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
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.