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The Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo

 From “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity”

This summary is best approached as a kind of map – i.e., a description of various terrains of consciousness as explored experientially by yogis (in the East and the West) over the last several thousand years. The aim of the map is primarily to facilitate intuitive rather than intellectual understanding. However, there is a place for intellectual study; to the extent the mind is calm and can open to intimations of something deeper or higher, it can be an aid in clarifying experience.

 

Although some of the terms we use were coined by Sri Aurobindo (e.g., “physical mind”, “vital mind”, “supramental”, etc.), we have tried to present what we understand to be – in spirit, though not in specifics – a ‘view’ of the workings of consciousness common to contemplatives the world over.

 

Prelude – The Dance of Consciousness

 

Consciousness is… the fundamental thing in existence – it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it.[i]

                                                                                 Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga

 

The Divine is a radiant and joyful Reality, ecstatically bringing forth the universe from its own Being, within its own Consciousness, at every moment; playing out the infinite possibilities of its infinite Being, simultaneously in the eternal Now. It is the shift of Its attention that creates the sense of sequence in time, and the shift of its attention that creates the sense of movement through space. As the One Infinite Consciousness gazes in one way, the universe is birthed. As that gaze shifts, the stars are “born,” planets and solar systems take shape, the adventure of evolution unfolds. Beyond time and space altogether, the supreme, infinite Conscious-Being sees within Itself its myriad, infinite possibilities, and in that very seeing joyfully, blissfully, manifests the all that we see around us.

All is the play of Conscious-Being and Conscious-Energy, Shivaand Shakti, Soul and Nature. In any act of “conscious-ing,”[1]that which is known (the “object”) is a movement of Conscious-Energy. The movement is itself an act of will – a shift of attention of the Divine Conscious-Being (the “subject”). This movement (the “object” created by the shift of attention) is known as it is willed into being. Thus, the object is inseparable from the act of knowing it. The myriad objects of our universe – apparently separate but always one with the Infinite – are nothing more than infinite acts of shifting attention of the One Divine Being. These acts of knowing-and-willing – which manifest as the universe – exist inseparably within the Delight of the Divine Being. It is the movement of apparent separation and reunion that is experienced by different creatures as attraction and repulsion, pleasure and pain, love and hate, and ultimately as unbroken Delight by the fully awakened seer.

All is the One Conscious-Being knowing and feeling itself in infinite ways, in infinite forms. The individual Soul is a particular focus of consciousness, the various planes of consciousness each a particular kind of interaction between Conscious-Being and Its Conscious-Force, between Soul and Nature. When Consciousness is absorbed in the play of forms, identifying with a particular part of the Field, the result is Ignorance. Over the course of evolution, there is a progressive freeing of the embodied consciousness from its exclusive identification with a small part of the Field. The essential Nature of this whole interaction between Soul and Nature, Shivaand Shakti, is infinite Joy, Ananda, Bliss.

 

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Involution – “Before” the “Big Bang”

 

Silence, utter stillness. In the “Beginning,”[2]the Knower is absorbed in silent, motionless contemplation of His own Being. The first distinction arises, between the Conscious-Being and His Conscious-Force, between the Knower and the Field, Soul and Nature, Purushaand Prakriti. There is a stirring, an infinitesimal vibration between the Two – He and She[3]  – and the process of manifestation begins.

The Divine Shakespeare, imagining, dreaming of infinite possibilities, progressively limits His Consciousness, manifesting the various planes (grades) of consciousness in preparation for the great adventure of evolution. Various subtle, non-physical worlds come into existence, worlds of conscious-energy that will be the immediate source for all that happens in the physical universe. Everything that is manifest in these worlds is a limited expression, a reflection of the infinite power of knowing, willing and feeling of the Infinite Divine Being: matter, a reflection of Sat, Infinite Being; life, a reflection of Shakti, the Divine Conscious-Energy; the psychic being a reflection of Ananda, Infinite Bliss; and mind a reflection of Vijñana,the supramental Truth-Consciousness.

As these various planes of consciousness come into existence, the unlimited consciousness of the Knower becomes progressively more limited, more involved in the play of creation, until His Consciousness is completely absorbed in the workings of His Force. Of course, it is only the consciousness associated with the play of involution and evolution that is completely absorbed. The infinite, immeasurable Consciousness of the Knower[4]beyond all space and time remains completely free and untouched by the entire play. It is only an infinitesimal portion of the infinite Conscious-Being of the Knower that manifests as the various planes of consciousness.

It is what Sri Aurobindo calls the supramental consciousness, the Divine Intelligence, which guides the entire process of manifestation. Whatever that Supreme Consciousness sees in Its own Being is what comes into existence. As that Consciousness gazes, worlds arise; the universe is literally being “gazed” into existence. It is this Intelligence that manifests in the universe as what we refer to as the “laws” of nature, as well as all the other meaningful patterns we may identify.

 

Evolution – The Emergence of Consciousness in the Universe

 

Again, Silence, utter stillness. At the nadir of involution, the Knower is completely absorbed – “exclusively concentrated,” as Sri Aurobindo describes it – in His Conscious-Energy, seemingly forgetful of His True Self. It is because of this exclusive concentration that suffering exists in a universe which is contained within the Being of the All-Blissful Knower; that death can occur in a universe pervaded by Infinite Life; that unconscious matter seems to exist in a universe made of Conscious-Energy. There appears to be an essential separation between the Field and its Knower. It is this misperception, this ignorance of the essential Oneness of Knower and Field, which is responsible for all the suffering and travail that occur in the course of evolution.

Before the journey of evolution begins, there is no movement of Conscious-Energy – all is potential. Again, a stirring occurs – a vibration, an interaction between the hidden Being of the Knower (Soul) and HisField (Nature, the potential Conscious-Energy). This vibratory interaction is occurring at every moment – an inflowing or “return” of the cosmic energies to the Silence, and the outflowing or re-emergence of these energies once again from the Silence into manifestation. This vibration – the dance between Soul and Nature – is manifest in our world in all the rhythms and polarities of nature: the negative and positive polarity of the atom, the alternation of day and night, the inbreath and outbreath of every living organism.

Over the course of evolution, there will be a slow reversal of the absorption of the Knower in the Field, an undoing of the exclusive concentration. As the Knower’s gaze shifts, his attention is gradually freed from absorption in the Field, and the various grades of consciousness that are yet hidden begin to emerge:  from Matter to Life, Mind and beyond. The same essential process, the freeing of attention, occurs on all scales of development: over the course of billions of years of evolution, in the lifetime of an individual human being, and in every moment of our lives.

The Knower is hidden in the Field as the infinitesimal spark, the Soul, what Sri Aurobindo calls the psychic entity. This Soul-essence remains, and puts forth a growing soul-personality, the psychic being. The consciousness of the evolving Soul is diffuse in matter, and becomes slowly more organizedover the course of evolution. In animals, a further organization of the consciousness of the Soul takes place, and there emerges a kind of “group-soul,” which coordinates the consciousness of each animal of a particular species. With the emergence of the human being, a further organization of this consciousness takes place, and there emerges the individual psychic being.

 

Karma and the Process of Evolution

 

How does the growing psychic being awaken? There is a constant interaction throughout the course of evolution between the hidden Knower, the growing Soul, and the Field which is its environment. With every impact of the environment, there is a disturbance of the surface consciousness which, like the “rubbing of tinders,”[ii]impacts the slumbering psychic being, leading to further awakening.

But this process of awakening is not so simple. When the energies of the Field come knocking at the door of the psychic being, it does not automatically awaken in response. Because the Divine intends this to be an adventure, a game of hide and seek, there is a challenge built in – the challenge of apparent separation. The awakening consciousness of the Knower mistakenly identifies itself with a finite, limited formation of the Field. Remaining subconscious in matter, plants and animals, the process becomes conscious in human beings.[5]

Every action, every disturbance or reaction of the surface consciousness that arises out of apparent separation, because it is out of harmony with the Oneness of things, leaves behind a karmic trace, a physical/vital/mental impression. This subconscient impression intensifies the sense of separation, thus increasing the aspiration of the psychic being to awaken and recover its essential Oneness. It is the momentum of karma, in tandem with the aspiration of the Soul to awaken – guided by the Will of the Divine Intelligence – that drives the entire process of evolution.

The whole process of karmic action and reaction involves the registration of a stimulus (knowing), an inner modification (feeling), and an active response (willing). Knowing, willing and feeling, while present in matter, are negligible. As evolution proceeds, each becomes more complex, leading to a quickening in the pace of evolution. Underlying the momentum of the evolutionary force is the energy of the Soul’s aspiration and the energy of the Divine Will moving the whole process forward.

As the consciousness grows at any given level of development, the capacities of knowing, willing and feeling grow richer, more varied and more integrated. In terms of form, for example, the brain develops a new more complex structure which allows for more differentiation in its functioning. At the same time, more neural connections develop so that the different functions are more integrated. Regarding consciousness, at any given level, abilities become richer, with greater integration amongst them as well. For example, during the stage where the child is influenced primarily by the inner vital being, there may be an increase in her emotional sensitivity, an increase in her capacity for selective attention and along with this widening of ability, a greater capacity to integrate her thoughts, feelings and actions.

As this process of growth continues over millions and even billions of years, widening the capacity for knowing, feeling and willing, it reaches the point where a leap occurs, and a new, more complex grade of consciousness emerges. The attention, freed from its prior absorption, its exclusive concentration in a particular portion of the Field, shifts or expands into the new level of consciousness. Out of Matter, Life and Mind evolve. Along with this ascent or emancipation of consciousness, an integration occurs between the new, more complex layers of consciousness and those that preceded it. The physical matter that makes up the body of a plant or animal is transformed by the emergence of Life and Mind; the vital and mental consciousness of the human being will betransformed by the emergence of the supramental consciousness.

At the time the universe is born, only the physical consciousness is manifest. It is dull, mechanical, and inert because the Consciousness of the Knower is most hidden at that point in the evolutionary process. The vital consciousness – a reflection of the Divine Conscious-Energy – has to struggle to emerge from the dull, unconsciousness of matter. Because of this, the vital desire for mastery and enjoyment takes the form of a struggle against the inconscience of matter. When the mental consciousness first evolves, there is no integrating principle on the surface which can harmonize it with the vital and physical consciousness. Because of this, there tends to be frequent conflict between the different grades of consciousness. This conflict is less intense early on in evolution when only the first functions of mind – sensing and perceiving – have emerged. Associated with these two functions, only the physical mind (responsible for organizing sensations), and the vital mind (responsible for organizing the various levels of vital consciousness) have emerged. When the more complex functions of the thinking mind, along with more complex volition emerge, there is both a greater potential for integration, and at the same time, a greater potential for conflict.

 

Human Evolution – Collective

 

With the emergence of the thinking mind in human beings, there arises the possibility – which for a long time remains merely a potential – of conscious cooperation with the process of evolution.[6]  The thinking mind brings an enormous range of new abilities – new, richer capacities of feeling, memory, attention, imagination, creativity, and reasoning, as well as a more refined physical consciousness. But it also strengthens the ego, the sense of separation, further intensifying desire by distorting the Soul’s aspiration. The strengthening of the physical, vital and mental ego has resulted in a profound distortion of the human consciousness. It is the play of increased capacities along with the falsifying action of the ego that are responsible for the unfathomable complexity of human history.

All human history can be understood as reflecting the unfolding of the mental consciousness of the Divine. In early humanity, the thinking mind was largely under the influence of the physical consciousness. Over millennia, as the cosmic energy manifesting in humanity ascended the scale of consciousness, there was a successive influence of various levels of the vital consciousness, until the thinking mind became free, to some degree, from the domination of the vital and physical. However, one might say it overshot the mark, dominating them in turn, in the process becoming alienated from the larger, inner consciousness, and to some extent limiting its own activity to a small portion of the analytic reasoning mind.

While this description may be an accurate depiction of general trends, the actual evolution of humanity has occurred (and continues to occur) along many different and overlapping lines of physical, vital and mental karma. Different cultures, for example, have reflected different predominant aspects of consciousness:  19thcentury England, the physical mind; 18th-19thcentury Russia, the vital mind; Italy during the Renaissance, and Athens and Greece in the early centuries BCE, embodied what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the aesthetic mind; Spartan Rome and early Puritan America, the ethical mind; 18th-19thcentury Germany, the thinking mind proper; India during the time of the Upanishads, and Tibet during the Middle Ages, the intuitive mind.[7]  There is also a collective ego of a people – of a tribe, a community, a nation; and underlying that, the soul of the culture, a group-soul seeking to express its true nature. The karmic process of action and reaction takes place on the collective scale as well, and, combined with the aspiration of the group-soul, drives the evolution of human consciousness.

 

Human Evolution – Individual

 

The surface layer of the evolving Field is made up of various layers of physical, vital and mental consciousness. These can be subdivided in various ways, though actually they make up a continuum. Using Sri Aurobindo’s terminology (based on the original pre-philosophic Vedanta of the Upanishads), the outer or surface nature, ascending vertically, consists of the following grades of consciousness: physical (material physical, physical, vital physical, mental physical); vital (physical vital, lower vital, central vital, higher vital, mental vital) and mental (physical mind, vital mind, and the various subdivisions of the thinking mind).[8]

There is another layer of the evolving Field “behind” or deeper than the surface nature – the inner or subliminal consciousness. There is an inner mind, inner vital and inner subtle physical consciousness, each of which includesall the subdivisions of the outer nature mentioned above (inner higher vital, inner central vital, etc). This wider, vaster consciousness  is in direct connection with the universal fields of physical, vital and mental consciousness, and is the immediate source of much of the content of the outer nature. Most of our thoughts and feelings come either from this inner consciousness or from the layers of the personal or universal subconscient.[9]

Still deeper within than either the outer or inner Field is the individual Knower – the psychic being,(Chaitya Purusha; the Being in the Heart) which is the basis of everything that occurs in the inner and outer nature.[10]  In each moment, behind every thought, every feeling, every sensation, is the consciousness of the psychic being, directing and ultimately giving its consent to all movements of the inner and outer nature. Its attention, when focused at the higher chakras, brings the mind into play. Shifting attention to the lower chakras, the Soul brings into play the vital or physical consciousness.

Behind the evolving psychic being is the individual Soul, what Sri Aurobindo calls the “psychic entity.” This is a reflection in the Field of the individual Spirit (Jivatman; Conscious-Being) which exists forever beyond time and space.[11]This individual Spirit is a particular “focus” (though not separate as with egoic consciousness) of the Infinite, transcendent Knower (Purushottoma; Supreme Conscious-Being), a particular window or (non-mental) perspective through which He can experience his Infinitudes.

At each level of the Field, there is a reflection of the Spirit. In the ancient Vedanta these are referred to as the physical being (annamaya purusha– literally, the being made of food); vital being (pranamaya purusha, the being of pranaor life) and the mental being (manomaya purusha, the being of mind). These three “beings” can be experienced deep within as the inner witness, behind the various layers of the inner consciousness.[12]

 

The Process of Development

 

To the outer mind, human development appears to involve the maturation of the mind¸ emotions and body. From the inner perspective, it is ultimately the psychic being that is developing, even when the outer consciousness is entirely unaware of it. Both dimensions of growth – the development of the Field (the mental, vital and physical consciousness), and of the individual Knower (the growing Soul) – occur simultaneously. However, the development of the Field is purelyfor the sake of the Knower – to provide a more complex and versatile instrument through which the Knower can express Himself. One might speak of the evolving Field in terms of a vertical axis of development. This would include, in ascending order, the following levels: inconscient,[13]subconscient, physical, vital, mental; the planes of spiritual mind[14](higher mind,[iii]illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind); and the planes of the “higher hemisphere”: the Vijñana(supramental), Ananda(bliss), Chit(Conscious-Force) and Sat(Being).

The development of the individual, as was the case collectively over the course of human history, involves the gradual freeing of the thinking mind from domination by the physical and vital consciousness. Looking solely at the outer nature, one may be led to believe that a person with the highest level of development would be the one who has access to the most complex levels of the thinking mind. But from the yogic perspective, an individual may have developed an extremely complex thinking mind, but still be ruled from within by the physical being or vital being. The inner beings – physical, vital and mental – play an important role in the development of the outer nature, though not the central role, which belongs to the psychic being. This distinction is important, because often, we wrongly take the experience of the inner being to be a soul-experience.[15]

Ultimately, the degree of “awakeness” of the psychic being is the true measure of an individual’s level of development. A person who is profoundly retarded, whose thinking mind will never progress beyond that of a one or two-year-old child, may be a highly evolved Soul. In fact, the psychic being may have chosen to be born in a body with a defective brain in order to more fully develop certain emotional capacities or still deeper soul qualities.

 

The Role of Ego in the Developmental Process

 

The physical, vital and mental consciousness do not function as pure instruments because of the original (apparent, though not actual) separation of the Knower and the Field. For example, the true role of the lower vital consciousness is simply enjoyment of the world. However, because of ego, this enjoyment is distorted into craving and attachment. The same thing occurs with respect to all the instruments – the will to mastery of the central vital becomes an urge toward domination; the pure love of the Soul become in the surface vital a constant war of like and dislike, love and hate. The pure aspiration of the Soul is hijacked by the ego-dominated nature, and turned into the energy of desire. The mind, intended to be the pure seeker of Truth, becomes instead a justifier of vital desires. When working as a pure instrument of the supramental consciousness above, the sole function of the mind would be to express that infinite Intelligence in finite forms. Distorted by ego, the mind sees the world as made up of separate and distinct entities, and is unable to perceive the underlying Oneness.

Because the surface (and to a large extent, the inner) consciousness is shaped by ego, all its actions create further karma, strengthening the web of attachments which bind the Soul in countless ways. Not only are all the workings of each individual instrument distorted, but because the Soul is not yet sufficiently awake to function as an integrating factor, each instrument is in conflict with the other. The desires and cravings of the vital lead to physical illness and mental confusion; the separative will of the mind overrides the needs of the body and the pure expression of the vital. The inertia and dullness of the physical consciousness impede the free flow of emotion and the clear, unbiased working of the mind.

Complicating this process still further, various enduring patterns of physical, vital and mental consciousness come together to form a multitude of personalities. Accumulated over many lifetimes, we have hundreds, even thousands of these sub-personalities influencing us from the various subconscient levels of our being.

 

Preparation for Awakening and Transformation

 

The Soul accepts this web of ego and karma as part of the adventure of evolution. In fact, when the individual begins to awaken, it is possible to see the sanction of the psychic being behind virtually every vibration of the inner and outer nature. It can be seen that, in a way, the intention of the psychic being is ultimately required for any movement of the physical, vital or mental consciousness.

The psychic being is always seeking in some way to express – in whatever limited fashion available to it in the nature – its innate soul qualities of love, wisdom, strength, etc. At some point in development – in one lifetime or another – the psychic being is no longer content to have only an indirect influence on the surface consciousness. It is only by fully awakening that the psychic being can fully express its native qualities.

The awakening of the psychic being may seem to come about suddenly, brought on perhaps by some kind of traumatic shock. However, it usually involves many lifetimes in which the Soul has gradually purified and harmonized the instruments of the nature. The mind, through calm, non-judgmental attention, can work to align the vital and physical consciousness with the Soul. It can do this to the extent it is guided by true faith – shraddha– always listening intently for intimations of the voice of the true Conscience, the influence of the psychic being in the outer nature.

Through such mindful (and heartful) attention, the mind can minimize the constant conflict between the various grades of physical, vital and mental consciousness, enabling them to perform their appropriate functions. The ego will still be active, distorting the working of the nature, but through calm, mindful attention to the promptings of the psychic being, its influence can be minimized.

Though this process of attention can be fruitful, as long as the consciousness is confined to the surface, its capacity is extremely limited. The surface consciousness knows things only as separate from itself. The mind, for example, cannot understand the vital, because it cannot enter into direct communion with it. When we enter within, however, we know things by direct contact. Not only are we in intimate contact with the various parts of our own nature, we can directly touch the consciousness of other people (and even of physical objects) in a way impossible for the surface consciousness. The inner consciousness, unlike the outer consciousness, is also open to the powerful energy of the universal physical, vital and mental fields, thus giving it potentially greater power to change the nature. Most important, the inner consciousness, being closer to the soul, is more open to its influence than is the outer consciousness.

 

Awakening and Transformation – Individual

 

Once the psychic being has awakened, it is possible to bring its influence directly to bear on the outer nature, allowing for the fuller manifestation of the swabhava– the true nature of the Soul. The whole process – the initial purification of the nature, the opening to the inner consciousness, and the awakening of the Soul – is hastened to the extent the individual is open to the direct influence of the Force, the Conscious-Energy (Chit-Shakti) of the Divine. Aligning one’s will with that of the Divine, the outer instruments gradually become transformed, guided now at every step by the awakened psychic being.

The person, when awakened, discovers a method of “control’ which is entirely different from that of the unawakened outer nature. He realizes that the Soul’s consent is needed for every movement of consciousness. Rather than willfully dominating or controlling one part or another of his consciousness, he comes to see that merely removing that consent is sufficient to reject the distorted, egoic movements. He can also develop penetrating insight, by means of which he cam learn to see every layer and every detail of the complex karmic web woven by ego. By this spiritual insight, and by remaining open to the working of the Divine Force, the egoic distortions can not only be rejected, they can be transformed, restoring the proper function of each instrument.

But the capacity of the Soul to fully express its true nature will be limited as long as the instruments of the nature are confined to the physical, vital and ordinary mental consciousness. It is possible to awaken levels of consciousness beyond the thinking mind, which in turn allows a greater power of Divine Force to descend, further transforming the nature. Ultimately, the individual consciousness can ascend beyond the mind altogether, awakening the supramental consciousness, which will allow for the descent of a Force so powerful, it will be possible to utterly transform not only the mind and vital but the physical body itself.

 

Awakening and Transformation – Collective

 

The same evolutionary processes are at work on the collective as on the individual level. At the collective level, there is both a group ego and group-soul. The actions of the family, community and nation accumulate karmic impressions, which are collected in the group-subconscient. As in the individual, the weight of these karmic traces intensifies the aspiration of the group-soul to awaken and manifest its true nature. As each individual member of the family, community, etc. awakens and transforms his individual consciousness, it becomes more possible for this to happen on the collective level.

Just as with the individual, a collaborative effort toward purification and harmonization of the workings of the collective physical, vital and mental consciousness can prepare the ground for this awakening and transformation. Even now, the world may be going through a collective process leading to the next and potentially dangerous step, an opening to the influence of the vaster inner realms of consciousness. In the inner realm, the forces of ego and distortion are far more powerful and potentially destructive. Thus, it is imperative that we learn to open ourselves to the influence of the Divine Soul at the heart of things as we take this step.

Some day we will all awaken. Guided by the Divine, we will be able to manifest the Divine Nature, creating together a world in which we consciously recognize all matter as the body of the Spirit, life as the movement and play of Spirit, and mind as a subordinate working of the Truth-consciousness beyond mind. We will see the “one Divine in all”; we will live in the awareness that “all are in the Divine, all are the Divine and there is nothing else in the Universe.”[iv]

 

Lift your eyes towards the Sun; He is there in that wonderful heart of life and light and splendor. Watch at night the innumerable constellations glittering like so many solemn watchfires of the Eternal in the limitless silence which is no void but throbs with the presence of a single calm and tremendous existence; see there Orion with his sword and belt shining…Sirius in his splendor, Lyra sailing billions of miles away in the ocean of space. Remember that these innumerable worlds, most of them mightier than our own, are whirling with indescribable speed at the beck of that Ancient of Days whither none but He knoweth, and yet that they are a million times more ancient than your Himalaya, more steady than the roots of your hills and shall so remain until He at his will shakes them off like withered leaves from the eternal tree of the Universe. Imagine the endlessness of Time, realize the boundlessness of Space; and then remember that when these worlds were not, He was, the Same as now, and when these are not, He shall be, still the Same; perceive that beyond Lyra He is and far away in Space where the stars of the Southern Cross cannot be seen, still He is there.

 

And then come back to the Earth and realize who this He is. He is quite near to you. See yonder old man who passes near you crouching and bent, with his stick. Do you realize that it is God who is passing?  There a child runs laughing in the sunlight. Can you hear Him in that laughter?  Nay, He is nearer still to you. He is in you, He is you. It is yourself that burns yonder millions of miles away in the infinite reaches of Space, that walks with confident steps on the tumbling billows of the ethereal sea; it is you who have set the stars in their places and woven the necklace of the suns not with hands but by that Yoga, that silent actionless impersonal Will which has set you here today listening to yourself in me. Look up, O child of the ancient Yoga, and be no longer a trembler and a doubter; fear not, doubt not, grieve not; for in your apparent body is One who can create and destroy worlds with a breath.”[v]

 

Sri Aurobindo, Commentary on the Isha Upanishad

[1]Sri Krishna Prem  (1988) notes that the word consciousness “suffers from the great drawback that it has no active verbal form. One can say ‘to be conscious of’ but not ‘to conscious’ such-and-such an object.” (p. 195). To compensate for this, we’ve coined the awkward term “conscious-ing.”

[2]The “Beginning,” being outside of time, is Now, eternally.

[3]The Divine is beyond all gender, but for the sake of our limited consciousness, “He” and “She” are more evocative than “It.”

[4]Strictly speaking, the Purushottoma – the Supreme Person – is as much “beyond” the Knower as it is beyond the Field. We take the perhaps inappropriate liberty here of conflating the two – Knower and the One or All “beyond” the Knower – in the interest of what may be a foolish, mental consistency (i.e., consistent with descriptions of the Infinite Knower earlier in the book).

[5]This does not mean that every human being is conscious of the whole process of mistaken egoic identification; rather it means that the human being, unlike other creatures, consciously experiences himself as an individual separate from others and the world.

[6]This new possibility for conscious cooperation with the Divine Will is symbolized in the Biblical tale of Adam (Purushaor Conscious-Being) and Eve (Prakritior Conscious-Energy) in the Garden of Eden.

[7]These correlations of aspects of consciousness with various cultures are drawn largely from Sri Aurobindo’s work, “The Human Cycle”; in particular, Chapters 2, 4 and 10.

[8]  The second of the double terms is the layer of consciousness which is influenced by the first. For example, the term “mental vital” refers to that grade of the vital consciousness which is most strongly influenced by the mind. Sri Aurobindo uses a variety of terms describing layers or dimensions of the thinking mind, such as aesthetic mind, ethical mind, reasoning mind, externalizing mind (distantly related to what psychologists refer to as the capacity for expressive and receptive language) and dynamic mind (the volitional aspect of the thinking mind). All verbal terms should be taken as provisional; the purpose of the terminology is primarily to provide clarification of experience, and intellectual understanding only secondarily.

[9]Rarely, something may come through from the Soul or superconscient, but usually this will be in a highly distorted form once it reaches the surface consciousness.

[10]  Sri Aurobindo sometimes speaks of the “true mental,” the “true vital” and the “true physical” consciousness as being “between” the inner and psychic consciousness. At this level of subtlety, spatial dimensions can be misleading. For those with sufficient experience, extensive comments regarding this domain may be helpful, and can be found in the section, “Planes and Parts of the Being,” in Sri Aurobindo’s book, ‘Letters on Yoga,” Volume I.

[11]The Soul is also beyond time and space, but has a more direct relation to the evolving Field than the individual Spirit. Here, more even than with the terms which describe the layers of the Field, words like “Soul” and “Spirit” are difficult to understand without some experience of that to which they refer. If taken as labels or definitions, they will seem contradictory or even paradoxical. For example, how can Being, which is one, be divided up into psychic being, Soul, Spirit, etc? It can’t be divided, but different aspects can be distinguished – though not by the mind unless supported by spiritual discernment.

[12]This experience of the inner witness is often confused with full enlightenment. This theoretical distinction – between the inner witness and, deeper within, the Infinite Knower – has been made by various writers. However, in practice, the overwhelming perception of the inseparability of the Knower and the Field which accompanies the witnessing experience may lead the individual to confuse it with the pure, non-dual awareness of the Knower.

[13]See Diagram 3 in Chapter 18, The Supramental Consciousness.

[14]See Diagram 3 in Chapter 18, The Supramental Consciousness.

[15]Regarding the importance of the inner beings in psychological development, it is possible, for example, for someone to have a very well-developed intellect but be ruled by the physical consciousness. In this case, regardless of their mental capacity, their mental activity would likely be rigid and dominated by prejudice and dogmatism. Conversely, it is possible for someone to have a poorly developed intellect and be ruled by the mental being. This is sometimes seen in retarded individuals who have a high degree of self-awareness.

[i]Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 236.

[ii]  Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 616.

[iii]Some writers – the psychologist Alan Combs for example – identify the “Higher Mind” with the level of post-formal operations of some developmental psychologists (Robert Kegan’s fifth stage, for example). However, as used by Sri Aurobindo, the term “Higher Mind” refers to “a first plane of spiritual consciousness where one becomes constantly and closely aware of the Self, the One everywhere and knows and sees things habitually with that awareness.” Developmental psychologists have proposed a number of cognitive levels beyond Piaget’s formal operations; for example, the 2ndtier levels proposed by Don Beck based on the work of psychologist Clare Graves. All these post formal levels can be understood, from the perspective of yoga psychology, as increasingly refined functioning of the thinking mind, representing a progressive freeing of the thinking mind from the influence of the egoic vital and physical consciousness. It may help to keep in mind that even the realization of non-dual awareness does not require vertical development – a rising above concrete operations, much less any level of formal operations. Non-dual awareness does not involve a change in the Field, but rather, an awakening to the ever-present Knower “behind” (or rather, embracing and containing) the Field.

[iv]Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 112.

[v]Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pp.475-476.

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