from “The EVENING TALKS”
Disciple: What is the relation between the inner mental, vital and inner physical beings and the psychic being?
Sri Aurobindo: The mental, vital and physical beings are the instruments of expression of the psychic being. You can say that they are formulations of the psychic being here for manifestation in earth-evolution. It is the psychic being which supports the mental, the vital and the physical beings here. It stands behind them. The psychic being is what the Europeans call the “Soul”—it is the “true person” in man. It is the innermost being in the lower nature, it is the direct representative of the Divine in the lower nature. It is generally supposed to be behind the heart. It is behind the emotional activity which is its surface manifestation. Ordinary emotional activity is not psychic in its nature. True psychic emotion is very deep, and it is pure spiritual emotion. The psychic being opens directly to the Higher Truth and it is that which can receive it here.
Disciple: Is it that the psychic being governs man’s mental, vital and physical being?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes. But in ordinary men the psychic does not govern most of his actions. They are dictated mostly by outside influences.
Disciple: You said when speaking about X that he had broken the veil between the inner mental and the psychic being. What did you exactly mean by it? Is there such a veil?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes, there is the veil: that is why most people are not conscious of their soul, their inner being. In X’s case I used the word “psychic” in the ordinary sense. He had broken the veil between the mental and the vital planes, opened himself to the worlds behind them, and he was unable to bear all that followed. There I used the word in the sense of the “subliminal self”.
Disciple: Is the activity of the psychic being mainly in the inner mental, the inner vital being or is it subconscious?
Sri Aurobindo: Everything that one is not ordinarily conscious of is subconscious to him. It means that some thing happens behind of which the surface man has no knowledge. But really speaking nothing is subconscious. In a certain sense one can say that even the superconscient is subconscient.
Disciple: What has the psychic being to do with the Supermind?
Sri Aurobindo: The psychic being is not the Supermind. For instance, one can, by breaking the veil, somehow get into the subliminal or the psychic being, but one cannot get to the Supermind like that. The psychic being opens to the Higher Truth, but it is not That, it receives the Truth. The psychic being is what is “behind” the mental and the vital and the physical being, but not “above”.
Disciple: What is the difference between the psychic and spiritual being?
Sri Aurobindo: You can’t speak of the spiritual being except, of course, the being of Sat-Chit-Ananda which is not individual. These three principles are above the Mind and then the mental, the vital and the physical are below in the lower half. Between the two hemispheres, so to say, is what I call the Supermind.
You can’t get to the real Sat-Chit-Ananda. But you can have—as most people who say that they have realised Sachchidananda—the experience of it in the mind or in the vital being. But you can’t organise it here even though you get the experience. The organisation of the Infinite Consciousness—Sachchidananda—can only be done by the Supermind.
Disciple: Is the psychic being the entity that survives death? What is meant by karana- sarira?
Sri Aurobindo: It is not the psychic being which presides over reincarnation, but the Jiva, the Central Being, which according to its need gathers the material from Nature. The karana-sarira generally means the Supramental body.
Disciple: In the orthodox terminology, though karana-sarira means vijnanamaya, yet they speak of it not as a means of development but as a means of escape. To them the use of the karana-sarira is to burn away the seeds of everything that is in Nature. They believe that unless the seed is burnt there in the karana-sarira one can’t really get liberation.
Sri Aurobindo: It is true, because the seed of everything that you see here is in the Supermind and unless you get to the Supermind you can’t really get rid of imperfection in nature.
For instance, take filial love. Generally it represents something of the above but the form it takes entirely misrepresents the higher Truth. Now, if you want to remove this error you have not merely to keep it down, because then it is not really gone, but you have to offer it up to the higher Truth, and when you know the truth behind it then you are no longer subject to the false form it generally takes. So it is with everything.
Disciple: They generally tried to get to the seed of all imperfection here and then they tried to escape from the world.
Sri Aurobindo: That was the old idea. It was based on the assumption that the Truth, the Supramental, can’t be organised here in this world. Because all that is here is imperfect, false, is not the Truth; and the mind tried to organise the Truth here and failed, so they thought that “going into the Truth” meant leaving the mind and life etc. And by an exaggeration of the same idea the world appeared not merely imperfect but an illusion. Coming back to life to them meant coming back to the falsehood. That is what is meant by the Upanishad’s image of “escaping through the door of the Sun”. If you want to come back you can do so as long as you are in the rays of the Sun. But once you enter the body of the Sun you cannot return. The start from another assumption—”that life is false and imperfect but we can manifest Truth and perfection here”—is possible. The Truth cannot be manifested in life here with present formulation and organization of the human consciousness which works with mind as its chief instrument. The mind cannot organise Truth here. But a higher formulation, organisation, of consciousness is possible here.
Disciple: Even the desire to organise it here the Mayavadin would like to call an “illusion”—Maya.
Sri Aurobindo: That way even the desire for getting away from the world is an illusion!
Disciple: In Tantra it is said that one should renounce even the desire for liberation.
Sri Aurobindo: That does not help very much to renounce the desire to get liberation,
Disciple: It is all right for those who have reached liberation but not for those on the way. (Laughter).
Sri Aurobindo: One of the logical conclusions of the theory of Illusion was the idea that you must reject everything violently and that you can’t get the Truth unless you are disgusted with everything in the world. That is what is understood to be Vairagya—disgust for the world.
But I don’t see any reason why one should be disgusted with everything before one can take to the spiritual life. What we do is that we see the imperfection in the world and we do not accept the ordinary life which is subject to ignorance and falsehood. But we do not despise it—we do not look upon it with disgust and contempt. We look upon it with calm and equality—Samata—and try to understand what it is and what place it occupies in the Lila and its purpose.
Disciple: Generally, it is supposed that a man takes to the spiritual life as a result of dissatisfaction. Is the dissatisfaction a psychic dissatisfaction in its nature?
Sri Aurobindo: What do you mean by psychic dissatisfaction?
Disciple: The psychic dissatisfaction reflected in the mental or the vital being.
Sri Aurobindo: The true dissatisfaction is different from the mental or vital dissatisfaction, which comes when, for instance, somebody runs away with your wife, or you have lost money.
Disciple: Then directly you go to a Guru! (Laughter).
Sri Aurobindo: The true dissatisfaction comes from the inner being which is not satisfied with the ordinary life, when once the inner being is touched.
Disciple: Is aspiration always psychic?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes, True aspiration is always psychic in its origin. It is “the fire rising from the earth”, as the Veda says, “towards its own home”. The Agni there is the “fire of aspiration”. It takes mental or vital forms which may be imperfect and therefore there may be imperfection in the aspiration itself. But even behind these imperfect forms there is something that is burning. Once one has awakened this fire it is impossible for him to rest satisfied with the ordinary life.
Disciple: Does the Fire always signify the psychic aspiration in the Veda?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes. But there are various forms and powers of Agni—Fire—in us and also in the universe. This Agni in the inner being they spoke of, most probably, as the garhapatya—Fire belonging to the Lord of the House.
Disciple: What do we mean when we say that the psychic being in a man has come to the front or when we say that it has become strong?
Sri Aurobindo: When we say that the psychic being has come to the surface we mean that it has begun to exert its influence on the other members of a man’s nature. It becomes first an active influence and ultimately it is the influence in the being. And the result of this influence is to turn the whole nature towards the Truth. In proportion as it increases its control and influence, its formation and personalities in a man, we say that his psychic being is more developed.
Generally, there are certain external signs by which you can find out that the psychic being of a man is more developed. For instance, such a man has greater purity, delicacy in life in dealing with people and refinement of taste. One can hear, also, the voice of the soul which generally comes from the psychic being. But it should not be confounded with the voice that is heard in the mind. The psychic voice is true and it has something more imperativein it than the mental voice.
Disciple: Has the psychic being its own activity and field apart from its working through the mind, the vital and the body?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes, it has got its own activity and its own field.
Disciple: But this psychic being, then, though present in all men, is not known to them?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes; for the ordinary man you can say that his soul is not at all within his reach. He is so much given to the vital life and other external impulses that he is hardly conscious of his soul except at times when he has glimpses of it.
Disciple: Is it possible for a man to completely cut off connection with his soul? Occultists speak of “soulless man”.
Sri Aurobindo: The question is whether the majority of men have got connection with the soul at all?
Disciple: It seems, then that the soul of man is not interested in ninety percent of his activity and keeps aloof.
Sri Aurobindo: Yes. Generally most of man’s activities are dictated from outside influences and not from the inner being.
Disciple: So it is the soul that receives the call for the spiritual life?
Sri Aurobindo: Yes.
Disciple: Is it possible for the whole psychic being to come at once to the surface or does it come gradually?
Sri Aurobindo: Generally, man catches glimpses of the soul and by degrees the soul comes to the surface till the whole being is controlled by it. But there is no fixed rule; the whole of the psychic being can come to the surface all at once.
SRI AUROBINDO DARSHAN:
THE UNIVERSITY OF TOMORROW
Initiated by late Prof. V. Madhusudan Reddy, Founder Chairman of the Institute of Human Study, Hyderabad, and approved and blessed by the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry in 1971, Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow is an online university to disseminate Sri Aurobindo’s vision amongst the academia of the world.
Here learners from all over the world can devote themselves to the knowledge of the truth of tomorrow, following Certificate, M.A. and Ph.D. equivalent programmes of study. It has drawn together scholars across the world to facilitate its programmes and to guide and help learners and other scholars in their research into Sri Aurobindo’s thought.
AGNI AND THE PSYCHIC BEING
Dr. V. Madhusudhan Reddy
The Jivatman and the Psychic Being are two different forms of the same Reality. The former is the individual unborn self or spirit—the Atman, and is always the same, immutable and eternal. It transcends birth and death and remains uninvolved and above the phenomenal existence. The discovery of the self and the realisation of its oneness with the Supreme Brahman liberates the individual from the mutable existence and provides spiritual deliverance, but does not transform his life and nature. The transformation of the instrumental personality is brought about by the psychic being.
The psychic is the luminous indweller and inhabitant of our ignorant embodied existence, the inextinguishable flame born of the Divine, constantly labouring to burn down all obscurities, and guide us towards the Divine. It is the imperishable inner being that is untouched by death and endures from birth to birth — the inner voice and light that leads us through lives to the goal. It is the deputy of the Divine in the phenomenal world that makes it progressively receptive to the omnipotent Light of the Divine. It is not the unborn Self that presides over all existence but its projection in material existence missioned to lead man engulfed in Ignorance towards Truth and Beauty and Love and Harmony and Peace and Bliss. It is the evolutionary soul implanted in the world of manifestation to support its evolution.
The psychic being upbears and nourishes mind, life and body in their workings, and in turn itself grows by their experiences and carries its identity through life after life. The opening of the psychic being acts on the whole of our nature, it opens our lower nature to the Divine; it exercises an inner control on the functioning of the mental, vital and physical and converts them towards the Divine as well as liberates them, for it contains and sustains all the higher planes of consciousness both universal and transcendental. And finally, it brings about the total transformation of the lower nature into the supernature of the Divine when it becomes the conscious instrument and collaborator of Truth-Consciousness. It is therefore the aspiration of the psychic being that eventually results in the radical transformation of our nature.
Both the aspirations—the aspiration of the Jivatman for realisation of its oneness with the Supreme and that of the psychic being to open our ignorant nature to the transforming light and force of the Divine—are fundamental and imperative for the fulfilment of the purpose of our life. It is Agni, the sacrificial Flame,—the Light and the Force of the Supreme. tapas and tejas,—who is both a god of the earth and the Lord of Swar, residing deep in the human heart, awakens the twofold aspiration for liberation as well as transformation—for the realisation of one’s identity with the Divine beyond all Becoming as well as with the Divine-in-Becoming.
The awakening of Agni and his conscious and constant action in us ushers in a new life of aspiration and askesis and the consequent change of consciousness. His action establishes in the seeker the manifold delight of the divine Conscious Force and ensures its effectiveness in all the planes of his being and nature. The rising of the Flame smbolises the seeker’s approaching enlightenment which he rises to receive. It is this awakening that makes him move heavenward and Truthward.
Yahva iva pra vayam ujjihanah
Agni, in his rising, purifies the seeker and makes him receptive to the inflow of the streams of Truth-Consciousness Rtasya dharah. Agni’s higher action burns down the gross in our nature and uplifts and transforms it. Agni is the Divine himself manifested in our substance: he is here within us to effectively transform our ignorant nature into the luminous substance of the divine nature. He is in constant possession of the Truth-Consciousness and re leases it in all our activity directed towards the Truth; he is supportive of all our effort at self-transcendence. Firmly established in the physical he works in our vital and mental, and steadily liberates us from the world of Ignorance.
Deep in our hearts burns the psychic Fire, agni pavaka, and from there it awakens and quickens the fire in the mind, the vital and the body. In them it creates respectively the light of intuitive perception and discrimination, the flame of intuitive feeling and spontaneous right response of action. It is the psychic Fire that eventually casts mind, life and body into luminous moulds and directs them in channels of right reception and right action and makes them to effectively mediate between the inner being and the outer existence. For the psychic force is the true soul-power that suffuses the mental, vital and physical and makes them totally receptive to the spiritual consciousness and transforms them into elements of supernature and divine nature. The psychic not only mediates between the human and the divine but unites and integrates the ascending and descending forces of consciousness.
The psychic Agni is the leader of the triple sacrifice of knowledge, love and works that transforms life into its own divine configuration. If the sacrifice of knowledge brings in purity and wideness and the sacrifice of love pours into our being boundless love and bliss, it is the sacrifice of works that lays the foundation of life divine in manifest existence. It is this triple consecration led by the psychic Fire that ultimately restores to the manifesting instruments of mind, life and body their fundamental and original stature and oneness with the supernature of Sachchidananda.
It is then into the psychic Fire within that all has to be offered—the mind’s knowledge, the heart’s adoration and the body’s consecration—so that the Divine may fully emerge in man, liberate him from all forms of insufficiencies and imperfections. extricate him from all his infirmities and limitations, fully deliver him from the control of Ignorance and take possession of him and reunite him with the Lord of his being and divinise him.
FORTY YEARS AGO
Sahana Devi: I am always aspiring for Sri Aurobindo’s light in my mind. Tell me, Mother gracious, will I ever be capable of receiving the touch of His Light in my mind?
Sri Aurobindo: It can always come in the mind if you aspire patiently. But the basic condition, if you want that Light, is to get rid of other mental influences. (22.5.32)
Sahana Devi: What a turmoil came this afternoon as I was resting after the mid- day meal! A sea of images of my earlier life and that of many people were coming and receding one after another. I seemed to be smothered in that crowd. I got up to meditate, but wonder of wonders, there too they were coming in hordes, no meditation was possible. Much as I tried to reject them, it was still the same kaleidoscopic cinema show into which I was plunged with no possibility of detaching myself from all that. All this renders the peace of forging ahead to stop, the mind heavy, depressed within.
Sri Aurobindo: So long you have not learned the lesson, the past had to touch you, it comes back on you. Notice carefully what kind of remembrances come, you will see that they are connected with some psychological movement in you that has to be got rid of. So you must be prepared to recognise all that was not right in you and is still not corrected, not allow any vanity or self-righteousness to cloud your vision. (24.10.32)
Sahana Devi: Slowly I am beginning to understand from where the impulse to blame others or slander comes, what is behind these motives or in what spirit one indulges in them.
Sri Aurobindo: It is the petty ego in each that likes to discover and talk about the “real or unreal” defects of others—and it does not matter whether they are real or unreal, the ego has no right to judge them, because it has not the right view or the right spirit. It is only the calm, disinterested, dispassionate, all-compassionate and all-loving Spirit that can judge and see rightly the strength and weakness in each being. (12.6.34)
Sahana Devi: Whereas I should gather myself in I seem to be all dispersed. It seems to me that if I could detach myself internally from every thing and all, consider myself quite alone then perhaps I shall be able to do sincerely that which I am here to do. What wants to be only in my petty mind concerned with petty things forgetting all else, this depresses me a lot.
Sri Aurobindo: You must gather yourself more firmly. If you disperse yourself constantly, go out of the inner circle, you will constantly move about in the pettiness of the ordinary outer nature and under the influence to which it is open. Learn to live within, to act always from within from a constant communion with the Mother. It may be difficult at first to do it always and completely, but it can be done if one sticks to it—and it is at that price, by learning to do that, that one can have the siddhi in the Yoga. (5.6.34)
Sahana Devi: Why is it that I think that weeping opens the door through which weakness gets a way of entry into us, an opportunity to allow the force to get in which saps our strength of mind?
Sri Aurobindo: It is quite correct that weeping brings in the forces’ that should be kept outside—for weeping is a giving away of the inner control and an expression of vital reaction and ego. It is only the psychic weeping that does not open the door to these forces—but that is without infliction, tears of bhakti, spiritual emotion or Ananda. (3.7.37)
In answer to a letter Sri Aurobindo wrote:
The ananda you describe is evidently that of the inner vital when it is full of the psychic influence and floods with it the external vital also. It is the true ananda and there is no thing in it of the old vital nature. When the psychic thus uses the vital to express itself, this kind of intense ecstasy is the natural form it takes. This intensity and the old vital excitement are two quite different things and must not be confused together. Where there is the intensity with a pure and full satisfaction, content and gratitude leaving no room for claim, demand or depressing reaction, that is the true vital movement. (6.12.31)
Sahana Devi: How can the right relation between all of ourselves be established and what should it be like?
Sri Aurobindo: What you must have with other sadhaks is a harmonious relation, free from any mere vital attachment (indifference is not asked from you) and free from any indulgence in wrong movement of the opposite kind (such as dislike, jealousy or ill-will). It is through the psychic consciousness that you have found it possible to be in a true constant relation with the Mother and your aim is to make that the basis of all of your life, action and feeling, all in you, all you feel, say and do should be consistent with that basis. If all proceeds from that psychic union of your consciousness with the Mother, dedicating everything to her then you will develop the right relation with others. (10.2.32)
Here ends the memory-image of my life in the Ashram of the old days. But before that I would like to reproduce a rendering by Sri Aurobindo of one of my songs.
Since thou hast called me, see that I
Go not from thee,—surrounding me stand.
In thy own love’s diviner way
Make me too love thee without end.
My fathomless blackness hast thou cleft
With thy infinity of light,
Then waken in my mortal voice
Thy music of illumined sight.
Make me thy eternal journey’s mate
Tying my life around thy feet.
Let thy own hand my boat unmoor,
Sailing the world thyself to meet.
Fill full of thee my day and night,
Let all my being mingle with thine
And every tremor of my soul
Echo thy flute of flutes divine.
Come in thy chariot, Charioteer,
And drive me whither thou wouldst go.
All within me and all my acts
Make luminous with surrender’s glow.
Translated by Sri Aurobindo (13.2.41)
SRI AUROBINDO DARSHAN:
THE UNIVERSITY OF TOMORROW
1. Orientation Programme: Courses
Prerequisites: Successful completion of an entrance test.
1. Introduction to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and Their work
2. Integral Philosophy and Metaphysics
3. Integral Yoga Psychology
4. The Psychology of Social Development
5. Towards Human Unity
6. India’s Spirit and Form
7. Literature for the Future
8. Lights on the Scriptures
9. Integral Education
10. The Vision of the Future
2. Science of Living Programme: Courses
Prerequisites: Either successful completion of the Orientation Programme or the passing of the entrance test in the thought and vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
1. Governed by the Soul
2. The Science of Living
3. Working with the Divine in Matter
4. Purification and Transformation of the Vital Nature
5. What am I?
6. Integral Psychology and Depression
7. Planes and Parts of the Being.
3. Academic Programme in Sri Aurobindo Thought: Courses
Prerequisites: a) Bachelor degree or higher education certificate, in any subject, and b) successful completion of the Orientation Programme or the passing of the entrance test in the thought and vision of Sri Aurobindo.
1. The Metaphysical Bases of Integral Yoga
2. Philosophical and Methodological Bases of Integral Yoga Psychology
3. Basic Concepts of Integral Psychotherapy
4. The Use of the, Term ‘Yoga Psychology’
5. Sociology of a Spiritualised Society
6. The Nation Soul and World Unity
7. The Poetry of the Future
8. Envisioning the Future and a New Humanity
9. A Psychological Approach to the Gita
10. Mind to Supermind
4. Advanced Research Programme in Sri Aurobindo
a) Successful completion of the academic programme in Sri Aurobindo Thought.
b) M.A. or equivalent in any subject.
c) Successful passing of an entrance test in integral philosophy & yoga.
d) Successful completion of required courses with Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow
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February2005 44 Vol.VI - I New Race
SRI AUROBINDO DARSHAN:
THE UNIVERSITY OF TOMORROW
Sri Aurobindo Darshan: The University of Tomorrow offers four programmes of study as well as individual courses that may be taken independently of the formal programmes. The four programmes are:
1. Orientation Programme
2. Science of Living Programme
3. The Master’s equivalent Academic Programme in Sri Aurobindo’s Thought
4. The Ph. D. equivalent Advanced Research Programme in Sri Aurobindo
The Semesters begin on February 2l and August 15 of each year. For the current semester, last date for application: 29th March 2005.
FOR FULL INFORMATION REGARDING THE MODE OF APPLICATION, FEES, SYLLABUS, ETC., LOG ON TO OUR WEBSITE:
TOWARDS A SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY:
Bridging Psychotherapy with
the Yoga Psychology of Sri Aurobindo
Michael Miovic, M.D.
Does God exist? Is there a non-material reality? Do we have souls that persist in an afterlife, or next life if you prefer? These basic existential questions are rarely considered in the day-to-day practice of clinical psychology and psychiatry, and yet they should be. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, then evidently our current theories of mental health need to be enlarged in order to account for these essential facts of existence and to understand how they relate to the human mind. For, in the most practical sense, how can we help people better “adjust” to life if we misapprehend what the nature and aim of life is?
One century ago, William James addressed some of these complex issues in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Subsequently, Romain Rolland wrote to Freud inviting him to use the new tool of psychoanalysis to study the “oceanic feeling”, by which he meant the profound feeling of awe and transcendence that he, like James, suspected is the universal psychological basis of religion. At the time Rolland was working on his biography of Ramakrishna, the century Hindu saint whose life abounded in such oceanic experiences, and Rolland wondered whether psycho analysis and mysticism, being both varieties of depth psychology, might not have something to learn from each other. Freud’s candid answer, in Civilization and Its Discontents (quoted above), was to interpret this feeling as deriving from the primary narcissistic fusion between infant and mother. After that, the mainstream of Western psychology essentially forgot that James had already eloquently critiqued Freud’s type of medical materialism, and the role of spiritual experience in intra psychic life was largely ignored until the 1980s, when Rizzuto proposed that the internal God-representation can mature along the same lines as other object relations (see below).
Today, our knowledge of psychodynamics and neurobiology is much richer than in Freud’s era, but the problem of how to understand spirituality remains the same. This dilemma was recently highlighted by Newberg’s use of SPECT scanning to show consistent patterns of prefrontal activation with superio-parietal deactivation in Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns absorbed in contemplative states. Although these images do demonstrate clearly that the brains of healthy mystics are not like those of schizophrenics, they do not answer the conundrum of whether spiritual experiences are illusions created by the brain, or the brain’s perception of a spiritual reality. James presciently addressed this impasse long ago when he suggested that we take a phenomenological and pragmatic stance towards spiritual experiences, i.e., that we explore their subjective qualities and judge these by their fruits for life.
The aim of this study, then, will be to continue the project that James began. This paper will attempt to synthesize the wisdom of Eastern spiritual traditions with the insights of Western psychody-namic and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Particular emphasis will he placed upon the spiritual psychology of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), whose work represents the most sophisticated expression of Indian spiritual philosophy in the 20th century. Educated at Cambridge in the 1890s, Sri Aurobindo returned to India to found the movement for independence that Gandhi inherited after Sri Aurobindo retired from politics around 1914. Sri Aurobindo dedicated the rest of his life to spiritual teaching, and became the first thinker to attempt a complete intellectual synthesis of Eastern and Western worldviews. In his major works on philosophy and social psychology, Sri Aurobindo proposed that the aim of individual, social and biological evolution is to manifest a higher spiritual consciousness on earth. This idea is the keystone of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and was echoed later from a Christian perspective in the work of Teilhard de Chardin, to whom Sri Aurobindo has been compared.
Sri Aurobindo’s relevance to psychotherapy lies in his interpretation of the ancient Indian practice of “yoga” as a psychological process of self-transformation. In the West, people commonly think of yoga as nothing more than a set of fitness exercises and breathing techniques for relaxation. However, in India the term yoga has always had a broad, spiritual sense and refers to any contemplative, humanitarian, or even artistic endeavor that is pursued with the intention of becoming aware of the Divine and cultivating that presence in oneself and others. Sri Aurobindo himself focused on meditation, work, and psychological self-cultivation as the foundations of spiritual practice, and his aim was not to escape from the world or merely to relieve “stress”, but to radically transform one’s character structure and behavior. Indeed, many of his letters to students discuss a variety of neurotic (and, at times, psychotic) symptoms that today fall under the purview of general psychiatry.
Many elements of Sri Aurobindo’s thinking are present in Buddhism, traditional Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religious traditions. Indeed, if it were otherwise, he would have little relevance to the pluralistic environment of modern psychiatry and psychology. However, his work is special in its psychological subtlety and acuity, and no one is better qualified to articulate the Eastern viewpoint to the West than Sri Aurobindo. That is why his system is used here to provide an heuristic focus.
As Taylor has shown, the development of spiritual psychology in the United States has been influenced by three major incursions of Eastern spiritual philosophy. The first exposure came when Emerson and Thoreau were inspired by early translations of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the key texts of yoga philosophy and psychology. This had a definite impact on James, who was deeply influenced by Emersonian transcendentalism. The second opening came when Vivekananda’s visit to America in 1893 launched Asian Studies as an academic field, and the third when teachers such as Yogananda and the Mahesh Yogi (founder of T.M.) popularized the practice of meditation from the 1950s on. Buddhist philosophy entered the academy via Asian Studies departments, initially through the prolific work of D.T. Suzuki, and then these ideas were disseminated through the popular writings of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Watts, and other figures in the 1950s and 1960s.
The rising influence of Buddhist and Yoga philosophy on Western psychology has been reflected in a number of developments. Influenced by James, Jung explored Eastern philosophy, although some of his interpretations of yoga are erroneous. Jung’s work is valuable in its own right, and his autobiography is full of fascinating spiritual experiences, but there is not space here to adequately assess his contributions. In the 1960s, From collaborated with Suzuki to become the first psychoanalyst to incorporate ideas from Zen philosophy in psychotherapy. Shortly thereafter Maslow catalysed the birth of transpersonal psychology with his study of “peak experiences”, or ecstatic/unitive states of consciousness akin to mystical experiences, which he found to characterize psychological health in “self-actualizers.”
In the last 25 years, Benson’s pioneering studies of transcendental meditation led to his characterization of the relaxation response,’’ which can be elicited by prayer, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. The burgeoning field of “mind-body” medicine inspired by Benson’s work is interesting, but what is missing is a clearer focus on the role emotion plays in the mind-body axis, and how spirituality relates to the triad of cognition, affect, and behavior. This is a lacuna that ought to be filled by contributions from psychiatry and psychology, and recently it is beginning to be so. Linehan, who trained in Zen, has combined the power of simple vipassana notions of “mindfulness” with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to craft dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the first therapy experimentally proven to reduce self-destructive behavior in borderline personality disorder. From a more theistic perspective, Karasu has written co gently about core principles of spiritual psychotherapy that can help both patient and therapist move towards soulfulness and a turning to the spirit. These Eastern approaches have been complemented from a Christian perspective by Richards and Bergin,’ whose re cent textbook on spiritual psychology explicitly applies faith-based practices to the situation of dynamic psychotherapy.
Lastly, in the arena of parapsychology, there is a growing body of experimental evidence to support the claim that consciousness has “non-local” (i.e., telepathic) dimensions. This sort of research is naturally contentious, but it merits mention nonetheless as the quality of these investigations has increased since the l9th century. Dossey, who coined the term “non-local phenomenon,” has summarized a large body of research in this area in a series of books and essays. Two double-blind studies have reported that intercessory prayer improves outcomes in the coronary care unit, and several physicists have conducted well-designed experiments that show human intention (mental influence) can affect past probability fields. Although none of these studies proves conclusively the existence of telepathy or a non-material reality, they do remind us that the fundamental assumptions of scientific materialism remain open to question in the dawn of the 21st century.
Faith as a Developmental Milestone
With that overview, we now turn to the work of framing a spiritual psychology. The first and most important step is to recognize that the consolidation of genuine faith in the Divine is a major developmental achievement. In a recent essay on the relationship between psychoanalysis and religion, Meissner has summarized his own and others’ efforts to bridge the realms of psychoanalysis and theology. He explains how Winnicott’s notions of transitional objects and transitional phenomenon allowed for what Freud called the “illusion” of religion to be reinterpreted as a developmentally necessary need for humans to find meaning and creative connections in the world around them.
Rizzuto advanced this line of thinking by showing how the development of the God-representation essentially parallels the development of other object relations and may complete an integrated sense of self. The limitation of her formulation, however, was that it stopped short of exploring the relationship between the transitional phenomenon of the God-representation and its supposed external referent, God. Meissner took the next step along this trajectory by exploring how faith can be understood simultaneously both in psychodynamic terms and as referring to a real Christ, a real God, and a real sacrament. Still, he remains cautious about the following step in the sequence, Spero’s introduction of an objectively real God as a factor both in the God-representation and in the therapy process. Meissner wants to keep the dialogue in the range of transitional understanding, because he argues that this preserves the integrity of the two different realms of discourse, psychoanalysis and theology. He seems to feel that to confuse these two would be deleterious to both.
Although there is certainly a practical utility to Meissner’s more cautious stance, because it prevents therapists from wrongly presuming that we completely know God’s will in the therapy process, from the perspective of spiritual realism it is still too conservative. For if God really does exist and there really is a soul, then achieving an active faith is a major developmental milestone, because this signifies the crystallization of an intrapsychic capacity to have a conscious relationship with actually existing spiritual realities. If soul and Spirit truly exist, then not to encourage the development of faith would be a therapeutic failure.
Perhaps an analogy may better illustrate this point: as Mahler showed, the development of object permanence around months 18–24 of a child’s life is a major developmental milestone that allows the infant to separate from his or her mother, because he or she now has the capacity to maintain an internal image of her in her physical absence. Object permanence is not a defence against separation anxiety, it is an improved perception about the nature of reality that helps the child to master separation anxiety. In a very real sense, then, the child’s “faith” in the persisting existence of his or her mother is the foundation of all further psychological growth. Likewise with faith in God: the correct perception that God exists even when not physically perceptible allows humans to master the larger anxieties of living and to continue to grow spiritually. Of course the analogy is not perfect, because the process Mahler described establishes the child’s ego as separate from the mother’s, while spiritual faith leads beyond the ego to a relationship in which the ego experiences itself as merging into God. In order to understand how this can be so, and how it is adaptive, we need to introduce some of Sri Aurobindo’s fundamental ideas.
The Soul and the Ego
Sri Aurobindo calls the soul the “psychic being”, coining his term from the Greek root psyche, and defines it as the true and eternal entity within us that is part of the Divine and persists after the body dies. Sri Aurobindo concurs with the monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that God (the Divine) is ultimately the sole reality and supreme being. However, he prefers the Hindu metaphysic of polymorphous monotheism, which generously allows the one God to differentiate into the multitudinous forms, beings, and forces of the spiritual and material worlds. This kind of God is simultaneously transcendent, immanent in all creation, and personally present for the individual according to the needs of his/her character and culture. Sri Aurobindo does accept the Hindu notion of reincarnation, but places a new emphasis on the evolutionary aim of the Divine plan. That is, he believes that the purpose of reincarnation is not to prepare the soul to transcend the cycle of karma (as in the classical definition of nirvana), but to increase the soul’s capacity to perfect life in the world. Indeed, he argues that this evolution of consciousness is the spiritual force driving the evolution of biological forms that are increasingly able to express it (e.g., the evolution of the mammalian brain culminating in the human brain).
In terms of psychology, what we need to take from this is that development consists of two broad lines of evolution, the growth of the eternal inner being, or soul, and the growth of the transient outer being, or ego, which is a nexus of cognition, affect, and physiology. Now the concept of the ego is the central, organizing principle among the diverse schools of Western psychology. Although it has temporarily fallen into disuse due to the ascendance of neurobiology and psychopharmacology, informed psychoanalysts have pointed out that the concept of the ego encompasses neurophysiology and therefore can still help integrate the treatment of even “biological” diseases such as schizophrenia. In fact, it is the whole premise of the biopsychosocial model that somatic and psychosocial therapies are all relevant to caring for the total human being. What Sri Aurobindo and other spiritual thinkers point out is that the realm of the spiritual is a fourth dimension that needs to he annexed to the province of biopsychosocial psychiatry. Even if one rejects the Eastern notion of reincarnation, as long as one accepts the reality of the soul, the issues of spiritual and psychological growth outlined in this paper are fundamentally the same, the only difference being how many lives one has to work them out.
So then, what exactly is the relationship between the soul and the ego? And what are the psychological qualities and characteristics of each? We shall examine these two questions in order. First, there is the problem of what is meant by “transcending the ego”. In psychotherapy, the whole aim is to strengthen the ego by repairing deficits (giving “corrective emotional experience”) and making unconscious conflicts conscious. In the vernacular of spiritual practice, on the other hand, people are enjoined not to have “big egos” and to “be humble” before God. How do we resolve this apparent antithesis? The key is that the vernacular “big ego” actually refers to narcissistic vulnerability, an ego deficit well described by Kohut, which is compensated for with narcissistic defenses of grandiosity. Sri Aurobindo touches on the neurotic issues of narcissistic grandiosity vs. a punishing superego in the following letter to a disciple:
“Humility is needful, but constant self-depreciation does not help; excessive self-esteem and self-depreciation are both wrong attitudes. To recognise any defects without exaggerating is useful but, once recognised, it is no good dwelling on them always; you must have the confidence that the Divine Force can change everything and you must let the Force work.” [Letters, p. 1392]
The stable confidence that Sri Aurobindo prescribes here requires a well-integrated ego that allows for what Rizzuto and Meissner would call a mature object-relationship with God. Thus, what is really meant in spiritual philosophy by “transcending the ego”, is not to regress to earlier stages of ego development, but to complete the growth of the ego by adding another source of sustenance to it—the awareness of the soul. Genuine spirituality does not erode individuality in a regressive fashion, as happens in different ways in schizophrenia and cults, but rather heightens and deepens true individuality by bringing out the soul, which is a unique manifestation of the Divine. In Sri Aurobindo’s words:
“There is individuality in the psychic being, but not ego ism. Egoism goes when the individual unites himself with the Divine or is entirely surrendered to the Divine....On the higher spiritual planes there is no ego, because oneness with the Divine is felt, but there may be the sense of one’s true person or individuality—not ego, but a portion of the Divine.” [Letters, p. 1368]
This distinction between soul and ego is the theoretical foundation for spiritually informed psychotherapy. Sri Aurobindo acknowledged that childhood and adolescence is a critical period for ego development, and on that basis for the most part recommended that people not take up a serious spiritual practice until adulthood. He encouraged families and schools to accept that children do often have spontaneous contacts with their souls (a phenomenon entirely overlooked by Western psychology), but he did not advise undertaking conscious efforts at ego-transformation until later. When people are developmentally ready, however, he described the process of transforming the ego as follows:
“Everybody has the ego and it is impossible to get rid of it altogether except by two things—the opening of the psychic within and the descent of a wider ego-free consciousness from above. The psychic being opening does not get rid of the ego at once but purifies it and offers it and all the movements to the Divine, so that one becomes unegoistic through self-giving and surrender.. .but this cannot happen in so short a time.” [Letters, p. 1376]
The complexities of how Sri Aurobindo classifies spiritual experiences according to their subjectively perceived somatic organization opening from “within” or “descending” from above) pass beyond the purview of this study. What bears repetition here is that the final “unegoistic” state he recommends is progressive and adaptive. While both psychosis and neurosis (to a lesser degree) increase fear and decrease the capacity for generative love, spirituality as Sri Aurobindo defines it increases the ability to see reality as it is and love others as they are, because one is psychologically fulfilled in the Divine. As Erikson showed, the ego naturally broadens its scope of concerns to include more and more others as it matures, culminating in the healthy generativity of adulthood. Sri Aurobindo would interpret this natural trend towards un-selfishness and individuation that connects rather than separates one from others, as due to the covert influence of the soul because, since the Divine is driving all of evolution, it drives ego development, too. In this worldview, then, spiritual practice simply speeds evolution by making an unconscious natural process conscious, and the development of psychoanalysis itself in the last century is one example of such an evolutionary process occurring on a collective scale.
The next issue of concern, and one more apposite of the practical needs of therapists and therapy, is how to distinguish the psychological qualities and characteristics of the soul from those of the ego. According to Sri Aurobindo, the soul’s influence is felt in all that leaves the impression of “sweetness and light”. By this he means not any artificial pleasantry or affable niceness, but a deep and genuine inner “movement” that flows purely from a spiritual fount. To name a few such qualities: sincerity, honesty, compassion, joy, love (in the sense of agape), forgiveness, patience, humility, courage, devotion, gratitude, and the appreciation of beauty. Most people have felt the soul-touch at least once, if not frequently, in the charming innocence of children, in whom the psychic is often active albeit in an unformed fashion. Many also have brief openings to the soul when communing with nature (flowers, especially, are full of psychic beauty), or when appreciating great music, literature, or art (what constitutes “greatness” in the creative arts is a subject Sri Aurobindo has written on extensively). For psychotherapy, the most important quality of the psychic being is that it is inherently happy, satisfied, and free of ambivalence and conflict:
“Let the sweetness and the happy feeling increase, for they are the strongest sign of the soul, the psychic being awake and in touch with us. Let not mistakes of thought or speech or action disturb you—put them away from you as something superficial which the Power and the Light will deal with and remove. Keep to the one central thing—your soul and these higher realities it brings with it.” [Letters, p. 1117]
This answers half of the problem, how to recognize the usually rare moments of soul-influence in human life. But the other half remains, i.e., the differential diagnosis of various levels of ego functioning, which is the bulk of what confronts us in clinical practice. As therapists we have all seen countless instances of apparent altruism that hides unconscious anger, fidelity that is an excuse for fear of solitude, joy that avoids the work of grieving, forgiveness motivated by guilt, etc, etc. What does Sri Aurobindo say to this?
Defense Mechanisms vs. Transformational Processes
Before answering the last question directly, let us look at the context first. The notion of defense mechanisms is one of the enduring pearls of wisdom gleaned from psychoanalysis. In his research following a cohort of Harvard graduates over several decades, Vaillant has shown as best as can be done from the data available, that the basic defense mechanisms cluster into four groups: psychotic, immature (borderline), intermediate (neurotic), and mature (see Table 1). In general, people tend to grow towards using more mature clusters as they move across the life span, and those who stay stuck behind are unhappy and fare poorly. Vaillant elegantly studies the interaction between defensive styles and Eriksonian stages of adult development, and the beauty of his research is that it captures in meaningful data a very human process that clinicians know from sitting with people over time.
Table 1. Style of Defense (taken from Vaillant)
I. Psychotic: Delusional projection, Denial, Distortion
II. Immature: Projection, Fantasy, Hypochondriasis, Passive aggression, Acting out, Dissociation
III. Intermediate (Neurotic): Displacement, Isolation/Intellectualization, Repression, Reaction formation
IV. Mature: Altruism, Sublimation, Suppression, Anticipation, Humor
Now, in Aurobindonian terms, what Vaillant has essentially demonstrated is an evolution of consciousness, a growth out of the darkness and turbulence of the inchoate ego to the relative stability and self-mastery of the well-formed ego. In the terminology of yoga, this represents growth from a tamasic character structure (primitive/immature), through rajasic (immature/intermediate), to a sattwic (mature) personality, described in the Bhagavad Gita over two thousand years ago. People who know only how to deny and project live in raw misery, while those who can sublimate and deploy humor are much freer to find passion, meaning, and spots of joy in life—or as Freud said succinctly, “to work and to love” despite the burden of normal human suffering. Mature defenses may not be sufficient to catch happiness, but they are definitely needed to pursue it.
Sri Aurobindo is not blind to the existence of defense mechanisms, only he understands them in a larger framework. Sri Aurobindo holds that the human being actually has four main parts or dimensions, each of which has its own ontological and phenomenological reality: the psychic (spiritual or soul), mental (cognitive and ideational), vital (emotional and desire), and physical (biological) beings, respectively. From the Aurobindonian perspective, CBT particularly stresses the therapeutic importance of the mental, psychoanalysis the vital, and psychopharmacology the physical. Sri Aurobindo accepts the fundamental right to be of each of these subfields. However, he points out that the mental, vital, and physical beings are inherently ignorant (i.e., egoistic) and governed by conflict and inertia. Only the psychic being (true soul) is by its very nature capable of lasting harmony and unalloyed happiness. Also, it is the unique interaction among these four dimensions in each individual that determines the nature of his or her character structure and behavior.
Given this framework, Sri Aurobindo makes the following observation:
“The vital started in its evolution with obedience to impulse and no reason—as for strategy, the only strategy it understands is some tactics by which it can compass its desires. It does not like the voice of knowledge and wisdom—but curiously enough by the necessity which has grown up in man of justifying action by reason, the vital mind has developed a strategy of its own which is to get the reason to find out reasons for justifying its own feelings and impulses.” [Letters, p. 1329]
This passage clearly conveys Freud’s idea of the “id” (although the Aurobindonian concept of the “vital” is broader than that of the “id”), implies the existence of the unconscious, and cites the defense of rationalization. Sri Aurobindo did not explicitly catalogue the defense mechanisms (although he alluded to many in other letters), because he was more interested in the fact that all the varieties of defensive experience depend a priori upon the ego. His primary aim, therefore, was to transform the ego into a center of individuality capable of serving as an effective conduit for manifesting the Divine.
Sri Aurobindo describes the process of ego-transformation as consisting of three crucial intrapsychic processes that he names aspiration, surrender, and rejection. Aspiration he defines as an inner invocation of and yearning to feel the presence of the Divine in one’s life. By surrender he means to open oneself entirely to that higher power and to it alone, and to let oneself be a vehicle for its dictates. And rejection he defines as to actively evaluate the source and quality of one’s thoughts and feelings and to throw away all that does not express the soul (i.e., all that is motivated by defensive operations of the ego). The essential impulse for these three movements comes from the psychic being. However, if the ego is willing, it can take them up and consciously elaborate them. To do so constitutes faith-practice, and thus a deficiency in any of these psychological movements, or an imbalance among them, leads to an incomplete or imperfect practice of faith.
Once we have grasped the very real difference between the ego and the soul, we can extend the hierarchy of defense mechanisms (Table 1) vertically and append transformational processes (Table 2). The definition of transformational processes is that they are psychological movements that look at painful experiences squarely (drives, wishes, affects, negative thoughts) and transmute them, instead of trying to ignore, disguise or divert them as defense mechanisms do. Sri Aurobindo named the “spiritual” processes in Table 2. However, in order to integrate his work with psychotherapy, I have created a bridging category dubbed “transitional processes”. To “witness” means to observe the flow of thoughts and feelings without altering or controlling them. To “go into” an affect or experience means to allow oneself to feel it as much as is consciously possible. “Understanding” is produced by practicing the former two over time, the result of which is that deep synthesis of thought and feeling that analysts call “curative insight”, and Buddhists call “mindfulness”.
Table 2. Transformational Processes
I. Transitional: Witnessing, Going into, Understanding (Mindfulness)
II. Spiritual: Aspiration (or Invocation or Remembering), Surrender (or Offering or Sacrifice), Rejection (or Purification or Discrimination)
Transitional processes are already used extensively in both CBT and dynamic therapy, and are synonymous with the analytic concept of the “observing ego”. These functions are classified here as transformational processes because they are not defensive operations, but rather adaptive capacities of the ego that derive from the soul’s covert influence on the ego. One does not have to be conscious of one’s soul in order to have a good observing ego, but if the soul is entirely dormant (as in the case of sociopaths), there will be a weak or absent observing ego.
A good clinical illustration of the transformational processes listed in Table 2 is found in the 12-step programs for alcohol and substance abuse. The original 12 steps described in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), as conceived on paper at least, are structured around aspiration, surrender, and rejection. Step 1 begins with “understanding”, or the observing ego’s ability to hold a painful truth without enlisting defenses to alter or distort the perception, while step 2 proceeds upward with an aspiration to the Divine for transformation:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Steps 3 through 7 focus on surrender, with aspiration and rejection in the background:
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Steps 8 through 10 focus on rejection, or the psychic being’s conscious will to transform the outer personality. In this working-through process, the functions of the observing ego are enlisted and applied interpersonally:
7. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Finally, steps 11 and 12 consolidate the work and give a prescription for spiritual living based on the continued application of aspiration, surrender, and rejection in all activities:
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
These last lines, minus the passing reference to alcoholics, are as concise a definition of yoga as any written, integrating the three main approaches to the Divine that Sri Aurobindo outlined in his synthesis of yoga: devotion (prayer), knowledge (meditation), and karma (action, or work). Of course 12-step programs often fail or have limited results, human nature being what it is, and their therapeutic successes are due partly to individual and group dynamics that would help even if the Higher Power is just a useful fiction. Nonetheless, despite all the efforts of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, 12-step programs remain the single most effective treatment for alcoholism and substance abuse, and one wonders if this unexpected superiority over standard therapy and medications might not be due to the influence of the psychic being (soul) that the method elicits.
A second area of clinical relevance is that Sri Aurobindo under stood well both the unconscious and resistance, which are primary issues in dynamic psychotherapy. Sri Aurobindo preferred to call the unconscious the “subconscious” or “subconscient”, because in his view all things have some sort of consciousness:
“For the subconscient receives impressions of all we do or experience in our lives and keeps these impressions in it, sending up often fragments of them in sleep. It is a very important part of the being, but we can do nothing much with it by the conscious will. It is the higher Force working in us that in its natural course will open up the subconscient to itself and bring down into it its control and light.” [Letters, p. 1597]
The Aurobindonian concept of resistance encompasses all of the psychodynamic sense of resistance, plus more. This is why transformative spiritual practice is a lifelong endeavor, and takes even more time and discipline than psychoanalysis, because its scope is total and its final aim to manifest the Divine in the world:
“The mind resists with an obstinate persistency in argument and constant confusion of ideas, the vital with a fury of bad will aided by the mind’s obliging reasonings on its side, the physical resists with an obstinate inertia and crass fidelity to old habit, and when they have done, the general Nature comes in and says ‘What, you are going to get free from me so easily? Not, if I know it,’ and it besieges and throws back the old nature on you again and again as long as it can.” [Letters, p. 1111]
Thus we see that, without reading a word of Freud or Jung, Sri Aurobindo developed a complex understanding of human psychology including concepts of the ego, the importance of childhood development, defense mechanisms, the unconscious, the significance of dreams (alluded to above and elaborated elsewhere), resistance, and the importance of biology. However, where Sri Aurobindo diverges radically from Western psychiatry is in his spiritual realism (a term he coined). The practical consequence of that stance is that he recommends that people find their souls before trying to work through the unconscious, because the psychic being is a more powerful organ of knowledge and action than the observing ego. This was the basis of his objection to psychoanalysis as it was explained to him by a disciple who tried it:
“If one wishes to purify and transform the nature, it is the power of these higher ranges to which one must open and raise to them and change by them both the subliminal and the surface being….But to begin by opening up the lower subconscious, risking to raise up all that is foul or obscure in it, is to go out of one’s way to invite trouble. First, one should make the higher mind and vital strong and firm and full of light and peace from above; afterwards one can open up or even dive into the subconscious with more safety and some chance of a rapid and successful change.” [Letters, pp. 1606-07]
When Sri Aurobindo wrote this letter in the 1930s, he was criticizing the early analytic preoccupation with quickly unearthing child hood libidinal conflicts. Of course, the field of psychotherapy has grown enormously since then. Today most analysts would want to stabilize ego functioning (“make the higher mind and vital strong and firm”) before diving into oedipal issues, and therapists working in CBT, DBT, interpersonal, or even short-term dynamic models would de-emphasize transference and/or avoid the unconscious altogether. Sri Aurobindo presciently foresaw these problems and their solutions, and his further insights about the importance of spiritual processes of transformation have yet to dawn fully on the Western mind.
The following case material from a general outpatient psychiatry practice further illustrates the principles outlined in this paper as they apply to psychotherapy:
A 24-year-old married Hispanic woman, with three young children, presented for treatment of severe panic disorder with agoraphobia, and moderate PTSD from childhood sexual abuse. She was grateful for education about her diagnoses, and obtained moderate relief after 3 weeks on clonazepam and citalopram. Based on this positive experience, she was eager to continue on in weekly therapy and medication management with a female resident. At our third and final session, ‘it struck me that the patient had consistently exuded an atmosphere of genuine sincerity, gratitude, trust, and an underlying joy of being despite her obvious anxiety. My counter-transference reaction to her was a peaceful feeling in my heart and the thought “what a lovely person, such a blessing to meet her.” Further exploration revealed that she had an active Catholic faith but she had recently stopped going to church because she always “yawned and got sleepy” during the services, and was worried that might be rude to her priest and to God. I asked if she felt bored by the sermons, and her face lit up as she replied to the contrary, “No, the words are sometimes so inspiring, they go right into my heart.” I suggested that perhaps she got sleepy because she felt safe, and that maybe God could accept her sleeping in His arms “like a little baby”. The patient visibly relaxed and replied, “Yes, I think He wants me back. Two of my kids have dreamed of the Cross recently. I think it’s a sign.”
Contrast that with the following vignette:
A 48-year-old divorced, Catholic, Hispanic woman presented with moderately severe panic disorder with agora phobia, and PTSD from sexual trauma as an adolescent. She spent 8 months of treatment not tolerating medications, resisting education about her diagnoses, and making me feel very frustrated and irritable. Dynamic exploration revealed many ways in which she had felt oppressed by her mother and was in turn oppressing her teenage daughter, but progress in therapy was painfully slow. During our last session before I left the clinic, she finally realized that she truly had panic attacks and agoraphobia, and expressed limited appreciation for my help.
The major difference between these two cases was the prominence of the psychic atmosphere in the first woman vs. a stubborn ego in the second. The young woman in the first case would probably be able to use spiritual processes of transformation (Table 2) to amplify the action of her observing ego in working through her trauma and psychodynamic issues. As she has active psychic movements, she might need help at times differentiating these from ego defenses. For example, she might confuse true aspiration with the defenses of fantasy, reaction formation, or altruism; or true rejection (a conscious will to change and grow) with the defenses of projection, repression, or suppression. Her dreams might be rich and vivid, but the therapist would need to understand the difference between common dreams that reveal unconscious conflict, and subliminal dreams that reveal the inner being (as happened when her children had dreams with a spiritual message for her). Naturally resistances would arise during therapy and restrict the patient’s access to her soul at times, but the working-through process could be accelerated by therapist and patient offering each session to the Divine in whatever way would be mutually agreeable to both. This could be done quickly and simply, with or without a particular theological overlay (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Judaic, etc), but the key would be to do it with sincere aspiration and surrender.
SRI AUROBINDO DARSHAN:
THE UNIVERSITY OF TOMORROW
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IF THERE IS NO BELIEF IN THE PSYCHIC BEING…
If the reality and existence of the psychic being is not accepted, as in Buddhism and Christianity, then what could be the repercussions on the spiritual growth and evolution of an individual and the society?
If the reality of the psychic being is not accepted as it is the case in countries and cultures under the influence of religions as Buddhism and Christianity, the consequences of this absence will affect deeply the individuals as much as the societies, and will have necessarily lasting repercussions in the totality of their lives, habits, customs, and culture, determining so deeply the development of these societies, that it can be foreseen that the societies in which the psychic is a living and operative factor will be completely different of those where this aspect has been ignored. It is difficult to demonstrate this assumption in a concrete way, because there are not many examples of cultures and societies in which the psychic presence has been developed to enough extent. It remains still as a potential for the future. But it can be studied at least in some critical areas of the societies and cultures in which this fact has been refused.
The disregard of this factor can be seen in the lack of specific programs to develop the spiritual aspect of the personality, and more specifically the soul, in all the educational systems of these countries. This necessity will be substituted by programs in which the content (and that in the best cases) will be reduced to a rigid ethical or moral set of ideas. In that way for many individuals the possibilities of blossoming this aspect of their personalities either it is neglected or it is frustrated from the beginning.
The same situation can be observed in the psychological field. The materialist approach is predominant in the western societies, and most of the people or psychological schools under its influence will consider any spiritual experience as pathological and as a mental sickness that will have to be treated at the earliest, using whatever means at their disposal for the correction of these unwelcome happenings. These supposed therapies can include the use of hard drugs and medicines. This accepted practice involves not only great dangers for the integrity of the mental health of the persons receiving these treatments but a great amount of suffering and blocking any further development in this crucial area of the personality. There is available some literature to illustrate this.
At the level of creeds and beliefs, these religions see this world and the possibility of its spiritual transformation as an illusion and a chimera, and therefore the real effort is directed towards the God’s Kingdom that is beyond this material world. This incapacity to embrace the totality of the life and the inability to become a dynamic agent in the efforts to transform this material world, has provoked many reactions, overall in the countries of Christian background. One of these reactions was that the evolutionary and progressive forces in these countries had to develop through other channels the urge for change, and many times they had to face the most obstinate and fierce opposition from the religious establishment. As a consequence, a progressive rift between wide sectors of population and the official religions has arisen. In this case we can include important numbers of significant components of the society as the scientific, cultural, and political sectors that are turning their back to the different churches and looking for answers and guides in other directions. Perhaps it is the first time in the history of humankind that it can be seen a phenomenon of this magnitude where such considerable numbers of people are breaking their allegiance to the established religions because they are feeling a strong dissatisfaction with the answers given by those to the present problems of the world. Under this situation it is understandable the increasing extension of laicism and the separation between the sacred and profane domains in the western countries.
From the point of view of the spiritual development at the level of the individual, the situation is that these religious institutions specially the Christians have overemphasized the external aspect of the practice, i.e., the rituals, dogmas and doctrines, and neglected the inner side. Because, even though the possibility of the development of this aspect has always been present We should not forget that Christianity had a very rich tradition of monastic life and mysticism-, this esoteric branch could never develop with a minimum of freedom the potential of this path, because the religious hierarchy had always looked with enormous distrust this kind of experiences, and discouraged any step in this direction, and in some cases even, it used the Inquisition to eradicate the diffusion and proliferation of these movements. This possibility was always considered by them as full of dangers.
In the case of Buddhism, it has sufficient knowledge for the development of the inner dimension of the personality, specially in some of their branches, the problem is that this knowledge is not applied as the main goal for a transformation of the spiritual and material conditions of the humankind. On the contrary, traditionally their main focus has been to utilize their spiritual disciplines to obtain the Nirvana or liberation, going beyond the endless chain of rebirths and m consequence leaving this world unchanged.
In the sphere of the philosophy and thought, the refusal of the psychic can be noticed in different aspects: first, there is a predominant atmosphere of scepticism, pessimism, materialism, doubtfulness and agnosticism. The second is that in a philosophic culture with a predominant lack of spiritual experience, the mind will be necessarily its main driving force, and the inevitable outcome of the mind cannot be something different of this kind of interpretations and viewpoints. Only in cultures under the kind of circumstances that concurred in the European countries, it was possible to make statements of this nature: “God is dead”. If this situation is compared with the cultural atmosphere of the East, the contrast cannot be more significant. Here the lead was taken by the spiritual experience and the philosophies played a secondary role, that of expressing in intellectual terms those experiences. It is interesting to notice that the core values that were expressed were just the opposite: God, freedom, immortality.
At the level of politics and ideologies, it is interesting to analyse that, in spite of the fact that the ideal of fraternity is well known, and even it has been present in an important way or another in the last three centuries in all the progressive movements of the west, this ideal remains unfulfilled and not because it has not been attempted, since it was a central ideal in the French Revolution and it has been present in a good number of socialist experiments and communist revolutions in different countries during the twenty century, but without exception, the outcome in all these social experiments has been the same: an impossible achievement. Although in the last century and specially in some areas in the world some progress towards it can be perceptible (as in the extent of the civic rights, the improvement of the material conditions of the working classes or the generalization of the education), the realisation of fraternity has not made any substantial advance.
The reason for this impossibility was given by Sri Aurobindo when he pointed out that the fraternity is an attribute of the psychic, and without a proper development of this inner reality at individual level first and after in the collective social body, it is impossible the embodiment of this ideal. The west has tried all kind of social experiments, specially in the last tree centuries. The only one that has not been attempted until now is a spiritual revolution in which the evolution of the soul will play a crucial role. Until that time, this ideal will remain a far away goal.
THE WORKING OF THE PSYCHIC BEING
Dr. Ananda Reddy
Let us look into the Nature of the psychic being. The one word that would perhaps help us to remember the essential nature of the psychic being is, it is like the sunflower, a sunflower that is always turning up towards the divine Truth. Its basic insistence is the divine, always, and at all cost, it would like to manifest the divine will. So Sri Aurobindo uses the word sunflower and then he says, this sunflower is there within. It is a silent being which does not, in the beginning, insist on its own expression. That is because it is so much veiled by the different layers of our being that it cannot really do what it wants to do, what it would like to do. It is the divine being, it is in contact with the divine. Then how is it not able to do what it wants? That’s because these layers of the subliminal are also a part of the divine plan. The subliminal and these layers are not something anti-divine. They are also part of this total scheme. There is a whole game in this, there is a whole Lila; it is not that nature is against the psychic being. No. The subliminal and the outer nature being what they are at present are not capable of receiving the psychic as yet. They are not anti-psychic, they are incapable of receiving the psychic energy, and the Light. In the evolutionary stage, in all of us there is this problem of the incapacity of the nature. That is why Sri Aurobindo has spoken so much about the transformation of the nature, about the change of the consciousness, about the purification. Until and unless the outer nature is to an extent purified, the psychic being cannot really work in us, that is the incapacity of the psychic. And that is why perhaps Sri Aurobindo writes here that sometimes ‘…unerring in the essence of the will…infallible inner ideal…’ (Ibid pp. 28–29)
What is really not much known is that the psychic also can make errors. What kind of errors (?): the wrong choice of a person, errors in the exact form of its will, in the circumstances of its expression. What happens? He says, ‘…obliged after under the pressure of its instruments’. What is to be noted is, by itself it knows what is divine justice, discrimination, and what is right, what is wrong, but it also has to oblige the human nature. Say, if a child wants too often chocolates, though the parents know it is bad for the teeth of the child, yet because the child is crying and a bit grumpy, they may give it to him so that he is pleased and for the moment he is back in the right mood. The parent does a mistake knowingly! Similarly, the psychic also makes a mistake, in order to kind of ‘wear away’ the outer nature and turn it towards itself. It has to make some concessions. This concession is what we would call the mistake, not a mistake in the judgement, or an error of consciousness, it is a ‘concession’ that it has to lend to the outer nature. This could be called a ‘mistake’ sometimes.
The Mother explained that the mistake takes place in the ‘wrong’ choice of its own birth, in a certain family. Then the children die just after delivery, sometimes after a couple of weeks or months or so. A mistake not because the psychic being has chosen wrong, but between its decision and its manifestation other forces have come in. In nature there are hundreds of different forces that are shaping happenings. So Sri Aurobindo would say there is a complete criss-cross, its not a single psychic Will that manifests in the birth—even as it descends into the womb of the mother, there are so many other factors that come in. Sometimes because of these factors even though it wants to come to a particular family, the winds of the external factors move it to another family, and it takes birth; and then it realises it was a mistake.
These are the kinds of mistakes we can speak of, which are due basically to the circumstances. Then, there is a little note about the psychic being in one of Sri Aurobindo’s letters. I am giving it as an example for other errors it can make. “The psychic love is pure and full of self-giving without egoistic demands, but it is human and can err and suffer. The Divine Love is something much vaster and deeper and full of light and Ananda.” (SABCL Volume 23, p. 764)
So, the psychic love is “…human and can err and suffer…” While it is human, it is definitely connected with the divine. Remember, the psychic is the divinity that is connected with nature. It is not a divinity that is disconnected and individualistic, having nothing to do with human nature. Because it takes upon itself the human nature in order to correct it transform it, it absorbs through a kind of a mingling with the human nature. That is how error can creep into it. That is why its love also is not complete; it is not free of error, free of suffering.
Psychic itself is a divine ansha — but because it is treading on human nature, it obviously has to be affected. It absorbs, it has to, otherwise there is no meaning of its evolution. It is as if there is the Jivatman here, and Prakriti there, the psychic is the bridge between the two. It has a divine portion as well as a human portion too, as well as the Prakriti portion. The Prakriti portion is what can be called the error prone, suffering part. The Psychic Being is not somebody sitting there and giving commands to the Prakriti, saying, ‘Do this and do that’. It is bending itself forward, extending itself in order to suit the needs of the outer nature. It is in this kind of a ‘concession and conceding’ that error creeps in.
Sri Aurobindo writes here, “Its character is a one-pointed orientation towards the Divine or the Highest, one-pointed and yet plastic in action and movement; it does not create rigidity of direction like the one-pointed intellect or a bigotry of the regnant idea or impulse like the one-pointed vital force;…” (SABCL Volume 20, p. 145) This is what I was trying to explain. It is “one-pointed”. It wants the Divine, it wants to transform, but it is not rigid, it is “plastic in action and movement”. That is where it can go out of the way in order to please, because it doesn’t stand as an autocrat saying, ‘Do this!’ In trying to get things done, it doesn’t mind coming out of the path of the truth. Actually, it is a kind of temporary concession that it makes. It is plastic, it’s a way of dealing, otherwise nature will not really obey it.
Nature has to be first won over by Purusha. Once it is won over, then the Purusha can do what it wants with it and through it. In Savitri you must have noted that Book-one has some wonderful passages where we see Prakriti getting a whole long list of things done from Purusha. The Purusha is there silently, quietly, as a witness consenting saying, ‘Do what you want, I have nothing to do with you’. This is the initial leniency that Purusha purposely gives to Prakriti. It is this winning–over. It is not that he is incapable—he purposely gives to Prakriti this leniency of action, so that the Prakriti can develop and mature and then feel very close to Purusha. Prakriti says, ‘Look, now that the Purusha is with me, I can do what I want. I have the freedom’, but then at that point Purusha takes over to guide her. Her resistance has to be broken. If right from day one we say, ‘You must not do this’, then a resistance is created. Once it is broken, Purusha gets the work done; transforms, infuses higher life and truth. Sankhya has given us the philosophy that Purusha and Prakriti are two different powers, one obeying, the other witnessing. Even as witness it is there consciously doing what it wants to do. That is what I understand as “plastic in action and movement”.
Sri Aurobindo goes on to say, “…automatically distinguishes the right step from the false, extricates the divine or Godward movement from the clinging mixture of the undivine. Its action is like a searchlight showing up all that has to be changed in the nature; it has in it a flame of will insistent on perfection, on an alchemic transmutation of all the inner and outer existence. It sees the divine essence everywhere but rejects the mere mask and the disguised figure. It insists on Truth, on will and strength, and mastery, on Joy and Love and Beauty…” (SABCL Volume 20, p. 145) This is something again that we should take note of. Somebody asked me in a question and answer session, ‘What are the sure signs that you are approaching the psychic?’ This would be another sign. Yesterday I talked about the love for the divine; as it increases you know your psychic is increasing. That is one sure shot; the other one is, when you become very self-aware and conscious of all that is false. If your sense of falsehood, your sense of undivine and the ugly, the disorderly, if they are becoming more and more acute in you it could be seen as the beginning an aesthetic sense, but then the aesthetic sense is purely one side of the psychic – the one open to beauty.
But there are other sides a sense of truth, there is a sense of order and there’s a sense of self-purification that come of out. By the way, I think I should insist on this, that all I have been speaking here—are not to be sought in the others. Basically one must find them in oneself—getting to know what is one’s own falsehood, one’s own black weaknesses, the negative sides. We can all point fingers at others. That is very easily done. Only when we start pointing those fingers at our own selves, then we know that we are becoming closer to our psychic; in the sense that we are already entering our subliminal where we begin to see a little more objectively ourselves. This is another criterion where we can say we are coming closer to the inner world when we begin to find out our own inner falsehood inner untruth, inner ugliness, inner weaknesses, etc.
Now here we have the third sign that Sri Aurobindo mentions, “But the most intimate character of the psychic is its pressure towards the Divine through a sacred love, joy and oneness.” (SABCL Volume 20, pp. 145–147)
This is a word that he has used, even the Mother uses it many times. The “psychic pressure”—that is something that we need to understand a little more. The psychic being, constantly, works “in the main lines” of our life. But how does it work through a constant “pressure”? Not as a dictator saying, ‘Do this and do not do this. If you do not do that, you will be punished.’ The psychic is now beginning to act and there is a pressure that is slowly awakening in us the sense of untruth, a vaster and higher understanding of falsehood, of ugliness, etc. Otherwise within our ethics, our religions, our mental rules, etc., very conveniently we cover many of our own defects and weaknesses. Only when the psychic starts coming forward we become progressively self-aware.
I have taken this passage from the Synthesis of Yoga. There is an extraordinary description of the psychic pressure, how it moves from level one to level two to level three to level four. I will just give it to you in brief. “In the first long stage of its growth and immature existence is, it has leaned on earthly love, affection, tenderness…” (SABCL, Volume 20, p. 146). We have said the first thing is, it moves towards love and joy and truth. How does it move? How does it pressurize? The first stage is that it leans on “earthly love, affection, tenderness, goodwill, compassion, benevolence, and all beauty and gentleness and fineness and light and strength and courage, on all that can help to refine and purify the grossness and commonness of human nature…” (SABCL, Volume 20, p. 146). This is where ethics and religion come into the picture, when they teach us to have “goodwill, compassion, benevolence, affection”. We know that is, in fact, the highest ideal given to us. If you want to be a cultured, civilized, religious, ethical, moral person try to develop these qualities—that is what we have been told, and that is what according to our terminology, is a sattvic Purusha, the sattvic personality. The sattvic realization is only this. From the point of view of the psychic this is the very first step, but from the point of view of morality and religion it is the highest step.
You can already see how difficult it is for the psychic to give pressure. We are so crude in our mental, in our vital, and all that but the very fact we can respond to affection, tenderness, compassion, goodwill, benevolence, beauty, means the beginning of the psychic pressure. Otherwise if mentally you try to imagine that you would become benevolent from tomorrow, compassionate from tomorrow, its not possible, because these are not things that can be externally cultivated. They have to be something born from within. And then, within is the birth of the psychic pressure.
The second step is taken once human beings, or that particular individual, begin to respond to that benevolence and the compassion and all. The so called, ‘values’ of our life; if one attains even to that level, then the psychic moves to the second level. What happens at the second level? It is ready and eager to breach all the old ties, imperfect emotional activities, and replace them by greater spiritual love of Truth and Oneness. “It may still admit the human forms and movements but on condition that they are turned to the One alone. It accepts the ties only that are helpful, the heart’s reverence for the Guru, the union of the god-seekers, a spiritual compassion for the ignorant human and the animal world and its peoples, the joy and happiness and satisfaction of beauty that comes from the perception of the divine everywhere.” (SABCL Volume 20, p. 146) This is the second stage. After relating itself to human beings through benevolence and good will and all that, then it really cuts off all relations. It goes a little deeper. The psychic goes deeper, which means we become deeper,—in what way? In outer connections it gets a little selective. The selected ones are what he calls, “It accepts only the ties that are helpful…”
So you need not be altruistic to all of humanity and show your sympathy to the whole of humanity. No! That is the first impulse when you go out and expand your consciousness. But then immediately there is an ‘inwardisation’ of the consciousness, it shrinks, as if, and tells you to ‘select your group’. It is no more necessary to expand to all humanity—select a group, and activities that are helpful for your divine realisation within.
Sri Aurobindo would say that at the time there is a grouping of the god-seekers, there is a grouping of the guru seekers, those that are around your guru. Reverence for your guru—that is how I suppose the spiritual communities are formed. It there is a kind of a single aspiration, you call it a community, or a project, or an Ashram—an institution where there is a kind of a central spiritual consciousness. It may be anything, not just Integral Yoga, but any yoga or Ashram, any spiritual institution which has a spiritual foundation. The second step begins here.
The third step is when, “It plunges the nature inwards towards its meeting with the immanent Divine in the heart’s secret centre and, while that call is there, no reproach of egoism, no mere outward summons of altruism or duty or philanthropy or service will deceive or divert it from its sacred longing and its obedience to the attraction of the Divinity within it. It lifts the being towards a transcendent Ecstasy and is ready to shed all the downward pull of the world from its wings in its uprising to reach the One Highest…” (SABCL Volume 20, pp. 146–147)
It is in a shrinking of its cosmic spread, in a group that is aspiring for the same ideal that it finds a greater concentration, and in this concentration “it plunges the nature inward towards its meeting with the immanent Divine…” So there is the facility; that is why the meaning of the Ashram is exactly this—you find the atmosphere congenial for the ‘inwardisation’. That is what has been done in the ancient Ashrams. At least they give you an exclusive atmosphere for an inward journey. It is only in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, this ‘inward’, has wrapped-in all the external action also, because of its integral ideal. It does not mean that we get lost in the politics and ways of the outer world. The external activities are there, for a purification. You see it is easy to go to Ramana Ashram and you sit there in meditation for ten hours, no other activity, no laundry, no press, no publications, nothing. You just meditate, go to the Samadhi; go to the dining room and it’s finished. There it is easier to cut off from the works but here Sri Aurobindo has provided a whole plethora of works. There are varieties of works, embracing all the aspects of works because each one can find his/her own work.
The activities in the Ashram are there to help one to find one’s own swabhava and fulfil one’s own swabhava, but unfortunately, we have to see how much we get lost in this action and activity.
So, to come back to our analysis, the third step is the inward step into your own ‘Immanent self’. Now when we say ‘Immanent self’, what does it mean? It is in quest of the Jivatman. The psychic is now taking itself, and us towards the Jivatman. I refer you to ‘In Search of the Soul’ in Savitri. There is a marvellous canto to tell us about the unity, about the unification of the psychic being and the Jivatman. This is the real attempt of all this third stage.
The fourth stage is where Sri Aurobindo says once it has reached that “it calls down also this transcendental Love and Beatitude to deliver and transform this world of hatred and strife and division and darkness and jarring ignorance. It opens to a universal Divine Love, a vast compassion, an intense and immense will for the good of all, for the embrace of the World-Mother enveloping or gathering to her, her children, the divine Passion that has plunged into the night for the redemption of the world from the universal Ignorance.” (SABCL Volume 20, pp. 146–147)
The fourth stage is so marvellous. Once it has reached this Immanent Divine the Jivatman, the next stage is to bring that spiritual power back into the outward human endeavor. This is where Sri Aurobindo’s yoga comes in. You have reached your innermost point – the Jivatman, the spiritual centre, the centre of Self, and that is brought back to be showered on the human society, on the human beings, on your self. The real Integral Yoga begins then. Why did Sri Aurobindo tell us my yoga begins after the psychic realization of the self? Because all before the psychic realization is the old path.
After the psychic realisation what happens? The psychic energy - the force, the consciousness of the Jivatman is returned to humanity. So the best way to help humanity is to give it divine love and light and compassion. This is not what we practiced at the first step, which was vital, and mental, and emotional,—a step for expanding. True help comes in when the Inner Force comes back into action. It is at that time the Transformation of Nature can begin.
Again in the same canto that I am referring to in Savitri, you will see how after Savitri unites herself with her own Jivatman, then all the centres (charkas) in her being open up. There is a transformation of the very chakras that takes place. So, a change of nature takes place and it is because of that, that she can bring in a greater force to her own work, what is the meaning of the psychic pressure.
We should really be aspiring for this kind of a psychic pressure. This is what we call in yoga trying to be alert, awake to the psychic pressure. It is not that moral values are wrong, but they are the very first step indicative step—I emphasize here—these are indicative of the psychic pressure, so let us not think the psychic is not influencing us even now. It does not really effectively work, but it starts pressurising us. So, all these qualities are its first signature in human nature. Then there is the grouping, and then there is the ‘inwardisation’, after the ‘inwardisation’ it comes back into the world. So these are the four steps of the psychic pressure and that is how we see its action in our Nature.
We have seen all this more on the level of philosophy, an explanation from the philosophic angle. What is the psychic, how does it work? But now I’d like to give you a few steps in psychology—because we have to now understand the path to this experience. We have talked about the psychic pressure and all this,—but how to go about it, how to feel it how to experience it?
Well, the first thing is, I am going to read out the very first question that was put to the Mother, how to have this experience of the psychic being? I’ll give you a philosophic understanding, and then the psychological aspect relevant to daily practice. How to have the experience? Mother’s answer: ‘To go within yourself that is the first step’,—and, how to go within yourself? We will see.
‘To go within yourself that is the first step and then once you have succeeded in going within yourself deeply enough to feel the reality of that which is within, to widen yourself progressively, systematically, to become as vast as the universe and lose the sense of limitation’. This is the second step. The first thing is when we close our eyes for meditation, concentration, let us ingather ourselves. That is what we mean by going ‘within yourself’, and the next experience to have is to widen ourselves, to lose the sense of limitation. The word is ‘to become as vast as the universe’. Now, how do you do that? In the beginning, it is a psychological question of imagination—when we go in and say ‘I am not limited’,—a kind of auto suggestion. In fact, a lot of things work with auto suggestion. So, you begin by telling yourself, ‘I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am not this subliminal, I am a greater being, I am vaster, I am bigger’. This kind of a self-imposition of a kind of an auto suggestion will help us to expand ourselves. Of course, it will not come in a day. Obviously, we need a regular practice.
Remember what the Mother has told us about the daily practice of meditation. At the same place, the same time, because the same place and time also help us in this effort. It brings regular vibrations around you. It’s a very beautiful occult method. That if we sit exactly at the same time, and the same place for meditation, then the atmosphere itself kind of crystallizes around you, because there is a kind of an awareness of the circumconscient itself. As Sri Aurobindo would say the circumconscient itself will prepare the congenial atmosphere for us to go within. That is why the importance of the place and the time and then, she would say these are the first two preparatory movements.
It is not yet the psychic contact, these are only the preparatory movements. This effort must be renewed very regularly, persistently, and after a certain lapse of time, which may be longer or shorter, you begin to perceive a reality that is different from the reality perceived in the ordinary external consciousness. Now this is the third level, after a persistent effort, a continuous regularity, then she says we will ourselves find out that there is something else within us, someone else who is not really perceived as an external consciousness, who cannot be associated with any one friend, or one person, or one human being, or even one guru. You will begin to feel someone else who is really, when you say, ‘He is me’ or ‘I am he’, a perception that is unique to each one of us. That would be the beginning of the perception, we are not yet there. Naturally, by the action of grace the veil has suddenly been rent from within, and at once you can enter the true truth, but even when that happens, in order to obtain the full value and effect of the experience, you must maintain yourself in a state of inner receptivity. It is indispensable for one to go within each day. That is a tremendous eye opener for many of us here. ‘It is indispensable for you to go within each day’, I mean just as much as we concentrate on our work, and however much it may be the so-called ‘Mother’s work, the divine’s work’,—you might do with all sincerity,—if you do not do this ‘indispensable going within’ we are drying up a whole section of our being. We may do all the work dedicating, surrendering all, but this subliminal inner digging will be lost, and if those well springs get dried our sadhana cannot go forward much.
All this is still preparatory. Again, one more hint on how to go towards the Inner Being. ‘To sit in meditation before a closed door, as though it were a heavy door of bronze’. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo would never give one way, one method. Whichever method suits you, take it up,—‘Sit before a closed door as though it were a door of bronze, and one sits in front of it with a will that it may open, and to pass through the other side’. In this one, imagine yourself sitting in front of a solid huge bronze door but you have the will, or the aspiration to pierce, to go through, and once you are doing that, ‘the whole concentration, the whole aspiration is gathered into a beam and pushes, pushes against this door, and pushed more and more with an increasing energy, until all of a sudden it bursts open and one enters’. It makes a very powerful impression. If you want to know how to enter the psychic being this is one of the most effective ways, an extraordinarily powerful way, to push the door open, but for that you need to focus all your consciousness into a laser beam. As you know, the laser beam can cut through anything. So your concentration must be like a laser beam, then only it can cut through the bronze door. Then as the Mother says, suddenly, ‘the door bursts open and collapses and so one is as though plunged into the light, and then one has the enjoyment of a sudden and radical change of consciousness with an illumination that captures one entirely, and the feeling that one is becoming another person, and this is a very concrete and very powerful way of entering into contact with ones psychic being’.