20 Sep 2011

A Non-Psychic Integral Yoga! -- by Vishwas Patel

The substance of the two paragraphs from the Lives might at first seem quite acceptable, but, on a closer scrutiny, you find that Peter Heehs undermines the very foundations of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga by downplaying the importance of the psychic being. The underlying suggestion is that the psychic transformation can be dispensed with and replaced by a mental Yoga, which Sri Aurobindo himself had practised. It is further implied that he never taught the latter method to his disciples because they were not ready for it, and therefore the Mother had to guide them on the facile path of the psychic. Not only is this conclusion absurd, but it shows an ignorance of the very fundamentals of spirituality. [extract]

A Non-Psychic Integral Yoga! -- by Vishwas Patel

I quote two paragraphs from the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs:

The “psychic being” was a new element in Sri Aurobindo's yoga. In earlier writings, he used the words “self” or “spirit” for the self-existent being that is one in all individuals—what the Upanishads and Gita call the atman. He used the word “soul” for the divine element in each person, something similar to the jivatman of the Gita. But the jivatman, like the atman, neither changes nor evolves. Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary cosmos requires an evolutionary being, a soul that “enters into the body at birth and goes out of it at death,” retaining the essence of each incarnation and developing “a physical, a vital, a mental human consciousness as its instruments of world-experience.”26 Up to 1926 Sri Aurobindo had no name for this evolutionary soul. The Mother provided him with one. Theon, her teacher in occultism, had distinguished the centre divin or divine center from the ĂȘtre psychique or psychic being.27 When she mentioned the latter term to Sri Aurobindo, he took it up and adapted it to his needs.

Before 1926 Sri Aurobindo emphasized the role of the mind in yoga. “The thinking mind,” he wrote in 1915, “is the one instrument we possess at present by which we can arrive at a conscious self-organisation of our internal existence.”28 But he was aware that mind by its very nature could “never be a perfect instrument of the Spirit.” Mind is, as he said often in The Life Divine, “an instrument of Ignorance,” not of knowledge. The seeker has to rise through mind “into some kind of fusing union with the supramental and build up in himself a level of supermind.”29 This is what he had done in his own practice and he thought at first that others could follow his example. Some tried, but lacking his experience and balance, they could not repeat his success. Eventually he realised that the transformation he envisaged would be difficult if not impossible for others without a preliminary awakening of the psychic being, a development of such qualities as sincerity, devotion, and inner discrimination. To bring about this awakening was the primary aim of the sadhana under the Mother's guidance.

(Lives of Sri Aurobindo, 357-58; emphasis added)

The substance of the two paragraphs quoted above might at first seem quite acceptable, but, on a closer scrutiny, you find that Peter Heehs undermines the very foundations of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga by downplaying the importance of the psychic being. The underlying suggestion is that the psychic transformation can be dispensed with and replaced by a mental Yoga, which Sri Aurobindo himself had practised. It is further implied that he never taught the latter method to his disciples because they were not ready for it, and therefore the Mother had to guide them on the facile path of the psychic. Not only this conclusion is absurd, but it shows an ignorance of the very fundamentals of spirituality. Let us first analyse the second paragraph.

Before 1926 Sri Aurobindo emphasized the role of the mind in yoga. “The thinking mind,” he wrote in 1915, “is the one instrument we possess at present by which we can arrive at a conscious self-organisation of our internal existence.” 28

(Lives, 357-58)

The quoted sentence is from a letter (see footnote 28) which Sri Aurobindo published in the Arya in answer to a correspondent’s query on meditation and not on his Yoga in general. The letter begins in the following manner:

What exactly is meant by meditation in Yoga? And what should be its objects?

The difficulty our correspondent finds is in an apparent conflict of authorities, as sometimes meditation is recommended in the form of a concentrated succession of thoughts on a single subject, sometimes in the exclusive concentration of the mind on a single image, word or idea, a fixed contemplation rather than meditation. The choice between these two methods and others, for there are others, depends on the object we have in view in Yoga.

The thinking mind is the one instrument we possess at present by which we can arrive at a conscious self-organisation of our internal existence. But in most men thought is a confused drift of ideas, sensations and impressions which arrange themselves as best they can under the stress of a succession of immediate interests and utilities.

(Footnote 28: Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, CWSA, pp 445-47)

Sri Aurobindo goes on to discuss the topic in a very general manner without any specific reference to his Integral Yoga. He refers more to the methods of concentration practised in Rajayoga and the Yoga of Devotion and finishes his reply by saying that the Integral Yoga “would harmonise all these aims”. What he states is a very obvious fact, that the thinking mind is the highest instrument at present in man’s disposal – he says it in all his major works and gives mind its due place and importance; but this does not mean that he did his own Yoga only through the mind and would have recommended that method to his disciples had they not found it too difficult.

But he was aware that mind by its very nature could “never be a perfect instrument of the Spirit.” Mind is, as he said often in The Life Divine, “an instrument of Ignorance,” not of knowledge. The seeker has to rise through mind “into some kind of fusing union with the supramental and build up in himself a level of supermind.”29 (Lives, 357-58)

If the seeker has to rise through the mind “into some kind of fusing union with the supramental”, it means he cannot rely on the mind anymore to supramentalise his nature. Now this contradicts the earlier statement of relying on the mind because it is “the one instrument we possess at present” (that is, if we quote the phrase out of context in the way Peter Heehs had done). As both the letter on meditation and the above quoted text from the Synthesis were written during the Arya period, you cannot argue that Sri Aurobindo changed his opinion on the mind’s usefulness in Yoga at a later date. In this respect, Sri Aurobindo always downplayed the mind’s role, whether in The Life Divine (which was considerably revised in the thirties and forties after it was first serialised in the Arya in 1914-1921) or in the "Yoga of Self-Perfection" in the Synthesis (this particular section was never revised after its publication in the Arya). The difference of twenty years between the two periods of publication hardly made any difference to his basic assessment of the mind’s incapacity to achieve the supermind.

What can be said however is that, according to Sri Aurobindo’s own descriptions of his spiritual experiences in the early period of his Yoga, he seems to have begun by the experience of the spiritual planes above the mind (not through the mind!) from where he proceeded downwards to transform and divinise his human nature. I remind my readers that Sri Aurobindo had achieved complete silence of the mind when he had the experience of Nirvana in January 1908, and this silence remained with him for the rest of his life – he never “thought” again as we do. I quote from a letter to a disciple:

Since 1908 when I got the silence, I never think with my head or brain – it is always in the wideness generally above the head that the thoughts occur.

(On Himself and the Ashram, CWSA, p 259)

So if he did not deem the mind to be a fit instrument for Yoga, then through which medium was the divine Shakti to act in the human being? In Chapter 19 of the Yoga of Integral Perfection, Sri Aurobindo suggests using the intuitive mind as a transitional means for the supramental action. I quote:

The supermind in the lower nature is present most strongly as intuition and it is therefore by a development of an intuitive mind that we can make the first step towards the self-existent spontaneous and direct supramental knowledge….

(Synthesis of Yoga, Yoga of Self-Perfection, CWSA, pp 796-97)

Later, in Chapter 21 of the same section, he explains the other gradations of the higher planes of consciousness which eventually will take over the functions of the intuitive mind, namely, the supramental reason and the Supermind itself, which is the culmination of his Yoga.

This is what he had done in his own practice and he thought at first that others could follow his example. Some tried, but lacking his experience and balance, they could not repeat his success. Eventually he realised that the transformation he envisaged would be difficult if not impossible for others without a preliminary awakening of the psychic being, a development of such qualities as sincerity, devotion, and inner discrimination. To bring about this awakening was the primary aim of the sadhana under the Mother's guidance. (Lives, 357-58)

It is true that Sri Aurobindo advised the psychic path (or what he called “the sunlit path”) to his disciples in order to facilitate their sadhana. But the context in which he said it was certainly not his disciples’ incapacity for a strenuous mental Yoga, as Peter Heehs suggests. If it were so, the supramental yoga would have been fulfilled long ago by the eminent intellectuals of those times at the Ashram, such as Amal Kiran, Anilbaran Roy, Dilip Kumar Roy and A.B. Purani – there was no dearth of intellectuals in the early days. The difficulties of the disciples were mainly due to the obstacles created by the lower vital and physical nature of man, and they were unable to advance further without a psychic preparation of the being and the spiritual help of their Gurus. Psychicisation became indispensable at the point when the collective sadhana descended into the physical after 1926. By collective sadhana, I mean the sadhana of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother leading the best of a representative humanity in the collective endeavour of physical transformation. Their spiritual effort was naturally linked to the consciousness of their disciples, so that the latter felt the ripple effect of the spiritual effort of their Masters. The advice of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to follow the path of the psychic was given to others after they themselves bore the “burden of humanity to the full” and found the “straighter and easier road” [1] of the psychic being.

The quote also implies that Sri Aurobindo did his own sadhana in a certain way and taught something else to his disciples through the Mother, which is not only false but absurd. It means that Sri Aurobindo had formulated two Integral Yogas, one which he wrote and practised himself in the earlier period of the Arya (1914-1921) and one which he wrote and taught his disciples after 1926. Now where has he mentioned this in his writings? For, he always expounded his Yoga, both in the early and later periods, in an impersonal way, as if it applied to everybody.

Moreover, common sense expects the Master to have taught his disciples what he himself would have discovered to be the best method of practising his Yoga. He would perhaps not have taught, or rather not have had the occasion to teach the more advanced lessons of his Yoga because the disciples were still in the preliminary stages. But one would surely expect his spiritual guidance on the preliminary stages to reflect his final or mature wisdom gained by his highest realisations. So if Sri Aurobindo stressed the importance of the psychic being and the Mother’s Force after 1926, it means that he arrived at this method after a considerable advancement of his own sadhana and not because he wanted to write “An Idiot’s Guide to Integral Yoga”. I quote below a letter of Sri Aurobindo on this very topic:

How is it that in the Arya you never laid any special stress on the psychic centre and considered the centre above the head the most important in your Yoga? Is it because you wrote under different conditions and circumstances? But what exactly made you shift your emphasis?

You might just as well ask me why in my pre-Arya writings I laid stress on other things than the centre above the head or in the post-Arya on the distinction between overmind and supermind. The stress on the psychic increased because it was found that without it no true transformation is possible.

5 July 1937

(Letters on Himself and the Ashram, CWSA, p 152)

Mark the last sentence: “The stress on the psychic increased because it was found that without it no true transformation is possible.” The word “increased” also implies that the knowledge of it was already there, even in the earlier period. I quote another letter:

In this yoga the psychic being is that which opens the rest of the nature to the true supramental light and finally to the supreme Ananda. Mind can open by itself to its own higher reaches; it can still itself and widen into the Impersonal; it may too spiritualise itself in some kind of static liberation or Nirvana; but the supramental cannot find a sufficient base in a spiritualised mind alone. If the inmost soul is awakened, if there is a new birth out of the mere mental, vital and physical into the psychic consciousness, then this yoga can be done; otherwise (by the sole power of the mind or any other part) it is impossible…. If there is a refusal of the psychic new birth, a refusal to become the child new born from the Mother, owing to attachment to intellectual knowledge or mental ideas or to some vital desire, then there will be a failure in the sadhana.

(Letters on Yoga, SABCL, Vol. 24, pp 1095-96, emphasis added)

The above letter not only stresses the need of opening the psychic being in this Yoga, but also says that the spiritualised mind is not enough to give “a sufficient base” for the supramental transformation. So is Sri Aurobindo writing here for his disciples or for himself, or for both? Admitting that he wrote the above letter only for his disciples, why should he then discourage the Yoga through the mind, which supposedly was his own method, according to Peter Heehs?

Let us take up now the first paragraph from the Lives, which is the foundation of the absurd conclusions drawn in the second paragraph:

The “psychic being” was a new element in Sri Aurobindo's yoga. In earlier writings, he used the words “self” or “spirit” for the self-existent being that is one in all individuals—what the Upanishads and Gita call the atman. He used the word “soul” for the divine element in each person, something similar to the jivatman of the Gita. But the jivatman, like the atman, neither changes nor evolves. Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary cosmos requires an evolutionary being, a soul that “enters into the body at birth and goes out of it at death,” retaining the essence of each incarnation and developing “a physical, a vital, a mental human consciousness as its instruments of world-experience.”26 Up to 1926 Sri Aurobindo had no name for this evolutionary soul. The Mother provided him with one. (Lives, 357-58)

Note our so-called historian’s double stand. The “psychic being” was a new element in Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga; at the same time, it was a new name, because it had no name before – which means that it was an old element without any name. A scholar is supposed to be at least clear of what he says in such crucial matters. So was Sri Aurobindo aware of the “psychic being” in the earlier period of his Yoga before 1926, say, when he wrote in the Arya between 1914 and 1921? Yes, he was surely aware of the psychic being and he did mention it in the Arya, though not as often, as distinctly and forcefully as he did in the later period after 1926. Though the term “psychic” had a different connotation in the earlier writings and was used “in the sense of anything relating to the inner movements of the consciousness”,[2] he described “the psychic being” (in the sense used later on) in different words, such as in the following examples from his earlier writings:

So also there comes a time when the soul becomes aware of itself in its eternal and mutable movement (p 268)

What we are is a soul of the transcendent Spirit and Self unfolding itself in the cosmos in a constant evolutionary embodiment (303)

The continuous existence of the soul in rebirth must signify an evolution if not of the self, for that is said to be immutable, yet of its more outward active soul or self of experience. (358-59)

(Theory of Rebirth, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, CWSA)

The soul in its “mutable movement” as opposed to the eternal and immutable self is undoubtedly the psychic being. What is described in the quotations below from the unrevised parts of the Synthesis (as published in the Arya) is also a reference to the same:

But the real soul, the real psychic entity which for the most part we see little of and only a small minority in mankind has developed, is an instrument of pure love, joy and the luminous reaching out to fusion and unity with God and our fellow-creatures. (351)

And yet the true emotive soul, the real psyche in us, is not a desire-soul, but a soul of pure love and delight (649)

Behind all the action of the chitta and manas there is this soul, this Purusha (665)

The pure psychic being is of the essence of Ananda, it comes from the delight-soul in the universe; but the superficial heart of emotion is overborne by the conflicting appearances of the world and suffers many reactions of grief, fear, depression, passion, short-lived and partial joy. (737)

(Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA)

Compare the above four quotations with the one below on the psychic being from Sri Aurobindo’s later revisions of The Life Divine (the revisions can be traced by comparing the version of The Life Divine as published in the Arya with the revised version published in 1939-40, which is more or less the present edition):

So too we have a double psychic entity in us, the surface desire-soul which works in our vital cravings, our emotions, aesthetic faculty and mental seeking for power, knowledge and happiness, and a subliminal psychic entity, a pure power of light, love, joy and refined essence of being which is our true soul behind the outer form of psychic existence we so often dignify by the name. It is when some reflection of this larger and purer psychic entity comes to the surface that we say of a man, he has a soul, and when it is absent in his outward psychic life that we say of him, he has no soul.

(The Life Divine, CWSA, p 234)

The descriptions of the psychic being in both the earlier and later texts match on two counts: (1) The psychic being is “a pure power of light, love, joy and refined essence of being” (Life Divine) or is “a soul of pure love and delight” and “is of the essence of Ananda” (unrevised Synthesis). (2) It is generally covered by, or has to be distinguished from, and not be confused with the “desire-soul” (same term used in both the Life Divine and unrevised Synthesis). Actually, with the following criteria in mind, we can find many more references to the psychic being in the earlier writings, not to mention the ones where it is indirectly implied. There are also general references to the soul of man which could apply to both the Self and psychic being, without distinguishing them from each other – the distinction was not made because it was not necessary at that time.

So it is not that Sri Aurobindo was not aware of the psychic being during the period of the Arya, but that he did not emphasise its importance at that time. Just as it became necessary to clearly distinguish the Overmind from the Supermind at an advanced stage of the physical transformation, so also the importance of the psychic being was felt when the sadhana descended into the physical after 1926. I quote from a letter written to a disciple:

The psychic has an insistence of its own, but it puts its pressure not on the Divine, but on the nature, placing a finger of light on all the defects there that stand in the way of the realisation, sifting out all that is mixed, ignorant or imperfect in the experience or in the movements of the yoga and never satisfied with itself or with the nature till it has got it perfectly open to the Divine, free from all forms of ego, surrendered, simple and right in the attitude and all the movements. This is what has to be established entirely in the mind and vital and in the physical consciousness before supramentalisation of the whole nature is possible. Otherwise what one gets is more or less brilliant, half-luminous, half-cloudy illuminations and experiences on the mental and vital and physical planes inspired either from some larger mind or larger vital or at the best from the mental reaches above the human that intervene between the intellect and the overmind. These can be very stimulating and satisfying up to a certain point and are good for those who want some spiritual realisation on these planes; but the supramental realisation is something much more difficult and exacting in its conditions and the most difficult of all is to bring it down to the physical level.

(Letters on Yoga, SABCL,Vol. 24, pp 1396-97)

Mark that the supramentalisation of the whole nature is not possible without a preliminary preparation of the nature by the psychic being. You can get other realisations with the help of the larger mind or vital, but not the supramental realisation, which is “the most difficult of all to bring down to the physical level”.

What happened then to Sri Aurobindo’s earlier method of working from above the mind? It remained an essential part of his Yoga as there is no incompatibility of the spiritual movement with the psychic transformation. In fact, he says, both are mutually complementary and one cannot be complete without the other:

Neither of these two movements, the psychic and the spiritual, is complete without the other. If the spiritual ascent and descent are not made, the spiritual transformation of the nature cannot happen; if the full psychic opening and connection is not made, the transformation cannot be complete.

There is no incompatibility between the two movements; some begin the psychic first, others the spiritual first, some carry on both together. The best way is to aspire for both and let the Mother's Force work it out according to the need and turn of the nature.

(Letters on Yoga, SABCL, Vol. 24, pp 1093-94)

Thus both the elements got included in Sri Aurobindo’s later formulation of his Yoga, and more stress laid on the psychic preparation than in the earlier period. The “psychic being” was therefore not a new element but a new term introduced by the Mother to Sri Aurobindo at the time when the psychic transformation became indispensable in their Yoga of physical transformation. I quote from another letter which states this synthesis of both these methods:

The bindu seen [in vision by the correspondent] above may be a symbolic way of seeing the Jivatman, the portion of the Divine; the aspiration there would naturally be for the opening of the higher consciousness so that the being may dwell there and not in the ignorance. The Jivatman is already one with the Divine in reality, but it may want the rest of the consciousness to realise it.

The aspiration of the psychic being is for the opening of the whole lower nature, mind, vital, body to the Divine, for the love and union with the Divine, for its presence and power within the heart, for the transformation of the mind, life and body by the descent of the higher consciousness into this instrumental being and nature.

Both aspirations are necessary for the fullness of this Yoga.

5 May 1935

(Letters on Himself and the Ashram, CWSA, p 149)

In a way, the psychic and spiritual methods of Yoga can be compared with the yogic action of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who represent a duality in oneness. Their apparent separation or even incompatibility is due to the rigidity of the inexperienced mind which cannot follow their integral unity. I quote from a letter written by Sri Aurobindo to a disciple in March 1926 in which he refers to himself as “A.G.” and to the Mother as “Mira”:

It will be a mistake if you make too rigid a separation between A.G and Mira. Both influences are necessary for the complete development of the sadhana. The work of the two together can alone bring down the supramental Truth into the physical plane. A.G. acts directly on the mental and on the vital being through the illumined mind; he represents the Purusha element whose strength is predominantly in illumined (intuitive, supramental or spiritual) knowledge and the power that acts in this knowledge, while the psychic being supports this action and helps to transform the physical and vital plane. Mirra acts directly on the psychic being and on the emotional, vital and physical nature through the illumined psychic consciousness, while the illumined intuitions from the supramental being give her the necessary knowledge to act on the right lines and at the right moment. Her force representing the Shakti element is directly psychic, vital, physical and her spiritual knowledge is predominantly practical in its nature. It is, that is to say, a large and detailed knowledge and experience of the mental, vital and physical forces at play and with the knowledge the power to handle them for the purposes of life and of Yoga.

26.3.1926

(Letter to Daulatram Sharma, Autobiographical Notes, CWSA, pp 329-30)

Note that Sri Aurobindo “acts directly on the mental and on the vital being through the illumined mind”, “while the psychic being supports this action and helps to transform the physical and vital plane”. And that the Mother “acts directly on the psychic being and on the emotional, vital and physical nature through the illumined psychic consciousness, while the illumined intuitions from the supramental being give her the necessary knowledge to act on the right lines and at the right moment.” Both work from the two ends of the being, one from above, the other from below, and supported by each other. In Sri Aurobindo’s case, the influence from above is supported by the psychic action from below, and in the Mother’s case, the psychic action below gets the right knowledge from above. Sri Aurobindo represents the Purusha element while the Mother represents the Shakti element and “both influences are necessary for the complete development of the sadhana.”

Where then is the scope for pitting Sri Aurobindo against the Mother or the spiritual against the psychic movement? Where is the possibility of two Yogas, one for the Master’s personal use and one for the disciples under the Mother’s guidance, one requiring psychic qualities such as sincerity and surrender and the other a lofty effort of the mind which few can emulate? I have refuted at great length to what is obviously a wrong conclusion because of Peter Heehs’s claim of having done considerable research to arrive at it. Here I have to first caution the usually not so well-informed reader not to be deceived by this false coating of research provided by Heehs to his wrong conclusions and misrepresentations. For anybody sufficiently familiar with Sri Aurobindo's and the Mother’s writings can easily see through the game. Of course, a little research is needed to penetrate this deceptive coating and see the truth for oneself by going back to the sources and checking the context of the quotations that have been used by him. Unfortunately, most people do not have either the patience or the time to do so,and therefore take things for granted. This is especially the case with new readers, including academicians who might be good in their own domain but have no knowledge or experience in the spiritual field. It is for these readers that I have taken the trouble to write this long refutation. As for any genuine disciple of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, who generally has plenty of common sense and enough inner sense, the above conclusions of Peter Heehs would appear so ridiculous that he will simply shrug them away and give you a broad smile of condescension if you happen to mention them to him.


Vishwas Patel


Endnotes:

[1] On Himself, SABCL, Vol. 26, pp 463-64
[2] On Himself and the Ashram, CWSA, p 142

2 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis. Particularly timely given the latest article from Heehs in which he tries to give ultimate credit to Theon for the "discovery" of the Psychic Being.

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  2. Anonymous Comment:

    I read the excellent article by Vishwas Patel which exposes so well the superficiality of this biased historian's knowledge about matters regarding spirituality.

    It just shows how far from the truth men are when they try to categorize spiritual realities and experience.

    If reincarnation is admitted on grounds other than the working out of karma then the necessity of an evolutionary being becomes imperative. No point in reincarnation if the spiritual identity remains static. Even for the purposes of Lila there has to be some variation somewhere if the Jivatman underlying the manifested personality is static.

    I think this idea of the term "psychic being" being introduced in Sri Aurobindo's philosophy was first floated by Stephen B. Philips in his "Aurobndo's Philosophy of the Brahman”. I vaguely remember having read it there.

    These people are good in talking but have little spiritual knowledge to make fine distinctions. Vishwas Patel's distinction between "a new element" and "a new term" clarifies the misunderstandings to which these authors are prone and unfortunately a lay reader exposed to these "authorities" ends up accepting wrong ideas and distorted information

    I am glad that our intelligence is challenged by these foolish writings of the likes of PH so that we may be able to think more deeply about matters that that are so fundamental to our intellectual/spiritual lives.

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