The following is a summary of The Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo’s teaching and method of Practice. It explains clearly what the process of meditation is about based on profound studies of several yoga traditions, but primarily on his own experiences.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was born in India. At the age of seven, along with his two brothers, he was sent by his Anglophile father to England in order to receive a “British Education”. Returning to his homeland at age 21, he worked for some years in the public service, while learning from scratch the languages and traditions of his own culture. He was prominent in the struggle for independence against the British, and spent a year in prison. Whilst in prison he had a vision of the Divine, which assured him that India would attain its independence and that he could leave the movement to devote himself to the spiritual task. He retreated to the French colony of Pondicherry, where he would be safe against the British, and set up an ashram. There he became an important philosopher, yogi, and teacher and developed what he called Integral Yoga, the yoga of the whole being.
The great advantage of Aurobindo’s writings is that he studied various yoga and meditation systems his entire life. He gained a thorough understanding of the human being. He wrote, in detail, how one can purify his mind, emotions and body to gain his innate Divine Consciousness, usually referred to as enlightenment and liberation. These last two terms are loosely defined in the yogic systems, but Aurobindo gives us clear explanations of the different stages of the spiritual path, its difficulties, its workings, and most important, that the stage of enlightenment often seen as the goal, is actually the begging of another transformation of the human being.
Aurobindo had a clear system of practice that he called integral yoga, as it was based on a synthesis of different paths of yoga. He said that the practice does not proceed through any set mental teaching or prescribed forms of meditation, but by aspiration, by self-concentration inwards or upwards, by self-opening to the Divine Power above us and its workings. Aspiration is not desire, but the need of an inner soul, of one quiet settled will, to turn towards the Divine and seek the Divine. Every person will approach his spiritual path differently according to his own uniqueness, but the aspiration and the surrender is key. The Divine is already in ourselves, and we have to learn to direct our attention to it, and to let it work in our practice and lives. According to Aurobindo there are two ways to do practice: one by knowledge and by one’s own efforts; the other by reliance on the Mother when one starts to develop trust and surrender to the Divine. If one relies solely on one’s effort it can be a difficult and long process. It can be a good beginning, and then it is best to focus on the Mother. The Mother is not some mythological goddess entity. The Mother is the consciousness and force of the Divine. While the Supreme Self is inactive, a silent witness, its dynamic aspect, which takes on the form of the Mother, can bring down the Force of the Divine, and help the practitioner to clear out any confusion, and lead him to the higher consciousness. Therefore it is always good to stay open to the Mother, because then one will start to live for the Divine, and not for the ego. It is important to understand that the Divine (in yourself) always knows the right way of how to proceed in your practice. Although one can see the Mother as the dynamic force of the Divine that encompasses the All (and even personify it), the nature of the Mother is also in oneself and directly accessible.
The spiritual practice consists of purifying one’s nature, the opening of the psychic being (which is mind, emotions and physical body). One first withdraws his attention into his inner nature, before one makes contact with the Divine. One realizes that the Divine is in all beings and things. Man on Earth is not here to do what he wills, or what he likes. We are here to do what the Divine wills and to create a world in which the Divine Will can manifest its truth no longer deformed by human ignorance or perverted and mistranslated by vital desire. Therefore a spiritual practice is not to be undertaken for some self-seeking purpose, but for the sake of the Divine itself.
Normal men live in a consciousness that is quite superficial, in which everything is limited and temporal. In his ordinary life man’s consciousness is separated from his own true self and the Divine. He is being led by common habits of the mind, life and body, and thus in Ignorance. The mind can be cleared and purified, and its instrument, the intellect, can be used to reason about Divinity. However when consciousness remains in the mind realm, it will never be able to know what the Divine really is. However one can shift one’s focus above the mind, to his higher consciousness, what Aurobindo calls the Supramental Consciousness (above the mind), also called the Self, the Spirit, the Divine. One can live entirely in this spiritual consciousness, while in the physical body. In the Supramental Consciousness there is all knowledge of self. It is self luminous. It knows no divisions, oppositions or separations.
Although some practitioners seek to withdrawn from the world, and ascend into the higher realms, Aurobindo was of the opinion, that although ascetism has its place, one can explore the upper world, and live in the Realm of the Spirit, and at the same time, one can bring the Divine down into the material and into every day life. This is a matter of manifesting the Divine into the physical plane. Most yogis aim at leaving behind the body, the vital (emotions) and the mind, and to dwell or disappear into the Divine Consciousness. With Aurobindo’s system one not only ascends through the body, vital and mind into the Divine or Supramental consciousness, but then brings this Supramental Consciousness down into the mind, vital and finally into the body, and thus into our every day life. Body, vital and mind are not something to get rid of. Man would not then have a divine life here on Earth. The purpose of Aurobindo’s system is to reach the higher consciousness while being fully in the body, on Earth, and not to try to get away from Earth for some higher dimension. As most yogis were only interested in an ascent, a going up into the Supramental realm, Aurobindo also promotes bringing down the supramental power into matter and body, and thus let it fulfill itself here on earth by removing the limitations that Nature has up to now. Then the world will slowly change and establish a harmony that will resonate throughout the world. Only a few advanced yogis have ever reached that state, but Aurobindo sees this as a new step in the evolution of humanity. The Supramental Power is being established in the earth-consciousness as a living force. A greater unity, harmony and light would emerge everywhere.
In contrast with certain Hindu traditions, which see the world as an Illusion (Maya), or a Play (lila) of the Divine, Aurobindu sees the created world as a field of manifestation, which is as real as the Divine itself, in which there is a progressive evolution of the soul in Matter until it reaches complete revelation or unity with the Ultimate Reality.
The Physical, Vital and Mental Body
There are three planes of existence in the lower, created world: The material, the vital and the mental.
The material, or physical, consciousness is mostly subconscious. The part that is conscious is mechanical, inertly moved by habits, always repeating the same unintelligent movements. It is attached to routine and established rules, unwilling to change, also unwilling to receive any higher forces. It is obscure, stupid, indolent, full of ignorance, inertia and darkness. One should also know that despite these characteristics, matter is a form of the Divine Spirit, and it can be spiritualized. The physical body, being by higher forces organized as a unit, serves the center of a manifested personality in action on this earth.
The vital is the level of vitality, or life-force. It must be purified or controlled by the mind, otherwise it will enslave itself to desire, passion and ego, and all the corresponding emotions and feelings.
The mind consciousness has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental and thought perceptions, mental vision and will.
The Divine Self and the Psychic Being
The physical, vital and mind bodies are the temporal manifestation of that which is central to the living being: the Divine Self, or Spirit, also called Purusha, and Jivatman. The Jivatman is not born and does not evolve. It is the individualized Self of a being, self-existent and eternal. One becomes aware of Jivatman when one gains the Supramental Consciousness. Jivatman as individualized Self can be considered as a unit of the Divine. When one experiences the nature of the Divine, one speaks of Satchidananda, which means Existence (Sat), Consciousness (chit), Bliss (Ananda).
The psychic being is the expression of the Divine Self in the lower worlds. As Jivatman wants to express itself in the lower worlds, it creates a soul, a spark of the Divine, which comes down in the manifested worlds. The soul forms itself ‘the psychic being’. The psychic being is the soul personality that evolves and grows in consciousness, using the mind, the vital and the physical for that purpose. The psychic being opens the lower bodies to the true Supramental Light.
The Omnipresent Divine
The Divine itself is called Brahman, which is the only Reality, eternal, infinite, absolute. Nothing else but Brahman exists, and that includes what we perceive as the created worlds, down the very material. The Divine is also called the Supreme Truth in contrast to Ignorance present in the lower worlds. From the Divine all has come and in the Divine we all are, we all live.
When one’s consciousness rises up to and lives in the Divine Consciousness, one is still an individual, but all sense of personal self disappears. One does not loose oneself into the Divine, but one becomes a channel for the Divine Power.
The Practice of Eliminating Thoughts
There are several ways of meditation in the different yoga systems. The preferred system of Aurobindo is by eliminating thoughts from the mind. There are several ways of getting rid of it. One of them is to look at the thoughts and observe what is the nature of the human mind as they show it but not to give any sanction and to let them run down till they come to a standstill. Another is to look at the thoughts as not one’s own, to stand back as the witness Purusha and refuse the sanction. The thoughts are regarded as things coming from outside, from Prakriti, and they must be felt as if they were passers-by crossing the mind space with whom one has no connection and in whom one takes no interests. In this way it usually happens that after a time the mind divides into two, a part which is the mental witness watching and perfectly undisturbed and quiet and a part which is the object of observation, the Prakriti part in which the thoughts cross or wander. Afterwards one can proceed to silence or quiet the Prakriti part also. There is a third, an active method by which one looks to see where the thoughts come from and finds they come not from oneself, but from outside the head as it were; if one can detect them coming, then, before they enter, they have to be thrown away altogether. This is perhaps the most difficult way and not all can do it, but if it can be done it is the shortest and most powerful road to silence.
In the beginning of the meditation practice one discovers that one’s thoughts are very superficial, and do not belong to what one really is. Underneath that surface is a deeper consciousness. To quiet the surface mind and begin to live within is the object of this concentration. Of this true consciousness other than the superficial there are two main centers, one in the heart (not the physical heart, but the cardiac centre in the middle of the chest), and one in the head. You can choose which center suits you best.
The concentration in the heart opens within and by following this inward opening and going deep, one becomes aware of the soul or psychic being, the divine element in the individual. This being unveiled begins to come forward, to govern the nature, to turn it and all its movements towards the Truth, towards the Divine, and to call down into it all that is above. It brings the consciousness of the Divine Presence, the dedication of the practitioner to the Highest and invites the descent into our nature of the Divine Force and Consciousness which is waiting above us.
The other way is the concentration in the head, in the mental centre. This, if it brings about the silence of the surface mind, opens up an inner, larger, deeper mind within which is more capable of receiving spiritual experience and spiritual knowledge. But once concentrated here one must open the silent mental consciousness upward to all that is above mind. After a time one feels the consciousness rising upward and in the end it rises beyond the lid which has so long kept it tied in the body and finds a centre above the head where it is liberated into the Infinite. There it begins to come into contact with the universal Self, the Divine Peace, Light, Power, Knowledge, Bliss, to enter into that and become that, to feel the descent of these things into the nature of one’s being. It is important, however, to remember that the concentration of the consciousness in the head is only a preparation for its rising to the centre above; otherwise, one may get shut up in one’s own mind. For some the mental concentration is easier, for some the concentration in the heart center.
The Inward Movement
During the practice one becomes more and more conscious of what is inside of him. After a while the outward life is seen as superficial and empty with no connection with the soul. When one goes into the inner consciousness, it is felt as a calm, pure existence without any movement, being tranquil and unmoved.
This inward movement takes place in many different ways and there is sometimes a complex experience combining all the signs of the complete plunge. There is a sense of going in or deep down, a feeling of the movement towards inner depths; there is often a stillness, a pleasant numbness, a stiffness of the limbs. This is the sign of the consciousness retiring from the body inwards under the pressure of a force from above. There is a feeling of waves surging up, mounting to the head, which brings an outer unconsciousness and an inner waking. It is the ascending of the lower consciousness in the person to meet the greater consciousness above. It is a movement analogous to the Kundalini. In Aurobindo’s system it is not a specialized process (like it is in Kundalini yoga), but it is a spontaneous rush upwards of the whole lower consciousness, sometimes in currents or waves, sometimes in a less concrete motion, and on the other side a descent of the Divine Consciousness and its Force into the body. This descent is felt as a pouring in of calm and peace, of force and power, of light, of joy and ecstasy, of wideness and freedom and knowledge, of a Divine Being or a Presence. Sometimes it is one of these, sometimes several of them or all together. The movement of ascension has different results. It may liberate the consciousness so that one feels no longer in the body, but above it; or else spread in wideness with the body either almost non-existent or only a point in one’s free expanse. It may enable the being, or some part of the being, to go out from the body and move elsewhere, and this action is usually accompanied by some kind of partial Samadhi or else a complete trance. Or, it may result being no longer limited by the body and the habits of the external nature. instead consciousness is able to enter the inner depths of the psychic being, and to move and live in the worlds that correspond to these parts of the nature. It is the repeated and constant ascent of the lower consciousness that enables the mind, the vital, the physical to come into touch with the higher planes up to the supramental and get impregnated with their light and power and influence.
It is the repeated and constant descent of the Divine Consciousness and its Force that is the means for the transformation of the whole being and the whole nature. Once this descent becomes habitual, the Divine Force, the Power of the Mother, begins to work, no longer from above only or from behind the veil, but consciously in the person himself.
During the practice the realization of the Divine Spirit can come at any time, long before one reaches the level of the Supramental Consciousness. This can happen on any plane, on the mental plane, the vital plane, and even on the physical plane. On these lower levels the realization is only partial, because everything on these levels has limitations. Only when one reaches the higher level of the Supramental Consciousness, will the Divine Consciousness appear in all its vastness.
When one has reached the level of Supramental Consciousness, and has become aware of his Divine Spirit, one can also gain Cosmic Consciousness. Cosmic Consciousness is possible before one has reached the Supramental, when one is still dwelling in his lower nature, on all levels (body, vital and mind). But this has its risks, as one then can become the playground of all kinds of forces. When one gains Cosmic Consciousness while still being in the lower levels of body, vital, and mind, and experiences the ordinary cosmic forces and the beings behind these forces may enter, all this Aurobindo calls the Cosmic Ignorance. It is much safer to first attain Self Realization and then explore the Cosmic Consciousness.
Reaching the Supramental Consciousness
When experiencing Cosmic Consciousness, one’s limits of ego, personal mind and body disappears, and one one becomes directly aware of a cosmic vastness, filled with a cosmic spirit, a universal Being,, universal states, universal Force and Power, universal Mind, Life, and Matter. The ego, the body, the mind does not disappear, rather one feels them only as a small part of oneself. One begins to feel others too as a part of oneself, or at least as living in the larger universal self which is one’s own greater reality. It is a new, vast and deep way of experiencing, , seeing, knowing, contacting things, but the possibility of error still exists. However, one also has to be on guard against the play of a magnified ego, and a vaster attack of hostile forces.
Aurobindo stresses that enlightenment or realization is not the end goal of the spiritual path, as it is often taken in other yogic disciplines. Enlightenment means that one has reached the Supramental Consciousness and can make it one’s primary consciousness. One has attained pure consciousness of one’s Divine Self. But enlightenment does not necessarily transform the being as a whole. One has realized the Purusha, the Divine Being, but no radical change has taken part in the Prakriti, or the lower being of the mind, the vital and the body. These parts might have received some light, some change, some purification, some silence. The descent of some Light in these lower parts is not really significant. Only by a supramentalisation, as Aurobindo calls it, will the lower being be completely transformed. With this transformation the higher consciousness (Supramental Consciousness, the Divine Spirit, the divine Self) is brought down into the mind, the vital and the body.
When one rises up to the higher consciousness, the spiritual consciousness of the true self, one is free as long as one remains there. However, when one comes down into the the lower bodies, or when one stays in the higher self, but uses the lower self, then one still faces the imperfections of the three lower bodies. Only by fully bringing down the higher consciousness, will these lower bodies be perfected and transformed.
The transformation consists of two parts: the psychic transformation and the spiritual transformation.
The psychic transformation is threefold. First one becomes aware of the inner mind, the inner vital and the inner physical. Second, the psychic being comes forward and governs the mind, the vital, the body which now turns to the Divine. Third, the whole lower being opens to the spiritual truth. In a normal human being, the psychic being, or soul, remains in the background, and it acts through the mind, the vital and the body. With practice, the psychic being comes forward when one becomes aware that it is one’s true being, although in the lower worlds. Then one starts to see that the body, vital and mind are just instruments. When the psychic being comes forward, then there is an automatic perception of the true and untrue, what is right and what is wrong. The lower bodies become under the control of the psychic being, and they turn towards the reception of a higher consciousness. This process is usually very slow in most people. The best means to bring forward the psychic being are aspiration, constant and sincere, and the will to turn to the Divine.
The spiritual transformation is a bringing down of the Divine Consciousness, static and dynamic, into all the parts of the lower being and the entire replacement of the present consciousness by that.
There is no incompatibility between the two movements. Some begin the psychic first, others the spiritual first, some carry on both together. The best way is to aspire for both and let the Mother’s Force work it out according to the need and turn of the nature of the person.
The Divine Force from above usually descends first into the head and liberates the inner mind centers, then into the heart center where it liberates fully the psychic and emotional being, then into the navel and other vital centers and liberates the inner vital, then into the Muladhara and below and liberates the inner physical being. It works at the same time for perfection as well as liberation; it takes up the whole nature part by part and deals with it, rejecting what has to be rejected, sublimating what has to be sublimated, creating what has to be created. It integrates, harmonizes, establishes a new rhythm in the nature. Ultimately it becomes possible to bring down the supramental force and existence.
It is common that first a deep, intense feeling of peace and stillness descends from the higher consciousness into the lower. First it comes and stays during meditation, but eventually it will endure. Later on there can also be a descent of Peace, Force, Light and Bliss, all of which can be very intense. Therefore Peace and Stillness is preferred to be established first.
When consciousness ascends it comes to a position which is no longer in the body but above it. In the beginning it will return to the body. However a definitive rise comes by which the consciousness permanently takes its station above the body. It is no longer is in the body or limited by it. It feels itself not only above it but extended in space. The body is seen as below its high station and enveloped in its extended consciousness. It is not merely an experience but a realization, a permanent change. This brings a liberation from identification with the body. Nothing seems to be felt but a wide practically infinite consciousness which is oneself. This new consciousness is open to all knowledge from above, but it does not think with the brain as does the ordinary mind. It has other and larger means of awareness than thought.
The Supramental Transformation
We have seen that with the spiritual transformation, the Divine Light can come down and have an effect on the lower bodies, such as a purification, and make the lower bodies an instrument for the Divine. But this transformation is incomplete. The nature of the lower bodies remains full of imperfections, while the Divine Self in the higher planes does not mind this at all, as it is itself free and unaffected. Only a supramental transformation will effect a complete transformation of mind, vital and body. This is not an easy process, and mind and vital have to first be completely transformed, before the physical body. The complete transformation of the physical body is the most difficult because of its dense, ignorant, resistive nature. When the physical body has been completely transformed and thus penetrated by the Divine energy, it will not be subject anymore to disease or decay or death. It can be ‘immortal’ for as long as one wants. Then one lives completely in the Divine, here on Earth. Immortality is not so much ‘having’ an immortal body, but actually completely living in the Divine.
Difficulties with the Transformation of the Three Bodies
The spiritual path is not without difficulties. It is not easy to cultivate the awareness of one’s psychic self, and of one’s Divine Self. Sometimes one gets depressed because of periods of slow progress. There can also be outside influences of hostile beings who don’t want the practitioner to gain Divine Consciousness. All this has to be faced a calm and observant attitude while continuing to practice. Aside from this, the three bodies have their own inherent problems.
With the mind, the intellect is a great obstacle. The intellect is imperfect, not well developed, , is often illogical and faulty in its conclusions. Even when it is well developed, it has no knowledge about the Divine, and can only form presumptions about the Divine nature. The thinking ability of the mind is very stubborn. In ordinary people it is unruly, chaotic, and creates turmoil in the mind.
The vital body is even more stubborn. It is important for the vital ego to become conscious of its own defects, and willing to get rid of them. There is no place for vanities, ambitions, lusts and longings. In a normal person the vital ego hates being opposed in its desires and will refuse to change, often justifying its own demands and inclinations, or offer passive resistance. The vital is also perverse. Its likes dramatic pleasure in its own misery and tragedy, even in degradation or in illness. When addressing the vital for purification, one can reckon on strong resistance, because the vital uprisings are actually fighting for their own existence. It is important to understand that these are just energies that are not an integral part of oneself. One should look at them as something external, and remain calm and quiet. Then they will subside.
The physical body is very resistant to transformation due to its nature of inertia, narrowness, limitation, inability to progress, doubt, dullness, forgetfulness. Transformation of the physical can only be done by gradually and persistently infusing the physical with the Divine power, peace, presence.
Besides these three bodies there is also a further transformation to be done of the subconscious and the unconscious.
The subconscious, located below the feet, is the consciousness that lies below our normal consciousness. We are normally not aware of this. It is the consciousness of matter, and thus of the material aspect of the physical body. The subconscious receives impressions of all that we do or experience in our lives, and keeps these impressions in it. It is an important part of our being, here on Earth, and parts of it rise up in our dreams at night. This subconscious also has to be penetrated by, and brought under control and influence of the Divine.
The unconscious is at the basis of the material world. It is a consciousness of extreme darkness, inertia, insensibility, disharmony, disintegration. It is the consciousness of fixed habits, automatic movements, mechanical repetitions, involuntary reactions. Even on the spiritual path it will show itself in the form of doubt, discouragement, loss of faith and enthusiasm, cynicism, refusal to believe, corruption, preoccupation with food, money, comfort to the exclusion of higher things. All this has to be faced when it comes, and overcome with the Light.