There is a need to define at present what is not the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, more perhaps than the need to define what it is. Of course, the two functions are interdependent and cannot be dealt in an exclusive manner, for one often defines something by what it is not. But the mere positive definition leaves out the hidden distortions which you only come to know after a long period of gestation, and not in a one-hour lecture on the Integral Yoga, however inspiring it may be. There have been in the past, and there still are a number of brilliant speakers who mostly fulfil their role in the positive definition of the Yoga and philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, but very few as yet have sufficiently dwelt on its negative definition, by which I mean explaining elaborately what it is not. The reason for not doing so is understandable, for if the speaker did, he would put himself in deep embarrassment, as the question of his own spiritual worth would immediately come into public scrutiny. How could he say, for example, that listening to lectures on the Integral Yoga is pretty useless if one is not keen on practising it? Or that one has to rise beyond the instincts of the lower vital, when his girl-friend is sitting next to him? Or that one should not to be attached to physical comforts, when he himself has been paid for Z-class flight tickets and accommodated in five-star hotels? Unless, of course, he brazens it out like the clever brahmin who exhorted everybody not to take onions and garlic, but told his wife that she should continue to use them at home!
The gulf between theory and practice is an old fact of spiritual life, and it is only cheats and hypocrites who deny it. Having said that, I would not find fault with speakers who are bad practitioners but good exponents of the Integral Yoga, as long as they are faithful to what the Gurus have said and written. There is certainly a need for mental clarity, especially when the sheer comprehensiveness of Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s spirituality permits so many errors and distortions. These errors, mind you, have been first pointed out by them, for I take my stand on what they have said and written, and not on any fresh discoveries I claim to have made. But I say this with diffidence (and accept my own share of possible error) because the trend now is to put everything in their names in order to justify the most indefensible actions. The meaning of spirituality also has been tweaked and stretched beyond recognition, and made to include almost everything under the sun from environmental concerns to baby production, flood relief work to water sports, and animal welfare to transgender issues. Not that these matters should be excluded from the larger spiritual world-view, but this very all-inclusiveness has resulted in a kind of freewheeling and even fraudulent spirituality, which is certainly suspect by all standards of common sense, especially when there is a considerable involvement of sex and money. It is here that I would like to state a few examples of spiritual distortion to illustrate my point.
All Life is Yoga is one of those oft quoted sayings of Sri Aurobindo, which has perhaps become the grossest misrepresentation in practice of what it actually is in theory. All Life is Yoga obviously does not mean that the ordinary life, lived in the ordinary way, with the ordinary motivations of life, is Yoga. It means that All Life, that is, all the activities of Life, including the most mundane ones, such as going to the market and even brushing one’s teeth, can be taken as part of Yoga. That even one’s relations with others can be made part of Yoga, and if one is not yet ready to rise beyond one’s desires and ambitions (which is usually the case with half-baked sadhaks like us), one practises the Yoga despite one’s limitations. But certainly one does not pretend that the very fulfilment of one’s desires and ambitions is part of the Yogic practice! The last unfortunately is a common self-deception among many of us who claim to be disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, thoroughly spoilt as we are by the total lack of inner requirements in the Ashram in the absence of our Gurus.
The process of deterioration which ends in this outright falsehood is gradual and goes through several stages, mostly in the following sequence: One, when the young disciple joins the Ashram with high aspirations and is ready to consecrate his (or her) entire life at the service of the Divine. Two, when the disciple realises that the Yoga is exceedingly difficult, far more difficult than he had ever expected, and is faced with the shameful prospect of returning to his old life that he had given up years ago. Three, when he looks round at the others and realises humbly that he cannot do without compromises in the spiritual life. Four: there is an abrupt normalisation, a relaxation, and the frustration of not being able to do what one ought to do disappears, and there is a comfortable settling down to the new found balance of one’s life, which is often temporary. Five: Life hits back at him and takes its sweet revenge for having been suppressed all these years and deprived of its normal course of physical satisfaction. The balance then tilts to the other side once the inhibitions are broken, and there is a demand for the full satisfaction of its basic instincts, without any reservations whatsoever. Six: The Yogic aim is then indefinitely postponed, or fitted neatly into a small corner of the larger framework of the ordinary life that one is now forced to abide by. A daily visit to the Samadhi of the great Gurus, the lighting of an incense stick and standing for a moment in prayerful silence in front of their photographs, or the occasional attendance of the collective meditation with the Mother’s voice, is all that now remains of the spiritual life. At this point, the so-called disciple (who has been a resident of the Ashram for, say, sixty years) makes the outlandish claim of being a Yogi Purush and of having practised the Integral Yoga all his life. When you point out to him the huge discrepancy between the teaching he is supposed to follow and the spiritual distortion he actually practises, he brushes aside your objections and solemnly declares, “All Life is Yoga.” Personally, I appreciate the more genuine disciple who frankly admits that he has fallen between two stools, or says with a twinkle in the eye, “Yoga is for my next life. This life let me enjoy myself!” In any case, I would not be too wrong if I say that this, with a few permutations and combinations to account for the variety of human nature, is the state of the majority of the present inmates of the Ashram. Not many would disagree with me privately, but publicly I would be condemned and vehemently criticised!