Patanjali and Sri Aurobindo

  • By Dr K V Raghupathi
  • June 2009

Descent of the Supramental       
The merger into the Absolute, the formless, is supreme liberation, which has been presented in many spiritual systems as the highest goal of human endeavor. Patanjali elaborates on this in the ‘Samadhi Pada’ and ‘Kaivalya Pada’ of the Yoga Sutra. Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga differs here. He raises the significant question: Does this give a satisfaction meaning to our terrestrial existence? In Patanjali’s yoga there are only two movement: involution and evolution, and the descent of the Supramental. Involution is a downward movement. Sri Aurobindo accepts the primacy of the supreme, all pervading Reality, which the Isha Upanishad this exhorts us to view: ‘Isha vasyam-idam sarvam yat kincha jagatyam jagat; all this – whatsoever moves on the earth-should be covered by the Lord’. Consciousness pervades not only the manifest cosmos but also the unmanifest; it is transcendent yet realizable. This basic reality if immanence and transcendence Sri Aurobindo accepts in toto. And it is on this basic premise that this integral yoga rests.

The first movement in integral yoga is involution: the process of Creation in which the supreme Reality descends in stages, finally plunging into the most inconsistent, deep and dense matter. After involution begins an upward spiral-this is the spiritual evolution, the ascent. In Aurobindo’s philosophy the human being is not the end being of creation or the crown of evolutionary process. It holds that humans are intermediate creatures, though they do mark the essence of evolution of consciousness. Humans have the capacity to reach upwards into the Supramental, which is ready to cooperate in the process of evolution. Then comes the third movement, as this is a very important component of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. It is the return of the supramental consciousness, along with its light and power, to the terrestrial plane, with the purpose of divinizing the whole of humanity. Sri Aurobindo does not accept the idea of enjoying the bliss of supremental power leaving the rest of the world as wretched as it was before. These three movements together constitute integral yoga. The sadhaka’s goal is not to seek salvation for oneself, or for a community, or a race, a total transformation of terrestrial life is the goal. This very world is to be transformed into the Supramental.

Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is unique in its integration of four major strands: bhakti, karma, jnana and raja yoga. It is ‘integral’ because it does not aim at liberation alone or at perfection derived from a singular practice; instead it aims at a transformation of the whole human being. And it takes up all of nature for this transformation. Divine fulfillment of life is its goal. Ascent in this yoga is a means to descent.

Patanjali’s yoga is rooted in the Vedic tradition. The existence of the Supramental was a Vedic discovery. Patanjali devised a method for attaining the Supramental. Later schools who worked on the process of bringing the Supramental back to the terrestrial plane. The Bhagwadgita did it by embracing the truths of Upanshadic-knowledge and prescribing a synthesis of the paths of love, knowledge and works. The Tantras took up the idea of perfectibility of the human being and synthesized the methods of hatha and raja yoga. According to Sri Aurobindo, the special methods of raja yoga and hatha yoga may be useful in certain stages of spiritual progress, but are not indispensable to integral yoga. This yoga rejects the exclusiveness of the old systems while reaffirming the reality matter; it repudiates the denial of the ascetic while affirming the reality of the Spirit; it reconciles matter, life, life, mind and Supermind. It is the philosophy of integral monism as distinct from pure monism or qualified monism. It avoids every right determinism; it is idealism that realistic and a realism that is idealistic.

Beyond Philosophy and Religion
According to Sri Aurobindo the age of philosophy and religion is over. We are now in the age of realization. This age insists on the deepest, widest, and highest realizations that can be attained by the methods of yoga. Philosophy aims at discovering the highest reality through critical rational thought, while religion explores the same by way of belief and rituals. Both these are found inadequate in meeting contemporary human needs. Sri Aurobindo maintains that that we need is a comprehensive, all-inclusive, scientific method that can bring about a radical change in human consciousness. And yoga fulfills this need as it is a ‘methodized effort towards self-perfection by expression of the potentialities latent in the being and a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos’ 11.

Integral yoga is an integral realization of the Divine: ‘Not only the freedom born of unbroken contact of the individual being in all its parts with the Divine, sayujyamukti,   not only the salokyamukti by which the whole conscious existence dwells in the same status of being as the Divine, but also the acquisition of the divine nature by the transformation of this lower being into the human image of the divine, sadharmyamukti, and the complete and final release of all’ (42-3). Transformation is the key word in integral yoga, as much as in Patanjali’s yoga. And it carries a deep connotation. Sri Aurobindo explains:
By transformation I do not mean some change of nature –I do not mean, for instance, sainthood or ethical perfection or yogic siddhis (like the Tantrik’s) or a transcendental (cinmaya) body. I use transformation in a special sense, a change of consciousness radical and complete and of a certain specific kind which is so conceived as to bring about a strong and assured step forward in the spiritual evolution of the being of a greater and higher kind and of a large sweep and completeness than what took place in a mentalized being first appeared in a vital and material animal world. A partial realization, something mixed and inconclusive, does not meet the demand I make on life and yoga. 12

Sri Aurobindo does not regard the spirit in man as ‘solely an individual being travelling to a transcendental unity with the Divine, but as a universal being capable of oneness with the Divine in all is souls and all Nature’. 13

Integral yoga involves three major transformations: one human soul seeks liberation and enjoys union with the Divine; two, it freely shares in the cosmic unity of the Divine; three, it effectuates the divine purpose by being an instrument of the divine Will in its movements through humanity. The complete process of transformation is described by Sri Aurobindo as being threefold – psychic, spiritual and supramental. The individual yoga than transcends its separateness and become part of the collective yoga of the Divine, in nature and in humanity. The liberalized individual thus becomes a self-perfecting instrument for the perfect flowering of the Divine.

1. Mother, On Education, 8.
2. Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental Manifestation, 8
3. Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, 508.
4. Sri Aurobindo, A System of National Education.
5. On Education, 21
6. Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, 229.
7. Synthesis of Yoga, 303.
8. On Education, 30.
9. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, 925-6.
10. On Education 32.
11. Synthesis of Yoga, 2.
12. Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, 2 vols, 2.94.
13. Synthesis of Yoga, 587.

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