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5th Letter from “The Mother

August 19, 1927

If you want to be a true doer of divine works, your first aim must be to totally free from all desire and self-regarding ego. All your life must be an offering and a sacrifice to the Supreme; your only object in action shall be to serve, to receive, to fulfill, to become a manifesting instrument of the Divine Shakti in her works. You must grow in the divine consciousness till there is no difference between your will and hers, no motive except her impulsion in you, no action that is not her conscious action in you and through you.

Until you are capable of this complete dynamic identification, you have to regard yourself as a soul and body created for her service, one who does all for her sake. Even if the idea of the separate worker is strong in you and you feel that it is you who do the act, yet it must be done for her. All stress of egoistic choice, all hankering after personal profit, all stipulation of self-regarding desire must be extirpated from the nature. There must be no demand for fruit and no seeking for reward; the only fruit for you is the pleasure of the Divine Mother and the fulfilment of her work, your only reward a constant progression in divine consciousness and calm and strength and bliss. The joy of service and the joy of inner growth through works is the sufficient recompense of the selfless worker.

But a time will come when you are more and more of the instrument and not the worker. For first by the force of your devotion your contact with the Divine Mother will become so intimate that at all times you will have only to concentrate and to put everything into her hands to have her present guidance, her direct command or impulse, the sure indication of the thing to be done and the way to do it and the result. And afterwards you will realise that the divine Shakti not only inspires and guides, but initiates and carries out your works; all your movements are originated by her, all your powers are hers, mind, life and body are conscious and joyful instruments of her action, means for her play, moulds for her manifestation in the physical universe. There can be no more happy condition than this union and dependence; for this step carries you back beyond the border-line from the life of stress and suffering and ignorance into the truth of your spiritual being, into its deep peace and its intense Ananda.

While this transformation is being done it is more than ever necessary to keep yourself free from all taint of the perversions of the ego. Let no demand or insistence creep in to stain the purity of the self-giving and the sacrifice. There must be no attachment to the work or the result, no laying down of conditions, no claim to possess the Power that should possess you, no pride of the instrument, no vanity or arrogance. Nothing in the mind or in the vital or physical parts should be suffered to distort to its own use or seize for its own personal and separate satisfaction the greatness of the forces that are acting through you. Let your faith, your sincerity, your purity of aspiration be absolute and pervasive of all planes and layers of the being; then every disturbing element and distorting influence will progressively fall away from your nature.

The last stage of this perfection will come when you are completely identified with the Divine Mother and feel yourself no longer to be another and separate being, instrument, servant or worker but truly a child and eternal portion of her consciousness and force. Always she will be in you and you in her; it will be your constant, simple and natural experience that all your thought and seeing and action, your every breathing or moving come from her and are hers. You will know and see and feel that you are a person and power formed out of herself, put out from her for the play and yet always safe in her, being of her being, consciousness of her consciousness, force of her force, Ananda of her Ananda. When this condition is entire and her supramental energies can freely move you, then you will be perfect in divine works; knowledge, will, action will become sure, simple, luminous, spontaneous, flawless, an outflow from the Supreme, a divine movement of the Eternal.

Some reflections on the chapters on “Divine Maya’ and “Supermind” in Book I of The Life Divine

 

I have a little time now to write something, as promised, directly related to the chapters on “Divine Maya” and “Supermind.”

I think some of you are familiar with Owen Barfield’s “Saving the Appearances”?

In the first chapter, he asks us to consider a rainbow.  We frequently hear that the “rainbow” isn’t “real” (by “real,” meaning, it exists completely independent of any kind of mind or consciousness), that a rainbow is “really” nothing but the outcome of the interaction of sun, water vapor and human perception.

 

He goes on to say, now let’s consider a tree. As experienced, is it really any different from the rainbow?  All that we directly know of a tree – the brownish or grayish color, the solidity, the movement of leaves, etc – is similarly, the outcome of light and perception.  Without those two, there is nothing left of the “tree experience.”

“But you can’t be saying that the tree wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for your mind?”

No, this is where you have to be VERY VERY careful, or you’ll fall into solipsism (remember the professor who announced, at a talk, that he was a solipsist?  A woman in the audience shouted out, “Thank God!  I thought I was the only one!!”)

 

If you don’t go even one tiny step beyond what Barfield is saying, he is VERY careful to say, “I’m not making any statement about what is “really” there – only about what we know about what is “there.”

 

Alan Wallace has a wonderful passage in which he says, (paraphrasing), consider the typical description of the beginning of the universe, explosions of stars, all kinds of reds and oranges and yellows, but then consider again – without some sort of perceiving activity, there is no red, nothing remotely like what we may think of when we see or hear an “explosion”, no orange, no yellow, no sounds – a Whitehead says, without experiencing, there is nothing, nothing, bare nothingness.

 

As Rupert Spira says, all we know, we know through experience.
What Sri Aurobindo refers to as the “lower maya,” – “Avidya” in traditional Sanskrit – is simply this tendency of our mind to take the experienced tree, or cup, or stone, or planet as something that exists entirely apart from any mind or consciousness whatsoever, There can never be, by definition, any empirical evidence of such a thing, because as soon as you present evidence for it, you are implicitly bringing some kind of awareness to the evidence (this is a tricky one to talk about – Paul Brunton spends several chapters in “The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga” making this point).

 

The “Higher Maya” is the creative power of what I’ll call for now, AWARENESS,”  a power (Chit-Shakti or Consciousness-Force – for Geoffrey, that’s a “conscious” force or intentional, intelligent force, rather dramatically different from what physicists mean by the word) that creates “real” forms, not merely illusory ones.  In this view, the Divine is just as much present in the rich diversity of the universe as in the utter Silence of the transcendent.

 

Finally, Sri Aurobindo says, “mind” – if we mean by that, essentially, a primarily differentiating power of Awareness, does not have the capacity to “hold together” the Infintie and the infinitely diverse manifestation. For that, a greater power of knowing, intelligence, willing, etc is needed – that superior knowing, intelligent, willing – is the Supramental.

 

People get confused by the word “supramental” (not a word I’m crazy about!:>) thinking, unwittingly that it’s some kidn of “Supermind” – that is, a mind raised to an almost unthinkable (pun intended) intensity. But it’s not “mind” at all. Neither is it the Absolute, as Wilber frequently asserts. It is “between” (if that makes any sense at all; it really doesn’t but we must use words, so) the “lower” world of mind, life and matter, and the “upper” world of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss.”

At some point on this infinite conversations forum, I’m going to make more of an effort to put this in middle school language, but obviously I haven’t succeeded yet. You’ll have to buy our e-course to see that (oops, sorry, commercial break:>))

Critiques of Sri Aurobindo (for the Infinite Conversations group)

I’ve mostly been writing extremely positive things about Sri Aurobindo, which may, me being a newbie here, convey a certain, well, one might say, “cultishness.” I’m guessing that whaever familiarity any of you have with Sri Aurobindo, you may not be well versed in the critiques of him, excepting maybe Wilber’s. So I thought, well, one way to get what he IS saying, one way to “listen with a third ear,” to enter into “alternate ways of knowing,” is to consider in some depth what may be wrong with what Sri Aurobindo writes – or at least, what some have felt is profoundly wrong.

So I offer several (I’m going to post this on my blog so it won’t get lost in the shuffle – I think it could be helpful, or at least, fun) – from the most severe, which I think would be Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s perennialist/Advaitin critique and the materialist/physicalist critiques, to the most mild, which would probably be Wilber’s metaphysical critique (and perhaps some comments from Eric and Debashish).

So, here goes:

  1. Nasr and the perennialists (note – the perennialists generally believe that it is a universal understanding among sages, mystics and contemplatives over the past several thousand years that the physical world we can perceive with our senses is only the most superficial, least causally effective, and in some senses, most illusory of a vast network of interconnecting planes of existence): “Sri Aurobindo’s writings represent the most severe manifestation of the general darkness and ignorance of the Kali Yuga. He has completely inverted the deepest spiritual understanding, which is that the essence of Divinity is found in transcendence, and any process of “evolution” is one that occurs purely on a vertical access. What he has done, under the influence of the materialistic and perverted Darwinian theory of evolution, is to invert the vertical and laid it out in horizontal, purely illusory, physical time. He has materialized in the grossest, most unspiritual fashion, all of the planes of the spiritual hierarchy and from sheer desire and moha (“attachment”) he has become obsessed with the idea of physical immortality. His entire philosophic output consists of profoundly confused, irrational and ultimately incoherent “ideas” (“ideas” for want of a better term) which are almost the direct opposite of any genuine spiritual teaching.” You can add to this the critique of phenomenologist Herbert Guenther, who wrote that not only was Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy hopelessly corrupted by the materialist leanings he picked up from Darwin, it was hopelessly influence by the extremely naïve, radical dualism of the Sankhya, which divided the world into Spirit and Nature.
  2. The physicalists. “While there may be some useful phenomenological descriptions and insights in Sri Aurobindo’s writings (though these have probably been superseded by the much richer and more complex phenomenology of meditation research over the past 20 years), his ontological claims regarding levels of being, Supramental Force, spiritual evolution, etc are obviously nonsensical and unscientific. Therefore, given the essentially irrational nature of his writings, and at times, the grandiosity and absurd paranormal claims, along with the much superior phenomenological data of recent research, it would be better if Sri Aurobindo’s writings were relegated to an interesting episode in the past, but not much more. “
  3. The standard Advaita Vedanta critique. “Sri Aurobindo has failed to understand the nature of the Brahman (and, from the Buddhist side, has “vedantized” the notion of Nirvana as well, and overly objectified the concept of Sunyata). He does not understand that the “illusory” nature of manifestation does not mean that it does not exist, but that it is thoroughly a misinterpretation of the Brahman. There is no actual, real evolution, and the only purpose of the manifestation is to awaken. There is no possibility of eliminating good and evil, any more than there is of light and shadow, as such dualities are necessary for any manifestation. His understanding fo the Supermind as some sort of integrating factor which can allow the full manifestation of the infinite in the finite world is a fundamental misunderstanding of the most basic philosophy – if the infinite manifested completely in the finite world, it would simply abolish the universe. “
  4. OSHO: “Sri Aurobindo had no spiritual awareness, no spiritual vision, but was simply an intellectual. All of his complex writings are full of non sequitors, useless repettions, and vast numbers of words for things which would be stated simply and wisely in one sentence (as nondualist James Swartz said, “I have been tortured by Sri Aurobindo”). His awkward neologisms only serve to emphasize his lack of spiritual insight and his rather grandiose egoistic attitude toward his intellectual prowess – such as it is”
  5. Peter Heehs, as interpreted by the Sri Aurobindo Ashramities who want his book banned: “Sri Aurobindo was obsessed all of his life with dealing with his bipolar or possibly schizophrenic mother. His obsession with “THE” Mother stems from this. Furthermore, his mistreatment in England, particularly during his college years when his father sent little or no money and he was nearly starving, contributed toward the vehemence of his resentment toward England. When he couldn’t succeed as a terrorist against the British Empire, he retired into a fantasy world, imagining in a grandiose manner that he himself was responsible through his “psychic” experiments of putting out the “Force” for things ranging from the content of Churchill’s speeches to victories at war.”
  6. Ken Wilber “Though Sri Aurobindo was certainly a sage, he was not the greatest sage of his time; that was Ramana Maharshi. Sri Aurobindo had the benefit of the psychological knowledge of his time, but he knew nothing of the dynamic unconscious, focused primarily on the inner individual rather than the outer physical world, inner collective culture and outer institutions. He was a modernist, taking naively the world as given rather than understanding that whatever is said of the world is simply from a particular perspective. He also appeared to make some racist comments but was probably (possibly?) simply using the language of the day which now seems outdated and prejudiced. He also did not have the benefit of modern developmental psychology, so he understood very little of developmental stages, and knew little if anything about lines of development. “
  7. Eric Weiss: (Eric ,you can tell me if I’ve represented your critique correctly): “While Sri Aurobindo has many profound things to say, one of the things that most negatively affects his view is his naïve, philosophically uninformed view of “substance.” He was not aware of Whitehead’s critique of the Cartesian notion of substance, and the relatively static view of substance found in much of Sri Aurobindo’s work, particularly in the Life Divine, represents a fundamental conflict with the more “process” view Sri Aurobindo presents of evolution. This is a problem throughout his philosophic and even yogic writings, and the alert reader needs to attend to this in order to take what is valuable from his work and leave behind what is not.
  8. Debashish Banerji: “Unfortunately, Sri Aurobindo had to make use of the language of his time, and in speaking of “Consciousness as the fundamental thing in the universe,” he was making use of a rather naïve form of American and German philosophic idealism. If he had had the benefit of knowing the French deconstructionists, he could have offered a more philosophically and scientifically informed vision.”

Development and the True Individual

From Satprem, “The Adventure of Consciousness, Chapter 5

 

Chapter 5
Consciousness

A disciple once had to make a critical decision. He wrote to Sri Aurobindo for advice and was quite puzzled when he was told to make his decision from the “summit” of his consciousness.” He was a Westerner and wondered what on earth this could mean. Was this “summit of consciousness” a special way of thinking very intensely, a sort of enthusiasm produced when the brain warms up? For this is the only kind of “consciousness” we know in the West. For us, consciousness is always a mental process: “I think, therefore I am.” Such is our own particular bias; we place ourselves at the center of the world and bestow the gift of consciousness upon all those who share our way of being and perceiving things. Not so long ago, we marveled that one could be Persian. However, if we want to understand and discover what consciousness truly is, and utilize it, we must indeed go beyond this narrow perspective. After having attained a certain degree of mental silence, Sri Aurobindo was able to make the following observations: Mental consciousness is only the human range which no more exhausts all the possible ranges of consciousness than human sight exhausts all the gradations of color or human hearing all the gradations of sound – for there is much above or below that is to man invisible and inaudible. So there are ranges of consciousness above and below the human range, with which the normal human has no contact and they seem to it unconscious, – supramental or overmental and submental ranges….42 What we call unconsciousness is simply other-consciousness…. We are really no more unconscious when we are asleep or stunned or drugged or “dead” or in any other state, than when we are plunged in inner thought oblivious of our physical selves and our surroundings. For anyone who has advanced even a little way in Yoga, this is a most elementary proposition. And Sri Aurobindo adds: As we progress and awaken to the soul in us and things, we shall realize that there is a consciousness also in the plant, in the metal, in the atom, in electricity, in everything that belongs to physical nature; we shall find even that it is not really in all respects a lower or more limited mode than the mental; on the contrary, it is in many “inanimate” forms more intense, rapid, poignant, though less evolved towards the surface.43 The task of the beginning yogi is therefore to become conscious in every way, at all the levels of his being and all the degrees of universal existence, not just mentally; to become conscious in himself and in others and in all things, while awake and in sleep; and finally, to learn to become conscious in what people call “death,” because, to the extent that we have been conscious in our life, we shall be conscious in our death.

But we do not have to take Sri Aurobindo’s word for it. On the contrary, he strongly urges us to see for ourselves. We must therefore strive to unravel that in us which connects all our modes of being – sleep, waking and “death” – and enables us to come into contact with other forms of consciousness.

The Centers of Consciousness

Pursuing our experimental method based on mental silence, we are led to several discoveries that will gradually put us on the track. First, we see the general confusion in which we live slowly settle; more and more clearly, strata will appear in our being as if we were made up of separate fragments, each with its own individual personality and specific center, and, what is more, with its own life independent of the others. This polyphony (or, rather, cacophony) is generally masked from us by the voice of the mind, which drowns out and appropriates everything. There is not a single movement of our being, at any level, not a single emotion, not a single desire, not the batting of an eyelash, that is not instantly snatched up by the mind and covered over with a layer of thought; in other words, we mentalize everything. This is the great purpose of the mind in evolution: it helps bring to our conscious surface all the movements of our being that would otherwise remain as a formless subconscious or superconscious magma. It also helps us establish some semblance of order in this anarchy by organizing all these tiny feudal states under its sovereignty. But, in so doing, it veils from us their voices and true workings; there is only one step from sovereignty to tyranny. The supermental mechanisms are totally obstructed; or if something of the superconscious voices manages to get through, it is immediately distorted, diluted, and obscured. Similarly, the submental mechanisms become atrophied, depriving us of spontaneous senses that were very useful at an earlier stage of our evolution and could still be. Other minorities of our being line up in rebellion, while still others secretly accumulate their little power, waiting for the first opportunity to fly in our faces. But the seeker who has silenced his mind will begin to discern all these states in their bare reality, without their mental veneer; he will feel, at various levels of his being, certain centers of concentration, or nodes of force, each with its own particular vibratory quality or frequency. We have all experienced, at least once in our lives, vibrations radiating at different levels of our being and with different densities; a great revelatory vibration, for example, when a veil seems to be suddenly rent and we are shown a whole vision of truth, without words, without our even knowing exactly what the revelation consists of; something simply vibrates, which makes the world inexplicably wider, lighter, and clearer; or heavier vibrations of anger or fear, vibrations of desire, vibrations of sympathy. Thus, there is in us an entire gamut of vibratory nodules or centers of consciousness,44 each specialized in a specific type of vibration, which can be distinguished and perceived directly according to the degree of our silence and the acuity of our perceptions. The mind is only one of these centers, one type of vibration, one of the forms of consciousness, though it seeks to take first place.

We will not dwell here on the description of these centers as tradition refers to them, for it is better to experience things oneself rather than to talk about them, nor will we discuss their positions in the body; the seeker will feel them himself without any difficulty as soon as he becomes a little clear. Suffice it to say that these centers (called Chakras in India) are not located in our physical body but in another dimension, though their concentration may at times become so intense that we have an acute, localized physical sensation. Some of them, though not all, are in fact quite close to the body’s nervous plexuses. Roughly speaking, there are seven centers distributed in four zones: (1) The Superconscient, with one center slightly above the top of the head,45 which controls our thinking mind and communicates with higher mental realms: illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind, etc. (2) The Mind, with two centers: one between the eyebrows, which controls the will and dynamism of our mental activity (it is also the center of subtle vision, the “third eye” certain traditions speak of); the other, at throat level, controls all the forms of mental expression. (3) The Vital, with three centers: one at heart level, which controls our emotional being (love, hatred, etc.); the second at the level of the navel, which controls our impulses for domination, possession and conquest, as well as our ambitions, etc.; and a third, the lower vital, between the navel and the sex center, at the level of the mesenteric plexus, which controls the lowest vibrations: jealousy, envy, desire, greed, anger. (4) The Physical and the Subconscient,46 with a center at the base of the spine, which controls our physical being and sexual impulses; this center also opens up to the subconscious regions farther below.

Generally, in a “normal” man, these centers are asleep or closed, or they only let through whatever small current is necessary for his limited existence; he is truly confined in himself and communicates only indirectly with the outside world, in a very narrow range; in fact, he does not see other people or things but himself in others, himself in things, himself in everything, interminably. With yoga, the centers open. They can open in two ways: from bottom to top or from top to bottom, depending on whether we practice traditional yogic and spiritual methods, or Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. As mentioned earlier, through concentration and exercises, we can eventually feel a Force awakening at the bottom of the spine and ascending from level to level up to the top of the head, with an undulating movement, just like a snake. At each level this Force pierces(rather violently) through the corresponding center, which opens up, thereby putting us in contact with all the universal vibrations or energies associated with the frequency of that particular center. With Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, the descending Force opens the same centers, slowly and gently, from top to bottom. Often, the lower centers do not even fully open until much later. This process has a distinct advantage if we appreciate that each center corresponds to a universal mode of consciousness or energy. To open the lower vital or subconscious centers at the beginning is to run the risk of being flooded not only by our own small personal problems, but by torrents of universal mud; we are automatically in contact with the confusion and mud of the world. This is why traditional yogas require the protective presence of a Master. With the descending Force this danger is avoided; we confront the lower centers only after our being is firmly established in the higher, superconscious light. Once the seeker controls his centers, he begins to know things and beings, the world and himself, as they really are, for he is no longer receiving external signs, dubious words or gestures – the charade of the confined man or the closed face of things – but the pure vibration at each level, in each thing and each being, which nothing can disguise.

But our foremost discovery concerns ourselves. If we follow a discipline similar to that described for mental silence, and remain perfectly transparent, we will soon notice that not only mental vibrations come from outside before entering our centers, but everything comes from outside: the vibrations of desire, of joy, of will, etc. From top to bottom, our being is a receiving station: Truly, we do not think, will or act but thought occurs in us, will occurs in us, impulse and act occur in us.47 If we say: “I think, therefore I am,” or “I feel, therefore I am,” or “I want, therefore I am,” we are like a child who believes that the disc jockey or the orchestra is hidden in the radio set and that TV is a thinking medium. Indeed, none of these I’s is ourselves, nor do they belong to us, for their music is universal.

The Frontal Being

Nonetheless, we might be tempted to protest that these are our feelings, our pains, our desires; this is our own sensitive nature, not some kind of telegraphic machinery! True, it is our nature, in the sense that we have grown accustomed to responding to certain vibrations rather than to others, to being moved or pained by certain things rather than by others; and this set of habits has, apparently, crystallized into a personality we call our “self.” Yet, if we look more closely, we can hardly say that it is “we” who have acquired all these habits. Our environment, our education, our atavism, our traditions have made the choice for us. At every instant they choose what we want or desire, what we like or dislike. It is as if life took place without us. When does a real “I” burst forth in all this? Universal Nature, Sri Aurobindo wrote, deposits certain habits of movement, personality, character, faculties, dispositions, tendencies in us, and that is what we usually call ourselves.48 Nor can we say that this “self” has any true fixity: The appearance of stability is given by constant repetition and recurrence of the same vibrations and formations,4 because it is always the same wavelengths that we pick up or, rather, that picks us up, consistent with the laws of our environment or education; it is always the same mental, vital or other vibrations that return through our centers, and that we appropriate automatically, unconsciously, and endlessly. In reality, everything is in a state of constant flux, and everything comes to us from a mind vaster than ours (a universal mind), a vital vaster than ours (a universal vital), from lower subconscious regions, or from higher superconscious ones. Thus this small frontal being49 is surrounded, overhung, supported, pervaded by and set in motion by a whole hierarchy of “worlds,” as ancient wisdom well knew: “Without effort one world moves in the other,” says the Rig Veda (II.24-5), or, as Sri Aurobindo says, by a gradation of planes of consciousness, which range without break from pure Spirit to Matter, and are directly connected to each of our centers. Yet we are conscious only of some bubbling on the surface.50

What remains of ourselves in all this? Not much, to tell the truth, or everything, depending on which level we focus our consciousness.

The Individualization of Consciousness

We are beginning to have an idea of what consciousness is and to sense that it is everywhere in the universe, at every level, with corresponding centers in ourselves, but we have not yet found “our” consciousness – perhaps because consciousness is not something to be found ready-made, but something to kindle like a fire. At certain privileged moments in our existence, we have felt something like a warmth in our being, a kind of inner impetus or vivid energy that no words can describe, no reason can explain, because it arises from nowhere, without cause, naked like a need or a flame. Our childhood often bears witness to this pure enthusiasm, this inexplicable nostalgia; but soon we grow out of adolescence. The mind seizes upon this force as it does with everything else and covers it with pretentious, idealistic words; it channels it into a physical undertaking, a job, or a church. Or else the vital captures it and daubs it with more or less lofty sentiments – unless it uses it for some personal adventure, or for domination, conquest or possession. In some cases, this force gets bogged down even lower. And sometimes everything is swallowed up, such that only a diminutive shadow remains beneath an onerous burden. But the seeker who has silenced his mind and no longer falls prey to ideas, who has quieted his vital being and is no longer overcome and scattered at every instant by the great confusion of feelings and desires, discovers in the newly acquired clarity of his nature something like a new youth, a new and unrestrained impetus. As his concentration grows stronger through his “active meditations,” through his aspiration and need, he will feel this impetus begin to acquire a life of its own within him: “It widens, bringing out that which lives,” says the Rig Veda (I.113-8), “awakening someone who was dead.” He will feel it assume an increasingly distinct consistency, an ever denser strength and, above all, an independence, as if there were both a force and a being within his own being. He will notice, first in his passive meditations (when he is quiet, at home, his eyes closed), that this force in him has mass, varying intensity, and movement, that it moves up and down inside him as if it were fluid – much like the shifting of a living substance. These movements inside him can even be powerful enough to bend his body as the force descends, or to straighten it and draw it backward as it rises. In our active meditations, in daily external life, this force inside is more diluted and feels like a tiny muffled vibration in the background, as we have said earlier; further, we feel it not only as an impersonal force but as a presence, a being in our depths, as if we had a support, something giving us solidity and strength, almost like an armor, as well as a serene outlook on the world. With this imperceptible vibration inside, we are invulnerable, and we are no longer alone. It is there in all circumstances, all the time. It is warm, intimate, strong. Strangely enough, once we have found it, we find the same thing everywhere, in all beings and in all things; we can communicate directly, as if everything were the same, without separation. We have touched something within us that is not the mere puppet of universal forces, not the narrow and dry “I think, therefore I am,” but the fundamental reality of our being, our true self, true center, warmth and being, consciousness and force.51

As this inner urge or force takes on a distinct individuality, as it grows as indeed a child grows, the seeker will become aware that it does not move at random, as he had thought at first, but converges at certain points of his being, depending upon his current activity, and is in fact behind each of the centers of consciousness: behind the mental centers when we think, assert a will or express something; behind the vital centers when we feel, suffer or desire; or farther down or farther up. That force actually becomes aware of things; all the centers, including the mind, are only its openings on the different levels of universal reality, its instruments of transcription and expression. It is the traveller of the worlds,52 the explorer of the planes of consciousness; it connects our various modes of being together, from waking to sleep to death, when the small outer mind is no longer there to inform or guide us; it pervades the entire range of universal existence and communicates everywhere.

In other words, we have discovered consciousness. We have isolated what in ordinary man is constantly mixed with other things, dispersed, entangled in his endless mental or sensory activities. Instead of being forever positioned somewhere between the abdomen and the forehead, we are now able to shift our consciousness to deeper or higher regions, inaccessible to the mind and our sense organs; for consciousness is not a way of thinking or feeling (or at least not just that), but a power to come in contact with the multitude of gradations of existence, either visible or invisible. The more our consciousness develops, the greater its range of action and the number of gradations it can reach. We will also find that this consciousness is independent of the thoughts, feelings, and desires of our small frontal being; it is independent of the mind, of the vital being, and even of the physical body; in certain particular conditions, which we will discuss later, it can even go outside the body to have its own experiences. Our body, our thoughts, our desires are only a thin layer of our total existence.

Consciousness-Force, Consciousness-Joy

When we discover consciousness, we find it is a force. Remarkably, we even start noticing it as a current or inner force before realizing it is a consciousness. Consciousness is force, consciousness-force, as Sri Aurobindo calls it, for the two terms are truly inseparable and interchangeable. The ancient wisdom of India knew this well, and never spoke of consciousness, Chit, without adjoining to it the term Agni, heat, flame, energy: Chit-Agni (sometimes also called Tapas, a synonym of Agni: Chit-Tapas). The Sanskrit word for spiritual or yogic discipline is tapasya, that which produces heat or energy, or, more correctly, consciousness-heat or consciousness-energy. Agni, or Chit-Agni, is the same everywhere. We speak of descending or ascending Force, of inner force, of mental, vital, or material force, but there are not a hundred different kinds of forces; there is only one Force in the world, a single current that circulates through us as it circulates through all things, and takes on one attribute or another, depending upon the particular level of its action. Our electric current can light up a tabernacle or a bar, a schoolroom or a restaurant; it is still the same current, though it illuminates different objects. So too, this Force, this Warmth, Agni, is till the same whether it animates or illuminates our inner recesses, our mental factory, our vital theater, or our material lair; depending on the level, it takes on a more or less intense light, heavier or lighter vibrations: superconscious, mental, vital, physical, but it does link everything together, animates everything. It is the fundamental substance of the universe: Consciousness-Force, Chit-Agni.

While consciousness is a force, the reverse is also true: force is consciousness; all the forces are conscious.53Universal Force is universal Consciousness. This is what the seeker discovers. After coming in contact with the current of consciousness-force in himself, he can attune himself to any plane of universal reality, at any point, and perceive or understand the consciousness there, and even act upon it, since the same current of consciousness is everywhere with only different modes of vibration, whether in a plant or in the thoughts of a human mind, whether in the luminous superconscient or the instincts of an animal, whether in metal or in our deepest meditations. If a piece of wood were not conscious, no yogi could displace it through concentration, because there would be no possibility of contact with it. If a single point of the universe were totally unconscious, the whole universe would be totally unconscious, because there cannot be two things. With Einstein we have learned – a great discovery indeed – that Matter and Energy are interchangeable: E=mc2 ; Matter is condensed Energy. We must now discover experientially that this Energy, or Force, is Consciousness, that Matter too is a form of consciousness, just as the Mind is a form of consciousness, and the Vital and Superconscient are other forms of consciousness. Once we find this Secret – consciousness in force – we will have the true, and direct, mastery of material energy. But we are merely rediscovering very ancient truths; four thousand years ago the Upanishads knew that Matter is condensed Energy, or rather condensed Consciousness-Energy: “By energism of Consciousness54 Brahman is massed; from that Matter is born and from Matter Life and Mind and the worlds.” (Mundaka Upanishad I.1.8)

All here is Consciousness, because all is Being or Spirit. All is Chit, because all is Sat – Sat-Chit – at every level of Its own manifestation. The history of our earthly evolution is nothing but a slow conversion of Force into Consciousness or, more exactly, a slow remembering of Itself by the Consciousness buried in its own Force. During the primary stages of evolution, the consciousness of the atom, for example, is absorbed in its whirling, as the consciousness of a potter is absorbed in the pot he is making, oblivious to everything else, as the plant is absorbed in its photosynthesis, as our own consciousness can be absorbed in a book or a desire, oblivious to all the other levels of its own reality. All evolutionary progress is ultimately measured by the capacity to extricate and free the element of consciousness from its element of force – this is what is meant by “individualization of consciousness.” At the spiritual or yogic stage of evolution, consciousness is completely freed, released from its mental, vital, and physical turmoil; it is its own master and can move through the entire range of vibrations of consciousness, from the atom to the Spirit; the Force has totally become Consciousness, totally remembered Itself. Finally, to remember oneself is to remember everything, because it is the Spirit in us remembering the Spirit in everything.

Simultaneously, as the Force regains its Consciousness, it regains the mastery of its force and of all forces; because to be conscious is to have power. Neither the whirling atom nor the man treading the biological rut and laboring in his mental factory has any control over the mental, vital, or atomic forces: they merely go round and round. At the conscious stage, by contrast, we are free and in control of our actions, verifying tangibly that consciousness is a force, a substance, which can be handled as one handles hydroxides or electric fields: If one becomes aware of the inner consciousness, wrote Sri Aurobindo, one can do all sorts of things with it, send it out as a stream of force, erect a circle or wall of consciousness around oneself, direct an idea so that it shall enter somebody’s head in America, etc. etc.55 He further explains: The Invisible Force producing tangible results both inward and outward is the whole meaning of the Yogic consciousness…. If we had not had thousands of experiences showing that the Power within could alter the mind, develop its powers, add new ones, bring in new ranges of knowledge, master the vital movements, change the character, influence men and things, control the conditions and functionings of the body, work as a concrete dynamic Force on other forces, modify events… we would not speak of it as we do. Moreover, it is not only in its results but in its movements that the Force is tangible and concrete. When I speak of feeling Force or Power, I do not mean simply having a vague sense of it, but feeling it concretely and consequently being able to direct it, manipulate it, watch its movements, be conscious of its mass and intensity and in the same way as of other opposing forces.56 Later we will see that Consciousness can act upon Matter and transform it. This ultimate conversion of Matter into Consciousness, and perhaps one day even of Consciousness into Matter, is the aim of the supramental yoga, which we will discuss later. There are many degrees of development of the consciousness-force, from the seeker or aspirant just awakening to his inner need, to the yogi; even among yogis there are many degrees – that is where the true hierarchy begins.

There remains a final equivalence. Not only is consciousness force, not only is consciousness being, but consciousness is also joy, Ananda – Consciousness-Joy, Chit-Ananda. To be conscious is joy. When consciousness is released from the thousands of mental, vital or physical vibrations in which it was buried, we awaken to joy. The whole being is in effect filled with a mass of vibrant, crystalline, motionless, aimless force (“like a well-shaped pillar,” as the Rig Veda says, V.45) – pure consciousness, pure force, pure joy, for it is all the same thing – a concrete joy, a vast and peaceful substance of joy, which seems to have neither beginning nor end nor reason, and seems to be everywhere, in all things and beings, as their secret foundation and secret need to grow. No one wants to give up life because this joy is there – everywhere. It needs nothing to exist; it is, irrefutably, like a bedrock throughout time and space, like a smile behind everything. There lies the entire Riddle of the universe. That’s all there is. An imperceptible smile – a mere nothing that is everything. All is Joy because all is the Spirit which is Joy, Sat-Chit-Ananda. Existence-Consciousness-Joy – the eternal trinity that is the universe, and which we are, the secret we must discover and live through the long evolutionary journey. “From Delight all these beings are born, by Delight they exist and grow, to Delight they return.” (Taittiriya Upanishad, III.6)

June 17, 2018, The Essence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s “Integral Yoga.”

  Over the years, I’ve found that having a set of inspiring quotations to look at first thing in the morning, and occasionally throughout the day, has been a great support for contemplative practice.

Usually, I find the quotations maintain their inspiring power over a period of several months.  In the summer of 2017, I put the quotations below together, and to my surprise, they retain the same power to inspire as they did back then.

The top two quotations are “mantras” that Sri Aurobindo created at the request of his disciples.

The next four are quotations from “The Yoga of Works,” a section of his book “The Synthesis of Yoga.”  The final 3 are taken from “Letters on Yoga.”  For me, the first 4 are reminders of the all-pervading Presence of Divinity, the Divinity within which all exists, and the Divinity which is within all. Reading them, taking them in, opens for me a sense of that spacious, boundless Presence, and brings with it a solid, almost palpable sense of Peace and quiet Joy.  This is, in my understanding, the best foundation for the opening to the “Shakti” or “Force,” described in the last 3 quotations, which is the fundamental practice of Integral Yoga.

 

FIRST MANTRA

 

In the night as in the day, be always with me. 

In waking as in sleep, let me feel in me the reality of Thy Presence.

Let it sustain and make to grow in me Truth, Consciousness and Bliss,

 constantly and at all times.

 

SECOND MANTRA

 

Open my mind, my heart, my life to Your Light, Your Love, your Power.

  In all things may I see the Divine….  

 

“PRACTICING THE PRESENCE” (from “Synthesis of Yoga”)

There must awake in us a constant indwelling and enveloping nearness, a vivid perception, a close feeling and communion, a concrete sense and contact of a true and infinite Presence always and everywhere.

[The true and infinite] Presence must remain with us as the living, pervading Reality in which we and all things exist and move and act, and we must feel it always and everywhere, concrete, visible, inhabiting all things.

[The] infinite and eternal Self of things is an omnipresent Reality, one existence everywhere; it is a single unifying presence and not different in different creatures; it can be met, seen or felt in its completeness in each soul or each form in the universe.

The knowledge or experience of [the Self] can begin anywhere and express itself through anything; for the Divine is in all, and all is the Divine.

 

OPENING TO THE SHAKTI

The object of the self-opening is to allow the force of the Divine to flow in bringing light, peace, Ananda, etc.   In this yoga all depends on whether one can open to the Influence or not…

Call the presence and power of the Mother to take up the being and transform the consciousness;   When the mind falls quiet and the concentration becomes strong and the aspiration intense, there is a beginning of experience. The more the faith, the more rapid the result is likely to be. 

To be able to receive the Divine Power and let it act through you, there are three conditions: (i) Quietude, equality — not to be disturbed by anything that happens, to keep the mind still and firm, tranquil. (ii) Absolute faith — faith that what is for the best will happen, [with] one’s will guided by the Divine Light   (iii) Receptivity — the power to receive the Divine Force and to feel its presence guiding one’s sight and will and action.

Book proposal for the Infinity foundation: Tuning the Finite to Infinity

Tuning the Finite to Infinity: The Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo
By Don Salmon

Initial Draft of Book Proposal:
Overview of Book and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

A note regarding the use of the phrases “Integral Psychology” and “Indian Psychology” in this book.

The word “integral” has become very popular in recent years; Swiss German cultural-historian Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness” has become something of a buzzword in “new paradigm” circles. There are now at least three different (and somewhat conflicting) versions of “integral psychology” (Indra Sen’s, Haridas Chaudauri’s, and Ken Wilber’s); and the integrative psychotherapy movement, growing rapidly since the late 1980s, already has a number of small battles over whose version of integration is the best.

Arnold Lazarus, a behavioral therapist, points out that the cure has been worse than the disease. The impetus behind developing integral psychology and integrative psychotherapy was to somehow manage and hopefully reduce the proliferation of conflicting schools and branches of psychology; now we have a proliferation of “integral” schools which compete amongst themselves to see who can integrate more (a contradiction of the whole notion of integrality!).

Several years ago, I decided to drop the label “integral” in “integral psychology”, out of concern that I would be contributing to the fragmentation which already bedevils the field. However, since Ken Wilber has published his very popular volume entitled, “Integral Psychology”, I have decided I would like in some way to let people know of the long association the phrase has had with the Integral Yoga. In particular, I wanted to honor the work of Dr. Indra Sen, who in the 1940’s went to Sri Aurobindo and received his approval for the use of the phrase “Integral Psychology” in regard to the psychology contained within Sri Aurobindo’s works.

I still hope that the day will come soon when we can speak simply of “psychology” – which, as Mother has said, means simply “the study of the soul”. Meanwhile, I wanted to find a way to refer to the psychology within Sri Aurobindo’s writings without appearing to advocate for a new and separate school of psychology. To this end, I have in the last year begun writing simply of Indian psychology. There are a few potential problems with this, and I will write a bit about this in the final version of the book, but I just wanted to make a few quick points here:

The general consensus among mainstream scholars of Indian history and philosophy is that there is no such thing as “Indian psychology”, if the word “psychology” refers, as it does in modern science, to the limited mental consciousness produced by a material brain. Realizing this, when I use the term “Indian psychology”, I always mean “Indian psychology as presented by Sri Aurobindo”. In his writings, Sri Aurobindo refers alternately to “Indian psychology”, “Yoga psychology”, “Vedantic psychology” and sometimes just “the science of Consciousness”.

I understand there is room for debate about the use of just one term to refer the psychological knowledge which is part of the seemingly contradictory schools of Indian philosophy. However, I believe that if you look at the Indian tradition as a whole (including the Buddhist, “Hindu”, Jain and Sikh traditions) and compare it to the modern scientific view as a whole, the various schools can – as Sri Aurobindo indicates – be seen as representing a unified vision. In fact, even within the Indian tradition, this understanding of the schools of philosophy as presenting different sides of one Whole is not absent. The various philosophies are called “Darshanas” or “ways of seeing”. Many who have had a truly “integral” vision have recognized that the schools of Indian philosophy are not ultimately in opposition but rather present different ways of seeing one Reality, a reality which because it is Infinite can never be captured in any particular form. As Sri Aurobindo says, “Neither word nor deed can capture Eternal Truth.”

Finally, a major reason for situating Sri Aurobindo’s psychology within the 5000 year old tradition of Indian thought is the importance both Mother and Sri Aurobindo have given to India’s recovery of Her spiritual heritage.

“What makes [an approach to] psychology integral is not just that it covers all aspects and levels of the being, let alone that it amalgamates all available ways of looking at human consciousness and behavior. A true synthesis transcends and integrates all these various types and fields of knowledge in a consciousness that is higher than that of any of the constituents.”
Consciousness and its transformation: Papers presented at the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology; ed. Matthijs Cornelissen, p. 13)

No more slept drugged by Matter’s dominance.
In the dead wall closing us from wider self,
Into a secrecy of apparent sleep,
The mystic tract beyond our waking thoughts,
A door parted, built in by Matter’s force,
Releasing things unseized by earthly sense:
A world unseen, unknown by outward mind
Appeared in the silent spaces of the soul.
He sat in secret chambers looking out
Into the luminous countries of the unborn
Where all things dreamed by the mind are seen and true
And all that the life longs for is drawn close.
He saw the Perfect in their starry homes
Wearing the glory of a deathless form,
Lain in the arms of the Eternal’s peace,
Rapt in the heart-beats of God-ecstasy.
He loved in the mystic space where thought is born
And will is nursed by an ethereal Power
And fed on the white milk of the Eternal’s strengths
Till it grows into the likeness of a god…
He gazed across the empty stillnesses
And heard the footsteps of the undreamed idea
In the far avenues of the beyond.
he heard the secret Voice, the Word that knows,
And saw the secret face that is our own…
A consciousness of beauty and of bliss,
A knowledge which became what it perceived,
Replaced the separated sense and heart
And drew all Nature into its embrace…
Of all that suffers to be still unknown
And all that labors vainly to be born
And all the sweetness none will ever taste
And all the beauty that will never be.
Inaudible to our deaf mortal ears
The wide world-rhythms wove their stupendous chant
To which life strives to fit our rhyme-beats here,
Melting our limits in the illimitable,
Tuning the finite to infinity.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

Overview of Book and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Overview

Part I: Psychology: The Development Of The Individual

Chapter 1: We, As Automatons – The Outer Consciousness
Chapter 2: A Tremendously Overpowering Vision: The Inner Consciousness
Chapter 3: Things Unseized By Earthly Sense: Exploring The Inner Consciousness
Chapter 4: Burning The Entire Universe: Lost In The Finitude Of The Ego
Chapter 5: The Light Of A Thousand Suns: Awakening To The Presence Of The Soul
Chapter 6: A Different Person: Purification And Transformation In Light Of The Infinite

Interlude : The Day After Trinity: Robert Oppenheimer And The Making Of The Atom Bomb

Part II: Cosmology: The Evolution Of The Universe

Chapter 7: With These Mortal Eyes: The Hard Problem Of Matter
Chapter 8: A Hidden Treasure: The Evolution Of Consciousness In The Universe
Chapter 9: The Wide World-Rhythms: The Evolution Of Human Consciousness

Part III: Integration: The Meeting Of The Individual And Universal In The Transcendent

Chapter 10: All Is All And Each All, And Infinite The Glory: Bearing Witness To The Infinite

Part IV: Infusion: Science, Education And Society In Light Of The Infinite

Chapter 11: Regaining Consciousness: An Integrative Approach To Psychology
Chapter 12: The Divine Eye: Toward A Science Of Consciousness
Chapter 13: The Dead Wall Closing Us From Wider Self: Psychotherapy Or Education?
Chapter 14: Where Thought Is Born: Education: Theory
Chapter 15: A Knowledge Which Became What It Perceived: Education: Practice
Chapter 16: Tuning The Finite To Infinity: Society In Light Of The Infinite

“All that can be said is but a bridge of words which will crumble into dust at a touch. It will just serve, however, for him whose feet wear the winged sandals of Hermes and who is fearless enough to leap and look not behind. Then, if it crumbles into dust behind him, what matter? Its purpose has been served.”
Sri Krishnaprem, The Yoga of the Kathopanisad

“Neither word nor deed can capture Eternal Truth”.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

Tuning The Finite To Infinity: The Integral Psychology Of Sri Aurobindo:

Overview Of The Book

William Blake, like countless sages, saints and yogis before him, tells us if “the doors of perception were cleansed, we would see everything as it truly is, Infinite”. But, our organ of vision clouded, we see the world as if cut up into finite and separate objects and things. Generally, we only begin to ponder our finite perception when something so overwhelming, so traumatic occurs as to call into question our entire sense of ourselves and our world. An aspiration awakens, a need to know what is true and lasting, and accompanying this aspiration a sadness may arise, a longing for something which perhaps we once knew. If Blake’s aphorism were true, if the nature of Reality were indeed Infinite, then this aspiration is telling us that our suffering may end if we can only find a way to stop seeing the Infinite as finite. The aim of this book is to turn our ordinary way of seeing around, to begin to see the finite in light of the Infinite. But how can this possible for those of us who are not sages, saints or yogis?

We will need the aid of a dramatically different lens than that to which we have been accustomed. Toward this end, we will turn to Indian psychology, a psychology developed by Indian philosophers and yogis over the course of more than five millennia. And we will take it as presented by the 20th century yogi and poet Sri Aurobindo. Indian psychology will be the lens through which we shall attempt to magnify the infinitesimal Light of the Infinite hidden within every aspect and every moment of our everyday experience. “I was a hidden treasure, and sought to be known” says Allah in the Koran. With the help of Indian psychology we will search for this hidden Divinity in Whom “we live and move and have our being” (St. Paul) and Who is forever peeking out at us from behind the veil.

This is not a call for blind belief – rather, the reader is invited to engage in an experiment. For over a century, there has been a growing openness to and hunger for Indian philosophy and psychology which has more often than not been compressed into the box of contemporary thought. Here we are attempting the reverse – the experiment is to consider what the finite views of modern psychological science and psychotherapy might look like in the light of the Infinite, as evoked through the lens of Indian psychology. Given the uncomplaining patience with which Indian psychology has endured years of confinement in a finite paradigm, can we, as a gracious act of courtesy, don this particular lens of the Infinite and through it, look anew at our finitude?

For Indian psychology, there is hidden deep within the heart of matter an involved consciousness, and everything throughout the entire universe is a result of that consciousness evolving out of its prior state of involution. Looking at this evolutionary process as it manifests first in the individual and then in the world, we will begin by considering the finite view. This is the view which sees a human being as no more than a highly complex material organism, conditioned through the course of a blind process of evolution to act on the basis of instinctual fear, aggression, territoriality, and attachment to the survival of one’s species. Using the lens of Indian psychology to magnify our tentative perception of the Infinite, we will attempt to look from a progressively deeper stance starting in the place where the Divine evolutionary process manifests closest to us – in our own hearts. According to Sri Aurobindo, the very aspiration that inspires us to seek for a greater reality is powered by the same Force which unfolds the entire process. Over the course of our exploration, we will find ourselves engaging in a two-fold process – a negative one, involving the sometimes painful deconstruction of our false and finite view of things; and a positive one, calling upon us to deepen our Faith in the presence of an Infinite, Divine Reality.

The book unfolds in four parts: Part I: Psychology – The Development of the Individual Consciousness; Part II: Cosmology – The Evolution of Consciousness in the Universe; Part III: Integration – The Meeting of the Individual and the Universal in the Transcendent; and Part IV: Infusion – Science, Education and Society in Light of the Infinite. In Part I, we’ll look at what scientific psychology tells us about ourselves, and consider the role of modern science in shaping our world view. Using the lens of Indian psychology, we will then attempt to discern the ever-present glimmerings of the Infinite even in our ordinary experience, and to follow these rays to their Source deep within – in discovering in the process layers of consciousness far beyond the ordinary. To help focus this exploration, we will consider the story of an African-American woman** who had been severely traumatized by her experience as a medic in the Vietnam War, a woman who had come to the point of nearly losing all hope, with seemingly nowhere to turn, and for whom the old answers no longer made sense. We will look at the way in which the developmental process unfolded in her life, taking her to the very edge of deeper and vaster layers of Reality.

In Part II, we will consider the cosmology underpinning the growth of the individual. What, one may ask, is the place of cosmology in a book about psychology? In Indian psychology, cosmology is taken to be inseparable from psychology, the individual and universal being seen as two poles of one transcendent Reality. In this part of the book, the story of the making of the first atom bomb will be used to unfold the universal process of the progressive emergence of the hidden Divine Consciousness over the course of Its evolutionary journey. Robert Oppenheimer’s simultaneous awe and terror when confronted with the full impact of the weapon he had helped to create will serve as a symbolic encapsulation of the means by which humanity has arrived at its present evolutionary crisis.

A single chapter comprises Part III, in which an attempt is made to relate the individual and universal by pointing to the existence of a transcendent all-pervasive Consciousness in which every finite thing is a reflection of the Infinite,. We will attempt to understand the method by which a world which appears to us as finite can yet at every moment and every movement bear “witness to the Infinite” (Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human).

What relevance, if any, does all this have for us as we walk through our lives, wrought with practical and at times crushing problems calling for solution? In Part IV, we will consider how a number of societal pursuits that profoundly impact our lives might change when viewed through the lens of Infinity. We’ll consider a science in which the scientist herself becomes the main instrument of research; a psychotherapy grounded in the perspective of a spiritual rather than material evolution; an education which supports a child’s native urge toward discovery and exploration of consciousness in herself and the world. And finally, we’ll imagine what society – as a whole – might be like were it based on an experience of the One Spirit unfolding in and as humanity, the earth, and the universe. 

This book is not intended to be taken as a specific prescription for action, nor as a model from which to build a new intellectual system. There is no intention to prove anything, nor is it possible to offer rational proof in regard to spiritual matters. The book is intended to be taken as a kind of treasure map – one which might provide some help in the discovery of the Infinite Being hidden within the heart of every atom, every cell, every thought, feeling, action and event no matter how small nor apparently insignificant. There is an infinite array of such maps, each with many possible roads to travel and as many ways to travel them. These chapters constitute a description of one possible journey. They stand as an invitation to the reader to make the experiment of taking Indian psychology seriously, on its own terms, unfiltered through the cautious and finite lens of contemporary science and philosophy. They are a dare to see how much of the Infinite you can grasp, as the Tibetans say, “in the palm of your hand”.

Sri Aurobindo tells us that Yoga – the union of the finite with the Infinite – “is nothing but practical psychology”. He also tells us that “All Life is Yoga”. The current of evolution, the flow of the Divine Consciousness, is all-pervasive and all powerful. We cannot swim against it, even if we try. However, we can let ourselves be carried along, or we can swim along with it, aligning ourselves and surrendering to it. But we can only choose to swim along to the extent we learn to recognize the nature of what is happening. This book is offered as an aid to that understanding. Slowly, as our minds become clear, our hearts may begin to the joy which is ever-present within, and our thoughts, feelings and actions may become progressively more unified in partaking of this universal process of tuning the finite to Infinity.

**NOTE: This woman is actually a composite of four individuals with whom the author worked as a psychology intern in a Veterans Administration hospital.

Part I: Psychology: The Development Of The Individual

Chapter 1: We, As Automatons: The Outer Consciousness

“Our life was directed to do one thing. It was as if we had been programmed to do that and we, as automatons, were doing it.”
– Physicist who participated in the Manhattan Project, describing his state of mind while working on the development of the atom bomb.

Twenty-nine years after leaving Vietnam, Sharon continued to wake up in the middle of the night, haunted by relentless images of the “truckloads of dead bodies” she witnessed daily as a medic during the war. Desperate to break the cycle of alternating hope and despair, she turned first to support groups, then to psychotropic medication, and now, to psychotherapy.

What does contemporary psychological science help us to understand about Sharon and her suffering, and what healing or solace does psychotherapy have to offer her?

Based on the predominantly materialistic view of physics and the Darwinian model of evolution, psychology tells us that Sharon is essentially an animal with a highly complex nervous system; an animal which, except for a greater level of complexity, cannot itself be distinguished from non-living matter in any essential way. She is driven by impulses, needs and desires, drives for power and affiliation, tendencies to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Her sense of herself and the world is for the most part a construction made up of mental and emotional processes she shares with the animal kingdom. Thus, the visual image of wounded and dead soldiers, having once captured her attention, was then processed by various centers or “modules” of her brain, seared into her memory, and driven deep into her consciousness because of the intensity of her instinctual aversion to death and motivation to survive. Sharon’s memories, processed by the brain of a more recently evolved human animal, are further elaborated by the capacity for verbal thought which allows for the ongoing interpretation of and reflection upon experience.

Based more or less on this scientific model, numerous forms of psychotherapy have been developed. The conclusion of several decades of research on therapy outcomes is that the knowledge gained by psychologists has had little, if any, positive impact on the extent to which Sharon will benefit from psychotherapy. The real problems that Sharon faces – lack of meaning and purpose; the poignant need for a sense of self characterized by depth and fullness; a void in a place where there was formerly a host of shining ideals – are not only not addressed by modern science, but –because of the very nature of contemporary science – they are incapable of ever being addressed by it.

Indian psychology – based on a set of assumptions about the world and our place in it quite different from those of modern science – is perhaps best characterized by its inclusion of these very elements which seem to find no place in the modern scientific worldview. For example, while scientists today are questioning the evolutionary need for the existence of consciousness, Indian psychology has long held Consciousness to be not only essential to human existence, but the fundamental Reality of the Universe. Without an essential understanding of the nature of Consciousness, meaning, purpose, depth and fullness of self cannot be addressed. As Sharon’s story unfolds in the following chapters, increasing depths of her experience will be explored through the perspective of Indian psychology.

Chapter 2: A Tremendously Overpower Vision: The Inner Consciousness

“Then we saw what was just a tremendously overpowering vision….”
Physicist from the Manhattan Project describing the nearly blinding light accompanying the first test blast of the atom bomb in the New Mexico desert

Nearly sleepless for weeks, plagued by morbid and sometimes terrifying memories, Sharon began to contemplate suicide and committed herself to an inpatient psychiatric ward. During her second night on the ward, she awoke to find a large wof with blood-stained eyes, staring into hers. She knew immediately it was the devil.

The myths and fables of virtually all cultures around the world are built on the common belief in an alternate or parallel world – or set of worlds – which might be said to be “interior” to this one. Consisting of beings and forces quite literally “larger than life”, these worlds are taken to be the source of all that happens in the physical universe. While this may seriously strain the credulity of the ordinary consciousness, if we look closely at our experience the existence of a greater,more intense reality underlying the ordinary can be hard to doubt. At age 17, Jose visited the Boston Botanical Gardens and sat by one of his favorite flower displays. His silent reverie disturbed by the muffled sound of what he took to be a nearby radio, he looked around to discover there was no one close by. Looking again in front of him, he realized that this music was apparently emanating directly from the flowers and trees. As he continued to listen, it was as if a veil began to part, with colors and shapes taking on an almost unearthly intensity and glow, shimmering with a radiance so rich as to evoke a poignant mixture of joy and pain.

According to Indian psychology, we enter into these inner realms every night in our dreams. Anyone who has risked the dangers of experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs can testify to the palpable existence of the inner worlds to which they provide access, albeit in distorted form. Many encounter the world within through a great and sorrowful event – one so shocking that it begins to unravel the construction which leads us to take “this” world as unquestionably solid and impenetrable. Something of this kind seems to have happened to Sharon, as to many other veterans of war. Something occurs which is so contrary to what we take for granted that it makes us question not just the meaning or purpose of life, but the very nature of existence itself. “How can the world be this way?” we ask, plaintively. “How is it possible?” As we lose sight of the guideposts by which we have navigated through life, our world-construction becomes torn and frayed.

Whatever the triggering event, the fear that comes over us when the veil is rent can be overwhelming. Imagine the experience of a seasoned dream investigator who has learned to enter the dream state in full consciousness: she sees and feels the entire physical world around her as well as her own body slowly dissolving as she crosses the threshold into the inner world of dream. This fear is directly proportional to the degree of our identification with this outer reality – an identification which forms in early infancy, and is supported and sustained by an environment which encourages us to become accomplices in this repression of the sublime.

Since the birth of the modern age, the inner world has been increasingly banished from our experience, leaving so many individuals like Sharon thirsting for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Physicist Freeman Dyson, one of the participants in the Manhattan Project, speaks of “the technical arrogance which overcomes men when they see what they can do with their minds“. It is perhaps this Faustian lust for control of the outer world that has led to the disjuncture between the everyday world of stones and stock exchanges and the inner world of imagination, intuition and inspiration. The “masculine” science of Francis Bacon, who called on his compatriots to “put nature to the rack and torture her”, contrasts dramatically with the “feminine” (i.e. “primitive, regressive, romantic”) science of Goethe, who suggested that we might learn more by surrendering ourselves to her beauty and mystery. One might speculate about the connection between the identification of Indian thought and culture with this seemingly “regressive” or “primitive” inner world and the resistance to taking Indian psychology seriously.

In order for Sharon to tap into the potentially healing and transformative power of opening to this large inner realm, she will need a great deal of faith in something more than she has previously believed to be possible.

Chapter 3: Things Unseized By Earthly Sense: Exploring The Inner Consciousness

“A door parted, built in by Matter’s force, releasing things unseized by earthly sense”
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

Over the course of Sharon’s stay on the psychiatric ward, she found much solace sitting under a particular large tree at the edge of the hospital gardens. Usually active to the point of mania, she was surprised to find how peaceful she felt sitting “at the end of the earth”, as she described it. A sense of calm, a joy which seemed to have no reason to be, slowly slowly began to blossom within her.

There are as many ways to enter into the inner realms as there are people. More than ten thousand years ago, shamans danced, sang, and performed complex breathing rituals to facilitate their journey through the inner worlds. The Biblical prophets received messages from within through listening to the wisdom of numinous dream figures. However, explorers of the occult have long known that premature entry into the inner domain is a dangerous affair – one which may result in madness, or what is today referred to as “psychosis”. The safest way to venture beyond the apparent safety and security of our customary world-construction is through disciplined attention, grounded in a Faith in a greater Reality. Over many months of intensive self-exploration, as Sharon grew to trust the place of inner peace and joy she was discovering, she was able to diminish her attachment to the image of herself as hurt, wounded, aggrieved and violated by her experiences as a Vietnam veteran and as a black woman. As she sat, day after day, mind calm, heart full of peace, by the tree “at the end of the earth” Sharon, through the intensity of her need to find a new way of being, touched something of the inner realms.

The separate “self” constructed early in infancy, which develops and unfolds by means of a mysterious Force guided by an even more mysterious innermost entity, is not one but many. Sri Aurobindo refers to the individual as a “multiperson”. [“Many beings housed within my breast” quote here ??]; Because there is in the average human being no contact with or access to a central integrating consciousness, these various selves plague us with their conflicting, contradictory needs, desires, beliefs and attachments, from which we are rarely able to find release.

If we were to step back and look at Sharon’s life from an inner, intuitive perspective, we might see several quite different and conflicting personalities at play within her. These personalities are rooted in three distinct dimensions of consciousness, which are all mixed up in her outer nature: a mental consciousness supporting a mental personality, which is proud of being a brilliant African-American woman who could “put up with anything”; an emotional/instinctive consciousness made of vital life-force, upholding a quite different vital personality characterized by insecurity and self-doubt, along with a need for loving contact and support; and a physical consciousness and personality, subject to nameless fears and a host of mechanical habits. Each personality could be seen – from this inner view – to be connected with vast fields of mental, vital and physical consciousness which played in various ways through countless individuals throughout the society in which she was born and raised.

At the root of this fragmentation there is an essential activity of division, one which cuts up the seamless garment of the Infinite into a seemingly endless multiplicity of finite segments. Coming to terms with this “divider of the infinite”, this deluder of souls, requires unflinching courage and the Grace of the Spirit.

Chapter 4: Things Fall Apart, The Center Will Not Hold: Lost In The Finitude Of The Ego

“It is what we see and believe with our whole active nature ourselves to be…. It is our faith that makes us what we are.” “According as [we] live in [the truth of the inner reality or the truth of the outer appearance, [we] will be a mind dwelling in human ignorance or a soul founded in Divine Knowledge”. 
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, p. 554

After Sharon returned from Vietnam, nothing was the same. The daily rise in body count she’d seen firsthand as a medic had eroded her youthful idealism, ultimately eliminating her desire to become a healer. With her brilliant mind and outgoing personality, she found it easy to start one successful business after another. But she had no stomach for the machinations of human scheming and manipulation she encountered. In spite of repeated vows to “get her life together,” again and again she would wake up to find herself in the grips of a compulsive self-defeating pattern.

According to Indian psychology, all human suffering derives from a gulf between the One Consciousness and that of which it is aware – the physical universe as well as the world of thoughts, feelings and sensations – a gulf which was “present” before the “beginning” of time. This may sound like abstract philosophizing with no remotely practical impact on our daily lives. However, from the perspective of Indian psychology, it is this rupture, this schism deep within our psyches which drives our every action – motivating us to overcome our sense of lack and inadequacy in order to regain the awareness of that One Consciousness within which “we live and move and have our being” (St Paul). Each movement of our awareness – the desire for more than we need, the urge to seek revenge on someone who has hurt us, the fear of being hurt or even annihilated by something we take to be “other” than ourselves – is characterized most essentially by a mistaken perception of things and people existing separate from us.

Like a rubber band pulled too taut, an action taken from the mistaken belief in separateness calls forth an “equal and opposite reaction” from the universe, coming after us like the “Hound of Heaven” to teach us – mostly through suffering but also through joyful experience – that we are not separate, independent beings but inseparably rooted in the One.

Since we are always in truth One with the Infinite, the whole power of Infinity is present underlying even our meanest, smallest actions. The power by which I steal from my neighbor, even by which I murder my enemy, is the same Infinite Power which fuels the stars and supports the continents. Underlying Sharon’s self-destructive behavior is a wisdom which sees the reality of an Infinite being at the core of her fragmented surface identity. Underlying her cleverness and ingenious social personality is a vast reservoir of Life-energy and Wisdom to which she might gain access were she to be able to step back from her false fractured sense of herself. By deconstructing her belief in herself as broken and estranged, she might find a faith based in an inner reality far beyond anything that she knows at present. At the depths of her being, untouched by the endless chain of actions and reactions, is a Light so bright the sun appears dark by comparison.

Chapter 5: The Light Of A Thousand Suns: Awakening To The Presence Of The Soul

“If the light of a thousand suns were to blaze forth in the sky all at once, that splendor might resemble the radiance of the Supreme Spirit”
The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 12

After some months of inner exploration, Sharon was asked to contemplate what might happen were she to let herself go beyond “the end of the earth”. Attempting to follow this suggestion, she found herself one day bathed in a light which seemed at once warm, soft and intimate and at the same time full of the sense of an awesome and austere Presence. Fleeting as this experience was, a lingering taste of it remained with her, somewhat relieving the intensity of sorrow and grief which she had been carrying for so long.

As contact with the soul comes to be sustained, a profound reversal gradually takes place in one’s consciousness. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Thomas, “what is outer becomes inner, what is inner becomes outer.” The initial touch of the soul, bringing with it the feeling of an unfathomable depth and richness, blossoms into a Presence which grows all-pervasive. Prior to this, one has a sense of oneself as a separate individual coping with and relating to a world external to oneself. After, “instead of being here one is there, instead of seeing from outside and seeking to see within, one is inside; and the minute one is within, absolutely everything changes, completely.” (The Mother, Questions and Answers, 1955, pp. 195-196).

Confused and partial images of the soul abound; we hear today of “Care of the Soul” and “The Soul of Business”. Sri Aurobindo spoke of this mixture of vital and mental emotions and thoughts which mimic the qualities of the true soul within as the “desire-soul”. Yet, even this counterfeit creation of the surface nature is not entirely disconnected from the Truth. In the course of its eons-long development, the soul, covered over by the inertia of the physical consciousness, the rush of energy and ambition of the vital consciousness, the rigidity and pride of the mental consciousness, learns to “make do”. Influencing the outer personality from behind the veil, the evolving individual has soul-moments in which the radiance of the inner Light shines through to ennoble some thing, event or person in one’s world. Unfortunately, we often mistake that through which the soul-light shines for the soul itself, missing the opportunity to follow the beam inward to its true source. The invitation is ever-present to embrace the fleeting moments of beauty, love and compassion we all experience and to use them as portals to the inmost self.

The abundant processes described in the Indic traditions have been on hand for over two millennia to support the soul-seeker in stepping through these portals and clearing away the walls of falsely-constructed belief that guise their entry. And Indian psychology tells us that a day will come for all when we realize this soul-guidance has been present throughout our life and lifetimes. We will recognize it as the energy, the Force of the soul which is and has always been there, supporting our every movement, feeling and thought. Like the quantum leap of the electron from one orbit to the next, our consciousness spirals ahead, “laboring forward in ever-progressive curves and ellipses [by means of which] Nature advances to her secret consummation” (Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human, p. 384).

Chapter 6: A Different Person: Purification And Transformation In Light Of The Infinite

“As the crust of the outer nature cracks, as the walls of inner separation break down, the inner light gets through, the inner fire burns in the heart, the substance of the nature and the stuff of consciousness refine to a greater subtlety and purity… A guidance, a governance begins from within which exposes every movement to the light of Truth…” 
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 907

Early in her tour of duty, one morning while assisting a doctor who was removing a bullet from the leg of a wounded soldier, Sharon turned to see a truck coming into the compound piled high with the dead bodies of young American soldiers. As the image seared itself into her mind, it awoke memories of living in the Los Angeles ghetto of her childhood, dodging the bullets of warring gang members, being urged by her mother to develop the fierce pride which had supported her pursuit of her ultimate dream of becoming a doctor. Returning from Vietnam, Sharon realized the experience of war had wrested from her all desire to heal. Engaged in erratic flurries of successful business endeavor, she remained haunted by flashbacks of those young men she couldn’t help. Finally, unable to reconcile her ideals with the violence, deprivation and apparent inhumanity which surrounded her in the ghetto of her childhood and the killing fields of Vietnam, Sharon saw no alternative to taking her own life.

At the edge of suicide, Sharon discovered “the tree at the end of the earth”. Symbolizing for her a depth of Reality she had long ago forgotten, she was able by means of this image to take the painful steps of reconnecting to the ideals she had believed lost forever. Through a deepening of Faith in the inner Presence she had begun to glimpse, she began to look anew at her life. She came to see that external events were not the primary cause of her suffering. Her self-image shifted dramatically, allowing in new possibilities of engaging with others, through kindness and understanding rather than through cleverness, charm and self-aggrandizement.

What might Sharon see – and thus become – if she could develop a still deeper, more intuitive vision of the events of her life and her response to them? Her perception of the events of the war, informed by an inner awareness, might deepen to allow her to see directly the hidden, universal vital and mental forces which manifest as particular actions in this world. Her interpretation of events, shifting from an intellectual to a more intuitive way of knowing, might see the yet deeper Consciousness symbolized by these forces, and the relationship of this deeper Consciousness to the universal process of evolution. Opening still further to the guidance of the soul within, she might be able to recognize the Divine activity manifest even in the movement of a bullet plunging into the heart of a fellow soldier. Her surface feelings – a complex mixture of anger, hope, fear, caring and confusion – might slowly undergo a dramatic transformation as the unfailing devotion of the soul permeated the inner and outer nature, leading to an unerring compassion accompanied by a steadfast equanimity and love.

Part II: Cosmology: The Evolution Of The Universe

Chapter 7: These Mortal Eyes: The Hard Problem Of Matter

“But surely, Arjuna, you cannot see Me with these mortal eyes”.
The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, verse 7.

In a certain sense Matter is unreal and non-existent.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 234.

At some point early in infancy, the mind constructs a solid world and a solid self, separate from but somehow related to that world. Similarly, at some point in the evolution of the animal kingdom, intelligence develops to the point where the fluid sensory, perceptual experience mediated by the relatively simple nervous systems of fish, amphibians and reptiles hardens into the world of apparent objects which we, living in a finite consciousness, take to be THE reality. Every aspect of our world is shaped almost entirely by this bounded perceptual mode. Quite literally immersed in this limited way of seeing and being, it is nearly impossible to step out of it. Anything which even momentarily causes a rupture in our world-construction – like Sharon’s experience in Vietnam or the recognition of one’s responsibility for the death of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Hiroshima – arouses such terror that comfort is sought almost immediately afterward in whatever conventional well-defined refuge is available.

The inherent solidity and dependable reality of matter seems so obvious to us that we are reluctant, even afraid to question the way we think about it. Rather, it is consciousness, in modern times, that seems to be a problem worth contemplating. Mathematician and philosopher David Chalmers set the scientific world on its head with his 1995 article, “The Hard Problem of Consciousness”. Claiming that the “easy” problem of consciousness involved the “not so easy” task of determining the neurological correlates of experience, Chalmers suggested that the “hard” problem involved accounting for simple fact that consciousness even exists at all.

Think about this for a moment. How can consciousness be a problem? It is the most self-evident fact of our existence, the space within which all that we know is occurring at this very moment. Matter, on the other hand – at least, matter apart from consciousness, the matter which scientists take to be the basis of existence – how could we even come to know of it? To believe in matter apart from consciousness calls for an act of pure unwarranted faith; in fact, it is impossible to prove that such a thing exists! Indian psychology, which has never denied the existence of matter, understands it to be the body of the Infinite, the form which Spirit takes in this universe. The philosopher Bertrand Russell rather reluctantly acknowledged that Idealism – the philosophy which asserts that matter exists only in the mind – however distasteful to a materialist like himself, is logically unassailable. However, the Indian understanding is neither one of materialism nor idealism. Basing itself on an intuitive rather than intellectual apprehension of Reality, Indian psychology sees a Consciousness which is neither mind nor matter, but encompassing of both, as the foundation of existence. 

There need be no fear that overthrowing materialism in any way diminishes the marvelous achievements of science. The actual, empirical findings of science do not require a theory of self-existent matter. No factual discovery of any scientist has ever been in conflict with the Consciousness-based understanding of the world inherent to Indian psychology. Those interested in the reconciliation of science and spirituality might take heart from the possibility that whatever apparent conflict may exist might have its roots in a wrong notion of matter rather than any sort of fundamental disagreement. The fruits of a reconsideration of the nature of matter and its relationship to consciousness could have a revolutionary impact not only in the world of science, but for the world in general. Recovering the Indian sense of matter as inseparable from Consciousness could restore much of the meaning, depth, richness and sense of purpose to our lives which has been lost due to the disenchantment of the world wrought by materialistic thinking. Without such a reenchantment, the sense of the ultimate worthlessness of human life and the planet on which we live, might well result on our destroying ourselves, whether through ecological devastation or chemical, biological or nuclear warfare.

Chapter 8: A Hidden Treasure: The Evolution Of Consciousness In The Universe:

“I was a hidden treasure, and sought to be known”
The Koran

“I slumbered as a stone, dreamt as a plant and animal, stirred as a human, and awoke finally as God.”
Sufi poet Jalal-uddin Rumi

Thomas Berry, a theologian and scholar of the Catholic mystic Teilhard de Chardin, believes that much of our modern unease is due to the fact that there is no common “story” which binds us together. Throughout history, peoples have always had their own creation myth which gave meaning and shape to our lives. Berry, along with physicist Brian Swimme, has written a book, “The Universe “Story”, the basis of which is the idea that the evolutionary scenario as developed by modern science, might provide such a meaningful “myth” or “New” story for contemporary humanity. However, taking the scientific view as it is will do little to instill a sense of the universe as being infused with meaning and purpose. To express the full wonder of the story of evolution, we might start with the Indian view of all of this as One Divine Being, its Consciousness woven into the fabric of the universe which is its body, slowly awakening in and as the formation of stars and solar systems, the primeval stirrings of life, the proliferation of animal forms, the arrival of the upright biped, homo sapiens, and who knows what developments yet lying in waits. This proposal, far from denying the richness and creativity of scientific discoveries, rather embraces them. As Sri Aurobindo has written, the intuitions of Indian psychology “often reveal their full significance, their richer contents only when they are viewed in the new light shed by the discoveries of modern science” (The Life Divine, p. 14).

An Indian scientist, J.C. Bose, drawing on suggestive hints from Indian psychology, has determined that the reaction of metal to a stimulus suggests, if not proves, there is an involved consciousness hidden within matter. Ancient Vedic sages determined that the responsiveness of the flower to the sun was the result, not of merely mechanical processes, but of the vital or life-consciousness inherent in the plant. The yogis saw each stage of animal development as representing a progressively more complex vital and mental consciousness; contemporary neuroscientists discover a progression in the complexity of the nervous system paralleling an indisputable increase in complexity of intelligence.

Sri Aurobindo describes the fact of a spiritual evolution, an evolution of Consciousness, as “self-evident…. There is in the scale of terrestrial existence a development of forms, of bodies, a progressively complex and competent organisation of Matter, of Life in Matter, of Consciousness in living Matter; in this scale, the better organised the form, the more it is capable of housing a better organised, a more complex and capable, a more developed or evolved Life and Consciousness. .” Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 836. For much of the 20th century, the idea of progression in evolution – whether of forms or of consciousness – was considered wholly unacceptable. Progression implied purpose which implied an intelligent consciousness directing the evolutionary process. However, through the efforts of a few, not yet widely recognized, evolutionary biologists of first rank – scholars like Brian Goodwin and Mae Wan-Ho – some of the impediments to the consideration of an unfolding Consciousness at the heart of evolution are being reduced, if not yet eliminated. By looking at the evolution as the story of the emergence of a prior involved Consciousness, we may also come to understand ourselves in new and profound ways. We might see how it is that so much of our evolutionary inheritance – the as yet unintegrated instincts and drives that motivate such a large part of our behavior – escapes our limited mental control. We might come to understand how it is possible that we could become so preoccupied with the activities of our mind – as did those physicists obsessed with solving the mysteries of the atom – that we could ignore the possibility that the fruit of our efforts might be the death of thousands of people or even the destruction of the planet. Looking more deeply into the mysteries of spiritual evolution, we might come to see – if only as yet through the eyes of Faith – the potential emergence of a Consciousness far greater than any that has yet manifested on earth.

Chapter 9: The Wide World-Rhythms: The Evolution Of Consciousness In Human History

“The wide world-rhythms wove their stupendous chant”.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

As the evolution of the universe finds a parallel in the growth of the individual, similarly so the flowering of the individual soul over countless lifetimes mirrors the unfolding of the group soul of humanity. Human history, looked at from the viewpoint of spiritual evolution, is the story of the progressive emergence of the various layers of the mental consciousness of the Divine, just as the history of the stars represents the evolution of material consciousness, and the development of plants and animals the emergence of the vital and lower stages of mental consciousness. Early humanity, bound together by family and tribe, lived in a consciousness so different from ours we can only guess at what their world must have been like. Not only was it a mental consciousness far closer to the physical than ours, it was one completely open to that inner subliminal consciousness which is largely hidden to the modern mind. The beings and forces, gods and other subtle beings, which are at best pleasant fairy tales to us, populated their world and cooperated with them in securing their material as well as spiritual needs in a manner unfathomable to us.

The child, in the course of growing up, leaves the world of (apparent) fantasy and imagination behind, closing the door to those magical inner worlds, losing touch with the simplicity of soul to which she had access as a toddler. Similarly, humanity, with the beginning of civilization – the building of cities and new forms of government, and refinements in the art of war – left behind the simple intuitive mind of its childhood. In contrast to the visionary mentality of ancient Egypt, Chaldea and Israel, a new and seemingly more mature consciousness, one almost of pure reason, emerged in ancient Greece.

In regard to parallel developments occurring at the same time in China and India – approximately 500 to 700 BC – we see a difference in the East from the West. Europe, believing in linear progress, takes the whole history of humanity to represent no more than a preparation for the truly “mature” and rational consciousness of the British barrister or French magistrate (though not many Europeans would have the audacity of the philosophers Husserl or Hegel to claim that the world will be ruined if not converted to the European/Christian mentality). India, by contrast, understanding and staying true to the complex reality of a spiraling movement of evolution, retained the richness of the earlier, symbolic mentality while developing the same rational capacities as did the West. However, India never took reason to be the ultimate means of gaining knowledge. Rather, it understood that the activity of the reasoning mind needs always to be grounded in the intuitive knowledge of the Infinite.

Thus, through a series of progressions, retrogressions and – as in the quantum leap of the atom and the punctuated equilibrium of evolutionary theory – sudden and abrupt movements to higher levels of complexity – the highly complex and mentally sophisticated world of the 21st century has emerged. Living in a world of unimaginable complexity, interconnected in ways unthinkable even one hundred years ago, the problems and challenges of the present day seem to an increasing number of people to be unsolvable by the reasoning mind. Einstein’s wise observation that the problems we face can only be solved by rising to a higher level of thinking stands as a warning to us all. Beginning over 55 years ago, humanity faced the possibility of nuclear holocaust. Since then, the possibilities of wholesale destruction have expanded significantly. At the same time, the world stands at the threshold of entirely new possibilities – possibilities which require the Faith that there is truly a Reality, stranger and more magnificent than all we conceive and all that we can conceive.

Part III: Integration: The Meeting Of The Individual And The Universal In The Transcendent

Chapter 10: All Is All, And Each All, And Infinite The Glory: Bearing Witness To The Infinite

“For There everything is transparent, nothing dark, nothing resistant; every being is lucid to every other, in breadth and depth, light runs through light. And each of Them contains all within itself, and at the same time sees all in every other, so that everywhere there is all, all is all, and each all, and infinite the glory. Each of Them is great; the small is great: the sun, There is all the stars, and every star again is all the stars and sun. While some one manner of being is dominant in each, all are mirrored in every other.” 
Plotinus, Enneads, V, Tractate 8.

When we contemplate the incalculable human suffering visited upon the inhabitants of Hiroshima, the unthinking pursuit of the truths of physical science to the exclusion of external consequences, the decades during which humanity has lived under the cloud of possible nuclear annihilation – the claim that “All is the Divine” may seem not just impossible but downright preposterous. Yet, [“demon es deus in reverse’; find correct phrase] – according to Indian psychology, even that which appears to us to be the most supreme evil is only a limited or distorted form of the Supreme Spirit. Robert Oppenheimer, seeing the light of the first atom bomb illumine a 200 square mile stretch of prairie, had a glimpse of a terrifying aspect of the Divine – “Time, the destroyer of worlds” – and within almost the same moment, a glimpse of Its beautiful and wondrous aspect: “the radiance of the Supreme Spirit”. How can it be the very same Divine who appears to us in the death camps of the Third Reich, the Gulag, the hundreds of thousands killed by a chemical plant explosion in India, in the countless slaves taken against their will from Africa who suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the “New” World, or the “truckloads of dead bodies”, the image of which haunted Sharon for years after her service in Vietnam?

Physicist Arthur Eddington said that in a way, a single electron contains the entire universe within it. Perhaps he caught a glimpse through William Blake’s cleansed “doors of perception” which saw the Infinite even in a grain of sand. John Blofeld, a Buddhist seeker, in an interview with a Chinese Taoist sage, quoted to him Edwin Arnold’s metaphor for the attainment of Nirvana:: “the dewdrop slips into the shining sea”. “Wonderful”, exclaimed the Taoist, “perhaps the Western barbarians are not so totally lacking in spiritual insight as we Taoists tend to believe. But the truth is far greater; for a dewdrop loses its individuality upon being merged with the ocean. But you,’ said the sage, his gaze boring with infinite intensity into Blofeld’s eyes, “are destined to become the ocean itself, yet without losing your individuality.” The logical mind recoils from this, insisting such a thing to be impossible, a complete contradiction of reason. But, as Sri Aurobindo says, there is a “logic of the infinite”, as captured in this verse from the Upanishads, “This is the complete and That is the complete; subtract the complete from the complete, the complete is the remainder” (Isha Upanishad, Sri Aurobindo’s translation). Describing an actual moment of seeing by means of this Infinite vision, Sri Aurobindo says, “When we see with the inner vision and sense and not with the physical eye a tree or other object, what we become aware of is an infinite one Reality constituting the tree or object, pervading its every atom and molecule, forming them out of itself, building the whole nature, process of becoming, operation of indwelling energy; all of these are itself, are this infinite, this Reality: we see it extending indivisibly and uniting all objects so that none is really separate from it or quite separate from other objects. ‘It stands,’ says the Gita, ‘undivided in beings and yet as if divided.'” (Life Divine, p. 338)

To gain a glimpse of this way of seeing, we might try, as Sri Aurobindo recommends in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad, to “resolve” the cosmic principles of the universe back to the “working of the One… so that they shall become only a unified existence and single action of That in spite of all play of differentiation,”, and do this by entering into communion with the “one Self of all individual existences, the indivisible Spirit to whom all souls are no more than dark or luminous centres of its consciousness.” Consciousness, Sri Aurobindo tells us, is the fundamental thing in the universe, and it is the movement of consciousness which creates all things. Consciousness, or “Soul”, and the movement of Consciousness, or “Nature”, are in inseparable communion, dancing the dance of Shiva and his Shakti in and as every atom of the universe. When they dance a particular way, a world or plane of existence appears. Focusing the dance of soul in a particular way, the individual manifests. When Shiva gets so absorbed in his dancing that he forgets himself, ego and Ignorance arise. And when the Soul, slumbering within the womb of Nature, decides to begin to awaken, evolution takes place. This endless, eternal play of Soul and Nature, Shiva and Shakti, is characterized by boundless, shoreless Delight, Joy, Ecstasy and Love.

Thus we find that everything in the universe without exception is in some sense a play of Conscious-Being (Soul) and Conscious-Force (Nature) – Force being in no way separate from Being. All things in the universe thus resolve into One, the Infinite in the Finite, the Finite in the Infinite. And we can begin to tune our apparently finite selves to this Infinite reality by following the thread of whatever infinitesimal ray of Infinite Divine Light we find in our present experience, allowing it to carry us on waves of Delight toward our ultimate consummation in the Bliss of the Absolute, not far-off in some transcendent Void, but here, now, within this Body of the Spirit which is our habitation and our world.

Part IV: Infusion: Science, Education And Society In Light Of The Infinite

Chapter 11: Regaining Consciousness: An Integrative Approach To Psychology

“First, psychology lost its soul, then it went out of its mind, then it was in danger of losing consciousness altogether.”
Cyril Burtt

Embarrassed by the long-standing connection of psychology to the discipline of philosophy, the first scientific psychologists of the late 19th century declared their subject matter to be mind, not soul. After 30 some-odd years of studying the surface consciousness to discern its essential nature yielded unsatisfactory results, the behavioral psychologists of the early 20th century outlawed “mind” from the province of psychology, choosing to confinethemselves to the study of observable behavior. When this approach, too, appeared to bear little fruit, the radical behaviorists of the middle 20th century declared consciousness itself to be irrelevant. A call went out to go beyond the folk psychology which naively believed in the reality of such things as “freedom and dignity”, and to accept in its place the reality of the individual as one entirely conditioned by biological and environmental stimuli. The so-called “cognitive revolution” of the latter half of the 20th century, while claming to admit consciousness as acceptable subject matter, is turned out to be nothing more than behaviorism in new clothes, allowing only objective observations and – perhaps a consequence of “physics envy” – clinging to statistical analysis while shying away from any direct exploration of subjective experience.

And what has this century or more of psychology built on a foundation of shifting sands wrought? According to Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan, as of the end of the 20th century, there are hardly more than a few what he calls “trivial’ facts regarding memory and perception that would find any widespread agreement amongst psychologists. This harsh assessment of the field – often referred to gently as “pre-paradigmatic” – is not limited to Kagan, but has been echoed by numerous other leading psychological scientists. Given this rather grim picture, perhaps not so much would be risked in simply considering psychology through the lens of Indian psychology. Gazing through the lens of Infinity, what then do we find?

The many disparate branches of psychology – cognition (including the “lower” functions such as sensation, perception, attention and learning, as well as the “higher” functions such as problem solving, decision-making, logic, reasoning, memory, etc), emotion, perception, sensation, physiology and anatomy, etc. all can be variously be seen as addressing three dimensions of consciousness – physical, vital, and mental, which are themselves only, as Sri Aurobindo says, “one conscious-energy triply formulated” (The Life Divine, p. ?). The “self” – the ever-elusive organizing principle of scientific psychology – is seen to be a particular focus of the One Infinite Consciousness which manifests in and as this universe. The development of the individual self is a perfect microcosm of the unfolding of the “self” of humanity and ultimately the “Self” of the universe, thus unifying not only personality and developmental psychology but physics and evolutionary biology as well. The psychopathology of the individual is seen as only a limited aspect of a larger Ignorance, the inevitable result of an evolutionary process characterized by an initial “Inconscience” (involved Consciousness) and an ongoing and pervasive division of Consciousness in Matter, Life and Mind. The integrating factor of all of this – almost completely hidden amidst the mass of contradictory and fragmentary psychological data – is the soul.

Nothing of value amongst the many wonderful and detailed discoveries of psychological science is lost in this view. Rather, the findings of psychology are immeasurably enriched and expanded when viewed in light of the Infinite. Even the wide array of approaches to research methodology may be retained, if they might only to base their investigations on the direct exploration of Consciousness and its manifestations. But perhaps the most fundamental effect of this deepening of the scope of psychology will be to assist in awakening us to a deeper reality – awakening through Faith to a glimpse of ourselves as Infinite spiritual beings rather than merely complex animals driven primarily by fear, attachment, aggression and desire.


Chapter 12: The Divine Eye: Toward A Science Of Consciousness

But surely, Arjuna, you cannot see Me with these mortal eyes; therefore I will give you the Divine eye; with this behold my Divine Power of Yoga”.
The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 6.

What is science as it stands today? Essentially, it is an intensely disciplined experimentally-based exploration of the nature of sense-data as interpreted by the outer, intellectual mind. This form of understanding, based as it is on limited objective (i.e. sensory) data, and a limited subjective means of knowing (primarily analytic/intellectual, though partially informed by intuition) may not be appropriate for the study of consciousness, at least, not for consciousness as understood by Indian psychology and described in the previous chapters of this book. A particular limitation of a science or research guided by the analytic intellect is the unwitting absorption in abstractions divorced from direct experience. Physicist Arthur Zajonc refers to many of the independently existing”entities” which scientists seem to speak – electrons, fields, etc – as idols, at least to the extent that researchers speak of them without recognizing they are abstractions created by the mind.

In order to develop a new and truly integrative form of research, two essential changes will have to take place: (1) the scientist, the researcher herself will need to develop subtle perception; that is, a direct contact unmediated by external instrumentation with the subtle physical, vital and mental energies which pervade the universe; (2) through intense concentrated self-discipline, researchers will have to develop in themselves new ways of knowing, a knowledge which comprehends its object not as something external to itself but by means of identity – knowing the One Self expressing itself through both subject and object. There is no sense pretending this will be easy. Tibetan Buddhist teacher, physicist and contemplative researcher Alan Wallace has suggested that a “Consciousness Project” on the scale of the Manhattan Project of World War II be undertaken, a project that would likely require decades to yield significant results. Given the increasing number of individuals in both West and East who have committed many years of their lives to just such a project on an individual scale, it is not unreasonable to project the possibility that they might one day come together to develop a form of contemplative science based on an understanding and experience of the Infinite. The essential thing to avoid in any endeavor toward a new research methodology would be the temptation to cobble together apparently disparate modes of investigation, as with recent suggestions to combine first, second and third person research. This can only lead to a scientific tower of Babel rather than a truly integrated science. Any true integration must be based on a knowledge and experience – however partial – of the One, the Infinite, and investigators will need to be committed to tuning their minds and their very selves, as best they can, to the music of the Infinite.

The Dalai Lama has suggested that a good place to start might be with what in Tibetan Buddhism is called “analytic meditation”. Contrary to what the name might imply, this practice develops a rich integration of intellectual and intuitive apprehension and comprehension. One begins by developing what in Tibetan practice is called “quiescence”, what Sri Aurobindo describes as “the quiet mind” – a mind which is rooted in the depths of inner stillness even while engaged in thinking and reasoning. In the course of mindfully investigating a particular idea or phenomenon with a one-pointed mind, intuitions regarding the object will naturally arise. At this point, one stops all discursive thinking, and concentrates one’s entire being on the intuitive awareness. If done with full concentration, the intuition will deepen, widen, and become progressively richer and more multi-layered. When, then it becomes difficult to maintain such concentration, one returns to discursive thought. This alternating process between thinking and intuition becomes – over years of practice – integrated to such an extent that ordinary thinking becomes transformed into a chain of successive intuitions perceiving Truth by means of identification with the Self of the object. Were several researchers to come together – having developed the capacity to sustain over long periods a quiet mind and an intuitive knowing – they might explore a common idea, theme, scientific hypothesis or other such object. The outcome – while hard to characterize at the present time – might bring together present-day quantitative and qualitative methodologies within the framework of a new integrative research paradigm.

Perhaps most important, though, is the cultivation of a quality which is not generally associated with the idea of scientific endeavor: Faith; or to use a multi-dimensional Sansrkit term, “Shraddha”, meaning the reflection of the direct, Infinite knowledge of the soul in the outer consciousness. It was through Faith that Robert Oppenheimer came to understand something of what the paradoxes of quantum theory were pointing to, and it was through Faith that Sharon came to find a deeper reality within herself. What is that Faith, how do we cultivate it, and what is the best means of inculcating it into our lives?

Chapter 13: The Dead Wall Closing Us From Wider Self: Psychotherapy Or Education

“No longer slept drugged by Matter’s dominance. In the dead wall closing us from wider self…”
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

As of the year 2000, scholars in the field of psychotherapy counted at least 400 different and often conflicting schools of psychotherapy. Yet, amongst this cacophony of competing theories, some underlying commonalities – referred to in recent years as “common factors” have emerged. According to one of the most widely respected summations of psychotherapy research, there are four primary common factors: (1) Confidence (or faith) in one’s own capacity to change; (2) confidence (or faith) in the therapist; (3) confidence (or faith) in the technique of therapy; and (4) the technique itself. The research states that approximately 85% of the curative power of psychotherapy comes from confidence in oneself, the therapist and the therapeutic technique, leaving only about 15% of the success rate of therapy attributable to the actual theory or technique used. In other words, faith – or Shraddha – is by far the largest factor in psychotherapeutic treatment. These statistics have sometimes been interpreted to substantiate what has been called the “Dodo” effect, named after the Dodo bird in “Alice in Wonderland”, who at the conclusion of a race proclaimed, “All have won and all shall have prizes”. Applied to psychotherapy, this means that all therapies are equally effective, and theory or technique actually has little or no relevance in regard to cure.

While the Indian tradition would certainly agree with the power of Shraddha to bring about profound inner and outer change in the individual, it might not be so ready to concede that theory and technique have little or no relevance to curative power. It might rather be the nature of the theories and the way in which they are applied that present actual impediments to the healing process. Is it any wonder that such theories, based in materialistic and vitalistic assumptions which reduce even our highest ideals, values, hopes and aspirations to nothing more than more complex versions of a essentially animal propensities – or even worse, to mechanically conditioned responses of a fundamentally physical organism – might stymie rather than nurture the expression of a veiled, Infinite Divine Being?

Despite the humanistic movement of the 1960s which proclaimed therapy to be more concerned with growth and self-actualization than treatment of mental illness, the implicit if not overt view of therapist toward patient remains one filtered through the lens of pathology. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur points to what he calls the air of “suspicion” hanging over the therapy encounter. As a dear friend of mine put it quite simply, “I never again want to spend time in a room with someone who thinks something is “wrong” with me.” Even the so-called spiritual and integrative psychotherapies that exist today are mostly a fragmentary collection of loosely organized spiritual practices added onto a foundation of vitalistic and materialistic premises. For example, Freudian-based techniques are often combined with meditative practices in transpersonal (spiritual) psychotherapy. However, the ideas underlying psychodynamic (i.e. Freudian-derived) psychotherapy are thoroughly permeated with Darwinian and materialistic notions, which are not only incompatible with, but positively in opposition to a spiritually-based approach to psychological growth.

What if we were to took Indian psychology seriously? What if it were true that our surface consciousness is only an infinitesimal representation of who we are; what if it were the fundamental truth that in this moment, not in some vague future time, we were as much as we have ever been or ever will be Infinite, spiritual beings, One with the Supreme Spirit, being carried in the loving arms of the Divine Mother of the universe, carried in the stream of Her Consciousness, ever forward, heightening, widening and deepening our consciousness no matter how much we may, like little children, struggle against Her ministrations?


Chapter 14: Where Thought Is Born: Education I: Theory

“Rapt in the heart-beats of God-ecstasy, he lived in the mystic space where thought is born.”
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

How irrevocably is psychotherapy linked to the Darwinian and materialistic tenets described in the previous chapter? If it is not to be abolished altogether, what is its proper sphere? According to a recent study by the American National Institute of Health, the percentage of individuals in the United States who suffer from severe mental illness (comprising for the most part bi-polar disorder, severe depression and the psychoses) is approximately 5%. At the present time, psychotherapy, along with psychotropic medication, are the treatments of choice, and probably, for now, irreplaceable. However, regarding the far-milder problems for which most individuals come to therapy, might there be an alternative? And what of the 80 to 85% of the population who will never in their lives enter into the psychotherapeutic process? Might there be some means of assisting them in addressing their inner difficulties and encouraging their psychological growth?

There is one institution through which virtually every member of modern society passes – the educational system. Currently, education is largely the province of the state, which means increasingly that learning is shaped by narrow economic considerations with the goal of turning out citizens capable of adding in some way to the status of the nation. The American government in recent years has been overtaken by a mania for national testing, forcing students in widely varying locales, of widely variant natural propensities, into a uniform mold, all with the aim of assuring the continuing superiority of American economic and military might. Is there any possibility that the school might become a place of integral learning, involving, body, heart, mind and soul?

In 1965, George Leonard, then editor of Look magazine, published a special issue on education in which he authored an essay entitled, “Education and Ecstasy”. Since that time, apart from the context of institutionalized education, a rapidly growing number of individuals choose to spend their money and leisure time engaged in learning of all kinds, but especially learning oriented toward spiritual growth. According to “The Grassroots Spirituality Project”, a research study which took place throughout the 1990’s, a surprising number of educational leaders expressed a strong desire to introduce a non-denominational spirituality into the classroom from kindergarten to post-graduate levels. The chancellor of one large university several years ago called upon the teachers at his institution to find some way to introduce spirituality – in whatever form – into every single classroom!

If it is true that, as Sri Aurobindo says, “All Life is Yoga”, and there truly is throughout the universe a hidden, involved Consciousness seeking to manifest both in and through our souls as well as our bodies, hearts and minds – then learning and growing is the most natural, spontaneous thing imaginable. Psychologist Robert Kegan has urged psychotherapists to consider what he calls “Natural Therapy” – that is, to look at the environments and conditions which most facilitate growth, and then, rather than creating artificial theories, seek to emulate the ways of Nature. Sri Aurobindo tells us with regard to education that if we can begin to find our souls and further, to bring them to the front of our consciousness, this will “take up most of the business of education out of our hands”. Imagine if from the earliest age children were recognized as the growing souls that they in truth are, and were encouraged to explore the inner worlds with as much passion as they now engage with computerized games and the substitute parents and friends they find on television? What if computers and television, if all media, were used to inspire and support learning rather than produce eager and obedient consumers? What if even the adults in this world could rediscover the joy, the delight, the ecstasy of moment-to-moment learning they once had as little children until their souls became foreign to them?

Chapter 15: A Knowledge Which Became What It Perceived: Education II: Practice

“A knowledge which became what it perceived, replaced the separated sense and heart and drew all nature into its embrace…”
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

The first thing that is needed is to entirely separate out the notion of education from the institution of school. The Mother spoke of the experimental township of Auroville in South India as a “Universe-City”, a place of constant learning and unending progress. This requires no yogic vision, no exceptional access to inner or higher domains of consciousness. Simply to fully recognize what Sri Aurobindo means when, using the words of the Upanishads, he calls for the mind to be “leader of life and body” – this in itself would represent an almost revolutionary change in human affairs: “Psychological self-analysis and self-observation… are, like the process of right thought, of immense value and practically indispensable. They may even, if rightly pursued, lead to a right thought of considerable power and effectivity. Like intellectual discrimination by the process of meditative thought they will have an effect of purification; they will lead to self-knowledge of a certain kind and to the setting right of the disorders of the soul and the heart and even of the disorders of the understanding. Self-knowledge of all kinds is on the straight path to the knowledge of the real Self. (Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 303).

A complete and comprehensive education of the surface consciousness is already far from what goes under the name of “education” today. Such an education would include: an integral development of the body consciousness; a training of the vital or life-force which includes sensory awareness, moral and aesthetic development, practial and dynamic application of what is seen by the imagination, intellect and intuition; a thorough training of the mind beginning with a far-reaching development of the capacity for attention and observation; a richness of thought which integrates analytic, synthetic and intuitive modes of thinking; an imagination disciplined by careful training. Given, however, the willingness and a sufficient number of leaders with vision, this wide-ranging approach to education could be implemented even today. Before the further ranges of consciousness are ever incorporated into the learning process, a mental appreciation of the spiritual goal of life and the spiritual meaning of the universe could be an indispensable place to start.

A truly soul-centered education on a large scale could take years, or decades to fully implement. But if we once understood spiritual awakening and transformation to be the purpose of life, we would have no alternative but to begin, if even with only with small steps. Encouraging the young child to remain connected to the forces and beings of the inner worlds to which she is not yet forbidden access, to acknowledge and value her dreams, to nourish and cherish the soul-moments which steal in upon her in moments of quiet contemplation of nature – all this could be a beginning in the effort to move toward the Mother’s vision of a youth that never fades and a learning that never ends.

Chapter 16: Tuning The Finite To Infinity: Society In Light Of The Infinite

“The wide world-rhythms wove their stupendous chant to which life strives to fit our rhyme-beats here, melting our limits in the illimitable, tuning the finite to infinity.”
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

Imagine you were handed a magic wand. With the first wave of the wand, you could end hunger, provide abundant clothing, shelter, and other material goods for all people. All political constitutions would be instantly rewritten to allow for both maximum liberty and equality, all laws amended for the greater good, all business and medical institutions reshaped entirely to be a means of service rather than individual gain. In short, all outer institutions and structures would be completely transformed with one wave of your magic wand. How long do you think it might take before the individuals living in such a world would begin to reshape that world according to their own desires – changing the laws, institutions, etc. to serve their own ends, with some amassing material goods at the expense of others? Now suppose a different wave of the magic wand. This time, all outer institutions, structures, laws, etc. remain exactly the same. However, even as your hand lifts for this wave of the wand, the hearts of all people begin to be filled with love and compassion, their minds illumined by intuitive wisdom, their vision imbued with the ability to see the Divine Essence in all. How long might it take before such people would spontaneously create a world endowed with beauty, and dedicated to the material well-being and spiritual unfoldment of all beings?

Of course, there is no magic wand – other than our aspiration for the Divine and the Grace which answers, a Grace we experience to the extent we are receptive to it. What this exercise in imagination is intended to convey is the clear priority of a change of consciousness over a change of outer institutions. In the absence of a magic wand, what we minimally need at present is a clear vision of the direction in which we need to travel. We may be guided and assisted by all who are working to bring about a spiritual consummation of human endeavor. “The individuals who will most help the future of humanity in the new age will be those who will recognise a spiritual evolution as the destiny and therefore the great need of the human being.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, p. 265). Margaret Wheatley bringing a spiritual perspective to her work with business organization, drawing on systems theory and Christian contemplative practices; Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh developing his communities of mindfulness based on Buddhist meditation techniques; Willis Harman’s tireless efforts to develop a new consciousness-based philosophic foundation for science and society; Nicholas Perlas’ application of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual science to reforming the government of the Phillipines; Joanna Macy’s efforts in the peace and environmental movements based on her study of Tibetan Buddhism – all of these, and countless more represent a movement in the evolutionary spiral toward a deepening, heightening and widening of the human consciousness and an integral manifestation of the Divine in our minds, hearts, souls, even in and as the very body of our Mother Earth.

And now my brain is smoked like a niche where stands a lamp. I have said to myself: “O you who talk so much, instead of so much talking beat your head and search the secrets…. If you wish the ocean of your soul to remain in a state of salutary movement you must die to all your old life, and then keep silence.” 
Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds.

About Sri Aurobindo and the Isha Upanishad

Isha: the Favourite Upanishad of Sri Aurobindo, By Ramesh Bijlani, aug 14, 2012

Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual philosophy is deeply rooted in Vedanta. However, one of the hallmarks of his philosophy is its strongly life-affirming character. The assertion that the Divine, the Absolute Reality, has undergone a self-limitation in the course of manifesting as the material universe is one of the basic tenets of Vedanta. However, this tenet can lead to two contrasting corollaries. One of these is that since the material universe is merely a fragile and fleeting phenomenon, it is not worthy of interest. While the ignorant masses engage in this play of the Divine with gusto and waste their precious lives, the wise one rejects this superficial world in order to discover the imperishable and constant Reality behind the appearances. This is how Vedanta can acquire a life-negating tilt. However, the basic philosophy remaining the same, Vedanta can be given another tilt. Since the world is a manifestation of the Divine, it is not an illusion. If the Divine is real, Its manifestation cannot be unreal. Therefore, the world should not be rejected but transformed, so that it befits the One that it manifests. This is a life-affirming tilt, the interpretation to which Sri Aurobindo has lent powerful support. Upanishads are one of the pillars of Vedanta, and it is not surprising that one of the favourite Upanishads of Sri Aurobindo was the Isha Upanishad, which has a strong life-embracing character. In the opening verse, the Isha Upanishad states the profound Truth of the all-pervasive presence of the Divine in the universe in the first line, and in the second jumps to the sage advice that worldly life should be renounced and enjoyed. To ‘renounce and enjoy’ seems to carry an internal contradiction, but, in fact, worldly life can be enjoyed only if the person has achieved inner renunciation… The very first verse sets the tone – first by reminding us that the material universe has the all-pervasive presence of the Divine, and therefore should not be rejected; and then by telling us how we may enjoy worldly life. In verse 9, we find another startling statement: In darkness are the ignorant; in still greater darkness are those who follow only Knowledge. The ordinary man rooted in the mental consciousness is in darkness because he is unaware of the deeper Reality within, behind and beyond what is visible to him. But how is a person who has the Knowledge of the Absolute Reality in still greater darkness? That happens if he follows only Knowledge. This person is complacent because he lives in the smug satisfaction of knowing what very few in the world know. But by treating only the Absolute Reality as real, and refusing to see the Divine in the manifest universe, he is neglecting one aspect of the very Reality that he considers real. However, the ascetic who has only such one-sided Knowledge of the Absolute Reality erroneously believes that he knows something beyond which there is nothing more to be known. He is not only ignorant, he does not even know that he is ignorant. Hence there is no hope that his ignorance will ever be lifted. Therefore, the darkness in which he lives is beyond redemption. On the other hand, the ordinary ignorant person might one day discover the deeper truths of existence. Hence there is hope that one day his ignorance will be lifted. Therefore, his darkness is less than that of the one who has the Knowledge. Finally, towards the end of the Isha Upanishad, verse 17 talks in one line about the Vayu (Breath) being immortal, and the body ending in ashes, that is, being mortal. This tells us that although matter is mortal, the Spirit that animates it is immortal. The verse makes us aware of the invisible imperishable Reality being the core of what is visible and perishable. Thus the manifest universe is inseparable from the Absolute Reality it manifests. The principle that the Upanishad thus follows is, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, “the uncompromising reconciliation of uncompromising extremes”.