The Integral Path Combines the Vedantic and the Tantric Approaches to Divine Realisation

At a certain point we come to the conclusion that our minds cannot finally determine the truth or the meaning of our existence. We recognise that many of our daily perceptions and assumptions about the world and, in fact, all of existence, are simply inaccurate. We see the sun rise in the East and set in the West, and assume the sun moves across the sky, with our world at the center of the process, when in fact, an entirely different set of circumstances apply. The realisation that perception and mental determination based on that perception does not define the truth of existence is a first step towards attaining knowledge.

This leads to the idea that the world and all its names, forms, events and circumstances are an illusion and that to discover the reality we must abandon all we experience and find out what lies beyond. The experience of the illusion of the world and the reality of a transcendent Absolute, is the basis of the Vedantic understanding. The Vedantic works to disentangle himself from each name and form in the world, with the idea that it is “not this, not that”. As the process unfolds, the seeker gives up all ambition for achieving the things of the world, all attachment to fame and fortune, social status and family, eventually even giving up the identification with the individual ego-personality. This brings the seeker eventually to the experience of the substrate, the foundation of pure Existence, “Sat”, “one without a second.”

But what about the world? Is it entirely unreal, or do we simply misinterpret and misunderstand and thereby distort the meaning of the reality? Can we achieve a status whereby we recognise the illusory nature of our normal standpoint, yet still accept the reality and necessity, from the divine standpoint, of the manifested universal action? At a certain point we may recognise that the Eternal is not bound by his transcendence, and that the world is also an expression of the Divine. “All this is the Brahman”, is not a statement of illusion, but a statement of inclusiveness. This brings us to the experience of the Tantra, which attempts to find and recognise the Divine in the manifestation. “Chit-Shakti”, consciousness-force, is the reality co-equal with the pure Existence “Sat”. The tantric practitioner seeks to overcome the entanglement of the ego in the forms and forces of the world and to thereby attain realisation of the divine nature of the entire creation.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Unless one realises the Supreme on the dynamic as well as the static side, one cannot experience the true origin of things and the equal reality of the active Brahman. The Shakti or Power of the Eternal becomes then a power of illusion only and the world becomes incomprehensible, a mystery of cosmic madness, an eternal delirium of the Eternal. Whatever verbal or ideative logic one may bring to support it, this way of seeing the universe explains nothing; it only erects a mental formula of the inexplicable. It is only if you approach the Supreme through his double aspect of Sat and Chit-Shakti, double but inseparable, that the total truth of things can become manifest to the inner experience. This other side was developed by the Shakta Tantriks. The two together, the Vedantic and the Tantric truth unified, can arrive at the integral knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp.30-31


The Supreme Consciousness and the Creative Force of Manifestation

Indian spirituality and philosophy has recognized two primary aspects to existence, the Supreme Consciousness that creates, informs, constitutes and contains all that exists, and the Creative Force that actually manifests the universal creation. The Gita describes the Supreme Consciousness as the Purushottama, the ultimate Purusha, and the Creative Force as the Para Prakriti, the Divine Shakti, the supreme executive Nature. The Gita, as with other Vedantic texts, focuses primarily on the realisation of the Purushottama, as Vedanta generally sets the goal as the liberation of the individual from the cosmic creation. With the development of the Tantric tradition, the emphasis shifted to liberation through achieving oneness with the Divine Shakti. Sri Aurobindo accepts both aspects as real and has developed a unification that works to both achieve ultimate realisation of the Purushottama as well as with the Divine Shakti. The Divine Shakti is called the Divine Mother as it is the creative force that manifests and gives birth to the universes, galaxies, worlds, and all forms and forces that are experienced in this creation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Gita does not speak expressly of the Divine Mother; it speaks always of surrender to the Purushottama — it mentions her only as the Para Prakriti who becomes the Jiva, that is, who manifests the Divine in the multiplicity and through whom all these worlds are created by the Supreme and he himself descends as the Avatar. The Gita follows the Vedantic tradition which leans entirely on the Ishwara aspect of the Divine and speaks little of the Divine Mother because its object is to draw back from world-nature and arrive at the supreme realisation beyond it; the Tantric tradition leans on the Shakti or Ishwari aspect and makes all depend on the Divine Mother because its object is to possess and dominate world-nature and arrive at the supreme realisation through it. This yoga insists on both the aspects; the surrender to the Divine Mother is essential, for without it there is no fulfilment of the object of the yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pg.30

The World Is a Manifestation of the Divine

The mind can justify a world of illusion that has its outlet in an escape to unity with an undifferentiated, unmoving Absolute; and it can equally justify a world of reality that is the manifestation of the Being who creates, sustains, informs, contains and constitutes that world. The various concepts each provide a basis for a spiritual seeking and realisation. One of these paths leads away from the world of existence. The other unifies the transcendent, the universal and the individual in the One Reality, the “one without a second” while describing that “all this is the Brahman.”

To the extent that there is an illusionary existence, it is the artificial fragmentation of the world of forms and actions upon which our minds fixate and treat as the sole reality. It is not the reality of the world that is the illusion, but the artificial distinction between the world and the spiritual truth of existence. This distinction comes about through the methodology of the manifestation of consciousness, which evolves through Time. The earlier stages do not grasp the entirety of the sole Reality and thus, are limited within the frame of their capacity. As consciousness continues to evolve, and the prior limits are thereby removed, the evolutionary beings become more capable of the spiritual understanding and the integration that proceeds from it.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is possible a realistic as well as an illusionist Adwaita. The philosophy of The Life Divine is such a realistic Adwaita. The world is a manifestation of the Real and therefore is itself real. The reality is the infinite and eternal Divine, infinite and eternal Being, Consciousness-Force and Bliss. This Divine by his power has created the world or rather manifested it in his own infinite Being. But here in the material world or at its basis he has hidden himself in what seem to be his opposites, Non-Being, Inconscience and Insentience. This is what we nowadays call the Inconscient which seems to have created the material universe by its inconscient Energy, but this is only an appearance, for we find in the end that all the dispositions of the world can only have been arranged by the working of a supreme secret Intelligence. The Being which is hidden in what seems to be an inconscient void emerges in the world first in Matter, then in Life, then in Mind and finally as the Spirit. The apparently inconscient Energy which creates is in fact the Consciousness-Force of the Divine and its aspect of consciousness, secret in Matter, begins to emerge in Life, finds something more of itself in Mind and finds its true self in a spiritual consciousness and finally a supramental Consciousness through which we become aware of the Reality, enter into it and unite ourselves with it. This is what we call evolution which is an evolution of Consciousness and an evolution of the Spirit in things and only outwardly an evolution of species. Thus also, the delight of existence emerges from the original insentience, first in the contrary forms of pleasure and pain, and then has to find itself in the bliss of the Spirit or, as it is called in the Upanishads, the bliss of the Brahman. That is the central idea in the explanation of the universe put forward in The Life Divine.

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp. 26-28

Adwaita Vedanta (Mayavada) and Integral Non-Dualism: Contrasting Interpretations of the Nature of Reality

“One without a second.” This Upanishadic dictum forms the basis of Shankara’s philosophy of Adwaita, Vedantic non-dualism. The seeker leaves behind the illusion of the world to merge into the pure, transcendent Oneness of the Brahman. Sri Aurobindo proposes non-dualism, however, that adds the second great Upanishadic dictum “All this is the Brahman” to create an integral non-dualism that does not treat the world as something unreal to be abandoned to achieve realisation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If Shankara’s conception of the undifferentiated pure Consciousness as the Brahman is your view of it, then it is not the path of this yoga that you should choose; for here the realisation of pure Consciousness and Being is only a first step and not the goal. But an inner creative urge from within can have no place in an undifferentiated Consciousness — all action and creation must necessarily be foreign to it.”

“I do not base my yoga on the insufficient ground that the Self (not soul) is eternally free. That affirmation leads to nothing beyond itself, or, if used as a starting-point, it could equally well lead to the conclusion that action and creation have no significance or value. The question is not that but of the meaning of creation, whether there is a Supreme who is not merely a pure undifferentiated Consciousness and Being, but the source and support also of the dynamic energy of creation and whether the cosmic existence has for It a significance and a value. That is a question which cannot be settled by metaphysical logic which deals in words and ideas, but by a spiritual experience which goes beyond Mind and enters into spiritual realities. Each mind is satisfied with its own reasoning, but for spiritual purposes that satisfaction has no validity, except as an indication of how far and on what line each one is prepared to go in the field of spiritual experience. If your reasoning leads you towards the Shankara idea of the Supreme, that might be an indication that the Vedanta Adwaita (Mayavada) is your way of advance.”

“This yoga accents the value of cosmic existence and holds it to be a reality; its object is to enter into a higher Truth-Consciousness or Divine supramental Consciousness in which action and creation are the expression not of ignorance and imperfection, but of the Truth, the Light, the Divine Ananda. But for that, surrender of the mortal mind, life and body to that Higher Consciousness is indispensable, since it is too difficult for the mortal human being to pass by its own effort beyond mind to a supramental Consciousness in which the dynamism is no longer mental but of quite another power. Only those who can accept the call to such a change should enter into this yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and Other Systems of Yoga and Philosophy, pp. 26-28

The Upanishads: Summary and Conclusions

The Upanishads state they are “the secret of the Veda”.  This implies that there IS a secret hidden within the Veda, that it is not all on the surface to be seen, and that there is an esoteric meaning to be understood by those who have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the mind to grasp, and the heart to understand.  The Veda has always been something of a mystery to the modern mind, due to the symbolic language utilized and the imagery conveyed which spoke to a different age of humanity.  With his substantial insight into the symbolism employed, Sri Aurobindo was able to unlock and reveal the “secret of the Veda”.  It turns out that it is a scripture of spiritual growth, development, aspiration and experience of reality from a different standpoint than what we ordinarily experience in our focus on the outer life of work, family, and society.

Another implication of the Upanishadic statement is that they actually are able to reveal the secret of the Veda.  If that is the case, we should be able to understand the meaning of the Upanishads and thereby grasp the meaning locked within the Veda.  The Upanishads have been revered as scriptural authority for some thousands of years, and in some cases, with their connection to and use of symbolism from the Veda, they have become obscure to us as well.  However, it is important to recognize that the obscure references are a small part of the much larger picture provided by the Upanishads.

Certain recurrent themes become obvious and these can guide the seeker to the vast spiritual truths that the Rishis saw and experienced.  “One without a second” is one such truth.  The One includes, encompasses, creates, and directs, while concurrently exceeding any limitations of the outer world.  “All this is the Brahman” makes it clear that the world itself, and all the beings that inhabit it, and the entire universal creation, and the entire action of birth, life, decay and death is indeed the Brahman.  “Neti, Neti”, “Not this, Not that” makes it clear that the Brahman cannot be limited by any specific form, definition or line of action, as the Brahman transcends all.

The Upanishads also provide a guidebook for spiritual development, as well as a description of the experiences of realised souls.  The practices of raja yoga are delineated.  Various states of consciousness, waking, dream, sleep and transcendent are described and shown to be both part of the external world, and descriptions of inner states of spiritual experience.

Sri Aurobindo focused on certain major Upanishads out of the much larger body of works collected under that name.  He was not predominantly interested in philosophy but rather, in finding keys to the nature of, growth and development of consciousness.  He integrated what he found in the Upanishads by incorporating numerous quotations in his own magnum opus, The Life Divine, in particular in chapter headings to tie in the ancient knowledge to the systematic approach and development he was setting forth therein.

In the end, the Upanishads are not about creating a line of thought or philosophical understanding, but about preparing the inner being for the “knowledge by identity” that transcends the limits of the mind and the speech, and opens the seeker to the vast, indeed infinite, and eternal consciousness of the Brahman.  The student of the Upanishads need not be an adherent of a particular religious persuasion, as the Upanishads are not about religion.   The Upanishads are concerned with the truth of our existence, and the ability of the individual to experience that truth directly, and thus, the Upanishads are open to anyone from any tradition, background or religious direction, who truly wants to know.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Summary and Conclusions

The Destructive Power Removes Obstacles in the Way of the Higher Illumination

Sri Aurobindo translates Nilarudra Upanishad, First Part, Verses 6-9: “With fair speech, O mountain-dweller, we sue to thee in the assembly of the folk, that the whole world may be for us a friendly and sinless place.  That thy arrow which is the kindliest of all and thy bow which is well-omened and that thy quiver which beareth blessing, by that thou livest for us, O lord of slaughter.  That thy body, O terrible One, which is fair and full of kindness and destroyeth sin, not thy shape of terrors, in that thy body full of peace, O mountaineer, thou art wont to be seen among our folk.  This Aruna of the dawn that is tawny and copper-red and scarlet-hued, and these thy Violent Ones round about that dwell in the regions in their thousands, verily, it is these whom we desire.”

The overwhelming experience of seeing the Lord in his destructive aspect shakes the peace of mind of the seer, and elicits the spontaneous prayers for the peaceful and nurturing forms of the Divine.  At the same time, the seer recognises that powers of destruction are a necessary element in the development of society, and thus, the implements of destruction, the bow, the arrow, the quiver, are bringers of blessings.

Dawn in the Veda is the harbinger of the rise of the sun of illumination.  This is an inner uprising of knowledge that comes about when the resistance of the being is crushed under the onslaught of the powerful forces which destroy all that resists and opposes this illumination.

The inner sense of the Upanishads, as of the Veda, focuses on the development of the deeper knowledge that recognises the Oneness of the creation and brings about the status of “knowledge by identity”.  The aspect of destruction is required to sweep away those things within the being which prevent or obstruct this recognition.  We can see that in the phrase “destroyeth sin”.  The focus here is not on physical destruction, but on an inner change.  Sin in the Vedic context represents those things which distort or deflect the conscious awareness from the calm, tranquil, serene and receptive state that is a basis for the higher realisation.  The aspiration goes forth from there to achieve the illumination with the coming of the dawn.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Nilarudra Upanishad, pp.393-396

Salutation to Rudra: a Prayer to Bestow the Blessings of Grace, Not Destruction, on the People

Sri Aurobindo translates Nilarudra Upanishad, First Part, Verses 4-5:  “Salutation to thee who bringeth the world into being, salutation to thee, the passionate with mighty wrath.  Salutation be to thy arms of might, salutation be to they angry shaft.  The arrow thou bearest in thy hand for the hurling, O thou that liest on the mountains, make an arrow of blessing, O keeper of the hills, let it not slay my armed men.”

Sri Aurobindo provides his own commentary on these verses:  “In the fourth verse he salutes the God.  Rudra is the Supreme Ishwara, Creator of the World, He is the dreadful, wrathful and destroying Lord, swift to slay and punish.  … Bhamamanyave … means, one who is full of the passion of violent anger.  Rudra is being saluted as a God of might and wrath, it is therefore to the arms as the seat of strength and the arrow as the weapon of destruction that salutation is made.”

“Rudra is coming in a new form of wrath and destruction in which the Aryans are not accustomed to see him.  Apprehensive of the meaning of this vision, the King summons the people and in assembly prayer is offered to Rudra to avert possible calamity.  The shaft is lifted to be hurled from the bow; it is prayed that it may be turned into a shaft of blessing, not of wrath.  In this verse the Prince prays the God not to slay his men, meaning evidently, the armed warriors of the clan.”

We find here the reaction of the human individual to an overwhelming intensity of vision where the destructive powers of existence are unveiled in their unrestrained might.  Arjuna had a similar experience in the vision he was vouchsafed by Sri Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, and, witnessing the predetermined destruction of the Kuru race in the forthcoming battle, and the power that was making this come to pass, he prayed for Grace and to see the beneficent form once again, as the vision of the  destructive aspect of the creation is overwhelming to the human being who has been granted this vision.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Nilarudra Upanishad, pp.393-396

Nilarudra Upanishad: Rudra the God of Might and Wrath

Sri Aurobindo translates Nilarudra Upanishad, First Part, Verses 1-3:  “OM.  Thee I beheld in thy descending down from the heavens to the earth, I saw Rudra, the Terrible, the azure-throated, the peacock-feathered, as he hurled.  Fierce he came down from the sky, he stood facing me on the earth as its lord, — the people behold a mass of strength, azure-throated, scarlet-hued.  This that cometh is he that destroyeth evil, Rudra the Terrible, born of the tree that dwelleth in the waters; let the globe of the storm winds come too, that destroyeth for thee all things of evil omen.”

The seer of the Upanishad has had a vision of the divine power of destruction which is part of the cycle of birth, life and death that functions to provide opportunity for growth, change and development.  This force, when it manifests, is terrifying and overwhelming to the human being.   We witness the reaction of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita when he is confronted with the vision of the Time-Spirit, the universal destroyer that is wiping away all of the obstacles to the next phase of evolution.

Sri Aurobindo has provided insight to these verses:  “The speaker … records a vision of Rudra descending from the heavens to the earth.  … the image  in which he beheld the Divine Manifestation is described, Rudra, the God of might and wrath, the neck and throat blue, a peacock’s feather as a crest, in the act of hurling a shaft.  … He descended fiercely, that is, with wrath in his face, gesture and motion and stood facing the seer … on the earth and over it, … in a way expressive of command or control. … The people see Rudra as a mass of brilliance, scarlet-ringed and crested with blue, the scarlet in Yoga denoting violent passion of anger or desire, the blue sraddha, bhakti, piety or religion. …  Rudra, whom we know as the slayer of evil, comes.  The Rajarshi describes him as born of the tree that is in the waters.  … The asvattha is the Yogic emblem of the manifested world, as in the Gita, the tree of the two birds in the Shwetashwatara Upanishad, the single tree in the blue expanse of the Song of Liberation.  The jala is the apah or waters from which the world rises.  The Rishi then prays that the  … mass of winds of which Rudra is lord and which in the tempest of their course blow away all calamity, such as pestilence, etc., may come with him.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Nilarudra Upanishad, pp.393-396

Kaivalya Upanishad — the Significance of the First Verse

Sri Aurobindo has translated the first verse of the Kaivalya Upanishad, as well as provided a commentary:  “OM.  Ashwalayana to the Lord Parameshthi came and said, ‘Teach me, Lord, the highest knowledge of Brahman, the secret knowledge ever followed by the saints, how the wise man swiftly putting from him all evil goeth to the Purusha who is higher than the highest.’ ”

This verse is tightly packed with important guidance for the spiritual seeker, as Sri Aurobindo explains in his commentary.  There is specificity as to the type of knowledge sought:  “It is … the best or highest, because it goes beyond the triple Brahman to the Purushottama or Most High God; it is secret, because even in the ordinary teaching of Vedanta, Purana and Tantra it is not expressed, it is always followed by the saints, the initiates.  The santah or saints are those who are pure of desire and full of knowledge, and it is to these that the secret knowledge has been given sada, from the beginning.  He makes his meaning yet clearer by stating the substance of the knowledge — yatha, how, by what means won by knowledge, vidvan, one can swiftly put sin from him and reach Purushottama.”

“There are three necessary elements of the path to Kaivalya, — first, the starting point, vidya, right knowledge, implying the escape from ignorance, non-knowledge and false knowledge; next, the process or means, escape form sarvapapam, all evil, i.e. sin, pain and grief; last, the goal, Purushottama, the Being who is beyond the highest, that is, beyond Turiya being the Highest.  By the escape from sin, pain and grief one attains absolute ananda, and by ananda, the last term of existence, we reach that in which ananda exists.  What is that?  … that which is beyond … good and evil, … calm and chaos, … duality and unity.  Sat, Chit and Ananda are in this Highest, but He is neither Sat, Chit nor Ananda nor any combination of these.  He is all and yet He is neti, neti (not this, not that).  He is One and yet He is many.  He is Parabrahman and He is Parameshwara.  He is Male and He is Female.  He is Tat and He is Sa.  This is the Higher than the Highest.  He is the Purusha, the Being in whose image the world and all the Jivas are made, who pervades all and underlies all the workings of Prakriti as its reality and self.  It is this Purusha that Ashwalayana seeks.”

Several points should be noted.  The term “sin” does not have the same sense as we use it in modern day language.  Sin is anything that disrupts, disturbs the being, distracts or distorts the reality, so that the seeker is unable to focus the attention with a calm, serene and tranquil mind and heart.

The Bhagavad Gita describes the Purushottama as being beyond the Kshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the manifested world) and the Akshara Purusha (the conscious awareness in the Unmanifest).  The Purushottama contains and exceeds, witnesses and sanctions both what is or has been manifested, and that which remains unmanifest, latent and potential, and yet is not bound by either or both of these aspects as He is beyond them.


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kaivalya Upanishad, pp.387-390

Suitability for the Teachings

Sri Aurobindo translates Shwetashwatara Upanishad, Chapter Six, Verses 22-23: “This is the great secret of the Vedanta which was declared in a former time, not on hearts untranquilled to be squandered nor men sonless nor on one who hath no disciples. (Or, Thou shalt not bestow it on a soul untranquillized, nor on the sonless man nor on one who hath no disciple.)  But whosoever hath supreme love and adoration for the Lord and as for the Lord, so likewise for the Master, to that Mighty Soul these great matters when they are told become clear of themselves, yea, to the Great Soul of him they are manifest.”

The teachings are to be given to those who are prepared inwardly to benefit from them.  Planting a seed in rocky ground is not going to be fruitful.  The realized soul who understands, recognizes that without this inner preparation the effort is useless, and it is best not to disturb the balance and focus of those who are still attached to the outer life and its fruits.  At the same time, the spiritual teachings can lead to imbalance if they are taken up by those who do not have the experience and understanding of the outer life of the world, those “sonless” or “without disciple”.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is credited is stating that one should not “throw pearls before swine”, which was his colorful way of describing that the teachings he was propagating should not be placed before “hearts untranqillized”, that is, people who simply were not ready to hear and respond to the teachings.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna makes it clear that it is better for a man to follow an imperfect faith that is suited to his stage of evolutionary growth than to try to follow the faith of another that is not suited to him.  He admonishes not to disturb the faith of an individual unless that individual is ready, able and receptive to taking up a new growth or direction.

The spiritual truths of Oneness, of harmony, of peace, and the experience of infinity, eternity and the sense of timeless presence are covered over by the disturbed energies of desire, attachment and acquisition.  The quiet mind and heart can open with a sense of receptivity to a different order of truth and experience that brings forth the possibility of knowledge by identity.

The Upanishads recognize the need for a rise in Sattwa to counter either the darkness and sloth of Tamas or the hectic, disturbed rush of Rajas, in order to achieve the proper standpoint for spiritual experience.  Sattwa brings with it a calm mind and a heart that is open with love and devotion.

Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Raja Yoga, describes the process of attainment as needing the quieting of the mind-stuff, the chitta, so that the radiance of the Truth may reflect in the still depths of the being.  This is the foundation of the experience of Samadhi.

Spirituality is not a belief.  It is not philosophy, nor religion.  It is the direct experience of the Truth of existence.  The preparation of the being provides the basis for the Grace to act.

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Shwetashwatara Upanishad, pp.369-384