The Need for Silence of the Thinking Mind for the Spiritual Transformation

For most people, the mind is always active with an internal commentary or dialogue running as people react to situations or try to solve various issues. As the mind is trained to undertake intellectual processes, it follows a process of logic and organisation that is used to understand and act upon things in the world. The process we call “thinking” is a step-by-step and detailed internal system that tries to work its way through what many call a “decision tree”. This process naturally focuses on a specific object, goal or problem to be solved, narrows the focus, fragments the attention to this one thing that needs to be resolved, and then creates a series of steps to move from where the mind is now to where it needs to be to find and implement a solution.

When confronted with the idea of silencing the mind, we naturally are fearful that we will either lose our ability to think and solve problems or issues; or that we will simply become dull and unable to function. At the same time, it is necessary to appreciate that the higher realms of awareness, which Sri Aurobindo calls ‘higher mind’, ‘illumined mind’, ‘overmind’ (and eventually ‘supermind’) function under an entirely different set of principles, through the presentation of a comprehensive or universal view that sees connections and inter-connections and does not narrow itself down in a single ‘train of thought’. For these to become functional it is necessary for the normal mental process to subside and stay in a status of silence, albeit, an alert, receptive silence, not a dull, distracted, dark or intoxicated state of blankness of the mind.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The thinking mind has to learn how to be entirely silent. It is only then that true knowledge can come.”

“The turmoil of mental (intellectual) activity has also to be silenced like the vital activity of desire in order that the calm and peace may be complete. Knowledge has to come but from above. In this calm the ordinary mental activities like the ordinary vital activities become surface movements with which the silent inner self is not connected. It is the liberation necessary in order that the true knowledge and the true life-activity may replace or transform the activities of the Ignorance.”

“To think and question about an experience when it is happening is the wrong thing to do; it stops it or diminishes it. Let the experience have its full play — if it is something like this ‘new life force’ or peace or Force or anything else helpful. When it is over, you can think about it — not while it is proceeding. For these experiences are spiritual and not mental and the mind has to be quiet and not interfere.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

The Transformation of the Mind

It is typical of the mental intelligence to believe that reading and remembering something implies that we have realised the truth of what we have read. Those who have taken the time to reflect on this make it clear that ‘reading a book about swimming’ does not mean one knows how to swim! Similarly, we read all kinds of positive statements, affirmations and ideas about how to live life effectively and to the fullest and control the vital impulses that interfere with that goal, yet time and again, we either forget or find we do not know how to actually effectuate the principles and methods we have been learning. While these things are focused on the interaction of the mind with life in the physical world, it may be noted that they equally apply to spiritual seeking. Reading books about spirituality, listening to lectures about spiritual teachings, do not, in and of themselves, represent a true transformation of the mind or the life. They may help to tune the mental concentration and create an atmosphere of receptivity, but beyond that it must be recognised that realisation is not simply holding of mental conceptions, but an actual change in the way the consciousness functions in the individual.

Sri Aurobindo has elsewhere mentioned that the spiritual consciousness represents what he terms a “reversal of consciousness” from the mental process. The mind with its linear thinking, its fixed framework and rules for processing data, and its failure to look at the whole interaction as one complete system, but rather focusing on individual elements in a fragmented manner, is exactly the opposite of the way the spiritual consciousness functions. The spiritual consciousness by its nature sees the interconnections and links and the entirety of the relationships that take place in bringing about the universal manifestation. There is a sense of unity and oneness that pervades the spiritual knowledge. Knowledge in the spiritual realm comes through powers we call intuition, inspiration, the descent of Light, the receipt of a vision, etc. Thus, the spiritual consciousness, in order to act fully and effectively in the life of the seeker, needs to have a quiet and receptive intellect in place ready to subordinate its own normal process for the needs of the spiritual consciousness in its native action.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is no reason why one should not receive through the thinking mind, as one receives through the vital, the emotional and the body. The thinking mind is as capable of receiving as these are, and, since it has to be transformed as well as the rest, it must be trained to receive, otherwise no transformation of it could take place.”

“It is the ordinary unenlightened activity of the intellect that is an obstacle to spiritual experience, just as the ordinary unregenerated activity of the vital or the obscure stupidly obstructive consciousness of the body is an obstacle. What the sadhak has to be specially warned against in the wrong processes of the intellect is, first, any mistaking of mental ideas and impressions or intellectual conclusions for realisation; secondly, the restless activity of the mere mind which disturbs the spontaneous accuracy of psychic and spiritual experience and gives no room for the descent of the true illuminating knowledge or else deforms it as soon as it touches or even before it fully touches the human mental plane. There are also of course the usual vices of the intellect, — its leaning towards sterile doubt instead of luminous reception and calm enlightened discrimination; its arrogance claiming to judge things that are beyond it, unknown to it, too deep for it by standards drawn from its own limited experience; its attempts to explain the supraphysical by the physical or its demand for the proof of higher and occult things by the criteria proper to Matter and mind in Matter; others also too many to enumerate here. Always it is substituting its own representations and constructions and opinions for the true knowledge. But if the intellect is surrendered, open, quiet, receptive, there is no reason why it should not be a means of reception of the Light or an aid to the experience of spiritual states and to the fullness of an inner change.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

The Intellect Does Not Have Direct Knowledge

The mental intellect receives impulses through the senses, organises them, and trues to determine what is true based on that. It then builds hypotheses, theories and ideation around its assortment of perceptions, memory, and experience based on various principles of symbolic logic that it has developed. The mind is a dealer in symbols, and its knowledge is therefore indirect.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes various forms of ‘knowing’, with that of the mind being a ‘separative knowledge’. True knowledge is ‘knowledge by identity’ a direct knowing that is the basis of the seeking undertaken by those who practice yoga. These practitioners recognise that anything based on separation, fragmentation and symbolic manipulation is truly a lower formation and not a knowledge of the Divine in its full effulgence.

It is important for the mind to become aware of its limitations, to see the framework within which it operates, and to organise its actions effectively within that framework. This is a basis for ensuring that the mental consciousness knows that it cannot either fully appreciate nor judge that which falls outside its normal scope. This provides a process of receptivity for higher forms of knowledge to come into the consciousness and be accepted, without the mind interfering or diluting this knowledge through its process of fragmentation and analysis, which, while having their own proper role and place in the actions of the being in the world, are ill-suited to undertaking the spiritual quest.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Its [the intellect’s] function is to reason from the perceptions of the mind and senses, to form conclusions and to put things in logical relation with each other. A well-trained intellect is a good preparation of the mind for greater knowledge, but it cannot itself give the yogic knowledge or know the Divine — it can only have ideas about the Divine, but having ideas is not knowledge. In the course of the sadhana intellect has to be transformed into the higher mind which is itself a passage towards the true knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

The Limitations of the Thinking Mind

The development of the mental consciousness has brought about enormous changes for life on earth, and as the foremost species utilizing the mental consciousness, humanity has taken the mind to limits never before considered as possible. Advances in logic, science, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, astronomy, quantum physics and many other fields, as well as technological applications of theoretical concepts, show off the powers that the mental development can manifest in life. Yet, for all of these advances, the mind also has very serious limitations and progress is obstructed as a result of these limitations. In order to advance further, the mental framework and its limitations must be overcome. The mind operates best in an analytical mode, where it can undertake systematic decomposition or fragmentation of large issues into component parts and then manipulate those parts, codifying, labeling, organising and combining and recombining. Yet this approach tends to narrow down the vision and miss the “big picture”, so to speak, which leads to false conclusions, and an enormous number of ‘unintended consequences” that result from the limits of this approach.

The pride of the mental consciousness in all its accomplishments also leads to a sense of arrogance and thus, limits the openness and potential for growth. The next stage in the evolutionary process, the development of the higher mind and eventually the supramental consciousness, embodies a new, global manner of seeing and understanding, holistically and comprehensively, that reverses the methodology of the mind and thereby overcomes its essential limitations.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “To have a developed intellect is always helpful if one can enlighten it from above and turn it to a divine use.”

“The intellect can be as great an obstacle as the vital when it chooses to prefer its own constructions to the Truth.”

“The intellect of most men is extremely imperfect, ill-trained, half-developed — therefore in most the conclusions of the intellect are hasty, ill-founded and erroneous or, if right, right more by chance than by merit or right working. The conclusions are formed without knowing the facts or the correct or sufficient data, merely by a rapid inference and the process by which it comes from the premises to the conclusions is usually illogical or faulty — the process being unsound by which the conclusion is arrived at, the conclusion is also likely to be fallacious. At the same time the intellect is usually arrogant and presumptuous, confidently asserting its imperfect conclusions as the truth and setting down as mistaken, stupid or foolish those who differ from them. Even when fully trained and developed, the intellect cannot arrive at absolute certitude or complete truth, but it can arrive at one aspect or side of it and make a reasonable or probable affirmation; but untrained, it is a quite insufficient instrument, at once hasty and peremptory and unsafe and unreliable.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245

Spiritual Experiences and Transformation of the Nature

The vital nature is always interested in, even fixated on, the idea of having dramatic ‘spiritual experiences’. These experiences can open the eyes of the seeker to a wider reality, and can help reorient the direction of the life, sometimes in unusual or unexpected ways. There are many instances where an individual has a realisation, sometimes based on a near death experience or a vision quest of some sort, and recognises the futility of the old habits of his life and strikes out in a totally new direction. The New Testament of the Bible relates the instance of Saul on the road to Damascus and his conversion to become a dedicated disciple of Jesus. There is the example of Dannion Brinkley who was struck by lightning, was declared clinically dead and returned with a new insight and mission in life. The experience is meant to awaken the awareness not to be something that becomes a regular event! Once that re-directing process has been accomplished, in many cases, the active ‘headline’ experience recedes, and the work of taking up and addressing all the habitual processes of mind, life, body, the ego, the relation to the outer life begins. The experience is by its very nature a subjective event, not subject to proof or validation, other than that similar experiences have occurred for numerous people, throughout time and all across the world, to show that there is a reality to it. The change, the transformative effort comes as the individual takes up the challenge posed by the experience and begins to work on the human nature, its instruments, its opportunities and its limitations, and creates a process of moving from the old methods to the new ones indicated by the divine Force as it descends and takes charge of the being.

Sri Aurobindo briefly outlines 4 different methods that this change process can utilize. The individual must be prepared to move beyond the vital excitement of the major spiritual experience to carry out the day to day efforts needed to see, know, live and act from a new standpoint and new basis.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The difficulty of the yoga is not in getting experiences or a subjective realisation of the Truth; it is in objectivising the Truth, that is in making the outer consciousness down to the material an expression of the inner Truth. So long as that is not done the attacks of the lower Nature can always intervene.”

“Experiences and descents are very good for preparation, but change of the consciousness is the thing wanted — it is the proof that the experiences and descents have had an effect. Descents of peace are good, but an increasingly stable quietude and silence of the mind is something more valuable. When that is there, then other things can come — usually one at a time, light or strength and force or knowledge or Ananda. it is not necessary to go on forever having always the same preparatory experiences — a time comes when the consciousness begins to take a new poise and another state.”

“Merely to have experiences of the higher consciousness will not change the nature. Either the higher consciousness has to make a dynamic descent into the whole being and change it; or it must establish itself in the inner being down to the inner physical so that the latter feels itself separate from the outer and is able to act freely upon it; or the psychic must come forward and change the nature; or the inner will must awake and force the nature to change. These are the four ways in which change can be brought about.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Experiences and Transformation, pp. 239-240

Immortality in this Body is Not the Transformation Sought by the Integral Yoga

The “fountain of youth”, the elixir of immortality, attaining eternal life… these are various ways the aspiration of humanity has found expression for the conquest of death. Some who take up the integral Yoga latch on to the eventual idea of the supramental transformation leading to immortality and believe that they will become immortal in this body in this life. Sri Aurobindo, however, has made it very clear that this does not represent his view of the matter. He repeatedly focuses the attention on the immediate need for the psychic change and its ability to adapt mind, life and body to be prepared to receive and accept the supramental transformation; the consequence of potential immortality in the body is considered by him to be a minor potential future eventuality and not something that should be striven after nor expected in the practice of the yoga. He even goes further by indicating that any prolongation of life brought about by the supramental transformation is not for the purpose of ego-gratification in the normal mode of life, but to carry out the divine intention in the world that is bringing forth the next phase of evolutionary development beyond the mental level.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “To merge the consciousness in the Divine and to keep the psychic being controlling and changing all the nature and keeping it turned to the Divine till the whole being can live in the Divine is the transformation we seek. There is further the supramentalisation, but this only carries the transformation to its own highest and largest possibilities — it does not alter its essential nature.”

“Immortality is one of the possible results of supramentalisation, but it is not an obligatory result and it does not mean that there will be an eternal or indefinite prolongation of life as it is. That is what many think it will be, that they will remain what they are with all their human desires and the only difference will be that they will satisfy them endlessly; but such an immortality would not be worth having and it would not be long before people are tired of it. To live in the Divine and have the divine Consciousness is itself immortality and to be able to divinise the body also and make it a fit instrument for divine works and divine life would be its material expression only.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Supramental Transformation, pp. 229-237

Death, the Conquest of Death, and the Supramental Transformation

In his lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda points out clearly that chasing after powers or siddhis as they are called, is not the aim of the yoga and can be a distraction from the primary goal. They may come, but should not be sought after or made a primary determinant of the yogic process nor set as a goal of any sort. Similarly, Sri Aurobindo has emphasized that the eventual supramental transformation, while it will clearly have impacts on the physical body does not have as its goal the conquest of death or the seeking for immortality of the body. In fact, he goes on to state that such a step would be at the tail end of a long process, not something immediate that the secret could or might expect as a result of the yogic practice. In order to achieve this, not only the mind has to be illumined and the vital force enhanced, but the very cells of the body would need to become conscious, responsive and capable of adaptation far beyond where they are in today’s world.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Death is there because the being in the body is not yet developed enough to go on growing in the same body without the need of change and the body itself is not sufficiently conscious. If the mind and vital and the body itself were more conscious and plastic, death would not be necessary.”

“As for conquest of death, it is only one of the sequelae of supramentalisation — and I am not aware that I have forsworn my views about the supramental descent. But I never said or thought that the supramental descent would automatically make everybody immortal. The supramental can only make the best conditions for anybody who can open up to it then or thereafter attaining to the supramental consciousness and its consequences. But it could not dispense with the necessity of sadhana. If it did, the logical consequence would be that the whole earth, men, dogs and worms would suddenly wake up to find themselves supramental. There would be no need of an Ashram or of yoga.”

“Why vital? What is vital is the supramental change of consciousness — conquest of death is something minor and, as I have always said, the last physical result of it, not the first result of all or the most important — a thing to be added to complete the whole, not the one thing needed and essential. To put it first is to reverse all spiritual values — it would mean that the seeker was actuated, not by any high spiritual aim but by a vital clinging to life or a selfish and timid seeking for the security of the body — such a spirit could not bring the supramental change.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Supramental Transformation, pp. 229-237

The Supramental Force and the Quest for the Conquest of Disease, Decay and Death

In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda describes the ability of various yoga practitioners to extend the capacities of the body far beyond what we consider to be normal, including prolonging the life span dramatically. One example he described was of Babaji, a yogi who reportedly lived and acted in the world for hundreds of years. This example was not an isolated case, as other yogis have been reported to extend life span or cure disease. Sri Aurobindo related a tale about his brother who at one point was desperately ill. A wandering yogi chanted mantras over a glass of water and was able to cure the sick man of the fever. Sri Aurobindo related this to remark on how he came to understand the power of yoga to effect change in the world, and helped shift him from his political focus to take up the spiritual direction to which he dedicated the balance of his lifetime.

Modern science itself has seen remarkable achievements in terms of extending the normal lifespan of humanity. Just a few hundred years ago, most people in Europe died by their 40’s. Today the average life span is approximately 80 years. Advances in understanding of the needs of the body, nutrition, hygiene, basic principles of managing sewage, along with advances in vaccines, pharmaceuticals, surgery and management of diet and lifestyle all contribute to this lengthening lifespan. Theoretically, these external measures can still add numerous years to the life.

As the next evolutionary phase becomes operational, it will provide new power and knowledge to the very cells of the body to help them adjust and respond to pressures and thus, remain integrated and coherent as a unified body that can withstand far more pressure without breakdown than we can currently bear.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The change of the consciousness is the necessary thing and without it there can be no physical siddhi. But the fullness of the supramental change is not possible, if the body remains as it is, a slave of death, disease, decay, pain, unconsciousness and all the other results of the ignorance. If these are to remain the descent of the supramental is hardly necessary — for a change of consciousness which would bring mental-spiritual union with the Divine, the overmind is sufficient, even the Higher Mind is sufficient. The supramental descent is necessary for a dynamic action of the Truth in mind, vital and body. This would imply as a final result the disappearance of the unconsciousness of the body; it would no longer be subject to decay and disease. That would mean that it would not be subject to the ordinary processes by which death comes. If a change of body had to be made, it would have to be by the will of the inhabitant. This (not an obligation to live 3000 years, for that too would be a bondage) would be the essence of physical immortality. Still, if one wanted to live 1000 years or more, then supposing one had the complete siddhi, it should not be impossible.”

“There can be no immortality of the body without supramentalisation; the potentiality is there in the yogic force and yogis can live for 200 or 300 years or more, but there can be no real principle of it without the supramental.”

“Even Science believes that one day death may be conquered by physical means and its reasonings are perfectly sound. There is no reason why the supramental Force should not do it. Forms on earth do not last (they do in other planes) because these forms are too rigid to grow expressing the progress of the spirit. If they become plastic enough to do that there is no reason why they should not last.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Supramental Transformation, pp. 229-237

The Supermind and the Transformation of the Physical Body

With the advent of the supramental evolutionary principle in the physical world, certain expectations arise as to the physical body and its capacities. Supramental consciousness, infused into the very cells of the body, clearly would make the body more adaptable, more powerful and more able to withstand the causes of illness, decomposition and death; in other words, one could expect enhanced health and longevity to result. This prospect obviously captures the imagination of seekers and practitioners. In fact, the entire world’s population already wants to see improvements in the body’s ability to thrive, withstand disease and extend a useful, healthy life. But in today’s world, people go even further in their imaginings about the future capacities of the body, expecting various “super powers” to develop, and the popular culture is filled with ideas about the type of super powers that people fantasize about.

Sri Aurobindo acknowledges that the supramental force, acting directly on the body, would have a dramatic effect in favor of increased health, wellness, longevity and powers of action. Yet, he also notes that this is not something that can be expected to occur in the near term, and he outlines the conditions for the development of what may be called the ‘supramental body’. He also makes it clear that this is not some kind of miraculous result for any particular individual, but the speeding up, generally, of the development of the next evolutionary principle in the earth-consciousness, the next step beyond the mental evolution. This process can be, under normal circumstances, one that can take millennia to eventuate. Through the conscious participation in the process by practitioners focused on development of the necessary prerequisites, such as the focus and aspiration, the rejection of obstacles in the mind-life-body, and the opening of these lower principles to the action of the higher force in all fullness, Sri Aurobindo expects the process to be dramatically speeded up. Even so, this is not the earliest need, the first stage, nor anything in the immediate future for practitioners who have a lot of work to do and ground to cover before the real possibility even arises for this.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The object of supramentalisation is a body fitted to embody and express the physical consciousness on earth so long as one remains in the physical life. it is a step in the spiritual evolution on the earth, not a step in the passage towards a supraphysical world. The supramentalisation is the most difficult part of the change arrived at by the supramental yoga, and all depends on whether a sufficient change can be achieved in the consciousness at present to make such a step possible. … One has first of all to supramentalise sufficiently the mind and vital and physical consciousness generally — afterwards one can think of supramentalisation of the body. The psychic and spiritual transformation must come first, only afterwards would it be practical or useful to discuss the supramentalisation of the whole being down to the body.”

“It is quite impossible for the supramental to take up the body before there has been the full supramental change in the mind and the vital. X and others seem always to expect some kind of unintelligible miracle — they do not understand that it is a concentrated evolution, swift but following the law of creation that has to take place. A miracle can be a moment’s wonder. A change according to the Divine Law can alone endure.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Supramental Transformation, pp. 229-237

Conditions for Preparation for the Supramental Change, Part 2

Once the psychic being is in front and directing the aspiration, focus and receptivity of the being to the action of the Divine Force, it is necessary to maintain the correct psychological posture, which implies not allowing either rajasic or tamasic energies to dominate the effort, avoiding thereby either any aggressive or anxious over-straining or demand, as well as any lassitude. despondency or darkness in the seeking. At the same time, the danger of the sattwic egoism needs to be understood and dealt with. There should not be any sense of superiority, or self-righteousness. The process is one that takes time due to the complexity of the process and the magnitude of the changes required in all the actions of mind, life and body, and quiet patience is needed to avoid the imbalance of the gunas.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Most in doing yoga live in the mind, vital, physical, lit up occasionally or to some extent by the higher mind and by the illumined mind; but to prepare for the supramental change it is necessary (as soon as, personally, the time has come) to open up to the Intuition and the overmind, so that these may make the whole being and the whole nature ready for the supramental change. Allow the consciousness quietly to develop and widen and the knowledge of these things will progressively come.”

“Calm, discrimination, detachment (but not indifference) are all very important, for their opposites impede very much the transforming action. Intensity of aspiration should be there, but it must go along with these. No hurry, nor inertia, neither rajasic over-eagerness nor tamasic discouragement — a steady and persistent but quiet call and working. No snatching or clutching at realisation, but allowing realisation to come from within and above and observing accurately its field, its nature, its limits.”

“Let the power of the Mother work in you, but be careful to avoid any mixture or substitution, in its place, of either a magnified ego-working or a force of Ignorance presenting itself as Truth. Aspire especially for the elimination of all obscurity and unconsciousness in the nature.”

“These are the main conditions of preparations for the supramental change; but none of them is easy, and they must be complete before the nature can be said to be ready. If the true attitude (psychic, unegoistic, open only to the Divine Force) can be established, then the process can go on much more quickly. To take and keep the true attitude, to further the change in oneself, is the help that can be given, the one thing asked to assist the general change.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 8, The Triple Transformation: Psychic, Spiritual and Supramental, The Supramental Transformation, pp. 229-237