The Mystic Secret of the Concept of the Vedic Sacrifice

The terminology used by the ancient sages of the Vedic period was intended to convey, through symbolic language, a process whereby the human seeker would be able to prepare himself to receive the higher force and consciousness of Sat-Chit-Ananda and thereby transform his life in the world. Sri Aurobindo elsewhere goes into this subject at great length. Here he briefly explains:

“If we can break down the veil of the intellectual, emotional, sensational mind which our ordinary existence has built between us and the Divine, we can then take up through the Truth-mind all our mental, vital and physical experience and offer it up to the spiritual–this was the secret or mystic sense of the old Vedic “sacrifice”–to be converted into the terms of the infinite truth of Sachchidananda, and we can receive the powers and illuminations of the infinite Existence in forms of a divine knowledge, will and delight to be imposed on our mentality, vitality, physical existence till the lower is transformed into the perfect vessel of the higher. This was the double Vedic movement of the descent and birth of the gods in the human creature and the ascent of the human powers that struggle towards the divine knowledge, power and delight and climb into the godheads, the result of which was the possession of the One, the Infinite, the beatific existence, the union with God, the Immortality. By possession of this ideal plane we break down entirely the opposition of the lower and the higher existence, the false gulf created by the Ignorance between the finite and the Infinite, God and Nature, the One and the Many, open the gates of the Divine, fulfil the individual in the complete harmony of the cosmic consciousness and realise in the cosmic being the epiphany of the transcendent Sachchidananda.”

This interchange and relation can take place through an intermediate plane of existence that acts to translate and convert the knowledge, power and delight of the higher planes of unity into the forms that manifest in the lower planes of mind-life-body. “The link between the spiritual and the lower planes of the mental being is that which is called in the old Vedantic phraseology the vijnana and which we may term the Truth-plane or the ideal mind or supermind where the One and the Many meet and our being is freely open to the revealing light of the divine Truth and the inspiration of the divine Will and Knowledge.” It is at this level that the apparent contradictions of the multiplicity are resolved and harmonized into their inherent Oneness, while the particular meaning and purpose of the individual forms is maintained and recognized. Oneness thus does not imply the abolition of all differentiation of forms, forces and beings; rather, that each of these are recognized as elements that are One with each other yet which are part of an interplay that maintains its harmony even in the widest diversity. The One and the Many are two views of the same Reality and are thus capable of being reconciled by the supramental or truth-mind of this mediating plane of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 399-400

Stages of the Realisation of the Cosmic Consciousness in Life

As the seeker focuses on the realization of cosmic oneness in life itself, he goes through various stages of experience. One stage is a form of deep sympathy, to the point where the seeker feels what others are feeling and experiences them, in some cases, in his own body. There have been anecdotes, for instance, from the Christian tradition, whereby certain deep experiences of emotional identity with the suffering of Jesus led to the formation of actual stigmata in the hands and feet. Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “In the first stage the soul is still subject to the reactions of the duality, still subject therefore to the lower Prakriti; it is depressed or hurt by the cosmic suffering, elated by the cosmic joy. We suffer the joys of others, suffer their griefs, and this oneness can be carried even into the body, as in the story of the Indian saint who, seeing a bullock tortured in the field by its cruel owner, cried out with the creature’s pain and the weal of the lash was found reproduced on his own flesh.”

This first stage represents the soul identifying with the Prakriti, with Nature. Yet another form of oneness is also possible when the soul stations itself in the freedom of Sat-Chit-Ananda yet does not abandon the world of mind-life-body. “This is achieved when the soul is free and superior to the cosmic reactions which are then felt in the life, mind and body as an inferior movement; the soul understands, accepts, sympathises, but is not overpowered or affected, so that even the mind and body learn also to accept without being overpowered or even affected except on their surface.”

Yet another step can then occur: “And the consummation of this movement is when the two spheres of existence are no longer divided and the mind, life and body grow into the spirit’s freedom from the lower or ignorant response to the cosmic touches and the subjection to the duality ceases. This does not mean insensibility to the struggles and sufferings of others, but it does mean a spiritual supremacy and freedom which enables one to understand perfectly, put the right values on things and heal from above instead of struggling from below. It does not inhibit the divine compassion and helpfulness, but it does inhibit the human and animal sorrow and suffering.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 398-399

Realisation of Cosmic Consciousness In Mind, Life and Body

When the mind raises itself to a plane of peace, wideness and timelessness, it can achieve a form of realization of cosmic consciousness. From that standpoint it is possible to reflect the higher light into the outer existence. Not generally recognized however is the ability to achieve a form of cosmic consciousness within the realm of body-life-mind directly. The underlying principle of course is that all existence is One, and has an inherent unity which can then be realized within any plane of existence.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “Not only Spirit is one, but Mind, Life, Matter are one. There is one cosmic Mind, one cosmic Life, one cosmic Body. All the attempt of man to arrive at universal sympathy, universal love and the understanding and knowledge of the inner soul of other existences is an attempt to beat thin, breach and eventually break down by the power of the enlarging mind and heart the walls of the ego and arrive nearer to a cosmic oneness.”

It then becomes possible to follow a methodology within life itself: “And if we can by the mind and heart get at the touch of the Spirit, receive the powerful inrush of the Divine into this lower humanity and change our nature into a reflection of the divine nature by love, by universal joy, by oneness of mind with all Nature and all beings, we can break down the walls. Even our bodies are not really separate entities and therefore our very physical consciousness is capable of oneness with the physical consciousness of others and of the cosmos. The Yogin is able to feel his body one with all bodies, to be aware of and even to participate in their affections; he can feel constantly the unity of all Matter and be aware of his physical being as only a movement of its movement. Still more is it possible for him to feel constantly and normally the whole sea of the infinite life as his true vital existence and his own life as only a wave of that boundless surge. And more easily yet is it possible for him to unite himself in mind and heart with all existences, be aware of their desires, struggles, joys, sorrows, thoughts, impulses, in a sense as if they were his own, at least as occurring in his larger self hardly less intimately or quite as intimately as the movements of his own heart and mind. This too is a realization of cosmic consciousness.”

Even for those not consciously practicing Yoga, there are times and circumstances where they get a glimpse of this inherent oneness. Who has not experienced being overcome by a wave of emotion built up in a crowd of people; subtler reactions such as the sudden sharing of emotion or idea with someone. What makes such experiences possible is the inherent Oneness that lies at the base of body, life and mind, and thus, allows, when the consciousness widens even a tiny bit to open to the experience of other beings, the sharing of thought, feeling and even physical sensation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 397-398

The Divine Standpoint: Cosmic Consciousness

The isolated and limited individual viewpoint tends to misunderstand events and relationships due to the narrowness of its vision. The divine standpoint shifts the view so that events are seen and understood in their proper wider context as part of a divine manifestation carrying out the divine intention in existence. Instead of relating everything to the ego and its likes and dislikes, the divine viewpoint sees the larger sweep on an infinite panorama and even the suffering or trials of the individual are seen as part of a process in Time for a specific type of development and manifestation of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “By entering into the cosmic consciousness we participate in that all-vision and see everything in the values of the Infinite and the One. Limitation itself, ignorance itself change their meaning for us. Ignorance changes into a particular action of divine knowledge, strength and weakness and incapacity into a free putting forth and holding back various measures of divine Force, joy and grief, pleasure and pain into a mastering and a suffering of divine delight, struggle into a balancing of forces and values in the divine harmony….We cease to judge men and things by their outward appearances and are delivered from hostile and contradictory ideas and emotions; for it is the soul that we see, the Divine that we seek and find in every thing and creature, and the rest has only a secondary value to us in a scheme of relations which exist now for us only as self-expressions of the Divine and not as having any absolute value in themselves. So too no event can disturb us, since the distinction of happy and unhappy, beneficent and maleficent happenings loses its force, and all is seen in its divine value and its divine purpose. Thus we arrive at a perfect liberation and an infinite equality. It is this consummation of which the Upanishad speaks when it says ‘He in whom the self has become all existences, how shall he have delusion, whence shall he have grief who knows entirely and sees in all things oneness.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 396-397

The Limitations of the Human Individual Standpoint

The experience of the cosmic consciousness is the achievement of the “Divine standpoint” which stands in contrast to what we experience in the normal human state of awareness, which may be called the “human standpoint.”

The human standpoint is characterized by a sense of separateness, of alienation from the rest of life, other beings, Nature and the Divine. The human individual looks upon life in most instances as something of a battle for survival against nature which is hostile or at least not-directly-supportive, in which each individual must struggle to overcome the limitations of mind-life-body and at the same time succeed in the competition for survival against all the other beings who are fighting over the same limited resources. Everything is seen and judged through the lens of this narrow, partial, fragmented and isolated experience.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “As individual egos we dwell in the Ignorance and judge everything by a broken, partial and personal standard of knowledge; we experience everything according to the capacity of a limited consciousness and force and are therefore unable to give a divine response or set the true value upon any part of cosmic experience. We experience limitation, weakness, incapacity, grief, pain, struggle and its contradictory emotions or the opposite of these things as opposites in an eternal duality and not in the eternity of an absolute good and happiness. We live by fragments of experience and judge by our fragmentary values each thing and the whole. When we try to arrive at absolute values we only promote some partial view of things to do duty for a totality in the divine workings; we make-believe that our fractions are integers and thrust our one-sided viewpoints into the catholicity of the all-vision of the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 395-396


When Sri Aurobindo describes the merging of the individual consciousness into the cosmic consciousness, he is referring to a shift from the human to the divine standpoint. The divine standpoint is Sachchidananda, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss having the following characteristics:

“It is one eternal Existence that we then are, one eternal Consciousness which sees its own works in us and others, one eternal Will or Force of that Consciousness which displays itself in infinite workings, one eternal Delight which has the joy of itself and all its workings,–itself stable, immutable, timeless, spaceless, supreme and itself still in the infinity of its workings, not changed by their variations, not broken up by their multiplicity, not increased or diminished by their ebbings and flowings in the seas of Time and Space, not confused by their apparent contrarieties or limited by their divinely-willed limitations. Sachchidananda is the unity of the many-sidedness of manifested things, the eternal harmony of all their variations and oppositions, the infinite perfection which justifies their limitations and is the goal of their imperfections.”

When we reflect on these characteristics of consciousness, we can easily distinguish the difference between the human and the divine standpoint. The divine standpoint is one that “sees everywhere Oneness” as the Upanishad states, and at the same time, it can view, accept and integrate the individuality of forms, forces and movements, so that the experience of harmony and oneness is not disturbed by the existence and action of these (apparently) limited forms.

The methods we use to measure and distinguish forms and actions in the human experience, such as the very concepts of Time and Space, are reduced in relevance to the extent that we experience the unification of all Time and Space in one unbroken Reality, where the sequential movement of Time is seen as a convenience for experiencing reality from the human standpoint. Similarly the extension of the manifestation in Space is seen as a means for the human standpoint to experience from the basis of its limited ability to grasp the entirety of existence. Absent the actual experience, it is virtually impossible for the human intellect to have any clear sense or grasp as to what the divine standpoint, Sachchidananda, is and the inherent Oneness of its view.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pg. 395

The Relation of the Individual to the Cosmic Divine

As the Isha Upanishad puts it: “But he who sees everywhere the Self in all existences and all existences in the Self, shrinks not thereafter from aught. He in whom it is the Self-Being that has become all existences that are Becomings, for he has the perfect knowledge, how shall he be deluded, whence shall he have grief who sees everywhere oneness?” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, v. 6-7, pg. 21)

Sri Aurobindo addresses a question here that puzzles everyone; namely, the relationship between the cosmic consciousness and the individual Self that we experience in the human consciousness, even assuming that we have transcended the ego-personality yet still experience the separate individual form in some degree. He points out that there are actually several different statuses possible for the individual soul to experience the cosmic consciousness.

“It is quite possible to realise the cosmic consciousness without becoming that, to see it, that is to say, with the soul, to feel it and dwell in it, be united with it without becoming wholly one with it, in a word, to preserve the individual consciousness of the Jivatman in the cosmic consciousness of the universal Self.”

Yet another relation is possible: “We may preserve a certain distinctness between the two and enjoy the relations between them; we may remain the individual self while participating in the bliss and infinity of the universal Self; or we may possess them both as a greater and lesser self, one pouring itself out in the universal play of the divine consciousness and force, the other the action of the same universal Being through our individual soul-centre or soul-form for the purposes of an individual play of mind, life and body.”

And yet another: “But the summit of realisation by knowledge is always the power to dissolve the personality in universal being, to merge the individual in the cosmic consciousness, to liberate even the soul-form into the unity and universality of the Spirit. This is the laya, dissolution, or moksha, liberation at which the Yoga of Knowledge aims. This may extend itself, as in the traditional Yoga, to the dissolution of mind, life and body itself into the silent Self or absolute Existence; but the essence of the liberation is the merging of the individual in the Infinite. When the Yogin no longer feels himself to be a consciousness situated in the body or limited by the mind, but has lost the sense of division in the boundlessness of an infinite consciousness, that which he set out to do is accomplished. Afterwards the retaining or non-retaining of the human life is a circumstance of no essential importance, for it is always the formless One who acts through its many forms of the mind and life and body and each soul is only one of the stations from which it chooses to watch and receive and actuate its own play.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 394-395

Awakening to the Cosmic Consciousness

The division which separates pure Being, silent, immutable Existence from the forms, forces, beings and actions of the cosmic manifestation is an artificial one. It arises as a result of the mind’s tendency for finding and holding onto black and white distinctions and its general tendency toward exclusive concentration, which tends to miss the Oneness while fastening onto apparent differences.

After attaining to the realisation of the pure Existent, the seeker in the integral Yoga is then asked to recognise the Oneness, not only in its pure and abstract sense, but in all the beings of the universe. There are various stages to this next step in the development of cosmic consciousness, as Sri Aurobindo describes:

“Next we have to realise this silent Self as the Lord of all the action of universal Nature, the same Self-existent displayed in the creative force of its eternal consciousness. All this action is only His power and knowledge and self-delight going abroad in His infinite being to do the works of His eternal wisdom and will. We realise the Divine, the eternal Self of all, first, as the source of all action and inaction, of all knowledge and ignorance, of all delight and suffering, of all good and evil, perfection and imperfection, of all force and form, of all the outgoing of Nature from the eternal divine Principle and of all the return of Nature towards the Divine.”

The next phase is to recognise that it is the Divine that manifests as both the source and creator of all existences, but also those existences themselves. Each being is the Divine. “…for the many souls of the universal manifestation are only faces of the one Divine, the many minds, lives, bodies are only His masks and disguises.” This is the realisation of Arjuna in the 11th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita when he sees the universal form of the Divine.

All of the others we see around us are actually forms of the one Divine existence. “Thus viewing things and beings we may see them first as if they were parts and parcels of His divided being, but the realisation and the knowledge are not complete unless we go beyond this idea of quality and space and division and see the Infinite everywhere, the universe and each thing in the universe as in its existence and secret consciousness and power and delight, the indivisible Divine in its entirety, however much the figure it makes to our minds may appear only as a partial manifestation.”

This is the foundation of the awareness called ‘cosmic consciousness’. “When we possess thus the Divine as the silent and surpassing Witness and the active Lord and all-constituting Being without making any division between these aspects, we possess the whole cosmic Divine, embrace all of the universal Self and Reality, are awake to the cosmic consciousness.”

As the Isha Upanishad puts it: “But he who sees everywhere the Self in all existences and all existences in the Self, shrinks not thereafter from aught. He in whom it is the Self-Being that has become all existences that are Becomings, for he has the perfect knowledge, how shall he be deluded, whence shall he have grief who sees everywhere oneness?” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, v. 6-7, pg. 21)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 393-394

We Are Not Mind, Life or Body but Silent, Eternal Soul of All Existence

For the individual centred in the mental consciousness, the awareness of the individual Soul as a passive witness of creation is a first step. From there, this awareness must eventually widen and expand beyond the limits of the individual personality. Instead of focusing on the individual limited being, the seeker can see the entire creation as residing within his own larger Self.

Sri Aurobindo describes this experience: “It is as the immanent, silent Self in all that the foundation of this cosmic consciousness can most easily be laid by the mental being, the Witness pure and omnipresent who regards all the activity of the universe as the Conscious Soul of the cosmos, Sachchidananda for whose delight universal Nature displays the eternal procession of her works. We are aware of an unwounded Delight, a pure and perfect Presence, an infinite and self-contained Power present in ourselves and all things, not divided by their divisions, not affected by the stress and struggle of the cosmic manifestation, within it all even while superior to it all. Because of that all this exists, but that does not exist because of all this; it is too great to be limited by the movement in Time and Space which it inhabits and supports. This foundation enables us to possess in the security of the divine existence the whole universe within our own being. We are no longer limited and shut in by what we inhabit, but like the Divine contain in ourselves all that for the purpose of the movement of Nature we consent to inhabit. We are not mind or life or body, but the informing and sustaining Soul, silent, peaceful, eternal, that possesses them; and this Soul we find everywhere sustaining and informing and possessing all lives and minds and bodies and cease to regard it as a separate and individual being in our own. In it all this moves and acts; within all this it is stable and immutable. Having this, we possess our eternal self-existence at rest in its eternal consciousness and bliss.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 392-393

The Need and Methods For Attaining the Cosmic Consciousness

In the ordinary course, the human individual identifies himself with the ego-consciousness. He feels that he is a separate individual, utilizing a mind-life-body nexus for his experience of and in the world. This ego consciousness holds itself in opposition to all the other ego-personalities and experiences the entire world-action as a play of separated forms, forces and individuals with which the ego must then engage and find a way to survive and thrive.

For those who attain to the status of the pure Existence, the ego-personality is transcended and minimized. At the same time, this status tends to abandon the active life of the world-manifestation and resides in unity with the passive Brahman. The attempt to unify with the active Brahman has, as previously noted, the difficulty of a relapse into the ego-consciousness, given the long and habitual pattern of its action in the world.

The solution to the problem of action lies in being able to undertake action in the world in unity with the active Brahman, the creative Force in manifestation, and not be limited or circumscribed by the action of the ego. This leads to the realization of the cosmic consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo notes there are two primary methods for attaining to this status of consciousness: “But between the movement of universal Nature and this transcendent Existence, possessor of the one and cosmic self of the other, is the cosmic consciousness, the universal Purusha of whom all Nature is the Prakriti or active conscious Force. We can arrive at that, become that whether by breaking the walls of the ego laterally, as it were, identifying oneself with all existences in the One, or else from above by realising the pure Self or absolute Existence in its outgoing, immanent, all-embracing, all-constituting self-knowledge and self-creative power.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 15, The Cosmic Consciousness, pg. 392