The Spiritual Revolution

Humanity is facing a crisis of existential proportions. Climate change, pollution, income inequality, access to fresh water and food, and the consequences that lead to mass migration, war, and increased risk of pandemic disease vectors all are forcing us to confront our entire way of looking at and thinking about life. We look for solutions through science and technology, through research into the material forces of the universe, through a moral revolution, through religious conversion, or through intellectual plans and ideas, ideologies and creeds for living. Yet we are locked in a nexus of increasingly difficult problems amid unprecedented gridlock as our opposing ideas clash and no one is prepared to give in or find a common ground direction.

A central issue becomes evident through all of this travail; namely, that we look at our lives and the world we live in from the standpoint of our individual egoistic desires and without a true sense of the oneness and interdependence that actually ties all of us together. From this standpoint we try to solve our problems through exercise of power and various attempts to control others to live according to our own preconceived ideas or direction. We treat the world as something external to us, to be seized and exploited for our own comfort or enjoyment, without concern for the needs and balance of Nature and the other beings who share the planet with us, beyond the very specific benefits we share with those who are considered family, friends, immediate community or who share an ideology or faith with us. We actively separate ourselves from others on the basis of various characteristics, skin color, gender identification, racial or ethnic backgrounds, economic systems or religious beliefs, etc. All of this is the function of our mental, vital and physical experience and background thus far in the evolution of consciousness on the planet.

We are surrounded today by crises of an ever-increasing magnitude and they are now overlapping one another as our limitations and standpoint create more disharmony and dislocations. The solution is not to be found in a new ideology, a new philosophy, a new religion, a new economic system, or a new technology. We have had our industrial revolution and our technology revolution and yet the imbalances have only become greater, as these are essentially attempts at solution by the mind acting from our normal vital standpoint. What is required is a radical change in our standpoint based on a new and different experience of our lives. Instead of focusing on the differences and the separation from one another, we need to see and experience our lives as elements of an essential oneness and interdependence. Such a transformation comes about through what Sri Aurobindo calls a spiritual revolution.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral, physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual revolution waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and there. Until it comes the sense of the others cannot be understood and till then all interpretations of present happenings and forecast of man’s future are vain things. For its nature, power, event are that which will determine the next cycle of our humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Inspirational Quote, pg. 1

The Aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching

The evolution of consciousness is not tied to any specific philosophy, religion, creed, sect or teaching. It is a process of Nature and takes place over many millennia generally. The transition from a mental to a supramental level of consciousness is part of this larger movement, but has the opportunity to manifest over a shorter time-span due to the potential self-aware cooperation of individuals who recognise and seek this development.

Sri Aurobindo’s approach does not require anyone to take up or follow a specific doctrine; rather, he outlines the spiritual, mental, emotional, vital and physical changes that are part of this transition and describes various methods, both traditional and modern, that can aid this process. Any individual, regardless of background, can participate in the development of the spiritual foundation and the manifestation of this next phase of evolution. No membership, no doctrinal adherence, no religious affiliation is required, and, indeed, none of these things can actually accomplish the aim. The yoga of knowledge, the yoga of devotion and the yoga of works are three major streams of effort that involve application of various aspects of the human being to achieve certain objectives along the way. The practices contained within these paths are not limited to approaches that term them “yoga”. One can find corresponding practices throughout the world under a variety of names and forms. The important aspect is not the terminology, but the actual practice leading to its intended result.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “This is Sri Aurobindo’s teaching and method of practice. It is not his object to develop any one religion or to amalgamate the older religions or to found any new religion — for any of these things would lead away from his central purpose. The one aim of his yoga is an inner self-development by which each one who follows it can in time discover the One Self in all and evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinise human nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo, pg.. 23

The Role of the Guru in the Integral Yoga

In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo describes the role of the guru at considerable length in the chapter titled “The Four Aids”. Just having the experience and insight available from one who has trod the path is an incalculable benefit to the seeker. But not all benefits are on the surface. The impact of the force of consciousness at play in the presence of a realized soul helps to “tune” the consciousness of the seeker to the new vibrational level to be achieved.

In Tibetan Yoga, there is a concept of “gift waves” of force that the master communicates inwardly to the seeker, thereby supporting the process in a palpable and very concrete manner. While formal instruction and a mental understanding are helpful, the “gift waves” are held to be of the highest benefit.

In his Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda relates numerous experiences of the guidance and blessings he received from his Guru. He openly relates the many difficulties and wrong turns he faced along with the direction provided by the teacher to help him overcome these difficulties and change the wrong turns into useful experience in his path of realization.

A number of yoga traditions describe the direct power of opening of the consciousness that can occur between a guru and a disciple under the term “shaktipat”. Others describe the creation of an atmosphere of ineffable peace or silent pressure in the environment as ways that the guru’s concentration and realisation can be communicated to disciples. Note that wisdom traditions around the world may recognise these phenomena under different names. Even the shaman tradition of the Amazon region recognises the need and benefit of a guide for the Ayahuasca ceremonies.

Some traditions hold that the guru can aid the seeker in other ways. The great yogi of Tibet, Milarepa, had a guru who put him to extreme tests of physical, vital, emotional and mental pressure to help him resolve past karmic bonds.

For the integral yoga, which seeks not simply to find a way to escape the life of the world, but actually transform that life based on the manifestation of a higher level of consciousness, the difficulties the seeker faces are compounded yet further. The vital desire ego has the power to bias the mind in its observations and opinions and thereby help the mind to justify almost anything that pleases the vital. This leads to potentially tragic consequences for the seeker, without the guidance of someone who has faced and understood the pressures exerted by the ego-personality on the understanding of the seeker.

The influence of the master is not solely to help one through difficulties, but to open the gateway and bring forth the pattern of consciousness that draws the seeker towards the light and force that is intended to manifest.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In this discipline the inspiration of the master and, in the difficult stages, his control and his presence are indispensable — for it would be impossible otherwise to go through it without much stumbling and error which would prevent all chance of success. The master is one who has risen to a higher consciousness and being and he is often regarded as its manifestation or representative. He not only helps by his teaching and still more by his influence and example, but by a power to communicate his own experience to others.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo, pg.. 23

The Role of the Traditional Paths of Yoga in the Supramental Transformation Process

The all-embracing transformative process of shifting the standpoint from the ego to the divine, and the shift of the awareness from the physical-vital-mental to the next phase of the evolution of consciousness beyond the mind, requires the taking up and addressing the limitations in every aspect of the being. It is not sufficient to focus on one powerful leverage point and use that to achieve samadhi or nirvana while abandoning the life in the world. Each of the primary traditional paths of yoga latches onto a source of power within the human being to achieve its unique method of liberation and realisation. The yoga of knowledge focuses on the powers of the mental process to distinguish truth from illusion; the yoga of love and devotion focuses on the intensity of the heart’s emotions being channeled towards the divine; and the yoga of works takes the active nature and dedicates all actions to the divine, not the self-aggrandisement or fulfillment of the ego that permeates the normal approach to activity in the world. Other paths of yoga, with their unique focus on physical culture, psycho-spiritual development, and overcoming of ego and desire, all may find a role at some point in the seeker’s practice.

As the focus of the integral yoga practice continues, each aspect of human life, each power of human activity comes to the attention of the seeker at some point. Thus, there may be applications of the principles and methods of any of the specific yogic traditions to address issues that arise. As the focus moves to another aspect, other methods may be called upon to intervene in the ongoing transformational process. There may be periods where meditation, where devotional activities, where dedication of action take the forefront. There may be times when Hathayoga or Rajayoga can aid the immediate process. Pranayama and mantra yoga may at times be called upon to overcome a specific obstacle along the way.

In a yoga that seeks to transform the life of the individual and the collective life of humanity, the path of asceticism cannot be considered as the sole approved direction. The ancient Rishis understood this and cited various examples. The Taittiriya Upanishad discusses the realization of “the veda-wise whose soul the blight of desire touches not.” The king-sage Janaka, from the time of the Ramayana, was revered as someone who maintained his spiritual focus while at the same time administering a kingdom and taking responsibility for the well-being of all the citizens and the kingdom as a whole.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “There are many things belonging to older systems that are necessary on the way – an opening of the mind to a greater wideness and to the sense of the self and the infinite, an emergence into what has been called the cosmic consciousness, mastery over the desires and passions; an outward asceticism is not essential, but the conquest of desire and attachment and control over the body and its needs, greeds, and instincts are indispensable. There is a combination of the principles of the old systems, the way of knowledge through the mind’s discernment between reality and the appearance; the heart’s way of devotion, love and surrender; and the way of works, turning the will away from motives of self-interest to the truth and the service of a greater reality than the ego. For the whole being has to be trained so that it can respond and be transformed when it is possible for that greater light and force to work in the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo, pg.. 23

Inward and Upward: Steps on the Path to the Supramental Transformation

Traditional paths of yoga, with their emphasis on the spiritual unification at the expense of the outer life of the world, can undertake various specific practices to try and “cut the knot” of the difficulties of human life in achieving their one-pointed goal. Sri Aurobindo’s emphasis on a transformation of the life of the individual and his relationship to the world in which he lives, adds complications and complexity that cannot be resolved through any short-cuts. Every aspect of human life, every habit, every limitation of body, life and mind, must eventually be taken up and transformed in the light and under the impulsion of the next evolutionary power to manifest, the supramental force.

Sri Aurobindo describes this as a movement inward, to contact the true soul which is the spark within that is in touch with the divine intention in the manifestation, and then a movement upward to contact and bring down into the being the higher force of the ranges of consciousness above the mental level. We tend to live on the surface of our being in what Sri Aurobindo terms the “desire soul”. This builds itself up around our ego-personality and represents our traditional response to the opportunities presented to us in the worldly life, including satisfaction of our desires, acquisition of power and wealth and adulation. By moving our awareness inward, we can look upon the promptings of the ego and the impulsion of desire as something external to us and can thereby reach the state of calm receptivity and aspiration that arise when one lives in the soul.

Once the seeker has come to this status of realisation, it is then possible for the being to open up to the higher planes of conscious awareness that are preparing to manifest in the earthly life. The supramental plane is several degrees above the mind, so Sri Aurobindo has charted different levels of consciousness between mind and supermind, and identified their salient characteristics.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “This, however, cannot be done at once or in a short time or by any rapid or miraculous transformation. Many steps have to be taken by the seeker before the supramental descent is possible. Man lives mostly in his surface mind, life, and body, but there is an inner being within him with greater possibilities to which he has to awake — for it is only a very restricted influence from it that he receives now and that pushes him to a constant pursuit of a greater beauty, harmony, power and knowledge. The first process of yoga is therefore to open the ranges of this inner being and to live from there outward, governing his outward life by an inner light and force. In doing so he discovers in himself his true soul, which is not this outer mixture of mental, vital, and physical elements, but something of the reality behind them, a spark form the one divine fire. He has to learn to live in his soul and purify and orientate by its drive toward the truth the rest of the nature. There can follow afterwards an opening upward and descent of a higher principle of the being. But even then it is not at once the full supramental light and force. For there are several ranges of consciousness between the ordinary human mind and the supramental Truth-Consciousness. These intervening ranges have to be opened up and their power brought down into the mind, life and body. Only afterwards can the full power of the Truth-Consciousness work in the nature. The process of this self-discipline or sadhana is therefore long and difficult, but even a little of it is so much gained because it makes the ultimate release and perfection more possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo, pp.. 22-23

Conscious Participation in the Evolutionary Process

When we try to measure the time for each evolutionary stage to appear and mature in the world, we wind up speaking about a process that dwarfs our individual life-span and exceeds our imagination based on that life-span. The time required for the necessary conditions in matter to allow for the manifestation of life is billions of years. Again, the time involved for the evolution and stabilization of life from matter is in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years. The stage of the evolution of mind from life is much shorter, but even here, we are talking about millions of years. Each of these stages involved a process of Nature that worked itself out steadily, slowly and with apparent forward movements and retrogressions along the way.

Until the advent of mankind, we know of no species that is both self-aware and capable of both understanding this process and, even, actively participating in it through application of that understanding by the powers that reside within us. Those individuals who have, through the centuries, recognized that there is a greater power and presence, a transcendent consciousness, and a greater significance to life have undertaken numerous forms of action to contact and identify with that greater power and presence. For the most part, these practices have led them away from an active involvement in the world. Clearly the attempt to break free of the binding and gravitational effect of the life of the world requires an intense effort and concentration.

Sri Aurobindo recognises this power of concentration and exercise of will as a mechanism that, together with an effort to contact and bring into one’s life the power of that next stage of consciousness, does not necessarily only lead to our escape from the world, but can act as a bridge to the next phase of evolutionary development, and thereby bring about the uplifting and perfection of the individual as well as the uplifting and increasing perfection of our societal structures and our life in the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But while the former steps in evolution were taken by nature without a conscious will in the plant and animal life, in man nature becomes able to evolve by a conscious will in the instrument. It is not, however, by the mental will in man that this can be wholly done, for the mind goes only to a certain point and after that can only move in a circle. A conversion has to be made, a turning of the consciousness by which mind has to change into the higher principle. This method is to be found through the ancient psychological disciple and practice of yoga. In the past, it has been attempted by a drawing away from the world and a disappearance into the height of the self or spirit. Sri Aurobindo teaches that a descent of the higher principle is possible which will not merely release the spiritual Self out of the world, but release it in the world, replace the mind’s ignorance or its very limited knowledge by a supramental Truth-Consciousness which will be a sufficient instrument of the inner self, and make it possible for the human being to find himself dynamically as well as inwardly and grow out of this still animal humanity into a diviner race. The psychological discipline of yoga can be used to that end by opening all the parts of the being to a conversion or transformation through the descent and working of the higher, still-concealed supramental principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo, pp.. 21-22

Introduction to the Yoga of Self-Perfection

Either explicitly or implicitly, the historical tendency of both yogic disciplines and many religious traditions has been focused on the concept of salvation or liberation, or a reward in some other world after death.  This focus has led to abandonment of any attempt to achieve some kind of perfection here in life, and has led to the split between the “materialist” who believes in the life of the world and its benefits, and the “renunciate” who focuses his attention on salvation at the expense of the life of the world.  It is true that many religious traditions have spoken of the eventual raising up and perfection of the outer life, yet their focus and methods have not found a way to accomplish this and thus, the reward for the religious has been deferred to some other place or circumstance, or, if attempted, it has been done through creation of a uniform religious community following strict guidelines and rules that truncate and suppress various aspects of the human being.

Sri Aurobindo unifies the two extremes in what he calls an omnipresent reality.  The solution lies not in abandonment of life, nor in the immersion in life without concern for spiritual development, but in a spiritual focus that, at the same time, embraces life and works on the perfection and enhancement of the human being and all his instruments of knowledge and action, and thereby the perfection of the society and life of man in the world.

The traditional paths of Yoga can help one attain the liberation and spiritual unity that is a necessary basis for any transformation of the life in the world.  Sri Aurobindo adds the Yoga of self-perfection as the next phase that takes up, for the spiritual being, his human instrument and works to enhance, perfect, and prepare it to receive, hold and express the higher spiritual energies of the next stage of evolution, the supramental force.

Sri Aurobindo writes:  “The divinizing of the normal material life of man and of his great secular attempt of mental and moral self-culture in the individual and the race by this integralization of a widely perfect spiritual existence would thus be the crown alike of our individual and of our common effort.  Such a consummation being no other than the kingdom of heaven without reproduced in the kingdom of heaven without, would be also the true fulfillment of the great dream cherished in different terms by the world’s religions.”

“The widest synthesis of perfection possible to thought is the sole effort worthy of those whose dedicated vision perceives that God dwells concealed in humanity.”

Robert McDermott concludes:  “The key to Sri Aurobindo’s integral vision, then, is the transformation of the lower by the higher reaches of consciousness.  According to Sri Aurobindo’s vision, this transformation, which is the cooperative work of man and the Supermind, is ‘as great as and greater than the change which we suppose evolutionary Nature to have made in its transition from the vital animal to the fully mentalized human consciousness.’  This great change celebrated by Sri Aurobindo and his followers is at once a visionary and a practical message: man can achieve a higher level of life by increased nonattachment, concentration, and liberation.  Further, this achievement is the ultimate goal and value of human and cosmic existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Introduction by Robert McDermott, pp. 13-15

Conclusions

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Truth of philosophy is of a merely theoretical value unless it can be lived, and we have therefore tried in The Synthesis of Yoga to arrive at a synthetical view of the principles and methods of the various lines of spiritual self-discipline and the way in which they can lead to an integral divine life in the human existence.”

When most people take up a book about Yoga, they expect to have a specific line of practice outlined for them to follow.  Sri Aurobindo has, however, taken a radically different approach.  He appreciates that each form or practice of Yoga has its basis in some aspect of the being, and speaks to some part of the Nature.  Thus, while an individual may find a particular path to be useful for progress, it may turn out that at some point, another aspect of the nature needs to be taken up:  this may require a different approach.  Therefore, Sri Aurobindo prefers to set down the principles and major lines of action while providing an overview of the major paths of Yoga, their primary modes of action and the results that can be expected along each of those lines.

Sri Aurobindo also sets forth a different objective than the specific lines of Yoga would propose.   The goal of the Integral Yoga is not simply the liberation of the individual from the round of birth and death, nor the liberation from suffering, nor even the attainment of Oneness with the Absolute in an inactive, silent, formless existence.  He recognizes that all existence is the manifestation of the Divine, and therefore, there is nowhere to escape from and nowhere to escape to!  It is incumbent upon the seeker of the integral Yoga, therefore, to attain liberation from the bondage of the limitations of mind, life and body in order to effectuate the intention of the Divine in the world through the transformation of Nature with the evolutionary development of the supramental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo recognizes that all life is a secret Yoga of Nature, evolving higher forms of conscious awareness from the inconscience of material existence, through the vital manifestation, the development of the mental awareness, and eventually the manifestation of the supermind in life.  This Yoga of Nature takes long aeons.  It is one of the objectives of the integral Yoga to bring about these transformations much more quickly through the conscious and focused participation of the individuals who awaken to this potentiality.

The effort required is all-embracing and must eventually grapple with all parts of the being, all habitual patterns developed over long millenia in the earth-nature, and all resistance caused by mental formations that have been accepted without question as they have taken shape over time.  This leads to the exposition of his own unique contribution to the science of Yoga in the “yoga of self-perfection”.

The Synthesis of Yoga is Sri Aurobindo’s major exposition of the practice of yoga.  With its wide perspective and all-embracing vision, it can aid the practice of any seeker of spiritual realisation.

“Intellectual, volitional, ethical, emotional, aesthetic and physical training and improvement are all so much to the good, but they are only in the end a constant movement in a circle without any last delivering and illumining aim, unless they arrive at a point when they can open themselves to the power and presence of the Spirit and admit its direct workings. This direct working effects a conversion of the whole being which is the indispensable condition of our real perfection. To grow into the truth and power of the Spirit and by the direct action of that power to be made a fit channel of its self-expression, — a living of man in the Divine and a divine living of the Spirit in humanity, — will therefore be the principle and the whole object of an integral Yoga of self-perfection.”  (pg. 592)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga

 

The Ultimate Knowledge of the Three Times Comes With the Supramental Realisation

The development of the intuitive mind, with all its light and power, and its ability to see past, present and future to a far greater degree than the normal human mentality, is still only a transitional phase in the ultimate evolutionary objective towards development of the supramental consciousness in all its fullness.  It remains subject to strict limitations that can only be lifted by the shift in standpoint that accompanies the supramental transformation.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the transitional phase and steps involved, as the supramental action takes on a larger role in the human mentality:  “There is then a double action of the intuitive mind aware of, open to and referring its knowledge constantly to the light above it for support and confirmation and of that light itself creating a highest mind of knowledge, — really the supramental action itself in a more and more transformed stuff of mind and a less and less insistent subjection to mental conditions.  There is thus formed a lesser supramental action, a mind of knowledge tending always to change into the true supermind of knowledge.  The mind of ignorance is more and more definitely excluded, its place taken by the mind of self-forgetful knowledge, illumined by the intuition, and the intuition itself more perfectly organised becomes capable of answering to a larger and larger call upon it.  The increasing mind of knowledge acts as an intermediary power and, as it forms itself, it works upon the other, transforms or replaces it and compels the farther change which effects the transition from mind to supermind.  It is here that a change begins to take place in the time-consciousness and time-knowledge which finds its base and complete reality and significance only on the supramental levels.  It is therefore in relation to the truth of supermind that its workings can be more effectively elucidated: for the mind of knowledge is only a projection and a last step in the ascent towards the supramental nature.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 871-872

Limitations of the Time-Knowledge of the Intuitive Mind

The time knowledge acquired by the intuitive mind is not the complete supramental knowledge of the “three times” *trikaladrishti”, but rather a limited functioning that still relies on focus either backwards, forwards or horizontally in a sequential manner.  There is no immediate and complete “knowledge by identity” but rather, this takes the form of a knowledge that is latent and restored to the seeker through attention when this capacity has been developed.

Sri Aurobindo therefore describes the limitations and concerns related to the use of this faculty: “It will always lean chiefly on the succession of present moments as a foundation for its steps and successions of knowledge, however far it may range backward or forward,– it will move in the stream of Time even in its higher revelatory action and not see the movement from above or in the stabilities of eternal time with their large ranges of vision, and therefore it will always be bound to a secondary and limited action and to a certain dilution, qualification and relativity in its activities.  Moreover, its knowing will be not a possession in itself but a reception of knowledge.  It will at most create in the place of the mind of ignorance a mind of self-forgetful knowledge constantly reminded and illumined from a latent self-awareness and all-awareness.  The range, the extent, the normal lines of action of the knowledge will vary according to the development, but it can never be free from very strong limitations.  And this limitation will give a tendency to the still environing or subconsciously subsisting mind of ignorance to reassert itself, to rush in or up, acting where the intuitive knowledge refuses or is unable to act and bringing in with it again its confusion and mixture and error.”

Avoidance of the development and exercise of this power can protect from the dilution and error that may occur, but for a yoga of self-perfection, the absolute limitation of these developments represents a restriction of the growth.  The seeker must therefore be cognizant of these issues and recognize the potentially mixed and relative action that will occur in this obviously transitional stage of conscious evolution between the human mental functioning and the supramental action.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 870-871