Sri Aurobindo Studies | Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga

Posted: January 22, 2016 at 2:40 pm


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In The Synthesis of Yoga Sri Aurobindo unfolds his vision of an integral (also called purna or complete) yoga embracing all the powers and activities of man. He provides an overview of the main paths of yoga, their primary methodologies and the necessity for integrating them into a complete, all-embracing and all-encompassing activity. The motto All Life Is Yoga is the theme of this text.

Sri Aurobindo points out that this is not intended as a fixed methodology: The Synthesis of Yoga was not meant to give a method for all to follow. Each side of the Yoga was dealt with separately with all its possibilities, and an indication as to how they meet so that one starting from knowledge could realise Karma and Bhakti also and so with each path. (pg. 899)

The final section begins to flesh out an integrative method which Sri Aurobindo called the yoga of self-perfection. While all the details of this approach were not completed to the extent desired, Sri Aurobindo has provided ample guidelines for the seeker to understand the direction and the path.

It is our goal to take up the systematic review of The Synthesis of Yoga in the following pages. All page number citations in this review are based on the U.S. edition of The Synthesis of Yoga published by Lotus Press, EAN: 978-0-9415-2465-0 Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga

Chapter headings and organization of the material follow The Synthesis of Yoga.

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Sri Aurobindos integral yoga has enormous implications for the time we find ourselves in. As we systematically destroy the basis of life on the planet, and wall off one another through ultimate fragmentation, we are left with the stark contrast of choosing between survival and destruction, life and death, growth or decline. Sri Aurobindo recognizes the necessity of the individual within the context of the collectivity, universality and the transcendent consciousness of Oneness. The individual is the nexus or hub of the evolutionary urge, but not separate from nor at the expense of the life of the cosmic whole.

We also have a daily twitter feed on Sri Aurobindos studies at http://www.twitter.com/santoshk1

We have systematically worked our way through The Life Divine as well as The Mother , Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma. The newest posts appear near the top. If you want to start at the beginning, go to the oldest post and roll forward until you reach the final posts in July 2012.

Another option is to search for the chapter you would like to study and see all posts relating to that chapter. You may have to ask for older posts once you have the search results if you are looking for one of the earlier chapters.

We have separated the posts relating to each book into their own folder as an additional organisational tool.

Similarly you can use the search box to find specific concepts, terms or issues you are interested in. The results will show all posts that address those concepts or terms. You may have to click on older posts to find all the references here as well.

The next book we are taking up is The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo, following a similar format to that we have utilised for The Life Divine , The Mother, Essays on the Gita and Rebirth and Karma.

You may also want to visit our information site for Sri Aurobindo at Sri-Aurobindo.Com

Sri Aurobindos major writings are published in the US by Lotus Press.

The systematic studies on this blog have also been published as self-standing books by Lotus Press and are available in both printed formats and as e-books. There are 3 volumes encompassing Readings in Sri Aurobindos The Life Divine as well as 1 volume for Readings in The Mother by Sri Aurobindo, and Readings inSri AurobindosRebirth and Karma.

Both volumes of Readings in Sri Aurobindos Essays on the Gita have now been published as well.

Many of the major writings of Sri Aurobindo are now also accessible on the Amazon Kindle Platform. As of early 2015 we are actively at work to prepare editions for itunes, google play, kobo, and nook as well. We will notify when these additional platforms become available. Kindle e-book reader program is also available for PC, Laptop, iPad, Blackberry, Android, iPhone and many other platforms from Amazon without charge. You can find the current list of titles available by going to http://www.amazon.com , go to the kindle store and type in Aurobindo New titles are being added as they can be made ready. Many of the major books are already accessible by the Kindle Reader.

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The influence of the vital prana on the emotional mind overwhelms the ability to express pure, clear and undistorted emotional energy. The human being is thus dominated by the wash of conflicting emotional reactions, joy and sorrow, love and hate, anger, jealousy, as well as all kinds of hopes and dreams and aspirations. Because of the identification of the ego-personality with this array of emotions, the individual tends to treat this as an expression of his uniqueness, and of his soul.

Sri Aurobindo observes that this surface reaction is not actually the true soul in man: But the real soul, the real psychic entity which for the most part we see little of and only a small minority of mankind has developed, is an instrument of pure love, joy and the luminous reaching out to fusion and unity with God and our fellow-creatures. This psychic entity is covered up by the play of the mentalised Prana or desire-mind which we mistake for the soul; the emotional mind is unable to mirror the real soul in us, the Divine in our hearts, and is obliged instead to mirror the desire-mind.

This is an important distinction as the more deeply the individual attaches himself to this surface play of emotional reactions, the less is he able to channel the pure energy stemming from the divine standpoint and respond with an equal and radiant goodwill to all. We can see the action of the vital energy infiltrating the emotional sheath of the being as the cause of this mis-identification. This understanding can aid the seeker in eventually discovering the true soul and heeding its quiet promptings in all fields of life and action.

The ancient texts define the soul as no bigger than the thumb of a man, and residing deep in the inner heart, for the most part unseen, unheard, and unheeded in the outward rush of the senses, the vital reactions, the emotions and the mind.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 8, The Release from the Heart and the Mind, pg. 336

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Desire, a key attribute of the vital being of man, is considered by many to be necessary as the motivating force of action. We frequently hear that without desire, there would be no impetus for action and there would be no possibility of progress. Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the current role of desire, yet at the same time, takes care to point out that desire is not the only possible spur to action and in fact, it is not the true and proper guide for our human journey.

Desire is at once the motive of our actions, our lever of accomplishment and the bane of our existence. If our sense-mind, emotional mind, thought-mind could act free from the intrusions and importations of the life-energy, if that energy could be made to obey their right action instead of imposing its own yoke on our existence, all human problems would move harmoniously to their right solution.

If desire is not to interfere with the actions of mind, then we need to find an appropriate relationship between the mind and the vital being in man. The proper function of the life-energy is to do what it is bidden by the divine principle in us, to reach to and enjoy what is given to it by that indwelling Divine and not to desire at all. The proper function of the sense-mind is to lie open passively, luminously to the contacts of Life and transmit their sensations and the rasa or right taste and principle of delight in them to the higher function; but interfered with by the attractions and repulsions, the acceptances and refusals, the satisfactions and dissatisfactions, the capacities and incapacities of the life-energy in the body it is, to begin with, limited in its scope and, secondly, forced in these limits to associate itself with all these discords of the life in Matter. It becomes an instrument for pleasure and pain instead of for delight of existence.

Sri Aurobindo envisions here a vital being that, instead of making demands and coloring the scope and direction of action, actually follows the higher guidance and direction and impetus of the Divine Force carrying out its Will in the world. The impulsion to action, then, is not desire, but the channeling of the Divine intention into direct, undistorted energy in the world. The individual becomes the nexus or occasion for a specific action without biasing the action or the fruit of the action by personal gain or loss, desire or aversion.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 8, The Release from the Heart and the Mind, pp. 335-336

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Prana, the life-energy, supports the physical body as the physical prana, but it also supports the action of the mind as the psychic prana. The seeker, in order to overcome the limitations of the life-energy in its characteristic action, needs to appreciate and fully understand the action of the psychic prana.

Sri Aurobindo describes the three characteristics of the life-energy: The characteristics of Life are action and movement, a reaching out to absorb and assimilate what is external to the individual and a principle of satisfaction or dissatisfaction in what it seizes upon or what comes to it, which is associated with the all-pervading phenomenon of attraction and repulsion. These three things are everywhere in Nature because Life is everywhere in Nature. But in us mental beings they are all given a mental value according to the mind which perceives and accepts them. They take the form of action, of desire and of liking and disliking, pleasure and pain.

This vital action distorts to its own ends the understanding of the pure mental instrument, and leads to confusion and mis-direction. Desire plants a bias in our mental process. As the universal Divine Being, all-embracing and all-possessing, acts, moves, enjoys purely for the satisfaction of divine Delight, so the individual life acts, moves, enjoys and suffers predominantly for the satisfaction of desire.

The yogic process requires the seeker to leave behind the desire-mind and associate with the bliss or enjoyment of the Divine, in an equal and wide embrace of the entire existence. Understanding the way that the desire-mind embeds itself in the mental process and colors the thoughts and decisions is an important step in conquering the attachment to the life-energy which limits and retards the process of the yoga.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 8, The Release from the Heart and the Mind, pg. 335

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Yoga is very much a science of applied psychology, and a great deal of work has been done to distinguish and identify the various elements of the being in the development of the yogic science. The physical body is a framework that is inert without the action of the life energy, and thus, when the life energy, known as Prana, is withdrawn from the body, we say that the body dies. The prana provides all energy, both to the body and to the mental faculties, while taking various forms based on the action to be undertaken. The science therefore distinguishes between physical prana which operates the physical framework of the body, and psychic prana which enlivens the action of the mental being.

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes the importance of understanding the role of the Prana, because the loosening of the attachment to the body, and the rejection of its domination over the mental Purusha requires the seeker, at the same time, to reject and eliminate the impulsions of the pranic energy, which manifests as the various forms of desire, including physical drives such as hunger and thirst, and the vigor of the natural man in the forms of general health and outward drives of action, and the opposites in the form of fatigue and ill-health. The Taittiriya Upanishad has a lengthy exposition on the various sheaths that make up the life of man, starting with the gross outer physical body, the food sheath, and then the vital sheath constituted of the action of the prana, as well as further sheaths that become ever more subtle.

Practically, in drawing back from the body we draw back from the physical life-energy also, even while we distinguish the two and feel the latter nearer to us than the mere physical instrument. The entire conquest of the body comes in fact by the conquest of the physical life-energy.

Along with the attachment to the body and its works the attachment to life in the body is overcome. For when we feel the physical being to be not ourselves, but only a dress or an instrument, the repulsion to the death of the body which is so strong and vehement an instinct of the vital man must necessarily weaken and can be thrown away. Thrown away it must be and entirely. The fear of death and the aversion to bodily cessation are the stigma left by his animal origin on the human being. That brand must be utterly effaced.

At certain stages of the yogic development the seeker is directly confronted with the detachment of the consciousness from the life and body and the fear of death arises strongly at that moment. The first impulse is to shrink back from the experience that has brought this specific reaction, and if that impulse is followed, the seeker returns to the physical life of the body and does not pierce the barrier into a new realm of consciousness at that time. Eventually, this fear must be faced and overcome for the progress to continue and the evolutionary development beyond the bodily life to manifest.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 7, The Release From Subjection to the Body, pp. 333-334

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The Yoga of knowledge emphasizes the importance of withdrawal from action in order to focus the attention and achieve the necessary mental and vital stillness for the achievement of spiritual liberation. There can be no doubt that the seeker must at some point undertake this focus and the ability to withdraw from the outer worlds demands is clearly helpful, if not in fact totally necessary.

At the same time, the Yoga of knowledge has tended to treat the withdrawal or renunciation of the outer world of action as a goal unto itself, and has thus condemned the outer life as being either of lesser importance or reality, or an illusory existence from which the seeker must escape.

Sri Aurobindo observes that for the integral Yoga, which accepts the reality of the world and its spiritual purpose, a total abandonment of that world is neither necessary nor desired. The seeker of the integral state of knowledge must be free from attachment to action and equally free from attachment to inaction. He goes on to state that with the withdrawal a tendency toward inertia may arise, and this must be counteracted, as it is a rising up of tamas, and is not beneficial to the spiritual development. The ideal poise is one in which the body-life-mind act purely as instruments of the forces of Nature put to work by the will of the Purusha carrying out the spiritual intention of the Divine.

He therefore counsels, until a state of higher perfection can be realized, a course of moderation of action: When we attain to this perfection, then action and inaction become immaterial, since neither interferes with the freedom of the soul or draws it away from its urge towards the Self or its poise in the Self. But this state of perfection arrives later in the Yoga and till then the law of moderation laid down by the Gita is the best for us; too much mental or physical action then is not good since excess draws away too much energy and reacts unfavourably upon the spiritual condition; too little also is not good since defect leads to a habit of inaction and even to an incapacity which has afterwards to be surmounted with difficulty.

Still, periods of absolute calm, solitude and cessation from works are highly desirable and should be secured as often as possible for that recession of the soul into itself which is indispensable to knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 7, The Release From Subjection to the Body, pp. 332-333

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The influence of the three Gunas, the qualities of Nature, cannot be underestimated for all action that takes place in the world generally. This includes the practice of Yoga until such time as the seeker has attained the status that is beyond the three Gunas (trigunatita). It is a basic tenet of the Yoga of knowledge as practiced historically that the seeker, in order to attain the refined states that are the object of the practice, must withdraw from active life in the world as much as possible.

Sri Aurobindo observes that there is a natural tendency, when adopting the poise of the Witness Self, to back off of the frenetic activity that characterizes the normal life of humanity. At the same time, he clarifies that if this becomes an opening for the action of tamas, through indolence, lassitude, indifference and sloth, rather than an inactivity that is based on a concentrated force of light and energy through tapas, then it will not yield the desired result, and is in fact, not the recommended approach.

The true status of inaction comes about through an intensity of focused energy, not a degradation of the energy. The power to do nothing, which is quite different from indolence, incapacity or aversion to action and attachment to inaction, is a great power and a great mastery; the power to rest absolutely from action is as necessary for the Jnanayogin as the power to cease absolutely from thought, as the power to remain indefinitely in sheer solitude and silence and as the power of immovable calm. Whoever is not willing to embrace these states is not yet fit for the path that leads towards the highest knowledge; whoever is unable to draw towards them, is as yet unfit for its acquisition.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 7, The Release From Subjection to the Body, pg. 332

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We may observe that most people, including the Western scientific community, will look upon the idea of changing the historical and customary relationship between mind and body as something either impossible or imbalanced. The touchstone of Western psychology for instance is the idea of bringing people to the state of being normal, which is defined essentially as abiding by the habitual lines of understanding and action and not exceeding them.

Sri Aurobindo observes that this is contradictory to the very approach of physical science which constantly seeks to overcome the established laws of nature and find ways to exceed, develop and enhance the basic actions of nature.

Yoga seeks to apply the concept of evolutionary progress to the realm of psychology and thereby must, by definition, work toward the upsetting of the normal relations of mind and body. The result here can be seen as madness and insanity if it leads to pure fantasies, but it can also lead to a breakthrough in human psychology and understanding. Western psychological researchers have also commented on the link between genius and madness with the difference being the ability of the genius to integrate the new experiences and understanding into a consistent and effective formation, while the mad person loses that basic sense of integration.

Sri Aurobindo comments: Suffice it to say here once for all that a change of mental and physical state and of relations between the mind and body which increases the purity and freedom of the being, brings a clear joy and peace and multiplies the power of the mind over itself and over the physical functions, brings about in a word mans greater mastery of his own nature, is obviously not morbid and cannot be considered a hallucination or self-deception since its effects are patent and positive. In fact, it is simply a willed advance of Nature in her evolution of the individual, an evolution which she will carry out in any case but in which she chooses to utilise the human will as her chief agent, because her essential aim is to lead the Purusha to conscious mastery over herself.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 7, The Release From Subjection to the Body, pp. 331-332

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Sri Aurobindo Studies | Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga

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January 22nd, 2016 at 2:40 pm

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