principle of all principles, the seed of name and form.”

To attain this state of consciousness, the traditional Yoga of knowledge sets forth a systematic discipline of purification and concentration. This method systematically drops off the focus of the consciousness from the outer world and its forms and moves inward to concept, principle and eventually pure status of being. Sri Aurobindo observes in this regard that there is a form of concentration that can provide leverage in this process: “This concentration proceeds by the Idea, using thought, form and name as keys which yield up to the concentrating mind the Truth that lies concealed behind all thought, form and name; for it is through the Idea that the mental being rises beyond all expression to that which is expressed, to that of which the Idea itself is only the instrument. By concentration upon the Idea the mental existence which at present we are breaks open the barrier of our mentality and arrives at the state of consciousness, the state of being, the state of power of conscious-being and bliss of conscious-being to which the Idea corresponds and of which it is the symbol, movement and rhythm. Concentration by the Idea is, then, only a means, a key to open to us the superconscient planes of our existence…”

The main thing is to recognize that this is a technique and that by moving beyond outer forms and names, and concepts to the ideal plane of Ideas, and then moving from there to a status of being that is devoid of specific form, even ideal forms, we are providing leverage for exceeding the limits of the mentality. Once the all-encompassing state of Samadhi is attained, it remains firm whether in the outer world of manifestation or in the inner conscious awareness, and is thus, independent of the physical act of renunciation that has been a requirement of the traditional Yoga of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 307

The Divine Concentration

The integeral Yoga starts from the basis that the Divine is not solely the Transcendent, but also manifests as the Universal and the Individual Soul. The world therefore is not an illusion, but a conscious manifest Existence of the Timeless through Time. The individual is not separate from the Divine, but rather a nexus or focus for individualisation and the creation of points of differentiation and interchange by the Divine for His own play. Thus, each action we undertake is not that of a separate, fragmented being.

Sri Aurobindo explains the meaning of concentration from this viewpoint: “All our concentration is merely an image of the divine Tapas by which the Self dwells gathered in itself, by which it manifests within itself, by which it maintains and possesses its manifestation, by which it draws back from all manifestation into its supreme oneness. Being dwelling in consciousness upon itself for bliss, this is the divine Tapas; and a Knowledge-Will dwelling in force of consciousness on itself and its manifestations is the essence of the divine concentration, the Yoga of the Lord of Yoga. Given the self-differentiation of the Divine in which we dwell, concentration is the means by which the individual soul identifies itself with and enters into any form, state or psychological self-manifestation (bhava) of the Self. To use this means for unification with the Divine is the condition for the attainment of divine knowledge and the principle of all Yoga of knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pg. 306

The Aim of the Integral Yoga

In order to appreciate the relation of the traditional practices of the Yoga of knowledge to the focus of the seeker of the integral Yoga, we must first appreciate the differences in aim between the two paths. The traditional Yoga of knowledge fixates all its attention on the transcendent, the Eternal, the Absolute. All effort spent dealing with the other world of manifestation is considered essentially to be that much effort wasted or at least not applied most effectively. Concentration for the Yoga of knowledge then implies a removal of the attention from the outer world and its forms, forces and objects. For the seeker of the integral Yoga, however, a new understanding about the role of concentration arises when we recognize that the integral Yoga does not seek to abandon the outer world, but to transform it into a true and clear expression of the Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo describes the aim of the integral Yoga: “We must aim indeed at the Highest, the Source of all, the Transcendent but not to the exclusion of that which it transcends, rather as the source of an established experience and supreme state of the soul which shall transform all other states and remould our consciousness of the world into the form of its secret Truth. We do not seek to excise from our being all consciousness of the universe, but to realise God, Truth and Self in the universe as well as transcendent of it. We shall seek therefore not only the Ineffable, but also His manifestation as infinite being, consciousness and bliss embracing the universe and at play in it.”

Through an increasing identity, we shall take up all fields of action in life, including knowledge, power, love, beauty, not just in an ideal status beyond all manifestation, but also in the universal creation and in each individual form and being within that universal existence. “This not only as a means of approach and passage to His supreme transcendence, but as the condition even when we possess and are possessed by the Transcendent, of a divine life in the manifestation of the cosmos.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 305-306

Raja Yoga and the Transcendent Goal of the Traditional Yoga of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo uses the systematic progression of steps of Raja Yoga as an example of the use of concentration as part of the discipline used in the Yoga of knowledge to achieve spiritual liberation. In the traditional Yoga of knowledge there is a focus on the abandonment of the “illusory” life of the world, and an absorption into the status of the highest transcendent Brahman: “…it implies also in the end a renunciation, a cessation and lastly an ascent into the absolute and transcendent state of Samadhi from which if it culminates, if it endures, there is, except perhaps for one soul out of many thousands, no return. For by that we go to the ‘supreme state of the Eternal whence souls revert not’ into the cyclic action of Nature; and it is into this Samadhi that the Yogin who aims at release from the world seeks to pass away at the time of leaving his body.”

Taking up the theme of Raja Yoga: “We see this succession in the discipline of the Rajayoga. For first the Rajayogin must arrive at a certain moral and spiritual purity; he must get rid of the lower or downward activities of his mind, but afterwards he must stop all its activities and concentrate himself in the one idea that leads from activity to the quiescence of status. The Rajayogic concentration has several stages, that in which the object is seized, that in which it is held, that in which the mind is lost in the status which the object represents or to which the concentration leads, and only the last is termed Samadhi in the Rajayoga although the word is capable, as in the Gita, of a much wider sense. But in the Rajayogic Samadhi there are different grades of status,–that in which the mind, though lost to outward objects, still muses, thinks, perceives in the world of thought, that in which the mind is still capable of primary thought-formations and that in which, all out-darting of the mind even within itself having ceased, the soul rises beyond thought into the silence of the Incommunicable and Ineffable.”

Along the way, the mind is trained in concentration by focusing it on varying objects, whether external forms, or sounds, or internal visualisation or concepts. “the highest support according to the Upanishads is the mystic syllable AUM, whose three letters represent the Brahman or Supreme Self in its three degrees of status, the Waking Soul, the Dream Soul and the Sleep Soul, and the whole potent sound rises towards that which is beyond status as beyond activity. For of all Yoga of knowledge the final goal is the Transcendent.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 4, Concentration, pp. 304-305