Sri Aurobindo’s “Integral Yoga”

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The realization of the Supermind, the establishment of the Divine (Supramental) Life on Earth is the core of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings.

One of the most interesting concepts Sri Aurobindo speaks about is the evolution of the human being. It helps in reminding us not to become attached to form because what we are, is transient (He famously said “man is a transient being”). He describes the emerging human to be a “Gnostic” being. The Gnostic being is an individual who has full supramental gnosis, and so has realized the Supramental state of existence not only individually but collectively as well.

The central theme of Sri Aurobindo’s vision is the evolution of human life into the divine life. He writes: “Man is a transitional being. He is not final.” The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth’s evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of nature’s process.

According to Sri Aurobindo, the Supreme Reality is Brahman, the Divine. It is eternal, absolute and infinite. The highest positive expression of Brahman is the Sat-Chit-Ananda (Sachchidananda) or Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, all in one. It manifests itself as indeterminate as well as determinate, as one as well as many, as being as well as becoming, and yet it transcends them all.

Divine life is the ultimate destiny, the goal of evolution. But how are we to bring it on earth? Sri Aurobindo feels that such a state is bound to emerge sooner or later, but its descent can be expedited by spiritual activities. But how precisely are we to expedite it? Sri Aurobindo’s answer is that this can be done by Yoga.

The word “Yoga” literally means “Union” and therefore the basic aim of all kinds of Yoga is the realization of the Divine-the realization of Unity. All philosophies of Yoga presuppose that the greatest evil is the separation of the finite from the Infinite, and therefore, the restoration of the original unity is the basic aim of Yoga.

According to Sri Aurobindo, evolution has reached a particular stage both at the individual level and at the cosmic level. Evolution is preparing for a leap into the spiritual or the supermental level. ‘Yoga’ is needed to facilitate and expedite this leap.

Sri Aurobindo admits that the life process is itself a Yoga, because every activity is an activity towards the realization of unity, being an expression of the Infinite within us. But ordinarily such Yogic activities are performed by us unconsciously without the awareness of its aims and purpose. The aim of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is to perform these in a conscious manner.

Ordinarily, the process moves in a very slow speed. Yoga accelerates the process. Yoga implies not only the realization of God, but an entire consecration and change of the inner and outer life till it is fit to manifest a divine consciousness and become part of a divine work. The aim of Yoga is variously described sometimes it is described as the outflowing of The Divine in collective humanity. Sometimes it is described as liberation in and of nature and not simply from nature. It is also described as spiritual self-manifestation as distinguished from mere self-realization.

According to Sri Aurobindo, Yoga is the realization of Divinity here on earth in the bodily state itself; it does not lead to a supernatural existence. It changes the entire physical, vital and mental processes. It does not lead to a supernatural existence.

Sri Aurobindo says, “Our Yoga is a double movement of ascent and descent, one rises to higher and higher levels of consciousness, but at the same time one brings down their power not only into mind and life, but in the end even into the body. And the highest of these levels, the one at which it aims is the Supermind. Only when that can be brought down is a divine transformation possible in the earth consciousness. Integral Yoga thus aims at the Divine transformation of the whole of the embodied existence and also includes ‘Sarvamukti’ or the collective redemption/liberation of the whole mankind. This is similar to Sankhya Yoga and Shankaracharya’s philosophy which aim at universal liberation rather than individual liberation!

World Process SACHCHIDANANDA

Nature of Yoga

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Describing the nature of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo says that Yoga means union with the Divine, a union either transcendental (above the universe) or cosmic (universal) or individual; and in Integral Yoga all three together. That is one of the reasons why it is called “integral”. We have seen that Yoga helps and expedites the process of ascent, which is nothing but a process of widening, heightening and integration. Yoga helps all these aspects of evolution and therefore it is integral.

Basic characteristics of Integral Yoga or Purna Yoga:-

  1. Firstly, it can be said that other forms of Yoga, somehow or the other, demand the cultivation of some special faculties or capacities, and therefore they are not within the easy reach of everybody. Sri Aurobindo outlines the process of an inner Yoga which can be followed by everybody. That is why, he does not lay much emphasis on either the breathing or postural exercise of Hatha Yoga, or on the Pranayama and Asana prescribed in Patanjali Yoga. He does not also assert that Yoga requires the observance and performance of such religious rites and rituals that require special capacities and resources. He does not even recommend the recitation of prayers and mantras. His Yoga is an inner Yoga requiring some disciplines of purification. And spiritualization which everyone can practice.
  2. Most of the Yogic procedures adopt a negative attitude towards the world. Patanjali’s Yoga aims at the attainment of Vivekjnana (pronounced: Vivekgyana) which is only the knowledge of discrimination between the self and the not-self. Sri Aurobindo believes that Yoga aims not at discriminating knowledge but at the spiritualization of even the not-self.
  3. Most of the Yogic philosophies believe that Yoga is a rising above the physical and the bodily. Sri Aurobindo does not recommend a complete suppression or rejection of the physical or the bodily. Sri Aurobindo believes that the aim of Yoga is to change even the physical with the supramental light.
  4. Again, usually the Yogis assert that the union with the divine takes place in a state of Samadhi or ecstatic trance in which the waking consciousness completely fades out and all contacts with the ordinary world and surroundings are lost. On the contrary, Sri Aurobindo believes that the spiritual union with the Divine can take place in this body itself-in the state of waking consciousness.
  5. All Yogic philosophies state that the aim of Yoga is the liberation of the individual. Sri Aurobindo says that that is not the only aim. In fact, even individual liberation is an aspect of the ultimate goal-the redemption of mankind and the emergence of Divine life on earth.

Therefore, the process of Yoga, as recommended by Sri Aurobindo lays down such unique technique that is different from ususal Yogic disciplines. According to Sri Aurobindo, Yoga is the effort to move the mind along the path of ascent (through higher mind, illumined mind, intuition and overmind towards the supermind). For this a threefold processes recommended which corresponds to the process of triple transformation discussed earlier.

This includes:

  1. A process of Psychicisation
  2. A process of Spiritualization
  3. A process of Supramentalization

These three are conceived as the three steps of Integral Yoga or Purna Yoga. These steps are essentially inner so Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is described as inner Yoga.

  1. Psychicisation involves a persistent effort to realize the centrality of the psychic being-the Jivatma which represents the Divine in man. Normally that aspect remains veiled and in the background. Sri Aurobindo feels that the first step is to awaken it. Psychicisation means psychic change of the lower nature, bringing right vision into the mind, right impulse and feeling into the vital, right movement and habit into the physical-all turned towards the Divine, all based on love devotion and adoration- and finally, the true vision and sense of the dynamic Divine (the Mother) everywhere in the world as well as in the heart. Thus, in this step consciousness has to turn inwards, and has to reform accordingly the Physical, the Vital, and the Mental.
  2. Spiritualization is the second step of Yoga, it is also described as the process of opening out. Psychic change prepares the ground by transforming the Physical, the Vital and the Mental. Now, the mental must start its onward march by opening itself out to higher consciousness, to the Superconsciousness. By this process, the Self seeks to bring to itself peace, power, knowledge and bliss, etc. and spiritualizes its thoughts and actions. Psychic change is a change within the limits of natural aspects-surface and subliminal. Spiritual change rises above and seeks to bring down into play the aspects of the higher realm.
  3. Finally, the third step of Supramentalization is needed. In this process, consciousness is fully divided and the entire point of view changes. All forces of disunity and duality are superseded and the vision of complete unity emerges. Sri Aurobindo feels that there are four different stages in Purna Yoga for stilling all storm and tumult of the Mental. They are Quiet (Achanchalta), Calm (Sthirta), Peace (Shanti) and Silence (Niravata). These four are not qualitatively different stages, they represent progressively the stages through which mind is completely freed from all disturbances. Supermentalization brings about two changes-universalization, which is nothing but expansion of consciousness and transcendentalization, which is nothing but the knowledge of the identity of the Divine.

These three stages evidently represent the three transformations which are essential for realization of the Divine life.

-Ribhu V.

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