Patanjali and Sri Aurobindo

  • By Dr K V Raghupathi
  • June 2009

The Psychic Being       
The next important element in Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga is the vital. It is the life-energy made up of will, action, desire, sensation, feeling, passion, and such related instincts as anger, fear, greed, and lust. The vital being is thus a vast kingdom, full of forces acting and reaching upon one another. The organization and training of these complex forces is of the utmost importance in building up one’s character. Sri Aurobindo says that true knowledge comes from within, and conditions must be made suitable for it to manifest. For this, a strong, straight-forward and harmonious character has to be built by awakening the will overcoming its weaknesses, and eliminating its defects: ‘The only way for him to train himself morally is to habituate himself to the right emotions, the noblest associations, the best mental, emotional and physical habits and the following out in right action of the fundamental impulses of his essential nature’.4

Patanjali prescribes yama and niyama, which help build character, as the first steps in controlling one’s vital being. According to him yama and niyama together create an ethical discipline in the sadhaka without which moving to higher planes is unthinkable and undesirable. In Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga control of the vital being is the second step. Unlike Patanjali he does not give any prescriptive principles on the lines of yama and niyama, but he does stress upon the purification of the vital being.

In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy apart from the building up of character, the aesthetic element is also stressed. The senses should be properly trained to attain precision and power. The student, he writes, ‘should be shown, led to appreciate, taught to love beautiful, lofty, healthy and noble things, whether in Nature or in human creation. This should be a true aesthetic culture, which will protect him from degrading influences’.5 The Divine encompasses purity as well as beauty and it is by the cultivation of both the ethical and the aesthetic that the heart’s needs can be really fulfilled. The highest aim of art is to find the Divine through beauty. But this discovery has its laws, says Sri Aurobindo, and the first endeavor should be ‘to see and depict man and Nature and life for their own sake, in their own characteristic truth and beauty; for behind these first characters lies always the beauty of the Divine in life and man and nature and it is through their just transformation that what was at first veiled by them has to be revealed’.6 In this way the aesthetic being will rise to its divine possibilities.

The Mental Phase
The third phase in Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga is the mental. The mind, which is an obstacle to transformation, can itself be transformed in the complimentary process of divine descent. Ascension is hampered by a lid and a veil which prevents human not only from attaining the Divine but even from knowing it. Therefore, if the mental being seeks to know the Divine, to realize it to become it, it has first to lift this lid. For this, Sri Aurobindo prescribes surrender to the Divine that is within us and also around us---a surrender not only mental or psychological, but a total giving of the whole of our being. While speaking of the four aids to achieve perfection in yoga---shastra, knowledge of spiritual truths, utsaha, patient and persistent action; guru, the teacher; and kala, time---he introduces surrender as the surest way to fine the Master who dwells within us. It is through surrender that the ego is easily obliterated.

In Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga, dharana, fixing the mind on one object, can be successfully practiced only after pratyahara, restraint of the senses, and has been reasonably mastered. Our mental images are largely blurred and confused, rising as they do from a state of impurity. Dharana is successful only after yama and niyama eliminate the disturbances caused by uncontrolled emotions and desires, asana and pranayama control the disturbances arising from the physical body, and pratyahara cuts off the external world and the impressions which it produces on the mind by detaching the sense organs from the mind.

Modern psychologists aver that the mind cannot be made to remain fixed on any one object for a significant length of time. It keeps moving back and forth even when concentration of the highest degree is achieved. But according to yoga, thorough concentration begins with controlled movements of the mind. It can reach a state in which all movement or change stops. In this ultimate stage the mind becomes one with the essential nature of the object concentrated upon and can thus move no further. Then the consciousness confined within the prison house of the intellect is released and is able to function at deeper levels through subtler vehicles.

In his book The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo, like Patanjali observers that effective concentration ensures purification of the mind. He calls these two the ‘feminine and masculine passive and active [aspects] of the same status of being’.7 Further: Purity is the condition in which concentration becomes entire, rightly effective, omnipotent, (ibid.) Without purity the, harmonious, and flexible concentration of ones being in right thought, right felling, and right willing, or a secure status of spiritual experience is not possible. Therefore the two must proceed together.

Like Patanjali, Sri Aurobindo dismisses the idea of using the term ‘concentration’ in a limited sense. According to him concentration has three powers: one it helps us know not things but a single thing in its entirety; two, through concentration the whole will can be engaged for the acquisition of that which is still ungrasped, still beyond us; three concentration can help us become whatever we choose. It also implies, in its higher reaches, renunciation, cessation, and lastly an ascent into the absolute and transcendent state of Samadhi.

For Aurobindo concentration is only a means, a key to superconscient planes of existence. He upholds inward concentration in contrast to concentration on external objects. It is this inward concentration that the seeker of knowledge must effect. And it is neither a strenuous one-pointedness on the one subject nor a laborious contemplation of one object of thought-vision. Instead it involves stilling the mind and unveiling its secret peace. When this is done, a great calm settles on one’s being and there follows the experience of the all pervading Brahman. Once this state is obtained, strenuous concentration is no longer necessary. For integral yoga this is the most direct and powerful discipline.

Psychic and Spiritual Transformation
The fourth phase of integral yoga is psychic transformation. Every human being has a greater consciousness beyond the physical frame through which one can participate in a higher and broader life. This consciousness is greater and more powerful than the human mind. What the human mind does not know and cannot do, this consciousness knows and does. The mother says: ‘With psychic education we come to the problem of the motive of life, the reason for our existence upon earth, the very discovery to which life must lead and the result of that discovery: the consecration of the individual to his eternal principle’8.

The psychic being is a conscious form of the Divine manifesting in the evolutionary process. Sri Aurobindo writes:
The true central being is the soul, but this being stands back and in most human natures is only the secret witness or, one might say, a constitutional ruler who allows his ministers to rule for him, delegates to them his aspire, silently assents to their decisions and only now and then pours a word which they can at any moment override and act otherwise--. It is by the coming forward of this true monarch and his taking up of the reins of government that there can take place a real harmonization of our being and our life’. 9

The discovery of the soul, the real person within, is truly the first great goal of human life. The discovery is a matter of personal effort and aspiration. A great resolution, a strong will, and an untiring perseverance are indispensable to reach this goal. Each one must chalk out his or her own path through difficulties. Many of those who have reached the goal have described it more or less clearly. But the supreme value of the discovery lies in its spontaneity, its ingeniousness, and that escapes all ordinary mental laws’10. The Mother explains:
The starting point is to seek in yourself that which is independent of the body and the circumstances of life, which is not born of the mental formation that you have been given, the language you speak, the habits and customs of the environment in which you live, the country where you belong or the age to which you belong. You must find, in the depths of your being, that which carries in it a sense of universality, limitless expansion, unbroken continuity. Then you decentralize, extend, and widen yourself, you begin to live in all things and in all beings; the barriers separating individuals from each other break down. You think in their thoughts, vibrate in their sensations, feel in their feelings, live in the life of all, everything is animated by a marvelous consciousness without time or limit. And this is only one aspect of the psychic realization (32-3).

The path is difficult, strewn with obstacles and problems. ‘It is’, the Mother says, ‘like the explorer’s trek through virgin forest in quest of an unknown land, of some great discovery’ (33). The psychic realization, however, is different from the spiritual:

For one is a higher realization upon earth, for the other, an escape from all earthly manifestation, even from the whole universe, a return to the unmanifest.

So one can say that the psychic life is immortal life, endless time, limitless space, even-progressive change, unbroken continuity in the universe of forms. The spiritual consciousness, on the other hand, means to live the infinite and the eternal, to be projected beyond all creation, beyond time and space. To become conscious of your psychic being and to live a psychic life you must abolish all egoism; but to live a spiritual life you must no longer have an ego (35-6)

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