Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 24 February 2008

Integral Yoga Consciousness

I have been reading several books on human consciousness theories in preparation for my research project. Here’s a synopsis of a non-Western theorist, Sri Aurobindo, from a book called Aurobindo, or The Adventures of Consciousness by Satprem. I really enjoyed reading the book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in consciousness theory.

Satprem wrote this book to provide an understanding of Aurobindo from a Western, practical point of view. His motivation was to educate and spread the word of Aurobindo’s integral yoga teaching. Satprem states, the 20th century was “still at the Stone Age of psychology” and therefore studying and practicing consciousness expansion through integral yoga is one way to save our world. Aurobindo’s given name at birth was Akroyd Ghose, so the publications referenced below are under that name.

Spirituality and The Force of Life

Aurobindo starts with the premise that “All is Brahman” or Spirit. He says most people believe the physical world is separate from Brahman, and the conflict between matter and Spirit is a “modern creation” (Satprem, 1968, p. 23). Brahman exists at every point in space and time and on every plane and dimension. Aurobindo also calls God the Force of Life and uses the term Consciousness-Force interchangeably. He describes the consciousness-force using the Sanskrit terms Chit (consciousness) and Agni (heat, energy). According to Satprem, “the Force of Life does not suffer, it is not troubled, not exalted, not wicked, not good – it just is, it flows vast and peaceful” (1968, P. 82).

The Vedas teach “we are all sons of God,” (1968, p. 167), and Satprem relates this to Jesus’s statement that “I and the Father are One,” John 10:30 (New International Version). Aurobindo says “the heavens beyond are great and wonderful, but greater yet and more wonderful are the heavens within you” (Ghose, 1959, p. 102). He also contends that if God is All, the devil or wickedness is also God. Aurobindo and The Mother taught that our misery comes from “the little cloaks we throw over things to avoid seeing”[1] rather than blaming the devil. The key to life is to discover the divinity within oneself.

A key precept is that one cannot separate the physical from the spiritual. We are living, spiritual beings, whether we recognize it or not. The goal is to integrate the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of ourselves. Hence the practice of integral yoga to reunite “the infinite in the finite, the timeless in the temporal and the transcendent with the immanent” (1968, p. 273).

Thoughts, Truth and the Self

According to the Upanishads, consciousness is energy vibrating at different frequencies. As Einstein’s famous theory of relativity proves, matter is formed from energy; matter is a more dense form of consciousness. This means that everything has some form of consciousness depending on its vibration, including plants, animals and inanimate objects. They are not considered to be lower or more limited than human consciousness, just different vibrations of energy. Aurobindo says we begin to understand this as we awaken our own consciousness.

Satprem explains that thoughts are vibrations. They originate from a Universal Mind; we receive these vibrations, and depending on our level of awareness, we can choose to accept or reject them. As we receive these vibrations, we translate them into symbols; a similar concept to Hofstatder’s view of perception (2007). Why do different people have different thoughts if they all come from the same Universal Mind? Satprem’s answer is that we translate the same vibration differently depending on our state of consciousness.

Our true selves are covered over by thoughts, feelings and habit patterns. Aurobindo states that the intellect can “interfere with the inspiration” (Ghose, 1949a, p. 5) and that “intuition is a memory of the Truth” (Ghose, 1949b, p. 1127). He means that we carry a larger understanding of the truth within ourselves and we have forgotten it. When we experience a flash of intuition, we reconnect with the Universal Mind and knowledge is immediately available to us, but it was always there.

There are several mental layers of the mind. The physical mind is described as “the most stupid” (Satprem, 1968, p. 110) and a remnant of our earliest human evolution. It is steeped in fear, reaction and conservatism. The vital mind is focused on our desires and emotions. Our thinking mind is the center of logic and reasoning. At the lower levels of consciousness, using the metaphor of the atom, we experience only fragments of joy, love and power.

Consciousness

Aurobindo contends that consciousness exists in a continuum and is independent of human existence, thought or feeling. There is no such thing as unconsciousness; only other consciousness. Satprem describes the planes of the mind that one encounters in seeking higher consciousness. The first, ordinary mind, perceives light as grey and dense. The ordinary mind sees duality; black or white, truth or error, God or Satan. The ordinary mind can see only one thing at a time as the truth and experiences joy in very small increments.

Next comes the higher mind which is often expressed by philosophers and thinkers. The higher mind is more open and perceives light as grey moving to blue with flashes of bright light. Joy lasts longer within a higher mind. The next plane is the illumined mind The light of an illumined mind is translucent and diffused, often a stream or flood of golden light. Composers, artists, dancers and musicians embody this plane of consciousness. and is characterized by deeper and wider experiences of joy and enthusiasm.

The intuitive mind experiences joy as a recognition, rather than a wave. It sees a subset of the whole truth as a flash of insight. The intuitive mind perceives light as clear and transparent with flashes of color and light. The next plane, overmind, is rarely attained and represents an experience of cosmic consciousness without loss of the individual. Satprem contends that the world’s religions were birthed from those who had overmind experiences. The overmind sees huge extensions of space and time in a mass of stable light, and experiences universal love, joy and beauty. At this plane, the entire being is linked together with every level of consciousness. This is a key concept. According to Aurobindo, higher consciousness is not complete without encompassing lower levels of consciousness.

Nirvana can occur at any plane of consciousness. It is described as an experience without ego, feeling or thought. Aurobindo said the experience brought him “an inexpressible Peace, a stupendous silence, an infinity of release and freedom” (Ghose, 1953, p. 153). He realized that attaining Nirvana was just the beginning of his journey to higher planes of consciousness.

The next level of consciousness, supramental mind, cannot be described in either mental or three dimensional terms. It is not the pinnacle of consciousness; it is considered to be transformational. The supramental mind’s vision is global and simultaneously includes all viewpoints. The supramental consciousness lives in the Absolute – there is no past or present. There is no duality; “the two poles of all things are constantly spanned in another ‘dimension’” (Satprem, 1968, p. 271).

_______________________________________________

[1] Quote attributed to The Mother without citing a publication

References:

Ghose, A. (1949a). Letters of Sri Aurobindo (on poetry and literature) Third series. Bombay,: Sri Aurobindo Circle.

Ghose, A. (1949b). The life divine. New York,: Greystone Press.

Ghose, A. (1953). Sri Aurobindo on himself and on The Mother. Pondicherry,: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Ghose, A. (1959). The Hour of God ([1st ed.). Pondicherry,: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

Hofstadter, D. R. (2007). I am a strange loop. New York: Basic Books.

Satprem. (1968). Sri Aurobindo : or, The adventure of consciousness (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

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Responses

  1. people would generally feel greatly upset if any one addressed them by only one half of their name. yet in the case of Sri Aurobindo, everyone directly assumes his name to be ‘aurobindo’ EVEN THOUGH on all his books and in his own usage it is always Sri Aurobindo. and then the bengalis have this ridiculous practice of referring to him as “rishi” – as if thats what he was. ( I do know that “sri” is used in india as an honorific for great people, but still ! there are individuals called ‘sri kumar’, they are never addressed as just kumar ! ). a most uncultured and uncaring practice of the academic/intellectual community. this is to lodge my protest , albeit on deaf ears and defensive , argumentative spirits.

  2. Little curious to know as to whether your your paper has now been published.

    regards,
    dibyendu

    • I just found out it was rejected…a good learning experience. I will post about the experience soon. Thanks for asking.

  3. Thank you Dibyendu for your comment. Aurobindo has influenced my thinking about consciousness as well as my meditation practice. I will post links to the journal that will publish this recent research paper once the paper has been accepted.

  4. Dorianne,

    I am greatly surprised and intrigued that you have taken such interest in Yoga and the thoughts of Rishi Aurobindo. I also see that it is becoming a focal point of your research work It would be of great interest to see the outcome of your interesting research.

    However, I am sure that the world would be benefited by your research work.

    regards,
    dibyendu

  5. […] paper covers theories by Hofstadter and Sri Aurobindo, previously covered in this blog. And I’m including references to the works of Jenny Wade; […]


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