A Synthesis of the Disciplines and Aims of the Yoga of Knowledge

The mental consciousness creates “black and white” distinctions that seem to be mutually exclusive to one another; the seeker, following one or another of these distinctions thus will wind up validating one aspect while denying others. This is the history of the various formations developed under the rubric of a Yoga of knowledge. In affirming the Absolute, the seeker denies the reality of the universal or the individual, or at least subordinates their importance in the overall hierarchy. For an integral Yoga, this process of selective focus and denial is not an option: the seeker embraces and accepts the truths presented by each line of development within the traditional Yoga of knowledge, but not in an exclusive or limiting manner; rather, all these aspects must be harmonized and integrated so that each one occupies its rightful place in our view of the entire truth of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes this point: “Therefore our integral Yoga will take up these various disciplines and concentrations, but harmonise and if possible fuse them by a synthesis which removes their mutual exclusions. Not realising the Lord and the All, only to reject them for silent Self or unknowable Absolute as would an exclusively transcendental, nor living for the Lord alone or in the All alone as wound an exclusively theistic or an exclusively pantheistic Yoga, the seeker of integral knowledge will limit himself neither in his thought nor in his practice nor in his realisation by any religious creed or philosophical dogma. He will seek the Truth of existence in its completeness. The ancient disciplines he will not reject, for they rest upon eternal truths, but he will give them an orientation in conformity with his aim.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 6, The Synthesis of the Disciplines of Knowledge, pg. 326

The Emergence of the True Life-Force Through the Elimination of Desire

The first of the three conditions required for the transformation of the Life-Force is the elimination of desire as the motive principle of action. Perhaps the greatest exposition which clarifies how this is to be done is the Bhagavad Gita. Sri Aurobindo describes the Gita’s method: “…a complete renouncement of desire for the fruits as the motive of action, a complete annulment of desire itself, the complete achievement of a spiritual equality are put forward as the normal status of a spiritual being. A perfect spiritual equality is the one true and infallible sign of the cessation of desire,–to be equal-souled to all things, unmoved by joy and sorrow, the pleasant and the unpleasant, success or failure, to look with an equal eye on high and low, friend and enemy, the virtuous and the sinner, to see in all beings the manifold manifestation of the One and in all things the multitudinous play or the slow masked evolution of the embodied Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes this status from those we may confuse with it: “It is not a mental quiet, aloofness, indifference, not an inert vital quiescence, not a passivity of the physical consciousness consenting to no movement or to any movement that is the condition aimed at…”

He then describes what it is: “…a wide comprehensive unmoved universality such as that of the Witness Spirit behind Nature….This presence behind is equal-souled to all things: the energy it holds in it can be unloosed for any action, but no action will be chosen by any desire in the Witness Spirit; a Truth acts which is beyond and greater than the action itself or its apparent forms and impulses, beyond and greater than mind or life-force or body, although it may take for the immediate purpose a mental, a vital or a physical appearance.”

The result is the emergence of the true vital being, which “reveals its own calm, intense and potent presence….it is a projection of the Divine Purusha into life,–tranquil, strong, luminous, many-energied, obedient to the Divine Will, egoless, yet or rather therefore capable of all action, achievement, highest or largest enterprise. The true Life-Force too reveals itself as no longer this troubled harassed divided striving surface energy, but a great and radiant Divine Power, full of peace and strength and bliss, a wide-wayed Angel of Life with its wings of Might enfolding the universe.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 166-168

The Transformation and Affirmation of the Life-Force in the Integral Yoga

The Life-Force seeks to grow, survive, enjoy and exercise dominion. In the ordinary human nature, limited by the ego-consciousness and the fragmentation that arises in the planes of Mind-Life-Body, these principles of the Life-Force are exercised for the benefit of the ego, through the action of what Sri Aurobindo terms “the desire-soul”. “This soul of desire is a separative soul of ego and all its instincts are for a separative self-affirmation; it pushes always, openly or under more or less shining masks, for its own growth, for possession, for enjoyment, for conquest and empire.”

The past solutions to the problem of the life-energy have focused on the basic principles or activities of the Life-Force, rather than on the nexus built up by the ego and the desire-soul. Thus, an attempt was made to deny to Life the very native objects for which it exists, and this led to a lot of confusion and failure.

Sri Aurobindo asks the seeker, rather, to recognize the inherent powers and aims of the Life-Force and to accept them through a process of transformation from a basis in the ego to a basis in the Divine consciousness. This occurs through bringing forward of the true soul, the psychic being to guide the process, and through an affirmation of the Life-Force with a new redirected purpose toward achieving its aims, but in fulfillment, not of the ego, but of the Divine action in the world.

“The Divine Life-Power too will be a will for growth, a force of self-affirmation, but affirmation of the Divine within us, not of the little temporary personality on the surface,–growth into the true divine Individual, the central being, the secret imperishable Person who can emerge only by the subordination and disappearance of the ego. This is life’s true object: growth, but a growth of the spirit in Nature, affirming and developing itself in mind, life and body; possession, but a possession by the Divine of the Divine in all things, and not of things for their own sake by the desire of the ego; enjoyment, but an enjoyment of the divine Ananda in the universe; battle and conquest and empire in the shape of a victorious conflict with the Powers of Darkness, an entire spiritual self-rule and mastery over inward and outward Nature, a conquest by Knowledge, Love and Divine Will over the domains of the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 164-165

Shakti–Will–Power: The Driver of the Worlds

Spiritual aspirants, upon recognition of the perversions, weaknesses and distortions caused by the life-force in its unredeemed normal status, have generally tried to avoid the problem by avoidance. They have concluded that power is corrupt and corrupting and therefore inconsistent with spiritual growth and development. They seek for a salvation in some other plane of consciousness or some other world of existence. We see throughout history the story of the seeker who abandons a life of power and comfort in the world, goes to the forest or the desert, there to find God and live a holy and quiet life.

They hold that power corrupts. Money, as a form of power, corrupts. Action in the world is inherently corrupted. Transformation of the life-force, if there is to be one, is then thought to come about through the action of Knowledge or Love from a high plane of purity.

Sri Aurobindo points out the fallacy of this approach: “It is no solution either to postpone dealing with the works of life till Love and Knowledge have been evolved to a point at which they can sovereignly and with safety lay hold on the Life-Force to regenerate it; for we have seen that they have to rise to immense heights before they can be secure from the vital perversion which hampers or hamstrings their power to delivery.” It must be further noted that it is essentially impossible to reach the heights where such an influence could be wielded while the Life-Force remains unregenerated, as any uprising or descent of the forces of Knowledge or Love are sure to be appropriated and misused if it comes to that.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the will to power is also a divine aspect. “As the mind gropes for Knowledge, as the heart feels out for Love, so the life-force, however fumblingly or trepidantly, stumbles in search of Power and the control given by Power. It is a mistake of the ethical or religious mind to condemn Power as in itself a thing not to be accepted or sought after because naturally corrupting and evil…” “However corrupted and misused, as Love and Knowledge too are corrupted and misused, Power is divine and put here for a divine use.”

“Shakti, Will, Power is the driver of the worlds and, whether it be Knowledge-Force or Love-Force or Life-Force or Action-Force or Body-Force, is always spiritual in its origin and divine in its character.”

“The integral Yoga cannot reject the works of Life and be satisfied with an inward experience only; it has to go inward in order to change the outward, making the Life-Force a part and a working of a Yoga-Energy which is in touch with the Divine and divine in its guidance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 163-164

Transcending the Hold of the Ego

Consciousness develops in man from its earliest impulsions of desire and satisfaction of the demands of the ego, through an ever-widening appreciation of the larger context and framework within which the individual ego exists. We move to concern for others, for meeting needs of family, community, society, and eventually a recognition of universal and divine Powers and Principles, and an increasing understanding of universal Nature and the inter-relationship of all beings in a biosphere and ecosphere where we begin to understand that each one of us is part of that larger whole, and what we do affects that whole, and that the health of that whole affects the health of each one of us.

Sri Aurobindo provides an overview of this process: “Only when the individual being begins to perceive and acknowledge in his acts the value of the self in others as well as the power and needs of his own ego, begins to perceive universal Nature behind his own workings and through the cosmic godheads gets some glimpse of the One and the Infinite, is he on his way to the transcendence of his limitation by the ego and the discovery of his soul.”

There comes a point where we see the development of codes of ethics, morality and religion, all of which are attempts to codify a larger and more inclusive sense of Oneness transcending the desire mind of the individual ego. “He begins to give more value to the claims of the self in others and less to the claims of his ego; he admits the strife between egoism and altruism and by the increase of his altruistic tendencies he prepares the enlargement of his own consciousness and being.”

There also comes an awareness of the action of greater powers of Nature and an attempt to contact and relate to those powers, which brings about a further widening and a recognition of our dependence on Nature for everything in our lives. “…he learns that only by increasing their presence and their greatness in his thought and will and life can he himself increase his powers, knowledge, right action and the satisfactions which these things bring to him. Thus he adds the religious and supraphysical to the material and egoistic sense of life and prepares himself to rise through the finite to the Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 13, The Lord of the Sacrifice, pg. 120